Transformations

If you remove the normal transformations that we experience as we change from child to adult, I believe that I have been many different people.

I have always been shy. Put me in a crowd and I become a silent member of any group. However, when I am with trusted friends, I can find plenty to say. I love listening to my friends talk and then responding to whatever they bring up.

When I was a field officer for the IRS I had to knock on doors and enter businesses where I knew no one. It was terrifying. I knew that no one wanted to see me, but somehow I had to communicate how much they owed and establish a payment system. I learned a lot in that job.

First, I discovered that I had a voice. I had something important to say even if the message was not a pleasant one. This came in handy when I became a teacher. Conferences are tough. Parents show up hoping to hear that their child is a genius with hidden talents. Nice if that’s the truth, but not always the case. Imagine telling a parent that her child has a learning disability that will make reading/writing/math challenging? Imagine the looks on faces at that news. Then imagine yourself as the bearer of that news.

That’s what I did for 23 years. That’s who I was. The teacher who wanted to offer hope, to say that one day their child would wake up and the disability would be gone, but I couldn’t in good faith do that. So the person that I was at that time was the giver of negative gifts. It hurt.

Second, as a Revenue Officer I discovered that I could navigate myself around San Francisco, Walnut Creek, San Mateo, just about anywhere around the Bay Area. Not such a big deal now with all the technology we have, but it was then. I relied on a book of maps and directional instinct. This was a real confidence booster. Without my dad driving, I could get from point A to point B and then on to point C.

I used that planning skill when I began teaching. I read helpful books, but then I had to implement a curriculum that I had planned, from beginning to end. When finished, I evaluated the relative success of a lesson and then adjusted. I still got from point A to point B, but upon reflection often a divergent path was taken.

I relied on my IRS skills throughout my career, no matter the job title. While presenting at meetings still make me nervous, I knew I had the wherewithal to plan and execute.

As a wife and parent I used the same skills to run our household. Having never been much of a cook, now I was responsible for three meals a day for a growing family. Cookbooks became my new best friends. Some of those early recipes are still in use today, now prepared by my husband or kids for their families. I learned that I could follow directions and usually end up with something edible. That’s a real confidence booster.

For a while I was involved with our church’s women’s guild. At first I was an observer, but in time I was pressured to begin organizing things. At first it was Santa at a bake sale. Then it was as treasurer and eventually president. I didn’t like any of these roles, but because I knew how to plan, organize and implement, I pulled them off.

When we began traveling as a family I once again tested those skills. I created a checklist that included necessary camping gear that constantly had to be revamped when we discovered that key items had been left home. Like the time our tent poles were left in the garage or when we tailgated without the grill to the BBQ. But as organizer I learned how to make reservations, buy tickets and pay fees, all when the internet was a baby. It meant phone calls. Lots of phone calls.

All this organizational practice takes me to who I am today. I can do all kinds of things that my parents would have thought impossible. From the shy Kindergarten kid who never opened her mouth I have become a singer, a friend, a member of an extended family, a person who leads book talks and who reads stories in public. I do these things with much more grace than I did earlier in my life. I know how to ask questions that get people talking. I know how to respond with appropriate comments.

I treasure those fleeting moments when I realize how life has transformed me into the older woman I am now. Looking back, I would never have pictured me doing all the things that I now do; if I had stayed the course set all those years ago, I would be a lonely spinster with ten cats and five dogs clamoring for attention. They would have been my family, my companions.

Because I have been transformed, I am pleased with who I am.

 

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Me Time

Even when I was a little kid I understood the value of time spent alone. Family life, for me, seemed confusing and chaotic. I struggled with my place in the dynamics of everyday life. I knew that I was less-than my older brother who was revered by my mother. When my sister was born, now I was less-than both of my siblings.

I loved being by myself. As a small child, it meant being out on the front porch, standing there, do nothing other than watching whatever transpired in the neighborhood. I didn’t play with dolls, probably because the only ones I had were kept stored in my parent’s closet on a high shelf.

I didn’t read yet and no one read to me. I didn’t go to school until kindergarten-age, and only then because my parents thought I was dumb. Interestingly enough, school reinforced that opinion as I was the most backward kid in the class, even through fifth grade.

The one toy that meant the most to me, that allowed me precious “me time” was my mother’s cookie tin of mismatched buttons. I played with them for hours, day after day. I sorted them by size and color, by shape and by how many holes in the center. Then I’d dump them back in the tin and start all over. I spent hours doing this, day after day, all year long.

In the winter I played on the kitchen floor while my mother napped. I the summer I took them outside and sat on the grass. It’s amazing that I am still not sorting buttons today as I found it both comforting and relaxing.

I have progressed from those early days it terms of what I enjoy doing in my free time. I love shopping. I can spend an hour easily roaming through stores, buying little to nothing. I am a great sale-shopper and almost never buy something that isn’t discounted.

I love looking at styles, brands, colors. I love trying on clothes, especially now that I have lost a significant amount of weight. I love feeling the fabrics and imaging them against my skin. I can tell by that action alone whether or not I would like something.

I love reading. I mostly read contemporary fiction, but I also branch into fantasy, Young Adult, and on rare occasions when a book is recommended by a friend, nonfiction.

What I love about reading is that it takes you into stories, into characters’ lives, into places where you have probably never gone and never will. It allows you to follow in another’s skin, seeing, feeling, tasting all the things that they experience. It’s an out-of-your world journey. I can spend hours reading.

I love exercising, especially swimming. When I am in the water swimming lap after lap, my entire body relaxes into the feet of water streaming over my body. The ritual of traversing the pool, turning, doing it again and again and again is a special time for me. It is something that I do alone. Well, not entirely as there are other swimmers in the pool, but I am unencumbered by family, by needs, by demands. It is just me.

I get the same rush from the elliptical, the stationary bike, the machines. It is me challenging myself to do more, to be stronger, to last longer. And it gives me time to think, if I want, or I can watch whatever TV program is available.

If I didn’t love writing, I wouldn’t have this blog. There is something calming about putting thoughts into the written word. It gives me an opportunity to analyze where I’ve been and where I’m going. It often gives new perspectives into my past which then form my present and future.

At times, when I am writing fiction, it brings me deep into my character’s life. I get to see what she sees, hear what she hears, feel her emotions. Her confusion as she navigates her world. Her delight when something redeeming occurs. Her perceptions of where she fits in her world. Yes, I can alter those dimensions, and often I do, but I also allow her to take charge of my fingers.

Me Time is important to me. It allows me to pause, evaluate, and reorganize myself. It gives me a sense of peace in what can be, at times, a disorderly world. It reinforces who I was, who I am, who I will become.

I cherish those moments.

I also love being with my family and with friends, but those experiences are different. There you fit into a mold, one that sometimes others have crafted for you. You play the mother, wife, friend game, participating in conversations that sometimes move past your realm of experience. This is where Me Time comes in handy, for when things are out of my control, even in a crowd, I can step back and allow my thoughts to roam free.

My trust in Me Time was formulated when I was quite small. It has sustained me ever since. It is a treasure that I hope everyone shares.

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Gift Giving

From the time I was a little girl I loved giving gifts much more than getting them. This applies to all occasions, not just Christmas.

Why? I love watching the expressions on faces as they open each item. It thrills me when the person’s eyes light up and a smile graces their face. It lets me know that I have chosen wisely.

Therein lies the problem. I love the thrill of the hunt: finding just the right gift for each individual on my list. Flannel pjs for the grandkids? Perfect. New shoes for Mike? Yes.

I leave home with something in mind to search for. If I’m lucky, I’ll find it in the right size and color and at a discount! Yippee.

On the way I might find other things that tickle my fancy but had never entered my sphere of interest. That makes the trip worthwhile. Finding wonderful things to give to the people I love.

I’m not as excited about wrapping as I used to be. In the past each gift would have tied with a color-coordinated ribbon and topped with a bow. I might start out that way, but as time passes and my back begins to hurt, I give up on fancy and go with simply getting the job done.

Since all my kids and grandkids live far away, I have been spared hours of wrapping. I do online shopping and so packages are delivered in brown boxes or green plastic bags. Certainly the excitement for the recipient has been downgraded as there are no colorfully wrapped gifts from me under the tree, but the idea is still there. I have thought of them, chosen something, and had it sent to them.

I also love gifts for myself, but the act of unwrapping them in front of an audience intimidates me.   I don’t like being the center of attention, everyone focused on my eyes and lips, waiting to see if I smile.

Interesting dichotomy, right? What I enjoy most about being the giver is what I dislike the most about being the recipient.

One good thing about getting older is that there are fewer opportunities to open gifts in public. For many years now it’s been just my husband and I on Christmas Day. An audience of one.

We work hard to find appropriate gifts for each other. Mike gives hints…but mostly it’s me telling him what to buy me, where to find it, what it looks like, how much it should cost. He’s great at following suggestions. In fact, he loves it when I practically outline for him what would be nice gifts for me. But sometimes he surprises me.

For example we often pass a jewelry store on our walks about the neighborhood. One time I spotted a necklace that I liked. No price was posted so I didn’t know if the jewelers prices were reasonable or not. I never told Mike to buy it, but one time we went past and it was gone. Imagine my surprise when I unwrapped a box and found it nestled within!

When I was a kid my family had an interesting unwrapping routine. Each of us would hold a gift in our laps. At a nod from my dad, we ripped off paper, ribbons and bows altogether. The item was revealed, hopefully appreciated, then we moved on to the next box. There was little giving of thanks or admiration. It was open, open, open.

My husband’s family, however, had a different ritual which we adopted for our family and still follow today.

We each hold a gift in our laps. One person opens their gift, we appreciate it, give thanks to the giver, then move on to the next person. It is a slow process. When our kids still lived with us, opening gifts could span hours with breaks in between to eat breakfast, stoke up the fire, go to the restroom, get something to drink.

I loved it. Instead of the mad dash that I grew up with, there was now a patient revealing. It allowed me to do that which made me happiest about gift-giving: watching the faces of those I had chosen gifts for.

Today I began the wrapping of gifts. My first gifts are for an exchange tomorrow. Each time had to be Christmas-themed and under ten dollars total. Since I am a great sale-shopper, I found awesome things that stayed under the limit. I can hardly wait until tomorrow when the exchange happens.

I then wrapped the gift for the teenager from the church’s giving tree. She only asked for leggings, but she’s getting two books and a gift card as well. Each of them is wrapped and nestled into one large box. I wish I could see her face when she gets to unpackage all those things! I hope she is excited.

During this time which can be hectic, please reflect on how you feel about gift-giving. Which part excites you the most? The hunt? The wrapping? The giving or the receiving? Or maybe all of it!

 

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Misconceptions

I believed in Santa Claus. I loved Santa so much that every time I saw one, I couldn’t take my eyes off him. I wrote him letters as soon as I was capable. I dreamt of him, constructed rituals around his visit and was mesmerized by anything related to him.

I maintained my belief into fourth grade when my brother told me that Santa did not exist. I fought him, argued with him, cried tears in frustration over him. I did not suspend my belief in Santa immediately. However, that was my last Christmas filled with wonder.

Misconception destroyed.

From the time I was a little girl my mother told stories about being Native American. She claimed that her high cheekbones, hair that did not gray and her skin that tanned so easily were all because of being “Indian”. So was her love of bread, gravy and corn.

I fell in love with her story and wanted to learn more about my heritage so I began reading every book in the library that had anything to do with Native Americans, both fiction and nonfiction.

I drew maps. I recorded characteristics and beliefs. I drew pictures of their artifacts. I immersed myself so completely into this study that I truly believed I was Shawnee.

When a powwow was being held near my home, I went. The pounding of the drums resonated in me. I wanted to join in the dance even though I didn’t know the steps. I bought fry bread and loved every bite. I also bought a CD of chanting which I played over and over.

I went to two more powwows, loving the romance of the regalia, the procession, the community. I felt one with the people. I belonged. I had history.

And then my daughter had me take one of those DNA tests as she had been unable to unearth any Native Americans in our history. Guess what? I have zero percent Native American blood.

Misconception.

From the time I understood physical beauty and attractiveness I was told that I was unlovable. I was told repeatedly that I was so fat that no one would ever love me. That I was plain. Ugly. Undesirable. I believed it. When one hears such things for all of their life it becomes part of your identity. Your belief system.

When I went away to college I was asked out by numerous young men. I couldn’t understand why they wanted to date me, for I was a nobody. Worthless. I thought maybe they had spurious interests, that there was only one thing they wanted and I wasn’t about to give them that. But I dated. Quite a bit.

Misconception? At that point I still believed all that my family had told me about myself, so I wasn’t ready to let go yet.

In fact, truth be told, I have never fully dispersed with that belief even though I have a husband who loves me dearly and thinks I am beautiful as I am.

Where I grew up in Ohio there were few people of color. When I was about eight my mom took me to a nearby park that had a shallow pool. I was happily playing in it, enjoying the cool water in the hot sun, when other kids arrived. They were beautiful Dark skin, dark eyes, but their palms and the soles of their feet were much lighter. I was intrigued. The little girls had tons of braids and clips. I wanted my hair done like that.

My mother pulled me out of the pool, saying something like those people had ruined out day. I had no idea what she was talking about, but as I grew older, more and more such incidents occurred.

I finally figured out that my parents were prejudiced against anyone that didn’t look like them. It made no sense to me. I didn’t look at the color of a person’s skin but the color of their heart. If they were warm inside, then I loved them back. If they were cold, then I stayed away.

It wasn’t until my teen years that I learned the meaning of prejudice and how it “colored” a person’s view of others. I understood as I was living with people who personified the definition. For this first time I faltered in my belief in who I was.

Misconception.

I could chronicle more incidents in which my belief systems were challenged, but it isn’t necessary. What is important is that throughout life our perceptions are challenged, over and over, forcing us to rethink who we are and what we believe.

Misconceptions are meant to falter, to disappear, to be clarified. It is part of being human. We can take our beliefs, be exposed to new ways of thinking, and reformulate our identity. This is how we grow. Our experiences allow us to alter established patterns, creating new. It is an important process.

That is not a misconception.

 

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Feeling Proud

I have never been an arrogant person.

For much of my life I’ve been shy,

Backward

Afraid to exude confidence.

Pride does not come to me willfully.

It sneaks up like a mouse in the night.

It catches me unaware, surmising me

When it calls my name.

Even though I’ve accomplished much un my life,

I seldom take an opportunity to brag.

Instead, when I do speak, I do so quietly

With an unassuming air

Because even I am surprised when

Something goes well.

There have been times when I wanted to shout out,

To proclaim loudly those things that

Fill me with pride,

But I haven’t.

Until recently.

I realize now, at my age,

That I have much to be proud of.

Every day of life fills me with such joy,

Such a feeling of accomplishment

That I want to brag about simply being here

On this earth.

Today I am bragging, just a little,

Because I am alive.

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Counting Blessings

Every year at this time we stop to give thanks for all the wonderful things in our lives. I have been blessed in so many ways that it would be impossible to list them all.

Every morning when I wake up and every night when I go to bed I am grateful to be alive. Not everyone is so lucky. Many senior citizens die in their sleep. Truthfully, that’s how I would like to pass: to go quietly without suffering. I am thrilled to be alive and thank the Lord for every day He gives me.

My husband is my biggest gift. He is my rock. He is always there to support me in whatever endeavor I take on. He has never held me back, even when it meant nights away at college while he stayed home with the kids. As we have aged together, our love and appreciation has solidified. We are stronger together than we could ever be apart.

I am blessed to have watched my three “kids” grow up to be amazing adults. They are unique in all ways. Each has chosen the path that makes them most comfortable, most happy. They fill me with pride whenever I talk with them or spend time with them or simply think of them. They each chose wonderful people to share their lives with. One a wonderful gift that is! Knowing that they have a special someone to fill their hours and days and weeks.

My faith is solid. It is a constant in my life. It gives me solace when I am weary or worried. I know that the Catholic Church has offered nothing but suffering to survivors, but I believe in the core values of my church. I believe that it will heal. For this I am grateful.

I am lucky to have friends. I don’t see them as often as I would like, but I know they are there. If I needed them, they would come, just as I would go to them. Not everyone is blessed to have good friends. It makes me sad to think of all those who are alone, day after day. I hope that as I age, I don’t become one of them, but one never knows what circumstances lead to loneliness.

I am lucky to have lived in our home for 43 years. I did not have the luxury of living in one place as I grew up. My parents moved quite a bit. Most of the time the moves brought us into bigger and better houses, but not always. We are blessed to live in a good neighborhood, which even though it is changing, is relatively free from crime. I feel safe here, and for that I am grateful.

I have been given a variety of skills that have fulfilled my life over the years. One constant is music. From an early age I was drawn to song. While I sang silently, inside I pictured myself with a microphone belting out the tunes of the day. Now I only sing at church, but it brings me great joy. I hope that I am not too off-tune and that I don’t seriously mess up the words. I am lucky to have my church choir.

Throughout the years I have exercised different skills. For example, as a preschool teacher I led students in song and dance and came up with art and intellectual activities to enrich their lives. Not everyone can do that. It was fun for a while, but as my own kids aged, I grew tired of snotty hands and soggy pants.

As an elementary school teacher I taught eight different subjects, some better than others. I am lousy at science, so I chose those lessons that I understood and “cheated” on those that I didn’t. I hope that my lack of knowledge of how electricity works never damaged a student!

In high school I became an “expert” in working with special needs students. As time passed, I realized that it was a gift I had been given. Every day I gave thanks for being able to help my students access curriculum that they could never have learned on their own.

I have been blessed to have worked with many kids and adults. Each of them gave me something in return. Each of them touched me in a unique way.

My blessings continue. Today I was able to swim, to drive, to walk, to eat, to socialize. To look out the window and see trees and hear birds and dogs barking. To see people talking and feel happy for them.

I hope that my life will continue to be full of things for which to be grateful. I hope that I never become complacent and assume that the blessings will fall my way. For all these things and countless more, I am grateful.

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Fascination with Trees

I can’t recall a time when I was not drawn to trees. They amaze me. Day after day they change. Imagine something that grows taller and wider at such incrementally slow pace that it is invisible to the eye.

They also change with the seasons. Some burst into new life when the sun begins to shine in spring. Tiny green buds sprout forth, signaling the wonders that are to come. Those buds become leaves. All kinds of leaves, in all shapes and sizes and colors.

When I was young I collected leaves. I especially loved the ones that fell from maple trees. Such broad leaves! So green in spring and summer, but when fall arrives they morph into shades from red to orange to brown. I loved them all.

I miss maple trees. They grew in the woods behind our house in Ohio, but not here in California. They had the most amazing seed pods! They were shaped like wings and if you tossed them above your head they would twirl down to the ground. I did this over and over, season after season, never growing tired of the display even into my teen years.

Where we lived in Ohio all trees shed their leaves in the fall and remained bare throughout the cold winters. I understood the winter to be a time of rest, a time to store up energy to be ready to burst into action at the first sign of spring.

So it was for me. In the winter I huddled inside where it was warm, venturing outside only when bundled from head to toe. Even then some days my breath froze on my eyebrows and hair, my teeth chattered and I thought my fingers and toes would crack and fall off.

We moved to California after my ninth grade year. The seasons here are not as differentiated as in Ohio. What we call winter is nothing to people who live in the Midwest, North or East, for there it snows and temps can drop well below freezing. Here I think it’s cold if it is below sixty!

Because our seasons are not as sharply delineated, not all trees go through the autumnal changes. Looking out my window right now, I see some leaves in shades of red, but just as many that are still green. We still have flowers in bloom and low-growing bushes covered with leaves.

In time, all but the fir trees will lose their leaves and be bare. It is a good thing, as even our California trees need to rest, to be still in preparation for the wonderful gifts that are to come.

Trees that produce fruit amaze me. They are so generous, so thoughtful, even when their human caretakers are less then vigilant. Day after day apples and pears and oranges and other wonderful things ripen, all for us. Gifts for us!

Some fruits require a little work to get inside. Some don’t. I tend to love fruit that you can bite into and have your mouth filled with sweetness, the juice spilling out of your mouth and onto your chin. Every time I eat an apple I am thankful that I am blessed with having such a marvelous thing to eat.

When I go walking around my neighborhood and see fruit growing on trees, I want to reach up, pull off just one and take a bite. But I don’t. I don’t know how needy the owners are. Perhaps that apple is their only sustenance of the day. Perhaps the orange is their only access to vitamin C. I would not want to steal that reassure from them. So I walk on.

In our neighborhood there are not as many trees as when we first moved in. Some have died. Some have been taken down by their owners. Some removed by the city because their roots were intruding into the pipes. I miss all those trees, the once grand, sprawling trees that hung out over the road creating a marvelous canopy! So beautiful. Now gone.

We often get to drive through forest on our way north and east and south into the mountains. I love to look at the trees, how magically they grow out of rock and cling to the sides of mountain as if they were meant to be there. When the sun shines on them they are a wonderfully deep green.  They sing with life! And when you get up close enough you can take in their rich aroma, like sticking your head in a cedar chest from long ago.

When they are covered with snow it is a picture straight from Christmas cards. I imagine myself riding on a horse-drawn sleigh under their boughs and having dollops of snow fall on my head as I lean back laughing. I have never done this, but I can place myself in the scene.

When I was young I did not wear glasses. Trees were nothing to me then. They leaned over me, frightening me. I thought each and every one would fall on my head, killing me. In fourth grade my teachers demanded that I get glasses. I remember the bus ride home, looking out the window and seeing that the leaning trees no longer leaned! It was a miracle.

These are the reasons that I love trees. Not only do they defy the passing of time, but they stand tall as a reminder of all that they offer us. Beautiful colors and tasty food. I hope that I will never lose my ability to appreciate the wonderful gift that each tree is.

 

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