Footprints

Pensacola beach, early morning

FOOTPRINTS

It’s amazing to me how one single letter can change the meaning of a word, or evoke completely different memories from one person to another. By adding the ‘S’ onto Ocean Blue, it becomes Ocean Blues (a color of a paint chip used as a writing class prompt this morning).  Adding the S gave the color number such a different meaning – 50 Shades of Blue comes to mind, or many shades of personal blues.

For me, the picture forming in my mind as I write this is a memory of walking along the wet, sandy and firm beach at the water’s edge by the Gulf of Mexico in Pensacola, one overcast day with my High School friend June, long after we’d both married and had kids. I snapped a quick picture of the beach at the water’s edge and managed to capture a picture of my own footprints in the sand.

When I returned home from my short Florida vacation and had the photos developed (before we all had digital cameras) I realized the footprints in the picture were mine. At age 30-something, after marriage, moving away and having two children of my own, these were the very same footprints I’d left years before as a teen, and would remain the same footprints I’d left that afternoon. In fact, these would be the same indentions I’d leave in this very sand, no matter how long I lived.

Thomas Wolfe wrote a novel titled You Can’t Go Home Again (which actually spoke to the illusion of prosperity and the unfair passing of time), and I understand what he meant, but there is something special knowing my footprints are still there, washed by the foam at the water’s edge like a seashell.

Sitting at my table in Denver, Colorado that afternoon, looking through vacation pictures, it seemed as if my footprints still lived there quietly at the beach I loved so much, and still do. The illusion of prosperity and the unfair passing of time (themes from Wolfe’s novel) circulated through in my mind.

But as for me, philosophical questions put aside, I know without a doubt  that you can take a girl away from the beach, but you can’t take the beach away from the girl. There are seashells forever in my heart, and my footprints still live on in the sands at Pensacola beach. And I have the photo to prove it.

The photo with this post is one of early-morning Pensacola Beach sand, taken in June 2012, and is not the photo I remembered with my footprints so clearly visible. That photo is tucked away in a photo box from long ago. One of these days I’ll open up that box and find that one stunning photo, so full of memories. I might even frame it.

After all, my footprints live on in this picture, as much as they live on with the seashells and waves of the Gulf Coast.  To me this speaks strongly of belonging.

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Bucket List

Fall 2012 - October Ash with holly

Bucket List – For August 2, 2016

After seeing the movie Bucket List, I made a short list of my own.

  • First, a whale watching excursion from Seattle or Whidbey Island.
  • Then a night in Dayton, WA’s historic hotel and dinner in Dayton’s 4-star French restaurant.
  • Next, a trip to New England to see colorful fall leaves.
  • Finally, a trip to Hawaii.

As for whale watching, I penciled in nice but not necessary. For years as a teen I watched porpoises play in the Gulf of Mexico most Sunday afternoons. That pretty much satisfies whale watching for me.

The Dayton, WA hotel and French restaurant also falls into nice but not necessary. I spent several weeks in Europe some years ago with my daughter. We ate in Paris restaurants, rode a train from London’s Paddington Station to Stratford-on- Avon, and sat on the bench where William courted Anne Hatthaway in her family’s cottage. On our return to London, a cow died on the RR tracks, causing a two hour delay waiting for large equipment that could move the cow off the tracks. That could even happen in Spokane.

My husband claims the Fall leaves in New England can’t equal the falls in NE Iowa where he’s from. A fall trip there might be in our future, but not this year. I’ve booked a late October trip for myself to Athens, GA ~ not Greece.  Daughter Allison is an aerialist with the Canopy Studio’s Fall Trapeze show.  I’ll be there just in time for Georgia’s fall display of leaves, which gave me such comfort last October. My little brother was in a Gainesville, GA hospital, northeast of Atlanta, and not far from where my daughter lives. He was dying of cancer. The vibrant leaves around my hotel reminded me every sad day that life goes on.

And Hawaii, the last item on my list, again nice but not necessary. I think of spending so many Sunday afternoons at the beach as a teen, ruining my skin with too much sun. I realize that if I do make it to Hawaii at my age, I’ll be covered up like a bee keeper.  Not much fun in that.

The only Bucket List I have now is much more local:

More summers to watch quail families in our back yard. More falls listening to geese honking overhead as they fly south. More winter drives to Coeur d’Alene with my husband to see eagles in tall trees around Wold Bay. More springs with robins building nests in our climbing rose trellis.

It’s clear to me now that what I most want on my Bucket List is more time for things I love in my own small world, no matter how small my world seems to anyone with bigger dreams. I guess that means that I only have one thing on my bucket list now:  More time!

 

 

 

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Pictures

Pictures

My family pictures are in a lovely box, on the bottom shelf of a bookcase in my office.  I might add, in the closet, out of sight, out of mind, yet never long enough to become dusty. Some afternoons if the rain is just right – drizzling with no wind, I will sit on the porch and look through these photos.

Other days I might take the box to the living room sofa. Usually one or two are culled. A good many went into the family history albums I put together for my children for Christmas two years ago, shortly after my mother died at 95 ½. It was time to put old ghosts to bed.

This started with our Family Ancestry, then moved to Wedding Photos of my children’s dad and myself, then My Early Years, and The Children, then Later Years (with my grand kids and second husband), then The Next Generation (my children and a bit of genealogy of their spouses as well – in case any of my grand kids want to do more ancestry research.) After this I included a section for The Grandchildren, and finally, Some of my Writing – a copy of several short stories that have been published, some poetry I’ve written, and favorite blog posts,  with a big picture of sunflowers.

I debated about this for some time. Would I write a memoir for my kids? Or just make photo albums for each of them? One day the puzzle fell into place. I decided to do an album for each, with chosen categories for sections of our lives together, which allowed me to write a narrative ‘letter’ to my children about those chosen years. I feel certain this was as much for me as it was for them. It reminded me that any one day of our lives together mattered as much to me as any other day in  my life, even now.

The pictures themselves, the ones in the box, are pictures of family, friends, my children as babies, our lives at different times, houses where we lived with our Air Force moves, who went to school where, when they married and pictures of the grandchildren later.

There are also pictures of where we live now:  quail on a fence, wild turkeys by the mailbox in the winter, probably looking for food, and in summer the raspberries,  strawberries and rhubarb. There are flowers of all colors in our yards and others. One of my favorite old pictures is one of the tall camellias in my grandparent’s yard on Blount St. in Pensacola.  Truth be told, many of the more current photos are probably still on my camera. Amazing what technology does to us. I should have more printed up, but that might mean a larger photo box. Oh, dear.

It all comes down to closing the loop for me, to snapping the carabiner shut. We are ready to go to the next phase of the photo box. My children want my husband and me move to Georgia, closer to my daughter and family.  My husband and I bought our house here for our retirement home.  Future pictures may be of this house in Spokane, WA or in a different house in Athens, GA. Who knows?  If we move, I don’t I want a larger photo box. Thinking about things on a deeper level always creates chaos for me, the last thing I need.

For now, as I dig deeper into the photo box, I focus on yesterday – the pictures of my maternal grandmother, Mama Ellis.  I was named after her. I see her dark brown eyes, and then find a picture of her mother, Margaret Johnson before she married. I have her blue eyes and think perhaps this is where my blue eyes came from. I wonder how these women  lived with their young children. My mother and her sister, my Aunt Margie, were wearing old fashioned dresses made by my grandmother in pictures I have of them. They wore lace knee socks and white shoes, with perfectly neat and groomed hair and blue ribbons on their dresses. Their mother and her mother before her did all the things I do now without the dishwasher, inside laundry room, a car in the garage and the nearby grocery store. I can’t imagine getting a drink of water back then without it being a chore.

Trying to put myself into my great grandmother’s skin, the one with the clear blue eyes, I shudder to think she had 14 children. My grandmother, Ruth Ellis, was the 9th child born in this family. Their father, Woodson Peek, was a country doctor, probably why they were able to keep all but two of their children alive until adulthood.

The picture box is more than pictures. It’s my ancestry, my roots, and my children’s roots. It’s the cakes and pies and handed-down recipes I still have in the recipe box from my  mom, Mary Alice Ellis Parks.  It’s the picture of my maternal great grandparents in a horse and buggy, my grandfather Ellis’ first automobile. It’s the past, my past, that makes my future possible, and the futures of my children, their children and beyond. It makes me smile to know that my grandson’s middle name is Ellis.

Where I am from is the yellow corn fields of Larchwood, Iowa and the white sand beaches of Pensacola, Florida. My background includes South Carolina and Georgia, even Pennsylvania, I am told, and before that England, Ireland and Scotland. As are most of us, I am a mix of many people and families, in this and in other countries, as mixed up as the photos that cluster together in my photo box. This box lies safe and protected now, where I can look through it any time I want, to remember so many and so much. This sometimes happens in the middle of the night, if I can’t sleep.

When I close the lid on the box, my thoughts take a leap to the future. Who will take this box with them? Will it languish on another shelf until it becomes dusty and forgotten? Or will the photos be sorted into a smaller pile, one that can fit into a different box? That seems the logical thing to do, but which pictures will be saved?

Some things are not meant to be known, and we learn to be content to wonder. For now I know that all of the pictures I love are either in my children’s albums or in the box in my closet.  It is enough for me now to love every single picture in the box.

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Easter Memories

 

Easter wreath 2016

One rainy afternoon last week, looking through our family photo box, I found a picture of my three-year old daughter, Allison, hunting Easter eggs in Denver, Colorado, wearing her blue Easter dress and fancy white bonnet. This was one of the few times she kept a hat on for any length of time, especially a hat with an annoying ribbon.  Quick, I told myself, take the picture. Now. She won’t keep that hat on long.  And she didn’t. The hat came off as soon as she found the first egg for her basket. I also found a picture of my seven-year old son, Phil, in his jacket and tie, hunting eggs before church. Being older he always found more eggs, but was kind enough to share with his little sister.

The kids are grown now with busy lives and children of their own, and live in different cities. We text, send emails, chat on the phone, and visit back and forth, as any empty-nester parent knows. No matter what dinner I plan, there are memories lodged in my heart from long-ago Easters with happy children decorating eggs all over the kitchen table; waking up Sunday morning to find baskets the bunny never forgot to leave; dressing for church; the joy of hunting eggs early in the morning with dew still on the grass; and finally church and Sunday School, with lessons about the risen Christ, then Easter dinner, and afterwards, serious attention to baskets and chocolate bunnies.

Now time has marched on. Our photo box holds pictures of so many Easters and other holidays as well ~ Thanksgivings, 4th of Julys, birthdays, weddings, grand kids being born. Adding up the years can be overwhelming. Like today, with Easter upon us so soon. I am grateful my kids grew up to be caring adults, with children of their own for dying Easter eggs and all that involves. At my daughter’s for Easter a few years ago, the bunny (named Albert in their house) left a basket on the breakfast table with my name on it, with my very own chocolate bunny. I felt like a child again, and could bite off those ears any time I wanted.

Today there is a wooden bunny in our front door wreath, and an Easter table runner from my mother-in-law on the dining room table, with a wicker basket and colored eggs from my friend, Gail. On Easter there will be a turkey breast in the oven, and probably dressing. There might even be a cake.

Rainy days or not, I am filled with gratitude whenever I look through our family photos. The pictures still draw me into sounds of laughter, happy faces and fun, no matter which pictures or which occasions. Sometimes I can still taste the cakes I baked. It’s as if I am in the middle of it, surrounded by children and love.

This Easter there will be cards, phone calls and e-mails. The kids are gone, we’re older, the holidays smaller, and it’s OK with us. It’s just different. But as I think about it, the rain has gone, the sun has come out, and it’s a beautiful day to shop for a brand new cake plate. After all, no matter how many years have slipped by, where the kids live, how we touch base this Easter, or how much the bunny may have slowed down, she still lives deep within my heart. That’s something that’s never going to change.

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Time

One Perfect word

Each year since reading One Perfect Word by Debbie Macomber,  I have decided to focus on one perfect word for my life during the coming year. Sometimes I have changed words in the middle of the year, or whenever it felt necessary, but it’s OK.  For each of us, needs change.  Then focus shifts.  Anyone who has ever had a sick child or loved one knows this, or anyone having to deal with sudden complications, plane flights interrupted, any kind of emergency. The list goes on and on.

What I am talking about here is more quiet things that occur in our lives. Sometimes it’s a small lesson, maybe a word from a stranger that causes us to realign our paths for the moment, and maybe forever.  “That’s it.  I’m done with that,” or “Yes. This is a new way. I’ll try this for now.”  And we shift our focus.  “It’s time I let go of that,” or ‘It’s time I looked at this in a new way.”

So it’s easy to see that the word TIME is my One Perfect Word for the year.  It’s simply time for me to focus on time. To integrate time more fully in my life. We are only one month into 2016 and already I can see that time is a major focus for me. In the past I’d find myself rushing around, grabbing a water bottle, forgetting my weights, already late for an exercise class … or wondering who on earth left all those dishes in the sink when it was time to start dinner, in a messy kitchen, no less.

Now, with time as my focus, it is no longer happening. I arrive at appointments early and no longer race across town to get where I need to be at an appointed time, no longer fire off texts or emails to friends in the middle of the night or way too early in the morning so that it wakes them up. Just being aware of the time, living in harmony with time rather than fighting it, has made a difference. I feel calm, no longer rushed. I find myself at peace more often, a new experience for me.  The word Zen comes to mind. I am at peace with the time in my life.  Finally at what I consider to be a ‘seasoned’ age, I am losing my long-held impatience with the world.  All in its time, I tell myself.  There is a time for everything. It’s OK to wait. It will happen when it’s meant to happen. Let go. Worrying about when the mail will arrive isn’t going to make it arrive any sooner.  Of course I always knew this to be true.  But knowing something and living with its truth are two different things.

When I chose time as my one perfect word for this year, I did not imagine the ways it would affect me with such things as being on time for appointments or lessons, not rushing with my own plans, being early to meet friends for coffee.  Little things. Being ready for a TV show with my cup of hot tea all ready, ten minutes before a show starts.  What?  Not ten minutes late? Or on time but still stressing about other things I wanted to do before the show started?  Like making a needed phone call, touching base with a friend, writing a note, firing off a text.  Always the feeling of leaving something undone.

No, the time I was thinking of as being my focus for the year was really more related to age.  The age I am, the age my friends are, the age of their parents and loved one, having people die on us before we are ready to let them go, as if we are ever ready. But the words too soon kept entering my conversation.

I envisioned giving myself time to play in the garden without fretting about other things left undone, time to enjoy picking the flowers, rather than stressing about leaving something else undone just to go out and pick flowers in my yard, or even time to arrange my clothes by color in the closet if I wanted, and relishing that time, not feeling as if I were stealing it from some other task. My new focus on time is that whatever I am doing is the thing I am supposed to be doing at that moment, that hour, that week.

Part of this focus, I am sure, has come about because in late December my younger brother was given a terminal cancer diagnoses with little time left.  A matter of weeks, in fact. I stressed for days wondering if I might make another quick trip to Georgia from Washington state. It’s a long trip, expensive trip, and the kind of thing we usually plan for, not do on the spur of the moment.  I’d told him goodbye in October with a quickly-planned trip to Georgia, fearing the end was close. And now it was late December. Phone calls became more frequent with doctors, nurses, care givers, with frantic prayers and worrying about him dominating my thoughts. Another week went by. Then another week. At an exercise class one Wednesday morning I said to a friend, “I don’t know what to do. I’ve already told him goodbye,” and the reply was, “Go.”  I came home and talked to a friend who was staying at our house. “Go now,” she said. “You need to go. Don’t wait!” I heeded her words and was on a plane the next afternoon.

It was his time. And in a way, my time, too.  A time to sign my brother into Hospice so he would die peacefully, no longer raging against dying. Time for reflection. For prayers. For reaching out to friends, all who reached back in loving an caring ways.

So it is my focus for this year, for so many things I could have never imagined a few years ago. Just this morning I realized, after some personal hardships, it’s time for my husband and me to recognize that we have become survivors, each of us.  One stroke, one job loss, ten days apart.  It took more time than we could have imagined to crawl out of those twin pits of despair. Now we’re OK. It’s time to enjoy our lives again, after years of worry.

In years past I’ve had the word less as my one perfect word. That was the year I embarked on a great decluttering exercise, getting rid of everything I didn’t want to dust anymore. Another year it was the word balance. That was the year I began reading, knitting, and gardening more, each in its own space and time. So nice to restore balance in our lives. Another year it was the word gratitude, when I began to keep a gratitude and prayer journal. So many years. So many perfect words. And now time. It’s time to focus on time in my life, in all of her many and varied disguises.  I look forward to meeting all of the lessons I am being given about time, all the lessons I still need to learn. Every single one of them.

 

 

 

 

 

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My Little Brother

Angels - woman and baby (Grandmother)

When I was 12, my mother told me we were going to have a new baby in our family. I pictured a little sister to love and play dolls with, but never thought it might be a boy.

It took a while for me to process this, but once the reality of a new baby in the house sunk in, I was hooked. Every morning at the first baby sounds I was at his crib, grabbing blanket, toys and anything else my 12-year-old-self could hold, reaching down to lift him, tiptoe back to my bed and snuggle with him until my mother came to find her baby.

Having 12 years between us, our lives took different paths. When he started Kindergarten, I was a high school senior and a flag twirler in the marching band. The year he started first grade, I started college. My little brother was only nine years old when I graduated and was married.

A month and a day after I moved to Upper Michigan as an AF bride, from our home in Pensacola, Florida, my 53 year old father died of a massive heart attack. Our lives became   a blur. A funeral was planned. We drove home from Michigan.

My mother told me later that she would take my brother to the cemetery where he would sit by the grave with his new portable radio to play it so his father could listen. He was nine. I can’t even imagine the heart ache this must have caused each of them.

From then on my brother and I lived different lives. He finished high school and college while I became a mom. I had two marriages. He had three. I had two children. He had none. We were together a few times at holidays, but not often. Letters were sparse. But I loved him, always remembering our times snuggling under the covers until my mother insisted he needed to be changed and fed, and I would reluctantly hand him over ~ all now a life time ago.

My little brother is now 62 and in a hospital in Georgia. It’s cancer. He’s been told it’s terminal. Hearts break silently when such words are spoken. A caring angel named Jan took him to doctor appointments, brought him food, cared for his dog, and called paramedics. He’s past the surgery stage, on cancer medications, and has had dental care in preparation for radiation and chemo. Hospice is next, sometime this week.

I was able to visit him briefly in October, but it was not long enough. It felt surface. He did not want me to see him in decline, and I did not want to see him in decline, either. It hurts to know I can no longer protect him, but I can see that his ashes are buried as he wishes, the last good thing I can do for him.

My brother is confused now, sometimes unsure of where he is, and suffering the pain of finding out today that his cancer is back, and that he does not have long to live. But one thing is certain. I will always love him, even when he sometimes forgets that once, a very long time ago, he loved me, too. My little brother will always have a permanent parking space in my heart.

 

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Renewal

Renewal trellis 5-16-15

Today I am filled with a sense of renewal.  If I lived in a beach cabin alone I could write an entire novel today, so filled with love, joy and a sense of abundance. This picture says it all … taken from my office window, warm and snuggly and still in my pajamas, thinking of the blessings in my life … those past, those here right now, and those to come.

To some this trellis might look like a worn out structure needing repair, or at least needing to be shorn up so it would stand straighter.  On the north side of the trellis, not shown in this picture, there is a pitiful grape plant, sprouting only a few leaves this May. In the past grape vines covered the trellis to the very top, and for two years in a row,  a momma robin sitting on her nest of baby birds the way I used to care for my own babies. Maybe this is why so many people love watching baby birds being fed and taught to fly.

This morning my trellis speaks to me of a life well lived, with the dragon fly mobile that catches the sun all day long and lights up after dark. Last summer, with a robin on her nest at the top, barely visible among the grape leaves,  before we decided to dig up the old grape plant last Fall, I wondered what our momma bird thought about the bright light under her nest each evening. On some level I’ve always wondered what birds thought. How would they ever tell us?

My dragon fly mobile fills me with joy and promise now because my good friend, Gail, sent it to me last summer. She has one too, at her house in California. Each morning it erases the miles between California and Washington and fills me with new hope, knowing the sun it catches during the day will be reflected back to me each evening when it lights up again. My own personal  Old Faithful.

Whenever I look at this trellis I marvel at the only peony  in our yard, a deep pink, magnificent in what it is in a hurry to become, like a beautiful young woman ripe with promise.

And there, peeking through the lattice on the south side of our trellis, is the Cecile Brunner climbing rose that Gail sent me, also last Summer, when I needed as much care as the plants I tended. I put a small selection of colorful river rocks around my new rose bush when it was planted and peeked at it each day as it thrived its way to the very top of the trellis.  A few days ago I placed my humming bird yard ornament at the edge of this rose bush I know will fill our trellis with pink sweetheart roses all Summer.  The humming bird sits there now like a watchful friend. It fills me with a sense of renewal, like everything else about this trellis, whether it stands up straight or not.

Is it any wonder this trellis fills me with such joy?

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