Monthly Archives: November 2013

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.


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.


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.


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.




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.




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.




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.



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.



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.




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.




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.




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.




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.




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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Biting the Apple

Though I can use PCs, I really prefer Apples.  And I’ve almost always been happy inhabiting the alternate universe.

Not today.  Not right now.  There is trouble in paradise, and it all began a couple of days ago when I upgraded to the new OS, Mavericks– free for the first time ever.

Yesterday my iMac (circa 2006) started acting a bit strange– I had been working and took a break.  When I came back, expecting to immediately awaken the computer from sleep mode and begin again, I heard the sound that you hear when a keyboard key is being held while some other action is going on — a kind of bop bop bop sound.  I thought that was strange, and couldn’t get it to stop.  I simply restarted the computer, or at least tried to.  The screen flashed a couple of times.  Then I turned the power off, let it sit for a couple of minutes, and restarted.  It did.  But after a while, something else started acting up (I no longer remember what), so I simply turned it off.  

Tonight when I tried to restart it, I heard the start-up sound but only got a blue-gray screen.  Several attempts later, and no luck, I turned to my laptop and went to the Apple page.  That I was able to find something immediately upon typing “gray screen at booting up after upgrading to Mavericks” told me I clearly wasn’t the first to have this problem.

I tried a safe startup — turning it off, then on, and immediately upon hearing the “restarting” sound, I held down the shift key.  Nothing.

So I then tried to start using an install CD.  No luck.  Only now the CD won’t eject.  Common sense stopped me from following through with my first instinct — to hit the computer with a heavy object like a baseball bat.  I resisted, fortunately.

Wanting to blog (there’s a 30-day blog-every-day-challenge, sort of like the write-every-day-on-your-novel challenge), I turned to my laptop.  Thinking to check my email, I discovered that today I cannot get my email on the laptop.  It can’t connect with iCloud.  This is a new problem.  Yes, you guessed it — it started after I upgraded to Mavericks, the new OS.  

Rather than go into my usual mode at such problems — becoming obsessed with the problem and working at it until either a) I solve the problem or b) am exhausted after hours of no luck — I logged on to WordPress to blog.  Of course, that I had forgotten my password and needed to change it was the reason I’d tried to check my email for the link to reset the password.  Since I couldn’t do that with the laptop, I used my iPhone, got the mail, followed the link, and changed the password.  Once that was done, I could log on and begin.

Whatever topic I’d originally thought about writing on tonight about travel (my usual Friday focus) had flown out of my head in the meantime.  

Thus this rant for Day One of the blogging challenge.

Now that I think about it, though, this rant is about another kind of travel — into cyberspace and back, through a path of frustration.

Luckily, I have the desktop backed up — if that worked correctly.

I’ve been in my office chair attempting to work for an hour now.  

And just now there’s a message on my screen in the right-hand corner: ” What’s New in OS X Mavericks.  Take a tour now, or view it later from the Finder Help menu.”  

Somehow this wasn’t the kind of tour or travel I had in mind when I sat down an hour ago.

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