I thought I better post this right away. My friend Leslie called to get the scoop on Frankie. For some reason I stepped outside to talk to her and guess what I heard? Frankie's special night time trill coming from the direction of his tree! I called his name to make sure it wasn't just an hallucination brought on by wishful thinking and he answered me, loud and clear!
Still, I had to be sure, so I walked to the road and over to his tree. Yep, there he was up on his sleeping branch, his silhouette outlined against the dusky sky. I could see him twisting his neck around to see me, still chirping away.
Relieved, I told him goodnight and headed back down here to the computer to share the good news. First, I took time to pet Belle and Max, give them each a dog biscuit and tell them "I love you but leave Frankie alone!" I'm pretty sure they told me okay. But you know how kids are... I'll let you know tomorrow morning if they behave or not.
But tonight, I'm happy... Frankie's back in his tree and all's well with the world.
It's not what a parent likes to confess, but lately Max and Belle have been misbehaving. I mostly blame Max - he knows better and Belle is just a baby, following his lead. And he's leading her to team up against Frankie.
Yes, Frankie is a bully. I don't like bullies, but he's a little bully. He can't do a lot of harm... maybe a scratch on the back of a leg. He reminds me of the Cowardly-Lion in the Wizard of Oz, just picking on those he's deemed pretty much harmless. The type of bully that you just have to feel sorry for. He may threaten Belle, keeping the fear in her, but he hasn't hurt her. And it really is wise to earn whatever respect he can now before Belle gets any bigger.
They're evenly matched at the moment, but when Max steps into the game, Frankie doesn't stand a chance. Recently we've caught them cornering Frankie on the doorstep after breakfast (after I've stepped back into the house) and chasing him through the woods.
Yeah, I know they're just dogs, and perhaps, perhaps, they just want to play. But Max has been around Frankie for two years now. He's a smart dog. He knows better and we were counting on him to train Belle to leave Frankie the hell alone.
Instead, I'm seeing an ugly side of my giant sweet dog that I never expected and I don't like it one bit. He's a big bully. And I don't like bullies.
You can imagine, then, that when Tom and I arrived back home this evening and Frankie was no where to be seen, I immediately thought the worst. I called and called. No response. I didn't hear his distinct trill. Didn't see him come scurrying to me from the woods.
But thank goodness I didn't find what I feared most, a pile of black and white speckled feathers. I'm hoping he just decided to pack his little bags and move to the neighbors' house where the grass is just as green, the bugs just as prolific and the dogs much smaller. I could understand if he's decided the handfuls of birdseed he gets here aren't worth losing his life.
But I'm going to miss that little guy. I want him to come home. I want my dogs to stop being bullies.
Like many other Americans, I've been zipping around this weekend, celebrating graduations and friendships. This afternoon I'll be relaxing lakeside and sipping on a frozen margarita. But over it all, I'm trying to keep in mind the Big Reason for this holiday - remembering those who gave their lives to keep our country free, or to aid other countries in their quest for freedom, and those who currently serve, putting their lives at risk for the same reason.
A friend of mine posted this video on Facebook. I felt it was a good visual reminder of what Memorial Day really means. Please take a few minutes to watch it and say a prayer of thanks with me.
Here I am sitting on another Friday facing a jam-packed weekend and I haven't even mentioned the last one yet! How did Friday sneak up on me like this? Has it really been a week since I helped surprise Lexie for her 50th birthday? (She's the one in the blue birthday sash.)
I didn't actually know Lexie in high school - the youngest of my '77 classmates crossed over to the new decade months ago, but through Facebook I've gotten to know a few "youngsters" who graduated after me. Let the 50th birthday parties roll on!
Friendship is often compared to a garden and rightly so. These new friendships are sprouting from seeds planted unknowingly years ago - through old boyfriends, older siblings, dusty memories - and nurtured by contact on Facebook.
In Lexie's case, I worked with her sister Ellen at DuPont ages ago. I remember Ellen bragging about her little sister and being surprised that I didn't know her. When Lexie's name popped up on someone's Facebook page, I recognized it right away and sent her a message asking about Ellen. Next thing you know, I had not only reconnected with Ellen, but developed a friendship with Lexie as well.
Still, I was glad I arrived at the party with my friend Shari (we became connected through my old boyfriend - her husband!) These were her classmates and it was dawning on me I had never met many of them face-to-face; our high school was split between two campuses, so the two years difference between us meant we never attended school in the same building. I only knew them by their tiny little Facebook profile pictures.
Within minutes, any nervousness I felt was gone. My garden grew immensely that night.
The other treasure of last weekend - getting to spend time with my parents, siblings, niece and all three of my kids. My oldest drove in from Dallas so he could see everyone in one visit (except for Tom - he begged off... too many cars to work on and too many weekends away from home for him!) I snapped lots of pictures... frozen memories to tuck away... but I'm respecting the Girl's wishes and not posting them here.
This was a fast week, but then, it's been a fast month. A fast spring! Summer is right around the corner and I have a feeling it's going to try to break a record by zooming past before I knew it was here.
Before it does, I'm going to force myself to slow down this weekend and keep in mind the holiday tucked in at the end - Memorial Day. While I go about my business, I'll think about those military men and women who have died for our country, in the name of freedom.
Sitting low on the horizon, the rust-tinted full moon kept me company all the way home from the grocery store last night. And there he was again this morning, sitting on the railing right outside the French doors, waiting for me it seemed.
Full moons mesmerize me. I could spend hours just sitting still, staring at it, the thoughts in my mind darting around like kids on a playground.
So driving home last night, I continued thinking about this imbalance or restlessness I wrote about yesterday. It's like there's an hourglass just on the edge of my line of vision, and I'm racing it, trying to "do it all" before the last grain of sand hits the ever-growing pile at the bottom...
I think Tom is feeling the same way lately. He has hobbies he doesn't have time for, too, thanks to the monstrous mound of projects in front of him he has to climb first. And there's the "will I ever get to retire?" question, thanks to never-ending money issues weighing on him. Maybe part of it is we're not passionate about our jobs (except being passionately grateful we have them!) I pray my kids recognize their passions and find a way to make a living at them early on.
In all honesty, I realize part of my angst is the double-edged sword I'm playing with now. Tom and I have been on the go for several weeks now - one fun weekend after another - and my calendar shows the party isn't ending anytime soon. Fun can ease stress, but it can cause it, too. There's only so much time and something has to give.
But I'm not about to cut out any of these special times we have planned with friends and family if I can help it - those times are too precious, the salt and pepper and cayenne that spice up our days - I'm just going to have to keep it all in perspective and not sweat about what I'm having to leave out. After all, these are the things we haven't had time for until now.
Yesterday morning I hit on something that I think will help, if I'll just remember it. Lately, instead of "Hail, Mary, full of grace..." on my walks, I find myself spouting baby talk to Belle and Max, and Frankie when he joins us. So I began reciting the Rosary out loud to stay on track.
When I came to "Our Father...", it hit me that Jesus was listing things that would help me maintain balance: I should give thanks and praise his name; I should ask for what I needed, but pray that his will be done, not mine; I should forgive and ask forgiveness; I should ask for his help with my weaknesses rather than depend on my own supposed strength; I should ask for protection from evil.
Gratitude, worship, humility, forgiveness.
Today I remembered another clue he gave us for maintaining balance: the Holy Trinity. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit... the mental, the physical, and the spiritual... all parts of us that need to be nourished. (I wonder where Social fits in? I'm sure it does somewhere!)
Ah, it all sounds so simple when I write it out like that, but I've got years of experience with myself that tell me it's easier said than done, especially with that dang hourglass sitting over there.
Stand still, planted in the meadow. Breathe in. Breathe out. Listen. Hear the birds kreee-kreee across the pond, Belle and Max munching grass near my feet. Feel the minute. Close my eyes and really feel it... feel my heartbeat counting off the seconds...
"On the tightrope of life, only one thing allows us to move forward, and that one thing is balance. Without balance we fall into chaos, we fall behind, we miss out on what true choices we have in life..." -Laura Kangos
I started this post a few days ago, but that's as far as I got. I've truly been off-balance and am having a hard time trying to even things back out. I'm down to this basic question - with the little bit of free time I have each day, do I sleep or do I write? That's what it's come down to - everything else is whittled down about as far as they can go.
I know, no matter which I choose, I'll still be out of kilter.
Lately I've chosen sleep. Still not quite eight hours, but more than the four or five I was trying to survive on, when I thought I could squeeze "everything" into one day.
The lack-of-sleep brain-fuzzies have cleared, but now piles of crap are building up in there... to-do's that can't get done. I'm ignoring them... trying to, anyway... but I fear they'll soon swallow me up. The result is the same - my brain is scrambled. I'm forgetting things.
And then there's the lack of solid time for writing. I'm a table with a leg missing. No wonder I'm letting things slip!
Yet, despite the imbalance, today I felt a seed of peace inside, a seed of acceptance for this hectic life of mine that doesn't allow me as much time as I want (need?) to pursue things I've put off for so long. It is a good life. I know that.
I think the full moon planted the seed, when it peered at me through the French doors first thing this morning, looking just like one of my critters waiting patiently for me to come outside and play. The moon reminded me of the constancy of life. The beauty of life. The day begins and the day will end, no matter what I do with the time in between. I'll find my balance, sooner or later. For now, all I can do is live it minute to minute, as fully as I can.
My brother Donnie became a Grandpa today. The image of the baby girl's teensy face traveled thousands of miles straight to her new Grandpa's heart within minutes of her first breath, thanks to cell phones and digital technology.
In a few weeks he'll get to see and touch the real thing. He'll get to breathe in that new baby smell, feel her warmth. Her life. Life that was passed down generation after generation into him - life that joined with his wife to create his son - life that has melded with another to create this new one.
She is unique, yet she is a part of all that have come before her, including the Grandma whose name she carries... a Grandma who won't be able to hold her, kiss her, change her diaper, but one whose smile I know is lighting up heaven right now. Haila.
Loss. Life. Heartache. Joy. Sorrow. Celebration.
It's a continuous cycle, but the key thing - the promise we've been given - is it is a cycle. Life. Death. Life.
I don't think the kind of heartbreak, sorrow and loss my brother and his family felt a few years ago ever completely heals, but I do believe if anything can speed the healing, it's this new life; today, little Haila's birthday, there's only room in our hearts for joy and celebration.
"A baby is God's way of saying the world should go on."
It's sad - very sad - but I made sure I left my parents' house by 1:30 this afternoon so I could be home in time to watch the whole LOST finale.
My son Tommy doesn't understand our fascination with LOST - he says it's silly, that they never answer any questions, just keep creating more, and I can't argue with him. I've said the same thing myself.
So why am I so hooked?
Well, for one thing, I'm a geek. I'm a sucker for the mysteries, the allusions, the symbolism. I'm a Lord of the Rings, Narnia, Ender's Game fanatic. Add Sawyer's cute dimples and shirtless scenes, and there you go.
But here I am at the end of the series, and I'm so disappointed. The last 30 minutes were like a flush of a toilet. Like the writers just got tired and said to hell with it all, we can't fix it.
But I forgive them. It's just a television show, after all. They gave me so many hours of entertainment, kept me on the edge of my seat, had me wondering what the heck was going on - for years now - so I'll cut 'em some slack.
Because when it's all said and done, they gave me characters - characters that were layered, layered, layered. Characters that were believable because they were so flawed. That's what's kept me coming back every week, waiting to see what happened. Despite their weaknesses, they learned to pull the best out of themselves. They loved each other, they connected, they believed in each other. They learned to believe in themselves. To forgive themselves.
It's been a lesson in writing... a lesson in characterization, story and plot.
There's nothing like a rock concert to make you feel eighteen again... the music pounds so hard it chips away the years. You can't remember if you turned off the coffee pot, but lyrics long-buried in the rubble of your brain flow out of your mouth - the soundtrack to scenes of your life, years past.
But there's also nothing like watching a middle-aged man rocking out in front of you, long gray hair perfectly blow-dried and curled under, to remind you you're not really eighteen... you're over 50, and if your kids saw you dancing like this they'd be horrified. But you dance anyway.
That was how I spent last Saturday night: in late 70's rock-and-roll heaven, listening to the music of Kansas, Foreigner and Styx in the Cynthia Woods Pavilion, standing as close to the stage as you can get without being in the "sweat zone" (as in, the sweat of the performers on stage) thanks to my sweet friends Shari and Robert. Well, mostly thanks to Shari - she's the one with connections thanks to her weekend job.
But Robert drove us there and back, shared the great pictures he snapped with his phone (I left my camera behind - originally we had seats "on the hill", exposed to the storm clouds, and I didn't want to take a chance getting it wet) and the next day pitched in on our pancake breakfast before we headed out to flea markets, so I owe him a big thank-you, too.
At the concert, we even reconnected with Doug and Cheryl, friends we haven't seen since high school - well, in my case, junior high! I'm not sure if that made me feel young or old...
I am sure about this, though - we might not be eighteen anymore, but we still know how to rock a weekend!
I owe my kids an apology. I implied in XOXO Nina Barbara that they were slackers in the Mother's Day department. I didn't intend to, but nonetheless, reading back over it now, I understand why my sweet Tommy slipped a pressed flower into the card he sent me with a note explaining "I couldn't let Nicole out-do me, so here's a flower."
It's a pretty little flower, but the gesture was totally unnecessary; he, Daniel and the Girl chipped in for something I've been yearning for ... another pair of Chaco sandals. I splurged on a pair in Gruene two years ago (our anniversary served as the excuse that time) and have practically worn them out. Chaco Flips don't look like anything special, but they fit and support these old aching feet of mine perfectly ... and match my wardrobe! If you have plantar fasciitis, you need to try a pair. Trust me.
Thank you, sweet kids!
I also felt, after writing yesterday's post about the hospital time warp, that I should mention all of the wonderful caretakers we met there ... the nurse who scrounged up a pair of scrubs pants to make my dear one more comfortable ... the emergency room doctor who thought outside the box when test results weren't fitting together ... the admitting surgeon who did all he could to avoid surgery, covered all the bases and seemed reluctant to let us go without knowing for sure what it was ... the "mother nurse" who came by to visit, to answer questions and put my dear one at ease about the potential surgery and ended up inspiring both of us with her story: she suffered a stroke several years ago - wasn't supposed to even be able to walk again - and decided life was too short to not go after a passion. She took a class in making jewelry and started a business. Scrambling for a name for her new business, the perfect one hit her: MySCAL (My Second Chance at Life). She wore an example - a beautiful fused glass pin.
Some other loose ends ...
*At the Texas Music Awards in Marshall last weekend the Shake Russell Trio won Vocal Group of the Year. I still believe Shake should have also won Entertainer of the Year, but I'm happy the group was at least recognized. Click here to see all of the recipients.
*Don't forget BlogHer has these fantastic give-aways where, just by commenting on a post, you're entered into a random drawing for hundreds of dollars in gift cards. I have one on my reviews/contest blog right now! Click here and tell me who in your life is the yin to your yang for a chance at a $100 Visa gift card. The contest ends June 3.
*As if taking care of my family, working, blogging, writing a book and practicing my drums weren't enough to fill my spare time, I've joined a Flickr group - "The Blog Camp 365 in 2010 Project."
What that means is I'm taking photographs, playing around with the editing, and uploading one to the group page every day. Oh, and I'm looking at everyone else's photos, commenting on them and learning tons and tons about photography while I'm at it. I'm trying to figure out how to add a link to my "One-A-Days" on this blog, but for some reason, I just haven't had time to do it yet. Keep an eye out for it, but in the meantime, I'll just post a few of mine here ...
*The latest edition of my missionary friend Jeannie's newsletter arrived this week. In it she writes "...without electricity I eat cold food, take cold showers, have no internet or TV - in short, nothing in my house works but my cell phone, which I keep charged up, just in case. I also shower at night if I have electricity, to avoid a possible cold shower in the morning if there's no power. I've learned to do things at a slower pace and to adjust to a life with uncertainty." She goes on to say "... we're in what's called a false winter here. That means the weather is acting like the rainy season, even though it's a month early. Farmers have to decide whether to plant now or at the traditional time. They're both risky, but they have to make a decision. Many are out of food provisions for the year and an early start means they will have food sooner, if the rain keeps on. If it doesn't, the newly sprouted corn will dry up and die and they will lose this year's crop..."
I've tried getting her to convert her newsletter into a blog format, but she has too many she needs to mail it to. Plus, she's kinda busy ... So I'm trying to figure out a way to post her newsletter on my blog, just to help get the word out about her work. Keep an eye out for it, too!
*And last but not least, I spotted this on the news this week - a 94-year-old woman earned her college degree. That means there's still hope for me!
"You know the nearer your destination, the more you're slip slidin' away." - Paul Simon
Ah, that's how it feels this week, just slipping and sliding, doing my best to stay on my feet. I'm standing at the door of another weekend wondering how the heck I got here. Piles of junk, papers and boxes greet me everywhere I look - it's been a go, go, go week with no time to stop, sort and put-away.
Hospitals will do that to you. Unless you work there, a hospital is a time warp. One minute you're worried about your dear one, praying, heart pounding, zipping down the highway with lightning flashing all around you, racing the minutes on the dashboard LED clock ... and the next minute you're both shuffled aside to uncomfortable chairs with an apology and a promise.
Hours pass. "Emergency" becomes anti-climatic. You stare at a television screen, sound muted. Doubts gather... It's probably nothing. Why did we come? ... but you bat them away like they're annoying insects.
You stare at the other time warp travelers. Try to guess why they're here. Smile at the white-haired lady in the wheelchair who is obviously in pain but giggling with her daughter and acting silly with ice packs. Try to avert your eyes from the woman in the short skirt who forgot to put on underwear. Hold the door for the mother of twin toddlers trying to maneuver them and a wheelchair out of the restroom, then listen to her story of mold, landlords, the Housing Authority, and more as the toddlers scurry around munching on crackers and sipping Pedialyte.
Your turn finally comes and even though the clock still seems stuck in slow-mo, things are happening - questions, tests, results. In between you chit-chat, doze on a hard plastic chair or watch television programs you'd never take time to watch at home, specifically ones about Paul McCartney in Russia and the 1938 Rhode Island hurricane. You wonder why it's so cold that you're still shivering despite your jeans, two jackets and blanket. And you pray.
Our prayers were answered - the problem resolved with no surgery - and we got to go home not quite 24 hours after we arrived (feeling a bit like freed prisoners by then. Thank you so much to everyone for their prayers!)
Finally back home, you realize immediately that the world has gone on without you and once again, you're playing catch-up. However, you don't forget to be grateful, don't forget that it could have been much worse and you could still be stuck in that time warp, staring unseeing at television programs you never knew existed, shivering, dozing for minutes at a time, worrying and praying.
This first post after the weekend was supposed to be all about rocking out with our friends to the music of Kansas/Foreigner/Styx. That will have to wait because, true to its nature, my Monday didn't go as I planned.
To honor a privacy pact I made with a very dear person, all I can say is, for me, Monday ended and Tuesday started in a hospital emergency room. My dear one is still undiagnosed but finally resting, so I zipped home to shower and pay some bills and now I'm headed back up there, putting the rest of my life on hold for a bit - I hope for just a short bit.
Please join me in praying for a quick diagnosis and healing that doesn't require surgery. Thank you!
Tom turned 53 today. If you've read much of my blog, you know I never take birthdays for granted, but I'm especially grateful for each one of his we get to celebrate. I've spent too many hours sitting in hospital waiting rooms praying for him ... come too close to losing him too many times. I know there are dozens of close calls I'm not even aware of, times I'm sure his angels kept him from falling off the roof or wrecking the backhoe, the motorcycle, the car ...
And then there's his heart, the time bomb in his chest that he inherited from his grandpa. The grandpa who died of a heart attack at 56. The father of Tom's aunts who died from heart attacks before their 50th birthdays.
When we were in our twenties, 56 seemed so old.
I'm grateful Tom listens to his body and doesn't hesitate in seeing a doctor when something is wrong. We wouldn't be celebrating his birthday today if he hadn't insisted ten years ago that the pain in his chest was more than just a pulled muscle, even though a stress test and EKG said otherwise. Hallelujah! his wonderful cardiologist listened to him and ordered an arteriogram. She saved his life! An arterial blockage hid in the one spot a stress test couldn't find it. They popped in a stent and sent him on his way - with plenty of prescriptions and requirements for yearly blood work and check-ups, of course.
I support his efforts to take care of himself ... to eat right and exercise. I buy the things he should be eating, not ice cream or cookies. I make sure we have plenty of raw fruits and vegetables on hand.
What I wish I could do better is help him with stress. He worries, and not without reason, over finances, retirement, our kids, our cars, our land, our house. Mostly over finances.
So I wasn't surprised when I asked him what he wanted for his birthday and he said: "Don't get me anything. Just pay off the credit cards."
I'm trying. I've made progress. Substantial progress. But it's a constant tug between needs, wants and finances, a battle we're intimately familiar with - we've been a mostly one-income family since soon after we married, when he quit work to go to college. We just switched places after our youngest was born.
Now that we're Empty Nesters, I've doubled my "paid" hours. The catch is, without a college degree, my pay ... and my choices ... are limited. I try to make up for both - the pay and the fulfillment - with my writing. Blogging brings in a little bit of money; my play and my book, not so much ... yet. I joke that they're our retirement plan - once they're finished, I'll make a million dollars and we can both retire. But the only way that can happen is if I write, and the trick there is finding time to write. Between the 'paid' job and life, there's not much time left without dipping into my sleep, and when I skimp on sleep ... well, I'm back where I started, full circle: Tom worries. About me.
But I haven't given up. If being broke and juggling finances for years has taught me anything, it's to be creative and frugal. Being frugal just gets so tiring. But Tom's worth it.
I feel bad that I won't be able to give him what he asked for this year, but I'll do my best for #54. I have a feeling he'll be asking for the same thing, anyway.
(If anyone has any time-saving, juggling, management ideas, send them on! I've probably already tried them, but you never know!)
At dawn the hollow was bathed in an ominous yellow-green as if someone had swathed the sun in colored tissue paper. Thunderstorms were on their way. It figured that this was the day I picked to run errands.
By the time I dressed and stepped outside, racing to get a walk in before the storm hit, the sky was the gray of a sidewalk; dark clouds trudged across it like weary travelers.
Belle was wiggling and hopping, full of energy and eager for a walk; Max seemed eager to go, too, probably as much for Belle to burn off some of that energy as anything else! But at the top of the walkway, Frankie didn't scurry to meet us; instead he lingered by Tom's old diesel parked on the edge of the property. Unusual for him.
I suspected he sensed the storm coming, but he's been acting strange for days now. He's wishy-washy, unable to make up his mind about going for walks; he'll lag behind, screeching and fussing until we call his name, coaxing him to join us. Daniel said last week Frankie finally caught up, only to turn tail and fly all the way back home. And then yesterday I heard him squawking and squawking on the back deck. I hurried outside to see what was wrong; from the shrillness of his call I expected to see a mountain lion or a bear down near the creek, but as soon as I stepped outside and up to the railing where he perched, he quieted down.
It was about this time two years ago that he and Ruthie first appeared. Is he in mourning, remembering her? Is it just mating season and his squawking is an "I'm available" announcement to the neighborhood? Does he hover near the house when we go for walks, afraid he'll miss the arrival of a potential nest mate?
Who knows what's going on in that crazy bird's head? At any rate, Max, Belle and I left without him. The yellow wildflowers lining the roadside popped from the landscape, like one of those tinted photographs. Near the creek, we walked under a canopy of still branches - it was dreamlike, quiet except for the call of a hawk and a splash, Max taking a dip in a pond.
The trail opened up to a field of tall grass, dotted with a few red firewheels, purple dandelions and prairie verbena. I spotted a tarantula crawling along some rocks before disappearing into the grass. Belle and Max explored and nibbled on grass, but when the wind picked up and even darker clouds crowded the horizon, Belle trotted to my side and we continued toward home. I knew I was already pushing my luck with the rain.
It started soon after the critters finished breakfast, coming down hard and fast with a thunderous soundtrack, but it slowed by the time I was ready to leave the house. I was still determined to run my errands, because tomorrow is Tom's birthday and once again, I'm not prepared. On my list: steak and potatoes and cheesecake. A birthday card. Maybe a movie, or a shirt, or ... oh, he's so hard to shop for.
I slid into his little convertible (he's stopping by the Girl's dorm to move more of her belongings home and my car has more trunk space) and felt something cold. And wet. Yep, his roof is leaking. Poor man.
Still determined, I ignored the drip and headed down the road. Pop! One of the windshield wipers was gone, just like that. The blade part just broke right off and only the metal arm was scraping back and forth across the windshield. Sigh. I made a three-point turn and headed home. No errands today. I give up.
I talk to high school students every year who are preparing to take the AP exams or write college entrance essays. I tell them "Make every word count. Read back over what you've written and if there's an adverb, yank it out and use a better verb. If you see "is", yank it out and use a better verb." When word count matters, I point out the advantages of semicolons over 'and' and 'but'. Other good tips: vary sentence length and formation; avoid repetition of specific words (these jump out at you if you read your work out loud.)
Now after spouting all of that, I admit my blog doesn't always reflect what I preach. I've written essays and newspaper articles; my blog is neither. It's the dumping ground for my thoughts. A practice arena before the Big Game, the book I'm writing. Sometimes my post just pours out of me, similar to the stream-of-consciousness morning pages Julia Cameron recommends in An Artist's Way.
More often, it's a conversation with friends. A sharing of something I learned or read, or a memory. Sometimes a confession. It replaces the journal I kept for decades, the letters and photographs I used to send to friends and family, and even the hours I used to spend on the phone with loved ones. It's where I clear the jumping beans from my brain so I can get down to the business of my book, much like sorting the junk mail from the bills that need to be paid on my desk.
It's not that I don't care about what I write here. I do, or I wouldn't bother. I pour my heart into my blog. It's a therapeutic obsession.
But my blog is a daily journey, a river constantly flowing, never a destination. I don't have time to dwell in one spot - it's always pulling me farther downstream, with yesterday's post fading into memory.
But that's just me. And that's the beauty of blogs - there's not a one-size-fits-all voice or style.
The dust disappeared about mid-morning yesterday. I noticed the sunshine seemed a bit brighter and the sight of the yellow wildflowers dancing in the breeze made me happy. Just thinking of their movement as dancing let me know my vision was beginning to clear.
It didn't even matter that I was settling in for hours of tedious work, sitting on my butt. The lightness in my heart ... a peacefulness ... was returning. I think writing about it helped. Taking it out of myself, sitting it on a table and analyzing it. Looking it square in the face. Describing it. Detaching it from me. That helped, and so did talking about it with someone who loves me, praying and knowing prayers were being said for me ... those also helped.
By the time Tom and I took the critters for a walk yesterday afternoon, I felt like myself again, able to appreciate the joy Max felt in wading into the pond up to his shoulders, the exhilaration Belle felt in zipping and leaping through the tall grasses and wildflowers, and the ecstasy Frankie felt in gobbling up half a dozen delectable teensy frogs. (No, I don't like him eating those little frogs - they're so cute! But judging by the squeals of delight he makes when he eats them, I think they must be to him what cheesecake is to me. Who am I to judge?)
These photos are from my morning walk. Even when I'm feeling down, I'm a sucker for my precious critters ... (heaven is also a pile of sand) ...
... and wildflowers ... in this case beautiful purple dandelions ...
... and our blooming cactus. I've been watching those buds for weeks now, waiting for them to open. It was worth the wait ...
Depression settles into me like a fine dust, obscuring reality just enough to be an annoyance. It reminds me of the dust storms in the Texas panhandle my grandmother told me about - one minute its a sunshiny day, you're going about your business, whistling ... and then this darkness rolls in, seeping into every corner, cabinet, drawer ... leaving layers of dust on every surface.
I guess, technically, this would be more of "the blues" than true depression. I'm not overwhelmed by sadness, frozen, unable to do more than lie on my bed and cry or stare at the wall. I slept just fine - I'm up doing laundry, taking care of the critters, eating. It's just this feeling like I'm being followed by an unsettling character and I can't shake them.
But its been here before and I know it'll eventually leave. I probably won't even notice the minute it goes - I'll just become aware of the sunshine again.
It's amazing how quickly these clouds can roll in and block the sunshine in our lives, isn't it? Perhaps these blue seasons of the soul are necessary, ensuring we don't take the sunshine for granted. Blah! They irritate me because I feel so blessed - I am so blessed. I know that even now. But this grayness obscures that knowledge, or at least the joy from that knowledge, and that makes me feel ashamed. How did I let my guard down enough for The Blues to sneak in?
I'll truly believe it will never happen again - bad news, bumps in the road, and other disappointments won't even cast a shadow in my heart, but then somehow, somewhere, a crack appears in my sunshine bubble (too few hours of sleep? too many to-do's?), and all it takes is a story on the news, someone else's sadness, sometimes just one wrong word or look from someone else ... and suddenly it's hard to find a single ray of light.
One good thing I know from experience is that it's temporary. I know the sunshine is still there under the cloak of gray, under this layer of dust. The storm will roll on past and then, just like my grandmother probably did after her dust storms, I'll give thanks that its gone, roll up my sleeves, and start cleaning house. I'll just go about my business and I know, before too long, my vision will be clear again.
Have courage for the great sorrows of life, and patience for the small ones. When you have laboriously accomplished your daily tasks, go to sleep in peace for God is awake. ~ Victor Hugo
In times of dryness and desolation, we must be patient, and wait with resignation the return of consolation, putting our trust in the goodness of God. We must animate ourselves by the thought that God is always with us, that He only allows this trial for our greater good, and that we have not necessarily lost his grace because we have lost the taste and feelings of it.~ St. Ignatius of Loyola
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight. ~ Kahlil Gibran
The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain. ~ Dolly Parton
I remember my mother's prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life. ~ Abraham Lincoln
I collect things ... books, crosses, photographs. I also collect memories, tucking them away in my heart, filing them according to category, to be pulled out at a later date when they're needed.
Today I'm collecting one to file under "Mother's Day" - a file that, sadly, didn't contain much while I was growing up. Perhaps an image of my mother and grandmother wearing corsages to church. That's about it. I specifically remember one Mother's Day I spent at the beach in Galveston with my boyfriend. I only knew it was Mother's Day because we stopped at a souvenir shop so he could buy his mother a gift. He was much more thoughtful than I was.
I think his thoughtfulness triggered my own, and after that I tried to show more attention to my mother. Let her know how much I appreciated her and loved her. Not just on Mother's Day, but birthdays, Christmas, every day.
Then I became a mother, and although Tom was quick to say "You're not my mother," he would at least guide the kids in making me a gut-busting breakfast of eggs, bacon, and toast. Teachers would focus that week's school crafts on Mother's Day projects, so I was sure to get a gift.
Now my kids are out of the house and I'm turning my focus back on my mother. I'm sitting in her house, my childhood home, waiting for her to wake up. Last night we treated her and Daddy to dinner and relaxed with them, watching television and visiting. This morning I'll try to beat my dad in getting her a cup of tea, do whatever else I can for her. My siblings will come over with contributions for a Mother's Day lunch and we'll reminisce some more before Tom and I head back home.
I'll see two out of three of my babies today - Daniel is house- and puppy-sitting while studying for finals. We'll run by to see the Girl and give her some healthy food on our way home. She has finals this week, as well.
Tommy wanted to make a one day trip to see us, but we discouraged him. He's done too much driving lately, has a lot on his mind, and we think he should just take it easy this weekend. Because above everything else, I'm his mother. I worry. I'm grateful that, for Mother's Days like this, when I can't see him, I can open up that file in my heart and pull out a few memories of other days with him to tide me over.
For my friends who have lost their mothers or their children, or for some other reason can't be with them on this day, I hope you can open up your heart and pull out some memories of happy times together. They can never replace the real thing, the real hug or kiss or smile or laugh, but I thank God for them. I thank God I'm still able to create a few more to tuck away for the days when that's all I have ... days I know will be here all too soon.
Mothers hold their children's hands for a short while, but their hearts forever. ~ Author unknown
My mom is a neverending song in my heart of comfort, happiness, and being. I may sometimes forget the words but I always remember the tune. ~Graycie Harmon
When you think about it, life is so very fragile, so touch and go, and there are so many things that can go wrong - that do go wrong sometimes - that it's a miracle any of us are even here.
When you think about the pain of childbirth, the exhaustion of taking care of an infant, a toddler, a teenager, it's a miracle any of us are born, much less survive into adulthood.
So all of us are lucky just to be alive. But let's face it ... some of us are luckier than others, and I think I'm one of them, because I'm my mother's daughter.
I was born to a mother who loved her children with God's love - selfless and unconditional. The four of us had the security of that soft cushion of love at all times, no matter what we did.
Now, it didn't mean we got everything we wanted, or we could do anything we wanted. Love ... real motherly love ... means placing boundaries, setting limits, doling out consequences. She let us know when we crossed those lines. I felt the sting of spankings and felt the heart-wrenching pain of guilt, and I knew its source was Love.
Like Mary Poppins' spoonful of sugar that helped the medicine go down, my mother taught us by example that Laughter makes life easier. It sweetens the inevitable sour. We can't foresee or control what life has in store for us, but we sure as hell can laugh about it!
On Mother's Day and every day, I thank God for my beautiful, loving mother, and for her laughter ...
... and my wonderful mother-in-law ...
... and my beloved grandmothers.
I learned from them how to be a mother.
To all mothers, in all shapes and forms, hope you have a wonderful Mother's Day weekend. To those who can't be with their own mothers this weekend, or with their sons or daughters, remember their love is always with them, inside and out.
All mothers are rich when they love their children. There are no poor mothers, no ugly ones, no old ones. Their love is always the most beautiful of joys. - Maurice Maeterlinck, Belgian writer, 20th century
I staggered in from the grocery store this evening with a hunger headache, clutching my to-go bag of Panda Express orange chicken and mixed vegetables, leaving the groceries for Tom and Daniel to lug down to the house. All I could think about was taming my growling stomach and aching head.
But then I noticed the box. A long green and black box sitting on the bar, ProFlowers written on the side.
"Where did the flowers come from?" I knew they weren't from Tom. "You're not my mother" is his Mother's Day mantra.
"From Tommy, of course," he told me. Of course. Tommy, my sweet son who is making his own money now. Of course. Tommy.
Mystery solved, I waited until I finished eating and had the groceries put away to finally open the box and pull out the card ... "Happy Mother's Day, Nina Barbara" it read. At the bottom, under dozens of X's and O's, it was signed, "Love, Nicole"
Ah, they were from my sweet goddaughter, not my sweet Tommy.
I've heard being a grandmother is the next best thing to being a mother (some say it's better!) I don't know about that. What I do know is being Nicole's Nina is a wonderful blessing.
Thank you for my beautiful roses, my beautiful Nicole! I hope I get to see you again soon and give you a big thank-you hug!
"Those that will learn to pray, let them go to sea." - George Herbert Welsh, poet 17th century
I'm thinking of the pristine beaches of northern Florida ...so many memories in my heart ... the kids digging in the sand, building castles, gathering shells, snorkeling and bodysurfing ...the deserted stretch we lucked upon last summer, the squeak of our lone footsteps breaking the surface of the snow-white sand ...
... and then I imagine that beach spattered, ruined with globs of oil, the sea creatures and sea birds dying or dead, scenes reminiscent of the images from the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska in 1989, and it breaks my heart. I'm praying.
Read here for more information on the Gulf Coast Oil Spill and a comparison to the Exxon Valdez disaster by the National Wildlife Federation.
I will not think about the crunchy, dry-roasted peanuts I always have mid-morning ... or the healthy salmon salad and triscuits I'd probably have for lunch ... the Sweet 'n Salty Almond granola bar ... the sweet Clementine oranges ... the almonds ... the banana ... the slice of cheese ... the steak, chicken or pork chops Tom would grill for dinner ...
That's what was already running through my head on my morning walk with the critters. I tried hard to switch my brain over to my surroundings - to the sunlight stretching from one horizon to the next over my head, leaving the Hollow bathed in soft light ... to the clear blue sky above, tattooed with a half moon ... to the new reddish-orange wildflowers joining the ranks of the yellows, whites and purples ...
I've probably said it before, perhaps even in another season, but right now, today, this is my favorite time of year. Cool mornings that require a light jacket and warm afternoons that remind you of beaches. Clear skies, sunshine, soft breezes.
But even in the midst of this beauty, my stomach already started grumbling and my mind turned back to food and what I won't be able to eat today.
I'm not good with not eating. I eat all day long, every two or three hours. I keep a bag of almonds with me because when my hunger pangs hit, they hit hard. I feel sick. I need to eat right then, and that's all I can think about.
No, I'm not looking forward to today, this day of preparation before my Happy 50th Birthday Colonoscopy. The test itself doesn't worry me. I'm grateful for this technology, for the chance to catch a potential problem. It's this not eating bit and the "internal cleansing" that I dread with every pore of my being.
Today, when thoughts of food pop into my head and my stomach feels like it's turning on itself, I'll try to think instead of all the people in the world, way too many, who never have enough to eat, who would be grateful for the broth I'll be having for lunch, and I'll say a prayer for them.
Tonight, when I'm catching up on all of my bathroom reading, wink-wink, I'll also spend some time thinking and praying for my friends who are at this minute fighting colon cancer; I'll give thanks for the advances in medicine that help catch and treat cancer before it gets a good toehold, and for our health insurance that makes it affordable.
I'll also give thanks for friends who are helping me laugh about the whole thing. Mary reminded me about Dave Barry's classic, "A Journey into My Colon - and Yours" and Kim shared the clip below. Think of me as you're laughing ... (and if you're over 50 but haven't had your colonoscopy yet, schedule it now!!)
In other words, is there someone in your life who brings out the best in you? Someone who makes you better in some way?
Now, once you've thought of someone in particular, try to explain how this person makes you better ...
That was easier said than done for me, when BlogHer asked me to answer the same question for a new contest sponsored by Gain to promote how well their detergent and fabric softener work together.
Right away I knew that my "someone" was Tom. There is no doubt in my mind that he brings out the best in me and vice-versa. But when I tried to explain how, I found myself floundering for examples. It was a pretty upsetting experience to say the least, after so many years of marriage.
But I refused to give up ... finally, finally, the ways we make each other better came to me. What a relief!
If you want to know my answer to the question, click here to read all about it on Long Hollow Conversations, my reviews and contests blog.
While you're there, tell me in the comments section who your someone is and why (a quick answer is fine) and you'll be entered to win a $100 Visa gift card as well as a set of Gain detergent and fabric softener. There's also information about how to get six more chances to win, including a chance to win a Grand Prize $300 Visa gift card.
Even if (for some strange reason) you don't care about winning any money or detergent, I urge you to take a few minutes to answer these questions anyway, just for your own benefit. It's great therapy for a marriage or friendship or any other kind of partnership you have, forcing you to think about things - or someone - you've perhaps begun to take for granted.
Yesterday I was stressing out, overwhelmed by how quickly May was filling up - its busy-ness is rivaling the Spring Green and wildflowers that are taking over Long Hollow. After months spent snuggling (and snoozing) on the couch, watching movies with Tom, suddenly I'm faced with a full dance card.
I'm socially out of shape. The thought of it all was tiring me out and I hate having to make choices ... hate having to say "no" to anything ...
Then last night we traveled to the other side of the lake to hear the Shake Russell Trio perform again. Sitting under the stars and oak trees, with the music and soft breeze surrounding me, I could feel the stress start melting away, especially when Shake sang "Today's the Day" - a joyous song about making the most of each day.
This morning I knelt in church, relishing the sunlight pouring in through the stained glass window behind the altar and the quiet seeping into my soul. A sigh welled up from deep inside and escaped, and I knew that what was left of yesterday's stress was gone, leaving only anticipation of this wonderful month behind.
Because the next few weeks are going to wonderful, full of friends and family, and I'm actually very grateful and excited about everything written in each of those little squares on my calendar ... birthdays, graduations, a wedding, Mother's Day. I'm going to remember to live for each moment, enjoy each second as it comes and quit thinking about the next one. My brain has got to slow down ... it has to quit running ahead, ignoring the beauty of the here and now!
The challenge will be staying on top of the things I need to do in between all of the fun things, plus get enough sleep so that I can enjoy it all (and others can enjoy being around me!) I'll just keeping playing "Today's the Day", over and over and over in my head ...
The fun started this week. Thursday night a friend from my shiftwork days came out to the house for dinner with his wife. Ester was in town for work, and Gene tagged along. We realized it had been fourteen years since we've seen each other! How can that be? I'm so glad he called and they were able to come out to the house for dinner ...
Friday night we helped celebrate my friend Larry's birthday. Celebrations don't stop after 50!
Yesterday morning Tom and I welcomed May by sleeping late (all of those 4 AM's caught up to me) and taking the critters for a long walk. It's shiftchange for the flowers. Here are a few newcomers I spotted ...
Last night was like a dream - a perfect Texas night filled with the music of Shake Russell Trio. Getting to see Dee, Shake and our friend Bob again was just icing on the cake.
Kiss your life. Accept it, just as it is. Today. Now. So that those moments of happiness you're waiting for don't pass you by. - Unknown.
The cream of enjoyment in this life is always impromptu. The chance walk; the unexpected visit; the unpremeditated journey; the unsought conversation or acquaintance. - Fanny Fern
Tomorrow will be good, but today is awesome! I'm determined to make the most of every second! - Me