A Great Story Teller

My father was also a great story teller.  My guess is that I ‘get that honest’ as family members say. For some years now I have kidded myself about writing a novel. I even asked my husband not long ago, “Do you still tell people I am writing a novel?” He looked at me with a gentle smile and said, “I used to.”  Oh, dear … really?

This past weekend I attend the Emerald City Writers’ Conference in Bellevue, WA, and came home with a request for a partial. Since this novel remains as yet unfinished, the request is for only a partial – in fact, only 10 pages. In the past at various conferences I’ve received requests for 25 pgs., or 50, or the first three chapters, and once for a full manuscript. I sent some in, and for others I never responded.  I know now the reason is that it just wasn’t ready.

But today, with a request for 10 pages after it’s finished has stunned me into writing with the voice I love, the sentimental and nostalgic one I use when writing this blog, the one that fills me with purpose and I have no earthly reason why. It’s this voice, the one I have not been using for my novel. The thought of narrowing down only 10 pgs. (obviously the first ten) shocks me as I sit down to pound them out, or print off the first 10 of the hundreds already written in this novel I claim is about 60% done.  It isn’t.  Now I know that. And I know that there are probably not 10 pages in the whole novel that I’d send off.

So the struggle begins. To write again. With Purpose. And with my true voice. What a chore. I wake up each morning with scenes playing in my head like a movie. If only I could print whole documents from my brain … if only. Then I realize that’s not going to happen, but wait ~ we did put a man on the moon, didn’t we? In a few years, how do I know this won’t happen?

With my luck, if there was this magic printer that would print documents from the scenes playing in my brain, it would also send them off into space before I intended to let them go, the way my cell phone grabs my half-finished emails and shoots them into space. I might have to start anchoring those dream scenes.

At any rate, getting this small request for only 10 pages has changed my life as a writer. It’s making me write with a clear purpose, instead of focusing on the quantity of words I want to write on a given day. Hopefully this time is the charm.

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Windows

Windows

WINDOWS

Each and every morning I find myself looking out at our back yard as I drink my first cup of coffee, and no matter what time of year, I am at peace.  Today, in the midst of July, I relish the beauty of our river birch, which my husband planted as a young tree the first summer we were in the house.  The way it has grown always makes me catch my breath.

I can also see our volunteer strawberry bed, filled with volunteers from neighbor’s yards which I am certain are in our yard from fruit the birds have delivered, knowing how much we love strawberries.  In the center of the window I can see the pussy willow that my husband insisted needed to be in the round flower bed where the Japanese maple didn’t make it last summer.  He was right, of course. I smile knowing I asked at the plant nursery for a pussy willow plant, but now find we have a pussy willow tree, but we don’t mind.

Not only do I look out at our birch, the strawberries and the pussy willow, I can barely see the grape leaves from our trellis by my office window, overflowing with greenery and a robin’s nest that holds three babies this year, and a busy mom and pop robin feeding three babies with fuzzy heads and hungry mouths.

Just to the left of these windows in the living room I can peek out and see a bit of the ash tree planted in the middle of our back yard when the birch also came to our house. I smile every time I see this tree because when our little grandson, Asher, was younger he thought the tree was named after him. And why not?

The beauty this window gives me fills me with joy every single morning, but not because I am able to look out at the trees and see how they are thriving. The real reason I feel blessed each morning is because my husband planted trees and plants like this all over our yard, so that no matter where we looked through our windows, we would see this beauty.

I remember his calling to me from the yard with the white flowering cherry, and the pink plum, asking me, “Here? Or there? Where?” I’d decide, then point, and the shovel would come out of the shed and before you knew it, we had something else wonderful to view out of our windows. I can walk around our house and see not only these glorious trees, but the Fat Albert fir and the small blue spruce in the corner by the fence, the clematis vines we see from the dining room windows in the front, along with our hanging planter and rope chair swing  on the front porch ~ everything that gives us peace here in this house.

On cool mornings a walk through the yard inspires me. If these trees and plants can thrive, so can the rest of us. We can stay healthy, drink in love and be active, just like these trees. We can continue with new thoughts and ideas, just as the plants send out new green leaves and fragrant flowers. There is hope all around us. Our lives are full of it. And then there are the quail we find sitting on our fence some mornings, or pecking for worms beneath the evergreens. Who can look at the quail and not feel love? There’s just something about nature that inspires us all to a higher calling. At least that’s the way I feel each morning when I look out of these windows I love so much, even in the winter when the trees are covered with snow. There’s a gentle beauty in that, too.

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4th of July

Momma Robin in her nest, 4th of July, 2014

Today I am spending this 4th of July wondering if this sweet Momma Robin has any idea of the joy she has given me, and feel certain it’s the same momma we had nesting in our grapevines at the top of our trellis the summer before.

Last June this robin with her babies gave me such hope as granddaughter Jamie was critically ill in the ICU at Sacred Heart Hospital, Spokane, after a serious car accident. Each afternoon I’d come home to see this new life springing forth. It did wonders for my spirits seeing these babies grow and leave the nest.  Soon after these babies flew off my granddaughter also left the hospital to go home to heal in her wheel chair for the rest of the summer, and has since ~ now a year down the road ~ made an amazing recovery. She just rafted the Colorado through the Grand Canyon with Mom and Dad, Phil & Diane, & younger sister, Tate.  They had a fantastic time and knowing this does my heart so much good.

Now we have just returned this past weekend from our time in Pensacola, Florida, to bury my mom’s ashes in the beautiful Bayview Memorial Park in the Parks-Ellis plot, between her husband and her mother, where she had longed to be. Like the robin tending her nest, I feel like I’ve tended the nest for my own mother, who instead of growing older and stronger, was growing more frail with each passing day. She was tired of living and I am comforted knowing she is resting now at peace where she most wanted to be.

As I watch these robins, two of them tending this particular nest ~ both a mom and a pop busy bringing worms to hungry mouths ~ giving them what they need, I know I gave my mother what she needed as she grew older, first in a walker, then onto oxygen and then into a wheelchair. I am comforted each day knowing her struggle is over. She is at peace. And I am at peace. The feeling is joy singed with sadness, if that’s even possible.

Life goes on. We all know this. And nobody gets out of this life alive.  We all know that, too.  But there is something magical about flags flying here on the 4th of July, robins tending their babies in the back yard at the top of our grape trellis, and the feeling of peace I have as I sit reading a book in my rope chair swing on the front porch.  Looking forward to brats on the grill later. In my view it just doesn’t get much better than this!

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Momma Robin

Momma Bird's blue eggs, 6-9-13

For the second year in a row we have a Momma Robin sitting in a nest she built one night just a few weeks ago.  She sits in it day and night, now, so I am sure she’s got eggs in there.  Last year we had a Momma Robin at the top of our grapevine trellis and she had three babies.

The funny thing is that we have a lighted dragonfly mobile hanging from the center of the trellis, so at night it lights up.  I wonder what the Momma Robin thinks of her nightlight?

While this Momma Robin is sitting on her nest, bringing her new babies into the world I am getting on a plane tomorrow to carry my own mother home, to Pensacola, Florida to bury her ashes at the beautiful Bayview Memorial Park cemetery where we have a family plot of graves.  I was so scattered earlier in the week I even wondered if it would be safe for me to drive.  I told my daughter all I wanted to do was pack my suitcase and weed the back flower bed.  She called that Meditative Packing and Meditative Weeding.  It worked, too!

Now I feel ready to do this, and have a few personal things to slip into the vault with my mother’s ashes.  But it’s still hard, seeing that beautiful young woman so vibrant in her youth, knowing she became old, bent and broken before she died. She did not want to continue living any longer yet made it until she was 95 1/2.  We’ll gather there, on Wednesday of this week, to tell Mama Parks goodbye.  I am grateful to be able to be there to send her off.

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Iris – on Mother’s Day

Iris

This piece about the iris that need nurturing over time is one I wrote over a year ago, but still reminds me of my life as a Mom. It seems fitting today for a Mother’s Day post on this blog. I hope all who read this will appreciate the nod to Mother’s Day.

Early this morning I slipped outside in my bathrobe and hard-soled gardening clogs, long before the sun was up, to clip and prune the iris by our patio and by the fence, then headed for the compost bin.  It’s become a morning ritual for me with several beds of iris now blooming to their hearts’ content in our back yard.

It has occurred to me that iris need care taking on a daily basis. They need us each day, as soon as they begin to bloom, like our children and husbands, or even our elderly parents.  They lie dormant all winter, spring forth with greenery in the spring, and then suddenly they are front and center in our lives, just as those we love become more prominent. They  want our attention and need more from us on a daily basis. And of course we rise to the occasion. When the kids were in school and needed cookies or cup cakes for the next morning, even if they forgot to tell me until bedtime, they’d be ready the next morning. When someone needed something ironed,  it was ironed. I suppose this made me an accommodating mom.  So now, when the iris need pruning they seem to call to me.  Come. We need you.  Help us.

That’s when I grab my trusty gardening shears and head out the back door to the patio, surveying the deep purple beauty of the iris I’ve both planted and transplanted from one side of the patio to the other, and even to the back and side fences.  Iris everywhere.  Just like I like them.

My message to anyone wanting to plant iris in their garden is this ~ they’re just like children. They need you once they begin to bloom.  Keep them trimmed up and they’ll reward you with more beauty than you ever imagined.

I once saw a woman with a bed of iris of all colors.  I was on a walk in a neighborhood where I used to live.  I stopped to admire her flowers and commented on several brown iris. They were strange – brown and bearded.  I remarked that they were the most unusual iris I’d ever seen.  The gardener frowned, glared at her brown iris and said, “Aren’t they the ugliest thing you’ve ever seen?  I really should dig them up and give them to someone I don’t like.”

For once in my life I think I was speechless … I smiled and walked on, laughing inside.  So, my suggestion to anyone planting iris is ~ plan to tend them once they bloom, but whatever you do, plant them in colors you’ll always love, so you won’t be tempted some day to give them to someone you don’t like!

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Blessings

Blessings

Today I am aware of lessons that are to be learned.  Some I am learning today, even as I write.  Some have been saved deep in my brain.  Others are on the cusp of my awareness.

It’s been just over five weeks since my mother passed away, and one thing I have learned from this is that awareness is cracked wide open. Pages of my life have flashed before me from when I was a young child to today, when I am so much older.  Some days I feel as old as my mother was when she died, and that would be 95 ½.

But today I feel only my real age, and the constant mirage of photos and vivid scenes from my life that have been cascading through my mind for weeks has finally come to an end.  Now I occasionally see photos of my mother when she was young, vibrant and beautiful, a sweet young mom to the six year old myself at the time.  I thought there was no woman  more beautiful in the world.  I remember sitting on the sofa listening to my mother play Silent Night on the piano and singing in the most beautiful voice I’d ever heard,  all the time marveling at the talent she possessed by keeping a small vine alive in a glass vase on the coffee table in front of me.  I would have never done anything to spill the water out of that vase.  If you asked me at the time I am sure I would have told you without blinking an eye that the water in that vase was sacred because my mother had put it there.

My struggle as my mother became older, then older yet, and then older still, is that she never really knew how much I loved her. But I know now, without a doubt, that I did the best that I could  People tell me often how amazed they are at the care I gave to my mother, but I always thought I could do more, should do more.  And even then my efforts were often rejected.  It hurt to know how little my mother was willing to accept from me, or anyone else for that matter.  An independent spirit, friends told me.  Stubborn, I thought.  A martyr, said others.  And what’s the real truth?  We’ll never know.

What I do know, and what I have learned from this grief process is that we all grieve differently, just as we all love differently.  I loved 100%. I am grieving 100%. When friends ask, “How are you doing?” I can only say, “I’m doing the best I can,” and it’s true.  What I am doing for myself now is listening.  I am listening to friends, to grief counselors, to family, and I am listening to the rain.  It’s soothing in a way that words often fail. I look outside on this cold March day and know the rain is bringing forth new life in the yard, new plants for me to transplant and putter with this summer, and hopefully glorious sunshine will follow.

I am learning from this period of grief that sunshine will prevail in my memory as well, very soon, but the tears will always be welcomed, just as the rain is always welcomed by the plants in my back yard.  Day in and day out, I am learning lessons I never even knew existed, and certainly never knew I still had so many to learn.  As these lessons become a part of my new awareness now, I realize they are all blessings, and I will never forget how they have come to me. These lessons come from the heart, and for that I am thankful.

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My Mother, Myself

Mother and Me

I see my mother in myself when I least expect to see her.  I see her in my hands, my wrists and elbows, and I see her in the tops of my feet.  I see her in myself when I reach for certain things, like a glass or a cup, and silverware. I handle bowls the same way she did, and I catch myself at odd times with the same look on my face.

My mother passed away just two weeks ago tomorrow, on February 5th, at 3:10 p.m.  I was holding one of her hands and my close friend, Laurie, was holding her other hand as she took her last breath. I could not do that alone. She died a peaceful death, with Hospice in attendance, and there was no struggle.

I thought since she died so peacefully it would be easy for me to let go. After all, she was 95.  I had to ask myself just how long I expected her to live so I could get used to not having her here anymore. And the answer, I see now, is forever. No matter when she would have died, I would not have been ready. I am slowly learning how to live without my mother. I had no idea how hard this would be. It feels like a kick in the stomach.

So now I find myself looking for her.  The way I turn a magazine page, or chop up an onion, or brown meat in a skillet.  I see her in my hands and arms as I hold the steering wheel of the car. Today at the grocery store I pulled into a parking space and there was an open space ahead of me, and I could hear her tell me, “You can pull ahead and park there, and you wouldn’t have to back up when you leave.” And of course I pulled ahead.  I smiled and told her, “Thank you,” before going into the store.

With every grocery list I write, or every thank you note, every card I read, I know she’s right there with me, and possibly this is the way it’s supposed to be.  I really don’t know, having not been this close to death in many years.  I’ve soldiered through the condolence cards, & had her obituary written and to the proper places right away, in time for Sunday papers in two different cities. I’ve made plans to carry my mother’s ashes home to Pensacola, Florida in June with family attending a burial there at the beautiful Bayview Memorial Park on the Scenic Highway, and am trying to decide what to send along with her.  They tell me we can put anything we want into the grave with her urn.  I am thinking of tying up several cards and one letter that she saved for the last year ~ cards & a letter from family members she loved.  And I want to include the Valentine I gave her last year when I wrote on the card, “I will love you beyond forever.”  And I know now that those words were truer than even I knew at the time. I think I will use a soft pink ribbon to tie up these cards and notes.

My daughter tells me she and her little boy, my mother’s great grandson, will collect some rocks to send along with Mama Parks.  She’d like that, I know.  She’ll love that we are there with her. And for a family living miles apart, this is the last best thing we can do for her. I do wonder, though, if I will see myself later, standing at this grave.  I can’t imagine this being something I will soon forget.

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