You Didn’t Know It, But I’m a Poet!

In my last post, Utensils Vs U-Turns, I used a quote from one of my all-time favorite poets, and suggested that I could, perhaps, have a bit of poetry in me. The truth is, I have always enjoyed, for as long as I can remember, writing poems and making up new, original verses for popular children’s songs. My poetry is the “Old Mother Hubbard, Went to the cupboard” brand of verse – I am drawn to reliable meter and perfect (or at least near perfect) rhyme. In an effort to share my gift of poetry with you (and, also, to get a quick blog post in before I head out of town for a week in the “greater” Big Apple area, visiting a dear, old friend), I have composed an “on-the-edge-of-epic” poem about my car, Louie. Get a glass of wine, light a cigar, and sit back and relax. You are about to be courted by some cultivated verse.

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Louie the Shark    

I bought an older Hyundai,

A sweet, reliable guy.

He’s the greatest transport buddy.

If I lost him I would cry.

 

There is one crazy thing, though,

he thinks he is a shark.

I know because he told me,

one night when it was dark.

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At first I thought him loony.

He’s just a common ride

who’d never seen the ocean,

and not once rode the tide.

 

But as I looked much closer,

I was surprised to find

a cute gray fin upon his back,

a baby sharkish kind.

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He had a battle scuffle

etched on his auto nose.

I’ve seen a real ocean shark

sporting one of those.

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And so, in part, for his sake,

I headed to the shore,

all the way to Virginia Beach.

six hundred miles and more.

 

My plan was for his welfare.

I hoped that he might find

a day spent near the ocean

would soothe his shark-like mind.

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He couldn’t hang out on the beach,

The lifeguards wouldn’t let him.

An access road with ocean views

Was the closest I could get him.

 

But, Oh, he was so happy,

his horn beeped Ode to Joy.

He didn’t want to pull away,

he shouted out, “Ahoy!”

 

I witnessed this with merry mirth,

my gray car’s alter ego.

And now I could believe him,

my auto shark amigo.

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I’m considering a vanity plate

(if they didn’t cost so much),

‘cause what I’d put upon it

would be the sovereign touch.

(“LUI SHRK”)

 

So someday you might see us,

driving in your town,

me and my harmless, land-locked shark,

sporting our sharky crown.

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I hope that you will greet us

and give my shark a wave,

’cause waves are what he longs for

my car shark, true and brave!

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Illusionary Lists

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I’ve reached an age where, sometimes, at the end of the day, I add insignificant things to my to-do list, just so I can cross more stuff off and get a good sense of accomplishment for my lazy self. Have you ever done that? It’s not as easy as it sounds. I have to plan ahead, when I’m writing out my list in the morning, and leave blank spaces for the potential, end-of-the-day add-ons. As the day wears on, and I find myself suffering from fatigue or allergy malaise, my list of things to-do begins to haunt me. Did I get the laundry done? Well, sort of. The clean clothes are lying in a neat pile on top of my cedar chest, but I can’t talk myself into the final step of folding them, or arranging them on hangers, and putting them away. Did I trim the cats’ claws? No, that’s been on the list for three days now (dislike that job immensely, I’ll wait until I notice them shredding the couch again). Did I make it to the library to return that book? Nah, the fines aren’t that bad, and they help support the library. How about defrosting the freezer? The weather cooled down too much for that job today. And, what’s this…., dust and organize all the books on my bookshelves? WHAT?! Who put that on my list? HONEY!?

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Time to do some damage control, i.e., strategize and do some inventive editing of my list. First of all, I’ll change the laundry job into several steps. Sort dirty clothes into lights and darks. Check. Put dirty clothes into washing machine. Check. Transfer clean clothes into dryer. Check. Sort clean clothes into neat piles for various family members. Check. Put my clean clothes away. Save that for tomorrow. Alrighty then, this is looking a lot better. Cross off those four completed items. Now, what else did I do today? Hmmmmmm….. Well, I brushed my teeth. Write that down, cross it off. I took a shower, write down, cross off. I pulled a few weeds in my vegetable garden, write/cross off. And so the creativity builds and the “finish lines” grow plentiful, and my list is transformed into something I’d be proud to share on social media.

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I only dispense this hard-won wisdom to you, my readers, as a means of building your own level of self-esteem. With a humble, whole-hog act of helpful generosity, I want you to have an empowering list to admire at the end of the day. Even if everything is not completed, all of the “cross-offs” on your list will look very impressive, and make you realize how much you really did accomplish. Here are a couple of my sample to-do lists, as they looked after my editing, to inform, enlighten, and inspire you.

Things to do today: (italicized items were added near the end of the day)

Get out of bed

Go to the bathroom

Make gluten-free muffins for breakfast

Warm up some Jimmy Dean’s pork sausage for breakfast

Do meal planning and grocery list

Weed vegetable garden

Weed flower garden

Write a blog post

Cut up vegetables for fajitas

Make guacamole

Make chicken fajitas for supper

Dig a pizza out of the freezer for dinner

Toss some baby carrots & dip on the table for a side dish

Go grocery shopping

Play several games of solitaire on my Ipad

Read news stories on my Ipad

Do a jigsaw puzzle on my Ipad

Shave my legs

Lay out long pants to wear to work tomorrow

 

Things to do tomorrow: (helpful for those of you who work outside the home; make these simple so no editing is even required!)

Get up at 6:15

Eat breakfast, leave for work

Do all of the stuff my boss makes me do

Drive home

Eat supper (hopefully some leftovers from yesterday)

Relax in recliner with cold drink and Ipad

Go to bed

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Do you see what I’m getting at, here? It’s not really all about the amazing things you accomplish, but rather, how many things are crossed off “the list” at the end of the day. These are visuals that I can appreciate. Yeah, sure. There are some days when I am extremely productive. I plow through my list accomplishing chores aplenty and serving my family a delectable dinner (with plenty of leftovers), followed by an evening walk in the neighborhood, and, after a shower, tumbling into freshly changed sheets for a night of energetic dreams. In those cases, list embellishment is not needed. On those days, I post pictures on facebook of my gardens, or my dinner, or scenes from my evening walk. That could go on for a few highly profitable days, and then, no matter how honorable my intentions might be, I find myself feeling just plain-old worn out, and it’s time for a couple of slow-paced days. These are the situations that call for creativity, ingenuity, and (perhaps) a little fabrication. Because, seriously people, it’s all about how impressive we can make ourselves look, right?!

Try it, dear ones, and I know you will thank me. Especially if you add to your list, “Read Grandma’s Coffee Soup blog,” because this is always a wholesome, beneficial use of your time. Then, cross that off the list and head off to bed. Tomorrow is a whole new day, latent with list-making potential. Put these new skills to the test, and control your lists, instead of letting them get the best of you!

Dusting Off the Ashes

My return to normalcy has been slow and steady. Oh, sure – some days it seems like New Year’s Day was just a week or so ago (and, just in case you’re wondering, I’m talking about the “new” year of 2016!), but when I try to reflect on the past twelve months, my life blurs into one mad rush of “what-the-hell-just-happened-and-how-did-I-survive-it” scenario. We all go through times like this: long, drawn out seasons of challenge and change and confusion.

Such times are difficult, but necessary. When in the midst of these arduous passages, I often wonder if I will ever come out again on the other side. Time slows to a sloth-like progression, and daily responsibilities loom like treacherous storm clouds on the horizon. Despair casts its net, and I fight it with all I’ve got, trying to avoid being tripped up and dragged down. “Hang in there just ONE…MORE…DAY,” becomes my daily mantra, while my constant friends, hope & faith, try to remind me that this trailblazing, uphill climb is leading somewhere worthwhile. Each day takes me further and further afield, and I grow weary trying to find my own way back to where I’d like to be. What frustrates me the most in these situations is that I feel like I was listening, that God had made His plan very clear to me, and His guiding hand had gone before me. But the place I ended up didn’t seem all that great, and God was suddenly, suspiciously, quiet. I’ve been here before, but still, I always have to remind myself…often – this is where trust comes in to play. Trust is often referred to as “faith in action.” With genuine trust, people are able to get up every day and do what needs to be done, and those whose paths intersect with them do not see a lost soul – they see a person carrying their own particular cross, who acts with compassion, empathy, good humor, and hope, spreading the light of faith, in spite of the trials. I believe that I was able to do this. From the things that I shared, close friends and family knew that I was going through a difficult time, but I tried hard to give my best to those I served each and every day. (To keep this honest, however, I must confess that while I was hanging out at home, I was sometimes crabby, I played a lot of games on my Ipad, and I slept more than usual, with my cat on my lap. And creative pursuits, like blog writing and crafting, were stored on a dark shelf in the dungeon.)

Fast forward now to New Year’s 2017. Exactly how I got here is a fuzzy mix of images, but at least I have arrived safely, and the storm clouds that tormented me for months are now but a distant memory. My hard fought battle with uncertainty and anxiety has been won, and I’ve come to a land of quiet joy and peaceful beauty. I recognize this country, because…I’ve been here before as well. It is the place I stumble upon when I have won the fight, when I have refused to give up. Upon arriving in such surroundings, it always seems much too bright. I blink my eyes, wandering around in a daze, trying to get my bearings. Sometimes, quite honestly, it takes a while to realize that I am in a better setting. The transition from feeling bewildered and alone is difficult to shake off – I’ve gotten used to it, and am not sure that I want to let it go, just yet. Slowly, the sun warms my bones and sharpens my senses. I look back to the west, into the valley through which I have labored, and I am struck by the rugged beauty of it all. I am able to recollect the gifts I received, and the accomplishments I made, while stumbling down the path that was laid out for me. I can gaze from afar upon my completed course, and see the good mixed in with the bad, and the memories of the journey come back to me.

I made two job changes during the past year, first, with an agency that provided me with training for Home Health Aid certification. I had to sit in a classroom and take notes, and study for tests, and pass hands-on clinical testing, and I am proud to say that I triumphed. My new boss even hinted that I was the best of the class. I know for a fact that I was the only one who aced the final exam…100%!! (At the age of 56, these kinds of accomplishments take on new meaning.) At that point, I thought that this agency was going to be the place I retired from. Imagine my vexation when the illogical scheduling procedures, coupled with the two-hour shifts scheduled all over town, soon began to wear me to a frazzle…and, I was stuck there for 6 months, because of the training agreement. Right in the midst of this unwelcome revelation, my dearest, most beloved client died. She had been doing pretty well, then started with some virus-like symptoms, went into the hospital for a few days, and suffered a massive stroke on the day she was supposed to be sent home. She passed away about 2 weeks after that. The gift that I received through that was knowing that I had brought some spiritual rest to the end of her days, by finding a wonderful young priest to come and visit with her a few times. I was even asked to do a reading at her funeral Mass, which was a great honor and privilege. Shortly after that trauma, I had a horrifying clash with a neighbor, who stood in my yard screaming, over and over again, right in my face, that I was “foul,” and spitting on my face as he screamed like a crazy man. This was not the first time we have been verbally attacked by these neighbors, but it was, by far, the worst. This time, though, his extended family was there for a party and witnessed the whole thing. I believe that they were shockingly appalled by his behavior (and, gave him a good talking-to!). Things have been much improved since that clash, and, even though I suffered terribly after that attack, I can see the good that it has wrought. It was around this time that I also got hired (through a friend’s recommendation) by a handicapped woman needing another PCA (personal care assistant). She does direct hire, and offered me 50% more per hour than I was making through the agency, and gave me set hours. I worked for her and continued with the agency until I thought I would drop, and then left the agency almost exactly six months after my first day of work. That was a difficult, but absolutely necessary step in my “recovery.” The final stab of the difficult journey was the loss of my sweet little Albert, my most favorite-of-all-time-kitty. He had actually become very sick earlier in the year, while I was on the edge of depression, but he had rallied to stay with me for several more months. He got me through the toughest days, and then it was time for him to go. He went quickly, suddenly becoming very weak and dying within a few days of that. It still breaks my heart to think of him, I miss him so!

So, anyway, here I am now, after a blessed Christmas visit with my growing family, all settled into a new, happy place (which will be purr-fect when I find a new feline friend to sit on my lap), with a lovely, but challenging, job (that I might not have been confident enough to accept without the HHA training experience). My new client (who shares a birth year with me) is also my newest best friend. We enjoy our time together tremendously, even on the difficult days. I have learned a great deal, and become a stronger person in many ways. All I’m hoping for now is a quiet year, with no “traveling.” I’m hoping that you’ll hear from me regularly once again. Growth and challenge are good things, but, let’s face it – too much of a good thing can drive a person batty!

Breaking the Age Barrier

Age never used to concern me much at all. When I was young, I was in no hurry to be a teenager, or sweet sixteen. Nor did I see any reason to rush to the magical age of twenty-one. I was always content, at any given point, with my actual age. As I left the twenties behind, I didn’t mind. Thirty? Who cares? I am still healthy and active. Forty? What’s the big deal?! I am having a great time with my family and friends! Fifty? Hey, I’m a cancer survivor, so I feel very blessed to still be around. Then, suddenly, without any warning, I hit the brick wall of fifty-five. There was an eardrum-splitting sound, similar to that of a high speed jet breaking the sound barrier, and, WHOA, I had found my age barrier, and I was totally unprepared!

In my ongoing effort to selflessly serve my fellow man, I am sharing this helpful information with you in an attempt to prepare you for this life-changing occurrence. The age barrier is not the same for everyone, so I can’t really predict when this will happen to you (although, the mid-to-late fifties is a safe bet). I have, however, compiled this invaluable list of “symptoms” (in no particular order) that you can watch for. If you start to notice any of these things happening to you, you are nearing your optimum-functioning age limit. You better strap in and get ready for an activity-altering jolt, followed by measured deceleration!

Symptom 1 – You find yourself waking up, in the middle of the night, every night, to get up and pee (even if you’ve been careful not to drink anything since noon the day before!). And, don’t even think about drinking a beer or a glass of wine before bedtime – that will go right through you!

Symptom 2 (which might be related to symptom 1) – Afternoon naps become your new hobby. I used to never be able to take an afternoon nap, and/or fall asleep in my recliner. These are two of my newly acquired skills, at which I am excelling!

Symptom 3 – In order to exit from a low-riding car, you have to roll out of the door onto the curb, and try to get to a standing position from there. (Ladies, do not wear a skirt when you anticipate dealing with this form of transport!)

Symptom 4 – One of your knees or ankles (or, any random joint) has a sudden, painful blowout that stops you in your tracks, but then returns to normal after about five minutes.

Symptom 5 – You’re switching over to all elastic waist and/or stretchy pants.

Symptom 6 – When you make your bed in the morning, it reminds you of a foothills landscape, because of all the accessory pillows you now need for comfortable sleeping (i.e., wedge, body, under-knees, etc.).

Symptom 7 – Random snot drops fall without warning from your nose, at the most inopportune times. (Watch the movie, Shadowlands, for a perfect example of this phenomenon.)

Symptom 8 – In public stairwells, other folks are always trying to figure out what that “snap, crackle, pop” sound is (coming from YOUR knees). However, you might not encounter this problem if your wheezing is loud enough to drown out the sound from your knee joints.

Symptom 9 – You finally decide that putting up with the smell and the inconvenience of coloring your hair is totally worth the small amount of satisfaction you get from at least being able to beat the gray! …Or… You don’t worry at all about the gray because you have no hair, but you do have a very impressive collection of caps!

Symptom 10 – Swallowing your pile of daily supplements helps you meet your daily intake of water.

Symptom 11 – Do I even need to address forgetfulness?! You can be sitting across the table from a close friend, having an intimate discussion with them, and suddenly you realize you cannot think of his or her name. This is a scary and embarrassing symptom which can only be addressed with daily doses of gingko biloba, Asian ginseng, fermented cod liver oil, vitamin E, a B-complex supplement, and 100 mg of phosphatidyl serine.

Symptom12 – Seeing yourself in the mirror of a public restroom, with harsh fluorescent lighting, triggers an anxiety attack.

Symptom 13 – Any little thing triggers an anxiety attack.

Symptom 14 – After several anxiety attacks and a trip to the doctor, you find yourself in a cardiac testing center waiting room with a bunch of old(er) folks, able to join in on a discussion regarding all of the above issues (with startling frankness).

This is obviously not a comprehensive list of all the possible symptoms of breaking your own, personal age barrier, but this will be a helpful start to guide you along the path to impending physical and mental breakdown. If you are able to relate to all of these age-related manifestations, you may have already passed the boundary into the land of decrepitude. If you can come up with a much longer list than this….you might want to update that life insurance policy, check into some pre-planned funeral options, and get back to church in preparation for your proximate appointment at those pearly gates, because (as a wise, old neighbor once told me), “you’re getting closer!”

Happy Birthday to Me!

Today we celebrated my birthday, with my first trip to the Cheesecake Factory! I am the kind of person who likes to tell everyone I meet that it is my birthday – the people I work with, the check-out lady at the grocery store, the person I bump into while out for a walk, our server at the restaurant – if I am given half a chance to interact with anyone on my special day, they will know about it and be given the opportunity to wish me well. Some of you might think that sounds obnoxious, and maybe it is, but I don’t really care what anyone thinks. What the heck good is a birthday if people don’t know that they should be telling you, “Happy Birthday!”? (I am agonizing right now about where to place that question mark with my last interrogative sentence. Should it be inside the quotation marks next to the exclamation point?! That just seems too weird, because then, it looks like I want people to give me a questioning birthday greeting, with a raised voice at the end, and that is just not what I am saying. So, I am breaking the rules, and leaving the question mark outside of the quotation marks, just to prove that I am, indeed, aloof to the norms of societal behavior.)

Anyway, getting back to the point, I LOVE hearing those words, “Happy Birthday.” Not quite six years ago, with the diagnosis of stage 2 breast cancer, I faced the fear, head on, of not celebrating any more birthdays. When doctors are telling you that you have a very aggressive form of breast cancer, and then they start giving you the statistics of your chances of being alive in five or ten years if you choose to take the chemo and radiation treatments, as opposed to opting out of treatment; when you’re going to the oncologist every other week for infusions, for the “necessary evil” toxin that floods into every cell in an effort to stop the cancer; when the hair falls out and the devastating complications of chemo knock you flat on your back, physically and emotionally, you might begin to think about the possibility of never getting back up again. I did. It’s not that I wanted to think that way, or even that I was prone to thinking that way, but chemo sometimes really messes with people. It chose to mess with me. And so the questioning fear came over me, what if this is the end? I was a home schooling mom, and my youngest was only in the seventh grade. She has a learning disability, but my home school program was giving her all she needed, and she was flourishing. Did I need to think about what her life would be like without me, and tie up loose ends?

That’s not a question that most of us like to think about. We all know that life on this earth comes to an end, sooner or later, for every one of us, but it’s not a concept we embrace too easily. Most of us just go about our daily lives, making plans and deposits into our retirement accounts, imagining that we will make it to a ripe old age and contemplate death as it draws near. For me, facing reality was painful and frightening, because death is something I preferred to keep out of my usual realm of thought. Dying “young” happens to other people, not to me….not yet, anyway. But, I did think about it, and I faced the chances of such a fate changing my plans. I began to realize that my “plans” are a puff of smoke, a tiny wisp of a cloud that no one would even notice on a bright, sunny day. The realization that came to me is that each and every day, being a gift from God, is not to be lived for me and my plans, but for the plans of the One who created me, who breathes life into my soul, the very author of life. The shape and content of my morning prayer began to change. Don’t get me wrong, I still wasn’t settled with the idea of giving up the ghost at that point, but I was learning to shift my gaze, from a foreground focus to a longer-range point of view.

I had always felt like I needed to find my way in life, and now it was becoming clear to me that what I really yearned for was to find God’s way for me, on a daily basis. Facing the potential loss of my life led me to a desire to live each day as thoroughly as possible, with God’s blessing upon my activity. Another thing that I was forced to recognize was that quiet time, relaxation time, down time…whatever you want to call it, is absolutely essential to a life of faith! I had been so used to being busy, busy, busy – planning, organizing, running around here, there, and everywhere (home schooling moms like to joke about the “home” part of the terminology, because we seem to find plenty of things to keep us out of the home!), but suddenly, because of a lack of physical energy and fragile emotional health, I started pulling out of activities. Everything left me utterly exhausted and stressed to such an overload that I would literally go into a daze because I could not cope with the struggle. I had never been a quitter before, so I found my behavior startling and embarrassing. I wondered what friends would think, and occasionally I tried to explain what was going on in my head, but mainly, I just ran away, settled into my recliner, and stayed there, safe and cozy.

From that vantage point, I was able to hear God’s voice stronger and clearer than I had for years, and mainly what I heard was something like this, “Be still, and serve those around you in love.” In these six years of waiting and serving, I have seen two of my daughters begin their married lives. I have helped in the care of my elderly mother-in-law and have given full-time care to my own mother in my home. I had the blessing of being at the bedside of both of these women when they breathed their last, seeing them off into eternity with words of love. I have had the joy of becoming a grandmother. I have completed my teaching career with the high school graduation of my youngest daughter. I have grown stronger and healthier with each passing year. And now…

Now I find that the landscape of my journey has changed, yet again. God has led me to new places that I would never have dreamed of going. With this change of course, I will not lose my bearings, I will not find myself questioning my way in life as in days gone by, because my hardships have taught me hard won lessons. I do not have to plot out my entire course, because I only have today. And today, I will live to the fullest of my ability, applying my unique gifts and talents to the challenges I meet, and I will strive to make a difference in the lives of those around me. Most importantly, I will offer it up to Him who has given me this gift of one more day. And if I receive the gift of another day, I will do the same, over, and over, until God deems that it is time for me to leave this life. This is all I need, and all that is asked of me, and in this, I find peace.