Thursday’s Words/Nonfiction: The Better Deal

I went to a mini-country flea market a couple of weeks ago and was at first disappointed. It was a lark, something to do on a lazy July afternoon. I expected a vast array of fascinating items, pretty things, possibly antiques, as well–like the flea markets you see on TV, where most things look interesting. If I try again, I will have to research the best ones to browse–although I have said I’m not keen on collecting anything now. Possibly never again. Yet afterward I felt it was a satisfying, even cheery time.

I have written before of the things I managed to hang onto. But I haven’t even been a bonafide collector–rare books or other pricey specialties–oddities like intact fenders from 1940s trucks, say, or fine lacy collars from France. No, I am no expert or even wanna-be expert. Rather, a gatherer of bits and pieces: hand-thrown ceramic mugs; arty blank greeting cards; magnets depicting interesting places or people; excellent pens and mechanical pencils (not pricey–just a strong, smooth delivery). And more useless things, of course, like rubber bands and old glasses. Because you never know…

When we moved in March, we gave the heave-ho to those useless and many superfluous items. I kept thinking that I wanted to lighten my life load and also that I do NOT want my children to have to deal with extraneous items when I am finally gone. Lots of drawers and cupboards were emptied and sorted, memories no longer requiring vast material semblances. There was a whole storage area in the basement whose contents I didn’t tabulate. I don’t care what was there; it hadn’t mattered for decades. I didn’t watch those hauling, nor the truck being filled and leaving for the dump. The haulers sorted out any good stuff and did what they wanted with it. I was entirely relieved to see empty space.

So I am not wanting to replace the old with newish old things. I have done that for years–church rummage sales, garage and estate sales. I would stop in a flash to see what was good, or just to browse. You couldn’t imagine what might jump out of a dusty stack or a pile on a table. Something useful or lovely, all was game– though most of the time I walked away empty-handed, pocket currency intact.

Second-hand shopping was, in truth, the affordable way to manage our household’s needs for many years. It wasn’t about collecting good stuff. With five children, clothing and shoes were expensive to supply. My husband, a businessman, got good togs, but I was happy enough with hand-me-downs. (Appreciated Goodwill stores many times over.) So were the kids until they thought they knew better at 12, 13. Our four daughters shared clothing, anyway–even wore some of mine, since we were all about the same size for years. Our son was the only one who sometimes got brand new clothes. I’m not sure he even cared since dirt and sweat permeated all.

The same went for household things. I’d seek out decent pots and pans and replacement dinner sets and glasses. Another good bed frame. A usable lawn mower or cheap bike. A chest of drawers I could paint or a small desk to refinish. End tables for the den. Vases and picture frames and unused candles–always desired and useful, it seemed. Everything I needed could (and can) be gotten somewhere for much, much less. Back then I could not– and later, would not–pay full prices. All could be gotten for a song at any sidewalk sale opportunity. Why not go for it? One could always walk away with a shrug; on to the next possibility.

I also have appreciated chatting with the sellers as I searched, hearing stories of why they were clearing things out. Sometimes–like I had a few times early on–money was needed badly enough to sell their goods, say, to cover rent or a looming car payment. Other times they were revamping, hoped for a fresh decorating or fashion start; were moving and starting over far away. Divorce seems to always demand unloading much. Babies growing fast, children leaving home. Job losses, illness. Or just a desire to clear out the cobwebs, be free of their–they just faced it head-on– junk. (All situations I have been familiar with over decades…) It was clear if they were real collectors of valued items, they could even make good money. Then go out and buy more. What could I say? I’ve always adored books and had (perhaps) too many. Still do and buy them used mostly–and re-sell later.

I have to say it is hard for me to spend hard-earned money on new and costly items. I can see new computer or washer, for example, dressy shoes or beautiful handmade art or jewelry now and then from art fairs (have to support artists and crafts people!). But my forest green Laz-y-Boy sofa came from my sister’s years ago; it is still serviceable. As is the fine woolen tulip rug my other sister sold me for cheap. (She is gone; I think of her every day as I walk on it). And by the way, they have both been serious bargain hunters out of principle, my remaining sister far more than I. And she has been a serious collector of turquoise jewelry and Native American totems, old tools, musical instruments and more. She’d take used furniture discarded on the street, restore it to its gorgeous origins and sell it–she long had bought and sold certain items for a tidy profit. It must be in the blood, as my deceased brother collected wind instruments, silent and foreign movies and jazz records and motorcycles/cars and their parts– and more. My son salvages broken things, fixes them for fun, gives them away. We love to find hidden treasures, I guess, to keep or gift. And if we really save on a big sale or with smart haggling it is a happy purchase, indeed.

But I am, I believe, done with accumulating much more. I just like to look. I don’t need much, nor fancy things (okay, good clothing left over from my retired work life), though I’m sure some think I could enjoy better possessions than what we have. Truth is, I like our pared down belongings, and the emptier spaces that suit our current home. Less to take up my time fussing over, maintaining.

What matters more to me is the simpler life, a life swept of miscellaneous stuff and of absurd agendas (like cleaning fancy silver, which I was brought up doing–who needs it?). My mind grows more orderly, calmer, as if sunlight illuminates and breezes sweep in to freshen up my thinking. My heart is steadier and less constantly taut with life’s aches. My soul feels a stirring that can be overlooked or even lost when revved up with pursuit of this desire, that finery, that temporal need. I want to stand alone with myself and feel alive and quite alright, just as I am.

My husband and I gravitate more to the outdoors in drier, warmer weather. The rustling, nearly meshed canopy of leaves above, balcony overflowing with potted flowers, hummingbirds and bees flitting in and out: heavenly moments. I cock my ears at birdsong (and kids’ voices far off) while taking meals, reading a book, or practicing daily meditations and prayer at our outdoor table. My breath moves through me like silent music, filling and releasing me. What I have cannot be seen nor noted as admirable, but the joys and wonders are embraced within, absorbed and passed on, I hope, in living well with others.

I am less burdened since getting rid of much. I could live with even less. My spirit feels good. aligned with itself, not cluttered by irrelevant distractions. What matters even more to me is not what I own but if I inhabit this day and night truly and honestly. And what I can give of self and time.

But… having simple fun matters. Going to the country flea market was a brief stop during an outing on a toasty summer day. There was nothing for me but two new hand-stitched burp cloths for my twin grand-babies. Cost me five bucks. But we wandered about, anyway, conversed with congenial, interesting people. We enjoyed a happy hour with family, after which we had a delicious meal at a humble grill in a town we had never been to before.

One can wander, peruse odds and ends and share warm greetings for the simple pleasure of it, after all. I think we can use more of that kindly sort of thing, and less the actual material ones.

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Celebrate, Anyway!

Celebrate summer–a surprised, perplexed but happy dog sure was!

Another 4th of July brings to mind celebrations of many sorts, not just of our beleaguered, beloved USA with its complex warp and weave of surprising variegations these days. Far be it from me to offer political commentary that is truly astute and reasonably calm. If that is what you want to muse over today, read on elsewhere and bless you. This is about humbler celebrations.

Many are the other experiences to which I can relate and articulate better. I am thinking of times that bear reconsideration after first being embraced and then, as circumstances fully dawn upon you, are slogged through step by step. There is the initial elation: unique challenges, freshness of change! And then may come a giant whump!… as gravity tugs, you may end up flattened a bit or at least bewildered, agape.

A metamorphosis is likely in the offing; sometimes the best you can do is try to step back and observe while surrendering to its quiet power. Transformation is not meant to be a snap but a complex process. The relief and encouragement of little successes mean something and deserve small celebrations we can share with others. Or even alone. No fireworks are required nor one hundred bright balloons set free into the ether or parades to toot one’s horn. Just an acknowledgement of another stone removed from the shoe, another hill crested, another day gotten through–a nod at more gratitude. It takes those first small steps towards victory. We can be like swimmers who finally survive by floating even as legs start to sink, or straining with a side stroke when arms tingle and go numb, the water threatening to submerge the whole attempt. I get it: you want to sink but keep on going. And eventually reach the shore–cue lighthouse beam cutting through the stormy ebony veils.

Cinematics aside, it has been like that off and on this spring/early summer. The big move; a hard birth for our daughter; the twins’ arrival after which came subsequent postpartum depression. Daily and sometimes odd hours with babies and new parents; becoming overtired and falling sick with a respiratory illness that began with a small cold passed around at their house. After two and a half weeks of feeling unwell, I have trouble getting through a day with enough energy, without a rattling cough. Lst week I was felled and spent three days in bed, on the couch, sleeping between spasms of coughing. But I saw the doctor today; she looked at me steadily, shook her head, eyebrows lifting (she may have been in her forties, about my kids’ age; I liked her). “Grand-mothering…! More germs to come. You need a steroid inhaler to ease those respiratory symptoms, I think. And get more rest.”

Right, check–will do. I start training for eight to ten hour days next week with the beautiful, amazing babies that make me so happy to give love. And also so tired. How did I raise the five I had? Well, they were spaced out some, not multiple infants all at once. Though I did raise four teenagers at once… for many years.

My daughter, the one who has surmounted so much, is soon returning to work, yet it seems so fast. (Her husband is seeking part-time work so he can help more, longer. Years longer, perhaps; two is like three times more baby some days.) Somehow we can figure this out so eventually I can do it alone: with the little ones’ feeding/sleep schedules, the right attire for varying temperatures according to dad, the correct degree of light in each room so they are not disturbed, the different baby monitors’ workings, the cat’s whereabouts so he doesn’t lick their tender feet or faces. The inconsolable crying–I lived through it before, didn’t I? Of course I did.

I am a person who is not averse to seeking help–I have had the therapy bills to prove it, as in one form or another it acts as basic self management. And there have been many events during which I did not stand tall and shine, to say the least. (One counselor decades ago stated bluntly she was amazed “you are alive, even standing upright– and well spoken and well groomed.” What? It was rather shocking. But the truth was that I was barely on my feet.) Everyone I have known has fought battles; more come out smelling like humble but gorgeous roses than those who do not. How can one accurately determine the “hard-harder-hardest” of hurdles when approaching each? Best not think about it–go forward to meet it.

I sure wasn’t in the market for pity back then (or now), and certainly not for the counselor’s weirdly near-admiring undercurrent. I, as ever, wanted knowledge of methods to make smarter choices, to become more adept at being the me I had actual faith in. I think I half-laughed at her, gave some facsimile of a smile (with tears masked–I acted tougher then). I had and have been worse, and better. Any time I’ve snagged a shard of light or a waft of humor–drier is better–I hold it steady in eye and mind, then use it as a tool, a lifesaving thing. Who else was going to do it? Resilience is often predicated on resourcefulness.

As I muse on these things I find a finer, stronger energy despite the rumbling cough– and a foolish romantic impulse to be a superwoman. Haven’t I learned by 69 that this is not a smart idea? Instead, I choose to celebrate what is coming together, then work on what is lagging. I tallied up the positives. Smaller steps that have cumulatively become greater steps forward. I, of course, know more challenges are to come; we will rise to each occasion as best we can. Who would not? Very few.

Below are a few ongoing mini-celebrations in my life: Cheers and hooray!

My daughter–new mother–has so rallied. I have never seen her more raw and distressed when all she wanted was to be joyous and confident. She not only came to grips little by little, she ultimately took the problem by its perilous horns, tamed it and rode it toward its demise, transforming it into more health. Every resource she could find was utilized from acupuncture and Reiki energy work, group support and therapy, meditation and prayer. She did not give up despite haunting urges to do so. It took two months. She reached out to those who loved her, became so vulnerable with her family and close friends. She learned new skills, took charge of what was biochemically powerful, and gave her recovery infusions of an analytical mind, a bright if aching spirit and a profound heart. And she showed up for her babies even as she wrestled with daunting fears, sadness and exhaustion. This is an ongoing investigation into unknown territory, this being first-time (ambitious, working) mother, and of twins. She deosnt; kid herself despite the healing. I watched her make sacrifices that I never imagined she might choose to make… but I have to note that fighting for betterment of life is not a new labor. As a child (and into adulthood) she had significant medical issues that did not deter her, or not for long. And she remains one of my heroines.

Her husband, our son in law, rallied. He actually quit a job in order to take over as he and I went into high gear at their home. He used his bent toward methodical perseverance to tackle boundless chores, increased demands. He schooled himself as he took charge and mapped out ways and means. He took meticulous notes, shared his concerns and insights. I recall one time when I broke down in tears. I was embarrassed by losing my generally calm demeanor but it was overwhelming for a moment. He came over, put his arms around me and said quietly with surety: “We will get through this, things will be better again, I promise.” Then he got busy again and so did I. It was what I had been telling my daughter every other hour, but when he said it, I believed it more. And he’d understood how I hurt, too; his kindness was never more evident. I appreciate his various strengths and genuine compassion.

My own husband has a sure knack for feeding and burping infants and diapering, even after a day of work and long commute back home. I had forgotten how good he was at these things. He has had a good nature about my absences, my random prickly, unbidden sensitivity, the worry and weariness. Just sitting on the sofa with me, watching an old mystery series one episode after another was fine with him…conversation can be overrated sometimes. And he still cooked dinner, sometimes for all of us at the kids’ place, even at eight at night. We still read aloud to each other here and there, and take daily walks as possible in the cool of overarching greenness. And listen to birds settling into twilight, our mugs of tea at hand. And he knows how to pray with me and apart from me.

And those twin girls are thriving, now two and a half months. They have double chins and fat knees now; grasping, soft hands; kicking-strong legs and arms. They coo and try to talk in their own ways, blow tiny bubbles, smile suddenly as they reach for our faces and hair. You know how there is a spark of happy recognition when a baby looks at you and you know she knows you? And likes you? They are unalike in temperament, we think, but time will tell their stories. They look uniquely themselves–one more fair with wide grey-blue eyes; the other reflecting other roots with large deep brown peepers, slightly tawnier skin. They still primarily need to be fed, diapered, soothed, cleaned up. But they also now enjoy playing, love to be sung to and danced with. What a pleasure to find their skill levels increasing, to share in their new journeys and their delight.

From hearts nearly breaking to a sense of peace hard won and a deepened hope: it has been a period unexpected and lived through together. And yet the same can be said of other human lives being lived a day at a time. Humans loving one another, not flawlessly but richly, and as a fierce and loyal team. It is a story that is replicated in every culture: taking care of business, caring for family, working against daunting odds at times.

Another scene that pops up: my oldest daughter visiting. We see her once or twice a year; she lives and teaches in the South Carolina, she travels, she is busy making art. One day she was having a full, lyrical conversation with Baby A, whom she was carrying around a long while, then feeding, then diapering, then burping. The little one gazed up at her, clung to her and nuzzled her neck and N. snuggled back gently. Her face against the baby’s was a snapshot of tenderness. She does not and will not likely children; she creates things, and when she departed for an art residency, she left with me an elegant indigo-dyed silk scarf from her new collection, a woodblock print of a blue butterfly, fine chocolate, and a very strong, quiet hug.

But the best moments came when her sister–the twins’ mama–played with the little girls spontaneously, sang them songs in her lilting voice and really laughed with them. Held them in wonder, eyes radiant with the loving hopefulness she had so needed to experience, to believe was true and lasting. As it was and is now.

And then finally, there is this: my only surviving sister has advancing dementia at only 74. I do not live close to her since our move. It has been a slow losing of one sort of person for a new rendition of my sister, for she was during her working life an executive mover and shaker, a real estate “flipper”, an greatly engaged person who spent much time on her hobbies as well. In short, a dynamo, bright as can be and given to easy laughter.

I brought her over for a large family gathering and she chatted as she could, and asked questions, and held babies, great-nieces! She never had her own kids. She hugged grown nieces and nephew. It was nearly like old times with the laughter and gabbing, except it is not old times. No, it is this moment, and it is what it is. And so wonderful to have her in our full circle, our embrace, to share her love. She is still my sister inside, despite memory loss, and the awkward shyness that never suited her before. I will be there as much as I can, though it is hard to find time now, as time can just leak away.

I often am given pause as I realize this world seems to be tilting ever more within our solar system and generally uncharted universe. Who are we, the homo sapiens living here? Who can we yet be? Time may be really running out. We hear the worst of things. We are asked to prepare for more devastations. And there are agitations everywhere, and schemes, wars of all sorts brewing. The terrible failures to communicate effectively and for our collective well being is glaring. The neglect of common courtesy proliferates while acts of good will seem sparse. I question that, though, as there are so many being kind everywhere. And yet, there is still this risky business of making one’s way on earth. I do wonder just hoq the babies and all others will find their way. But I believe in the Divine Creator, God, the source of all true wisdom and so pay attention and nurture trust, despite the noise around us.

So I will yet celebrate the smaller moments, the ones that do not show up in newsworthy spotlights: ordinary courage, a forward momentum when work needs to be done. A dragonfly’s small pause on a thin reed and summer wind singing in the big leaf maple’s shining crown. The sweet touch of one warm, even when trembling, hand on another. Water for the thirsty and healing moments for the broken–affirmations of faith when the long days are done. At the end of more loving/sometimes weeping, I close my eyes and feel it, the truth of goodness of things, all the redeeming moments there are. Ones we can create. I yet do celebrate each morning that still arrives with the rising sun. And all that is worth a modest party now and then, at the least.

PS Have a safe 4th of July, those who are marking the day!

(I am not labeling all our motley crew but there are three of four daughters present; my son and fiancee; my sister; son-in-law; my husband; me.)

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: A Move to Something, Somewhere

The photo is deceptively personal, full of the sense of a certain communal peace, an idyllic setting most would love to insert ourselves within even for a short time. It is my home, so I should know. Or, rather, it is not my actual property; I do not live on either side of those river banks. But it is within my territory since we moved from the close-in city neighborhood to the current spot. And it is much like this–green-treed, near water, seemingly far from the constant din of city life heaving itself into consciousness. Here, the conscious mind is alive with nature and at a distance from much else, and this results in a stunning quietude.

But it has felt like living a small mystery, being here, and every day when I first look out the large opened windows or take walks along serpentine pathways that surround acreage, I am surprised.

For one thing, it is a wealthy enclave. Let’s call it Lakemont. It is a city set apart from the Portland metropolis or other suburbs. And we are not wealthy, so it may seem odd that we are here now. We do alright, could’ve done better if we’d planned differently (if life hadn’t thrown curve balls, if the economy hadn’t nosedived in 2008–if-if-if!)– and will likely manage when we’re fully retired. But we certainly don’t aspire to occupy the manse-like or maybe a bit more reasonably classy homes that characterize the city, each nestled within ubiquitous trees. I like to look at them–I enjoy such variety of architecture– but we’ve been apartment dwellers awhile. And so we now appreciate our spot within green, birdsong-infused expanses.

It was a joke that I even looked here as the deadline pressed upon us beginning in January. The goal was to vacate the old place and inhabit the new by 1st of March, in order to be much closer to one daughter undergoing a hysterectomy (so we could have here with us to support recovery days after the move), then another giving birth to twins 6 weeks later (so we could help daily). And, too, my husband was leaving for a long business trip within days of relocating.

So it was with urgency that I searched for something affordable–not at the top of the limit, not too cheap–and roomy and comfortable enough, with walking areas close by, too. I wanted to get to all within five minutes. There was little to be found anywhere within five miles of them. Places were way too small, worn out, lacking in sidewalks or parks nearby, or way too expensive.

And then an advertisement on a website caught my eye. What– in Lakemont? So fancy, no way! But I kept going back to it–looked at the square footage, the prices, rooms. And that location. Under 7 minutes drive, depending on traffic, to the daughters.

The decision was made after a visit and a long drive about the neighborhood. When sharing that, people we knew couldn’t believe we’d choose to live there. Far from our city’s fab bustle, for one thing, which we’ve enjoyed decades. Wouldn’t we be lonely? And Marc and I are aging hippies, still working on living more simply. Moderate, overall (but I am still well in more liberal zone), in lifestyle and ideological choices. Far more invested in various intellectual pursuits and nature’s delights/activities than money or–really, just forget this–status. Those simply do not cohere with who we are–and would not , still, if there were greater means.

And yet. This apartment felt like home even empty, like it would be the best place when all was said and done. We called the movers. I was ready to go. Now, each morning we open our doors and windows to refreshment of mind and body.

Today, after visiting my new, more pricey dentist, I reflected on the costs of that choice. I do think of money some, though I cannot deny one tends to get what is paid for. How much more do I get? Well, the solitude and tranquility of rolling woodlands, for one. Every time we step onto the long, deep balcony–a treat–we are inspired by towering trees, bird watching, bright summer skies; the lack of fire/police/ambulance sirens and not-infrequent night-time gunshots and late night revelers weaving home from bars around the corner. Our old area was pretty well heeled, but it was deep within big city stuff. Which we were comfortable with, overall. And which, strangely, we no longer miss much. We can always get fast into the city to attend a concert, visit the huge farmers’ market, stroll amid colorful jumbles of humanity and events.

It, though, sometimes feels as if we are living a charade–even though this matters much less than proximity to family now. No, I do not drive a Tesla or Mercedes; yes, I adore my worn Teva sandals; and we enjoy sandwiches and Italian dishes and chicken/veggie/rice pots with a seltzer water, not rare prime rib or fancy French cuisine (okay, a French bakery for week-end brunch) with fine wine or whatever else is eaten and imbibed here.

As I drive about, I grow more accustomed to circuitous streets, aged woods, cleaner parks, valley and mountain views, lake and rivers. It is a sweet relief on tough days, a sudden happiness on easier ones to enjoy these.

I watch the other women at church, at the library, on the trails or on quiet streets and wonder who I may meet, who I might become friends with here. I don’t care how much money is made, who you know. I care how you act. I smile at all; I often enjoy a smile returned, a hand raised in greeting. I look for graciousness, a friendly sort. I hope at least some are genuine… as well as basically accepting of varieties of persons, genders, statuses, religions, races–or at least courteous, kindly. Do I ask too much? Though I am short on time and energy, anymore, I think of ways to reach out.

It is true that Lakemont is known as a mostly white community; I was looked at askance for moving here by some since we do have an interracial family. And an extended family of eccentrics, creatives, and those challenged in varying ways, most all of whom are generous and can be zany fun. Maybe a few of our friends forgot what matters most now: to be closer to family, with a room enough for all to gather; to be situated within nature’s bounties–walk outside and find peace as an antidote to a multitude of life stressors. We’ve lived in well over a dozen places and a high priority has generally been to stay close to nature. Now, again, we are. So we embrace change even as we learn to adapt.

This afternoon I seriously muse on this feeling of dislocation–is this the right choice made, can this be a true home for us, at least awhile?–that may be closer to resolving as each week passes. We are intent on making it so but I wonder what really lies ahead. For it is not just new housing. It is an emotional and spiritual territory that is different for us. The birth of our daughter’s twins was not an easy event. It still is not but rather a most intricate dance, a breath-taking journey, and a time of consternation, too.

I remain restrained in what I share here but this has been a period of upheaval and worry and of deeper, broader love. A daily laboring toward better but healthier times. Prayers are said every busy day, and in the still deep cup of night, there come tears. Yet pitching in to help a new mother is standard labor no matter what comes. We hold those new ones so close, helping feed and diaper and soothe them, usher them toward better slumber, a gentle security. Tapping reserves as we go, and finding, too, small cheer here and there, moments of victory. Things will get better in time, always it takes time, we tell each other and offer love songs to the grand babies, these heartbreakingly wonderful ones.

Becoming a neophyte mother is a monumental transformation, perhaps more so when a bit older–and so is becoming a new father. Why does modern society insist it is roses and moonbeams and laughter from the start? Or gloss over many variations, including those of endless confounding, exhausting days and nights, plus the hugely unexpected? There is such judgement, so very high expectations, and there even seems a lack of empathy, at times. Birthing into this world is a risky venture for every parent and that each infant undertakes–in this case, two–and for some, more so than others. A risk but additionally opportunity to discover ways to thrive. To become one’s self more profoundly– as the little ones will do, too.

My daughter asks questions I cannot answer well enough. I sit with her, work beside her. And there is a well of silence as she summons courage to sort it all out. Her husband is stalwart, stressed, yet I witness their bravery every day, am overwhelmed with respect as well as love. I feel the ache of things paired with beauty of the twins’ lives, and want to obliterate any harshness that dares to impede the rooting of happiness. They are resourceful adults, are so conscientious, and will prevail. Rather, commitment to parenting will; it is that mammoth push that initiates movement in right directions.

Being a 69 year old mother and a grandmother is no walk in perfect weather, either. It is accepting the storms and waiting for transparent, lush rainbows. It is having faith when faith is pummeled and the bones are hurting, tired. And one wonders if one did the best thing or the worst; if one was a smart young mom or a foolish one way back then, if too misguided, impulsive. We can only have done what we did and let the past be past. I have this one day to carry on with my life tasks and missions, even if insignificant to others. I also stand right beside or protectively before my family; that will never change.

Those of us who have lived longer lives know what that stone lighthouse means as it prevails, shining and defiant, amidst all weather. There is a print of such, right above the bed. I look at it each day, then I pause on my balcony, scan branches for juncos, hummingbirds, chickadees, stellar jays, listen to wind song and squirrels scrabbling. And I do know why I am here: we were blessed to have been led to this haven. In truth, I knew it was critical to move as close as possible to this part of our family. The reality is that these are very hard and beautiful times… and here Marc and I can gather sustenance like blooms of light.

We are never sure of well being in this world–so why do we persist in believing life is so finely wrought, a story brilliant and bursting with wonder? Because it is this, too, whether we can perceive it or not. Because we can make it so if we become open to such, and realize persistence in becoming a more compassionate and courageous human is key. How can we live well without these as guidance? To be brave we have to put one foot in front of the other, not win awards for major heroics. And seek a helping hand as well as offer one. We must not attempt this life alone, not for long.

We arrive here with expansive heart and eternal soul, a calculating mind and so well-outfitted body; we have been given excellent tools. Thus, we carry on, with even thinnest of hope as a tether and perhaps a plethora of fears striving to sink us. We create ways to celebrate what small gifts are found and shared even as we know that, yes, it is true, once again tears will come. I am too well acquainted with grief, as sooner or later all of us are. Yet I will corral potential for better and brighter, within and without. There is no other worthy choice than to reach for and grab hold, then get on with it. Whatever it takes. This has aided me well for nearly seven decades. So often we must simply stand firm when shaken, take a first step when we can. And I count Divine Love as my most constant companion for those endeavors. My truest compass is God.

We each sooner or later make a move for something more or different, to somewhere else. To find out what’s next. We are just travelers in one way or another. May we make the move count. Make it wholehearted. I am taking it all in, creating my story while mending ripped portions and weaving in new pieces with many others’; then, the whole of it is richer. Heartier. May it be, oh God, enough, as I praise this life that yet allows me to live it with opened hands: let me have every, I mean every single moment.

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: As I Say, Perhaps Not As It Was–A Grandmother’s Moments of Truth

We older mothers (born anywhere from 1950–or before!–through 1969, I think) like to trade anecdotes with a knowing look and a smidgen of soft laughter about “those days…” when we had the privilege, often surprise, and also “the female task” of bearing and raising wee ones. We don’t quite recall the sufferings of labor and childbirth, or how cranky/bleak-and-in pain-exhausted/ utterly confused/at times even disturbed by it all we were. The prolonged healing process (“a near-travesty of femaleness if you ask me but has to get done”) fades; a colicky infant’s travails (“he’d never give it up, kept at it day in, day out–bless him”) 3 a.m. to 3 a.m. fade; unquenchable thirst with expanding hunger (“couldn’t keep that baby filled up, yet now–what a strapping man/gal!”); and our desperation for sleep and an hour for privacy, fifteen minutes alone in peace…(“well, it got better and better, didn’t it?”)…it faded as time went by.

We–at age 50 and older–have been there, know it all after one, two, or more kids, now grown, right? And yet we forgot so much, replaced those times with other years’ memories. Why bring up all that hard stuff? It is as old as the hills: women experience this stuff all the time. We learned from our own mothers to not whine. We wanted to act stronger, brighter, braver. And we just did what every new parent does those first days and nights, weeks, months. With a knowing smile and nod at one another, and plenty of swallowed tears.

So honestly, why would our daughters– and sons, for that matter, and their partners– believe our self-pronounced “wise words” easily? We can be so blithe despite greater truth of things. The insecurities we thought we’d triumphed over after years of therapy. The rosy illusions that exit into a black pit of depression when we realized our bodies were no longer our own (especially nursing but bottle feeding is still on demand); and that any free time would came at a cost both emotionally, even literally. That constant worry the burp was too goopy and might even choke the trusting infant in your anxious arms. That soiled diaper held too little or much–and that creeping rash along a nearly-invisible neck. Is it as bad as it looks? And what and why? Why is that crying so black-out loud and indiscernible?

So often, who knew exactly what the mysterious realm of babies was all about? Ole Dr. Spock was dismissed; there were many after him that had a very small reign. No one said: “It is really very hard, but somehow you figure it aout..”

Nothing anyone could have told me would have prepared me well enough when my first child was born at age 23. She was two and a half months early (a time when medical advances were nowhere near the level they are now). Nor was I “ready” when each of the others arrived, a lot less early and stronger but nonetheless as baffling one way or another. My mother was not so nearby for me to often request her presence, my sisters lived across the country, my brothers were…brothers… and also gone. My mother-in-law was boldly opinionated in ways that were generally not too encouraging, and my husband was…a stoic husband of those times, gone so much, capable and caring but less attuned to baby’s and mother’s woes/wants than could be useful. Especially when I got more worried and far less rest. And wrestled with guilt for all I should/could/would have done. What business did I have, having children? But came they did.

I felt on my own most of the time, with a neighborly woman or a couple friends here or there to share experiences (though in college three young families lived near one another–such stories and helps we shared for a time), give a reassuring pat on the back that cooled as soon as they went back to their more accomplished, carefree lives (so I believed). And it was more uncertain, even frightful terrain to explore than I’d admit. I knew how to endure much, I thought, so prayed every other minute for strength, compassion–most of all, practical wisdom. A tall order. Tears came as I sang and hummed to my babies. Rocked and rocked until all was calmed, she/he finally sleepy, my own eyelids closing. And then rocked-or walked–them more.

I was an amateur the first time, only a tad smarter the others. I slowly experienced carefully nurtured devotion, a burgeoning love, and lived by a few instincts and intuitions. Time passed, there came a little bravado, more trial and error. I acted as if, is all; I was good at that sort of thing and determined to do well as a mom even as failure threatened at every other turn. But did not say so if I could help it. The big reveal was that I loved mothering, anyway, no matter what.

But as a grandmother, it becomes a different scenario. Doesn’t it? We feel a step removed at first, our strength arising from knowledge of how to navigate many rocky roads that diverged from any easy understanding, and our hearts got bigger with many joys and triumphs, too. We made it! They do settle down, become more interesting even than anticipated but the remarkable thing is they do grow up: if we can at last be adults with them, it is nothing to make light of–a victory for all… If love has been the stitchery mending rips, pleating new pieces, adding new dimensions for a workable whole, we feel at home. And glad of the piecemeal process.

These are not my first grandchildren, but the sixth and seventh. And yet, I can tell you it is more than a standard three act operetta since these twin grand babies arrived. If nothing else, it means double of every single thing and event…

My youngest daughter is 39 this year and she has just had the twins. She calls on me almost daily, and sometimes beyond. Since we moved out here in the quieter, woodsy suburbs to be close to her and our son-in-law and babies, we are here for her. Late call for more baby formula? Check. Early call for help with a feeding? Check. I/we don’t live with them right now only because there is not enough room to move in–but would, anyway.

It is a truth that even in common ways I wanted my own mother and father to be more present with me, but did not get to enjoy such generous engagement. So I want to do this (as does my husband whose first two babies were raised mostly alone the first 3 or 4 years). Even when I can feel this daughter’s hovering fears and aching and complex subterranean needs. Especially so. When I embrace those two tiny ones close and they grab my shirt, wail with mouths demanding more. It is the season of more and more, mesmerizing, lovely creatures–so designed for their survival–with big needs. When my daughter’s exhaustion clings to her like an unwieldy, thick cape in the sweet spring air. I cannot lift it enough from her; but I can fan a fresh breeze around her feet, her face, her spirit. I can sit with her and work by her side and her husband’s.

I really know so little despite knowing more than I thought I recalled. It is an in between place to be, this grandmother’s watch. I wait to see what’s needed before stepping in and determine when it is better to just step forward. A balance of things, of new ways and old. This is a daughter who has been bold no matter the sweat and strategy things take, and smart, so she makes it her business to learn all she can. She yearns to be present every moment although she and her husband need to sleep an hour, take a break for a few. I want to tell her to “just relax” but know full well how ignorant and unkind that would be… But I cannot take a lead when they are mine only by default, my being one of their grandmothers. But still, they are this much a part of me, of my husband. The generational wheel turns.

The babies count on all each moment since leaving their enclosure of safety. The human way, yes, and more growing happens, changing happens–a stronger sudden leg kick, a dimple showing, a startled stare at the light moving through a window. They are not the same in looks, size or temperament–and all the more intriguing.

I am in a good position to muse over the whole messy wonder, to watch people I care so much for scurry toward vague horizons, to ponder: what on earth? how did they become such ones! To pray: help us with these matters of concern…Because twin girls may have in common many attributes and issues with all other infants, but they are not single babies. They are not the same and yet they are connected as roots of trees are connected, i think–by nervous systems messages, by instinct and familiarity. They sleep nestled that close, two snuggled beings of a greater whole. They are silent when touching forehead to forehead: here I am.

They are , it is true, not my preemie baby girls (and boy). They are not mine, period, but only by that blood riverlet connection. Every day I feel it run deeper; I do not know start or finish of it, it runs and runs and within it we live day to day as a larger story emerges, and will be remade again.

I do not blithely offer my new neighbor, “Oh, it is all fantastic but just tiring, they eat every two hours, both of them, they sure can cry–you know, it is a challenge…but we made it, didn’t we?” It is more complicated; we all know it. I have not forgotten the hard days and nights of young motherhood. There is less laughter than nostalgia manufactures, more bleary-eyed with hapless awe mixed with mad worries than may be admitted. And then when it seems too much: more bloomings of love. And forbearance.

When my daughter said through dark, dull eyes one morning: “Nothing you can say can make me feel any different right now,” she was right. But oh… I so badly wished I could.

This woman who was my child is a grown up finding her way. She has weekly support groups I never had. She has resources, information galore, enough to make my head spin. Plus a husband with time off work to wholeheartedly help carry the load. So we gingerly embrace this new arrangement, my daughter, her daughters (and their father), and me.

What I say is so much less valuable than what I do or do not do at this time. I take my steps and words slow. I find my place in the mix of it until called forward. I simply do not know it all.

Still, we take turns lifting the babies to the green light of May, encircle them in our arms as we feed them, side by side (or I feed two at once as the parents rest). And there is dancing time as I sway and tap one sleepy, fussy one while she burps and rocks another and sings in her warm, sweet voice. Unbearably tender, their fast beating hearts against ours. I will yet embrace my own dear one–with respect and a watchful eye–as she does her new dear ones. This is how families grow, each turn of a current revealing a blessing that carries us forward. I admit: there are things yet to learn as my daughter tackles her changed life, with two fine, lively spirits to adore.

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: No Changes, No Gains

I was a different person several hours yesterday. I’m not referring to the fact that, one day to the next we are, of course, not utterly the same inside-out. No, I felt like someone I didn’t well recognize, pacing the perimeters of our new home, flitting one thing to another. Or maybe I recognized myself in an oblique way but I didn’t like that version much.

The view beyond a  huge window held my attention well–a new bird feeder draws chickadees so far, a random squirrel is foiled, and the hummingbird feeder beckons hummers. The gathering greenness is captivating. Then again the multitudinous odd tasks kept me moving. Only I’d start one, then  another and then another and retrace my steps as if I had ADHD, which I do not. Up and down the stairs, in and out of rooms, cleaning, ordering, moving things about, throwing in a load of laundry, sitting to read a few minutes. My mind and body buzzed. Well, perhaps the chai tea, then a couple hours later a cold brew coffee…?

But it was more than that. I felt aggrieved and penned in by our new address. The place seemed to have shrunk overnight. Ceilings too high, paint hues subdued to a sleepy monotone, rooms facing wrong directions, a kitchen with sleek black counter tops–who thought of that? Every day as I descend stairs to the living area all is resonant with shadow and silence, waiting for me patiently though I barely know these forms or sounds, the habitat’s nature nor the day’s intent. Yes, loveliness everywhere, too. So what will this move bring–and what can I bring to it?

But at that moment rational thought was not trumping nerves on edge. Why is it hard to change familiar environments? Really, to change at all? Nothing is static in nature or life, not for long. We are as fluid as we allow ourselves to be. Still my innards were jumpy enough that I needed to calm this sudden scuffle with reality, being uprooted and replanted. A couple of days ago I was content and delighted; to be so at odds with my life was unexpected and unwanted.

Let me recap Tuesday afternoon blow by blow…

******

I want to run despite having a sore little toe from so much steep hiking about. Something to alter physiological responses to sudden awareness of change. So I throw on my jacket (after not finding my keys so grab the spare set). Do we need food? Should I cruise by the post office with a couple of bills? And what about the new library–shouldn’t I have seen it by now? All three are on my mind as I set out by car and follow  my nose. I know the main road down into town. And I try to go somewhere new several times a week to figure out the lay of the land out here, so far from the maze of the rambunctious city I have known and loved so well. And recently up and left.

The curve of roads, rollicking hills, blur of trees. My head does not clear. Traffic is heating up a bit–we are in a smallish-woodsy-suburban place, yes, but still a city.  I had left the house during mid-day. Which lane to get in? Oh, construction up ahead. Now what as the road splits off? No one drives slowly here, to my surprise. Steady hands, breathe slower, look at the signs: no anxiety necessary. I rarely get lost and even if…there is the GPS if I choose to use it (usually would rather not). I have been on these streets before; I have a good natural compass; I will find my way. All about are buildings I am only cursorily familiar with, landscaping foreign and lush. It is this visual information I seek to gather and memorize and yet I am still distracted as I drive.

I breeze into and out of the post office driveway and pop bills into the mailbox–surprises me. But it does not soothe me.

Once in the new grocery, I pick my way through produce to breads to freezer section, getting each thing on my short list. I bypass the cold brew coffee. The store is a small maze I learn to navigate. Once done, I get in line. People often dress a bit differently. The woman ahead of me is close to my age but very tan, fitter than fair in early April, very blond. I suspect she flew in from the Caribbean last week. I glance about for a crunchy-granola nature-loving boomer and spot a few and relax smile. But when I check out I think this is a different grocery and look for my rewards card. Oh, not there, am here. I ask for cash and stuff the receipt and small bills, smile and share pleasantries–the cashier was lovely– and load up the car trunk. I am still abuzz with uncertainty and, well, stress.

Next: gas up the car. A relief to find my favorite brand across from the grocery. I slide in,  pull the gas cap lever–only it is the trunk release. The congenial guy who gasses up the car closes it for me and I get the right lever second time. I smile graciously but feel twitchy again, as if my teeth are clenching–are they?–and my tricky neck has a tough knot. I turn the key enough to listen to the jazz station, working at the tight muscle of my shoulder. Study the conifers’ treetops, how the wind moves through the branches and the blue sky pulses with sunshine and feel better. The man says “Ma’am?” and seems to have been holding my receipt out to me a few seconds. I take it, thank him with cheery courtesy, move out the exit, pull up to the stoplight. And hope fervently I don’t turn too soon or late on the yellow light. Streets don’t follow much of a city-type grid here even at intersections, but curve into each other–have to keep eyes peeled. Anticipate.

I roll down two windows completely and let newness of April sweep through, muss my hair. I may not have a convertible but it feels close enough. In a mile I turn onto a road leading to the quaint downtown. The library is not far from corners with buildings I recognize. There’s a neat sign with arrow: LIBRARY. A wave of relief arrives as I breathe in fragrant air and head to the last stop. It is if I have made it to absolute safety. Books: I know this sort of place so intimately, nothing can ruin the day now.

The late afternoon brings me back to myself and yet I feel invisible while roaming the stacks, checking out the wood-and-glass contemporary building, the placement of materials. Everyone here has a romance going with books and learning new things, like me. I speak to a couple of librarians. (“Why are all fiction subgenres shelved together?” “Well, it’s an experiment; so far, pretty good outcome.” “Hmm.” We will see how I like it, why not?)

I check out two mysteries, a literary novel and two documentary DVDs for four weeks. It doesn’t matter if I get to them all. It is the orderly ease of a library, the smell of books snugged up against one another, and information and intrigue at one’s fingertips. There is a symmetry to this physical,intellectual and emotional space and I get to be in it. The live wire of my jarred neurology is grounded once more; so am I. Tension and worry are vanishing.

Getting home is nothing at all. I know the way. If I didn’t, I would find one. I can adapt. I can fit the need with solutions or ask the right questions of someone who has them. The human brain is resilient, even when pushed to the limit, even when worn out and befuddled and spooked and lost. Much if not most of the time, there is some action to take that can result in a positive reaction, even a solid fulfillment of the goal.

Last week I was winding along a labyrinth of trails by our home when a companion asked how I seemed easily to find my way without any map. I was surprised. Besides having an apparently fine sense of direction, there is faith in my ability to figure out puzzles. I have pretty decent visual memory. I also utilize intuitive cues. If there is doubt, it is another problem to address and another choice can be made. I pay attention to info gleaned and I want to stay safe–but one never gets anywhere if afraid of internal or external unknowns.

There is many a tunnel that takes a walker through woods and under roadways, and where it leads I do not know until I find myself in a  new spot. The paths always surprise me as I go with the twists and turns. It’s part of the excitement, not being clear where I am heading. If  didn’t enter that tunnel, I wouldn’t get to discover the surprise. If I didn’t turn that direction, I’d miss out on a rocky creek, a flower, a unique house that peeks out from dense bushes and trees, that woodpecker so high up. The birds seem to follow; rather, I try to follow them. Every now and then I see someone coming who lifts a hand in greeting, who nods and smiles or rushes by with a lumbering dog that half-drags them up the next hill. I don’t lollygag as it is exercise, neither do I keep my eyes to ground. I want to experience it all.

So when we decided a move was necessary, I was scared but undeterred. (I’m not generally a covers over the head person when there’s a bump in the night or a bad dream; I get up, turn on a light or get a big stick if instinct dictates.) So I knew that if I kept my eye on the end goal while doing the work required, and looked for support from God, friends and family, I would find a right relocation for the current needs. Body, mind and heart would direct me as I commandeered helpers and agenda. Besides, change is to the brain and spirit as synovial fluid is to joints: we have to get going, keep moving to stave off the discomfort resultant of disuse. And that goes for adaptation skills, old and new. I would rather take a chance than do nothing, try out something new than be stuck with the same old thing. Yes, I was anxious yesterday and that library stop was the ticket to full relief–but that was yesterday and today is today; things work out in one fashion or another. And how fun to explore a new library with different titles showcased and unique ways of doing things. Despite challenges of change, it creates differences that enrich and expand and, thus, keep life vibrant.

Last week-end we headed up to the peak of the extinct volcano we live on (there are many in the area). Nansen Summit, at 975 feet (we live at about 800 feet) tops Mount Sylvania, an ancient volcano on the Boring Lava Field. It was mentioned to me when we moved in so Marc and I took off in search of it. As we climbed and climbed, the early spring sun soon heated us to a fine sweat as leg muscles and hearts whinged a bit. It is a rapid, steep ascent as so many paths are. We didn’t know the extent of what awaited but we finally emerged from woods into white-bright sunshine.

First, there are mega houses way up there. But otherwise, what a good pay off: 360 degree views of the Tualatin River Valley, Mt. Hood (though it was mostly hiding in clouds as it often does) and foothills (West Hills) of the Coast Range. You will note the weather station and radio telemetry antenna as well.  We enjoyed hanging out on a couple of benches provided for rest and meditation, then had a much easier descent.

Truth is, we are already starting to love it here.