Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Dogs, divorce and dings

    This week I'm thankful for moments of levity. Lately there has been a lot of stress in my life and the lives of my loved ones. So I was grateful to be able to do silly things this weekend, like enter a costume contest with my dog (and even win a prize). There's nothing wrong with a little silly sometimes, and I thank God for it.


“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, 
so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”
                                                                                              Joseph Campbell

Living Well Post-Divorce
Ah, the holiday season, chocked full of Hallmark commercials of holiday bliss. I’m trying to prepare myself for the onslaught of images of loving couples with perfectly mannered children. It’s too bad we can’t air brush reality.
Or is it?
I went with a friend recently to a noon day session at The Center for Women about living well post divorce. The speaker, a quote collector like myself, brimmed with positive reaffirming statements calling the period just after a divorce a “fertile void” that begs for recreation of yourself. It’s messy in the middle, she tells us. “You have to become lost enough to find yourself.”
She encouraged us to use reframing statements. Instead of happily ever after, it’s happily even after. It’s not a broken family. It’s a redefined family. I sigh inwardly, but have to admit how many people I know who have used divorce as a journey to authenticity and peace. I recently visited Jack London State Park in Sonoma Valley and looked at the picture of him with his second wife, who “got” him. Having had sad parts in his childhood, I rejoiced that in his short life he connected with someone with as an adventurous spirit as his own, who didn’t get burned by his meteoric glow.
(His quote in the photo above, in case it’s too hard to read:
“I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.”)


    The walls were showing ten years of dings and dirt, ten years of a life full of teenagers, friends, and family gatherings.  It was time for a spruce up.  I scrubbed the walls down, cleaning off an absurd amount of dirt, dust and cat hair. I spackled a few scrapes and nail holes and then did some light sanding.  Then  - a new coat of paint.  The walls looked fresh and better than new - unmarred, unblemished. 
   I often find myself in need of some spackle and sanding for my own self. How nice if it were that easy to clean the dings and dents out of our own hearts! I cling to old hurts and losses and spend too much time dwelling on past mistakes. I need to spackle the holes, sand down the mistakes and remember that with each new morning, I get a fresh start, a clean slate, a whole new wall to write on or paint anew and even ding up all over again.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Walking, wrinkles and a little lavender bliss

Hiking in Grandview State Park, Grandview, WV

     There's something I love about a walk in the woods, particularly in autumn with the leaves thick beneath my feet and the air chilly and sharp around me.  Shining through the high branches, the sunlight is softer, more forgiving of imperfections. My steps are slow but steady and I can feel the rush and stress of everyday falling away.  I notice fungus on a tree, quick rustles up high, rich green ferns tucked behind gray rocks. It is quiet here, but alive with small things - ants, brown chipmunks, butterflies - and more rarely with larger ones - a deer startled from the rhododendron and  a hawk launched from a cliff.   The earth is rich and pungent and somehow smells more like home than any other place I know. I am present and centered without even trying.  This walking becomes my meditation, my best prayer of the day.


     "Botox could really help that 11 between your eyebrows." So said a lady at the salon to me the other day. I'm sure she's right, and I didn't need her to tell me that those two little lines are getting deeper with each passing year. It's no mystery why it's happening either. My brow gets a lot of work in a day, moving to varying degrees to show that I am confused, angry, sad, compassionate, worried. Now in my mid 30s, I'm also developing "parentheses" around my mouth from smiling, and "laugh lines" at the corners of my eyes. A few injections could take care of all that, I suppose, and help me look years younger. But here's the thing -- I don't want to lose any of that. Those lines on my face are evidence of a life lived and deeply felt. My emotions have always been an easy read, since I have no "poker face." With Botox or plastic surgery, I could get one. In my 20s, I used to fantasize about liposuction, rhinoplasty, cheek implants, but not anymore. Now I just want to be healthy, to take care of what I have and make the most of it, with no needles or scalpels involved. This is my face, and one of the gifts of getting older is that I've finally grown to love every line, freckle, mole, and blemish because they are mine. If I ever have daughters, I hope I can help them get to that place of self-acceptance much earlier. It's taken me 35 years to realize that I don't want to look like anyone but me.


Lavender Bliss
     Not to miss an opportunity, a coworker and I tagged on a few days to a work conference in San Francisco to see the sights of Mill and Sonoma valleys.  We particularly enjoyed touring Benzinger winery, which takes an environmental ‘biodynamic’ approach to its farming. Part of that involves elaborate gardens or insectaries or bug cities as they are called, chocked full of plants pleasing to healthful insects and birds. We meandered through the pathways, ducking at the darting hummingbirds, their whir of wings creating a throaty purring. 
     We watched the sun set on the rolling farmlands as we drove back, reliving our repeat visit to the restaurant ‘the girl and the fig,’ where we feasted on three types of goat cheese, one drizzled in lavender honey, a taste sensation I can only describe as decadently delightful. We sucked down lavender creme brulees that were too good to split. As we headed back to the city and neared the Golden Gate Bridge, the traffic slowed to a crawl. We noticed how people here rarely honk their horns. They are polite drivers, respectful of pedestrians. What is it about a region that creates such a culture? 
     All I can figure is all the Innovative taste sensations keep everyone sated. Though stuck in traffic, I can't even work up a good ill temper. It's as if the rich textures of the land and sun-baked hills of the valley run in my veins like wine.  What are a few backed up cars when you've had the likes of lavender honey?


Friday, October 12, 2012

Restorative Life

Baggage Claim

     As usual, I've overpacked. My goal is to always go light, pack efficiently and compact. The reality is I generally end up sitting on my suitcase, squeezing in items that maybe I won't be able to live without or including every outfit combo that would suit my various moods or the weather or chance opportunities. I try to outwit travel and all the loops and curves it can throw my way, though I often end up loving the detours. I love to travel. I can't wait to see what's around the next corner or how people experience life in other parts of the country. They say, whenever you go, there you are. We carry our baggage so to speak.
     That's true, of course, but it goes deeper than that. We are the food we eat and the places we've been. Age has mellowed me, made me realize it's good to get rid of my baggage for awhile and see the culture and life view of another area. I'm the same, but different - more open somehow.

We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.
                                                                                   T.S. Eliot


         I have learned to love the subtle changes autumn brings to the salt marsh in the Lowcountry. The spartina grass fades gently from vibrant summer green to a softer golden brown as the days cool and shorten.  But a few days back home in West Virginia remind me that I miss the vibrant colors of the mountains as the trees announce the arrival of autumn with cool crisp days and frost sprinkled nights.   All the colors of nature proclaim that a season has ended and another begun.  
        The colors remind us that change happens whether we are ready for it or not.  The cycle of life continues.  Life changes and moves on. We leave home. Our children grow up and move away.  Our  jobs change, new roads are paved, new babies are born.  Things change.
      It’s October.  We can embrace the change in the air by pulling on a sweater and stepping out for a brisk walk or we can huddle inside the house, remembering the last warm days of summer.   It’s all about attitude.


     When I arrived for my first restorative yoga class, the instructor, Tracy, had prepared a station for each of the six women in the group. A yoga mat, a large foam block, a long blue strap, a small foam block, and a fuzzy blanket were laid out for me. The lights were low, and soothing music played from Tracy's iPod. The first pose had me on my back, knees up, using my feet and core muscles to lift my lower back off the floor far enough to position the large foam block under my lumbar spine. I stretched to reach for the block, just as Tracy arrived and, shaking her head gently, placed it for me. We were to hold each pose for five full minutes, focusing on our breathing and "listening to our bodies." My mind wandered, and my inner perfectionist took over. I found myself looking at my classmates to make sure I was doing the pose "correctly," but Tracy caught me, and I earned another gently disapproving shake of her head. 
     The next pose was sitting against the wall, legs stretching up the wall, backs flat on the mat. Tracy told us to let one leg fall to the side "until you are comfortable," though again, I was comparing my pose to everyone else's. The long strap to one side of my mat was there to wrap around my foot for support, and just as I was about to break the pose to reach for it, Tracy appeared again. As she placed the strap around my foot, she leaned in to whisper, "You're going to have to learn to let me do things for you, Stacy."


Friday, October 5, 2012

It's October!

     There are dozens of things I love about my church community. This is one of them. Every week at their meeting, our staff take time to pray for certain members of the church. I don't know how many, or how they choose, or how often any one member gets prayer. I only know that every time I get one of these cards letting me know they prayed for me, it is always in a week that I need prayer more than usual. Last week was a stressful time of waiting and worrying. It was made a little easier from knowing that Deanna, Don, Sandi, and Woody talked to God about me, and believing that God was listening.


Lessons from Sitting Bull

     Some days I’m amazed at what a great single mom I am.
     Others, I’m frankly appalled.
     It’s one of those days for me, of the latter kind. I crawl into bed at 10:45 p.m. having gotten everyone fed, ‘homeworked,’ ‘soccered’ and asleep. I pick up my journal relishing these 15 minutes I’ll be able to stay awake before passing out. Picking up my cell phone that functions as my second brain, I’m shocked to see the date.  Something important happens tomorrow, but what? I try to shake the feeling of foreboding.
      Then I sit straight up in bed.
      Sitting Bull. My youngest son’s life-size project is due not in two days as I thought, but tomorrow. He’s sound asleep in his room, and this is my screw up. I go downstairs, speed read his book, type up the points he’s already done, adding a few more, and hunt down craft items. Stumbling into bed at 1 a.m., I set the alarm for 5 a.m. assembling the family to frantically paste on hair, jewelry, loin cloth, moccasins and a Sitting Bull face.  I dress, feed kids and fend the dog off Sitting Bull until he can dry. Wrestling him into the back seat of the car, I say a prayer that nothing falls off. Privately I continue my inner chatter on what a mess I’m making of things. As luck would have it as I escort Sitting Bull into school, the principal rounds the corner and wants to see our masterpiece.
     “I just love seeing these projects.” She smiles at me. “Aren’t they fun?”
      I smile not trusting myself to speak and unroll the paper hoping body parts have remained in the right places. I look down to see my son beaming, and for the first time in hours give myself a moment of grace. He’ll probably never remember this Sitting Bull project, but I will. I fix a wisp of Sitting Bull’s hair and know he’d understand that life’s not always fair. Sometimes we just do the imperfect, best thing we can to take care of our own.

Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, 
but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.        
                                                                                      ~Nathaniel Hawthorne

     We noticed them as we walked through the dunes to the beach. Butterflies were everywhere - yellow gulf fritillaries,  brown skippers and orange brush footed queens.  A few brave flyers followed us out to skim over the waves.  I've walked this beach many times but this was new.
     On our way back, after a long, chatty walk on the beach, one of the queens landed on the back of my friend's hat and stayed.  The butterfly posed on the top of her white cap for several minutes while we snapped photos.  Then, off into the wind and on to another flower.  It was a moment of pure delight, more for us than for Chris; she couldn't see the butterfly until we showed her the pictures of the back of her head. 
     We paused our walk for a moment of wonder - a piece of flying happiness.  Moments like this remind us of the goodness of life and deserve to be savoured.