Archive for September, 2015

Life isn’t about getting and having, it’s about giving and being. (Kevin Kruse)

Our friend, Tom, likes homemade soup. So I am making several varieties for his birthday gift. Unusual? Maybe. But I went to college with Tom’s wife, Linda. The four of us have grown through both joy and trials. We now have grandchildren; an off-the-shelf purchase doesn’t seem adequate. So, I’m sending him healthy food, a tangible wish for long life and tomorrows filled with celebrations.

My husband and I did buy a one-hundred-percent-practical item, an insulated Tervis cup. He will be happy with it because he is a grateful person. But soup takes time to create flavor. It sends out a wholesome scent throughout the house.

Homemade soup is symbolic of the time a friendship takes to build, to develop into something unique. Linda and I were part of a larger group in college. My mother told me that another relationship I had would eventually fizzle out. We didn’t have a lot in common. But that Linda and I would be friends forever. Mom and I were not close, but she recognized quality when she saw it. And Linda’s capacity to give seemed to have enormous potential. Mom was right-on.

When Linda met Tom I knew the mix was right. My husband Jay liked Tom, too. Friendship soup was about to brew.

Usually when I make homemade soup I use our small crock-pot. Then I go to exercise class, shop, clean, or write, and let a low electrical setting do the work. Today I fill the largest pot I have with meat and seasonings and simmer the mix on a back burner. I watch the pot to make sure the boil is steady and that the mixture doesn’t burn or overflow.

Since utopia is fantasy everyone’s life sticks to the bottom or boils over. Eventually. I had a pulmonary embolism. Tom and Linda have experienced crises in their lives as well. Our strengths have survived.

Tom is the consummate teacher. He retired and then returned at the same high school under the public school system—not because he needed to do it—because he loves to teach. He earns less yet works as much if not more than he did before.

Tom’s love of teaching does not appear in his classroom as soft and fluffy. In fact the students see him as a hard-liner. He prepares them for real life. Although they may not have the maturity to recognize it. Yet. To a kid, homework seems pointless. Good teachers know the outside-the-classroom exercise gives the instructors even more to do. The work is for the student’s benefit. The world is not necessarily forgiving. Even in the wild, the animal that decides to skip a day of hunting will go hungry that night.

To continue to persevere despite an atmosphere of apathy shows integrity. I applaud Tom for it.

The soup takes hours to boil, cool, and then boil again into tomato, cheese, vegetable, or rice varieties. But I enjoy every minute of the process.

Giving and being, that kind of success is possible for almost anyone.

soups for Tom

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You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on them. You don’t let them have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space. (Johnny Cash)

Somewhere around two in the morning I waken with a throbbing right hand. Did I roll over onto it? Did my sleeping body drift into the past and forget that arthritis rules my right thumb. Inflammation tells each movement what it can do and what it can’t. And it is a strict taskmaster.

Of course I rebel. I have writing projects to complete, and the cooking, cleaning, and laundry don’t do themselves. Fantasy appears only in story form. Even on the written page reality intervenes. Sure, I can invent a character, a girl who floats into the air at will. However, if she levitates at the local Seven-Eleven havoc will appear, unless, of course that is part of the plot.

A cold compress helps my hand. It tells it to stop complaining for a few minutes anyway. Somewhat. So does calming thought. But sleep does not return. I get up at four and begin to write, trying to embrace the silence as a gift. I add a page to my next novel, then another. This does not mean they won’t be backspaced later. A story has progressed. The missed sleep will demand to be repaid later. For now I take advantage of the moment.

The ache reminds me that I am alive. Fully. In this moment. I’m told this is the most common form of arthritis. Osteoarthritis. As my parents, aunts, and uncles told me: “It won’t kill you. You’ll just die with it.”

Finding someone with more serious problems is easier than I would like. I’ve been praying for a young friend who is expected to be in intensive care for longer than the two weeks originally expected. She, too, is a writer. And a reader. Her security is a book resting on her chest along with the ambiance of IVs, monitors, and an existence where pain owns the building. She has had two surgeries. Complications continue. So far her miracle begins with survival.

A child close to me has a friend who died of a rare inherited disorder; her sister has the same disease. My little friend is reluctant to talk about her grief. So I cannot reveal her identity. Life and joy do not circumvent difficulties. They travel through them.

The sun peeks through the window of my office, also a toy room, the place where my grandchildren and I play. The rays will find family pictures, disorder, my half-empty coffee cup, and possibilities I don’t see yet.

Sure, I would like to take the brace off my hand post-miracle. But I’m not going to count on it. However, I haven’t typed the ending to my story yet. That choice isn’t mine anyway.


seeing the inside brightness

hand brace09212015_0000

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The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. (Marcel Proust

Ella is scarcely buckled into her car seat after kindergarten when she dumps out her backpack. “See,” she says opening a black binder. “My homework.”

“This is mine,” she adds showing me a page with squiggled lines of crayon. “I color.” Papers fly all over the back seat. I grab them. My juggling skills need practice. Jay is driving. I am sitting in the back seat with Ella—not to spoil my granddaughter, but to spoil me.

She turns to an earlier page. The paper clip sealing those completed pages flies off. I have no idea where the clip belongs, even if I could locate it on the dark floor. Chances are her mommy will know what to do. For now I gather the loose items into Ella’s backpack and ask our granddaughter to pretend to be the teacher. I will be the student.

She points to numbers one through ten and identifies them in a clear, I-know-this voice. If I ask her to repeat the lesson she will refuse. Either I catch it the first time or lose. Ella will not perform. She has been reading phonetically for over a year. On her own terms.

See-what-I-know is not in her repertoire.

Eventually, perhaps, she will learn how to play the going-to-real-life-school-game. For now I try to discover what she understands from what I can discern. Not from what I assume.

I kiss her on top of her white-blond head. “Want to go to the park?”

“Playground,” she answers.

I smile at an even-better-than-yes answer. She has chosen a synonym.

“You’ve got it!”

Our little girl may carry an extra chromosome, but she sure isn’t a syndrome. Yes, it may be easier to say Down syndrome child—but it isn’t accurate. She doesn’t fit into a category, a label. She has blue eyes, a winning personality, straight blond hair, the flexibility of a wet sponge, and Trisomy-21. She has the syndrome, but it is only one small part of who she is.

And I wouldn’t want her to be anyone but Ella. She reminds me of life’s priorities. They live in her spirit. Because of her I have the opportunity to become a better person. A little bit at a time.

We learn together, taking turns as teacher and student. Student and teacher…Graduation isn’t on the agenda. We both continue to grow.

at West Fork park September 14, 2015

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The art of life is a constant readjustment to our surroundings. (Kakuzo Okakaura)

“Are you hot in here?” Jay calls from the living room.

I’m not. But warm air rises and my body doesn’t reach that far off the ground. Besides, my short frame doesn’t want to leave the frame of a bed. I spent two hours in the deep end of the pool at the Y and then went out to dinner with some of Jay’s family. My idea of a great vacation day. Now I am ready to revitalize—from a horizontal position.

“Well, the thermostat reads eighty degrees,” Jay announces.

I’d like to say he needs new bifocals; his vision is A-OK.

This is not a good sign. My headache, the one that develops at four in the morning, doesn’t help. The heat inside my skull battles with the heat in the air. So far, no winner.

Hours later we discover our cooling system has a leak. So does the checkbook. Service calls on a holiday cost extra. I have grown so accustomed to comfort that I didn’t realize how old the system was. It will make it this year. Probably. Next year? Maybe.

I have an incredibly blessed life. Sure, I’ve experienced trials. I didn’t think I would make it through some of them. But, that was yesterday’s vision. I don’t live there. Nevertheless, remembering what it was like during the ugly times helps me empathize with people who walk through them now. Sometimes they barely breathe from one moment into the next. Walking isn’t necessarily an option.

So I guess trials have their purpose, too. Comfort from someone who has existed on cushioned silk is empty.

Cool air flows around me. It is a gift. I celebrate the luxury and at the same time wish I could spread it around, extend the temperature control into a troubled, ugly, world. I pray that I stop taking what I have for granted. Give more. Complain less. A constant readjustment. At least until I reach perfection. And that isn’t on my to-do list. Even into a fantasy world like the one I created in “The Curse Under the Freckles.”

Even in magical realms there are limits.


having what you want, wanting it

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When will you learn that there isn’t a word for everything? (Nicole Krauss)

Ella has had enough play for the evening. Daddy is playing in a softball tournament. His team won the first game and the second is in progress. She doesn’t even want my iPad, usually a sure thing. She eases into my lap as we sit in the concession area and asks for her friend Nona. I didn’t see the little girl during the first game.

Nona is years younger than Ella. But our granddaughter doesn’t limit her friendships to children her age. Nona has a sparkling personality. And she has inherited artistic skills. I suspect that she and Ella communicate on non-verbal levels, through action, color, play. Little people see more than adults realize.

artwork by Nona Adams-Jones

artwork by Nona Adams-Jones

Ella puts her head on my chest. I straddle the hard bench and I’m amazed at the length of time my senior body remains still without stiffening into one four-foot-eleven-inch cramp. Something innately beautiful in Ella softens me.

Simultaneous loud conversations merge into a rumble. Ella’s arms are covered with dirt from the playground area. Her hair could use a brush. At the table across from me someone spills a beer into peanut shells on the concrete-slab floor. The noise and distraction don’t stop my granddaughter from falling asleep. I can’t take off her glasses without waking her.

This frozen-grandma scene would not appear to be pleasant. Nevertheless, I choose to remember it—every detail. I have no desire to join the laughter surrounding me. I would rather savor holding this blonde little girl, recognizing the trust she has in me, basking in her unconditional love. Another kind of artistic moment.

Soon she will awaken, sleepily, and see Daddy. He is her world. She is excited to give him her coloring page from daycare. I will give up this moment soon enough. For now there is no need for words. I remain still. Privileged. The grandmother of a girl with Down syndrome and up gifts.

Art comes in all forms. Sometimes words fail when they try to capture gifts that develop and change as this moment eases into the next.

shirts from past celebrated Buddy Walks

My husband and I wear these often as we watch our Ella grow.

Buddy Walk shirts



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