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Put Your Own Oxygen Mask on First

I first thought we might ask our granddaughter to live with us when she was about seven, but it seemed impossible. Where would we house her in our condo? How would we travel? Would I keep up my volunteer activities? How would our marriage fare?

After she and her mom moved, not just to a small town, but 10 miles outside a small town, with its long drives and even longer bus ride to school (and sometimes she missed the bus and mom didn’t have a working vehicle); no close neighbors with kids; and a very white-bread conservative community ill-fitted to the funky creative family.

Living in a vibrant city with an excellent elementary school nearby, we decided to invited her to live with us–on a temporary, experimental basis.

Two-and-a-half years later it doesn’t seem temporary and we no longer live in the big city. But our new hometown, though small, has everything we need: good schools, beautiful geography, lots of culture, a church community we all like, and plenty of activities.

Not only has it not been impossible, it is our normal and I wouldn’t have it otherwise. As challenging as a (now) 11-year-old is, she is bright, talented and funny. And if we didn’t have her we would never have acquired our beautiful dog, Junior, who is my comfort buddy.

Beautiful Junior.

However….

I had a few days of solitude over the holidays, unplanned, unexpected and totally delightful. No husband, child or dog. Just me and the guinea pigs. I can’t even relate what I did most of those days, except for lounging in bed after waking, drinking coffee in my silk robe, eating when and what I felt like, and taking long walks. Other than a grocery run, I didn’t go anywhere or talk to anyone for three days. I did a lot of reading. It was just what I needed.

One thing I did was arrange my messy scarf drawer so I can see what I have and actually wear them.

 

One of my walks.

On New Year’s Eve, everyone returned, and it was back to the noisy TV, insistent dog, meal prep and laundry. I was determined to maintain some of the self-care that had been so therapeutic, but often I can’t think a thought or type a sentence or read a story without an interruption. I try to be patient, try to meet their needs too, but it’s a difficult balance–self-care without being selfish!

Yes, I should delegate more, and I handed laundry off to my husband. Unfortunately it can take three days for a load of laundry to get done, which tries my patience and I end up nagging reminding him repeatedly, “the washer’s done,” “your dryer is buzzing….”

Granddaughter is becoming much more self-reliant, fixing most of her own food and spending hours in her room drawing with her new tablet that shows the image on her laptop screen. We also collaborated on the decoration for a Little Free Library to be installed in front of our church, but I’m not terribly thrilled with how it came out, or how much of my effort it took.

One of her first attempts with the new drawing tablet.

One side of the Little Free Library, a collaboration between the two of us that took way more effort than I expected.

When she was at her mom’s over the holidays Chloe texted me a picture of a puppy she wanted. I put my foot down and said absolutely not. But the other day I was cuddling Junior and thinking about how calming and therapeutic a dog can be (there is a lot of anxiety in this family), so I’ve laid out conditions that must be met before I will even consider a dog for her birthday in November:

  • It will be her dog, meaning she walks it twice a day, feeds it when she’s at home, and manages all its care inasmuch as the school day allows. She also needs to help with Junior’s care.
  • She must show more responsibility than she does now for cleaning, and keeping clean, her bathroom and bedroom. Consistently, over the long haul, not just a blitz cleaning now and then.
  • She must keep up her school work and her attendance.
  • She must maintain a generally helpful and cooperative attitude around the house.
  • IF, and it’s a big if, we get another dog, it has to be a rescue dog, an adult under 30 pounds, and she wants a female so it’ll have to be spayed.

There are still the issues of vet bills, travel care, and what happens when she grows up and leaves home?

I’m still struggling with the balance and self-care, so is this nuts? For the record, I’m staying caught up on reading, having finished three books I started last year. I’m getting needed medical services for myself, now that the rest of the family’s medical needs are being met. I sing in two choirs, attend a weekly knitting group session, go to church every week and feel well-connected with our new community.

 

 

 

 

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Silk Robe Days

Since my recent post about never being able to wear a silk robe, I continue to acquire more, the number  being up to four. They’re sort of a metaphor for my life.

This week I have a few days off, so despite the fact that silk is not very warm and we’re having a chilly Christmas week here in the Texas Hill Country, I’m indulging myself.

How and why do I have so many? I bought the first one more than 25 years ago, on sale at Victoria’s Secret, simply because it’s beautiful, I loved it and it was cheap ($16 as I recall). You can see from the wrinkles how long it’s been on a hanger.

Victoria’s Secret short silk robe with seashell floral pattern.

Next acquisition was in the previous post. It’s the most comfortable and the one I actually wear on rare days I don’t have to be outside as soon as I get up.

Nobody around to take my picture and I hate selfies.

This one is ridiculously beautiful and even comes with a matching silk nightgown. They were given to me by friends who make theater costumes. I insisted they were too big, too fancy and that I’d never wear them, but they insisted I (we) take them. (My husband is also in theater.)

Elegant long red robe and gown.

Finally, on our recent trip around the Hill Country with friends, this beauty just called to me. I don’t even plan to wear it; I hung it on the bathroom wall. It was a peacock day–I also got a beautiful peacock jewelry tree at the same antique store in Bandera. They both make me smile every single day.

Peacocks

Detail

These few “free” days are such a treat I almost feel guilty. Lying in bed this morning, getting up late and making coffee (in my silk robe), it occurred to me that this is normal life for most middle-class, reasonably affluent retired people. For me it’s a spectacular treat, and soon I’ll be back to early rising, walking the dog and getting an 11-year-old off to school.

This is my normal, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But for the moment the peace and silence is priceless.

Peacock jewelry tree reflected in mirror.

 

Resistance is Futile

For the two-plus years we’ve had the granddaughter, it has been simply a loving duty. People sometimes call me a saint. My response is always that you do what you have to do.

But I grieved my retirement, the loss of freedom, lazy mornings sleeping in and drinking coffee in my silk robe.*

Between her 11th birthday, early in November, and Thanksgiving, we turned a corner, so subtly I didn’t realize it right away. It was getting not only easier, but actually fun.

It’s against my personal code to go shopping on Black Friday, but circumstances necessitated otherwise, and I found myself in the local craft store—even Walmart, for heaven’s sake!—over Thanksgiving weekend. I didn’t hate it. C. loves to decorate and she goes nuts in the craft store, wanting the cute snowmen and gingerbread ladies, elves, tiny trees, and ornaments.

We laugh. She has inherited our family’s snarky, dry sense of humor, and she makes me laugh—a lot. Now when she asks, “Grandma, can we go to Hometown Crafts?” I’m ready to go. Living in a small town with a great craft and decor store a five-minute, no-traffic drive away, makes a huge difference. In Austin I wouldn’t think of venturing out on Black Friday.

But it’s not only shopping and decorating—that’s fun for almost everyone. Her whole personality has changed. She spends less time in her room, drawing and chatting with online friends. She plays with the dog, asks me to go for walks with her, and talks a blue streak while we’re walking. She does her homework without prompting, asking for help when needed. She gets herself up with no difficulty and arrives at school well before the bell. She’s making an effort to eat healthier.

Walking to school one recent day she wanted to talk about the Big Bang, and she didn’t mean the TV show. On the walks to and from school I try to just listen as she chatters about whatever is on her mind. She used to march on half a block ahead, me trailing behind.

Yes, she can still be tween moody, even downright mean. Yes, her room is messy, she “forgets” to put dishes in the dishwasher, and she doesn’t always come to dinner when she’s called. She’s 11!

It could be a chicken-or-egg question: has my new attitude affected hers, or has her new maturity made me feel better? I suspect it’s a little of both. I definitely think it’s her brain is maturing.

But I am finally at peace with my reality: not only is this life ok, it’s the life I should be living and I love it. My only sadness is that she still treats her Step-Grandfather (she emphasizes the “step”) like an obnoxious little brother. I wish she’d treat him more like a favorite big brother and appreciate all he does for her and what he, too, has given up.

She doesn’t like me to post her picture, so here is a heavily photoshopped one of her and Junior in the neighborhood park one recent chilly day.

A friend spent Friday night and most of Saturday with her last weekend, and all I heard was the sweet sound of girls giggling.

* I now have four silk robes. More on that to come.

The Silk Robe

It taunts me, hanging there on the hook next to the closet. I should put it away, but it’s pretty and, well, maybe someday….

Mocking me

When I retired and started blogging, I mentioned that the very best part of retirement was going to bed and getting up when I wanted. Staying up reading. Sleeping in as long as I felt like it. Sitting around in my silk robe, drinking coffee and reading the paper. At least it lasted a few years.

Now, with the child and the dog, I am up five days a week at 5:30 a.m., and sleep only a bit later on weekends because the dog needs to go out. He won’t go in the back yard. Husband offers to walk him on weekends, but he clatters about so much I usually get up.

He’s so beautiful and so sweet I don’t regret saving his life.

But I look longingly at the silk robe. I got it from my daughter, who buys and sells items on eBay. It is colorful and sort-of Asian, and it just feels luxurious to sit on the patio and drink coffee in the morning.

I’m leaving it on the hook. Someday….*

Not posting a picture of me in it. Maybe someday….

Also taunting me: knitting wips (works in progress–this is only a small sample), backed-up reading, and the yarn stash.


P.S. I have no regrets. Without the granddaughter and the dog, my life would be easier, yes, but much less rich.

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?

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.

 

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