Monday, January 30, 2012

Whole Foods Epiphany

So the thing is, I am supposed to be writing. Rebecca and I had this discussion on way home from Whole Foods this morning. We went there to get some breakfast at their hot bar and to buy some veggies and other food to have for dinner tonight and for our Veggie Day tomorrow.

We wandered around in the store checking out what new and amazing products they carry. Whole Foods is an interesting place. You can see all manner of bizarre and strange people there, filling their carts with organic, good for you…..whole foods. You might see a guy with his hair slicked back into a ponytail putting a bag of faro next to a stalk or two of fennel. Then there is the skinny lady in a leotard and tights, cross trainer shoes and a Northface jacket, eyeing the eggplant and leeks. Another harrowed mom, with two small children with runny noses and thrift store pinafores are cruising the aisles in search of just the right snack that is organic, gluten free, sugar free, vegan, wrapped in a biodegradable wrapper and still tastes like food, not a science experiment gone terribly wrong.

We hit the produce section and, like all the rest of the “in the know” shoppers, felt the cabbages to find the one with the most heft, examined the peppers to find some that were just the right shade of crimson and pawed through the boxes of blueberries hoping to find some that were still in their prime. Whole Foods is a veritable fantasyland for those with a yen to increase the number of colorful, healthy vegetables in their menu planning.    They even stack and display the vegetables in such a way that you almost feel compelled to whip out your DSLR and take photographs that you enlarge to poster size and hang in your kitchen as art.

Then it was back to the meat department where a chuffy young man sporting a “Whole Foods” apron and hat was only so happy to retrieve the exact tilapia fillets (encrusted in pecan dust and bits) we had spied. Noting that the salmon cakes looked mighty nice, we figured we might as well contribute a bit more to the economy by selecting three plump, packed with Omega-3, round morsels of delectable flaked salmon to add to our eating enjoyment for tonight’s dinner. We will be eating a great meal tonight, that’s for sure!

As we were making our way to the cashier, I noticed a Martha Stewart magazine called ORGANIZE! How can you not trust Martha on such a crucial subject like home organization? I have seen pictures of her house at Turkey Hill or wherever the heck it is that she lives and I can tell you that in HER home, every item does have a place and you can make darn sure, everything IS in its place! So we quickly thumbed through the magazine before we plunked down the ten bucks it cost and determined that it had enough great photos to inspire us to transform our lives and our homes with all of the helpful information contained in this one magazine. And when you put it like that, ten bucks seems like a very reasonable price to pay for something that will make our lives worth living again, not to even mention being able to find the heirloom meat platter at Thanksgiving.

So as we’re standing in line, Rebecca turns to me and casually, because she always starts these conversations casually, says “How much writing have you gotten done?” I sheepishly look at my shoes and mumble something like, “Not much.” If you count emails and comments to stories I’ve read on Yahoo or Democratic Underground or entries on Facebook, I have been very busy indeed. But I think she was definitely referring to something with a bit more substance. I feel a blush of shame come to my cheeks as I realize that part of the reason----one of the MAIN reasons I rationalized such an extended visit to North Carolina---was to get some writing accomplished. And it is true that I have written on my blog and I have composed some text blocks that we will use in our family heritage book we are working on. However, the biggie project I am working on, one that will ultimately become an ebook, I hope, has not been touched. I am not sure why I have avoided it but truthfully, I think I have resisted working on it.

Why have I resisted, I ask myself? Well, for one thing, it is an intensely personal recounting of my experience when I was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer in 1990-91. That was in some ways the most traumatic event in my life and at least in the top three events. It changed who I was and has had a profound influence on my life, giving me insights to why I was the person I was at the time and giving me the permission and courage to see things in a whole new way. However, reliving some of the things I went through for the transformation is difficult and reminds me of the stress and fear I experienced so long ago. Even things that I thought I had long forgotten or had made peace about were tucked away neatly in the folds of my gray matter and came tumbling out when I sat down at the keyboard to write. Some things surprised me with their ability to evoke such strong emotions and even physical reactions at the mere memory of what I encountered during my treatment.

Then there is the sheer brain work it takes to write and get something down that is both helpful and coherent. Remembering what you did and thought over twenty years ago can be very taxing and stressful. I want to be accurate and I did not keep a journal, something I now regret. I did, however, write many things about other people I met, how I felt and things that angered or annoyed me about the whole process. Some things I wrote for publication in hospital newsletters, some were written for a support group to share with members and I even have copies of a few letters I wrote to hospital administrators when I felt like I had a legitimate complaint about a policy or procedure. So I have some prompts that have helped me recall with a fair degree of accuracy what was important to me at the time. It still is work to get the nouns and the verbs to make sense and not bore one to tears in the process.

So I think the problem is that, along with my natural inclination to procrastinate doing things that are ---shall we say---in some ways unpleasant, the whole project is just fraught with opportunities to resist bringing up painful and frightening memories.   My main task is to remember what I got out of that experience. The process itself was difficult and not one I’d volunteer to do again, although I KNOW I would if I was faced again with a life threatening illness. It changed me, changed the way I think about myself and view the world. I found out I am a whole lot tougher and braver than I thought I was. Some people go through their whole life wondering what they would do if they were told they had a disease that could kill them and in pretty short order, too. I have the comfort of knowing I did not crumble or cave in to the pressure. I know what I did, who I became and how that whole experience changed me forever. So I really, really DO want to share some of that experience with others who may be looking down that same, lonely path I traveled so long ago.

I hope that Rich, Rebecca and Larry will continue to ask me, “How much writing have you gotten done today?” And, “How’s that book coming along, Mart?” I do have something to say and something important to share. My opinions and experiences are as good and valid as anyone else who dares to put their thoughts down on paper or in this day and age, on an electronic whiteboard.

I will work on my book, my blog and probably contribute to a few message boards, stories on Yahoo and assorted other places I find to put in my two cents. I hope that anyone who reads what I wrote today will get strength and courage to tell his or her story, too. We all have a story to tell and since we’re all in this thing together, we have things worth sharing and contributing to help each of us as we take our own journeys along the winding highway of our lives.

Happy Trails to you and don't be afraid to tell your story.   You might change someone else's life with the things you reveal.  


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Missing Ginny

On a cold January 26th  back in 1951, my sister, Virginia Elizabeth, was born.    I was two years old so I have no memory of my life without her in it.    She died nine years ago next Feb. 6th, at age 52.     Hardly a week goes by that I don't think of her and the life we lived as kids and then as grownups.   

In our childhood, Ginny and I shared a bedroom with twin beds that served as spring boards, perfect for jumping and hiding places for our toys and other stuff when we got orders to "clean our room" from a very perturbed father.   At night, after we were supposed to have lights out, we would whisper back and forth telling secrets or just engaging in some forbidden after dark chit chat.   We had a large shelf that contained all of our dolls which were many since we inherited all of the dolls that belonged to our older sister, Charlotte.  Our closet contained not only our clothes but also a vast assortment of school papers, toys that wouldn't fit under our beds and anything else we could cram in that small space.  

Marcia and Ginny with dolls 1956, Jackson, MS

Ginny and I had some spectacular fights as kids, although we were also willing to defend to the death each other's honor if SOME ELSE dared to taunt, tease or otherwise insult either of us.    I was a runt, short of stature and skinny as a rail.   Ginny inherited the "sturdy" genes so eventually she became taller and heavier than me, even though I was the oldest.     I had a gift for words and often teased and nagged at Ginny until she rose up, got me in a some sort of hold that rendered me helpless and then sat on my back, whacking and wailing away, with a hearty, almost guttural "UH" with each blow.    I would bawl out for mother to help but usually no help was forthcoming since I think Mama probably thought I richly deserved whatever I was getting and come to think of it, she was probably right.   After a reasonable amount of revenge, Ginny would dismount and leave me whimpering and sniffling.   Usually in less than five minutes we would resume whatever game we were playing, all insults forgiven and forgotten.   

Ginny and Marcia Easter 1961, Jackson, MS
As we grew into young adults, Ginny suffered a long period of her life with chronic depression.   I had married by then and had a young son and Ginny absolutely worshipped Brian.     Looking back, I know that he was the biggest bright spot in her life and probably saved her from even worse depressive episodes.    She and I often talked of her depression and I, being the "ever happy camper", was hell bent on helping her to see the more cheerful side of life instead of the worst it has to offer.    I worried constantly about her and felt like it was my duty to try to save her from herself.   

Not to say that we didn't have some wonderful times together and more laughter than you could ever imagine.   In addition to the sturdy genes, Ginny also inherited a wonderful sense of humor and was quite intelligent, very much the way our father was both highly intelligent and very funny, too.     At an early age, she showed a real flair for art and took lessons during elementary school.    She was what some people call "crafty".    While going through her things since her death, her daughter found no less than FIVE glue guns in Ginny's stash of craft supplies.     She loved her glue guns and found new uses that even the inventor of the glue gun never thought of.    

One year for Christmas we decided to make ornaments out of felt, pom pom balls and glitter.   We festooned my home with all kinds of door knockers, signs of the season and a giant stocking that we stuffed with some of Brian's toys and put out on my front porch.    When we had left over felt, glue, glitter and pom poms, Ginny decided we needed to use up these materials and so we cut short strips of felt and glued the pom poms on the felt, alternating the color of pom pom we used.   As we sat there looking at our "creations", I casually asked her what we had made.    She said (in all seriousness), "Why don't we call them our Christmas worms?"    So we placed them on the branches of the Christmas tree and I still have them today and still call them my Christmas worms.    It works for me now, just like it worked for her back in 1976 when we made them.   

Christmas Worms on my tree

And so we grew older and our lives moved on and more or less apart.  We were still close in heart and loved each other dearly but no longer lived in the same town.     Eventually Ginny married and had a daughter, bringing a joy to her life that is almost beyond comprehension.    She and her husband had been through fertility treatments that were deemed to be unsuccessful, when out of the blue she was found to be pregnant and expecting a baby in March of the next year.     In spite of the benefits of modern medicine, their precious bundle of joy chose to arrive in January and arrived healthy and safely even though she was quite premature.    
Ginny with Catherine Spring 1992

After that Ginny's health was a huge issue in her life and for most of the next eleven years she battled diabetes and various complications of that disease, including major heart issues.    But even with all of that and the responsibility of a new baby girl, Ginny kept her sense of humor and could make me  laugh standing around her hospital bed, even when I really wanted to cry my eyes out.    I was so afraid of what was happening to her and yet, living in a kind of vague denial of the obvious.    We never talked about her health that much and more or less lived as if it was not a factor at all.    As the old saying goes, "Denial is not just a river in Egypt."   

So her health continued to get worse, she had cardiac by-pass surgery and her diabetes still raged on doing damage to her heart and body.    Intellectually, I knew she was not doing well, but my emotional side just didn't want to deal with the inevitable and didn't.     In January 2003, shortly before her birthday, she was hospitalized and was very ill.     I came to see her and visited her in ICU and had before me the truth of the matter.    She was clearly in a dire situation.     But the mind can convince you of things that aren't true.   So it was with this situation.   I still could not accept that she was not going to be a part of  my life much longer.   I don't think she admitted that either.    We were blindly and doggedly going to play the game until we couldn't any more.  

Marcia and Ginny Christmas 1991, shortly before Catherine's birth

Ginny was discharged from the hospital a few days later and seemed to be doing well.    At least that is the story she told me on the phone.    She and her husband and daughter were going shopping for a school project later in the afternoon she wrote one day in an email.   She went to a follow up doctor's appointment.     They went on that ill fated shopping trip, but in the middle of the shopping, she felt ill and had to go sit down.   While she was resting and waiting on her daughter and husband to finish collecting the things they needed, she suddenly suffered a cardiac arrest and was gone within minutes.    Paramedics were called and she was taken to an emergency room, but it was too late and she was pronounced dead.   

The call from her husband to tell us what had happened came later that afternoon.    When I heard what had happened, I literally fell to my knees and staggered to the kitchen counter for support.   I don't ever recall having that kind of response to bad news in my life except for that time.    Even when my father died many years earlier,  I don't think I felt this way.   Hearing that Ginny was dead,  I literally felt like something had blown a hole in my heart and left a huge gaping wound.    I was weak and thought I would faint.    All the way to Jackson for the wake and funeral, I had a strange emptiness in me that is very hard to describe.       But that is the best word I can use to explain how I felt.    A big, black void and a feeling of complete numbness took over my body.   

Maybe it was because I had also lost my older sister, Charlotte, two years before that and I was feeling the sinking, lonely feeling of being the only child of three that was still live.    Maybe it was because of all those years we shared a room and later such closeness due to the fact that we lived next door to each other.    I am not sure why I felt that big, black hole inside.     All I know is that is what I felt at the time.  

Today, nine years later, I can say that the hole is much smaller now and has shrunk to a much more manageable size.     I have not carried the burden of her death around with me like a cape about my shoulders.     I like to think that I have grown and learned from the experience and with time and patience the incredible lonely feelings and sadness have receded to their proper proportion.      I know for sure that we said the things that needed to be said when we were both above the ground to hear them.  Standing at the grave uttering "I love you" is not a good substitute for saying those words out loud, with conviction while you are both alive to hear and acknowledge the sentiment.   I don't have to wonder if she knew that I loved her because she did.   

So on this day of her birth, so many Januaries ago, I can't help but think of Ginny and the life we shared for so many years.   I still laugh at some of the funny things she said--- when we were kids---as young adults and yes, even on her sick bed, just days before her death.     I have some of her art work that we found in envelopes and boxes after she died.    Her amazing daughter is a young woman of twenty now and has some of Ginny's best qualities to remind us of her.     And yet, I do still miss her and sometimes my heart aches to spend just one more day with her.   Right now is one of those times.    

I will cry today and re-grieve the untimely and premature death of my dear little sister, Ginny.    But I will also celebrate the times we spent together and be thankful and grateful for all of those good times that will, no doubt, carry me through the difficult times of remembering what might have been.       

Thoughtful and happy trails to you~~~


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Lessons from a Stroll Down Memory Lane

I promised I would blog about my visit to see Rich and Rebecca in North Carolina so this is my first post from my visit with them.    Rebecca and I have planned to do some photo projects for a long time so we wasted no time getting started last night by comparing which photos I have on my computer and which ones she has scanned to hers.   We found many, many old pictures of various relatives directly connected to our family tree, some dating to the early part of the 20th century.   We laughed and had a lot of fun seeing certain family characteristics that are in evidence even today.     Noses, body build and face shapes get carried along in the genetic code that simply can't be denied.   The photographs reveal the truth.

Tonight we dipped back into the bags, boxes and albums that contain the story of our family life.   We shared more laughter and some tears as we moved around through decades of family photos and a few other treasured bits and pieces of our past.    A letter from my father written to my mother in 1937 made me choke up and shed tears as I read aloud how much he loved her and my newborn sister, Charlotte.   They had been married just a little over a year at that time and he desperately wanted them to be together as a family.   They were apart because he had moved to Jackson, MS to open an office for Orkin Exterminating and mama was in Memphis recovering from the birth of their daughter.   She was living temporarily with her parents until they could save enough money for her to come to Jackson.   The cost for her to take the train to Jackson was a big obstacle for them and rent was a whopping $25.00 a month!   Getting the money together for the train fare ($3.50) and the money needed to put up a deposit on an apartment seemed like an insurmountable task.    And yet he proclaimed his undying love for both of them and how much he wanted them to be together as a family.     That did happen just a short time later but at the time he wrote that letter, it was not a sure thing at all.      Just reading the words of my father----so young at the time---only about 21 years old, reminded me of how much he loved all of his children and my Mother up until his untimely death at age 51.    

So we have had fun, had tender moments and found a few surprises among the faded photographs and memorabilia.    And after we looked through the pictures and were sitting there quietly thinking about the things we found, I asked Rebecca what we had learned from this experience.     Well, for one thing we learned that there were many pictures of people we knew had to be relatives or kin folk of one kind or another---cousin? aunt?----who knows?   But who they were, when the picture was taken and where it was taken will remain mysteries for the ages.     Some had been labeled with at least who it was and when, but many had nothing at all on them to help give a clue to the who, when and where question.    A few had been stamped by a photo processor with a date of when it was processed into a print which is better than nothing but in no way gives accuracy since film has been known to stay in a drawer somewhere for years before someone gets around to developing it.    The upshot of it all is that most of the unlabeled pictures will remain a mystery because there is no one alive that can tell us who the people are or any other detail about the photograph. 

The moral of this story is simple.    When you take a photograph and get a print, please, please, please identify the who, what, where and when questions.    That is if you are still making prints or using film.   I am not sure anyone is still doing that these days since I just read that Eastman Kodak filed for bankruptcy today.     But if you among the people still wedded to the old fashion way to make your photographs, answering these important questions will be so helpful for future generations who find a box of pictures among your belongings after you are gone and get curious about who they are.    

Now for the rest of you who have gone digital, there is a different, although somewhat similar problem about identifying a photograph.     It seems that many of us----truthfully,  MOST of us----who have digital cameras take copious amounts of photographs at every opportunity.   If you count the number of people who are snapping pictures wildly with their iPhone, DSLR Rebel or Coolpix,  the number of images we are preserving has to be staggering.    Just how much space on YOUR hard drive is taken up with pictures from every event in your life since the dawn of time?    Now the bigger question:   how many of those pictures have you identified with a good file name of the person and other vital information (where and what)?    Digital cameras are amazing devices.  They can record an image and the date it was taken and even the GPS coordinates if you can translate what those numbers mean.     So even if you are too lazy or too busy to record who it is, the camera is smart enough to tell you where and when you decided to immortalize the moment.  It's up to you to add the all important information, the name of the subject.

Just some simple words of advice:   when you load your pictures to your computer, do yourself a favor and thin out duplicates, out of focus shots, badly composed shots and just rejects that you know in your heart you'll never print or use in a slide show.    Then for goodness sake, go back to what's left and give them a decent file name that makes it easy for you to find that photo you're looking for.   You know--- the perfect one that will make a great beginning to your vacation video that you want to compile for the next Family Reunion.   Organizing your photos on your computer is time consuming and a thankless task.   If you start out right, you won't have this problem of going back to a jumbled mess of digitized chaos that is way more frustrating than it should be.   

Oh and one last word on this subject:   Long ago, we thought if we had multiple copies of a picture we were safe from the ravages of time.     We also thought that magnetic photo albums were the perfect solution until we found out that the glue in them would literally leech the color out of a photograph and turn them into yellowish squares with colors not found in nature.    Acid free is your friend when it comes time to assemble your pictures into an album.      If you have pictures in the old kind of albums or the magnetic ones that are not acid free, please release them from their bondage and get reprints or scan them right away to preserve what is left of them.     If you have negatives, you can reprint or scan to your computer.     For the ones on your hard drive, back up, back up, back up.     Make a DVD or two or twelve.     Redundancy is the key word in back ups.    Since back ups are so cheap to do, it's silly not to take a little time and do it.  And if you don't want to do it yourself, sign up for an automatic back up to a reputable company where your images can be kept safely stored away in case one day you need to retrieve them.    Computers crash, get wiped out in storms or might even be stolen.    The treasures stored on them go away as easily as chalk on a blackboard.   So back up your family jewels that tell the story of your lives.    And give a few copies of the back up to other family members, too.      

I know that as Rebecca and I continue to work on our projects we'll come to new revelations about our family and what we learn from our meandering down that road they call Memory Lane.  If I get struck my anything else I consider worthy of passing along, I'll be posting it here on the blog.    This blog is about finding the "good life".    In my opinion, one way to find it is to look where you've been so maybe you can find the way to where you want to go.   

Happy Trails,


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Huh??? Wha' Happened?

To the followers of this blog:   Huh????   I dunno what happened but all I was doing was adding some labels to my previous posts and somehow got the order of them re-arranged a little bit.    So the post at the top of the blog that I did for yesterday was one I did several months ago!   I am completely baffled how that happened and those of you who know anything at all about doing anything with a computer should not be surprised at this.   After I consulted the "help" section for Blogger I came away scratching my head even more.   No help there.   And, I know you're going to be shocked by this, but I was more confused than before I looked at the help section.  

So my solution to this problem (since I think it is a temporary thing that just re-arranged the order of posts a little bit) is to post another entry and move the posts down.   Eventually, it won't matter.    Just know that the real post for yesterday was supposed to be the one about Retirement: Looking Back After One Year.  Oh and the moral of the story is to try not to monkey around with this thing without a license as weird things might happen that you can't fix.   And to think I wanted to revamp the whole thing from top to bottom.    Perish that thought.  ;-)

In a few more days I'll be flying to North Carolina to spend some time with my niece, Rebecca,  that I mention frequently in this blog.    She and I are more like sisters than aunt and niece since we're only eight years apart in age.  We played together as children and are even closer now that we're all grown up. My sister, Ginny, and I were known to dress Rebecca up (when she was too little to stop us) in all manner of borrowed clothing, including hats from mama and things that we thought passed for ball gowns and called her Our Little Princess.  To say I love her like a sister is really understating the case.  I know the time spent with her and her amazing husband, Rich, will jump start my thinking.  We've already made reservations at a place called Memory Lane, so look for some ramblings from me that include lots of memories and discussions about how important those are in crafting a Good Life.   

Marcia and Rebecca in Breckenridge, CO, 2000

Happy Trails and Remember to Book Your Tour Down Memory Lane!


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Recognizing When You Have the Good Life

The camper is quiet now, only the sound of wind whistling through the screens.    Occasionally, way off in the distance I hear a human sound but mainly this place is very quiet.    The environment lends itself very well to a lot of reflection and analysis of the past few days.    

The kids arrived last Friday afternoon to lots of excitement, noise and the sheer exuberance that children seem to have in abundance.   Seems like most of the adults in the world manage to contain their exuberance and keep it firmly under wraps.  Not so with children.   So the kids spilled out of the van, eager to get in the camper to see the inside and "their bunkhouse".   They wanted to explore the campgrounds and find out what there was to do.   They wanted to hug us and get going full blast on our camping vacation together.   

It wasn't long before we had a camper full of people, food and other things we thought necessary to have a good time camping.    We brought alone some games---Phase 10 and Scattergories, among others.    We had fishing equipment, books to read and decorations for Halloween.   As usual,  we brought way more things to do than we had time to do!   But that's OK 'cause that just gave us some options when it came time to choose an activity.  

We grilled burgers, played games until late into the night, had a reverse Halloween experience (neighbors brought candy to the kids!) and just hung out and had a marvelous time.   We brought out the Treasure Chest a few times where the kids got to spend their "coin" ---collected from Gramps who had been observing them being nice to each other and doing helpful things around the camper.    Filled mostly with trinkets and cheap stuff, the Treasure Chest also had envelopes with prizes inside like "you get to choose the activity for this evening" and "good for a trip to get a treat".   That one resulted in all of us going down to the nearby Dairy Queen (now known as DQ) for an ice cream treat one sunny afternoon.   

                                              Dipped Cone from the DQ

Luci and Ben bought two small shovels from the Treasure Chest for a few pennies and had a ball digging in the sand that was just a few steps away from the camper.    Of course, that meant they had to cross a small bridge that Luci had become convinced was the hiding place of an ogre of some sort so when she crossed it (after much pleading and begging from Ben) she ran as if a monster was about to pounce upon her.   Oh, the imagination of a seven year old!    But once across, she made a bee line for the sand and dug and dug searching for treasure and just for the sheer fun of digging.   No reason needed.    

                                    Ben enjoying the white sands at Gulf Shores.

Gavin entertained us with his guitar and enjoyed showing off his developing skills as a musician.   His Paw Paw and Ms. Brenda who live in Gulf Shores came by one afternoon and got to hear his musical interludes, including a Beatle tune or two.    I think he surprised his Paw Paw when he recognized the Beatle song without being told what it was and realized it was his 13 year old  grandson who was playing so skillfully.   

                                       Gavin playing "Blackbird" by the Beatles

So the time with the kids and Brian and April went by so quickly that when it was time to leave all of them were lamenting the fact that it was over.   They all wished for another day to spend in the sunshine and soft breezes along the Gulf of Mexico.    But alas, duty called and Brian had to be back at work, so they left on Tuesday morning as planned.  

Before their van drove out of sight, we were feeling the pangs of sadness that come when a happy visit is ending.    The pall that fell over us lasted most of the day and we commented how eerily quiet it was here in the camper without the hubbub and laughter that goes everywhere the kids go.   It would be easy to let the story end here but really not fair since out of the quiet and still moments after they are gone is when the truth appears.    

We are a family (like most, I hope!) that builds up our treasure in the memories of good times together.     We squirrel those nuggets of time away in our memory vaults so we can bring them out later and relive them.    We pull out a treasured memory and hold it in our hands like a diamond most valued.    It really is true that you can't hold time in a bottle.   And once the moment is passed, you can't bring it back.    What you can hold and bring back are the memories you have created.   

How many times have we told the story about the time Rebecca fell out the window in the middle of the night?     Can we ever get tired of telling about the time(s) that Gramps/Larry dressed up in some outlandish costume and made all the kids AND grown ups laugh until they cried?     And who is ever going to forget our first Iron Chef competition complete with funny fake names (Broccoli Garlique and Luci Balducci, Heir to the Gucci Muchi) and tall chef hats???  

So these past few days we've been making deposits in our memory bank.   We'll hear the stories about catching only "bait stealers" on their fishing excursion.     Ben will remind us for sure how he kicked butt and annihilated us in Phase 10.    Luci will long remember the monster under the bridge she evaded on her way to the playground.   Larry and I will not forget the poignant moments when the kids were leaving and we realized that these are the moments that really make up the good life.   

Halloween Fun!

                                                     Scary faces on Halloween Night!
It's not having all the latest gadgetry or the biggest house, the fastest car or the most money that make it a good life.   It's having a family and friends whom you love and wonder of wonders----love you back.     It's having a grand daughter who says, "Grammy, if I had an UnSkip Card, I'd use it for you."   Then she blew me a kiss.     (This was after someone else had used their skip card on me during Phase 10).     It's knowing what is important to you and having the good sense to use your time wisely to fill that bank with memories that will last for a lifetime.    I know my bank is overflowing with good times, happy memories and even the not so happy times I can recall.    They all go in the bank and will get pulled out sooner or later to bring a laugh or even a tear in recollection of the things that make my life worth living. 

I hope you'll take the time to look at what's in YOUR memory bank and if you haven't been taking the time to make a deposit,  plan on doing that soon.   Time is a river that never stops flowing and all you need to do is jump in and start living and making a few memories.    Pretty soon, your bank will be filled to capacity.  And the good news is that there is always room for more! 

Retirement: Looking Back After Year One

One year ago today Larry officially retired from his job.   It wasn't what he wanted or planned to do.   He had thought he would probably continue to work until he was sixty-five.    But life can hand us surprises and unexpected turns in the road so ---like it or not---he jumped through all the hoops and on Jan. 14, 2011 worked his last shift.    His manager came over from New Orleans and, along with several people at the station, held a nice retirement breakfast for him and bid him fare well.    He didn't want a lot of hoopla and razzing about it and they honored his wishes and kept it fairly short and heart felt.    And thus ended his years as a working  man.  

Larry with Mike and Dave
Jan. 14, 2011
It has been a strange year in some ways since he had worked in one job or another since he was sixteen years old.    He began working when his father became seriously ill, unable to work and his help was needed to assist his mother in keeping their family fed and housed.   As a teen-ager, about all he could do was go to work at a fast food joint and he turned over just about every penny he made to his mother because his family needed it and he was glad he could help out.   She gave him money for gas and some spending money but the rest was used for necessities for the family.    It was a big sacrifice for him when other kids his age were going to ball games, participating in school activities and thinking about having fun. 

When you begin working as a kid and continue working for 40 some-odd years after that it's hard to imagine not getting up and going to a job anymore.    You feel kind of lost for a while and have a nagging feeling that you're supposed to be somewhere.    It is a weird feeling to not be responsible for working at a job anymore.    And so it was with Larry.  To be honest, he actually enjoyed the part about not having to get up at a god-awful hour to go to work.    He had worked a terrible shift for many years, getting up at midnight or sometimes one in the morning to go to his job.   He would work until 9:30 and be home by 10 o'clock most days.    Not doing that any more was a relief because he never got enough rest and was chronically sleep deprived.   But not having a routine or schedule was a struggle.    It didn't take long for him to figure out he needed to do something regularly to keep busy and not go buggy.   

He ended up volunteering at our local food bank on Mondays.    He rarely misses a day and occasionally fills in on another day when they need him.     He fills bags with groceries that are given out each day and then restocks the shelves with the donations that come in from local citizens, churches and even stores like Wal-Mart and Publix.    One thing he has learned is that there are many people in our community who need help with food.  They are not deadbeats like a lot of people assume.   Many are old, some are sick and lots of them are just down on their luck, have lost their job or can't find one.    I think he finds it to be a privilege to help out with this community service to, in some way, pay back for his good fortune in life.   

One thing that took up a lot of his time right after he retired was educating himself and sorting through many major decisions regarding what he would do with various payouts and pension benefits that were distributed to him in the months following his retirement.     He knew some things could wait until later but there were a few things that needed to be decided rather quickly.    So he spent many hours reading various sources about what he should do with the money.     He consulted a financial planner and basically filled his head with as much information as he could, hoping to make smart, sound decisions that would not end up hurting us in the long run.   

Now we are not rich people or even a little bit "well off", but Larry has had good benefits over the past twenty-two years so there was a 401 K account that had to be dealt with, some company stock and some pension pay outs.    It can be really nerve racking to make decisions with what assets you have knowing that you'll probably never work again in a position that has good benefits.    So you tread carefully and hope you're making the right decision, often not knowing until many years later if the choice you made was smart or dumb.   

Against the advice of the financial planner, we decided to pay off the mortgage on our house.     We didn't owe a huge amount on it but it would have been several more years before it would be paid off if we continued to make the regular payments.    So while we had the chance we decided we wanted to be out from under that burden.     This past year would have been a whole lot more stressful had we been making mortgage payments so, in spite of the fact that the financial planner thought it was "not wise", we did it anyhow.    And we're not sorry.   (Maybe I should wait until after we file our tax return this year before I make the final judgment on that.)

We also decided to wait to begin drawing from the 401 K until later.    Larry is required to begin using it at age 70 but so far we have survived just fine without it and will continue to hold off as long as we are able to meet our obligations and have a few of life's finer joys with our current income.  The 401 K fund had to be turned over to a different manager and Larry has watched anxiously this past year as it has slipped backward and then crept back up, although not back to where it was when he retired.    It has been a difficult thing to not have complete control of that money but tinkering with things like that when you really don't know what you're doing can be a dangerous thing.     So he has learned to not obsess over every twist and turn of the stock market, but he still occasionally will have a pang of regret or worry.    Then he comes to his senses and realizes that he just has to step back and stay calm.   No one said that being retired would be easy or worry-free.  

One of the greatest joys of this past year has been the wonderful trips we made.    In April last year we took our middle grandson, Benjamin, to Washington, DC.    We drove to Cary, NC and with my niece, Rebecca, her husband, Rich, and their granddaughter, Shannon, caught the Amtrak to Washington.    Ben is a certified train nut.   He admits that.    So he was in heaven and we had a nice ride through Virginia and Maryland where no one had to drive, stress out over traffic or worry about the next rest stop.    We spent several days in Washington seeing monuments, museums and lots and lots of tourists like us.    We all had a grand time and one of the best things was having plenty of time to spend with Ben.    Everyone should consider doing that if you have more than one grandchild because you can really keep your focus on that child and not feel hurried or interrupted.  

Ice Cream and Fun
Grammy, Gramps and Ben
April 2011
Then in late June we embarked on a trip of lifetime to see the wildness of Alaska.    We were with Rich and Rebecca again and they had planned a wonderful excursion that began in Vancouver and then we took a flight to Anchorage and a train ride that took us to Denali and Fairbanks.    We flew back to Anchorage, rode a huge motor coach down to Seward where we boarded the Ms. Zaandam for a cruise that took us back to Vancouver.    It would probably take several blog entries to cover what we saw and did on that trip, but suffice it to say, we had a royal good time.    We ate marvelous meals, saw glaciers and tundra,  flew in a tiny plane over the Misty Fjords,  played Phase 10 in our stateroom and laughed our way across our 49th state.  

Larry enjoying our first moments aboard
the Ms Zaandam, July 2011

Marcia  on Ms. Zaandam, July 2011

Finally, in September, as if one cruise was not enough for one year, we took a much anticipated trip with Brian, April and the three grand kids down to Mexico.     April had been planning the trip for most of the year and had pretty much figured our every move.    Things went like clockwork thanks to April's advance work and, again, we had a great time eating, laughing and playing our way across the Gulf of Mexico and back.   We saw the crystal blue waters near Cozumel, a blazing sun set along Mobile Bay, a ship full of people partying like it was 1999 and happy, energetic entertainers  and stewards only so happy to make us smile and cater to our every whim.  It was a wonderful trip and we were glad we got to go!

Elegant Night on the Elation Sept. 2011

So this past year has been full of activities, decisions and fun.   But to be honest, it has not all been fun and games.    There is a learning curve to being retired.    There are books and online articles that tell you about retiring.    What you should expect.    How to plan.    What to do.   What NOT to do.  On and on they go.    The truth is that retirement really is what you make of it and you just have to get in there and live it.    Every day you are given choices, options.      When you are in charge of your own time and your own life without the directorship of a major corporation or a boss telling you how your day will go, it can be a daunting task.   And yes, it can be intimidating, too.     I guess it's possible to have too many choices and too much freedom.   

The thing is you just have to figure out who you are-- now that you're not a "working person" any more.    It certainly doesn't mean you won't ever work again.    Lots of retirees end up back among the employed.   Sometimes it's because they have to for financial reasons.    Other times it is because they need to be busy and going back to work is the easiest and surest way to make sure they stay on task.    Remember, when your time is your own, it's easy to give yourself the day off.    That's great if you really want to have a day off.    Not so good when it starts to drive you crazy.   

So this past year has been a learning experience for Larry and for me, too.    I stopped working at a paid job in August before Larry did last January.   I got a head start on this "retired" thing.     We have had hard decisions to make, time to relax and just "be" and more fun than we probably deserve in such a short period.    Larry has fretted from time to time about decisions he had to make and I was the one reassuring him that it would be all right.   That has been our pattern for forty-three years so I guess we won't be changing that at this late date.    It has been a fast year and sometimes I wonder where the days went.    Then I look on the calendar and see trips and camping excursions (I didn't even tell about camping in this post!),  volunteer duties and I know where the days went.    It wasn't as bad as Larry worried it would be and wasn't as glorious and care free as I thought it would be.   But all in all, it was a good year for both of us.    We've learned a lot and are looking forward to other adventures in 2012.     We'll be blogging and keeping track of it all and hope to hear comments from anyone who takes the time to read about it.  And yes, Larry is going to be the one who writes the blog entry soon. He has plenty of time for that these days.

Happy Trails,


Friday, January 13, 2012

Collaging and Roasted Veggies and How They Are Related

Blogging is one of those cool activities that is truly your own.    You are allowed to write about the things that inspire, bore, scare and intrigue you or just pop into your head on a moment's notice.    What you post is your business and can be inspired by almost anything that happens in your life.   In other words, you can reach into that great grab bag we call "life" and sometimes interesting comparisons and correlations come out.   That is sort of what happened a day or two ago.    

You see, I had been feeling a little guilty since I have not posted to the blog since BEFORE Christmas.    I kept thinking that I needed to do something-- anything-- and get a post done.    However, those of you with writing experience know that sometimes if the inspiration is lacking, the words won't come.    So I was poking around the house searching for something to jump start my inspiration.    I happened to go into our computer/craft room and spied a project I did last year.     It was a collage I created and (so far) have not put in a frame or even in a folder.    Shame on me.   Now I have another thing to add to my to do list.   Oh, well.....

Collaging, for those of you who are unfamiliar with this method of creating art, is the use of small bits and pieces of fabric, paper, used postage stamps, labels and wrappers, ribbon and yarn, photographs, stamp art, stickers ---- well, to be honest, almost anything you can think of --- to glue, pin, insert or otherwise attach --- to a background that can be paper, canvas, board, glass, or whatever flat surface you like.    It is a very forgiving and flexible way to create a piece of art since there are few (if any) rules and what you make is entirely up to you.    It comes from within and often reflects your feelings in ways that will surprise and amaze you.    If you haven't given collaging a try, I urge you to do so since it is fun, relaxing and very revealing of the inner "you".    And furthermore, it's a great way to use up left over materials from other projects you have created. 

So I came across this collage and casually picked it up and was studying it as I often do, thinking to myself, "Did I do this?  Dang, this is pretty neat. "    I am not an artist, never thought of myself in that way and frankly have felt this way since I was a child.    In my family, growing up, it was my younger sister, Ginny, who was the "artist".   She took art lessons when she was in grade school and until she died was involved in some type of art activity.  Drawing, painting and playing with craft materials were her idea of a fun time.  Not me.   Her craft closet at the time of her death was overflowing with supplies and "under construction" projects.   I, myself, thought that just drawing a stick figure was a challenge.    As a matter of fact, I used to almost break out in a cold sweat if I had to draw or paint anything remotely connected to an art project.   

Do Your Best to Remember Your Dreams

From this background, I had always concluded that I was no artist.    Then one day in the middle 1990s I had the opportunity to participate in a workshop with a local artist named Donna Freckmann.   She was hosting an event for people who had experienced life threatening illness and were looking for a creative outlet for their feelings regarding that experience.    I went out of curiosity and also because there was a writing component to this event.   Now, writing was something I had always felt like was my "thing".   I had good success with writing in school and have been told many times that I have "a good way with words".      So off I went to this activity and made my first collage.   

I guess that unleashed some kind of inner "repressed" artist because I learned from the experience that being free to pick and choose your materials and then how you assemble them often results in some pretty amazing expressions of what is in your heart and mind.   It was the first time I ever had anyone tell me that there were no rules about how I created my collage.  Donna said if my inner critic tried to take over and intimidate me, I should tell my inner critic to take a hike.   I made a collage that I called "It Came From Out of the Blue" that ended up in an art show.   It depicted how I felt I had changed through the experience of having cancer, although the person I became was there all along.   It took a life threatening event to provoke the changes that shaped and impacted how I felt about myself. 

It Came From Out of the Blue

Now you know why I am writing about collaging. A chance find in my craft room made me come up with the topic.  The challenge then became explaining why I included the roasted veggies in the title of this post.     The same day I found the collage, I needed to make a side dish to go with our supper.     I had no idea what I wanted to make so I did what any stumped cook does----I went rummaging around in the vegetable bin of the refrigerator.     I found an assortment of things just begging me to do something with them before they became fodder for the compost bucket.   There was one yellow squash, a couple of zucchini squash, half of a butternut squash that didn't get roasted earlier in the week, a half of a yellow onion and a whole box of button mushrooms.   Hmmm, I said to myself, why not just cut up the pieces-parts I have here, drizzle them with a bit of olive oil, salt, pepper and some parsley flakes?  

Roasted Squash, Onions and Mushrooms

Before you know it, I had  a pan full of lovely, colorful veggies just right for placing in a 375 degree oven for 30 or 40 minutes to cook until they are tender and begging to jump on my dinner plate.    And that is when it hit me that making the veggies was a lot like making a collage.   They even sort of look alike.     You take what you have on hand (paper, ribbon, stamps----onion, squash, mushrooms), put them together in whatever style or method you like and voila!    You have a lovely piece of art for your walls----or a dish to go with your dinner!   Easy, peasey, lemon squeezy, as my grand daughter, Luci, likes to say!   

The next time you're looking for an art project to entertain (or inspire you) or a dish to go with your meat loaf, think of collaging.     It is creative and puts your bits and pieces to good use.    Bon Appetit!

PS  While I was taking pictures for this blog, I snapped one more of  a tiny collage I made last year.   It is perhaps 3" X 4" and one I really like.  (The green background is just a placemat it was on when I snapped the picture.)   Maybe this little work of art will give you an idea of a collage you'd like to make. 

Grandioso Sun

Happy times finding out who you really are!  Who knows what or who you'll find?