Little Lessons Learned the Hard Way

Measure twice, cut once. It doesn’t apply just to carpentry and sewing. A variation of this maxim can apply to virtually any activity. Pay attention and slow down enough to do it right the first time.

*Not* raspberry!

Twice in the past week, I’ve been faced with the consequences (thankfully small) of my own carelessness. I guess I have to learn the hard way. First, I *thought* I was stocking my household up on tea to get us through the winter when I went online and ordered cases of some of our favorites. Welp, after the large box arrived, I learned that Celestial Seasonings Red Zinger is not the same as Raspberry Zinger (my husband’s fave.) Turns out they are very different products. I should have paid closer attention and proofread my order rather than making assumptions based on seeing a red box and the word “Zinger.” Now we have an entire case of tea none of us will drink. Well, I already gave away two boxes of it. I’m sure I can find takers for the rest.

My second hard lesson came this morning. Read up and learn from my mistake. After refilling the tank on a humidifier, make sure that lid seal thing really is clicked in place tightly before turning it over to place it back on the unit. SPLASH! An entire gallon of water on the bedroom carpet! I saturated three bath towels sopping it up and then still had to run a fan on it. I measured once and cut twice, costing myself time and annoyance.

The worst part is, I can’t think up any excuses or anyone to blame but myself. That’s the hardest lesson of all.

My Fraught Relationship With Gratitude

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Thanksgiving is upon us, and I find myself pondering the potential risks of being *too* grateful. Don’t worry. This isn’t heading into any kind of preachy sanctimony about how you have to do even gratitude in the exact right way or it’s wrong.

I do find a lot of value in gratitude, and have even written on this blog before about some of my practices. But like many other things in my life, it’s a subject about which I can overthink and also be irrational. See, I have a superstition my logical mind can’t seem to shake, and that is the law of non-mentionables. It goes like this. As soon as you mention something, if it’s bad it happens, and if it’s good it goes away. Everyone knows you don’t talk about it when your baseball team’s pitcher has thrown seven no-hit innings. Say the fact out loud and you’ve guaranteed it won’t last through nine. That jinx is on you. Likewise, don’t dare to utter hopes for an injury-free season for the best players. You might as well just summon the injury demon already.

This law was reinforced in my mind by a cursed Buick Skylark I owned in my young adult years. I had driven it for about six months with nary a problem until the day I told a friend, as I was getting into the driver’s seat, “This has been a really good car for me.” Then it wouldn’t start when I turned the key. On a road trip a couple of years after this incident, I made the mistake of saying out loud, “The Skylark’s done really well on this trip.” I kid you not, only two minutes later a loud thump sounded under the hood and the headlights started to dim. It was a broken belt, of course. It was as if that car was sent into my life to teach me a very specific lesson about keeping my yap shut and not looking good fortune directly in the face.

Anyway, I try not to be ungrateful. But I stop to consider exactly what it’s safe to express thanks for. Am I okay with the object of my gratitude disappearing in the immediate future? I’m (deep breath) thankful for my house because I’ve already gotten so many years out of it. Even if it’s destroyed tomorrow, it’s deposited enough in the blessing bank for me to cover the loss. That’s an example of how I try to safeguard myself.

I try not to let my superstition overpower me because I don’t want to be a sour, dour ingrate who can’t appreciate stuff. I suppose, according to my magical beliefs, never giving thanks would keep me safe-ish. But safe in an unpleasant and sparse spiritual bunker kind of way.

So I’m trying to be brave enough to notice the good. One practice I’ve implemented over the past year is to consciously increase the number of times I verbally express my appreciation of other people. I don’t fake it, ever. I only say it when I really mean it, but I’m making more of an effort to make sure folks know I don’t take them or their deeds for granted. It helps me, too, keep my perspective when it might be someone who perhaps occasionally grates on my nerves or pisses me off in some way. The fact that I’ve thanked them out loud on other occasions has given their good deeds a more firm anchor in my psyche, and thus provides some balance.

I know the real key to gratitude, what I might always be working to master, is in acceptance of impermanence. The fact is that my Skylark had been a good car for those first six months. The betrayal of my faith — er, um, I mean the coincidental timing of it’s first mechanical problem under my ownership didn’t cancel out those six months. And no car lasts forever with no problems. Maybe for me to make an effective spiritual practice of gratitude without tying myself up in knots, I need to learn to ground myself more in the moment and avoid, to echo Wendell Berry, “taxing my life with forethought of grief.” Be grateful in the moment for the moment no matter what the next one might bring.

I’m not going to express confidence that I can learn to do so, because that would be a sure jinx on myself. But perhaps, occasionally, out of the corner of my eye, I can notice I’m doing it.

Exciting News: Game Launch

Pretty exciting news from my family today. My son’s (and his colleague’s) first video game has launched.

I’ve been watching from the sidelines as it’s gone through development, noting a number of times that the job looked similar to the task of writing a novel. My son and I have engaged in several conversations about creative process, in fact, as we both work on our various projects — game development for him and creative writing for me.

It’s likely my imagination, but I thought I got the skeptical side eye a from a couple of folks over the past year and a half. They’d ask me, “What’s your son up to these days?”

When I said he was working as an indie game developer…in his bedroom…in our house…I caught a whiff of oh, suuuuurrrre, just slacking and playing games on your dime, more like. Maybe I worried this is what people were thinking because I have a history of saying, “Yep, I am in fact still writing that same novel.” (But I really am!)

Anyway, I know everyone is dying for the reveal. So here’s the real product he’s really been working to produce and is now really available for purchase.

https://store.steampowered.com/app/1663410/Happenlance/

If you’re a gamer, go check it out.

The Great Playground Stick Fight of 9-11

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On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was bustling around trying to get my oldest kid ready for a day of first grade when my phone rang. A friend was calling to tell me an airplane had flown into the World Trade Center. I totally didn’t get it. I was like, hm, that’s weird. Hey, I’m about to be late taking my child to school. Can I call you back?

After dropping off the six-year-old, I turned back toward home with my three-year-old still in the car. And I turned on the radio. Oh.

I had been picturing a small two-seater plane with a confused pilot. I know a lot of parents all over the country retrieved their children from school after hearing the news. I’m going to be honest and say it didn’t even occur to me. I guess I felt we were pretty safe here in the midwest.

I spent the day trying to entertain my three-year-old while surreptitiously checking the news via internet. I didn’t know how much he was capable of understanding and didn’t want my growing internal panic to become contagious. My husband and I were emailing back and forth some and decided we’d have to talk to the six-year-old about the events of the day, but would wait until after dinner when we were all together.

We tried to keep dinner as routine as possible, making our kids feel safe. They were behaving pretty normally, with the usual little sibling squabbles and testing us parents on where the line got drawn vis-a-vis the no feet on the table rule. After we were finished, I don’t remember how we distracted the younger one, but my husband and I sat down with Age Six and said we had something to discuss.

My husband started. “We wanted to talk to you about something really bad that happened today.”

Age Six immediately turned red-faced and said, “They started it! They were throwing things at us first! That’s why we picked up the sticks to sword fight them.”

On any other day, I would have been called to the school and informed that my child was one of a group that prompted a new rule about not swinging sticks on the playground. Apparently, there had been a pint-sized gang fight. Later I heard from school staff that many of the students seemed to be picking up on the anxiety of the adults and acting out that day.

But my kid’s response made me realize we didn’t have to talk too much about the terror attacks. Six years old is still young enough for the most important news of the day to be what happened at recess. So we tackled that topic first, discussing what they could have done differently and what some better behavior choices would have been. We touched only briefly on the New York and D.C. attacks, saying that grownups in charge were working to keep people safe, etc., etc. I’m pretty sure the stick fight still loomed larger in my child’s mind.

What I didn’t understand completely in the moment was how our lives would forever be divided into before and after 9-11. How everything would change, often in ways I found difficult to put into words. I have tried to tell my now 20-something kids about what the world was like Before, but I’m not sure I’ve made them see at all.

As far as they could remember, we’d always been at war. There had always been huge flags flying at car dealerships and hotels. The Department of Homeland Security had always existed. “Drone strikes” has always been a phrase in the news. They’ve always had their bags searched when entering entertainment venues. I can list these details, but the thing I can’t describe in the way I want is how different things felt before the attacks.

I know I just sound old and nostalgic when I say, you used to be able to go to the airport for cheap entertainment. You could hang around to watch the planes take off and land. People could walk right up the ticket counter and get on the next flight leaving without any ID or watch lists or anything.

I’m sad that they’ll never know exactly what it is I’m trying to say. Sad that they don’t really remember the pre 9-11 world. Sad that a stick fight on the playground was so far from the biggest news of the day that the teachers forgot to mention it.

Thoughts on Dependence and Independence

Before I get into my actual post, I feel compelled to say I almost gave up on WordPress because of frustrating formatting problems every time I tried to create a post. But after walking away for a while and cooling down, I bothered to do some research. I learned the new issues have to do with WordPress and Safari not playing nicely together. So here I am, giving it another try, via Firefox for now.

**

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

On this July 4, I’m having a lot of thoughts and even feelings — those things I sometimes prefer to avoid — about dependence and independence.

My 26-year-old son has been living half a continent away from us for over a year now, while the 23-year-old has remained hunkered down in our home during the pandemic. Health issues, both personal and public, have made launching a challenge for him. But he’s taking some steps toward adulting and attaining life skills. Today, he’s leaving on an airplane to visit his older sibling for a week, his first adventure in traveling alone. Other than a couple of small road trips with friends, he’s never before traveled without at least one parent.

I think it’ll be a great experience for both of my kids. The older one will get to play host, and also finally see a family member in person. The younger one will get to gain some independent maneuvering-through-the-world competencies without a lot of risk. Considering that sibling relationships are typically the longest ones we have in life, I’m happy they get along and want to spend time with each other.

So why am I wracked with anxiety? I will blame it on the pandemic. I have become used to the idea that leaving home is dangerous. I am unused to my (7 inches taller than I am) baby being so far away. I have to remind myself that I was already married, for crying out loud, when I was that age. I also experienced anxiety recently when my husband drove to a city two hours away and back in a single day, so maybe I’m just having issues in general.

My happiness about the offspring’s steps toward independence are winning the war against my fears for the moment. My kid is going to have to learn how to be out in the world without out us eventually, one way or another. It’s nice he can do something enjoyable while learning.

At the same time I’m celebrating his growing, if slightly delayed, independence, I’m having to come to terms with the fact that aging is going to mean more dependence for me. I like to do things for myself and hate asking for help. But I’m just arriving at the point in life where I see the first glimpses of needing more assistance as time rolls on. My energy levels aren’t what they used to be. Both my husband and I are growing weary of heavy-lifting type home repairs and improvements. We had a discussion and conceded that we might need to hire younger, stronger backs for some projects.

As heartily as I endorse the philosophy that we’re all walking each other home, and as often as I ask, what are we here for if not to help each other, you’d think I’d have an easier time with accepting assistance. But apparently, I’m only comfortable on the giving end of it. Humanity doesn’t really function that way, though. You have to be willing both to give and receive aid.

Week before last, I was initiated into the kidney stone club, a real rite of passage, if you will. I spent 24 hours in the hospital. If you haven’t had a stone, let me tell you that the pain lives up to all the hype. I could barely walk, and definitely couldn’t drive myself to the ER. I had to depend on my husband to get me there. Then I had to depend on medical professionals to help me with pain relief, diagnosis, and general functioning for several hours. Almost worse than the physical pain was the feeling of helplessness. I couldn’t take care of this problem on my own.

I had to be wheeled places under someone else’s power. I ended up with all the drugs (at least it felt that way), which meant that even after the pain was manageable, my brain wasn’t functioning well and I was unsteady on my feet. I asked the same questions repeatedly and had to try with all my might to process what anyone else said to me. I needed to be walked to and from the bathroom, a nurse holding me steady.

It rained 5 1/2 inches the night I was in the hospital. Many streets were underwater and closed. When I was ready to be discharged the next morning, I had to wait a while for my husband to pick me up because he was dealing with a flooded basement. Poor guy had to run to the hardware store, buy a new sump pump, and install it all before he could come get me. So dependence means learning patience, something that is always a challenge for me. Independence means I’m more likely to get what I want or need without waiting. It spoils me.

Then there’s the guilt. I felt I should have been helping my husband, rather than being one more task he had to take care of. I guess that’s another issue for me to work on. I recognize as well, that doing the things myself gives me a feeling of control. If I do it, I have power over keeping things from going wrong, or at least over fixing what went wrong. As if we aren’t all at the mercy of chance all the time. It turns out that I have many, many issues here and should probably work on getting a grip. Great — another damn opportunity for personal growth. Who asked for that?

Welp, I should wrap this up. Son two is leaving soon and I need to focus all of my concentration on his flight. I’m pretty sure the pilot will be depending on my telekinetic powers to keep the plane aloft while my loved one is on board.

~~

Of Hard-Working Utility Crews and My Obliviousness

I thought highly of myself and my work ethic because I made it outside to tend to yard maintenance before 7:00 this morning. But these folks were already out working when I stepped through my door.



The city switched power lines from an old bad pole a while back, installing a new one next to it. By a while, I’m speaking about increments of years, not weeks. This morning, the removal of the old pole finally made its way to the top of the city to-do list. The heat was already something by the time they and I were out there working. Stay tuned. I’m about to tell a funny story on myself.

We’ve lived in our house for 18 years this month, and there’s always been a utility pole in our yard, right on the property line between us and the neighbor to the east. It’s been defunct for a long time, too, with the city promising us they’d remove it.

While I was out this morning, weeding, and the utility workers were going about their labors, my husband came onto the front porch to monitor the progress across the street. After we watched them together for a minute, he said, “They already removed the pole from our yard.”

WHAT?!

I looked over to where it used to be, flabbergasted. No pole no more, and I hadn’t even noticed. They must have taken it out while I was at work one day this past week. You want to know the worst part of my obliviousness? I fricking mowed the yard yesterday evening, including the place where the utility pole stood for decades, without noticing it was gone. In fact, I came to this spot pictured below and wondered why my husband (or the neighbor, since it’s on the property line) had dug a hole in the yard and then just left bare dirt. I’d been meaning to ask.


Bare patch of ground

I have had a lot on my mind, lately. But geez, Louise. Should I worry about my mental state? In my defense, the spouse has been removing invasive plants from the yard, including a huge honeysuckle bush. One of my working theories posited that he’d seen another small stand and managed to get it out by the roots. If he hadn’t told me about the pole, I’m sure I would have figured it out eventually. Maybe.


Honeysuckle stumps
Just the stumps of the honeysuckle bush remain.

The husband says he’ll get back to the honeysuckle removal and take care of those stumps when he has time. I wonder if I’ll notice.

Look at Me, Being Crafty

A number of times in my life, I’ve uttered these words: “I’m not a crafty person.”

But are they true, though? I mean, I’ve patched and painted many a wall in my life. Is that not some type of craft? And while I always avoided the craft room as a parent volunteer at elementary school parties, I could often be found assisting my children with activities such as making greeting cards or carving pumpkins at home. Are those not crafts?

Maybe my self concept can change, even at my advanced age. I have decided that I am going to have at-home summer camp days for myself this year. I will do crafts — in a low-risk environment, of course, where I can easily dispose of the evidence if things go too awry.

Here’s where I’m starting:

Tie Dye in progress

When my oldest moved out, I undertook the massive task of cleaning out his room. My reward was that I got to keep for myself a handful of things he left behind. One was an unused tie-dye kit. It took me a couple of years, but today, I finally broke it out and tie dyed a t-shirt for myself. It might look hideous when it’s done, but at least the process was fun.

I had some dye left over, so the husband tossed me one of this shirts to experiment on as well. I will post the results in a couple of days. It’s okay to laugh if they look funky.

As an aside, the buckets are only there for weight in the breeze. They’re citronella candles I keep on the deck, not part of the craft process.

How Frugal Am I?


Let it never be said that I’m not frugal. Just how frugal? The image above is an example of my thrift. It usually has a liner in it, but I removed it for the photo.

In 1994, I worked as a secretary. On Secretary’s Day that year, my boss gifted me with a really nice, large fruit basket. Once the contents had been shared and consumed, I was left with a sturdy wicker container. As fate would have it, I was in need of another small trash can for my home. Being true to my nature, I thought, “Oh, this basket will work until I come up with something else.”

27 years later, it’s still in use. We have moved four times, so this is its fifth household.

I wonder if my former manager even remembers me or the fruit basket. If ever I should run into her again, I suppose I’ll refrain from mentioning that I think of her when I throw away my used dental floss.

Make do and use things up. I guess I took that lesson to heart.

Another Trip Around the Sun

Spring bursting through the dregs of winter.

Today is my birthday, and I don’t ever seem to get tired of having them. It’s a great time of year for it, early spring when the day is finally a little longer than the night and daffodils are blooming everywhere. I appreciate my parents arranging this for me.

This past winter, I was about as depressed and anxious as I’ve ever been, but my own light is shining a little brighter again, too. Though this is my second consecutive pandemic birthday, I think I can enjoy the occasion. I’m off from both of my paying jobs today and plan to spend the day not putting pressure on myself. I’m going to Zoom with some friends in a little while. The weather is supposed to be gorgeous later, so a long afternoon amble will be in order. I’ll follow that with sending my husband to get carry-out so I don’t have to cook dinner.

I’v already had my birthday present for a few days — something I’ve wanted for a long time and that has improved my life at least 25%. Friends, I am 57 years old today, and for the first time ever, I have a headboard for my bed. I can now sit up and read without murdering my back. The headboard is nothing fancy, an inexpensive one from Target, but it has not disappointed as far as the reading in bed experience goes.

Happy day, everyone, wherever you happen to be in your own solar cycle!