Thursday, February 28, 2013

Challenge - Day 17: "Sweet"

After a successful trip to the east coast, I am back home and ready to resume my writing challenge. I'm sure some of my recent adventures will pop up in my posts over the next few days; we had a great time.

When I made my flight reservations for the trip, I booked in and out of Raleigh, NC, even though I knew we'd be driving up to Virginia and back. With the current TSA regulations and restrictions, it just made everything easier to come and go from the same location. Our obligations ended early Saturday evening, so Leah and I decided to go ahead and drive back to Raleigh that night instead of waiting to leave early Sunday. The drive would take over three hours, but we weren't too tired, the weather was good and getting back on Saturday would give Leah all day Sunday to get ready to return to work on Monday. Off we went. The first half of the drive, at least, was on smaller country highways; we didn't hit the interstate until almost into North Carolina. It was quiet, not much traffic and an easy drive. We fell into talking about all that had happened over the last few days and how good it had been to spend time together and with our mutual friend, Vicki. Our conversation was relaxed and flowing, typical of long-time friends who drift from subject to subject, back and forth. We agreed ahead of time to keep talking so whoever was driving wouldn't get sleepy, since we both have turned into chickens in our old age -- we go to sleep when it's dark and wake up with the sun. We talked of previous road trips and I told her how my niece, Carrie, and I passed the time when we were driving together by singing. We'd say, "Sound of Music," and proceed to sing all the songs from that show we could remember, laughing and making up lyrics when we didn't know the right words. Then we'd go on to "Mary Poppins," or "John Denver." When I said those last words, that did it for Leah and me and we launched into "Take Me Home Country Roads," substituting "North Carolina" for "West Virginia," even though the syllables don't match. 

I didn't realize how many John Denver songs I remembered. You know how it is when you start singing, words flow from your mouth without thinking, words I haven't sung in years and years, words that, if you asked me, I couldn't tell you. But when you sing them, another part of your brain takes over and they flow out, as if you just sang them yesterday. I told Leah that I remembered how much I loved John Denver's music when I was young. I had several albums, but my favorite was a live, double album, "An Evening With John Denver." I would lie on my bed at night, giant headphones on so I could turn the volume up high, listen to those songs and sing along. I was really great on harmonies and imagined that one day, John or someone like him would discover that and ask me to sing backup. Leah and I laughed about that.

We talked about John Denver and what a nice, sweet guy he always seemed to be. We were both fans of his television show and just loved his persona. I know he had some sort of substance abuse problems in his life, and it is sad to think that his marriage to Annie -- she who inspired "Annie's Song" ended in divorce -- but overall I remember his laughter and seemingly wide-eyed fascination with life. It still hurts to think about him tragically dying while piloting a new aircraft, one of his passions. I'll never forget this really sweet man who wasn't ashamed to be sweet.

I returned home and, almost immediately, downloaded "An Evening With John Denver" from iTunes. Each night this week I've plugged my earbuds into my iPad and listened to those songs as I fall asleep, somewhere around the fourth or fifth one. Today I'm sharing with you the song that I think best expresses the sweetness of John Denver, "The Boy From The Country," (not to be confused with "Thank God I'm A Country Boy.) I hope you enjoy it and take a minute to remember the spirit of this truly nice man. 

Thanks for stopping by. It's good to be back; I'll see you tomorrow.    

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Challenge: Vacation

Time for a little Calvinball change in my writing challenge rules. I'm going on vacation.

In fact, I'll be very busy spending the week with two of my very best friends, Leah and Vicki. I go first to Raleigh, NC for a few days and then we drive up to Newport News, VA. There my friends and I will be attending a fundraising event for the Patient Advocate Foundation (PAF.) This is a wonderful nonprofit organization that helps those who are battling life-threatening diseases cope with the business of being ill. PAF tries to manage the burdens of insurance negotiations, treatment, employment issues and legal problems for the patient so that he or she can concentrate on the most important thing -- getting well. I hope you will follow the link I inserted above sometime and read about the great work they do. My friend, Leah, is one of the founders of PAF and still serves on their Board of Directors.

I won't be posting while I'm gone because I want to spend all the time I can with my these ladies. Also the mobile app for Blogger is only so-so; mobile posting can be very frustrating. I will pick up the writing challenge when I get back and hope to have some new adventures to share. Although, you know what they say, what happens in Newport News . . . .

Thanks for stopping by.   

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Challenge - Day 16: "Something You Bought"

I've been working on the railroad
All the live long day.
I've been working on the railroad
Just to pass the time away.

Two years old, blonde hair, huge blue/gray eyes. A little boy singing his favorite song over and over again as he walked and jumped back and forth on the sectional sofa in the living room. All this caught on videotape by the mom who couldn't bear to scold him for jumping on the furniture because it was just so cute. A videotape watched repeatedly by the boy and his mom as he grew because they loved to laugh at the hard evidence of (1) him being so cute and (2) him breaking the rule about the furniture. Caught red-handed. It became one of their favorite private jokes. 

A few years later the mom found a clock for sale at Christmas time. One shaped like an old-fashioned pocket watch with a train embossed on the front. It was larger than a watch and opened to reveal a clock surrounded by a miniature train on a track. When the clock was wound, the train moved around the circle playing "I've Been Working on the Railroad." 

"How perfect," thought the mom. "I'll buy this a put it away for a few years, save it for a time when he is older. Some special occasion like high school graduation. Some day when he'll smile and enjoy the memory of the video. The video of him singing his favorite train song and breaking the rules. It will be a special moment for the two of us again."

I took the clock out of the box for the first time today, took these photos and put it back. It will probably return to the cabinet where it has been sitting for years, waiting for me to figure out what to do with it. I don't want to leave it out where I can see it; this memory still hurts too much to be reminded of it every day. Even writing this has been much harder than I thought it would be. So much so that I don't think I can write much more.

Thanks for stopping by today. I'll see you tomorrow. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Challenge - Day 15: "Water"

The way I have been approaching this daily writing challenge is to finish a post, then look at the next topic and mull it around overnight and into the next day, deciding what to write. Last night, when I read that today's topic was "water," a tune immediately popped into my head and has refused to leave. I guess that's what I'll write about.

The song is "Cool, Clear Water," by The Sons of the Pioneers, including their most notable member, Roy Rogers, although he's not singing lead. This version of the 78rpm gramophone recording was posted on YouTube and seems true to the original spirit of the group.

I love the imagery in this song. The cowboy and his faithful horse, Dan, ride behind a herd of cattle all day, fighting dust and heat, longing for the evening when they can enjoy cool, clear water. His throat is dry and his soul cries for water. The water will wash away his discomfort, slake his thirst and give him the regeneration he needs to go out and face the next day. It is soft and calming -- water, cool, clear water -- and that calming quality has been on my mind all day.

Calming is how I most often think of water. When I don't feel well or when I'm agitated and distressed, a shower, bath or dip in the pool is what it takes to settle me down, pour balm into my soul and make things right again. "There is a balm in Gilead ". . . . Was Gilead a pool? Somehow I think so. There was a stream of water running over rocks -- a cool, clear stream flowing down into a deeper pool. A pool of bluegreen water where you could sit and lose yourself in thought, and when you finally rose to leave, feel better about the world and the struggles you faced. Water, cool, clear water.

Thanks for stopping by today. Take a couple of minutes to listen to this song and feel the calmness if you can.  


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Challenge - Day 14: "Morning"

Somewhere in the late 1980's, Maureen and I planned a camping trip to Inks Lake State Park. Along with all our camping gear, we brought with us her three-year-old son, Chris, and my fourteen-year-old niece, Aimee. Our departure time was delayed and we didn't arrive at the park until well after dark, so imagine the scrambling to get unpacked, get the tent put up and beds ready for the night, all the while trying to be as quiet as possible because some people around us had already gone to bed.

It was a long night. Chris had slept in the car for most of the drive, so he was very alert when the rest of us were ready to konk out. There we were, lying in the dark, Maureen and I on air mattresses and Aimee on a cot. Chris was lying next to Maureen. Then the three-year-old questions started. "Why are we here?" Who are these people?" "Why do I have to sleep on the floor?" He rolled off the air mattress and begged his mom to pick him up and put him back on the mattress because it was "too high" for him to get back on himself. On and on this went for hours. At first Maureen tried to quietly answer his questions, hoping he'd eventually get tired and go to sleep. I decided the best tactic was to stay absolutely silent and leave it all on Maureen. Aimee was a real trooper; she had one of those hand-held, battery-powered personal fans and the closest she came to complaining was to sigh deeply and switch on the fan for a few seconds to cool off her face as the night dragged. Somewhere near 4:00am he dropped off and we finally got some sleep, only to be woken by one of our neighbors when, at the first light of dawn, he stood outside his tent and whistled the entire song, "Morning Has Broken." I hate that song.

Thanks for stopping by today. I'm posting late because my husband took me to San Antonio for a wonderful Valentines Day dinner and we just got home. I hope all of you were able to be in touch with someone you love today. See you tomorrow.  

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Challenge - Day 13: "Happiness"

Irony is hitting me from all sides today. I'm really not feeling up to par, it is unlucky #13 on the challenge topics and, of course, the topic is "Happiness." I'm going to have to reach down and dig for this one, but maybe that's the point.

Benjamin Franklin said, "The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself." Sometimes you catch a full wave of happiness, hitting you in the face, washing over you like a true ocean swell. Other times you are lucky if you're able to grab just a little piece of it as it dashes away from you at full speed. But most days I believe you slide along a continuum between the two ends of the spectrum, not unhappy but not bubbling over either.

I've had a lot of heartache in my life; more than most people, less than others. I have learned that you really to have to pursue happiness. Look for those moments that make you smile and be ready and willing to grab them and hold on, and don't be surprised if they don't present themselves very often. It is said that some people don't have the capacity for happiness and there's a ring of truth in that. When you think constantly about your misery it blocks you from seeing and grabbing those bit of happiness. I have definitely been in that dark place myself and know others who are still there. You have to work at happiness. Get out there and pursue it hard.

Today I was having lunch by myself in a cafeteria so it was easy to listen in on the conversations around me. Two older ladies were at a table next to me; each had to be at least in their early 70's. I heard one lady say to the other. "Yes, Justin Bieber is going to have to learn to be more than a boy toy. He's going to have to change if he wants any staying power." I loved it, smiled a big smile, reached out and locked on to that happy feeling. It was good.

Thanks for stopping by today; I'm feeling better.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Challenge - Day 12: "Something You're Reading"

I don't know what it is with me and challenges lately, but in addition to this daily writing task, I issued another one to my old high school friend, Andy. You may remember I wrote recently about reconnecting with her. During our reminiscing about high school days we talked about our English teacher, Miss Jane Mitcham. Miss Mitcham was a legend in our school district. She had taught forever and had advanced to the position of English Curriculum Director for the entire district. (At the time we were seniors, I'm guessing she was in her early 60's.) Miss Mitcham loved the classics and had a reputation for being tough and serious about them. Andy and I were two of the few students who discovered that she also had a wicked, wry sense of humor, which made us really like her when most of our peers were very intimidated. We did well in her class

Miss Mitcham's favorite book was George Eliot's Middlemarch, so, of course, it was a mandatory read for our senior English class. I guess I got carried away thinking about the "good old days" and suggested to Andy that she and I should read and discuss Middlemarch again in honor of our old teacher. She accepted the challenge. 


I don't know what we thinking. We are both really choking on this task and find ourselves laughing and scrambling for Cliff Notes. I don't recognize anything in the story. I mean, nothing. I didn't expect to have detailed recall, but for nothing to be familiar? Makes me suspect that, way back when, I may have tap danced my way around this assignment, reading just enough passages and scanning Cliff Notes to get through the required essay and test. So now it is finally time to pay the piper.

Set in England of the late 1800's, it is the story of provincial life in the village of Middlemarch. The principal heroine is Dorthea Brooke, a serious, high-minded girl who has an idealistic and totally unrealistic idea of life and marriage. (Don't most young girls?) She is determined to marry the stuffy Rev. Casaubon, a man much older than her, and she eventually does. Cut to the arrival of a new man in town, Dr. Lydgate, whose ambitions start stirring things up. That's as far as we've gotten. You know that Dorothea is destined to have her illusions destroyed, but will it be Dr. Lydgate or someone else who plays a role? 

It has taken a while to get used to reading nineteenth century literature again, to adjust to its word usage and subtle humor, but I'm beginning to get back into the groove. I'm determined to finish it and will admit that the story is starting to pull me in. Miss Mitcham would be proud or at the very least, laughing in revenge.

Thanks for stopping by today; tomorrow's topic is "Happiness." See you then. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Challenge - Day 11: "In Your Bag"

You don't really want to know what's in my bag, because there's nothing interesting. I'm just another one of those women who keeps a lot of "stuff" in there just case the need arises. The contents were a lot more entertaining when I had small children and carried what I called "a mom purse." That held all kinds of games, food and miscellaneous paraphernalia necessary for a mom on the go. 

Much more interesting than what's in my bag is the bag itself. As usual, it comes with a story. Two years ago I spent several weeks in the summer with my niece in Europe. She and her husband lived in Germany, where he was stationed with the Air Force. At the time of my visit, her husband was deployed to Iraq, so she and I had the whole visit to do whatever we wanted. One of our mini-trips was to Bruges, Belgium where we spent three days touring and shopping. (I wrote about our moving tour of WWI batterfields and memorial cemeteries in this previous post.) The shopping in Bruges was fantastic, with many unique stores and boutiques, not just the usual brands you see wherever you travel in the world. While walking back to our hotel one afternoon, I spied a purse in a store window and knew I had to have it, no matter the price. Fortunately it turned out to be very reasonable for an all leather purse. It's called the Tulip and designed by Linde Van der Poel under the company name by-Lin. Her designs are sold in several stores in The Netherlands, Belgium and Germany and, at the time I bought the purse, she was planning expansion to England and the U.S.  All of her designs are inspired by nature -- flowers, leaves and the like -- and are unique and very eye-catching. 

The Tulip is her signature piece and is referenced throughout her collection. I have it in red leather. The purse is what it sounds like, a large tulip. The top is operated by a leather drawstring so, as you open the purse, the petals unfold and one can easily access everything in the bag. 

It will actually open even wider than shown in the photograph, almost to the point where it lies flat. Isn't it fabulous? 

When I got home from the trip I couldn't wait to unpack my fabulous bag and start carrying it around. I just knew everyone would think it was as fabulous as I did. And you know what? They did. Everywhere I went people asked, "Where did you get that fabulous bag?" and I would tell the story. Men would stop me in the mall to ask where they could get one like it for their wives. I would be on my way into a restaurant and someone would yell at me from across the street, "Great purse!" Friends and relatives wanted me to get my niece to go back to Bruges, buy bags for them and ship them here. You know, fabulous-ness wears thin after a little while. I started wanting to be anonymous again, to blend in with the crowd. I found myself tucking the tulip bag under my coat, trying to hide how fabulous it really was, until the point came where I just switched bags. Yes, I put the fabulous Tulip bag in the closet where I alone could admire it and went back to only being noticed when I really wanted to be. But now I am thinking it is time to bring it out again. I think I'm strong enough to bear the responsibility

When you have the time, go to by-Lin's website via this link. This designer really does have some beautiful, creative items in her collection. And if you think you can handle it, order one for yourself and experience being fabulous first hand. I suspect most of you already are.

Thanks for stopping by. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Challenge - Day 10: "Close-up"

"Mr. Demille, I'm ready for my close-up," "up close and personal," "close-in," "Close to You," "closed for rennovations," I'm struggling with this topic; it was much more appropriate for a photo challenge than one for writing. 

When thinking about a close-up photograph, my immediate reaction is to pull back,  "No, not too close." Not close enough to see my flaws and imperfections. Not too close, or you might see some of the real me. We harbor the illusion that we can control what people see about us, that they see only what we want them to see. I do believe that, to some extent, this is true. It's part of my personality makeup. I see "knowing me" like a hand of cards. I hold all the cards and play them, one at a time, when I'm ready to reveal. Other people view this situation completely differently. They lay all their cards on the table and let you see everything about them, all at once. "You either take it or leave it, but this is who I am." Of course there a varying degrees in between, but most people tend overall to be one way or the other. 

The problems come when I encounter someone who is able to read my cards before I am ready to reveal them. It can be a very disarming experience because I have to admit (1) this person is more perceptive than I gave them credit for and (2) maybe I'm not as "in control" as I think I am. 

I worked for a company once that used an assessment tool called The Johari Window as a team-building exercise. It was facilitated by a professional, which was important, and everyone had to agree to only use positive input because the negative had huge potential for harm. There were four "panes" of the window: Public Self - things known to me and others; Private Self - things known to me only; Hidden Self - things known to others that I don't know or that I think others don't know and Unknown Self - things no one knows. The exercise was done in a small group, about six, made up of people who were already close and had worked together a number of years. As a group, we completed the window for each person and I kept my window for a long, long time. I remember sitting back in my chair and almost holding my breath as my friends listed things in my "Hidden Self" pane. How did they know these things about me? I had never told anyone so they weren't supposed to know. 

One person in particular said something that made my mouth hang open, metaphorically, although I'm not completely sure it wasn't literally, too. He said, "You don't always let your candle of intellegence burn at full brightness. You hold back, never playing dumb, but playing not as smart as you really are sometimes to keep from intimidating people, particularly men." Now you have to remember that this was in the 80's and women were still fighting a hard battle for acceptance in the workplace. We had to learn all types of ways to succeed without "rubbing it in the faces" of our male counterparts. If you were tough and competent, you were a "viscous power-hungry bitch." On one occasion a male coworker actually said to me, "You know what your problem is? You're too smart." Let's just say that I and the other strong women I worked with, learned to walk a tightrope; sometimes we danced on it, too.

So for someone, a man even, to burst my bubble of self-illusion that easily was eye-opening to me. It actually became very liberating. In my mind it was now "out of the bag," so what the heck.  I had never "dimmed down" on personal work, that had gotten me where I was, but from then on I didn't worry much about "being nice" to male coworkers when I had ideas better than theirs. Oh, and the guy who burst my bubble? Five years later we got married. Guess he did know me pretty well.

Thanks for stopping by today; see you tomorrow. 

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Challenge - Day 9: "Where You Sleep"

It has been quite a day for me and my head is buzzing with thoughts about the past and plans for some serious writing on my novel. I received (and answered) a long email today from my former journalism teacher, about whom I wrote in a post last month when I reconnected with my best friend from high school. My friend and I have been texting back and forth all afternoon, working on getting me off my ass and motivated to finish my novel. In the middle of all of that, I baked a pina colada pie and a huge chicken and biscuits casserole for my husband's poker game tonight. My body is tired, but my mind is firing on all cylinders. Now let's see if I can switch gears and get to today's topic of my self-imposed writing challenge. 

I dearly love where I sleep. It is my favorite place in the house. I spend a lot of my time there. It's where I read most of the time, watch television and surf the web/ check email/ browse Facebook, etc. on my iPad. I share this space with my husband and two dogs. Maybe I should more correctly state that my dogs share this sleeping space with my husband and me . . . if they have to . . . reluctantly. But most often the dogs and I share the bed in the evenings, with my husband coming in at 10:00pm to watch "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" followed by "The Colbert Report." My husband usually has to revert to trickery to claim his space, but that's a whole post in and of itself.

For years I have been a bed linens junkie. I have silk sheets, high thread count Egyptian cotton sheets, bamboo fiber sheets, flannel sheets, "Raining Cats and Dogs" print sheets. You name it, I probably have it sheets. But my most recent find and now new favorite sheets are made by Eucalyptus Origins and sold at Bed, Bath and Beyond. The sheets are made of a fabric called Tencel which is produced from the wood pulp of eucalyptus trees. Now I realize that, once again, I have probably fallen for someone's brilliant marketing scheme for using the byproducts of paper-making, but I don't really care. I love these sheets and have already bought a second set. The fabric is strong and smooth without being too heavy and has that all-important "feels great on my skin" factor. They have a moisture control capability that is essential for, let us say, menopausal women. So far they have not pilled up when washed (I hate that) and come out of the dryer looking perfect and wrinkle-free. Not that I would even think of ironing a sheet, but the idea of wrinkle-free makes me happy. The sheets stay cool and are deep enough to cover our mattress with memory-foam topper without slipping off. This is important, too. I hate it when I have to re-stretch the fitted sheet over the corners every morning. I find myself longing for the feel of the sheets whenever I pass by the bed during the day, wishing I could climb in for just a few minutes . . . often I do. 

Years ago when I was in Scotland with my sisters and Maureen, we stayed at a hotel that had a long advertising flyer (about 8 inches by 20 inches) on each bed. It said something like, "We guarantee you the best night you've ever had in this bed or your money back." I saved it then because I thought it would be great fun for a single woman (me) to frame it and hang it above her bed. Somehow I never got around to doing that, but I still have the sign and have been thinking that I might use it now. That's how much I love where I sleep. 

Thanks for stopping by. Gotta' go now. My head is still buzzing.  

Friday, February 8, 2013

Challenge - Day 8: "Daily Routine"

This has to be the most boring topic on the list -- my daily routine. Just a few days ago I was talking to one of my friends about how I stay busy most all day but, at the end of the day, cannot tell you what I achieved. We were discussing the transition from the workplace to being "mostly retired." At least when I had a salaried job I could tick off a list of accomplishments at the end of the day. Now it seems my life is more of a process, with no distinctive goal in sight other than to keep living and not have knee surgery. (My knees are not "bad" and I hope to keep them strong. It seems like the majority of the people I know end up having knee surgery, so this is a worthy goal.)

I do have some things I do routinely. The fourth Monday afternoon and the first Friday afternoon of each month I volunteer at the Visitor Center. That's always entertaining because of the never-ending variety of questions we get asked, both in person and by phone. I once had a woman from New York call, wanting to know how she could get in touch with whoever collected the garbage from roadside parks in Texas. She had been in Texas on a motorcycle tour the week before and thought she had left her cell phone at a roadside overlook somewhere near our little town and wanted to recover it. She was very aggressive (New York, remember?) and more than a little upset with me when I didn't offer much hope for her quest. Exasperated, I finally said, "Lady, you need to buy a new cell phone," and hung up. Sometimes you just have to hit people over the head with a 2 x 4. My monthly routine also includes Mexican Train dominoes (second Thursday) and Mahjong (any Wednesday we can get it together,) but I don't have many tasks I do on a daily basis, other than feed the dogs. That task takes precedence and they will remind me enthusiastically if I'm running late. 

For a little more than a year now, my husband and I try, at least twice a week, more if possible, to go to the San Marcos Activity Center and work out in the pool there. Neither of us are strong swimmers, so we power walk in the pool. I also do a series of exercises using aqua bell hand weights to tone my arms and upper body, wall stretches and squats and sets of leg work using a kick board. Scott simply walks the pool as fast as he can. Some of you may remember I wrote about how I think that, at this point in life, I can forget math and algebra, mostly because my husband is a math genius. (Read about this here if you are interested.) He has calculated the length of the pool and estimates that 37 laps make up one mile. While he powers away, walking as many laps as he can, usually about 55, my routine is this: (1) arm exercises (2) ten walking laps, with two of them sideways and two backwards (3) wall stretches and squats (4) ten more laps (5) straight kicks and frog kicks with the board and (6) ten more laps. The whole thing takes exactly one hour; it seems much longer. Seriously, I do enjoy the workout. I feel great afterwards and can tell it has significantly improved my stamina and muscle tone, not to mention burning calories. Combined with yoga and occasional bike riding, it is the sum of my physical exercise. I made a proclamation when we started the aqua workout that I was not doing any more excercise that hurt. No more running, Jazzercise or Zumba. So far, so good. My fitness hasn't suffered and my knees and joints are ever so grateful.

So there you have it -- routinely boring but happy and fulfilling. I have no complaints, or at least none right now. Check back later, I'm sure that status will change. 

Thanks for stopping by today.