Monday, January 28, 2008

The Byline Moves to Wordpress

I've moved the Byline to Wordpress -- click here to follow me there, and don't forget to update your bookmarks and blogrolls!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Sunday Scribblings-Miscellaneous

Helloooo....anybody out there?

Oh, there you are! How kind of you to stick around after I've rudely ignored you all for the entire week. I do apologize for neglecting this space - in all honesty, I've been a bit consumed with that
new blog of mine. You know how it is with fresh toys, they're new and exciting, and ever so much fun. That's how it is with Bookstack, and if you haven't been there yet, you should go! Really, you should.

But I promised myself I would not neglect the Byline. If Bookstack is my place to blog about all things bookish, well the Byline is for blogging about...well, everything else! All the miscellaneous and sundry things that happen in an American woman's Life in General. So thanks
Sunday Scribblings, for giving my muse a well needed push in the proper direction.

A couple of my
regular blog buddies have written about their efforts to incorporate exercise into their lives, and so I've been thinking a bit about "healthy lifestyles." We're on a bit of a health makeover at our house these days too, instigated largely by elevated cholesterol levels (both of us) and a recent diagnosis of pre-diabetes (just Jim).

I've had varying degrees of success with weight loss programs. Probably my most successful initiative was just after my son's birth, when I lost about 45 pounds, and then managed to drop an additional 15 over the next several years. But after midlife, I've found weight is much harder to lose. I get frustrated very easily at the lack of progress.

So, I'm approaching this a different way, trying to adopt better eating habits and an exercise program as part of an overall plan to improve general health and well being. (And who knows, perhaps I can trick my body into thinking I really don't care if it tones up or not.)

Yesterday morning, I went walking, and it felt wonderful! The air was cool and crisp, I was all alone so I could clip along at a good pace, swinging my arms merrily, watching the herons tiptoe around the edge of the ponds. Great stuff!

Along my route, I pass the community's fitness center, where stationary bikes and treadmills are arranged around the perimeter of a large bay window overlooking the main lake, providing a view of the sparkling water as you pedal or trudge away. From the corner of my eye, I can see legs busily pumping, arms swinging, wires from headphones trailing along in rhythm.

I've been one of those people on occasion. But you know, I sometimes think about the absurdity of the whole concept of "working out." Perhaps it's because I'm only one generation removed from farmer's, people who walked miles every day in the regular course of their daily life, who got plenty of upper body toning in scything and hoeing, and did their riding on horseback, actually going somewhere in the process. How they would stare in disbelief, my grandfathers, at these automatons in their shiny workout clothes!

And I think the only way an "exercise program" can work for me is if it comes naturally, is almost intrinsic, like walking or dancing. Bike riding is great, because it involves forward movement, and I like that-gives me the sensation that I'm doing a lot more than I really am. I have trouble with exercise equipment that just "stands still." I guess I'm not a stationary kind of girl.

I hope to keep up my walking and biking, although it's much more difficult in the frozen waste-oops, I mean wonderland-that is Michigan in winter. Harder yet is keeping my husband on a lean diet. Who would have believed a grown man could react so childishly to mashed potatoes and Oreo cookies (or more precisely, the lack thereof).

There, I think I've effectively taken a broom to the stray thoughts that have been circling in my mind, and gathered them up into a neat little pile for you to read.

Hope you enjoyed the miscellaney!


Monday, January 21, 2008

Working for A Living

Though I don't talk much about it, I do have a real job (other than reading blogs and penning these little morsels for your perusal). I work in a small office of medical case managers, and my job position morphs between technical writer/executive assistant/receptionist. My attitude about my job duties undergoes a similar course of shape shifting, although most of the time I enjoy them (well, perhaps that's not the right word). At least I find them pleasantly tolerable.

By far the best aspect of my job is the people I work with. In the six years that I've been here, we've seen a lot of personnel changes, but the core group that remains are really neat women. There are also some women who no longer work there, but that I continue to socialize with on a regular basis.

The owner of the company is a woman just slightly older than I - her two daughters work with her. There is no sense of entitlement about these young women, they are bright, energetic, and hard working. Oh sure, they get a few extra perks, but I'd do the same for my kids if I were able.

So, we have a good time at the office. We get our work done, we commiserate about our partners, we gossip about our clients (shh, don't tell!), we go out to eat once in a while. It's about the most fun you can have and still get paid.

What I'm getting around to saying is that I like working. And it's a good thing, really. I recently received a little statement from the Social Security Administration. You know, the one that tells you how much money you'll receive if you retire at age 62, age 65, and now, age 70.

Naturally, if you work until you're 70, you get a lot more money.


A couple of years ago, my dad went back to work. Nearly 80 years old at the time, and status post two angioplasties, back surgery, and most recently colon cancer followed by six weeks of chemo. He said he needed the money, and I really don't doubt it. The cost of living in Naples is pretty high, after all. But I was upset about it. The thought of an elderly man, once a respected and successful business owner, now working in Walmart to make a few extra bucks -well, it bothered me.

But you know what? After two years, I notice he's standing up straighter, his thoughts seem a lot sharper, he always has some stories to tell about how much better he could manage things over there (and I don't doubt he lets them know it either!) And I remember how much my dad loved working at his business, meeting people, getting the job done.

Sometimes, working is good. It keeps us motivated, helps maintain our sense of integrity, and gives us a feeling of accomplishment that's important to maintain, especially as we age.

While some might think -work until I'm 70?? No way!! I tend to think - work only until I'm 70??? What then?

How about you? How do you feel about your job and working for a living?


Sunday, January 20, 2008

If It's Sunday, It Must Be Jane

A reminder to all you Austenites - Masterpiece Theater airs Northanger Abbey tonight, the next episode in its series of Jane Austen novels. I don't believe this novel has ever been dramatized, at least not recently, so I'm anxious to see what they make of dear Catherine Morland and her Gothic fantasies.

And stop over at Bookstack before the show for a Jane Austen giveaway.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Sunday Scribblings-Traveling Companions

While I'm not averse to traveling alone (and in fact often prefer my own company to being in a crowd of others) I've become more appreciative of good traveling companions, especially when setting off on a new journey. Two years ago, approaching a landmark birthday, I decided to embark on a creative journey, to take up the practice of writing once again. I ventured into the blog world, clueless and wide eyed, wandering aimlessly for a while through a totally foreign landscape.

Before long, however, I encountered the outstretched hands of fellow travelers, eager to share their own tales of the road and graciously enthusiastic as I offered mine. We've traveled quite companionably on this creative journey, never interfering in one another's plans, supportive of each one's desires, encouraging flagging spirits when the road gets rough.

Small gifts along the way have served to enhance our relationship, friendly notes, occasional packages and photos, and public recognition for faithful friendship and inspiration. This week I was fortunate to be gifted with two such gifts, both Bella and Marcia extending this lovely acknowledgement to me:

And so, in turn, I'd like to pass the honor along to some of my new traveling companions on this creative journey. I've just recently met these ladies, and I'm so glad our paths have crossed.

Sherry meets life head on with a joyous exuberance and enthusiasm, as well as a deep well of creativity, which she shares in both her daily blogs. Her posts and comments always stir my emotions with laughter or (sometimes) tears.

Bella Rum relates her experiences in caring for her aging father with compassion and a good dose of humor as well. She inspires me as I travel through this rather daunting task of caring for the elderly in my life;

June's pithy informative posts, gorgeous photography, and "on the mark" poetry always brighten my daily reading.

And a nod of thanks to everyone on my long list of daily reads, only about 1/3 of which are listed in the Byline's blogroll. (How do I ever get anything else done???) You all make the daily journey more interesting and satisfying.

Godspeed to each one of you.

for more tales of traveling companions, go here


Friday, January 18, 2008

Domestic Life

Cooking. Cleaning. Laundry. The staples of domestic life. Whether you're single or attached, childless or parent to one or many, these things never go away, do they? Someone has to be in charge of keeping the home fires burning (once a very literal task requiring a body-usually female-to go from room to room and rekindle the flames in the fireplace or woodstove).

I've been "keeping house" for almost 32 years now - keeping the same house, actually, so we've both grown a bit frayed around the edges together. I'm not the world's greatest housekeeper - certainly nothing like my mother in law, who kept this house before me. She worked full time outside the home, yet devoted every spare remaining minute to cleaning. Washing windows, buffing the basment floor every Saturday, removing the light fixtures weekly. She was the type of woman who would make up my father in law's side of the bed if he got up in the night to go to the bathroom (and I'm almost not joking about that).

My mother was quite the homemaker too -it was her full time job from day one, and she took it seriously. When I was a toddler, my grandparents lived with us, and most of my memories are of my grandfather and I playing together while my mother and grandmother cooked, cleaned, and decorated.

Well, that sure isn't me. When I was younger, and the whole housekeeping thing was new, I was a lot fussier. I wasn't working outside my home at the time, so I had plenty of time and energy to invest in domestic life. But raising a child quite effectively cured my penchant for neatness, and I decided early on that it was better to play with my son than worry about whether the sink sparkled.

Nowdays, domestic life just plain makes me tired. It's so endlessly dreary - the same floors to sweep, the same furniture to dust, the same bric a brac to shuffle around from season to season.
And the grocery shopping-my god, don't even get me started on how much I hate the grocery shopping.

I have completely lost my heart for all of it.

One day not long ago, I was leaving my mother's house after one of our marathon trips to the market. It was a typical cold, wet, Michigan winter day. My sinuses were clogged, there were huge dark circles under my eyes, and I'm sure I resembled death warmed over.

My mother looked at me and I could see her eyes fill with tears.

"You know, I didn't want this for you," she said softly.

And it struck me that of course she had other plans for me, a bright child who came of age in an era when women were not only encouraged but expected to have more than a domestic life.
Perhaps she envisoned me a doctor or lawyer, with a large home and servants to do all the work for me. Or maybe she supposed I would live a single life, and be responsible for no one but myself.

For the first time, I wondered what her dreams for me might have been, for if she had them, she never shared them with me when I needed to hear them. And while she may have hoped my life would be different from hers, she wasn't able to help me see the potential, or allow me the freedom necessary to find it on my own.

And so I have lived a largely domestic life.

But though domesticity may have occupied a fair portion of my time, it has never been the essence of my existence, as it was for women of previous generations. For as long as I can remember, books, writing, music - those have been the things that fed my soul, irrespective of dust on the table tops or dishes in the sink.

How thankful I am, for that has been my oasis in the desert of domestic life.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Write on Wednesday-I Am Writer...Hear Me Roar!

My friend Michele at Writing the Cyber Highway honored me with this award, and I'm so pleased and grateful!

Of course, since Michele is all about encouraging aspiring writers, the award comes with an assignement. I'm supposed to share three writing tips that will make your writing powerful.

1) Keep a journal or a notebook of some kind and write in it every day. Writing "morning pages" each day are the way I jump start my writing. Sitting down every morning and writing whatever comes into my head is something like the warms up we do in choir, or the stretches a runner does before a marathon. Some days it's nothing but drivel, but other days, some really good ideas come out on the page.

2) Read fiction, poetry, biography, essay's. Find authors who inspire you, and study their descriptive techniques and the way they construct sentences, and create dialogue.

3) Write what you know, write what comes from your heart, from your experiences and feelings. That's the only way your writing will be meaningful to the people who read it.

So, how about you? What do you think it takes to make your writing roar?


Monday, January 14, 2008

Feel Like Laughing?

Who doesn't need a chuckle on Monday?

Check out this post.

This blog has become a regular on my list of daily reads. I think it should be on yours too. Bella Rum writes about life in general in a way that always piques my interest and grabs my heart.

You should visit her.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Sunday Scribblings-Date

Whole worlds of them are stuck in my mind, and pop up at the oddest moments. Dates of birthdays - November 5, August 21, October 21, my junior high school boyfriends. Dates of events - February 2, March 21, December 19, musical performances that were meaningful. Of course, all the truly meaningfull dates are etched in memory. Dates of joy -May 8, February 23, my wedding, my son's birth. Dates of loss-May 15, February 9, September 11, grandmother, grandfather, beloved dog.

Another anniversary of loss is approaching - January 31, the death by suicide of a special young man, a former student, who was likely the most intelligent young person I've even known. Book smart, yes, but also a young person whose mind worked differently, with incredible lightening speed. Looking into his eyes while carrying on a conversation was like glimpsing the inner workings of a supercomputer, for you could almost see the sparks flying, brain synapses in rapid fire.

It's been two years this month, and when the date of his birth (September 1 - that's another one I remember) and the date of his death approach, I recall the waste inherent in this loss. But I also recall the memory of his laughter, his wit, his outgoing eagerness to make friends with everyone (which he did, with unerring grace). It troubles me that a man like this cannot live in our world, for it is men like this whom the world so desperately needs.

In a recent conversation with his mother, who has been working to attach his name to a memorial archive at The University of Michigan, where he was editor of the Michigan Daily, she said with what sounded like desperation, "I just want people to remember him."

Of course she does. She wants people to remember that his presence on this earth, although far too brief, was not in vain, that his life counted for something more than just another statistic.

And so dates on the calendar become small blessings, reminders of people who should not be forgotten.

January 31 -a date I remember.

Postscript: It's late Sunday night, and I just had a phone call from the brother of the young man I wrote about in this post. He's asked me to set aside another important date- October 3, his wedding. And he's asked me to play piano for the occasion. Can you guess that I'm smiling?

for more about dates, go here


Friday, January 11, 2008

Is It Friday Already?

My, how time has flown this week, my first week home and back to real life in all its general glory.

I feel extremely lucky that (1) the weather since we returned has been unseasonably mild, most likely thanks to the effects of global warming that will eventually result in the early demise of our planet, but which for now I'm rather enjoying; (2) nothing devastating happened to anyone or anything I left behind, proving once again that although I might think I'm indispensible, I'm really not; and (3) life is actually rather quiet at the moment, and I can gently ease myself back into all my various roles and resposibilities.

So I managed to cross a number of things off my to-do list this week -and all you other list makers out there certainly know what a relief that is. I've yet to do a complete shop - grocery and sundry shopping, that is, but I suspect I'll complete that chore over the weekend.

And speaking of the weekend - I have NO plans. Zip. Nada. If I were in my twenties (or even my thirties) that would be a tragedy of the utmost magnitude. But since I'm practically in my dotage, it's absolutely marvelous.

I'll probably delve into one of those bookstacks I have lying around here. I've signed up for a reading challenge, which you can read more about here. And isn't that just what I need -another reason to read :)

I been thinking about going to the movies -in a real theater, even. Usually I just wait for the DVD, especially now that we have our lovely 47 inch high def flat screen and comfy leather sofa.
On second thought, I'll just wait for the DVD, so I can stay home and wear my jammies.

I'm ready for the weekend.

How about you? What big plans do you have for the weekend?


Monday, January 7, 2008

Monday Musing

"What is the answer? There is no easy answer, no complete answer. I have only clues, shells from the sea. The bare beauty of the channelled whelk tells me that one answer, and perhaps a first step, is in simplification of life, in cutting out some of the distractions. But how? Total retirement is not possible, I cannot shed my responsibilities. I cannot permanently inhabit a desert island. I cannot be a nun in the midst of family life. I would not want to be. The solution for me, surely, is neither in total renunciation of the world, nor in total acceptance of it. I must find a balance somewhere, or an alternating rhythm between these two extremes; a swinging of the pendulum between solitude and communion, between retreat and return."
~A Gift from the Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Finding balance between the needs of others and ourselves - this has been a key factor in the lives of women for generations. I had forgotten how perfectly Lindbergh expressed this concern in her little book, written just about the time I was born, a time when women's lives were definitely less complicated, a time when society proscribed a woman's role in such a way that any swing of the pendulum, any deviation from the norm was considered peculiar.

I first read Gift From the Sea in the early 80's, when I was a young mother trying to adjust her expectations and find a balance between total immersion in family life and still maintain some "life of the mind." Her words echoed in my heart, and I was comforted by the realization that I was in a company of women seeking the same sense of equilibrium for their lives.

Coming across this excerpt today, I realize how timeless this quest truly is. My circumstances today are quite different from those of 25 years ago. My nest is empty, I have fulfilling work and recreation, I have gained a sense of confidence I didn't have upon my first reading.

Yet I continue to struggle with that question of balance, continue always to ache for more time to explore my inner life, to immerse myself in books and music, to be able to study everything about this wide world in greater detail.

"And yet I cannot shed my responsibilities. I cannot be a nun in the midst of family life. And I would not want to be."

For better or worse, this is life ~ the marriage, the home, the family that needs you, the workplace, the church ~ these are the true things, the things that filter our experience of the world and make it real.

But I am most definitely a seeker of balance, and I covet that resting state where the pendulum stops naturally, where my body, mind, and heart will feel at ease.


Saturday, January 5, 2008

Friends and Books

It's Buy A Friend A Book week.

Go here and discover how you can become the friend I buy a book for this week.

Go on now. You know you want to.


Sunday Scribblings-New

At our church, Epiphany Sunday is celebrated with the distribution of stars. Baskets filled with gold cardboard stars are passed through the congregation, and every star has a word or phrase written on its face. Each person reaches in, picks a star, and with childlike anticipation turns it over to read "their word" for the new year.

The church is always packed on Star Sunday - even more so than on Christmas Eve. After all, our minister always jokes, how often do you get to take something out of the collection plate?

"Grace," "Faith," "Retreat," "Serenity," "Courage," "Laughter," "Discipline"...occasionally you'll hear exclamations of mirth or wonder as people read these words they've chosen, for sometimes the meanings are uncannily appropriate.

Whatever your word, it represents a new idea, a new vision, a new way of looking at the world.
Perhaps it can spark your interest in doing something new with your life. Perhaps it offers you a reminder to be strong, to have faith. Or it encourages you to dream big, to see beyond what's right in front of your eyes.

Many people carry their stars with them, tucked into compartments in purses or wallets. Some post them at their desk, or stick them on the refrigerator. Many of course, will take one look, and throw the star away.

The sermon title for today was "Looking Farther Than You Can See." Have a vision, our minister exhorted us. Look beyond what's happening today and dream about what tomorrow could be. He recounted the story of a group of college students who have built real homes from recycled trash materials -crushed cars, cardboard boxes, recycled rubber. "Where others saw garbage," he said, "these young people saw building blocks. They saw familiar things in a new way. That's vision."

Seeing familiar things in a new way. Looking farther than you can see.

Concepts worth pondering, I think.

(By the way---my star this year was "practice," a word which certainly applies to my musical life. We'll see what new practices apply to my life in general in 2008!)

for more new thoughts, go here



Dateline: My house, Redford, Michigan, 10:30 p.m.

Pewter gray skies, piles of soot blackened snow, icy drizzle...home.

In spite of the weather, I'm content to be here. My old house welcomed me with open arms, no catastrophe's (like leaky roofs or basements) had occurred, and everything was just as I left it. Loyal and true, just as it has been for the past 31 years.

I enjoyed my time in the sunny south, but more and more I've come to realize the rareified atmosphere of Naples is not the kind of place one can really live. Oh, lots (and lots!) of people do live there, but I can't seem to fit myself into any of the demographics. I'm not old enough to be retired, I'm not rich enough to be not retired, I'm not young and beautiful, I'm not a golfer or a tennis player - what do I do? More often than not, I stay inside the walls of my gated community, avoiding the snarling traffic and road construction, just reading, walking, sitting out on the hill and listening to the fountains.

Don't misunderstand - it's a gorgeous place to rest and retreat, and I still love my home there. But I still love my home here, too, probably even more. I love my friends, and my musical groups, and yes, even my work. It's real life, the one I've carved out in 51 years of living.

Even at my age, I continue to discover things about myself, and about life in general. I thought I was ready for the nouveau riche lifestyle that a second home in Naples seemed to represent. I thought I would get a head start on my golden years by building my retirement home in this southern paradise. But the fact that so many other people seemed to feel the same way has sort of spoiled it for me. It's too crowded now, too trendy, too busy, too overbuilt...too much.

I consider myself extremely lucky to have our home in Naples as a place to visit, a place to retreat from the harsh winter weather, and, of course, a place where we can visit our son and daughter in law. But as far as a place to live - I belong here, (or a place like here) where people work for a living, hang their clothes outside to dry, and can feel comfortable going just about anywhere wearing jeans and a sweater.

It's home.


Friday, January 4, 2008

The Difference of A Day

Dateline: Lexington, Kentucky, 9:28 pm

And what a difference today was...smooth sailing today, the hemi engine on the Charger whirring across the mountains with nary an interruption, moving so quickly my favorite landscape was almost too much of a blur.

The worst thing that happened - we had to settle for Wendy's for lunch (couldn't find an Arby's, which is Magic and Molly's favorite place).

The best thing was stopping here. Each time we drive down I-75 and pass the Kentucky Artisan Center, my heart itches to stop and peruse the handmade work for sale inside. Today, since we had plenty of extra time and daylight, I begged for a few minutes "just to see what it was like."

Such a treat! A bright, wide open building, chock full of marvelous work by Kentucky artisans. Paintings, wood carving, etched and blown glass, jewelry, the softest of woven blankets, hats, and scarves. A wide assortment of books by local authors, and recordings of bluegrass music.

While Jim walked the dogs around the nicely manicured grounds, I raced through like a kid in a candy shop, picking up several items for myself and some to give away as gifts.

Even with the small side trip, we reached the hotel before dark, settled in, and brought home grilled chicken salads from Cracker Barrel across the street. Now I'm propped in the easy chair at the Hampton Inn, my feet up, contentedly sipping wine from a tiny bottle, and telling you about my day.


What a difference a day makes.


I Love the South

Just have to say, I love southerners. Real, true, "southren" people, I mean. Like the lovely lady manning the coffee station here this morning. Picture me, bleary eyed and disheveled, in desperate need of my morning injection of caffeine. Picture her, slender and well dressed in a black sweater set and camel colored slacks, every hair of her grey bob perfectly in place.

"How y'all doin' this mawnin?" she greeted me, the gentle modulations of her southern accent soothing and soft.

I succumbed to her friendly patter, and was treated to a five minute discourse (all in those dulcet tones) about her recent experience with a root canal, and how she "went round" to the dentist yesterday and he was "just purely wonderful" and took care of everything.

"Well, y'all have a safe trip now," she said, pouring my coffee for me, and sending me on my way with a warm smile.

"Thank you so much," I replied, inadvertently replacing my midwestern twang with the barest hint of a drawl.

And all this at 7:00 in the morning.

I love southerners.


Thursday, January 3, 2008

Tales from the Road Redux

Dateline: Macon, Georgia, 10:18 pm

Here we are, back in the La Quinta Inn on Riverside Road. My feeings about the return trip from Florida are akin to my feelings about taking down the Christmas tree. Not nearly as much fun on the return.

And today's trip didn't change my feelings. It was long, and boring, laced with intermittent contstruction slow downs and one complete standstill due to a horrible roll over accident, the aftermath of which made me shudder and say a silent prayer. We had considered stopping in Valdosta for the night, but since it was only 4:30 when we rolled by the La Quinta Inn (exit 18), we opted to travel the extra 160 miles to Macon.

In retropsect, we probably should have stayed in Valdosta, because those 160 miles are billboard laden, construction ridden, ugly miles. The speed limit carreens between 70 and 55 and 60, with Georgia Highway Patrol lurking behind every concrete barricade. By the time we finally rolled in, it was after 7:30 and no one (including the furry four footed passengers) had eaten dinner.

But now, after some take out from the Italian restaurant on the corner, a glass of wine, and a brand new episode of ER on TV (the first TV I've watched in two weeks!), we're all feeling better. And, by the way, in case you're wondering why we're always staying in La Quinta Inns - they're all dog-friendly. (Magic and Molly have been conversing with the rather noisy West Highland Terrier and miniature dachsund in the room next door to prove it.)

Tomorrow it's on to Lexington. I'm anticipating a much nicer journey through the Smoky Mountains (my favorite part of the trip).

And on Saturday, the flatlands of Ohio.

And then, home.


Wednesday, January 2, 2008

All Things Bookish

Come visit my new project.

You'll find it right here.

Bring your reading glasses.

See you there.

Cafe Writing

For this month's Cafe Writing, Option Two: Pick ThreePick at least three of the following eight words, and write a paragraph, scene, flash-fic, essay, blog entry or poem using them. It’s fine to change tenses, or pluralize if you want to, but please bold the words you choose.

breathless, change, elusive, pensive, reflect, surge, tide, vibrant

Breathless, Sarah dropped her arm, resting it for a moment on the edge of the granite counter top. For longer than she cared to think, the muscles in her upper arms had done nothing more strenuous than hold a magazine, and this morning’s relentless motion had set them screaming in protest.

She summoned a final surge of energy and tightened her grip on the utensil in her hand. One, two, three, she counted, scooping the dense batter and swirling it in a circular motion around the circumference of the bowl. Eggs, butter, sugar and flour – she had forgotten just how resistant this combination of ingredients could be.

How long had it been since she baked? Closing her eyes, she fought the tide of sorrow which threatened her precarious emotional equilibrium. That last time, the batter had been pure dark chocolate, flourless and rich, Scott’s favorite cake to honor him on his birthday. And now the day that marked Scott’s birth was forever defaced by the tragedy of his death. A whole year had passed, and her pain was as fresh as if it had been yesterday.

Sarah continued to whip the rich yellow batter, determined to put these painful reflections aside and finish this project. As it began to froth creamily under her capable hands, she felt her arm settling into the familiar motion, finding the rhythm of long practice.

Sarah’s cakes were legendary among her family and friends. “You should own a bakery!” people would exclaim, forking bites of her latest sweet concoction into their mouths. No one had loved her cakes more than Scott, and from the time he was very small her son had “assisted” her in the kitchen, his pudgy hands measuring and adding ingredients with remarkable deftness.

She had once allowed herself to daydream about the possibility of a small shop, her confections arrayed in sparkling glass fronted display cases. She had even imagined that Scott might be her partner, and they could work side by side in their labor of love.

What she had never imagined was the way grief would change her life, alter her very perception of herself and the world around her. For months, she had been able to do little more than cry and wander aimlessly from room to room. She had avoided her kitchen assiduously, entering only long enough to brew tea or make toast, her staple diet for weeks on end. Scott’s death had sent her once vibrant dreams trailing elusively over the horizon, like wisps of clouds blown across the sky.

Sarah stopped whipping her cake batter, and stared into the bowl. It was the perfect consistency, she could tell just by looking. Smooth and very pale yellow, nary a bubble or froth marring its creamy complexion. What had convinced her to bake again, today of all days? Could this gruesome anniversary herald a new beginning? Hesitantly, she touched the tip of her little finger to a peaked mound, bringing the dot of batter to her lips. Placing it on her tongue, the heady sweetness of fresh butter and sugar melted into her taste buds, and her eyes filled with tears.

It was good, she thought, letting the mellow aftertaste linger on her tongue, good to create once again.



"Brrr" is not a sound I usually make when I'm in southwest Florida, but today's weather can best be described as "bracing." It's a brisk 47 degrees here this morning, with a very respectable 20 mile per hour wind. As I said, brrrrr. Anyway, the dogs like it - they much prefer cool weather-and it wasn't terribly unpleasant on our morning walk, since the sun continues to sparkle brightly on the lakes.

I'm bracing myself for the trip home tomorrow, for leaving this quiet paradise and returning to life in the "real" world. The aspect was complicated yesterday morning, by a phone call from the director of my mother in law's assisted living facility, informing us they were taking her to the ER. We had already heard she was ill with a gastrointestinal flu sweeping the rounds of the place, and she had become severely dehydrated. After talking to a nurse at the hospital later in the day, it appears she may also have pneumonia.

Although my mother in law is 87 and severely demented, she's also in generally good physical health. It would not surprise me one bit to see her rally from this and return to her post on the sofa in the "family room" at Chestnut Village. And while I certainly don't wish her any harm, it occurs to me that perhaps easing out of life at this point would not be the worst that could happen. In previous centuries, pneumonia was euphemistically termed the "old person's friend," a fairly quick and painless exit when life was at its nadir. In modern times, a few rounds of IV antibiotics often performs the "miracle cure" that was impossible 100 years ago.

So we will be mindful of her condition as we travel northward. I feel badly that she's alone in the hospital now with no one there to speak to her or for her. I can't help but project myself into that possible future, for one day I too will be old, and "depending on the kindness of strangers."

Life is always surprising isn't it, whether it's the chill of an unexpected wind, or the telephone call bringing disturbing news.

You just have to be braced and ready.


Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Clean Slate-2008

Today, of course, is the traditional Day of Resolution- promises we make to ourselves, things we aim to do in the coming year. It's hard to resist the allure of all those blank calendar pages, those 365 empty squares waiting expectantly to be filled. They represent a fresh start, an opportunity to be reborn, to live life differently.

I've had my fill of resolutions though - they always disappoint me. Or, more precisely, I always disappoint myself with my inability to keep them. Were I to make resolutions today (which I'm not mind you, I'm just saying...) they would likely include things like this~

*Be healthier~I feel stagnant in my body, in a way that I haven't experienced for a long time. I crave more movement, more walking, stretching, dancing. I crave eating less food, and eating better quality food, meaning I'll be jumping on the organic band wagon. I may declare a vegetarian day once each week (the meat and potato lover in my house will have to live with it, or go out to eat!) I feel the need to take better care of this physical plant I'm living in.

*Make better use of my time ~author Laraine Herring, in her book Writing Begins with the Breath, wrote this : "Despite all our time-saving devices, many of us feel like we have less time than ever before. That's not true. We have the same time as we've always had. It's our perception of that time that has gotten off balance. We haven't shortened the day or the hour; we have increased what we're filling that time with, and for many of us, what we fill our hours with are distractions from the very thing we say we want more of - a present moment." She advises, "re-evaluate your relationship to time." Be aware of the way you spend your time, and fill the hours "consciously." As this year progresses, I hope to become more conscious of the fruitful, fulfilling ways I spend time, thus appreciating the things I do accomplish. Conversely, this means less dwelling on all the things I didn't get done, an activity I engage in far too often.

In 2008 I would like to forge a deeper connection with the people I love, engage my creative spirit in new ways, and enhance my abilities in the creative pursuits I already practice.

Not resolutions, really, just my hopes and dreams for all those brand new days ahead.

~Wishing you godspeed in this New Year, and may all your hopes and dreams become realities!~