Making peace…

Yes, we made that road trip and it was wonderful! This was our first one in a few years and we were thrilled to find that we’re still true road warriors, in spite of having relied on the airlines for all of our extended travel for a while now. Full disclosure, the process of flying wears me out far more than driving, especially with the benefit of ergonomic seats in a genuinely comfortable car, with my best California freeway guy at the wheel. Having said that, it’s taken me two full weeks to recover, but this is better, trust me.

My sister and bro-in-love have retired to the lodge-pole pine forest of the Southwest, up where it’s warm but not too warm and the air is supremely breathable (except in pockets where fires are still raging). Most days the humidity hovered around 5-15% and our skin drank lanolin like water. The mornings are cool and still, perfect for sitting on the back patio with coffee, watching iridescent hummingbirds attack the feeder while elk graze in the National Forest that butts up to the cedar picket fence. Later in the day they bring their spindly-legged, still-spotted babies with them. We got to watch four and a new one was born after we left. There’s a large, multi-generational crow family that’s intriguing to observe, not least because their King has a head roughly the size of a bowling ball and he’s as arrogant and raucous as you might imagine, with a wingspan to back it up.

The days evolve on their own, with maybe a ride to a sweet little spot a few miles up the road for The Best Hamburger in the World, or another day to a place that legit has the best pizza I’ve ever tasted, with all ingredients either grown on the premises or handmade there, wood-fired outdoors in the mountain air and served with the latest house brew. Memorable. Or mid-afternoon, perfect filet-mignon on the patio, with bakers and the whole menu. My brother-in-law is a genius at the grill.

It was definitely not all about food, although we lived like kings. One day they took us to Sedona, beautiful, mystical Sedona, of the red, red rocks and the spires and formations. The entire area is stand-alone gorgeous, but in order to give the neophyte a feel for why it’s become the mecca it has, I’m quoting from a generic Google search:

“The majestic red rock scenery and evergreen vegetation are two reasons for the unique energy of Sedona and its tangible regenerative and inspirational effects. …Sedona is also internationally known for the uplifting power of its Vortex meditation sites.”

You’re most welcome, of course, to explore that on your own time, but I’ll remember Sedona for the view from a back balcony on the main drag, the chips & salsa and cold beer we all shared there, and the perfect peace-symbol necklace Kim brought me when he came back with refills in the icy mugs. It’s so timely I want it around my neck every day.

Evenings in the forest are for the hot-tub and star-gazing…and peaceful sleep while the cool soaks into the house again.

After letting the road-weariness drain out of me, and the heavy-heartedness of recent months sift down to a numbness of mind that defied words and finally dissolved into inevitable tears, I’m ready, as a friend so wisely said yesterday, to surround myself with peace instead of drama on every level, a goal that takes intention. Life insists on bringing everything back to a mundane level, to silly jr high deceits and intrigues, infighting and craziness – and my new favorite sight (again, until I get it right) is that of my feet walking away.

Love and family are real – give me more of that, please.

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What’s today?

I have a post in progress about the fact that we’re home, but it’s going nowhere, so – WE’RE HOME, KIDS, it’s official. Feeling cute, might make something of it later, but I’m tired of it hangin’ on me. I’m waiting to feel properly inspired to tell you “What I Did On My Vacation,” as it so richly deserves.

What’s on my mind right now is change. We thought a wet spring would never become a hot summer, but the change was like overnight, BAM and wow. It’s the kind of heat that gets you from the inside out when the air stops moving, and this year for the first time I’m wearing a cold cloth around my neck when we move outside for the cocktail hour(s). This delicate prairie flower is feeling the ire of summer, so hot it seems personal all at once. Yikes. (Note: We’re getting a welcome break at the moment.)

Change is afoot in #lfk, as is likely true in most small cities with rich histories and distinct personalities up against a shifting tax base and somewhat changing demographics. While we were away, a change or two took place that I assume will eventually require some sort of mediation in order to arrive at a resolution. As much as any of us may vow that we like change, it rarely arrives easily or smoothly. And most of us are in some way lying as to how we feel about it.

Change has been underway in the lives of my close family members for the past few months and it’s been a happy thing to see. And sometimes good change for the people we love opens new doors for us, too – bonus!

A lot of change is happening right now in the building we’ve called home for seven years, where the lofts are owner-occupied. People moving out, people moving in, common in rental situations, but not at all here until recently. I’m getting the message – people moving out of our lives will be how this works, more and more. Thanks, reality, you’ve been a delight all year – I could use a break for a while. Let’s talk vacation again…and how cool is that, we’ve accidentally segued into a 4th of July post. Clever, no?

Be happy and safe today, friends, and aim for good change in all the ways you can – it’s what keeps things moving forward.

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Annnnd…

ROAD TRIP, BABIES !!

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A list of happy…

***Another spring flashback for new friends…

Our clean quiet loft

Sunlight slipping through the wooden blinds and striping the bed

Half a pot of coffee staying warm until after I talk myself into

A hot shower and day-jams fresh from the dryer

French Open in full murmur on TV

Cold milk, crunchy cereal, and a flawless banana

Endless selection of great art on the internet, to be transformed into jigsaw puzzles that let my brain freewheel in a world of words and ideas, sometimes for hours (I was always a fairly cheap date)

Friends, with their unique ways of showing me I’ve been seen and heard and I don’t have to be cautious with my words

Plans that carry me forward and remind me I’m not finished yet

Lunch with my husband, after listening to him play guitar for an hour

A soothing pedi

Projects that lay hold of my attention and validate the future

A town and living space that nurture my humanity and affirm that life goes on

NOT THE END

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I’m okay with real…

***Reaching back three years for new readers…

Summer water classes started on Tuesday so this chicky is in the swim again. It’s great exercise and a lot less dance-y than my initial plunge at another facility – this could work out. The instructor is easy to love and it’s all friendly funny women plus one cute shy husband. Other than a few younger women we’re all approximately from the same era, including our badass sweetheart of a teacher, so there are lots of Judys, Susans, Paulas, Lindas, Nancys, et.al.

Other commonalities – surprise, surprise – would include hearing loss, bad backs, arthritis, sucky balance, and a laundry list of other choices. There’s a certain comfort in knowing I’m not the only person my age who’s falling apart, but it’s even sweeter to know that everyone in the class, including Token Man, cares about him/herself or they wouldn’t bother showing up. I see it on all the faces – “I matter. This part of my life counts big-time. Let’s keep it evolving upward.”

Humor is how Baby-Boomers roll, because DUH, without it you stop rolling. I advise you, boys and girls, to maintain a healthy personal space between yourself and humor-challenged people – close interaction rarely ends well. And if you happen to be a “feeler” like someone I know well, you’ll haul the sand from every encounter until it all finally sifts out through your flip-flops. Our happy lil’ class is populated by people who love laughing at themselves in good ways – how does anybody keep putting one foot in front of the other without that? Yikes.

Their sweet little downcast faces ^^^ would break your heart.

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Well, THIS sucks…

***Bringing back a golden oldie for new readers – yet another from the early days.

We didn’t win the lottery AGAIN, which is crushing because PLANS — I was on a quest to revolutionize my wardrobe by way of that venerated institution, the Sundance Catalog.   Please don’t sue me, Robert Redford, for naming names — I obviously can’t afford that since we STILL DIDN’T WIN THE LOTTERY.

It’s all so disappointing because my first new outfit as a gazillionaire was going to be killer, starting with the jeans, which are $108 and still have PIECES OF ACTUAL DENIM clinging to each other!  There’s a sweet top, a twee rumpled creation weighing less than an ounce and going for a very reasonable $198.  There’s a distressed-leather peacoat that looks fab with the little top — it’s only $548.  The shortie boots in the same shade as the jacket, complete with fringe and studs, are a must — they retail for $575.  To nail the look I’ll need the slouch bag for $368 and a cool nubbly belt at $120. Then we get to the fun stuff — the jewelry.  Three necklaces, layered, at $1190, $3400, and $1300 respectively; eight stacked wrist cuffs totaling $4800; seven rings for $1603; and the earrings, $285.  And a perfectly darling may-or-may-not-keep-time watch for chump change of $98.  The surgery to add 10″ to my height is probably going to run into actual money.

So for just the debut ensemble, not counting height-enhancement because who knows, I’m looking at approximately $15,000 with shipping.  And realistically I couldn’t wear the outfit every day because it isn’t wedding and funeral appropriate, so it’s imperative that I buy out the catalog in its entirety, including the furniture.  My dreams are all-encompassing.

Way to ruin my life, Powerball.  Mr. Redford and I were going to be besties.

Plan B:  Snag this $98 vintage bandanna scarf and accessorize my overalls.

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My Life in Books

Not everyone can say this, but I still live in the same town where I was born.  I was temporarily away, as I was raised twelve miles outside town, but in western Kansas that meant I could practically see the hospital from the farm.  I spent a summer in New Jersey in the 60s, a boyfriend thing.  I lived on yet another farm two counties away for almost 35 years, a marriage thing.  Even during those first-marriage years, though, I wasn’t more than a half-hour from my birthplace.  And now I’m back.

You might be tempted to think that my life has been deadly boring, but you’d be wrong, although the potential was certainly there.  On the contrary, thanks to the incredible world of books, I’ve traveled just about everywhere and gotten to know people I’ll never forget.  My mom, a woman wonderfully ahead of her time, started reading to me from approximately the second I popped my head out in the delivery room, and she did the same for my sisters and brother.  Books were always a hot topic of conversation in our house and pretty much nothing was off-limits if we thought we were big enough to handle it (other than the fascinating volumes I discovered in my parents’ closet, but that’s a story that shall never be told).

Our mom fully understood that reading holds the power to ward off prejudice, ignorance, and dullness of spirit.  We all shared the isolation of the farm, but she had no intention of letting that shape us for life.  We even got by with ducking work sometimes, as long as it was for the sake of a book, the unspoken agreement being that we had to make sure no sibling saw it happening.

If you locked me in a room with only a bodice-ripping romance novel for company, I’d scan it for erotic parts, strictly in the interest of Continuing Adult Education, but I might not read it.  I’m not sure I could.  I’d rather count fly-specks on the walls or stains on the carpet.  If that makes me sound like a snob, I apolo … um, no, I don’t, it’s the truth.  But that’s just me … I’m not judging. Full disclosure, I was the girl who read the backs of cereal boxes and devoured the Reader’s Digest from cover to cover, so take me with a serious grain of salt.

Give me a great biography or autobiography, a historical novel, a sophisticated mystery, a realistic crime novel or true account, an entertaining travel journal, stellar fiction … then walk away and I’m not likely to even notice.  A question I’ve never been able to answer … “What’s the best book you’ve ever read?”  Impossible!  Usually it’s the one I just finished.  I crawl inside every good book I read and live there until it’s done.  And then I take time to mourn just a bit before I pick up the next one …

***A summer rerun from early in my blogging days. And I’ve since moved from my birthplace to a land of peace and discovery.

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The Unbearable Lightness of Reading

A marathon it’s been, the best kind – three books in quick succession, by three distinctive authors, and connected by one unbroken muscular thread – The People, as they have always called themselves – and their existence from time primeval.

First in the “series,” entirely by happy chance, was MAUD’S LINE, written by Margaret Verble and published in 2015, the fictionalized story of a young Cherokee girl becoming a woman in 20th Century Oklahoma. Its contemporary portrayal of a time just past hooked itself into my imagination from – hallelujah, page one – and delivered me directly to book two.

Which – I assume you’re taking notes – was LAKOTA WOMAN, by Mary Crow Dog and Richard Erdoes, published in 1990, and not fictionalized at all. The author was active and instrumental in the Bureau of Land Management and American Indian Movements of the 1970s and 80s with Russell Means, Dennis Banks, so many others, and her gritty recounting of all the seemingly unrightable wrongs that have altered The People’s reality since the White Guys got here burned itself into my consciousness, not to put too fine a point on it.

So when both a friend and an esteemed nephew recommended Annie Proulx’s BARKSKINS within hours of each other it was clear that lil’ Ms. Serendipity had dropped in again and placed a shiny object in my path. Off the top, let me quickly address a few negative comments I’ve seen: that perhaps Ms. Proulx’s focus is…unevenly focused…that she hammers, that she commits “stylistic infelicities.” Yes, I caught all of that, recognized it, owned it and read on. The scope of the story is so expansive, so unexpectedly gripping, that the combined weight of all the odd little imperfections adds up to less than that of a feather – notable by virtue of existence, but in the end taking nothing from the whole.

Annie Proulx, author of THE SHIPPING NEWS, for which she won a Pulitzer in 1994; BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, for which she won the prize called “We’re turning your book into a movie;” along with at least a baker’s dozen more titles, has at 80 years of age turned out an epic about trees, of all things, that kept me absorbed from first page to last. Aside from her colossally amazing book, I love that she’s even older than I am, has been described as “sassy,” and knows how to write like a mutha.

Annie takes us from 1693, starting with the French in what became Canada, to 2013 in what is still Canada – with side trips to London, New Zealand, what we now know as the continental United States, and points everywhere around the globe, the entire saga stemming from one family line and diverging throughout multiple others, from the French, to The People, to the Dutch, et.al. And the wonder is that she makes us care about the majority of those characters, even though we sense they are soon to be swept from the stage to make room for succeeding generations, each more fascinating than the last.

I like big books and I cannot lie, and at more than 700 pages BARKSKINS was too short. Annie Proulx knows how to put us at the scene of the tale with a lovely economy of language; how to scatter engaging and/or redeeming characters into all parts of the story, avoiding what could have become a tedious litany; how to illuminate dilemmas that we would downplay if left on our own. If that shedding of light is “hammering,” we’re clearly in need of a butt-load more of it – the denuding of nearly all this planet’s original forests is but one ongoing dilemma of many.

BARKSKINS indelibly lays out the sins of the past and their consequences for humanity while also serving up reasons for hope, that essential tool of survival. Hang onto it, you future humans, and may it save your hide since most of your forebears have never carried, nor do they (we) carry, their (our) fair share of responsibility for what your present might look like.

As William T. Vollmann wrote in his New York Times book review:

“Now our own world is likewise fading, thanks to climate change. The root cause of our self-impoverishment is thoughtfully teased out in BARKSKINS, whose best line may well be this: ‘My life has ever been dedicated to the removal of the forest for the good of men.'”  – June 17, 2016

***It’s summer re-run time and this is a piece that was published in another forum a couple of years ago.

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We shall haiku on…

inspiration gone

could return if life sorts out

may be a long road

JSmith 12/08/2017

*****

falling asleep on

a pillow soaked with tears makes

for a soggy rest

JSmith 11/12/2017

*****

the rollercoaster

is eating my lunch today

walking away now

JSmith 11/9/2017

*****

doubt butts into life

and tricks us into sorry

paralyzation

JSmith 09/28/2017

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But wait, there’s more…

dark house, rain falling

lightning flashing thunder crash(ing)

bed invites me back

JSmith 06/29/2017

*****

gray flannel morning

melancholy permeates

in here and out there

JSmith 09/16/2017

*****

rain makes me happy

when the sky cries i feel joy

am i damaged goods?

JSmith 09/18/2017

*****


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Are you smiling?

While this lush green NE corner of Kansas decides which season to settle into, winter or spring, here are a few previously posted haiku verses from June of 2016 when my muse was very much with me. I hope they’ll coax the sun from behind the clouds for ALL of us!

***

oh the odd day when

karma runs over dogma

redress is too sweet

JSmith 6/27/2016

***

I’ll bring the Zen and

spend my day not thinking ’bout

sewage in a suit

JSmith 6/25/2016

***

the DH of me

saves my life by riveting

the little heart holes

JSmith 6/24/2016

***

pooled our ignorance

and got it done

old not daft

JSmith 6/22/2016

***

summer solstice hits

crank up the whine-o-matic

sweat is water too

JSmith 6/20/2016

***

no earthly sense in

fear of flying

light me up

JSmith 6/13/2016

***

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Homesick?

Depends on what you mean by home. The place where I grew up was true home for me – native sod broken out by my grandpa, walking behind a one-or-two-bottom plow and a horse or team. The harnesses and all the tack for that and various conveyances still hung on heavy nails up the stairway to the barn loft when I was a kid, harboring that good dusty leather aroma. Grandpa set all the corner posts in cement on what was then just a quarter of land, and poured a low cement border around the entirety of his and Grandma’s multi-acre yard and garden, half flowers, half produce, backed by rows of fruit trees and evergreens. The man meant to stay, he made that clear, and stay he did, until a sudden stroke in his late 70s stopped him in his tracks – I saw it happen – and the farm life he’d built went on because of my dad and my brother, and none of us had to leave home until we were ready to go.

I was fuzzy on the details, but I always knew I’d go somewhere, somehow, sooner rather than later, and I blame my mom, with gratitude. She read to us from the beginning, took us to the Carnegie Library Children’s Department at a reasonable age and turned us loose, gave us free rein in her personal library if we thought we were big enough to handle the subject matter, so there was always a world out there to know about, and we were indirectly invited to explore it without limits on our attitudes or ability to accept people where we found them.

There’s no going home now, and that’s okay. The farm of my childhood belongs to other people and is being lovingly cared for. The same is true of the farm where I spent my first marriage and raised my son. My life takes place far from both in every way and I don’t yearn for either as a destination – I haven’t so much as driven past either one in many years. But as age prepares to have its way more and more with my body and my mind, I heavily miss some of the people who shared life with me in those places, who left their mark on me, whose memories live inside my soul.

This is a different animal from nostalgia. It feels more like a need. In an upside-down time when truth has been losing some important battles, I need to sit down in my grandparents’ big farmhouse and hear old-fashioned wisdom from my grandma’s store of experience, hard work, perspective gained; her next-generation memories of family stories from The Old Country, The Ocean Crossing, Homesteading, I need to hear it all again and let it be at home on the inside of me.

I need to hear my mom’s quietly positive take on life again – just being with her always made me feel better, which says so much because her own heart was unsettled a lot of the time. She was serene on the surface, paddling like hell underneath, and able to be most things to most people, which took far more strength than anybody knew. I need to hold her and tell her that she was a more than excellent mother and person. And then I need to ask her all the things I didn’t know to ask when she was here…

Home is the people and places that have made me who I am, and short of a fateful blow to the head I couldn’t shed all of it if I tried. That knowledge gives me extreme comfort and a genuine sense of security. Kim, too, is home now, in both spiritual and tangible ways, as are John and Anthony, my sisters, other people in my life. So as it turns out, it isn’t so very tricky after all to get back home. I was “this many old” when I learned that.

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The road to hell is paved …

I was definitely going to Tai Chi class this morning, and still could if I threw some clothes on right this minute and didn’t care that my bed-face was hanging out. Truth is, I got up at 6:15 and have been drinking coffee steadily ever since from my sweet new mug that reminds me to “breathe,” but more than two hours later I still don’t feel awake. It’s because of the fog, which when we got up was clinging to the windows, making visibility nil – a luscious grey-flannel morning.

Just like that, I was out of the mood for anything but coffee, a hot shower, and getting-rid-of-all-the-things!! And once the urge to purge overtakes me it’s best to stay with that thought for as long as it lasts, as there is much here in need of a good home elsewhere. Knowing there’s stuff tucked away that nobody’s using, but could be, adds to the general malaise, and I need that to go away. So a little at a time, every day, I’m making room for energy and it’s a GOOD thing, as Martha Stewart tells us.

The weight of winter, as with so much else, isn’t lifting without a struggle, but this would be a ridiculous time to quit. My tiny private battles with the superfluous make me smile and encourage me for the far bigger wars at play on the world stage. We keep our heads up and do what we can until the fog lifts and the sun shines again. The alternative – giving up, doing nothing – is unthinkable, so we do something even if it’s wrong, and we feel better for it, and one day we’ll wake up and things really WILL have changed and the world will feel real again. Won’t that be amazing? Meanwhile, I’m ready for another big trash bag…

“I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.” ~ Augusten Burroughs

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At last!

Yes I DO feel this exuberant about the First Day of Spring this year. Winter was long, cold, gray, and wet, and will likely not turn loose simply at the command of the calendar, but I can’t remember ever being more ready for exactly that…

Balcony days, with doors and windows open, pots and baskets overflowing with greenery and blossoms. Sunshine, pool time, cooking outside. Farmers’ Market, summer sounds, bicycles, books, accidental naps. Feeling infinitely more alive, but in slow motion, all the better for savoring the finite moments.

The sunshine pouring through my windows this morning is a reminder that spring does come again, that it does get better, the mood doesn’t stay gray unless you’re a curmudgeon who refuses to lighten up, the grass does get green again and flowers bloom.

The world keeps turning in spite of our doubts – or our certainties that it’s all for nothing, life can’t possibly shine again and bring joy to our hearts. And here I sit, happy as if I had good sense, signing on for a stretch of whatever’s next, because what else?

Happy Spring, friends, we’ve survived another hibernation, we should celebrate. Do you have traditions to share?

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Wake-up calls…

Pitch dark and someone’s pounding on our heavy outer door. “Wake up! Fire Department! Everybody out! Wake up!” That’s what Kim heard. I heard “Sweetie, you have to get up, the fire department’s here, you have to get dressed, we have to get out,” all with a calm urgency in voice and hands. Mass confusion in my brain, which way is up, what’s happening, will we have to go outside in the cold, what clothes do I grab, I can smell an electrical fire, just put something on, what time is it? Kim says it’s 4:20. Seriously? Is this my life?

Within seconds I’ve managed to cover myself with pieces of clothing from head to toe and we’re out in the acrid stench of the hallway and headed to the atrium three floors down, past firemen with axes and hoses and other equipment always eerily reminiscent of 9/11, somberly focused on the challenge at hand, which isn’t yet fully known.

The outside air is good for breathing and also for waking up, and my next thought, of course, is how good my first sip of coffee is going to be this morning… followed immediately by how glad I am that I’m on day six of the flu instead of day two. There’s always at least one upside, right? And that whatever day of the week this is will likely only get better from here.

Maybe not more exciting, but better. It was indeed an electrical fire in the loft/condo two doors south of us on our floor, whose owners are rarely here, which blackened a wall and revealed a failure in the system. For a couple of predawn hours, there were firetrucks, lights blazing, on every side of our five-story building, and firemen in full gear crawling all over it, so we felt nothing if not safe. (In my case, of course, Kim is my first line of security as my “ears.”)

And now I’m sitting here putting it all together in my head and feeling thankful it wasn’t a big to-do to get a fire abatement company here at the soul-crushing hour of 3:30am, which is what time it all began. Due to a small compromise within the condo, the main ear-splitting fire alarm in our mixed-use steel, concrete, glass and brick building didn’t go off, but the individual unit itself notified our city fire department and in turn our building manager. No one had to call the condo owners in another state to okay payment to a private company, because the commercial entities on the first two floors and all the owner/occupants on the top three have a social contract along with all the other residents of the city, with the city fire department. It’s simple unadorned socialism – we pool our taxes and help each other out with these things, which strikes me as a fabulous arrangement at 3:30 or 4:20 in the frigid dark when nearly all my material goods, which aren’t that many, but especially my nice warm bed, are four floors above my head and I’m not asking for a lot else. If it ain’t broke, what’s to fix?

But guess who’s probably taking a nap this afternoon?

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