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Losing My Marbles

I’d lost my marbles and this time I hadn’t even realized it.  My vacuuming muscles, you see, are particularly weak right now from lack of use.  So when I tackled the living room and decided to hazard a look behind the couches I discovered buried treasure.  Marbles!  Even a long-lost hot wheel car.  And dust, plenty of dust.  I’m ashamed to say I even discovered an empty bag of Reese’s Pieces…hmmm, was that Son #1 or Son #2?

There were enough stray marbles to cover several gatherings.  My family heirloom, beloved brother-in-law made marble rack is a hands down favorite for any and all small and not-so-small children visiting.  This is often the first thing said to me when they arrive:  “Can we play with your marbles?!”  “Well, hello to you too…and my marbles are available for play!”

Three hours later, I stowed the vacuum in the hall closet feeling virtuous, knowing the clutter was gone from behind my furniture and my marbles were safely contained, if only for a little while.

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Still here, knocking.

I awoke today to raindrops plunking on the metal roof of my house.  Too sporadic to be steady, just a gentle sound of the hope of goods things to come.  Lord knows we need rain–buckets and buckets of river and reservoir filling buckets of it.  This is not one of those kinds of rains, but it is welcomed all the same.  This kind of rain, to the ears of someone who lives in the hills outside of Santa Cruz, produces no anxious thoughts of fallen trees or blocked waterways.  Just dripping colored leaves and yet another reason to read.

A walk yesterday along the ocean gave hints of the weather change, confirmed in conversation later with a friend.

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The sky and clouds were washed in dull blues and grays, the thin horizon line holding a hint of sunlight.  It was perfect walking weather.  I spent my time enjoying the clouds and sending up good thoughts and prayers for family and friends struggling with challenges to health and heart.  Such a long list of suffering, giving me so many opportunities to remember my dear ones.  Sometimes it is the one thing we can do:  keep up the knocking.  Still here, remember?

A bonus of a dull sky above can be deep rich colors below.  I found vivid greens as I walked along the cliffs, ocean slime and ice plant.  It was beautiful and I added prayers of thanksgiving to my loud knocking.

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Martha, Martha, Martha.

A familiar bible story about Mary and Martha has their friend, Jesus, visiting their home.  I like this picture very much–oh, to have a home Christ Himself would finding relaxing and welcoming.  Hospitable Martha busies herself with cleaning, dinner preparations and serving while Mary sits at the feet of Christ and absorbs His words and soaks in His presence.  Finally, frustrated with being left to do all the work, Martha implores Jesus to tell her sister to help. Who hasn’t felt like this? Who hasn’t related, totally, to Martha’s plea?

When, many years ago, I converted to Orthodox Christianity, it was encouraged to find a saint with whom one could relate and even entreat for help in time of need. Being a person who likes to entertain groups large and small, I thought of Martha. Many times I end an evening, guests gone…dishes finally done, and sink into a chair wondering about the effort.  And still it seems worth it, even if I do grump a bit now and then.  Surely that is permissable?  Ah, Martha, Martha, Martha.

We once hosted a family from England in our home.  Somehow the story of Mary and Martha came up and I laughed about my love for poor beleaguered Martha and the bad rap I thought she got.  The husband informed me that she is much loved–as much as Mary–in England. They are two sides of the coin, he said. Both necessary, both beloved by the Lord.  Martha’s problem, you see, was not in her gift of hospitality.  Oh no, the problem was her judgement of Mary and her grumpiness.  That’s what spoiled her gift that day.  After all, the meal did need to be made and served and the guests did need to be welcomed and cared for.

Ah, Martha, Martha, Martha.  A work in process.  No wonder I like her so much.

 

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A Pumpkin by the Door

Standing in line at the grocery store with a pumpkin to decorate my door, some wine and ingredients for an upcoming dinner with friends, I waited for the woman in front of me to pay.

She was paying with pre-loaded government issued cards and she struggled to swipe each one of the four she had.  “Ten dollars on this one”, the clerk said.  “A dollar eighty-three on that one.”  In the end, she came up short and began the painstaking process of removing items from her bag.  Out came the instant coffee and the hamburger.  Not enough.  Next came the paper towels…until finally she was only 20 cents short.  The clerk told her she’d cover it.  The woman turned back to me and apologized for the wait.

As I paid for my unnecessary pumpkin, wine and dinner party items, I felt crummy and sad.  I often gripe to myself about my finances and I felt shamed. Shamed that I gripe and shamed that I hadn’t had the presence of mind to pay for the poor woman’s hamburger and coffee (only later in my car did this thought occur to me), and shamed that we do not care for our neighbors in a more loving and concrete way.

Arriving home I placed my pumpkin beside my door and carried my bags inside to put my bounty away.  Next time, I thought, I vow to be more present.

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The Call

Yesterday I got The Call.  No, not that call.  Not the call telling me Mom had died, thank goodness.  The Call about her falling and this time actually breaking her left hip.  My sister Pam’s voice transferred her grave concern to me and my mind raced to what this would mean.  For Mom, and for my sisters and brother-in-law who live near.

For it will certainly mean a shift in many things.  Research and common observation holds that this kind of injury is most often a very large step downward for seniors.  Just enduring the effects of surgery and the strain of the hospital stay is disorienting.  For a slow healer like my mother it remains to be seen how she will fare.  Returning her to the nursing home where she fell means trusting in the staff to be able to give her the kind of care she needs–not easy for us or for them.

The surgery did go well.  My mother does sound alright today…at least no worse that usual.  My sister is keeping vigil and making sure, as always, that mom is getting the best care available.  That is a great deal to be thankful for after getting The Call.

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Fly Time

Looking down from the bridge at the depleted waters of the San Lorenzo River, I see reflections.  Reflections of sky and tree…and as I stare two ducks come gliding into view.  The parting of the water reminds me of their flight patterns, which in turn reminds me of the season.  It’s time to fly.  For the ducks, time to fly south as their internal clocks begin to nudge them to warmer climes.

 

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Flight is also on my mind regarding my oldest son.  He is winging his way east (by land–no wings to fly, pity) after finishing up and clearing out and tossing out and working his way through his list of must dos.  He is drawn to this change of season too.

With no clear end plan, he is embarking on this trip–a one way ticket to his future is how I choose to frame it.  Sometimes, just sometimes, leaving is the best way to find one’s way.  I hope this is so for him and I send him with love and all the blessings I can gather. Staying in place and doing the mundane things that routine requires is always difficult when someone you love is off on adventure. My task is to focus and concentrate on what the changing season brings to me.  Right here. Right now.

 

Apple Time

Enough of that grumpiness in my last post.  For the record, though, I am a very kind and polite traveler even when frustrated.  Does that count?

How about these apples?  Picked today in my orchard.  Organic and abundant. Every year I put out the call to friends and every year I still end up with loads and loads of apples left in the old trees.  I refuse to feel guilty…I offer.  And what is left is happily munched by the herd of deer that populate the property after I shake them down as they begin to go soft.

I love the colors of this fruit as much as the fruit itself.  What a delight to the eye, on the tree and off.  I love to polish one up on my jeans, warm from the afternoon sun, and take a big bite.  Hear the crunch, feel the juice run down my chin, taste the tart sweetness as I chew.  I visited a few splendid apple orchards while I was in Illinois, but there is nothing quite like walking down the hill just to reach up and grab one.

 

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In a couple of days I will enter the last year of a decade I have affectionally called the “f-u-fifites”.  It has been a roller coaster of a decade and reaching the end brings no particular comfort.  I mention this simply to admit to this:  I am not young.  So, when on my recent trip to Illinois and Quebec, I found myself simmering with annoyance at “old people” I was a bit shocked.  I have to admit it–I’m biased against old people when I travel.

Boarding the smaller plane leaving Quebec I looked over the snowy heads dominating the view with frustration.  They were slow.  They were absent-minded. They were, many of them, heavy and thus having a hard time manuevering in the tight spaces and seats.  They were confused about their carry-on luggage and their seat assignments.  Full disclosure about those “snowy” heads…I am one of them but for my visits to my stylist.  So what is wrong with me?!  How could I pass judgement on this group of people, many of whom are close to my own age?

I have a hard time answering that.  It makes me want to scream or disassociate or stay home.  As I endured (that is the correct word) the pains of air travel, I mused that someone could make some serious money by creating airlines tailored to specific age groups.  For younger flyers, a fast paced ride, excellent connectivity to the internet and beyond, great sound, movies…perhaps a fitness component, good food.  For aging boomers and older, perhaps a luxury ride, but relaxed…wider seats and lots of leg room, plenty of time between connections, good food.  Families with kids?  Kid entertainment, kid food, kid-loving flight attendants.

I can dream, even as I know that I would likely end up in the cattle car version…the catch all for everyone unwilling or unable to pay for the upgrades.  Wanting to scream, or disassociate or stay home.

 

A Bird In The Hand

My sister Karen and I are exploring Quebec.  It is beautiful territory, both the city and the surrounding countryside.  We seek out hikes when we travel together, hoping to catch glimpses not found without the exhilaration of exploration.  Cap-Tourmente National Reserve delivered:

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After a steep uphill climb, marvelously maintained by the park service, we arrived at an observation post giving up an overview of the Saint Laurent River and the farms and park land below.

It was my turn to drive as we left and I pulled our rental car into the artisan shop along the road out.  An old man and woman and grandson were collectively oiling the entry door as we stopped.  Graciously switching from French to English so we could converse, the older man showed us into a shop filled with duck decoys.  The front room contained his own creations, painted by his wife, and the adjoining room held his huge collection of decoys he had gathered over time.

As we listened to him share how the decoys were made, what kind of birds they were, and many other facts, I was reminded of my father and how he loved to talk–both with his hands and his mouth.  The old man seemed to delight in our attention, even though his milky eyes could no longer see our faces clearly.

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He explained that his grandson was now carving and painting decoys since he and his wife were too old to continue.  His grandson, he shared, wasn’t interested in school much (in fact, he seemed most interested in girls–go figure!) and so perhaps the tradition would continue.

By the end of our time, after chatting and hearing the voice of my father in the background…imagining how he would have loved to spend some time in this shop, guess who left with a bird in the hand?!

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A Contained LIfe

My mother, always proudly independent, leads a contained life.  The only thing she can now do on her own is feed herself, that thankfully due to her being right-handed, her arthritic left hand sits useless in her lap.  Even her speech has become an exhausting effort and words come haltingly and with great struggle.

Standing, sitting, walking, dressing, bathing, and all things in between are now done with help.  While she can still read, her most beloved pastime has become a chore.  Keeping her mind focused, her holding hand steady, and her memory of what’s been read all on task is daunting for her.

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My siblings and I have often remarked that it seems cruel.  Cruel that when Mom could finally relax (Dad, with his intense needs and demands, gone) her body has literally gone to pieces.  Her mind is sharp though showing the characteristic aging-in-place signs of a confined person.

I asked her, this trip, “So, Mom, when you are sitting there in your chair all those hours…what are you thinking?  Are you pondering things or remembering or just “spacing out”?”  Mom looked at me and without a pause said, “Just “spacing out”. I never wanted to get to this point, needing help to go to the bathroom, to do everything…” and her voice trailed off.

This brings me back to an oft considered subject:  how can we deal with our aging loved ones with dignity and honor and love?  In an age where extended family is often, well, extended all over the country, how can we take their needs into account and keep watch over their care?

It’s a well documented fact that good care correlates to watchful, involved family. In my mother’s case, she is extremely fortunate to have two daughters intimately involved in her life at her nursing home.  Mom planned well and has long-term care, but now that she’s using it she understands the shortcomings.

She and I talked briefly about her living situation.  In the past she always staunchly held that she would never live with her children and burden them. Now, now that she has arrived at her old-age-reality, she can admit she’d consider it. We spoke of a time when the family might put Grandma out in a rocker on the porch, checking on her through the day…grandchildren blowing dandelion seeds for her to see. Funny thing, my mom, my independent mom, isn’t laughing about that vision anymore.

I’m so grateful to have sisters who live near Mom and carry the bulk of the responsibility.  I do feel a long-distance guilt.  The best I can do is pray, visit as often as I can, and bring her my yearly batch of her apricot jam.

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