Thursday, May 26, 2016

Mindful Photography

The mind is the most capricious of insects — flitting, fluttering. 
Virginia Woolf

The next couple months are going to be most interesting around here. We have a wedding in June and a baby coming in July. The baby part is easy. I'm not the one going through labor.  We readied the old cradle and stroller for baby visits and we wait for that child to appear. Already this grandparent gig is much easier than parenting.

But the wedding comes first. The wedding festivities six years ago for the baby-to-be kids was an incredible high and the one coming up holds all that promise as well. But, those who say the groom's mother has nothing to do? Phooey to you. Along side our wedding responsibilities like the rehearsal dinner and figuring out how to dress myself, we have family and friends coming from all over the country. Lots of work going on to get the homestead ready and plan for good times and good food while we gather.

For years you sit around scratching your belly saying, "Ya know, Pa. Someday we should fix that."

That someday has arrived. With all the details.  If I get everything on these lists done before everyone arrives, I can have great fun when they do. And I do like to have fun.



For sanity purposes, I decided to take a Mindful Photography class this past month. I completed the course last Friday and I have to say that along with my daily poetry/essay reading and journal writing, I have retained some sense of stability. My husband might argue with that long statement, but what does he know.

Mindful Photography.  Contemplative and Miksang Photography. Miksang is a Tibetan word that translates to "Good Eye." That means we declutter our brains and just shoot away -- or something like that. Pure perception and straight shooting. Not worrying about the light and the perfect setting and all that jazz. Instead focusing on what we are seeing when we open our minds and see.

Sounds like how I, not being a photographer and barely knowing how to use my camera, normally take my photos. One moment, one shot. Similar to writing a shitty first draft. (God bless you Anne Lamott for that most appropriate term.)

But this mindfulness also involved the contemplative part. As said by Christine Vatters Paintner in her book Eyes of the Heart, this is a receptive practice, where we allow grace to enter and open ourselves to hear and ponder.

Perfect escape for me.  The photography practice has offered a chance to breathe. I'm grateful.

Led by a very accomplished and organized teacher who assured me I wasn't the first intimidated by this venture, this Put It On Auto and Shoot person experienced great joy in the process. Here are a few things I found on my outings.

Just What Is








Color and Shapes









Miksang Pattern













The Ordinary



Love's Equivalent


Openness


Fullness







From a Child's Point of View





I'm a rookie, but now I'm a more mindful rookie. Calmed. In the moment.

Back to my lists. Mindfully. And if anybody wants to clean toilets...




Monday, April 18, 2016

A Tale of Love

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During my twenties, I knew I lacked the maturity for motherhood. At almost thirty, no hint of an imminent transformation presented itself. I finally made decent money and planned a trip to Jamaica. My restless husband awaited my decree of readiness. One night, after several glasses of wine, I said okay. The next day I changed my mind, but it was too late.
A doubtful contender for motherhood, I visited the parenting section of the library frequently. Little by little, I came to terms with my changing body and gained confidence in my future parental abilities. I cancelled the trip to Jamaica and assured myself I could manage children as well as any other administrative position I’d conquered. Besides, surely I’d be blessed with a daughter. Had I not done my time playing army and touring car dealerships as the sister of three brothers? My mother, eager for a granddaughter and more female companionship, mailed me a tiny pink sleeper laced with dainty rose petals. I fingered it daily while daydreaming of nursing Meg, as I would call her. I envisioned a lifelong friend.
When the leaves fell in late October, I pulled a light blue sleeper from the third drawer of the dresser and buried the pink one under the stack of yellow and green. I dressed my newborn son, Jacob, in the blue sleeper and nursed him as he melted into my heart.
In stores I closed my eyes to the little girl dresses, Mary Jane shoes, and Easter bonnets and instead purchased jeans, cowboy boots, and baseball caps. I bypassed the dolls at the toy store and walked directly to the fire trucks.
Each afternoon of my second pregnancy, I pushed the stroller down to the beach at the end of my street and sat on the break wall while my little boy threw rocks into the ocean for an hour -- or two. Caressing my growing belly, I watched his tossed stones disappear into the sea and pictured him walking beside a stroller carrying his baby sister, Caitlin, dressed in the lacy pink sleeper.
When the trees budded that May, Jacob walked beside the stroller from which his new brother, Jordan, smiled upon the world, and me, who loved him in spite of his male equipment.
As the years passed, my days of peaceful walks and dreaming the time away disappeared.
“Will you pitch to us, Mom?”
Dirty dishes and clothes baskets filled with grass-stained jeans played second fiddle as I took my pitching position in the middle of the front lawn. I covered first, second, and third base, too, as the small feet of my sons and the neighborhood boys further etched the base paths into the grass, so unlike, I imagined, the lush lawns of houses with little girls.
We visited parks and nature trails, where my two free-spirited sons swung from the highest heights on jungle gyms and made forts of brush and mud. I scrubbed dirt out from under fingernails and plugged my nose after trips to the mudslide. At the pool, one son scaled the fence in hopes of petting the puppy running freely on the other side while the other discovered the diving board, without my watchful eye. At the library, one picked out books on dinosaurs and rocks; the other chose stories of Vikings and war ships. Though I read them Black Beauty, Island of the Blue Dolphins, and Trumpet of the Swan, they preferred Hank the Cowdog, The Indian in the Cupboard, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
On Sunday mornings, one boy sat on each side of me in church—at least, initially. On more than a few occasions, one or both spent part of the service out in the hall with strict instructions not to further misbehave or I’d have to kill them in front of God and everybody.
As I cooked up play dough, my swollen middle brushed against the front of the stove. Once again, the rose-petal sleeper took a prominent place in my thoughts, and I added a touch of red food coloring to the mix. I watched as my sons molded the light pink dough into cars and guns and snakes. While I collected wild flowers with Jordan or coached third base at Jacob’s baseball practice, I mused about the new life harbored in my womb and prayed for a little girl named Michaela. In my thoughts I took her to dance class and braided her hair.
After the Easter bunny came that April, I placed a sky blue sleeper on Ian, my new son, who smiled at me for the first time on the night of his birth. I passed the little pink sleeper off to the lady down the street.
When my father in Wisconsin cleaned out his basement, he shipped me six boxes of Barbie doll furniture that my grandfather had built me in my childhood. I stuffed the boxes in the attic for a granddaughter to play with someday. Maybe.
Jacob, Jordan, and Ian grinned when I walked into their classrooms to help or pick them up. They hugged me after I tended their scraped knees and mended their broken hearts. They instinctively reached for my hand when we crossed streets. Sometimes, they kept their hands in mine well beyond the crossing.
As time went by, I drove to six baseball practices and six games a week. My van smelled like a locker room. I camped in a tent in both the heat and the cold. I sat through three sets of guitar lessons and I ran laps with all three sons during the weekly three-mile physical education marathon.
Never did it occur to me that every mom didn’t have fourteen boys playing basketball in their driveways, three more upstairs building Lego contraptions, and two others wrestling on the living room rug. I rarely noticed the looks of sympathy as I walked through a grocery store with three boys screwing up behind me. I traipsed through natural history, science and industry, and air and space museums. I smiled and thanked the man at the art museum who gave me a discount when I showed up with my three boys and a couple extra in tow. Rain at Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park didn’t faze me; I had remembered the rain ponchos.
I taught my boys to cook, to garden, to use chlorine bleach in the white load, to chew with their mouths closed, and to write thank you notes. I didn’t say a word when, out of the corner of my eye, I spied them crying while I read of the dog’s death in When the Red Fern Grows or when Beth died in the movie Little Women. If they noticed they were the only boys in a theater filled with weeping mothers, daughters, and granddaughters, they never said.
Despite my efforts to incorporate less stereotypically “manly” things into their lives, some classic “male” attributes remained constant. I repeatedly explained that it wasn’t necessary to fart, burp, or discuss bodily functions at every meal. I often found myself drawn into races down ski slopes when my first choice would have been a leisurely run. And I was talked into skipping Phantom of the Opera for tickets to the Alamo Bowl.
I did, however, pass on boat shows, rattlesnake roundups, and paintball games. I was often alone, sometimes gratefully, while my husband taught such skills as oil changing, lawn care, carpentry, and car washing. (Apparently, there is an art to the latter.) Sometimes, I was present, but still alone, like when on a hike we came upon a waveless lake amid hills engulfed in a quiet fog. Not fifteen seconds had elapsed before my family of men broke the serenity with a boisterous game of rock skipping. Then there were the countless times when a lovely dinner at a restaurant turned into a sports event. A tightly folded paper napkin works great as a mini football. Thumb-tips placed together with index fingers held upright? Goal posts, of course.
On days when the testosterone flew too wildly about my house, I planted myself on the doorstep of a friend with daughters only. No one there played soccer with balloons in the living room or washed the car with the best bath towels. No one there tromped through the flower garden in search of errant golf balls or leaped over four full steps of clean clothes in need of a trip upstairs. No one there disregarded what I had to say simply because I didn’t have a penis. In the company of those of my gender, I filled myself back up and then headed home to my household of men.
When Jacob turned eighteen, my heart turned over. Watching him one Friday night as he laughed with his friends at the high school football game, I questioned whether I could survive not seeing him everyday after he left for college. When I noted the confidence in Jordan as he led his scout troop, I marveled at when he had grown up to become such a fine leader. When Ian, with the aroma of too much cologne trailing him as he paced the kitchen, asked my opinion regarding a girl at the sixth grade dance, my eyes flooded. How quickly my years of raising boys had passed. What would become of me when they left to build their own lives?
Over a bottle of wine -- or two -- I laid my heartache on my husband. Certainly our sons will marry and go off with their wives’ families forever. That’s what men do, isn’t it? Who will carry on the tradition of making Swedish coffee bread at Christmas? Will any of them invite me to Christmas dinner? Surely their wives will hate me. If only I had a daughter. A daughter would never leave me out in the cold. She would be my friend for life.
On a day when my future plight particularly depressed me, my youngest son came into the kitchen, where I stared out the window at the leaves fluttering from the trees. He stood silent beside me for a time before touching my arm and saying, “You want to come out and shoot baskets with me?”
I looked at this boy, his concern for me engraved on his face, and I figured it out. How silly of me to have thought I’d be alone after raising three kind, caring men. The rock-skipping and other male-exclusive events I’d silently observed had prepared me for the changing unity of our lives. Standing aside didn’t mean being apart. They had always known I was there. Now I knew I always would be, too. Family -- and friends --for life.
As I pulled my hair into a quick ponytail and followed my son outside, I also decided that there had been a reason I wasn’t blessed with a daughter to dress in the pretty pink sleeper, way back then. Someone knew I’d be much better at shooting baskets than braiding hair.

I wrote this essay many years ago. It was almost published a few times. Something about a penis scared off a few publishers (I did offer to alter that.) 

I thought of this long buried away piece recently, for come July that oldest son of mine and his wife are having a baby. Yup, I'm gonna be a grandma. 

My husband and I have a few projects going to get ready for second son's big wedding shindig in June. While putting new boards on the picnic table, we also dug around in the attic for a few things.  Found this stuff and we're working on getting it back in good order.





 So here is the question. Am I going to need toys like this for that new grandbaby?
Or will I finally get to pull out those boxes of Barbie doll furniture?

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

April in Texas

Spring is nature’s way of saying, "Let’s party!"  
Robin Williams

April in Texas. Best time of the year for me. After the brown of December, January, February and most of March, I've escaped from winter's hold on the bleak. Perfect weather has arrived. I sit outside and I'm not hot. Nor am I cold. The sun on my skin provides much needed Vitamin D.

Everything sings green. My garden grows.

Best part? No bugs.

Doesn't get much better than that. Except for when you head out in the car for a Saturday adventure. Country roads. Beautiful vistas. Wildflowers.



In the 1960's First Lady Lady Bird Johnson began a beautification project throughout Washington DC and America. Since she lived in Austin and also in the nearby Hill Country, her efforts are seen in abundance here as she saw to the spreading of wildflower seeds to enhance the landscape. You can read more about it here.

The roads surrounding us in Spring are filled with camera toting families, oil painters, and flower lovers cruising the countryside to find the best fields of Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrush along with many other species of yellow, white, pink and purple persuasions.

On Saturday my husband and I joined the masses and headed out with our friends Mike and Bonnie. I planned to drive so I could go as slow as I wanted and stop whenever to get a better photo. However, that bad wife in me felt sorry for my husband as I know he likes to drive. I offered him my car keys and listed the parameters of his task ahead.

1. This isn't a race.
2. We will need to go slow.
3. You will have to listen for "What a great place to stop." or "Slow down." or "Go back, go back." and comply.
4. This isn't a race.

He agreed.

Off we went.



 Passed by the strawberry picking place and


headed onto the highway and then many country roads.







All of those merited a Stop the Car shout.

But this one, this one was just perfect. Took a turn onto a road that ended up a dead end, but, oh, my. Overwhelming find.



Let's see that again.

We came around this corner and found a perfect spot for a vista view.



Any time you guys are ready...

Shortly thereafter, my husband forgot the mission of the trip. I opened my window to take a photo and he sped up. Bonnie said, "Wow, what a perfect place to stop." He turned up the radio.

But gotta love the man for shortly thereafter he took a quick turn into a long drive that took us to this view



and a winery. Nothing like finishing out the drive with a wine tasting and a view.

After that, all we saw was just icing on the cake.





Ended up in the metropolis of Marble Falls for a big hamburger at Bill's.


 Cheers.
Thanks Bob, Mike, and Bonnie. Fun day.





Happy Spring Northern Hemisphere. 
Loving the Bluebonnets.


And the paintbrushes.



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