September 29 – Seasonal Prompts

by Marilea Rabasa

 

I love observing the seasons and the months they represent. They are the embodiment of the natural flow of life and a constant reminder of change and renewal.

I was a high school teacher for twenty years. Summers were times for me to breathe, relax, and get off the treadmill. Then in August the anxiety and excitement would build, as I felt hungry to return to school and start using my skills in the classroom again.

Just as our lives change and new routines replace old ones, our feelings about the months of the year change as well. Bright red chili festivals have replaced pumpkin cutting in the classroom for me. Life is never static, and I do well to remain open to new opportunities as they present themselves. Change is good. Change is very, very good.

Now, some months are times of remembrance. I’ve been retired for nearly a decade, and August/September has a new meaning for me. August 16 is the birthday of my mother, who died eight years ago. And August 23 is the birthday of my estranged daughter, Annie. But now I celebrate my granddaughter Emily’s birthday on August 9 by going to Seattle to see her. I never miss either of my granddaughters’ birthdays. In focusing on my blessings, I feel a sense of abundance every day.

September/October start to herald in autumn for me. In Albuquerque the leaves change color from the frosty night air. This is a welcome change from the oppressive heat of the summer. But here the leaves turn yellow, not the reds I used to see in New England.

In New Mexico, autumn is a gorgeous and productive lingering well past Thanksgiving. It’s harvest season and the farmer’s markets overflow with abundance from the ground. Many holidays come in autumn and on the cusp of winter. These are always poignant times of the year for me, but now more than ever they are times to take stock and savor all that I have.

Winter drops like a curtain, in some states more than others. A couple of weeks before Christmas, Mother Nature lowers the boom. Winter is bitter in the high desert. Where I live, there’s very little snow. Sandia Mountain, across the rift valley from my farmhouse, attracts all the “weather.” At nearly 6000 feet, the air is cold even with the sun shining, though the temperature rarely drops below freezing.

Winter rings in differently state to state. But universal, in the areas where cold weather does settle into our bones, is the wish to smell spring in the air.

Many of us enjoy watching the trees coming out of dormancy and preening like peacocks, their colorful buds in bloom. We thrill to see the first flowers peek up from the ground. And gradually, though differently from state to state, we see the resurgence of nature, in all its glory. It is the season of renewal, of new beginnings.

Life goes on, and we with it.

Marilea Rabasa is a retired teacher and the award-winning author of her first memoir, A Mother’s Story: Angie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Her recovery blog is published at www.recoveryofthespirit.com. She and her partner have an orchard in New Mexico. Summers are for grandchildren and salt air at their home on an island in Puget Sound.

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September 12 – Just Lily and Me

by Susan Weidener

A beautiful sunny afternoon, the cicadas singing, and I am bathing Lily. She seems a little cowed when I pull out the hose and tie her up to the porch railing, bracing herself for the spray of water, the shampoo which I lather into her short caramel-colored fur. She looks at me as if to say, “why” and I tell her that it’s to get rid of the smell of something she’s rolled in―smelly dirt, maybe the remnant of a dead rabbit―and that it will be over soon and “you, my beauty will smell wonderful.”

She is the perfect dog for me after raising two strong-willed male children. Sweet, gentle, willing to do almost anything I ask. I had always wanted a yellow Lab, maybe after reading Old Yeller and having some sentimental version in my mind of what Labs are like―loyal, steadfast, a companion and protector―or in my case, protectress―until the end.

She is truly my dog. I don’t have to say I got her because the boys wanted a dog; they’re grown now. No, I wanted a dog for the love and companionship; to ease the loneliness of my life as a writer, a woman alone. And the thing is, with her by my side, I am never lonely.

She is also the smartest dog I’ve ever had. Chin up, ears perked, eyes alert, she listens to my every word and picks up on them right away: sit, listen, good girl, puppy dinner, let’s go for a walk, bedtime … and upstairs she bounds into my room.

I look at her now lying on the deck, drying in the August sunshine, one paw tucked under her chin, keeping an alert eye on her backyard for the errant squirrel or baby bunny that she loves to chase.

Lily and I bonded when she was just six weeks old.

A certain serendipity accompanied her entrance into my life at the tender age of sixty-three. Our black Lab, Lucy, had died just three months before. As I visited friends who had a sweet black Lab named Millie, their dog made me miss Lucy even more.

Lucy had been my son’s dog. She bonded early with him; dogs do that when they know who is responsible for them being there and it was Daniel who had begged me one spring day to go up to the middle school with him.

“Mom! The principal has Lab puppies in a laundry basket in his office and he is giving them away! Can we just go and look …” and at my slight frown … “please, Mom? Just look.”

Right. Famous last words.

About a week after the dinner with Marcia and Norm, the phone rang.

“You still looking for a yellow Lab puppy?” Marcia asked. And so, one phone call changed my life―and Lily’s.

I stroke her head, consider her expressive brown eyes. “What do you say, girl? Time to go inside and do a little writing?” Without hesitation, she follows.

Susan G. Weidener is a former staff writer with The Philadelphia Inquirer. She has written two memoirs and a novel based on a true story. She teaches memoir and fiction to adults and facilitates the Women’s Writing Circle in suburban Philadelphia. Susan lives with her yellow lab, Lily, in Chester Springs, PA. Find her online at http://www.susanweidener.com/

August 31 – An Ordinary Thursday

by Pat Anthony

Sometimes it’s okay to write about the inconsequential, what doesn’t shake the earth, slides to the horizon where it accumulates with all the other slides into a nice hummock, not even a mountain, but there nonetheless.

Today was like that as I pulled into Wal-Mart after physical therapy for a bad hip that puzzles everyone: stationary bike, stability ball, manipulations, MRI in the morning.

She is tiny, white hair shining above her navy tunic. She comes toward us from where her grocery cart is parked beside a massive black Chevy Silverado. “I’ve never done anything like this before, but my keys are locked in the truck. Do you think I could use your cell phone if you have one? I locked mine in the truck so I don’t have to bother answering it while I try to shop.”

I size her up and speed through a mental list of safety measures for sharing cell phones as I move toward my car, being a kindred spirit who locks up my cellphone before shopping.

She calls her husband who is really deaf and out working on a trailer; I’m afraid he won’t hear it. He doesn’t. She calls her daughter who doesn’t answer.

I ask her if there’s anything frozen in her cart and she laughs. “Oh yes, there’s ice cream.” I suggest we wheel back into the store to at least park in the air conditioning.

She tries her daughter at the shop and finally gets an answer and explains.

I tell her that perhaps customer service would put her thawing items in a cold space until her second set of keys arrive but she laughs again, serene and warm,.

“Oh honey, I’ll just make him a chocolate malt. No need to worry.”

I go to search the store for items on my list, particularly a Frozen Be Calm, Let it Go rolling backpack for a step great-granddaughter. There’s irony in there somewhere.

My phone rings again, and her daughter wants me to let her know that her Dad is truly on the way. I return to the lobby and deliver the message to more smiles.

Not being of the calm and serene disposition, but bipolar and anxious over every small thing, I marvel at how she has been placed in my path today, an ordinary Thursday.

Where we meet our God is always a puzzle. Moses met him in the burning bush, Elijah hears a tiny whisper, the apostles see him walking on white-capped waves. I meditate on Megan McKenna’s idea that “the Messiah is one of us.”

I let her know when we leave, reassure her once again, and cherish her smile one more time. She will remain nameless, this woman who in her own distress could make me feel whole and helpful. While her ice cream thawed she gave me the gifts of peace and calm as I watched her let it go. I’ve never seen the movie but today I got the message.

Pat Anthony writes from the rural midwest, studying furrows in the land and on the faces of those who work it. Recently retired from education she is a former small press poetry editor and poems daily. She is published fairly regularly in various journals and actually enjoys editing and rewrites! She blogs at http://middlecreekcurrents.com.

August 18 – Dishwashing Lesson

by Linda C. Wisniewski

The grease-filled pan waited on my kitchen counter all morning.
He made baby back ribs the night before and the sink was full of pots and knives, the barbecue brush, a spatula, and a large cookie sheet of dark brown congealed fat and sauce. We walked right past it this morning on the way to get my car serviced. Now he’s out somewhere.

When he gets home, I’ll tell him to put foil or the silicon pad on the cookie sheet next time for easy cleanup. That’s what I would have done. Back when he worked full time and I did the cooking, I learned the best way to do these things. Now he’s a retired scientist turned sculptor and I teach memoir classes and write part-time. We’re on the same footing in this household now and, to my surprise, he loves to cook.

I grabbed a sponge and washed the pots and pans and the knives and the brush. All done but the cookie sheet. With the dirty spatula, I pushed the lumps of fat into the trash can under the sink. I soaped the pan and reached for the steel wool in its dish. The wool pad disintegrated as I began to scrub. I found another in the yellow box under the sink and all the while, I thought about last night on the deck. The air was mild, the moon a bright crescent in the dark sky above the outlines of trees. Like many other nights and also unique in itself.

We two made a promise one September day to share our lives, for better or worse. Then came sickness and health, a baby boy, surgery, vacations, graduations, cancelled plans, weddings, our parents’ funerals, two dogs, three cats, reunions, Paris and Prague. Today was another in a chain of days becoming years as we grew old together. If I was lucky. I forgot what I was going to say about dirty pans.

Here he comes with an armload of groceries. I wonder what’s for lunch.

Linda C. Wisniewski shares an empty nest with her retired scientist husband in Bucks County, PA. Her memoir, Off Kilter, was published by Pearlsong Press. Linda has been a member of Story Circle Network for many years. She blogs at www.lindawis.com.

August 15 – Living Among Strangers

by Ariela Zucker

My husband and I live in the motel we own and run. Our residence located between the lobby and the laundry room is an example of efficiency. This location ensures our ability to oversee the daily operation with ease. It also means that a constant stream of strangers moves in and out of our private space at all times.

Whoever planned the motel made sure to install enough doors to make the flow smooth and so there are four doors, each with its unique function, all of them need to be watched continuously. I can never be sure that my privacy will not be harshly intruded upon at any minute.

The first is the one to the lobby where the reception desk is and people check-in; sign on their check-in slips and receive the keys to their rooms. On their way into the breakfast room, to buy a cold drink, or ask a question about the weather, our guests scream hello, wave or even stick their head in the window that connects the lobby to our living room.

The second door leads to the motel laundry room; this is where our staff comes in in the morning to get the daily cleaning sheet. Through this door, they also come in at the end of the day to sign out or any other time of the day to ask questions about the daily chores.

The third set of doors leads from our bedroom to the backyard. People don’t come in through it anymore since we fenced it in for the dog.

The fourth is my favorite. It is our private entrance to our residence, there is a big sign on it that says ‘Private’ but few times a year, usually late at night, a confused guest will wander in. Caught in the bizarre situation, seeing us watching our favorite show on TV, he will freeze like a deer in headlights. Being used to this, we watch the frightened stranger with obvious amazement trying to guess what strategy of exit he will execute.

There is a fifth door; we were told when we bought the motel. The door connected the bedroom to the utility room. It is now blocked behind a large closet. Still, late at night, already in my bed, I wonder if one day it will open and one of our guests will emerge, rub his eyes and inquire about the best seafood restaurant.

Used to the constant presence of strangers, I will probably point him in the right direction, pull the blanket over my head and nod back into blissful sleep.

Ariela Zucker was born in Israel. She and her husband  left sixteen years ago and now reside Ellsworth Maine where they run a Mom and Pop motel. She blogs at https://my-motel.blogspot.ca/

July 27 – Life with a Caregiver

by Judy Alter

Much is written about the hardships and dedication of caregivers, and I am the first to applaud them. Been there, done that with my mother who slid into dementia in her eighties, and I don’t feel I did it as gracefully or kindly as I should have. But now my daughter is my caregiver, and I thought it time to share the other side of the story, along with some of what I’ve learned, I hope, about being a gracious recipient of care.

About a year ago the pain in my left hip got to the point that I rarely walked. I lived on a Rollator, a walker with a seat and wheels, I had hip revision surgery. My hip had been deteriorating for years and had a severe deformity.

I was unable to care for myself, and the burden fell on Jordan, my youngest daughter. By the time of my surgery, I was living in a cottage behind my house, and Jordan, her husband and son were and are living in the house..

I was selfish and demanding. When you’re deep into pain, it’s hard to think about much besides yourself. I greeted her with a list of needs and wants, until she gently (well, usually) suggested that I let her sit a minute before hitting her with a list.

I’ve learned to remember I am not her only responsibility. She has a husband, a child, a career. I learned not to be critical when she came home from the store with the wrong items. And I learned that sometimes she is tired and needs comfort as much as I do.

I try to give as much as I take, to make her family glad that I’m close. A cheerful attitude requires growing beyond self-pity. I’m happy when I’m included in restaurant plans and parties, but I respect that they need some time to be a family. And I’ve learned to treasure my solitude (in reasonable doses).

These days I’m about 75% self-sufficient. I tend to my personal needs, cook my meals, dress myself, and work at my desk, keeping my writing career alive. I entertain, often for a happy hour with heavy hors d’oevres, though Jordan fixes a mean antipasto platter a lot, and I dine out with friends who are good enough to fetch me. I cannot walk unassisted, nor can I drive.

As Jordan said, we have become more like roommates than mother and daughter. But we have worked hard at it and had some spectacular squabbles along the way. For instance, we enjoy our shared shopping trips, as long as my list isn’t too long and her time not too short. Stars shine in her crown. I’m grateful for the love and continuing care of all my children, but Jordan is a rare gift.

An award-winning novelist, Judy Alter is the author of several fictional biographies of women of the American West and now has turned her attention to the late nineteenth century in her home town, Chicago, to tell the story of the lives of Potter and Cissy Palmer, a high society couple with differing views on philanthropy and workers’ right. She blogs at http://judys-stew.blogspot.ca/

July 10 – Garibaldi

by Marilea Rabasa

The summer of 2007 was difficult for me personally, and Gene thought it would be good for us to get away and distract ourselves, seeing one of the most spectacular sights in British Columbia. But he wanted to surprise me.
So on the highway to Whistler, Gene shouted suddenly, “Stop the car! I want to show you a beautiful lake. Drop dead, gorgeous, just like you,” planting a kiss on my cheek.

Well, he was a charmer. That’s one reason I fell for him. And I was game. What could this man have up his sleeve that would make me forget my personal troubles?

Fifteen switchbacks. I counted ‘em. It was a long way up. The trail seemed to go for a mile one way before it mercifully switched back in the other direction.
And we were backpacking. Up a mountain. With full loads.
About halfway up, tired and irritable, we decided to lighten our loads by eating our hamburgers.

Big mistake.

Six hours later near the end of the trail after a drenching downpour, we saw the lake Gene had promised me, and he was right. It was a magnificent visual delight to top off a grueling day. Creamy turquoise from the glacial till. Like a diamond in the desert, it was worth the hike up.

We arrived at the campsite and pitched our tent on an elevated spot overlooking Lake Garibaldi and Sphinx Glacier. Gene is a photographer and has many of his prints framed. But I would have to say that that view of the glacier from where we rested our weary bodies was probably one of the most magnificent shots he’d ever taken.

So began three days of wilderness hiking on less food than we would have liked. But food for the soul? Ah, there was plenty of that.

The next day we tackled the real focus of our trip: a demanding trek up to the Black Tusk, a volcanic neck on the shoulder of Mt. Garibaldi. We made it, got all the way up to the snow line. The snow line? In July?

We’d been living on the East Coast too long. Of course there was snow in July at high elevations! How could I forget camping in Yellowstone one summer when a blizzard nearly flattened our tent and we had to scuttle into Gene’s truck for warmth?

We trudged back down to the campsite and were delighted to accept a dinner invitation from our neighbors. They had made a huge cauldron of couscous to share with anyone nearby, and food had never tasted so good to me as it did that evening.

The next day we hiked around the stunning lake named after the mountain. Surrounded by so much natural beauty, I forgot about my problems, my physical hunger, and settled for gratitude that we had lived long enough to appreciate what was right in front of us.

Life, as with anything else, is just a matter of perspective.

Marilea Rabasa is a retired teacher and the award-winning author of her first memoir, A Mother’s Story: Angie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Her recovery blog is published at www.recoveryofthespirit.com. She and her partner have an orchard in New Mexico. Summers are for grandchildren and salt air at their home on an island in Puget Sound.