Thursday, December 17, 2009

Dogs Bring Joy to the World

She never sat down in a car but stood, braced tense, facing the wind. Now and again, she would turn her face toward me with an apologetic expression, as though to say: "I have not forgotten that you are here but there are certain pleasures I cannot share with you." Her nose never ceased its sensitive quivering. 
 ---- Mazo de la Roche

Our house was always filled with dogs... They made our house a kennel, it is true, but the constant patter of their filthy paws and the dreadful results of their brainless activities have warmed me throughout the years.
---- Helen Hayes

You can say any fool thing to a dog, and the dog will turn his head and give you this look that says, "My God, you're right! I never would've thought of that!"

---- Dave Barry

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Things Are Looking Up Around Here

The sun came out this afternoon for a little while, and the river below my house shone brightly in silver-blue, running low, cold and clear.

The temperature climbed reluctantly out of water-pipe-freezing, single-digit misery into just-plain seasonably, reasonably, cold. Snow is predicted, but no one's concerned. We're ready: Snow tires on, extra weight added to pickup beds, wood all in, outdoor water bowl for dogs filled and plugged in, furnace filter changed, water to standpipes turned off, drafty windows sealed tight, bird feeders filled, and freezeable fluids in the trucks changed.

Part of the beauty of living here in this nordic country is the guarantee of a white Christmas nearly every year. For the little kids and all the rest of us who fondly remember snow from our childhoods, it's a big deal when it first starts to come down hard and stick. It's a time of celebration for skiiers, snowmobilers, snowboarders, sledders and all others who love to play in the white, wet, cold, fluffy stuff. By March, everyones' enthusiasm will have ebbed, but for now, it's all fun.

At my house, there's more than snow on the horizon. There's a hurricane headed this way, and her name is Anna. My only grandchild, who lives 400 miles away, gets to spend Christmas with her dad and me this year. An incredibly smart and beautiful six-year-old, she has about 16-times more energy than the average adult, and about 26-times more than me.  By this time next week, I'll be in full-blown Nana mode. I am preparing by making sure I'm well rested, reasonably toned up and have a fridge full of things little kids like to eat. Being Anna's Nana, in her view of the world, demands 100 percent devotion of my time, attention and effort to the continous and lasting happiness of my sole grand-offspring. It's my view of how things should be, too. I try to keep a no-crying, no whining rule while she's here, and that applies to both of us.

To be honest, in the past, I have anticipated her visits with some degree of trepidation, remembering only the uproar and disruption she brings to my normally mundane but comfortable, quiet and sane existance. Big Bird, for instance, is not who I want to see on my TV first thing in the morning. Where's Diane Sawyer? I usually don't have any Cheetos, Gummy Bears or Sugar Snaps in my house, either. What's wrong with a bran muffin, a fresh orange and some yogurt?

But this year my attitude is quite different. She's always been very funny and fun; it's me who usually gets tired and irritable. This time I will not Grinch-out, even after two whole weeks, I swear. I hope she still likes to sleep with me. Wouldn't that be a nice change from the snoring and sometimes, simultaneously farting, dogs?

I'll even be happy this time to watch the weird, pointy-headed Phineas and Ferb with her, so aware am I now of the Big Picture and the rapid passage of precious time. And we can talk about Grandpa now, too, if she wants. I'm ready.

When Hurricane Anna arrives, she's going to blow the biggest and best breath of fresh air into this house we've had in a long time. And not a moment too soon. Thank you, dear God, for Anna.

So bring on the snow and roll out the cookie dough. They say Santa's on his way.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Today Is Really All We Have

I don't mean to be a whiner, but I don't like my life right now. I know I have good reasons to be unhappy. That's never made much difference to me in the past, though. I've been chronically discontented for years, for basically no reason at all. That's how it seems to me now, at least, in retrospect.

I hope my husband, wherever he is, can read this. Honey, you were right. I shouldn't have complained so much. Huge irritations at the time, like a neighbor's yapping dog or a friend's obnoxious girlfriend, seem so darn trivial now.

Why did I get so pissed off, so often? Too much stress, perhaps. I was a small-town newspaper editor, for Pete's sake. It's a wonder I never went totally postal, especially after my 23rd annual Cub Scout pancake feed. There's so many other ways I'd rather spend a Saturday morning. Sleeping, for instance.

Am I a "Type A" personality, maybe? Is it my headstrong astrological sign, Taurus the bull? Since I had two red-headed grandmothers, is it like, a genetic thing? The Irish in me?

Who knows why we all do what we do, or act like we act. Every unpleasant personality trait I possess can probably be easily blamed on my mother. I mean, everything that’s wrong with everybody is always their mother’s fault, isn’t it?

Actually I lived with my husband far longer than I did with my mother. We'd been married for 38 years, were just going along, and then one day, "poof!" He was gone. It's been six months now and I can still hardly get my mind around it.

Oh, it’s sunk in, all right. He's gone forever. I get that part. It's my future without him that I'm having trouble envisioning. I can’t see the road ahead anymore.

I feel like an old draft horse that’s lost its reliable pulling partner of many years. I still feel double-yoked, but I'm simply going in circles, pulling blindly, wondering where in the hell I’m headed.

I feel so lost and get so tired without my sturdy partner beside me. He was the leader, the biggest horse, the strongest one. It's his steadying presence that I miss the most. It calmed me.

If God's got the reins, I'll be okay, I try to remember. But my life is as unfamiliar to me now as if I had followed a bright blue light into a spaceship and been whisked off to another galaxy. Nothing is the same as it was last year at this time. Nothing.

Like a lot of couples, we'd planned for our retirement for years. We were almost there. But I tell you: Don't do that so much. Don’t pin all your hopes on your future. Live in the moment and try to enjoy it. It is true that the present is all we really have.

However, I can’t stand to hear someone say, "Live each day like it's your last." Are you kidding? It’s my last day? That makes me want to run right down to the bar, start pounding down Jack Daniels shots, puffing on Marlboros and looking for a biker to take me for a ride on a fast Harley. Hey, "to each his own," applies to bucket lists, too.

Better wording comes to mind. I think it's from the Bible. "This is the day that the Lord has made," it goes, "Rejoice and be glad in it."

Right. Currently it's three degrees above zero and pitch-dark here already at 4:30 p.m. My feet are cold because my dogs have all deserted me for warmer places than under my desk.

But I'm not going to say, "Boy, I hate winter; I can't wait 'til spring." I've already wished enough of my life away.

So I guess I’ll go sit by the fire, enjoy the heat and see if I can’t find me a warm and willing dog belly to scratch.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Let yourself be open and life will be easier. A spoon of salt in a glass of water makes the water undrinkable. A spoon of salt in a lake is almost unnoticed.
                                                                                                                                     -- Buddha

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Great-Grandmas Are Rare Treasures

Half of my DNA profile: This is a followup photo to my most-recent post. It's a classic four-generation picture of me on my great-grandma's lap, surrounded by my grandma, left, and my mom. It was taken in Milledgeville, PA, in 1951.
I'm lucky to have spent a lot of time with both these grandmas when I was a little kid. My great-grandma, however, was my preferred companion. When Mom would let me walk up to her house and spend all day there, those were the best days.
I'd push "Shave and a Hair Cut, Two Bits" on her front-porch buzzer, and she was always glad to see me when she came to the door. There was an endless supply of pink-peppermint candies in a bowl on the oak library table in her front parlor. That's where I'd head to right away.
Standing on my tip-toes, I could barely reach the bowl. "Better have two," she'd say kindly when I looked up at her for permission. Compared with the far more restrictive rules enforced by Mom at home, this kind of indulgence was one of the many reasons I loved my great-grandma. Just about anything I wanted to do at her house was fine with her.
She was a quiet woman, who listened to my chatter but had little to add. I wonder now if maybe she couldn't hear me that well. In her late 80s and depending on a cane for mobility, she never seemed to complain, even while slowly making her way upstairs with me for our aftenoon nap.
Today whenever I envision her face, she is always wearing the same little smile as in this photo. She died when I was about 12.
Yes, I was a lucky little girl. Great-grandmas are rare treasures.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Milledgeville in Me

I've been thinking a lot lately about my childhood. It's probably because after having been with my late husband for 40 years, I'm trying to figure out who I am without him. It seems a logical part of the process to try to remember who I was before I met him.
The picture above is of my great-grandmother's house in Milledgeville, PA. I looked it up on Goggle Earth and was glad to see it's in good shape, although it looks different now than when I lived there in the 1950s.
My great-grandpa died in this house in 1938 after being severely burned while trying to start a fire in a stove using kerosene. My great-grandma lived out the rest of her days there for the next 25 years, until she passed peacefully at 93. She attributed her longevity to clean living, hard work, and sassafras tea.
This time of year during my childhood invariably included an annual trip to the nearby woods to gather sassafras roots. It took nearly all day, with Mom doing the tree-spotting, and Dad, the digging. It was always cold and dreary; the ground was usually muddy.
Once we got home with a full sack of roots, Mom would wash each one before beating it to a pulp with a hammer. Then she'd simmer a pot of the mess for at least an hour, until the water had a reddish amber color.
The resulting tea had a heady, distinctive aroma, sort of a cross between root-beer and Great Grandma's liniment for her rheumatism. If I caught a whiff of brewing sassafras at this moment, it would take me right back to those days. I've never smelled anything else quite like it.
The finished product had a bite to it, even when tamed for us kids with sugar and milk. The liberal addition of milk to my cup of tea made the little woody flakes floating around impossible to ignore. They were hard to extract with a spoon, but I'd spend an inordinate amount of time trying, which served as a lame but effective stalling technique.
I can't say as I remember the digs as a lot of fun or the tea as a tasty treat. It was more like a wintertime tonic, a family tradition we believed was good for us. Since then, however, sassafras has been shown to be carcinogenic. So much for Great Grandma's health tips.

Here's a picture of my other grandma's house, just down the road from my great-grandma's. My mom, an only child, grew up here during the Great Depression.
Her father, my grandpa, was in poor health from being gassed in the trenches of France during World War I. He left home in 1935 to enter a Veteran's Administration hospital, never to return.
My grandma lived on alone for 33 more years after her husband left. Here's a photo of her and my mom in about 1939, with the old Milledgeville School visible in the background.
In my quest for self identity, it's sometimes helpful for me to remember my Milledgeville roots, so's to speak, sassafras as they may be. Both of my grandmas lived for many years after losing their husbands. They carried on alone because that was their nature and their upbringing; to do anything else was not an option for them.
My mom had her own battle with widowhood, living alone for 22 years after my dad died. They were married for 46 years. Their simple wedding took place in my grandma's home in 1942, right before my dad took off to fight in World War II. I can imagine what was going through my grandmas' minds that day.
Thinking about all this has made me wonder if facing long years of living alone late in life runs in my family. Whatever the case, I'm up to the challenge. I believe I'm capable of doing many things without my husband. It's just not wanting to that makes it difficult.
If I get too down, I'll try to muster up the Milledgeville in me. It's a brave spirit of toughness, endurance and duty. It's worked for three generations of women before me, so with such a solid foundation, I should be all right.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Life Is Like A Mountain Railroad

I took this photo when visiting my childhood home in Milledgeville, PA, a few years ago. This is the country road to what was my grandma's farm when I was a kid. It's no longer in the family now.
This picture seems symbolic as I reflect on the long and bumpy road where my life has led me.
There was a time when I knew every bend and tree along this dusty dirt road to my grandma's. I knew nothing, however, about the world beyond it.
I had no way to visualize back then what my life would be like in 2009 as I near my 60th year. It was incomprehensible to me then, as a child.
But even a year ago, I could never have foreseen my present reality. Being so alone and sad is nothing I would have dared to contemplate.
Some people by my age have already made out their wills, planned their funerals, bought scenic cemetery plots and plenty of life insurance. My husband and I never did. Neither one of us could bear to think that far ahead. We didn't realize our end was so close at hand.
I've come a long ways since my Milledgeville days, but I've made even greater strides since just this past June. That's when my husband, my forever love, suddenly died.
Here's a picture of us at a high-school dance in 1969. Forty years is a long time.
For several weeks after his death, I didn't want to live. I just couldn't see how I could. When I tried to visualize a future without him, it was blank.
Jack Daniels and Marlboros were my main sources of comfort. Their effects on my nerves were welcome; their familiar smell and taste reminded me of my husband. I was also attracted to their dire consequences of fatal disease. When I heard on TV that smoking one cigarette takes 11 minutes off your life, I ran right out and bought a carton.
I was consoled by well-intentioned folks who said that when God closes one door, He opens another. I thought, "Sure he does. But when?" I'm beginning to see it happen, finally, in my life since I started this blog.
It was hard at first. I'd have to sober up enough to write. Then I'd cry as I read what I'd written, wondering if anyone else would ever read it. But I felt I had to do it. I was being pushed by an invisible hand.
Now I'm receiving support from people all over the country. Let me take this opportunity to tell each of you this right now: Your words are a kindness I can feel. They're flowing like a healing elixer through my veins. I don't need any whiskey anymore. The nicotine will be gone soon, too.
There's a song in my heart tonight from my early days in rural western Pennsylvania. It seems appropriate to end this post with the lyrics, which ring as true today as when they were written 100 years or more ago. I'd add the familiar tune on this page, too, but such tricky widgetry eludes me yet. You can go to my Profile page and click on "audio" to hear the tune, if you'd like.
It's an old-time gospel song, a bluegrass classic, I guess you'd say. It's long been one of my favorites. Maybe you've heard it. It's called "Life's Railway to Heaven," by Charles D. Tillman:

Life is like a mountain railroad,
with an engineer that's brave,
We must make the run successful,
 from the cradle to the grave;

Watch the curves, the fills, the tunnels,
never falter, never quail;
Keep your hand upon the throttle,
and your eye upon the rail.

Blessed Savior, Thou wilt guide us,
till we reach that blissful shore;
Where the angels wait to join us
in our praise forevermore.

You will roll up grades of trial,
you will cross the bridge of strife;
See that Christ is your conductor
on this light'ning train of life;

Always mindful of obstruction,
do your duty, never fail;
Keep your hand upon the throttle,
and your eye upon the rail.

Right on, Mr. Charles Tillman. Amen, brother.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Fire Rainbow Speaks To Me

It's a natural inclination we've had since ancient times. Mankind has always looked to the sky for assurance that we're not stumbling around down here on our own, clueless.
Generations of imaginative insomniacs studied the stars and handed down beliefs we now call astrology. I've always dismissed mass-media astrologic predictions as too generalized and open to immensely subjective interpretations.
When you lose someone close, especially a younger person, it's impossible to not wonder why. It's been five months since my husband died from a motorcycle crash on the same day my mom passed away at age 86. Maybe questioning this quirk of fate is why I looked up my astrological chart on this intriguing web site, Infinite Quest:
I'm unsure exactly what a "transit report" supposedly reveals and I'm definitely unfamiliar with such oddly astral terms as, "Pluto in conjunction with natal Chiron," but I typed in my birth data and hit "create report" with a what-the-heck click.
Nine pages of star jargon began to spew from my printer, but I got distracted and ignored them until bedtime. When I finally began reading my specific predictions, I almost sat straight up in bed with amazement.
Even my loudly snoozing sleep mates, three German Shepherds who keep tabs on me even while busy chasing squirrels in their dreams, were momentarily disturbed.
"You are in for a rough time, as structures of your life that had previously supported you come crashing down around your head," began one Henry Seltzer. "You are forced into transformations far more massive than anything you would have anticipated."
"Well now, don't that just about sum it all up nice and neat in a nutshell," I mused out loud to the dogs, who received the "all-clear" tone with heavy sighs. Stretching dramatically as their big heads flopped back down, each one's moan of irritation, relief or lingering concern reflected its level of obsession with my security. My laid-back female, as usual, resumed snoring first.
"How weird," I thought, reading on. It was a long time before I fell asleep.
This dreary Sabbath morning I decided to attack the avalanche my double dose of grief dumped in my in-box this spring. So many expressions of sympathy simply overwhelmed me. I've had no strength to read and appreciate most of them until just recently.
At the in-box bottom linger some cherished emails from my mom and husband's last days on Earth. I've let these lay, dormant and unread, unwilling to dare deleting them without first reading their possible "messages from beyond the grave." Opening the precious few from my husband is as insurmountable as climbing Mt. Everest to me yet.
Maybe because Pluto is in trine with my natal Mercury, I clicked on one from my mom sent in January. The incredibly colorful photo of the sky shown above popped up with this caption: "This is a Fire Rainbow, the rarest of all naturally occurring atmospheric phenomena."
"Oh, sure, Mom," thought this skeptic. "Looks computer enhanced." Curious, I followed the accompanying link. It's pretty convincing. I’d be shattered to learn National Geographic posted a doctored photo on its web site. I believe in their integrity.
"Known in the weather world as a circumhorizontal arc, this rare sight was caught on film June 3 (2006) as it hung over northern Idaho near the Washington State border," I read. It lasted about an hour, according to Nat Geo. That’s a long time for a cloud formation.
"Wow," I said to the dogs, underfoot now, dozing. "That's practically right out our window."
I'd have been impressed to see the unusual celestial display in person. I'm sure the word "sign" would have come to mind.
When it comes to signals in the sky, I have a lot more faith in the Gospel of Mark than anyone's astrological report. In Mark 15:33, we're told of an atmospheric anomaly that occurred as Jesus was crucified: "And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour."
This might have been an eclipse of the sun by the moon; maybe Seltzer has figured that out. Whatever it was, Matthew 27:45 also describes the strange temporary absence of light that day in nearly identical words.
There was more to my mom's email. "Life is a miracle, don't let it slip away," I read, eyes welling with tears. "Open your heart to others, give of yourself each day."
Here's a photo I took of her about 20 years ago as she was happily getting plates out of her cupboard because we were there for dinner.
This method of communication we call the Internet is a marvel some folks before our time would certainly have deemed miraculous. Maybe it is.
Was my mom's message left unread because it means so much more to me now than when she sent it 10 months ago?
On a June day in 2006, could the cirrus clouds overhead have been at a perfect elevation with just the right amount of ice crystals, so that when the sun hit the heavens, the Lord could say, "Look up here! It's going to be okay! This is what my love looks like!"
This I do know: I didn't miss the Fire Rainbow. Thanks, Mom

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Regret Factor Can Mess With Your Memories

Dear readers (all three of you, now listen up), you may recall a recent post in which I pondered the reason behind this creative effort. All past mental meanderings, grief issues and dog stories aside, there is more at stake here than initially meets the eye. I want people to read this and there’s good reason why.

I’m approaching retirement age but can’t collect all the huge Social Security funds earmarked for my golden years just yet. I’m not broke, but with a steady income of zero since my husband’s been gone, it doesn’t take a financial wizard to figure out that at this rate, I’m going to run out of money.

As a senior citizen looking to re-enter the job market for a few years, I have a vision of my dreaded future, wearing a blue vest adorned with lots of little pins, greeting Wal-Mart shoppers with forced cheer. My preference is to try to find my niche in the once-elite but now nearly extinct journalistic specialty field known as a syndicated columnist.

So this little blog o’mine is an attempt to revive a weekly column, “Between the Lines,” that I wrote during my heyday as a newspaper editor. I had many more devoted readers back then; I can name at least five off the top of my head, including two who weren’t related and three who are still living.

Of course I’d like to reach out to others who, like me, are coping with personal loss, undeniable aging, questionable sanity, potential addictions, suspected eating disorders, adult children living in their basements, peeping toms lurking beneath their windows, IRS confrontations looming, mildew spreading like wildfire on their shower curtains, pesky chin hairs sprouting in alarmingly larger numbers every day and a pack of dogs snoring in their beds every night. Yes, mine are all fairly common conundrums to which readers can relate, I’d say.

Should these intriguing dilemmas eventually peter out as hot topics, I have a vast reserve of untapped ideas to explore; whatever may happen to pop into my mind, out my fingers, onto my keyboard and thus into your brains. I apparently haven’t lost my gift of gab, a friend recently observed.

So this just might work. I could sit on my butt at home and make money by regaling readers with my take on just about everything. Well, theoretically. So, with that in mind, it’s time to get to my topic for today, a recent revelation I’d like to share with you about grief. All kidding aside now, everyone, and you two in the back row, stop messing around.

As I wade these days through the big sinkhole in the Grand Canyon of my life, I’ve made an observation: It’s very hard to deal with the loss of a loved one at any time, under any circumstances. Nobody can argue that. I’m convinced, however, that losing someone you love unexpectedly is a special kind of grief in a category of its own. It’s complicated due to what I call the Regret Factor.

I’m referring to, in my case for example, negative things I said to my late husband I shouldn’t have said, or positive things I wish I had said. I have a huge collection of regrettable conversations, for which I’m now powerless to make apologies or amends. In my head I can watch reels and reels of my own home movies, rewinding and replaying the worst dramatic scenes over and over again.

When the Regret Factor kicks in, you begin to see in retrospect that incidents you once thought so crucial were clearly only trivial: Why did I get so mad at him just because he left a wet towel on the bed? Formerly annoying habits begin to seem endearing: What wouldn’t I give to see his dirty socks on the bedroom floor again, carelessly tossed just inches shy of the clothes hamper, like always.

The Regret Factor can also make what was originally just a simple oversight now loom large in the past like an enormous dark cloud of neglect. How could I have let him leave that morning without telling him I loved him? Come to think of it, I didn’t even tell him goodbye.

Before you shrug your shoulders and say, “Hindsight’s 20-20; not much you can do about it now,” at least try doing this for me: Make sure today that someone you love knows how you feel about them. Tonight, should you be fortunate enough to find comfort in the arms of someone kind, count your blessings, my friends. Count your blessings. Or here’s an easy one: Is there a grudge you’ve been holding onto for too long? Drop it. It’s only a burden you don’t need.

If any of you will do any of this because of anything I write, then surely a rope of hope may appear for me to climb my way out of this sinkhole. Working together, maybe we could continue to spread love in ever-widening circles, like rings in a pond where a pebble has been dropped.

I believe that if we try hard enough, maybe we could even make an angel smile, and on the day I can feel that smile in my heart, that’s when my healing will have truly begun.

Friday, October 9, 2009

My Mind Just Went South of the Border

"My mind is going, I can feel it." Remember Hal, the sinister computer that ran the entire space ship in "2001, Space Odyssey"? I love that line from that movie, uttered by a fading Hal as his hard drive is shutting down.

Hal came to mind one morning last week while I was sitting on my deck, coffee in hand, in my usual just-got-up daze. That's when my eyes locked onto something and would not, could not, look away.

Mesmerized by the rays of early sunlight reflecting off a lazily turning wind chime, I became completely lost in its gentle motion for a while. It took me somewhere else, over the border for a bit.

The revolving rainbow of intensely pure colors shining from beveled-glass trinkets as they turned slowly in the cool morning breeze seemed like the most awesome display of natural beauty I'd ever seen.

Accompanied by the soothing "tinkle, tink, tinkle, tink" of the delicately ringing chimes, this Kodachrome-perfect colorful kalidiscope shifted my brain from a sleepy first gear right back into neutral, where it idled pleasantly until the spell was broken by a dog's flapping tail.

Frankly, I think this impressed me so much because it's been a long time since anything seemed so cool to me while I was in a state of total sobriety. Seriously.

Anyway, when I snapped out of it, came back down to Earth, took a sip of coffee and tried to get my brain back in gear, the zen moment dissolved. My ever-joking inner voice chose to make this comment in my head: "My mind is going, I can feel it."

It was the voice of "2001, Space Oddesy's" Hal, and I suddenly knew exactly how he felt when his processor crashed. I was mind blown; gears in my head were spinning.

Have I told you that my mom died on the same day as my husband's fatal motorcycle crash this spring? No, I am not kidding. That is what you call "mind boggling." Henceforth, the hill of my hold on sanity has been a little bit of a slipperly slope sometimes in recent months.

Not that I am usually exactly what you'd call totally nuts, in spite of what some of my friends might say. No, I am not actually insane, just very creative; it's just that I have a very good imagination.

So, in the wake of such big grief, you may wonder: How am I doing? Compared to what, or to whom? What's the norm for someone going through something so abnormal?

Most of the time, I wonder if I might be "borderline" something. Psychologists love to describe patients as having "borderline personality disorder," or some similar vague diagnosis that sounds like a mental hangnail; not quite serious enough for hospitilazation, but troublesome enough to require medication.

Being "borderline" anything seems to imply that you're on the verge of a disasterous disorder, just two clicks away from a dreaded diagnosis, teetering on the rim of a perilous pit of lunacy.

It's far better to be borderline something than all-the-way anything, I'd say.

Who isn't borderline something at least once in a while? It is possible to step back from a borderline; you are not automatically compelled to cross over it into a totally dire, undesirable disorder.

If that happens however, it is also perfectly possible after going over a border into an undesirable state of mind, to then do a reverse and cross back over into your previous and presumably better state of mind. Don't you agree? Are we still on the same page here? Hang in there with me here a little bit longer.

Okay, so what, you may ask, is the point of this entirely ludicrous and too-lengthy electronic epistle? Well, it's to see if I can still write. In my day, I used to be a pretty good writer, or at least borderline good. Now, as I coast along in my senior-citizen state of mind, I wonder if I have become even more creatively entertaining, or am I now just plain nuts?

The pressing question, then, is this: If I do begin to write a regular column again, would anyone want to read it? And that, questionable sanity and all other issues aside, is it in a nutshell, so's to speak. Nutshell, get it? Oh stop it.

Bottom line: Writers need readers, or why bother? I have readers, tons of them, I'll bet.

Well, okay, I actually only know of one or two people who for sure would like to read what I write. Yes, I do. I have at least two bonafide, regular readers, in fact they're more like fans. Yes, my fans, that's what they are.

They're big fans of my work, loyal readers, and immediate family and mental-health counselors do too, count.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Rollercoaster Riding

About a month ago my son and I took my five-year-old granddaughter to a nearby amusement park. In a moment of sheer lunacy, the two of us adults decided to ride not one, but two of the most terrifying roller coasters in the whole place, back-to-back. It now seems like a fit of masochism. If you're already unhappy, does it make sense to make yourself more miserable?

He immediately threw up after the second ride. I didn't fully realize the rides' physical effect on me until the next day when I woke up and could barely move. I'm way too old and my spine is far too beat up already to be jostled around and strained so hard. I thought I was going to have to get a cane just to walk around, or crawl on my hands and knees. Why did I go on those rides? What was I thinking?

It has now been two months since my husband passed away. The problem of "thinking straight" is a daily one I face. "Don't get too depressed," friends advise. Right. "Think positive." You betcha.

My problem when it comes to "thinking positive" these days is exacerbated by the fact that this is the 40th anniversary of the time when my husband and I were dating and falling in love. (Cue music: "The Way We Were.")

This summer also marks my 40th high school reunion, the 40th anniversary of Armstrong walking on the moon, the Manson murders and yes, even Woodstock. Of course I remember all of these events well, and I remember experiencing them, from a distance, in Idaho, with my late husband, all the while in a pastel haze of happy young love. (Cue music: "So Happy Together," by the Turtles.)

I would rather not dwell so much of that time right now, but it pops up in the media all the time. Dandy.

It seems like my life now it is down to only the simple things that can cheer me
up. Last night, for instance, was the first time in a week that I finally got
a good night's sleep. Lack of sleep, needless to say, does not contribute to a sense of well being and thus, "thinking straight."

I mentioned in my last post the comfort I find in sleeping with my dogs since my husband passed. Well, last week that all went to hell because it is skunk season here. Every August my big, male German Shepherd, Ben, kills a skunk, or at least, tries to. His personal, annual skunk war is now five years running.

So due to the annual skunk attack, I couldn't sleep with my dogs for about a week, therefore, I didn't sleep well at all, and neither did they. If you have ever had a dog get "skunked," then you know what I'm talking about. Everyone has been grouchy around here.

Last night the skunk smell was finally sufficiently subdued to where we could all peacefully cuddle again. I feel fairly good this morning. I slept well. Pure relief. Thank God.

Up and down, up and down; that's the pattern of my life these days. Mostly misery and sometimes, relief. Joy is a thing of the past.

As we have always known, it is the simple things, the little things, like food and shelter, that can ultimately bring us the greatest pleasure in life, and likewise, the lack of such, that can make us suffer most. Ever watched "Survivor?"

And I'll tell you what else I know: The worst roller coaster I've ever ridden in my life is the one I'm on right now.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Between the Lines

I know a lot about dogs; I know nothing about being a widow. Dogs cannot, of course, entirely fill a huge space emptied by the sudden loss of a partner of 40 years. They can, however, definitely help, especially at night when they cozy up in bed, back-to-back with you, to warm the heartbreakingly vacant other side of your bed, which has never been quite so cold and unfathomably lonely as now, in your certain knowledge that its owner will never return.

One of my older dogs even snores quite loudly, a former annoyance I now find quite comforting; almost as soothing as three shots of Jack Daniels and a nice back rub: I am not alone. Yes, dear God, bless all my good dogs, and thank you, Lord, for their sweet and unquestioning love.