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Home at Last, Part 3 (The Hard Part)

If you’ve followed Parts 1 and 2, you may have an image of me living my perfect life in my dream home.

This is the hard part. After the stress and hard labor of moving, I did most of the unpacking and settling in by myself. My husband had a relapse of severe back pain that kept him in his zero-gravity chair much of the summer. I gardened and hauled dirt in Texas heat, managed pool care, kept up the household chores and errands, hung pictures, plus, the most difficult part: wrangling the 10-year-old granddaughter. (After treatment, husband is doing well.)

Parenting as a grandparent, at my age, is hard. It’s just hard. With a bright pre-pubescent tween with a lot of attitude, it’s even harder. There have been many times when I just thought, “I can’t do this.”

But of course I must and I can. Now that the granddaughter is in school, it’s easier, but it does mean early rising, packing lunch, making sure someone is home at 3 p.m., and dealing with the dreaded math homework in the evening.

We have horrible days and we have good days. She gets herself up and ready with no difficulty, her grades are good so far and she does her homework without argument. I walk her to and from school, which is a great opportunity for conversation. She has made some school friends and has done one sleepover, giving us a night out to see a play. It will continue to alternate between challenge and fun.

What gets me through (besides coffee in the morning and wine in the evening):

  • I remind myself regularly: “It is a privilege and a joy to be able to do this.”
  • My art, music, knitting, church and political events keep me occupied and help me make friends.
  • I found a scrap of writing while we were moving that said: “Swimming is my exercise, my meditation, my relaxation and my serenity.” I float on my back and watch hummingbirds at the feeders. The pool and patio are also great for socializing with friends and neighbors.
  • Being in a comfortable house in a peaceful, pleasant, safe neighborhood in a community we’re coming to love.
  • Walking the dog.

    Junior in the backyard with his favorite thing.

But serious attitude work has helped the most. I am attempting mindfulness (imperfectly, of course) and meditation (not enough). I have reminders when self-pity kicks in:

  • Keeping my head up. Sometimes I catch myself slumping and looking at the ground. Simply pulling my head up and seeing trees and blue sky will lift me out of a funk.
  • Breathing. It’s obvious, but a stressed person doesn’t breathe well. Sometimes I’ll just stop and take a deep breath.
  • Gratitude. I am so blessed–good health, a wonderful home, loving family around me (even if they often drive me crazy), the sweetest dog in the world,

    Just because he’s so beautiful. (Fairy garden by my daughter and granddaughter.)

    enough of pretty much everything we need. I am reminded of a line from the movie “American Beauty,” “There is beauty everywhere.” I keep my eyes open for it, especially small things. A butterfly, a kid waving from a school bus, flowers on my windowsill, give me a lift.

    Foyer table.

Kitchen window on a rainy day.

Even if I just get an inexpensive bunch from the supermarket, fresh flowers in pretty vases make me happy.

  • On the bathroom wall is a quote from the Buddha: “Everything that has a beginning has an ending. Make peace with that and all will be well.” 
  • Mollie Player, in her blog, quoted something that (paraphrased) has become my mantra: “It’s all good, even the awful stuff, because it’s all part of the journey.”  This one is not easy, but if you can really live it, it works. Grandkid being snotty, husband hurting, family worries, my own aches and pains–it’s all part of the journey.

What gets you through?

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Home at Last, Part 2

My previous post was about physical aspects of settling into our new home. This post is about finding connections as we make this town our home.

After living in Austin for 35 years, I was burned out on the big city and looked forward to small-town life. We chose Kerrville because it met our needs in many ways–geography, scenery, affordability, schools, health care, the arts (theater for husband, art and music for me), a Unitarian Universalist congregation. We knew it would be more socially and politically conservative than Austin–almost anywhere in Texas would be–but we also knew there are people who share our views and we would find them.

The connections made so far (some of them overlap, as do many of the people):

    • UU Church of the Hill Country. Good minister, friendly people, small, attractive space, many activities in addition to Sunday services. Choir practice starts this week and I’m giving it a try. Like so many activities in this older community, rehearsals are in the afternoon. As long as Gary is here at 3:15 when granddaughter comes home, I can do it. She also likes the RE program because it’s small and not overwhelming.
    • Chicks with Sticks Knitting group: this is at the Baptist Church, and though I probably don’t share the religious views of some of these ladies, they have welcomed me and I’ve enjoyed the conversations, with lots of laughter, monthly lunches at a restaurant, and two hours a week of dedicated knitting time. They do charity knitting, so I’ve been making winter hats for an organization that fills backpacks for school kids.

Some of the hats I’ve made this summer for kids’ backpacks, one not quite finished.

  • Hill Country Chorale: after years of singing with the First UU choir and Panoramic Voices in Austin, and mostly giving it up the last two years because of late rehearsals on school nights, I really needed to get back to serious singing. After a reception and two rehearsals, I am happy.

    Note I wrote after the first runthrough.

  • Now that school has started I will try to participate in some small way–probably just through PTO or helping in the classroom. Last year I got a little overwhelmed with being on the PTA board, but I also made some wonderful friends. School involvement is so important.

    T-shirts: I used to be a Travis Heights Thunderbird; now I’m a Tally Eagle (if that’s what that is). And a singer.

  • Even though I haven’t participated much yet, I’ve joined the Kerrville Arts and Cultural Center, the Riverside Nature Center, and have attended some Democratic women’s events.
  • Next week I’m going to the Women2Women fundraiser for the Hill Country Crisis Center, where Lara Logan will be the speaker.
  • We’ve attended a couple of theater productions. A woman in our church is very involved with the Hill Country Arts Center, which includes theater and art. Yesterday she gave him a tour of their facility. Now that he’s feeling better he is curious about the theater community here.
  • I’ve attended one session of the Hill Country Poets. Although the critiquing aspect isn’t as rigorous as I’m accustomed to, they are friendly and welcoming, and I like the leader very much. They meet in the Unity Church, another community I’m interested in learning more about.
  • Neighbors:one brought me some irises when she split her bulbs. The guy next door lent us a ladder and trimmed some branches.* The other next-door neighbor shares his lawn guy with us. I met an across-the-street neighbor at a yoga class, and she brought us brownies the other day. After we moved in, a man across the street helped us connect the washer. Walking the dog has allowed us to meet some interesting folks, including theater people. The owner of the house behind us came over to apologize when they were doing some roofing over the summer, and his mom, who occupies the house, visited us soon after. A woman on another street, whose daughter is the same age as our granddaughter, is becoming a good friend. I’ve made several friends via people I know in Austin. We feel so welcome, and nobody asks if/where we go to church or for whom we voted.
  • In every activity, there is a connection to something else. Yoga/neighbor. Church/nature center/chorale/theater. Acupuncturist/yoga/chiropractor/computer guy. I ran into a knitting friend in a thrift store the other day. We’ve been here less than four months. I’m going to have to start wearing makeup to the grocery store!

Because of Gary’s back and hip issues we have done less exploring of the area than we would like, but we’ve visited some of the surrounding communities. We look forward to seeing more of the Guadalupe River. We’re close enough to San Antonio to take advantage of museums and culture there, if we can tear ourselves away from everything going on here. We’ll take granddaughter to the S.A. Zoo and museums when it gets cooler.

I had planned on only parts 1 and 2, but this is long, so Part 3 will be about my personal journey in this new place.

* A few days later I made a big batch of soup and took some over to him. He flat would not take it. He’s been friendly and a good neighbor, but he would not accept my small offering to thank him for his help. This still puzzles me.

Pulling Up

Sometimes you push through. Sometimes you pull back. I’m doing a little of both to get through this slump.

I want to make it clear I recognize the difference between clinical and situational depression, and this is the latter. It’s not unusual to have a letdown after a major life change, even a happy one.

Four months of adrenalin-fueled hard work take a toll. I feel like I’ve aged a couple of years through this move.

But I’m English–stiff upper lip, pull up your socks and carry on. Here’s my plan:

  1. Self-care! Acupuncture. Chiropractor. Naps. I have to stop dinging myself–small cuts, burns and bruises. No falls.
  2. Stop giving myself artificial deadlines. Unpacked boxes, annoying and unsightly as they are, will eventually be gone. We are gradually sorting and hanging art. (Half-awake one night, I imagined the bedroom was full of dark boxes closing in on me.)
  3. Get out: a river walk, a play, a visit to the library or art center, a browse through a thrift shop.
  4. Plant things. I’ve never been much of a gardener. After leaving most of the container plants at the condo, I’m rebuilding–herbs and other container plants for now, but I’m eyeing a spot for a meditation garden, and I’m going to look in thrift and antique shops for a bench.

    Nascent herb garden.

  5. Read. I don’t remember the title of the last book I read. I keep up with periodicals: the New York Times (online), the New Yorker, the local daily, and now that we have cable TV for the first time in 20 years there are overwhelming choices of news and movies. Books are unpacked and I’ve started a fascinating biography of a pioneering Texas women doctor who reminds me of Anne of Green Gables, except her story is true.

    Most of my poetry books are unpacked and shelved. This makes me happy when I walk past it.

  6. Make friends. This is a big challenge. We’ve met a few neighbors and dog-walkers, and I have some connections through Austin friends. I attended a Democratic women’s mixer. I have joined the Arts Center and plan on checking out a knitting group and a poetry group. When the Hill Country Chorale starts rehearsals in September I plan to join. We will soon start attending the local UU church. I must remember it takes time to establish friendships.
  7. Create art, knit. Art is satisfying, knitting is meditative and calming.

Most important of all is gratitude. I am so grateful for the good life we are able to have, that we have the resources (physical, financial, emotional) to care for the granddaughter. When I check out of the grocery story with a full basket, it’s such a relief to pop in the debit card and not worry about whether there’s enough money in the account to cover it.

A well-stocked refrigerator. We moved the other one from the condo so we have overflow in the garage.

Well-stocked pantry as well.

Gratitude, patience, knowing when to push ahead and when to pull back. There are no deadlines.

Our sweet comfort dog. Just because.

 

Down in the Hill Country

It was inevitable. We decided to move in March and found our dream home on March 18. Since then it’s been an adrenalin-fueled four months of selling the condo, financing the new house so we didn’t have to wait to sell the condo, booking movers, packing, finishing the school year, and Gary doing a one-man show on Clarence Darrow. Then, after June 2, it was unpack, find services, find our way around and try to get settled.

Lest you think there are second thoughts, there are not. No regrets. I love our new home and I know we will find out communities here.

But Sunday morning I woke up so depressed I could hardly get out of bed. That’s why I wrote the rodeo piece, to focus my mind on something good and positive.

Being the self-analytical person I am, I think I’ve figured out the reasons for the funk. I lay awake Sunday night, and here are my conclusions:

  • Before we moved, my problems were time over energy. There was never enough time regardless of my energy levels, which were pretty good. Now the equation is reversed: there is plenty of time–the days are long, there’s no school and few deadlines. But I’m exhausted. I just don’t have enough energy and stamina.
  • Heat. One of the reasons I’m flagging is that it’s Texas and it’s hot. It’s less humid up here and if there’s a breeze it’s not too bad. But I try to do errands early in the day, and even walking the dog before sunset can be uncomfortable.
  • No matter how hard I work I can’t seem to finish unpacking. It goes in fits and starts, and some days feel like we’ve made enormous progress, then there’ll be days when it seems like nothing happens. We’re spending time shopping for things we need–a bed and desk for the granddaughter’s room, patio furniture, a composting system, items that need to be assembled. That stresses the three of us, trying to figure out which allen wrench and which bolt goes where.
  • Speaking of the three of us: that’s it. There are three people, a dog and two guinea pigs in this house, and for the most part that’s our daily contact. We’re getting on each others’ nerves. I would love to get Chloe to a day camp, a class, or something. Even a neighbor’s house. But she balks at any suggestions. I may have to just register for a class or a camp and insist that she go.
  • And I’ m lonely. Other than husband, granddaughter and dog, the only other people I talk to are my acupuncturist and random checkout clerks and neighbors. I miss my communities: my dog-walking friends, Travis Heights Elementary friends, condo neighbors, church friends, poetry friends and singing friends. I did appreciate them but I don’t think I realized how much I’d miss them.

I’m not complaining. I know it takes time to find new communities. And I will be proactive. I am not bashful and I already have some contacts here to get me started.

Next: getting out of the valley.

The view from the restaurant on the Guadalupe River where we ate last night. If you have to be in a valley, this is not bad.

 

Why I Love a Small-Town Rodeo

Knowing my political views, some of my friends might be surprised that I had such a good time at the Kerrville Open Rodeo. I posted photos on Facebook last night, but overnight I’ve thought about all the things I liked about it:

  • I’m usually early for everything, but we got a late start (my fault–I insisted on walking the dog first), but it was a quick ride and, after paying ($10 each for us, granddaughter free), we easily parked, walked a short distance to the bleachers, and still got there in time for the opening parade, which is my favorite part. I am also weird enough to enjoy singing the Star Spangled Banner (even though I have to change octaves when it jumps up or down).
  • The aforementioned opening parade–elegant horses, women bearing flags sitting tall in the saddle.
  • It was a beautiful evening, with the sunset tinting the clouds and a full moon rising. There was a breeze and it wasn’t too hot.

Sunset clouds.

  • The judges (all on horseback) wore bright pink shirts.

Pink-shirted judge and full moon.

  • Participants were mostly local or from surrounding communities. People in the bleachers rooted for people they knew. Chloe noticed a pretty young woman sitting near us, and later she was in the barrel race. Her horse balked and she had a bad ride. When she came back to her family people around them offered encouraging comments.
  • The young contestants have wonderful names: girls named Jody, Morgan, Riley, Tana, Charlie, Shelby, Whitley and Teva (whose mother, Melissa, was also a rider). Boys: Jessie, Landon, Brett, Blake, Tyler, Tanner, Hawk, Chase, Cody, Stralen (last name Cowdus!). The announcer seemed to know these kids’ back stories. One bronco rider was blind.
  • Despite the clown’s lame (and dated) jokes, there were genuinely funny moments. “Mutton busting,” in which young volunteers ride sheep, was hilarious. The calf scramble is also fun (Chloe actually considered joining in.)
  • People are so polite. When we needed to go up and down the bleachers they made way and offered hands. I needed to slide off my seat at one point, and I had Gary on one side offering a hand and a stranger on the other (whose hand I accepted, not to offend) when I didn’t need help at all!
  • It’s dog-friendly. A guy had an adorable toy Australian shepherd puppy. And a small dog was loose in the arena during the bull-riding. (It survived.) We may take Junior next time.
  • This is not a white-only redneck town. There were as many tattoos as you’d see at any event in Austin. There were old folks and babies, couples, women having a girls’ night, people of color.
  • Vendors were few and nice, and it was easy and pleasant to wander around the grounds. Sno-cones were cheap and do-it-yourself, so Chloe restrained herself on the syrup–she said she mainly wanted the ice anyway.
  • The nicely weird part of the evening: a guy in front of me had a shirt with a poem on the back. I recognized it when I read the first two lines, and it’s one of my favorite poems. So when he left his seat I asked him about the shirt. He said it was from Rogue American Apparel. Norton tells me it’s a dangerous site, and the merchandise is W-A-Y more macho than most people in my life would wear, but I found the shirt. Gary was surprised I talked to the guy, but I think he got a kick out of someone knowing an obscure Stephen Crane poem. (What a terribly short life Crane had.)

I may have to order one.

If you can’t read the back of the shirt, here’s the Stephen Crane poem:

In the Desert

Stephen Crane1871 – 1900

In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter—bitter,” he answered;

“But I like it
“Because it is bitter,
“And because it is my heart.”

Ups and Downs in the Hill Country

Moving is never pretty. This one was especially ugly. Short version: it was a comedy of a too-small truck, surly crew, items left behind, plumbing problems at both houses.

Then there’s the pool (a white elephant, an extra pet, another child?). It was sick, and it took many phone calls, waiting, draining, refilling to get it sparkling and inviting. We now have reliable service. Yard care is another matter, but I leave that to Gary.

My view as I sit at the dining room table. I never noticed till now how the trees form a heart-shaped arch beyond the pool.

One thing we’re finding in our new home town is how hard it is to get services. Businesses take days to return calls, if they do at all. It must be small-town standard time.

We still need the basics of everyday living. My mantra has been “EAT. SLEEP. BATHE.” As long as we can get food, have beds and have a bathroom, we’re fine. But being surrounded by boxes gets old, and we still have a lot of unpacking to do (art, books and knickknacks–unnecessary items you wonder why you have so many of).

Boxes. Art. Stuff.

Mostly books. We purged hundreds of books but still have many to unpack.

The living room from the dining room. The large painting had some damage so I need to put on my art restorer’s hat and fix it before we can hang it.

These are of course so-called first-world problems, and we love it here. We have met neighbors while walking the dog; some have knocked on our door. One neighbor helped us hook up the washer, another has offered iris plants when she splits them. People everywhere give me tips on local shopping, swimming holes and other treasures.

Some of my Austin friends connected me to people they know here in Kerrville, so I already feel like we have friends here. One invited me to a Pink Power Democratic Women’s mixer, which I really enjoyed. On the next street we met a couple whose daughter goes to our UU church in Austin. They are into theater and we’ve already had them over for drinks.

The best thing is that, despite the slower and quieter pace, there is a wealth of things to do here. The beautiful Guadalupe River provides walks and swimming spots. There are several art venues and theater companies and a small UU congregation. I’m finding poets and knitters. When we can pull ourselves away from home, there’s a multitude of choices.

We have small mall, a large regional medical center, two H-E-B groceries, a Wal-Mart (to which I have made more visits in the last three weeks than my previous lifetime total–it’s five minutes away). If Wal-Mart or H-E-B doesn’t have it, Gibson‘s, a local hardware-hunting-fishing-dimestore-discount place probably does. And I won’t miss Michael’s, because Home Town Crafts has everything–it’s Michael’s, Hobby Lobby and JoAnn’s mashed together. There are Home Depot, Lowes, and local home and garden supply stores. About the only thing missing is a Target, which I can manage without.

Even though most of the art remains boxed, we have hung curtains in our bedrooms, acquired (and assembled) dining room and patio furniture, and have functioning spaces to eat, sleep and bathe.

One side of the nicely organized kitchen.

More kitchen.

My studio is the last thing to be unpacked and set up before we hang art. I want to get back to doing art, but I’m having trouble. I have broken it into stages: unpacking, sorting, organizing and putting away. I’m still in sorting phase, and it’s so overwhelming (why do I have so much STUFF?) that I have to break that up too.

My unpacked and unorganized studio space. Where to start?

Progress? At least there are books on shelves.

We had to go to Austin last week to close on the condo, and we went to San Antonio yesterday. Each time I couldn’t wait to get back home. I’ve told my kids my next move will be to either the nursing home or the funeral home.

When we have our coffee on the patio in the morning and a glass of wine in the evening, or when I float in our private pool surrounded by pecan trees, I feel like we won the lottery.

Wall-e the Polaris robot doing his job while I chill after a hot day of unpacking.

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.

 

 

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