Thursday, December 31, 2009

A New Path

The pack is loaded and heaved up on my back. Standing in the path I look to one side to see it fade into memories of other years. Looking the other direction, I see an open road beaconing me to something more. It is News Year’s Eve.

All I have learned, all I have gained is loaded into this pack. Each year the pack gets larger and my strength gets stronger. For the good that has come into my life and the lessons I have gained from the painful events, I am thankful.

When we are younger, we are shocked at the depth of sadness that occasionally befalls us. Disappointments are enormous in their awakening. Dreams get crushed and change is often painful. As I age, I find that all of that is just part of life. I am no worse off than the person next to me. We all have that path called life that we live with all of the pitfalls…and the joys. I bear a pack that contains sadness, but I have learned to be strong. I have learned to cherish those I have every moment that I have them. I have learned that disappointment is often a blessing. I found that old dreams are replaced with beautiful realities if I look hard enough. I’ve learned to accept life as it happens. It often hurts, but our survival is not just ours alone.

The path ahead is exciting. We live in a time when lives extend much longer and bodies hold up a bit better than in my parents’ time. Being 62 is no excuse. A world awaits what I find inside this yet unexplored part of who I am.

Perhaps my journey is not mine to make but to accept as already finished. I like to think that there was a plan for my life when I was born, that God’s hand has guided me. My gifts are mine alone. If I don’t explore them and offer them up for use, what have I accomplished, what have I learned of myself. I can think new ways, I can question and learn, I can become a new me.

We all go into 2010 unaware of the events that will take place. Instead of worrying about the future, wouldn’t it be better to be excited to see what we as individuals can do or be to make the whole stronger, positive. With all of our flaws, we are the future, a future that doesn’t just come in toddler size.

Please join me in grabbing onto a stronger power, one given to us at birth, that we might all make a stronger, more loving world. Happy New Year, my friends.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Winter White

Flakes drifted from the sky. Fat. Growing fatter. Softly, softly they floated to earth. I sat watching behind the glass wishing once more that I was a small child eager to make that first footprint in the virgin snow.

“Leslie, are the girls there? Tell them to look out the window.” Squeals rang through the phone, hit pitched and full of laughter. I would not see them play in the snow. They were at the sitter, yet from experience, I knew exactly what would transpire.

There is worry about loved ones on the road traveling home from work or some other place. School is out so there will be no days off from academia. Activities and classes are canceled. Roads clogged with those unexpected travelers who believed the weathermen when they said ‘Rain. No snow in the forecast’.

I think I saw Whoville on one of those large flakes. It passed the window too quickly for me to get a good look. Birds flitted around wondering what was sharing their sky. In an hour 2” of snow had piled flake by flake on the deck railing.

A white world. The purity of the white seems to influence those who do not have a need to drive in it. The weeds in the garden are hidden. The plants long past life are out of sight. Trees droop with the weight of the new white stuff. Shhhhh. It’s very quiet. Whitely quiet. Whitely lovely.

Memories of other snows race through my mind. A sweater is donned, the still standing tree is lit, candles add a fragrance to the outside beauty and I am blissfully peace.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Learn

“My dog has fleas”. Oh, I don’t have a dog, but I do have a new instrument. I remembered the tuning jingle from years ago when my sister, who was in college, had a ukulele. Now I sit on the floor with my two granddaughters tuning new ukes.

Sometimes I am asked how I know so much about computers. Never had classes. Was terrified of the darn thing when we got our first one in the ‘80’s. But if you are a working woman, computer skills are a must. Well, at least if you are working in an office.

I decided not to be afraid of this contraption. I bought a computer I really liked that fit my small apartment. Someone told me to think of everything as a filing system. Okay. That was a start. Programs were easier to use and my fears dropped away. I began to write.

I went back to work as a receptionist then was recruited by a new company as executive assistant and office manager. My typing speed picked up and I began exploring the computer beyond my filing system. I began creating newsletters and procedure manuals. Then off to the next company. Here I was again an executive assistant when the position of marketing and public relations opened. Well, let’s see: I can answer a phone and talk to people I do not know, I can file on the computer and create documents. Of course, I could do PR. And I did…..and did it well. I set up press conferences, created marketing materials and set my course in a new direction. I found that not only did I gain in confidence as well as computer skills, I also became the computer troubleshooter.

Perhaps I’m just na├»ve in thinking I can do anything (within reason). I found that tackling something new was and adventure, not into the task at hand but into me. I told myself that I am a writer. So now I write a blog, have been published online as a contributing editor and in a magazine. I have written greeting cards getting paid $35 for 7 words. I can step forward and succeed. I can even fail. But there is nothing lost and the possibility to gain.

So here we sit with ukuleles in hand. I goof on the music and Sydney shows me the proper way to play. Gabby struggles but won’t give up as we work together. We could watch the CD and make it all easier, but this working together with a blank page is giving us an opportunity to see just what we are made of.

Sit before something you do not know and learn.

Monday, December 28, 2009

In the Wings

Waiting in the wings of Christmas waiting to go on sits the wedding. Now the stage is empty, and it rushes on in all its detail and activity. We’re having a wedding in three weeks.

My son met his beautiful, future wife on the national tour of ‘Evita’. Living on a bus traversing the country dancing and singing brought these two together. Certainly it was a time of seeing each other at their best and worst.

We always hope that our children will find that one person who understands that life is difficult and that it takes a team in order to make it. These two have the determination and dedication to one another. It will be a hard journey as those of us who have tasted it know.

I wish I had known more going into marriage. I was young and full of illusions and dreams. Having had two parents who never fought or taught us what it was to resolve disagreements diplomatically, I entered into holy matrimony at a disadvantage. I didn’t know how to be one let alone two.

The Barbies came out of the closet and the older girls were excited to play with dolls with Gabby. A phase that all too soon will end. “Where do you want to live?” Dolls lived on the stairs, on the piano bench, and, after emptying cabinets, in the kitchen. “What career do you want?” What? Career?!?!? I never had that option. My cut-out dolls were always mothers. Not even sure I knew what a career meant.

It is a good thing, this training up of young girls to know that they have a voice and can pursue whatever their hearts desire. I see this in my future daughter-in-law who was brave and stepped out into the world to capture what her heart called to her. She is an inspiration to these little girls. I try to reinforce that they can change the world and make a difference, that they have gifts that only they can give. I try to open doors for them to explore and experience.

I would like to try my youth again with this newfound freedom. I would like to dance across a stage or be a journalist. I would have liked to go into a marriage as an independent woman joining another independent person working together to create a new future.

The wedding is just about to step on stage. Two young girls stand in the wings wearing beautiful gowns. They will walk down the aisle in front of the bride. In the future, I see them following the bride into a new awakening.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Teacher

I decided that in this age of technology I would stay away from it as much as possible on Christmas. So I took a 2 day vacation. Today I found my computer still working and my phone still functioning. But now I am ready to resume my inquiry into the workings of the world and my place in it. I am back to visit with you.

The presents filled the room, candles burned, the fireplace warmed and carol accompanied the time of family. Sydney and Gabby played their Christmas songs on the piano before one ribbon was tossed aside. It was their decision. An amazing decision considering the presents behind them calling out their names.

One by one the presents were opened, thank yous and discussion followed. A slow process but one held over from my childhood. We are a family who celebrates each and every moment of gift giving cheering the thought that went into each gift. Children’s painted pictures become highly praised pieces of art. A package of homemade buckeye candy fattens up a grandma, birds get a new home and a frame flashes pictures of my cherished family. The gifts are well thought in trying to find that one that will make the recipient smile.

I gave ukuleles to my granddaughters. No one needs to plug them in or have special equipment to run them. They will take some learning, some laughter and maybe in the end some music. I got one for myself as well, so we can learn together. Their friend, Heather, got a guitar. I’m thinking maybe we can form a band. Watching the girls on the piano and the pride they felt in themselves for their accomplishments was perhaps my best Christmas present. Now we tackle something entirely different. However, no different than the paint and brushes, no different than the big piece of furniture with the smiling keys, no different than a pencils and a blank piece of paper, we shall find a new way to be successful, to accomplish something from nothing on these ukes.

A baby in a manger taught us much. Maybe I am not the teacher. Perhaps these children are teaching me to pick up the pencil and learn to draw. Perhaps they are telling me that my aching hands can play the strings of a ukulele. Perhaps they are teaching me to listen and change my ways, to grow into something better, to see the world from other perspectives. Perhaps, just perhaps, our little ones are truly the innocent wisdom that beacons new awareness, an awareness we have been too busy to acknowledge.

I wish I could start all over again. I wish I could hold my babies and ask, “What can you teach me today?” I wish I had been less into myself and more into them. I wish I had thrown away all preconceived notions on parenting and started my own chapter. Perhaps that is why we become ‘grand’parents, because in the grander scheme of things, we finally find our place.

I leave Christmas of 2009 behind taking the memories with me into another year of learning. I encourage you the same. For the richness or life lives not in what we possess, in what we know, but in the mere essence of what we receive in the most unexpected ways.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Empty Manger

You may not see me but I am there
You may not hear me but I am there
You may want to talk to me; know that I am there
For though I am out of sight
I am there

Years ago I was asked to write a Christmas play for Christmas Eve services at church. So I sat down with a pen and turned out a story of a woman named Mary, a woman alone on Christmas Eve.

She is alone as she wanders into the church. She sits alone in the back of the empty church alive with preparation for the Christmas pageant. The minister approaches explaining that the woman playing Mary is ill. “Would you play the part?” (I know, predictable.) Mary takes her place by the empty manger.

A string of visitors pass by each excitedly looking into the manger. Moses sees the prophecy come true, David sees his heir, Mary Magdalene and John see Christ reborn. “But the manger is empty,” she tells them.

This is a season that along with the joy of the holiday spirit comes feelings of sadness as well. The burdens we carry with us seem a bit heavier. Sad memories and losses find their way back once more. A mixture of excitement, reflection, loneliness, loss.

Many passed by the manger each finding something different. One man saw promise, a dream turned into reality. Another saw his sorry self reborn with hope for a future. And two found something that was missing and thought gone forever. Yet the woman behind the manger saw nothing in that empty crib. In the passing faces, she saw healing, belief in something unseen. She tried to reach beyond all that weighed her down trying to find an answer in that manger. As she looked, a light shone upon her face. She realized that what she sought was there all the time. It was waiting for her to accept it. That happens, you know. Once you let go of the reins and believe something better will come, the healing begins and new doors open. It’s called faith.

Of course, in reality (theatre reality) the pageant has not yet begun. This Mary had no idea that she had stepped back in time, a time when people more readily believed in miracles. No longer was the manger empty.

May your holiday season be blessed with peace that shines from within. May love and understanding be yours. May each person in your life become more precious….including you yourself.

Merry Christmas, dear ones. I send you love and thanks for following this woman on her journey.

Empty into the world your song that it may in turn sing to you.

Chugging Christmas Home

The train is beneath the tree. Not so easy for a grandma creeping under branches to lay track. It's hard to get track laid in a circle while avoiding cords, stereo speakers and the tree skirt. The circle kept getting smaller. Soon it was all connected and ready to go. "I love the train, Grammy." Well, that made it all worthwhile. I liked it, too.

A few years ago I purchased the train for our entire family hoping that everyone would have their chance of the train visiting their tree. For a couple of years it sat in the box, no one wanted to tackle it. I missed it.

The train goes around the track. The kids blow the whistle. Smoke rings pop out of the smoke stack. The presents will sit around the room, because we can't have them interfere with the train. When the tree comes down, I'll have the problem of storing it. But all in all, I'm quite delighted that the train chugs around my tree. Never had a train as a kid. 'Bout time I enjoy one.

Merry Christmas, my friends. Grab hold and enjoy the season with your families. I'll be playing with my train.....and loving the time with my loved ones.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Candle Lit

“Will we hold candles again? Will you hold my candle?” Ah, Christmas Eve candlelight services at church. Everyone receives a candle that is lit at the end of the service when the light is passed. The older children are given candles with adult supervision. Sydney's candle drips onto her hand and a lovely service now becomes a painful memory.

My daughter had a December wedding. The church was beautiful with poinsettias across the altar. Tall aisle candles lit the way for the bride to walk to her groom. We could hardly keep her from running down the aisle to him. Step, pause, step, pause was tossed aside as she raced down the aisle, her father keeping up the quick pace. The scalloped edge of her train caught on the bases of the tall candle holders. Candles with glass hurricane covers began crashing. Guests quickly reached out to grab the remaining candle posts holding onto them like torches. No one was injured and a memory was added to the family vault.

All faiths light candles in reverence. We light candles for parties, for a warm glow in our homes. Birthday cakes accumulate candles throughout our lifetimes. I’m not sure if they are lighting the last ‘age’ out or the new ‘age’ in. Either way, the cake gets brighter as we age. Maybe there is a message in this candlelight, a lesson of lighting the way for others, of seeing better in a new light and of loss of that warm glow.

Candles will light the way once more on Christmas Eve. They will light once more the way for a small baby who changed the world. Sydney will be concentrating on her candle, but she has learned that sometimes holding a light can hurt. It is the way of life. But her family will always be there to watch over her and rejoice in the light that glows within her.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Promise is a Promise

Disappointment isn’t easy at any age. A friend not showing up to play is about as devastating to a waiting child as waiting for Christmas snow that never comes.

She is sitting next to me trying hard not to be disappointed that a friend didn’t show up as planned. Her father called yesterday to confirm yet the girl did not arrive. Yes, we tried to call, but no one was home.

Disappointments are hard for children. Their lives are not as packed full of the many things that run through our minds at any given time. Any promised event is one they cherish. I’m a little upset with this father who probably got side-tracked with Christmas errands.

I guess I feel disappointment, too, but have come not to expect much of other people. How sad is that!? I always told my kids that saying something is like a promise. Believe me, it has come back to haunt me. Yet, it was the only way to explain truthfulness in what we say. My mother always exaggerated. We always had to cut everything she said down to size. Little white lies or embellishment hurt and embarrass. I wanted truth to come from the lips of my children and for them to be trustworthy. I don’t want false promises for them.

Sometimes I commit to do things with the girls that I really don’t want to do, such as, paint when I have a bundle of things to do myself. Yet, I make myself remember that I said they could paint. I can always wait to do what I need to do later. I can clean up the mess. I could put them off and dread the activity, but I am determined to set an example. One I never had. In the end, my blog is late. Piano lessons are strewn across the day. And, memories are made.

We have given up waiting. I think I’ll get off of here now and go make some good memories.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Two Cents Worth

We tackle the world with ornaments strung over fingers. Our purpose began with handing out just one ornament a day. But days were skipped, so we decided to hand them out a few at a time.

Giving to people you do not know is easy. We write a check or make donations. There is joy in this giving and good things happen to people in need. Some serve at soup kitchens and meals on wheels. Giving is good, even better when done face to face.

The girls were a bit tentative on our first outing armed with ornaments. The first ornament went to a little girl about Gabby’s age. “Merry Christmas,” she said handing the gift to the girl. The little girl lit up like a Christmas tree and said, “Mom, she gave this to me.” The girls beamed profusely thanking Gabby. We were off to a good start.

Syd and Heather decided to go off alone at Powell’s while Gabby and I held hands for moral support as we searched out recipients. An older woman thanked Gabby telling her she would hang it with her granddaughter. The other girls returned confused because a woman insisted on giving them each a penny. They tried to explain to her that the ornament was free and tried to return the pennies, but the woman insisted. I told them that she needed to give them a gift in return.

On our second outing, Gabby handed her ornament to a white haired woman standing by the books with a younger woman. By now, Gabby was a pro. “Season’s Greetings from our family,” she bravely said. The woman’s eyes sparkled as she leaned down to take the ornament. She spoke with a heavy accent. “I am going to my home in Germany and will take this ornament with me. I will tell everyone that it came from a little girl in a bookstore in America.” Well, darn, I was choked up. The woman went on to tell us that her daughter’s name was Gabrielle.

We stopped for dinner, Syd handed the man behind the counter an ornament. He stood there speechless as she walked away. He followed us, “I will put this on the tree with my little girl and tell her that it was given to me by a little girl.”

It is a good thing we do in this giving. It is not just the giving to strangers but also in the giving to one another. We search for the perfect gift, one saying “I love you and care”. We sit with anticipation as paper and ribbon come off the gift. It is a good thing.

One woman brushed Syd off when she approached her. It was a lesson. Not everyone finds it easy to accept gifts. Not everyone believes that something can come without a price tag. Two pennies were a lesson in giving. Even the cold shoulder opened new dialogue and a stronger need to give gifts of goodwill. Many of those receiving ornaments asked what we were doing and said they would do the same with their families next year.

Three little girls and an aging grandma are handing out joy. Joy for the receiver as well as the giver.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

I Don't Like It

"I don't like it," she said with her back to me, my arms tucked around her. Her little body was stiff as the words poured forth. My heart was breaking, but the words needed to be said…. and heard.

Room mothering was not something I enjoyed when my kids were little. I hated cooking so cookie/cupcake-making was not my forte. Most of the mothers competed to be the 'best' room mother. I voted them all best. So when it came to helping with my granddaughters class parties, I hid behind what I thought was the visitor tag. Then I found out the tag was for volunteers and my picture was plastered on the front and back. Still I did not make commitments only stating that I would help if I could make it.

My grandchildren were accustomed to a stay-at-home mom who was at every event. Divorce changes those things so this grandma tries to step up to the task. I was given the task of filling plastic cups with marshmallow creme. I guarantee that I will never again be in the vicinity of the food table when jobs are handed out. Gabby took care of me making sure I had everything I needed. I watched her interact with her friends feeling pride in the way she helped other students finish their ornaments. Yet the sparkle in the eyes of this darling girl had dimmed. Even a party could not pull forth spark that was Gabby.

Her teacher informed me that she is having a rough time with the divorce. It wasn't new news. Neither one of the girls wanted to talk about this event yet raw.

We came home after the party. Both girls were spending the night. We were in my bedroom changing into our snuggly clothes. I sat on the bed and pulled Gabby up in front of me with my arms wrapped around her, her back against me.

"Gabby, can we gave a little talk?” Her head bobbed up and down.

I asked if she was having a hard time with the divorce. Again, the head bobbed. "Would you like to talk about it?" The head bobbed and the words poured out floating in the air all covered with anger. She was angry that her parents told them of the divorce on Valentines weekend. She was angry that her mother says she will do things with her then doesn't. She was angry at them both because they can no longer play games as a family. "The kids in my class ask me why I'm making two ornaments instead of one for my parents. It’s embarrassing, Grammy. I don’t like it," she cried. And, I agreed.

The anger seemed to be emptied out for awhile. I explained that one of her best friend's parents were also divorced as were other parents of her classmates. It was news to her. We decided that we would continue to talk when needed and do the best we could to get through this thing happening to their family.

Being a room grandmom for a holiday now and then is a good thing. Not only do I become popular with the kids, but also I am there for my girls. I realize with my granddaughters what our divorce must have done to our children. I cannot set the world right for these girls or my children, but I darn well will try to ease the way....even if I need to be a room mother.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Is Your Refrigerator Running

“Hello,” I said when I answered the phone. Not even a sigh from the other end. “Hello,” I said again. Again, no reply. I hung up and immediately it rang again. I repeated the same process as before with the same results. And again, it rang.

When I was a kid, Vivian and I would stay at her sister’s home in Greenville. Sometimes they go out leaving us alone in the house. We would head for the telephone to make crank calls. “Is your mother there?” we would ask. When the woman answered the phone, we made some smart remark like “Is your refrigerator running.” Kids.

On one such call, the man who answered the phone informed us that his wife was bedridden and could not come to the phone. Well, that put an end to our calling activity. We both had that sick feeling that results from doing something very wrong.

I picked up the phone. “Hello.” Again no voice on the other end. Quickly I said, “Don’t hang up. I want to tell a story to you.” The silence remained. I repeated the story of Vivian and me and the lesson we had learned. I hung up on the silence.

The phone rang once more. ‘Oh, God give me patience.’

“Hello,” I answered for the fourth time.

“Lady, will you tell my little brother the story?”

I held the phone to my ear stunned. My callers were two very little boys.

“Of course I will,” I answered. Silently, the other child listened.

“Now let me talk to your brother again,” I said. “Where are your mommy and daddy?”

“They aren’t here,” answered the small voice.

“”Is there someone you can call to come stay with you?” No sound.

“Please call your mommy or grandma and tell her you need her to come and stay with you. You are too little to be home alone. And promise me you won’t call on the phone like this again. ”

“Okay. Thank you for the story.” Click.

It was before *69. The boy didn’t know where they lived. I did the best I could with what I had.

I learned a lesson as a child. Perhaps I passed it on to two little boys who perhaps will do the same.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sow the Seeds

I apologize for the spotty posting. The blogs will probably miss a day or so here and there until after the wedding in Jan. My apologies. I love to write and miss days that I do not. Babysitting tomorrow and hanging at the school for last day activities before Christmas break. No blog on Friday.

Mom and Dad, forgive me for all the times I did not understand you. Forgive me for all the times I criticized you. Forgive me for all the times I thought I knew what was best for you. Forgive me for being a child who was thoughtless and selfish.

It is no easier being an adult child than it is being a parent. The dynamics change. For some reason, we as children think we know what is right for our parents….for the rest of family. Maybe it is the way we grow up. Maybe it was something evolving over generations and no one saw it happening.

I know that I was short with my parents and lacked patience. They lived such a different life from what I was living. They were growing older, and I hated to see it happen. I wanted to hold back time. They probably did, too. I didn’t come from a family who talked. We didn’t learn to work together for resolution. No one talked or someone yelled.

I work with my granddaughters teaching them to cooperate, to disagree peacefully and to find resolutions together. I tell them when I am wrong and ask forgiveness. I try to see what is happening when one of them is upset, so I know the way to approach them without reproach. I try to lift them up not only when they are successful but also when they manage to work through difficulty and sometimes fail. I do my best to listen to them not only with my ears but also with my heart. Their lives aren’t about me.

It’s difficult as a parent watching your children make mistakes and keeping your mouth shut. I fail constantly. I was the end of that part of my family history that handled things the wrong way. I’m trying desperately to make changes that will echo in generations to come. I suffer the mistakes I have made and cannot complain. I learned. I learn. But sometimes they just hurt.

I wish I had done things differently with my parents. I wish I’d more conversations with them asking more about them, having compassion for them as they aged and hurt, being there for them when they suffered loss. We reap what we sow. Sometimes we sow from ignorance.

In the years I have left in my life, I shall go forward with good intent and a wisdom that comes from a life of learning.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Candle in the Window

Sometimes Mom would put blue lights into the candle holders. Other times she went for the more conventional orange lights. I could hardly wait until Mom pulled the candles from the Christmas box. Once the light bulbs were in place, we went from window to window placing the them onto each windowsill. She plugged them in and for another year warm candlelight (via electricity) radiated from our home.

One year I returned to the farm to find that every home had little candles in all of their windows. I loved the welcome glow and the farmhouse echoing another time, the home fires still burned for a daughter far from home.

I decided to do some research on this tradition of a candle in the window. The most popular belief is that early Christians placed a candle in the window lighting the way for Mary and Joseph. Some say it started as a warning for sailors that they were nearing land. It has been said that it started with early colonists lighting the way for revolutionists. Candles in windows signaled safe houses for fleeing slaves. A candle was placed in the window when a son or husband went off to war was a reminder that home and family would be there when they returned.

Candles in the windows welcomed guests and offered hospitality. Candles were placed remembering those who lived far away. They announced births and signaled family loyalty.

“Grammy, look what I did!” exclaimed Gabby. She had taken my plastic candles from the box, placed the orange lights into the sockets and waited until I looked before she plugged them in. The windowsill was aglow with the warm light, the light welcoming the nativity into my home. A light showing the way for a sleigh in the Christmas sky. We placed lights in each window. She, the child that once I was, followed what had become a family tradition.

The warm glow greets my heart and lights the way for the Christmas spirit. And, maybe I should have these candles year round signifying everything that was and welcoming everything that will be.

Light a candle and remember.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas Behind Locked Doors

Imagine Christmas behind locked doors. Imagine sharing one small room with your children all in bunk beds. Imagine a Christmas with no money, no home and no hope.

What happens when the spirit is beaten out of a person? What happens to a woman who is strong enough to flee the only security she has known in order to save her and her children? Where does she begin and how?

I wish for each of you to have the chance to walk into a women’s shelter. You will truly understand the spirit of giving and understand the blessings you possess.

When a woman comes into the shelter, she is either given a room with a roommate or if she has a family, they all share a small room. If she does well in the shelter climate, she is then moves upstairs to a similar room with a private bathroom. This is her starter home. The children attend public schools and get counseling at the clinic. Their identity is hidden, and the doors to the shelter are locked.

It smells like used clothing. Women and children shyly pass through the halls. Volunteers scurry around handling the holiday traffic. Walls are adorned with children’s art, Native American art made by one of the women, a small shrine of poetry. A non-profit group gives the women writing classes, so they can learn to express their stories. One poem is of a policeman who tried to drown his wife until she began to breathe in water and her own blood. Another story is of a woman who was torn with pain because she has such low self-esteem which made her a perfect victim. Stories of anger, shame, fear given voice on paper.

Rebecca had just begun a new job. She needed tennis shoes for her walk to the bus. She needed nylons and new clothing to wear to her new workplace. Her family had been in the shelter for a year still hiding from her husband. At last she had the strength to face the world. Our office pitched in to help her. Her kids had dreams of a Christmas they didn’t believe could come true….our ‘Santa’ made it come true. We dressed a woman for her first steps back into the world. We did a good thing.

No one should have Christmas behind locked doors. Doors that keep the bad things out. We shook that lock and helped a woman build confidence and helped her family believe that there is a caring world outside of that door.

This is a Dickens’ story. Truly the spirit of Christmas that touched this family, touched all of us as well.

Put on that red suit, and you will be changed. Put on that red suit, and a small part of the world will change as well.

God bless us every one.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Shame on You, Walt

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house. Not a creature was stirring. Not even a mouse…..

Better darn well not be a mouse in this house! I have an innate fear of mice. I know it comes from my childhood when my sister was terrified by mice. We could hear mice scamper through the walls of the house, and, saw them at church and in the barns. Mice. Argh!

There must be a mouse union that was organized to change the image of mousedom. I believe it started with Walt Disney. I always wondered what his offices were like where a little mouse was permitted to visit him often. Having gone to Disneyland a couple of years ago, with my children huddling me away from the long line we’d been standing in to the Peter Pan ride, I know that Disney did indeed know the critters intimately.

The commotion around us was unseen by me. At last we had arrived to the ramp of the ride. Suddenly, I was whisked away from the venue with the explanation that they were closing the ride. Well, that wasn’t true. A few little big eared creatures not really resembling Mickey had appeared in the line. In order to keep their mother from screaming, she was shuttled off. My son later approached an employee telling her of the mouse infestation. We were to learn that no creatures were slain on the grounds of the park. Enough already! A mouse is a mouse. A cockroach is a cockroach. If you aren’t going to herd these critters off of Disneyland property then eliminate them!!!!!

We had Mighty Mouse. Cinderella had her mice. Major cartoon movie stars are often mice. A mouse ran up the clock. A mouse pulled a thorn from the lions paw. However, never is a mouse portrayed as a nibbling critter that makes his way into cereal boxes, chews on things in the attic and stealthfully finds his way into homes in the winter.

My dog had passed away. It was the first winter without her. After 2 years of having Sadie protect my home, mice appeared. I bought poison, but they dined on it as if it were a gourmet delight. A co-worker suggested traps. I’d never set a trap. So, going deeper in debt to eradicate these critters, I bought traps. After a few attempts to snap off my finger, I had the method down pat.

Now setting the traps has nothing to do with emptying the traps. I knew I could not go home to find a mouse limp in the trap with its tongue hanging over a piece of cheese. So this co-worker went home with me. She opened the door to the kitchen, “Got one,” she said. A scream heard around the world escaped my lips deafening my friend. “You better stay out here,” she said. “ It’s just a tiny mouse.”

Tiny!!!! I’m like the elephant running across the field at the sight of the long-tailed monsters. Size has nothing to do with these rodents who lie in wait. I am upset that we hold these critters as idols to our children. It is wrong that drawings portray them as cute and cuddly. Today I make a statement. Down with mice as heroes! Just tell me, what has a mouse ever done that was heroic?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

I'd Miss the Surprises

At the first sign of rain, Sally wore her red, blue and yellow raincoat. Now, I didn’t put the raincoat on Sally. It just mysteriously appeared on her.

Sally is a metal yard sculpture holding a flower pot and wearing a green and blue apron. Her flipped hair is adorned with a white and yellow daisy. I got her a few years ago. She sat outside of my front door holding a plant greeting all who passed her way. I started changing her clothing according to the season. My neighbors enjoyed greeting Sally with one even offering to buy her Doc Martins for cold weather. Sally is part of the family.

When I moved to my new place, Sally took residence in the bathroom holding a spare roll of toilet paper in her flower pot. In the other hand, she holds the hand towel. Despite the fact that she is indoors, her clothing still changes with the seasons.

Sally doesn’t have a varied wardrobe. It consists of an outgrown rain poncho, a pair of earmuffs, a brightly colored neck scarf, a summer bonnet, and once in awhile a piece of dress up clothing. On this particular day, she was ready for winter.

Gabrielle loves to ‘trick’ me. Her active imagination reveals itself in the delights and surprises I find. On one occasion when the girls came to visit, I was not home so Gabby found a rock, a piece of lichen and a couple of leaves leaving them on my doorstep. I knew immediately who had stopped by.

“You still have my rock and leaves,” Gabby commented yesterday.

“Yes, I do. You gave them to me, and I like to look at them.”

When decorating for Christmas, Gabby asked to lay out the several nativity sets I have accumulated over the years. In checking out her progress, I found all of the baby Jesus’ in the center with numerous Marys, Josephs, angels and shepherds mixed with a few sheep surrounding them. Sweet Gabrielle, always thinking, thinking outside of the box placed the characters in the way she viewed the nativity.

I write this blog from a grandparent’s voice. But this is not only about a voice, it is about a learning process. I am learning from my children, my grandchildren. There are adventures in the world. I could travel to the edges and see what I could see. I could live in another part of the world experiencing new experiences living just for me. Or, I can walk into the bathroom and find Sally dressed in a slicker, scarf and earmuffs covering imaginary ears. I guarantee, there is no finer place to be than with my family. Anyway, I’d miss the surprises.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Grease Paint

Silently behind the white face the clown becomes invisible and a new world is revealed.

It began as something fun for my children and me to do together. Clown classes. We dressed up and acted silly without anyone knowing it was us behind those white faces. My children would cringe to know I'm writing this as they consider their clowning careers an embarrassment.

My husband asked if I would take some of his students to witness the auditions for Ringling Brothers’ clown ally. One of the students wanted the experience so off we went to join the circus. I sat on the sidelines as Karin joined in the circle of newbys hoping to be the next Emmet Kelly. As usual, I cannot sit by passively. Soon I was chatting with veteran clowns totally enjoying the experience.

The Emmet Kelly doll was the last doll I ever received. Aunt Bess knew that I adored Emmet Kelly. He wooed me with his quiet manner, his simple movements, his expressive eyes. I was a child who adored this man would could make me laugh and cry without uttering a single word. He was one of a kind.

“Why don’t you try out,” said my new friend Scott, a clown in an usher suit. Tuba, Tammy and Tommy encouraged me as well. My new band of white faced friends. Never one to dodge a new experience, I walked into the middle of the circle where I was given a task to mime. A few weeks later I received a letter that I had been accepted into clown school for Ringling Bros.

Well, obviously, I didn’t go or I would be retired in sunny Florida or riding on the circus train to my next destination. I did go on to do Christian clowning. A step closer to the me who was evolving. This clown called Mij didn’t clown for children. No, she clowned for adults. Something happened behind the white face with no voice. I was aware of pain in the eyes of some, caution in the eyes of others. My eyes would meet another and the seeing heart knew understanding. I was innocence tentatively looking at eyes looking for answers and solace. Mij was invited to walk into a room and offer peace.

I don’t clown now and haven’t since I began embarrassing my children. Once in awhile someone will ask about Mij. She is gone, but I am here with her residing in the silent recesses of my heart. Now, minus the white grease paint, I can look into eyes of others and offer a listening ear and arms to hold.

From inside the white face, I found myself.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Pearl

We sat and talked as we waited. A strong, self-assured woman always in control seemed a little less in control with the holidays knocking at the door. As often happens, I sat quietly waiting for the story to unfold.

She began vaguely alluding to the fact that her father is no longer part of her life. Anger infiltrated her voice as she told bits and pieces of her story. I knew the parts she didn’t say. I had heard similar stories from students at the high school. I had known such stories from my youth. Estrangement from a man who took something away from this once child. A scar so deep that even time could not erase the pain and anger.

“You know what I’m talking about, don’t you,” she asked. “Yes,” I answered. I took her hand and told her I was sorry. Tears fell from her cheeks as the words poured from her lips. I listened.

I’m posting a piece I wrote many years ago. It was a difficult piece to write and a difficult piece to read. Today I’m posting this for this woman and others who have suffer.

The Pearl

Her name is not important
It is etched upon my mind
The evil that was done to her
Will never stay behind

What happens when a father
Lays his daughter down
Takes the child beyond her years
Takes away her crown

What kind of beast would take his own
Would feed upon his child
The daughter was the mother
Was the sister, was defiled

That she bore his children
And could not flee the den
Was not at all the total sin
That haunts me now and then

For I was but a child
And as with all the rest
We shunned her and we teased her
For the way she smelled and dressed

Were we just too young
Was ignorance the crime
Or was it lack of interest
Or the year, the day, the time

Youth has little knowledge
Of grievous crimes as such
But where were all the parents
Who knew she suffered much

What happened to the neighbors
Who chose to look away
What happened to the teachers
Who saw her every day.

For blind may be the eye
That looks upon the scene
But I will not forget
We children who were mean

I cannot ask forgiveness
Of that silent girl
But I pray that somewhere in her life
The stone became a pearl.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Generous Child

The music consisted of only 3 keys on the piano. Just 3 keys. At the last piano lesson, Sydney's friend dashed from the piano bench refusing to try harder. Now were on the bench on more time.

"Try again," I said. I knew that I was pushing the tolerance limit of this child. I didn't back off, "You are doing a great job. I'm very proud of you."

Her hands once more found middle C and played the song with only one tiny glitch. The lesson was over. She had survived. Smiles all around.

Syd played on the computer trying to be a silent fly on the wall. She looked up once in awhile. Her 'much looked forward to' lesson would be shortened today.

Later when we were snuggled on the sofa Sydney said, "She didn't give up this time, Grammy. She tried." Sydney gave up her time so that her friend could succeed, not just in playing the notes but in overcoming her tendency to storm off when she is upset. It was a small step, but one that Sydney at 10 recognized.

In telling my friend, Heather, the story, she related a story about her young kindergartener. His sister had just unexpectedly thrown up in the back seat of the car. He looked over at her, “I’m sorry you are sick”.

Children. We guide them and are not often aware that they guide us as well. Their success is found in more than a grade card or trophy. Perhaps their greatest accomplishments are those of sensitivity and the humility they show to others.

“For such is the kingdom of Heaven.”

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Her name was Amosandra

Her name was Amosandra.
What Christmas present do you most remember? Mine? I remember a Christmas morning when I was surely no more than three. I walked down the enclosed stairway into what was then our dining room. In the corner of the room by the window was the most beautiful sight I’d ever seen. A small, grey canvas baby carriage just like the big ones was turned away concealing the contents. Peeking over the side of the baby buggy was a soft, yellow flannel blanket trimmed with blue.

The carriage was just the right height for this little girl. I remember it well. I held my breath as I looked inside. Amosandra was dressed in a flannel gown with matching cap made for her by my mother. She was the most beautiful baby I’d ever seen.

The little doll slept with me every day from that day forward. She traveled to Washington DC, visited my aunt in Michigan, comforted me when I was ill and resided in my room until dolls were replaced by other interests. Her name was Amosandra. I know because it was embossed at the back of her little head.

I don’t remember ever seeing her before that Christmas morning. I guess she was meant to be my baby. It wasn’t until I was grown that I realized my favorite doll’s mother was white.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Wahooowah

"Last night we went to hear the band which is something else. Everyone is over 65 in the band and some new to their instruments, the clarinets squeaked and one man playing the saxophone duet gave up and quit playing, then they played the last 3 notes together."

My sister had told me about the band before she went to the concert. All of the band members are over 65 and encouraged to take up instruments they have never played.

I personally think it would be fun to pick up and instrument I've never played. Of course, I have play the saxophone, piano and a little guitar but would love the adventure of trying to learn something new and to see what I could figure out on my own.

We get set in our ways. Each day we do the same thing in the same way. We find comfort in remaining surrounded by what we know. I'm wondering if it is comfort or resignation. Yes, I'm growing older, but I think there is still much I can try to tackle and see if I can succeed, at least learning something in the process.

My parents hated to leave the farm, and when visiting, they were eager to return home. Their actions were predictable. They lived in a secure routine.

I know that I have quirks, which are many. I know that sometimes it is a struggle to make myself go out of my comfort zone. But I'm not dead. My brain is not on holiday. I delight in new experiences. My world continues to grow, my opinions change. I am excited at what I have yet to learn.

Give me clarinet, and I'll make music. Give me a trip to Spain, and I'll make new friends. Give me a problem. I'll do my best to solve it. Maybe I’m an odd duck (little play on the Drake name). But I find joy in the world around me. I embrace a new day and the adventure therein. I would love to be handed a trombone. Wahooowah.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Thank you, Robert Frost. I'll bet you would play in the band.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

I Believe

I stood by the picture window in our house in Wisconsin watching the huge flakes of snow make their silent journey to earth. Life was not easy then. I was alone one more night with my babies. Tears fell as silently as the snow. I looked upon a picture too beautiful to be true. Eyes turned to the sky. I wondered if there really was a Santa Claus who could bring joy to the faces of my little ones and restore my smile.

December 3, 2009, Santa sat on his chair with not a child in sight. He waved and smiled at us that Santa who sat in that same chair during holidays past. Each year the girls would eagerly hop up on his lap telling him that they had been good and sharing their Christmas wishes.

He sat there looking at us.

"We will just stop in since there is no line, but you need to come back with Mommy to get your pictures taken,” I said.

They dashed to see the jolly man who really did look like Santa. He held both girls on his lap, Gabby on one knee with Sydney on the other. For the first time, they talked with Santa as they might have talked with me. The three conversing comfortably. I wanted to be a little bird listening. Sydney knew the truth about old St. Nick, yet she sat there talking to a friend.

"Well, that was a long conversation. What did you talk about?" I asked.

"He asked which books we like to read, and told us to keep reading. He was proud of us," Sydney replied.

A gift from Santa before he even crawled into his sleigh. His gift to the girls had no pretty paper or bows. It was the heart of a kind man listening, encouraging two beautiful girls to succeed, to focus not on toys but the joy of reading, of learning.

Had I the courage, I would have crawled upon the lap of that dear man and told him, "I believe."

Saturday, December 5, 2009

One for the Mouth, One for the String

The floor is covered with pieces of popcorn. The carpet looks as if it has a mild case of dandruff....large dandruff. I continue to find cranberries hiding beneath the candle holder, between sofa cushions and one even found its way into the kitchen. We made chains.

“Have you ever done this before?” I asked Heather, my granddaughters’ best friend. “No,” she said tentatively. Well, year two for stringing popcorn and cranberries was here. We were stepping back in time.

I pulled out the needles and thread. Last year Gabby was a bit young to turn loose with the needle. This year she was thrilled that she was grown up enough to do it on her own. Ah, we were headed for success.

With hot chocolate and candle light, we sat snuggled on the sofa with cranberries rolling around us. With every soft cranberry found, squeals were followed by “I want to feel it!” Chains grew longer and mouths were rimmed with hot chocolate. Gabby’s little hands struggled to push the needle through the cranberry, but she did not tire of the task. Each hung their string proud of their accomplishment.

“Do you want to do the popcorn now or wait for another time?” I asked after the berries were hung. The response was unanimous. I brought in the popcorn. Once more thread was cut and needles readied. With the same enthusiasm, they tackled the corn. One for the mouth, one for the string, one for the mouth, one for the string. Small pieces of popcorn fell like confetti. I learned a long time ago that most things that are really fun can be really messy. I have a choice: continually be on the kids to be neater or get out the vacuum cleaner later. I opt for the latter.

The tree was plugged in and the ornaments of years past were joined by strands of white and red, memories of an early time in history. Santa ho-ho’d across the TV screen while a woman and three girls snuggled on the sofa. It was a good thing we had done.

I remember someone telling me that her her grandchildren’s hand prints on the window after they had gone home were cherished. I look at my floor remembering little girls surrounded by pieces of popcorn and scattered cranberries and know how blessed I am.

Friday, December 4, 2009

No Words

There are no words to say. None. There are just no words.

My apologies for the inconsistency in my postings. Along with the holidays and wedding preparation, I seem to be on-call this week for friends in need. A call from a friend whose marriage is so rocky that it just might tip over. An email from a young woman who has been battling cancer for years. The results of the CT scan are back.

The Portland area alone has experienced twelve murder/suicides in the last two months. Spouses’ and children’s lives taken by the depressed and angry mind of the taker. We are surrounded by a sea of pain. It happens every year. This year seems to be the worst.

For months we have all prayed for a miracle for this young woman, a mother of three. I hugged her older sister today with no words to say to ease her pain, no words to take away her fear. “I have no words,” I said. “There are no words,” she replied. These sisters had lost their mother to lung cancer and more recently, their father. The scan results came back yesterday. The news is not good. I had no words.

Sometimes ‘no words’ is better. Since I am a person with many words in her head, discovering that she has none to say is a real surprise. So I listen.

I don’t know where I am going with this blog today. My heart is heavy; sadness of losses I have experienced is visited once more.

We are on a journey, you and I. Not just our own but that of our friends and family members as well. That of unknown strangers and our acquaintances. I have only comfort to give, hope for a miracle or an acceptance of what cannot change. A hope that love will prevail and bloom again. I have hope that I can make someone’s day brighter by just a smile or a kind word, a listening ear. I have hope.

But, “I have no words,” I said. “There are no words,” she replied.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Phone Rings

The plans of the day changed with the ring of the phone. Can you come over?

My future daughter-in-law and I had just begun our day of shopping when the call came. A friend in trouble. A friend in tears just needing a listening ear. We went to the car.

I remember many years when I had no one to call. My husband was having mid-life crisis which ended up being my crisis as well. I had hit bottom trying to keep a family together. I had suffered humiliation, emotional desertion and was trying to be a good mother when I could hardly face each day. I had no family nearby and my closest friends had moved from Wisconsin. I was alone.

When someone moves away from their nesting place, they leave not only that which is familiar but also that which wraps around them and listens to what they hear and what they see. Our friend was in pain and hundreds of miles away from home. She called her Oregon ‘mom’.

Many call me mom and have for years. My children aren't jealous. They have always been very caring and natural helpers loving those brought into the warmth of our family. When I worked at the high school, I became close to many students who are still 'family'.

Family. The word doesn’t only apply to those in my family who have been born to it. It doesn't just apply to those who call me ‘mom’. I am part of a family called the family of mankind…..and womankind. We are the keepers of one another. Your tears are mine. Your pain is mine. Your suffering is mine.

Sometimes I think I go through life oblivious to my larger family. I do so little to feed the hungry, to care for the ill, to even see what lies around me. I talk a big game, but do I live it?

In many ways, I do. The way I listen to others, especially, my granddaughters creates ripples that spread into an ocean of humanity. There is no better gift than that we give to one another in compassion and care.

Nothing was settled in our time together, but we shared tears and listened. Perhaps some relief from pain was given and clearer vision of the future. Friendship was made even stronger and family grew.

The phone rings. Who will answer?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Sanitized

Hand sanitizer, handy wipes, disinfecting cleaners, hand washing until the hands are raw. I AM SANITIZED.

Yes, there is an epidemic. Germaphobia has taken over the world. Furnace filters are changed often, air purifiers hum, counter tops are scrubbed and, as one friend told me, door knobs are washed daily. We use hand sanitizer when we exit the car before entering stores and use it again when we get back into the car making sure that any parts of the hands that were previously missed might be purified once more.

"Please wash your hands," the first words out of my mouth when the girls come to my house after school.
Of course, I envision the school crawling with germs before I even enter the portal. "Did you throw up?" the secretary asks the child. My eyes widen as I make my way out of the office. As Gabby looks for places to sit and eat lunch with her friends, I look for a spot with no children coughing or sniffling. We are an age of germaphobia.

It’s a wonder I didn't die from all of the germs that surrounded me on the farm. Mom often took food to the fields where we ate with tobacco sap covered hands, sweat and soil. I know that I rarely washed my hands after playing in the barn petting kittens and the dog...probably even the rabbits and my lamb. Mom had a clean house but dirty farm hands and children piled into the house daily. One glass sat next to the sink all day long. It was a communal glass that we all used when getting a quick drink of water. Mom would often take a sip off of the spoon that stirred the gravy. The list goes on. Remarkably, none of us died. Now we might have had a tummy ache once in awhile, but I think that probably came more from the food kept in the backroom or garage to cool.

No, I survived germs. Haven't had a cold in years. Haven't had the flu in years. Of course, I get sinus infections and have flu shots, but I am a very healthy person. I attribute this incredible good health to the germs that helped me to build up a tolerance for the little devils.

I worry that maybe we are too clean. I worry that fiendish new strains of germs are planning their attack in the hidden crevices of clean. Will the children be strong enough to fight them off? People have lived with germs forever, and mankind has survived. What are we doing to ourselves in this effort to eradicate illness? Are we destroying ourselves?

I have a confession to make. Germs do live in my house. Oh, my house is clean, but not so clean that a few germs can't survive. I refuse to become paranoid chasing these little guys in every corner and on every hand. I cheer the little guys that probably in reality keep me healthier.

However, I do wish that Portland would get onboard as requested by the government covering water sources. Instead Oregonians like to have the beauty of the lakes. I wonder how many enjoyed last week when they were boiling their water.

Germaphobia. I wonder if I should go wash my doorknobs?