Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Lists and Legacies

Well... it's that time of year. They're everywhere. They're on the minds or in the notebooks of every elementary school child in America. You see them in every paper, magazine, and scrolling down the screen in newscasts. Those hokey lists stating "What I'm Thankful For."

So what's one more.

I told myself forever that I wanted a rich, full life. I beleived that I'd be satisfied when I finally had all of the things that I dreamed of as a little girl. A big house with beautiful dishes and fancy furniture. I dreamt that I'd have closets full of dresses with sequins and beads, and a fur coat. But, with time I realized that having those things didn't satisfy me at all. I began moving toward a peaceful, inwardly simple life isn't about depriving and denying myself of the things I want. It's about getting rid of the things that no longer contribute to the fullnes of my life, leaving time and space for those things that will still matter when I'm gone.

I've come to realize that living the "good life" is a matter of making peace with who we are, because until we do...we'll never be content with what we have.

Living a full live doesn't mean having it all, going everywhere, doing everything, being all things to all people. Many of us have begun to realize that too much is ... well, just that...too much. Maybe we've been collecting so many things because we've been living in a past life. Or we've been living in a maybe someday, what if I might life.

Acheiving serenity may ultimately mean doing fewer things and having less stuff, but when the time is right for each of us, the decision to do less and to own less, will come, not from self denial, but from the wisdom that comes by taking time fo figure out what is really important to us, and in letting go of all the rest.

I finally came to the point a few years back when I decided not to buy one more thing unless it was something I absolutely could not live without. There's not too much of that out there.

Now, if I buy something, I'll treat myself to a big bouquet of flowers. I'll spend the afternoon with a friend, see a matinee and buy the biggest bucket of popcorn they sell. I'll buy some little thing to surprise a neighbor. I'll spend my time and money on building memories, not building a higher stack of clutter to set on a shelf, or purchasing something else that I'll have to squeeze into an already overflowing closet.

Since making that decision, I have had fewer things, but more abundance in my life.

I wrote a list of what abundance was to me a few years back. I share it with you now because this really is what I'm thankful for.

Wildflowers in a mason jar
Birds sitting on telephones wires
Licking the beaters
My Mother's hands
Bare feet on a summer day
A cup of tea and a moment of quiet
Hummingbirds fighting over the bird feeder
The sharp smell of fallen pine needles
A tank full of gas and time for a drive
Raspberry starts in spring
family vacations
Wearing fun hats
Wind chimes in a garden
Warm socks on a cold day
The words, "Mom, I'm home"
Sandpipers chasing waves on a sandy shore
Playing dress up
Jumping in a pile of fall leaves
A cool hand on a hot forehead
Telling stories at dusk
My children's faces by campfire light
Someone to cry with
My husband walking with our children
Having a choice
A ripe nectarine
The funny names of small towns
Sand between my toes
Nuzzling a baby's downy hair
Waking to someone you love beside you
A freshly sharpened pencil
Horses running in a field
Little boys playing in puddles
White English fences
The family dog's welcome

All of these make my LIFE full, not the corners of my family room. I am grateful to have learned what I truly want to leave behind for my children. A legacy of pleasure in the small joys each day brings. Memories of a mother who built sand castles with them, took leisurely water hikes, shared sweet oranges and laughter with them, who loves them, loves their father, and who loves God.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Just desserts

I got up a little early this morning to make some rice pudding to take to a colleague who had quite a mishap on her horse yesterday... I was just a tad bleary eyed, so I turned the "Juke Box Oldies" station on the sound system to help put some spark in my step.

I'm measuring the cinnamon when a twangy little ditty by the name of "Just Walk on By" starts to play. Some pygmie of a man is singing to his sweetheart how much he loves her, but he belongs to another...sob. He blathers on about how hard it is for him to think of giving her up, he just can't...but, they must remain strangers on the street... wah, sob. So he tells her that if she sees him with his wife just to "Walk on By", and "Wait on the Corner". Are you kidding me?! Not gonna happen with this gal! I'm beating the eggs furiously by this time thinking, "Am I supposed to feel sorry for this two timing twit?" (I know, I get worked up easily when you try to get me moving sooner than my bodie's natural cycle wants to)...

Then... I love this... the very next song to play was, "Hit the Road, Jack". Woohoo!Is that sweet justice, or what? It just got me whistling and dancing, singing at top volume and slapping my pant leg with a wooden spoon everytime the song said, "Hit the Ro-o-oad Jack, and don't you come back no more, no more, no more, no more... Hit the Ro-o-oad Jack, and don't you come back no more.... I was feeling good as I placed my rice, egg and raisin dessert in the oven. Silly? Yeah, probably. I mean it wasn't a major strike for womanhood or anything. But, whatever works to bring a giggle to your heart, eh?

Anyway... Hopefully, this will NOT be the highlight of my day. I raise my orange juice glass to better things to come, and the ability to continue to enjoy the small things.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Sandman's Fairie Dust

Remember when you could sleep anytime you wanted? Anywhere you were? Our lives were uncluttered, and therefore our minds were uncluttered. The sandman would sprinkle a little of his magic fairie dust in our eyes, we'd yawn twice, and ZZZZZZZ... It was as simple as that.

For years, decades actually, I didn't sleep more than four hours a night. I'd crumble into bed exhausted, snuggle into the folds of my down comforter and let my head melt into the pillow. aaahhhh... sleep, blessed sleep. A deep sigh. And then it would start. My junkyard of a mind, that seemed shackled to the day's stresses, would begin frantically sprinting from one disjointed thought to another and I would lie there for what seemed to be centuries listening to my bones decay and my brain matter turn into slumgullion. A lack of sleep doesn't do anything particularly nice for a woman's face, or her body for that matter. And we don't even want to start to discuss what flopping like a dying fish from ten p.m. til 3:00 a.m. does for her creativity. It was usually about three that I'd slip into slumber... just long enough to feel like sludge when I'd wake up at 4:15 feeling a definite, bordering on urgent, need to pee. I'd regularly stub my toe on the book that fell off the bed, or trip over the shoes kicked carelessly from my feet, and grope for the ladies room. Mission accomplished... I'd feel my way back to bed. About now, I'd be dizzy with wanting to sleep... I'd surround myself with the warmth and solace of bed, reach out to feel Wayne's broad shoulders beside me, and shut my eyes feeling comforted and secure. And then, the hotflashes would start. Covers off, covers on... flop to my right side, flop to the left, ...covers off, covers on. And so it would go until about 7:00 a.m. when at last, I'd sink into the dark goodnight. Until 7:45 when the alarm clock would scratch it's noisy wake up call. Fortunately, I've been an extremely high energy person my entire life, and I've always loved morning... so I didn't grump at the kids while eating breakfast too often. But, I'm pretty sure I have a dozen or so more wrinkles than I should have.

But then one day, while out for a drive to no where in particular, we stumbled across the Hollow. The owner was just nailing a For Sale sign to the gate as we drove down the lane. We stopped, walked the grounds, and wrote out an offer to purchase on the spot. In less than a month we had moved onto the property. It was like an intravenous drip of Ambien.

I don't carry a lot of stress these days. My hubby is very easy to live with. My profession is generally rewarding and fun, and something I could walk away from any time I chose. My children are doing well... okay, maybe not all of them, but three out of four ain't bad. And the fourth one is improving and doing better with each sunrise. Each of them is a joy to me. I love living at the Hollow. It isn't perfect, but it is everything we need, and that is enough. I've been surprised since moving into such a tiny home just how much we can live without. I am at peace. There are still some nights when I don't sleep. But it's usually because I want to write, or make beaded bookmarks, or sculpt a Santa face, or take a ridiculously long shower and meditate. I am like a child again. I sleep when I need to, wherever I am. Life is uncluttered. The sandman may not work his magic with his fairie dust any longer, but I take a hot shower or sip a glass of hot milk and ZZZZZZZZ. It's as simple as that.

Life is delicious!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Just thinkin...

I read about a psychiatry class on emotional extremes where the professor was asking the students the opposite of several emotions. "What is the opposite of joy?" he asked one student. "Sadness" was the reply. "The opposite of depression?" he asked another student, the scholar in the class. "Ebulience" was the answer. Very good, commented the professor. The professor then asked a young woman from Texas, "What is the opposite of woe?" The Texan, crinkled her brow, thought, brightened, and replied, "Sir, I believe that would be giddy-up".

I was just thinking about that.... and it's true. The opposite of woe really is giddy-up. Git thee up. Get going. Get moving. Do something. And if you really want to dump those woes, do something for someone else. Perhaps the Texan was the true scholar.

I don't know the full circumstances in the lives of many of you... but I do know this. There are several of you who have grasped this concept in their teeth, said "giddy-up", moved past your trials and woes and are making a full, rounded life for yourselves and those in your circle of influence. You are my inspiration. My cowgirl hat is off to all of you!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Gladys Lena "Happy Bottom" Brown

In answer to my good friend Lin's request. Here are a couple of photographs of my mother.

The top picture is one of my favorites. It's the way I remember her...doing some little kindess for someone.

She is eighty years old and sitting at my dining room table writing a note to a neighbor to tell her she had noticed her young son doing something she thought was impressive that morning. She was always and forever writing notes to someone. Truly, there never beat a more tender heart.

I should have included a picture of her handwriting. She could write smaller than I can type, both beautifully and legibly. Honestly, Reader's Digest would have condensed one of her postcards before printing it.

The second photo is her graduation picture. In her youth her hair was jet black and extremely thick. She was a small woman...only 5'2". She married at 22. She and my dad fell in love amost instantly and remained contentedly husband and wife throughout their lives.

I need to get the one small indignity she had to face out of the way. She was the oldest of five children...had three younger brothers. They were a motley crew who referred to her from the time they first learned to speak as "Happy Bottom". Her name was Gladys... get it? glad -ys... got it yet? Glad-ass. Brothers! Seems like their whole purpose is to taunt. At least when they're not protecting. She had a ready laugh, although she never understood anybody's jokes. She knew every flower in creation by both common and botanical names. She was an average cook when it came to meatloaf and soups, but, she made incredible desserts! She never worked outside the home, but was the local "kool-aid mom" to all of our friends. When I was in the ninth grade I wrote a paper titled, "She's everybody's Mom" about her. She loved to play tennis and baseball, had a mean back hand and could hit a wicked line drive. She could type 95 words a minute on an old manual typewriter. I can remember listening to her in her office...clackity, clackity, clack, clack, ching!!!" Her fingers just tap danced on those keys. She didn't much like fancy things. She always wore housedresses or muumuu's. Daddy offered to buy her a fur coat one Christmas and she just thought the idea was silly. Well... we DID live in sunny Southern California so it probably was. But sunshine and warm temperatures didn't stop the Hollywood stars from wearing them, so daddy wanted her to have one, too. More on her lack of interest in owning anything too fancy or "hoity toity" as she called it... we ate off of S&H Green Stamp dishes and drank from metal Arden Cottage Cheese glasses. Does anyone remember those? We lived in the biggest house in the neighborhood, had the first television and the first garage door opener, and Daddy always bought her a big car. But, that was him... not her.

She never went to bed until my sisters and I were tucked in for the night after an evening out. She asked all of us the same question almost every time we came in the door. "Did he kiss you good night?" And her reaction to our answers remained the same for a decade. "No" resulted in a pat on our hand. "Yes" resulted in "Gasp!" followed by a look of disappoinment or horror depending on how well we knew the young man. She was rarely ever angry and always busy making something to give away. She sang constantly, always off tune, and generally with a rather loud voice. She had literally hundreds of people who loved her. And she was (and is) adored and revered by her children.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Greasing the Palm

Okay, let me preface everything else I am about to say with this: I tip really well!!
About the silliest thing a restaurant can do is automatically add the gratuity to my bill. The server always puts more in his/her pocket to take home at the end of the shift when it's left to me to decide how much I'm going to leave.

That being said, can I just tell you how tired I am of finding a tip jar in more and more places.
Subway Sandwich, Taco Bell, the hairdresser, the shampoo girl, the grocery store deli, the ladie's room at the mall. Recently, I have seen requests for tips at the local pharmacist's office, the dry cleaner's, the ice cream shop, the florist shop, and See's Candies. I am asked to leave a tip for the maid who makes up the bed and cleans the shower after I leave a resort or motel. And, I was taken a bit by surprise when I saw a tip jar at a Lube Shack when I took my car in for an oil change and tire check. Honestly... don't any employers have the responsibility to pay a reasonable salary to their employees anymore? Is the customer supposed to subsidize everyone's payroll?

I suppose I'm sounding like a bit of a tight wad about now. I don't think I am. I'm extremely generous by nature and am predisposed to giving presents and cash to all sorts of friends and strangers. I love nothing more than surprising someone with a thank you gift, or tucking $5.00, $10.00, $20.00 in someone's pocket along with a short note. I always leave my pennies in the cup at the gas station for the guy who doesn't have enough change for his morning cup of coffee. I leave quarters in the horses in front of the local grocery store to treat someone's child to a ride. I place money in parking meters that have expired. I buy treats for kids who have been shopping with their mom's and are obviously getting tired and bored. I always try to buy cookies, brownies, etc from girls earning money for camp or cheerleading outfits, and little kids selling lemonade on the corner or at their mom's garage sales. I enjoy doing all of that.

And I like to tip for exceptional service. But I also like being able to decide when it's been earned. I really like the idea that it truly is a "Thanks for taking such good care of me" gesture.
I really, really like when it's unexpected. But, I am growing weary of the constant hand out hand up, mentality that's taken over in so many stores and service industries. I'm running out of grease for all those palms.

Maybe a better solution would be for employers to increase wages. I know that would also increase prices...but, it would increase the price of having the tires rotated for everyone... not just those of us who feel obligated to put a few bucks in the tip jar.

Please feel free to call me out on this if you think I'm being unfair.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Broken Clothespins

Lin challenged us to write a blog about thanking someone a couple of posts ago. It takes me awhile to get my heels to click. I've been cooking at a very low temperature for a while now.

I thought about it, though... and I decided to share some of my favorite mommie stories. My mother was a woman who's gratitude for life was so complete that it exuded from her every pour. Truly, flowers grew wherever she shed her skin.
Two examples:

As an adolescent teetering on the brink of being a teenager and delirious with the heady nectar of youth, I was totally unaware of my surroundings. Usually caught up in stories that lived in my head, I paid little attention to what was going on around me. But, I used to enjoy sitting in the avocado tree watching my mother constantly carry on conversations with the clouds while she was working on something outside.

One especially cheery summer day she was hanging clothes on the line above a patch of flagstone and dichondra grass. She was whispering to the sheets, and singing to the rosebushes, and generally twittering with gaiety to whomever and whatever she believed she was keeping company with. I walked toward her trying to hear her words with greater clarity. I startled her when she turned and saw me and she literally jumped a foot from the ground. Now, my mother was 5'2" and weighed aaahh hem...more than she should have.  She lost her balance when surprised by my stealth approach on her reverie, and she stumbled.  I took her arm to steady her, and asked what she was so excited about. I'll never forget her answer. "Why, sweetie. There is so much to be grateful for this morning. Do you know I hung this entire basket of clothes and didn't find one broken clothespin in the bag?!"

I wish you were here to see me this very minute. I'm smiling so wide, my face may crack...yet there are tears forming at the corners of my eyes. This is such a vibrant memory for me. I can plainly see the apron she wore. Cotton, with tiny scarlet flowers on a field of soft yellow. Pockets of bright red tulips. It criss crossed over her back, and tied at her waist and was piped in spring green. She was wearing it over a muumuu. The day was hot... you could feel the sun hitting your skin. The moment is recorded indelibly in the crevices of my mind. It was one of the greatest teaching experiences of my life.

"Broken clothespins? You're standing out here in the heat talking to yourself about no broken clothespins?"

She took my hand and led me to a lawnchair. "No, sweetie. I'm talking to God and thanking him for this one perfect morning. Clean sheets, smelling sweet as I flick them in the air...soft grass beneath my feet... warm sunshine making my camelia's blush more beautifully every day... a daughter to sit and talk with in the shade of this avocado tree. No broken clothespins is just one more thing to feel joyful about. If you aren't able to feel joy over the littlest of things that happen each and every day... you aren't going to feel joy over anything. At least not for long. Being grateful needs to be practiced, honey. Look around you this morning and practice gratitude, Caryn.  Practice being thankful and feeling joy.  Practice stating your appreciation to the Man who blessed you with all that fills your days and your life with contentment."

I grew up a little that morning. I began to take notice of the small delicacies that God places on our plate every new day. And I began saying so, giving thanks.  

I hate to take up too much of your time, so feel free to go on to something else if you'd like... or perhaps come back later when you have a free minute and a cup of tea in your hand.

One other story about my mother being thankful and how telling someone "Thanks" can bless their day, and (possibly) come back to you ten fold.

One Christmas, she went to the United Parcel office to mail some gifts to kith and kin that couldn't be hand delivered. The lines were long. The people waiting in the long lines were becoming irritable. The workers were scurrying, doing what they could to keep everyone happy. She could feel the strain of the situation for them. They were being sniped at by several patrons who felt they'd waited too long, or the prices were too high, or the twine used by the woman weighing their packages wasn't strong enough. One worker was close to tears as my mother approached her and handed her packages over to be stamped and placed on the conveyor belt..

"Wow! You certainly know how to handle people under stress. Look at you! I think I'd have been tempted to throw one of these heavy parcels at a couple of the grumps that have walked through here and you've just remained so pleasant. Good work." The woman just stared at her, then a smile started to form as she completed the task at hand. My mom went home, packed some of her famous peanut cookies, spiced nuts, and English toffee in a LARGE box and asked me to drive her and her package of goodies to the United Parcel station. She actually waited in line again to hand them over to the fella in charge of the work crew. "I just want you to pass these out and enjoy them. You're doing a marvelous service and I thank you for doing it with such patience, grace and professionalism." The man was dumbfounded. He called to everyone, told them this woman had brought them cookies and good wishes. The whole crew laughed and applauded, the people in line behind her were smiling and the tension in the air just dissolved. It was a great time. BUT... the best part is yet to come. A day or two later, a UPS truck drove up to my mom's house and the delivery man carried a beautiful arrangement of white poinsettia's, roses, and spider mums to her door. They were from the United Parcel office. They just wanted her to know how much they appreciated her kindness. My mom loved the flowers, but just shrugged at the praise. "Viruses aren't the only things that are infectious" was her comment.

And, that's my story. Thanks for listening.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Pumpkins and Sunlight

I love living at the Hollow. It's beautiful in every season. I love the light shining through the trees when a soft spring rain begins to mist the land, the clematis that effortlessly graces our entry when summer sun heats the soil, the vibrant, cheerful harvest of fall that colors the landscape in October, and the cool white snow that washes the grove with simplicity in winter.

Each season has it's own purpose, tells it's own message, has it's own value. Each in it's own time treats us to it's own delights.

It occurs to me that we are like my land in many ways. We each have our own purpose, tell our own message. Each season of our life has it's own beauty, value, and delights.

The more I accept that time is a limited resource, the more I treasure it. The more I want to fill every minute with value. I've mentioned before that I see a great difference in being busy, and in being productive. I've also mentioned that on occasion I find puttering to be extremely productive, and of immeasurable worth.

My husband and I stopped by for a short visit with several of our neighbors to deliver a goodie to them Halloween night. It was interesting to note how many of them were spending their time. It was a tender awakening for me. A few young couples in their 20's and 30's were dressing their children in inventive costumes for an evening of trick or treating. One couple in their late 40's was playing a board game with their son on the family room floor. Another 60ish couple was straining home made apple juice. They shared a glass with us and it was yummilicious! A couple in their 70's were cutting intricate wooden clocks and painting them for Christmas gifts. (and they were gorgeous, I might add) Another, that are in their 80's were sitting side by side at the kitchen counter making rootbeer lollipops together. Why? Because they thought it would be fun. Now, I don't know that I was as impressed with their productivity in creating tangible things that could be held and touched as much as I was impressed by their productivity in developing strong relationships and precious memories. They were all at different "seasons" of life. And they were all doing something of value. They were each spending their time, and giving their attention to one another, nurturing and replenishing each other in the same manner that rain nurtures and replenishes parched soil. And they were all a beautiful sight to see fullfilling the purpose and living the message of thier season.

What a delightful evening they treated us to, and what a memorable All Hallows Eve it was.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Toe Socks and Coffee Cups

Another tag?? Argghhh...

Okay, seven wierd things about me. It occurs to me that some of the wierdest things all of us do have been done by us for so long that we most likely don't see them as being wierd. ie:

1: My favorite sandwich is peanut butter, mayo, dill pickle, and lettuce. I also prefer my apple pie hot, with a thin layer of cheddar cheese and a small dollop of chunky peanut butter on top. You've no doubt heard the expression, "Apple pie without the cheese, is like a hug without the squeeze." Right?

2: I love toe socks. If I had my way I'd wear them every day all winter long. Even to church. Okay... truth be told, I have worn them to church. What the heck and who cares, anyway? They're usually tucked inside a pair of boots or under a long skirt.

3: I prefer to sleep sideways on the bed. My own bed, the bed in my daughter's guest room, beds in resorts, hotels, and anywhere else I lay my curly locks on the pillow at night. However, I do curb and control myself in the interest of keeping 30 some odd years of marital bliss going. I can't sleep without holding something in my right hand, though. A corner of the pillow, a schrunced up section of sheet, a bottle of water...

4: I have a tendency to ask somewhat personal questions of complete strangers. It always amazes me how many people are anxious to talk with a willing listener. It also amazes me how quickly you can begin to genuinely care about someone, and how often you find a way to keep in touch, when they've shared something about themselves that they've stored in the recesses of their heart. I've begun many a friendship this way....and I am NOT a Monteil Williams, Jerry Springer kind of talk show fan.

5: I hate wearing a bra. I take it off in all sorts of strange places. I left it in a thinly attended theater one evening when my youngest boy, Cordell, and I were on a mommy/son date. I've embarrassed the daylights out of Wayne when he noticed it dangling from beneath my sweater, and nearly reaching my shoes, while dining with a group of kith and kin.

6. It bugs the beejeebies out of me when Wayne pours himself a frosty rootbeer or an iced lemonade in a coffee/hot chocolate cup. Cups and mugs are for HOT drinks. GLASSES are for cold drinks. Why would any thinking person care about something so ridiculous? And yet, I do.

7: I've watched Dirty Dancing, oh I don't know...maybe 40 times. I know it's a poorly acted movie with a horrible moral message to it. But, I can't help myself. I can tell you where all the spots are that should have been left on the floor in the editing room. Heck... I'm not even a Patrick Swayze fan, the dancing is only good in spots, and the dialogue is amateurish. So... what hold does it have on me? I can't tell ya! I will say I haven't seen it in several years and I don't plan to purchase it on DVD, so perhaps the spell has been broken.

Tha-tha-that's all folks! Oh...before I forget, I tag Jo, Kay, Mare, Linda, Cali, Maria, Cordell.
Please say I'm not kissing seven more friends goodbye.