Tuesday, January 25, 2011

All the Undone

A beautiful post written by my friend Shira.

I've been thinking about projects left undone lately.  Not that this is exactly what Shira is writing about, but I think writing projects can be come undone projects if not tended to, which is what she is writing about.

But I've been thinking about projects generally.

There is that novel I started a long time ago.  It was wacky and all wrong and needed lots of work--I'm not a fiction writer after all--but sometimes I think about it.

There is the old blog at blog.com that is begging to be copied over into a blogger platform so that I can have it bound into a book before all that writing and those memories just disappear.  I would gladly pay someone to do this for me, but who?  When?  How?  I can't even figure out how to make this person appear, and it makes me tired thinking about it.

There is the incredibly complicated peacock embroidery.

I'm tempted to frame it as is, because my God, when am I ever going to finish that?

There's all the clothes and jewelry I'd like to make and sell.  There is volunteering for fine organizations and political canvassing.

There is the Science Communication faculty workshop I was going to create, the National Science Foundation career award I never applied for, the curriculum for the kids' school on energy and environment, the garden, the 50 recipes I was going to learn this year (I did come close), the plane tickets to fly my sister out over spring break, the deck that needs building, the bathroom that needs remodeling, the phone calls to make and the 60 holiday cards I still haven't sent out.

There is the grading and the committee work and the quality time with my husband, children, friends, and family afar.

Hmmm.  I've been thinking a lot lately about why I get so sick all the time.  I am sick a lot, yeah?  This time there was the strep, followed by the typical one-two punch of the sinus infection and bronchitis.  I'd like to say I might be getting better but often I get a stomach flu after things like this, and though I don't want to bring it into being simply by saying it, I wouldn't be totally surprised, either.  Really, really exhausted and sad, but not surprised.

"Maybe you'll just get to rest," a friend says.  "You do everything right," says another.  I wonder if it's not enough protein or too much sugar or I'm not handling stress as well as I think I am.  Maybe it's that trailer we lived in when I was five that off-gassed formaldehyde and asbestos from the walls; maybe it's genetics.  Maybe I don't clean the house well enough or wash my hands like I should.

I don't know.  Are these things related?  The drive to finish things and my getting sick?  Can you live a full life, even an ambitious one, and also be healthy?

Or is it nothing I've done at all?  Maybe my kids just bring home a lot of germs.  Maybe it's just dumb luck.

I'm surprised that I feel a little ashamed at being sick yet again.  The need to find an explanation for it, too, is strong.  Mostly, probably, I'm just tired, and the chinks in our armor show most when one or all of us is ill.

Can you see the sun shining through those chinks?  Is my armor all aglow?

Monday, January 24, 2011

McCall in Winter, and Us in Winter

My cousin Heidi took this from my grandmother's place.  The lake is fairly well frozen over, and you can't see the mountains for the fog.  That place is magic.

And here's Addie, doing some hand-sewing on a little felt star.

I take pieces of felt and let the kids draw shapes on them, then we cut out two layers of their shapes, and I draw little dots around the perimeter. I safety pin the two layers together.  Addie then sews in and out, following the dots.

Everybody except Addie felt a little shabby yesterday.  Nolie and I have developed some sort of cold/sinus action, which has been really great after having strep throat last week.  I think one of my goals this year should be figuring out how to bolster my immune system some, don't you think?

Anyway, we canceled our plans to go skiing and stayed in crafting and cleaning house and watching football.  Which ended up being quite nice anyway, and is sort of the way of our family in these cold months.  Other than venturing out to ski here and there, we pretty much hunker down, make, and be.

Just a little less being sick would also be lovely.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

On the Trail of the Bittersweet

That trip to Idaho was a bittersweet thing.  Sweet, mostly, in ways I didn't expect.

Going back to see my Mom so quickly after being there for Christmas somehow eliminated all of the weird warming-up we usually have to do on our visits, the strange formality that exists between us as strangers with whole lifetimes of memories existing under the surface, and with the strain of her near-death, our relationship's near-death, a few years ago.  This time there was none of that.  We went shopping together, without any of the weirdness of my self-imposed rules about consumption.  We ate lunch together, made easier by the fact that I am no longer vegan.  We crawled into bed together and cried over Eat, Pray, Love (I know).  She told me I was beautiful, and I allowed myself to believe it.  I allowed myself to believe that maybe I still have my mother, that maybe I can soften a little around that and not protect myself so vigilantly.

And there was my grandmother's funeral.  It wasn't sad, really.  My aunts were sad, I think.  But for the most part, there was a gentle acceptance.  She was 94; lived a good life on her own terms; and died in the home she loved in the place she loved, surrounded by her girls.  The service was Episcopalian, with all the ritual that entails, but it wasn't stuffy.  The kids had placed Muggs's ashes in an MJB coffee can--MJB were her maiden initials, and she has used the can to huckleberry, and had requested that they "just put her ashes in a coffee can" when she died.  So they did.  There was laughter at the reception afterwards, an astonishment at the breadth of our family, all the kids, grandkids, great-grandkids.  The introductions to a cousin you know you recognize but about whom you know nothing, really.  So all that was good, and fine.

The Great-Grandkids

The sadness, for me, came on the way home, thinking about how it might be to live near my family, or near E's.  Thinking about the moments we miss, and that they miss, because we are apart.

Totally romanticizing things, of course.  I know that.

Still.  The longing is there.

Oh, and one more thing.  Like I said earlier, I don't feel like I knew my grandmother very well.  I didn't see my Dad much growing up, much less his family.  And they really only get together for funerals.  It's just "the Davies way," this friendly distance.

But my Aunt Diane told some lovely stories about my grandmother at the service, and one in particular stuck with me.  She talked about how there is usually one message or saying that sticks with us from our parents, one thing they say over and over again that then plays in our heads as our own.  For all six kids, she said, it would be my grandmother's voice saying, "Be yourself."

That's pretty after-school-special, isn't it?  Pretty inspirational-poster-stuff?  But I don't know what else to say except that it hit me like a ton of bricks, that fact that my grandmother passed that onto her kids, that imperative to individuality and uniqueness and self-security.  I'm sure they've had their own struggles, each of them, and yet it's hard not to look at them and see how each has done exactly that:  been themselves.

So I'm thinking on that this week, this injunction from my grandmother to "be myself."  For some reason, simple and cliche as it is, it's bringing me comfort and peace, and even joy.  It's even inviting me to laugh at and celebrate things I've maybe been ashamed of or intent on hiding.  And what a great thing for me to remember to tell my own kids.

Thanks, Grandma, for that.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Minding What Really Matters

Maybe for obvious reasons, this post from Martha Beck spoke to me this morning:

I don't want to be a drag, but I've spent most of my time over the past few months thinking about a close friend - my age - who is dying. Oddly, as you may know if you've had this kind of experience, once you've accepted a loved one's passing there is almost as much awe and wonder in the process of making this inevitable transition as there is fear and sorrow.

As we begin 2011, the brevity of life is especially clear to me, and because of this I am more committed than ever to really living every moment I have on this planet. This has brought me several surprises. For one thing, I discovered that my personality is more cat than dog. For years, I've pushed myself to be more social, more tail-wagging, more ingratiating. When I'm really honest, I wander off by myself almost all the time. I turned down several delightful New Years Eve invitations and went to bed at 9:00, not because I wasn't in a festive mood - I was - but because a peaceful, restful new year was far more enjoyable for me than a noisy gathering. If this makes me the most boring human being in the world, I do not care.

My friend had lost the ability to swallow food or liquid, so all her liquids come from an IV (intravenous drip). She says she feels very thirsty, and as I sit with her, my mind goes often to the poetry from Mary Oliver's book, Thirst:

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half perfect?
I will keep my mind on what matters, which is my work,
Which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished...
Which is gratitude,
to have been given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleep dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

It may seem like a buzz-kill to sit in a hospital room quoting poetry. But don't knock it until you've tried it; the "buzz" that often comes over me in this place between life and death is powerful and amazing. When I sit still and read, not moving at all, my friend begins to breathe more easily, and tells me that her pain and her anxiety diminish. Scientists now know that one human brain focused strongly and calmly "entrains" other brains, broadcasting peace that travels heart-to-heart, requiring no action whatsoever. The shortness of life, which we all discuss, but which is very clear to me at the moment, makes keeping and spreading a joyful peace more crucial than ever before. Let us keep our minds on what matters, which is our work, which is astonishment and gratitude. From this quiet magic comes a power for all other new years wishes to come true.

Monday, January 10, 2011

In Honor

My grandmother Margaret (Muggs) Davies made her transition at 5:30 this morning.  After my class Thursday, I'll fly back to Idaho for the service.  She died a few years after my Grandpa Homer, her husband, died of lung cancer.  I'm glad that she didn't suffer for a very long time, and that she and my family had the wisdom to let go when it was time.  I'm glad that my aunts brought her to McCall a few days ago, so she could be in the home she loved when she died.

As with my other grandparents, I don't know a lot about my Grandma Muggs.  She loved huckleberrying in McCall, Idaho, where she lived for most of her life.  She was a devout Christian.  She had a palsy that caused her to shake badly and made it very difficult for her to eat and communicate at the end of her life.  She almost always wore a gold cross around around her neck.  Her skin and hair were a translucent white.  She was stubborn as hell, but I mostly experienced her as quiet and loving.  She was trained in physical education early on and always cared about nutrition and exercise.  She had a temper, but was thought of by some as a "blue-blood," and so her temper looked something like Katharine Hepburn's temper:  big but genteel.  Everyone in McCall knew her, and her family, the Browns.

I should know more of the history, but I don't.  I'm going to re-read this book, which has a lot of my family history in it:

Then maybe I'll know more.

Of course, the knowing is not the thing.

Anyway, three years ago, I had all of my grandfathers and grandmothers still alive.  My three grandfathers have all passed.  Yesterday, I still had my three grandmothers.  Now I have two.  I'm so grateful to have known all of my grandparents, and to have had them around this long.

Thinking of Margaret Brown Davies today.

Someone's Fierce


New Year's Wishes

Last Year's 12 Wishes for 2010 were:

1.  Happy, healthy family.
2.  Find joy at work.
3.  Enjoy kids' enthusiasm.
4.  Show compassion to kids.
5.  Make time for things we enjoy.
6.  Feel fit and strong.
7.  Play!
8.  More sincerity, less sarcasm.
9.  Enjoy libations w/out excess.
10.  Make AND be!
11.  Relax.
12.  More family fun and travel.

You know, looking over that list, we did pretty darned well!  With the exception of a few bumps in the road, we had a happy, healthy, adventurous, relaxing, and fun year.  This was a year very much in balance, for me at least.  In fact, I was telling some friends the other night that I felt like it was the best year of my life, and that I was very much looking forward to 2011.

With that, here are my wishes for the next year.  E. decided to opt out this year.  I felt sad about this for a moment, and then greedy and happy because all 12 wishes get to mine!  Plus, I bet if you pressed him, he would share some of mine with me.  So, here they are:

1.  Experience gratitude, always.
2.  Make lots of wonderful mistakes.  [I stole this from my friend Ellen. I love it.  And you can't miss!]
3.  Spend money on experiences, not things.
4.  Give more.
5.  Act more like Milo--sleepy, full of heart, joyful, always loving, walks a lot [but maybe minus the pooping in the yard and drooling].
6.  Leave open the possibility to be always surprised.
7.  Family first.
8.  Break the rules more [by rules, I mean my self-imposed rules having to do with order and control.  Like, I've been staying in my jammies a lot lately.  Rule breaker!]
9.  Laugh a lot.
10.  Go to church, wherever that is.
11.  Release fear.
12.  Say yes to what you love [and by extension, no to what you don't.]

11 Step Program for Those Considering Having Children

I usually avoid posting the whatevers that go circulating around Facebook and our inboxes, figuring you don't come here to see that stuff so much.  But this really made me laugh, and also seems really true (which is maybe why it's so funny), so what the heck?  Enjoy.

11 Step Program for Those Considering Having Children

Lesson 1
1. Go to the grocery store.

2. Arrange to have your salary paid directly to their head office.

3. Go home.

4. Pick up the paper.

5. Read it for the last time.
Lesson 2
Before you finally go ahead and have children, find a couple who already are parents and berate them about their...

1. Methods of discipline.

2. Lack of patience.

3. Appallingly low tolerance levels.

4. Allowing their children to run wild.

5. Suggest ways in which they might improve their child's breastfeeding, sleep habits, toilet training, table manners, and overall behavior.

Enjoy it because it will be the last time in your life you will have all the answers.
Lesson 3
 A really good way to discover how the nights might feel...

1. Get home from work and immediately begin walking around the living room from 5PM to 10PM carrying a wet bag weighing approximately 8-12 pounds, with a radio turned to static (or some other obnoxious sound) playing loudly. (Eat cold food with one hand for dinner)

2. At 10PM, put the bag gently down, set the alarm for midnight, and go to sleep.

3. Get up at 12 and walk around the living room again, with the bag, until 1AM.

4. Set the alarm for 3AM.

5. As you can't get back to sleep, get up at 2AM and make a drink and watch an infomercial.

6. Go to bed at 2:45AM.

7. Get up at 3AM when the alarm goes off.

8. Sing songs quietly in the dark until 4AM.

9. Get up. Make breakfast. Get ready for work and go to work (work hard and be productive)

Repeat steps 1-9 each night. Keep this up for 3-5 years. Look cheerful and together.
Lesson 4
Can you stand the mess children make? To find out...

1. Smear peanut butter onto the sofa and jam onto the curtains.

2. Hide a piece of raw chicken behind the stereo and leave it there all summer.

3. Stick your fingers in the flower bed.

4. Then rub them on the clean walls.

5. Take your favorite book, photo album, etc. Wreck it.

6. Spill milk on your new pillows. Cover the stains with crayons. How does that look?
Lesson 5
Dressing small children is not as easy as it seems.

1. Buy an octopus and a small bag made out of loose mesh.

2. Attempt to put the octopus into the bag so that none of the arms hang out.

Time allowed for this - all morning.
Lesson 6
Forget the BMW and buy a mini-van. And don't think that you can leave it out in the driveway spotless and shining. Family cars don't look like that.

1. Buy a chocolate ice cream cone and put it in the glove compartment.

Leave it there.

2. Get a dime. Stick it in the CD player.

3. Take a family size package of chocolate cookies. Mash them into the back seat. Sprinkle cheerios all over the floor, then smash them with your foot.

4. Run a garden rake along both sides of the car.
Lesson 7

Go to the local grocery store. Take with you the closest thing you can find to a pre-school child. (A full-grown goat is an excellent choice). If you intend to have more than one child, then definitely take more than one goat. Buy your week's groceries without letting the goats out of your sight. Pay for everything the goat eats or destroys. Until you can easily accomplish this, do not even contemplate having children.
Lesson 8
1. Hollow out a melon.

2. Make a small hole in the side.

3. Suspend it from the ceiling and swing it from side to side.

4. Now get a bowl of soggy Cheerios and attempt to spoon them into the swaying melon by pretending to be an airplane.

5. Continue until half the Cheerios are gone.

6. Tip half into your lap. The other half, just throw up in the air.

You are now ready to feed a nine- month-old baby.
Lesson 9
Learn the names of every character from Sesame Street , Barney, Disney, the Teletubbies, and Pokemon. Watch nothing else on TV but PBS, the Disney channel or Noggin for at least five years. (I know, you're thinking What's 'Noggin'?) Exactly the point.
 Lesson 10
Make a recording of Fran Drescher saying 'mommy' repeatedly. (Important: no more than a four second delay between each 'mommy'; occasional crescendo to the level of a supersonic jet is required). Play this tape in your car everywhere you go for the next four years. You are now ready to take a long trip with a toddler.
Lesson 11
Start talking to an adult of your choice. Have someone else continually tug on your skirt hem, shirt- sleeve, or elbow while playing the 'mommy' tape made from Lesson 10 above. You are now ready to have a conversation with an adult while there is a child in the room.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Addie Style

Yes, it stinks that during the first week of going back to school after winter break, Addie has had to stay home for two days thanks to a wicked case of strep throat.

Yes, it stinks that I am falling behind getting my classes ready for next week as a result.

And yet, seeing this outfit that my sweet girl has concocted, with the Christmas dress/Russian fur hat/sparkle bindi/homemade necklace-pouch-thingy--all sported while trying to juggle, makes it totally worthwhile.

Awesome, right?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

You Give Me Fevah

The last few weeks were other-worldly.  I don't know how else to explain it.  This otherworldliness was, in many ways, wonderful.  I loved the slow mornings with the girls, the "treats" every day--trips to the movie theater, eating out, working on projects--the not checking my calendar at all.  I usually live my life by my calendar, you know?  So to just actually live my life?  Without my calendar telling me what to do?  Outrageous.

But then something weird started to happen.  I don't know why or how, but all of a sudden, a thing entered my life, and up-ended it somewhat, and now I'm wondering what happened to me the last few weeks, because there are whole swaths of time I cannot account for.

Want to know what it was?

Wait for it...

Wait for it...

Internet shopping.

I know.  Anti-climactic.  I don't know what else to say, except that I became a fiend for obsessively checking a few websites, most notably eBay (got an excellent deal on fashion-y waterproof Keen boots), and also Garnet Hill, Title Nine, Hanna Andersson, and maybe also DownEast basics.

Not even going to link to those, partly because I'm lazy and partly because I don't want you to be cursed the way I was cursed.

Not that you would be.  You are much more evolved than I.

I didn't really spend that much, money-wise.  No need to call Hoarders:  Buried Alive.  But I did spend some serious time, one of my most precious commodities, looking at products variously described with words like "hirsute olive," "plenary peplum," and "sandstone grit."

I'll never get those hours back.

Let me clarify--I wasn't ignoring my children during this time, or staying up late into the wee hours.  I didn't go totally bonkers.  But I would guess I spent an hour every evening hunched over the mac checking for deals, while dear E. wrangled the girls into endless games of Uno and Skipbo.

Not much integrity there.

So I'm in recovery, now, trying to spend my time doing yoga, walking the dog, preparing for spring classes, journalling.  I'm not obsessively checking to see if Garnet Hill has put their polka-dotted boiled wool slippers on sale (really, I'm not).  Instead I'm focusing on all of the good things I let fall by the wayside in my internet-induced stupor.

E. and I have also set some new financial goals for ourselves, and I'm hatching (oh-so-preliminary) plans to revive reJuJu in a different way.  The girls are back at school, and the spring semester looms.  These things help.

Has this ever happened to you, one of these obsessive fevers?  I get them every so often regarding certain behaviors, or items, or problems.  My brain gets stuck in these loops, these grooves, and I can't get out.  Then I wake up one day and wonder where the hell I've been, mentally, for the last month.  It's like my brain has gone on some bender and left the rest of me to try to live my life.  Without a brain.  Not pretty.

I must be insufferable to live with.  To all of you, I am sorry, deeply sorry, for how schizophrenic I am.

Blame it on the fever.