Friday, January 6, 2012

In a Word

I have been noticing a trend among my acquaintances to choose a word for the New Year that describes the way they want to grow.  It’s the 2012 version of making resolutions; resolutions have been found unsatisfactory in that we fail to keep them as thoroughly as we’d like and then we feel bad, guilty, like a Loser.  If we have a word that we are occasionally thinking about, it can move us in that positive direction and yet not be quantifiable, hence we can’t truly fail and with fortitude we will move towards that goal.  Win/win.
Here are the words my friends have chosen, in no particular order.  Their names (or links) are not given to protect the innocently hopeful from recriminations next December, should you check up on them.
In late December when I was thinking about the possibility of making a resolution I didn’t have to think very hard.  Mine is Sweeten Up, not nearly as charming as those other words, but mine was born out of conviction one crabby day and not dreamed up for the spirit of New Year’s.  I am not going to tell you about how bad I can be or the dour thoughts I might have just because I am a perfectionist in recovery and have a critical analytic tendency at times when I should be warmer and fuzzier.  Such as now, perhaps.  The great mystery is that many people don’t seem to realize this:  I am often called sweet (unlikely), kind (humphh), and patient (now, that’s true, usually).  But inside myself I have some very crabby tendencies which I remember being pointed out to me as a child.  Ask my brothers.  My self-perception seems to be different than my public persona and I would like to be closer to the misconceptions that people have, up until it gets insipid.  I still want to be Interesting.
Now, Dorothy Parker was Interesting, and as a teenager she was sort of a hero of mine until I learned enough about her to know that she wasn’t a good role model.  Dorothy Parker is famous for going to dinner parties with important and fascinating people and making witty, insightful comments that made everyone laugh and often made it into the newspapers.  Everyone was amused except the victim who was flayed.  Why did people keep inviting her to their dinner parties?  She would be fun to eavesdrop on but not to be seated by at dinner. Not safe.
I read a biography of Dorothy Parker and decided her wit came at too high a price, that of friendship and trust.  Who wants to be close to someone who might ridicule you or mock you publicly?  Even privately?  Only another porcupine.
Therefore, my note to self is “Sweeten Up”.  Not anything poetic or artful, just a favor to myself and the world around me.  And I don’t want it to be a word that is just talk, but as Eliza Doolittle said,
Words, words, words!  I’m so sick of words! Never do I ever want to hear another word. There isn’t one I haven’t heard.         Show me!
                           Eliza Doolittle, My Fair Lady
Well, here goes.  I hope that thinking it and wanting it and saying it will make it happen.  And if I flourish and grow and shine and grow in the process, so much the better.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012



Today marks the 3rd anniversary of my starting to blog. I was looking for a way to express myself and to let interested family members and friends know what we were up to in Portland.  I wasn’t thinking about getting acquainted with new people or learning new computer skills.

Soon after I started my blog I “happened” on to another woman’s blog and found she had spent her weekend in the same way I had, only she was in the Netherlands!  By going to some of the blogs she followed and then by checking to see who they followed, I began to gather quite a group of writing friends through our many common interests.  It is perhaps hard to understand how one can feel close to someone they haven’t met, and yet I feel I could drop in on any number of people I’ve met and have a delightful time.  I have new friends in England and Scotland, Texas, Georgia, Arizona, California and British Columbia and Alberta, and Massachusetts.  To name a few.  We share our lives, our hobbies, our craftsmanship, our gardening, our trips, our family get-togethers and grandchildren, what books we are reading, what we are striving for, what bargains we found at Goodwill or the antique mall and how we are repurposing them.  Many of these women amaze me with their cleverness and DIY instincts.  Some have book lists of current reading which challenge me.  Some share their spiritual lives, their ups and downs, goals and satisfactions, in a transparent and moving way.   I am enthralled.

I think I am still trying to find my voice.  My interests and subjects are all over the place, and I’m okay with that, I guess.  I am not specialized enough to have a travel journal or a art blog or a ‘thought for the day’ column.  I am learning how to incorporate photos into my stories and to tweak them as needed.  I have a LOT to learn about how to make the computer do what I want it to, how to set up a website and how to design my blog better.  The technology aspect is my least favorite part, and yet it is what enables this great union of spirits around the world, so I must be grateful for it.

Yesterday I sent out a story I wrote about the end of the Christmas season 10 years ago at my house.  One of my friends says, “Too many words.”  So I will end with this: 

I have written a total of 162 blogs in 3 years which averages out to one a week haphazardly.  I read many more than that every week and am amazed that some of you write several times a week.  I have enjoyed learning through you and sharing with you.

Happy New Year and New Blogging Year, too.


Monday, January 2, 2012

Putting Away Christmas


The phone rings. I snap to adrenaline-induced attention and hop out of bed. No one there. Back in bed, covering cold spots, the phone rings. Miffed, I answer shortly. It’s my son’s hostess for the weekend, calling to give him directions, which I will pass on. I head downstairs before I forget.

The kitchen is a disaster. I can’t face it before my cup of tea. My daughter straggles in and I fix hot chocolate for her. Last night I had a little plan that she and I might ride downtown on MAX together today to pick up my books at the bookstore and have a chance to talk about her life before she heads back to college on Saturday. The vacation days have been so full of friends and activities that I realize sadly now she may have gone again before I have a chance to say, “How’s everything going in your life? I mean, really?” So I ask her now to take this jaunt with me but she says she sorta made a plan with Amanda. Then she woefully admits she doesn’t know what she’s going to do about the rest of the week because she has so many friends left to see and no money and even if they just go out for coffee it takes money and when she gets back to school the cafeteria will be closed Sunday night and she will have to go to a restaurant…

I’ve got company coming tonight and it’s not just the kitchen that’s a disaster. It needs to be a floor-scrubbing, bathroom-cleaning kind of day. So, I offer Lindsay the opportunity to earn cash at bribery rates in order to support her social habits and save my own social reputation. It works. We make a list of chores and their dollar amount.

The phone rings. Instead of going out, Amanda will just come over with a movie.

The phone rings. My father, wondering if I’d gotten the message he left last night, wonders which would be a good night to take the family out before the kids go back to school. And when can we get together to see the photo project he’s been working on for me? There are no nights left this week to have dinner with everyone at home, but I promise to check it out.

Lindsay says I should be the one to put away the Christmas stuff since I’m the only one that knows where it goes, and she can do the kitchen.

The front door opens and my high school son comes in. It is mid-morning. “What are you doing home from school?” “It’s early release. Can I go out on my bike? And can I have five dollars to get the front brakes put back on?” “Wait a minute. We’ve got company coming tonight. How about if you do something to help?” “How much will you pay me?” “If you clean the downstairs bathroom, I’ll give you the money for the front brakes.” “Okay, and then I’ll be home in time for you to take me to my drum lesson.” Oh, no! I totally forgot about the drum lesson! How am I going to get my books downtown and clean the house and get the Christmas stuff away?

The phone rings. It’s Bobby, home from school, too. Can he come over while Brett cleans the bathroom? No. Can Brett have some money to go to McDonald’s with Bobby? No.

Heading downstairs for the Christmas boxes, I carry the laundry piled by the door. I’m surprised we’re out of detergent already. I really need to get to the grocery store. No bread for lunch, no detergent…

The phone rings. It’s Amanda, calling from the video store. She needs to talk to Lindsay about which movie to choose. I explain that I am in the basement getting out the Christmas boxes and Lindsay is two flights up in the shower, getting ready to go to the grocery store for me. I will pass the message.

Wrapping the angels and Santas and Christmas mugs, I think how fast it all went by. I am not tired of looking at these treasures yet. Should I leave out the little gnome for a while? I really can’t bear to put away my Santa cream and sugar. We were so busy over the holidays, I hardly even saw them. I put away the tins, but leave the cream and sugar Santas on the windowsill.

Amanda arrives, but Lindsay has gone to the store. Could she just make herself a peanut butter sandwich? she asks. Sorry, no bread yet.

The phone rings. My sister-in–law has Mom in the car, running errands. They’re in the neighborhood. Is this a good time? Maybe after a while.

Lindsay comes in with a flush of pleasure at her successful shopping trip. She found just the right mascara at the grocery store. She and Amanda pile the groceries in the middle of the kitchen floor-still no room on the counters-and start to make their lunch before watching the movie. I am hyperventilating.

The phone rings. Ron, calling from work, needs the number of the furnace guy, and how is everything going? Just a minute, I say, there’s a knock at the door. It’s Mom and sister-in-law Pam, come for a cup of tea! I’ll talk to you later, I tell Ron.

Pam wonders why all the dining room chairs are in the living room if I’m having company tonight, and I try to explain the aborted plan to mop the wood floors. Forget it, she advises. Just stash the Christmas stuff someplace and put the chairs back. They leave, Mom a little confused about not having tea.

I need to breathe deeply. I need to pray. I head upstairs to my bedroom for a couple moments of petition and peace. My thoughts are as cluttered as my house. Lord, I have the growth group coming tonight. Lord, I need to read that book for tomorrow, the one that’s downtown. Lord, I’m supposed to read it before I write something. Linguistics, Lord! I don’t know if I can do it. Do You think I can? Lord, what about my dad? I hate to disappoint him…. I can’t even pay attention to You while I’m talking to You. I keep putting you on hold while I think about different things. Help me to focus. Help me to know what to do next.

I remember the detergent is available now, so I head to the laundry in the basement. The machine fills.

The phone rings. It is Tracey, my new friend from school, wanting to hear about my classes and how linguistics is going. I tell her I’m supposed to be doing some poetry writing or something thoughtful for tomorrow, that I’m overwhelmed and behind before the second day of class. She wonders if I’m trying to do too much. I AM JUST TRYING TO PUT AWAY THE CHRISTMAS ORNAMENTS!!!

In the kitchen, I get the counters cleared of the dishes Lindsay washed. It’s almost time for Brett to get home for his drum lesson.

The phone rings. It’s Evan, my older son. His car won’t start. Can I bring the jumper cables and help him? Yes, he’s sorry, he thinks he might have left the lights on. Sure, I say, but then could you take Brett to his drum lesson? Yah.

I carry the Christmas books back to their space in the library. Two new ones this year and I didn’t even get to read them. I’d like to sit down –well, I can’t now—I could leave just these out for a while and enjoy reading them still…

The phone rings. Brett’s friend Joel wants him to come over.

The phone rings. A girl’s voice asks for Brett. No message.

The phone rings. Ron is on MAX. The guy who was supposed to give him a ride home forgot. Could I pick him up at 122nd in 15 minutes? I say, Evan is coming back this way then and you could connect with him. Okay.

I carry the Christmas boxes down to the basement thinking, “I can’t do this. I can’t do this.” I sit on the steps and cry for a minute. Upstairs, Ron asks what the dinner plan is. I say, we had a plan but now I don’t want to get the kitchen all messy because COMPANY IS COMING! Lindsay says her shopping was good and got everything we needed for a healthy dinner and she doesn’t want to do fast food. They start on spaghetti.

The phone rings. Lindsay’s friend Danielle wants to know about their plans for tonight. Can Lindsay get a ride? Lindsay makes several calls to see who is going.

The spaghetti is ready. I am finishing loading the dishwasher. Go ahead and start, I say.

The phone rings. She just sat down to eat, I say, can I have her call you back? Oh, never mind, it’s okay. Here she is. Lindsay has a ride.

A nice supper. We’re all here tonight (except Emily, of course, who already went back to school). The dining room looks nice, the table cleared of the things that collect there. Brett pats my back. I am starting to breathe again. A knock at the door: oops, sorry we’re so early. Still finishing up supper? That’s okay.

I go upstairs to change out of my cleaning shirt. Should I go down, or plead homework? I really don’t have time for this. Then I think, “It’s only an hour and a half, and these are friends… I need to keep my life in balance”. I go down.

After seeing the last one out the door, I come into the kitchen to clean up the refreshment debris. “There seems to be water leaking under the kitchen sink,” my husband says. I can’t think about that now, I say, because I have to go write a poem or something.

And what I’m thinking is that there are parts of Christmas that you don’t wrap up and put away but leave out to savor all year. The back pats from an awkward fourteen-year-old son, the spaghetti-making-team cooperation, my husband’s offer to run to the downtown bookstore at 5:39 (it closed at 6), the question “what can I do next?”…These are the sweetest of Christmas moments. Even the grieving which has already started in my heart at the anticipated departure of Lindsay and Evan this weekend bears a sweetness, the sweetness of loving them and being loved. Some of my Christmas treasures get wrapped up and tucked away in my heart.

               (written in January, 2002, a true account of the day)