31 August 2010

Personal currency

Sometimes my mind takes me to an unusual place. It all started out so simply. A Saturday night dinner with two lovely friends at my favorite bistro. One friend, a widow, lost her job in a layoff about a year ago, but has found enough work to keep paying the bills. We genuinely care about her and are sensitive to her situation. But it seems that her worries are practically over. Out of the blue, an offer appeared to purchase an asset that she has held for many years. It was the answer to a prayer.

While this transaction does not propel her into the jet-set uber-wealthy stratosphere, it does ease her budget constraints and make for a comfortable retirement. At 75, she certainly deserves a few days off now and then.

This conversation initiated a web of thoughts related to women. And money. While there are many women who are employed or run their own businesses and earn an income that meets their family living expenses, there are many who do not.

My grandmother had a job outside of the home to contribute to the home economy. She earned a low wage, but it helped. My great-grandmother sold eggs, butter, strawberries and other products from her garden to help make ends meet. Her mother, a widow, took in boarders to pay the bills.

Many generations of women have worked, traded a currency available to them, to pay for the necessities of life.

My mind wandered back to a favorite book of fiction, social commentary actually, by Edith Wharton. Lily Bart was the heroine. A young woman from a family of social distinction, but without the independent means to sustain her livelihood. The currency available to her was her youth, beauty and cleverness. However, trading this currency to a possible husband that she did not love did not seem like an attractive trade to her. Unfortunately, she did not have the means or the strength to hold out for love.

A similar, familiar tale is woven into Tennessee Williams’ play, A Streetcar Named Desire. Blanche DuBois, the heroine, capitalizes on the currency available to her in order to obtain security and stability: charm and beauty. She attempts to fabricate youth into the equation to close the deal, a deal in which she is willing to forgo love. But unfortunately…well, everyone knows the ending.

In my own circle of family, friends and acquaintances, I know of several females who are in a situation similar to Lily and Blanche. The currency available to them does not include the education and professional experience needed to drive an income sufficient to pay for the lifestyles with which they are familiar.

I don’t know if my outlook is pessimistic or realistic, but I don’t put much faith in the dream of a knight in shining armor. Fairy tale endings usually only occur in fairy tales.

Except, of course, for the good fortune of my friend.

27 August 2010

School year memories

The added presence of school buses on the roads this week brought to mind all the things that used to occupy my world as a youngster starting the new school year.  Best wishes to students everywhere as the academic year begins.

26 August 2010

Shadowy passages

I went for a quick swim at about 5:15 this morning, although it was not originally my plan. I jumped in to retrieve my little guy, Tristan, who had wandered into the pool by mistake in the dim morning light. His aging eyes betray him and he is guided primarily by sound, smell and touch. But this morning he encountered mixed signals and took a wrong turn.

It was his first time in the water and it was undoubtedly a frightening experience for him. Back on dry land, it took him a short while to recover the strength to move around again. And even then, he was nervous, shaking. Breakfast, biscuits and the warm air from the hair dryer helped to banish the scary memory.

His eyesight has been deteriorating rather quickly over the past several weeks and it is clear to me that I need a better plan to help guide him and communicate with him as he navigates through the shadowy world. Over the next several days I need to make it a priority to experiment with a few behavioral strategies to determine what seems beneficial.

He is my little dog of nine lives. When I found him, he was nearly dead from starvation, exposure and heartworms. But he bounced back. A few years later, he was diagnosed with cancer and had a nasty tumor removed from his foot, but that experience didn’t slow him down a bit. A few years after that, he slipped out the front door by mistake, ran into the street and in the blink of an eye was in the path of an oncoming truck. The truck ran over him but Tristan was not injured badly, just sore, bruised and scared. And now, blindness. It sort of reminds me of Voltaire’s notable character, Candide.

He has the heart of a lion and is cheerful every day of his life. He stole my heart that first night when I saw him wandering and lost. Perhaps his courage, spirit and the love of his 2-legged and 4-legged family will help to bolster him through this next stage of his life.

24 August 2010


The loss of a family member leaves a hole in the family, a collective wound.

I have spent much of my life with dogs and cats in my household and have witnessed their response to loss. The way they suffer wounds of grief.

When Jackie died two months ago, the dynamics of our four-legged family began to shift ever so slightly. The dogs selected new preferred locations in the kitchen to sleep. I changed the placement of their breakfast and dinner food bowls. Always on the prowl for food, little Tristan stepped up his patrol of the other dogs’ progress during mealtimes and became more vocal, growling about perceived encroachments around his own eating space.

I should have noticed.

Years before, when Jackie’s companion Hemingway died, he progressed through a period of despondent sadness, then moved into a stage of hyper aggression that took me by surprise and ultimately resulted in a broken clavicle and a trip to the emergency room. My injury was just collateral damage. The real target of Jackie’s aggression was another dog.

Jackie’s grief, his wound, was deep and those feelings found their way to the surface.

This time the crescendo was startlingly similar.

In a sort of passive-aggressive posturing technique, Tristan often sleeps in the doorway of one of the guest rooms we use as an office and cozy TV-nook. His position makes it difficult for Edgar to enter or exit the room. Edgar is polite and submissive and usually waits for either Cristy or me to urge Tristan to move, allowing Edgar to pass. But Sunday night, Edgar attempted to pass without the accompanying verbal instruction and Tristan took grave exception. A snarling confrontation ensued and Edgar bit Tristan.

Bite: the fearful event we associate with out of control canine aggression.

The aftermath is subdued. Edgar has resumed his normal peaceful, submissive manner and Tristan is a bit more polite than usual. I’m guarded and have started carrying a little rattle around with me to divert Tristan’s attention if I hear any growling or if his focus on another dog is too intense. A little technique I noticed on one of The Dog Whisperer programs.

Later today I’ll take Tristan to the vet to have his wound attended to by professionals. But his other wound, and Edgar’s too, the loss of their companion Jackie is beyond my ability to remedy and possibly beyond my ability to console.

21 August 2010

Considering the d-i-y alternative to home decorating

Someone once told me that just because you know how to read doesn't mean you can teach a person to read. There is a profession of individuals that specialize in education. It is a skill and a vocation.

Just because I read design blogs and am interested in making my home beautiful on a restricted budget doesn't mean that it will look like the wonderfully spectacular rooms I see in these blogs on a daily basis.

I scanned through one of these blogs today and the blogger featured photos sent in by her readers. For the most part, I could see what the d-i-yers were trying to accomplish, but I also saw the distinct difference between their finished product and the professionally designed homes with the beautifully appointed rooms and cost-is-no-object furnishings.

So then I started wondering about my own efforts. I have never hired a decorator and have always opted to take the d-i-y route with room design. Truth is, cost is a big factor in every single selection. Do the fruits of my labor seem as humble as the reader photographs I viewed earlier?

Maybe the more pivotal question is, does it even matter?

There are plenty of photographs of outlandishly expensive homes that are just not my cup of tea, so to speak. So maybe all that matters is that I brew the tea that I love and serve it joyfully.

My tea of choice involves the combination of pretty patterns, something I don't see very often on designer blogs.

Sweetened with a few homemade touches

a secret ingredient or two, passed down through the generations

All stirred together with a collection of things I love

Because after all, I live in a home, not a magazine.

11 August 2010

Wednesday wordle

I created two wordles in a study of contrasts.  Two common themes in language and life.  Big and little.  I noticed how I was feeling as I created the two wordles.  The big wordle seemed selfish.  These words that serve a useful purpose, seemed to leave no room for any other ideas.  They almost stifled my imagination.  They felt bold and boastful.  I felt ashamed.

And as I created the little wordle, I started to feel voiceless.  As though these important words would not be seen or heard above the noisy party that was on the other side of the page.  I started to feel defeated.

I longed to create a third wordle, the middle ground.  Where I could find satisfaction in balance, appreciation of the contrast between vibrant and delicate.

Funny the way this mind works.  They're just words.

For your own wordle, visit www.wordle.net.

10 August 2010

An excuse

One of the things I love about being female, and it is entirely a female thing, is that every once in a while, things just make sense, from a biological perspective. If you know what I mean.

Last Friday I received some information regarding my medical benefits that was moderately worrisome. I fretted about it off and on through the weekend. On Monday, I received some further information, but with no resolution plan in sight, it conjured up an extra dose of worry.

Throughout the day on Monday, I kept reminding myself of the serenity prayer, the thing that often helps me find the center of calm. But I was still distressed.

And last night, my lovely Cristy-bella made some mini chocolate brownie lava cakes. With great restraint, I ate only one and it was delicious. I immediately felt better, not just because of the chocolate, but that never hurts.

I didn’t stew that much this morning about the situation, but a little signal reminded me that even at my advanced age, stress and anxiety almost always accompany a normal human function, of the female persuasion.

And I feel even better with the knowledge that I have a built-in, gender-ready excuse for my grumpy worrisome distress of the past couple of days. It’s almost as though I get to write myself an excuse. As a young girl, I used to love it when my mom would write an excuse note for me – it was like a huge sigh of relief. This feels EXACTLY the same way.

07 August 2010

Tastes like summer

As I get older, it seems that the simplest things trigger an enormous surge of happiness. Today I find myself grateful for the happiness that comes my way courtesy of hummingbirds and avocados.

Twice per year, fortunate households along the Texas gulf coast, indeed throughout many states across the US, are honored to host ruby throated hummingbirds as they travel along their migration path. Just over a week ago, the southbound birds began to arrive and we are overjoyed that they have found the feeders in our yard and have decided to stay for a while.

They passed us by on their northward migration path this past February.

But this season, we took a more aggressive stance. Got a second feeder. Relocated both to a more prominent position. And the strategy has worked. Several of the tiny delicate birds dart in throughout the day to sip the sweet nectar, when they are not busy chasing each other. For as fragile as they seem, they are noisy and fierce when it comes to defending claim to a food supply.

And every time I see one, I seem to catch my breath, whisper a little greeting and find myself bursting with a million smiles.

There is so much to love about summer produce that I cannot with a clear conscience single out one fruit or vegetable without a supremely healthy dose of gratitude for the bounty of beautiful, delicious food in the farmers markets and grocery stores.

But oh my, is it just me, or are the avocados particularly wonderful this year? Each one seems to be perfect and perfectly tasty. The best guacamole in town can be had right in my own kitchen, thanks to these delicious green fruits.

Cutting each one open to assemble this delectable treat gives me the kind of culinary rush that rivals the pros on the food network. And I smile as I add the perfectly roasted corn kernels, squeeze the juice out of the lime and toss in a dash of cumin.

Tastes like summer to me.

03 August 2010

Locating inspiration

Today one of my colleagues dropped by my office, and to my surprise, the topic of faith and religion emerged.  In the past, I would have tried my best to avoid these conversations, but for reasons that I cannot quite identify, I don't mind so much anymore.  Even though I am not a serious student of the Bible, I feel connected, grounded to the faith of my understanding.  And I'll do my best to hear what someone else has to say without taking it personally.  After all, each person's faith is personal only to them.

Oddly, just last week, the topic of faith and religion was a topic of discussion in our own home for a day or two.  Cristy received some unsolicited feedback on the subject from a longtime friend, and unfortunately, the tone was judgmental to a degree. (More on that at another time.)  And that incident has heightened my consideration of faith and brought my relationship with God, the work in progress that it is, into sharper focus.

Two days ago, a blogger and artist who also works in the publishing business featured this fabulous collage of words on his blog (Fullet at Secret Forest) and it has renewed my love affair with the beauty of words.  This particular wordle attempts to describe an inspired exploration of faith.

01 August 2010

Class of 1979

Last night I went to my high school reunion. It wasn’t a huge gathering of a hundred people in a hotel ballroom, it was a small gathering at a Mexican restaurant. Maybe 20 or 30 people. I hadn’t been close friends with most of the people present when we were students together 32 years ago, but I did, at least, remember most of them. Everyone was smiling and congenial. We hugged, asked about children, grandchildren and parents. We told each other how wonderful we looked and truly meant it. Happiness and peace seemed present in everyone, and the inner beauty of each person was readily apparent.

On the surface, the experience was enjoyable: renewing acquaintances from long ago. On a deeper level, it was mildly unnerving: revisiting the shadow of my former self. Someone asked me if I had kept in touch with any of our classmates through the years and I had to honestly answer that I hadn’t. That question opened a little tunnel to my past and caused me to consider who I was and how I got from there to here.

Life is a process of self discovery. During the past five years I made a rather significant discovery about myself. Consequently, it occurs to me that years ago, living without this information was not exactly advantageous. I found myself struggling to feel comfortable with myself and feel as though I had control of my own happiness.

As I was about to depart, someone mentioned how much I had changed. And she was right. On the drive home I realized my own journey of self discovery had been astonishingly transformational. While I am the same person that I was all those years ago, I now know who that person is. I am able to live an authentic life and it has removed those barriers to happiness that seemed to plague me before.

So overall, I’m glad I went to this reunion. I wish it had not been such a fleeting, hurried experience. But it was a good experience.