Play It Again

The empty brown book stared at me reproachfully, I thought, as I passed by it several times each day. I pretended not to hear it remind me that I was supposed to be filling the blank pages with sketches… of something, but what could the something be? Ever since I had excitedly unwrapped my sketchbook it had been languishing on the bookcase, light brown, nondescript, practically invisible to all but me.

Several months before, I had sent for the book, eager to participate in The Sketchbook Project. ( I learned about the project from Andra Watkins at The Accidental Cootchie Mama.) If you have not heard of the Sketchbook Project, it  is a crowd sourced library of sketchbooks. You fill in your book, send it in, and it goes on traveling exhibits to museums. If you digitize your book, you will receive an email every time someone checks out your book from the exhibit. At least that is how I understand the process.

So now all I had to do was fill in the book. One day my grandmotherly thoughts mixed in with my thoughts of needing to complete the book. And Eureka! I had it! I would make the book be about what we old people used to play when we were little.

As a perpetual child, parent, grandparent, and play therapist, the idea of a book about playing  resonated with me. Play is the work of children, but adults need to play as well. Documenting my play history would be a way to preserve memories for my grandchildren but would also be fun for me right now.

Psst. Hey.  I’m Mindfulmagpie’s inner sixth grader. While Mindful is at the post office mailing in our sketchbook, I’m going to surprise her and complete her post. I should be writing the post anyway because I’m the one who completed the sketchbook!  I know lots of sketchbooks are probably done by adult artists but that’s OK. I may be an adult artist one day. Here’s the cover!
sketchbook (100 of 121)

The cover was brown card stock. I covered it with construction paper and photos, and topped it off with two coats of Mod Podge. sketchbook (102 of 121) I didn’t mind letting Mindful dedicate the book to her grandchildren. We’re all children anyway. Mindful and I had a really good time remembering what all we used to play when we were very young.

sketchbook (74 of 121) My first playmate was my older brother. He’s in the eighth grade now so we don’t have much to do with each other.sketchbook (106 of 121) sketchbook (77 of 121)  I don’t remember the Hansel and Gretel episode. But I do remember the time we played ‘saloon” with mugs and soapy water while my mother was taking a nap. As we slid each mug down the countertop just the way they did in the Westerns, our mugs hit the broken tile floor with a resounding crash. Our Mother was not amused.sketchbook (79 of 121)

Next I began to play with the children in the neighborhood. Someone was always outside playing.
sketchbook (80 of 121)sketchbook (81 of 121) We had good times displaying our art at Mammaw’s house.sketchbook (110 of 121) Oops! I made a mistake on this page, making  a colored test pattern on a black and white TV. Maybe I thought in color. Now, in sixth grade, we do have a color TV. And central air, finally.sketchbook (112 of 121) Our mothers and our maids always made us go outside. In fact they still do. sketchbook (113 of 121) I’ve always loved to be in the water. When I grow up I’m going to have my own swimming pool so I can swim whenever I want!sketchbook (114 of 121) Most years we have some lemonade stands and carnivals to earn money. But now that I’m in the sixth grade I’m going to try to start baby sitting. That’s much more sophisticated.sketchbook (94 of 121) I was MUCH younger when we did this play!sketchbook (95 of 121)

In the school year we had the whole afternoon to play until our Mothers called us for dinner. All we had after school was Girl Scouts. Our homework never seemed to take long. This year  I mostly do mine on the school bus. Sometimes we meet right after school for Miss America. My answers to the contest questions are pretty good, but I get marked down on poise a lot.sketchbook (117 of 121) I ended the book here. Magpie tells me I’ll soon not be playing any of this any more, that we girls will all be passing notes in class and talking about boys and clothes. But what I want most right now is to not have to wear glasses and to be able to get braces like the older girls on the school bus. Braces look cool and you get excused from school a lot. 

But since I’m not going to be playing this stuff much longer just remember this book is TOP   SECRET!! If I find out any of you told about Chambermaids or Miss America you are DEAD MEAT!! I’ll tell EVERYBODY on the school bus that you are a BIG LIAR!!!!

What?? Who wrote all this on my blog post?

I did. You were having too much trouble writing it.  Since I did something for you you should tell me some things about the future. Am I going to quit wearing glasses? Am I? Am I going to get braces? Am I? Am I?

That’s true. I was having trouble writing the post. And fair enough, you helped me so  I should tell you some things. Sorry honey, but you’re going to keep wearing glasses FOREVER. The braces are also a no.

But I have a SPACE between my teeth!

You’ll be surprised how little you’re going to be bothered by that space. But I do have some good news. The swimming pool is a YES!

Yippee! I’m going to tell all my friends this afternoon at “Miss America”! Can I go now?

Knitting Dreams

Have you ever looked closely at that sweater you’re wearing, into the weave of stitches? Your sweater used to be skeins of yarn, which used to be bundles of roving, and before that, used to warm the backs of sheep grazing on a hill somewhere. A sweater is knit one stitch at a time. Loops of yarn form interlocking stitches. Stitches make rows, and in time those rows take on the shape of a garment.

I don’t know if yarn can talk, but I like to imagine that as it is knit together, each loop encourages the others to stay connected, but to flex when necessary, because in the end they must all work together to form something that has never been made before.

And then  there are the humans who knit the yarn. To envision a finished project,  to choose or design a pattern, to  be willing to join thousands of loops of yarn together into stitches and eventually into a garment takes a certain amount of risk. Knowing what the proper materials are is a job in itself. What if one chooses the wrong yarn, and one’s garment has the drape of a cement block? What if one does not adequately understand the directions, and one’s project resembles a long sleeved bra more than the sweater it was supposed to be? What if it is expensive? What if no one appreciates the hours of work and attention that went into the scarves one gave for Christmas gifts? Knitters perservere despite the risks, for the rewards are great.

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Dreams come to life in much the same way. All our lives we entertain mental pictures of what  we would like to do or make. So many times we have ideas, but get stuck in the wishing- we could- do- something- but- unfortunately- we- just- can’t- stage. But then there are those of us  who know what we want and are willing to gather the materials and to do  the work one single task at a time, investing emotionally and financially in an uncertain outcome.

Thanks to several stellar Memphis  knitters doing just that, I had the opportunity  this past weekend to participate in the inaugural annual Tenntucky Knitting Retreat at Lake Barkley, Kentucky. Three  remarkable people,  Ann, Joseph, and Rachel, saw a a creative black hole in our community and worked for a year to fill it.

I know this story because once upon a time I took a risk and showed up for a weekly knitting night, organized by the three above mentioned knitters, at a local restaurant. Let me say right now that although my knitting skills are literally laughable, I wanted to know other knitters. I wanted to feel the sense of community that comes from a gathering of folks looping yarn together one stitch at a time.

Despite my lack of skills, I was welcomed by a small group of knitters: older, younger, all more experienced then I was.  No matter what silly mistakes I had made, I knew I could ask someone at the table for help. Though I could not help anyone in return, I satisfied myself that at least my knitting foibles added some humor to the gathering. Over time I came to feel accepted for who I was, not for what I knew how to do.

With my clever listening skills  I learned that the organizers of the knit night had bigger goals in mind. They were going to organize an area  knitting retreat ALL BY THEMSELVES, and they had never done it before. Since this  Magpie is especially interested in big ideas and in what people can accomplish as a team, I was vicariously thrilled each time the Tenntucky Board accomplished another milestone in project planning.

Spots were filling quickly for the retreat. Surely I was coming,  the organizers said. Moi?asked I. I can barely knit! But as I was assured that all levels were welcomed I decided to take the plunge, and invited my sister to accompany me. Maybe, I pondered shrewdly,  HER knitting skills would prove as backward as mine, and I would not be the anomaly at the retreat.

This past Friday evening approximately fifty knitters from several states checked in to the lovely Lake Barkley Lodge.

Source: KentuckyLake.com

Source: KentuckyLake.com

And so began a magical weekend which  included restful views, pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-30  opportunities to commune with nature,pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-7

time to reflect,

One with nature, even in windy weather.

One with nature, even in windy weather.

plentiful food, friendly staff, informative classes, and color, color, color.pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-34

How delightful it was that our organizers  had thought of everything! All of their advance  planning, networking and plain old elbow grease came together just like a well knit sweater. I remembered snippets of conversation about vendors, goodie bags and the like. Now I would  benefit from the fruits of their labor.

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And the knitters? If you did not already know this, knitters are special people. They’re friendly and welcoming. They want you to sit for a spell and knit up a few stitches and share a story or two, or even sit in companionable silence.

pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-39 Having never been to a knitting retreat I was unprepared for the exquisite l hand knit items worn by my fellow retreatants.  I asked if I could take pictures of their stunning work and they all said yes.That’s how special knitters are! Take a look:

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pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-19pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-21pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-2pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-4I CAN’T STOP!!!
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pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-20pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-11Whom did we meet? Why we met Kelly, who makes her own earrings out of knitting needles. And her brother, who surprised her with the gift of this retreat! We met Jo, who is studying to become a master knitter. We met Charlotte who didn’t learn to knit until after the age of 60. Charlotte wore a skirt she had knitted herself, by the way. We met the Haus of Yarn vendor who stayed up late Saturday night to felt our knitted slippers. No comment on mine, bet here are my sister’s:

pictures of retreat (1 of 1)I didn’t get a chance to meet everyone but I feel as though I did; that’s just the community vibe that exists among knitters.

On Saturday my sister and I took a gauge class and a crochet class.

Sadly I did not have the prerequisite skill  for the  crochet class, which was knowing how to crochet. Oops! Someone helped me anyway!

Sadly I did not have the prerequisite for the class, which was knowing how to crochet. Oops! Someone helped me anyway!

One of the teachers evidently knew  me, for she used phrases such as “the difference between homemade and handmade’, and mentioned how it feels to give disclaimers along with our knitted gifts. Here is  your sweater, Uncle Alvin. Just don’t turn around while wearing it.

After the classes were over we met for a rousing game of Last Knitter Standing.

pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-24Full disclosure compels me to say that my sister’s and my singing during timed knitting contests did not help anyone at our table to win. Anyone for a couple of verses of “Twist and Shout?”

Lake Barkley is one of those places where the whole time you are there you are planning your return visit, for there is more to do there than can be done in one weekend.  Every chance we got we sat in rockers on our balcony, gazing at the water and taking in the deep calming sounds of the natural world.

pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-28pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-32We just didn’t have time to do everything Lake Barkley  has to offer.  But we did manage to fit in some ping pong and pinball down in the rec room.

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Too soon it was Sunday and time to go. But not before we shopped with the vendors who had kindly visited us. Knitters patiently waited their chance to run their hands over luscious hanks of yarn and choose their own patterns.

pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-35pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-36As we drove away we exulted in the success of the weekend. From door prizes to pencils on the tables to write down gauge measurements, our organizers gave great attention to detail and it showed. Packed in the back of the car were our goodie bags full of free patterns, needles, and yarn. Some participants went home with stunning door prizes.We were inspired by what we had seen other knitters doing, and eager to improve our own knitting. pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-37

Our hearts were full of gratitude to the organizers  for having the wherewithal to do what many may dream about but never accomplish. How did this trio manage to put on this amazing weekend? I don’t have the slightest idea, but I suspect they did it together, one painstaking step at a time, connecting and bending as necessary, to form something that had never been done before.

P. S. : They’ve set the date for next year. Interested? Check out Tenntucky on Ravelry or contact Joseph at ACallToYarns. I don’t think he’ll mind my giving out his contact info. Knitters are neighborly like that.

The Good Life

I’m afraid to even say this out loud, because I don’t want to jinx anything, but here goes. The last four weekends of my life have been as smooth as a bowl of fresh whipped cream. I started to call this post “Whipped cream weekends,” but realized that the title could have been misleading. My meaning of a whipped cream weekend would of course be one in  which every activity seems to be topped off with that extra sweetness, that light fluffy accompaniment that makes each dessert that much more sublime.

The situation called for whipped cream.

The situation called for whipped cream.

Why, and how has this happened, when I ought to be still worn out from traveling, allergies, and work? I cannot say for sure. But here is what I  would like to believe.

I would like to believe that because I have been nicer to my self lately, that my self is being nicer to me. I had a big reset a few weeks ago, and the time frame fits: when I decided to stop pushing myself to take care of outside matters and to allow myself to concentrate on some inside matters, my life became easier and sweeter.

Could the key  to increased energy, creativity, and peace have been this simple all along? I  can’t say because I’ve never been in this particular spot in life before, but I do strongly believe in the benefits of a developed interior life.

What I have noticed is that with more balance between the mindful and magpie parts of me I have  done many, many things while feeling relaxed and in the moment. In the past I have also done many, many things, but depending upon the circumstances there were always some unwanted feelings: dread, resentment, defeat, regret, ambivalence, because usually I had taken on too much. I would always follow through with whatever was going on, but there would be loud sighs, followed by naps and crankiness.

It was not that I had no fun. Hey. I’m a fun person. But I see now that by not organizing my own inner home team, I was using my energy struggling with myself.

Here is a  partial recap of the last few weekends, not that the actual activities matter.  Each weekend had aspects which in the past would have been triggers to angst or run-around-like a chicken – with your head- cut off- syndrome. But instead  each held felt  expansive, and unhurried.  Is this how other people have been living all along?

Weekend One: Youngest son’s graduation, oldest son in town for the occasion. Beautiful weather and beautiful times.

I had time to make a flower arrangement.

I had time to make a flower arrangement.

Mommy hugs the graduate.

Mommy hugs the graduate.

Weekend Two: Sit down dinner party for 17, decided upon on a Tuesday and executed on Saturday night. Made the main dish, salad, salad dressing and six loaves of bread.

Before the company

Before the company

Before the company

Before the company

Bread in the oven.

Bread in the oven.

Weekend Three: Memorial Day Weekend: Spent one day working on editing my little book, and another ( after the book sale)  on spreading many bags of mulch in my back yard while my husband power washed everything in sight.  Followed by a relaxing float in the pool.

I had plenty of time to commune with my flower friends.

I had plenty of time to commune with my flower friends.

And enjoy the afternoon sun on the magnolias.

And enjoy the afternoon sun on the magnolias.

DSC_1419Weekend Four: Had a great time at a rained out beer garden, and a leisurely breakfast on a patio the next morning. Then went to a farmer’s market, and spent the rest of the afternoon preparing my “booty” for dinner that night. Sunday after an early Father’s Day brunch, I went for a scrumptious foot massage.

Stir fried bok choy, green beans, with garlic scales from my own yard, seared scallops.

Stir fried bok choy, green beans, with garlic scapes from my own yard, seared scallops.

I don’t suppose there is much deep meaning to this post except that I may be on the right track to balance, at least for me. My way is not unique. It includes lots and lots of noticing, journaling, contemplation, and taking care of me first. I’m just so grateful to have stumbled upon a deep well of abundance.  I feel as rich as a bowl of whipped cream right now. Right now. Right. Now.

 

Overheard At The Book Sale

Hey everybody! I’m on my way out to the pool, but before I go, I know you want to hear about the  Friends Of The Library Used Book Sale. Because although everyone does not get to go, everyone SHOULD have the chance to go. Yes, I wrote about this last year. It was a popular post, but I know better than to try to recreate it.

I know you would have loved being there. I arrived at 10:00 A.M., accidentally grouping myself with the crowd waiting to be the first ones in. We streamed in when the doors were unlocked: the young, the old, the limping, the pony tailed, the bearded. Many thought to bring their own bags, for a bagful of books was priced at five dollars. And we early birds each had a game plan.

Mine was to head straight to the record albums. I did find a few, not as many as I had hoped, but I had to move on. Now I was free to drink in the heady air of the shelves. Nonfiction first. I already had a rolling cart, because as the pro that I am, I was not going to be held back by a handbag, despite its potential value as a weapon to procure the only copy of  Backyard Pests or Desserts From Around The World.

I would willingly fight for this Anthony Powell, but I already own it.

I would willingly fight for this Anthony Powell, but I already own it.

I found paperbacks to read in the swimming pool:DSC_0325

And some nonfiction that suited my fancy.

I'm in a World War I phase right now. Also I'm in a World War II phase. Double nerd.

I’m in a World War I phase right now. Also I’m in a World War II phase. Double nerd.

Though we were  a civilized crowd today, emotions ran a broad gamut. Would there be any decent classics left? And how about the selection of banned books? Endorphins and cortisol filled the room like a whiff of Midnight In Paris.

Hey. Scoot over and make room for somebody else.

Hey. Scoot over and make room for somebody else.

Tension was definitely in the air, but if one wanted to be sure, one could do what I did. I eavesdropped. Here is my report of the emotional scene:

Disappointment in the  the paperback fiction: “I been lookin’. But I ain’t found the first romance in here.”

Dang!

Dang!

Effusiveness, obsessiveness and  poor boundaries in the mystery paperbacks: “I’m a neat freak! Everbody wants to know how I keep my house so clean!”

I don't see the lady in question. She had clearly come straight from having her hair done.

I don’t see the lady in question. She had clearly come straight from having her hair done.

More obsessiveness  later from the same woman, apparently worried abut the effects of unauthorized reading on the populace, in the hardbacks: “Yes, but when you get started on one it really ruins your housekeeping, doesn’t it?”

Attitude of entitlement in the children’s section, from a middle aged woman, imperiously, to a volunteer,”Where are the third grade books?”

Affability and non competitiveness, or perhaps a pickup line  in the hardback fiction, from a man to a woman, Him: “I’ve seen quite a few Danielle Steeles in here. Aren’t you looking for those?”

Her: “Yes, I’ve got my list of titles right here.” Displays handwritten list.IMG_2836

Defeat, from the woman with a limp, to her friend in the science fiction, “Just take yer time, Charlene.  I’ve gotta take a load off.”

I feel her pain.

I feel her pain.

Hope, from one woman to her husband, over in the corner ” Let’s pay for what we’ve got and come back at 3:00.”

Determination, in the History section, from a little girl to her Mama, “Please just let me finish this row!” Mother agrees reluctantly. Girl finishes searching the row and grabs a book.

Mother,”Young lady, you have already got a set of Presidential biographies at home. You can’t find what you want so you just want to buy something.”

History girl is the one in pink. Is it so wrong to just want to buy something?

History girl is the one in pink. Is it so wrong to just want to buy something?

Generosity, from a man to his wife in the record department, “Honey, go ahead and get it. It’s got Cher on it!”

And from me, ambition to become one of the helpers at the sale. and not entirely for altruistic reasons. Me, to my husband, as we exited the parking lot, “I know that record volunteer was holding some records back. I saw him.”DSC_0323

Failing Farmer Flees To France

Want to know one of the most satisfying parts of being a 50 something? It’s simply the ability to do what I could not do as a child. I’m referring to creativity mess making here. How many tantalizing dreams did I entertain, lo those many years ago, only  to be thwarted by some short sighted adult saying “Girls can’t do that”, or, “I will not take you to the store”, or “PUT THAT DOWN RIGHT THIS MINUTE!!!!!”

Before long I was an adult myself and  in charge of OTHER people’s messes. I was all for turning a refrigerator box into a spaceship, or the living room into a cavern made of bedsheets. I tried never to say “Girls can’t do that,” but I did on many occasions say sternly, “PUT THAT DOWN RIGHT THIS MINUTE!”

Now, as an empty nester, I can come up with whatever big idea suits me, and proceed to make as big a mess as I want to. If my first mess making attempt does not pan out, I am free to try the same schemes over and over again! There is no one stop me, which is one of the reasons why I need to go to France right now.

Didn’t you ever want to get as close as possible to the very beginning of whatever you wanted to make or do? For instance, to not only paint your own picture, but to stretch the canvas as well? Or to not only make a quilt, but  to also dye the fabric yourself? That’s my approach to farming. I want to grow plants from the seed right to the table. Also I will admit  that colorful seed packets remind me of the penny candy we used to be able to buy at the TG&Y. And I want them all.

Each spring, having had the winter freeze my memories of  whatever farming peccadilloes I got myself into the year before, I  vow that this year I will be organized and efficient as never before. And because of my vow, now seems like a good time to go to France.

Here is where I so carefully planted one million seeds.

Here is where I so carefully planted one million seeds.

After planting

After planting


DSC_0323This year I kept meticulous records of which seeds were planted in which little container. I didn’t want to wind up not knowing what was where. On April 12 I transplanted almost every seedling into my garden. It was a calculated risk, because I knew I was going out of town before long. I thought the plants might do better in their natural habitats instead of crammed in those little plastic trays.

I moved the tender plants onto the patio in preparation for planting. I likened  their journey from seed packet, to seed tray and to the garden as a kind of Middle Passage. My young plants had not chosen to come to my yard. Rather, one day they were dislodged  from a seed packet and packed together, head to toe, in plastic seed trays. Today I would free them from their rude vessels and release them into a New World, where they could  freely reach toward the sun. I am nothing if not a benevolent farmer.

 

DSC_0328 Did you know that it is very difficult to get  a miniature seedling out of a plastic tray section which is only 1/16th of an inch wide? As my planting day progressed, despite my lofty plans,  I grew weary of trying to gently pry out the seedlings. More often than not I turned the whole tray upside down and shook, then tried to turn the seedlings right side up. There was no one to stop me.DSC_0336 I also ran out of room. I resorted to finding a spot that didn’t look already dug up, and stuffing the darn things down right there. So much for organization; I could find out what things were whenever they got big enough. At 3:00 I stopped, having only one more tray of peas and a couple more seed packets to take care of at some later date.

That Tuesday night we had a FREEZE warning. I spread tarps over as much of the garden as I could. It was out of my hands now. This past Saturday it was warm again. It seemed some  bedraggled seedlings may have pulled through. In a hopeful mood I gave the garden a good drink from the irrigation system. Two hours later my husband came in and said, “By the way, I’ve watered your garden for you.” DOH!!!DSC_0327 When it finally dried out a little, things didn’t look too promising. DSC_0325 Is that something growing up there??? Maybe???

All I can do at this point is to say that I had a big idea and made a big mess to go along with it. Mostly it has been glorious fun. I can’t bring myself to believe that NONE of my one million seeds will make it. Four o’clocks and peppers, for example, are fairly hardy. Since I can do no more now except wait, I’m going over to France for a few days. DSC_0329 If worst comes to worst, when I get back, I can try again with these babies. Isn’t it great being a 50 something? There’s always another big idea around the corner. See you when I get back!

Magpie Meditation: Reset

I’ve been in an unmindful hurry in the last few months. rushing to be creative, introspective, helpful, attentive, and healthy.  With the best of intentions I  spread myself too thin. In hindsight I see how, in increments, I knocked myself right out of balance.

I work three days a week.  On those days it is my job to be there for people who are in difficult life situations. I provide a safe, accepting environment in which people can examine their thoughts ad feelings and make the changes they want  to make in their lives. It is an unbelievably  rewarding career. I have learned more from those who have walked through my office door than I could ever express in words.

On the four days I do not work one might think I  had   plenty of time  to break out of professional mode, put on my sweats and….read, write, cook, daydream, garden, blog, ….an organic, rejuvenating flow of energy.  On paper it works nicely. In reality, on my days off I still have to answer work calls, schedule doctor’s appointments, and wait for the cable man.  On some days off I may still be  so tired from the three long days I have  worked that it is a struggle to be as creative as  I would like to be.

Shouldn't you be knitting right now? At the same time that you are painting, writing and relaxing?

Shouldn’t you be knitting right now? At the same time that you are painting, writing and relaxing?

I was juggling it all flexibly enough until  late October 2013 when  I impulsively signed up for  my first NaNoWriMo challenge.  All of November I hunted and I pecked and I came up with the required number of words. I loved, loved, loved, participating in NaNoWriMo. And what do I have now? I have a teeny tiny little novel that needs big editing. I’m convinced that my characters deserve to be brought to life in print, where they will be loved and cherished by all.  With all the pride of a new mother, I think my baby book is  uncommonly beautiful.

Now, on my “off” days I am  trying to teach myself what we do after we write a draft of a novel. Do I know what I am doing? Not at all.  Do I have a writing group? Not at all. I spend my time reading books about writing books, searching on the internet for what to do with a book manuscript, and on the actual editing of the book. Also, for a person with the technical skills of the main character in The Gods Must Be Crazy, being gifted with a new computer for Christmas proved a mixed blessing. I can’t tell you what  all the problems have been because it will cause flashbacks of my having talked to every single Apple support employee, except to say that I did not have Pages ’09, and therefore  for a time could not open up my poor little book on the new laptop. Sigh.

On a more serious note, in  the middle of the frenetic NaNoWriMo month,  I learned that a very close friend, not a blogger, has  a life threatening illness. I spoke with her on a Tuesday while  she was getting ready for work. By Saturday of that same week, after an emergency room visit for severe pain, she had a diagnosis and was meeting with her treatment team. While she wasn’t looking, she left her old life and started a new one. The gods really MUST be crazy.

Even now when I say to myself that she is sick, part of me says, “No she’s not.” But she is. For now she is doing well, but still has a hard uncertain road ahead. Though her illness is not my story, my role as her friend has changed. I need to gather strength in order to be a person who to whom she can  say anything, especially those things she cannot say elsewhere. I need to pay attention in order to be a person who steps in when needed, and out when not. I need to be a person who does not always treat my friend as though she is a sick person.    I need to be honest with myself in order to  accept my powerlessness to change the progression or outcome of her illness.  I am honored to assume these roles, but of necessity I have had to learn them on the fly.

The realities of the last few months  left me feeling frantic on days when I was not working, longing to be alone, and to be needed by no one SO I COULD  GET SOME WORK DONE!!!!  Yet when  alone, I did not experience the peace I and contentment I sought. Fear that I would run out of time on this earth, that I would never be able  to learn and do all I want caused me to try to wring every productive moment out of every day. When was I going to get around to editing my book? Knitting? Working on my new scrapbook? What about that online photography class I needed so sorely? When would I research my trip to Paris? What about my blog post?   I began to feel overwhelmed with that dread that says “You should be _________ right now.”

  I do know better than to try to be a “human doing”. Because of my vulnerability  I must have deluded myself into thinking that because I enjoy learning, making, and doing, that it would be appropriate to do them all at a breakneck pace without savoring the individual moments.  I worked myself into ignoring the part where I was going ninety miles an hour. I’ve been here before.  But apparently  learning to just be is one of those life lessons  I am destined  to learn over and over again.

The funny thing is how I came to notice all of this. I knew I felt  unsettled, not right.  Good  detective work on my part. But guess what my solution was? I TRIED TO ADD SOMETHING ELSE TO MY SCHEDULE WITHOUT ASKING ME!!!!!!! That’s right folks; I decided that just a few minutes of scheduled meditation, along with study of same, would bring me back to a peaceful place. Part of the absurdity of this is that I purely cannot stand for my time to be  taken up, even if it is taken up by me. I want to do what I want to do WHEN I want to do it.

So when I tried to implement my ill conceived  plan, I heard the most distinct voice inside myself saying,”NO. NO. NO. This is the problem. YOU are the problem.” At least that time, if not for the preceding weeks, I did listen. And I knew I had to start back at the beginning. For me, that means with a notebook and pen. That means every day, not just some days. That means asking me what I want to do, and listening to the answer. It means that once I check in with myself, I have accomplished the most important task of the day. Whatever I do afterwards I will do  more mindfully by default. That’s what matters.

Where the rubber meets the road. Source: caps.umich.edy

Where the rubber meets the road.
Source: caps.umich.edy

I am a few days into my reset now. Once I attend to myself through my journal I find I am quite ready and willing to meditate. Though everyone’s experience is individual, I can report feeling less rushed and less anxious.  When I breathe I am aware of more  inner space. I am also aware of a deep weariness in my shoulders. What better way could my body tell me I need to let go?

I am still busy, but I am busy differently. Busy noticing. Busy being. Busy starting over and feeling more balanced.  I will never have time to do everything that interests me. I will never be able to control the passing of time.  But however I do spend my time, I want to feel alive and present in that moment, for it will never come again. It is comforting to know that if from time to time I veer off of the  course I  want to follow that I can simply reset.

What about you? Do you ever need a reset? And if so, what works for you?

Little Ole Ladies In Pasadena: Advice From Professionals

Magpie TV, devoted to bringing viewers the very best in practical information, is pleased to bring you travel tips from two very special little old ladies: The Magpie herself, and her stalwart companion Readmegirl. Hey, there’s precedent:

She's such a copycat! Source: starpulse.com

She’s such a copycat!
Source: starpulse.com

Martha Stewart appears on her own network. Tune in today to learn how to make sure YOUR trip feels as smooth as the zipper in your properly sized and packed suitcase  from start to finish!

Commercial Break: Planning a trip to Pasadena? We’d love to help, but we’ve only seen a few sights  there: Huntington Gardens, a famous bridge, and the Rose Bowl. What we can recommend is walking the neighborhoods and admiring people’s yards. If you happen to see inside their homes, so much the better. Here are a few neighborhood highlights:DSC_0382

DSC_0401DSC_0416Part One: The ladies, recently returned from visiting Krug The Thinker in Pasadena California, were not available to appear live, which is fine because this is not a live show anyway. Nor is it taped ahead of time. Our unique no audio/no video format made it oh so possible for our guest stars to compile some dos and don’ts from their most recent peregrination.We are also privileged to have some of their photos for our commercial breaks! ( We suggest some music now, but all we can think of is “Leaving’ On a Jet Plane.” Lame.)

1) Trip Planning: Arranging conveyance by airplane is more complicated than ever, warns  the Magpie.The fares, the routes, the service – all have become so unpredictable and frankly, unsuitable for civilized beings. What one wants and what is available often do not mesh conveniently. However, if possible, when arranging a trip, depart the morning AFTER the clock springs forward, depriving you of the one hour during which you sleep most deeply. You’ll be in such a daze you won’t even notice the delays or the bad breath of  the man behind you in the TSA line.

2) Airport Transportation: Never make assumptions about ground transportation. The wise traveler learns ahead of time what is available and makes arrangements accordingly. The alternative is to stand at the exit with one’s mouth open, inviting native insects in for a visit. IF one arranges a pickup by limousine service as the little ole ladies did, it is helpful upon landing  to respond immediately to the driver’s text announcing his arrival at the airport. But don’t call the one who most recently texted you. Ignore THAT text and call the one who picked you up last December!! That will really surprise him on his day off, and make for a zany good time leaving the airport!

Little Ole Ladies in Limo

Little Ole Ladies in Limo

3) Footwear:  Magpie makes it a point to have comfortable walking shoes. Last year the Magpie had occasion to own two identical pair of walking shoes, the first pair having rudely hidden themselves in the closet until after the second pair was purchased. Magpie’s response was to immediately put one pair inside her suitcase so she would always have a pair of walking shoes. Upon arrival at the Saga Court Motor Hotel, congratulating herself on her forethought, Magpie whipped both of those left footed babies right out of the suitcase.

Oops!

Oops!

4) Packing Light: Be creative! The Magpie never checks bags, so she tries to use multi purpose garments. For example, a bathing suit cover up can double as a nightgown. If, as happened to Magpie, you underestimate how cool it gets at night, especially with a roommate who wants the air conditioner running,  and you have to add a couple of shirts on top and a pair of jeans on the bottom so you won’t freeze, that bathing suit cover up will tuck right down in your jeans so that you barely have any bulges when you appear in the lobby in  your two left footed shoes and an ice bucket in which you plan to stack three or four cups of coffee to take  back to your room. Decorum is everything, Readmegirl reminds us.

This is a very nice look for the hotel lobby.

This is a very nice look for the hotel lobby.

5) Be Courteous! Some travel companions have odd proclivities, such as announcing that they cannot sleep while being serenaded with the combination of honking, sawing and gurgling that makes up snoring. If  you are awakened by a nudge in the middle of the night, and  are surprised to find a frowning yet familiar face hovering above you, demanding that you cease and desist, simply say “Thank you,” and go back to sleep. That’s how the Magpie handled it , and she’s convinced that the gentle approach to the nudger made all the difference.

Commercial Break: ( We recommend narration in a calm dignified tone.But you do what you want.)  Today we feature the Saga Court Motor Hotel  of Pasadena.

View from the second floor. Source: Saga Motor Hotel

View from the second floor. Source: Saga Motor Hotel

This 1960s gem, located on Route 66, offers palm trees, a heated pool, and 1980s bedspreads. (Now  a little suspenseful music.) In addition, the  Saga’s peach colored stucco walls, retro atmosphere including jalousied windows, will make you sure that a noir mystery is occurring on the premises. We can’t be sure one did NOT take place, as we had a mysterious call from someone asking for “Marcia.”Who calls anymore on your room phone?? Keep the Saga in mind when you visit Pasadena. It’s reasonably priced, has an air of mystery about it, AND has a few books to read in each room.IMG_2664

And now we return to our show: We’re learning so much about how the smart set travels. But there’s more!

6) Don’t Avoid Responsibility: When you have been invited into town to see someone, don’t make THEM do all the heavy lifting. Specifically, Readmegirl tells us, when your hostess announces that her one of her sweetest friends who is also an incredibly talented chef is in town and wants to cook for all of you, insist on supervising! You may look as though you are only snapping peas, lounging on the couch, and drinking a purple drink called an Aviation, but in fact you are making sure those kids don’t burn the house down. In the name of safety, search your heart for the humility needed to complete this noble task. You won’t be sorry!

Stealth  Supervision

Stealth Supervision

Can you trust a man who makes beautiful crusts with his bare hands?

Can you trust a man who makes beautiful crusts with his bare hands?

And makes you a beautiful purple drink in the middle of the afternoon????

And makes you a beautiful purple drink in the middle of the afternoon????

Supervision has its own rewards.

Supervision has its own rewards.

7) Clarify, clarify, clarify: Readmegirl reminds us of the importance of communication. Here’s the kind of ubiquitous situation to which she refers: When you are  enjoying a glass of wine at an Italian restaurant where the decor is reminiscent of the Ratpack days  and your sister returns from the restroom and announces, “We’re all going to have to go on a field trip to the bar after dinner. It’s got gold wallpaper with black stripes with  machine guns on the walls”, DO NOT JUST ASSUME THAT THE SHOTGUNS ARE REAL!!!!!! You will be so, so disappointed!

When they get so disappointed you have to let them sit in the special chairs for a few minutes.

When they get so disappointed you have to let them sit in the special chairs for a few minutes. I won’t say who thought the machine guns were real, only that between these two there are 78 years of formal education.

8 ) Don’t be territorial: You don’t have to be the center of attention at all times. Allow your travel companions to get ahead of you on walks and have their own conversations. After all it’s not THEIR fault you can’t keep up because you are having to wear someone else’s too large shoes that squeak so loudly that you have no chance to practice your favorite pastime of eavesdropping. Try not to take it personally when they get ahead of you while you lag behind to take pictures because after all, life is art, and that while ahead of you THEY witness a woman  watering her flowers clad only in a shirt and some shiny underpants. It won’t be easy, but in time you will get over it.

You can't be talking every moment when there is such beauty to capture...

You can’t be talking every moment when there is such beauty to capture…

Ahey're probably NOT talking about you.

And they’re probably NOT talking about you anyway. Right??

9) Use your Southern hospitality! Expect to be included in your hosts’ lives and activities. When invited to drink celebratory beers with a group of Cal Tech astrophysicists and assorted other left brain specimens, accept happily and chances are they’ll never dream you know nothing about science. Instead, choose a topic of universal interest, such as your own wedding 35 years ago, and how your seventeen year old sister had to drive home the car that your male guests had adorned with inappropriate sayings. That’s something everyone can relate to!

Nonmembers cannot make purchases at the Athaneum Club. So all we could do was amuse the geniuses with our wedding stories. It seemed an even trade.

Nonmembers cannot make purchases at the Athaneum Club. So all we could do was amuse the geniuses with our wedding stories. It seemed an even trade.

10) Getting Home: All good things must come to an end. If you are reluctant to end your voyage, chances are you will be packing, inexpertly, at the last minute. Some of the inexpertness could be due to the lateness of the hour, to the wine you are drinking to assuage your sadness, or to the knowledge  that the new suitcase you just  bought at the thrift store because luggage was 40 percent off does not unzip all the way around. Though Readmegirl is a very efficient little cuss, she could not make headway with her suitcase situation and was forced to avail herself of her sister’s help. Magpie’s expertise at least got all items packed, but put Readmegirl over the line for  carryons. Should this happen to you, advises Readmegirl, decide what you will give up if challenged at the airport. Should you decide to let go of the  red duffel bag you brought, as was Readmegirl’s choice, only leave your ignition key in the bag if you think it would be funny to call your husband and ask him to come pick you up at the airport one hour away from home at midnight. That joke never fails to get a response!

Readmegirl struggles with her unzippable bag. Note the expendable duffel on the floor. Who knew it contained one tiny loose ignition key?

Readmegirl struggles with her unzippable bag. Note the expendable duffel on the floor. Who knew it contained one tiny loose ignition key?

Well everyone, that’s all the time we have for today. We hope we’ve left you with some useful tips from this peripatetic duo. Viewers, as always, if you have tips to share, or simply want to validate the ladies’ experiences, we welcome your comments!DSC_0372 DSC_0407