Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A birthday tribute to my dad

Above is the MacBain Clan Crest, with the words "Touch not the cat but a targe (glove--be wary when dealing with MacBains) and the clan crest and a bit of the everyday plaid.
My mother hooked the wall hanging; my oldest son and daughter-in-law put together the plaid-and-grey quilt with the crest in the center.
Today is my dad's birthday. Richard Norman MacBain was born in 1897 in Ontario, the son of a minister in the church of England. He served in the British Army in WWI and then came to the States to study osteopathic medicine. Eventually he became president of his osteopathic college, administrator of the associated hospital and, during my early years, maintained a part-time private practice. He shaped me, and I took away many things from him.
He was a Scot and proud of it, rarely mentioning that his mom was Irish. I too am a proud Scot, a member of Clan MacBain. Dad became interested in genealogy late in life, even visited the MacBain Memorial Garden outside Inverness. I've been there too and nearly wept at the Culloden Battlefield. Someday I'd love to write a novel incorporating Scottish history.
Dad's Anglophile tendencies led him to be proper and dignified, and he used to say you always used  your best manners on your family. He was a stickler about table manners, and my brother and I have inherited that and put it into effect with our children and now the grandchildren. No elbows on the table, use the right utensil, don't butter your bread in the air (that one used to get me). But I truly appreciate good manners and a certain grace about dining, though I'm mostly given to casual entertaining. I didn't come away with his Anglophile food tastes--meat and potatoes (we ate a lot of lamb as I grew up and I loved it). Mom loved fish and seafood and when they visited Boston she'd drag him to seafood restaurant and then hide her face when he ordered roast beef.
I also got a strong work ethic from my father. He worked hard, believed in treating all people fairly and doing the best honest job he could. I went to work in his office at fourteen and by the time I moved away at twenty-one, I was his executive secretary (not a pc term today). I'd still make a damn good executive secretary. Before anyone thinks cushy job working for your father, you'd have to know Dad. He was harder on me than any other employee (except maybe my brother who briefly worked in maintenance), and he's the reason that I am today, in retirement, compulsively at work on lots of projects.
I can remember in the evenings that Mom and Dad sat in their chairs by the fireplace and read, each with a book, but they kept interrupting each other to read an irresistible passage aloud. They took turns reading the works of Will and Ariel Durant aloud. No wonder I have a houseful of books.
Like my dad, I am most comfortable if church is a regular part of my life--there have been periods I let it slip away, and I was sorry. Dad and I used to sing hymns, loudly and off key, and I love the hymns, the ritual of the Methodist or Christian church. On Sunday evenings, Dad would play the piano, and we'd sing together--sometimes Scottish songs, though his specialty was "Redwing" and I still hear that melody going through my head.
There are things I didn't take from Dad, one being his love of gardening. It was his avocation, and he spent weekends on his knees, in disreputable clothes, digging in the dirt. We owned the lot next to our house, and it was Dad's garden, beautiful to behold. Then in the summer evenings, he and Mom would sit out there and have a drink. Today I like a lovely garden, but I don't like doing the work...and these days my aging back won't let me.
There are of course facets to me that come from my mom and some that sprang up to surprise them and me. But so much of me is my dad come to life again--I even look like a MacBain. So, thanks, Dad,and Happy Birthday.

Monday, January 28, 2013

A clean slate...almost

It was a hectic weekend, even if I eventually didn't go to the rodeo or the stock show grounds. I still had a houseful with four extra adults and five extra children--which meant Jacob slept in my bed three nights out of four. By the last night I kind of got used to it and slept well, until he turned into a small-size octupus about five in the morning. Kids are by nature noisy, especially when you put five together, so there was never a dull moment. And then there were three dogs. Sophie got in their faces, wanting to play; Gracie, the big dog, growled and carried on though, out walking, she played with other dogs. Eddie, at ten lbs., sometimes was okay with Sophie and sometimes attacked--which was kind of funny since she weighs two and a half times what he does. She seemed unfazed by the rebuffs to her playful advances, but I was constantly shuffling dogs and locking doors so neither children nor dogs would go out unsupervised.
We had a good family breakfast Sunday--a sausage and cheese casserole (see Potluck with Judy, http://potluckwithjudy.blogspot.com), plus a potato casserole Christian had left from a breakfast meeting, and fresh biscuits. It was a chance to all sit around and visit, which we couldnt do the night before in a noisy restauraant. Soon after everyone began to pack up and by noon the house was peaceful and quiet.
Not sure what it is about suddenly having time, but it made me industrious. I did laundry and dishes, and then I dug into my tax organizer, wrote my thousand words, posted on Potluck with Judy,and found time to read. Did the same thing today, with time out for a pleasant lunch with a friend. We exchange a flowers of the month program for Christmas and then have a monthly lunch before getting our flowers. So I enjoyed tuna fish in an old church building and tonight I have lovely cut flowers on my dining table. I am on the home stretch of getting my taxes together, have 34,500 words on my novel, sent corrections off on my newsletter, and am about to go over once more my notes for the program I'm to do tomorrow at a local retirement community.
This afternoon, it was back to first-grade homework with a reluctant scholar who claimed he was too tired because of "the allergies." We whizzed through math but muddled through his reading--I made him read it three times, because he still stumbled over words. Then we did the spelling, and he had a hard time recognizing the words, which led me to say if you can't pronounce them, you won't recognize them when the teacher reads them and  you won't spell them correctly. Somehow at the end of the week, he aces the spelling test, but I always despair on the first day of a new list. We didn't even touch what he had to write about the book he read. After he left, I did a nice, relaxing yoga routine--don't know if it's tree or dancer or what, but I sure can't do the one where you stand on one foot and put the other foot on your opposite knee. Good thing I keep a chair there to hang on to.
The other day my neighbor said to me, "You don't have anything you have to do." I countered with the fact that I have a desk piled high with work to be done, and he said, "Those are things you choose to do." He's right, but I am so glad I choose to write, to blog, to read, to give the occasional program though it makes me nervous, to lunch and dine with friends. I even choose to do yoga, because I feel some sense of accomplishment at some of the poses I can do and I'm afraid of the consequences of inactivity. (I don't think tax organizers are a choice.) And I also choose to get Jacob every afternoon and do homework with him. I have chosen to build myself an entirely new life and career after retirement, and I couldn't be happier.
Do I miss the zoo and confusion of the weekend? Of course, but I'll see them all again soon.
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Saturday, January 26, 2013

It's all about the children

Grandkids on my bed and spellbound by Uncle Jamie's magic.
 The Fort Worth Stock Show is a grand occasion for my grandchildren, now a family tradition. They laughed and repeated stories last night about the bull riding, the monkey that rode a dog, and other wonders of the rodeo. Today was Stock Show day—wander the barns, the exhibits, and the Midway. I think I may have just taken one more step down the path to being elderly, but I had an epiphany in the middle of the night: I didn’t want to go; I wanted to stay home, in the quiet, get some work done, have a nap, and enjoy those two darling little dogs. There were immediate questions: Are you feeling alright? Yes, thank you, I’m feeling fine, but I’ve noticed of late that my idea of what I want to do has changed, and my main memories of the last two years “doing” the stock show are very sore feet and being parked various places to read while the kids went off to games and so on. I can read at home and my feet won’t hurt. And I suspect they’ll all have more fun without worrying if the “old lady” in the bunch is okay and having a good time.
They came home, again full of tales, in time for happy hour, for which Jordan joined us briefly, and then we were off to dinner at Joe T.’s (Texans know the huge, sprawling restaurant with its set menu, either, “the dinner” or fajitas, is the classic place to go). Some say you go for the atmosphere, because the food isn’t all that great. It’s certainly not the best Mexican haute cuisine but I’ve always liked it—had my first-ever taste of Mexican food there almost fifty years ago.
Tonight, all I could do was look around and enjoy that my family was around me. The crowds waiting in line were incredible, and inside it’s way too noisy. I couldn’t hear what anyone said. I tried reading lips, especially Megan’s because she is really expressive with her mouth and I’m reading a mystery about a deaf detective who reads lips—didn’t work for me but I guess I need practice. Yes, the food was good but I ate much less than usual (yay for me!) until we ordered sopapillas and then I almost ate the whole thing. So sticky, so sweet, all the things I don’t ordinarily want—but I loved them.
Generational change. I always used to be the first to go to bed. Now at ten, everyone’s asleep except Jacob and me (he won’t go to bed until I do). Jacob’s cousins were most jealous—“How late does he get to stay up?” I promised to go to bed soon, so off I go.
Tomorrow, a big family breakfast with a casserole and biscuits for the adults, waffles for the children if they want them. And then they’ll all be off in various directions, and Sophie and I will be left to our routine. I will be sad and lonely, but omigosh! Do I have a busy week ahead!

Friday, January 25, 2013


My house is quiet right now, althugh a certain dog tension lingers in the air. I have as guests four extra adults, four extra children (plus Jacob), and two extra dogs. My house is honestly not that big. The dogs are the big problem: Megan's dog, mostly mini poo, is docile, loving and goes with the flow. Sophie is out of her mind with excitement over people and dogs, wants to play with everyone and jump all over them (Megan made the mistake of sitting on the floor and was floored by Sophie jumping on her--I explained that if you're on the floor, you're fair game). Colin's new dog, Gracie (Sofia Grace when she's in trouble) is the big problem. A large German shepherd mix that had a litter when she was put in the shelter, growled, snapped and acted like she wanted to eat Sophie alive; pretty soon she decided Eddie was just as bad. So now, oh peace, she is crated, Sophie is fed and outside, and Eddie is wandering around.
Everyone has gone to the rodeo, and I pray it's a long one, so I can do some of the stuff I had in mind to do tonight, like write my thousand words and make a meatloaf to stick in the freezer. When they are here, much as I love them, they all talk at once, and I have to either yell over them to announce I have something to say or corner the one I need to talk to. But we had a few pleasant, fairly quiet moments in front of the fireplace.
I had all kinds of sandwich makings so they could snack--they ate chips and salsa, and a little bit of cheese ball. Only Colin ate a sandwich, so I foresee a lot of lunch meat in my future. The two grown girls, after dressing their children warmly, left for the rodeo  in clothes that were more cowgirl glitzy than warm--and it's cold tonight.
In spite of all that, I am of course delighted to have them home, sorry my youngest son and his family will only be here for the day tomorrow, heartbroken for Jordan who is still in bed with the flu and now feeling well enough to be bored out of her gourd. They are all lovely adults, as glad to see me as I am to see them, and the chldren are a delight. My oldest grandson is the one who greets me with big kisses, but he's also the one who cannot keep his hands off things--the pens on my desk would make great projectiles (I didn't ask what he intended to project), the paper clips fascinate him, an empty decorative jar has to be opened and closed several times. When I explained that my desk is strictly off limits, he said, "But there are so many interesting things with so many possibilities." I'm used to Jacob who sees a pen as something that requires a blank piece of paper (usually a discarded piece with typing on the other side). Tomorrow my two oldest granddaughters will arrive but for now Morgan is the only girl--she does a credible job of holding her own. They all want to be in and out of doors, and no amount of warning them Sophie will bolt does any good so now I look the doors and hide the keys. Sort of like a fortress.
No doubt, Jacob will want to spend the night with his cousins, and no doubt, since we're short on sleeping space, he'll end up in my bed. But I'll do that just to have as much of my family as possible under my roof. It's a delightful feeling to know when I go to sleep my children and grandchildren are nearby.
I confess in a weak moment I called Jordan and offered to trade her sickbed for my place, but I didn't really mean it. And she knew it. She's really tired of watching old movies.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Where did this fear come from?

For at lest three years, Jacob, now six and a half, has been sleeping in the family room at my house, two rooms away from my bedrom. Never been a problem. Oh, once he mentioned that he has nightmares back there, and I asked why he didn't come get me. He was vague, and I suspect he fell back asleep before he could get up and walk to my room. I long ago stopped using the monitor, though I admit my hearing is not good and without hearing aids and he'll have to yell to get my attention (he does that successfully when he wants food or drink or the TV is broken).
But last night, night-time fear became a big problem. He said he was afraid and he thought he should sleep with me. I decided to humor him this one time and told him to go get in my bed, but no, he wanted to wait for me to go to bed. My explanation that I would be up over two hours past his school-night bedtime fell on deaf ears. He wanted to sleep on the comfy chair in my office--I said no because he'd be staring right at me and at the light; then he chose the floor, but I had to nix that because all he did was play with the dog; then it was the living room couch--but what he really did was to peek out the glass front door and announce that a man walked by and two cars drove by slowly. I assured him we were safe, but he asked what if they were bad guys with guns. It doesn't occur to him that bad guys with guns are unlikely to be interested in us.
He did have one clever ploy: "I just wanted to be with you, because I love you, but if that's not what you want, that's fine with me!" He stalked off but returned in two minutes.
Long story short, I went to bed early, slept fitfully, although he was better than he sometimes is--I don't really recall getting punched, and I only had to shove him over twice. But as a way of life, it won't do.
It's not unusual for children up to six to develop uncontrollable fears, but he's at the age where they usually outgrow them. I suspect someone, perhaps at school, has been filling him with scary stories. Almost all his cousins will be sleeping at my house this weekend, and I know he'll want to be here. Praise be, his mom offered a blow-up mattress for him. Wonderful idea. He will not, of course, want his cousins, ranging from eight to five, to know that he's afraid. We'll see how it works out.
But the deeper problem remains--how do we gently urge him over these fears without making him feel silly.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

"Tis the season--for the flu

Unfortunately it's flu season, and it's hit my family in spite of the flu shot. Jacob got the nasal mist--and then the flu, but he wasn't very sick. With a 103 temp, he felt fine and I had to say, "No, you can't go outside and play." Then daughter-in-law Lisa in Houston got it--a gift, she said, from one of her seventh graders. She was sick when I arrived for Christmas but still she had a mild case. Now Jordan has it, and she says even her teeth hurt. Poor thing. I wish I could do more for her. What I am doing is keeping Jacob overnight, since his dad has a big and early meeting in the morning.
When Jacob came home from his other gandparents on Monday, he hadn't seen his parents since Thursday morning. Yesterday, he told me he was going to be sick today because he hadn't gotten to cuddle with his mom the night before or that morning like he usually did. "I just can't wait any longer!" he exclaimed. She seemed better yesterday, and he got some cuddling, but then she fell apart during the night and spiked a 103 fever. He seems okay about staying here tonight, and I have promised him Betty and I would take him for spaghetti.
The timing is bad. The whole family arrives Friday for our annual rodeo weekend, and one contingent was to stay with Jordan. Still wondering what to do about that. We may have to put air mattresses and pallets all over my house. Elizabeth has settled herself in the guest house, with her furniture (she put mine in storage), so I don't think it's fair at this point to boot her out for the weekend. We'll work it out--we always do--and I'll do a massive grocery shopping tomorrow. But it seems life is always complicated.
Of course, I'd like to run hug and cuddle and comfort my child, but she's the one who reminded me I'm in the at-risk age group (gosh, that makes me feel good!). I might have serious complications from the flu. So even though I've had the shot, I keep my distance. But it's hard not to comfort  your child, even if she is grown.
Doesn't seem fair that those who have gotten the protection have gotten sick...and Christian, who hasn't gotten the shot, hasn't. He says he's going to but it may be like closing the barn door too late.
I'll be glad when spring comes.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Fiction can give you perspective on your own life

Last night I started reading InSight by Polly Iyer, and it kept me up way too late. Polly throws together a blind counselor and a deaf police officer. Abby Gallant, blinded by a vicious ex-husband, is a psychologist supposed to help Luke McAllister deal with issues over sudden, duty-related total loss of hearing. But the professional relationship is compromised when they develop an almost instant mutual attraction, and Abby refers Luke to another counselor. Meanwhile, it appears someone is stalking Abby.

Polly has done a terrific job capturing the world of the handicapped (Abby resents such pc terms as “hearing impaired” or visually challenged,” saying “I’m blind; you’re deaf.”) But we feel Luke struggle as he reads lips and Abby worry about whether or not she’s facing directly at him so he can read what she’s saying. Her house is arranged so that she knows her way around it, as she knows the way from her taxi to her office and to the restroom. We even watch her feeling for utensils and her food at the table—I’ve eaten often enough with a blind friend to know Polly got it just right. Helen Keller is supposed to have said once that of the two senses, the loss of hearing would be worse because it cuts you off from communication, music, all that ties us together as humans. As someone whose hearing is going, I understand and sympathize with that, but I think a world of blackness would terrify me.

No spoiler to stay that in an early scene Abby is tempted out of her well-known paths to the back of her large yard to rescue her whining seeing-eye dog. She makes her way over rough grass, finally holding onto the wooden fence until the reaches the dog that has been injured. Then the stalker appears—she can hear him approaching. There’s a scene of true stark terror when the villain chokes Abby before finally releasing her. She’s left in the dark, far from all that she uses to guide her, with an injured dog. I could feel her panic.

Thinking about the obstacles faced by these two fictional characters—who seem so real to me—I got to thinking about my anxiety problems. Lately I’ve felt my old friend anxiety hanging around—a knot in the center of my chest one night, an uneasy feeling yesterday morning (I think I was worried about President Obama’s safety)—sort of there but not really, nothing disastrous.  And it all fell into perspective. I can see and, with hearing aids, I can hear. I am blessed, and I can deal with a bit of anxiety. Hey, it’s all in my head anyway, isn’t it?

If you haven’t read Polly Iyer’s books, explore them. They’re worth it.

Monday, January 21, 2013

A big day an a lot of ways

A part of me will be relieved when today is over. Don't get me wrong--I've got the TV on, and I'm fascinated by the pomp and circumstance. Yes, the networks try to fill time for all those long stretches whle the President is out of sight--in church, at the congressional coffee, etc. Still, it's history, and I find it fascinating. But this morning on the TODAY show I heard a fleeting mention of the President's safety. Matt Lauer, talking about security, said something to the effect that if anything is going to happen, you'd think it would happen today. Add that to a friend's comment last night that a friend of hers thinks someone will shoot the President--though not necessarily today. It's a dark thought I've heard off and on ever since Barack Obama was elected--and I hope to God that it's wrong. So I'll be relieved when the day is over--maybe he will be too. Jordan tells me tonight that she is pretty sure both the Obamas had bullet-proof vests on because they looked bulky when they walked down Pennsylvania Aveneue--but wasn't it gand to see them walking, holding hands!
The ceremony itself was spectacle and wonder, from the President's brief speech to James Taylor, Kelly Clarkson and James Taylor. Mark Shields of PBS described the President tonight as a "happy warrior"--it fits.
Jacob comes home from his grandparents' today, though I won't see him until tomorrow. I've missed him, though most people say, "What a nice break for you." Only the grandmother of one of his close buddies understood when I said, "I'm having withdrawal symptoms." But I have gotten a lot done during these four-and-a-half days. I've steadily added a thousand words a day to my work in progress. I started that on January 2 with a blank first page, and now I have 25,500 words--so I'm a bit ahead of the game. I have a cushion for the days I don't accomplish it. I've been writing those passages in the evening, devoting the daytime hours to chores and, principally, editing a manuscript for my publisher.
This morning in a moment of personal triumph I sent the edited work back to the author. The editing part is fun for me--I like catching the odd phrase, small inconsistency, shaping a manuscript to be what the best it can. On the other hand, formatting and using track changes are enough to drive me screaming from the computer. I saved the work, properly formatted, last night; this morning it had reformatted itself. And track changes puts blue lines, indicative of a change needed, where there is absolutely no change. I finally sent it off with instructions to ignore those problems and simply accept or decline suggested changes and deal with comments.
Yesterday I was particularly efficient--which always gets me into trouble. Kathie was coming for dinner, and I looked forward to giving her the prayer shawl from the ladies of my church and to sharing memories of Rick and tears with her. So I got lots of kitchen things done in the morning  and about ten went happily to my computer, only to realize I'd left the roasting vegetables in the really hot oven way too long. Charred brussel sprouts, beets, and carrots anyone? Now my garbage smells of brussel sprouts, and I have some sympathy for Christian who can't abide the smell of brussel sprouts, broccoli or cabbage cooking. But the evening was good and today it's a warm memory that I treasure.
All in all, a grand day, one to be proud to be an American and proud of our President. But I think I'll be glad to get back to routine days.

Friday, January 18, 2013

RIP and the military way

A good friend left us early last week. For a bit, when someone asked about the memorial service I was going to today I said, "The husband of a friend of mine." But I realized that was so wrong--Rick Allen was a friend of mine too, someone I liked a lot and cared deeply about. In the twenty years since he's been with Kathie, I've come to know and treasure this gentle man who always had a hug and a warm smile. He was, in the true sense of the word, a gentleman. There was lots I didn't know about him and learned from his obituary--beyond military service, a meeting with Henry Kissinger at the White House because he was an expert on Laotian troop movements, an expert also at poker though I doubt he and Kissinger got into that. Oh, I knew about the fishing and the baseball, integral parts of his life in the years I knew him. He visited all the standing old classic baseball fields, and he caught award-winning Northern Pike in Canada. For a farm boy from Iowa, as he always described himself, he'd come a long way and seen and done a lot of things. They had a Power Point display of pictures at the reception, and one picture of him and Kathie on camels made me wondere who would have expected an Iowa farm boy to have all these experiences. I remember one time recently when I was leading a discussion of memoir at the local Alzheimer's center, and Rick said, "I can smell the barnyard to this day." He never lost track of his Iowa farm-boy roots. I'm sure in Rick's past there are things I am glad I didn't know, but I loved the man I knew in recent years.
The ceremony today was at the National Military Cemetery in Grand Prairie, only the second time I've been there--and too soon upon the heels of the first. Kathie lost her father last May and the service for him was my first introduction to almost  anything military . Kathie grew up with it; it's foreign to me. The rigid ceremony of folding the flag given to the widow is impressive beyond belief, as is the firearms salute and the playing of taps--which always makes me cry becuse it always made my mom cry. The setting is impressive, and the cemetery beautiful, if you can call rows and rows of headstones beautiful. But it's Texas rolling prairie, dotted with trees, and the services are held in tasteful stone lodges. The cemetery runs so many of these ceremonies a day that there are tight time schedules--if you're late, forget it--and the service is brief. But visitors look at a tree-covered hill as they hear the gun salute and taps. Today a minister gave a brief but moving eulogy, and I'd like to hug her and say, "Well done, my friend." She offered comforting words from the Bible, and she suggested, even more important, that we should all bear Rick's legacy of being kind to people, expecting the best of them, waiting for tomorrow to bring out something better. I had to wipe tears from my eyes more than once.
The reception was at the local AA facility, something Rick had been deeply involved in. He was 35 proud years sober, and it was a perfect place for the reception. There were of course many more people that I didn't know than the few good friends I saw, and I soon tired of standing--though I loved the Power Point program a close mutual friend had put together. Still, I was glad to come home, have a glass of wine, and take a deep nap.
RIP Richard Charles Allen. You truly were one of the good guys, and I will miss you. But I will do what I can to look after your Kathie.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Walking on eggshells

This morning I would no more have wanted to walk Jacob across the street to school than I would have wanted to fly. We had thunder snow during the night--a bolt of lightning woke me just as my furnace kicked on, and in my daze I thought, "The furnace has exploded." But the flash of light was soon followed by thunder. When I got up and looked out, the ground was white, though the streets and sidealks were merely wet. Still it looked like there were patches of ice here and there. Because I'm a worrier and because I'm terrified of falling, I began to worry about getting Jacob at three. Of course, by then, the streets were dry and it was fine--though darned cold.
It was a perfect day to be a recluse, and I stayed in all day. Did my yoga and got a lot down on the manuscript I'm editing. Had a pimiento cheese sandwich for lunch--yum!--and a good nap, and then it was time to get Jacob. We did all his homework--math exercise, reading, essay in response to the book, a pre-test for spelling, and alphabetized his spelling words. Bless him, he'd look at me occasionally and say, "Are we having a good day so far?" I assured him we were. (We didn't have a good day yesterday because he wouldn't focus, and I grew impatient--we both vowed today to change our ways!)
Tonight it was tempting to stay inside with the fire in the fireplace, but I also liked the idea of company, so I went to meet neighbors at the Grill and have my meatloaf fix. Cold coming home, and I dreaded the walk down the dark driveway--motion sensitive lights but there's a gap and a time limit. And I did what I know better than to do--I faltered, and once my confident stride was broken, I was a mess. I ended up taking the funniest route to the house you can imagine--holding on to the fence, then hobbling across the drive to a tree and then the side of the house until the lights kicked in.
I know that about walking and anxiety. If I lose my confidence, if I break my stride, anxiety kicks in, and I feel that I cannot take another step. But if I keep walking confidently, I'm fine. I'm glad no one saw me scramble tonight, and yet I've learned to tell myself that I did okay. I made it into the house. Elizabeth did not find me lying in the driveway when she came home.
Almost everyone feels anxiety, but for some of us it can have disabling effects. Mine takes the form of this fear of walking and falling. Those who don't know say "It's all in your head." Yes, it is, but it's very real, and the numbers of people in this country who suffer from anxiety to a disabling degree would astonish many.
Most days I do just fine. I've learned to deal with it. But it does come creeping up to bite me, and tonight was one of those times. I'll just have to keep walking down that dark driveway, with confidence--and a walking stick. If that's the worst of my burdens, I am blessed indeed.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Creative Writing on a cold day

Bone-chilling is the only way to describe today's cold in Fort Worth. Now at eight in the evening, I'm wearing  a T-shirt and sweater and am still wrapped in a warm shawl, wishing I had another shawl for my knees. The fire in the fireplace just doesn't seem to reach into my office. Supposed to be this way most of the week. Sophie has decided her mission in life is to jump and finally hurl herself at me in an attempt to get my attention. Her vocal range is absurd, barks, growls, yelps, yowls; my vocal range is pretty limited to one harsh word, "No!"
Today I spoke to the Creative Writing club at the Woman's Club. I was told to expect twelve women, but I think there were at least sixteen, and we sat around a long table which made for a nice, informal gathering. I decided to encourage them to write a mystery--choose their heroine, setting, etc. Didn't work. One or two were obviously experienced writers--one knew so much about publishing on Amazon that I should have let her lead the session. But most just looked at me when I prodded them to think of heroines and the like, but they took copious notes so they must have felt they were learning something. I'll try that format again when I speak at a retirement community later this month. I sold two books and when I got home couldn't remember what I'd done with the money and check--but I found them.
Betty went with me to the program--because I don't like the Woman's Club parking lot--and we had lunch beforehand at Z's Cafe--meatballs (more like meat cakes) with mushroom gravy, potatoes au gratin and steamed vegetables. We split an order, and it was plenty. So good. As owner Janet Capua said, "It's comfort food, ladies." She topped it with a tiny serving of snickerdoodle ice cream--yum!
All in all a good day, but I can't wait to crawl into my warm bed.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Sophie makes good company

It's been a long, dull Saturday, turning from warm and wet to downright cold and dismal. My human interaction has consisted of a trip to the grocery, a brief converation with Elizabeth, and a brief visit from an old friend and her husband--they came to pick up the orchids that I was slowly killing. Sophie was overjoyed with their company. After all, they were new people. She jumped, she growled, she barked, she welcomed them heartily, and they, being dog people, loved it. Sally kept letting her up in her lap, in spite of my protests of "Down," and Len scolded, "Sally,  you're not helping." Sally's response was, "I know, but she's so adorable."
She is adorable, and she's been my company today. When I'm at my desk, she curls under my feet. If I get up, she tries to anticipate where I'm going and then parades in front of me, as though leading the way. But this dog with unbounded energy parades so slowly in such a stately manner that I am reminded of a British dowager taking her constitutional walk in Kensington Gardens. If she goes to the kitchen and I turn off to the bedroom, she is momentarily confounded but then comes bounding in. Brushing my teeth? She lies on a rug and watches.
And oh my, does she talk. From growls to helps to sounds I can't explain--it's a whole vocabulary, very vocal. Some of it I understand, mostly the part that says, "Pay attention to me!" If her talk doesn't help, she's taken to flinging herself at me, which I discourage with my strictest tone of voice.
I think Sophie keeps me grounded in what is only occasionally a solitary existence. And, yes, I do talk to her--a lot, in conversation. I had a trainer say I could never train her properly as long as I talked to her. His idea was that until she was trained I should only address her with firm commands. I couldn't do it, and it's probably why she's still part wild Indian. After the third session, he looked at me and said, "I've done all for you that I can." So Sophie and I are a good mix--she irrepressible, and me a softie. We get along just fine.
I feel obligated to add tht on this long, lazy day, I've edited thirty-two pages of a manuscript, written 1700 words on my own manuscript, and had a nice long nap. A pretty good life, if I do say so. Now I'nm going to read July Hyzy's new Fonduing Fathers.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The art of napping

I think I have almost perfected the art of napping. I was born into a famly of nappers. My father, a college president, walked home from his office every day for lunch--a mile or more--and then took a twenty-minute nap. My brother naps--in fact, during periods in his life, I knew him to take two naps before noon. He's too busy for that these days, but he gets in his afternoon nap.
And I feel downright deprived if I don't get a nap of at least an hour. These days my friends know I love to visit over lunch--but I want to go early, so that I cn get my nap in before I pick up my grandson after school and facing the daunting challenge of first-grade homework. Yes, I put on an old t-shirt and crawl into the covers--none of this napping fully dressed on top of the bed for me. I actually go to bed.
Some days my soundest sleep is at nap time. Like today when I went to sleep at about one-thirty and woke about ten after two, totally disoriented. I thought it was two in the morning, but then why was it daylight? Was it Saturday? No, couldn't be because I didn't remember going to the grocery in the morning. Sometimes in my rush to orient myself I run into the kitchen to check the clock there and make sure it says the same thing as the bedroom clock--though what that would tell me, I don't know. At last it dawned on me that it was Friday and, yes, I had to pick up Jacob. So I went back to bed until the alarm went off at a quarter to three. I have also perfected the art of throwing my clothes back on and getting out the door to get him but , after all, his school is just across the street.
If Jacob is here on weekends, I tell him firmly not to wake me unless the house is on fire. So he tugs the blanket to bring me out of a sound sleep for something like,, "The TV isn't working," or "I'm hungry." Like all children his age, he's given up napping unless sleep overcomes him while he watches TV--it happens.
Sometimes I think Saturdays are my favorite days--no school, no pressing things to do that evening (on Sundays, I'm often cooking for company), and if Jacob's not here, I sometimes nap and doze for two hours. Oh yes, I can sleep for an hour, and then drift in that netherland between sleep and wakefulness for an hour.
I've read that napping is good for your health, and I'm ready to believe it. How about you?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A sentimental journey

Since I retired, I've taken to keeping lunch dates, etc., in jeans and whatever, with no jewelry. It bugs Jordan, because over the years the children have given me nice silver--not expensive, not valuable, but things suited to me. Increasingly, my necklaces were in a tangle, and the several jewelry boxes I have were a mess. She has so much more patience than I do, so she untangled tiny fine chains, and laid them all out in one place, put brooches in another (I have a new sweater that cries out for my Scottish heather brooch, which Jordan unearthed for me), and sorted, ultimately carrying off anything valuable to be put in the safe. Now I'll never really wear those things! She unearthed cheap elastic bracelets, one in brown and red beads that matched the sweater I was wearing, and I dutifully put it on.
But she unearthed some treasures--my grandmother's wedding ring, small, worn thin, but that peculiar old gold with a truly rosy touch about it; a cheap locket belonging to my mom that fascinated me as a child because it opened to show not two but four tiny pictures--one of my mom, one of my dad, and one of my brother at age six holding the newborn me and a blank space I always thought should be filled. A cameo necklace of my mom's--I wonder how many people today even know what a cameo is? Some old railroad watches--must have been my grandfather's. The tiny paste gold expansion bracelet and delicate necklace, with red glass stones I'm sure, given to me as a toddler because the ruby is my birthstone. I've never owned a ruby. Now what month is turquoise? I might want to change my birthday. But it was a trip down memory lane.
Of course, when I went out to dinner last night I wore jeans, a sweater, and a raincoat--no jewelry except that expansion bracelet. Maybe I need to sharpen up my act.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Rain, blessed rain--and have you walked in my moccasins?

We are getting a lot of rain, the kind we need--slow and steady. Sometimes it dumps, and sometimes it's only a drizzle, but it's an all-day rain, predicted to get heavier overnight. We need it badly, and my yard and porch plants are soaking iti up with gratitude. And even though I find the thought of going outside depressing, I think the rain is peaceful and soothing. The dismal cast of the day hasn't dampened my spirits.
I've been feeling the effects of stress lately--lack of appetite, stomach troubles (I've probably chronicled those more than you want to know), trouble sleeping. When I mentioned the other night that maybe my stomach troubles weren't a bug but simply stress, my son-in-law looked at me incredulously. "Stress!" he exclaimed. "What have you got to be stressed about?" I laughed and said, "I can stress about being stressed." But it struck me that this is a man who knows me well and yet is amazed that I am stressed. I suppose he sees a worry-free life compared to his, He is building his career, supporting a family, raising a child, while I'm retired, I write at my own pace, I spend time with my grandchld, I cook a lot for friends, I don't seem stressed for money. What he doesn't see is that I have deadlines for my writing and work piles on my desk. Since I'm compulsive about doing things when they present themselves to me, I set my own deadlines and struggle to meet them. Time with Jacob is a blessing but not stress-free--like all six-year-olds he can be loving, lots of fun, but he can also be stubborn and difficult. Yesterday when he wanted to do something he blurted out, "I promise I'll treat you nicely"--a good recognition that he isn't always nice to me. Cooking for friends is wonderful fun for me--but it too is stressful, and I did three large (eight people) dinner parties last week. And yes, I'm more comfortable than a lot of retired single women living on a fixed income--but it's because I'm careful and I worry about money. I don't buy a lot that I would like to, and when I splurge, my conscience bothers me.
But what struck me most is that it reminded me of that old saying my mom used to quote, "Never judge a man until you've walked a mile in his moccasins." We never know what lies behind the facade we see in others, and it behooves us to listen with compassion and care. Hard lesson to learn.

Monday, January 07, 2013

The suggestion of sickness--or, how are you feeling?

My dad had an assistant (he called her his secretary/receptionist but that was in the old days) who would say to him, “Are you feeling all right, Dr. MacBain? You look a little peaked.” By the time he got home, he was a sick man, anxiously asking my mother how he looked and saying he wasn’t sure he felt good. He came from a family that thrived on illness. As a newlywed, my mom dutifully wrote her mother-in-law and once mentioned that Dad had a slight cold. Immediately his mother and sister were on the phone, worried to pieces about him. Even he could see the folly: “Do not ever mention illness to them,” he told Mom.

Yesterday I woke with some sort of stomach bug, whether a real bug or something I ate or what I don’t know, but I was in and out of the bathroom from five until ten in the morning, and then I was wiped out. By one, I was back in bed for a nap. But always my mother’s daughter, I soldiered on, made potato soup for eight people, and hosted a Twelfth Night party (see http://potluckwithjudy.com) Thought I felt okay if not great. My neighbor and I were in the kitchen when he asked “How was your day?” I confessed it was so-so, that I hadn’t felt well, and he said, “I can tell. You’re not your usual bubbly self.” Right then, I turned the wrong corner and began to wonder—if it was so obvious, maybe I didn’t feel as okay as I thought. Later in the evening, Jordan asked, “How are you feeling?” and Jay said, “She’s fading fast.” They all did the dishes and left with admonishments to go right to bed.

I would have told you it was midnight when they left, but in truth it was eight o’clock. I couldn’t have written or read a word if I wanted to, so I was in bed a little before nine. Slept, not soundly, for ten hours and feel better this morning but a little rocky still. More soup for lunch. Still, with Jacob’s help, I’ve gotten Christmas down and mostly put away and some computer work done.

So, was it really a bug or the power of suggestion or a bit of both? I don’t know, but I won’t say to someone, “Are you feeling alright? You don’t look well.”

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Charging ahead

A book is the greatest gift you can give a child
I seem to have rushed headlong into 2013 without a backward glance. It's only January 5, and I have a deskload of projects and am feeling the pressure of work--started a new novel and want to do something on it every day, a book to review, blogs to write, Facebook to keep up with as well as I can, and an edited collection of my blogs to work on for possible publication with a small press--their request. Trouble is I set my own goals and deadlines, and then have trouble convincing myself that the pressure I feel is self-generated, and the world won't end--nor will my career--if I don't make those deadlines. I think it's part of being a compulsive personality--I've never really learned to piddle well.
The novel is waking me up at five in the morning, my mind full of plot ideas. This morning I almost go up at six, but I really resent getting up before seven. When I got up though, I wrote down key words so I'd remember all those ideas. I now have enough to write way more than my daily thousand-word quota--but when will I find the time?
This morning was taken up by the mundane--empty the dishwasher, take out the garbage, water the plants, grocery store, dollar store (doesn't everyone have to have new hangers for the closet?), and do my yoga--first time in a week, and I could tell I was stretching muscles that had been stressed and not stretched. I've had a lot of company this week--last batch tomorrow--which means I've been on my feet and my low back hurts. Yoga was almost painful but I trust helpful.
Reading back blogs has been interesting--I find that I didn't used to feel obliged to post on my blog every night, and I may go back to that. My new plan is to post in the mornings, along with doing all other busy work such as yoga. But I'm trying to pull out the blogs that have to do with writing and collect them for a book on a writer's journey--haven't asked the publisher about this, but I shall in due time. My brother wants me to pull out all the blogs about family, and I think what discouraged me on the project was trying to do both at once. So yesterday I started with just culling posts or excerpts from posts that had to do with writing, and I got through about six months. But I have a long way to go--I've been blogging since July 2006.
On a sad note, my oldest son, Colin, and his family had to put their dog down today--a wonderful "island dog" they got as a puppy fifteen years ago on Grand Cayman. He'd had a great life-a Lisa said, he'd lived in three countries and two states--but was painfully arthritic and a malignant tumor had recently been diagnosed. No matter how much you know it's the right decision, it's a hard one to make. And particulary hard on young children--they were showering the dog with love with this morning and giving him more Begging Strips than was probably wise. I like to think he's running on the beach now, just as my Scooby is herding sheep in some heavenly pasture. I've heard it said that when you die, all the dogs you've ever loved are waiting to greet you.
And on a frustrating note, Blogger has changed the way they insert pictures, and I can't add the picture that I wanted to this blog. I wish they would stop "improving" things.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Learning about myself

I think I have learned something about myself as a writer. It's about time, after almost forty years. But last night, when I bemoaned having written only one sentence for the day, I went on to reach about 1200 words for my day's total. Not record-breaking, but respectable, especially when I remember the beloved history prof who used to say “A page a day (250 words in the day when we used the Courier font) is a book a year.” No, 1200 words is respectable. But I wrote those when everyone was gone, and the house was quiet.

Today went by in what kind of flurry I don’t know. I spent almost two hours on the phone with various tech people, sorting out what was wrong with my printer—all the color prints came out yellow. After all that time and a lot of self-testing of the printer, I was told I need new color cartridges. Usually the printer warns you, “Magenta ink low,” and such. But it said nothing this time. So tomorrow I buy cartridges and await a follow-up call from Hewlett Packard. To be fair, both HP and Staples were courteous to a fault, and I was grateful for their help—it just seemed silly to come up with such a simple, obvious solution after all that folderol. The rest of the day was absorbed in fixing dinner for company tonight—Jacob’s friend Max and his grandparents plus Jacob’s parents—and in a pleasant lunch with a longtime colleague from TCU. And, yes, a nap. So I told myself when everyone left tonight, I would write. This would be my new schedule: at night, writing my thousand words would be my priority, above blogging, Facebook, reading, all of that.

But after the company left, Elizabeth wandered in and Jordan, who was about to tackle the dishes, wanted to sit, have another glass of wine, and visit. So the evening wore away, and then I found myself, as I so often do, in the kitchen doing dishes. Actually it’s never a chore—she had stacked them—and it doesn’t take long. But the goal of writing began to fade.

Still I came to my office about 8:45 and started to write—and pretty soon I had doubled that 1200 words. I know not all of it is golden, and I’ll re-read and wonder where my head was. But I’m getting words and ideas on paper. And to my mind it’s a pretty good start on January 3 for a new novel.

So maybe I’ll try a new routine: I’ll blog, take care of business—personal finances, marketing, etc.—during the day and write at night when the house is quiet. I’m not making resolutions this year, so I’m not putting this in that form. It’s just an experiment I want to try. We’ll see.


Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Life really gets in the way of writing

A lot of my fellow writers are knuckling down to work today, getting back to routines. It's the start of a new year, and time to get serious about that book. I wrote one sentence. That's right, one sentence (okay maybe I'll do two or three more tonight). Just to make it sound a little better, let me point out it's the first sentence in a new book...and that's always hard. And before I wrote it I had to go back to the previous book in the series and make a list of all the characters--because I was lazy and didn't do it the first time. Also had to look for quotes about hindsight, because that's how I want to open the book.
But I also had, at nine-thirty in the morning, a six-year-old who was watching a scary program on TV--I checked, it was Disney Channel--and decided he's like to watch it on my desk. Then, "Could you pull up naughty elves at home?" Pulled it up and found an extensive page of pictures, every one of which he wanted to study. His father told me he thinks his elf wasn't naughty enough, though there's one picture of an elf holding an electric razor and sitting next to a man with a bold swath of his head shaved. "My elf better not do that," Jacob said, "because then I'd touch him and he'd lose all his magic."
Jacob is with me during the day for three days because school hasn't started yet. It may be a long three days. At 10:30, he wanted lunch: I put him off until 11:15. At one, I delivered him to a neighbor's house to play and then that mom brought three little boys back here for snacks. While they played we had tea by the fireplace--kind of civilized, I thought. I still have the fire going, and every time I walk through the living room I feel a breath of warmth but unfortunately it doesn't reach to my office. But there went the day--Jordan stayed and we discussed family affairs until almost six, so there went the afternoon.
Tomorrow Jacob will leave at noon with a friend and the friend's grandfather for lunch and a trip to the Museum of Science and History, but I will spend the morning fixing dinner for all of them. May be another one-sentence day. Friday, grocery store, a probable trip to Grapevine for lunch (with Jacob), and dinner for a friend; Saturday, Jacob spends the night. Sunday is Twelfth Night, and we always throw a twig from the tree in the fire and make a wish--friends will join us, and I'll make a big pot of soup to use up yesterday's ham. Then, of course, I'll have to take down Christmas.
But next week, I'm going to write. Honest I am. I keep telling myself I'm a writer. I wonder how many other writers feel this way? Excuse me, but I'm going to write that second sentence now.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

And so, the new year begins

New Year's night. The house is festive with twinkly lights (I won't take them down until after Twelfth Night) and a fire in the fireplace. We've eaten ham, black-eyed peas and spinach (my version of greens since I really don't do collards or turnip greens), so we should be the luckiest people ever next year--or this year now. We've listened to stories of being a meteorologist in WWII and Jacob's fanciful stories of his grandfather's narrow escape during that same war (he was far too young). We've shared wine and laughter and love. Now the house is quiet, and I, for one, am most content, ready for the new year (if we could only vaporize Eric Cantor). I look forward to 2013 though I know it will bring much more political turmoil, new threats of terrorists and probably violence on the home front, probably more violent weather. But I hope it will bring some small steps toward peace,     toward loving our fellow man and worshipping whatever God we choose, toward respecting individuals and their choice of lifestyle, toward living in a world the God I worship meant for us to have--no more fracking and global warming and abusing the earth that we've been loaned. So far, we aren't good caretakers.
Personally I am optiistic about the coming year--I have books to write, a grandson to do homework with and other grandchildren to love as often as I can, the promise of some family get-togethers and some trips that I look forward to. I need to start a list of the people I want to visit with, entertain in my home, share my life with--they are many, and time goes by so quickly that I think, "gosh, it's July and I never did get with so-and-so."
No resolutions for me, but I've heard an idea that I really like: take a large jar (I prefer glass and rejected a plastic one in the store the other day) and fill it with scraps of paper noting the good things that happen to you. Jean told me she has a jar I might use, and I asked, "Is it big enough? How many good things are going to happen?" Her answer was, "You've got a whole year." Yes, I do, and I intend to take full advantage of it. Watch my dust!
Every Christmas for the past six years, my oldest son has constructed a gingerbread house--no pattern. The planning comes out of his head. This year it was an elaborate castle with a drawbridge. And every year after Christmas--this year on New Year's Day--he uses fireworks to blow it up (safely, out in the country, with everyone way out of the way). At first I thought it a shame to blow up something he'd worked so hard on (his kids help decorate it) but now I think maybe it's a fitting way to say "Out with the old, in with the new. Goodby last year; hello, new year!"
And Colin, enjoy that pick-'em-up. Your Texas roots are showing:-)