Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Something of My Father

Businessman father giving hand to a childHe cut an imposing figure, tall with a shock of thick dark hair. He smoked a pipe and wore tweed jackets. We met on several occasions–a few summer visits in which he took me to my first baseball game, my first ballet and introduced me to the wonders of the Smithsonian. He was most comfortable when he was teaching me something, an ongoing discourse about this subject or that. During the work week,  he was fine leaving me alone to fend for myself; five dollars from his wallet and directions to the swimming pool. I knew the lifeguards at the swimming pool better than I knew him. Or maybe they knew me better than he did. Either way, I was at home with my ten-year-old independence and confident in my ability to order breakfast at the counter of the local diner.

Once he took me to see a movie, “The Ten Commandments,” with Charlton Heston. I am not sure why he chose that movie. He wasn’t much for religion. As the screen bursts into a flaming sunrise, the voice over pierces the silence: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God.” My father leaned over and whispered into my ear, “Promise me you will never believe that, Stephanie.” And I nodded my head in agreement, knowing that I was lying, because I already believed in something bigger, in sunrises that were miracles, in conversations I had in the dark with the God of little children. But I wanted and needed to have some sort of agreement with him, something that made me feel that I was his daughter.

As I grew older, I saw him less and less. From the age of twelve until I was twenty-four I only saw him once. It is an archetypal story of the un-fathered daughter, who did not know male protection and was left with a discontented curiosity in lieu of  relationship. To this day it is easier for me to “do it myself” than to rely upon anyone, even my husband who tries to do things for me and often ends up being thwarted by my unrelenting and fierce independence.

My father has been gone for over 30 years now. My brother, sister and I wrote our pieces for the funeral, shook hands with people we didn’t know that had worked with him and gave some semblance of being a family, concealing well the fractures and fault lines of what had long ago broken. It was especially difficult for my sister who chose to sit in her hotel room alone the night after the funeral, without sleep, grappling with the grief of having known him well and now missing what would never be again. As for me, I drank straight shots of tequila with beer backs at the local bar with my brother and we did not share our thoughts or feelings. The next morning I was so numb that I didn’t even experience the effects of a hangover.

It’s odd to me that I never really felt angry with the father who was hardly there. Instead I sometimes felt sad. I keep a photograph of the two of us taken when I was twenty-five and he was sixty-something. In it I am leaning against his broad chest. He smiles directly into the camera, an arm around me, holding his pipe. My eyes are closed and I am nestled against him, a brief lingering of surrender and unrequited hopefulness.

I unwrapped a picture today. It is a charcoal drawing by an unknown artist. As my siblings and I went through my father’s things at his death, I found four such pictures. I remember the story that he told me about being in Germany in 1945, just after the war and how he made friends with a group of artists. He purchased pictures like these for Hershey bars and cigarettes. I had the four pictures framed, but it is really only one that speaks to my heart. The drawing is of small cabin in the woods and two deer are grazing at its front. The picture is serene and peaceful and I can I am taken by the artist that captured it in midst of decimation that the war had wrought. I imagine my father, buying this particular picture, a young soldier, touched by the peace that in conveyed. I would like to believe that what compelled him to long for such beauty among the rubble is within me too. It is the “something” of my father.

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Settling In

20140613_073608_resizedI suppose that I thought of retirement in the traditional sense in the way that I always thought of the word, meaning that you stopped. Maybe that is true for golfers. They stop working and then play golf until they die. I don’t play golf. Thus far my retirement has been anything but a stopping or a golfing. It’s been more like a wild wind that whips and swirls and when it finally dies down, everything in its path has been forever changed.

The odyssey of sorting, purging and packing started in September when my husband “retired” from clinical practice. That resulted in an encore career in which he consults. Consult is a word that covers a myriad of sins…technical writing to product development. He is definitely not retired in the classical sense. He is working from home. Working from home is a lot less stressful than maintaining an office and it suits him.  I’ve been doing some part-time work too, but mostly it feels as though I have been moving for a year.

To enumerate the components of this big life change is too much. It’s like forcing one of your friends to listen to your itinerary when you are over committed. So let me just say this. All this retirement business has landed us in the great northwest, where hubby, dog and I have managed to unpack ourselves into a new life that day by day settles in.

I woke up this morning to a light rain and squirrels dancing on the deck. There is a writing desk in the corner of the living room that was placed thusly for daily writing practice, and as the moving boxes dwindle, it is accessible and beckoning. Nonetheless, I sit in bed with a cup of hot tea and my laptop, a favorite place to order the chaos in my brain.

Hubby is already upstairs in his office doing non-retirement things. I am now in a position to resume the writing practice left fallow during the past nine months of packing up offices and houses and unpacking and now finally the great promise of settling in. My head is swirling with thoughts of what I want to write about and I am already thinking ahead to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November. Until then, however, I am committed to getting into the daily habit of writing down my stories.

Blogging has been a great way to get me writing, because as soon as I hit the “publish” button I have put myself out there for better or for worse. It doesn’t matter if the stuff is good or if it’s crap, the important thing is I have committed words to the page, put forth ideas, thoughts and feelings and now it’s out there. I don’t “publish” everything I write on my blog, but the blog is certainly a catalyst for continued effort.

Meanwhile, back to the dancing squirrels. The squirrels in Colorado were brown. Here they are grey, either way; Jeter has only fierce growls and barks for the furry little creatures. I can rest assured that thanks to my dog, we will all remain safe from squirrels and I can engage in daily writing practice without fear of being bombarded by acorns.

 

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Garden Tools and Summer Dreams

20140608_071803_resizedI watched from the kitchen window as he dug in the rich, dark soil and carefully placed the tomato plants and yellow squash. It was a voyeuristic moment, a glimpse into his peace. My husband works in his head…data and information, technical writing for both lay people and doctors. And here he was in a totally different scenario on this beautiful edge of summer, digging with his trowel and his hands, bent over plants, anticipating their fruits. He was quiet. I stood for a long time at the window and just watched, happy.

As the experience of intense driving and motel rooms between Colorado and here recede into memory, I find that we are relaxing a more and more each day. The stress of getting here with full trunks and a Labrador Retriever has given way to sitting on the deck of our new home in the morning and watching the cedar trees dance in the breeze. There are some birds that live near by that sound like cats. When I first heard one, I thought a cat was trapped somewhere. It took awhile to realize that it is a bird making the distressed sound of a loud meow. I have no idea what kind of bird it is, but it makes me laugh. I imagine the cats aren’t that thrilled being mocked.

Our stuff arrives from Colorado tomorrow. We have been sleeping in our new home on a sofa bed that we purchased. Here is the truth about sofa beds:  they are built for your eight year-old cousin, whose back is young. Sleeping in a sofa bed for adults is akin to lounging in an airline seat. I am so excited about sleeping in my bed on Monday night!

Yesterday we explored the local farmer’s market and came home with a bag of fresh greens and snap peas. We had also got raspberries, but they did not even make it to the car. It was fun walking around our new town and taking in the sites. Friendliness permeates this place, and while I know that there can be assholes everywhere, they seem to be in shorter supply here. There is something to be said for a small population. I think we humans were meant for tribes and communities and not for condensed, crowded spaces…at least I know that I am wired that way.

I am going to go water the garden now and say a little prayer over my husband’s tomatoes. Thank you comes easily to my heart this day.

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

The Characters at the Co-Op

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I’ve been eating a lot of my meals at the food co-op. Fresh green drinks and kim-che, the kind of stuff that makes some of my friends think that I am slightly bat-shit crazy and the kind of stuff that I love. Coming of age in the late 1960’s, I learned to cook from an Adel Davis book and held Jethro Kloss to be my bible for healthy living. I still eat basically the same way and now there is a whole new generation of health-food foodies that do the same, and I see them come and go at the food co-op.

Some of the folks at the food co-op, especially the younger ones, like to dress up. It makes me smile, because I used to “dress up” too. There was nothing like being 19 years old and struttin’ your self in fringed leather boots and a beaded headband, arms covered in silver bangles and a chunk of turquoise hanging from your neck. Now I look like any other middle-aged woman in shorts and running shoes, sipping green drink, but I have great appreciation for the costumes that make a statement of creative identities, parading in front of me, checking out today’s tofu casserole in the hot section of the co-op deli.

Yesterday my husband and I met a young man, who wasn’t in costume, who drove a car plastered with anti-GMO slogans and adorned with a large, misshapen fish on it’s roof. He called it a “sugar beet fish.” He is an activist collecting signatures to keep GMO foods out of our valley. It’s a big issue right now and I am not sure if small voters like me who cannot afford to buy their congressperson will really make a difference in stopping the evil of Monsanto. Monsanto Corporation is apparently by definition a person, who has more than enough money to purchase our leaders so that they can continue with their experiment of genetically messing with our food, and of course, that includes my green drink.

I have a lot of respect for anyone who takes up a cause and tries to facilitate change. We talked to him for a while and signed his petition, which will put a non-GMO initiative on the ballot this fall.

In addition to the hot deli, the thing I like best about the food co-op is it represents this little slice of the idealistic life. It’s a part of myself that I don’t want to lose. I’ve been blessed to have my own businesses over the years. I get paid well these days for consulting work and up until my recent move, I had a closet full of power suits. I like that world, but the world of the co-op, where people want to dress in feathers and beads to separate themselves from the masses; where young activists believe that they can and will make a difference; where the woman behind that counter that takes my order for green drink never looks at me like some of my friends do when I ask for more cucumber instead of apple; this slice of life is dear to my heart. Health food, personal creativity, social justice and acceptance–these are things that I have valued since my youth and continue to be a part of my moral fiber. Plus, I really like the woman who wears the rainbow pants, ears and a pony tail–no literally a pony’s tale, like hanging from her yaya pony place.

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Meet the Neighbors

We are meeting our new neighbors. We share a driveway with a young couple that have small children. I like having kids next door. They are loud and chaotic and their laughter can be infectious. I like to hear their conversations, which at times seem a lot more real than adult conversations I hear.  Kids will tell you what they think!  The couple welcomed my husband and I and suggested a bar-b-que later in the summer.

IMG_20140602_105030_resizedJust up the road on the corner is an old cemetery from the 1800’s. It was the first cemetery in Ashland. I have a fondness for cemeteries, especially older ones that tell the history of its place in names and dates etched into stone. This one has a bench toward the back of the property where one can sit and contemplate the ephemerality of life. We are here and gone in the blink of an eye and there is both fear and perfection in that. Sometimes I like to walk the rows of graves and plots and read the names, saying them aloud in a kind of honoring of those who have passed. The winds slowly erode the older stones and the names begin to fade…another reminder of how we receded from life until even our name has been taken by the wind. The cemetery is the perfect neighbor; quiet and peaceful and welcoming to times of sitting quietly meditating upon the circle of life.

Then there is Sandra. She and her husband Richard live across from me. I met her yesterday morning. She was standing in the middle of the most amazing garden I have ever seen. Her body is lean and tan from the labor that it takes to keep this parcel of land thriving in blossoms. I like her hardiness and her obvious dedication. She feels like someone I would like to get to know…and maybe she will share some gardening wisdom with me.IMG_20140602_105147_resized

I haven’t met the neighbor on the other side of me yet. I saw that he was doing Tai Chi in his yard yesterday morning and I watched from a respectful distance, appreciating how graceful he looked. He plays the saxophone. My husband and I heard him practicing. Fortunately, he is not new to the instrument!

Right now we drive up and down the hill between hotel and house, watching the final touches being put on our new abode. Jeter, ever-faithful Lab, has christened the yard and claimed it as his. Dean and I assembled some patio chairs from the Home Depot yesterday. We were grateful for the place to sit that they provided in the afternoon as we waited for the phone guy to finish his job.  Waiting on phones is like waiting for Godot. The two-hour block of time we were told to allot, turned into seven.  Oh well, I had a place to sit.

I love the moisture in the morning air here and the green that surrounds us. I like our neighbors.  I am eager for our stuff to get here from Colorado so that we can move in and settle. In the meantime, I am enjoying the anticipation and the endless conversations with Dean about where to place furniture and whether to plant lilacs. Life seems friendly.

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Today I am grateful for…

iStock_000015756375XSmallI read a lot of other bloggers. I learn from how other people write; what they write about; and what subjects inspire them. Last year I found a blog called All of Us (http://all-ofus.com) that was a mother chronicling her child’s journey with cancer. It’s good to report that the journey had a happy ending. Along the way I was amazed and inspired by the grace of both mother and child and found myself rooting for them each step of the way.

Recently I’ve been following a blog by Ruth Rainwater. It’s a simple blog that lists a different gratitude every day. I look forward to reading what she writes. She makes the seemingly mundane beautiful and important. She takes things that I would have thought of as flat, and makes them full. I know that there is great power to change the heart and mind by being grateful. Gratitude has gotten me through some fierce sorrows. Sometimes the world seems like it is full of crazy bat-shit people and they are all in my way…those are the times that I especially appreciate the Ruth Rainwater’s of the world who inspire me to get a grip in the face of challenge and humble me to open my eyes and appreciate every moment of this life!

Today I am grateful for other bloggers and the inspiration that they bring. I didn’t write much this past year because I had so many changes to deal with–retirement, a move to a new state, a new home, and all the purging and packing that come with those things…but I continued to read and seek blogs that move me. As I get settled into my new home, it is my intention to write more and get back into a rhythm of posting. My writing chops are weak.  “Use it or lose it” applies.  I struggle with finding my voice and the confidence to write each day…and I do know that this is the way back.  Just get in the chair and write.  There is no muse or calling that will do it for you…just sit down and write.  But I digress…the Word Press community is more valuable to me than I have previously realized.  I am grateful I had blogs to read this past year when I was not writing so much and grateful now that those very blogs are inspiring me to get with the program again.

Ruth begins all of her posts with “Today I am grateful for…” So, here’s to you kid: I am grateful for Ruth Rainwater and all the other bloggers who share their messages of thanks and hope. It was Meister Eckhart, the 17th century mystic who said: “If the only prayer you ever prayed was thank you, it would be enough!”  Onward to new beginnings!

Please visit Ruth Rainwater’s blog at:   http://newbeginningsgratitudejournal.wordpress.com

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Sort of, Almost, Not Quite Landing in Ashland, Oregon Chronicles

Silver Falls State Park

Day three of the drive from Colorado to Oregon got prettier with each passing mile. The high Nevada desert gave way to California cotton woods growing along the farmer’s ditches, and pastures stretching their long, green fingers out into the land. Blue skies and bright sun followed us through California and up to the Oregon border.

In the movies the young couple might have started this day with tender anticipation. But two slightly crisp around the edges, curmudgeonly 60-year-old bed fellows began instead with “why the f*&K can’t I get onto our website? Do you know what is going on with these morons?” A morning walk and caffeine helped us load up the cars and put it in perspective. We will never know the “morons” behind the scenes of the internet company upon which we have built our website, and even in the most exciting of times and adventures, I expect that they will continue to annoy, albeit anonymously, from time to time…a conspiracy just waiting to happen one fine spring day.

I must admit that pretty landscape makes for a less stressful drive. My foot felt a little less heavy on the pedal today inasmuch as I was drinking in the images the lead to the portal marked “new adventure.” We came upon towns with quaint main streets: Susanville is a little California town that I imagine was named after a beloved mother or daughter. Weed on the other hand was either named after the television show, the crop grown there, or maybe someone really just thought the place was a bunch of weeds and thus named it so. I like my version better, however.

We rolled into Ashland around 1:30 in the afternoon, sweaty and excited. Chicken wings and Caesar salad from the Ashland Food Co-op was lunch. If not for the beauty of this little town, I would move here just for the chicken wings at the food co-op.

We decided to see how our house looked before we checked into the hotel and it did not disappoint. Doing a remodel long distance doesn’t allow you to participate in the day-to-day nuance of the process, so we have had to trust and it looks as though our trust was well placed. We wandered around checking out all the work that has been done these past few months and talking about where to place furniture.

Our stuff won’t get here until later in the month. In the meantime, we will visit the house everyday while the finishing touches are put in place. Tomorrow we are hoping to sleep in and then make a trip to the nursery for some tomato plants and for flowers to put by the front door. In another week or so we will have the fun of getting moved in. I hope we don’t start the day out with the conspiratorial Internet company. But if we do, I will try to remind myself that the texture of life is created by moments rude and sublime, frustrating and celebratory. No one ever believes the sappy characters in the movies anyway, do they? Those characters never drove for three days and slept in hotel rooms with a Labrador retriever who barked at the slightest noise and kept waking them us–thus the crispy around the edges–did they? Life happens amid our plans, and isn’t it grand. Welcome to Ashland.