Age may just be a number, but when there’s a really BIG number looming on the birthday horizon, it’s impossible not to ruminate about its significance. So, hang on my lovelies (men included here) while I meander my way along this muddy streambed.
I came across this interesting little tidbit. In 1950 the life expectancy for newborns was around 60 years, and only in parts of the world with advanced nutrition and health care like North America. I was born in Canada in 1949. Since 60 has come and gone, I’ve definitely outlived my original expiration date! I say original, with my fingers crossed, because in later years the global, average, life expectancy was raised to 72.6 years. That number, 72, tucked itself into the recesses of my subconscious. In my forties I took out a life insurance policy that would expire at 72.
When we’re in our twenties, as hard as it is then to imagine getting old, we still entertain expectations of how life would be by the time we reached certain milestone birthdays. As life progresses, reality usually pushes imaginings into the nearest ditch. I know I don’t speak for everyone, but….
By the time I hit 60, I’d long let go of my picture of reaching that “ripe, old age” surrounded by grandchildren and a large, extended family. I actually felt anything but old when I turned 60. Relieved, maybe, to have made it that far after a cancer diagnosis at 51, but not old. The decade between 50 and 60 had been a bit of a bitch. So, by the time I turned 60, I was into living life and ready to make up for lost time, which I started doing right out of the gate. On my 60th birthday, my husband joined me for my first ballroom dance lesson. Jumping on the birthday bandwagon he also arranged for a golf lesson with a pro, and took me on my first ever bike ride along a biking trail. The weekend included a super Italian dinner with our kids (blended family), finished off with a great cake! I was on a roll.
I continued racking up new experiences: the exhilaration (pure terror) of my first snow skiing lesson including a face-plant in the snow (ski lift exit), the nervous thrill of stepping out of my comfort zone to dance in expos and competitions (ballroom & country-western), and the total rush of zip-lining five courses as I tried to keep up with a cousin 20+ years my junior. I made memories travelling with girlfriends. We expanded our family by one additional recue dog and a Humane Society cat. As I continued to hone my writing skills, more stories and poems were accepted for publication. I started revising one of my draft novels. I even ventured back into the classroom, becoming a student for the first time in 30 years. I hit 70 on a high note. My husband brought my best friend over from England as a birthday surprise, and my finished novel was published a few weeks before the end of that year.
So, you ask, if the big traumatic event isn’t turning 60 or even 70, then what the hell is it? Turning SEVENTY-TWO, I say, a little tremulously! That subconsciously feared expiration date of 72 recently jumped out of hiding and started strutting its stuff. The numbers flashed in front of my face like a huge, neon billboard. The words reverberated like being inside Big Ben at high noon. (At least before its bells were shut down for repairs. A hint maybe that I should shut down for repairs?)
It’s always interesting what ends up buried in one’s mind and even more interesting is when it decides to claw its way up to the surface. Bloody hell. Get a grip, woman. Deep breath. I believe I now have all of this angst more or less sorted and under control.
So…statistics be damned. I’m not done yet! (My mouth to God’s ear.) I have books waiting to be read, friendships to explore, writing to tackle, French to re-learn, and wonders to capture with my camera lens. I’m not ready to let go of most of my “stuff” (although I’ve started passing some of it on.) I need to live long enough to outlive my critters and ensure they are loved, but not so long that I outlive my husband. I don’t think I could make it on my own.
I will acknowledge the BIG 72 with a grateful heart, a few regrets I’m coming to terms with, and optimistic plans that extend a few years out. And, damn the diet; however I spend the big day it will include CAKE. Have you seen the viral video where a cake is “carved” via being scooped up with wine glasses. THIS ONE ! I want to do THAT!!
So, on February 2, please raise a glass with me (filled with cake or champagne, your choice), as I venture forward. I’ll banish entrenched old thinking, and toast to being here same time next year to celebrate turning 73. You are all invited. There will be cake.
Top picture in dress always worn to birthday parties. Approx. age 5 or 6. Montreal
cake server courtesy of my friend Jo, who knows me too well.
Whether it’s the start of a new year or a milestone like a birthday, we all need a fresh starting point from which we can say, “From this day forward, everything will be better.” My starting point is New Year’s Day, when I open my new, tightly wrapped wall calendar. Each page holds so much promise. My calendar is a threshold to a clean slate: memories to be made, opportunities to grasp, and resolutions to be fulfilled.
However, the older I get, the more I realize that opening up my new calendar only changes the month and year, not life itself, at least not on a human level. The sun will continue to rise and set, the moon will move through its phases, the weather will be whatever it decides to be—all independent of human intervention. As cliché as it might be, the only thing we mortals have the power to change is ourselves and how we react to those around us. Maybe though, if we step into this new year with a fresh attitude instead of the blind belief that, somehow, this year will be better, we might actually generate the change we so want. A simple ripple in the pond can grow into a widening circle.
Change is hard. Recognizing the fact that it’s often ourselves, not the other person, who has to change is harder. Baby steps. We can start small by consciously being kinder and more tolerant. We can be slower to anger and temper our reactions to a perceived slight or cross word. We all have flaws. Yes, I do mean you, but I also mean me. Flaws will show themselves in even the tightest weave, and cutting some slack just might keep the peace instead of causing everything to unravel. I know you’ve all been there. Makes me think about that old maxim I heard over and over from my mother: those in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Holds as true today as it did when I was under my parents’ roof.
I think we need to step backward to move forward. What if we raised the bar on our everyday social interactions by bringing back the lost art of civil discourse? We could make a collective resolution to move into 2021 practicing something as ridiculously simple as saying “please”, “thank you” and “you’re welcome”. I’ll go one step further and add “excuse me” instead of “what the hell?” or “get out of my way, jerk.” That doesn’t sound so painful, does it? We can learn to bite our tongues, swallowing that critical or defensive thought before we let it fly into the ethers. It’s not a boomerang. You can’t get it back. Stilling our fingers on the keyboard (or thumbs on our mobile devices), and having that second think before we hit ‘send’ could make our small corner of the world a kinder, gentler place. I’m showing my age here, but I truly believe there were fewer misunderstandings when people hand-wrote letters, talked on the phone, or better yet, conversed face-to-face. You can’t insert intonation into a text no matter how many emojis you plug into the message.
Smiles light up our eyes. We can try smiling more underneath our masks, which we all WILL wear because this nasty virus can’t survive without a human host. And maybe, if we are lucky enough to find ourselves with a bit of extra cash this year, we could gift a bit to the food bank, the diaper bank, a pet rescue, or someone you know who’s doing their best but having a damn hard time anyway. Practice kindness and stop judging.
I opened my new 2021 calendar this morning and found a Facebook friend’s dog (one of his Australian Terriers) featured on the January page. Such a lovely surprise. Now to put all my words into action, I must remember to tell him how special that was. Being an optimist, I truly do wish all of you a happy and healthy New Year, filled with joy and opportunities to make wonderful memories. But I stick by my pragmatic guns and have to say that if we want 2021 to be a better year, making it so is on us. Collectively, we can do it.
photo: sun reflecting on the Santa Catalina Mountains, New Year's Eve, 2020
Thanksgiving now behind us, we are free to let the madness begin. What? Yes, I know the election is over…not that kind of mad/madness...we’ve all had enough of that. I mean the shut-the-bad-stuff-out kind of madness. The good kind that takes over when we jump off the deep end into a pool of holiday magic. Don’t tell me you’re too worn out from election and pandemic stresses to even think about the holidays? Hands over ears ! Not listening! The raw truth is that what you need now more than anything is as much Christmas/Hanukkah spirit as you can muster. So light those menorahs, write those cards, unpack the sparkly tree ornaments, deck the halls, and make a mess baking holiday treats. Let’s laugh in the face of this dismal year and sweep it out with holiday cheer! Spike the eggnog if you must. The show must go on.
This year Christmas might be a bit different, but it will still BE. For past Christmases in this house, we’ve re-arranged the living room to accommodate our 8’ x 5’ train table: three sets of train tracks, three engines and cars, a ceramic village, a skating rink, and an array of village people and critters. And, of course, we always put up an over-sized, fully decorated tree. The house is usually decked out like something between “Whoville on steroids” and “a Martha Stewart Christmas.” Whimsy is balanced with elegance: the crystal Sherry decanter sitting alongside the ceramic bear that my son made in Cub Scouts. This year, because it’s just us, we’ll bring things down a notch, but we’ve still unpacked enough Christmas decorations to remind us that the year is winding down once again, and it’s time for everyday business to shove over and make room for holiday gaieties.
Some things will change this year, but what will stay the same is our joy of this season. Throwing a party might be out, but sharing is still in. Christmas cards made on Shutterfly are getting signed and mailed; we’ve given to Toys for Tots and written a stack of donation checks to charities; some of our gifts to friends and family are already on their merry way; the rest will be wrapped while I watch The Nutcracker and sip eggnog. We’ll have a Christmas this year no matter what. The only thing missing will be the in-person sharing.
One of my favorite holiday memories is a day, too many years ago, when a friend and I helped each other decorate our homes. We set up her village of Christmas cottages and winter scenes first, and then at my house we put out my magnetic skating rink with skaters and sledders and pine trees. We reverted back to two little kids playing house: the ceramic people became real as we gave them life stories and discussed where they might be going and what they were up to. Christmas gave us permission to turn off the adult and become wide-eyed children again. That sums up Christmas for me !
Whether alone this year or in a small bubble, try to remember that while the surface of Christmas might be colorful wrapped packages and twinkling lights, the heart of Christmas is the promise of peace, the spirit of giving, and goodwill towards all mankind. Whether you light candles on Christmas Eve, Solstice, or during the eight nights of Hanukkah, the effect is the same: encouraging light, love and kindness into the world. Every year we believe that enlightenment might happen, that hearts might stay open past the dawn of the new year, and I’m still unjaded enough to believe that we can make that happen. But not if we all don’t try.
So light a candle, wish on a star, open your heart, and let Christmas in.
You walk into my house and find me in the kitchen, energy flying in all directions. The contents of a cutlery drawer are dumped on the counter; the dishwasher is partly emptied; and a stack of mail is halfway sorted. Do you just shake your head, make yourself a cup of tea, and wait it out, or do you back away slowly, glancing around for trace amounts of cocaine on your way to the door?
To explain, I follow the tenet of “do it as the spirit moves you.” A planned three-minute jaunt outside to fill the birds’ water dish can easily stretch to 45 sweaty minutes, complete with scratches from rosebush thorns (spontaneous pruning sans long sleeves) and muddied sandals. For example, yesterday, as I was cleaning off the top of the stove, I glanced out the French doors. Frustrated finches were trying to tease the last few sunflower seeds from the bottom of the hanging feeders. I headed towards the mesquite, but before I could unhook the seed holders from their hangers, the remnants of last night’s spur-of the moment pruning caught my attention. The rake was leaning up against the tree, so I quickly cleaned up the drying mess of branches and leaves. Long, gangly stems on the plumbago, which I should have pruned two weeks ago, were vying for my attention. Luckily the pruning shears were still sitting on a garden table, so I took care of that task. The soil in a pot of lavender was drier than it should be, which sent me back inside and to fill a pitcher of water…. You see what happens?! You get it, right? I finally did grab the feeders and refill them at the big tub of bird seed in the shed without any more side trips. Thankfully the birds are squawky but patient creatures.
It took a while for my husband to become privy to my "while you are there” process for attacking tasks. Usually I had the house tidy and dinner ready to go on the table by the time he got home. One afternoon he popped in unexpectedly early. You know how it is when you think you know your partner inside out, and then out of the blue you get a glimpse of a character trait you’d never witnessed before? Yeah. That feeling! I have to say he handled it well. I mean, he’s still here, right? We’ll overlook his allegation that I might be a bit “scattered”. For practical purposes, we’ll stick with my claim to be a master of multitasking, or even better, multi-faceted like a fine gem stone. I like that one.
Actually, my ability to multitask bode well for me in the work world and, at one engineering firm, won me major kudos from my boss’s boss. I took on anything that was thrown at me, often managing and juggling tasks that were way beyond the scope of my expertise. I became a fast learner. My career path never followed a one-discipline, steady trajectory though. I’ve held five, very different, major positions over the years, each one challenging me and broadening my skill set. I moved forward and upward.
Statistics show that the average person changes careers five to seven times over their work life. I am living proof that not only is changing one’s career path not flaky, it enables growth both personally and professionally. It also prevents boredom. While I envy those who are practically genetically predisposed to certain avocations, and find their purpose and passions early in life, I also cannot imagine being boxed into one genre until retirement. I have been the wearer of many hats, and there are still more hats to try on than I have years left to wear.
Do I want to write another novel, or do I want to cross “write a novel” off my list and move on to a new challenge? I have writing ideas brewing, but taking watercolor lessons has been on my want-to-do list for ages. I have still to master my digital camera and finish the online photography class I started. I’d love to become a Master Gardner. I want to refresh my French with a class or two, and maybe learn Italian while I’m at it. I've logged close to ten years of ballroom dance lessons, and I’m not saying I’m done, but I’d love to learn to play Canon in D on the piano as well. No, I don’t play and I’ve never had a lesson, but I’m not the type to be satisfied starting with Mary Had a Little Lamb. I've always tried to run before I could walk.
I’m not quite ready to jump into my next venture, so while I’m enjoying a bit of a lull, I might just have a cup of tea and mull it all over. Suggestions welcome. Complaint department, however, is on the third floor.
I don’t know what all this staying-at-home, pandemic avoidance has done to you, but for me it’s sent my comfort-food cravings into overdrive. I’ve done more baking in the past few months than I have in years. I’ve also experimented with enough new dinner recipes to start my own cooking-through-COVID YouTube channel. Over the past six months the definition of comfort food has expanded way beyond Mom’s tomato soup and cheese sandwiches. The scent of a peach cobbler or cinnamon rolls baking, and/or diving into a new recipe for a fabulous meal, embodies burrowing into home and hearth, shutting out the world, and thumbing my nose at the shroud of uncertainty that touches every aspect of life outside my front door.
In the middle of all this cocooning and playing Martha Stewart, I came across an article about food cravings being a window to one’s inner landscape. I thought this was a profound statement. I wish I could give credit to its originator, but darned if I can remember the source. Anyway…this statement started me thinking about how food cravings, and even food textures, might reveal a lot about not just our coping mechanisms, but our inner selves. So, of course that promoted a bit more research and a short bout of self-examination.
I love super spicy foods—curries, salsas, anything with green chiles—which is supposed to mean I am looking for intensity in my life. Now anyone who knows me, knows the last thing I need is more intensity. Am I wrong? The other side of craving spicy is smooth and soothing; e.g., ice cream! Can there be a more satisfying concoction? I know of only one person who honestly doesn’t like ice cream (Jo, are you reading this?) and I love her to pieces, but OMG, I’ve never understood how is it humanly possible not to revel in the rich, creamy decadence of good ice cream. I’m talking about the lovely smooth stuff, unmarred by tooth-cracking nonsense like nuts and candy. I mean the silky, sensual, super rich ice cream that slides down your throat and coats your insides with pure, indulgent satisfaction. Does this mean I have a personality that is both intense and leans to the sensual? Possibly, but think I should move on here before someone decides to actually answer this question.
So what about salty versus sweet? A bigger divide than conservative versus liberal. Does that preference change with your mental state? Do you prefer salty when you’re happy but something sweet when you’re depressed? And what about textures like crunchy or soft? Does the need to seriously crunch down on something that crackles and splits apart when you bite into it mean you have unresolved anger issues? Or is it a need for attention? With every loud crunch are you saying, “Hey, I’m here. Look at me. See me.” Food for thought. On the other hand, soft foods are said to comforting. Can anyone deny that soft, starchy, freshly baked bread is anything less than a mouthful of warm hugs?
From what I am learning, it sounds like I should come with a warning label. I love sweets, especially caramel and chocolate cake, which translates to being friendly and compassionate. I think I can raise my hand here. I try to be just that. But the flip side is that someone who enjoys their coffee black, drinks tonic water, and eats radishes might be a psychopath. I’m going to leave that right here, but don’t ever say I didn’t warn you.
Lucky for me I have an excuse to bail on that last one. That “ding” was the chile rellanos telling me they’re done. Ice cream with caramel sauce for dessert?
Do you remember when you first fell in love with reading? Better yet, do you remember the first real book that invited you into a completely different culture, emotional space, or time period? And for the introverts in the group, when was the first time you discovered that having a book in your hand is like hanging a “do not disturb” sign around your neck? Pretty fabulous, right ?! A book is an introvert’s best friend.
Books. Just the word conjures up a lazy afternoon, lounging somewhere comfortable with a good book and a hot cup of tea. But now that I think about it, for me that scenario meant I was on vacation, which until recently was my only chance to laze around with a book. But, thanks to COVID 19 shutting us all in, I’ve rediscovered the luxury of getting lost in a good read. I’ve also stumbled across some wonderful new-to-me authors and excellent book recommendations via Facebook book-club groups. My TBR pile is now teetering tall, and my credit card bill tells the story of the ease of online book purchases.
My personal love affair with books started before I ever stepped into my kindergarten classroom. I must have been about four when my mother first took me with her to the supermarket (Steinberg’s in Montreal.) The store—I’m forever grateful—ran an ongoing promotion: one give-away item for every so-many dollars spent on groceries. The giveaway included dolls and toys, but all I cared about were the gold-colored spines of the books lined up on the shelf: Cinderella, A Day at the Zoo, Pantaloon - the bakery dog. I remember how excited I was at the thought of picking out a shiny, new Golden Book. To this day I still have a few those well-used Golden Books stacked in a bedroom cabinet. On the same shelf are several books from the Bobbsey Twins series—birthday and Christmas presents—and one book that is a constant reminder of a childhood act of dishonesty.
Elaborate, you say? 'Fess up. Okay then. Here’s my confession. I was nine. A neighbor invited me to look through some old books he had stored in his basement. I remember walking down the basement stairs, trying to ignore the walls plastered with pinup girls and what were most likely indecent cartoons. As naïve as I was at nine, I was astute enough to pick up the vibe. I felt a bit uneasy, but the lure of a finding a new book outweighed any apprehension. But I’m wandering off topic, so back to the books. This neighbor, who really was a very nice man, loaned me a bright-red, hardcopy of Huckleberry Finn. So…did you pick up on the key word, “loaned.” Yup. You got it right. That’s the same book that’s stashed on the shelf in the secretary in my bedroom. In my defense, as weak as it may be, my family moved out of the downtown Sandy Hill neighborhood and into the suburbs shortly after the book loan, but yes, I still feel guilty to this day that I didn’t ask my parents to help me return that book. My book addiction overpowered my budding sense of ethics.
And since we’re on the topic of embarrassing book stories, I’ll share another, but only because I can trust you with my secrets. Right?! Years ago, a friend urged me to read a book she’d just finished: The Bridges of Madison County. We both fell hook, line, and sinker for the story line, and were utterly convinced that this tragic love story could be nothing less than the absolute gospel truth. So, old enough to know better, there we were, sitting on the floor of Bookman’s used book store with every copy of National Geographic pulled off the shelves, searching for that famous covered-bridge photo cover. In the book, that was the cover photo taken by the romantic hero, Robert Kincaid, a National Geo photographer. Sigh. We were so disappointed when we learned the truth, but that’s the power of books. They pull you into their world and make you want to believe.
I could go on about books ad finitum, but there is a cup of tea cooling by my chair, and my latest absorbing read, A Gentleman in Moscow, is patiently waiting for me to reopen the cover and continue on. So for now I’ll just leave you with links to a couple of my recent book reviews. My hope is that you’ll find something new to dive into and forget, if only for a while, the unsettled times we are all struggling through. Just remember to draw a fast line between fact and fiction.
The Great Alone by Kristen Hannah
Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
2020 has turned out to be a challenging year, full of disappointments and adjustments. For me, this was supposed to be “the year of the book”. I had lots of ideas for ways to celebrate the much-awaited (by me anyway) debut of my first novel. But, with the exception of hosting the initial launch party and one public reading, everything from the Tucson Festival of Books, which meant two time slots for booth space, to several other venues and a planned release party, ended up on the chopping block. I’m sure most of you reading this can relate, as many of you have had to bail on vacation plans, cancel planned get-togethers, and rethink special occasions.
But today I really have something to smile about. Dancing Between the Beats is being featured on the WOW! Women on Writing website, on their blog page: The Muffin. I am just thrilled to be featured on their blog. This opportunity makes up for so many book-related events that were cancelled because of the COVID19 shutdown.
The book promotion includes reviews, a book synopsis, my bio, and best of all, an interview and a great giveaway which you can enter between July 20 and July 26. For me, interviews can be daunting. Give me a couple of glasses of wine and I’ll probably tell you more than you want to know, but in the bright light of day, you can ask me a question—even something as simple as “what’s your favorite movie”—and my mind goes as blank as a sheet of white writing paper. Blessedly, the interviewer gave me a heads up so I had time to ruminate.
Here's the link. Please click, take a few minutes to scroll and read. The interview is about three quarters of the way down. Whatever questions you've wanted to ask me can probably be found in those few paragraphs.
The hardest question to answer was about my inspiration for writing DBTB. Since I started the basic draft for this book way back in 2011, and so much had changed over years of rewriting and revising, it was an effort to wade backwards in time to the “whys” behind my writing and my process. It took quite a bit of grey matter prodding and introspection to pull up what I thinking when I banged out the first draft .
Click on the link, see what you think about the reviews, read the interview, and don’t forget to enter the giveaway using the Rafflecopter box, to win a prize box that I’ve put together. You have six days to enter.
Thanks so much for sticking with me everyone. Your support is appreciated more than you could know.
And just for fun, here's a picture of a labyrinth someone created on the top of the hill above my house.
Back in the ‘80s, while interviewing for the position of administrative assistant to the director of R&D of an engineering company, I confessed I was an enthusiastic list-maker. Turned out my preoccupation with creating order via lists was exactly the quality my new boss valued the most in an assistant. Sometimes being an obsessive-compulsive control freak can work in one’s favor. Offering to wash my new boss’s Audi probably didn’t hurt my chances either.
So, yes, I admit it. I’m one of those people. I’ve been fixated on creating lists as long as I can remember. My mother once told me that I even made lists as a child. She didn’t say it with a smile on her face either. I think I might have been “helping” her organize her life at the time. My mother wasn’t nearly as appreciative as that R&D director, whose own boss would just shake his head at the number of projects I was juggling and keeping on target.
But back to everyday lists. Lists keep chaos at bay. Multi-tasker that I am, trust me on this one. Lists set attainable goals. When faced with an overwhelming project, breaking that large project into manageable bite-size pieces, and then ordering those pieces on a list, saves your sanity and narrows your focus. Mind fog will clear and the path before you will smooth. But the best part is the sense of accomplishment one gets as each finished task is crossed off, edging you closer to that finish line. I’ve even been known to add something I just finished to my list purely for the satisfaction of crossing it off. Did I really just say that out loud? Can’t take it back now.
For several weeks sheltering in place has cleared my calendar. No schedules, no appointments, no lunch dates, no writer’s group meetings, no dance lessons to work errands around, equals no need for a list to keep me on track and organized. But, here’s the thing: what I’ve learned about myself is that, no matter how minor the task, if it’s not written down, it’s not likely to get done. Without my lists I become an “it-can-wait-until-tomorrow” slug. I’ve discovered I need my lists to be productive, and I guess my need to feel productive is stronger than I thought. It’s that Protestant work ethic that was drilled into me from childhood: idle hands and the devil’s work.
Can you guess where this is going? Yup, back to the discipline of list-making. I wrote my list for yesterday, and by late afternoon I’d crossed off cutting back aloe vera stalks, learning how to use my new Kindle, writing a check to pay my VISA bill, throwing in a couple of loads of laundry, putting together a casserole for dinner, and hitting the plant nursery. Only then did I feel justified in joying a cup of tea and a reading a newly purchased book.
But one tired day later I’ve decided to take a step back. I think Mom might have overdone drilling me with that whole guilt-inducing, Protestant-work-ethic thing. It’s like being forbidden dessert until one’s plate is practically licked clean. Sometimes pie for breakfast is okay. Right? So I just wrote my list for today, and it includes “time in the spa”. Maybe it’s okay to work in a line item dedicated to recharging. Maybe. My very meticulous mother must be rolling over in her grave.
(swim skirt floating in spa)
Remember when I was whining about the need to clear my calendar and slow down? Well that message was evidently received. April 29 marked the midpoint of my seventh week of COVID19 sheltering in place. I am now officially a slug. Anyone else growing out of their fat jeans? If I visualize receiving motivation to exercise, I wonder what the ethers will toss back? I’m guessing a brownie or two.
I’m going to share the gist of a Facebook meme with you, We’re all caught in the same storm, but we’re not all in the same boat. Sort of sums things up, right? And here’s a quote I saw today on Twitter, Writing is cheaper than therapy. That quote used to apply to me, but since sheltering in place took over my life, gardening is now my therapy of choice. My ratty-looking fingernails are a testament to how often my hands either are buried in potting soil or raking gravel out of the way to end the life of a particularly stubborn weed. I’m deadheading like crazy, and tucking seeds for summer bloomers in between the spring annuals. My roses have never looked better, and my experimental vegetable garden has begun to show signs of a real harvest. What is it about seeing a tomato plant pop out little tomatoes that is so rewarding? I feel accomplished, and yet it’s the plant, not me, doing all the real work.
Social isolation means making a full dinner every day, trying out new recipes, baking too many desserts, relearning how to use the vacuum cleaner, and realizing we don’t own a bucket big enough to accommodate a mop. Giving credit where it’s due, D and I are sharing the housecleaning duties, but by the blurry view from the master bedroom, it seems we’ve both drawn the line at windows. Believe my sincerity when I say I’ve developed a new respect for cleaning ladies and a deep awareness of the limitations of my aging body. I could star in a commercial for Icy Hot, or maybe an AARP article entitled “The Top of the Refrigerator: Letting Go of Expectations.”
I admit, staying at home does bring out the nester in me, but every Domestic Diva has her line in the sand. Mine is sewing. I absolutely hate to sew! I gave away my sewing machine several years ago. Prior to that, half-finished sewing projects flew across the room more than once. Even back in high school, I hated the mandatory sewing classes for girls almost as much as I detested my typing class, but sewing won out on the frustration scale. But, being a conscientious citizen, I jumped onto the mandatory masks bandwagon and made D and I face masks! Hand-stitched face masks: blood-spotted from multiple finger pricks and anointed with curses fueled from pushing a needle through three layers of thick fabric with painfully reddened fingertips. I’m awaiting my good-citizen, housewife-of-the-year award.
In my quest to boost my aging immune system, I’m taking the new vitamins I bought rather than staring the bottles down, hoping absorb their contents telepathically. Can’t count how many bottles of expired vitamins I’ve tossed out pre-COVID19. I so hate swallowing pills, I actually have an expired container of Oxycontin in the medicine cabinet. And no, you can’t have my address.
A cleared appointment calendar gives me the luxury of time to read. I’ve finished several stunning novels over the past few weeks: books that pulled me into another place and time, living the lives of the characters. If you’re looking for a few engrossing reads to go with that cup of tea or glass of wine, give these a try: Before We Were Yours, Lilac Girls, The Winter Garden, and Little Fires Everywhere. Reviews posted on Goodreads.
So, I’m hanging in there, catching up with old friends via telephone, and learning to play digital card games with the kiddos on our phones. And, D and I are becoming more like our dogs: we roam the house all day looking for food; we are told “no” if we get too close to strangers; we get really excited about open doors and car rides (thanks for this one, Gerry.)
Stay well everyone.
Half hidden behind the drooping branches of a bottlebrush bush, I watch him doing pushups on the top of the wall. Even in the mild March sunshine, the blocks radiate too much heat to rest his abdomen on their flat surface. This guy is big: fat, in fact. It’s been a good spring for lizards. Early bug hatching and lots of tender weeds provide a plentiful food supply.
I sit quietly and lay my book down. Stilling the movement of the glider, I barely breathe as a hummingbird whirrs toward me. She hovers, taking me in, and then darts up and down the tall stem of a penstamon, drinking from each trumpet-shaped pink blossom. Her wings are a fast-forward blur, while her body’s a still life in concentration. I am surprised by the deep drone emanating from this tiny creature. She tips her hat to me before zipping away to sample the next stand of flowers.
Monarchs dart between the bees and the penstamons, stopping to feed on the blue ageratums and salvia leucanthas. The butterflies have arrived early this year. The red bloodvines they so love are not in bloom as yet, but they make do. Overhead a hawk circles, riding the currants. I wonder if he’s the same red-tail that thinks a wide limb of our mesquite is his dining table?
The garden is a crazy quilt of color: pale and hot pinks, white, a creamy peach, bright yellow, and a touch of burgundy. Wildflowers take root wherever they choose to propagate. The old saying “one man’s weed is another man’s flower” is never truer than in my desert version of an English garden. Three’s a crowd does not apply, and the hummers and butterflies seem to agree with me. I’m usually quite happy to ignore the spacing guidelines for both planting seeds and placing bedding plants, so they live shoulder to shoulder, one variety blending into the next. No social distancing in my garden.
A bee buzzes a little too close for comfort. This curious yellow- and black-striped boy lands on my hand, sniffing—if bees can sniff—my skin. I stay very still. As soon as his curiosity is assuaged and he lifts off, I move swiftly away. I’m not afraid of bees but treat them with cautious respect. Those that are Africanized have temperaments that are not to be trusted.
Not ready to go indoors, I settle into a cushioned patio chair and breathe in the sweet cinnamon fragrance of the hyacinths and the frilly, party-dress stocks. A breeze kicks up. This morning’s white, angel-wing billow clouds are now overrun by their grey-bottomed, cumulous cousins, who are striding across the sky from the south west: a portent of a storm moving up from Mexico? I smile, realizing I won’t have to stress about driving across town in a desert downpour. There’s nowhere I have to be. Social distancing has its benefits.
Mandated self-isolation has become a vacation of sorts. Two weeks in, and I’m relishing my cleared calendar. My soul feels more nourished than in longer than I can remember. My disappointment at events being cancelled has melted into satisfaction in having time to sit in my garden with a cup of tea and a book. Being still and watching sparrows flirt in flight and woodpeckers rip at the fruit on the hanger is a rare treat, but it shouldn’t be. I realize that my ambitious to-do list was becoming a self-dictated lifestyle of over-commitment.
The red-tail swoops down and lands in the largest mesquite tree: a thwarted attempt at hatchling stealing perhaps? A smallish bird, squawking and cursing, dives after the hawk, circles and then races away. The hawk shakes out his feathers, disgruntled but tenacious. He tilts his head sideways. I relate to the look in his eye. His focus on achieving his goal is absolute. He’ll bide his time and then take flight again.
For now my wings have been forcibly clipped but, once the feathers grow back in, I’ll be more judicious with my flight plan. I look forward to reconnecting with the friends and activities that enhance my enjoyment of life, but I won’t forget that, to rejuvenate, I need to occasionally withdraw into a shell of solitude. Social distancing just might have made me hit the reset button.
Lynn Nicholas - AUTHOR oF Dancing Between The Beats
My blog is a window into my world. My slice-of-life narratives are triggered by life's