Monday, September 30, 2013

Delicious Autumn

Well, September slipped through our fingers like running water, didn't it? Or is that just my perception because I'm older now?  The days seem to be whizzing by with much greater speed than I had anticipated.

When I was a kid, it seemed as if time stood still. I swear, I could watch grass grow the summer before I started kindergarten. Hours dragged, and days lasted eternities. 

When I hit high school, days were filled with homework, 4-H, church youth meetings, and family time. Weeks gathered speed. 

When I became a mom, months charged at me all at once. 

Now that I have retired, years are passing me by, all too fast.

One of my cousins shared part of an e.e. cummings poem on Facebook the other day.

a wind has blown the rain away and blown the 
sky away, and all the leaves away, and the
trees stand. I think i too have known
autumn too long

I love e.e. cummings, but I don't think I've ever known an autumn too long. My cousin was reading the deeper meaning of the poem, however, and it touched her.  True to form, I read it literally, and was touched, too. 

An autumn too long? NEVER. Autumn doesn't begin soon enough and it doesn't last long enough. In an ideal world, we would live in a tropical paradise full of trees whose leaves are in a perpetual state of autumnal splendor. 

Please don't bother to explain to me that deciduous trees are not indigenous to oceanfront properties. My ideal world does not bother with the particulars of science. (There are also details regarding calories and weight loss  in my ideal world which do not follow any current physical laws, but I digress.)

Now the following quote from George Eliot is more like the way I would talk about fall:

     "Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeing the successive autumns."

Seeking successive autumns would be the most sublime of pastimes.

October ushers us into the thick of fall. There is no shortage of recipes containing pumpkin, apples are filling cold storage units everywhere, and a hint of caramel will complement any dessert of the season. Harvest displays full of pumpkins and gourds welcome us into the grocery stores. School hallways are bulging with fall leaves and jack-o'-lanterns.

The weather is cooler. Sandals find their way deeper into closets, as sensible shoes that cover our toes surface once again. T-shirts and shorts are replaced with hoodies and jeans. The lighter fare of summer salads gives way to the heartier soups and casseroles of autumn at the dinner table.

Now if only we could figure out a way to make these autumn days S-L-O-W D-O-W-N. Pumpkins, fall leaves, scarecrows, corn stalks; all of the gifts of harvest time make me feel so nostalgic. I want plenty of time to enjoy every delicious change as it comes, and I don't want to miss a thing. 

Goodbye, September

Remembering an autumn in Utah with fondness. This was 2013, one year before I met Chuck, when I spent most of my days with my little Boston terrier named Marley.

This last day of the month, before the calendar turns to October, I have regarded September with the sentimentality reserved for dear friends.  

I've strained my eyes to see the changing colors of leaves on the mountain. The frequent thunderstorms have helped ease the transition to cooler temperatures. I've watched for the first frost, ready at last, to trade in my fresh tomato sandwiches for steaming bowls of tomato soup. The cattails behind the house are starting to go to seed, exposing their white, fluffy down inside their fuzzy brown coats.

Saturday I left my car stereo on repeat so I could hear Earth, Wind, and Fire sing September to me over and over again as I drove down the road in the warm autumn sunshine. The changing of the seasons energizes me, and yet, calms me with a peaceful feeling.  

We have one more day to squeeze the last bits of goodness out of September, and I intend to do just that. Sunday, my Boston terrier Marley and I walked along the edge of the animal sanctuary and beside the canal on the Clearfield Trail near our home. I took note of the ducks, the berries, the Russian Olives, the wild sunflowers with most of their yellow petals missing, and the subtle changes in the leaves.  

Summer is fading into fall, and I intend to enjoy every single sign of my favorite season.  

Saturday, September 28, 2013

I Just Can't Stay Away

Why on earth would a retired school teacher go on a field trip with a bunch of sixth graders? It should be noted that I did not ride on a bus filled with middle schoolers to get there. I'm crazy, but not THAT crazy. My reasons for going were very selfish, I readily admit. See this precious face in the photo? Not mine; the little boy's. That's ONE reason I went. Mr. Seth brings joy to everyone he sees.

Another reason? This boy right here. Calvin and I have a special relationship, too. It's been months since we've seen each other, and the first thing he asked me was, "How's Elvis?"  

Calvin loved watching our bright blue Vietnamese Betta fish swim around in his bowl. I didn't want to tell him Elvis had died this summer, so I just told him I didn't bring Elvis; Elvis wasn't there. Calvin has an inquisitive mind, and asks in-depth questions about concepts like the resurrection. I decided to let that question go for today.  

Actually, that day there were more than 35 reasons I wanted to go on the sixth grade field trip. My old fifth graders were this year's sixth graders. My young friends were going to be at the Mount Timpanogos Storytelling Festival, and I wanted to see them!  

The Festival was well underway when I got there. I slipped into a seat at the back of the spacious tent. A few of the kids noticed me, and turned around with  big smiles and small waves. They had already changed so much since they were mine. Some of the girls were wearing a little makeup, and the boys looked taller already. I couldn't stop smiling.  

I hadn't been in my seat long when I felt a presence to my right. I could sense that someone was staring at me, and I slowly turned my head and looked up. There was Seth, beaming with his big open-mouth grin. We all scooted over to make room for him. I whispered to him how happy I was to see him. He smiled. I asked him if his mom were there. "No. Bailey (his sister). Mom's on vacation." More grinning. I let my hand slide from his shoulder, and gently rubbed his back. He seemed content to just sit there. After awhile, he returned to his seat by his sister. Before I knew it, the storytelling was over.

Children flooded to the back of the tent.  A line formed so I could hug them one by one. Brooklyn wasn't wearing grown up she looked. Talmage looked even more mature. How was that even possible? Jett and Nash stood with their friend behind the chairs, grinning at me from where they stood. There was Lilly, Adia...where was Michayla?  I noticed another of my boys was missing. It's so weird that when one or two are gone, even with such a large group, their absence is felt.  

We were a family last year. I was the lucky mom with 35 kids, and they were the lucky brothers and sisters; they had each other. No one dared pick on any of my kids. Several made comments during our morning meetings that this was the first year they didn't feel like anyone was bullying anyone else. My class was a force to be reckoned with...a force for good.  

There aren't pictures of all of my kids from this day. The festival had concluded and it was time to load the buses. Many disappeared into the masses walking in droves to the parking lot. The few pictures I have are treasures.  I only wish I had been able to catch each one for a quick pose.

There are so many stories I want to tell about these compassionate, wonderful people. It has been a pleasure contacting their parents during the last few days, making sure they were okay with my using their children's names and pictures. Some children will remain nameless in my blog due to circumstances beyond my control. But they will never be forgotten. I have their stories forever recorded in my heart.

If you enjoyed this piece, you might also like to check out this story:  "YOU'RE GOING TO MISS THIS, THEY SAID".  (Thank you so much for stopping by my blog. I love to share my stories, especially about "my kids," my biological ones, and my school ones.)

Friday, September 27, 2013

*Taking a Stab at Acupuncture

When our Boston Terrier was still a puppy a few years ago, I had let him outside to take care of business.  We had had snow, and the porch and stairs were covered with an icy crust.  While waiting for Marley to finish, I stepped onto the stairs, and promptly lost my footing. My feet flew out from under me and as I began my swift descent, my arms flew up in the air, grasping nothing but air. After I scudded to a stop at the bottom, I surveyed the damage, more concerned about my gluteus maximus and my legs.  No harm; no foul.  Well, I was slightly embarrassed that once again my inner klutz had come shining through. Nothing serious, though. Or so I thought.

The whiplash effect settled into a spasm of muscles off to the right of my spine, near my shoulder blade.  My shoulder has ached ever since, despite the best efforts of our chiropractor who performs active release technique.  

Then a couple of years ago, I was in the middle car of a three car pile-up on I-15 during rush hour...on April Fools' Day.  Try to convince your family you're in trouble, and need help on that little holiday.  It took awhile, but finally folks realized I wasn't foolin'. My shoulder ache continued with a vengeance.

Combine the damage to my shoulder with back issues I've had since I was in junior high, and I am just a mess, musculoskeletally -speaking.  

Each day I perform the rituals of my morning. Start the coffee, heat the corn bag in the microwave, grab an ice pack, and settle down with my laptop on the couch. I spend a good 15 minutes with the heat on my shoulder and the cold on my back, attempting to make moving later in the morning less painful. I'm not big on pills; an irrational fear of addiction keeps me from even taking ibuprofen often enough to alleviate my symptoms.

When a friend recommended Master Lu in Ogden for acupuncture, I filed away the information in my head. I've tried family practitioners, chiropractors, active release specialists, rheumatologists, massage therapy... why not acupuncture?

Master Lu is from Taiwan. He teaches Tai Chi (Yes, I had another moment of sweet synchronicity. I've been wanting to learn. "When the student is ready, the teacher will come."). He is a master of Shaolin Kung Fu.

When I found Master Lu through my Google search on a Thursday, I was so happy to see that the only day he was open was Thursday, and I just hoped he had an opening for me today! I called him immediately.

"Master Lu Acupuncture." 

(If you want to have as much fun reading this as I had writing it, every time you read the dialogue of Master Lu, read it with a strong Chinese accent. I love trying to read in the voice of the person speaking. I'm weird like that.)

"I would like to make an appointment, and I am hoping you have an appointment available for me today."

"Not today. Tuesday? You want to come Tuesday?"

"Not today?"

"Not today. Only open Tuesday."

"Oh, the information on the internet said you are only open on THURSDAY. I can't come today?"

"You want to come now?"

"TODAY? I can come right now?"

"Yes. Come right now."

Well, that was confusing. The internet information said he speaks two languages. Judging from his accent, I'd say Chinese is his first language. Judging from our conversation, his second language is up for grabs. Our communication was sketchy at best.  (In all fairness, I double-checked the internet. The sidebar highlights the current day's hours, and the only way to see the other days is by clicking MORE, so it LOOKED like he was only open Thursday. Master Lu and his son have two offices and work every day. My confusion grew.)

Master Lu's place of business is an older home in an older residential area in Ogden. The porch creaked as I made my way to the door. I knocked, and a small, older man opened the door. The former living room now contained an office desk, filing cabinets, a shelf with an assortment of bottles, and some chairs and a couch. No feng shui approach to decorating here. There was a no-nonsense feeling that permeated everything:  the furniture, the room; even the master. I was handed a clipboard, and was told to "rerax" on the couch. He finished up with a patient while I filled out the single sheet of personal information.

The former bedroom had been converted into a treatment room, with a bamboo and paper room divider separating the room in half. He gave me a hospital gown and told me to change. The portable massage  table was covered with a single layer of paper from a roll on the floor, and a bed pillow covered with a pillowcase. On a small table there were tissues, a couple of disposable lighters, and a box that contained a package of shrink-wrapped needle packages and a black bulbous apparatus that I later figured out was a cup that was stained with smoke. 

Before I lay down, I covered the horseshoe-shaped face pillow with a tissue. (My inner germaphobe resurfaces from time to time.) Once I was in position, looking down at the floor through the opening, I noticed small pink plastic tabs on the carpet below the table. I hoped they weren't attached to needles.

Without so much as a word of explanation, Master Lu began tapping my back, and inserting the ultra-thin needles into my lower back and shoulder. Honestly, I thought he might be trying to decide where to start, but I soon realized he'd already placed several needles. There was no pain, and essentially no discomfort. While he placed needles into my skin, he talked to me, but between my hearing challenges and his broken Engrish, I can't tell you much of what was said. Within moments he was done; he turned off the lights, told me simply, "Rerax," and he left the room.

Time passed very slowly while I lay there.  I should've asked what to expect. Master Lu made a phone call in the adjoining room.

"How you feeling since I saw you? (pause) Only one time. You only here once. (pause) You want to feel better, you come five/six times. (pause) You come Tuesday? Same time? (pause) See you Tuesday."

I waited and waited. I wish I had asked him how long I would be there. Knowing would have made it more bearable. I tried to pray to my western God that this ancient eastern practice will help. I started to try to meditate; to focus on my breathing. Thank heavens, he came back in shortly after that. I really suck at meditation.

Again, no talking. Master Lu removed the needles, and the next thing of which I was aware was the sound of a Bic lighter being lit, and then I felt a cup on my lower back. I strained to sense if it were hot.  No, the only sensation I had was that I could tell there was a circle shape being pressed into my skin. "Is that called 'cupping'?" I asked while staring at the carpet.

"Yes. Cupping." With a loud sound of the suction being broken as the cup was pulled off my back, the process was repeated on my shoulder.

"Get dressed." So, we were done. I paid him $60 for the one session. My next appointment is Tuesday.  

Before I left, I told him that I loved to write and I have a blog. Would he mind if I wrote about my experience? (That would be fine.) Could I use his name? (Yes.) I asked if I could bring my camera next week to take pictures of the needles and the office. He was agreeable to all of my questions. 

As I was walking toward my car, I rushed back into his office where he was still sitting at his desk.  "Would you mind if I take your picture with my cell phone?" I thought he would laugh. He did not. (Yes, I could take the picture.) He didn't move from his seat. He didn't smile, but I detected a hint of approval in his eyes. "Thank you, Master Lu!"

Today is Friday.  I've iced my back, but for the first time in a long time, I am not worrying about my shoulder.  No heating pad for that today. I have Master Lu to thank for this little miracle. My heart wants to soar, if only tentatively, that he may be able to help my back. That WOULD be a miracle.  

For more about my acupuncture experience...
ANCIENT CHINESE SECRET, HUH? (A return visit to Master Lu)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Blast from the Past; Revisiting the Seventies

The number of catalogs that arrive in the mail is multiplying, and I can't say that troubles me.  I enjoy reading anything:  books, magazines, shampoo bottles, cereal boxes, and even catalogs! Last week it was my extreme pleasure to receive The Vermont Country Store catalog. What a delightful trip down memory lane that was!  It was like visiting a museum of pop culture from the seventies. Nearly every page called up memories for me.  The BB Bat suckers, the soap-on-a-rope, the potholder loom, Gumby and Poky, Slinky, the Magic 8 Ball, the Bozo Bop parents must have shopped exclusively from this catalog.  Okay, I realize they have compiled all of these wonderfully sentimental items for our enjoyment today.  I recalled my adolescent years fondly.

During the seventies, my nuclear family went through some big changes. My parents divorced and remarried, and each added another baby girl to my list of siblings.  The shuttling back and forth between homes became a routine I actually enjoyed.  I would leave the big old farmhouse full of eight children in the country, and head to the relatively quiet, large brick home on Sunset Avenue with my two brothers to visit our little sister and stepmom at my dad's every other weekend.  

The seventies.  James Taylor, John Denver, Carol King, and the Carpenters were on the radio. Snow days that turned into weeks when the ice made traveling treacherous and power outages frequent. Family vacations to campgounds in Myrtle Beach and other southeastern states neighboring Virginia.  Homemade bread and cookies for after school snacks.  Sneaking into the Christmas closet to sample Mom's chocolates.  Propping myself up on my elbows to do homework on the pink ruffled bedspread.  Sneaking the family cat inside for clandestine visits. 

One thing that was very different between my parents' houses was personal care items.  My mom was trying to stretch a very limited budget that would clothe, feed, and clean ten people.  In the farmhouse we made our own butter, bread, and desserts.  Mom went so far as to try making her own laundry soap (before Pinterest made that cool), and also her own deodorant and body soap. 

Once I knew there was fat from a pig as an ingredient in those items, I became a complaining, reluctant teenager. Homemade soap, made with bacon grease and lye, which is clearly labeled as a poison, doesn't feel good, it doesn't smell good, and it doesn't act like soap.  Shouldn't there have been SUDS? The shampoo in the kids' upstairs bathroom came in a gallon jug from a wholesale supplier.  I was just thankful that we had regular minty toothpaste.  It didn't hurt that our stepdad was a dentist, or I'm sure Mom would've found an inexpensive way to make that, too.

When we headed back to our hometown to visit our family at Dad's, I knew I could count on "normal" items found in "normal" stores in our bathroom.  My stepmom bought Prell, and later, Lemon-Up shampoo for me.  I thought they were the most luxurious smelling scents on the planet.  We had Ivory soap for my little sister's sensitive skin, but I didn't mind; it felt smooth as it glided across my wet skin, and it actually created lather.

When adolescence hit, I wasn't thrilled about the bathing and shampooing that was required to keep my body from reeking and my hair from looking oily.  When we were little, I don't recall having to bathe as often as it became necessary when we hit puberty.  Typical of preteens everywhere, I went through an adjustment phase where my use of shampoo, soap, and deodorant was hit and miss, at best.  How my parents put up with me leaves me wondering.  I'm sure we had some heart-to-hearts, which I thankfully cannot remember. 

The introduction of Pssssst! Dry Hair Shampoo was going to be the answer to my prayers, I hoped!  I can remember buying some at the drug store in Amherst and taking it to Cheryl North's for a sleepover.  I was thrilled I wouldn't have to be bothered with a shower at someone else's house in the morning.  Our results were less than satisfactory.

Never one to read directions, I couldn't wait to try the dry hair shampoo when I woke up early the next morning.  When I sprayed the powder onto my oily hair, holding the canister much too close to my head,  it turned my hair white.  Now I had a disgusting mixture of oils, dandruff, and powder in my dull, lifeless tresses.  I tried evening out the dry, white powder with the oily strands, scrubbing my fingers against my scalp, but it just made my flat hair flatter.  Now I REALLY needed to wash my hair. What a disappointment that was!

It was probably during this brief time of the greasy locks that my dad and stepmom were easily convinced to buy me a bottle of "Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific."  They would have done anything to get me to step up my hygiene routine!  I was in heaven, thinking that just by using this wonderful shampoo,  if the commercials were to be believed, boys everywhere would be swooning every time I walked past them, telling me, "Gee, your hair smells terrific."  Those romantic moments never transpired, but I did start taking better care of my hair once the concept of boys entered the picture.  I traded one problem (greasy hair) for another (pursuing those who would prefer to be left alone).

Once I started noticing boys, I became obsessed with fresh breath. I am somewhat obsessive-compulsive when it comes to brushing my teeth. Upon awakening, before and after meals, and before bedtime, and any time I am leaving the house. No "twice a day" reminders necessary for me, once I began worrying about "halitosis."  

Mouthwash is something the dentist dad did not endorse, so that product was nowhere to be found in the farmhouse. But in my Dad's bathroom, there was a clear plastic bottle containing a ruby red liquid that smelled wonderful to me, Lavoris. It was so cinnamon-y and hot, I could barely swish it in my mouth for longer than a few seconds. Dad probably wondered what was going on when he had to replace the bottles much more often.  It was me, Daddy; it was me.

It's funny how a scent can take us back in time. 

Every time I get a whiff of Old Spice, I am snuggled into the neck of my father, giving him a kiss on the cheek. Coppertone and Hawaiian Tropic transport me to a beach towel under the hot, humid sun, laying out to perfect my tan. Teaberry Gum and Juicy Fruit put me back in the Jeep Wagoneer, traveling down Route 29 in Virginia. A whiff of Dentyne, and I see my stepmom's purse casually left open; Jackie was always good for a stick of gum. English Leather reminds me of my first love and my junior prom. Lifesavers and candy canes whisk me away to opening stockings on Christmas morning. Decaying fall leaves take me back to the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Peaks of Otter, camping trips, and horseback rides winding through the trees back home.

Memories...sweet memories of times gone by.  I'm so thankful my mom, dad, and stepmom are still with us.  We lost my stepdad my first year of teaching thirty years ago.

Time marches on...gathering with it along the way more moments to treasure.  Now scents of Dreft laundry soap, Tide and Downy, and the smell of outdoors mingled with the scents of babies and toddlers flood me with memories of my children. For as much as I strive to live in the now, reminiscing and revisiting the past brings me sweet pleasure.  As long as I'm just visiting, and don't live there, I think I'm okay.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Long Goodbye

Grandma Engelhard started it.  My mom did it.  My sister and I do it.  My kids have started to do it.  This wonderful "it" is the long goodbye.

To execute the long goodbye, you need to stand at your door, or it is fine to follow your company to the car, as your visiting family is getting ready to leave.  You begin waving as soon as everyone is in the car, and you don't stop until they are out of the driveway, and completely and totally out of sight.  The people in the vehicle wave until they can no longer see you.  You may take this to extremes, if you so desire. My daughter does.  Especially for her brother.

Sierra waves goodbye alongside the moving vehicle for as long as she can keep pace.  She waves and runs until she is left behind, panting for breath.  I think she does this to try to make up for the time I blew it.

One time I messed up.  I messed up big time.  My oldest son Dylan has always been a stickler about traditions.  I say "stickler" like it's a bad thing.  It's actually one of the things that make it challenging to be his mom, and it's one of the things that makes me want to hug him so hard he squirms. Dylan likes knowing that certain things are done a certain way...especially during the holidays.  I like to think I contributed to his obsessive compulsions.  I'm quite certain I get to take full credit for most of his idiosyncrasies.

We had just finished our Thanksmas celebration (I'll blog about that in another post.)  Dylan had gathered his containers of leftovers, tucked his gifts in his truck, and was saying his thank yous to everyone.  We all kissed and hugged him goodbye.  My mom, my sister, and I went out and waved, and for whatever reason...was it too cold?  Did we think he wouldn't notice?  Did we FORGET?  We all went back inside before he left.

I immediately received a text.  "You forgot to wave goodbye."  My heart sank.

"Mom!  Joelle! We didn't wave goodbye until he was gone!!!"

"Come back!" I texted.  "Give us another chance.  We'll do it right!"

"Never mind.  I'm already at Dad's."

"We'll drive down there and you can wave to us!"  Desperate, I know.

"It's okay, Shrink.  We'll do it next time."

That day haunts me still.  I hate thinking I missed an opportunity to make one of my kids know that I love them so much, I will do silly things to prove it.  Was he emotionally scarred after that? Whether he was or not, I will not let another long goodbye get away from me.

Tears were streaming down my face on this snowy winter's day when Dylan and Jamie left.  I waved and waved, wanting with all of my heart to erase the memory of the time I forgot to do it. I could see his hand and flannel sleeve waving out of the truck window until his red tail lights faded around the bend.  He forgives me.  He loves me.

The long goodbye; even when my kids can no longer see me, they know I am there for them, waiting for their return.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

*Flooding My Senses

A big part of who I am derives extreme pleasure from utilizing my five senses. Visually speaking, my eyes delight in the most ordinary of sights, seeing things as if for the first time. When my nose detects pleasant fragrances, I find my body reacts to the scents, either relaxing into them, or feeling energized by them. My sense of touch goes into overdrive when my skin comes in contact with smooth or soft textures.  Savoring yummy foods is one of my mouth's greatest pleasures: cool and creamy, salty and crunchy, warm and spicy, sweet and chewy.  And although my sense of hearing is diminished, I love listening to sounds; music, voices, and especially, the sounds found outdoors in nature.

Sensual to me is less Victoria's Secret, and more Bath and Body Works.  It's not as much about lingerie as it is the softest, comfiest fabrics for towels, sheets, and clothing.  It involves all of the senses, not just the sensual arousal that takes place behind closed doors.

Some folks may not always appreciate my boundless enthusiasm for sensory experiences. I ooh and ah over sunsets and towels,  bright stars and ice cream, fall leaves and pumpkin candles, soft sheets and squirming puppies. Some of my favorite experiences are farmers' markets and home goods stores; feasts for all of my senses.  I remember one time I was gushing over some glorious, puffy, white clouds, and there was some eye-rolling involved with the company I kept. "They're just regular, ordinary clouds, Denise. They are not that unusual."  Hmph.  

Well, in MY world, when I am immersing myself in as many moments as I can, it's like seeing everything for the first time. I bought myself a camera so that I can record these wondrous images to capture the now.  The camera and I concur that everything is worthy of having its picture taken, if you look at it from just the right perspective.  My Canon takes the pressure off of my husband to try to drum up enough of an enthusiastic response to suit me, and I love catching a moment through my lens to enjoy at a later time.

I love the gift shop at Cracker Barrel, and it never fails to disappoint my senses. I wandered through the gift shop, running my fingers over the fabrics, lifting the lids of candles to sniff the fragrances, and seeing the wide array of artfully arranged home decor and gift items. 

After my bath that day, I'd used my Bath and Body lotion; I'd lit the autumn-fragranced candles; I had gathered the dirty dishes and started the dishwasher. The washing machine and dryer were running.  My house was filling up with the fragrances that turn it into a home.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Finding the Meaning of Life in Denver

Denver Botanic Gardens' Pond of Lily Pads
Happy Fall, Y'all!  This morning, the first day of autumn,  I am sitting in my daughter's apartment in downtown Lakewood, eating a fresh nectarine from the Farmers' Market, pondering on my great fortune of good friends and precious family.  This weekend was the First Annual Girly Getaway with my college roommates.  Thirty years ago, the three amigas were college roommates at Brigham Young University, single girls who loved words, books, and conversations.  Now we are married mothers of teens and young adults, and we still love reading and talking.  

For our little reunion, we chose Denver as our destination city.  It was perfect.  The flooding rains had subsided, the sun was shining, and the days were warm enough to enjoy being outdoors, but cool enough to wear a light sweater or jacket; simply perfect.

We had a little bucket list of places to go and things to do while we were together, and we merrily checked items off as our time together passed.  We rented the basement of a young couple in the Cheeseman Park and the Country Club.  We had two rooms and our own sitting area and bathroom.  It was just the place for our needs.  

As we ventured out into the great city of Denver, we toured the Molly Brown House and the Denver Art Museum.  We ate sumptuous meals at Little India and Snooze.  The breakfast at Snooze was worth the wait!  We went BEFORE the weekend to avoid the reported two hour wait.  Thirty minutes wasn't bad at all.  We indulged in Mexican food at Qdoba, and cupcakes from Gigi's.  

And for future reference, Le Bakery Sensual doesn't involve as many of the senses as one might think.  Perhaps if they had named their business the EROTIC Bakery, I could have saved myself a little embarrassment.  The boys who worked their seemed to enjoy our pink-cheeked presence.  I'm sure my mouth was agape as I peered into the refrigerated glass display case.  We thanked them for their time, and scurried off to rejoin Cindy.  She just shook her head.

"You seriously didn't know what you would find at the SENSUAL bakery?"  Some of us are still pretty naïve.  

Saturday morning, we celebrated the last day of summer at the Denver Farmers' Market.  We breakfasted on Pupusas (a South American dish), tamales, and samples of hummus, pretzels and dips, and fresh slices of peaches, melons, and apples. 

That afternoon found us at the Denver Botanic Gardens.  I was in a photographic paradise.  Our eyes feasted on all of the lush vegetation.  The vast variety of lily pads blew my mind.  The Japanese Tea Garden invoked reverence; the Bonsai trees represented elegance; the blooms and greenery delighted the senses.  There were seating areas throughout the park for us to rest our age-weary backs.  

One of us is an expert conversation starter.  She has the ability to get people to open up, explore their thoughts, and share them.  Whenever I am with her, I have to really focus on trying to find a way to get HER to share.  If I don't, she will cleverly steer the conversation so everyone else is talking while she does the listening.

In a classic moment for the three of us, we found ourselves sitting at a wrought-iron table in the shade of a mighty oak tree. We watched a chubby squirrel scamper along swaying branches and across the grounds.  There was a slight lull in the conversation when my dear friend began, "So...what would you say is the thing that gives...your life...meaning?"  

Even if this is something on which you ponder often, verbalizing an answer to a question like that is not easy.  Committing to an answer that will be heard by others is different than mulling optional responses inside your head.  

My mind began to race...not in an anxiety-fueled way, but in an earnest search for my answer.  Having been a teacher all of my adult life, first as a swimming instructor and then an elementary teacher, I know that for me, the greatest experiences in my life have come from sharing information with others...talking and listening, teaching and learning. As a wife and mother, understanding and being understood are essential to maintaining those precious relationships with my husband and children.  Having ties to the lives of those around me:  my students, my friends, and my family, has given my life purpose.  My response came rather quickly once I gathered my thoughts.

"Connections with others give my life meaning.  My husband calls me the Great Communicator.  If I am not speaking, I am writing.  Speaking, writing, texting, blogging, calling, Facebooking...I am continuously making connections with the people I love.  Connecting with others, and being of service are my two big things.  They are what give my life meaning."

While this conversation was taking place, and during our whole weekend together, I felt so relaxed and
comfortable.  These two have always accepted me whole-heartedly as I am, full of faults and folly.  They are my betters in intelligence, vocabulary, and eloquence, but they have always made me feel like my thoughts mattered, like I belonged.  You've probably heard the quote by Carl Buechner:  "They may forget what you said, but they will never forget the way you made them feel."  I actually had to revisit this conversation with them the next day, to recall particulars, but I will never forget the sweet, peaceful feeling that washed over me while we were sitting in the shade, sharing our thoughts and our feelings.  They love me without condition.  I can say what is in my heart, and know that they will help me sift through my words to find what it is I am trying to convey.

Cindy gazed out at the picturesque scenery and tipped her head slightly in thought.  She told us for her, first and foremost, her family, and her faith, had always given her life meaning, and throughout her life, her underlying purpose has been her love of learning.  She reads voraciously, as though her very life depends on it.  She reads everything, even titles she initially finds boring, if she thinks she can learn from the contents of the book.  One of her recent conquests was a book about physics.  Even though it wasn't easy to read, and it wasn't as enjoyable as her favorite fictional novels, she delighted in understanding the concepts that were presented.  No one appreciates learning as much as Cindy.

As our sweet friend was digesting our comments, she began to change topics, so I stopped her.  "Not so fast," I stopped her.  "Now you have to tell us what gives your life meaning."

She laughed as the filtered sunlight played across her upturned face.  "I knew it was going to be my turn, but I wasn't quite sure how to answer.  I just don't KNOW..."  Then her demeanor became serious.  She shared with us her concerns about her jobs as a mother and professor changing as she approaches retirement.  She has always seen her purpose as equating with her jobs:  mother and teacher.  "I can see [my husband] and I going to farmers' markets, and buying sticky buns.  We will be happy, but will that be enough?  I am confident I can PLEASE myself, but how do I become truly and deeply HAPPY in retirement without my regular work of mothering and teaching?"

After a lengthy discussion that made the time pass much too quickly, we concluded that as long as each life has PURPOSE, it has meaning.  It is important not to confuse our JOBS with our PURPOSE.  We have to have a mission statement for our lives that becomes our purpose.  We can't limit the meaning of our lives to our roles, because as relationships change, as physical limitations present themselves, our meaning would be reduced.  Having a purpose is a mindset; it doesn't change when our memory isn't as crisp, or the body becomes less able.  

Making connections, being of service, learning as much as we can...these things will give our lives purpose, and having a purpose will fill our lives with happiness.  I don't think these girls will have any problems of living "purpose-driven" lives; their natural responses to life and the people they meet along their paths are compassion and love.  I consider having their friendship as one of my choicest blessings.  

Although our children are growing and moving away from home, we will always be mothers.  Even though our jobs will one day become memories of the past, we will always be of service.  It is not the titles of our roles or our job descriptions that make us who we are. It is the intangible concepts of our spirits and our minds and our hearts that will inspire us to be more, learn more, love more.  When we are old(er) and grey(er), living our lives in bodies not as fit and healthy as we may wish, it will not be our titles that define us; it will be our sense of duty and charity that will drive us to be our best selves.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Turning Off the TV (Things to Do that Don't Involve a Screen)

In attempting to reconnect as a family, we are trying to find things besides watch TV and play with our electronic devices.  Our bad habit was even worse in that we were all retreating to our own places in the house to do these things by ourselves.  There's nothing wrong with watching a good show on TV, but for those times when you want to really make a memory, I've compiled a list of ideas.  Here are ten things we've tried just recently.

  1. Read a book.  Silently, or out loud, I'm an advocate for reading.  I'm a teacher; I love to read out loud, and my kids have always liked me to read to them.  My youngest is nearly 16 years old, and we are currently enjoying The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson.  (I do not recommend this for young children, unless you're good at censorship on the fly. ;-) )
  2. Play music.  Listen to recordings, or even better, listen to music played LIVE.  Bridger plays the guitar, and I have loved watching his skills develop from a three chord-repertoire to many more, and learning how to finger and use a capot.  
  3. Enjoy your favorite outdoor activity.  Bridger likes to longboard with his friend. Bike on your local trails. Go for a hike.  Take a walk.  We walk our dog at the park, down the road and on trails.  My husband and I have plans to resume our previous level of hiking that had been set aside after my rheumatologist scared me away from anything that COULD lead to injury.  I've decided to get back to living my life without fear, and just to be extra careful.  
  4. Bake something together.  Last week, I actually made the cookie dough while my boy was at school, and had him help me scoop out the dough and bake the cookies.  And then we ate them.  I will need to do more of number 3 if we keep doing more of number 4.
  5. Have friends over.  I had girlfriends over for lunch.  We had Bridger's friend over for dinner. My husband had friends over to watch football and order pizzas.  It is always fun to entertain company.  There is an added bonus for me:  I tend to keep the house tidier when I know people are coming!
  6. Tackle chores together.  I started mowing the lawn while my son took a shovel to the end of our driveway to make a smoother transition from the newly laid road base to our gravel driveway. When he finished that, he gallantly took over the mowing for me.
  7. TALK.  This week, we've had some enlightening discussions on the way to and from school (nearly an hour a day).  We've talked about prejudice, labeling, college, music, scholarships, advanced math, teachers, and favorite memories.  My favorite conversation, which involved some internet research, was about "Was Jesus Black?"(Link to earlier post).  Bridger is always thinking, which requires that I keep thinking, too.
  8. Let your child teach YOU something.  A couple of weeks ago, Mark took Bridger to the
    shooting range, and told him, "You're the expert here. I'll follow your lead." Bridger took it very seriously, and explained basic courtesy and safety.  He always asked if we were ready before he took aim, and he was very careful in handling the variety of weapons.  I took my camera because I'm not one to shoot guns, but I LOVE shooting pictures!  Everyone had fun at their own level.
  9. Play games.  Our favorite is Scrabble.  Bridger and I had never kept score until this last time.  He skunked me by 60 points, and then had the GALL to point out a mistake I made two plays before the game was over that cost me 57 points.  No more Mr. Nice Guy.  I'm going to have to hone my Scrabble skills if I hope to ever maintain my status as a word geek.
  10. Invent something, fix something, improve something.  After school, Bridger retreated to his room.  He came out periodically looking for duct tape and other supplies.  "Should I be worried?" I asked.  "No, not yet," was his response.  He was making a prototype for a trebuchet, which is a catapult.  He has big plans for a life-size contraption soon.  I have a feeling if he can get the model to work, no pumpkin will be safe after Halloween.
My husband is a PRO when it comes to fixing things that don't work so well.  He and Bridger took our bed apart and tightened all of the screws.  (Certainly can't have a squeaky bed. Don't want any raised eyebrows when company is over.)  Those two are constantly working on little projects to repair things around here.  Duct tape and WD40 are about all I can manage.  I'm grateful for their skills.  My thing is recipes and writing.  I'm always tweaking recipes to make them healthier, and I'm always editing my writing to try to improve it.
What activities would you suggest?  With the upcoming holidays, I'm thinking we need to expand our game collection.  I would love to hear from you about things you do to encourage family time, and downplay time in front of TVs or computers.

Women in Comfortable Shoes

You will never see me teetering around in stiletto heels like some newborn calf on stilts.  I just can't do it.  I actually REFUSE to do it.  High heels have never been a thing for me.  I hit five foot seven inches in eighth grade.  I was already towering over all of the boys.  Extra height is not something I ever wanted.  And now, even though I've become the incredible, shrinking woman at five foot six, I don't feel the need to make myself artificially taller.

I love shoes.  My shoe addiction has not reached Imelda Marcos' level, but I do love shoes. More specifically, I love comfortable, funky ones. I read with great interest an article entitled "Women Only Need Six Pairs of Shoes to Get By".  I chuckled most of the way through it.  I have WAY more than six pairs, but of the suggested list, I only have one pair that meet the "must-have" criteria.

Stylist Wendy Mak suggests the following belong in our wardrobe:  
  1. a classic black heel
  2. a nude or tan wedge
  3. a strappy heel
  4. a ballet flat
  5. a dressy thong (not to be confused with nice, rubber flip-flops)
  6. a knee-high boot (yeah, this is the only one I have...and they're motorcycle boots)
Her list seems to be lacking in practicality.  Where are the athletic shoes?  Where are the hiking shoes?  Where are the sensible shoes for every day wear?  What about the flip-flops?  My issues arise when comparing MY wardrobe requirements with a STYLIST'S wardrobe requirements. Perhaps her list was for runway models.  Perhaps it's for business women who never have to walk farther than down the hall at work.  Perhaps she assumes our number one priority is looking good.

Looking good would be fine, if it also felt good.  You see, I have some problems finding shoes that FIT, and then, when I find a pair that FITS, I have
a further requirement that my feet must feel comfortable in the shoes.  My biggest problem is that I have large feet; I take a women's size 11, a men's 9 1/2.  MEN'S???  Oh, yes, I wear men's shoes, too.  They tend to offer the wiggle room my toes crave, so I've been known to shop the men's section, too.

There are times I have bought shoes simply because my feet slid into them easily.  You may be thinking I should just wear the boxes they came in.  Don't tempt me!  As an awkward teenager, I had worn shoes several sizes too small, just to avoid the stigma of having large feet.  Now I tend to overcompensate by buying shoes a little on the large side.  The problem with making sure they're roomy enough is that sometimes I don't detect that my feet are actually sliding around in them, which causes problems of its own.

There is simply nothing better than bare feet, but when shoes are required, my next best choice is an open-toed sandal, like Birkenstocks. My New Balance and Merrell hiking shoes are always comfy, and my chunky Bjørn and Dansko shoes feel great, too.

After reviewing the list, I can see why occasions for semi-formal wear throw me for a loop.  "I got nothin'."  This spring, before I retired, I vowed to only have clothes and shoes in my closet that were COMFORTABLE.  Yes, I've reached that AGE where comfort comes before fashion.  I purged my closet of any shoe that didn't fit perfectly, or any that were what Oprah calls her One Hour Shoes. (Look nice, but you can only stand to wear them for an hour.)  I had a darling girl in my fifth grade class who wore the same size as I do, and I gave them to her.

I gave her a few pairs during the school year, and I ended up making two deliveries to her house this past summer.  "Does your husband think you're the shoe queen?" she asked me.

"He can't say anything; his closet is full of shoes, too," I told her.  "At least I'm giving away the ones I don't wear any more."  She was so grateful.  It freed up lots of space in my closet...for more shoes!  I was on a mission to find only comfortable shoes I loved.

Fashion is a strange thing, isn't it?  I like to think I have a classic style, but that's just because I don't catch on to the latest trends until they're on their way out of fashion.  Since I tend to wear what's comfortable, my style runs somewhere between resort casual to yoga class dropout.

Here are my shoe staples:
  1. a Birkenstock in a cheerful color
  2. a Merrell sandal in subdued tones
  3. a sturdy Teva water sandal
  4. a minimalist hiking shoe in a bright color to locate me, in case I'm ever lost in a rock slide
  5. a nice hiking shoe with more support and protection for hiking rocky trails
  6. a knee-high boot, which happens to be Harley-Davidson brand
  7. comfortable shoes (like Dansko or, in my case, Bjørn)
Now that summer is winding down, and the cooler temperatures of autumn are approaching, I am painfully aware that I need to start wearing my closed toe shoes.  And I am also recognizing the need for something nicer to wear with skirts and dresses.  I need help, folks.  Any ideas?  

My bucket list has one strange item on it. I want to own a pair of Cole Haan Nike Air dress shoes. These are pumps and sandals that have the Nike athletic shoe designer's touch built into them. Cushioned insoles with comfort in mind. Have you ever priced these little (or in my case, big) shoes?  They can run $300-500.  You can see why they're on my bucket list.  I keep checking the Nordstrom Rack, Nordstrom's off-price outlet store for them.  Until I break down and buy the Cadillac of dress shoes, do any of you have suggestions for comfortable non-casual shoes that would meet my criteria?  I would like to look nice, and not have to sacrifice comfort.  Is there anything out there for budget-minded folks like me?

Until I find the perfect little dress shoe to go with the little black dress, I'll be forced to wear what's in my closet.  Help me before the fashion police knock down my door and force me into a pair of stilettos that will have me in tears within minutes!