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Archive for February, 2013

Aging is not “lost youth” but a new stage of opportunity and strength. (Betty Friedan)

The knuckle on my middle finger on my right hand looks like it belongs on a gnarled tree branch, the kind that has led a part of the tree in a peculiar unexpected direction.  Oh, my skin, bones, eyes and ears have aged, too. In fact my five-year-old granddaughter asked who the bride was in the forty-one-year-old photo on her grandfather’s dresser. I laughed at that one. But it’s that finger that troubles me now. It gets in the way of smooth finger-picking on the guitar. And I have three gigs lined up these next two months.

I am not the only person who needs to overcome difficulties to get to a goal. Pictures fill the Internet of runners on  prosthetic legs. I revel in stories of  persons who have survived stage-four cancer or the young person with Down syndrome who earns a college degree. My challenge isn’t that great—all I ask is to entertain a few seniors at the YMCA and nursing home and make them smile, perhaps sing a few more years and let new words and chord patterns blend into a fresh song.

The going has been rough, especially in southwest Ohio where temperatures tend to be bipolar. Middle finger says uh-uh and nicks the wrong string or rebels entirely.

“Oh no you don’t,” I tell it as if it were a belligerent child. Then try again.

Funny, that hasn’t eased the pain one bit. Help came from another source—a call from the Activities Center at the nursing home where I played last month. “Can you come back on March 21 when we celebrate birthdays?” The voice on the other end sounds sunny. Apparently I got good reviews from the residents, despite middle finger’s balking. I mean, ouch isn’t in any of the lyrics. By the end of my last performance I had to single strum a few times before beginning again.

The arthritic rebellion quieted after that phone call. I managed the Travis pick without swollen, painful interruption. Apparently, yes you can are powerful words. I have decided to use them even more often as I speak to other people—maybe even give myself reinforcement instead of reprimand. Who knows what can happen?

from the Optimism Revolution

expect miracles Optimism Revolution

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All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us. (J.R.R. Tolkien)

Cleaning and organization have never been my forte, but since my house has never learned to clean itself, the job falls on me. I suspect that if I ever learned how to direct that magical act, I could earn big bucks. It’s not going to happen. My budget doesn’t include paying for a housekeeper.

Therefore, since there were five kids playing in my tiny abode yesterday, I may as well roll up my sleeves, get to work and put toys back on shelves, clean up spills, and remove multiple fingerprints from the computer, walls, and table tops.

At one time I resented the time housework stole from my creative work. Then I learned to tidy up my spiritual life as I wiped down floors and removed Cheerios from the couch cushions. The ordinary actions of home maintenance remind me of the people who bring the most gratitude.

Sure our refrigerator is old and rusty. However, it has held countless drawings presented with love by some incredible grandchildren. It’s something of a grandmother’s unframed Louvre. No, the artwork doesn’t resemble anything painted by Monet, but the pieces were given with enough enthusiasm to warrant wiping off the ranch dressing smeared around the borders—even if those marks were made by the artist.

Cleaning is a time for me to recall what I have versus what I don’t. Oh, that doesn’t mean stray thoughts don’t sneak through, those negative notions that can ruin a moment like a fly dropping into a bowl of soup. But those interruptions don’t need to snowball.

Okay, dust cloth. Let’s get to work. And thanks, my dear husband. I am sure other wives will agree: There are few visions more beautiful than a husband on his hands and knees scrubbing a rug. Love you, sweetheart!

this place was clean . . .

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We are always the same age inside. (Gertrude Stein)

My maternal grandmother was a consummate seamstress. If she could imagine it, she could sew it. When she was a young woman she took a notebook to store windows, made crude sketches, and then went home and recreated what she saw—tailored to size for select customers.

Once she made a dress with a spider-webbed skirt. I never saw it since she had constructed it long before I was born. It remains part of the legend of Grandma. No one ever mentioned how much she earned; I got the clear impression her work was severely under-priced.

I decided to become a fashion designer when I was in middle grade school, probably because of the stories I heard about Grandma. I loved to draw. I made detailed descriptions of the front and back of dresses. Since I wasn’t keen on cleaning up after myself, I left my work and crayons lying around for Grandma to pick up.

Instead of complaining, Grandma made one of my imagined designs for me: a teal sleeveless dress with V-neck and V-back with a long fabric bow that reached almost to the hem line, a cinched waist, and billowing skirt. My grandmother always made clothes for me that were a tad too big, a result of Depression-era thinking. Clothing needed to last—for as long as possible. Hard times could appear again, by her way of thinking. She knew what it was like to have no food in the house. She remembered an occasion when her cupboard had been bare until her brother stopped by with a bushel of green beans. So, my custom-made dress was mad to last a loooong time.

Perhaps that fear that those few dollars she spent on cloth may never be replaced made her gift even more precious. Nevertheless, I recall how excited I was when I saw her creation, the shine in Grandma’s blue eyes—her payment, a granddaughter’s enthusiastic thank-you. I felt an appreciation of my ability to be creative, too. I could put down an idea on paper, then watch it develop, step into real life.

Enthusiasm comes naturally to a child who knows she is loved. That love doesn’t have to be perfect, just available, from some steady source. Grandma’s quiet presence and steady needle were always there.

I may never know what gifts I leave to my grandchildren. I can only guess. When I picked up Rebecca from pre-school last week she told me she had a surprise and couldn’t wait to show me: a picture of mittens, one colored yellow and the other blue. The text read: “If my grandma made me mittens . . .” I gathered that she was stating that whatever I give my girls, it wouldn’t be traditional. So far they each have a song and  a poem. Rebe envisions mittens in mismatched colors.

As long as joy is included in some form, it doesn’t matter how it arrives, colored in yellow, blue, plaid or indigo.

“What should we play now?” I asked her, eye to eye. After all, we were the same age at that moment, both children in spirit, eager to share our enthusiasm for one another.

“House,” she answered. Always the same answer, never the same game.

growing old optional

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When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. (Lao Tzu)

Somewhere I read or heard that washing a sponge in the dishwasher is a good way to destroy lingering bacteria. As I take a sponge that’s been through considerable scrubbing, with residue of Ella’s yogurt, spilled coffee, and whatever was imbedded on the stove top, I feel as if I could use a thorough run through the dishwasher.

Sure it’s great to be the confidante for several wonderful folk, but a time comes when I need to rinse all of that information away, relax, and begin again. I do not have a degree in psychology. I do have access to twelve-step material, a good church community, and an intimate woman’s faith group known as Apple. They all serve me well. Moreover, there is nowhere anyone can live—truly experience life—without picking up a few hints along the way. Nevertheless, all the assistance in the world doesn’t protect anyone from wearing out.

These are some of the hints that tell me when I am ready to wash my mental sponge with some downtime: meditation, fun reading, a cup of tea (without caffeine), an additional exercise routine or walk, perhaps a call to an understanding friend:

             sleeplessness or waking too many times during the night

            dreading that the phone will ring with more bad news

            an intense desire to overdo the chocolate

            losing and/or forgetting things.

These are some of the signs that come to my mind. In the meantime, I rinse out the excess soap and grime in my trusty sponge and put it in the top shelf of my old, but reliable dishwasher, and then wait for the full cycles of time to complete the process.

Eventually, the sponge will give up. It always does; it is made of finite material. But, hey, it’s been a good cleaning tool and has served its purpose. Fortunately, the human spirit can be taught depth, richness, and an ability to accept even greater challenges.

Okay, one…two…three. Press the start button and go.

dear stress

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Learn to pause … or nothing worthwhile will catch up to you. (Doug King)

There is a good possibility that snow could change all my plans today. It’s February, sometimes the longest month of the year. At least it feels that way when Friday begins with a traffic accident blocking traffic at the top of our street! However, as I wake up on Saturday I decide I am going to make this day worthwhile—whatever becomes of it. I recall the words of authors, Deepak Chopra MD and Rudolph Tanzi PhD:”

“In Superbrain, we argue that the real you is the “observer” or “witness” of your brain’s activities. Your brain brings you emotional feelings and intellectual thoughts, which most often present themselves in the incessant internal dialogue and monologue of the mind. We argue that the true “you” is the self-aware “you” that is astutely cognizant of the feelings and thoughts being evoked in the brain, but then uses them to enhance your awareness and elevate your state of consciousness, promoting a more enlightened lifestyle.” http://intentblog.com/deepak-chopra-reality-making-and-the-gift-of-self-awareness/

I saved a picture a family member took of ice on the windshield of a car at sunrise, such an appropriate image for today. The sun is present. It rises, but the ice obscures the view. Or—it could present another image: a beautiful design painted by Mother Nature, an opportunity to pause and enjoy instead of hurrying.

This hasn’t been a got-my-way kind of week. The writing I wanted to finish just didn’t find a time slot. The house looks like it’s been run over by three kids. It has. But this time has been blessed, too. The same kids who left fingerprints on my “things” left deeper marks on my heart. I smile as I wash those fingerprints away and look forward to the next round.

I’d like to say all the news I’ve heard has been good. One situation wants to tear my heart apart. All I can do for that one, however, is say the Serenity prayer, and be prepared to say the right word, offer love, and be present when necessary.

In the meantime, the wind rises and falls as winter rules the weather; a spring spirit thaws the mind any time.

photo by Jane Filos Dagley (taken in Camden, Maine)

sunrise through the icy windows Jane Filos Dagley

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