Saturday, December 31, 2011

End, and Beginning

Drop the last year into the silent limbo of the past. Let it go, for it was imperfect, and thank God that it can go. ~ Brooks Atkinson

Highlights 2011

There were many hard parts of 2011.  In the spirit of New Year's Eve, though, we will let those difficulties go, and instead concentrate upon the highlights of the year.  They included:

a glorious trip to Carlsbad Caverns;

some pleasant hiking in the Franklin Mountains;

a marvelous visit to Aden crater;

a peaceful weekend in Davis Mountains State Park;

the earning of a black belt in taekwondo;

the final Harry Potter movie;

a visit with Herself's lovely sister;

the twentieth anniversary;

the ensconcing of Offspring the first at college;

a visit to the Gila cliff dwellings and City of Rocks;

an examination of the prehistoric trackways national monument;

the long-awaited and very satisfactory tent camping experience;

and a myriad small enjoyments - kitchen experiments; writings, both in the blog and beyond; and time spent with friends and family.

Thank you, my readers, for your encouraging presence throughout the year. I am enormously grateful for you.  I hope that the new year brings you health, happiness, and all good things. 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Bridezillas

During this winter break, the Offspring are enjoying one another’s company.  It is a pleasure to behold.  Offspring the Third shouts up the stairs to Offspring the First:  “Come downstairs so we can watch TV together!” She joins him, and eventually Offspring the Second arrives in the family room as well.  They ensconce themselves on the variety of couches, surround themselves with snacks and the dogs, and chortle and comment together.

Last night, the Offspring were – oddly – watching Bridezillas.  For the uninitiated, Bridezillas is a television series that captures the alleged trials and tribulations of women who are preparing for their weddings.  After watching two episodes with the Offspring I can say, without any exaggeration whatsoever, that the women shown on the show are the most appallingly self-centered, spoiled, dreadful specimens of humanity that I have ever seen.  The disregard for the efforts, feelings, and needs of others; the extensive (and oftentimes unaffordable) expenditures; the “me-me-me” attitude:  how can a person possibly be that way?  It’s truly shocking.
To put so much emphasis and expectation on a single day is a recipe for disaster.  No matter how perfect the planning, there will always be some small mistake or problem; it is an absolute necessity to be tolerant, forgiving, creative.  Furthermore, while the right formalities, dress and accoutrements can be important, it cannot be the be-all, end-all.  The whole purpose of a wedding is the exchange of promises between two people. Ultimately, all else is extraneous.
Sometimes it seems that in the quest for Things and Stuff and Trappings and Display, all individuals – not just the brides of Bridezilla -- lose sight of the value of one another.  Our human (and very necessary) solitude is highlighted and enhanced by its contrast with the periodic presence of another. We must always be mindful of the pleasure of another’s company; of the knowledge that if one has a disaster, there are individuals who will come to one’s aid; of the comfort of having someone no more than an e-mail, text, or phone call away to listen to even a petty annoyance or minor grievance.  There is a joy in being able to provide for another’s comfort, to rejoice in another’s happiness and to be thoughtfully present in another’s times of need.  These are the things that matter.  When we die, our legacies are not our possessions, but the impact we have had on those around us.
Perhaps Bridezillas does, in fact, serve a useful purpose.  It certainly has reminded me to be grateful anew for the people who have allowed me to be a part of their lives.  Including you, my readers.  It is my pleasure, and my privilege. Thank you.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Strangled by a Giant Squid

In the cold of the winter with the holiday season surrounding us, we continue to ponder all of the hard questions of midlife.  In addition to philosophical and esoteric queries, there are mundane concerns which also warrant review. Today, we contemplate physical matters.  (While I, disembodied as I am, remain free of most of such considerations, I know that they are oftentimes uppermost on the minds of those around me.)

There are wrinkles forming about Herself's eyes; there are a few more gray strands among her hair than there were before. There are the dozen surgical scars, faded now, yet forever present.  There is a bit more padding, so to speak, here and there.  There are aches in joints, chill in fingers, a headache, the surprising impact of a virus:  the body is a delicate thing.  In this culture of smooth, thin, beautiful and eternal youth, it is difficult indeed to come to terms with corporeal fragility and imperfection.  Herself wonders - what problem will surface next?  It is not a question of if, it is rather a matter of when.  She tries to be grateful for relative health, and fears the inevitable decline.  She fervently wishes that she will hold on to her wits unto the very end, for she is terrified of losing her memories, her thoughts, her words. 

Yet, the body is still a serviceable machine.  While it still is running relatively smoothly, it is possible to take action:  hike through that forest.  Crawl into that cave. Recline under those stars. Or just walk. Then, dream bigger: make plans to paddle that lake; to sail that chunk of ocean; to drive to those mountains and scale them. It need not all be done right away, or even soon.  What is important is to think about it, to set a goal:  To do. To go.  One hill at a time.  When a hip aches or a neck is stiff, we hope that will be a reminder of all that we have accomplished despite difficulty.  The pain of success.

In the end, we do not want to arrive at the close of our lives as a well-preserved corpse. We want to go out in a blaze of glory, magnificently:  to be decapitated by a great white shark, to be strangled by a giant squid.  Or, alternatively, we hope that we *pop* at the end - quickly and painlessly with our faculties intact.  Even as the body fails, we will nevertheless be able to recall in our minds' eyes the splendor of the times when we pried open the jaws or escaped the tentacles during our adventures here on this earth.

I do want to consider my passing into the next life as the next great adventure; not fearing, but anticipating, all that is to come.  If the Universe is willing, though, that next adventure will wait.  There are so many things I want to do here first.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Under A Star

I am not alone at all, I thought. I was never alone at all. And that, of course, is the message of Christmas. We are never alone. Not when the night is darkest, the wind coldest, the world seemingly most indifferent. For this is still the time God chooses.
- Taylor Caldwell

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Under The Tree

The greatest gift you can give another is the purity of your attention. - Richard Moss

Friday, December 23, 2011

Moose!

Moose the guinea pig wishes you happy holidays.  (He also wishes we would not subject him to such indignities.  Alas, the hazards of being a well-loved pet.) 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Signs of the Forthcoming Apocalypse

Sign one:  Twilight-themed hair implements.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

HURGH

"I'm not dead!  I feel happy!"

Herself has a horrible virus. Yesterday was appallingly bad; it has been a long time since she has been that wretchedly sick. Today is much better by comparison. Go, immune system, go!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Santa's Elf

Her junior year in college, Herself belonged to a certain social group.  Based in a large house that had amenities including a dining room, a computer room, a TV room, a few pool tables in the basement, and various places to sit, the students of this group would generally eat, hang out, and/or study together.  They were a motley bunch of individuals, but generally were studious, pleasant, and quite fun.

When Christmas approached that year, various students decided to organize a "Secret Santa" party.  All those who wished to participate put their names into a hat; then, each drew out the name of an individual for whom they were to provide a gift as Secret Santa.  Over the course of a week or two, a mound of presents -- some lumpy, some oddly wrapped, and some beautifully arranged -- appeared under the house Christmas tree.  Herself added her carefully-selected present to the pile.

When it came time for the Christmas party, one of the group's members (a large and jolly student) dressed as Santa Claus, and a party was held.  Herself had the privilege of serving as Santa's Elf.  She wore her festive hat, and ferried presents from under the tree to Santa, who would call out the name of the individual to whom the present belonged.  Many of the students cheerfully sat on Santa's lap to unwrap their gifts.  Some of the presents were serious: a pen with the school's logo.  Other presents were less so: the elephant-shaped g-string presented to Santa himself, who modeled it over his Santa suit to the delight of everyone.  There was much merriment. 

The pile of presents decreased steadily until there were only a handful left.  Herself gathered the last of the packages and realized that whoever had drawn her name for the Secret Santa party had not come through:  there was no present for her.  She was stricken.

She wondered for a brief moment which of the people who had gladly received his or her own present was her Secret Santa.  She did not know who her Secret Santa was; she could not imagine that any of the people in the room would deliberately go out of their way to try to hurt her by not providing a present for her.  She couldn't take her Secret Santa's failure personally.  The big question was: how to gracefully escape?  If she had been solely an audience member, she could have easily hidden among the rest of the partygoers, and no one would have known that her Santa had failed. But she was elf.  There was no way to hide.      

After the last present had been distributed, the crowd began chanting, "Elf! Elf! Elf!" in the expectation that Herself would have the privilege of being the last one to sit on Santa's lap to open her own gift. All eyes were upon her; yet there was nothing she could say.  She hurriedly shook her head at Santa Claus and busied herself with the cleanup of stray bits of wrapping paper. The crowd's chants fell away, and the students gradually began talking among themselves and moving away to the dining room in search of snacks.  She finished tidying and went back to her dorm alone.  

The next day, there was a present labeled for her at her station where she sat to check the meal cards.  She could tell by the handwriting and the wrapping paper that it was a gift from a warm-hearted and generous friend of hers, who had witnessed the Secret Santa party and had understood what had happened.  It was extremely kind of her friend.  Somehow, though, it was not quite the same as a Secret Santa present.

-----------------

Christmas can be a very isolating time.  There may be inadvertent (or even deliberate) exclusion from one's social group; there are distances from family and friends, both in time and in space; there are memories of loved ones gone, of innocence lost, of expectations dashed, of hopes unrealized.  It can be difficult.  Nevertheless, we can find joy in the moment.  Even if there is no gift right now for us, we can still be Santa's Elves, ferrying presents both literal and metaphorical to those around us.  We can make a difference.  And we will.   

Merry Christmas, from me to you.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Two Turtle Doves, and A Partridge in a Pear Tree

'Tis that season again:  the time of year when it is traditional to bestow presents upon a variety of people.  As we have mentioned before, Herself loves to give gifts. Every aspect of the act -- from careful thought, to selection, to wrapping -- is a pleasure. She does have a tendency to be shy about offering gifts, since she prefers to allow the receiver an opportunity for opening the present in private rather than to watch the unveiling.  Nevertheless, Christmastime is filled with enjoyable moments of gift-giving for her.

This year, she was a bit slow to get into the spirit of the season.  Mundane matters, too trivial to mention, have generated a general Bah, humbug sentiment that has prevailed for quite a while.

This afternoon, though, while curled up in her flannel sheets nursing a migraine, she had a small epiphany.  She was contemplating gifts for a particular person, and fretting that she had not found just the right book for that person, when an idea popped into her head -- a wonderful thought of a book that she believes will delight and entertain the person.  Through the glory of the internet and Amazon.com, she now eagerly awaits its shipment to her within the next few days, just in time for Christmas.  

There are fewer things more pleasant than the anticipation of bestowing what she feels will be a Very Good Gift upon someone for whom she cares.  She is happy.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Bah Humbug

Offspring the Third desperately wanted a Christmas-themed T-shirt to wear to school today.  He brought down a white shirt and proposed that a Santa hat be generated upon it.  He suggested the use of permanent markers (decoration of one's t-shirts with markers is a common occurrence in the household).  Herself smelled potential disaster in the use of permanent markers (one mistake would no doubt cause the implosion of the planet); fortunately, there was a plethora of felt available.  And lo and behold, a T-shirt was made. 

Herself's thoughts:  Why, CERTAINLY, youngest child, I would be DELIGHTED to manufacture a Christmas-themed T-shirt for you RIGHT NOW ten minutes before you must leave for school, with all the MULTITUDE OF CRAFTY TALENTS that I do not have. It's not vexing at all that you did not remember to mention it yesterday evening when I told you I was going out to help your father do some shopping for his office staff, even though that would have been the PERFECT time to say, is there a chance you could pick me up a T-shirt while you are out? And the fact that all of my hot glue gun glue sticks are mysteriously missing so that I have to use a pencil to jam the last mangy crumbs of glue stick through both wretched glue guns to complete the project? NO PROBLEM!

Herself's consolation: a couple of handfuls of chocolate chips.  Ah, chocolate, you soothe frayed nerves.  We will regret your consumption later, I'm sure, but we appreciate your help now.

Herself's creation, as modeled by Offspring the Third:

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Hip, Hip... Not Hooray

Herself's right hip has taken umbrage of late at certain demands put upon it, in particular, things such as push-kicks and side-kicks and other routine tae kwon do movements.  It is frustrating, because she needs the movement and the exercise, and yet finds her hip quickly becoming painful each time.  She is not quite certain what the problem is, but she is sufficiently annoyed that she is actually contemplating making an appointment to see the doctor to discuss it.  Given her general dislike of appearing before medical professionals, that is a bit significant. 

She secretly hopes that if she ignores the problem long enough, it will go away. That never quite seems to happen, though, does it?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Fur

After more than a decade of carefully tending a variety of guinea pigs, as well as various hamsters and a pet mouse, not to mention the small-medium-and-large-canines, why is Herself all of a sudden getting daily advertisements from a fur coat company? 

I know we could debate at length the issues surrounding use of animal-derived products, such as the wearing of leather, the consuming of meat, and others.  Perhaps it is a double standard that Herself does not generally have problems with such things.  For some reason, though, the idea of sporting a garment made of an animal pelt seems particularly egregious, especially after regularly medicating and syringe-feeding more than one needy or elderly rodent, as well as recently holding one while he took his last breaths.

The only fur Herself will be wearing will be attached to whatever living animal is currently draped across her lap.   

Monday, December 12, 2011

One Bean

One year when Herself was quite small, she and her family went to visit her paternal grandparents who lived several states away.  Always prone to motion sickness, she felt a bit ill after the plane flight and subsequent drive to their house.  After a rest to settle her stomach, she joined the adult relatives who remained gathered around the dining room table, chatting after a meal.

She sat upon her mother's knee, and her mother offered her a few edibles, including beans.  Herself did not mind beans, but was not in a bean sort of mood, so asked for not too many.  Her mother carefully arranged one single bean on the plate with the other items, and asked with gravity:  "Did you want me to cut the bean up for you?"  Herself answered, "Yes, please." And her mother did so with a flourish.

The mixture of humor, kindness and loving attention that was bestowed upon Herself in that moment was a comfort that she will always remember.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Contemplation

Around the age of forty -- sometimes slightly before, sometimes slightly after -- many people, Herself included, begin to ask themselves some difficult questions.  It is a time of reevaluation: assessment of all that has come before, and contemplation of what is to come ahead.  Have I made the right choices?  Would I do things differently? Why have I not accomplished all that I thought I would by now?  What did I actually think I would have accomplished by now, anyway? Who am I, truly? What am I doing? What do I want to do? What are my true skills?  How can I pursue my dreams?  What are my dreams?

We look around and see people in the public eye who are so clearly driven by what they do and who are so very successful.  We see young upstarts who somehow become famous and manage to make millions of dollars while still in their teens. How do they do it?  How did they know what to do? Is it too late for us?  Have we somehow missed the boat? It is easy to become discouraged, fearing that we do not have any particular magical, marketable, marvelous skill. What to do?

First, we do what we must, for we have responsibilities. We go to work and to the store. We attend to the myriad minuscule tasks of daily life:  laundry, dishes, bills, plumbing, cars, pets.  We plow ahead. 

And yet:  we dream.  We search. We think about trying new things, even though we do not yet take the steps to do so.  On sunny days, we relish the myriad opportunities that lie in front of us.  In our darker moments, finding even one small comfort seems an insurmountable challenge.  Despite that, we do not yet despair, for we know in our hearts that the sun will come out again. 

We move forward.  We sometimes retreat. We learn to appreciate the pleasure of, and to express gratitude for, the small and profound moments.  We love. We break.  We heal. We look for meaning and purpose.  We wait. We hope. We try.  We try again.

We have courage.  We have patience. All will be revealed in the fullness of time. 

Your hearts know in silence the secrets of the days and the nights.
But your ears thirst for the sound of your heart's knowledge.
You would know in words that which you have always known in thought.
You would touch with your fingers the naked body of your dreams.
And it is well you should.
The hidden well-spring of your soul must needs rise and run murmuring to the sea;
And the treasure of your infinite depths would be revealed to your eyes.
But let there be no scales to weigh your unknown treasure;
And seek not the depths of your knowledge with staff or sounding line.
For self is a sea boundless and measureless.

Say not, "I have found the truth," but rather, "I have found a truth."
Say not, "I have found the path of the soul." Say rather, "I have met the soul walking upon my path."
For the soul walks upon all paths.
The soul walks not upon a line, neither does it grow like a reed.
The soul unfolds itself like a lotus of countless petals.


- Kahlil Gibran

Photograph copyright Mediocria Firma, 2011.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Rudolph

I know, I know - dogs aren't meant to wear clothing.  Yet for some reason this tiny seasonal dog-suit, which was irresistibly on sale, captured our imagination.  The Very Small Dog dislikes it enormously, for she is a free-range dog and eschews all garments, including collars.  Nevertheless, we are mightily entertained.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Judge Not

There are times when Herself is truly dismayed by the unkind or heartless words that leave others' mouths.  This would be one of those times.  Even though the statements in question -- which are best left unwritten -- were not directed at her, Herself is not only perplexed that an individual would say such things, but also dismayed that she could not be there in person to defend the targeted individual or deflect the cruel commentary.

Promise me, readers:  if there comes a time when I am judgmental rather than welcoming; when I am more concerned with outward appearances than with enjoyment of another's company; when I mock the interests of individuals rather than supporting them in their endeavors; when I plow forth with my own agenda instead of listening carefully to others -- should any of these things happen, you must take me out to the desert and leave me there, so that I may reevaluate myself.

If you judge people, you have no time to love them.  - Mother Teresa 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

California Bean Bag

We were listening to Rihanna's California King Bed in the car while driving Offspring the Second to school this morning.  He was listening to the lyrics, and then deadpanned:

"California Bean Bag."

Hee.  I will never be able to hear that song again without thinking "bean bag."

Offspring the Second has a marvelous wit.  He is stoic and generally quiet, and yet his magnificent sense of the absurd, of sarcasm, of contrast and alliteration and pun and wordplay, flows constantly under the surface and emerges periodically like a serene and glorious fish in a river of language.  His interpersonal skills and understanding of the human race are remarkable for a young man of not-quite-seventeen.  He is kind, thoughtful, and humorous. Such a blessing, he is.  

I admire him tremendously.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Not Snow!

For strange and mysterious reasons, the high-speed cable-modemn internet connection cannot tolerate any form of precipitation. The molecular dusting of snow that this desert land received yesterday was apparently sufficient to cause the connection to give up in despair.  Although a temporary cable-free connection is available, it is quite sloooooooooooow. Alas. 

At first, the provider offered a service call on Saturday.  When we explained that Herself telecommutes and that a greater-than-96-hour delay in restoring internet services was not acceptable, we were transferred to another individual who informed us that we were quite fortunate to be able to squeeze in a service call a mere 53 to 57 hours from then. :::commence the grinding of teeth:::

We will hopefully be back with aplomb within two days' time.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Frosty

This morning we awoke to find that the grass was all frosted.  Oooo! Pretty!  So chilly!  The Very Small Dog was not at all sure that she wanted to walk on the frost.  She looked mighty silly trying to sniff out the right place in the yard to pee, while attempting not to put more than one paw on the ground at a time.

The frost reminds Herself of winters in New England, where she was born and raised and spent five years after graduate school.  Though she doesn't necessarily miss New England itself, there are times when she is nostalgic for the mountains of snow.  As long as her toes and her fingers were warm, she was happy to be out in the cold.  The white blanket of snow, the gray sky, the quiet.  Beautiful.

She remembers shoveling snow in the winter when she was pregnant with Offspring the First.  At five or so months along, she had finally left the days of nausea and fatigue behind, and there was something very satisfying about the combination of the warmth of her burgeoning belly within her parka and the mild exertion of the shoveling.  Chipping ice off the windshield was not nearly as enjoyable, though. 

She would not mind a little shoveling this winter.  Will there be snow?

 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Yours For The Asking

How difficult it is, to ask for what one wants.

Herself has a firmly-ingrained abhorrence for asking anyone for anything.  She has always worked carefully to avoid inconveniencing or upsetting others.   She remembers that even as a small child she would deliberately refrain from speaking up about her wants.  She would remain silent even if her siblings mentioned their preferences about even the smallest of things, such as the selection of a vegetable for dinner, lest she create extra work for someone or cause someone else to be unhappy with her choice.  (There were a lot of log-shaped green beans -- her brother's favorite -- throughout her youth.)  She would not ask to attend a school function if it meant that someone would have go out of their way to drive her there.  She would not mention feeling unwell until she was sick enough to require bed rest.  She would not ask for any of the clothing that was popular amongst her peers, for that would mean that one of her parents would have to take her shopping and, worse yet, spend money on her. One of the most difficult questions was, "What would you like Santa to bring you for Christmas?" Egads.

She was a very quiet child.

She is still much the same way today.  Much of her aversion to the telephone stems from a fear that she may somehow interrupt or inconvenience the person whom she is calling.  She puts the Offsprings' and her Beloved's needs ahead of her own even if it is to her own detriment, always. She remains silent when a relative criticizes, lest she wound the feelings of that relative by speaking back.  She does not daydream about what things she would like to have; she considers that a waste of time and energy since she will only very rarely spend money on herself -- it could be better spent on others.  She does not ask for help except under dire circumstances.  She is most comfortable functioning within these self-imposed parameters.

Underneath it all, though, there is a slow and quiet evolution. Over the past few years, Herself has begun to realize that she is allowed to want. Her needs do count. Perhaps, occasionally, it is appropriate for her to speak up for herself. 

She works hard to anticipate and meet the needs of other people.  I'm sure she errs on occasion, but she tries. Very hard indeed.  Nevertheless, after much analysis she has determined that not everyone does -- or can -- do the same.  Humanity is not telepathic, nor even always empathetic, nor do people (including herself) often understand all the little eccentricities, motivations, and driving forces in even those with whom they are close.  Other people cannot meet her desires unless and until she shows them what they are.

Her needs are not often complex:  usually, they are basics such as a need to get enough uninterrupted sleep.  Occasionally, she would like to have a calm and helpful person step in and handle matters during the rare moment when she feels too exhausted, upset, or ill to take care of matters herself.  Yet because she so seldom asks anyone for assistance, it is impossible for those around her to ascertain when she is close to her breaking point.   

Therein lies the greatest difficulty.  She must learn to ask.  It goes against every fibre of her being to do so.  Yet it must be done. 

She has begun to try.  It no doubt surprises everyone around her when she states what she would like another person to do.  So unexpected!  She evaluates at length before making any request to ensure that it is in fact a reasonable one. She does her best to choose her words carefully, too, so that people will understand that her statements are not a criticism of them, but an explanation of her own particular needs.   She knows that her requests might be met with a "no," and she understands that she cannot take such refusals personally.  It is difficult. She is learning.

She would do well to remember that the asking and giving of help go hand-in-hand, always. Fewer things bring her greater happiness than to help others; perhaps, occasionally, she should offer someone she loves the opportunity for such a happiness for themselves.  It could be wonderful.

Refusing to ask for help when you need it is refusing someone the chance to be helpful.  - Ric Ocasek

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Friday, December 2, 2011

NaNoWriMo Results

National Novel Writing Month drew to a close this week.  Herself had aspirations.  How did she do?

Erm. Well.

November was A Difficult Month, bookended by the car accident at the beginning and the passing of James the guinea pig at the end, and with assorted things in the middle.  There was blogging, but not much work upon the story.  Nevertheless, I will point out encouragingly that the story is three times longer than it was at the beginning of the month. So that is good. While it is not a great deal of progress, it is progress just the same.

We will see how much the story advances in December.  I am optimistic that it will continue to grow.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Small Success

Herself had to dress slightly upscale this morning, in dress pants and a sweater rather than her usual running pants and fleece. 

She was pleased -- and relieved -- to find that her size 4 dress pants fit comfortably.

In the daily struggle concerning body image and self-confidence, it's a small but satisfying victory.