Morning Has Broken

Sky, snow, sun. Easter, baseball, and birds. Spring.

And then there’s this: that sky.

This is the way to throw off winter’s blanket –  lumps of snow, leaping down from the branches that shape them, making branch-shaped dents in the snow below, brightened under the blue. All that white will revert to green by the end of the day.

The female cardinal came to the kitchen door, hopping from the garden arch to the patio light, looking in at me, as if to ask for help; “please shake the snow off the bent cedars, my nest is at risk!”

I tell her it will melt soon, and it is melting fast. I can see her in there, bustling, making the necessary repairs.

And from the basement rumpus room I hear that my daughter has found a slow, brass instrumental recording of “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” that she is listening to on YouTube.

Which she follows up with her own exuberant rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

Well, now. Spring has sprung indeed.

I’m ready now.

Off to pay forty-five dollars more in state taxes than I will get back in federal but not getting bent out of shape about it because, honestly, look at that sky,

I remain,

Your snapping-out-of-it and looking beyond Thursday and Friday to promise of Sunday,

Ridiculouswoman

Solace in Spring Snow

Winter can’t come if it never leaves.

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow…

-TS Eliot, The Wasteland

Palm Sunday. A parade toward betrayal, pain, despair, and death.

Crocuses muffled in sudden spring snow, heavy and wet.

Cars off the road.

How could you forget how to drive in winter, so soon?

It always snows again in April, I said.

I was right.

Budding trees and flowering shrubs – freeze frame.

The cedars and arborvitae, which had just begun to lift,

bent now under a burden of white.

I wasn’t quite ready, anyway.

I heard his voice yesterday, so clear,

quoting Sara Teasdale’s “I am not yours,”

the voice that he left on my answering machine,

nearly thirty years ago.

“For yours is a spirit, beautiful and bright…”

just as I was feeling unworthy as mother to our daughter

whose spirit is more beautiful and bright than mine can ever be,

again.

Winter can’t come if it never leaves.

Sun and spring flowers, up from bulbs planted just before winter was coming.

“Mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain…”

Today I am grateful for the warmth of winter

and the forgetful snow.

 

Blue and Happy, Empty and Full

I do my “forest bathing” on the prairie or the savannah.

The prairie has the empty spaces I find soothing.  The savannah has the trees. Both have birds, flowers, grasses and ponds or streams. For the past few weeks, the spring peepers have been singing near those ponds, very loudly, rarely stopping even when the paths I walk come close.

Blue sky, yesterday and today.

That bench, or one just like it, had a small engraved memorial plaque on it that, in addition to the names of the persons it commemorates and the family members who commemorated them, has the phrase, “carpe diem.”

Around here in April, if you see the sun and the sky, you better damn carpe that diem.

Yesterday, a walk through the savannah on my own, marveling at how abundantly life returns in spring. Even with the grasses still winter-flattened into brown, dry straw, the “controlled burn” areas still blackened, the birds are everywhere and the roaring chorus of spring peepers is occasionally augmented by the deep croak of a bigger frog. The ice on the ponds is finally completely gone.

Today, I got her to come with me, for a walk on the wide open prairie. She has a habit of stopping to sit at any bench we come near, but that helps me take a moment to really take it in, and read the information on the poster-stands, strategically placed to help visitors appreciate the rarity and fragility of what they’re seeing. A good long walk, under a blue sky with clouds my Grammie called “horse tails” and “lambs.”

I remembered what a pill I was, when Grammie or Mom would point things like that out to me: bored and unappreciative.

But now, it’s me exclaiming, “Oh! See the hawk! See the ducks, in pairs, the Mom and the Dad! See the chickadees!” And there were tiny finch-like birds, as small as hummingbirds but fatter, curious and unafraid, not creepers, just flitting from branch to branch, close enough to see a little yellow above the eye and wing.

She hurries forward, almost out of view, trying to get it over with, but I don’t care. I got her outside, at least.

Somewhere along there she’ll wonder why Mom stops to take pictures like this:

IMG_20190409_111500020_HDR~5.jpg

or this:

IMG_20190409_111500020_HDR~3.jpg

Someday when she looks at these photos she may remember the spring day we walked together here, the happiness of a blue Midwestern sky and the slope beneath it bursting with crocuses. She may remember Mom smiling as the birds flitted and sang over and around us, on the open prairie, shoots of green among the straw.

Tomorrow’s forecast includes rain, snow, wind and thunder.

April.

Back in the car she says, “we had a great morning, Mom.”

Today, blue means happy.

And empty means full.

Wishing you a soothing forest (or prairie or savannah) bath, I remain,

Your I-told-you-it-always-snows-one-more-time-in-April-but-I-planted-my-cold-weather-crops-yesterday anyway,

Ridiculouswoman

And What Do We Learn From This? or, Sometimes, Nothing Is Something

Sometimes moving forward requires looking back.

So what the hell was that all about? The “Pardon Our Dust” thing?

I wanted to change up the look of my blog. I thought it needed some freshening.

I spent the last four days messing around with a new theme.

I dithered over palettes. I added new fonts.

I spent a lot of time trying teaching myself enough additional Illustrator to make a banner that with images I had made or chosen previously to symbolize the blog.

After a lot of trial and error, Googling and help chats, I finally figured out how to create a “clipping mask” in Illustrator to round the corners of the image I made of my face and shoulders, with the heart on the sleeve.

I wanted it round.

Like me.

Mike liked my roundness.

I got mad about how much elements of the “Creative Cloud” that I wasn’t using cost.

I unsubscribed.

Then I freaked out (hey, no project is truly complete without a little OCD smeared on!) about whether I’d still have the right to use the stuff I had previously created if I didn’t keep subscribing.

The (very nice and helpful, by the way – thanks Adobe) chat people said I can keep and use what I already downloaded and created. (Sorry, OCD, take a seat. Or a knee, as the case may be.)

Then, as I was scrolling through the blog with the new theme applied, to make sure I liked the (eleventy-hundreth) palette I had chosen, I noticed that all my “featured images” from past posts had disappeared.

Apparently, I neglected to notice where, if anywhere, there was space for a “featured image” in the new theme.

I’m fond of some my photos used as “featured images,” and refer to them occasionally as “that picture up there” in the posts where they appear; I didn’t want to spend weeks going back to putting them wherever they might fit in the new theme.

Which made me take another look and realize that new theme was a bit too cutesy or “whimsical” to encase my content on grief and loss, despite some other content that is funny. Or that tries to be.

So, feh.

Back to “2016.”

When I switched back, I remembered the reasons I chose 2016 in the first place.

It’s clean.

It has elements I want and doesn’t confuse me with stuff I don’t need.

And Mike died in 2016.

Which reminded me that, when I started the blog, I chose the “2016” theme as a way to keep Mike close while trying a new thing without him, missing him.

So good things came of the whole manic, circular, redesigning exercise.

I got new art that I made myself, even though I’m a total amateur as a designer. I won’t have to settle for banner images I don’t like much, anymore.

I learned more about using tools I’d have to use if I ever need to modify that art again.

I tweaked things a little – a slightly modified color here or there. I’m not even sure exactly what I changed, anymore. But during the process I learned which parts of the “palettes” go where, and where I can use a custom color.

I got the pleasure of days filled with creative flow: that feeling you get when you are working on something you care about, and you forget what time it is and you only think about how to make your project better and get it right.

I also got to remember my Dad with gratitude.  He taught me to apply reason to observation to solve a problem, accomplish a task, fix things that are broken or assemble things that are new.

He called that process “using your bean.”

Dad enabled me to “use my bean” to accomplish something I didn’t know how to, but very much wanted, to do.

Dad also had an expression, usually uttered with sly determination and a not a little glee, while forging ahead down an unknown country road or pressing on through eight inches of recent snow on less-than-optimal tires: “We’re takin’ her through!” he’d say.

I don’t remember ever getting stuck, when Dad was driving.

And then finally, it all came back to Mike, whose bravery and generosity in the last weeks of his life were breathtaking, heartbreaking and inspiring. Memories of Mike and of 2016 were, and still are, central to helping me move forward, fight my fears and carry on. They help me “take her through.” I’m grateful for the bittersweet reminder of him whenever I think about my blog’s “theme,” in both content and design.

So, “redecorating” my blog turned into a pretty good Harold.

Still climbing life’s spiral staircase, I remain,

Your clumsily creative, sometimes manic, mostly anxious but still takin’ her through,

Ridiculouswoman

Happy Love Day

May Love Day grant release from grief and bitterness.

Yeah, I’m one of those “holiday themed guest towels” ladies.

Picked up the habit from Mom, who fretted excessively about the state of the hallway bathroom whenever guests were coming over. She had quite a collection of “guest towels,” most hand-embroidered, by her mother or grandmother. I have some of those now. Or, she would buy packets of paper “guest towels” and it would be my job to arrange them precisely on the rack before any guests arrived.

They had guests over a lot, almost every weekend, for cocktails.

After the first two years in this house, we never had guests.

Ever.

Mike didn’t like to socialize, fell out with his family and mine, and wouldn’t have them or anyone else over here. So it was just the three of us, for fifteen years.

Now its just the two of us. I’m still working on the house to make it fit to have anyone over. Not sure I’ll ever get there.

But I put the towels up anyway, to brighten the place, because my daughter does love holidays. Sets her calendar by them.

She calls today Valentine’s Day, but more often, she calls it “Love Day.”

“Happy Love Day, Mom!”

Thanks, sweetie.

Today I’m thinking about bloggers I’ve “met,” by reading their blogs, where I found some shared experience.

Commiseration.

And because of that, I know there’s a good chance some of them will be hurting somehow, today, on “Love Day.”

Missing a loved one. Feeling lonely.

Or feeling betrayed.

If that’s you, I hope today you can remember love, and try to remember it with joy.

Easier said than done, I know. I’ve already had one quick round of weeping today, when my daughter repeated, “it’s hard to live without a husband,” echoing me, because I had  said that to her after we talked about how it is hard for a young woman to live without her Dad. Trying to show her I share her grief, in my way.

“It’s hard to live without a husband, too. I miss him too.”

“I’m Dad’s Valentine in heaven.”

Yes, sweetie, you sure are.

“You’re my best Valentine, Mom.”

Sniff. Sniff. Blink, blink.

“You OK, Mom?”

“Yes, sweetie, I’m fine.” Tissue.

Today I’m thinking of those who grieve. Those who feel their life has been diminished, and can never be whole or full again. Those for whom today is a day where each breath threatens to become ragged, and each exhalation risks an accompaniment of tears.

I hope today on Love Day you can remember that you are loved, and that, as Mike said to our daughter from his deathbed, “love never ends.”

I am also thinking of those who have suffered loss not through death, but through betrayal. I have read how they have endured infidelity and lies, that, when discovered, left them feeling that everything they thought they knew was wrong, that the love they thought was theirs isn’t, and may never have been, and their life as they knew it has dissolved, leaving them feeling cold and hollow.

And then feeling really, really pissed off.

I’m hoping, if you are one of the betrayed, that today, you can decide not to dwell in anger.

I hope that you can decide not to let bitterness consume you.

By losing Mike I learned that despite whatever pain it has inflicted, life is precious and time is limited.

It makes me sad to think that someone’s ill treatment of you has caused your life to stall and sink and left you mired in fury and pain.

Mike and I went through it. We stayed together.  We made it back to each other, after years and years, back to the love that was there underneath it, all along.

I know it’s a struggle. I’ve been through the un- and underemployment, the caregiving and the financial worries. I’m hoping today in spite of it all you’ll find a hand, or the strength, to pull yourself out of the mire into the light that can be the rest of your life.

I have found solace by finding gratitude. For every breath that may get raggedy, for every tear that may fall and for every time my resident angel, my amazing daughter, beams her beautiful, unconditional love my way and out into the world.

Today if you are hurting, I hope you find consolation.

And if no one has claimed you as theirs today,

Will you be my Valentine?

“In the end the love you take is equal to the love you make.” – the Beatles.

Wishing you peace, solace and light on “Love Day,” I remain,

Your off-to-bake-some-heart-shaped-cookies-and-fully-intending-to-enjoy-my-share-of-them,

Ridiculouswoman

But Enough About Me, Or, What Have I Done For You, Lately?

Does this blog add anything positive to the world?

So, Grandma Noises. Mom’s face in the mirror.

I want to make it clear that I’m grateful for those things, and for Mom and Grandma and all they were to me and all they gave me.

I’m grateful I have made it to an age where I make Grandma noises.

I’m grateful to Grammie for being there in Maine, putting up with a snot-nosed, whiny, sad, bored, fat little punk like me, for two solid weeks, summer after summer.

I’m grateful I can see my Mother’s face in mine, and remember the good things she did for us, in her way.

Although they pretty much detested each other, my Mother came weekly to give Mike a day off when our daughter was an infant, driving 30 miles from the burbs into the city.  It was a long, long day, because I was commuting 70 minutes each way and was gone from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. most work days, and Mike took full advantage of the time, as he should have. He needed the break.

Mom cared for our daughter, making nurse notes (she was a retired R.N.) and cleaning up where she could, in an under-furnished and unamusing townhome in a transitional city neighborhood.

She produced funds when funds were needed in the dark times of under- and unemployment.

She taught me to drive a stick shift, picking up keys and announcing we were getting in the car one day, totally unexpectedly, when I was 16.

She whispered when she sewed, drawing me in, and teaching me how to hem and mend. She was frugal. I am not, but at least I know how to hem a dress or a pair of pants and I have made clothes when I had to (a dying art, apparently – I had a coworker who walked around in too-long pants, because she didn’t know how to sew. I was gobsmacked. How could any neurotypical child who can safely handle a needle and thread reach adulthood without knowing how to hem a pair of pants?)

Mom made pies, rolling the crust out with sharp, fast, angry strokes, this way, then that. Once in the pie plate, she crimped the edges with grim determination.

Both Grammie and Mom made jam and jelly and chili relish and awesome chowder.

They often persisted long past my tolerance in demanding I hand over new clothes to be altered,  get a haircut, or go outside when all I wanted to do was read.

But I wish I’d been more grateful, then, and that I had told them that I was.

I hope they hear me now, on the other side.

David Kanigan quoted the late Julie Yip-Williams, author of The Unwinding of the Miracle, on his Live and Learn blog recently. Ms. Yip-Williams wrote about her life with cancer (the same kind of cancer that took my Mike), and her book was published posthumously.  There’s a review of it in the New York Times.

“Live while you’re alive,” she wrote.

I confess I haven’t read her book yet:  but the Times review reveals that she meant “live while you’re alive” not in the bucket list, run-off-and-climb-a-mountain-or-run-a-marathon kind of way, but in the every-moment-no-matter-how-seemingly-ordinary-is-a-gift way.

To that I would only add, express gratitude to others, while they’re still here to hear you.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why I do this – why do I blog?

(Seems to be kind of a theme, lately – Jungian synchronicity – I started writing this before I read Fractured Faith‘s or Writer of Words’s similar posts – but it seems several of us are currently thinking about what this blogging thing contributes).

For me, it started as a way to process grief, and just write. I love words (just ask anyone who has tried to get one in edgewise when I’m talking).  Building words into sentences that convey ideas or emotions makes me feel at home. (There are few places I feel completely comfortable – sitting at my computer writing, singing, and speaking or performing in front of an audience are about it).

But I don’t want blogging to be just for me. I want it to be for you, the reader.

What have I done for you lately?

Have I given you something to laugh about, cry about, something to feel, something to enjoy?

Have I given you writing that is good enough for you to bother reading it?

Has it meant anything beyond just me, yapping about my little life?

Has it made my little life less little?

Have I told you lately that I love you? For reading, for commenting, for being there?

Mike died. What will happen when I do?

Will I have contributed anything of value to the world?

Would anyone say anything positive about me? Would anyone even show up?

Trying to listen twice as much as I talk (ok, laugh, but I actually AM trying) and thinking about how to use what small gifts I may have to contribute something positive to the world, I remain,

Your loquacious, grateful, perplexed, anxious, wondering what’s-it-all-about-Alfie,

Ridiculouswoman

The Heat is On

How much? Oh, my God! THAT much?

No, seriously – the actual heat is back on.

I am pleased to inform you that I will not be sleeping in my Santa hat tonight.

After 5 days of heating water on the stove to wash dishes, carrying “dressing in layers” to ridiculous extremes, and keeping my Santa hat on 24/7 (I did do the kneel-next-to-the-tub-and-use-a-cup-to-pour-water-over-my-head hair wash thing, once – the novelty wears off, fast), we now have heat, glorious heat, and hot water.

Drowning in layers of wool (and it wasn’t even that cold – just one day under 30 – we’re lucky it happened now instead of next week when temperatures are scheduled to plunge) I have been staggering around trying to comprehend, process, cope with and respond to the impact of the cost of the new boiler.

Heat guy who lives pretty close by came Saturday morning.

“Sorry, ma’am, you’re going to need a new boiler.”

“How much?”

OH MY GOD! THAT MUCH?

Here I was, spending money on frivolities like new paint (at least the labor was me) and new carpet (which I’m expecting accommodation about, for the little bulldozer tracks in it that don’t vacuum out) when something as essential as the boiler decides to surrender, lower it’s flag, go kaput.

Turns out that heart-stopping amount was lower than the next guy and the first guy could install by yesterday.

So, you, first guy – your company has been servicing this house since before we moved in, anyway.

Sigh. Sell the mutual fund in the morning.

Miraculously, market rockets up and the value of the fund to be sold is calculated at the end of the day.

So there’s that, anyway. Small buffer.

Begin job search in earnest.

And I love looking for a job.

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

I wouldn’t say we’re exactly desperate.

Yet.

But I’d better get a move on, here.

A woman’s gotta make a living, until she gets a job that is actually a living.

I’m trying to turn writing into a living (HA!) but that takes time, so since I’m still determined not to allow ads on this blog, because I think they detract from the….well, blogginess of it, I have succumbed to the PayPal “donate” link.

Hence, the new “Donate” page on the menu.

So that explains that.

I will now penalize myself 500 words for the excessive use of italics. So gushy. Damn, there, I did it again.

May you never have to kneel by the tub with a pot of water heated on the stove, may your showers ever be hot and your radiators…uh, radiate.

I did it! Resisted the urge to italicize “radiate!”

Now, if we could just get a grip on those dashes and exclamation points…

Until then, I remain,

Your humble, devoted, loyal, always-willing-to-edit-if-it-makes-it-better-and-especially-shorter,

Ridiculouswoman