Excused Absences, Part One

Last time I wrote I alluded to big changes happening in my life. I mentioned that I was downsizing my practice in order to devote more time to my own creativity, and to being  a more hands on  grandmother. I know what you asked yourself: Why does she have to do this NOW???lillian-8

Because LILLIAN!!!! That’s why!!!

In the midst of preparing to be an out of town grandmother, I received the  unexpected but thrilling news  from my “baby”, Nick, and his girlfriend Heather, that early in 2015 I was also to become an in-town  grandmother.! As soon as my head began to spin more slowly atop my neck, I began to ask myself the questions that have no answers. They were deep questions indeed. For example, “WHAT??? This son of mine, this man/boy who still has his mail sent to our house is going to be a father? What’s to become of us all? ” And “What if he insists on naming the child after an NFL football player, how will I cope?”  You know, the types of questions one asks one’s self thirty thousand times in the middle of the night.

Him? A Dad?

Him? A Dad?

Thirty thousand  unanswered questions later, my mind was able to focus on more practical matters. Maybe I would have no say in what the child would be named, but I could certainly make myself available to be helpful. And if I played my cards right, maybe I would get to do some of the things for THIS new Mama that my Mother, an in town grandmother, got to do for me.( And which I promptly took for granted.) Of course my own Mother felt she had license to just barge right in and do things, but since I would be a paternal grandmother, I knew I would have to earn my spot at the table. I knew I would have to use all my considerable subtleness, lest I be declared a nuisance.

What were my parents having for dinner after my Mother helped me all day long? I must admit it never crossed my mind.

What were my parents having for dinner after my Mother helped me all day long? I must admit it never crossed my mind.

Meanwhile, as I mentally ran in circles, Heather, the new Mama, ran circles around me, taking care of herself, preparing for the baby, working and going to school. I cannot say enough good about Heather. Her strength and integrity remind me of why it is that women run this world. We’re just better at it. I am  grateful that Heather  will be the model for Lillian in so many important ways.

My sweet Heather, on the right, with her sister, five days before the baby was born.

My sweet Heather, on the right, with her sister, five days before the baby was born.

And what fun Heather has let me have! As her pregnancy neared the end, she let me take her to some of her Doctor’s appointments and then out to lunch, just as my Mother used to do for me, and just as I would have loved to be able to do for my own daughter. The day before she went in labor we went to about 5 stores getting whatever baby items they still needed, and then to eat authentic Mexican food. Sure enough, she went in labor the next morning, and guess who they called? ME ME ME ME ME!!!!!! And guess who ran a red light with impunity on the way to hospital? ME ME ME ME!!!!!!

I got to be there for most of the labor!

I got to be there for most of the labor!

And I was out in the peanut gallery when she was born! Heather’s family arrived from out of town later that day to join in the celebration.

Yep. My baby's a Daddy!

Yep. My baby’s a Daddy!

Grandaddy with his new sweetheart.

Grandaddy with his new sweetheart.

Since the baby has been born I have been off of work so that I can go to my son’s house almost every day to help. I envisioned  many after- baby scenarios, mostly involving sleep deprived parents and screaming babies,  but none with an easy baby who sleeps all the time, because I never had one of those. Miss Lillian, however, is thus far an easy and happily breast fed baby, so I haven’t been needed as much as I thought.

Lillian in the blanket I barely finished before she was born.

Lillian in the blanket I barely finished before she was born.

But nursing Mamas need to eat, don’t they? And Heather has allowed me free reign in the kitchen. I love to shoo her off for a nap, and then because the baby is so easy, I can whip the parents up something nourishing for dinner. Part of the fun is the challenge of working in someone else’s kitchen, especially your son’s former bachelor kitchen, where there is nary a pot holder to be found. I scurry around their kitchen, making a big mess and muttering delightedly , a la Sally Field at the Oscars, “They need me! They NEED ME!”

Soon Heather’s family will be back to marvel over how big Lillian has grown. Naturally I plan to (cough) gracefully step aside and let them have their share of Grandparent Crack. I’m a reasonable person.

Bread rising on a cloth diaper.

Bread rising on a cloth diaper.

Using the kitchen sink as a countertop to mash potatoes for shepherd's pie

Using the kitchen sink as a countertop to mash potatoes for shepherd’s pie Also I noticed that day that my camera smelled like an onion. It was worth it.

That’s about it for today. If you’ve wondered where I have been, now you know. And if you need me, you know where I’ll be. Hopefully I can get around to catching up on all of YOUR blog posts that I’ve missed this past month. Meanwhile, tonight’s menu is chicken parmesan with orzo and sautéed zucchini and tomatoes. I’d better get on it!

What It’s All About

Sometimes I just don’t pay attention to what is really important. Instead I   allow myself to be carried along by what strikes me at the moment. I suppose that is what happened when several months ago I agreed to attend a retreat called The Chemistry Of Connection at Garrison Institute in upstate New York. My colleague and I were familiar with two of the presenters, authors of books on mindfulness, so that meant it would probably be worthwhile. Also we were entranced by the description of the Institute – a former Capuchin monastery, overlooking the Hudson River. We skipped right over the part where the weekend was open to the general public, as well as the part where the other two speakers did not seem connected to mental health. After all, we could just skip their parts if we wanted to.

Once we realized we would need to fly into New York City we decided to stay there for a day and a half before taking the train to the Institute. Planning those days involved furiously comparing hotels and airline flights and scoping out museums. We were sure  we needed to have a quality experience before we went on to whatever that thing was we had signed up for.

The next thing I knew I was in New York City, surrounded by the sensory overload of the crowds, the traffic and the trappings of the holidays. I quickly adapted to city mode; staring straight ahead, paying attention only to what I was doing. Our advance planning paid off, for we enjoyed the Met and a food tour at the Tenement Museum without mishap.new york (35 of 99)-2  True, out hotel was overbooked for the first night, causing us to have to go “up the block” to another hotel for the night, but we were handsomely upgraded on the second night. We left New York City feeling like royalty.

We disembarked from the train at the hamlet of Garrison, which seemed to consist of four buildings and a fierce wind blowing off the Hudson River. A fast phone call to the Institute informed us that it was lunch hour, so we would have to wait in the cold for twenty minutes…unless we could find some humans to let us into one of those buildings. We crossed over the heated railroad overpass, bent on survival, past a lone man with a backpack, to said buildings, where we were  able to wheedle our way into an art gallery holiday sale. In due time, we crossed back across the tracks, past the backpack man, to wait for the shuttle.new york (92 of 99)-2

To our surprise when the shuttle arrived, that same man climbed on the shuttle with us. The shuttle driver asked us what we were here for and we told her. She mentioned that our retreat would be featuring horses. HORSES?? I heard my colleague say “I didn’t know this was a horsey weekend!” What was this retreat about, anyway?

We drove up a winding driveway to the imposing brick monastery. new york (76 of 99)-2new york (78 of 99)-2Inside we checked in and were  assigned rooms. I heard the backpack man say his name was Aaron Wolf. Wait a minute! Wasn’t that the name of one of the presenters? Quick – what had we said in the shuttle, and did it sound reasonably intelligent? In order to avoid further embarrassment we fled the reception area, barely registering the directive to report to the refectory at 5:00P.M. to be trained for the house jobs we had apparently signed up for.

We climbed the stairs to behold a long empty hallway of former monk cells. The clatter of our heels on the wide plank floor was the only sound. My cell was bathed in the weakening winter sunlight. new york (73 of 99)I turned on the radiator and made the bed with crisp white sheets. new york (41 of 99)-2This was to be my sanctuary for the next two nights. I longed to spend the whole weekend in this simple room, absorbing the peace and quiet and savoring each passing moment of the days.

But that was not to be, for I was at a retreat planned by someone else. Meaning I had not made the plan, and this made me uneasy, for I have not been able to entirely rid myself of the idea that I have control over things.new york (38 of 99)

After some time on our own my colleague and I reported to the refectory for training. There we were treated to  a thorough tour of the industrial kitchen, where it turned out that we would be doing the dishes for eighty people. And not only that, we were to eat quickly so as to report to kitchen in a timely manner. WHAT????!!! Wasn’t it bad enough that food was only available at certain times, but now when I did eat I would have to hurry? My neck muscles were clenched so tightly I’m surprised no one heard them squealing.

What to do? Embrace my control issues or move forward with as open a heart as possible? I decided upon the latter and found that the delicious and plentiful food left no room for a sense of deprivation. Many plates, cups, and glasses later I joined my co-retreatants in the meditation hall to hear Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence    and Tara Goleman, author of Emotional Alchemy   and Mind Whisperer.   Their reviews of neurobiology and the travails of the amygdala were good to hear.  I could have used some help with my own amygdala that very day.new york (75 of 99)-2

As I listened to the discussion it dawned on me that this was not a roomful of burned out therapists sitting silently diagnosing one another. In fact there were very few mental health people. Instead there were lawyers, teachers, pastors and non profit gurus, all interested in how to make better connections with others. It was heart warming to see such enthusiasm.

The next morning we met for some basic meditation and practice. Despite my having spent a lovely night in my austere cell, I was restless. I had had it in my mind that we would be given long periods of time for personal reflection, but instead we were to interact with one another. I have a hard time sitting still and had neglected to bring my knitting. I longed to take to the hiking paths on my own. But I stayed, either because of some inner strength or the desire not to call attention to myself by getting up and leaving. I’ll say it was a well of inner resolve.new york (87 of 99)-2

That  resolve was put to the test that afternoon when we met outside in the wind for a demonstration by a horse whisperer. His goal I believe was to reinforce the point that in order to have a true connection, both parties must feel safe and respected. I found I was mesmerized by R.J. the horse whisperer, whose gentle way of the horses conveyed such love and caring. He reminded us that it is better to lead by suggestion than to rely on intimidation.new york (51 of 99)

Sitting on that cold bench, I had to be honest with myself. How many times did I enter a new situation fully convinced that I know the right thing to do and that others should just do as I say? Had I not come to this very retreat all tied up in my own agenda? This was certainly food for thought.

Our evening session was led by Dr. Aaron Wolf, the man I had been too self important to notice at the train station. Who knew that Dr. Wolf was a well known hydrologist and known internationally for helping mediate disputes over water rights? He was so kind that I cannot believe he held my snub against him; after all I had just come from the big city where we don’t approach strange men. Still… Anyway, in his dynamic way he showed his approach to conflict resolution: know your own process, and stop, breathe, and listen.new york (83 of 99)-2

Suddenly it was Sunday morning, and time for the wrap up session. The chairs were arranged in a circle, to reinforce the equality among the participants. Every person was allowed to comment briefly or ask a question. I chose not to speak,because I tend to be long winded, but if I had I would have said how fortunate I felt to have stumbled upon this diverse group in such peaceful surroundings, and from such an apparently unlikely team of a husband and wife, a horse whisperer and a hydrologist to have learned such valuable lessons about how to respect myself and others. That I need to approach situations without my own agenda if I hope to make a true connection. That washing the dishes wan’t so bad. That though I had no idea what this weekend was supposed to be about, I had learned just what I was supposed to. Guess that’s what it was all about!new york (98 of 99)-2

Mayhem, Anyone?

You know Kelly Suellentrop from over at “Are You Finished Yet,” right? I’m pleased to share the news that her  new read aloud children’s picture book, “Absolute Mayhem”, is being released just in time for holiday shopping and holiday memory making. Let me tell you about it! 9780692311011.MAIN As a new grandmother, watching my daughter center her entire day around my grandson, knowing her focus on his every move will last for years, it dawns on me that parenting is a whole lot of work. Why must it be so hard? Why can’t we just let the little critters do whatever they want to do? Because it’s not good for them; that’s why! Take Lulu and Milo, the protagonists of Kelly Suellentrop’s delightful new read aloud picture book “Absolute Mayhem”. What a grueling week these two have, working math problems, eating balanced meals, doing chores, and going to bed early. I’ll bet Lulu and Milo feel like the most put upon children on the block. Sound familiar? But the siblings have a secret weapon – the “absolute mayhem” they’re looking forward to on the weekend. Suellentrop’s use of color helps show the contrast between the weekday world and the weekend world. All week life is pictured in an oh- so- mundane back and white, while the weekend erupts in riotous color as the children become royalty, explorers, and adventurers, able to live life on their own terms. Anything goes on the weekend, because absolute mayhem means “fun rules the day”. And the children indulge to their heart’s content. The trouble is that they indulge past their hearts’ content, and soon are tired, cranky and way over-sugared. Mayhem indeed. Could it be that by the end of the weekend with no limits whatsoever  – dare I say it – the children are looking forward to their once hated weekday routine? I am thrilled to see a read aloud picture book that helps children learn in a fun way that there is a time for everything. There is a time for imagination and flight of fancy – as long as they help get those fractions done. But there is also a time to keep to commitment, routine and repetition, which help children feel safe and secure. Children won’t thank us for the rules we impose, but it is our job as parents nonetheless. I predict that every overworked, under appreciated parent will feel some much needed validation when they read “Absolute Mayhem” aloud with their children. The story is crafted so skillfully that even the children will be nodding their heads in agreement that Lulu and Milo had best have an early bedtime. No parent will want to miss that moment! Here’s a you tube  video of Lulu and Milo coming to life. After you watch the video fifteen times, head on over to Amazon and order yourself a copy… and let the mayhem begin!

Story Security

My parents and all of my aunts and uncles have now passed away, and I am now the senior  generation of my family.  Instead of looking to my elders for information, I am now the one who has the knowledge about the olden days, of how we lived without electronics and instant gratification. While I am still on this earth I hope I tell or write down everything I know for the benefit of future generations.

Because I know how it feels to be curious about the stories of my forebears, to know that no matter how desperately I  about long to hear  about their lives I will likely never know more than I do now. To wonder why some relatives moved from Missouri to Arkansas, or who sewed the ruffled dress worn in a black and white photo, or even the circumstances on the day a picture was taken, is normal I believe. Knowing our stories makes us feel more  connected to those who came before us and worked  through many hardships to make a decent life. Stories make us feel secure.

Recently a friend of mine who has an interest in genealogy started a family tree for me on ancestry.com.  I wasn’t sure if the family tree  would lead to anything I didn’t already know, but at least I would have some things recorded for my children. Imagine my surprise when my friend received an email from a cousin on my Father’s side! I remembered meeting her, Sherry B., once at my grandmother’s house long ago. ( It was  so long ago that girls were wearing baby doll bathing suits, and Sherry’s grandmother, my Auntie Vera, was trying to sew a row pf lace across the top of Sherry’s bathing suit because she thought the neckline too low.)

We always knew more about my mother’s side of the family than my Father’s, because my mother’s family all lived here, while my Father’s was from Arkansas. We knew that our  Father became an only child when his sister Betty Jo, aged five, died of meningitis. Shortly after my parents married my Father’s father died at the age of 53 from a heart attack, leaving only my grandmother and my Father in Memphis. My Father told us very little about his family or growing up years. I had a few pictures of my Father as a child, but the accompanying narratives died along with him.richardson (1 of 1)-5

When our cousin Sherry B. contacted me through ancestry.com, I was delighted to find she lived not too far away and was willing to come to Memphis to share any pictures or other information she had. Last Saturday my two Memphis siblings and I met Sherry B.  for lunch. We were all eager to share whatever snippets of information we knew about that side of the family. I mentioned that my Father used to have a notebook that had belonged to our great grandfather John M. Richardson.I had actually seen it but did not know what happened to it after my Father’s death.

“Wait a minute,” cried my brother John, who is named after the man. “I think I’ve seen that at my house!” And he raced off to get the book while the rest of us repaired to my house for decaf and further discussion.

Soon my brother arrived with the notebook, which was bulging with pictures of people we had never met. The notebook itself appeared to have been used by J.M. Richardson to record finances and work hours.

And to save beer recipes.

And to save beer recipes.

Every time a new picture was gingerly removed from the book and passed around, it was like Christmas morning. Thankfully my grandmother, or someone, had written on the backs of most of the pictures. That was a gift in itself.

John Michael Richardson

John Michael Richardson

Eventually the picture passing slowed, though it never quite stopped, for we were mesmerized by these people, these faces, these lives, but we were at last able to pool our respective information. As far as tracing back many generations, we were all stuck at a frustratingly recent place, that of our great  great grandfather John Michael Richison. We can find no evidence of his beginnings.

J. M. Richison died in the Civil War and his body was never found. His widow, Anna Doyle Richison, remarried to a man named Crow. We know nothing more about her except that she is buried in Ash Fork, Arizona.

Anna Doyle Richardson Crow

Anna Doyle Richardson Crow

My great grandfather Richison/Richardson fought in the “Indian Wars”richardson (1 of 1)-30 and married a divorcee named Hannah Dow. At some point in his life he changed the spelling of his last name; we do not know why.  In addition to Hannah’s daughter Irene, the couple had four more daughters: Rheba Vivian,

Rheba on the left, with my grandmother Blanche.

Rheba on the left, with my grandmother Blanche.

Vera, Tora,

Vera on the left, Tora on the right.

Vera on the left, Tora on the right.

and Blanche Anna, my grandmother.

My grandmother

My grandmother

Tora died at age ten.

A poignant entry in the notebook.

A poignant entry in the notebook.

J. M. Richison/Richardson  worked for the railroad,richardson (1 of 1)-31 but at some point the family moved by covered wagon to Ferndale, Arkansas, where Richison may have farmed crops or lumber.richardson (1 of 1)-8

The girls grew up. Rheba married and moved to California where her sons supposedly still live. Vera, Sherry B.’s grandmother,  married but divorced after having three children,one of whom died at the age of nine.

Vera in the front, early in her marriage.

Vera in the front, early in her marriage.

At some point  Vera, likely for financial reasons, sent her children out to work and board with area farmers. Vera worked as a nurse’s aide, became a Seventh Day Adventist, and never remarried.

Blanche graduated high school, married and had two children.

Blanche

Blanche

The death of her daughter Betty Jo cast a pall over her marriage. As an adult I once asked my Father where his sister was buried and he said he did not know.

Before Betty Jo's death

Before Betty Jo’s death

That broke my heart, to think of a five year old’s grave going untended through the years. My guess is that sad things were just not discussed.

We continued to share and muse as we perused the pictures from the book my brother realized he had had in a box for many years. I think each one of us learned some things we had not known before, but many questions remained unanswered. Why the name change from Richison to Richardson? Why the move from Missouri to Arkansas? Why did our forebears tell us so little while they were alive?

No, we don’t know those answers and likely never will. But at least we share the bond of looking and wondering right along with Sherry B. There is a kind of security in that.

Looking forward to our next visit!

Looking forward to our next visit!

 

 

Swaddled

Big, big exhalation. How long have I been holding my breath? About nine months and three weeks, the exact length of time it took for my grandson to grow large enough to come into the world and for me to get out there to meet him.

Amid all the fun of watching my daughter grow huge with child and seeing she and her husband prepare to be parents,  I struggled mightily on the inside  with becoming a grandparent. I held an incessant  nine month inner dialogue that went something like this:

(Read to self quickly, then repeat. For a more realistic experience, read at 4:00 A.M.)

How can I be a grandmother I don’t know how to be a grandmother all I know is what my mother did which was come over every day for weeks and weeks and wash the clothes and cook and clean  and help with the baby and sometimes she brought her sisters for reinforcement and there C. and E. are out there in California with no relatives, well they know some people but not that many why haven’t I retired what if she needs help and I’m not there it’s not like I can just get in a plane and fly over there anytime stop overwhelming yourself and what will I do when I miss the baby that is going to be intolerable it hurts my stomach right now and I don’t even know what to be called all I know is nothing countryfied, like, not Meemaw or Mawmaw or no undignified baby talk words like MooMoo or PooPoo you’ll eventually be called something  yes but  when I do go out there how can I get all the cleaning and cooking and baby stuff done so they will be all caught up by the time we leave so she won’t need me after we’ve gone and so nothing will upset or depress her the way I always was postpartum oh groan it was so awful that would be unacceptable I’ll just have to get everything done that’s all and what if I’m not good with the baby I never thought I was good with babies and what if I can’t do anything with him that would be a disaster  I haven’t taken care of a baby in twenty seven years but they’ll EXPECT me to be good with soothing  upset babies because that is what grandmothers know how to do and I am going to be declared one, but how can I be a grandmother?

Got it?

As with most unknowns, there was nothing to do but wait, and to be sure, one day before his due date Micah was born. Without me. We already had our dates planned to come out, according to  the way my daughter and son in law wanted things to be, in case anyone wonders why we didn’t charter the first plane out of Memphis.

Waiting for the unknown.

Waiting for the unknown.

Finally we met our baby. When I held him, I felt a deep, peaceful  knowing, as if reconnected to an old soul. I know you, I thought, and you are mine. I rushed headlong  into baby love.

We meet baby Micah.

We meet baby Micah.

What about my worries? About soothing the baby, the best news ever was this little invention, the swaddler,  which did not exist in my day. The blanket like garment soothes a fractious baby and makes him feel warm, safe and secure. The old fashioned…uh… grandmother in me was skeptical at first but soon I was won over when Micah, bundled, relaxed immediately in my arms.

Micah in his swaddler.

Micah in his swaddler.

What about the sleep deprived parents? It turns out that these people know how to take naps, something I was never able to do. When we arrived each morning from our nearby motel we relieved whichever parent was awake to retreat to bed. The parents would say they were tired, but they seemed pretty sane to me. They were wearing clothes, for example, and seemed to be taking showers. I saw them reading sometimes.

The new parents are holding their own.

The new parents are holding their own.

What about being helpful? Within the first few minutes of our arrival, my daughter said to me, “Thanks for holding the baby so I can have an adult conversation.” Aaaah, we were already helping! And speaking of helping, Micah’s grandfather turned out to be the most effective baby whisperer in the house. Whenever he wasn’t doing some manual labor for my daughter, such as hanging pictures, he could be found with Micah in his arms.

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But what about my daughter’s mood? SHE WAS FINE!!!!!!! Her focus was on baby’s well being, not seeming a bit overwhelmed, just taking things moment by moment.  I did have to make some changes in the eating arena. One can only choke down so many dry turkey sandwiches. Though the meals I fixed were often consumed more hurriedly than in the past, hopefully they made the new parents feel nurtured.

I wanted them to have fresh, delicious food.

I wanted them to have fresh, delicious food.

And about the cleaning, my daughter did allow me to clean her kitchen floor on my hands and knees. Pregnant ladies can’t see their own feet, let alone a floor. She was very appreciative that I had done it, but the good news was that had I not gotten around to it, it wouldn’t have bothered her a bit. Finally the memories of myself as a new mother, feeling sad and defeated because my house was so cluttered, faded in my mind. Actually, I had been the one in disarray, not the house.Thankfully, my daughter does not have those burdens.

As the days went by we settled into an easy routine of baby care. It came to me that we were all pitching in to take care of the baby, the parents, and their home. Why had I thought all the emotional responsibility was going to fall only on me? I found I could relax and just be a grandmother!

This is the tree I'm planning to climb with Micah.

This is the tree I’m planning to climb with Micah.

All too soon it was time to leave. I came to Pasadena in hypervigilant mode, ready to do whatever battles were necessary for my people. I anticipated it to be hard. Yes, I did work all day and retire each night to sleep as hard as a brick bat, but it was fun, joyous and fulfilling.

The Saga Motor Inn, where my husband and I retired each night, opened the shutters to let in the cool evening air, and read our books in complete silence before we crashed.

The Saga Motor Inn, where my husband and I returned each night, opened the shutters of our room to let in the cool evening air, and read our books in complete, delightful silence before we crashed.

We were all bound by our love for Micah, and enjoyed seeing one another enjoy him. The arrival of this precious little fellow had changed all our previous, familiar configurations. Wife to mother. Husband to father. Mother to grandmother. Father to grandfather. We all revolved, gracefully, I thought, around our new sun.

I marveled at my son in law’s transformation into a Daddy. He has won my heart over and over with his devotion and thoughtfulness.

Showing Micah Mommy's artwork.

Showing Micah Mommy’s artwork.

My sweet son in law. Now he's a Daddy.

My sweet son in law. Now he’s a Daddy.

I beamed at seeing my daughter in action as a Mother.

She's a natural!

She’s a natural!

IMG_2825I marveled at this this couple, reassured at their priorities and partnership.

The happy new family.

The happy new family.

I treasured seeing  Grandaddy gaze at the baby.DSC_0058

I drank in each moment with Micah, just as I had hoped to do. I have memorized him now.IMG_2867

Families are all more than the sum of their parts, but now we have more parts in the mix, and it’s glorious. More relationships. More ties. More moments to savor now and memories to plan for the future.IMG_2865

I was not ready to leave, but I did so with a heart that was  full and peaceful.

Swaddled, really.

My Autobiographical Garden

All gardens  are a form of autobiography.” – Robert Dash.

 

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I can’t stop thinking about my back yard. To say that events have not unfolded back there as expected this year would be a gross understatement.

I tend to take a benevolent dictator stance as a gardener. I agree to plant seeds with the understanding that in return said seeds will grow into objects of beauty and astonishment, seeking only to please me.

Of course sometimes  – ahem- often, things don’t turn out the way I hoped. And when that happens I always think I have next year to correct the situation.

And then I find out I don’t have next year to correct the situation, because the garden has taken a new path altogether, regardless of my wishes.  I realize I have counted upon an illusion.

Take this year. In late 2013 a pseudo ice storm froze several Leyland Cypresses, causing them to fall over my fence and knock it down.

The trees weren't pretty, but they did conceal a tacky shed next door.

The trees weren’t pretty, but they did conceal a tacky shed next door.

As the bitter winter weather continued with low, low temperatures I huddled inside the house unaware of  how my plants would be affected.

When spring finally arrived, I saw I had lost Grandfather, my enormous rosemary. I counted on his leaves for cooking and his lovely aroma to greet me as I swam in the deep end of the pool.

This was an enormous rosemary named Grandfather. He didn't make it.

This was an enormous rosemary named Grandfather. He didn’t make it.

This was Grandfather during healthier times.

This was Grandfather during healthier times.

And my poor fig tree. It was dormant for a long time and when it finally began to leaf out, it was from the trunk and not the branches. What will this do to my fig crop this year? I don’t know.

DSC_0044

Because of the Leyland Cypress tree incident, in the spring we made the decision to cut down our remaining Leylands along the back fence. They had outgrown the bed and covered the patio beside the pool to such an extent that it was impossible to walk past. Down they came, leaving another gaping hole. We planted new arborvitae there which will eventually fill in.

The new arborvitae barely clear the fence.

The new arborvitae barely clear the fence.

Despite my optimistic outlook, many of  my vegetable and flower seedlings drowned in the rainy spring. What has lived has not seemed very robust. And to add insult to injury, to quickly fill in the front of the bed with the new arborvitae,  I planted geraniums. Yes, they are hardy and colorful but they look like little old ladies.

I think they burned their hair sitting in one of those hair dryers at the beauty shop!

I think they burned their hair sitting in one of those hair dryers at the beauty shop!

My gardening sprits matched the general ennui of the flowers. I could see this would not be a summer in which to have a flower fashion show, for there were no saucy teenaged fuchsias, shapely gourds, or statuesque bee balms in red high heels.

The garden had turned a corner, and so must I. Like so many events in my actual life, the truth of the garden jarred me. Who knew that after so many years of devoted service that I could lose my giant rosemary? That I would have only one single red hot poker bloom? How could I figure out solutions for the garden situation  before me? Should I just give up this gardening game?

This backyard dilemma had a ring of familiarity to me. I realized that once again my garden had  mirrored my actual life.  To make a 32 year old story short, a long time ago I had children.

1981-01 I did not know what I was doing but I did the best I  knew how.

1984-08a1988-01a Every time the children reached  a new stage in life, I was not ready. I wanted things to stay the way they were, whether it be kindergarten, third grade, or high school, because the future was unknown, and I always thought if I had a little more time I could really get the knack of the current situation.

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But those pesky kids kept changing on me, until they finally left the house.

2003-25 Of course I didn’t know they were really gone when they left, because like all mothers, I had bargained with myself. Sure, I could be a good sport about letting them leave BECAUSE THEY WERE COMING BACK. College is temporary, right?

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In time I accepted that they had begun their own lives, and that I had mistakenly believed all these years that I had unlimited opportunities to be a hands on parent. Again, I had relied on an illusion. We had all turned corners, begun to walk new paths. There would be no going back.

I pondered all of this as I regarded the new open spaces in the yard. Where the trees had knocked over the fence, I now had room to put in a few new hydrangeas. I could see that that corner, previously difficult to reach, could now become a destination. The giant rudebeckias would have more sun.

DSC_0011I didn’t plan it, but now that it had  happened, it seemed  just right.

I decided that the geraniums were a one season aberration. In my mind they would look more at home in a red state yard. That one was as easy to fix as a bad haircut.

And my vegetable garden? I’ve decided it’s time to start over. I’m going to turn the whole area into a larger bed with room for large stands of flowers as well as vegetables. In sections I’ve been turning the last grassy part of the yard into a bed, lasagna style. Before long I will be able to move some flowers which are  cramped where they are into spots where they can have more room to breathe.The change will be a good one.

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The part where I have existing flowers and vegetables I will leave for the season. Though many things are not hardy, I do have some carrots, tomatoes, a cucumber vine, some okra and tiny eggplants.

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But at the end of the season, I’ll uproot everything and lasagna it as well, enriching the soil, which will make a more hospitable environment for next spring.  I’ll put some kind of a path leading from my sunroom door all the way to the new destination at the back of the yard.

While I’ve been contemplating what to do in the yard, thoughts of my own life have not been far away. For several years now I’ve been an empty nester, at peace with the new path and actually quite pleased with the fun it has offered. Until I experienced it I never could have dreamed of the pleasures that would come along when one part of life ended and another began.

But I have known that  more life changes  were in the making, for they always are. Just one week ago today a whole new path  opened up for me when I became a grandmother.

GRANDMOTHER????? That would mean my own daughter is a Mother. Thank goodness I did all that good work letting go, so that I am very confident she and her husband are ready for that role.

My daughter has claimed for years she was ready for motherhood!

My daughter has claimed for years she was ready for motherhood!

But what about me? The path is not clear. The only way I  know how to be a grandmother is to go over to my daughter’s house several times a week, and to have my grandchild with me at my house the other days of the week. In other words, seamless intimacy.  Immersion, even. How will I accomplish this when my grandson lives across the country?

I have worried and worried about this while dumping out bags of peat and pulling the endless weeds which proved to be my most bounteous crop of the season. And now the baby is born.  It discombobulates me even to think that he was born AND I WASNT THERE. I haven’t yet held him in my arms, but I gaze at him on FaceTime with some deep intensity every chance I get.

I’ll tell you one thing. Several, actually. Maybe I don’t know yet how I can function as a long distance grandmother, but I am going to kiss the fool out of that tiny blonde head. I’m going to trace every tiny wrinkle in his feet until I know each one  by heart. I’m going to memorize the sweet smell of the back of his neck to comfort me when I’m away from him.

As I plan flowers for my new destination spot at the back of the yard, I imagine sometime in the near future a pair of sturdy toddler  legs running past me to hide behind the burning bush. It’s just right.

IMG_2978                                                      Welcome, Baby Micah!

 

Picturing Life

As a magpie, I tend to make decisions based on what attracts me, believing that I’ll have a nice shiny time doing something regardless of my skill level. This is a practical point of view for someone who has not had much art education. One advantage of ignorance is that there is always more to learn.

However, with ignorance also comes frustration. Why doesn’t something come out the way I had hoped? Why are the directions so hard to understand? Why do these art materials want to thwart me? When the frustration mounts, I must find a class to take.

This past Saturday I finally took my first in-person photography class. I was nervous about this because a) it lasted all day and I don’t like to be confined, and b) because I knew good and well I did not know much about how to use my camera. Would the class be over my head? And what about when the teacher wanted to get into additional equipment such as zoom lenses? Because YIKES!!!! I had somehow LOST, LOST my zoom lens! What kind of a photographer does that?????

Saturday came, and once again the universe saved me. It turns out that what is behind photography is not fancy equipment, but the photographer’s trust in his own ability to see, and the patience to take many, many pictures until he gets it right. The day flew by as we looked at photo prints and photography books, learning about what makes a picture worth looking at.

I did learn some technical things which I have not yet tried out. I decided to get out my last set of pictures, those that I took last month when I went to Winston-Salem North Carolina for my nephew’s high school graduation and Eagle Scout ceremony. With what I just learned, would I find these pictures worth looking at? Look along with me now, and tell me what you think.

The three questions to ask yourself are: what do I see, what does it mean, and how do I know?

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Does the picture make you curious about the lady on the left? Here’s the story. We befriended her while waiting for our carry out order, and found that she had tried to donate her vintage LIFE magazines to Ellen’s library, and been turned down. But with Ellen to the rescue her treasures will now be accepted with thanks.

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Why photograph these guys? Because all of Ellen’s St. Francis statues have been decapitated through various means. A little too much of a coincidence, yes? Is it a curse of some kind? Sure, they’ve been repaired, but when will disaster strike again?

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My nephew’s Eagle Scout ceremony and combined grad/Scout party were on Sunday afternoon. Because of my sister’s graduate school schedule she had had to leave all the party prep to her hard working husband. What you see here are some of our efforts, before the party to turn an essentially male party into something civilized.

Imagine our horror when we saw on Sunday morning that the husband and son had lined up cloth camping chairs in a straight row across the backyard, blocking the bucolic view and reminding one of a Protestant wedding reception. The cloth chairs were banished by us, tactfully, and tablecloths added. In addition, we bought pillow cases to recover chair cushions and purchased potted herbs for natural centerpieces. Just then a Scoutmaster showed up to help. He allowed as how we should protect the tables from bird droppings, so he covered all our pretty work with hefty bags, weighted down with logs. Sigh.

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Here was the ceremony in a tiny country church.

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And here is the Scout with the beautiful soul. I would hope that his optimism and willingness to serve others comes through in the picture.

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I do not claim this as an example of a good photo, but seeing my salt of the earth brother in law moved to tears on Father’s Day was priceless to me.

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Then came the party. Above, my sister again tried to inject a little civilization with the relish tray. Note the implement being used to spear a goodie from the plate.

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In addition to simply trying to record the events of the day for the family, I also wanted to show through photos the way Ellen’s lifestyle differs from mine. She is fortunate enough to live a more rural lifestyle, while I am more of a city girl. Meaning that chickens would not be guests at my lawn party.

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But these girls made a day of it.

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As an out of town guest, I was paraded through the guests, and then allowed to mingle or simply observe as I chose. Folks came and went. Hilariously , some guests brought their OWN cloth camping chairs and lined them up in a row. Much meat was consumed my man and boy. The afternoon was unhurried and the weather glorious. DSC_0472

I was pleased to finally meet Ellen’s next door neighbor, Bonita who is an artist and photographer. She showed me a few camera tricks and took this photo of us, on manual setting, of course. When she left she invited me over to see her art studio.

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Later in the day I moseyed over to Bonita’s, opened the back gate and knocked on the door. She gave me permission to take photos of some memory books she has made, both of which have already been exhibited. Currently she is working on a photography book of vintage American movie theaters. Was I jealous? Yes.DSC_0517

When I returned from Bonita’s, most of the guests were gone. As the shadows grew long in the yard, a late staying guest built  a campfire. Don’t think this was not a thrill for a city girl.

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Those of us who were still there pulled chairs around the fire and put our feet up on logs. Fireflies swept past us as we listened to the calls of the owls and shared whatever stories came to mind. After a time fatigue and mosquitoes drove us inside.

I went to sleep to the sounds of the whirring attic fan, tired but gratified to have been a part of the day. I would have two more days to spend at my sister’s, providing moral support as she completed her end of the semester projects, folding clothes from the clothesline as needed, and taking night walks down her dark country road, wine glass in hand.

As I look through these pictures I ask myself the three questions. What do I see? I see a family celebrating a once in a lifetime event, surrounded by loving friends. I see a life made with love, humility, hard work and persistence. I see treasures in unexpected places.

What does it mean? To me it all means that life goes by swiftly, and we must tune in to get every bit of pleasure and whimsy it has to offer. It means I am fortunate to have these people in my life. How do I know? I know because I know, but does all of that come through to those who view my pictures?

I’m hoping you’ll let me know what you think.