February 18 – The Spirit of Wild Horses

by V.J. Knutson

We’ve come to the bluffs in hopes of seeing the wild horses. The day is crystal blue without a cloud in the sky. My heart is heavy.

It’s been nearly a week since I’ve heard from my friend Nadine, and I fear what that means. Dini has been fighting an aggressive form of cancer for nearly a year now. It’s our habit to connect everyday, either by text or Facebook. The last message I received said she was “Going to sleep.”

There is little I can do so far from home.

Coon’s Bluff is a strip of land with mountains on one side and a drop overlooking the Salt River on the other. Spotting the horses at the top of the mountain, I head that way, while Ric is drawn to the water.

The horses are magnificent and it feels like such a privilege to be here surrounded by the reds of the mountain, the green of the mesquite with their almost black trunks, the greys and caramel of the rocks cascading down to the blue-green river. From every direction I hear birdsong and I ready my camera, but the motivation is lacking. Today, I am more interested in just communing with nature.

How Dini would love this place.

I push my walker across the uneven ground towards Ric, who signals me to stop and turn. A mare and foal are paces behind, so I move behind a bush to let them pass. They pause a moment, emanating such gentleness, and then head down the steep slope to the water.

A parade of horses follows, among them another mare and foal, and an old grey, and then a stallion that neighs and stomps in agitation. I take the cue and move further off the path. He picks up pace and passes.

We watch in awe as the group crosses the river and disappears into the far woods, and then startle to the sound of rapid hoof beats and a streak of chestnut flashing by.

Two eagles soar into view.

“It’s so beautiful!” I find myself repeating.

Ric finds a place to sit and I move further along the bluffs to where a tree hangs out over the drop. Two little birds chase each other over the water and back, and a small head bobs in under the rock crevices. A Rock squirrel watches from its hiding place and I can’t help but line up the shots.

I just want to stay in this moment forever.

“My wife was bedridden for over two years,” I hear Ric saying, and reflect on how far I have come, not just in miles, but also in healing. My disease, while debilitating at times, doesn’t carry the same threat as cancer. I have been the lucky one.

The horses are back at the water’s edge and watching them I feel as a deep sense of calm and peace.

Life is mystery. It is beauty and sorrow and unapologetic. It just is.

(Nadine died this day. I will remember her with the wild horses.)

V.J.Knutson is a former educator, avid blogger, and grandmother. She and her husband are currently travelling cross-country in a 40 foot motor home. Originally from Ontario, Canada, V.J. hopes this journey will provide healing for her ME/CFS, or at the very least, inspire further creativity. Find her online at https://onewomansquest.org/.

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February 14 – Valentine for My Mother

by Linda M. Hasselstrom

January 7.

On this day in 1957, a Monday, my mother wrote, “A lovely washday. . . . and I felt like working.” What a good reminder that I should concentrate on the positive things my parents wrote! I’m so invigorated that I take a break from my writing to mop the kitchen floor.

February 14. Valentine’s Day. 10 degrees with a cold wind at 5:26 a.m..

Valentine for my Mother

Cut flowers don’t last
says a woman’s voice.
I spin around in the Safeway aisle
expecting to see my mother
who’s been dead all winter.

Cut flowers don’t last,
she says again,
the woman with blue hair
beside the flower display,
shaking her head at the young man
still reaching for a bouquet
wrapped in red paper.

She sounds like my mother,
mouth pursed, not smiling,
each time I brought a bouquet
to the nursing home. You shouldn’t
have spent the money, she’d say.
Cut flowers don’t last.

I picked them
from my garden, I’d say.
She’d snort.
Cut flowers don’t last.
So I brought slips
from my plants,
potted them for
her window sill. She didn’t
give them water.

II.
When I was growing up
Mother served our meals on Melmac
scrawled with scratches,
kept the good china
in the cupboard
so it would last.

During that final year
she was alive, she asked once
about her good china. Safe
in my glass-front hutch, I told her.

At ninety-two she took her final breath.
I covered her pink enamel coffin
with roses the color of every blouse
she gave me no matter how many times
I told her I hated pink.
As I paid the florist
with her money, I told him
Cut flowers don’t last.

III.
Now in the Safeway aisle
I smile at the young man
who is carrying the flowers
toward the checkout stand.
Cut flowers don’t last
she says once more.

Tomorrow all the blooms
that do not sell will pucker
in the dumpster
brown as the roses whipped
by the cemetery wind
the day after my mother’s burial.
Cut flowers don’t last
I muttered to the mound
above her heart.

IV.
I gave her dishes to my cousin’s
daughter. In my gardens,
I cut flowers, thinking of my mother.
Blooms scent every room,
reflect themselves even
in the bathroom mirror.
Every night from the arbor
I watch the sunset
that will never come again.

I’ve worked on that poem a long time, half embarrassed because of its negative mood, but it expresses feelings I’ve carried for a long time too, and my recovery from them.

February 15.

And all day, whenever I looked down at the ranch buildings, I thought I saw my father just stepping into the corral or my mother shaking a rug on the porch.

—From Gathering from the Grassland: A Plains Journal, High Plains Press, 2017. paperback, 320 pages, $19.95; limited edition hardcover, 320 pages, $29.95. www.highplainspress.com

Linda M. Hasselstrom conducts writing retreats in person and by email from her South Dakota ranch. Her newest of 17 books is Gathering from the Grassland: A Plains Journal, written thirty years after her first book, Windbreak, also a ranch diary. Recent poems appear in Dakota: Bones, Grass, Sky (Spoon River Poetry Press). www.WindbreakHouse.comwww.WindbreakHouse.WordPress.com.

February 1 – There is a Crack in Everything

by Carol Ingells

 I have been stunned,violated, abused, bereft, inspired, hopeful, amazed, grateful. All these feelings and more have lived in me this week of painful revelations in my city– Lansing, Michigan. This city, dominated by Michigan State University, was my home for 50 years. This is where I taught school, was married, bore and raised a child, where I was involved in innumerable ways. This is the community I shared with my passionately dedicated writer/photographer husband for 40 years, sometimes feeling I came in second to his love for the community, the newspaper, his camera. This is where my husband, my sister, and my parents died and where my partner, Robert entered my life.
This week 150 young women screwed up their courage, came together and testified in court to the ongoing molestations of a supposedly renowned doctor. 150 girls! Not only were they molested, but no one listened to their stories. Their agonies were ignored as though they didn’t exist, weren’t valuable human beings. The “renowned doctor” was believed, protected, enabled.
Trust has been broken. Hearts have been broken. Not only because of the truth, but because the “highly respected” leaders of a great university would not face the truth; cared more about protecting the school and their own reputations than about the destruction of young lives. And what has it led to? Rage. Shock. Disillusionment. Grief.
The athletic department of MSU is implicated. The School of Osteopathic Medicine is implicated. The school’s President of 13 years, who was highly respected (and highly paid), has resigned. The Board of Trustees’ role is questionable. An over-all investigation has been launched, a special prosecutor appointed.
So why did I add inspired, hopeful, amazed and grateful? Because these young women have connected, bonded, supported one another in a beautiful way. Because the judge, a woman, allowed, encouraged, and listened as each one told her story. Because the university students rallied around them, thanking them and cheering them on.
Because maybe at last women are claiming their birth right, one that has eluded them for thousands of years. Because whatever humiliation, anger and grief Lansing has to suffer, maybe this city will come out the other side more honest, more compassionate, more whole.
There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in. ~Leonard Cohen
Find Carol Ingells online at her blog, Prayer, Play, and Politics. This post was originally published there. (http://www.prayerplaypolitics.blogspot.com)

 

February 7 – Shaken to My Foundations During A Set of Wall Push-Ups

by Judy Gruen

The other day at the gym, the teacher sent us to the wall for a set of standing push-ups.

“Place your hands on the wall at breast level,” she instructed.

I placed my hands on the wall at breast level. I saw that my hands were headed for the Gulf of Mexico.

“How did this happen?” I asked, sorrow catching in my throat.

“You know what they say,” said my neighbor. “After 40, it’ all maintenance.”

I gritted my teeth and performed three grueling sets of push-ups, determined to show that my strength and agility were not sliding nearly as fast as some of the rest of me. I did not cheat, exactly. I leveled the playing field, so to speak, by sliding my hands north on the wall closer to California, where the rest of my body lives. This made the push-ups much easier to complete. Besides, the true pain of the exercise was realizing that I was desperately overdue for some deferred maintenance.

Back home, I fished out a catalog of women’s sports clothing that sold bras for every possible shape and fitness need. Sure enough, I found a model designed by a researcher in New Zealand who had a doctorate in Newtonian physics. The bra was called “Stand and Deliver”. I paid extra to have it shipped to me overnight.

When I looked at myself in the mirror wearing my new suspension rigging, I was amazed at what a little retrofitting could do for me. Had I only known how much I would benefit from a close study of Newtonian physics and its application to my ability to perform wall push-ups, I would have paid more attention in high school science.

My new bra was not the sexiest-looking underwire garment to have ever left the shores of Macau. It had an uncanny resemblance to building scaffolding, but at least I was not a “problem fit”who would require the services of one of the nation’s leading bra-sizing consultants. (This was not the case for my friend Gerry, who once admitted to me after a few glasses of wine that she had been measured for a new bra with a carpenter’s level.)

Stage 1 of my deferred maintenance program had striking results.

“Something’s different about you, I can tell,” my neighbor said while I was in my new cups. “Wait, don’t tell me: did you have Botox?”

While it is still a painful experience to walk past Victoria’s Secret, that bastion of female objectification and purveyor of false expectations, at least now I do so holding my head (and my mammaries) a little higher. Victoria’s starving models may look better in a push-up bra than I do, but those scrawny arms of theirs will be their undoing in a contest with me for wall push-ups.

(This post is adapted from a piece originally published in the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles.)

Judy Gruen’s newest book is “The Skeptic and the Rabbi: Falling in Love with Faith,” (September 2017, She Writes Press). She is the author of four previous books and has written for the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Aish.com and many other media outlets. Find her online at http://www.judygruen.com/.

 

January 8 – Traffic Stop

by Linda Hoye

I’m sitting in traffic, stopped, as the city workers tend to yet another thing on the only street leading into our neighbourhood. The work has been going on since early summer. They’re painting crosswalks now; I think that means it’s almost finished.

A man in a vehicle two cars in front of me steps out of his car and tries to get a look at what is causing the delay up ahead. I glance in my rear view mirror; the line grows longer. I shift into park.

I see a young woman strolling along the sidewalk toward me with two young children, maybe two and three-years-old, in tow. She pauses every few steps to look behind her at the little one who is lagging behind and is, in fact, seeing something of great interest in the low cedar bushes that line the sidewalk.

She doesn’t attempt to hurry the little one along and I’m struck by her patience. I wish I wasn’t. I wish it was the norm for people to take meandering walks with children and allow them to explore the world they are growing up in. It often isn’t though.

The young woman glances unseeing at me for a moment then turns her attention back to the straggler who is now reaching into the cedars and plucking berries from the branches. The second child toddles back to join the berry-picker and, together, they pluck treasures and begin filling their pockets with them.

What fun. For the briefest of moments I’m transported back to my own childhood when we ran unsupervised through the neighbourhood using our imaginations to conjure all kinds of scenarios in which to fill endless days. Time shifts and I’m thinking of my own children and the games they made up that occupied them hour after hour with nothing more than a yard and sticks and branches and a faithful dog named Bobby.

Such richness there was, and is, in a world without electronics and constant stimulation. I applaud this young woman for her willingness to take the long and slow way and to allow these children the priceless gift of gathering cedar berries on an autumn afternoon.

Ahead, the flag person turns his sign from stop to slow and cars begin inching forward. I shift into drive and move past the berry-gathering activity toward my destination for the afternoon, taking with me a measure of simple peace and a belief that moments like this can change the world.

Linda Hoye is on the other side of a twenty-five-year corporate career; now a writer, photographer, gardener, and somewhat-fanatical grandma. She lives in Kamloops, British Columbia with her husband and their doted-upon Yorkshire Terrier. Find her online, where she posts daily, at http://www.lindahoye.com.

This post was first published on her at http://lindahoye.com/saturday-october-28-2017/.

 

January 5 – Travelling As Is

by V. J. Knutson

5

“My husband wants to put wheels on the bedroom and drive me cross-country.”

Three years ago, the doctor warned us against travelling six hours by car, stating that my health was too fragile. Now, she pauses in her note taking and ruminates for a moment before declaring the idea: “creative”.

“Well, it’s certainly taking charge of your life, instead of giving into the disease,” my psychologist adds when I disclose the plan to her. “I admire your attitude.”

Originally, we planned to take two years: I’d focus on recovery; he’d concentrate on winding down the business, and we’d sell everything off in stages. A boom in real estate helped push our dream forward, and here we are, on the road in half the time.

Mornings are the worst. Sleep, when it does come, encases my body in lead, reluctantly giving up her grasp when consciousness calls. Since the mind stirs long before the limbs, I have learned to use this time to write. Writing is one of the luxuries illness has afforded me.

Inspiration is never far away when the view from my window is ever-changing. Today, I am greeted by a cloudless blue Texan sky, anchored by the beauty of palms waving gently in the breeze.

Later, we’ll drive to one of the World Birding Centers nearby, where I’ll search for the green jay, native to this area, hoping to snap a picture. Or, if strength fails me, I’ll prop myself up in bed and try to sketch the pintail duck I photographed on my last visit. He’s such an elegant creature, his head a black hood atop a snowy neck and breast, balanced serenely on one leg. I admire his ease and grace; maybe even envy him a little more–my gait is so lumbered and slow.  Self-pity is a flitting sentiment these days though, now that I have time to admire the delights of nature.

Life is simple now. We gave up most of our worldly goods–passed what we could to the children, sold the rest. We are nomads, escapees from the stress of debt, cold weather, and the mundane.

Our home, complete with a washer/dryer, dishwasher, and walk-in closet, offers all that we need. He has his desk; I have my king-sized bed.  Shoeboxes, we’ve discovered, can be efficient and comfortable. Our yard, however, is incomparable, priceless.

In a week or so, we’ll pack up and head further west.

Illness, we’ve discovered, does not take a vacation, but this alternative sure beats the years of isolation and immobility that preceded it.

Life is a grand as it can be.

V.J.Knutson is a former educator, avid blogger, and grandmother. She and her husband are currently travelling cross-country in a 40 foot motor home. Originally from Ontario, Canada, V.J. hopes this journey will provide healing for her ME/CFS, or at the very least, inspire further creativity. Find her online at https://onewomansquest.org/.

December 20 – Thank God for L’Oreal, Light Ash Blonde, 9A

by Teri Liptak

The beauty of thinking of ourselves as evolving instead of aging is the acknowledgement that we still have unrealized potential. Getting older doesn’t have to mean loss or letting go of what “used to be.” It can be evolving into a more fulfilled version of our younger selves. Although I do miss the eyesight of my younger self. Plus, it’s just not fun that certain areas of my body have taken an alarming shift to the south.

In the past few years after my son’s graduation from school, there’s been an increase in solitude. There has been more time for myself and my own pursuits. On the surface, that sounds like a dream. (One that I remember having many times when dealing with the “terrible twos” as a new mom.) Yet, as someone who had been a full-time mother for the past two decades, that initial quiet and stillness felt uncomfortable. At first, I no longer felt needed or that I had a defined purpose. A racehorse retired to pasture with no more races to run. I had no idea what my own pursuits might be. Did I want to pursue anything? Did I have the energy? What if I was too old for something new? The what-ifs were showing up as fast as the wrinkles.

It’s so easy to look in the mirror and feel old and tired with each new wrinkle. One day, I just got sick of giving the mirror so much power over my mood and who I thought I was. Surely there could be more to me than how smooth my skin was (or wasn’t) or how many gray hairs were lurking on my head (Thanks, L’Oreal, Light Ash Blonde 9A hair dye.)

I suppose this was my mid-life crisis. I went to bed perfectly happy the night before and woke up a sobbing, depressed mess. Never saw it coming. Who flipped the switch? I assumed it was just a bad day, and things would get better. I devoured a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and went back to bed. That bad day has lasted, off and on, for four years. (That’s a lot of Ben & Jerry’s.)

During that time, I met several women online that became friends and were going through similar emotions. With their support and friendship, I found my way to a dream that I did want to pursue. Writing.

Writing has led me out of feeling useless and into a new way of seeing my world. It has given me the desire and courage to push out of my comfort zone and put myself out into the world. Life is too precious not to participate because of an imaginary expiration date in my head. I don’t need anyone’s permission to keep growing and learning every day. I’m not getting old, I’m evolving into the person I was meant to be. Day by day, wrinkle by wrinkle.

However, I’m still grateful for L’Oreal, Light Ash Blonde 9A hair dye. I’m not that evolved.

Teri Liptak lives in Texas with her husband, son, two neurotic cats, and one loudmouthed dachshund. She loves: animals, laughing until she snorts, and the sea. Teri’s a member of the East Texas Writers Guild. Her poetry is featured in Art of Peace, Building Bridges 2017 Anthology and at www.kindovermatter.com. She blogs at http://rttlingcage.blogspot.com/.

This post was first published on Teri’s blog, Rattling the Cage (http://rttlingcage.blogspot.ca/2016/06/thank-god-for-loreal-light-ash-blonde-9a.html)