Posts Tagged With: gratitude


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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Simple Gifts

There’s a lovely Shaker hymn written in 1848 — “Simple Gifts.”  I’ve always loved the tune, and the words are just as beautiful as the tune itself:

“Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free

‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.”

The first stanza is what looped in my head all day as I stayed home, alternately sleeping and reading.

What a joy it is to have the simple gift of a home itself, a sanctuary, a place of safety.  So many people don’t have the opportunity or the chance, and far too often we take our own homes for granted.  As I read through the news today, I was reminded just how fortunate I am.

The home itself, built in the 1920s, is a cottage or bungalow style, built on piers.  After all, in the coastal areas that architecture makes sense.  There are lots of large windows as well (and now they open, too, and have screens) so that breezes can circulate and cool the house.  Of course, in the heat of summer — which starts early and stays late here — it’s much more comfortable to use the air-conditioning.  In fall, though, as soon as the temperatures drop, it’s a treat to simply open a couple of windows and allow the breezes to circulate.

Because it’s older and on piers, some floors aren’t level.  Truly.  There’s an actual hump in the kitchen, right in front of the stove.  If I stand barefoot, my arch can actually curve to fit it.  Short of pulling the entire floor up and re-building, I’m not sure I can fix this.  Somewhere in the past, that board simply warped and settled.

Nor is the only such quirk in my home.  For years, before I discovered that there wasn’t a support beam anywhere from the living room to the back (and had one put in), the house wasn’t level — it was so not level that you could drop a tennis ball in the living room and watch it roll through the kitchen and the laundry room to the back room.  The house is more level now, and the floors no longer offer quite the fun of tennis-ball dropping.

It’s a modest home by many standards, but I fell in love with it as soon as I walked in the front door the first time.  The large windows in the living room allowed natural light to flood the room.  Since it’s a north-facing room, that’s really nice.  The bedrooms are east-facing, also nice for gentle light.

Over the years, I’ve added my own touches.  I’ve re-painted rooms.  I’ve renovated in earlier projects, but now am involved in yet more renovation.  Years ago my brother Phil pulled out the kitchen sink and lower cabinets and built new cabinets, neat and shelved and even put in some drawers.  About that same time I put down stick-tiles, but that wasn’t a wise choice.  These have popped and broken, and I am now in the process of beginning to pull them up.  New upper cabinets have been built and are soon to replace the older ones.  As those are done, one more coat of paint on the walls should do it.  Then I’ll get the lower cabinets repainted as well.  Finally, I want a new countertop and sink — I’m thinking of granite or quartz, something clean and simple.  Aqua walls above, white wainscot below — and aqua lower cabinets, white upper cabinets.  New flooring — sheet vinyl, probably, because of the uneven floor itself — will follow.

There are other areas I’m ready to work on.  The living room needs to have the old, crumbling paneling replaced.  The ceiling tiles there are falling down, so I’d like something simple to cover the ceiling.

For so long I too took this home for granted.  It was such a place of joy and comfort for a while.  Later, though, as my mother and brother were ill and after they died (in the 90s) it became more of a place to sleep, less of a home to entertain friends.

It was more of a refuge then.  On Fridays, I’d come home and shut the front door, often staying home all weekend.  Stressful work environment and life needed some kind of balance, and this house provided it.  I simply existed in it, though it did provide me that respite from the craziness of my life beyond it.

Then as Dad’s health worsened, I spent more time with him and less time here.  Moving in with him meant I was living in the bedroom I had when I was 16.  I moved essentials of my life there.  On weekends, I could visit my own home.  There wasn’t much time, however, for working on it or for actually living in it.

But that was interesting and revealing, too.  I learned about myself and how flexible I can be.  What is essential for me.  I occupy a house about 1800 square feet, and live alone (other than the three cats and two dogs).  Yet I have lived in a 12×13 ft. bedroom, with a small area in Dad’s living room for a computer desk.  And a card-table for a work desk.

Now I live in my home again and relish the opportunities to refresh it, to open it once more to friends.  I anticipate that.  I also recognize that such renovations will not happen overnight.  I have learned patience.  I have also learned, through living in Dad’s house while renovating it, to live in the midst of such chaos.  And to make order as I can, both mentally and physically.

Right now I am in the room that was once my bedroom, a room about 13 feet square.  Now it is an office, with no pretense at being a secondary bedroom.  I have my desktop computer and printer and my beautiful Texas-star-cornered black walnut desk.  My craft tables and materials are also in here.  As I sit here, I can look beyond the computer to a wall unit that my dad built me when I was in high school.  I wanted some kind of bookcase/storage/makeup area to fit my high-school status.  He couldn’t afford to buy the furniture but he built this piece for me.  It’s been painted since then but it has a pride of place wherever I am.

Much of my furniture, in fact, is a mix of family hand-me-downs and “store-bought” furniture.  Some was bought new.  Some was bought at flea markets or antique malls.  The blend works for me.

It’s not a house that will grace the pages of Southern Living or House Beautiful.  It’s not elegant.  My friend Patty says it’s “eclectic,” and she’s right.

I can sit in the large rocker in the living room, a gift from my grandmother Ella that belonged to her parents; I have the matching love seat too.  One of my earliest memories is sitting in that very rocker, then covered with red velvet I think, in my great-grandparents’ living room — and I’m so young that my feet barely reach the edge of the seat.

If I go to the kitchen and want to make gumbo, I use a pot that my grandmother Ella gave me when I moved to Beaumont to teach at Lamar University.  There are other pots and pans, of course, but that pot is one that is special.  If I want to make fudge, I use the bottom of a pressure-cooker that my mother always used, a pot that Mother gave me at some point.  We’ve made so much fudge in it that the line where the fudge boils up to is clearly marked if you look hard enough.

If I wanted to, I could sit on my front porch and watch people without fear.  I have neighbors I know well enough to wave to, to talk to, to visit with.

What a simple gift it has been today to stay home, recovering from sinus problems.  I could sleep without worrying that someone would break in or bomb me or use poison gas.  I could walk to the kitchen, open the refrigerator or freezer and find food with no problems.  Water from the tap was fine to drink.  A stove and microwave meant that I could cook.  If I needed, I could put laundry on to wash and then dry without leaving my home or without worry.  I had extra clothes, in themselves a gift.

I could talk to friends on the telephone or text them.  I could turn on a television or listen to music.

Television allows me to watch any number of programs.  Internet opens the world yet more to me.

My pets are fed and watered.  They are cared for, not wandering the streets searching for food.

And I can take antibiotics that my doctor prescribed and that a pharmacy filled, using health insurance I can afford, with a low co-pay.

Tomorrow when I meet a friend for early coffee (he has faculty meetings tomorrow since McNeese State University’s fall term begins on Monday), I have a car that I can depend upon.

These are gifts, gifts from the work I did for years, from the savings I have, from the pension I’ve earned.

I am surrounded by gifts, gifts from loving family and friends.  Gifts from my own work. Gifts from opportunities for women that don’t exist in other parts of the world.  I went to school and was able to make teaching literature and composition my career.  I can travel without permission from my male relatives.  I can make my own financial decisions, sign my own legal papers.

Simple gifts.  Gifts to cherish.

Today was a good day to be grateful.

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Lucky Thirteen

Many people consider 13 an unlucky number.  Not me.  My birthday is July 13, so I’ve always thought that was my lucky number.  Even more unlucky than the mere number 13 is Friday 13.  Once more, I think it’s a good day:  I was actually born on Friday 13.  Yes, I’ve grown up with all the jokes and comments.  I shrug them off.  If anything’s wrong with me, I usually say, it’s that my dad once fell asleep while rocking me and dropped me on my head. Actually, he didn’t — he simply rolled the rocker forward somehow, and I rolled on the floor as Dad rolled out of the rocker.  But it’s a much better story if I say he fell asleep and dropped me on my head.

I remind myself sometimes lately that I am indeed lucky — lucky to have been able to retire just when I did, the very month that Dad had pneumonia, the month that he could no longer drive, and the month where it became clear that he really was going to need someone to live with him full-time. I am grateful every day for that, because I would have had to leave work anyway — take a leave, or retire quickly.  And that the university offered an incentive for those of us who were eligible to retire — a real cosmic thumbs-up to me, I think.  Karma can be good to us.  It was certainly good to me in fall 2010, when that offer was made.  I took it up — was in the door at HR to sign up at 8:15 a.m. the morning the offer was valid.  I hoped to be first in line: I was number 8.  I wasn’t the only one taking advantage of the offer.

The universal crapshoot rolled my way that fall, and I am fully aware of the fortune I was given.  Not a fortune of money, though there was an incentive package, but a fortune of time and opportunity.

Much of what I’ve read about the other baby boomers who are doing what I do catalog the difficulties we all face and share, but also the lost wages that result from being the caregiver who drives a parent to the doctor, or takes off to stay with ill parent, or run errands, or any of the myriad tasks that we perform at the drop of a hat. When I worked and had to miss class, I could teach online.  I was also close enough to commute many days.  I didn’t actually lose wages, though I’m sure I lost efficiency and focus.  But in reading about others, I’m far more conscious once more of just how fortunate I’ve been in the situation.

This afternoon, driving back from Lake Charles, I thought about the role good fortune has played in my life.  Along with my brother and sister, I was fortunate to have a loving family, immediate and extended, one that remains close and in touch.  My parents stayed together, through difficult times, and provided stability and modeled responsibility as well as fostered life-skills that continue to pay off.  We never lacked for food or clothing; we were never conscious of lacking anything, in fact, though now I realize that my father’s salary as an electrician just didn’t allow for a lot of extras.  Yet we had allowances and toys and books.  Always there was money for books.

We grew up knowing that we’d go to college, never doubting that.  Yet my sister had friends whose fathers were well-to-do rice farmers who wouldn’t send their daughters to college — that was a waste of money.  Years after I had a Ph.D., a family friend commented to my dad that he’d wasted his money — after all, I hadn’t “caught a husband.”  Dad simply pointed out that I supported myself, had a job, and owned my own home. My father grew up on a red-dirt farm in East Texas during the Depression; though neither of his parents went beyond 3rd and 6th grade, Dad and his brother and sister all finished high school when many of their cousins didn’t. He had two semesters at the University of Texas; his brother finished post-secondary studies.  My mother graduated high school and went to business school. For us, education was important; Dad saved for that, and all of us went to college.

Blue-collar income, but middle-class values about education.  I also came to know just how fortunate Kay and Phil and I were in another way — we were never told what to major in.  Instead, we were told to major in something we liked and enjoyed, because we’d be working and needed to like what we did.  Rather than having “success” defined by material goods or high salaries, we had it defined by job satisfaction and by our friendships and family and personal morality.  Doing right, living right, and being able to look at yourself in the mirror in the morning: those were important.  Going along with the crowd or keeping up with the Joneses wasn’t.

Responsibility and independence were important for us– and not just things that were given lip-service.  We saw them modeled for us. Dad worked a job for which he was on call 24/7. Mother kept house and was the financial whiz who kept the savings and bank account records and managed to save something every paycheck in a Christmas account at the bank. She used layaway; there was certainly no shame in frugality.   We had chores around the house; our allowances were earned.  We saw Mother and Dad both read and watch television and keep up with current events.  Being the headstrong kid of the 60s, I remember many evening meals that I probably spoiled by disagreeing about politics and Viet Nam.  That others weren’t encouraged to speak their minds politically — even to differ with their parents openly — didn’t occur to me until I was an adult.  Thinking for ourselves, being politically aware and being tuned in to the world around us: yet more good fortune in my life.

As I sit here in my bed in this chaotic mess of a house, I realize just how fortunate I have been my entire life.  It’s not a crapshoot, I think.  There’s some kind of a plan, though of whose devising I’m not always clear.  I just know that there is one.

And when I go to bed and night and say my prayers, I always remember to be thankful for the fortune I’ve had and that I have still.

Good fortune.  Good luck.  Having grown up in a family where tough times were to be fought through with grace, I try to be equally graceful about the times I’m discouraged by just how much there is to do.  Today was one of those days where I just wanted to put my head down and cry.  I left Southwind feeling as though somehow I’d failed Dad by not having taken care of something, even though I know I can’t do it all, not at once.

I wanted to scream.  I didn’t.  I just got in my car, let a few tears out, and drove home to Egan, unpacked the car, and came in.  Tomorrow, I’ll get up and tackle the chore of packing the books and other things in my room.  I’ll manage to find someplace to stash the boxes I’ll fill, though right now I can’t imagine where that will be.

I’ll balance the checkbook and satisfy Dad’s need to know exactly what I’ve spent so far and exactly what’s in the bank.  A guess-timate doesn’t satisfy him. I know we’re not broke; he needs to know exactly what’s there.

Tonight, I’ll just take some deep breaths, read a little, and turn out the light at an earlier hour than usual.

And I’ll remember to be grateful that there is a checking account, and savings, and that I have the opportunity to balance the checkbook knowing there’s enough money.  Not a fortune, true, but as my late great-uncle Ben would have said, “a right smart.”  That means enough, sufficient.

Gratitude for sufficient means, for love, and for another day to tackle the hard stuff.

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