Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Okay, Universe, bring on 2014.

Last Sunday, I went to the UU church again because of that day's topic - letting go of something you don't want to carry with you into the new year. This week between Christmas and New Year's Day is an ideal time to reflect on the past year and look forward to what you want to be different in the approaching year.  There was a bowl of stones at the front of the church and we were invited to choose one, invest it with an image of whatever we felt we needed to leave behind us, and drop it into a bowl of water.  I picked a large smooth gray pebble, and stood there for a few minutes thinking about relationships not just in the past year but for the past few years.  And how I do not want the weight of them traveling into the next year with me.  I don't believe in making New Year's resolutions myself.  I understand the allure of them, but I don't want to set and announce goals and then feel like I've failed when life takes me in another direction. So instead, I try to look at intentions and openness to new possibilities. Not just relationships, of course, but in life in general. Just letting myself be available to what the Universe has to offer and staying aware that I can't know in advance what that will look like. The letting go also helps me remember more clearly all the truly wonderful things I am thankful for. And to remember that whatever does get thrown at me, one way or another I deal with it. The little ritual with the rocks was just symbolic - more the beginning of a process than an immediate magical cure. But as I let the stone slip under the surface of the water, I took a breath and started letting go. Somehow, I feel like 2014 has something good in store for me.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

A heart as wide as the world.

I got on-line to post and found an email letting me know that a dear blogger friend had passed away the day after Christmas from heart complications. Such an ironic ending for a big-hearted soul.  Laura, of What Fresh Hell is This, was one of those bloggers who had a humorous take on life, was consistently kind in her comments and always, always supportive. It's funny how you can never meet someone and still feel a kinship and still mourn her passing. We were the same age and dealing with similar life situations, and I feel blessed to have known her, even if only through our interactions here. She leaves behind five children, the youngest still in high school. My heart goes out to her family. Rest easy, Laura, and know that you are truly missed.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

And so this is Christmas...

I had a more contemplative Christmas than I generally do and I'm not sure that's all bad. I actually weighed the cost (not financial) of an invitation the night before Christmas eve - Festivus! - and declined, deciding I'd like to spend the time quietly instead. Or mostly quietly. I did manage to watch some absolutely abysmal Christmas movies on Netflix while I wrapped presents and filled stockings and broke beans for tonight's dinner. The last straw was what surely must be the single most poorly acted Christmas movie ever made. It's called "All She Wants for Christmas." One of the two leads was supposed to be an MBA-candidate who was doing research on corporate efficiency. She had a really high-pitched voice, ended each sentence with a rising inflection and interspersed business jargon with incessant giggling. Yeah, she ought to make a killing in the business world. If you are ever bored and tempted to watch it, you might be better off pounding your own head with a hammer. Consider that a public service announcement.
So I was glad to see the kids arrive this morning, bringing their music and laughter and general chaos with them. At the moment, they are playing guitar and violin and the now-familiar tune of "Rocky Road to Dublin" is wrapping around me.  I enjoyed watching them empty out their stockings and plow through the candy and giggle over the toys I always add in. It's fun playing Santa.
I went for a walk out at the lake this afternoon and watched a couple of young kids testing out their new bikes. The smaller of the pair had a spectacular first crash and I was a lot closer than the rest of the family, so I ran over and hoisted the little girl to her feet and had her hike up the leg of her pants so I could check her scuffed knee. No blood, and she thanked me through her tears. I was struck by the battle on her face between her pain and her interest in interacting with a friendly stranger. Another life metaphor handed to me, and I walked away feeling lighter.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Winter Solstice - The promise of warmth.

Today, I joined a group of 32 people on a hike in the Smoky Mountains. It was the annual Santa Hat hike, this time to Spruce Flats Falls. It was only about four miles, but did involve scrambling over boulders. We lucked out on weather - the low 70's throughout the morning and only a little misting rain at the end.
But the falls were worth it. And maybe that's the point - to just keep walking the path because the treasures along the way are worth it. What better lesson on the day when the light starts lengthening again and bringing hope?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Both I hold within me.

I bought this necklace when I turned 40. Whenever I need a reminder of quiet strength and wisdom, I wear it. I like the simple lines of the goddess icon and the stone looks as if she is holding all of the Universe in her hands. When I am talking to patients I sometimes use the image of dipping hands into a creek or the ocean. If you grab tightly in an attempt to hold onto the water, it slips through your fingers and is lost. But with hands open and submerged, you hold the entirety of the water in your hands. It's a metaphor, of course, for acceptance and non-attachment. So hard to remember when you want something badly.
My older son drew this on the whiteboard that is meant to hold a running grocery list and other notes. I haven't wanted to erase it.  Ragnarök is the epic battle foretold in Norse mythology which will bring out about the deaths of Odin, Thor, Freyr, Loki and other gods. It's an apocalyptic event, with natural disasters and then a regeneration of the world. A contrasting metaphor of painful, loss-filled conflict which leads to rebirth. Both themes have meaning for me - the need for peaceful acceptance and the growth born of struggle and loss.
When I discovered at Thanksgiving that my last name was of Viking origin, I had to think about what that meant to me.  They were not a peaceful people and did some rather awful things. But who doesn't have both good and bad in their family tree?  I count among my own forebears both slaveowners and slaves, for instance. So I wanted to look for what I could take from my own name, which I sign and say many times every day. The Normans, disreputable though they may have been, were fierce adventurers.  I added another talisman to my collection, a mjölnir - the hammer of Thor. I wear it when I need to remind myself to to venture out fearlessly.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Moving slooowly toward Christmas.

About ten days ago, my son and I went to get a Christmas tree, driving all the way into town because I only know of one place that sells a few white pines in addition to the ubiquitous fir trees. I love white pines. So soft and friendly. This baby was only 20 bucks. And there it sat, undecorated for more than a week.
In the meantime, I went to the UU church because the sermon was about a Buddhist perspective on Advent. It was about how you get so caught up in wanting that you don't live in the moment, you don't ever just be. And how the typical approach to Christmas brings suffering because you try to find the next thing that will bring you happiness. And then more generally, how always looking for that perfect thing/experience/person brings suffering. Immediately following that was a discussion lead by a retired evolutionary biology professor. It was based on the book My Stroke of Insight, written by a neuroscientist who had a CVA and used it as an opportunity to witness a huge traumatic brain event from the inside. Since the bleed was in her left hemisphere, it temporarily wiped out language, linear thinking, the sense of being an individual separate from others. And it left intact the here-and-now processing of the right hemisphere, so she experienced sort of a pure merging with the universe. She talked about losing the boundaries to her self and her body and just having the sense of being energy and being boundary-less. I believe she was describing an oceanic feeling of limitlessness.  It made me think about the song that has the line "I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean." I always found that jarring because from the time I was a little girl, I've had the opposite experience at the ocean. It always makes me feel enormous, like I'm just part of the vastness of it all.  I don't know if those two topics were planned together on purpose, but they did mesh well. Both about making deliberate decisions to experience life and connections to others in a way that might lead more to peace than suffering and letting go of attachment to the idea of the perfect path to happiness.
In the liturgical calendar, Advent is a contemplative time of watchful waiting. When my younger son was back with me this weekend, I made hot chocolate and cookies, put on Christmas music and we decorated the tree, put out the snowfolk, and hung the stockings. That's enough. A pared-down Christmas suits me and I'm just quietly feeling thankful for this last year with my son still at home with me.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Maybe he should stop monkeying around.

So, my youngest brother who smuggled the decrepit chihuahua into my car at Thanksgiving? He also accidentally left his driver's license in the console. Oh, I mailed it back to him right away. But not before I fixed it.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Bracing for winter.

So I signed up for a bonfire party. Knowing I wouldn't know anyone there, I almost didn't go, but at the last minute I put on warm clothes, stuck a beer in my coat pocket, and headed out into the night.
One talkative guy who insisted on calling me "Doctor" (even though he had a Ph.D. himself) roasted a marshmallow for me. Another young guy came around urging us all to try some sort of chocolate vodka ("UV Chocolate Cake"). I took a sip when the bottle was passed my way - surprisingly good stuff. Yet another guy provided some slightly alarming entertainment by spraying brake fluid into the already-roaring fire.
I can't say I walked away feeling like I'd met any potential great friends, but they were a nice bunch and I enjoyed myself.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Out of order post.

All this happened the week before Thanksgiving when I was too busy to post.  That pre-Thanksgiving weekend was bracketed by dinners with two different close friends.  One I met for dinner downtown, and one cooked for me at her home.  Both involved good food, wine and hours of talking.
And the night before that weekend, the boyfriend took me to an event at the old theater downtown that involved a film screening for a documentary.   I was happy for an opportunity to wear a killer LBD and heels.  And even more happy when he saw me and said, "Oooh!  How lucky a guy am I?!"
Okay, this speaker is white, but not that white.  You'll have to take my word for this being Stan Brock, one of the co-hosts on"Wild Kingdom."  I grew up with that show - remember Marlin Perkins?  Anyway, Brock started a program called Remote Area Medical to bring free medical and dental care to needy areas around the world, including Appalachia.  The boyfriend had been invited because he volunteers with RAM.
The Wind Orchestra played before the film screening.  An odd mix of songs, including a patriotic set that included the official songs of the branches of the military.  When they played the Lee Greenwood song, "God Bless the USA" (You know the one, "I'm proud to be an American where as least I know I'm free"),  the giddy conductor told us that when the singer got to "and I'd gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today," we were to stand up and sing along.  Well, no.  First of all, I absolutely loathe that song.  It's the sort of over-wrought patriotism that gives me the heebies.  I love my country in spite of all our flaws, but I don't like the suggestion that it has some sort of special in with God not available to other countries.  And secondly, I don't want someone telling me when or how to have an emotional reaction to something.  So I sat in my seat while everyone else leapt to their feet on command.  The boyfriend stayed seated with me, both amused and bemused by my knee-jerk stubbornness.
But there was a guy who came on stage with a bald eagle during the National Anthem.  So, yeah.  We had that going for us.
And finally, on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, he came to my house to spend the night before we both headed out of town to visit our respective families.
We woke up to this, an early first snow for this area. Magic.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


Last minute plan change and it was decided the boys would go with me to Georgia for Thanksgiving.  My older son came rolling in about 3:20 Thursday morning and we decided to load up the car and hit the road at 4am, for the 7-8 hour drive.  My son's girlfriend had made a blackberry pie so I tried eating my piece as I drove. I don't recommend this.  On my chore list now is cleaning the seat the piece of pie was sitting on.
Our tradition is to stop at a Waffle House along the way for a big plate of tan.  I get the same thing every time - coffee, two eggs over medium, whole wheat toast, hash browns and grits.
We got to my mother's house just before noon.  When everyone was there (the three of us, my mother, two brothers, sister and niece), five of us took my mother's four dogs and my niece's dog out for a walk.  The dog I was walking, at the front of the photo, is missing a leg.  The little chihuahua was actually being carried because she is old and arthritic.
Our unconventional Thanksgiving meal.  My family loves a good crab boil.  Or at least, the members of the family who grew up in Georgia do.
There was plenty of red wine, of course, including this interesting Apothic Dark which claims to have notes of blueberry, blackberry. coffee and chocolate.  For the life of me, I just can't discern that sort of thing.
On the drive down my younger son said sarcastically, "You know what I like about eating crab? You expend more calories than you are able to take in." My older son said, "You know what I like about eating crab? NOTHING." Pah. They just don't get it. I ate only a little of the extras so I could concentrate on the work of deconstructing crabs and managed to eat three of them.
The next day, my sister and I took a long walk around town and then some of us watched part of a bride dress show marathon, loudly criticizing the silly pun-laded script and the outrageously priced gowns.  Seriously, there is something twisted about spending what would make a solid down payment on a house on a dress you will wear for only a few hours.
We had champagne, Earl Grey and grapefruit juice cocktails after dinner and sat around talking. My youngest brother and my sons had gone to see the movie "Thor" and that got us into a discussion of family history I didn't even know about. I usually tune out when genealogy gets discussed because it gets into such mundane detail about people who died a long time ago. But it turns out, a branch of my mother's family were Vikings from Norway who settled in Scotland. And my own last name, from my father, is from the Normans, the folks in France descended from Viking invaders. That branch of the family went with William the Conqueror to Britain.  
Who knew? Vikings on both sides of my family. The peace-loving Quaker in me cringes a little about this information. But my older son, who wears a Mjölnir (Thor's hammer) pendant around his neck and keeps a journal in a runic alphabet he created, felt vindicated.
The second night, everyone accompanied us out to the car to say goodbye because we'd be leaving before dawn the next day. As I was driving back to our hotel, my older son was laughing uproariously in the back seat. He finally choked out, when pressed, that it was "a joke that went too far."  I got suspicious at the level of merriment and turned on the light. There, quivering on the floorboard and partially covered by my backpack, was the elderly chihuahua. My youngest brother had stashed her there as a joke. I made a U-turn. Back at the house, I tucked the tiny dog under my arm like a football and marched her back into the kitchen, which was filled with my laughing, crazy relatives. Any Southerner could tell you, they ain't right.