Saturday, December 31, 2011

Anything But Dangerous

   I've started a farewell to 2011 post a couple of times now and it's not working for me.  I don't really like to look backwards but I can see the value of examining the life already lived.  2011 saw my life break into shards but, the thing is, I was the only one who saw the breakdown.  I let a tiny fistful of people see pieces of that collapse and I tried to paint it but I am the only one who really knows what happened.  I prefer it that way.





    I do believe I literally broke and I do believe that the pieces are still all around me on the floor.  I have reached a point where I am not afraid of them anymore.  They will not cut me.  They will not kill me.  I have even started to pick them up occasionally and will run my fingers over them to feel the smooth yet sharp texture.  When the disintegration first occurred, the shards were shiny red but since that time, they have become more mellow, a deeper, ancient sort of red.  There are some of the shiny ones still flashing in the winter sunlight but mostly the pieces are less flamboyant, less garish.  At first, I couldn't imagine that the pieces could ever be anything but dangerous.  Time has a way of changing one's perceptions, however,  and now I think that if I allow myself to become acquainted with those splinters and slivers perhaps I can put them to some kind of use in 2012.  I am creative but I am also hugely defined by my personal culture and history.  I fear I have some more breaking to do but perhaps this will be more breaking out than breaking apart.  I am curious to see what happens to those shards in the upcoming year. One thing for sure, though:   I am not afraid of them.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Nine Days

     At the end of today I will be at the halfway point of my winter break.  I have an unprecedentedly long winter break - eighteen days - in a school year where I desperately need the long winter break.  The school year started for me in early August and brought with it wrenching changes.  Although I knew the changes were coming, living through them with grace and patience has been challenging.

     The winter vacation has lived up to its holiday promises  The house has been filled with family and festive activity.  I have had terrific conversations with relatives and friends, enjoyed neighborhood walks and at least one beach walk, given and received Christmas gifts and hugs, and generally embraced the whole holiday madness. And nine days are over.

     Nine days are over but nine are still remaining.  And the holiday doings are done.  Now I get the real recharging that needs to happen.   I started today with some of the cleaning up and putting away of the tangible Christmas spirit.  I even got out the vacuum cleaner for the first time in recent history and actually shoved it around the edges of some of the rooms.  I am looking forward to continuing to organize the studio space and getting in there and putting my time to good use.  Among my Christmas gifts were four books:  The new Jobs biography, the new Van Gogh biography, a novel entitled The Good Son (given to me by none other than the good son), and a cool book of bike stuff.  I have nine days to read them all AND the one that I started on 12/24.  Just kidding!  But I guarantee you, the nine days will see plenty of reading time.

      The nine days will also see plenty of just plain down time.  I need to get this mind and body reenergized for the rest of the school year.  The work takes a lot out of me (more than it ever has and please don't remind me that I am older than I have ever been too).  From where I sit, however, we have made it through the most difficult time of the school year.  The period from January through April tends to be productive and less stressful than the first trimester.  May is stressful but usually in a good way. As long as I can get my mojo back during these nine days (gulp - the pressure is on), I will be okay.  Any ideas how to do that?







Thursday, December 29, 2011

Blogging

    Blogging friend Lynda posted an interesting article today that  centered around the etiquette of blogging.  I guess I am what? stupid? oblivious? unconscious? blind?  uncommitted?  who knows?  Let's just say, I haven't paid that much attention to any of the rules.  But, I am not so good at paying attention to the rules in life so why should the rules of blogging be any different?

   I started the blogging thing maybe a little over  two years ago.  It was just for fun, just for me.  Some people from work occasionally read and commented but that was about it.  I got a kick out of writing and that was just that.  So there was really no need to know the rules because there were no visitors.  Just me coming back to visit the person who wrote the posts.

    Since my brother Mark got into the blogging game a few months ago, I have taken a stronger interest in the blogging world.  He writes daily and I enjoy reading his stuff.  He comments on my posts and that is fun too.  Bigger than that, he has led me into a larger world of the blogging community.  I have such a blast connecting with other ordinary people who like to write.  What I am discovering, is that these are no ordinary people.  They are thoughtful, articulate, warm, and have great senses of humor.  When I read their words, I feel connected and inspired.  These writers allow me the opportunity to reflect on their posts and then look into myself, discover if there is a connection.  Their honesty and inclusivelness give me the courage to share my discoveries.

   So, back to the rules.... until I read the post that Lynda included, I hadn't really thought about the rules.  If I had thought about rules, I would have gone with the essential rule for living:  be kind and respectful.  I care about spelling, grammar, and punctuation so following writing conventions is a given.  I am not inclined to collect followers for the sake of collecting, so to ask someone to "follow" me would not occur to me.  I do enjoy exploring other blogs and, when I find one where I think we have a connection, I will ask to become a member.  If they choose to "follow" me too, then that's swell but I sure won't sit around thinking about it.   One of the guidelines on the list had to do with not plagiarizing and also giving credit where credit is due.  Aren't those basic writing rules?  There was also something about not adding links to your posts .  From my perspective, that is a rule to be broken.  If the writer thinks the reader might be interested in a previous post or in a related link, then, please tell me, the reader, about it.  I am reading your blog because I am interested in what you have to say and background can be helpful.  I do like the comments part of blogging - the conversation, if you will - and comments don't have to be long or complicated.  Just a note to let me know if I hit a nerve with you is informative and fun.

    Maybe as I get better at this blogging thing, I will discover the need for other rules.  I maintain that my blog remains relatively simple because I prefer simplicity in my life (or, at least I like to pretend that simplicity is my preference).  The real truth is, I don't know how to do all the fancy stuff so I keep it simple.  Someday when I have more time and patience, I will explore some of the fun things that I see on other blogs.   In the meantime, I will put some thoughts up and see what any readers think about them.  Be kind to me, okay?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Dark Months

    Yeah, I do not like this part of Christmas.  I woke up this morning feeling tired and overwhelmed.  Perhaps overwhelmed is the wrong word.  I felt more let down or sad, like all the fun is over for another year.  And this is from the person who is not overly fond of Christmas.

   Perhaps that is part of my dismay.  I grouse about having to do this and that and all the energy and expectations that go into the whole affair and then, bingo, it's over.  Now, the house is a mess, my bank account is depleted,  the rain clouds are gathering (they really are), the sonny boy is making noise about going back to San Francisco, the sibs and their families have come and gone, and it is a long time until spring.

    The holiday thing is predictable in the way that the excitement starts appearing right around Thanksgiving and, for me, it stays at a tolerable level until school gets out.  Then the excitement bursts and for about three or four days everything is about Christmas, one way or another.  Christmas Day tends to be like a deep, contented sigh.  My extended family comes a couple days after the 25th and then it is downhill from there.  New Year's Eve is not a big deal to me, nor is New Year's Day.  I do indulge in some reflecting on lessons learned in the old year and at least consider some New Year's revolutions (yes, revolutions).

   In order to get to the new part, though, I have to let go of the old part.  I have to say goodbye to this Christmas, acknowledge that life goes on and that people grow up, grow old, and move on.  Sad.  And such is life. I have a hard time accepting that part.  I have a hard time accepting that everyone I know doesn't stay young and highly energetic forever.  But I know what happens.  I know what the next chapter is.

    I will go underground a bit for the next two months and late February will find my spark returning.  I am a spring person.  Well, mostly I am a SUMMERTIME  person but spring is a lovely prelude to July's leisurely pace.  The months of January and February tend to be the dark months in my year but  they do have a way of clearing the path for spring.  As long as I have that knowledge on which to fall back, I can get there.  I will start noting the times for sunrise and sunset and celebrate each additional moment we capture.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Boxing Day

    Today is Boxing Day and, no, that does not mean you get to beat up your brothers and sisters.  It is also St Stephen's Day and both days are lodged in my December memory bank.  Heaven only knows why I remember St. Stephen's Day and all that I remember about him is that he was stoned to death.  The whole martyr thing is beyond me but it was hammered into our psyches as kids and so he lives there.

    But Boxing Day?  Boxing Day really lives!  But, in reality, it should be Boxing Month.  Boxing Day originated as a time when the wealthy in England gathered up boxes of things to give to their servants.  The month after Christmas seems to be  the perfect time to sort through, reduce, and reorganize all those things that surround me in the house.  It's cold and foggy out there and warm and cozy in here.  I am surrounded by the detritus of Christmas Day and, oddly enough, look forward to making order out of chaos.  The fact that I still have 14 days off from work means that I can do this at a leisurely pace and that is always pleasant.  Clean a little, read a little, clean a little, write a little, organize a little, nap a little.  You get it.

    Son who lives in San Francisco but visits in our town regularly had a brilliant idea yesterday.  It entails reorganizing both my studio space and my gallery space (funny how what used to be the kids' rooms got renamed).  He was gung ho to make the reorganization happen and gleefully announced that moving stuff around is fun because you get to go through things and reevaluate their usefulness in your life.  I agree.  There is something refreshing about weeding out things and taking donations to the library and the local thrift store.  I guess it is the antithesis of Christmas gift giving and I like it.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Merry

    A blogger friend wrote last night about the peace and tranquility of Christmas Eve.  She created a beautiful post about the precious quiet and warmth that is Christmas Eve after little munchkins have been kissed, hugged, and tucked into bed. The grownups then get the pleasure of being the magic of Christmas and playing the role of Santa Claus, tiptoeing, whispering,  and trying not to crinkle wrapping paper lest little monkey dreams are disturbed.  That was so much fun and now that our little monkeys are 26 and 24 we created the magic together last night.  But being the older and sleepier generation now, we left them to do the final touch ups on Santa's work.


    And now it is Christmas morning and, instead of little people running excitedly into our room to tell us, will wonders never cease!  Santa DID come in the night and, Mama, he ate the cookies and look he left us a note and, Papa, Santa didn't mess up the chimney at all and, Mama, hurry, hurry, hurry - instead of all that excitement, I find my peace in the quiet of the solitary living room.  As always, even on regular days, I am the first one up.  But this morning, I enjoy the lights on the tree, the collection of gifts, and the feeling that, just for a moment, all is good.  My children are loving, responsible, and compassionate people.  What better gift could I have? I have an extended family that wraps me always in their warmth and inclusiveness.  I am bursting with ideas for painting and for writing and have a list of books a mile long for my reading pleasure. There is a beach relatively nearby for Christmas Eve walks and more.The new year is suggesting a trip to NYC in April, a Alaskan adventure in June, and maybe even a trip to India in the fall.  Such gifts as these will be fun to open in the new year and, this morning, when the sleepyheads trundle out, we will enjoy some more concrete surprises.

    Monkeys do grow up and the magic of Santa becomes  a shared gift.  But, still, the pleasures like Christmas Eve walks and board games, and Christmas morning hugs and oohs and ahhs remain a cornerstone of a good life.  I hope I can remember that when the going gets tough in the trenches of 2012.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Frustration

Blogging from A to Z April Challenge 2012     I have been having fun with the blogging world.  In my craziness, I have found two interesting projects for the new year.  One is the A to Z Challenge, planned for April of 2012. This is, I believe, the third year of this challenge and the first year I plan to participate.  The idea is that there are 26 letters in the alphabet and, if you leave out Sundays, you will have just about one letter for every day of the month.  The challenge is to daily select a theme based on the each letter of the alphabet, starting with A and running all the way though.  Your theme can be anything and your style can be your own.  That silly Christmas ABC's set me to thinking about this one and I am already planning my posts.  Go here to learn more about this creative endeavor:  http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com/
                               

     As I was checking out a new-to-me blog, I noticed that the blogger had a second blog entitled Keeping My Words.  This blog was tied to a website called oneword.com.  Here the task is to accept the word for the day and write about it for 60 seconds.  See the word and start writing.  The wrtiing function stops when you get to 60 seconds.  You can edit your writing after the end of the 60 seconds and you are allowed to finish your last sentence but that's it.  Fun!

      So I wanted to do what this blogger had done and create a second blog for this activity only.  GRRRRRRR.  I can't get it to lay out as I would like it to. My computer is also running intolerably slowly for me.   Perhaps I am just on overload and need to be more patient with myself. That is the story of my life.  I have spent the last hour looking at tips on blogging and trying to figure it out but all I have is a headache.  I am getting tired and frustrated.  Where is my big brother when I need him?  Oh, that's right, home with his family!

     Time to put the computer away.  Time to sit back with a cup of tea, play a low key board game with the family, maybe watch an episode of The Closer,  and see if Santa comes tonight.  I'll let you know if and when I am successful at any of these endeavors.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas ABC's

My brother Mark posted his Christmas ABC's this morning.  As soon as I realized what he was doing, I had to stop reading it.  I am enamored with ABC picture books (there are so many cool ones out there) so I wanted to try this myself without the influence of reading his.  I took the dogs on a long walk and let ideas bubble around in this brain which is on vacation.

Here's are my ABC's of Christmas.  Do any of them resonate with you?

A is for Alexander.  He is our first born and has always been  such a wonderful addition to Christmas celebrations.  As a little kid, he seriously COULD NOT go to sleep on that magic night.  As a 26 year old living in San Francisco, he now brings magic and creativity and the coolest gifts to our Christmas celebration.

B is for the beach.  It has been our holiday tradition for well over 20
years to head over to the coast on Christmas Eve Day. The four of us
take a walk along the beach at Doran and end up having dinner at one of our favorite places over there.  The idea has always been to get away from the commercial Christmas and enjoy the beauty found around us.

C is all about cigar stands.  What's a cigar stand you ask?  That refers to houses decorated with outdoor Christmas lights.  Our dad always called them cigar stands so his kids and his grandkids have carried that on.  Why cigar stands?  We don't know but we think the name came from one of two places.  Either, during the 1930's in Detroit where our dad grew up, cigar stands were ringed with lights OR our dad saw the lights as the tips of cigars.  Whatever.  It's in the family and it stays.

D is about the dark that surrounds Christmas.  It comes so close to the winter solstice and nights are long and cold.  Cigar stands help temper that darkness.

E could be about eggnog.  Eggnog is not my favorite thing but everyone else in my family likes it so I humor them and keep it in the fridge for them.  They mostly drink it like milk without the alcohol lift.

F is about friggin cold.  I am NOT a fan of coldness.  Have you noticed?  And I know damn well that those of you in the Midwest, Northeast, Northwest must laugh your head off at my idea of cold.  Snow seldom makes an appearance in Sonoma County but cold moist fog regularly throws a blanket over everything in sight and hooded jackets are the only way to stay warm.

G is about the ghosts of Christmas past.  All of those little kid Christmases , those young and single adult Christmases, those early married years with kids Christmases.  They are all part of memory banks now but their influence is strongly felt.

H could be a testament to the Holiday blues.  Christmas time is not always an easy time.  The expectations - whether self imposed or imposed by the culture - can be killers.  The world is supposed to be perfect at this time of year and when it proves not to be, one can be launched into the blues.  What to do?  Ride them out (or paint them).

I is for the international feeling at this time of the year.  It seems as if people all over the world have this one season in common.  I mean, there are vacation times and summer traditions everywhere but Christmastime seems to bring people together in celebration of family and community, no matter what the spiritual tradition might be.

J is for Joy to the World and all the other Christmas music.  The religious songs are ingrained in my consciousness from years and years of parochial school Christmas pageants but I do still find them touching.  It must be a cultural thing.

K is for Kermit the Frog.  Kermit is our tree topper and he always has been - since 1982.  That was the first Christmas that Michael and I celebrated together and, don't ask me how it happened, but Kermit climbed to the top of the tree and has had that honored place ever since.

L is all about lights.  As noted above, darkness is tough and the lights of the season can really warm the world up.

M ... If A was for Alex then M must be for Meggie.  Meg is now a gorgeous 24 year old and, once upon a time, she was the cutest little girl that  Santa would have encountered on his international adventure,  Meg LOVES Christmastime and she is all about the decorations, the wrapping, the music, everything.  Her enthusiasm is contagious.

N is for Noel Joseph.  Noel is my brother who was born on December 23rd about 4 years before I was born.  His birthday was always an integral part of our Christmas days and was never forgotten or glossed over.

O stands for Ontario, the city where some of my father's family lived when we were growing up.  Christmas late morning always included a drive out to see the uncles, aunts, cousins, and, until 1964, the grandmother who lived out there.

P is for presents but, if you've read this blog for very long, you know where I stand with those.  Check it out here:  http://sebtown294.blogspot.com/2011/11/how-to-make-christmas-happy.html

Q is for quiet, as in the silence during Mass on Christmas morning.  Certainly carols were sung but, as with all things church growing up, silence was critical.  I still don't know why.

R has to be about relatives.  Lord knows there are lots of them and I love them all.  As a kid, we got to see our aunts, uncles, and cousins on both sides of the family.  Nowadays, my siblings and I gather as many of our offspring together for holiday connections.  The nieces and nephews crack me up and I also learn a lot from them.  Bring 'em on!

S must be Santa, must be Santa, must be Santa Santa Claus.  What else?

T  is about time for giving thanks for all the blessings in our lives.  My family has always been wonderfully appreciative of what we have and what we can share.  Thank you's come often and are laced with hugs and kisses from all.


U is about universal peace.  Wouldn't that be nice?

V is about V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N but not in the summertime.  In the wintertime.  Vacation in winter is about staying cozy and reading and watching movies and hibernating.

W is about winter walks.  Okay, so I just said that vacation is about staying in and staying cozy but it is also about bundling up, walking in the neighborhood, seeing the warmth in the neighborhood homes and and noticing the winter starkness  taking over the autumn palette.  Beautiful.

X is about the excitement in the air.  It is palatable everywhere, particularly in the last three or four days before Christmas.  You can feel the tension, as luscious as it might be.

Y is for year as in have a happy new one.  There is something cleansing about New Year's Eve and January 1st  feels as if all is new and there is a second chance for everyone.

Z is for zero as in, that's all the letters I have left to do.  It was fun to write this and I see it as a warm up for April's A to Z Challenge.  Can't wait for April!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Listless Vacation

So.  Here it is:  Day One of 18 days off.   Did you hear me?  DAY ONE!

Settle down, people, settle down - especially all of you people out there who never get EIGHTEEN  days in a row off.  I know, I know, many people believe that those who work in the field of education are lucky - lucky to get days off at sporadic points during the year.  Some of those people even think we get three months off in the summer - SO NOT TRUE.   But this post isn't about the educator's life so we'll leave all the comments about the easy life at the back door, okay?

Any-hooey, the thing is, I get through my insanely busy days as a middle school administrator/counselor by making lists:  lists of kids to see, lists of public relations duties, lists of parents to contact, lists of schedules and report cards and detentions to input , lists of meetings to attend, lists of reports to write, lists of blah blah blah.  AND THEN, when we get to the weekend - the precious weekend - my lists become lists of things that need to be accomplished in those 48 hours:  laundry, grocery shopping, exercise, hair cuts, housework, yard work, bike rides, painting, walking on the beach, reading, and, dare I repeat myself?  blah blah blah.  And, sadly, yes, I do put those leisure sorts of things on my to-do list so I can justify doing them.

 So my brother Mark, acknowledging that this was the first day of my winter break had this suggestion in an early morning email today:  "My goal, if I were you, would be avoid making lists of what I wanted to do, whether the lists are material, or cerebral.  Makes for a more relaxed time." My initial reaction was, "Hmmmm, perhaps he's on to something there.  Maybe I should see what it would be like not to be making and scratching off lists."  And at first, I thought about that.  I thought about trying a listless vacation,  but something bothered me about that.   I guess I was afraid I would forget an option of which  I had earlier thought. For example, I know I want to futz in the yard but that is not something that I will necessarily gravitate towards.  If I have it on  a list, I will remember that option.  Suddenly, I knew what I would do.   I would still keep a list but I would  view it as a list of options.
This is a list of things from which to choose to make my day.  This is  NOT a chore list,  but pleasures all.   Even cleaning up the house can be  a pleasure, if the pace is right.  I have yard work I want to do if the weather is nice. I have writing and walking and painting and reading and trips over to the ocean -- all WANTS.   So this list is just to help my memory, just to be sure I know what the options are for my pleasure.  The other thing about this list is that it is open ended.  In other words, my choices for the day are not limited to the items on the list. So, on this, the first of EIGHTEEN days off, I am choosing to read, to write, to walk downtown later to do a tad of last minute Christmas shopping, to take an afternoon nap and who knows what else.  I could get used to this.











Saturday, December 17, 2011

I Just Am

      Fun and games here.  Earlier this week Masked Mom tossed The Versatile Blogger award at me. This cute little badge brings with it the fun of creating a post that shares seven things about the honored blogger.  Additionally, the recipient is encouraged to then pass the award on to 15 other bloggers.  Now, I don't even KNOW 15 other active bloggers so, for now, I am sending it along to one blogger I know who knocks my socks off.  Let's hear it for Mark at Mark's Work.  Check out the insights this guy shares, all with wonderful warmth and humor.  And, don't tell anyone else lest they cry nepotism, but he happens to be my big brother.

Here goes nothing:

1.  MY HOMECOAST I have never lived  -  nor can I ever live  -  more than a 45 minute drive from the ocean.  The Pacific Ocean has been my homecoast (sort of like hometown only not so crowded) and will always be my best ocean friend but I am not actually married to it.  As kids we played at Tin Can Beach and vacationed in camp grounds down in Baja California.  As a college student, I hung out at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and went camping at Big Sur.  Post college, my beach haunts have mostly been on the NorCal coast.  I can get to a pleasant restful beach in 25 minutes.  I can get to cliffs and crashing waves in 35 minutes.  Love it.

2. SOLITUDE AND SILENCE  Sometime I am going to do a whole post about the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory.   For now, though, I am going to tell you that I have most people fooled on the extrovert/introvert scale.  I suspect that the people with whom I work and socialize would emphatically claim that I am an extrovert.  HA!  I am only a good learner and learned long ago that extroverts are more acceptable.  I also learned that life appears easier as an apparent extrovert so I can play that role well, very well.  Truth is, I get exhausted doing that and the real me comes out after hours.  Give me solitude and silence anytime.

3.  BOOTS!  BOOTS!  BOOTS! So here's the deal.  I don't get along so well with winter.  We just 
don't appreciate each other enough, I guess.  One thing about late fall/winter/early spring , though, is that I get to wear boots.  Not those wimpy ankle boot things and not hiking boots nor cowboy boots but up to the knee, sometimes with maybe a two inch heel, strut your stuff boots.  My boots are not only made for walking, they are made for striding with focus. They come with skirts and tights or jeans and scarves but always they come with a presence.  They are sexy and they say, "Look out, people, here I come."  But always with a smile.

4. THE APPLE CULT   Yes, I am a longstanding, card carrying (iphone carrying?) member of the Apple Cult (Steve Jobs, may you rest in peace).  I love my MacBookPro, my current iphone (4s), my "music box" (aka a tiny shuffle and earbuds that I take to bed at night), and maybe, maybe, maybe Santa will spring for an ipad this year.  Even though I have a full time "real" job, I worked at the one and only Apple store in Somoma County for about six months about three years ago.  My sole purpose in working there was to gain more knowledge about technology in general and, specifically, about Apple products.  I LEARNED a great deal but I also BURNED myself out.  Future employment gigs may have to wait until I can leave the "real" work world. In the meantime, I play and marvel at what technology brings to my world.

5. HIS NAME IS.... Wilson or Oskar or Sammy or or or .... yup, I name things. Wilson is my phone, Oskar is my sweet silver VW beetle, Sammy?  Sammy is an absolute life saver at times.  He is my bicycle.  And on and on and on.  I even named the copy machine at work (Hal).  He functions better now that he has a name. Certain people with whom I am well acquainted give me grief about naming inanimate objects but I couldn't care less.  It adds whimsy and sparkle to my days. I even started a Facebook group several years ago for People Who Name Their Cars.  I think we are up to 47 members.  Look us up and join us!  Oh, and one more thing. Did you notice the male names?  Yup, all my toys are boys.  I can't help it.  They just are.  

6.  BEATING THE SUN UP  (as in, beating the sleepy head sun out of bed in the morning)  I have always been an early riser.  As a kid I got up early (as did most members of my family) and the habit has been mine ever since.  I typically wake up alert, ready to take on the day.  When I was in college I began a daily exercise habit that lasts until this day.  I do enjoy moving and I enjoy the solitude, particularly the early morning solitude.  The outside world is still and quiet and I have time to think.  For about 25 years I ran every morning.  Sometimes I ran on the college track, sometimes in the neighborhood, sometimes (on weekends) in the hills near where I lived.  There came a point where my knees were screaming too much so running became bike riding, and/or walking, and/ or elliptical cross training.  I like to throw in a couple of short weight training sessions every week just for fun.  I love the stretching part of exercise but it is the first part to be sacrificed to the gods of time.  I will likely pay for that someday, if I am not already.

7.  CUT FLOWERS  In my ideal world, I spend a regular amount of time out in the yard, futzing in the garden.  Notice I said "ideal world"?  The real world won't allow me much time for that so I get hints of outdoor flowers in the spring and summer and a few that last into winter.  About ten years ago, a friend of mine opened a small flower shop and that's when my cut flower habit began.  I would stop in weekly and she would teach me what flowers "went together" that week.  I blew between five and ten dollars of my hard earned money on a simple bouquet to put on the kitchen island every work.  When my friend had to close her flower shop down a couple of years later, it was too late for me.  I had grown fond of the lift I experienced every time I walked into the kitchen and saw the simple fresh flowers.  I continue to give myself that gift nearly every week.  It is such a simple thing to make me smile.

    So there you have it.  Seven things about me, none of them particularly exciting but all of them quirks that make me me.  I will pass the Versatile Blogger Award on to Mark and anyone else who wants to pick it up.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Through the Bike Mirror

      Bicycle riding with a camera in my backpack combines several of my personal passions.  A good camera?  $600.  A good bicycle?  $1,200  The feeling of solitude surrounded by Sonoma County?  Priceless.  I know, I know, I took that line from American Express but it works.  There is nothing finer than a dawn ride on Sunday, no matter what time of the year.  I am in awe of the the Sonoma County hills EVERY time I ride them.  There are always seasonal colors, spectacular no matter what the season.  

    In summer, the light starts early.  I can be on the road by 5:00 am  without any concerns about visibility.  I usually set off out High School Road to the Laguna de Santa Rosa (aka "the laguna").  The laguna is boarded by dairy land and always has an abundance of wildlife.  I often stop and photograph the stillness as the sun rises over the hills to the east.   In winter and spring, the laguna can and frequently does flood.   I can get the best images of the reflections of bare trees shimmering under and above the surface of the water.

     Fall and winter have real challenges and powerful rewards of their own.  The morning sun is later coming up and there is a noticeable difference in the amount of vehicular traffic on the road.  Fog can always be an issue in Western Sonoma County and the ice that starts showing up in late October  makes for tricky curves.  Gotta say it though:  dealing with the fog, the ice, and the frozen fingers  is part of the appeal of those early morning rides.  It's the sharp colors of fall that make those rides so impressive.  The rolling hills are planted in vineyards and the colors can be so exquisite, so defined, so intense that I have to stop and stare.  Winter brings its own colors.  It's not the colorful world of the other three seasons but it is a stark, deeply rich, and poignant set of colors.   The cold  and bare trees stand boldly against an often grey but sometimes brilliant blue sky.  I do my best to avoid rain (not safe) but sometimes rain happens and when it does, I take it in and let it take over.





I really do get a lot of rewards out of my biking.  My mind and imagination appreciate the solitude.  Legs, lungs, and heart love the workout they get.   I ride on these early morning rides with earbuds tucked into my helmet and music pumping the pedals.  The combination of visual, auditory, olfactory, and tactile experiences in one ride can be such a rich high.  And that is the high that sticks in my memory when I am trudging through the work week.  I do get a taste of the Sunday experience when I ride my bike to work most days but those short rides are really just condiments compared to the weekend adventures. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Books Scream

       A new blogger acquaintance of mine wrote a post recently about her addiction to books.  It was an hilarious post about  returning a book through the book drop at the library that she really didn't mean to return.  In fact, she was relishing the book and now it had been prematurely returned.  Her absolute panic when she realized what she had done convinced her that she was, in fact, dealing with an addiction.


       Not to take addition lightly, but I must admit that I have a similar relationship with reading.  I LOVE to read.  When all else fails, I know that I can crawl into a book and my world is good.  I grew up in a family of readers. Among other things,  we read novels, non-fiction books, magazines, cereal boxes, the encyclopedia (really!), maps, and two daily newspapers.  During the summer months we walked to the County library but that trek and the library visiting time took a good two hours - not enough time to make the trek after school during the school year  and the library was not open on weekends. During the school year we read school books and occasional books that were found in the weak classroom libraries.  We also re-read old favorites over and over again.


      As an elementary school child, I was introduced to classics and thrived on them.   Louisa May Alcott and Mark Twain were two authors with great appeal but so were the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and Cherry Ames, Student Nurse.  I was especially fond of mysteries, biographies and realistic fiction.  I was decidedly NOT enamored with anything in the science fiction or talking animal realm.  Not then, not now.


      In high school I met Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, William Shakespeare, John Steinbeck, Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, Stephen Crane and so many more authors.  There were very few that did not capture my attention.  I also got a job in the county library system as an appropriately named page.  Primarily I was responsible for re-shelving books, some check out work and lots of "shelf reading"- a process wherein every shelf was routinely checked for errors in alphabetization and placement of books.  The work was boring EXCEPT I got to see every new book that came into the library and I got to check out as many as I wanted.   


     In college I got to work at the "general supplies" counter in the student book store.  It was the best job for two reasons:  access to all those books to read on my breaks and access to all the cute college men who needed to go to the bookstore for supplies.  My major in college wasn't English but I was always taking some English class or another , just for fun.  I favored contemporary fiction and met the more current crop of authors:  Norman Mailer, Ford Maddox Ford, Joan Didion, Adrienne Rich, Erica Jong, Joseph Heller and others.  


      For some reason, after college I never went back to the classics.  I still favor a blend of fiction and non fiction but my fiction pretty much is contemporary American authors.  Maybe I am closed minded but maybe it is also my own way of narrowing down the selection.  There is only so much time and there are so many books.  Sadly a real part of my relationship to books is the book review.  Just about the first place I go on my daily sites is the book review section of NPR, Huffington Post, Christian Science Monitor, NY Times, Goodreads, Millions and more.  I read the reviews and then go check them out at Amazon and see what the common people say about them. 

       The thing is, I end up with more books to read on my "to read' list than I will ever have time to read.  I need to ask all the readers out there, how do you do that?  How do you read a book or more a week?  I can and I do accomplish that in the summer time but not in the work season.  My problem is that besides reading, I like to write and to paint and to ride my bicycle and walk the dogs and even sometimes work in the yard.  Books scream at me all the time and I shush them by carrying them from the bedroom to the living room and back.  If I just stopped reading those reviews I could probably catch up to myself ....

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Years to Float On

    So there's this adage which suggests that most people with regrets tend to regret what they didn't do rather than what they did do.  For a long time in my life, I really didn't experience regrets.  True, I had an early marriage which ended in a traumatic and wrenching divorce.  But by the time I had reached my late 20's, I had come to see that particular marriage and divorce as good things in my life.  I  had accrued some student loan debt but there were no regrets there.  I had my heart broken a few times and I broke a few hearts in my 20's but these were, in no way, regrettable loves.  I had selected a career field and gladly sailed off into it.

    Life rolled on and another marriage, two children, and a draining career filled my days.  I was good at working, good at being an attentive parent, and maybe not so good at being an attentive wife.   And now I find myself sitting on the other side of all that and wondering if there are regrets.  I know, I know, what good does it do to even consider that but, yes, I think an evaluation is in order.  After all, my life is not over yet.  I suspect, baring more bike accidents, I might have a good thirty years to float around here.  So what about this notion of regretting what I did or did not do?

    Not so many regrets on what I did.  My children are responsible and valuable members of society.  I wanted them and I did my best work with them.   I was always glad to go to school.  I enjoyed my BA years, loved getting my MA and credentials, enjoyed taking miscellaneous classes along the way.  I don't regret, at all, our decision to leave Silicon Valley and raise our family in the quieter, more community based area of Western Sonoma Co.   We live in an unbelievably beautiful and tolerant part of the county. Who could ask for more?

     So cut to the chase.  Are there things I wish I had done?  I know there are things I think I SHOULD have done but what about wish I had done?  I am still mulling that over.  How about you?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Good Things


Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things. 


      This Goodreads quote this morning just knocked my socks off.  I don't claim to "do good things" but I sure have fun with my paints and I DO NOT know what I am doing.  Interesting enough, the more I paint and  the more I experiment with technique, color, texture, and tools, the more I like what I do.  When the paper is just taped down and I am standing in front of the whiteness, I simply start in there.  I usually have some idea in my head but where it goes once I start is all new territory.  

      For example, look at the one below, entitled "Mind Doesn't Matter".    Take your choice:  is the content of the box imploding or exploding?   And, in case you were wondering, I don't think the photograph does this painting justice.  The photo cannot convey the boldness and the energy behind the paint......



        Or,  consider something different.  Consider the one on the left below entitled "Broken". Nothing left to say there.  The on on the right is "Bicycle".  Clever title, heh?  This one means a great deal to me.  I painted if about two months after a nasty bike accident that left me healing on the couch for over two months.  I will never forget the sound of my body hitting the windshield of the truck - thump, thump -- twice -- and the realization in my head that, yes, that is the sound of your body bouncing off the truck......







     The next one is stunning, in my humble opinion.  Again, the photo cannot do the painting justice but think winter.  Think starkness.  Think simplicity.  Think tranquility.  That's where I go with this one.




      The next two stand together simply because I like them.  I like the combination of colors and the textures (which are not visible in the painfully insufficient photos).   They have two things in common.  I am drawn to the colors in each of them, though clearly in different ways.  And, secondly, both include a trademark of mine:  walls.  For reasons unknown to me. shades of walls find themselves in so many of my art works.  At one time, I completed a whole series of bold, strong walls.  At one point, a wall was punctured and then the paintings became more like wall fragments.  I still like walls.














       I can now present two that are, at least,  recognizable...... I painted the vase with flowers that you see below on one fine spring day and the bright colors just grab me.  For once, I painted something real, something that other people might be able to understand and yet it still appeals to me.  I know that my paintings don't have to be indiscernible to be attractive to me.  The one on the right below the flowers is an "Ocean View".  No, it's not perfect and, yes, it is full of texture that is not evident in the photo.  I have this one hanging on my office wall as it does remind me to breathe in and feel the serenity that I find at the ocean.  Always a good idea when you are the lifeguard for young teenagers who are floundering in the wicked waves.











     Guess what the blue and redwood brown/red colors below are called?  How about "The Edge"?  I painted this one earlier this fall.  It came to the paper via a vivid night dream (a not uncommon source for my fun with paints).  Below it on the right, is one that might be familiar to you if you were a child who was raised in the Catholic Church.  It is a vivid image in my head and one that was somehow important to paint.




     This is the end of the tour (for now).  I have some more pieces that I want to put up just for fun.  But I have to see how this plays out.  Check out the wheels, rolling away.  There I go.  

















Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Truth

      Damn - it's just so frigging simple and true and not at all original or profound.
   
      I wanted to write something original and profound. When I walked the dogs early this morning, I thought about what I could write.  I thought about where I am in my life and what wisdom I might have yet to discover or, even better, and more amusing, what wisdom I might have to impart.  And this notion has been riding around in my head all day.  No wonder I have a headache.....

     As I did laundry I considered what daily chores have to do with anything.  As I took care of grocery shopping, I considered the whole food thing and what might be learned there. I got to play with the paints for a bit this afternoon and that was so cool but no great abstract or weighty stuff there.  Just colors  - beautiful blues and a rosy hue. The big event of the day was my rather spontaneous upgrade to the iphone 4s.  Shouldn't there have been some great revelation in that whole process?  After all, I do talk the non consumer talk so what the hell am I doing securing a new toy for myself?  Shouldn't there be some profound sentiment in that?  Perhaps, but it certainly would not be original.

      Here's the truth.  Be here now.  Take each moment as it comes.  Look at the leaves as you are walking.  Feel the textures of the clothes that you are folding.  Listen to the nonsense around you in the Apple store.  Breathe in the fragrance of bananas or bread as you put them in the basket at the grocery store.  Be here now.  Oh, and breathe.  It will get you through anything.

 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Instructions


"Instructions for living a life. 
Pay attention. 
Be astonished. 
Tell about it." 
 Mary Oliver


Pay attention.
Far easier said than done.
The world goes by in a blur of repetitive motion.
The spinning clock hands only push me to get there, to get somewhere.
Paying attention is for vacations and accidents.

Be astonished.
I like that.  Curiosity and wonder turn into astonishment.
My eyes need to be open in order to be astonished.  So does my mind.
It's a refrain I return to over and over and over again.  Eyes wide open allows me to take images in.
Mind wide open allows me to really see things as they are.

Tell about it.
That's another process all together.
Impossible sometimes to tell about what I see, what I know.
Maybe because I don't see, don't know.
I can't find the words for these things sometimes.
Painting speaks to me but most other people don't understand it.
I get that. You have to be in my mind to get what is on the paper.
Even sometimes that doesn't work.
I know.






Friday, November 18, 2011

Gracie Magdalena Wilde

       Gracie Magdalena Wilde and I have been friends since we were kids.  Like most soulmates, we have drifted apart from time to time but when we connect again it is as if no time has passed.  Gracie makes me feel alive and for her I am always appreciative.  She has such life about her, such vitality.  She has the most open heart of anyone I know.  Not only is her heart open, but so is her mind and her attitude.  She takes life and people just the way they are.  I have never known a person who could roll with the punches as well as Gracie does.  That's not to say she doesn't get discouraged at times and, trust me, she is not a Pollyanna, head-in-the-sand airhead.  Quite the contrary. Gracie is smart, very smart.  She is intuitive and can engage a wide range of emotions.  She always lands, however, in a place of acceptance and tolerance.

     One of the most attractive features about Gracie is her ability to be playful.  She is passionate about life and she reads and thinks about all sorts of things but, in end, she can laugh at herself and at the world.  She is good at practicing something she calls "amused detachment."  As I understand it, that means that she can keep situations in perspective.  She can work to change what can be changed but she is also good at accepting what can't be changed and, yes, she is good at knowing the difference between the two. If there is nothing she can do about an unpleasant situation, she is able to simply assume the role of observer.  She can disengage from the games and yet watch the players and their tricks.  In all parts of her life, she smiles often, though certainly not constantly.  It's not as if her smile is painted on her face or that her smile is, in any way, false.  No, it is a genuine smile that is reflected in her shiny eyes and the crinkles around those eyes.

    Gracie is not stunningly gorgeous but that smile turns her into a most beautiful woman.   People are attracted to her physicality.  She is of average height and weight, with an athletic build - not tiny thin but not heavy either.  The muscles obvious in her arms and legs are testament to her enjoyment of physical movement and she walks comfortably in her own skin.  She is also a most sensual woman, happy to touch and be touched.  Her eyes are especially wide open to colors and textures in the world.  Many is the time when I have been with her and she has stopped dead in her tracks to exclaim in amazement at the tree or the flower or the sky or the leaf on the ground that has caught her attention.  She often seems compelled to reach out and touch whatever it is upon which she is feasting her eyes.  Her excitement can so completely draw me in that it allows me to see something that was invisible before she scanned it.

     Gracie knows what matters to her.  She is the queen of perspective and I marvel at her wonderfully balanced life.  She makes room in her days for adventures and action and yet there is also a time and space for reflection and solitude.  She does not hide from the current culture (she gets a kick out of her ipad and her access to Netflix) but she is not immersed in every element.  Like me, she loves her boots and clothes in general but, unlike me, she is content with one pair of boots, a few sweaters,  and a couple of jackets.  She likes to dress comfortably but still stylishly but she never goes overboard with that sort of thing.  She doesn't spend a lot of time focusing on appearance but she clearly doesn't ignore it either.  Gracie likes to socialize with friends and family but in moderation.  She will enjoy a glass of wine but I have never known her to drink to excess.  She says she doesn't like getting sick the next day.

    I know my life has been greatly enriched by Gracie's presence.  I wish I could hang out with her all the time but she has a habit of fading away and then I can't find her.  She is so inspiring and I want to be in her wold more of the time.  In order to do that though, I need to figure out how to get her to hang around more.  I want to make her less of a shadow and more of a confidante.  I want to share her laughter and her stories and bask in her good vibes.  I'll have to work on this.






Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Ten Commandments of Christmas


1.  I am the King of Goodwill.  Thou shalt not have the gods of big business before me.

2.  Thou shalt not despair at the whimsy that is Christmas.

3.  Remember to keep holy the Christmas tree.

4.  Honor thy family and friends with love and good cheer.

5.  Thou shalt not whine.

6.  Thou shalt not commit gluttony (too many times anyway).

7.  Thou shalt not not lose patience nor take the world too seriously.



8.  Thou shalt not forget to stop and appreciate the lights and colors of December.

9.  Thou shalt enjoy the music, the movies, the puzzles, the stories and the fantasies that are the magic of Christmas.

10.  Thou shalt pause and wonder at the winter solstice night sky.  Thou shall appreciate the expanse of the universe and consider thy place in the cosmos.  Thou shalt breathe.




Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How to Make Christmas Happy

       Here's the truth.  I would like Christmas a whole lot better these days if we didn't have the gift giving tradition.  Don't get me wrong.  I like the idea of giving gifts.  It's just that it feels as if gift giving has become so hollow.  Maybe it's just my world but gifts don't seem to have the same impact nor satisfaction as they did in the past.


     When the kids were little, it was wonderful to plan the Christmas gift scene.  The whole Santa Claus mystery was a delicious event in which to participate.  To play along with the Santa magic made the season so much fun and so rewarding.  It was gratifying  to imagine their excitement and to wrap gifts and to hide them and to be apart of the Santa story.   I enjoyed making their wishes become reality and their wishes were many and varied.  You couldn't go wrong.  


      But that's the rub.  The kids are grown up now.  It's tough to know what they might like.  I don't trust myself to select from clothing styles and the toys that they like are uber expensive.  I can certainly find books that I imagine they would like but it is all in my imagination.  Besides, neither adult child appears to have much time for old fashioned reading.  Certainly there are little knick knack things out there but how many rings or bracelets does a 24 year old woman need and how many magnets or goofy firemen does a 26 year old guy need?  I could give them cold hard cash but I do that all the time.  Where is the surprise in that?  Where is the sweetness and the personal touch in that?  Ditto gift cards - same thing only different.  So gift giving becomes problematic.  I could just wrap up the practical things:  shampoo, or packages of Trader Joe noodles or maybe a calendar or some kitchen tools.  Whoo hoo. 


      Ditto the husband.  I used to get him shirts and ties but now he never wears them (can you say retired?) and so why bother?  I used to get him food items but I don't want him gaining any more weight so I've nixed that too.  I always get him (us) an Ansel Adams calendar for the kitchen - it's a tradition, for goodness sakes!  Books are a possibility but, like the kids, he is not a big reader of books. Additionally,  just because I might like a book is no reason he will.  I don't trust my instincts on that anymore.  Too many mistakes. He's also the last person I would imagine who wants or needs knick knacks.  He likes office supplies but he stocks up all the time.  GRRRRRRRR

     See what I mean?  I am at a loss and every year it gets worse.  Every year I feel bad becasue I want to participate in the gift giving thing with these three people but it feels like a waste of money.  AND, I know they are looking for something "special" for me too.  Really, if I could pull the rug out from under the gift thing (at least for immediate family), if I could take that expectation away, I would enjoy both the prelude to Christmas and the whole Christmas Day thing a lot more.  Failing that, give me some fresh ideas.  Don't include anything that speaks to gardening, the arts, personal adornment, food, reading material, sports equipment, office supplies, music, car parts, clothing, knick knacks, pets, and on and on and on.  Please.