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Friday, June 29, 2012

Thoughts While in Transit


One April in particular, I found myself back in my childhood home, caring for a dying sister. Days overflowed with the visits of a corps of home-care professionals, performing the hosts of chores required by everyday life and chauffeuring Jeannette to endless rounds of hospital visits for treatment that served only to delay the inevitable. In between, I worked at dismantling our family home of forty years.

Needing a break, I decided on a walk into the neighboring countryside. With weakening gasps of defeat, winter had finally relinquished its frosty hold and spring now burst on the scene, full of enthusiasm. Patches of white puffs overhead-nothing more than window dressing-dotted the crystal-blue sky. As I walked, a mellow breeze lifted my weary spirits. The road I followed climbed steeply and left me light-headed with calf muscles protesting. Determined to take advantage of this however-brief escape, I pushed on.

I passed homes sporting newly-set-out shrubs; patches of flowering plants sprinkled the dark earth of garden beds. One or two tenants stopped in their labors to send me a friendly wave.

My meandering took me beyond the houses and into an undeveloped area. I soon found myself at an overpass bridging two ridges high above a steady stream of Interstate traffic below. I climbed the low metal railing and sat on the grass. The mélange of vehicles whizzing by far below mesmerized me as tired muscles relaxed.

It seemed strange to be thousands of miles from familiar home-grounds yet these surroundings evoked old memories. Like being trapped in a time warp, the transience of my situation filled me with ambivalence. Was the path of my life also predetermined by the genes I inherited? The decisions I made, the options I chose--were they all conditional responses bred into me through past generations? 

The Bible teaches that man was the only creation to which God gave freedom of will. Yes, it had been my decision to undertake this overwhelming task of accompanying a sister along her final days on earth. But was it really a thought-out choice or was it only the conditioned response of an elder sister who always felt responsible for her siblings? No matter what predisposed the decision, I had made it willingly and would remain to fulfill my obligations. But just for this moment, I took time out to pause and absorb the quiet and peace of my surroundings.

When a change in the air’s touch brought goose-bumps, I looked about. Something in the distant western sky caused me to catch my breath. Billowing clouds tinged with a gray that forebode coming showers were gathering. Beyond their mass, an ominous blue-gray cast already replaced the sky's clear, azure coloring. Sure signs of an impending storm headed my direction.

My peaceful interlude ended abruptly. Time to return to the house, to seek it’s shelter from the coming storm. With reluctance I climbed back over the barrier and retraced my steps, refreshed and ready to pick up the burden I had willingly taken on. It brought a sense of peace knowing that even in the midst of turmoil and uncertainty, those islands of quiet and restoration were available. The walk I chose to take had turned into not only a change of scenery but a settling of my uneasy mind.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Sustenance For Writers




Recently I’ve been gleaning simultaneously from three different books on writing—all considered classics. Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg, Writing Personal Essays by Sheila Bender and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. An interesting experience, to say the least.

I’ve read all three in years past but felt need of a refresher course to realign me with the true purpose of my writing efforts. If you’ve never opened the pages of any of these excellent resources, I definitely urge you to do so.

Natalie Goldberg’s book is a call to practice your writing. As she writes, “Being a writer is a whole way of life, a way of seeing, thinking, being. Writers hand on what they know.” As we practice our writing, our minds ricochet back into memory and dreams. Her half-page Try This catapults you into areas you’ve never considered writing about previously.

As I applied myself to doing the ten-minute exercises suggested by Sheila Bender, I had hopes they would provide an opening to deeper truths I’d been reluctant to explore. Instead, I find myself dwelling on the ordinary things of everyday life. I console myself by remembering the memoirs published by May Sarton, Journal Of a Solitude. Her book consists of excerpts from daily journals over a year's period. She writes of plants blooming, cards and letters received, friends coming to visit or that she visited. Nothing earth-shattering or mind-blowing. Just a recounting of those little daily victories that deserve to be celebrated.
  
I saved Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird for last. She so eloquently and concisely deals with the nitty-gritty of writing, I can only absorb what she writes in tiny doses. I nibble and I digest—isn’t that the best way to absorb, to make something a part of yourself? I hope so. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Cloud-watching

I begin to put lines and symbols on paper. The assignment seems simple enough; make a drawing of your earliest memory of a neighborhood. As I sketch in the two-story duplex that I called home during my school years, memories invade my thoughts, vivid and intimate.
I concentrate on the task at hand. Here is a square topped off with a cross to represent the little Catholic church which dominated our lives. Next to it the schoolhouse with attached nunnery for the teachers. But my mind rushes past the solid structures,  remembering the patches of wild strawberries and the fruit-heavy blueberry bushes that grew in the low meadow beyond the school yard.
At the square marking my home, I pause trying to figure out how to include the sand-pile behind the house. Not an ordinary sandbox, but an area several yards square where we would create whole villages complete with hills and tunnels and roads for our little cars and trucks. My crude drawings can't keep up with my memories.
I still my hands. In my imagination, I climb again the rise of land behind the barn, pulling a disappearing act once again from a small house that held too many people.
How often in those years, as I hovered on the brink of adulthood, did I seek out the seclusion and isolation of this exposed site? The prickle of the grass, the feel of the hot sun on my skin, the smell of a summer's day--it all comes rushing back and I drop my pencil, frustrated because I cannot translate it onto paper.
What simple drawing could convey the inner needs that drove me to seek this place of solitude? The need to escape, escape from the daily press of being eldest in a family of numerous children. There was this desperate need to be solitary, to give myself room to stretch, to discover who I was.
This lonely hilltop provided the space to timidly explore rooms of my mind, rooms whose doors I had only passed by until now. I would lie on my back, watching the clouds play their silent cat-and-mouse game while thoughts long held captive peeked around the open door and took a tentative step into my consciousness.
As if I were still there, I see myself reach for a blade of grass to chew on, remembering the taste as its sweet juices slid down my throat. While on that hill, time stood still for me. I savored this aloneness--this time to daydream, to explore my changing feelings--this attempt to penetrate the thick veil of time into my future.
It felt like I had stepped off the spinning world and hung in space. This became for me, a breathing space, a time to plunge the depths of my thoughts, sort out conflicting emotions. I became conscious of the slow in-and-out moving of each breath I took as I pondered the puzzles of my life.
Even as I write, I recapture that feeling and it draws me backward in time, away from the words, away from the drawing, away from the memory I was attempting to recall. I am enticed by the sense of peace and satisfaction associated with that hilltop. I will lay down my pen and return. Once again, I will stretch out on the warm grass, just me, a breeze and the sun.  

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Framework of a Dream


The following was written some years back. I thought I'd share it because it personifies my life philosophy. 

 The mass of stillness contained within the framework presses against me, intimidating me with its hugeness. Overhead the bare ribs reach to enclose more sky, the skeleton covered by a tightly stretched canopy of inky blackness, a twinkling of white lights pierce its seeming limitlessness.

 Turning a slow circle, my eyes attempt to penetrate the emptiness, searching the vague distance for something, anything. But all solidity melts into the receding shadows. The quietness is suffocating, even my shallow breath seems an intrusion. Behind me, the warm glow of home-lights beckon. This giant hulk is waiting, incomplete; not yet imparted with the touch of life, its purpose for being. I feel the waiting, the anticipation of what is to be. Soon, now...soon.

Standing in the midst of that suspension, I close my eyes, once again conjuring up the vision. I surround myself with the sounds of shifting, bumping bodies, settling into their enclosures. The flat swat of a swinging tail, the heavy stamp of an annoyed foot are punctuated by the steady rhythm of teeth clamping and crunching. My nose is assaulted by the earth mixture of sodden feed, ripe grain and heated bodies. 

Overhead, the mountains of hay wait in readiness, unseen yet invading with a permeating sweetness that recalls the days of sweating bodies under a blazing sun. Lazy dust mites drift and swirl in shafts of light that puncture the dimness.

With the goal once again reaffirmed, I open my eyes. Having filled the empty space with dreams, I am content. As I turn to go, I stumble over the cat twining herself about my feet. It is Calico, a precursor of the soon-to-be fulfilled dream. She insinuates herself into my consciousness, insisting that I once again perform my duty and pronounce welcome upon her latest batch of kittens. I follow her lead to the near corner, the soft mews and cries growing louder as we approach. Calico settles amidst the tumbling bodies, concentrating on her duties as a mother. She is oblivious to the approving look I beam down.

Obligation fulfilled, I head for the house. Waiting is the bed, and sleep. I will rest my aching muscles and weary body, thankful for the refreshing a night of peaceful slumber can bring. Tomorrow will soon be here, another day to fill with strenuous but satisfying labor. Another day closer to the reality of the dream.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Dodging Life's Bullets

Yesterday my first copies of Walking In His Shoes were delivered. This book is a labor of love. In it, I gather the stories, anecdotal remembrances, of instances that forced me to confront the changes Alzheimer's disease made in my father. It's a small book, just a half-dozen stories. But I hope my words will encourage others who find themselves in similar situations.

Thankfully, my dad's years living with the consequences of this condition were not many. Since I didn't live close by - he lived in Connecticut; I lived in Texas - those few times I spent with him made it easy for me to see the changes.

Dad died in 1999 at the age of 92. As I relate in my stories, his path of decline was a gentle one, unlike so many others whose personalities are affected by the symptoms of this condition.

It was at my dad's funeral that I first saw signs of this same disease in a sister, one year younger than I. We were gathered in the kitchen of the home place after the service. From the doorway where I stood, I watched Angie make a sudden stop as she crossed the room. She stood for a minute or so, a completely blank expression on her face as if she had forgotten where she was headed.

I looked toward her daughter across the room, caught her eye, and sent her a questioning look. She gave me  a short nod. We both recognized the reality of the situation.

Angie lives in Phoenix and has resided in a full-care facility for several years now.  Her daughter keeps the family informed of her decline. I last visited her three years ago. I've not gone back; there's no need. She had no idea who I was then. With the song, 'Our God Is An Awesome God' playing in the background, I silently bid farewell to my sister. Her physical presence remained but the person I shared a childhood bed with was no longer there.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Motivation and Promises

Thought-gathering process this morning seemed to take efforts. I stopped by Venture Galleries to read Stephen Woodfin's latest blog entry. He spoke about a tragic event over the week  that had him thinking about how brief life is and we really don't know how much time we have on this earth. It brought him to the realization that what he writes should speak to the readers, touch those deep emotions and have lasting effect. Something I've always kept in mind when I sit down to write.

Checking Duane Scott's Scribing The Journey, I found his invitation to share my thoughts on the promises of God. What an abundant well to draw upon!

I'd planned on sharing the news about my latest publication, Walking In His Steps. It's a collection of stories telling how the progression of my Dad's Alzheimer symptoms affected the both of us. These were special anecdotal stories originally written only for family members. Lately, I've come to realize how many people are affected by this disease. I also have a sister a year younger who is entering the last stages.

I put all the pieces together and realized the publication of this little book exemplifies what Stephen wrote about: what motivates your writing. My hope is that these stories will bring encouragement and hope to others in the same situation.

And...it also relates to Duane's call to ponder the promises of God. Throughout the final years until my father's death in 1999, I leaned heavily on His promise that His Peace is always available. I saw that reflected in my father's acceptance and, hopefully, others saw it in me.

Here's the link to Walking In His Steps - http://amzn.to/KVCm2x

Friday, June 8, 2012

Family Genes

It=s funny how we can see our parents in our grandchildren. Looking at a photo of my granddaughter whom I see infrequently because she lives in Oregon, I was struck by how her mouth and chin identically resembles her father=s. He, in turn, received the lower part of his face from my father. It started me thinking about family likenesses and differences. I was destined to be short because both my parents had to stretch to attain a height taller than five feet, three inches.
My mother and her siblings, of whom there were four sisters and three brothers, have battled the Aover-weight@ gene all their lives. That family gene dictates the weight of seven of us siblings. Only one brother has managed to control it. 
I have a childhood memory of when my mother=s sisters joined forces and as a consequence, both lost a considerable amount of excess poundage. I remember eavesdropping on their conversation; a conversation filled with enthusiasm and encouraging words, as they urged my mother to join their efforts. I should have listened more carefully because I, too, carry extra pounds. .
One time as we strolled the Mall, I remember watching a niece=s body movements, how much her walk resembled the way my father walked. It was a low, swinging-from-the-hips kind of walk. My contacts with my father=s siblings were few. Of those I have met in my father=s family of three brothers and three sisters, all shared the same small physical frame and high-energy personality.
My husband=s parents brought together a blending of English and German heritage. The English showed itself in the brother and sister who bore the dark hair and brown eyes of their father. My husband, on the other hand, displays the light coloring and piercing blue eyes from his mother=s side of the family. My husband also brought a gene for tallness into our family mix. Both of our sons reached and topped the six-foot mark. However, the oldest inherited the energized, always-on-the-move behavior pattern of my father, while my younger son moves through life in the slow, deliberate manner of my mother-in-law=s family.
Although certain traits and mannerisms cause me to be reminded of someone from a past generation, I quickly acknowledge I am seeing only a suggestion of that older person in the one I=m observing. I smile at the resemblance, that reminder of another. The mental image is replaced just as quickly by the person I see, the niece, the son, the granddaughter. Each is a unique individual, unlike any who has come before. Each a person has hopes and dreams that are all their own.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Ruminations On The Fork

 A 1998 design patent drawing for a spork, from U.S. Patent D388,664



The fork. Such a simple, easy-to-use tool, considered indispensable but becoming obsolete as the fast-food industry changes the way we eat. But…where did the fork come from and how did this eating instrument come into common use? Off to Google-land I went.

The two-prong twig was perhaps the first fork. The word fork comes from the Latin furca, meaning "pitchfork." Some of the earliest known uses of forks with food occurred in Ancient Egypt where large forks were used as cooking utensils. The ancient Greeks used the fork as a serving utensil, and it is also mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, in the Book of I Samuel 2:13. 

Most diners ate with their fingers and a knife, which they brought with them to the table. The personal table fork was most likely invented in the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, Empire where they were in common use by the 4th century CE. 

Europe did not adopt use of the fork until the 18th century. Its use was first described in English by Thomas Coryat in a volume of writings on his Italian travels (1611), but for many years it was viewed as an unmanly Italian affectation. The English ridiculed forks as being effeminate and unnecessary.

Some writers of the Roman Catholic Church expressly disapproved of its use (despite its above-mentioned use in the Bible), seeing it as "excessive delicacy": "God in his wisdom has provided man with natural forks – his fingers. Therefore it is an insult to Him to substitute artificial metallic forks for them when eating

Forks came to be adopted by the wealthy. They were prized possessions made of expensive materials intended to impress guests. In late 17th Century France, larger forks with four curved tines were developed. The additional tines made diners less likely to drop food, and the curved tines served as a scoop. Forks made before 1600 with as many as five tines still exist today.

The 20th century saw the emergence of the "spork", a utensil that is half-fork and half-spoon. The spork was trademarked in the 1969 but probably has been around for at least a century. With this new "fork-spoon", only one piece of cutlery is needed when eating (so long as no knife is required.)

Wikipedia lists and describes over 32 forks for different purposes., if you're interested.

I want to thank Chad Ward, author of An Edge in the Kitchen, for the additional information he provided.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Country Doings

Out here in the countryside, you never know what's going to happen. Not long after we moved our home onto the land, I looked up from my work in time to see several cows stroll past the window, headed for deep woods behind the house.

Knowing barbed wire fencing surrounded our acreage, I grew concerned as to how they would leave. I made a quick trip to the nearest neighbor, whose house I could barely see from my place. The elderly gent seemed unconcerned and not knowing anything else to do, I returned to my labors.

I never did learn where those cows went to or who they belonged to.

This morning, on my way to my little house, I caught sight of a BIG shaggy, dirty, white dog trotting toward me from the back forty. When I clapped and shouted, instead of turning and running, he just picked up speed as if eager  to reach my side.

I called for backup and my husband came from the barn, curiosity aroused. Apparently the dog responds to a man's command because at the sound of his male shout, the dog turned tail and retraced his steps.

May never know who that dog belongs to or where it came from.

Now, I welcome unexpected visitors to my little place in the woods. People dropping by are few and far between. But a strange dog half my size that gave the appearance of being overly friendly isn't my idea of a welcome visitor.