My little Camero vibrates as its tires adjust from smooth pavement to washboard dirt road. In seconds I am transported from city to rural. The loosely graveled, one-lane road meanders behind a screen of native vegetation thick enough to obscure the continued parade of cars on the main road. Traffic sounds are muffled, then dissipate. My breathing slows; my finger stops tapping. The road, a lane really, curves past tall Saguaros and huge sections of petrified wood, strikingly out of place under the overgrowth of Yuccas and aging Palo Verde trees. The nursery owners placed the mineralized wood decades ago. The mighty sections have settled deep into the soft desert dirt banking the narrow road. Overhead, a tangled canopy of arid-land trees breaks the late afternoon sunlight, causing it to strobe across the car's windshield. The effect is other worldly, but calming. The distress of my morning is swept aside. The hushed secrets held in the ancient hunks of petrified wood and the imposing silhouettes of saguaro cacti arms combine to inspire respectful tranquility.
The nursery sprawls lazily over several acres. Unlike the housing developments that have sprung up in the surrounding area--ostentatious intruders on the delicate desert landscape--the nursery is unobtrusive, nestled into its desert home, respectful and humble. The road widens, spilling me into a curved, packed-dirt parking area. Spaces for cars are tucked between boulder-filled cactus gardens. Displays of Mexican pots sport designs in colors that defy anything created by nature. How can anyone help but smile when faced with such well-intentioned colorful chaos?
Groupings of cactus and succulents tantalize, beckoning me from my car, pulling me into their hypnotic auras. Spikes of Agave, sporting forty-inch spears of green, defy humans to step too close. Globular clumps of Bishop's Cap and the thorny heads of Horrida poke out from bright, Mexican, glazed pots. Nestled between decorative boulders, starfish-shaped, grey-green Tituband stake their claim on a coveted patch of desert soil. Skinny arms of Euphorbia drape over the top of their clay-pot homes, rooting wherever they touch the ground. Sunset-orange blossoms crown the heads of Claret Cup cactus, a juxtaposition of generous beauty and armored no-nonsense survivalist. Tiny pink blooms form May Day crowns on barrel-shaped Mammillaria. Blooms of all colors open to the sun with breathtaking splendor, however brief: a reminder to enjoy the moment because it will pass all too quickly.
The air is desert-winter crisp. Bees drone from blossom to blossom, too occupied with the job at hand to notice my intrusion. Gravel crunches under my shoes as I make my way to the greenhouse. Every surface is crowded with alien, thorn-covered forms and shapes: twisted, reaching, curling. Powder Puff cactus slyly beckon the unwary visitor to reach out and touch their soft, fuzzy cottony coating: a disguise. Underneath is a porcupine of needles that will impale human skin without premeditation or desire to cause pain. These cacti are who they are, unapologetic and without remorse. There is no pretense here.
Inside the greenhouse, Jade plants mimic beauteous bridal bouquets, thick satiny leaves smothered in a froth of pinky white flowers. I've never seen Jades bloom before. It's magic. I settle onto a rough wooden bench. The haunting air-raid siren call of a hummingbird vibrates off the corrugated greenhouse walls. Ms. Hummer spins through the door and dives her greedy beak into the elongated, red flower of a Hesperaloe. Satiated, the tiny green and purple whirlwind hovers inches from my face, finds me lacking, and rockets away. Yes, there is magic in this place. I visualize my own garden, mentally scanning for perfect spots to place a new cactus or two...or three. I plot my purchases, smiling and at peace. Call it organic consumerism if you will; I call it plant therapy.
I hate to be trite, but sometimes the old sayings just can’t be said any better if worded another way. The one that comes to mind this morning is ‘everything is relative’. Judging where someone is today, in their career, with their accomplishments, and in life in general, is speculative at best if you have no idea where they started. Where someone is today can only be measured if your measuring tape is long enough to stretch back to their starting point.
We can all be rather judgmental at times. Yes, all of us. You too. Admit it. We all do it. We smirk at the woman in Macy’s whose clothes a bit too tight, her muffin-top folding 'attractively' over the top of her slacks, and we nudge the person we are with and we both laughingly pass judgment. What we don’t know is that this Size 14 woman recently lost 120 lbs, and today she is more than thrilled to finally fit into that Size 14 for the first time in fifteen years. We ask a well-dressed young woman at a cocktail party what she does for a living. She smiles confidently and tells us that she’s a secretary. Secretary! What can be more boring, right? So, we mumble a polite reply and wander off to find someone more interesting to engage in conversation. Foolish. She could very well be the most interesting person at the party. In not taking the time to hear her story, we missed out on learning that, at seventeen, she was tossed out of the house by her mother’s latest boyfriend; she lived in her car until a caring high-school teacher got her into a halfway house for teens; she won a scholarship to a junior college and managed to finish a one-year certificate program while working as a clerk/receptionist in a realty office, who happened to know a prominent attorney... Her most recent employer, the before-mentioned attorney, started her in his office as a secretarial aide, recognized her potential, and is now mentoring her. She is on her way to becoming a well-paid paralegal. Fascinating young woman really. You might actually need her help one day so be careful when burning bridges (another cliché, but…).
So, my point is this. Before you make snap judgments about people, take the time to look below the surface and find out a bit about who they really are, what their journey has been, and how they got to where they are today. That holds true for the shabby guy on the corner holding a ‘God Bless You’ sign (he was once a hard worker on the line in the factory that closed), as well as the ‘boring’ elderly neighbor who, if you would take the time to talk to her, could tell you stories about living in the Sudan and surviving malaria while teaching village children in Nigeria. Everyone has a story.On that note, I am inserting a link to an interview with me on The Muffin, the Woman on Writing blog.
I can’t brag about receiving my M.A. in English Literature from Vassar, and neither do I have one single published novel credit to my name, but I have given a home to an elderly grandmother, and helped a husband finish his degree(s), and taken care of a mother with dementia, and worked my sizable ass off to continue my education so I could push my way up from engineering secretary to technical editor, so…. Knowing where I have been, I have to say I’m pretty darn pleased with where I find myself now. As my mother used to say, ‘the proof is in the pudding’.
You know that out-of-sorts feeling? It’s like a creeping fog of discontent, hovering around the edges of almost-happy, threatening to obliterate the fragile seedlings of enthusiasm you are trying to coax into full bloom. Just FYI - the fog usually wins, at least it did this holiday season. Christmas 2013 will go down in my personal history as the first year ever that I did not put up a Christmas tree. I also didn’t host an open house or make anyone a holiday brunch or tea. This year I was barely able to muster the motivation to get off the couch, let alone deck the halls and crank out the crumpets.
It’s not even New Year’s Day as yet, but I’ve already taken down half of the meager decorations I finally managed to put out. I’ve never been so ready to take down Christmas, to pack it up and put it away. I’m more than ready to flip the page on the calendar and move forward into everyday life again, without all the expectations and gleeful greetings pressuring us to have a ‘joyous Christmas season’. The odds were stacked against us this year.
The irony here is that I really am a Christmas person. One of those happy holidayers who loves finding the perfect gift, someone who’s a sucker for sparkly ornaments and festive lights, and who delights in filling the house with candlelight and all the scents and sounds of the season. So what went awry this year? Well, to answer my own question, “I’m still thinking that one through.” But, I do have a few insights.
The Christmas season and all its lights, traditions, and festivities is, for me, is a wonderful way to wrap up the year with friends and family. For three weeks or so we can set aside the mundane to focus on music, mistletoe, mince pies, and merriment. We open our homes, we share special seasonal foods, we buy each other small gifts, and in my perfect world we put more emphasis on giving than receiving. And, for me, Christmas celebrations are as much about the past as the present. Each Christmas tree ornament has story and a memory attached to it: stories and memories that are meant to be shared. We decorate our homes partly to create a festive and welcoming ambiance for friends and family. We decorate the tree together and share memories, reliving moments of past Christmas while we make new memories to tuck away for the future. The key word here is 'together'. All this sharing ‘takes a village’, even a small one: a hamlet-sized village will do.
Our village is looking more like a ghost town these days. There are no grandchildren. Our ‘kids’ are well into adulthood and have little-to-no interest in Christmas-related activities. We refuse to ‘guilt’ them into participating. We can get mopey and mourn the past, allowing their lack of enthusiasm to dampen ours, or we can re-adjust our thinking. We are choosing re-adjustment. This Christmas has been ‘The Year of Transition’. We are feeling our way through what works for us independent of anyone else. It’s a process. There have been some very special moments this year, a few Grinchy moments, and too many ‘blah’ moments. I don’t wear Blah well. Next year we will reboot the system. We might pack up the dogs and hole-up in snow country for an old-fashioned white Christmas. We might unpack all the Christmas decorations and invite everyone we know over to party up a storm and fill the house with Christmas cheer. We might even get a real tree. I’m feeling better already. Eggnog, anyone?
Here's my son in 1982. He was one month shy of three-years old. Then there's me about two weeks ago. Now the story....
So… I bought this wooden train for J, my son, at an arts-and-crafts street fair in Dec, 1982. I was broke. It was my first Christmas divorced from his father. Buying this special gift for my son had great significance for me: I was buying it on my own, and it had substance; it was real... as in, not plastic, breakable, and fake.
A man named "S" was with us that day at the fair in 1982. We married in 1984 and parted ways in 1998 (very amicably). Sadly, he took several things from my home that he shouldn't have taken, this train begin among them. "S" soon moved across the country and married a woman named "T-L", taking the train with him. They eventually split, and he left many of his belongings behind in her home, including this train. I was sick, believing it would just get tossed or lost, and I wanted it back. "S" and I have stayed in touch, so I approached him several times about trying to get this train back from his 'ex and shipping it back to me. I've helped him out in may ways over the years, including financially, and it really was a small thing to ask him to try to find this wooden train and return it to me. He and "T-L" have also stayed in touch, so approaching her with this request was not an issue, especially since she and I met once, and had spoken on the phone on occasion, and there was no animosity between us. (Don't even try to wrap your brain around these relationships; it will explode.) A few weeks ago, just after I sent "S" a bit of money to help him out (a normal occurrence), I asked him about finding the train one more time. He said he was pretty sure that it was buried in a storage shed in another town and asking "T-L" to find it was probably out of the question. So sorry, but.....too bad, so sad... yada, yada, yada....
Well, my husband, "D", knew how much I wanted this piece of my son's childhood. He found a phone number for "T-L", called her, and while she was on the phone with him, she found the train stashed IN HER CLOSET! She was more than willing to send it to me. So, my husband paid for her to have it packed up and shipped (and sent her a nice extra bit of $$ to buy something nice for herself). He really is amazing and knows how to get things done.
A week ago "D" presented me with a wrapped box, saying it was an early Christmas present: a bit of re-gifting. Huh? I thought he'd wrapped up my cowboys boots. When I opened the box and finally made out the shape of the train sections through the bubble wrap, I was just shocked and in tears. I was so overjoyed. Getting this little train back to me.. back to my son... is the best, best Christmas present EVER. "J" saw it for the first time today. Haven't seen him smile like that in a very long time !
Here it is.... I enlarged and framed the photo I took in 1982. SO HAPPY to have this piece of my...of OUR...history back.
In an ideal marriage, two halves blend to create a more perfect whole, where individual characteristics complement rather than overpower each other. It’s a delicate balancing act, much like combining ingredients to create the perfect dish.
Lillian, the chef and proprietor of a small but elegant restaurant, runs a cooking school in the kitchen on Monday nights, the one evening the restaurant is closed. Lillian intuitively knows how individual ingredients will blend to create something perfectly balanced and pleasing to the senses. She teaches not just cooking, but how to respect the process. Her students learn to understand each ingredient’s unique qualities so they can foresee how each element of a dish will play off another, melding with but not overpowering more delicate flavors. It’s more about gut-feel cooking than it is about blindly following a recipe. Her students learn that creating the perfect dish is the result of slowing down and being mindful, cooking with all one’s senses, feeling one’s way through. Lillian’s cooking lessons become life lessons.
Erica Bauermeister has created a little masterpiece of book. It’s sensual and rich, subtly layered like the flavors in Lillian’s exquisite dishes. The prose is lyrical but readable and earthy. Bauermeister created characters that you want to get to know, and more importantly, want to continue having a relationship with once you’ve reached the last page. She hit upon the perfect balance of backstory and present-day narrative to deepen and round out her storyline .
I devoured this book. It was delicious.
Rambling as the wheel of the year completes its rotation:
A new year, full of promise, tantalizes and teases from the pages of my freshly opened calendar. We wish each other Happy New Year, often with fingers crossed. Happiness is so elusive, and yet our expectations never change. A fresh new year, full of promise, is about to unfold before us. The threshold we stand on today, between the old year and the new, offers the opportunity review, reconsider, release the negative, reaffirm the positive, and resolve to do better, to be better, to cross all the Ts and fill in all the blanks by next New Year’s Eve. To face next New Year's Eve with no regrets. If I am nothing else, I am an optimist.
I keep a photo diary of sorts. My pictures prove it happened, prove I was there, reassure me that I am not alone, allow me to relive the moment again or, give me a second chance to appreciate an occasion or a gorgeous vista or a friend’s visit, when I might have been too busy being in my head to be fully conscious of it all the first time around. I love my pictures. I will put together a photo book for 2012. It will make me smile.
I hope my journey up life’s learning curve is at least commensurate to the rate at which my hair is turning grey. I continue to learn, about life, about myself, about maintaining the right balance of ‘power’ (for lack of a better word) in a relationship, and about the world around me. I hope this next year will bring me more opportunities to expand my knowledge base and grow as the compassionate human being I so want to be.
This past year I resolved to move out of my comfort zone, and I did, more than once. I am a stronger, more confident person for having done so. I have great memories (and pictures) that I would otherwise not have. This past year I reaffirmed my priorities in life. I have given my time and energy very freely to others, but I have also taken the time to draw in and put my needs first when necessary. I learned about balance, which has meant learning to sometimes say ‘no’. This new aspect of my personality was not appreciated by everyone. This past year I made stronger connections. Some acquaintances became friends. I also faced the fact that a relationship I had hoped would deepen into a lifelong friendship probably never will. The potential was there, I thought, or maybe I misread the signs… it doesn’t matter… it is what it is. This year I learned to say ‘it is what it is’.
I’m ending this year happy and content with life, and I am looking forward to the new year ahead. I’m old enough to finally have perspective but young enough (at heart at least) to have goals still to achieve, passions to pursue, talents still to unearth, new relationships in my life that have the potential to develop into friendships, relatively good health, a husband who is supportive and does his very best to understand me, and material comfort enough to remind me that I am blessed and should never complain. Life is good. I believe that I can wish you all “Happy New Year” and truly mean it, and my fingers are not even crossed.
The unexpected heat faded the snapdragons but brought the Palo Verde trees out in bloom a few weeks early. All over Tucson, the showy Palo Verdes brighten our subdued landscape with brilliant clouds of yellow. The prickly pear cactus are blooming as well. Must admit that when the desert shouts out spring, it almost makes up for the dreariness of the dust-bowl summer that will follow.
Spent the day working in the yard: raking, trimming, moving rocks, and finding space for a few more plants. "Where?" you say. Mainly in the planter. I've filled up almost every available spare inch in the garden. The planter, however, was looking a little ragged. The quail have been visiting the petunias to enjoy a salad course before moving along to the seed block for their entree. Seems that what the bunnies don't like, the quail do. I replanted with hardier, larger plants in the hope that a bigger plant can withstand some 'pruning' and maybe the quail will decide to share and leave some for me.
Just got back from a three-day jaunt with a friend, up to Snohomish, WA. It rained the whole time we were there. We loved it. Washington residents kept apologizing for the weather, and we kept reassuring them that we'd just left 102-degree heat, so overcast skies and the constant, soft rainfall were heaven to us.
WA is GREEN. Yes, green in all caps: startling, blazing, almost overpowering green. The countryside around Snohomish was a mixture of evergreens and Spring-green deciduous trees. No one has to install irrigation systems as part of their landscaping. Lawns were already lush. The homes in the historic neighborhood where we stayed were surrounded by yards filled with flowering shrubs, gardens bright with tulips, and fruit trees in full bloom. I never put my camera down. I was in plant heaven.
my desert garden:
one of the amazing trees we saw in the northwest (WA) - a Tulip Tree
Gabby was a true public servant in the traditional sense of the phrase: she unselfishly served her state, her constituents, and her country with an open heart and an open mind. She did not cultivate divisiveness, as so many others do. She didn't encourage an 'us against them' mentality, but worked to bring opposing sides together to compromise on issues for the good of all.
Gabrielle Giffords is a true American. She understands that being American is not an ethnicity but is a state of mind: a philosophy, a way of life. There is no one like her. She has been a beacon of light signalling the way home in a country, and particularly in this state (AZ), that has lost its way. It breaks my heart and diminishes my hope for our future to see her light dim.
- Current Mood: sad
I never open a new wall calendar until New Year’s Day. A new calendar is a fresh start to a new year, filled with promise, and I relish the anticipation. I release the calendar from the bounds of the clear wrap, and turn the pages for each month, taking time to absorb each stunning photograph and to note the dates of birthdays and anniversaries, mentally penciling-in the tantalizing white squares for each day, happily planning my life.
This year, though, my first thought on New Year’s Day 2012 was not of opening my new Australian Terriers calendar, nor was it a day-dreamy prediction of how the year might unfold, but instead my first thought was of Gabrielle Giffords. I thought about her waking up last New Year’s Day, full of optimism and brimming with ideas, ready to serve her constituents and country in 2011, only to have her life shattered by a madman with a gun, eight days later. My first act of 2012, after brewing my coffee, was to make my husband breakfast and serve it to him in bed. Believe me when I say that this does not happen on a regular basis.
If there is any connection here at all, it would be the hard realization that life has a way of spinning us off our axis faster than a hurricane can fell a tree. It was in the pre-dawn hours of New Year’s morning 1998 when my husband got the call that his mother had passed away. Up until that moment, we had been blissfully celebrating New Year’s Eve. It was 4:00 a.m. July 4, 1999 when I learned that my father had just died, found sprawled in his bathroom. He died alone. An unexpected phone call from a relative in 2005 sidetracked my life with the news that my stepfather had been sent directly to the hospital from the doctor’s office: leukemia. He was my mother’s caregiver: a role I was to take over. Early morning phone calls still make my stomach contract. Life as we know it changes in an instant. The light from sunniest day can be sucked into a black hole with one phone call, one blood test, one summons to the boss’s office, or in the time it takes to check one’s lipstick in the rear view mirror. And we’ll always say, “But the day started out so well. It was just an ordinary day. I didn’t see it coming.”
And so my second act of 2012 was to vow that I would make every effort to enjoy the peaceful, uninterrupted hours or days we are given. They don’t last. I would take time to rejuvenate, to appreciate, to listen, and to celebrate, even the simplest of life’s moments. I would work to create a strong foundation of pleasant and joyful memories to sustain me when adversity strikes. This would create the foundation upon which I would anchor my psyche so I would be able to bend not break, when life throws its next, best-shot curve ball. And we all know that it will, despite the purity of the spotless new calendar and naive belief that ‘this year will be better’.
On Monday, the second day of 2012, I spent six hours helping my son clean his house. My son is dealing with energy-draining stress in his life right now: work stress, personal relationship stress. I can’t fix any of it, and I feel helpless. But what I can do is take some of the load off him by stepping in and helping with some of the chores that, at the moment, he has neither the time nor energy for. You do what you can and that’s all you do.
Tuesday I hurdled the first obstacle of 2012: Bank of America’s mortgage department. I looped through BOA’s daunting, automated-phone-answering hell for what seemed like eternity. I was passed to, from and between departments, including customer service and a complaint department, for two frustrating hours: a process I am convinced is designed to make irate callers give up. Not this caller. I can be as tenacious as a terrier tracking a rat when I am trying to get an issue resolved (let that be a warning). After telling my story to the fifth or sixth listener, I was finally directed to someone in the CEO’s office: an intelligent being who was ready to take charge of the situation and address the issue of my son’s home- mortgage refinancing falling through the cracks in late 2011. She was ready and able to turn us over to someone competent who could start the process. A moment to celebrate for sure.
Sticking like Velcro to my resolution to take the time to rejuvenate when stressed, I concluded day two of 2012 with a dance lesson.
Wednesday, the fourth day of this new year, I signed on with a personal trainer. Working out with weights is all about living in the moment. There is no room is your head for anything other than focusing on breathing and making it to that last rep. I can do this.
Thursday, January 5, I re-connected with my main and favorite dance instructor, who left the studio in early December of 2011 to strike out on his own. It takes almost two hours out of my day for the round trip to drive to a studio where he can lease floor time as an independent, but dancing with Mike is worth it, and I’m doing this for me. This is my year to enjoy the moments and make the most of the good times. Dancing with Mike is one of the ‘good times’.
On the sixth day of January I took the time to walk around my back yard and check in on my plant friends. The roses were in full bloom. They are as confused as the rest of us with the odd weather patterns. We chatted about pruning and frosts and the spring cleanup that I’ll start in February. I filled the bird feeder. I tried to see the amusing side of the fabric our neighbor-from-hell has hung in her shrubs and draped above the length of our adjoining back wall. She doesn’t want to have to ‘look at us’. She doesn’t add to life’s good moments. I took a deep breath and relaxed, but made a mental note to deal with this new annoyance later (remember the tenacious terrier metaphor). And, that evening I danced. I planted a smile that I didn’t feel on my face, but it eventually filtered down through my being until it became genuine. Lesson learned here. We can make the moments better with some minor attitude adjustments. We control what we can.
Saturday the seventh day of the new year was a day of running errands and household catch-ups for David and I. We stopped to enjoy the beauty of the day and completed everything on our list unhurried and unharried. It was a good day.
On the eighth of January 2012, I watched with the rest of country as Tucson paid tribute to those who lost their lives on January 8, 2011. I couldn’t bring myself to dive into any of the public events. I held close to my husband and snuggled with the dog and the cat. (I only wish our warring political parties could come to the same plane of coexistence as my dual species pets.) Do I think the tragedy of that day has made Tucson a kinder, gentler place? I don’t know. I still see a frightening divisiveness between Democrats and Republicans, which continues to cut through the fabric of friendships and neighborhoods. I am less easy and more watchful when I go anywhere public now. What I do know is that, that day has left scars.
Days nine and ten passed uneventfully, and I am grateful for that small blessing. We danced; David had a safe drive up to Phoenix for a business meeting; I had a chance to catch up with an old friend.
On Day 11 I had a two-hour dance lesson with Mike. My dancing goal for 2012 is to enjoy the process: to laugh, to smile, and to work hard, but not to let either my self-consciousness with my aging body or my drive for perfection with technique erode the joy. I want to be there for the drive more than the destination.
On the twelfth day of January, I watched two adult Javalinas cross six lanes, plus turning lanes, of busy city traffic. They strolled passed the six crosses on the north side of the street, oblivious to the momentous events that took place a few feet away, one year ago. They wandered into the parking lot of a medical center, which is situated right behind the Safeway on Ina and Oracle: the same Safeway shopping center where Gabrielle Giffords was shot and six others lost their lives. The animals crossed this busy street innocent of the danger. Drivers stopped to let them pass. That infamous corner might now become the place where I saw the two Javalinas defy death rather than the place where death took six lives and unthinkable circumstances changed another’s life forever. I can’t explain why, but the sight of these animals blissfully foraging in the planter of the medical center on the south side of Ina Road somehow gave me hope. I took it as some sort of sign. Life goes on. May they live long and prosper.
- Current Mood: contemplative
- Current Mood: contemplative