Archive for February, 2014

To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else. (Emily Dickinson)

The image of my handsome cousin flashes through my mind, but refuses to remain steady. I haven’t seen him since my father’s funeral. Now I prepare for his—my much younger cousin’s—departure at the age of 58; he had a stroke.

His sister calls and asks me to sing the “Ave Maria.” I’ve never done it, so I listen to YouTube versions in an infinite loop. I think about bowing out and asking my pro sister to do it. She’s been singing Schubert’s beautiful hymn since she was fifteen-years-old. However, after writing “From Stick Figures to Portraits,” I don’t want to give up on the dream I’ve always had of singing it in a church. Moreover, I have too many great cousin memories.

My husband fell on the ice. He will be fine after a cortisone shot and physical therapy, but my workload has increased. So has my stress load. My voice sounds like a cheap, scratched, overplayed record from the early 1950s. Worse, sometimes it doesn’t come out at all. Hearing a cat fight would be a better substitute. I have two days to find balance and honor my cousin.

Finally, the solution comes to me through the inspiration of some divine source, obviously undeserved. Ask your sister to join you, Terry. Her presence alone will be a comfort. You can sing the first verse. Then together you can create a crescendo.

My sister graciously agrees. We tell our cousin when we see her at the funeral home. Her response: Her brother always loved the “Ave Maria.” He would say, “Wouldn’t it be great to hear Claire and Terry sing it?” (She hadn’t called Claire because she didn’t have her phone number; my sister lives an hour’s drive out of town.)

Somehow my workload feels like a privilege instead of a punishment. The metaphorical scratch in the record heals, and my learning is all a matter of attitude.

The choir director begins the intro. My sister’s experience and assurance mysteriously transfer into me. Okay, younger cousin. This is for you. Say hello to Mom and Dad for me. See you later.

dove and rainbow PIQ

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If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced. (Vincent Van Gogh)

Whenever the subject came up in conversation my friend, Kathy, made it clear that art was definitely not her forte. I have always known that she had a keen sense of color and design, but she gave the impression that her creative history from crayon to cursive never included kudos. I recall that the elementary-school kids of the fifties were branded as right or left-handed by ink stains on their fingers. Peacock blue became popular in 1959 and 1960. However, the lefties needed to maneuver to get past dragging a hand across the paper. Not easy. Kathy is left-handed.

When a work benefit allowed her to take some classes her peers suggested she further studies in her field—become a consultant, perhaps. However, she was finished with that routine, the endless hours, business details and analysis. She was ready to retire.

“I’ll study art,” she said.

“Why?” her comrades asked. “Are you good at it?”

She had to admit that she hadn’t won any coveted blue ribbons. Actually, she had lost confidence in her drawing ability sometime before she reached double digits. However, painting sounded like fun, and it was a skill she couldn’t learn in a book. An art class would be hands-on. Sure she had some trepidation, but it was the kind of excitement eager children get when they ride a roller coaster for the first time.

When Kathy shared her first paintings I was impressed. By the time I saw the portrait she painted in Class Ten, my mouth dropped open. I have always had some affinity for the creative. But tackle a full-color portrait? Are you kidding?

So, now I need to ask myself what am I telling myself that I can’t do? And why? Sure, I may have arms that need clothing from the petite department. But reaching for goals or dreams may be another situation entirely. Height is not an excuse. Thanks, Kathy? For your friendship and for your inspiration.

oil painting by Kathy Statt

Kathy Statt portrait

floral design by Kathy Statt

Kathy S. Painting 2

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The best way out is always through. (Robert Frost)

Three to four more inches of snow, that’s the current prediction for our area. I watch as the street disappears under the white. Mother Nature didn’t listen to the forecast. She adds a tad more. Fortunately, February, 2014 will belong to the past in less than two weeks. March doesn’t end winter, but it promises spring by introducing buds and blossoms.

Complaining doesn’t help. Besides, when I think about it, the people in California are facing a fourteen-month drought. That would be far worse. Until the thaw arrives I have plenty of writing to do. However, housework pleads to be done first. Besides, mindless work helps me to focus sometimes. I think about what I can change and what would be a waste of time and energy. Ordinary household chores open my mind to think about other people, too. One friend was admitted to the hospital via the emergency room today. I imagine her whole and well as I scrub the kitchen floor. Later I get a chance to chat with her via Facebook. When she responds with LOL, I feel better and hope she does, too.

Thinking about someone else—something else, anything else, always helps. The thought strikes me: humor makes a good companion. I still laugh when I see offers for free snowman material on a sign in a yard buried with white, or the picture of the multi-stabbed snowman with the caption: “Die, winter, die.” True, I am a gentle woman. It’s the out-of-the-box thinking that makes me smile.

Yes, the best way out of any situation is through it. However, without a sense of humor, the snow shovel becomes twice as heavy. An hour feels like a week. And I feel cold, but don’t recognize sun.

what did you do with the grass


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Life is like a landscape. You live in the midst of it, but can describe it only from the vantage point of distance. (Charles A. Lindbergh, aviator and author, 1902-1974) 

Another inch of snow falls on top of the ice we already have. I can walk across it in boots without making more than a crunchy dent in the surface. Winter has moved in to stay—at least it feels that way. I remember grass as a distant memory. My ’97 Toyota is iced to the curb with almost a car length of solidified snow behind it. I have a medical appointment this week. Mother Nature does not care whether I make it out of my petrified spot or not. At least, I am grateful to be retired. When I worked in a hospital pharmacy, business didn’t close. If this were a few years ago I would need to take a bus in sub-zero temperatures at six o’clock in the morning. Okay, imagining that landscape possibility is one heck of a lot worse.

Yesterday I tried to slam the snow shovel into the offending space behind my car. I could have been attempting to break a prison wall with a marshmallow stick. Nothing. When I went back inside the house to get a spade, the look on my husband’s face irritated me, mostly because I knew he was right. My back already had a few twinges in it, and I sometimes walk with the stiffness of an old metal toy soldier left in the rain too long. So far I have been managing a back problem with heat and exercise. Pushing it may not be a good idea.

So, Terry, consider what you have been able to do: take care of your husband as he recovers from minor surgery; cook some wonderful meals for him; thoroughly clean-out the refrigerator; re-vamp three stories published in 1998 in a local magazine known as “Dream Weaver,” and then have them accepted by http://www.pikerpress.com/. The pending dates are listed on the web page. At least one of those stories you were able to illustrate. So far this has been a good year for poetry and short-story publishing. You remain free of the burden of wealth, but being internationally unknown has its benefits.

How the whole looks in the future is beyond my reckoning. I look at the bird feeder in our blue spruce tree and watch as a red-bellied woodpecker intimidates his fellow feeders. They fly away from his pointed beak. But they come back. Again and again. For as long as the birdseed remains available.

Okay, sun, I know you are out there! Patience? Sure, I’ve heard of the virtue. That doesn’t mean I’m crazy enough to ask for it.

Then, thirty minutes before my younger son, Steve, is due to arrive at our house I rush outside to shovel enough space for him to get his car into our driveway. I can handle the softer additional inch in that time without breaking my back. My eyes widen when I reach the street. Some unseen elf has removed the igloo material from behind my car. I figure out who he could be within seconds and call our neighbor, Brian, to ask if he performed this minor miracle. With what I hear as a heaven-accent soft voice he says that he did. My thanks are honest; I feel warmed by his kindness.

Steve widens the driveway path and finds the road under my car. A peninsula-shaped remnant of the ice remains in the street, but every car battles that one.

My thanksgiving should be complete. I’ve just received a get-out-of-jail-free card. However, a neighbor arrives. Our older son, Greg, and a passing stranger helped her out of her driveway last week with the help of our snow shovel, spade, and a rug that should have been discarded years ago.  She gives us a loaf of homemade banana bread.

I guess I owe Greg a loaf of banana bread…Then maybe I should provide another kindness to the next person I see, to keep the blessings flowing.

(pic not taken from our area; the snow just feels this high)

high snow

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In a gentle way, you can shake the world (Mahatma Gandhi)

Perhaps everyone has heard some variation of the old joke: What’s the difference between major and minor surgery? If you are having it, it’s always major surgery. Someone I know and love is facing something huge in the next few weeks. I pray for her frequently. However my husband is approaching a simpler procedure with an overnight hospital stay now, this last week in January.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature is in a bitter mood. Below zero temperatures and brutal winds have closed schools. My loving mate is concerned for my safety, so I will be staying in a hotel for the duration. The hotel provides shuttle service.

My sister-in-law, Kris, calls and asks if I want company for a while when my husband is in surgery. I’m surprised and pleased. She works long hours at the hospital. Her gift of time is precious. I have this strange sense something special and unexpected will come from accepting her offer. I have no idea how right-on that omen is.

“I’ll meet you in the waiting room around seven,” she says. Then she calls my cell at seven fifteen, the exact moment when I leave the pre-op area to enter the waiting room. She locks my heavy coat, scarf, and backpack in her office. (Before the day has ended I have a suspicion that my coat and backpack would feel as if it had gained 150 pounds, probably more if aggravation could be measured.)

When my shoulders are free she gives me a tour of the hospital. This is significant since the only directions I know with any certainty are up and down. In the cafeteria she pays for my yogurt and coffee, Starbucks, the good stuff.

Somehow Kris has tapped into the spiritual realm of perfect timing. She calls exactly at the moment my husband is being brought to the Recovery Room and then again as he is wheeled into his room. That evening she appears just when I want something from my backpack before I go to the hotel. It’s uncanny! I feel a strange sense that all is well even though my husband’s recovery process hasn’t yet begun.

The next morning I ask at the front desk of the hotel where I can get some coffee. Transportation to the hospital may be free, but coffee isn’t. However, when I tell an employee at the restaurant that all I want is take-out coffee, something about me must bleed not-here-on-vacation. She gives me a complimentary cup of fresh, hot java. And I feel the blessings continue to flow—in the form of caffeine.

More incredibly timed situations occur. And I’m not sure what part my awareness plays on their sacredness. I do suspect that one goodness can touch another and then another, like ripples on a lake that travel from one shore to another.

I also believe that it is important to send those ripples back from the other shore and bless the original giver. Thanks, Kris. I wouldn’t have made it without you.

angels as ordinary people Optimisim Revolution

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