There will always be boulders in the road ahead. Sometimes we can get around them; sometimes they bring us to a screeching halt. Now and then we crash headlong into one and it knocks us flat.
My last post was about my “year in tight shoes.” I seemed think the worst was over and that I could relax a bit, coast, enjoy a glass of wine on the patio after harvesting goodies from the garden. Silly me.
The Universe has ways of reminding us not to get smug. This time it hit me upside the head with a 2×4. On March 29, my daughter’s house burned down. She lost nearly everything, including her home-based business. Humans and animals are all ok.
While I made several trips (a two-hour drive each way) to help her in whatever small ways I was able–cleaning soot off salvaged items, laundering other items (multiple washes to remove the smell), taking meals, providing a few hotel nights–we were dealing with our own mess at home–not catastrophic like my daughter’s, but exceedingly annoying.
We had had an infestation of small flies for weeks. One pest control “expert” decided to fog the house with what I later learned was Deltamithrin, or Delta dust–waterproof, mildly toxic, nearly impossible to remove. Every object in the house had to be cleaned, from bed linens, curtains, furniture and rugs, to counters, floors, cupboards, knickknacks. Every. Single. Item. The floors took five moppings–with industrial-strength vinegar–to finally remove the white residue. This cleanup took a week (with the help of our cleaning lady, for which the pest company’s insurance reimbursed us), so I went from wiping black soot off china and glass to wiping white powder off everything in our house. (Soon afterwards, the remaining guinea pig died, but I think it was loneliness. The animals were out of the house with us during the fogging.)
And–kicker!–we still have flies. We’ve had five visits from three different pest control companies, as well as three plumbing service calls to eliminate leaks and wet spots where flies might breed.
Our situation is only annoying, not tragic. My daughter will rebuild her life and her home, and it will be better. She is managing with as much grace and fortitude as a person could be expected to after so much loss.
And I continue to live under the illusion that once this phase of challenges, plus some ongoing tasks, are done, I can relax. The patio, the wine, the knitting, and the backlog of New Yorker magazines, await.
And the Universe will continue to place boulders in the road to remind me the path–mine or anyone’s–usually isn’t a stroll in the park.
Going through difficult times is a bit like wearing uncomfortable shoes: you don’t realize how bad they feel until you take them off.
Nearly a year into our new home venture, it feels like we’re emerging from a tunnel. There have been many challenges, surprises, upsets and a lot of really great stuff.
On March 18, 2017, we chose our new home and began the moving process. Three months prior, my husband had had back surgery to correct a bulging disc that impinged on the sciatic nerve. He was doing well. We had discussed leaving Austin for a smaller town and decided Kerrville filled our needs.
After the move in early June, the back problem re-emerged–no doubt, at least in part, related to packing, lifting, painting, cleaning and everything else associated with moving, even with movers. And it was a nightmare move, mostly because of the movers, who were incompetent and surly. (One large item, a Japanese stone lantern, did not find its way home until fall, when I literally went and got it from the warehouse in Round Rock. Other items, including a favorite framed still shot from the movie “Casablanca,” remains missing.)
Anyway, we accomplished a lot over the summer and ensuing months despite husband’s back problems: balancing and correcting water quality in a neglected swimming pool; acquiring a hot-tub (balm for aching muscles); setting up composting; hiring lawn care; decorating and hanging art; going all-out with Christmas trees and decorating, hosting two holiday parties! We’ve made an effort to meet like-minded people. I go to a weekly knitting group; we have joined a church; we have become involved with local liberal/progressive politics (futile as that might be in this red-meat part of a blood-red state.)
Our granddaughter turned 11 in November. She is doing well in school, but a pre-teen pubescent girl can be a handful under the best of circumstances, and she has presented a whole lot of challenges on top of the normal ones.
As we approach our first anniversary in the new home, I celebrate the following:
- My husband had another back surgery last month and is pain-free and moving toward full functionality.
- We are slowly the turning the battleship of the granddaughter’s challenges.
- We have a community of friends, good neighbors and an active social life.
- We go to art shows, concerts and plays.
- We’ve traveled a bit, mostly around the gorgeous Texas Hill Country, and we’re near a Unitarian-Universalist retreat center, where we can re-charge and appreciate incredible dark starry skies.
- I’m digging a garden, which I find surprisingly satisfying, especially yanking out that devil’s spawn, crabgrass. I’m looking forward to bringing in more soil and planting herbs, carrots, radishes, peppers, greens and tomatoes (a “salad” garden).
- I have a nearly perfect studio space, where granddaughter and I paint and I make my “kindness” postcards, along with another blog to show my art.
- We got through the winter without flu. All of us, including the four-year-old rescue dog, are healthy. (Sadly, one guinea pig died, and I would love to re-home his cage-mate.)
- Regular acupuncture treatments are keeping my sinus headaches and allergies under control, and my other chronic ailments are well-managed. I’m an exceptionally vigorous and healthy 70+-year-old!
- I have developed a spiritual practice that helps me stay calmer and more grounded than I otherwise might be. (I intend to expand on my spiritual growth in a future post.)
My primary spiritual practice is constant gratitude. I get up very early (5:18, to be exact) to have quiet solitude before getting the child off to school, and I miss that best retirement perk, sleeping in. But as my feet hit the floor I am grateful for another day I can keep doing this. I nap most days.
A few weeks ago I attended a retreat–Knitting and Fiber Arts–at a beautiful camp and retreat center in Mountain Home, Texas. UbarU is managed by a foundation established by Unitarian Universalist churches in Texas. I’ve attended several retreats there, including last year’s needle arts retreat, but this was the best–actually one of the best weekends I’ve ever spent.
The peaceful setting–amazing, creative women to talk to, time to knit, stitch, read, take long walks or just chill on the porch–were just what I needed after a tough few months of running a challenging household. One late afternoon, I sat on the porch with a glass of wine and a magazine as the sun was going down and thought, “This is paradise.”
I have walked different labyrinths over the years, always hoping for some new insight, spiritual experience or a bit of serenity. I know it’s best to enter a labyrinth with no expectations, and most times I’ve had no remarkable experiences.
It was a cool, damp, misty Sunday morning. After worship I headed out, since the previous day I gone with two other women, and we were so busy chatting we missed it, walking right past it and returning to the meeting-house by a different route!
My thoughts on the walk centered on how to maintain the incredible sense of peace and timelessness the weekend was providing. My main issue has been my constant struggle with time.
A voice in my head (although it almost seemed to come from outside my head) whispered: “Whatever you struggle with becomes your enemy.” Wow, ok, I thought. “Do I really want Time to be my enemy? That’s a fight Time will always win.”
As I process this epiphany, I am learning to becoming friends with, or at least respectful to, Time, rather than being ruled by it. I try not to look at the clock too often. Don’t overschedule. Get enough sleep.
Of course I’m not doing it perfectly. Punctuality has always been a high value for me, and I hate to be late (or for others to be late). Trying to reduce stress by being more relaxed about time may actually cause stress if it makes me late or hurried.
I hope the peace treaty will hold. One of my favorite expressions is that “You have to pick your battles,” so this is one I hope I’ve quit.
* It’s uncertain if there will be a Part 2. This experience of walking the labyrinth brought other deep, profound insights that I am still processing and have not shared, and may never share, with anyone.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Good advice from one of my favorite bloggers. Thank you, Nancy, at Not Quite Old!
I have been practicing Yoga for 16 years. I’m still in the beginner’s class, and I probably will be for all my life. But that is okay with me. Yoga is called Practice for a reason. It is not called Competition.
So it does not matter if I’m not good at it. What matters is that I am “at it.”
It makes me feel good. Inside and out. I feel soothed after my practice. My mind is calm and my body is relaxed.
Here’s a benefit I will share with you, as I have shared with everyone interested in Yoga: I had suffered most of my life with debilitating backaches from Scoliosis. From the time I was fourteen, I spent more evenings than I can count lying on the floor, hoping for release. And 16 years ago, when I began my Yoga practice, the backaches went away. And they have…
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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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.