Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
I was Christmas shopping today. It gave me joy to start searching for things online that might serve as a gift that will bring a smile, a nod, a grin to a loved one in my life. I find that, by slowly nibbling away at the edges of the Christmas giving process, it is happier for me, and certainly, less hectic. I have tried three approaches.
When my children were very little, I started shopping in July and aimed to be done by December first. I used the days of December to wrap, decorate and be present with my excited young children. The downside? I forgot where I hid items and we found them well into the ensuing summers.
When the three kids were in high school and middle school, I started shopping at Halloween, and aimed to be done by mid-December. It was more hectic overall, but their lists were current and the bustle and excitement was thrilling. I wrapped during the ten days preceding Christmas and recruited the help of my children to accomplish the task.
Last year was a first. I didn’t really begin to shop until two weeks before Christmas. I intend to avoid that approach for the rest of the Christmases that I am blessed to enjoy. It was far to consumer-driven and well, shall I say it, greedy-feeling, for me. I knew I had to fulfill certain expectations, of both my family’s and my own, and it was pressure. Two days before Christmas, I found myself holed up in my office wrapping presents for hours. My children were home from college breaks, but they were eager to see friends and catch up on the lives they had left behind when they went off to school. Barely had I taped the last sheet of wrapping paper, and it was time to unwrap everything. Not optimal from my point of view.
This year, my two oldest children worked very hard to save for a trip they have planned to take together. The both suggested that, besides any stocking gifts that Santa deems to bring them, any and all contributions to their travel funds would be greatly appreciated. That makes sense and certainly changes the equation of how I manage my Christmas kitty.
This enables me to make very careful choices for each stocking, for my extended family and for my friends. I am beside myself with excitement about a gift I found for one family. I ordered it in advance and the store in Vineyard Haven called to advise me it is now in stock. Hurray! My Santa hat may go on at different times each year, but I admit that it can be jolly good fun wearing it!
Monday, October 29, 2012
|Hurricane Sandy on Martha's Vineyard|
A photo album for your perusal:
For all practical purposes, schools in Massachusetts were closed today. Even, universities locked their doors and asked students, professors, administrative staff and custodial crews not to report to work. Hurricane Sandy is raging, making streets unsafe, and in some cases, impassable. I have grown accustomed to the steady hum of the wind assaulting the house all day. There is a roar that is accompanied by a melodic interval when gusts shriek off of the harbor.
I, however, spent the entire day learning. I learned about nature by being out in it. I took photographs to the limit of my strength and my camera’s ability to withstand the wind and the rain and the sea spray kicked up by the storm. The afternoon was put to good use. I tutored myself in videography, practiced making slide shows and read up on techniques for working with audio files. I was way out of my comfort zone. The electricity flickered several times, the cable went out, but I forged forward.
The most important take-away today was that I am vastly ill-equipped to use current technology to my full advantage. There is a chasm between what I know and what I wish I knew. I wanted to use “phone-a-friend” to get some help, but decided to wait until I could be with a flesh and blood technician rather than use Facetime or Skyppe.
It would be reasonable to say that today was a bust since I was unable to accomplish what I had hoped to achieve. However, I was warm, safe and dry while being able to appreciate what has been billed as the Storm of the Century. How much more do I need than that to remember that my blessings are manifest?
Sunday, October 28, 2012
|The wind kicks up.|
In the house where I am staying, there is a framed poster of Martha’s Vineyard. Completed in 1984 by Dana Gaines, it is a favorite of mine. So much so in fact, that when my husband and I wanted to give our daughter a house-warming gift for her first solo apartment, it was what we chose. The local storeowner seemed a bit sad when she wrapped the framed print for me. She said it was her last one and she didn’t believe she would be able to replace it. Around the map of the Island, written in precise architectural lettering are brief descriptive passages about some of the most famous, endearing, common and unique places on the Island. In addition, the artist's rendition of the map includes many of the definitions of the Native American words that we use so frequently here that we have lost track of their origin.
Pocha - where there is a breaking in
Katama - crab-fishing ground
Chappaquiddick - the separated island
Wequobsque - at the ending rock
Squibnocket - place where the red ground nut grows
Menemsha - the observation tree
Tashmoo - at the great spring
Sengekontacket - at the bursting forth of the tidal stream
CaPoag - A refuge or haven
What I have come to see is that anything worth observing seemed worthy of naming in the ancient traditions of Native Americans.
As I sit, hunkered down in this snug little cottage with a view on a windswept world, I see the outside edge of a large weather system advancing on the Island. Earlier in the day, I took a ride to check out the surf and the beaches. I had the good fortune to watch a competition of kite-boarders perform speed and aerial events. My camera could take only so much of the rain and the sea spray. The rest had to be recorded in my memories. As I drove home, I slowed down to watch the force of great waves breaking over the sea wall along the Vineyard Sound. An SUV had parked directly under the wall, and, as in a car-wash, it was being subjected to a battery of water and salt with each grand eruption of a wave. Each wave carried with it heavy loads of sand, in effect, depositing it on the road. A couple more days of accumulation could block traffic completely. I have seen that happen on numerous occasions. The road department brings a small backhoe to undue nature’s handiwork. It was in that moment of quiet reflection that I caught myself in a vocal guffaw.
There’s a reason this storm is called Hurricane Sandy.
Saturday, October 27, 2012
I watched a video on Netflix called, “Mozart’s Sister.” The film touched me on numerous levels. First, it was lovely to hear the French language. It puzzles me that, on occasion, I can watch a move in French and never notice it is not in English. How can it be that there are other French movies that cause me to strain to keep up with the subtitles? The most perplexing situation arises when I need to read the subtitles but feel committed to correcting the mistakes. A small example; sans doute means “without doubt”..... which simply is not the same as the translation that appeared on the big screen. There, it appeared as “perhaps.” There is no perhaps in "without doubt."
The second thing I enjoyed when watching “Mozart’s Sister” was seeing some of the familiar sights at Versailles (Room of Mirrors, the garden, the Dauphin’s chambers) and in Paris (l’Opera and the National Academy of Music). The cliffs of Calais were never more breathtaking. Normandy wore a new face. I never realized that it looked like the grander, albino cousin of the cliffs at Aquinnah, Martha’s Vineyard.
The final thing that moved me about the movie was the recognition of the the rights I have as a woman today. There is room for me to study what I choose, learn what I desire, create what I dream. I can vote. I can pursue my own destiny without my father’s or my husband’s hand controlling me. I was reminded that Nannerl and other women of that time, no matter how educated, would not have enjoyed such freedoms.
I would have liked to meet Mozart’s sister. If we could bridge the communications barrier, what would she share? Surely, she could not have imagined her life would be raked for details to illuminate her brother’s. But, perhaps, I am wrong. Despite her own creative genius, she was eclipsed by her younger brother’s -- yet, Nannerl made it her life’s work to preserve her brother’s.
Friday, October 26, 2012
Part of Island life is the ever-present awareness of the weather. I had an inkling that a storm was heading up the coast, but it was in Reliable Market this afternoon that I knew it was something to take seriously. Patrons were talking about stocking up. Sustained winds of 50 knots per hour or more with wind gusts greater than 50 kph are predicted. Time to lay in water, batteries, gas in the car, phone charged, laptop charges, emergency candles, medical kit, extra wood for the fireplace or wood stove if that’s an option, canned foods, can, and cash. It’s hard to get cash out of an ATM during a power failure. This familiar drill includes checking in with friends on higher grounds to see if they are accepting stranded evacuees should evacuation be required; the community safety net at the elementary school is best left to the more adventurous.
Yet, the piece of Island mystery that keeps it’s ardent fans loyal is that, despite lying in the path of an oncoming storm, hours before the clouds move in, we were treated to a spectacular sunset. I caught a glimpse of the last, long rays of light as they illuminated the trees in the Methodist Campgrounds. Most of the gingerbread cottages are closed tight, boarded up for the season. Ready to weather any wrath Mother Nature chooses to throw at them. However, the blessed evening light finds a way to imbue the cottages with color and warmth and a hard-earned charm. In that moment, when the dying light kisses the last of the autumn leaves, the threat of an autumn Nor’Easter seems a long way off.
Thursday, October 25, 2012
I voted today. With a feeling of profound awe and wonder, I exercised my right to vote by using an absentee ballot. Because I do not expect to be in the town of my primary residence on Election Day, I wanted to assure that my vote was counted. I was conscious of the enormous amount of money and the tremendous amount of blood, sweat and tears that our nation and our nation’s forefathers poured into the singular moment when I put pen to paper to make a series of large X marks. When I look back on how my parents raised me, I am surprised how fervent I am about respecting the privilege of being able to vote. My family was guarded about having political discussions for the simple reason that, in all things, we sought to avoid conflict. Politics and religion were skirted at most family dinners. If push came to shove, religion was more acceptable than politics. I find it something of a wonder that I am so deeply patriotic and proud to be American. Much of my appreciation for American freedoms can be traced directly to the four years I spent in Madame Erlenmeyer’s french class reading the works of Marquis de LaFayette, Thomas Hobbes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and baron de Montesquieu. While there are many ways I feel we could do better as a country and as a society as a whole, the basic tenets upon which this country is founded, to my mind, are strong, true and enduring. We may fall down in our execution but, like an old house with good bones, this country is worthy of our work and commitment toward some core ideals. These are clearly stated in the Declaration of Independence.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.
Oops, I will have to step down now, someone needs my soapbox. Allow me to leave you with one last word....
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
|image courtesy of wn.com|
Few of us take time to say, “Wow, this was a good day.” Instead, our thoughts turn to what we consider were disappointments or we move straight on to our plans for tomorrow. In the right now, in the moment, we often fail to relax into all that is good about what we are doing.
I am reminded of a story. The first time I went water skiing, my friend and her father counseled me as to how to get up, out of the water. They owned a small boat with a strong, outboard motor. While they positioned the craft, they left me, wearing an orange life-vest, bobbing in the water. My feet were anchored in skis, my knees were pulled to my chest. The boat took off down a long, wide-open stretch of the Connecticut River. I felt the towdvvline growing taut, then, with a tremendous heave, I was up! It was unfortunate when I crossed my skis and demonstrated how to do a face plant. It took me several yards of being dragged -- legs akimbo -- to realize that I had to release the towline. I floated while I waited for the boat to circle around. I remembered to hold held up my arm high over my head to show a thumbs up, “All’s Well.” Second time, I accidentally lost my grip on the towline and I sank, rather gracefully, into the water. The third time was the charm. I rose from the water like I had been doing it my whole life. It was easy. The wind felt cool against my wet skin. My legs strained to balance on the two skis. After I had skied about thirty feet, I tossed the towline into the air. Happy with my accomplishment, I watched the boat race down the River, away from me. When my friend and her father realized I was no longer in tow, I heard the change in pitch of the motor. They turned back for me, shock etched in their expressions. I hastened to reassure them from a distance, waving my thumb in a jubilant celebration of “All’s Well.” They pulled alongside me.
“What happened?” My friend yelled over the sputtering of the motor. “Why did you drop the towline?” She leaned over the side of the boat to pull up the skis I was handing her. With considerable upper arm strength, I hoisted myself up and over the side of the boat from the small ladder that hung on its side. I shouted to make myself heard, “YOU NEVER TOLD ME WHAT TO DO ONCE I GOT UP!”
So the parallel is clear, right? I am telling you, when a good day comes along, ENJOY IT. Do whatever you have to do to lay down a record of just how fine it was. You don’t know how many times you will get to grip that towline and go for a ride.
Monday, October 22, 2012
|The Growing Season Manuscript - all 354 pages|
I dedicated seven years of time -- time stolen from sleep, children, husband and friends -- to write a novel. It was not my first. The first novel I wrote was in fourth grade. I was certain of its place on the library shelf. I held back nothing. I not only wrote the novel, but I printed and bound copies of it as well. It was with some trepidation and a great deal of pride that I presented it to Mrs. Lewis, my school librarian. She had the kindness and grace to accept it. Frequently, I made my a surreptitious trip to the shelf in the library where my work rested. It was hard to bear the knowledge that I had few readers. Only my name and Mrs. Lewis's appeared on the library card. When I left Mountain Brook Elementary School, I hoped my book would find a wider audience. Instead, it disappeared in the wake of time, leaving only its memory in tact.
My second novel had a coming-of age plot. It took two years to write. I wrote it in my thirties. A friend from high school, Ellen, and I had an arrangement; on a monthly basis, I would send her whatever I had managed to write on my novel, and she would send me hers. Ellen and I would edit each other's work, then have a telephone conference to make suggestions on improving our writing. She had recently attended a writer's program at Harvard and was committed to writing a novel. Already, I was writing textbooks and recipes while raising my children. I squeezed in time to write fiction to still the stories in my head; I learned that discipline is everything as a writer. Unexpectedly, I made the acquaintance of writer Karen Osborn (author of Patchwork, Between Earth and Sky, The River Road). We forged a creative alliance and she was an inspiration to me. She urged me on. After finishing my novel, I sent it out into the world to a lukewarm reception. Agents said I had "something" but the novel didn't show it to my advantage. I had the good fortune to receive salient and succinct advice from author John Katzenbach; his wife, author Madeline Blais, was in a Jazzercise class that we both attended. Somehow (exactly how is unclear, the edges are blurred by time) Madeline made the phone introduction of Dawn Elise to John. John was direct. "Put it away. Start to work on the next novel. If you are any good, you will sell the second novel first and publishers will ask you if you have any other publishable work lying in a drawer. Rewrite it then and it will sell for more." That made sense to me. As hard as it was, I boxed up the notes and all the drafts of Novel 2 and turned my attention to Novel 3.
I finished Novel 3 in 2008. The first twenty-five queries met with a modicum of interest. However, my health, my children's health and the waning economy struck hard. I had the remarkable good fortune of having my friend, George Colt (author of November of the Soul, The Big House and coming out in a few weeks, Brothers) offer to read the manuscript. He made insightful criticisms and perhaps, most importantly, convinced me there was value to my work. I ripped through the manuscript making revisions. Then, I lost momentum. Creating an entire world part and parcel from memories and imagination is challenging. Finding the words when one is compromised by ill-health, can become insurmountable. However, I remain determined. I believe that we create our realities. Once again, I am the Dawn I was in fourth grade, leaving my mimeographed and stapled novel on the library shelf for others to read. This morning, I rewrote my query letter in search of an agent. This morning, I reviewed my five page synopsis. This morning, I became reacquainted with my novel. Only to discover it is really quite good.
Anyone know an agent?
I was researching the town in which my novel, The Growing Season, is set. I surprised myself with my reaction when I stumbled upon a film of Johnson taken in 1954. That would have been nine years after the conclusion to The Growing Season. Seeing the town that I have held suspended in my imagination for so long both populated and in 3-D was surprisingly emotional. Take a look!
Saturday, October 20, 2012
It is hard to imagine too much chocolate. With bittersweet chocolate, milk chocolate, dark chocolate (70% cacao, of course), semi-sweet chocolate, un-sweetened chocolate and gianduja chocolate (with hazelnut paste) from which to choose, it would take a long time to have one’s pallet become immune to the flavors of chocolate. Today was significant in one way. I decided to make a recipe for Toasted Coconut Chocolate Chunk Cookies that my daughter recommended.
In doing the preliminary legwork, I wanted to assess what I had on had, and what I needed to purchase. I knew there was baking chocolate on hand. I had little idea How Much. I suspect anyone peeking in the window at the exact moment when I began extracting piles of chocolate from the cabinet would suspect I had lost it. I was laughing. And not just a mild guffaw. The number of bars of baking chocolate was nothing short of ..... well, too much chocolate!!
The saddest element of the whole find was the dates on the bars. The “sell by” dates were neatly stamped on each bar. They went back to 2007. The most recent date was 2010. The entire load of chocolate was relegated to the garbage pail. I know how it happens, you are shopping, you think hmmmm, “Is there chocolate at home, better pick up some.” Over a period of months and years, your cabinet is bulging with past-dated chocolate. There is one easy solution, of course. Eat chocolate. If you have it, use it. Because, in my experience, if you save it, you lose it.
|Where the squirrels roost.|
My war on squirrels has lasted most of my adult life. My opinion of squirrels is that they are rodents who live in trees. They are not quite as bad as rats, but they are a close cousin. During my childhood, my parents spent a small fortune on defensive measures. The squirrels were destructive; they burrowed their way into the attic of their house, causing damage to the roof. The exterminator was called and lingering scents of death plagued the upstairs for weeks. The squirrels would climb the trees and land on tmy parents’ bird-feeders -- appetite in tact. With an aggression that is generally associated with starving animals, the squirrels attacked the food my parents put out for the birds, My parents were frustrated because the squirrels scared away the birds they loved.
When my grandmother was ninety, she began to spend winters with my parents - away from her home on Martha’s Vineyard. While my mother was at work, it became my grandmother’s habit to watch the squirrels. She sat for hours, in a rocking chair, watching the activities of this small mammal. She could identify each one and surprised me with a detailed description of their social interactions. I allowed, for the first time, that squirrels were not as revolting as I once thought. To please my grandmother, my parents abandoned all efforts to repel the squirrels. As they loaded up the bird-feeders, they would comment that they were doing nothing more than feeding the squirrels.
Today, twenty years later, my sinister feelings toward squirrels has not fully abated. However, I do not wish them ill, exactly. When I pass one that has been hit by a car, I still say the same quick prayer for it as I do for any of God’s other creatures. Let’s just say I try to let them live their lives without any intersection with mine.
Recently, I have had a slight thawing toward the creatures. In the house where I am staying, there is not much activity to watch out the window. Summer visitors and tourists have dwindled to the most hearty. The Vineyard on a raw, windy, rainy day is surprisingly unpleasant. Vacationers do not want to brave the elements in late October.
|Camera used on safari.|
Thus, the constant activity of the squirrels that make their homes in the arms of the oak trees out the back window is one of my daily diversions. To document my transformation, I thought to photograph my furry new acquaintances. I have tried to photograph one particular squirrel for weeks. I keep my camera on the counter in the kitchen at the ready. This most active of squirrels spends his time running the balance beam created by the of white picket fence. His mouth is usually engorged with nuts and other offerings. I have witnessed his manic burying of treasures here and there in locations distributed within the sweep of a twenty foot radius of my position. Reluctantly, I have to make room for a new appreciation of squirrels. Their fervent commitment to the future -- whether conscious or genetically programmed -- is impressive to watch. This new perception of squirrels initiated my desire to catch a photograph of one, cheeks bulging with acorns, running along the fence. I have stalked my prey with the patience of a big game hunter and yet, their cunning has exceeded my patience. From a blind in the kitchen, I have stood cameral ready for minutes on end. Yet, with an uncanny sixth sense, the squirrel ceases and desists all activity within focal length. Can it smell me inside the house? Can it hear me breathing through closed windows? It is a game at this point. The squirrels and I are playing a game. I have a very strong suspicion just who will win.
Thursday, October 18, 2012
RADIO FLYER WAGON
I have had the good fortune of having had inordinately clear vision about my path throughout my life. I have held three, perfectly developed ideas of who I am. These images were whole and tangible. I felt like all my efforts, my very being, was committed to living in the shoes of the Dawns I imagined. Oddly, at 54, I find myself feeling more like a teenager than a woman just over fifty. In my mind, I am stepping out toward something new. I am embarking on a new journey, one I had not planned or anticipated. I am looking at A New Dawn.
The Dawn of my youth created hospitals in her red Flexible Flyer wagon. My dolls received the best care I was able to deliver. I knew at the tender age of seven that, to be a better doctor, I would have to be receive an education. I applied myself. Through elementary school and high school, I was completely committed to becoming a physician. I attended Mount Holyoke because, at the time, it was the college that had the highest number of graduates being accepted into medical school. For twelve years, I had my sights set on one thing. Despite being in the top ten percent of my college class, I was wait-listed by the schools I wanted to attend. UMass Worcester was an option, but not one I wanted. I chose to accept a job in a Biochemistry lab at UMass Amherst. During the year I worked there, I also did an internship in a family care clinic nearby. My intention was to reapply to schools after enriching my application. An unexpected development occurred. I saw the toll that being a physician took on the families of the doctors I knew at the clinic. I could not find a doctor whom I could respect as a parent and spouse at the same time as valuing their medical acumen. The physician for whom I was working would need a boat to get to the other side of the lines he crossed in his behavior toward me. While I worked in the lab, I recalculated my path and recalibrated my dreams. Within a period of months, I found a job in a financial consulting firm that specialized in healthcare. I used the money I saved for medical school to put toward the shell of a burned out house. My fiance and I pooled our resources to build a home together.
One of our favorite habits were our weekend rides. We put our hearts and souls into building the house, but when we took a break, we would tour the backroads of Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and New York. Gradually, I started to form the vision of my ideal house. I wanted to live on a mountain that would afford a breath-taking view. I wanted to have a house in which I could have my own office. We would have children and I would be a mother and a writer and I would live in a home filled with light, love and laughter. That dream, that image, was laid down and reinforced even as my fiance and I moved forward with constructing our little house on an abandoned farm. The dream sat with me, dormant, but ready.
Meanwhile, my career in corporate America progressed. Even as I was engaged in working in a corporate setting during the day, I was writing textbooks on weekends and nights. A shift in my interior world caused my desire to have children to grow in focus. I drew a line with my fiance; it was time for marriage if our children were to bear his name. I was gratified with his choice -- we were married in six months. He was the best thing to ever come into my life, and I was ecstatic to have our lives formally joined.
The Dawn of my thirties was committed to motherhood. I wanted children but, sadly, I had three miscarriages. One of the specialists I saw told me that it was time to consider my options; adoption and surrogacy. He said I would never be able to bear a child of my own. I took issue with his opinion. Even after I had yet another miscarriage, I did not falter in my intentions or vision of myself as a mother of three children of my own. It was not an easy course, but I was truly blessed by the births of each of my children. With my husband's support, I chose to give up corporate work and do what writing I could while staying at home to raise our three children. As they grew, my writing life started to grow. I was fortunate to have the words to write about the sorrow and joy that had equal command upon my heart. Still, I carried the vision of that yellow house, on a mountain, with a spectacular view.
Dawn of the Mountain View was given expression in 2005. My husband and I built Better Home and Garden’s Home of the Year (1996). We cleared about an acre and a half of the eleven acres we owned on the side of a mountain in western Massachusetts. Our vista stretches across the Connecticut River Valley. We are on the flight path of eagles and hawks and the occasional army cargo jet. My spirit is lifted every time my gaze is cast upon the ever-changing scene. The southeastern exposure floods the house with light. We took advantage of that view by making the house almost entirely glass on that side. The crowning aspect of the house is a testament to my husband’s skill as a carpenter, his intention as a builder and his determination in life. He single-handedly built a deck that is fourteen feet wide by sixty feet long, eight feet off of the ground. When stepping on that deck, it feels like one is suspended in air. I am as much on a deck as I am on a boat, with the air -- rather than water -- holding me aloft. I am moved by his work and lifted by what it offers. It is impossible to carry the mantle of worry when on the deck. Perspective is everything.
When health issues insinuated their way into my life, I rejected them. Regrettably, the deny-it-ignore-it-push-through it-all-engines-ahead approach didn't cut it. Instead, I have had to turn around and face the problem. Never easy. While trying to assess my functionality, I have realized that, somehow, in the busy-ness of caring for hearth, home and kin, I overlooked one key thing. I failed to create an image of present-tense Dawn. So? Life delivered challenges I did not anticipate. Now it is up to me to take stock, think creatively, and invent my future. That says teenager to me. Seriously. So here I am, like, dude, being a teenager. Whatever.
It is tremendously exciting to be at this juncture, knowing there are possibilities for my life that I have never imagined. Like most teenagers that I know, my life is unwritten.
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
For at least fifteen years, I have been accruing a list. The benefit to being a prolific writer who is also organized, is that the tracks of my past have been laid down for inspection from the future. In a journal that I started in 1997, I find a list entitled
As the journal sits open on the bed beside me, I can recall my keen interest in gracious living -- on a shoestring budget. I remember thinking, “How can I make my life feel more special? How can I bring beauty and luxury into everyday activities using nothing more than the things I already own?” My vision of gracious living was then, and still is, the notion that the details matter. Taking time to appreciate and truly absorb the joy and beauty that is present all around us is, to me, at the very heart of bringing grace into our lives.
I discovered that the list I started in ’97 carries across the journals I wrote in ensuing years. Now, I have taken on the task of collating a compendium of these ideas to share with others. I have huge hopes for the change that is possible! I was talking to my friend, Kate, yesterday. She commented that someone once told her that to change her life she had to start by changing just one thing.
Just one thing is the first step.
I have read studies that show it takes six weeks to change a habit. It seems reasonable to suppose that by changing one thing for a period of six weeks, it becomes your own. Using that logic, it might be possible to change at least eight things in your life over the course of a year. Imagine that! Eight things that you are not happy with at the present moment you could change over the course of the coming year. So here is my reasoning, why not make two of those things habits of grace?
Habits of grace are the small things we do to celebrate life.
~Add to your bed’s mattress cover by adding an extra comforter.
~Keep a few sprigs of the flowers you might buy in a small vase in the frig. Upon opening the door, it is always a pleasant surprise.
~Look for wild flowers to use by your bed.
~Wash and iron your sheets. If too much to tackle, iron and starch your pillowcases.
~Hang your pillowcases outside to dry! Candle companies try to emulate that fresh, outdoor scent.
~Use extra pillows. Purchase the best grade pillow (down or down-alternative) that you can manage.
~Thread count on sheets really matters. If your budget is tight, make sure you touch the sheets before you buy them. ~Do they snag on your fingers? Do your palms glide across the sheets?
~Shopping on the internet requires a bit of know-how. An easy suggestion? Use websites that ship and accept returns for free. Use coupon codes whenever possible.
~Put throws on your sofas at convenient places. The layered texture looks nice in the room and it lends to a cozy feel on chilly nights.
~Throw your towels in the drier just before you take a bath. Warm towels are that easy!
~Use your perfume. It will evaporate over time and the scent changes -- often, not for the better. Don’t save it for special occasions.
~Wear pearls. On days when your spirits are low, WEAR YOUR PEARLS! Even if they are glass, the idea of dressing up seems to lift one’s spirits.
~Use three sheets on your bed. The bottom sheet, then encase your blanket between two sheets, folding them over together at the top. It feels elegant.
~Use your china. If you are too busy to do so daily, pick one day/ week that you will treat yourself to a cup of tea from your china set. Heirlooms are to be used and cherished.
Heirloom and use are not mutually exclusive.
~Set the table using linen napkins.
~Go ahead, surprise the family. Serve Annie’s Mac and Cheese from a serving bowl rather than a pan.
~Wear gloves. Not just heavy winter gloves. Gloves dress up any outfit.
~Use sachets in your drawers. If you don’t have time to make them, use drier sheets. They, too will impart a fragrant bouquet to your belongings.
~Always line your drawers. Use leftover wrapping paper. Buy some from the dollar store.
~Put something you love in the room you use most. If need be, put it out of reach of young children. Lay claim to the space you live in!
~The more you weed out, the more you will reveal. Recycle, share, trash. Keep things moving so your eye can rest on the beauty.
~Give to others of your time, your energy and your treasure. It is truly a luxury to share.
~Place a photograph that makes you smile inside the medicine cabinet. When you are not feeling your best, it will pick you up to see that memory.
~Learn new ways to tie your scarves. Scarves are an accessory that single-handedly can triple your wardrobe.
~Polish your shoes. Waterproof your boots.
~Care for your feet and hands. Choose a day to give yourself a manicure and a pedicure. Swap with your friend.
~It is a necessary part of good grooming to attend to cutting and removing hair. If you choose to color, be sure to stay current.
~Rotate the paintings and pictures in your house.
~Rearrange the furniture for a fresh look. Get a friend to help.
~Purge your closet and share what you can.
~Always write thank you notes. Use the heaviest grade paper you can afford. Maybe a gift wish list would include personalized notecards. Or buy them yourself!
~Many cleaning products are expensive and could be made easily at home. Look up the many uses for bleach, baking soda and vinegar.
~Wood is porous and thirsty. Use a product that is safe for the wood. The luster of wood tells you when it is happy.
~Keep a basket near the most-commonly used door to accept keys and change.
~Set aside shelf space for each child to create their own display of treasured objects. It is magical to see what they cherish and want to share with others. Treasure that window on your child’s mind -- gained at such a small price!
~Use one shot of yellow in every room. That tip I gleaned from Alexandra Stoddard. Look for work by Alexandra Stoddard -- as a teacher and guide, she is second to none.
~Keep a list going of your blessings. Before you know it, your will realize that your blessings are more than you ever imagined.
I predict that if you have read all the way through this list, that you will be able to start a list of your own. Grace in thought and deed begets grace. May grace be with you.
Monday, October 15, 2012
Long before I enter the room, my thoughts turn toward being there. I flash on what I will bring with me to read, to eat, to wear when I leave. I console myself with memories of the thousands of other visits. In the interim while I am waiting, I encourage myself by delivering silent monologues in the form of inspirational addresses. Self-speak to stay the course. I remind myself that all that keeps me from the room is folding this one load of laundry, paying these bills or returning home from this single excursion. As potent as an addict on opium, the thought of being in that room for half an hour lures me. It sings a siren’s call like no other. And the endorphin releasing high? How long does it last? An hour, maybe two. But it is worth it. Two, three, even four times a day, I enjoy the click of latch into the strike plate of the door knob. My time begins. I shut out the world beyond the room. I am in a safe haven, alone with my pain.
I live with a genetic disorder that affects my ability to produce connective tissue. MedicineNet.com defines connective tissue as “ A material made up of fibers forming a framework and support structure for body tissues and organs. Connective tissue surrounds many organs. Cartilage and bone are specialized forms of connective tissue.” So, imagine the havoc wreaked when one’s ability to produce connective tissue is impaired. Dislocations, sprains, breaks and daily, daily, micro-tears of muscles, ligaments and tendons cause wide-spread pain. Because of joint laxity, my musculoskeletal structure is wobbly, causing nerve compression and concomitant pain. My physical therapist calls me “Jenga Woman” after the game in which players stack 54 tiles only to pull them out. Players restack each of them, one by one, upon the pile -- attempting to do so without causing the others to tumble. In Swahili, Jenga means “to build.” My moniker came about because I am constantly restacking myself, hoping to build a more stable, stronger version of me. Like an unrelenting current through all my efforts of diet, nutrition, meditation, and medicine persists the pain of daily life. I am a 5 foot 7, 107 pound warrior. I fight this disorder by refusing to succumb. Oh, so easily, I could surrender to masking the pain with ever higher levels of narcotics or giving up on caring about embracing life or pulling down the blinders on the joy and beauty around me by stewing in bitterness. To fully give voice to my blessings, I must turn away from dwelling on the hardships of life created by this disorder.
I lift the lever that causes the plug to drop. I open the faucet full force. Only the one labeled hot. As water cascades into the deep, soaking tub, I peel off layers. Sweater, shirt, slacks, underpants, brassiere, socks are folded and stacked. I loosen the clasp on my watch, laying it on the ledge of the sink. I place a tall glass of water on the edge of the tub. I sit, and swivel my legs over the side, slightly adjusting the water temp by adding a burst of cold. I have plunged a thermometer into my baths, curious how hot I run them. After I asked the plumber to remove the scald feature from the tub, I usually run a bath that is 107 degrees. Coincidentally, it matches my body weight.
Using a liberal hand, I scatter a cup of Magnesium Chloride into the water. It is beneficial for aches and pains. When the water is precisely level with the top of the water jet, approximately ten inches deep, I turn off the knobs. I ease my feet into the steaming tub, planting them firmly in the water. Grasping the safety bar that is mounted on the wall, perpendicular to the tub, I gingerly lower myself into the water. As the scorching mass shifts to accommodate my body, the pain that plays in constant background and frequent foreground, to all that I do, is displaced by the sensation of heat. That heat sears my skin, penetrating through to my bones. It is that moment of sweet relief about which I dream. I lie still, up to my neck, surrounded by a liquid pool of heat, simply allowing the heat to become what defines me rather than it being the pain. I can see my heart race beneath the thin wall of my chest -- lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dubbing in a race all its own.My breath sends undulations through the water, such that the water is never completely still. For about twenty minutes, I have respite. Somewhere around the twenty minute mark, around when the water starts to cool, I become aware of the bony protuberance of my coccyx against the porcelain wall of the tub. My legs often develop spasms and seem to dance all on their own. The relief of the water’s heat begins to be outweighed by the discomfort of being in the tub. More times than not, I lie without moving while I allow the water from my bath to drain completely. When finally I stand, there are random puddles in the bottom of the tub, looking for all the world like a street after a rain shower. I drag myself out of the empty tub. I wrap in a towel, then take a seat. The effect of the intense heat sometimes makes me woozy, always relaxes me. Several times a week, I need to lie on the bathroom floor because I am too weak to get dressed, I am too weak to walk. I shut my eyes and enjoy the fact that I have succeeded in ratcheting down the pain temporarily. Eventually, I rise. Each time that I do, being the warrior that I am, I count opening the bathroom door as a victory.
Thursday, October 11, 2012
|Current Reading List|
This week, I met a women who told me that each of us has many resident aspects of ourselves that we need to define, get to know and embrace. I have given her theory consideration. I believe she was talking about emotional components such as anger, grief, playfulness, curiosity etc... She was expressing a model that seemed reasonable, but I still found myself reserved about the idea. After mulling over her premise for a few days, I was struck by one of those rare “AHA” moments. The insight to my resident aspects of self happened to be lying on the coffee table. Even today, with the addition of a Kindle to my life, I realized that paper and cardboard books are the most concrete evidence of my resident aspects. Seen in that light, my interior world is as obvious as the titles of the books I am reading.
Fall from Grace by Richard North Patterson. It’s a compelling novel set on Martha’s Vineyard.
Companion Through the Darkness Inner Dialogues on Grief by Stephanie Ericsson.
one thousand gifts A dare to live fully right where you are by Ann Voskamp
Photographing Martha’s Vineyard by Alison Shaw
The titles are straight-forward. No magic with bunnies appearing from a top hat.
It’s not simply that the titles of the books reveal what is going on in my life at the moment. What is equally telling is that three of the four books were perfectly, and lovingly, chosen by friends. I plunked down the cash to buy Companion Through the Darkness myself after I read one of Stephanie Ericsson’s essays. I was deeply touched by that one sample of her work. I knew I needed to read more.
Here’s what those titles say about me. I am a reader. I like stories. I am partial to Martha’s Vineyard. I am trying my hand at photography these days. I have been through darkness on my life journey, but overwhelmingly, I find myself in the light, grateful for each step I take. And my friends know, and accept me -- and all my parts, exactly as I am.
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
|Rainbows of light|
|A new window, a new sink, a familiar view.|
Forty years ago, I stood at this spot. I stood and washed dishes in a sink owned by my grandmother’s closest friend. Her sink was situated in a narrow alley of a kitchen, directly under a small window. I do not recall it ever being open, even in the summer. On either side of the sink were mountains of dishes -- on one side dirty, the other side, clean. I kept my eyes trained on the view outside as much as I could because I felt so claustrophobic in the tiny space. Around the corner is a wall dividing kitchen from dining room. I could catch sight of the crystal pendants that hung from the chandelier over the dining table. The rainbows of light that the prisms scattered always, always made me smile.
The hands of time spin forward. The fact that I am standing in the same house seems like magic. Again, at a sink, doing the dishes. This sink is wider, deeper and cleaner. This window, in triplicate, affords virtually the same view I remember from the seventies.
When I turn my head, directly in my line of sight is the same chandelier and the same table. Time has done nothing to slow the rainbows of light that continue to dance.