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Showing posts from 2008

Taking a "snow day" or two . . . or several~

My daughter arrived home from a week-long business trip to Amsterdam bearing gifts: a snow globe for my collection, magnets for the fridge, a small Delft shoe, chocolates, and for each of us, a pouch of "hot chocolate to die for" from the batch she intends to take to work and give to her colleagues.

So I sat-- feet tucked beneath me, blanket over my lap-- reading a book and savoring a cup of rich hot chocolate straight from the Netherlands at 3 in the afternoon. Not a book for review. A book for pure pleasure, no less. A book for me.

And I wondered . . . did I plan so well in the years leading to retirement, in an effort not to end up twiddling my thumbs, that I forgot the importance of hot chocolate and a book on a cold grey afternoon?

Seems I did.

I have a full schedule. It feels fuller than when I was working, if that's possible. I'm doing what I love, but it has expanded to fill the space of my days, and squeezed out "me time."

Ages ago when my kids were sm…

The need to say it~

I live happily in my own head, content and entertained by my own ponderings and observations. This outward look/inward analysis serves the writer in me well.

I'm a bit isolated during the time it takes to transfer words from head to paper. The process requires uninterrupted time while the download takes place.

Usually I listen to the words in my head and type them-- an easy flow from mind to lap top. Who needs a pen and paper these days? I ignore a multitude of distractions around me to the point that my husband will complain, "You don't remember a thing I tell you."

Huh? Has he spoken?

It's not that I've forgotten, exactly; it's more like I never heard him in the first place. I could well have looked him in the eye while he told me he had a meeting at six o'clock, but my look would have been the vacant stare of a sleepwalker. I may even have nodded and given an affirmative mmm, hmmm, but I didn't absorb a thing. The thread of my own thought was still…

You really do not see~

The Tree on the Corner
By Lilian Moore

I've seen
The tree on the corner
in spring bud
and summer green.
it was yellow gold.
Then a cold
wind began to blow.
Now I know--
you really do not see
a tree
until you see
its bones.

I came across this poem years ago when I was a new teacher. It was perfect for young students with its simple words, and simple expression of the sequence of the seasons.

I printed the words on chart paper, using the appropriate color for each season's verse. I drew a bare tree, branches reaching and dividing and running off the paper, and leaves on the ground around the trunk. I hung it on a bulletin board every year in November. The children loved its rhythm . . . like the rhythm of the seasons.

I left this poster behind, along with many others, when I retired. But the words remained with me when I left.

Today I walked into a hospital room to visit my mother. She'd broken her hip yesterday and was waiting for surgery.

Pale, slack-faced in sleep, her form looke…

The tough get going~

I took a picture yesterday morning of frosty leaves on a prickly vine. Not fine art, or anything, but the sun sparkling on the frost caught my eye, so I took the picture. I posted it on Flickr with the title: "When the going gets tough."

The plant will succumb soon enough to the cold by dropping its leaves and hunkering down in survival mode for the winter, but in the meantime, it was hanging in . . . the tough get going.

The title now seems a bit prophetic after I answered the phone this morning. An older son issue. Again. The kind that wrenches a mother's gut and calls for maternal toughness. Again.

So I need to be strong when I feel anything but, act decisively when I have no clue if I'm doing the right thing. Time will tell. I can only take one step at a time. Each one takes me to a new vantage point, another decision to be made.

One step at a time, day by day. This works.

Somehow I've learned to stop worrying about where I'll be called to step in the future.…

It matters not~

Some days I don't make time to read the paper; others I go from front-page headlines, to Op Eds to obits. The obits I scan, mostly to see the age of death and maybe the cause. Some days are "good" days. The good died old. Other days . . . not so good.

Today there was the story of a 17-year old girl whose last hours were spent in a swamp . . . I can read dry-eyed the stories of the men and women who die in their 90s with accolades and acknowledgements. But a child's death brings a pain sharp and cold to my heart.

It matters not that underage drinking likely played a part. Who, reading this, can say they have not, by the grace of God, or the luck of the draw, or fate, escaped the consequences of a foolish act?

Not I.

But this girl paid the consequence of partying with friends, drinking, and then saying good-bye . . . but wandering into a swamp instead of her car.

"This is why you have to know where your kids are at all times," my husband says as I read the story t…

Spinning straw into gold~

If I take credit for my daughter's intelligent, organized approach to life, then I must take blame for my youngest son's overdue library books. If I take credit for his athletic prowess and caring personality, then I have to blame myself for my oldest son's problems.

I'd love the credit, but not the blame. In reality, I deserve neither -- or maybe a little of both. But only a little. They are who they are, these kids of mine. They've been unique individuals from the moment they entered the world. I only polished the surface, and not even that these days as they live independent lives-- or nearly so. I've stored the "character polish" with the baby pictures. Its use by date has expired.

I gave my children half their genes and all my love. They didn't come with instructions for care. Each was-- is-- unique. What worked, what didn't, what was helpful or not, was different for each child. It was up to me to determine what would be best for each of …

The real world~

I'm not sure exactly what the "real world" is anymore.

This morning I emailed a friend to say I was going to get out of the "real world" for a few hours and wander around some cranberry bogs with my camera. I amended my message to say that maybe I was, in fact, actually heading into the real world.

What's real? What matters? Is what matters real?

Philosophy aside, who knows, and maybe who cares? I'm not sure I do. But I've steeped in politics until I'm purple. I'm so tired of it all. It's a game I'm being forced to watch and play.

And as for the current financial meltdown . . . it pays to have so little to lose. I'm not happy about the whole thing, but my life will continue pretty much unscathed, maybe a bit pinchier in the penny department.

Gates held the top spot-- richest man in the world-- for 15 years, according to Forbes magazine. And now he doesn't.

I wonder if he feels any pain from losing his perch to Warren Buffet.…

To be, or just to be~

To be, or to just be. How? That is the question.

Or to be busy as a bee.

I exist; I'm a human being. I am, so of course I be.

But there's being, there's being too much, and there is just being, I'm discovering, and I've been being too many things at once for too long. I'm trying to learn how to just be "in the moment" as they say, even while being busy as the proverbial bee.

"First things first" (my motto) sounds good, but it's tough to manage if the to do list is overloaded, and mine was. So I did many things first, seldom doing one thing at a time . . . or if I did, I dropped that task unfinished, hopped to another, and then to another, and eventually back to the first. Breathlessly finishing at deadline became a habit-- and a bit of a rush, to be honest-- a habit I now want to break.

Did I have to wait until retirement added hours of formerly prescribed time to my day to learn to just be? I suspect not, but I'm not sure.

Maybe it was th…

That's a fair~

I didn't like King Richard's Faire, but I didn't tell the king when he asked, "Did you have fun?" I said, "Yes. Thank you for the ticket." What would you say to a king on the next yoga mat?

I'm not one who likes dressing up in 16th century garb and talking in a fake English accent, or being called milady by fake lords or whatever they were, and everybody there seemed to like that sort of thing. That's fine. I'm sure they'd find my propensity to wander in the woods with a camera odd, too. To each his own.

Just inside the gates to the fair were three ATMs and the lines were long. Once inside everything was for sale . . . even the "free" shows.

I watched a puppeteer behind a mask fleece his audience. He made his puppet say, "Put your hands in your pockets. Grab some bills. Pull them out. Wave them in the air. I want to see a sea of green." Then the puppet dispersed ushers to collect the money.

Okay, I don't like pup…

King Richard does yoga~

King Richard is in my yoga class. I noticed him because while the rest of the class twisted to the left, I twisted to the right-- I am directionally challenged-- and stared straight at the portly, equally twisted, grey-bearded man less than three feet from me.

He plays King Richard at the annual King Richard's Faire in a neighboring town, but I didn't know that until the class was over and he offered us complimentary tickets-- I took two, a fifty-dollar value.

He was a bit of a noisy breather, this only man in the class of woman. The instructor remarked that we were "quiet breathers" and this spurred him to breathe more avidly. She commented that he was using the "ocean breath." It sounded like the one my husband uses when he falls asleep in front of the TV.

I've done yoga off and on for years. I don't much like the breathing noises. When the instructor says, "exhale," I think about all the other breaths-- colds, viruses, whatever-- enterin…

Landing on my feet~

My retirement began "officially" slightly more than a dozen days ago. So I still think on "school time." I wake about the time first period begins. I know the teachers are hustling their classes to the cafeteria at 12:05 for a noisy lunch, then recess. I think of them again at 2:15 when the kids board the buses to go home.

Don't get me wrong. I'm glad I'm not there, although I am still there in my head . . . a little. I visited the school website yesterday and looked at the daily bulletins. Same old, same old: meetings, fundraisers, and the lunch menu. I clicked around the site a little more. Nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to work there.

Last night I had a dream. I was in school watching all the hustle and bustle as teachers prepared their classrooms and gathered supplies. I chatted with them as they scurried around. I was glad to see everyone, but aware that my roll had changed. They were involved and I wasn't. They had work to do. I di…

The sun will come out tomorrow~

Pain, sorrow, disappointment, worry: these can be squashed into a tiny dense lump and hidden beneath the heart, covered with light, airy emotions: anticipation, excitement, hope, pleasure. You can smile, laugh even, with a core of pain secreted away.

Sometimes things around you contrive to awaken the buried feelings . . . an article someone writes, a book you read, a conversation, a phone call, and when they all happen at the same time, there is no choice but to reexamine the pain you've hidden. Time to get it out into the light and look at it long and hard. To feel it, experience it again. To rise above it.

When my kids were little and fell and skinned a knee, I'd hold them tight on my lap and rock them and say, "It's only pain. It hurts I know, but this is as bad as it gets." I'd blow on the cut and say, "See it hurts a little less, now. You can stand it. You'll be fine."

And they were.

They didn't need me to blow on their cuts after a while. …

A jar of summer~

Today I decided to stock the larder for the coming winter. The abundance of peaches, some so ripe and ready that they are dropping off the tree, warrants more that the momentary pleasure of eating them with brown sugar and cream for breakfast.

I could eat peaches and cream for three meals a day, and still not eat them all before they drop to the ground for the ants, and something else that bites chunks from them sometime in the night.

I figured I could make peach preserves and have myself a golden taste of August when the snow flies and the wind beats on the windows this December.

I needed Ball jars. I'd given away the jars left over from my last domestic surge, an unpleasant event involving yellow beans several years ago. Since then I learned it was easier-- and therefore more my style-- to vacuum pack, and freeze fruit and veggies. And then, I stopped doing even that. Who wants yellow beans in the winter? Although, as I write that I feel a twinge of awareness that many people have …

Mature and female~

I went to the bookstore today to find something about photography. But first I did the circuitous route I always take, starting with the bargain books outside on the sidewalk, and then the half-price book tables inside, then on through the various genres, whether interested in them or not. There is just something pleasant about being surrounded by books, even the ones I wouldn't read if someone paid me.

I watch people no matter where I am, and watching someone pick a book from the shelf and browse through it is interesting. I always wonder if the man in the "relationships" section is conscious that he's being observed reading a chapter called "How to Please Your Mate." I glance sideways from the corner of my eye while unobtrusively flipping through a book. Who knows? Maybe I'm being observed reading, "What You Wish Your Husband Understood About Emotions." Totally made up book, but someone should write it.

The pile of books in my arms grew until …

Peach season~

It's peach season again in the northeast. Forget the year-round imported peaches I ignore in the supermarket. Fresh picked local peaches are mounded in local farm stands.

But better still, the tree in our back yard is hanging heavy with peaches almost, but not quite, ripe. One, riper than the rest, dropped onto the grass when my husband bumped a branch while mowing the lawn. When he was finished, we shared it, the way we do with the first fruit from each of our trees, including the first tiny cherry we carefully divide in half.

Bruce peeled off the skin and sliced the peach into wedges. Our peaches are fuzzier than store-bought peaches, and the skin is speckled with black fungus spots. But underneath the golden flesh drips with flavorful juice. This one was so delicious that I've checked the fruit daily since tasting that one, gently squeezing to see if it's ready to pick. And eat.

The other day we took a bike ride on a trail that curved along the Rhode Island coast. The trip…

Does it matter?

Egocentricity: the state of being self-centered. And who isn't? How can you not view the world, and experience it, through your own eyes, filter it through your own experience, make sense of it through what you understand?

Did you watch the opening ceremonies of the Olympic games in Beijing? Look at China shine! Did your heart not recognize China's pride? Were their ceremonies not magnificent? Did you see the precision, the care, the unity, represented in each presentation? I was so impressed and moved. But I see this event, I understand it, as if it were staged in the USA and paid for by private donations. It's not.

At what expense-- at whose expense-- am I seeing this grander-than-ever introduction to an event that hearkens back to the ancient Athenians? An event performed in far simpler venues, for simpler reasons. Or were they?

Does what dazzles my eye, and impresses through technology-- a history lesson delivered via pyrotechnics-- also impress those who were hurt b…

Would you trust this dog?

Seems dogs have issues that can be sorted out with a DNA test. For a price-- $55 to $200-- pet owners can get their mixed breeds tested to find out exactly what their genetic makeup is.

My first thought when I read the story in The Boston Globe was why would you care? I mean, apart from curiosity, why spend the money? I just wouldn't be curious enough. People often times know less about the babies they adopt. And we're talking dogs.

An aside here: I know a man, a South African black who is as white as I am, who paid $300 dollars to find out his genetic mix. This man has a fascinating story of growing up in South Africa. When he came to the US and applied for a professorship at a state college, he overheard a conversation through the door as he waited for his interview. Whoever the South African was, the blacker the better, someone said. I guess racial quotas were at stake. But he got the job, pale as he was.

Anyway, just as knowing a child's family history is useful to doctor…

This retirement thing~

This retirement thing . . . it seems like it should be so easy, so effortless, so thrilling, to stop the daily grind. It is thrilling; at least I think it will be come September when I'm not following the school buses to work.

But it's not easy.

I had a plan book on my desk for 35 years, one I filled in weekly, scheduling new lessons at 45-minute intervals, meetings, parent conferences, and field trips. I knew what needed to be done and when.

I got up at the same time everyday (5:45 a.m.), ate lunch at the same time (12:06 p.m.) and watched the kids pack their bags for home everyday at 2:15 p.m.

I'm not sorry to give up that regimentation.

But three weeks into the summer, I find myself making lists of things I need to do, and there is so much to do that I can't imagine how I managed while I was working eight hours on top of it all.

There are the household chores, gardening, exercise (aren't retirees supposed to get fitter?), freelance writing, book reviewing, reading the…

If I could put time in a bottle~

I've always been intrigued by Albert Einstein's theories of relativity. Time is relative, he says, in many, many more words.

I won't be so bold, or foolish, as to interpret, but I'll explain what the theory means to me-- rightly or wrongly. Probably more of the latter

Time is not a fixed rate. It varies relative to speed and mass. In other words, the faster we go the slower time moves. If we could speed up to light's velocity as it cuts through the universe at 186,000 miles per second, time would stop. Would that be called eternity?

I don't get it, but I like thinking about it.

E = MC2

Energy is equal to the mass of an object times the speed of light squared. Eventually if mass were speeded up enough, it would cease to be matter. It would become energy. Think "beam me up, Scotty."

We are energy . . . just moving too slowly to manifest that way. We're mired in matter, time, and gravity.

Time goes more slowly in lower gravitation. Clocks that move tick slo…

I (don't) love a parade~

I didn't bring my camera to the Fourth of July parade. It felt strange not having it hang like a pendant around my neck, but it had rained throughout the night, as only an insomniac would know, and was cool and sprinkley with more rain pending.

I'm not a lover of parades. The wait for them to begin is often longer than the parade itself. I'm not sure there is a point to a parade, really. Without my camera to capture odd bits passing buy, I just watched, snapping mental pictures that would have been awesome photos-- the fish that got away mentality.

Four towns drove fire equipment down the street, lights flashing, sirens screaming. As a kid I'd have loved it, I suppose, the sensory overload and all, but today I just thought, "God help us, and the surrounding towns, if there's a fire!"

Next, old cars. I guess a parade's a place to showcase vintage cars, and some must be beauties, if you appreciate cars. Which I don't. A skinny old man driving a sleek a…

A sudden, swift move~

I was young-- maybe 8 or 9-- when, while taking a bath, I allowed a spider to build a web from the wall to my arm. The spider was intent, single-minded, and even as a child I knew this spider was determined to build a web to capture food. I wanted to be part of its success. Its survival depended upon it . . . and on me, I'd thought. I remember wondering why it chose such a barren landscape as our tub, and such an insubstantial anchor as me. Didn't it know? Couldn't it see?

I was fascinated, and somewhat horrified, to realize that I was allowing a spider to use my body as a connecting point for its web. That was a responsibility I couldn't live up to, and when my father knocked on the door and said, "Time for bed. Let the water out," I yanked my arm hard and the spider scurried away. I tried not to think about it as I crawled into bed.

Decades later, I hesitated for a few seconds before ruining a web a spider had built from the lamp post beside the driveway to m…

Who me, crazy?

Thirty five years will do this to you.

I'm done!!!!

Life begins at retirement. ~Author Unknown

Call me~

I've misplaced my cell phone. I had it Saturday morning; Sunday I couldn't find it.

I suspect it fell from my pocket while on a bike ride. Retracing my route and finding it in working order after two days of rain would be more luck than my usual, so today I go to the phone store-- just to get some info.

The young salesman shows me-- at my request-- the basic phone; it only makes and receives calls . . . but so what? I have a camera for pictures, a TV for videos, a computer for email . . . who needs bells and whistles?

He points out a more expensive phone-- $250 something-- and before I can shake my head, he tells me my price, since I'm upgrading, is $135, and there's a $100 rebate as well. This phone has ten things-- at least--that I don't need, but the phone is only $35.

I'm sold. Before I can nod my head, he tells me that the phone's speaker is loud.

"Very loud, " he says. " One of our loudest." I try to look impressed, but I have exquisite…

Missing Dad~

It's been more than five years since my father died. He had Parkinson's disease and yes, he was "old," but it was a moment of negligence in the hospital that took his life. Grief loses its sharp edge, but it has a way of tapping you on the shoulder when you least expect it.

How do you stop missing your father?

You don't.

These were words I planned to read at his funeral. The minister did it for me.


Good-bye to the man I've known longest in my life:

Anybody who knows me knows that I spend a great deal of time “in my head,” thinking, wondering, analyzing . . . and especially so lately as I’ve watched my father age over the past year or so.

There are so many lessons I’ve learned from my father, so many attitudes and values and philosophies that I’ve absorbed through the years. And it shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did, to find that even after his death there is more to learn from him.

Just going through his files and books has revealed a depth that I was una…

Countdown! 10, 9, 8 . . .

Retirement is no big deal statistically speaking. Multitudes step out of the working world every year. I remember when my father retired at 63, two years earlier than typical in those days; I remember my mother's retirement party a few years later. But I don't remember either of them obsessing about ending their careers.

They just retired--with a big smile and a sigh, I might add-- then went about the rest of their lives.

So most likely I'm over thinking my imminent early-retirement at the ripe young age of 57. My husband tells me I think too much, but then for him the reverse is true.

In the car he once answered my question, "What are you thinking?" with, "Nothing. I'm driving."

Nothing? Is that even possible? He says it is.

Friday my good friends gave me a retirement party that they said was so "me." It was perfect. I enjoyed it to the fullest-- laughs, hugs, warm wishes, tears, and so much more-- and breathed a sigh of relief when I got home…

A few irises~

I complimented a fellow teacher, a young, slim beautiful girl, on her blouse.

She gave me one of those "oh this old thing" comments and said she'd worn it because all her other tops were . . . and here she made some hand gestures around her belly.

I didn't understand at first. I thought maybe she was pregnant, or else feeling nauseous. But no.

She told me she was getting so fat. Told me! Not that I'm FAT fat, but compared to her I'm a mature tree and she's a sapling. I've got some rings on my trunk.

She left and Dave, another colleague, walked by. "She thinks she's fat!" I said shaking my head, although many of my friends felt that way when we were her age. We see pictures of our younger selves and ask, "Why did I think I was fat then? I looked good."

Dave and I got talking about our perceptions of ourselves and how much energy we waste obsessing over minor issues, energy that could be better spent in more productive ways.

"We s…

When will they ever learn?

Memorial Day, a federal holiday in the United States, is observed on the last Monday in May. It commemorates U.S. men and women who died in military service. First enacted to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War and known as Decoration Day, after World War I it was expanded to include casualties of any war or military action.

My words get caught in my throat. There is nothing I can say that will return the dead, and sadly, nothing that will prevent more from dying. If I could give comfort to mothers and fathers, wives and husbands, brothers and sisters who've lost someone to war, I would, but is that possible? I would not be comforted. Or would I take heart in knowing that my loved one would be remembered? That would not be enough for me, I know. My loved ones have been spared, but I feel the collective sorrow. When will it ever end?

“True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve …