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The Enigma of Chaos

Christmas 1989, Austin, a southern city that does not handle cold well, had an extended hard freeze. Pipes froze and burst, rooms were flooded, water was turned off. I was living in a two-bedroom apartment with my younger daughter, then a teen. Pipes in the next apartment burst, flooding my daughter’s walk-in closet. We moved everything into the living room, hauled water in buckets from neighboring buildings that still had water, and made the best of it during the holiday break.

After a few days of living in the mess, I got my paints out. I had graduated from St. Ed’s the previous spring with my art degree, but I was working a full-time administrative job and sharing space with the daughter, not an arrangement conducive to making art. But I set up an easel on the dining table and painted away.

This move has again proven what I learned then: I’m an obsessive control freak who feels a constant need for order, yet when everything falls apart I tend to fall into the flow and let creativity take over. It seems like a paradox, but it really isn’t: when control becomes simply impossible, I relinquish the need for control.


Living room shot for the real estate listing (credit AustinRealPros).


Our living room yesterday (that is not an assault rifle; it’s a water blaster used in one of Gary’s plays, and it’s on its way to Goodwill now).

Last week I had some panic: “There is no way we’ll ever get all this stuff cleared out and packed.” But  things got moving, a friend offered to help me pack art, and now, just over two weeks before Moving Day, I’m relaxed enough to sit here blogging. This afternoon I’m having a massage and acupuncture.

Tomorrow is my birthday and we’re having our traditional lunch at Chez Zee with an old friend, with whom I share a birthday, and her husband.

Three weeks before the end of school I decided to knit washcloths for my granddaughter’s teachers; they make nice gifts wrapped around a bar of fancy soap.

And still I knit.

As I turn 72, I am so grateful for good health, family, friends, and our new adventure.


Shredding Memories, Saving Dreams

Several months before we decided to move, I told my therapist I wanted to destroy my old journals. “Burn ’em,” was her response. I burned a few outside in the grill, and quite a few more in the fireplace during the winter, but shredding was more efficient and environmentally friendly. I’m finally done shredding about 20 years’ worth of spiral binders.

Some were writing journals and many had dreams, so I tried to salvage poems, writing ideas and dreams for future use, especially for a long-planned (but sidelined) book of dream poems, titled either “Nightly Visits to Other Worlds” or “Skating Under the Aurora.”

Watercolor sketch for the book of dream poems I will finish someday.

I couldn’t take time to read everything so I skimmed randomly. One thing that struck me was how much pain I was in during the late ’90s and early 2000s: back pain, stomach pain, severe Irritable Bowel Syndrome, headaches, vertigo and ear problems.

Like many people I journaled to rant and unload pain and unhappiness, but this was real suffering, and I’d almost forgotten about the dizzy spells, about the time I visited my brother shortly before he died, and I was afraid I’d miss my plane because I couldn’t get out of bed. I underwent treatment for allergies and ear problems, including years of allergy shots.

The stomach pain turned out to be a huge mass on my pancreas. Thanks to good medical care, I’m alive and pain-free. Good chiropractic care has made my back more stable and less likely to give out without warning. Retirement has helped with the IBS–one thing I noticed was that I had bad episodes on days the Medical Board met. I loved my job and it wasn’t always stressful, but board days were hard work and very busy, and it was no coincidence my body responded. I also manage my diet better and have learned the array of irritating foods to avoid, including apples, oranges, pears, lettuce, seeds–I just can’t digest a lot of fiber.

The biggest differences, though, I attribute three or four factors:

First, getting on Prozac in 2012. I’ve covered this in several blog posts, but I can’t say enough about how it changed my life.

Second, acupuncture has helped reduce allergy symptoms and has virtually eliminated my headaches. It’s also just made me feel better all over; I sleep better and generally feel better. Along with chiropractic care, my body feels strong and balanced.

Third, self care. Since my granddaughter moved in with us and I’ve moved into my 70s, I need to be more careful with my body, my diet, my sleep habits and how I spend my time. An afternoon nap isn’t just a treat; it’s essential.

Fourth, spiritual awareness, or wisdom of age. I’m more patient, open-hearted, generous and joyful. Two years ago, when we were trying to decided whether to ask the granddaughter to come and live with us, I was anxious that it would make my life so stressful and difficult that I would mourn the loss of my free and easy retirement. And I did. It’s been hard.

But when I take the dog out before dawn on these soft spring mornings, I actually enjoy being awake. I’m grateful for the sweet dog (which we wouldn’t have if we didn’t have the child), for good legs, a strong heart and all the other parts that still work pretty well. When I take Chloe to school (on time or early, not late every day like last year) I enjoy greeting friends and walking on the greenbelt during doggie morning happy hour.

My sweet nap buddy.

I’m excited about the upcoming changes in our lives and the opportunities to keep making art and to create a beautiful new home for our family.

Poppies, just because they’re so pretty.



Busted by the Elf…



… and by excellent grammar.

Having a November birthday means Chloe is flush with cash in December. She had wanted an Elf on the Shelf for a while. At 10, she still believes in the Tooth Fairy and Santa.

I think the Elf is a scam, and at $30 each I would never buy one, but she had the money and wore me down until I agreed to take her shopping (after trying to talk her into ordering one online). We planned for a weekend, but by Tuesday she was so anxious about missing the “deadline” for the Elf to arrive that I took her after school, after first calling the nearest Walmart, where, I was assured, they had them.

They lied. The next stop, Target, was out. At this point we went back home for further research. The J.C. Penney at the mall assured me that they did indeed have them in stock. By this time it was nearing 5, but we were on a mission. The traffic to and from the mall was blessedly manageable despite my worst fears.

We snagged the last boy elf. Chloe didn’t like the girl because she was too tarted up (my word). The plain blue-eyed boy suited her.

If you know nothing about this scam, um, kids’ delight, here’s the story: someone started a family tradition of having an elf appear in the house as a “scout” for Santa, since he can’t watch everyone. Every night the elf would fly off to the North Pole, return and land in a different location. It couldn’t be touched by humans; doing so would nullify the magic.

These very smart people marketed their little game, wrote a kids’ book to go with it and put it all in a glossy box, pretty much selling out every Christmas (after which they probably spent New Year’s in Tahiti).

Chloe named her elf “Max” and wrote his name on the “adoption certificate” included with the book. Using tongs, she immediately dropped him, catching him by the foot. The “treatment” for regaining magic was for him to lie on a red plate dusted with cinnamon.

My nightmare began. Chloe left Max notes and little treats. Each night, before I could go to bed, I’d write a reply; eat, hide or dispose of the treat; and find a new secure spot for him. (One night I stupidly put him within the dog’s reach, but he left Max alone.)

Max and his accouterments, before the big bust.

Max and his accouterments, before the big bust.

Writing notes and finding new locations continued nightly until December 18. I was careful to use a printing style completely different from mine, and like Marigold in the comic “Phoebe and her Unicorn,” Max wrote rather formally and never used contractions. He also answered questions vaguely (did he know certain other elves? Did he remember her friends from her old neighborhood?). Chloe showed some skepticism, asking me repeatedly if I was moving Max, if I was writing the notes. I was as evasive as Max, but basically denying everything.

As I was driving us home from church on the 18th, she kept at me, insisting I tell her the truth, and I spilled. Of course she was devastated and felt betrayed, and of course I felt horrible. She asked me about Santa as well, and I told her we weren’t having any more conversations about it.

We were invited to a Solstice party that afternoon, and I insisted we go even though she was heartbroken. I told a friend, a very smart, warm-hearted grandmother, who said some reassuring words to Chloe. On the way home she brightened, telling me she was kind of relieved and had guessed it was me because “Max” didn’t know the answers to some of her questions.

And she knew it had to be me because Max used such excellent grammar.

She still believes in Santa. By next Christmas she’ll be 11 and we’ll deal with it before then, but for now the subject is off-limits.

Max and his non-magical predecessor buddy. Now that he's "out" he can stay on the shelf all year. And we can touch him!

Max (right) and his non-magical predecessor buddy. Now that he’s “out” he can stay on the shelf all year. And we can touch him!



I’m having a recurring fantasy: a cabin or cottage on a lake, river, stream, creek or beach, even an island. Provisioned with staple foods, firewood and household needs. No internet, phone for emergencies only.

I’d pack up food for simple meals, a couple of bottles of wine, art supplies, a laptop, comfortable clothes and shoes, and disappear for a few days. I’d probably take the dog for company, since he can’t talk. Four or five days, a week at most, would be enough for me to come back refreshed, missing the daily hubbub. At least I would intend to come back. Hee hee.

This would do

Either of these would do…*


I’m not unique and I’ll bet everyone overwhelmed with parenting experiences something similar. Rabbi Evan Moffic’s blog expresses similar feelings but concludes that life is for being with people. He quotes Mary Oliver’s “A Dream of Trees”

There is a thing in me that dreamed of trees

A quiet house, some green and modest acres

A little way from every troubling town,

A little way from factories, schools, laments.

I would have time, I thought, and time to spare,

With only streams and birds for company,

To build out of my life a few wild stanzas.

And then it came to me, that so was death,

A little way away from everywhere…

I would that it were not so, but so it is.

Who ever made music of a mild day?

Easy for you to say, Mary. This grandparenting/parenting gig is hard. It’s getting better, certainly. Chloe’s behavior has improved immensely. Every school day last year began with yelling and arriving late. This year I don’t even have to wake her or remind her to get ready; we get out the door with no yelling and haven’t been late once. She’s doing well academically and seems to enjoy her teachers and classmates. She loves art and does wonderfully imaginative drawings. She told me the other day she probably would have quit art a long time ago if it wasn’t for me. I asked why. She said “Because you encourage me and let me have lots of art supplies.”

She’s almost 10. We’re on the bridge between Santa Claus and puberty. She spends too much time playing online games and watching videos. Her favorite radio station in the car is KISS-FM, with its breathy, sugary, romantic cotton-candy pop music. But she’s teachable: we talk about the songs that are all about codependence and neediness versus the ones about girls’ empowerment. She’s getting the message.

My therapist reminds me that my age and relative lack of stamina and energy–despite my being in pretty good physical condition–make it tougher to handle parenting. But I told her what I lack in stamina I make up in GRIT, determination, tenacity–whatever you want to call it.

I’m in for the long haul, wherever that takes us with this challenging, interesting young woman-to-be. No retreat.

* Photo credits: Cabin in the woods, beach cottage


Leaps forward, hops back

Short update on granny parenting: It gets easier, it gets harder, we make progress and we fall back.

The school counselor and Chloe’s teacher give me good reports. We’re doing better with sleep and getting to school on time. The therapist is helping a lot with dietary advice and supplements. Chloe is making friends and seems more confident and happy.

Overall I’m optimistic that we’re on the right track. But it’s still a struggle; I’m often irritable and exhausted and Chloe gives way to much lip (although probably not an unusual amount for a smart 9-year-old girl).

I could ramble on for a while about how hard this school year has been, but y’all already know that. So I’ll just post a few photos and say that we have registered her for school here next year, and I’m going to be secretary of the PTA board, which I think will be a manageable way for me to be involved, get to know school staff and other parents, and keep up with what’s going on at the school.

Chloe’s doing art camp the first week after school gets out, which should be fun because she loves the art teacher. After that summer’s open–time with other family members, exploring the nearby creek, and lots and lots of pool time.

Chloe and friend, first pool day of 2016 (April 20).

Chloe and friend, first pool day of 2016 (April 20).

With our beloved dog, Junior, acquired in October as a rescue.

With our beautiful blue heeler, Junior, acquired in October as a rescue.

Junior enjoying Chloe's blankie.

Junior enjoying Chloe’s blankie and his favorite toy, a ball. He goes berserk for any kind of ball.

She loves manga, anime and fantasy. Sometimes she's a witch, sometimes a werewolf.

She loves manga, anime and fantasy. Sometimes she’s a witch, sometimes a werewolf.

Best Christmas Gift

After Nancy at Not Quite Old posted about the best Christmas gift she ever received, I got to thinking about my best Christmas memory.

I was probably five or six–in any case I was quite young, we were still in England, and I was eight when we moved to the U.S.

Both my parents were very clever with their hands. My father was a blacksmith and welder by trade, but he was one of those people who could build, fix or repair just about anything. My mother was a hairdresser by trade, but she was a wonderful cook and could stitch, knit, crochet or craft just about anything.

I still clearly remember coming downstairs that Christmas morning. Laid out underneath the tree was a china-head baby doll with a complete layette, a pink satin bassinet and a grey pram. It was perfect. I took care of that baby, put her in the bed, took her for walks in the pram.

But the most remarkable thing is that we were not well-off. The doll was probably not new. My mother knitted all the clothes. My father made the metal frame for the bassinet and my mother sewed the fabric to cover it. Even more remarkable was that the pram was a doll-sized replica of a real English pram, and even small ones are not cheap.

Mine was grey but otherwise looked very much like this

Mine was grey but otherwise looked very much like this. (Photo

Sadly, I have no photos from that day. I wish I still had every piece. Imagine what the doll alone would be worth as a collectible (not that I would part with it)! But the memory of that Christmas morning is indelible.

The doll isn't right, but we always had a live tree with candles. My father kept a bucket of water next to it. (Photo

This doll isn’t right, but we had a live tree with candles. My father kept a bucket of water next to it. (Photo

Radical Retirement Gets More So

The main reason I’ve been mostly absent from the blog this summer has been that my husband and I have been mulling over one of the most important and difficult decisions of our 20 years together.

After my daughter and granddaughter moved out of town last year, we began thinking about inviting the granddaughter to live with us so she could go to school in Austin. They are far out in the country, where there is little to do, and she had a horribly long bus ride to school each day.

In the spring I began investigating the process for grandparents to register a child in our school district. We discussed the offer with daughter and granddaughter, and we all decided to think it over and talk it over. A lot. There were some conditions that needed to be met, and for us, coming to terms with a total upheaval of our tranquil child-free life.

In July Gary and I went to a Unitarian Universalist retreat, where we had time for deep thinking and good conversations with spiritual people. But not with each other over this issue: in the car I suggested we stop talking about it for a while because I felt we had talked it to death without resolution and I was frustrated. When I brought it up on the drive home, we found we had individually come to the same conclusion: that this was something we have to do. It’s really huge for Gary, who has no children, to be willing to take on an almost full-time living arrangement with a tween (she’ll be nine in November), with all the attitude that entails. I consider him the real hero here, a childless man taking on a cantankerous step-grandchild.

I watched this child’s birth. She is bright and funny and beautiful. She can also be argumentative, defiant and has a low boredom tolerance and need for entertainment. Part of my job will be to help her be more independent, which means transforming from indulgent granny to a more disciplined parental role.

One of the conditions was family counseling, which we are doing. Another was that Chloe agree to have the upstairs “guest” bedroom that doubles as Gary’s office/studio. (She has slept on a roll-up futon mattress in our room during visits.) She resisted both for a while but eventually warmed up to the counselor. She said she’d sleep upstairs if we’d put Christmas lights in the room and take down Gary’s scary stuff. (All are “before” photos. I’ll post “after” pics when the room is ready.)

Strait jacket "curtain" must go. New curtain are made and waiting for rods to be installed.

Strait jacket “curtain” must go. New curtains are made and waiting for rods to be installed.

So we agreed to remove the severed heads, wigs, weapons and the strait jacket over the window. (You never know with a theater person what kind of props and costumes might be lying around.)

Bed with partially finished blanket I knitted for her. We'll put art from her room at home on the walls.

Bed with partially finished blanket I knitted for her. We’ll put art from her room at home on the walls.

Desk/dresser with new bedding waiting for the bed to be cleared.

Desk/dresser with new bedding waiting for the bed to be cleared. No idea what the fuzzies are next to it. We still have a way to go!

While Chloe spends her last week at home with her mom, we are re-purposing the room for a little girl. I bought new bedding and made curtains. We will hang Christmas lights. She has a desk/dresser, bed, table/bookcase, and her own bathroom. Gary retains a corner for his computer and a filing cabinet, plus a large bookcase and some of the closet for costumes. How many clothes does a third-grader need?

All summer I had been horribly anxious about this choice. Once the decision was made (and agreed upon by all) I felt a sense of joy and peace. I see it as a way of giving this great kid the best opportunities for a good education and a real social life. An excellent elementary school is about a mile from us. We registered her last week, and as we were leaving Chloe said, “Now that I’ve seen the school I’m starting to get excited.” Me too. I lie awake at night thinking about packing lunches and making sure homework gets done.

The best thing about retirement has been the freedom to get up when I want and putz around, take a walk, whatever, whenever, most days. Now I’ll be up early, getting breakfast and taking Chloe to school, knowing I have exactly six hours to exercise, run errands, make art, and all the other stuff I’ve been doing all day long. Her school is adjacent to a park, so I plan to drive her near the school, walk her part-way (rather than sitting in the nasty “idling” line), then take meditative walks in the park several days a week.

After more than five years of retirement, it’s time for a new “best thing,” and we both believe this is a grand adventure in this phase of our lives. We will still be able to get away; I’ve asked my daughter to plan on bringing the dog and staying here now and then so we can travel. I’m grateful we are healthy, have the financial means, family support, the maturity (that I didn’t have 45 years ago when I became a mother) and, best of all, knowing that the love I send out comes back to me.

For all my romanticizing, as I work quietly in my studio with no childish interruptions, I know there will be many moments when I say, “What was I thinking?” and many days when I’m exhausted and frustrated. Stay tuned. This will be an ongoing saga.

The prince of the sea and the mermaid earlier this summer in Florida.

My prince of the sea and the mermaid, earlier this summer in Florida.

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