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.

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!

 

My Place in History

Today I visited a historical museum with my family. It was an interesting experience.

in almost every room I found something from my past.

For example, in the school room was a reader that I had used and desks with inkwells like I once sat in.

In the military room was a WWII Army uniform like my mom wore, which became my Halloween costume in ninth grade.

The tech room was full of memories. An old Brownie box camera, the first camera my family owned. A Kodak camera with a silver flash. Manual typewriters in metal carriages that you had to move in order to stop from typing off the end of the page.

A plastic-bodied beige dial phone and the first wall phone we got when we moved to California.

Down in the clothing room were dresses that I remember my Grandma Reiske wearing when she got dressed up and another dress similar to the one my mother wore on her wedding day.

The most shocking clothes, however, were the ones from my twenties. What were we thinking? Bold geometric designs, mini skirts, long tunics over matching wide leg pants. Loose, flowing tops that were really dresses.

my favorite hallway featured Native American artifacts similar to what I have at home.

The museum took me on a welcome journey back to the past. The best part was sharing those memories with my grandkids.

Fall from Grace

I don’t know why my first skiing trip came to mind in the middle of July, but it did. It’s not like it snows here, which it doesn’t, and unfortunately we’re in the middle of a heat wave, so it’s not even raining.

The interesting thing is that I’d never thought about skiing. I’d seen it on television, but never pictured myself with boards strapped to my feet barreling down a snow-covered slope. And to get there? I’d have to swing on a questionable-looking chair as it steadily climbed up the mountain. Not for me with my fear of heights.

The closest I had gotten was after I had graduated from college and, on a lark, took a class at the local community college about skiing. At the conclusion was an outing. Because I lived in the SF Bay Area, I owned no clothing that would keep a person warm in freezing temperatures.

I went shopping and quickly discovered that, with my limited funds, I could not purchase a suitable coat or pants or boots. I did buy a pair of supposedly insulated rubber boots, but that was it. I would have to make do with what I had.

One Saturday morning I climbed on a yellow school bus, excited, yet at the same time terrified. I knew no one, so I had no way to spend the time other than drifting over whatever passed through my mind.

I did notice the cold. About the time that snow began to appear along the side of the highway, my feet became uncomfortable and my fingers ached. We took a bathroom break. I was miserable! Nothing I wore was sufficient for the trip.

The rest of that trip went by in a mind-numbing haze. I had no money to rent skis or a toboggan, so I spent the time I braved the outdoors walking about. Most of the time I hung out in the lodge, dreaming over the hot chocolate I saw others drinking.

So, after that adventure, why would I ever go skiing? Because young adults don’t often remember misery.

A couple of friends from work convinced me that I’d really like to learn to ski. By now I had enough money to buy a decent coat and gloves and warm socks. I figured I’d rent equipment and so had saved what I hoped would be enough.

The drive was uneventful. We talked and laughed and so the miles sped by. According to my friends, it was a beautiful day for skiing. The sky was blue, there was plenty of snow and it wasn’t too cold. They were right.

Except for one small thing: I didn’t know how to ski.

They gave me some basic instructions. They showed me how to grab the rope to go up the bunny slope. Once there, they demonstrated how to put my skis into a V-shape in order to turn, slow down, and stop. They went down with me, once. Then set me free.

I did pretty well. I am not an idiot, so I learn quickly. I am fairly coordinated, so I thought I had mastered the basics.

I moved on to the easiest chair lift. Getting on a chair while wearing skis is not easy. There’s a lot of timing involved. You’ve got to get into position as soon as the chair gets to the post. Then look over your shoulder while reaching for the bar. Then sit while the chair is still moving.

The first time my butt barely touched the seat and I had to hang on for dear life all the way to the top. The next time I did better, and each time after that it was a little bit easier.

No one had explained how to get off before I hopped on at the bottom. While the chair is moving, as it gets lower to the ground, you’ve got to jump off and ski out of the way before the seat bumps you in the back. I watched those in front of me, so when my turn came, I managed, but felt the chair brush the back of my legs.

The first few trips down I succeeded. I turned, I slowed, and I stopped as I approached the line waiting to go back up. I felt proud.

I went back up. Handled getting on and off. Successfully went down. As I approached the line, however, something went wrong.

I put my skis in a V-shaped and dug in my inner blades. I didn’t slow down. I got closer and closer to the kid at the end of the line. I dug in even harder. I kept sliding forward. Closer and closer I got.

I know that my eyes opened wider and wider in shock and preparation for the inevitable.

I was helpless to prevent myself from hitting the kid. I bumped into his back, nearly knocking him down, as I fell onto my skis, landing on my tailbone with an excruciatingly painful crack.

I felt my cheeks redden. The kid turned to me, all eight years of him, and said as he put his skis into that elusive V, “Lady, you stop like this.”

I was both humiliated and in such deep pain that I found it difficult to get up. Thankfully a woman came up behind me, reached down and pulled me up. She brushed the snow off my back and asked if I was okay.

I wasn’t. I skied over to a log and sat. Bad idea. I took off my skis and walked them back to the rental shop, mincing my steps. I struggled up the steps to the lodge. I found a chair, but, oh, that hurt!

The drive home was terrible. Because my tailbone hurt so bad, I had to lay down in the backseat of a VW bug. Not comfortable.

That night I couldn’t sleep. Between the intense pain and the recalled embarrassment, there was no chance of sleep.

The next day I went to work, but had to go see a doctor at the end of my shift. Nothing was broken, but I was badly bruised. I was given a blow-up pillow to sit on until it healed.

Despite that disaster, I did eventually go skiing again. I was never good at it, but I never crashed into anyone, either.

The lesson that I learned is that sometimes it’s better to fall before you think you are going to hit someone.

This applies to all facets of life. Fall while you still have the strength of character to pull yourself, brush yourself off and try again.

 

Bashfulness Explained

I was a socially awkward child. There was a reason for it.

When you’ve been scolded for speaking in the presence of visitors, when you’ve been made fun of and teased mercilessly, you learn that no one cares what you feel about a given subject. When you are never asked which flavor of ice cream you prefer or what cereal you’d like, you realize that your preferences have no import within the family.

I was the invisible child. I appeared when it was demanded, but only in body. My mouth only opened when I was forced into speaking. It was a rough way to grow up.

By the time I was five, being invisible had become my salvation. It kept me safe from punishment for saying or doing the wrong thing. It also made me miserable. I was an unhappy child whose self-esteem was nonexistent.

For some reason that I’ll never understand, my parents decided to enroll me in Kindergarten. At that time K was not required, and so it cost money, of which my parents had very little.

It quickly became apparent that I was academically behind my peers. I could not name all of the colors, did not know shapes, knew no letters of the alphabet and could not write numbers. While this lack of knowledge placed me far beyond my classmates, and I recognized my ignorance even at that young age, it also placed me at a disadvantage whenever it became time to work with others, either on schoolwork or on the playground.

My teacher thought that I was just shy and that I’d overcome it. She was wrong.

Day after day I sat silent in my assigned chair. I did not speak when the teacher asked me a question. If cornered, I could manage a whisper, but only a word or two. Just enough to respond.

On the playground I was a loner. I loved to swing, but I refused to stand in line to have a turn. Instead I played in the sand, by myself, day after day. Even after a storm when the sand was damp, that’s where I’d be.

When Kindergarten ended, I knew a lot of things. I had learned colors, shapes, numbers and letters. I could hold a pencil correctly and write my name, the alphabet and numbers. I could draw shapes and color within the lines. But I could not speak and I had no friends.

It was a terrible way to begin one’s academic career.

As I grew older, I understood what was required to get the grades my parents expected, so I did all the things that my teachers demanded. I still sat silent, however, even when called upon to respond. No matter how hard I tried, I could not muster the strength to squeak. It was embarrassing.

Things improved somewhat in junior high. By then I had developed a voice, but it was a quiet one. I still had no friends. I could not approach someone and initiate conversations and had a hard time participating even when I had something to offer.

In high school I made one friend. She was a loner like me. Somehow we found each other. Together we could speak. It was an awesome feeling.

I don’t remember her name, but I do remember the hours we spent walking her neighborhood talking about all kinds of things.

For me, it was a revelation. Someone cared what I thought and really wanted to know and understand my opinions!

Can you understand how liberating that was?

By the time I enrolled in college I had overcome much of the paralyzing fear I had of speaking out in class. I could raise my hand and answer in front of others, as long as the class was small. I could voice an opinion. I could find others like me.

I’d like to report that I am no longer shy, but that is not true.

I am comfortable with those who know me, but uncomfortable in groups of people who do not. This makes it challenging when I go to conferences and workshops. I am with ten to fifteen total strangers who are going to critique my writing and I am expected to critique theirs. It’s painfully hard.

In a crowd of “family” which includes people who I either don’t know or barely know, I find a corner in which to plop down and hide there.

People who have known me for a long time don’t believe that I am shy. Around them I am confident that they truly want to know what I think, and so I can relax and be me. I love being with those friends as they recognize that I am a person of worth.

If only I had felt this growing up. Imagine how different I might have turned out!

 

 

Nighttime Imagination

Unfortunately I have an excellent imagination. This can be a boon when I read books about people and places I’ve never known as I can place myself in their story. It is a curse, however, when I wake in the night and think I hear sounds of someone breaking in.

One time when I was visiting my parents during my college years, I thought I heard someone outside my window, clawing at the screen, trying to peel it off. I lay there with my heart palpitating for a long time as I pictured him slithering in through the window and killing my family.

I didn’t get out of bed to check as I was too afraid. What if he saw me? Would he shoot me?

I didn’t cry out for similar reasons. What if he heard and then  became desperate enough to through caution aside and rip off the screen?

At the time we were living in a grubby house in a low-income neighborhood. We had nothing of value. But a burglar wouldn’t know that, would he?

In the morning I walked the outside of the house looking for evidence. I found massive footprints under each window and places where the paint had been scraped off. With evidence to support my claim, I told my parents. They went outside with me and looked as I pointed out each piece of evidence. They laughed at me.

Shortly after that they moved from southern California back to the SF Bay Area. I was told i8t was due to my dad being unable to find full time work. I didn’t believe the excuse. I was always convinced that they moved out of fear.

On another visit home I discovered that my parents had moved out of the master bedroom in order to let my sister have it. That first night home, I awakened when  it was totally dark except for a slight glow from the room creeping in through the curtains.

I heard breathing. I opened my eyes. Not wide open, but only a slit. There, standing at the foot of my bed was a man dressed in flannel shirt and khakis. He stood there for the longest time, doing nothing but watch me. He did not move his arms or shuffle his feet. He was still. And spooky.

Eventually I grew sleepy and must have fallen asleep. When I woke up in the morning, there was no evidence that he had been there. I did check the clothes hanging on the back of the door,  but there was no plaid shirt or khakis.

I told my mom what I had seen but she blew it off as my imagination. I can’t blame her as I had proven myself to be an unreliable witness.

Later on I heard her ask both my brother and my dad it either one of them had been in the room. Both of them wore plaid and khakis. Both denied every stepping foot in my room.

There was another time at college when I was sitting at my desk looking out over the campus. It was dark, but the campus lights were on and the building directly across from my room was also lit from within.

Looking down, I became aware of a commotion. Police were moving about, shining flashlights into bushes and along the walls of the buildings. It was intriguing.

For some reason I looked up. On a floor parallel to mine was a man peering out a window. I could clearly see him, so I was certain that he could see me.

He also watched the goings-on down below.

Eventually the police entered that building. I wanted to tell them about the man in the window, but this was before cell phones.

Suddenly I became fearful. What if the man, knowing where I lived, escaped the police and entered my building?

I closed the curtains.

My first roommate was a bit of a character. She was a spoiled rich kid, used to doing whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted. She came and went at all hours of the night. Because she didn’t like carrying the room key, she demanded that the door be kept unlocked.

I hated her for that.

It came to a head one night when I woke up and felt something cold by my head. It lay against my arm. It felt like flesh. I held my breath and lay as still as I could. I kept my eyes closed, not wanting the invader to know that I was awake.

I stayed like this for a long, long time. Eventually I convinced myself that it was nothing but imagination. I never got up and turned on the lights.

The next time I saw my roommate, I told her that from then on, the room would be locked.

There are many more instances when my imagination worked overtime. A week ago I got up around two-thirty to use the restroom. When I returned to bed, I heard a noise in the front room. It sounded like someone was opening drawers.

I listened for a long time. I heard similar noises. Tried to convince myself that it was the cat.

Considering my age, I doubt that I will change anytime soon. I know that there will be other instances, other events in which I frighten myself that someone has invaded my territory.

I have learned to stay calm. I use rational talk and soothing words. I stay in bed and keep my breathing steady.

I can do all those things, but I cannot stop my imagination from wandering.

The Best Day

Sometimes writing prompts speak to me, giving me ideas of what to write about, but recently I read one which really has me in a quandary.

Of all the days in my life, which one is the best?

I’ve been thinking about this for over a week and I have to admit that I am stuck.

Could it have been the day I received my acceptance letter to USC? That was an awesome day. After all, it meant that I was going to go to college and learn something that forever would change my life. The problem is that I don’t recall exactly how I felt. After all, I was only 17 at the time and so much has happened since then.

After college graduation a series of years went by in which I accomplished a lot of firsts: my first car, my first real job, my first apartment. These all moved me along the path toward independence and all of them made me smile, but were any of them the best? No.

There was the day that I met Mike at the IRS office. I was intrigued by his blue eyes, ready smile and kind demeanor, but it took quite a while for us to jell, to become a unit. The day he proposed was an awesome one. The problem is that I don’t recall the details. I do remember that he asked my dad for permission to marry me, but that’s it.

The wedding day was a spectacular one. Talk about life-changing! Wow! I went from being daughter to wife in less than an hour. And I was so scared that I almost passed out at the altar. I remember smiling through the reception and being so excited about the honeymoon that I could hardly wait for it to begin. On that day my life changed forever, so I would rank it up there among the best days of my life.

The thing is, though, that from then on I achieved so much, changed so much, and reveled in so much, that there are many defining moments in my life.

I remember when I found out I was pregnant with each of our kids. Now those were special days! Each time I glowed with happiness and pride. And when they were born, I could hardly contain myself even though I was terrified of holding such tiny, frail little beings.

Each time a child accomplished something, even something as tiny as lifting a head, I could hardly wait to show Mike. Jump forward to swimming on a team, playing soccer or baseball or softball or learning gymnastics or working with clay or learning to play an instrument and the “best” days suddenly multiply into hundreds.

There were graduations from eighth grade, high school and college. There were the births of my many grandkids, each unique in their own way.

The purchasing of homes, beginning with ours. I beamed with happiness on the day we took possession! Our house! Which became a home for our kids. And then the joy I felt when each of our kids bought their homes! Wow!

Getting my first teaching job filled me with joy. Granted it was a tiny, part time job teaching preschool at minimum wage, but I was in a classroom. My classroom. Fulfilling a dream I’d had since first grade.

When I jumped to third grade, my heart skipped a beat. This was it! My goal had been reached. But I didn’t stop there. I kept exploring and reaching and trying out new things and learning new things and going from job to job, each time looking for the place where I truly belonged and then I found it at the high school. I became a Special Education teacher working with learning disabled students. A hard job, but rewarding.

My supervisor noticed my hard work and I got promoted to the equivalent of Department Chair. Wow! Think of the jump, from part time preschool to Dept. Chair! I walked around campus with a smile on my face. I had reached my pinnacle, the highest I could possibly go, and I was proud. That was another good day.

Time passed. I aged. I got tired and all I could think about was retiring. When that time arrived four years ago, that was another personal best. I counted off the days until the one when I turned in my keys and walked away. I left knowing that I had done the best job that I could have. That at no time had I failed to fulfill my job requirements, and that, in fact, I usually exceeded them.

As a retiree I continue to have “best” days. Each day spent with my husband is a great one. Each time we go for a walk around the neighborhood, I rejoice that we are capable of doing so. That we enjoy the simple act of being together.

We have traveled quite a bit since retirement. Those are all good days as well. I especially love visiting with my grown children and my grandchildren. Each of those trips is unique and filled with joy. Each is the “best” because of the time I get to spend with family.

What it boils down to is that I cannot single out one day that stands above all others. I have been blessed with so many awesome days, so many unique experiences that I cannot definitively state that this one, this day, is the best.

Instead I revel in the fact that each morning that I open my eyes, each breath that I breathe, each step that I take, counts as my best.