Moving On

Some days, it’s hard to believe that Dad’s been gone now for two and a half years; other days, it seems long ago. But today, it seems very close. Today we closed — sold the house we’ve had since 1966.

The sale has been coming, and got real within the last month. I’ve moved stuff here to Lake Charles in a UHaul; I’ve moved stuff to Natchitoches in a UHaul. I’ve moved stuff to Lake Charles in my truck and a flatbed trailer. I’ve moved stuff in my car.
I am now back in Lake Charles. I’ve made TWO trips to Egan today to move some of what’s left of our lives there. I met my sister there, and she’d almost finished loading her car. I quickly loaded mine, and we both drove to Lake Charles, unloaded into my storage unit, and returned to Egan. We loaded more. We went into Crowley for the closing. After that, we stopped to cancel the house insurance (had to have copy of the sales agreement). Then back to Egan, where we threw out more trash, loaded more into my car, took the television off of the wall and put it in my car, and left a small corner of the living room with things to move. Of course, that’s not all there is — that would be too easy. There’s a whole room that still has boxes, bags, and odds and ends. And there’s a grill in the garage too. I’ll make a trip tomorrow if the weather isn’t too bad (rain is predicted), along with a friend who can load the bags of quilts and soft things into her car. We’ll drive back to Lake Charles unload THAT into storage. Then on Saturday, I”ll meet Kay once more. I’ll probably rent a U-Haul trailer to make certain that I can get everything done.

Strange experience, this. It has been much harder for my sister than for me, for many reasons. First, I was 15 1/2 when we moved in; she was 8. It is really the house she grew up in. For me, it was the 7th house I’d lived in, and the 6th I remember living in. Dad worked for Sun Oil Company. Oil company families were generally called “oil field trash” by many, but I adapted a nicer term for us kids: “oil field brats.”

Oil field brats got used to moving when their dads got transferred. When we moved to Egan in 1957, I was 5 1/2, and it was my third transfer and my 5th house. Dad was working in Beaumont when I was born in 1959, and I don’t remember that house on Detroit Street; I was 6 months old when Dad got transferred to Humble, near Houston.

I remember living there, and we lived in two houses in the time there; I remember both. Dad was transferred again in 1955 — this time to Sunset, Louisiana. We actually moved ON my 4th birthday, on July 13, 1955. I remember my birthday present, a pedal car (a racing model), because I got to drive it up and down the driveway at my grandmother’s house in Beaumont.

In Sunset, I lived in an enclosed area with houses for employees — an oil-field camp — for the first time. We were in Sunset until January 1957.

Dad was transferred then to Egan, and we moved on January 21, 1957– and landed in a birthday party (Remember, Charles Watson? I can ALWAYS remember your birthday!). This camp had 2 rows of houses; the Sunset camp only had one. We moved into the first house on the end of the first row. That’s the house my sister came home to from the hospital just over a year later. By the time I was a teen, we had moved into another house, the end house on the second row, almost directly across from the first.

In 1966, Sun Oil broke the camp up because the lease on the land was over. Dad bought a lot just over .4 acre. Charles Watson’s dad bought one just across the road from ours. Both lots belonged to Mr. Cyprien Lacombe. Two of his grandsons were in our class in school (and a third joined us in 8th grade when we went to Iota to school). Mr. Watson bought the house they were living in, but Dad bought another one. Dad bought the land in September, and soon after I remember watching the house itself get moved — what excitement!

Once it was in place on the new lot, Dad and some of his friends added on to it. I remember helping to get the concrete form down, and mixing green into some of the concrete for two rooms and the garage. One room was the laundry; the other new room would hold our pool table for years, and tinted concrete seemed VERY neat.

We finally moved into the house on December 22, three days before Christmas. There were three bedrooms, one full bath, and a new half bath (shower only — for Mother and Dad).

In May 1969, I graduated from high school at Iota High School. Two weeks later, I moved into Bel Dorm at McNeese State University, and began my life-long connection with university life.

Though I only lived IN the house itself for about 3 1/2 years, it was always home. For many years (for most, in fact), there was no street address; that only came many years later. We had a post office box for mail (and still have the same box number). Egan didn’t have a water system, so we had a well and pump (both probably still work); once there was a water system, we got on that. And of course there was no sewer system, so we had a septic tank.

After all, Egan is small — maybe 500 people now, but not then, so “city” services are relatively new.

For Kay, this is home in a very different way than it is for me. This isn’t to say that I won’t miss it, that I haven’t shed some tears (and know I’ll shed more).

I was used to transferring and moving, but Kay never had that experience. She was born in Egan and grew up there. I felt lucky that I started and finished schooll in one place because I knew kids who changed schools a lot more often. For Kay, Egan IS home. For me, it was one of many I’d known.

But for me, “home” was more about family. And when I dream, “home” is either the Ware family farm near San Augustine, Texas, or my maternal grandmother’s home in Beaumont. I dream of those homes all the time. Occasionally it’s about Egan.

Right now I’m simply tired, having moved and driven hundreds of miles in the last few weeks. I can’t quite let myself unwind yet, knowing I have two more days of moving our stuff.

Giving the keys to the new owners will be strange. Locking the door the last time will be strange.

But it’s just a house, in the end. It’s time for new occupants, for new lives and experiences.

And right now, I”m just hoping that all our stuff will fit in the storage unit.

Tomorrow: Bambis come to Lake Charles.

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It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

As many families did, the Ware family always put up the Christmas tree after Thanksgiving and kept it up until January 1. After we kids were grown and out of the house, however, the tree got put up later and later, especially as Mother’s health declined. Always, though, we had a tree.

For years, Dad would go out and cut a tree down, so we had a great-smelling pine, albeit one seldom the perfect shape. That’s what the wall (or the corner) was for: disguising the bad side of a tree. We’d decorate it with bubble lights and big heavy Christmas lights, using the aluminum bulb shields from the early 1950s. (For all I know, those still exist in a storage barrel in the garage in Egan.)

Mother always had to flock the tree, too — so the search for canned snow went on, year after year, for her to accomplish that. I don’t remember when artificial trees replaced the real ones, but they were certainly more convenient.

As time passed, Mother accumulated any number of Christmas-related decorative items: a tiny bottle-brush tree (long since disappeared); a ceramic tree with tiny bulbs that worked when you plugged the tree in; a tiny metal structure with angels that revolved when you lit the small candles that went with it; all sorts of tablecloths and towels and an apron. And, of course, there was the Elf on the Shelf — three of them, actually, from the original incarnation. Those always got placed on the upright piano. After a few years of storing them (folded, at some point), the elves sort of lost their perkiness. After that (with our typical rather sarcastic family humor) these became known as “the dead elves.”

Once we were on our own, and after Kay married, we didn’t necessarily have Christmas at Christmas. It might fall a couple of weekends early. It might fall in the middle of the week. It just depended on when we could all get together.

Even after Mother died, we always had Christmas in Egan. The exception: the last Christmas that Phil was alive, 1995. That year we had Thanksgiving and Christmas in his room at M.D. Anderson in Houston. Somewhere I still have some of the tiny ornaments from that year, as well as the little artificial tree.

Later, when Dad was ill, we spent a couple of years where we had Christmas in the hospital. I always bought a little tree with lights, set it up, and announced that we were together, and it was Christmas even in a hospital. Dad always smiled.

After Dad died, that first Christmas was the beginning of the new Christmas tradition. By then, the new beach house was complete. This is our second Christmas at the beach house.

It doesn’t really matter where you are, not really. As long as you’re with loved ones, that’s what counts.

The holidays are bittersweet for so many of us as we grow older. Those who aren’t with us, the losses and disappointments that go with being adults — whatever the reasons might be, holidays often darken, morph into days to be endured. By this time of year, articles appear everywhere advising readers how to avoid depression.

Sometimes, our joy in the season simply disappears so gradually that we wake up one day and realize that we really don’t like Christmas. I know that for years I faked it, managing to get through the season because I was the one in charge of getting everything done.

Yet somehow the enjoyment has returned. I find that I enjoy the season again. I even look forward to decorating, though that might not happen until Christmas Eve (as this year, because that is when we’re first all together).

And, I confess, I listen to Christmas music. Not until after Thanksgiving, though, not of my own volition. My iPod has a Christmas playlist that grows every year. My choice of Christmas music is, shall we say, eclectic, to say the least. Certainly there are the traditional albums — those of sacred music, of classics by Pavorotti and the three tenors. And by the Rat Pack. By Chris Isaac, and Elvis, and Jimmy Buffett and Michael Buble. One-hit wonders like “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” or “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer.” And this year’s addition to the playlist: “Duck the Halls,” by the now-infamous Robertson clan of Duck Dynasty fame.

There are presents yet to be wrapped (at least I’m through shopping). The tree is up ready for decorations. Strings of lights need to be put on the deck railing outside. I even have lights to wrap around the front line of pilings.

Oh, and because we’re at Crystal Beach on Bolivar Peninsula, we need to buy fireworks and sparklers — hey, it’s the South. We like to play with fire. And it’s legal here on Bolivar.

As the Dr. Who marathon plays on, setting us up for tomorrow night’s long-awaited Dr. Who special where Matt Smith regenerates into Peter Capaldi, we are all here, The refrigerator is jammed with food. Soon we’ll trim the tree.

It’s a season to pause and remember our loved ones, here and absent. The Doctor’s digital regeneration might remind some of us of a different and more significant regeneration promised centuries ago.

From the Warehouse Too to your houses, my friends, Merry Christmas with lots of love and hugs.

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Let It Snow. . .

View from My Room -- going back to the highway

View from My Room — going back to the highway

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This week I’ve traveled outside of Louisiana and Texas for the first time since late July, when I returned from Greece. I spent the week at The Ridge Tahoe in South Lake Tahoe at Stateline, Nevada, where I’ve got a timeshare. The resort is an 11-acre complex on a Sierra Nevada ridge, six miles above Lake Tahoe itself, and overlooking the Carson Valley on the other side.

That timeshare’s acquisition provides me with a rather amusing story. When anyone asks how I got it or makes some comment or face alluding to the cost, I simply say “I bought it on EBay for $1.25, plus transfer fees.” Absolutely true. Every time I’ve been, when I’m at the member’s conference (where a salesperson attempts to convince me I’d really be better off trading my deeded timeshare for a “much better deal” — points in the company’s new travel club, complete with at least $8000 in fees plus annual costs of $2200-2800) and tell them how I acquired it, I see this expression cross the face of said salesperson. Units like mine (a 2-bedroom unit that can be locked off) initially cost at least $20,000. They clearly hate such acquisitions. However, I am now an owner, with an initial financial output of under $400. My annual fee is just under $1000.

This was the third time I’ve been here. The first was over spring break in 2010, and Dad came with me. We rented a car at the Reno airport because I had to drive him to dialysis in Carson City during the visit. It wasn’t snowing at first, but on day three, the storm hit. We were in white-out conditions, and I couldn’t get him to Carson City for Tuesday’s dialysis. He enjoyed just watching the snow fall. The snowplows clearing the roads and parking lot fascinated him. The skiers coming off the ski lift also amused him. We spent a lot of time talking and reading. My cousin Charlie came over one day from near Sacramento, and Dad enjoyed that time with his nephew.

The second time I came was in September 2011, after I retired. It was beautiful and clear. With the rental car, one day I was free to drive around Lake Tahoe itself, which was well worth the day’s trip. Along the way, I stopped a lot for photographs. The Truckee River provided another point of interest — it runs through the area, clear and clean and sparkling.

On another day, I drove through Carson City (state capital) to Virginia City. There I saw the place where Samuel L. Clemens (aka Mark Twain) worked as a newsman. Indeed, when I’d visited here with Dad in 2010, I had a newly published book specifically about Mark Twain and this area. Since I taught Twain in several classes, both undergraduate and graduate, I have always been interested in his time here because it clearly looms large in his development as a writer.

In Carson City and Virginia City, visitors are easily connected to the area’s colorful history — as a mining area, and thus populated by mining towns. Virginia City is perhaps one of the best known of these mining towns, and today it’s a tourist destination that offers a pseudo-immersion into 19th century saloons and the like. When I was there, I found myself dizzy from the various levels of the town — its streets seem to terrace the mountain and well as cut straight down it. At times I felt as though I were going to fall straight down. One thing I still want to do: ride the railroad linking Carson City and Virginia City. I also want to go into some of the mining sites that are now open as safe exhibitions for tourists.

On the day before I left in September 2011, I took a sunset champagne cruise on a catamaran. It was quite nippy despite the time of year, but I loved the experience. The wind was invigorating, and the views of the lake itself as well as of the surrounding trees and houses and shore kept changing as the light itself changed as the day passed into evening.

This time, though, there was snow when I arrived. I didn’t rent a car. Instead, I took the South Tahoe Express to Stateline, Nevada, and then a taxi to the Ridge Resort. On Wednesday night a storm moved in and so on Thursday the snowfall went on for several hours. It was fine simply to stay in the room and visit with the friends who drove over on Tuesday from San Francisco and the Bay Area.

Before my friends arrived, I treated myself to spa time. I had a massage. I had my eyebrows waxed (one of those things I’d put off too long). I also had a facial. One a day for three days. that’s what my days revolved around — spa time. And reading and sleeping.

I also started writing again. That and the spa time seem tied to something I usually come here for — a kind of retreat. I can focus on some project. I can clear my head. Slow down.

Even if I just look out the windows, I’m immediately drawn to the scenery. My timeshare unit gives me views of trees and mountains, a ski lift, and houses, as well as one view toward the valley. Sunrises and sunsets always make me pause and enjoy the way light changes as the sun rises or sets, and during this visit, enjoy the way light plays on the snow itself, whether on the ground, or flocking the trees, or decorating cars.

Sunrise -- View over toward Carson Valley

Sunrise — View over toward Carson Valley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The lake itself is on the border between California and Nevada. In the Sierra Nevada range, it’s an alpine lake, the largest in North America. It’s also the second deepest in the U.S. at 1645 feet; Oregon’s Crater Lake is the deepest. By volume, it’s the 27th largest in the world. Its elevation is 6225 ft. Though 63 tributaries feed it, the Truckee River is its only outlet.

Once pristine, with remarkable clarity, Lake Tahoe is, like many other bodies of water, in danger as pollution encroaches on its health. There is an on-going campaign to raise awareness to the situation.

People visit here year-round. The lake itself during late spring, summer, and into September, offers water sports. There are excursions on boats and catamarans available to the public, as well as other activities for water sports. Obviously, too, the area is known as a destination for skiers. One site lists something like 12 ski resorts, most along the northern shore (where Squaw Valley, the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics, is situated). Where I am, one of the closest ski destinations is Heavenly. Even thinking of that name just makes me smile.

I meant to ride the gondola up Heavenly this time, but just didn’t get around to it. Maybe next time. It’s always nice to have something new to look forward to!

As I sit here at the Reno airport, waiting to check in for my flight later today, I’m enjoying watching people come and go (I always find it fun to people-watch). This is a small airport, not huge and sprawling, and has a comfortable feel to it. People leaving, like me, sit around at various places, waiting and waiting. Others grab their luggage off carousels and head out the door. A group of veterans are here, standing around with American flags, and people are very respectful of them. Not sure what they’re doing, but it doesn’t really matter. We’re reminded of just what our military personnel do for us. Ah. . . NOW I see why they’re here — waiting to greet returning military personnel!

Veterans Greeting Returning Military

Veterans Greeting Returning Military

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One very different experience here today — there are a group of volunteers with service dogs, acting as stress relievers for the passengers here in the airport. We’re encouraged to pet the dogs. I first saw the little pug, a 3-year-old, and petted him while his volunteer told me what was going on. Later I saw more, all of them grouped together, and took a photo. I got to pet a beautiful pointer (always, I must admit, one of my favorite breeds). There was also a very sleek, elegant Dalmation. Two standard poodles completed the pack. Quite a neat idea, and I enjoyed being able to pet those beautiful dogs and look into their eyes.

Airport Service Dogs

Airport Service Dogs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s not just that I’m missing my two Shih Tzus after a week away, though I will be glad to be reunited with them tomorrow. I”m just a sucker for dogs. Dogs have always been part of the Ware household, from Dad’s pointers to various other dogs over the years.

As I sit here with my peppermint mocha, I’m wondering where people are heading. Some, I know, are heading for the casinos here in Reno and elsewhere, gambling. Others are here for family time. Some are skiing. Since it’s almost Christmas, I also find myself wondering whether they’re having Christmas here at a resort. Some, though, like me, are heading out for the holidays.

By the time I get back to Lake Charles tomorrow afternoon sometime, I’ll have time to unpack, wash, and repack a small bag. I’ll need to get Christmas gifts wrapped. On Sunday I’ll pack the car, and with my niece and her boyfriend drive to our beach house near Galveston for our family Christmas. Our long-time friend Charles (really a family member by now) will join us. On Monday, I’ll need to grocery shop and begin the preparations not only for our Christmas dinner but for various munchies necessary to the holiday.

We’ll trim our tree and put up lights. I’ll probably make my two dogs, Zsa Zsa and Gypsy, wear costumes again for a little while.

We’ll sit on the deck, We’ll watch television. We’ll play Monopoly and maybe cards.

And we’ll be happy to be together.

All week I’ve been thinking of Bing Crosby and hearing his “White Christmas” in my head. I think it’s time to watch “Holiday Inn” again.

Though there’s snow here, I’m sure there won’t be back home, but that doesn’t matter. Not really. There will be family and friends, food and drink, laughter and conversation. And a Christmas tree with ornaments and some presents and a few stockings.

Merry Christmas, my friends. Happy Holidays. Kalo Kristouyenna.

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The Giving Season

Conversations with strangers can lead to unexpected connections.

Only this weekend, while I’ve been at Lake Tahoe, this happened to me. I was having a facial and in talking with the esthetician she said that she’d just moved her 83-year-old father from an assisted-living facility here in South Lake Tahoe to a nursing home in the valley about 30 miles away. The move had been less than two weeks ago, and she was clearly still in that dizzying transition period. Immediately, a connection emerged — and I shared with her about what Kay and I had experienced with Dad.

It’s so new for her that she hasn’t yet stopped reeling from moving him from one type of facility to another, clearing out and cleaning his apartment, and settling him into the new place. It’s 30 minutes away, but the difference in cost? It’s about $2000 a month cheaper there. It will mean that she has a bit farther to drive, but that cost difference is tremendous.

So many memories have been swirling ever since our conversation. It’s been two years since Dad fell and by the end of December, it will be two years since he lost mobility. January will be the two-year mark for the visits to doctors, for x-rays and CAT scans and the like. February will be two years since he had surgery to repair the spinal damage from the fall, followed by his nearly two months in a rehab unit. In April it will be two years since we brought him home from rehab, and on April 24 it will be the second anniversary of his death. It’s not that distant in time, but the pain and exhaustion have only recently really ebbed significantly.

For Carla, the esthetician, it’s only just beginning.

Her father, like mine, was basically living on his own. For Dad, though, it was different, because he was in his own home. I just spent more time there. He never had to adapt to living in an assisted-living facility. Had circumstances been different, though, that might have been an option. For us, it just wasn’t — and I’m not sure that Dad would have ever been able to make that adjustment. Others I know have made that transition with ease and grace. Fortunately, though, we could manage to have Dad stay at home.

Regardless, though, she dropped in to his apartment as I did to Egan, though perhaps more often since she was in the same town. That’s the stage where our dads were pretty independent, given everything.

Yet Carla began to take over more responsibilities, as Kay and I did, for many things. For doctors’ visits, for medical decisions, for financial discussions. Incrementally, daughters began the move to parental responsibilities. It’s that point where parents and children begin to shift roles, reversing the long-established relationship.

Because I basically lived with Dad part-time and then full-time, that he couldn’t drive anymore was a gentler adjustment, in a way. I could drive him, or get a friend to do so. He didn’t have to rely on strangers, on hired staff. It was an easier adjustment for him, though he made remarks that let me know just how much that loss of independence meant to him. We joked about my being his chauffeur, but I know that he felt the loss.

When Dad fell, that really was the beginning of his slide towards death. At 89, he just couldn’t recover quite enough. The nearly two months of rehab were a kind of hell for him, I’ve come to think — he had no privacy because he had a roommate, and not one who was one of his choosing. Dad was intensely private, and modest, and those are casualties for patients on rehab.

For much of that time, Dad was a good soldier — he didn’t complain a lot, at least to me. He read at first, but that stopped. He didn’t really watch television. My visits and visits of friends were his connection to his real life, to life itself. And even that changed as he withdrew. He became mobile, albeit with a walker and a wheelchair, but he could not recover any stability of sorts. One day I came to visit and found him pretty much unresponsive and unable to recognize me. We had a trip to the hospital emergency room where they ended up transferring him to a cardiac unit in Lafayette for a perceived heart attack. He didn’t have a heart attack. But it was a setback, regardless. Now I am convinced that had I not visited when I did, Dad would have died that night. Did I do the right thing? I don’t know; I only know that at the time, it seemed so.

After that, Dad peaked in his recovery and stalled. And with that stall he seemed to retreat more and more.

Once he was home, he had a good first week. We got him to dialysis. Now I can’t believe that we did that, but we did. Week two saw a slide, though. He fell, not once, but twice. Keeping him in the hospital bed was tricky, even though he couldn’t walk.

The second weekend, though, was when everything fell apart. On that Friday night, he bled enough that I called an ambulance. In the emergency room, they stabilized the bleeding. Then I had to get us home without an ambulance. Luckily, Kay was there and could drive us back.

He continued to bleed on Saturday, but we handled it. On Sunday morning, we consulted with the Home Health nurse and shifted to hospice. No more dialysis. We knew that it was pointless, that anything more would simply be torture for him.

He was still alert then, most of the time, and on Monday morning visited with a former neighbor who came to see him. Within an hour after she left, though, he quickly lost ground. By 1 Pm, I was using more morphine and more morphine to control the pain. By then he was talking to his mother, long dead, and thinking I was my grandmother. Early on Tuesday morning, Dad died.

These memories never really disappear, but they have (for me, anyway), moved from giving constant pain to only occasionally rising up to bite me. And even then, that bite, though sharp, no longer gouges open any kind of wound.

Listening to Carla, recognizing and remembering the path she’s now on, I once more am conscious of how loss and grief can begin long before we even recognize, simply becoming part of our daily reality– at least with prolonged illness and not sudden death.

With the scenario of prolonged illness, we lose our loved ones gradually. They change, almost imperceptibly, before our eyes, and we watch them disappear. As that happens, we grieve, often (maybe usually) without the time or energy to acknowledge that we are grieving. And even if we do recognize it, we’re too bound up in caregiving to have the time to do much about it.

Catching a 30-minute nap becomes far more important than allowing that grief to surface. If we did, it might overwhelm us. Caregivers are on their own spiraling path of change, of adapting. Somehow we have to keep going, because we must. Someone depends upon us.

As Carla left, I wished her well. My caregiving path has ended, but hers has just taken a turn.

There are so many of us out there, so many of us boomers caring for aging parents while trying to juggle our own families and jobs. If we’re single (as I am), there’s one less problem to contend with. I had no husband to help (or hinder, since not all partners are supportive). I had no children to care for. Others, though, like my sister Kay, are the sandwich generation, caught between caring for children and parents. And self. That’s always part of the equation. (And usually the part that gets ignored.)

We may not have much in common otherwise, but that caregiving role links us tightly, changing us forever.

As Carla and I agreed, we were the fortunate ones whose parents were good parents, and who have (or had) a good relationship with those parents. While some people wonder at what we gave up of our own lives in order to become caregivers, others know just how precious that experience can be, despite the exhaustion and frustration and depression that come with it.

My friend Charles and I talk about this often. We had choices — and we chose to become active caregivers. I think we had a choice — and yet had no real choice, given our families and personal experiences and values. Had I chosen otherwise, I would not have been the kind of person my parents brought up. It was not so much a sense of obligation, of giving up something.

Just the opposite. It was a sense of love, of returning the care and love that Dad and Mother lavished on me when I was a child. They never preached this. I just watched them and absorbed what I observed.

Some argue that it wasn’t my role – that I should have put Dad into the care of others earlier.
But my role as daughter is as flexible and as elastic as it needed to be.

In this season of Christmas, of gift-giving and receiving, I am reminded of the gift of love.

I gained so much more than I lost. Love is never wasted.

Carla will discover this, I hope. That’s my wish for her this Christmas season.

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Rebooting

It’s been a while since I blogged — indeed, since I wrote anything. When I was at the beach house in November, I couldn’t manage to get online, and after that, I simply found myself in a kind of funk/period of contemplation. Day by day, I lived with a low-level depression that was, I only later realized, the onset of a rip-roaring sinus infection that felled me right after Thanksgiving.

In the weeks since I blogged, I spent time watching my house as painters managed to prep it for painting. Since we were dodging periods of rain that still persist, it’s not yet done, though it is well on its way to being completed. Right now, plastic still drapes most windows.

The house is painted the coral color I love, and the white trim is almost done. The porch ceiling is a pale blue that marks Southern architecture (supposedly a good trick for keeping wasps and the like from building nests). The front doors — yes, I have two adjacent front doors — are painted a beautiful dark green (with a lot of black, the green that you often see in New Orleans). The porch will be the same color. The brick porch surround has been painted a deep clay color, with white trim. The front steps will be the same dark green as the doors and porch.

I’d originally planned to paint the house with relatives and friends, but it’s a good thing that didn’t work out. I saw a friend’s law office being painted, liked what I saw daily, and ended up hiring the two guys responsible. As they worked, we found things that hadn’t been done (or done properly) earlier in prior jobs.

One problem dates back to Hurricane Rita. My asbestos slate roof was lifted up and set back down; I had some leaks as a result. A new roof was another result — with architectural shingles rather than more expensive replacement shingles. The roof was replaced by January 2006, and only in November 2013 did I find out that the roofers had failed to put flashing everywhere. Fortunately, I didn’t have any resulting rot. Add a day of labor and more money for flashing material.

A second problem emerged as they began to prep the Hardie siding that I had put on the spring following Hurricane Ike. That contractor’s workers had failed to nail it enough. Nor had they caulked properly. Since the contractor had run way over time and budget when he worked on that job, I somehow was not really surprised at this evidence of shoddy work. Once more, I ended up paying for this work to be done properly. Again, fortunately, nothing major had gone wrong as a result.

So when my house is finally painted and looking spiffy, I’ll be a happy camper. Maybe by the New Year, with fingers crossed.

As that’s gone on in spurts, my kitchen project has also stalled. A bit more painting (a new cabinet) needs to be done, but again, it’s too rainy and damp to take it outside, paint it, and put it back in. Further, I am guilty of laziness — I must sit on the floor and use a scraper tool to get the vinyl tiles off before I can have new flooring put in there. But the kitchen is at least in much better shape.

My plans for renovation continue: My house is on piers, and I want my dogs to be able to enjoy the back yard. Two sides are already fenced by neighbors, so I only have to put in one side, plus connect to the house on both sides, and put a gate. But because the house is on piers, it’s necessary to enclose the open areas, preventing the dogs from going under and getting out. I’ve decided on latticework between the piers.

The renovations took only part of my attention. Because they are beyond my control (at least in large part) because of the weather, I simply shrugged off the frustration that kept trying to insinuate itself into my life.

Instead, I worked on jewelry because my friend Myra and I were selling our wares at a local holiday fair. I made earrings. I wrapped bails for pendants. I made a few items from precious metal clay. I tried to fuse glass with my tiny kiln (a learning experience). The one-day fair came and went. We survived. We made enough sales to cover our table cost and to take home money.

One more project in that time I’ve been off the blog: getting my memoir manuscript out, writing a proposal, going to a conference, and pitching to three agents. My first attempt at doing this — probably not my last. But it was a mixed experience. No one fell over offering me amazing book deals. Nope. But I didn’t get bad responses, either. I got lots of good suggestions and feedback.

And for three weeks, I conducted a library discussion group about Jean Lafitte, using Lyle Saxon’s Lafitte the Pirate and wrote the final report on that.

But write other than that report? Nope. And I need to do that. I have a huge writing project due in January. I spend time thinking about it. I’ll be ready in a week, I think, to hit it full on.

After all that focus on writing — the manuscript I’ve worked on (on and off) for years — I found myself depleted. I’d sit at the computer at first, start to type, and then quit. After a while, I simply stopped trying.

Instead, I turned, as always, to books, to reading. And to hibernating, to sleeping. To visiting with friends. To making jewelry.

Maybe I needed that outward activity, rather than any more inward time. Of course, I also needed antibiotics and steroids.

Now, though, I find myself ready to write again. Words have started popping up in my head, flowing again after weeks of not. In the last couple of days I kept using the Notes app on my iPhone to write down things as I thought of them. This was especially true on Friday, as I traveled west to Nevada.

Here I am at Lake Tahoe, at the Ridge Resort where I have a timeshare (an amazing good deal — but that’s another blog). I’ve not been here since 2011, when I came in September. I flew in to Reno on Friday, took a shuttle here, and have been very quiet.

Not that my life in Lake Charles and in Texas is loud — but it’s involved. Here, I find, I am simply quiet. The television? Haven’t turned it on yet. I cook light meals in the kitchen in my two-bedroom suite. I ate chili in the deli yesterday for lunch. I had an omelet at the deli just now for brunch. I read. A lot. I sleep.

And I visit the spa. Yesterday, I had a foot and hand massage. Today I had my eyebrows done, something I’d been meaning to do for two months. Tomorrow I’ve got a facial scheduled. I’m also thinking of maybe a massage. . . .

Until Tuesday, when friends from the Bay Area come up for a few days. My solitude will end then. It’ll be fun.

Yesterday I realized that I wanted to write again. Today I started. And I’m ready to haul out the memoir and work on that manuscript, beginning another revision, this time with the input of the agents I talked to. And next week I’ll start on the project I’ve got to finish in January.

I’m not going to ski. On the other hand, I probably will ride the ski lift because I want to see the beautiful scenery. The Ridge is right near Heavenly. Isn’t that a great place name?

Somehow, in the last two days, I’ve unwound– when I didn’t even realize that I was wound up. I’ve recovered a sense of balance.

In the last month, I’ve come to see, I was reeling from over-scheduling myself, from setting a series of projects too close together, even simultaneously. Perhaps that’s a natural consequence for me, someone who spent 3 decades (if not more) of constant juggling. I don’t have to do so much all at once. I can spread things out more than I did. Duh. . . I’m retired.

I’m not really sure what triggered the lightbulb moment, but when it happened, I felt the moment of release, of “oh, that’s what I did.” And realized that this has been another step along the way to creating and shaping my life. That I don’t have to pile everything on at once. I can spread it out.

The depression, mild as it was? Probably due to the stealth sinus infection, in part. And the sense of being overwhelmed by projects. Only in part was it grief — November was my mother’s birthday month, and I thought about her often, but not with despair at all. Simply with the sense of missing someone.

No, I can’t blame it on grief. Maybe, too, it’s just a part of my having to manage the ongoing cyclical depression issues I’ve had most of my life. I now recognize the symptoms, and must say they’re milder than ever –thanks to medication, certainly, but also to a much less stressed life. Winter has always been hardest for me, and this year isn’t any different than most years in that respect.

Despite all of this, I enjoyed Thanksgiving with my sister, niece (and her boyfriend) and our friend Charles. I actively look forward to Christmas with the same bunch — at the beach house, our new Christmas tradition. For years I didn’t enjoy Christmas — it was simply another day, something to be endured. Not anymore.

Lots of friends have been posting on Facebook for November (and into December) what they’re thankful for. For me, gratitude is something I chart almost weekly. In the last few weeks, though, I’ve truly been thankful for what I’ve got — even for what (and whom) I’ve had and lost. My life is so much richer for having had friends and family I love, and those who are gone are still with me.

My circle of friends and family is most valuable in my life. I cherish them. My career was wonderful and fulfilling; my retirement is turning out to be the same. I thought I’d miss teaching far more than I have; my memories are, for the most part, warm and wonderful. I now focus on creating in a different way. I focus on love of family, of friends. I’ve been neglectful of some friends, and hope to mend that neglect.

It’s been a time of reflection, of recognition, and of learning about myself yet again.

Words are back.

Look out!

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Memories, Loss, and Joy: A Photographic Journey

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my parents and my brother, as well as my maternal grandmother.  Not with grief, but with joy.  They’ve been in my dreams, and in my dreams, they’re happy and healthy.  It’s good to have those memories, and today while I was looking for a photo album that I couldn’t find, I ran across some photos in a folder, and they were good ones to have.

Through them, I see an arc of our lives.  That’s part of the wonder of photographs, I think.  Select some, put them in a chronological order, and you’ve got an automatic narrative.

The first photo is one taken long before I was born.  In it, my mother Irene is the little girl on the right, with the blond hair in a bob, with a bow in her hair.  My Aunt Dottie is the little girl on the left, with the brunette hair and a bow.  Their mother, my grandmother Ella, is the woman in the photo — hair parted, waved, and (I think) bobbed.  You can’t tell it, because the photo is black and white, but her hair is dark auburn.  The man in the photo is my Charles Olaf Steele, my Grampa Charlie.

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This looks like any family portrait.  It’s only when you know the backstory, though, that our family history comes to life.  This is my grandmother’s wedding day portrait — her third wedding.  Mother and Aunt Dottie are maybe 2 and 4.

Ella’s dress, shoes, and hair might be a clue about time period — the flapper era.  Notice that she’s dressed quit stylishly, with a sleeveless dress.  She was always a sharp dresser.  Mother looks off to her left, away from the camera — very shy, perhaps, or distracted by something outside the frame.  Aunt Dottie has her hand on her hip and looks into the camera, chin down a bit — she always did like to strike a pose!  Grampa Charlie is rather solemn, but anybody who knew him would know that soon there’d be a laugh coming.

Even after Ella and Charlie divorced, and after she’d remarried, he was part of their and our lives.  He’d even come over for dinner sometimes; Glenn, Ella’s fourth and last husband, liked him and said he didn’t have anything against Charlie.  I grew up thinking that this was normal — that everyone got along this well.  I’m sure there were tensions, but those were never verbalized and we kids never picked up on anything later in life.

As far as Mother was concerned, Charlie was her father.  When she was of age, she had her name changed and had him adopt her.  He was, always, “Daddy” to her — not the biological father she never knew.

By World War II, Ella had married again, to Glenn Adair.  He was in the Coast Guard, and this photo was taken during a leave home.  He and Ella have gone out with friends.  Notice again that Ella’s very much a modern woman.  You’d know it was the 1940s just by looking at her hair and dress, I think.  They enjoyed going out with friends, and there are many other photos of such events.

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Dad came into the picture after World War II,  shortly after he was out of the service in 1946, living in Beaumont, and working for Sun Oil Company.  He first saw Mother when he was driving with a friend of his in downtown Beaumont, and Mother and a friend of hers, June, were driving in a convertible.  Dad liked the way she looked, as he always told it.  And his friend happened to be dating Mother’s friend, and introduced them.  That was that.

Mother was out of high school, living at home with Ella and Glenn, and attending business school.  Since she was Catholic and Dad was Church of Christ, their relationship was a tricky one.  By the time they married in May 1948, they’d actually broken up a couple of times over this, but their love was strong enough to deal with a mixed marriage.  They couldn’t marry in the church, but instead married in the priest’s rectory.  This next photo is of the two of them on their wedding day.  This was taken in front of their new car.

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Her wedding suit and shoes have long since disappeared, but in my childhood I remember dressing up in the shoes and her hat.  There’s another photo of their reception at Glenn and Ella’s house, and the glasses they’re toasting with now sit in my china hutch.  My grandmother gave the set to me when I lived in Beaumont sometime between 1975 and 1978.  She’d gotten the set in the 1930s, I think.

At the time of their wedding, Mother was 21 and Dad was 25.  Again, I remember them looking like this.  Dad was tall and slim, and so was Mother.

 

Christmas was always a time for parties, family and otherwise.  This is at Ella’s house, sometime after 1948 and probably before 1951. I remember all of these women — they were good friends of my grandmother’s, and I met all of them.  Mother looks particularly glamorous here, I’ve always thought — again, very 1940s.

Christmas women

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mother married into the Ware family — and here they all are, at the farm, sometime probably in the late 1940s.  Mother and Dad are here, as are Dad’s brother James and James’s wife Jean — neither brother has any children yet. Uncle James is at the right, and Aunt Jean is to his left. Dad’s peeking out; you can barely see him.  Mother’s at the left, with her hair up. Dad’s sister Mildred and her husband G.C. Snodgrass, though, have two sons by now, Mike and Charlie.  Aunt Mildred and Mike and Charlie are at the front in the middle of the photo.  Uncle G.C. is at the back — he’s the one with the snazzy set to his hat.  Granddad Ware is with them at the top left. I think Grandmother must have taken the picture.

Wares late 1940s

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Christmas 1951, I’d come along.  This next photo is of Mother and me, and this is my first Christmas.  I was six months old.  The next month, we moved to Humble, Texas, near Houston.  I was their second child, but their first to survive.

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We spent a lot of time at the farm with my grandparents, and some of my earliest memories are of the farm.  It was always fun to be there, and it was especially fun if my cousins were there.  We spent Christmas 1953 there, when I was 2 1/2, and here I am with my cousins Mike and Charlie.  I’m sure the doll was mine, not Mike’s!  And I remember that rocker, too.

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Often when we were at the farm, we were joined by Uncle James, Aunt Jean, and their two children, Jim and Barbara.  Jim was born in 1950 and Barbara in 1952.  We’re the stairsteps — Jim is 10 months older than I am; Barbara is 11 months younger.  She was born on June 22, 1952 — Dad’s birthday.  As she told him once, she was the best birthday present he ever got!  This photo probably was taken in 1954 or 1955.  I’m the one laughing.  You might pick up on the cowboy theme, too.  We’re with Grandmother and Granddad Ware; Mother and Aunt Jean are in the background to the right.

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By January 1956, we’d moved to an oil field camp near Sunset, Louisiana.  In January, when this next picture was taken, I am dressed in cowboy boots, jeans, and am 4 1/2.  My brother Phil would be born two months later, on March 25, 1956.  I was expecting and wanting a baby sister — so I could dress her up like a doll.  When he was born, and I found out that I had a brother rather than a sister, I ran way — and got as far as a tree between our house and the next-door neighbor’s house.  I climbed up it.  Mrs. Johnson, the neighbor, got me down by promising me that my brother would wear dresses and I’d get to dress him up.  That worked.  Of course, in the 1950s, little babies — boys or girls — were often dressed alike, in dresses.  My brother wore some, and I guess I’d worn them – -and they’re still in the cedar chest in Egan.

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In May 1956, we were in Beaumont, at Glenn and Ella’s, and here I am with them and my cousins Carolyn and Terry, my mother’s nieces.

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By September 1956, Phil was six months old. I’d gotten over the disappointment of having a baby brother instead of a baby sister.  I thought he was pretty neat.  The red couch we’re on is one I well remember — it made into a sleeper; all you had to do was click the back down.  The material was nubby — not rough, just nubby.  I can still feel it if I close my eyes.

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We moved to Egan in January 1957, and one year later, Kay was born.   These school photos show Kay and Phil and me.  Katie hates this photo, but I love it.  She is so cute here, and just kind of startled. Mother wanted our hair to curl, and believe me, Kay and I were both born with straight hair.  I endured many permanents; in this picture, mine was growing out — but Mother has trimmed my bangs, and I can tell because she never cut them straight.  Mother also tried her darndest to make Kay’s hair swirl on top.  Phil didn’t have to worry about any attempts to give him curls.

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Skip forward to 1973 or 1974.  If it’s 1973, it’s when we threw a 25th wedding anniversary party for Mother and Dad. If it’s1974, this is when Phil graduated from high school.  The three of us look a bit different here.  Kay and I are thinner.  She’s blonder.  Notice our dresses — short skirts were still the vogue.  I just like that it’s three of us, linked together and smiling.

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In 1974, in the summer, Ella took us to Europe for a vacation.  I was going to England for six weeks to attend a six-week summer school at Stratford-on-Avon for graduate credit; Kay was still in high school.  Phil was in college at McNeese — he didn’t want to go.  Kay and I have changed, but the setting for this photo hasn’t — the Coliseum in Rome.

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By 1991, the time of the next photo, we had an addition to our family.  This is March 1991, and I’m holding Kay’s daughter, my niece and goddaughter Rachel.  She was only a couple of days old here, and Aunt Cheryl was in love.  She’s taller than I am now, but she’s still the light of my life.

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By 2005, Kay, Rachel, Dad, and I were celebrating as Dad’s Aunt Sallie Whitton celebrated her 100th birthday.  The back row, left to right:  Rachel, Kay, me, Mike, Dad, Aunt Jean.  The front row:  Mike’s wife Shirley, Aunt Sallie, and Aunt Mildred.  Aunt Sallie was one of Grandmother Ware’s sisters; she lived to be 104 1/2.

Aunt Sallie is 100

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s not that I don’t miss the loved ones who are no longer here.  I do.  I suppose I could look at these photographs and dwell on just how many of these people have died, but I don’t do that.  Instead, I’m sitting here smiling — albeit with a few tears.  Sorting through the folder of photographs has been fun today.  I sat at the dining room table on and off all day, looking and remembering. There are so many more in that folder, and even more in boxes and tubs and on VHS (soon to be digitized).

Such joy in the pictures, the faces, the memories.

Bit by bit, I hope to scan many more photographs and label them.  Digital storage will take a lot less room than physical photos and negatives.  I’ve always loved cameras and photography, and apparently that trait comes from both sides of the family.  I have a collection of cameras to prove this — not just my own cameras, but a Kodak that belonged to Grandmother and Granddad Ware, from the early 20th century; Mother and Dad’s first Kodak, as well as their movie camera, circa 1957; and Phil’s SLR, a Pentax K-1000, and his video camera.

These are not photographs of loss.  They’re photographs of family, of joy, of love.

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To Spiti Mou, My Home –Buying an Apartment in Greece

Today I’ve been working on a book proposal for a group of essays that I’ve written about visiting Greece, about being a part-time expat there, and about owning an apartment in Greece.  I”m getting ready to submit to some agents at a conference, and so that’s what I’ve been working on this week rather than the blog itself.

All of this has made me remember about that wild ride of purchasing a property in another country.  It may look smooth on House Hunters International, but believe me, it isn’t.  Of course, I don’t have the resources (or the money) that most of those people have, either.  I’m just a middle-class academic who retired making about $70,000 a year — not shabby, true, but not the kind of six-digit-or-more income that most of those buyers have.

Frankly, I never could have afforded this place, even at its low price, without an inheritance that I took part of for the purchase.  My brother Phil left me some money, and because I felt relatively safe for retirement with a state retirement pension and a separate 403b, and planned on taking part in Deferred Retirement Optional Program that would allow me to accumulate 3 years of retirement pay in a separate account while I was still teaching (but not accruing any more service time), I took part of that money and splurged.

I’d searched online from my office in Kaufman Hall.  And from home.  At first, my browsing was fantasy, something I knew was just wild imagination.  I found one place listed in Pangrati, a neighborhood that I was familiar with.  The apartment, from what I could tell from photographs, looked okay.  The details seemed clear.  The price was actually something that seemed realistic for me — it was listed at not quite 15 million drachmes.  The drachma traded at about 360 or so to a dollar, so that initial price was somewhere near $.41,700.

For some reason that place just called to me.  But I knew that it was all dreaming.  Or at least I did until Dad announced that he wanted to make a trip to Germany when that fall term was over.  My late brother’s fiancé had moved there for a job, and when I mentioned what he wanted to do, she welcomed us.  I made the plans — but told him that rather than return for Christmas, we’d spend Christmas weekend in Athens.  It was, I figured, the only way I’d get him there.

By that time, I’d actually made an appointment with the realtor to see the apartment.

After nearly two weeks in Germany, Dad and I spent a long weekend at a hotel near Syntagma Square.  I got him up the Acropolis; I ate with him at Platanos Taverna in Plaka, and he liked the food.  We had coffee with my friends Jane and Nick, and Nick’s mother.  And we had a wild car ride from the hotel to the apartment.  I spoke a little Greek; the realtor representatives spoke almost no English.  Yet we all survived.  Dad just looked bemused at everything.

The apartment as I saw it was much less appealing than it had been in photos.  It was dirty.  The tiles in the kitchen were clearly 1970s — daisies, yellow and green; the kitchen cabinets were painted a puke green.  The bathroom tiles were even worse — they were brown and pink, and tiles went from floor to ceiling.  Even the bathtub surround was tiled.  The apartmentt was nearly empty, with only a table, four chairs, and one lamp — there were no overhead lights.  The box that should have had neatly labeled switches had one left, and lots of naked wires.  My retired electrician father just looked at it, and looked at me.  Despite the depressing reality, I still liked the apartment.  From that one short visit, I began to negotiate after I returned.

First I had one friend look at it.  She wasn’t too thrilled.  Other friends, from the Athens Centre, looked at it and were more encouraging.  The plumbing worked.  Clearly it needed wiring work, and painting.  And lots of cleaning.  And I’d need furniture.  But it was functional and sound, even if it needed some work.  Also, they reassured me, they could use it sometimes.  I could have short-term lets.

Once I knew that the apartment was sound enough, I opened e-mail negotiations.  Finally we agreed on a price lower than that.  I agreed on 14,500,000 drachmes — about $40,000 altogether, including transfer costs, taxes, etc.

Then there was a flurry of activity.  First, I had to get an attorney who could handle this for me — who could practice in Greece as well as the U.S. Once more, the internet was my resource, and I found one on the East Coast.  Through emails and letters, we exchanged necessary information.  Soon, I received a document in English giving him power of attorney to serve for me in the property matter.  I also signed the document in Greek.  Then his associate in Athens, who also could practice in the U.S., opened a bank account for me in Athens.  Then after yet more paperwork I transferred a lot of money to that account, enough for the purchase and to buy the basics for an empty apartment as well as have work done.

By May I was in Greece, with a group of students on a short study-abroad program.  When we arrived, I was still waiting to hear specifics about closing.  As I went around sites with students, I kept wondering when I’d hear anything.  I kept my rented mobile phone with me at all times, and finally I got the call.  That we were on the Acropolis when it happened seemed perfect.  The sun was shining.  I was about to part with thousands of dollars.  Life was good.

When the closing day rolled around, I met my attorney at her office.  Only that morning, she informed me, the German owner of the apartment had decided that he wanted to be paid in cash, not with a bank draft.  She opened the small case that held all of the money.  She put it out, and somewhere in my print photos I have a picture of all that money sitting on her desk.  Then she put it back in the case and we walked around the corner to the notary’s office.

In Greece, such property transactions occur at a notary’s.  Apparently, notaries are also attorneys.  I was there with my attorney.  The seller was there with his attorney.  The realtor was also there.  And the notary.  It turned out that as far as Greece was concerned, I wasn’t really there — at least not officially — since my passport had been stamped in Paris.  I couldn’t sign my own papers.  My attorney had to.  That meant I got to sit there and simply observe, enjoy, and try not to laugh.

First, the notary read the entire legal document, in Greek.  At points she nodded to me.  My attorney would answer for me, then tell me what was going on.  The seller’s attorney would sometimes interject something.  Even the realtor got into the act, apparently trying to negotiate a better cut for herself.  Lots of discussions, lots of cigarette smoke, and lots of coffee.

I walked out with my key, without the money, and with a document.  The apartment was mine.  But the seller was going to spend the night in the apartment to save on a hotel bill.  I just shrugged.  Getting the lock changed was almost the first thing I arranged.

From that point on, it was a matter of work.  First I spent a few hours at the apartment with a cleaning lady.  I ordered a bed and a sleeper sofa, a small countertop oven/stovetop, a small refrigerator, and a portable washing machine that hooked to the bathtub.  The apartment was clean.  By the time the students left, I’d also managed to get new wiring put in, and the plumber had checked all the pipes.  Everything was working.  The bed and kitchen appliances and washing machine had been delivered, and I moved into the apartment.

For three weeks more, I worked.  I selected paint and managed to get it delivered.  I painted the entire apartment by myself.  I stamped a design in the living around the top of the walls.  I painted a mural in my bedroom.  I cleaned cabinets and threw out trash.  I bought plates and pots and pans, kitchen utensils and storage bins for food.  I had sheets and towels that I’d brought from the U.S. — cheaper and better quality than I could afford in Greece.  Plus that saved time.

By the time I left, I was sore, tired, and happy.  I’d managed to buy an apartment, to furnish it, and use the little bit of Greek language that I’d acquired.

That was 2001.  Twelve years later, I’ve managed to survive the shift to the Euro and renovations.  One summer I met with an architect and arranged for work to be done after I left, with friends overseeing the work, taking photos.  All of that 1970s tile disappeared.  Lovely clean white tile replaced it.  White fixtures replaced the brown tub, toilet, and sink.  The bidet disappeared, its plumbing being reconfigured for a real washing machine.  The wall cabinet was replaced.  And there was actual, real, and bright light in the bathroom for a change.  Of course, I paid in cash, so that I paid less and the architect didn’t have to claim as much.  The exchange rate kept changing, so that the cost escalated more than I liked.

A couple of years later I used the same architect to remove the kitchen tiles.  In their place, I simply had the walls plastered and painted white.  Now the kitchen is all white — even the puke-green cabinets, which I’d quickly painted that first summer.  When my niece visited, she and I put up a small glass tile backsplash for a bit of color — in shades of blue, of course.  I’m thinking that next summer I might paint the kitchen cabinets a light blue.

Last year, I had the built-in closet torn out; it was partly particle-board and made for very awkward furniture arrangement.  I now have two standing armoires instead, one that locks and one that doesn’t.  I can finally arrange the bed so that I look out the doors onto the balcony — if I roll up the outer blinds and pull the curtains back, or open the French doors onto the balcony.

I’ve made curtains.  I’ve put throws on the sofa and chair.  I’ve bought very nice rugs.  I’ve added a desk armoire for the printer and other work-related materials.  There’s a bookcase.  And this summer I added a few more small shelving units.  Of course, they’re not yet put up permanently, but that can wait until next year.

Whether in drachmes or Euros or dollars, bills must be paid.  Repairs will be needed.  I pay property taxes there; I have property insurance there.

Maintenance issues happen even when I’m not there.  Even when no one is in the apartment, as I found out recently.

At least the leaky pipes from the apartment above mine didn’t do too much damage a couple of weeks ago.  A few things in the storage area above the bathroom had to be thrown out — nothing important.  And the ceiling had to dry out and be repainted.

There’s always something if you’re a homeowner.  No matter what country that home is in.  Even if you’re not there.

I’m sure that by the time I head over there next time, I’ll have my usual suitcase full of apartment items.

I just need to start that list soon.

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Honoring a Parent

Late last week I ran into a friend at Starbucks — she and her husband, along with another couple I know, recently traveled to Turkey and Greece, and I couldn’t wait to hear all about her trip.  Our conversation soon changed, though, taking a turn that brought so much back to me.  

We’d talked in the past about traveling, about literature, about our favorite places and places we’d like to go.  We’d also shared our experiences with caring for aging parents.  Before she and her husband and our other friends had made this trip, we’d met for coffee and talked about Athens in particular.  

Their trip had been wonderful — Istanbul, other sites in Turkey, a cruise, and then Athens.  While they were on the Acropolis, though, she received a phone call from her brother.  Their mother was dying.  Within hours, and with the help of the travel agent they’d used, she was on a plane back to Lake ‘Charles.  

The flight back, she related, had been a challenge.  Was her mother still living?  Would she get back in time to say goodbye?

Finally, she had to find out.  Telling her story to a flight attendant led to the flight attendant finding an in-flight telephone for her to use, even using her own credit card when my friend’s cards wouldn’t work.  The brief conversation with a sibling reassured her that their mother was still hanging in.  Returning to her seat, she soon found that the other attendants also knew the story, sending her food and treating her with immense kindness.

Once she’d returned to Lake Charles, she was able to do what we all need to do — hold her mother’s hand, tell her that she loved her, and that it was alright for her to go.  Being able to do so, reassuring her mother that they’d all be okay, had been her goal, and she’d achieved it.

One more goal remained:  speaking at her mother’s service.  She had, she told me, been inspired by a friend of hers who’d given a lovely tribute to her own mother at her service.  As she told me this, about writing and delivering her own eulogy for her mother, I found my eyes filling in sympathy, as indeed they’d done on and off throughout the time she was telling me all about this.

What a wonderful thing to do — and to manage it without crying!  Though I’d thought of giving such a eulogy at my father’s funeral service in 2012, I’d not done so, partly because I feared that I’d never be able to complete it without totally breaking down, but also because it seemed so out of the norm for anything our family had ever done.

What I did, though, was write the obituary for him.  Writing — that’s something I can do, and tears over the laptop during the drafting of the obituary didn’t bother anyone.  I could (and did) sob and break into tears, when to lose control at the service, in front of everyone, was simply not acceptable.  Years ago, I remember, at my uncle’s funeral, my dad had reminded us that Wares mourned with dignity.  Tears in a total loss of control?  Not done.

I wish I’d managed to do what my friend did, but I couldn’t.  I admire her, and her strength.  

When my dad died,  unable to rely on my control over my tears in public if I tried to give a eulogy, I fell back on my own strengths — words and writing.  

I was there for my sister, my aunt, my cousins, our extended family and friends.  Kay and I shared decisions, but I knew that Dad would expect me to set the tone and to make things as easy as possible for everyone.  It was important for me to honor Dad in a manner that he would have expected.  

As we sat there at Starbucks, I listed to Sharon relate what she’d gone through, and what she’d done.  It was fortunate that there were napkins around, because I needed them to blot my eyes, a number of times.

No matter how distant in time loss is, it’s as recent as someone else’s loss, close enough to the surface to break through, to overtake you.  

Listening to my friend Sharon talk, I was so happy that she’d been there for her mother.  It’s important, It think, to be there, to hold a hand, kiss, and say that you love someone, and that it’s alright to let go, that you’ll be alright.  I firmly believe that our loved ones hear us, somehow, in those moments.  Perhaps, too, it’s important for us to verbalize those thoughts not just for them, but for ourselves as well.

Sharon, you’re a great daughter.  What a wonderful gift to your mother and your family, and what a comfort to you yourself.  Not everyone manages what you did.

Here’s to all the daughters and sons who find their own ways to honor their mothers and fathers in the difficult times of loss.  

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Being Here Now: An Appreciation for the Moment

There’s a lot in the news lately about mindfulness.  Not that it’s a new idea — not at all.  In fact, it’s quite old, one of the seven factors of enlightenment in Buddhism.  Being mindful as part of daily life would, the Buddha taught, keep people in touch with their emotions, assist in a calm awareness of self, and contribute to wisdom.

Today psychology employs it.  Psychology Today online says that “Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.”

Years ago, when I was still an undergraduate, Ram Dass advocated “Be here now,” and his phrase has stuck with me all of the years since.  It’s not always something I manage, but it is something that I aspire to.  Sometimes I manage it.

Why?  It’s really quite simple, at least for me.  So often I have managed to get caught up in planning for the future, in focusing on all that’s left to do, or to achieve, or to perform — with the consequence of losing any sense of the now, of the present moment, and of appreciation for what is going on around me or with me.  That’s such a loss, it seems to me — and I regret that I spent far too much time being un-mindful when I was younger.  Though I enjoyed much, I probably missed out on even more.  

So often I was aware of what I didn’t have, what I hadn’t managed, what I wanted but didn’t have.  In the emotional roller-coaster of my 20s, I too frequently lost that savoring of present events and moments.  Not completely, of course.  But too much.

Our culture undermines mindfulness, too, in its insistence on achievement.  Success, in too many ways, is seen as climbing higher in status, on the job/career ladder, in buying a bigger house, etc.  We rush through our lives, DayPlanners in hand (or now, our smartphones).  Calendars rule our schedules.

For me, summers were always the respite between academic years, when I allowed myself to have as much personal time as possible.  Once I returned for fall term, though, I jumped right back into that madness.  My calendar was often filled in months ahead of time.  At times I felt that I needed to pencil in time for me.  If I could find time.  I always laughed at Holly Hunter’s character in “Broadcast News,” a woman so driven and career-minded that she scheduled in a few minutes of crying in her otherwise busy schedule.  Sometimes I felt that I’d put my own personal life on hold, while I went to school, or worked for tenure, or helped care for family members.  

Slowly, though, I managed to claw back time for me.  I learned to be in the moment more often, gaining so much from allowing myself to be glad for the moments caring for my mother or brother or father.  Maybe it was part of aging, or maybe it was a greater appreciation for what I had that, say, my brother Phil didn’t have the time for.  

Whatever the reasons, I have found myself thinking of this a great deal over the last few days.  I’d planned on going to the family farm this weekend, but chose to stay in Lake Charles, slowly working and organizing.  Rather than worry about what I didn’t do, I stayed home and gave myself the time to enjoy being in the moment with my own house, my own place.

As I worked at tasks, I was there, not thinking of future programs, or projects.  I spent my energy on my task, paying attention to what I was doing, and totally aware of my own body as it demanded that I occasionally get up and stretch, or take a sip of water.  If a pet came up to me for attention, I didn’t ignore it — but stopped, took it in my lap, and petted it.  Time really wasn’t in the foreground; I wasn’t aware of its passing much.  Just of the beads, the containers, and my own self.

When I got out of the house for errands today, I was sharply aware of the crisp cool air, of the breeze, of the freshness of our fall weather. Though it will pass soon, I enjoy it while it’s here.

And in these hours of simply being in the moment, I’ve found such joy, a joy of re-discovering my home, my relationship to it, and of being in it.  There’s a calmness from within, a contentment I’ve not felt for a while. For once, I am fully at home, full-time. 

And I like it.  

I know it’ll change.  I’m never successful at total mindfulness.  

But I strive, I strive.

 

 

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Quiet Solitude

What a gift to have — the time to sit, to spend hours alone, and to rise having accomplished something without hurry.

Today I only left home to grocery shop.  Otherwise, I’ve been here in the house with only the pets for company.  All I had on my agenda for today was organizing — and I didn’t care how much I got done.  There was no deadline, no time constraint.  In fact, my only goal for the whole weekend is to end up with a straight office and organized craft materials.

No alarm clock set, I simply woke when I was ready — and it wasn’t terribly late.  I read for a while, played online a bit.  I dressed, went grocery shopping, and came home to eat lunch.  After a bit of HGTV, I was sleepy and napped a bit.  Such leisure used to be a rare treat — usually achieved only on weekends when I didn’t have any grading, or during semester breaks.  Now, of course, no worries about grading or course preparation disturb my freedom.  Though I certainly have deadlines, those are fewer, and they are of my choosing, not imposed.

Before I could organize anything, I spent time working with the precious metal clay that I had left.  Before too long, seven new pieces lay drying on a mug warmer.  This is the first time in a couple of weeks that I’ve made anything with the PMC3, and it was overdue.  My only regret:  I had no more PMC3 clay to work with.  More is ordered, but for now I simply must spend time planning what to work on when it arrives.  Tomorrow, though, I’ll clean up and fire the new pieces.

It was a natural move at that point to begin sorting through the various things scattered in my pmc workspace and through the materials.  By the time I was finished, I could fit everything but the clay products, slip, and olive oil jar into one tote, and all of the different tools were bagged with like tools.  Much easier than digging through everything.  I still need to wipe off the surfaces, but there’s time for that tomorrow.

With that area neatly organized and arranged, I moved back to lie down and read.  No urge to rush.  No anxiety about time.  Just the need to shift my focus for a while.  

Reading always fills any moment I can find.  From my first discovery of Little Golden Books, I have been a willing captive of books. By this time of year, when I was growing up, my Christmas list always began with what books I wanted.  I’d browse the Sears Christmas catalog, selecting Nancy Drew books, or Hardy Boys books, or other series of adventure tales.  Shakespeare joined the list when I was a freshman in high school.  I was (and am still) the geeky kid who gladly picks up a random volume of any encyclopedia just to browse articles.  

Now in retirement, it isn’t unusual for me to spend hours reading, spaced out daily.  My morning ritual reads are online newspapers and news sites.  Novels and craft books fill in at different times during my day.  

Reading material today?  A couple of new craft books, a science fiction/fantasy novel.  And a scholarly book on Jean Lafitte and his brother, on piracy during the battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812.  

And so it was that I drifted from this house and time to other places, other universes, other times, and when it was time for a break, I shifted back to the living room, where my next task of organizing waited for me.

This time, I tackled the various containers of beads and wire and tools that I work with when I make jewelry — or at least what I often tote around with me to work on when I’m out at a coffeeshop or at McDonald’s near the university.  A couple of bags of new beads had to be sorted and placed in appropriate containers, labeled clearly by size and material.  I wasn’t really sure exactly what I have or what I need, which is one reason I needed to take the time for this.  Without a sense of what’s available, i can’t continue the jewelry I want to make for Christmas sales and gifts.  Otherwise, I’ll start something and realize that I lack the right wire.  This is exactly what happened to me last week, when I realized that I had no more 22-gauge or 24-gauge sterling silver wire, which is what I most commonly use with earrings.  Time for ordering, which I did at that point — and now I simply wait for the order to arrive. 

Sitting on one of the carpets I brought back from Azerbaijahn, I opened containers,  snipped knots off strands of gemstone beads, and meticulously filled container after container, labeling as I went.  When my back hurt, or a leg cramped, I’d shift around a bit, and then work some more.  Over the months I’ve been working with wire and beads, I’ve tried out different kinds of boxes and containers, settling on containers with individual areas with separate lids, a design that require the user to punch a lever in in order to release a lid — and the lid has to be pushed up.  I’ve spent way too much time picking up beads that have fallen out when the tops pop open.  Some beads I bagged and labeled.  Some went into stacking containers.  

From beads I moved on to findings — to sterling silver beads, rounds and other shapes, such as  rondelles and saucers.  I can now tell what I need to order more of.

Once I was finished, I had managed to put all of the bead containers into one tote with a locking lid and handle.  One large container holds spools of wire and bags of stones and beads, some earrings I’ve completed, with some projects that I’ve started.  One container holds only material for gold-filled or gold-plated work.  Another smaller container holds earrings I’ve started.  One box is only for tools.  Then there’s my ring binder notebook with labeled plastic pockets filled with different wires.  These now sit neatly on the carpet, out of the way, ready to be put onto shelves tomorrow when I move on to straightening and organizing the office.

I really don’t have any clear idea of how long I sat there.  The dogs and cats wandered around me, through the piles of containers scattered near me on the carpet.  From time to time I’d stop, spend time petting them, and then return to beads and tools and boxes.  

When I was done, I managed to get up, stretching because I was stiffer than I realized.  I threw away the bag of trash, shooed the pets out of the living room, and left, closing the door behind me.

Now I’m getting ready to return to bed, and I haven’t spoken more than a few words to anyone today.  I’ve talked to the dogs and cats more than to humans.  

Yet it was a full, productive day.  Solitude never bothers me; I’m happy having time to think while I work.  There’s a certain kind of reflection that arises naturally out of routines that in themselves don’t really require much thought.  Being alone rarely means that I’m lonely (though that certainly does happen too — don’t get me wrong).

Not everything is completed, but I’m not worried or stressed about it.  The living room is still a kind of holding space for things that need to come to the office or go to the beach with me the next time I go there.

In the meantime, though, I’m tired, a bit stiff, and satisfied.

I know the weather’s beautiful and the cooler temperatures are welcome.  But I’m happy and content to have such expanses of time to spend here, in the home I’m slowly returning to order, to life.  

Time for a book again.  

And to move back to the bedroom, to lie down and pull the covers up, snuggle in, and drift off to sleep while reading.

 

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