Thursday, May 16, 2019

When Your Son Has a Son

A baby dances with its feet in the air.
Ruth Krauss

In 1988, my husband and I lived in Connecticut. We rented a house two blocks from the beach on Long Island Sound. I had a great job in New Haven. My son had the best babysitter in the entire world and we had many friends. I loved exploring New York City and New England having moved there from Utah two years earlier. 

My husband hated his job. When he was offered a job in Austin, Texas, let me just say this. There were fingernail marks in the freeway from Milford, Connecticut all the way to Texas. I wasn't upset only for the things I would miss. I was also six months pregnant. I knew no one there. And now my second child would be a Texan rather than a New Englander. God forbid. I'd never been to Texas, but.what I'd heard scared me. What if my new baby came out wearing a ten gallon hat?

Austin turned out to be a great place to raise our family. And that new little baby, my Jordan, well, he was a sweetheart.

He did grow up to wear a hat, but not like I pictured. After years of wearing one like this while running Pioneer Farms Living History Museum, 

he now wears another. That of a father. 

Last September he moved from Austin with his pregnant wife (I so felt your pain, Leigh) out to East Texas to take a job with Texas Parks and Wildlife. At the beginning of March, I was boogie boarding with a bunch of wild women aging boldly while this incredible child was born. Too much fun showing everyone my new grandson's picture. 

Miles Robert

I spent five days with Miles when I returned and they are five days I will cherish forever. 

I watched as this beautiful new family worked through the exhaustion and trials of new parenthood, My daughter-in-law quickly realized that she had prepared well, but just because women had been having babies forever didn't mean first time around they knew what the hell they were doing, especially when your body has been through the ringer and you're sleep deprived. With that simple recognition she chose to trust herself. Smart mama. Great mama.

The first bath
I watched that son of mine as Miles added more days to his young life. So calm, so relaxed. Little Miles so comfortable and safe in the arms of that gentle soul. 

Watching my children with their children is something that leaves me in awe. I'm not quite certain how to describe what I see as I'm not certain how to interpret it. I still can't believe they are old enough to have babies of their own, yet I'm proud they participate in the raising, the doing, the work of raising children. Such an exciting time in their lives.

One afternoon I watched my oldest son as he and his daughter lay on the grass in the back yard, 'noculars in hand as they searched the sky for birds.

Or another day where I watched a tired new dad sit, his new son, Miles, lying in his lap, both content with the world. 

Baby Miles. Of course we ask questions like "Who does he look like?"

His Mama?

Or his daddy?

You decide.

Does he have Uncle Ian's cheeks?

Will Grandpa teach him good stuff or bad stuff? Will Grandma have to monitor?

Will he always keep us entertained?

Aw, little Miles. So very sweet. I'm sad he is two hours away. Now I know something of what my mother used to feel, her grandchildren 1402 miles away. I do get to see him every few weeks and rock him in my arms or have him sit in the crook of my crossed leg. To show him pages from a book or play a little music for him. In his early days of hanging with me, he responded best to the Stones and Eine kleine Nachtmusik. Gotta like that.

When I say goodbye, I can't wait for our next visit. For Miles, dear Miles. Even though I might still be learning about little girls, your cousin Maisy will tell you that hanging with Grandma is an okay thing to do.

But here's a little secret. This Grandma knows how to do boys. She's well seasoned in boys. We will have great fun. Just you watch.

When my son had a son, I cried. I knew he'd be a great dad and I held such joy for him. I have no doubt Miles will become as fine a man as my Jordan, my son.

Congratulations Jordan and Leigh.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Did I Ride In My Last Rodeo?

Spending that many hours in the saddle gave a man plenty of time to think. That's why so many cowboys fancied themselves Philosophers.
Charles M. Russell

I'm no philosopher. Far from it. But I have to say that a week ago while spending a couple hours on a real horse, I did a great deal of thinking. 

As a follower of Next Tribe, an online magazine for bold women 45 to 60+ years of age (and as a member of my local tribe) a friend and I considered one of their retreats. From what I'd read of the destination -- Troncones, Guerrero, Mexico -- it was a sleepy community of small outdoor restaurants and shops. The retreat facilities at Present Moment offered a beautifully tended landscape and Palapa-style bungalows with no windows. Activities available for choice were yoga and meditation, cave hikes, massages, kayaking, writing, photography, and horseback riding on the beach. 

Other than the additional surfing and boogie boarding, the trip sounded like a nightmare to my husband. But to me? I'm 62. The women I'd met in Next Tribe thus far were fascinating, creative, and adventurous. Why the hell not? 

My friend, Beth, and I arrived in Zihuatanejo, Mexico and took a 30-minute taxi ride to Troncones, the small surfer village void of touristo crowds, marinas, and glitzy hotels. 

Upon arrival, we quickly made 20 new friends of smart, accomplished, well-traveled and fit women. We ate fresh fruits and vegetables and fish from the sea. The uncrowded beaches and a sunset to die for greeted us as well. How could this not be perfect?

Perfect it was. Of course, most of the women were younger than me, yet a couple older. All were in much better shape than me. But, hey. I'd had eight months from the time I signed up until the trip to practice my yoga. That I started two weeks before I left didn't seem to matter. Ahem. 

The yoga hut
Next Tribe had a yoga session each morning at 8. Surprisingly, I was up that early. But I walked right past that lovely group of women up there striking poses. I don't exercise first thing in the morning. In fact, I don't talk to people first thing in the morning. I poured myself a coffee from the open air restaurant and found an Adirondack chair on the beach and wrote my morning pages, allowing the rising sun to warm my Tired-of-Winter body. 

My view when I looked back at those who move in the morning.

As class after class took part in all kinds of yoga and practices all day, I waited for Gentle Yoga at 4pm. When I got in there and found out it was an hour and half long class, I winced. My yoga tapes I'd been doing so smuggly at home only lasted 22 to 28 minutes. What had I done? 

But I loved it. The waves crashing in my view, the sea breezes blowing on my face. Comfort. Pleasant moments. The next day's class I was there and ready. When I followed the leader and looped a belt around my bottom and enclosed my feet in the loop in a suspended Indian-style grip where I thought my groin muscles would detach from my torso, the instructor asked if I felt supported. I said I hoped there wasn't a fire. I had no clue how to get myself out of the loop. 

But this immersion into something I didn't know gave me confidence I could still learn something new as well as the old. When it came time to sign up for a sunset horseback ride on the beach, I was in. I'd ridden horses all my life, starting when I was 7. At camp on Lake Okoboji in Iowa every year, I signed up to get the horses brushed and saddled every morning. Often I went with my brother or husband up to Evergreen, Colorado to exercise and ride a friend's horses -- including the day my knee wiped itself off on the fence post netting the meniscus tear I ran on for the next twenty years before getting that baby trimmed up. 

My last ride had been up in the Black Hills while exploring South Dakota with my sons. I had my middle son in the saddle behind me and a car came near us with a yippy little dog. Scared my horse and he freaked and backed down into a deep gully beside the road. I didn't freak. I quickly guided the horse back up the hill and safely onto the trail, my son told to hang tight.

I knew how to ride a horse. 

When it came time for Next Tribe to ride, about 20 horses gathered on the beach. It seemed the ranch hands were assigning horses to my fellow riders. 

All of a sudden, there was only one horse left -- at the end of the pack. An old plug, just like me. When I placed my foot in the stirrup, I discovered I couldn't get my old ass up in the saddle. I couldn't plant that bad knee and use it to thrust myself up there. Nor did my shoulder strength appear to exist.

I'd seen the young caballerros help up one or two others, so I wasn't completely horrified, but I have to say the two young men who arrived to get my errant leg up, over, and across the horse weren't quite certain where to push. I'm not certain exactly where they did. I hope I haven't twisted those boys for life. 

Alas, I was aboard. Mission accomplished as far as I was concerned. I knew what to do next. Only I didn't. I'd worn the wrong shoes. No traction to keep my feet lodged in the stirrups. I also appeared a rookie, free hand clinging to the saddle horn. I attempted a photo of myself. Does it look like I'm having fun?

My bad knee didn't like the position it was in and I recalled that last ride in the Black Hills was in 1998, a mere 21 years before. But, so what? We were only walking down the beach. How hard could this be? My horse's name was Caterina and I patted her neck and said, "Get me through this alive, Caterina."

Off we went.
My traveling partner -- looking like she was born on that horse.

All was well until we took a turn and started climbing up through the rocks. My horse wanted to wipe my knees on them. Well, I let her know that wasn't going to happen to me again and I steered her away from that trick. But then she stumbled on the rocks. And stumbled again. 

Now, I know horses can do this to you on purpose, but as I patted her side and called Caterina by name, I assured her we didn't have to stumble. "Just watch where the f---- you're going."

We got through that and cruised along another beach until the next set of rocks, where my old plug stumbled again, greatly. I found myself perpendicular to a rock and I'm pretty sure I yelled out "Holy Shit" or something like that as my horse finally uprighted and stumbled again before coming out onto the next beach. 

I started to look at the places we passed on the beach. I hoped for a hotel with a bar. Me and Caterina would tie up and wait for them to come back. Have a few shots of tequila. 

No hotels. No bars. Surely we'd turn around soon. 

The sun set and in its magnificence, I tried to get my phone out of my back pocket so I could take a photo. I decided hanging on was a better idea as we came across more rocks to stumble upon. As the sun slipped into the ocean, we arrived at our third long beach and I was certain we'd stop here and some van or bus would take us back to our place. If my horse couldn't find her footing in the light, she sure as hell couldn't find it in the dark. 

But, we turned around. To go back the same way. I was so done. Which is when I started doing that philosophizing/praying the artist Charles Russell refers to in that quote above. 

Please, please, please horsey, whatever your name is again. 
Get me home safely.
Please do better on the rocks.
Get this old broad back alive. Please?

This is also where I began evaluating the choices I make. Even though when I turned 60 I agreed to go after whatever opportunities I'm given, I decided a less challenging approach might be in order. Yes, sitting on that horse, fear entered into my philosophizing.  

While I was doing the Plato thing, that old horse passed over those rocks just fine. When we cleared the last of them and had a free ride the rest of the way back, I again contemplated my future. As much as I took in the beauty of the setting sun, the opportunity to be present in this breathtaking place with incredible women, I wanted off the horse. And it was okay. Just as I'd walked off a ski slope several years before after 40 years of snow skiing, I felt no regret with the decision. There just comes a time when you know some of your riding days are done. 

The next day, I was back in the saddle. 

A saddle that fits me fine. My horseback riding days are done, but to answer the question of this essay? Did I ride in my last rodeo? Yes, but I'll still go to the rodeo.

You bet I will. Because at this one I also had THE BEST BOOGIE BOARD RIDE OF MY LIFE!


Wednesday, February 20, 2019

We're All Waiting

"Even on the road to hell, flowers can make you smile."
Deng Ming-Dao

While writing my morning pages today, I was distracted by a resounding chorus of chirping birds. In my backyard I found hundreds of red-breasted robins. We don't have robins in Austin, Texas. Growing up in Austin, Minnesota, they were the only birds I ever saw.

But right in my backyard, hundreds flitted from tree to tree, their voices drowning out the passing cars. Their activity prematurely dislodging the live oak leaves still priming the branches for their replacement's arrival next month. Like a rain of leaves.

I got out my camera and went out in my pajamas, barefoot. The patio was cold. I wanted to be quick, but my camera wouldn't work. The battery was dead. Apropos to the season. Dead, like everything else this time of year. February. The dog days of winter.

I plugged in my battery and paced the floor. Perhaps like the birds fluttering from branch to branch, impatient for the weather to warm; their migration back up north to continue. The season to change.

My morning pages of late have documented the gloomy weather.

Gray day.
Rain day.
Windy, cold day.
A slight streak of sunlight. Hope?
Absent sun.
Brown -- the world is brown. Will the world always be brown now? No hope?

My daily mediation book this year is 365 Tao by Den Min-Dao. Each morning I read a page. This day had the quote from above. Appropriately placed for February, I'd say. Would seem I'm not the only one tired of the dormancy of winter.

It could be worse. I could still live up North where I'd also mention the gray skies. Most days I'd say white instead of brown. New snow. Old snow. The old snow always worse because it would have the dirty splashes of vehicle spill turning the snow banks a dull gray or black. Sticks and errant debris crusted into the once pristine white, now its own ugly.

But even in the South, patience is required. All kinds of patience that is often hard to muster. Especially on days when something new arrives right outside my window.

My pacing prompted me to grab my cell phone and I did get this photo. A little cropping blew it up, but it disappointed me. I wanted to get that clearer, better shot, with my zoom lens. My feet chilled on the cement, I listened to the collective chirping and watched the birds flutter from branch to branch, as if they were as anxious as me waiting for that better shot. At flight. The robins, waiting to stretch their wings and fly for miles, rather than from yard to yard on a slowed trek of waiting for warmth.

My daily Tao today also says "We should take time to appreciate beauty in the midst of temporality." Only after posting this photo here, do I notice the blue sky behind. The beautiful orange breast. The Live Oak tree behind that doesn't drop its leaves until another is present. That if the crepe myrtle were not dormant  and free of green, I would not see this beautiful bird of my youth.

My camera battery is now charged, but the robins have left. I can hear them far off, a block or so away. Patiently working their way north.

The sun is out today. The weather report says we won't see it tomorrow. This is my "temporality moment." Perhaps a visit to a greenhouse is in order. The flowers to come certain to make me smile.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

What's on Your 2018 Reading List?

Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it. 
P.J. O'Rourke

Years ago I kept a reading journal where I recorded every book I read. A few years later, I added a tagline. Years after that, I joined Goodreads and let them keep track. Gave me an opportunity to see what everybody else was reading and their rankings.

I often compare my rankings to my friends and choose from their recommendations. But sometimes I love a book and my reading friends hate it. Or vice versa. What's wrong with them?

Based on a five-star system, I don't give away too many five stars. Sometimes I want to give a one,  yet I give a two. Or a two, I'll give a three. Just because I know how hard it is to write a book. Kind of like having been a waiter, I'll give mine a little more tip than most. Especially if they are good.

An avid reader since forever, I love all the places books take me. All the new things I learn. I always have several books going. The pattern something like this:

Daily Meditation
Poetry (3 new poems a day)
Essay or Short Story collection (one a day if I can fit it in)
Novel for night reading. Sometimes a non-fiction
Audible book for riding in the car 

At the end of 2018, I wanted a clean slate for the new year. As I finished each book, I didn't begin another. Agony. Sheer agony as my reading mind tried to comprehend another episode of Buy My Old POS Car or Take this Wheel Nut and Put it Here with my captivated husband.

On December 31, I read the last meditation in The Journey to The Heart and shelved it. On January 1, I began 365 Tao, my new daily med for 2019. I eyed my Books To Be Read shelf with glee. 

I'm rather fickle, though. How is it I can look at the shelf crammed with 30+ unread books and none of them appeal to me? Surely they allured me when I purchased or borrowed them. What I wanted to read on December 31 was completely different than what I chose on January 1.

Please note there is another of unread behind those you see.
Thus far, I 've added:

Do I Make Myself Clear --Why Writing Well Matters by Harold Evans
In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills by Jennifer Haupt  (finished)
Hotel Silence by Auour Ava Olafsottir
Becoming by Michelle Obama

Still need a poetry book. Any suggestions? The Rilke I ordered won't be here until mid-February.

I only signed up to read 35 books this year in the Goodreads challenge. In past years I've challenged myself to 50 and usually complete more. But I find myself getting itchy to get to that 50. I become obsessed about a number rather than reading for joy. (What does that say about me?)

This year, 35 sounds good. That will happen naturally. Without the race, I might tackle some of those thicker books stuck on my stuffed shelf. Make more room.

Please join me on Goodreads. My handle is Julie Sucha Anderson.

Tell me. What's on your bookshelf for 2019?

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