Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Shortest Day

The days are short
The sun a spark
Hung thin between
The dark and dark. 

John Updike, "January," A Child’s Calendar, 1965

I'm glad today is short, for I've worked very hard and I'm tired. At day's end I watched the sun finish its retreat into winter, and then set. I sighed. Tomorrow's sun will begin retracing its path, right, across the lake -- to its summer's end rest stop.

For today, I say, rest sun. You have done well.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Shopping Wears Me Out

Efficiency is intelligent laziness.  
David Dunham

I should be writing my Christmas letter. I didn't get one out last year. Or cards. Can't seem to get my fingers to type beyond, "Merry Christmas" though. I'm tired. I've been shopping all day.

Dear friends are laughing now. They know I don't go shopping all day. They know I'm good for two hours at most and then I've either found a bar or escaped home. But, no, to you naysayers. I shopped for a good seven hours today. All that time someone else might spend fighting crowds and looking for parking and elbowing one's way through the check out line. Hmmmph! Nuts to that. I'm almost done.

I shop from my chair. Catalogs galore. A book bag full of them. Great deals online. Added bonus -  much fun to open my front door and there everything is. Right on my front porch. Don't even have to haul it from the car.

Lazy? Maybe.
Exactly what everyone had on their lists? Maybe. Maybe not.
Guaranteed to be fun opening it? You bet. 

Why? The hundreds of catalogs delivered to my house offer a plethora of items for consideration. I get catalogs for everything from underwear to dog food. I get weird T-shirt catalogs. Weird yard art catalogs. Cooking utensils and electronic foot massage catalogs. Art museum catalogs. Wine, cheese and pear catalogs. College flag catalogs. Flower and seed catalogs. Give a herd of sheep or a gaggle of geese catalogs.

Every day beginning in September my husband arrives from the mailbox and a loud bang hits the kitchen table. "Here's today's load," he says.

If I didn't recycle, I'd feel guilty. It isn't all my fault for once you order something from a catalog, Those That Hold Your Address pass it on to everyone else. Pretty soon everybody and their brother who sells something sends you a catalog. Or, if your mother passes on and her mail comes to your house, Those That Held Her Address now switch to yours. As well as all those charities she contributed to for the past 85 years.

My mailman assures me he doesn't hate me. I normally give him a homemade sweet bread for Christmas. I'm thinking this year maybe he needs something a little extra. Any ideas? After all, my mailbox is only so big so there are times, often, when he leaves his jeep and comes up to the door to hand me my newest load. Or leaves it discreetly on my porch swing.

So, back to where I was. Oh, yes. Shopping. I'm in pretty good shape. Just need to order a few fruit and wine or coffee or English muffin or cookie baskets to out of town family and I'm good. Leaves me open to begin the quest of writing that Christmas letter, addressing the cards, digging out the advent wreath, making the bread, meatballs and cookies. Oh, yeah - decorating the house. Planting the hyacinth bulbs curing in my refrigerator. Putting up the tree. Wrapping those gifts after they arrive at my door. Planning the meals. Cleaning the house for out of town company. Remembering what this season is supposed to be about.

Those of you who do it know what I'm talking about. Merry Christmas to you.

My mind is now fully overwhelmed. Thinking I'd better go get a glass of wine.  And dream about...

... December 26.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Interpreting Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving, after all, is a word of action. 

W. J. Cameron

I had lunch with a good friend the other day. We ate at a lovely little bistro - sat in a back corner so we could talk and not be overrun by all the conversations buzzing in the restaurant.  As always when we meet for lunch, the time flies and in between all the discussions of writing, books, New York City, aches and pains, art and hibernation, two hours have passed. Once again, we are the only ones left in the restaurant other than the wait staff. 

The quote above arrived with the check -- written on a small slip like those found in a fortune cookie, minus the lottery numbers. My friend scooped it up and said, "I'm posting this on Facebook." 

If she hadn't done that, and I hadn't seen it on Facebook later in the day, I might never have remembered the quote. Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving. A word of action. Several ways that could be interpreted. 

Of course, my first thought of it as a word of action is all my action in the kitchen putting that huge dinner on every year. The planning, the purchasing, the cleaning, the table setting. The pie making and potato peeling. The bread spread over the counter to dry for the stuffing. The celery and onions chopped into small pieces. The cream ready for whipping. 

With all that work, I've seldom thought about exactly what the holiday meant. Certainly I am thankful for what I have. My family. My friends. The gathering. The day. The fact that it is my favorite holiday because all you have to do is cook and eat.

I am a grateful person. I write gratitudes often. Perhaps as with most things I now encounter as I grow supposedly older and wiser, I notice what I haven't noticed before. Thanksgiving - a word of action. Thanksgiving. Giving thanks. Thanking those that make a difference. Having great respect for those that give. Giving thanks for the gifts that others give - even though they may not know that what they give is appreciated. Relaying my thanks.

As always, I'm not certain of my interpretation. The quote most likely offers something much deeper than my analysis. But I do know I'm actively thankful for many, many, many people, places and  things. With deep gratitude, I thank another dear friend, Kris, who is hosting Thanksgiving this year.  So thankful am I for inviting me that I will bring the pumpkin and buttermilk pies. And a salad. And a vegetable. And rolls. And wine. And my husband and one of my sons and his girlfriend. 

I'll bring joy to the gathering. I'll relish the time we will have as three families most familiar with one another flock together and share a meal. Share a Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving - a joy to act upon. 

 Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Monday, November 18, 2013


Inside myself is a place where I live all alone, and that's where I renew my springs that never dry up. 

 Pearl Buck

The lake is quiet today. No fishermen roaring or trolling by. No jet skis. No pontoons coming too close to the dock. I don't have to wave or talk to anyone. I sit on the porch and notice the leaves on the trees across the lake are changing. The greens becoming brilliant yellow and orange and red. 

Yesterday my husband and my oldest son jumped into the lake. A last swim as after a week where we saw freezing temperatures, a fine weekend in the 80's had blessed us. We always base  water temps on Green Lake in Minnesota, a spring-fed lake that more often than not took quite a bit of bravery to enter. You either went for it and dove in anticipating a heart attack  or walked in inch by torturous inch until when finally under water that accomplishment overshadowed the cool.

Hillbilly Shower
 It was agreed between husband and son that the November water in our Texas lake was indeed colder than Green Lake in July. So pleased they settled that for me and I did not have to share their bravery. Nor did my granddog as we two watched from the dock.  And a walk this morning with my ears and eyes aware of my surroundings garnered more proof that indeed, fall has arrived. 

My walk didn't only make me aware of the time of year, however. It provided an opportunity to recharge. You see, in reality, I'm shy. I'm an introvert. Might come as a surprise to some of my friends - those that see me telling stories and totally relaxed in their presence. Those that know I open my home and have tons of guests and family visiting often. 

It doesn't bother me to stand in front of a classroom of middle schoolers, but in real life I seek the back row.  I hate when it is my turn to talk when going around the circle. I cringe when I have to make a phone call to someone I don't know. And entertaining? I find it easier to hide when I'm the host - much more difficult to be the guest. 

I'm hiding out at the lake today, a Monday, as last week was my social week. I had Bunco, Book Club, dinner with kids and friends. Great fun, but it wears me out. All that stimulation. All that conversation. I love my friends and family, but I'm used to hanging out in my head and even though I might do that too often, I find comfort there. 

I believe a day like today makes me a better person. The solitude refills my coffers, as they say. The solitude makes me laugh and cry and participate in life the rest of the time. 

Come walk with me. We don't have to talk. Let's just look.

 My book club recently read a great book entitled Quiet - The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain. Most interesting. The best explanation I've had of myself in a long time.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Headwaters - Found

I'm ready to begin again, but I'm not quite certain where to start. 
Julie Sucha Anderson

History tells us the white man searched for years to find the beginning of the Mississippi River. Most meandered fruitlessly, never finding their way to its origin. The Native Americans in the area must have chuckled as these explorers wandered aimlessly. Finally one explorer had the sense to ask the Indians where the headwaters lay. Eureka! The Headwaters were discovered.

Summer before last, my husband and I took a trip up to northern, northern Minnesota to visit friends. Even though I had crossed the Mississippi River countless times in the states of Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana and even attended Girl Scout camp on the backwash of the Mississippi in Wisconsin, I'd never seen the headwaters. Always wanted to see the river's beginning. To experience its grandeur.

I was born in Minnesota and lived there my first thirteen years. In adulthood I returned each summer  to an old fashioned resort of tiny cabins in Spicer, Minnesota -- my husband and kids, my parents and my brothers' families all in attendance. Too much fun!

But this trip with only my husband seemed very strange to me - bypassing the familiar roads leading to the lake and continuing north. To search for something new in a place beyond where I'd spent so much time. Where the before, wasn't anymore.

It had been almost a year since the passing of my mom; almost two years since losing my dad. I was soon to complete the task as executor of my parent's wills and the dismantling of their household to be distributed between my brothers and me. A most difficult time in my life compounded by not having the time I once had to pursue writing due to an outside the home job, my children heading off on their life adventures and me trying to find myself, while also trying not to think. I worked many substitute teacher days in order to take my mind off getting myself together. Doing everything I could by rote to make life simpler.

My writing disappeared. I had nothing to say.

The Headwaters of the Mississippi are located in Itasca State Park. Way up Nort, don't ya know. (You can take the girl out of Minnesota, but you can't take the Minnesota...) Unlike the early explorers, my husband and I were able to follow a wide man-made path down to the waters where we came upon the rock ledge that separates the Lake Itasca from the narrow beginnings of a grand river.

I took off my shoes and socks and wandered through the unseasonably warm water to have a seat. As the water passing over my toes began its journey to the Gulf of Mexico, I stared down its path, wishing I could ride down along with it. Embarking on an odyssey of something new from where I'd been. A hopeful journey of new adventure, discovering more and more as I floated.

I sat there and imagined that this could be the beginning of my release from the grief and stagnation of the past few years. That now, with my children out on their own and my parent's passing behind me, I could begin to think of myself, and what I wanted to do with my life.

I felt so hopeful.

Like the explorers floundering through the woods seeking the headwaters, my thoughts and hopes didn't quite come to fruition either. Sometimes my dreams are bigger than my mind can grasp. I forget those details that can cloud a big picture. Those details one has to plod through. And that sometimes the plodding can get mucky. And rest is needed for perhaps there is no strength to move forward.

I retreated to my rote world. I relished my friends and laughter.  Fun. Brainless complacency.

The two (Mom) and three (Dad) year anniversary of my losses has passed. My youngest son has settled in a school where he has found his passion and future.  I'm not teaching as much. The tangles around my feet have lessened. I feel lighter. The Wa I've sought has arrived. I like it.

A few weeks ago, my dear friend, Carolyn Scarborough, a writing coach and author of Backyard Pearls, announced a one-day writer retreat. She has facilitated retreats in the past, but I was not in retreat mode unless it involved a beach and a gallon of wine. But when I saw her announcement, a retreat where my brain had to participate seemed right. I signed up immediately. The time had come to get up off the rocks at the Headwaters and begin the new journey.

My writing goals have changed from years ago when the intense days of practice, membership in writing organizations, the pursuit and reality of publishing consumed me. I'm not that person anymore.

Now I want to write because I love it and I love me when I'm in writer mode. I have a novel I want to finish. For me. I have a journal with blank pages that patiently awaits my thoughts, aimless and empty as they often are. I have a blog that I often look back on and read my past entries, marvelling - "Wow, did I write that? I didn't know I knew words like that?" Maybe I should write more there.

I have a filing cabinet filled with finished, unfinished essays and short stories. They've been gathering dust since the whole Midlife Jobhunter deal came up.  I'm thinking I'll blow the dust off those files and explore what might lurk in there.

I'm ready to engage in the calm of my writing life. At my own pace.

The Mississippi takes a certain, well defined path. The water behind the water pushes it along its way. I don't have that force behind me, but that's the way it goes. Sometimes you find the flow and sometimes you just have to paddle. Can't begin unless you find the headwaters, though. And the paddle.

I found them. Wonder where they'll lead me.

I'm ready to begin again.  I now know where to start.
Julie Sucha Anderson

Friday, July 19, 2013

Road Trip With Mom - Again (Dad Gets To Go Too)

Chase down your passion like it's the last bus of the night. 
Terri Guillemets

Once upon a time, I wanted to live in New York City. College graduation upon me in a few months, I wasn't interested in the secondary English teacher positions I'd trained for. I wanted adventure. I wanted to see the world. I considered becoming a flight attendant hoping for a home base in New York City or London or Paris.

I didn't have the guts. I got married instead.

After a quick perusal of 35 years of marriage, had I known how many guts it would require to maintain a relationship this long, traveling the world would have been a much easier road. Not that I regret the marriage -- just that I regret not knowing when I was young how much passion and determination I held or how to unleash it.

I've visited NYC  a few times since then. Even lived within a 55 minute Sunday afternoon drive to Midtown for a short period. Ten years ago, my husband and I took our three boys there for a few days. This past weekend, we went back with our youngest son, the Bama boy. He got to stay.

Living vicariously through my children has offered more than many an adventure in my lifetime. I've shared quite a few road trips with those boys in the course of this blog's evolution. From The Field of Dreams to College Station to Flagstaff to Tuscaloosa to Yellowstone and all places in between never did I expect to add New York City to the list. But there we were, just hanging out in the city.

Me and Ian. Husband taking the photo. All fully satiated after a delectable Italian dinner. Only the beginning of our culinary pursuit which included Ian's restaurant selections of some of his favorite chefs.  David Chang's Momofuku Noodle Bar. Michael White's Osteria Morini. L'Ecole at the International Culinary Center.

Of course we had to visit Katz's and moan like Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally. Bob and I split a Reuben. Good thing. It may have only been a sandwich, but it was a big sandwich.

The mother of three boys never gets to go anywhere that a baseball game can't be found. Not quite certain what you call what we ate at Yankee Stadium. Ball park fare. BTW,  the cost of three beers equals a case in real life. Ian got to see his team, the Twins, beat the Yankees. I so liked the old Yankee stadium better. Much more character.

It wasn't all food, sports, and drink. We did add some culture, taking in the Museum of Modern Art.


Frida Kahlo



Andy Warhol


Jackson Pollack


(Still searching for the artist)

Dryer Lint?  Robert Morris

Wesselmann Collage


Diego Rivera

Vincent One Ear

Monet's Water Lillies

We took a stroll through Central Park

And what would a visit to New York be without elbowing one's way through the crowds at Times Square.

Which then prompted a visit to Ipanema in Little Brazil for one of these little tasty treats.
A Caipirinha. Had to have two.

We are now Subway gurus. We can sweat with the best while waiting in the tunnels. Noticed how the Bowery's stop is not quite as nice as those up in Midtown.

Which brings us to the end of this tale and the reason for the Road Trip.

This is the view from that youngest son's new dorm room.

 The New World Trade Center

 Which goes with his new uniform.
From Austin to Alabama to New York City.
Chef Ian at the Culinary Center.
(I don't think they have as good of a football team as the University of Alabama, Ian.)

Passion Pursued 
Guts Engaged
Adventure On

New York City. Skyscrapers and Everything. 
Stevie Wonder


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