Sunday, December 28, 2008

I'm Hooked

Yesterday I attempted my first batch of homemade soap with the new scale my brother gave me for Christmas. I had read extensively on the subject and felt comfortable enough with the procedures, but was still a little nervous, perhaps in part due to Joe's mom's warnings: "I've treated a number of people in the ER with lye burns, don't make your own soap!"

Turns out everything went fine, I do have a great respect for chemicals and suited up with long sleeves, gloves and goggles. I went out on to the porch, where I can shut the door and keep the nosy little kittens away. I was surprised how much heat the lye and water solution produced, I had read about it, but was amazed to see the chemical reaction in real life. The water heated up within seconds to 160 degrees from a chilly 40! It cooled quickly since the porch is unheated.

I was overly anxious this morning to see how it turned out and tried to remove it from the mold. It seemed semi-solid, about the consistency of cookie dough, but apparently this is too early and the soap broke into 3 pieces. Next time I'll wait longer to remove it. Since it was so soft I was able to press it back into the mold ( a pink hospital basin!) and will wait another day or 2 before taking it out. It needs to be cut before it gets too hard but not so soft that it will break up. Another possibility for the reason of breakage could be that I didn't grease the basin well enough. It's all a learning process!

Unfortunately, I didn't get any photos of my experience since I didn't want the distraction of picture taking while I was trying the procedures for the first time. I may try another batch today and get out my camera to document the process. I'm looking forward to experimenting with different oils and fragrances but for now will concentrate on making simple, basic soaps until I know what I'm doing. I hope my friends don't mind being guinea pigs home made soaps!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Year in Review

It's nice to have Christmas over with, though this year we had a wonderful, low-key day with my family. Suddenly it seems like I have a lot of spare time on my hands; time that in the past few weeks was spent preparing, cooking, decorating, crafting and wrapping. I enjoy the period between Christmas and New Year's as a time to reflect on the past year and to think about the new one yet to come. I think it's true what they say: time does go faster as you get older.

2008 was a year filled with changes: Joe leaving his job, Wilson going off to college and my own role as wife and mother being altered as a result of those two major shifts. In addition to the things over which I have no control I've also made some intentional changes in the way I live my life. I'm looking forward to continuing with those things and also incorporating some new ones for 2009.

In the past year I've started blogging. It's an interesting process, one that has surprised me. I never expected to enjoy putting down my thoughts but there are days in which I have an idea and can't wait to start my treatments so I can write about it. Of course, there are other days in which I have absolutely nothing to say and the very thought of trying to write is intimidating and depressing.

A good friend and I pledged to take 20 minutes of time per day just for ourselves this year. We both had times when we were better about it than others, but for the most part we kept it up for the entire year. It really does make a difference! Twenty minutes is such a small amount of time when you think about it and the rewards gained are wonderful. It feels great to be able to sit and read a magazine or just do nothing; so much of our time is spent thinking about others and doing things for them- it's a good reminder that we need to do things for ourselves as well. This is definitely something I will continue in 2009.

This past year I was better about bringing my own cloth bags when I go shopping. There were times I forgot them at home or even in the car, but I'd say my success rate at remembering was about 70%. I'm going to strive for 100% in 2009. When we visited Ireland I was so impressed to learn that plastic bags are illegal.

Although it was in some part unintentional, this year we stopped wasting things from food to household items. Instead of throwing things away they are fixed, recycled or repurposed. We've cut down on the amount of trash we produce and I'd like to see if we can further cut down for 2009. We started "freecycling" which is giving away things we no longer need to those who need them. I've also gotten some things we will be using from this fun group, such as a lampshade and clay pots.

In addition to cooking and baking from scratch, something I've always done, this year I started making more products that we use around the house such as laundry detergent and household cleaners. I've started using only organic castille soap for cleaning (with supplements for the hard water spots in our shower) and using vinegar for fabric softener. I'm going to continue to hang the laundry out, garden organically and compost our veggie, fruit and yard waste.

For 2009 I'd like to start making my own soap. I'm looking forward to this as I love nice, handmade soaps, which are so much better for your skin. I like knowing what is in a product I use. I'd like to improve my success rate at remembering my cloth bags when I shop with the goal of not bringing home any plastic bags in 2009. I'm hoping to be able to make most of the gifts I'll give for birthdays this year and I'm going to experiment with shopping at thrift stores instead of buying things brand new. I'm also going to set aside some time each morning either before or after I exercise to meditate. I'd like to deepen my spiritual practice in 2009.

Although this past year has been one of huge changes and I've felt unsettled more often than not I guess it's good to keep in mind that growth is painful. Change has never been easy for me, especially when I'm not in control of the changes; I'm hoping that 2009 will feel more comfortable, settled and peaceful.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Something New

I got a call from the clinic nurse today to discuss the results of the culture I brought in last week. There's a new bacteria, oh joy! "Abundant amounts of proteus" were found and the doctor feels that is probably what is causing me to feel less than well. Abundant! Well, why do anything half-heartedly?

This bacteria is a common cause of urinary tract infections, and can be found in the GI tract. I probably got it because of the reflux I suffer from; at night it's easy to aspirate into the lungs and not even know it. How lovely. Thankfully, there is an oral antibiotic that will treat this bacteria: Augmentin. I've had it before and know it doesn't bother me, so at least the treatment will be fairly easy. I'll start on it tonight and will hopefully be feeling better within a week.

I did a bit of googling to read about this new inhabitant of mine and was interested to find out that Proteus syndrome is what caused the Elephant man to develop his physical deformities. Thankfully I won't have to worry about that, I'm grateful for small favors. I know I may never get rid of this new bacteria but as long as I start feeling better and lose the adjective "abundant" I'll be reasonably happy. And at least I don't have to worry about becoming the Elephant Woman! I wonder what the circus life would be like?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Winter Solstice


Today is officially the first day of winter, though it might look as though we are in the middle of it from the view out the window. It has been snowing all day long, sometimes more seriously than others, and we have quite a bit of accumulation on the ground and the piles at the end of the driveway are impressive. If it keeps up at this rate we're going to run out of places to put it!


It's nice to think that today is the shortest day of the year. We'll be getting a bit more light every day, even if it is only one minute increments. It does add up and by the middle of February the days are noticably longer. Right now the sun goes down around 4:15 pm and it's dark even before that. I can enjoy the long evenings, knowing that they won't be like this forever. It's nice to stay inside, catching up on reading, movies or doing things around the house. Luckily we also have the long days of summer to balance us out, when we have 17 hours of light and can enjoy the time outside. How dull it would be if we didn't have the change in seasons.
I would have liked it if the people who set up our modern calendar had chosen this to be the last day of the year. It seems fitting; the shortest day as the conclusion of one cycle and each day getting successively longer. It seems to be a good starting point; optimistic and having more light each day.
I can only imagine how mysterious the cycles of darkness and light must have seemed before people understood the rotation of the earth around the sun. They lit candles and fires to ward off the darkness and encourage the light to return. In our own way we do the same, though we call it decorating for Christmas, and we understand that the longer days will return on their own, with no coaxing from us.
Happy Winter Solstice to one and all.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Winter Wonderland



The snow started falling yesterday afternoon and kept up all night. What a cozy afternoon it was with the fire going, Christmas CDs playing, hot cocoa cupped between our hands and quilts on our laps. Wilson had just arrived home after his exams which made it perfect. Joe and I made our traditional chocolate chip ginger cookies and started planning the holiday meals. Sometimes it's nice to be stuck indoors.

When we awoke this morning it was still snowing, but at a more leisurely pace and without the howling wind that was blowing last night. Joe, who is currently shoveling, estimates there are about 8 inches on the ground with 6 more expected tomorrow night. It's definitely going to be a white Christmas this year!

I haven't been feeling that well for the past couple weeks and checked in with the clinic nurse on Thursday. We'll talk again on Monday to follow up on the culture results that I dropped off and figure out a plan of action from there. Hopefully it's nothing major and some oral antibiotics will perk me up in a week or two. It's a double relief not to have the pressure of shopping for everyone this year; most of the gifts are completed and I only need to finish up the table runner for my parents and do some optional baking. I'll wrap today but thankfully it doesn't take a lot of energy.

In the meantime I can look out the windows, watch the neighbors shoveling their cars out and the kids playing and admire the beauty while feeling warm and cozy indoors. Welcome winter!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Time Thievery

As I was taking a walk the other day I unfortunately ran into a woman in the neighborhood who was walking her dog. This is a woman to be avoided at all costs, as anyone who has ever gotten into a conversation with her will know. She is a nice person but once you start talking to her it is nearly impossible to get away; she rambles on in monologue going from one subject to the next, barely taking a breath and never allowing you to get a word in edgewise. I know people who have literally ducked behind rocks when they see her coming in order to avoid speaking with her.

I crossed her path going up the hill to my house and as we started talking I felt that familiar sense of panic: I'm going to be stuck here talking to her forever. I'm not in control. I'm one of those people who hates to be rude and don't want to interrupt someone else while they are talking; however, this person eventually pushes me to it. After listening to her monologue for about 15 minutes and feeling increasingly frustrated I jumped in: "It was nice talking to you, Alice, but I have to get going now". We said our goodbyes and I felt a flood of relief. I was on my way. Maybe next time I'll only wait 10 minutes.

The chapter I'm currently reading in Awakening the Buddha Within is about stealing and I began thinking how my situation of being held conversational captive applies to theft. I can attribute my feeling of panic to the fact that I knew I was going to be held up longer than I wanted to be and that it was going to be difficult to get away. In essence, my time was being stolen because it wasn't something I wanted to give.

The most common example that comes to mind when someone mentions stealing is theft from a store or some one's home; taking a physical item that doesn't belong to you without permission. There are many more subtle types, such as taking up some one's time, using more than your share of resources, cheating on taxes, , misinforming the insurance company in order to get a better rate, not letting the store clerk know when she forgets to charge you for one item in your bag. We've all been guilty of theft of one type or another at some point.

In a perfect world we would never infringe upon anyone else's time or feel the need to claim more than our fair share of deductions on our taxes. The Buddhists say that we do these things because of our need to cling and grasp; we feel that we don't have "enough"; enough attention or money. Is one really worse than the other? I wonder if the current difficult economic times will produce more, or less of these behaviors?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Blowin' in the Wind


The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind... the answer is blowin' in the wind - Bob Dylan
I love my retractable clothesline. I know it's probably horribly tacky, especially in our community, to hang laundry outside but it's something I've always done. When we were growing up my mom always hung the laundry out, even on the coldest winter days. As long as the sun was out she'd hang the wet clothes on the line and then in the afternoon bring in the frozen things, which were miraculously dry once they thawed out. As kids my brother and I thought it was magic!
When Joe and I first got married we had an apartment in a 3-family home; we were on the second floor and had a small porch/fire escape out back. I strung an elaborate clothesline and would lug the laundry up from the basement and hang it out. One day our landlord stopped by and commented that it looked like some kind of refugee camp with our clothes hanging all over the place. I was surprised- didn't everyone do their laundry this way? It wasn't like I had it hanging all over the front of the house after all. I really hadn't thought about how it looked to other people before.
Now that we have a home of our own I don't have to worry what anyone else thinks. We have 2 retractable lines that I can pull out and hang things on, and when they're not in use nobody is the wiser that they are there. There are so many benefits to hanging clothes outside: first and foremost letting the sun and wind do the drying and not using electricity or gas to do the job. Clothes last longer because they aren't exposed to the high heat and tumbling of the dryer. They smell amazing; I can't think of anything that smells better than sheets and towels that have been line-dried in the spring. It's a good way to get some fresh air and a little exercise. As the weather gets warmer I can check on what is emerging in the garden as I'm hanging things out.
Hopefully with the price of energy going up and the increased awareness people have for all things environmental the practice of hanging laundry out will become more popular over the next few years. There really isn't a downside to this method. If I'm not feeling well, or we're in a long stretch of wet weather, it's easy enough to toss the wet clothes into the drier. A backup is a good thing, but given my choice, I'll always hang the clothes outside.
Thanks for instilling this in me, Mom. And thanks for the song lyrics, Joe. I know Dylan wasn't referring to laundry but the words were too good to pass up.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Happiness

This little poem says it all.


I HAVE FOUND SUCH JOY
by Grace Noll Crowell


I have found such joy in simple things;
A plain, clean room,
a nut-brown loaf of bread
A cup of milk,
a kettle as it sings,
The shelter of a roof above my head,
And in a leaf-laced square along the floor,
Where yellow sunlight glimmers through a door.

I have found such joy in things
that fill My quiet days:
a curtain's blowing grace,
A potted plant upon my window sill,
A rose, fresh-cut and placed within a vase;
A table cleared,
a lamp beside a chair,
And books I long have loved beside me there.

Oh, I have found such joys I wish I might
Tell every woman who goes seeking far
For some elusive, feverish delight,
That very close to home the great joys are:
The elemental things--
old as the race,
Yet never, through the ages, commonplace.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Comfort Food






The combination of the short days of December and the rainy, cold weather we've been experiencing have made the past couple days incredibly dreary and downright depressing. Rather than trying to fight the dreariness, why not embrace it? Isn't that part of accepting things we can't change?



Wilson and a friend, who is vegetarian, were supposed to come home last night for a home cooked meal and good night's sleep before the craziness of exams begins on Friday. Unfortunately, school pressures kept them from making the visit, but that didn't stop me from making the vegetarian meal and dessert I had planned.



It was wonderful to smell the hearty mushroom ragout simmering on the stove, the anticipation made my mouth water. Sometimes I think anticipation is the best part of the meal! After dinner Joe went out to play volleyball and I baked the blackberry cobbler that we had planned for dessert. Upon his arrival home we enjoyed the hearty, simple dish and both agreed that food has a wonderful way of comforting us.



It's one way to show you care about someone: when there is an illness or death in the family people bring over food. Sharing a meal with friends is, for us, one of the best pleasures I can think of. Eating is one of the most basic of human needs and to share ritual with others makes the routine a nicer experience. Potlucks are one of my favorite types of dinners: everyone brings a part of themselves to contribute to the whole meal.
So in these dark days of December, when the trees are resting up and preparing for next year's growth, we can do the same thing. We can take the time to be dormant, look intward and prepare for any changes we'd like to make in our lives. We can appreciate the simple sights, sounds and smells from inside our house and draw comfort from nourishing our bodies with hearty foods. In the spring we'll emerge stronger and ready to expand our world again.

Another Cat Post




I was putting the most recent photos from my camera on to the computer this morning and I was struck by how quickly the kittens are growing. We don't see it since we're with them from day to day, but the difference in size is readily apparent in the pictures.
They continue to get less skittish, even becoming brave around me while I'm vesting and nebbing. Millie was having a great time on my lap the other day while the equipment was running. I'm surprised because it makes quite a racket and the vibration is pretty pronounced, something I'd think that would be scary to a cat, let alone a kitten. Yet she was completely comfortable hopping up on to my lap and even ended up playing with the straps on the vest. I couldn't resist getting some photos.
Gracie, on the other hand, stays clear while I'm doing my treatments, content to play by herself in the other room. It's unusual for them to be apart, but this seems to be one time when they enjoy some alone time.
Gracie was enjoying the view from the back of Joe's computer chair and even started falling asleep while she was up there. Joe asked if I had placed her there: nope. She made her way up there by herself and settled in. Doesn't he know that cats only like something if it's their idea?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Power of Apology

"Say you're sorry when you hurt someone" - All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by John Fulghum.

This is a wise book which reminds me that sometimes the most basic things are forgotten. There are quite a few pearls of wisdom contained in its pages: Take a nap every day, share everything, don't hit, say you're sorry when you hurt someone and my personal favorite: warm cookies and milk are good for you. These lessons in etiquette are taught to us at a very young age and are the basics for how to take good care of ourselves and treat others. Somehow along the way, possibly because of all the other information we acquire, we sometimes forget these simple rules.

It's impossible to make it through life without ever saying or doing something that hurts someone you care about; we are all human and make mistakes. Whether we say something without thinking, do something without considering all the consequences or forget to do something as an act of omission, for one reason or another we've all been in that position. It never feels good to realize you've hurt some one's feelings.

Each person sees the world through their own unique perspective and it would be unrealistic to think that from time to time someone else's path, actions or thoughts won't be at odds with our own. The best I personally can hope for is that I never intentionally do something to hurt someone else: Malice.

Naturally, there have been and will continue to be times when I've done something to hurt someone I care about. The only solution to this, as words and actions can never be undone, is to offer a sincere apology. The power of "I'm sorry" is often underestimated.

I've noticed that often if an apology is offered, it's accompanied by a defensive attitude: excuses and rationalization. In my eyes this takes away from the sentiment. I'm not saying to appear before the person as a whipped dog, tail between your legs, begging for forgiveness. That's up to them. A simple "I'm truly sorry that I hurt you" should suffice. We have no control over whether our apology is accepted, and can never expect the other person to understand our position, just as we will probably never understand theirs.

As John Fulghum says: "nobody's perfect". If we can remember this of ourselves as well as others, we'll be a lot more realistic in our expectations. This just might be one of the most important lessons in the book.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

First Snow




There's something so magical about the first snowfall - the memories of just how tiresome it had become the prior year have faded and I'm in awe of the beauty. That first coating of pure white is so exciting, especially for children and dogs.
Today it put me in the mood to get out the Christmas decorations: we brought in the shrub that is serving as our tree and strung the lights, as well as putting up the decorations we put around the house. Joe's favorite is the 3 reindeer bells that hang on the door - they jingle each time it's opened or closed. I'm sure the kittens will discover it soon and have a field day with it.
It was a good day to stay inside and drink tea. I worked on my Christmas projects and made quite a bit of headway on my parents' table runner. I wrapped and packaged up the gifts we are sending to Joe's nieces and nephew in PA. Now I have to get working on the scarves for the rest of the nieces.
I haven't heard the weather so I've no idea how long the snow will be around, but today was a wonderful treat. It was heavenly to be working on Christmas gifts for those I care about while watching the gentle descent of snowflakes out the window and listening to Handel's Messiah. It just doesn't get much better than this.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Day in the Life

There are many times when I become frustrated and overwhelmed, feeling like I just can't get everything done that I need to do. I can't imagine how anyone could ever work even part time and still be able to complete the tasks necessary to run a home and take care of pets, family and themselves. Then I remember: Oh yeah! I have CF.



It may sound silly but there are times I forget about this little fact. Not in the sense that I don't remember I have it; on the contrary, it's always with me in the back of my mind. But I do forget that the treatments and extra tasks related to the disease aren't things that everyone else has to do. I need to step back and remind myself that I'm spending roughly 4-5 hours/day doing nebs, airway clearance, exercise and cleaning of the medical equipment. No wonder I can't get as much done as I'd like to!



A fellow cystic who is awaiting transplant recently asked me what my routine was; what do I do to stay healthy? She was looking to supplement her treatments in order to stay as healthy as possible before her surgery. It was somewhat eye-opening to write down everything I do that is related to my health and staying well. I'm going to record what I wrote to her here (but in more detail) so on the days I feel frustrated that I don't have as much time as I'd like, I can look at everything I do and remember that caring for myself takes up much of my time. As J likes to remind me, it is a full time job!



My day starts like this: Get out of bed. Drink a cup of coffee (lots of cream and sugar, I wish I could say it was only for the calories... it's just how I like my coffee!). Sit down and strap into vest machine. Start nebulizer #1: Hypertonic Saline. This takes about 20 minutes. Cough, cough. Continue with the vest, alternating settings for the maximum benefit. Start neb #2: Pulmozyme, which takes 15 minutes. More coughing, but at least I get to read some blogs and answer emails while I'm nebbing and vesting. Finally, neb #3: Colistin: my least favorite of the 3. It will take about 30 minutes and needs to be mixed up by hand by using a syringe to draw up 6ml of sterile saline and injecting it into the vial of powdered Colistin. It's very foamy when mixed so it needs to sit for 20 minutes or so until the bubbles subside. Finally I can inject it into the neb cup and start smoking it. Ugh! The taste is horrible and it causes my chest to be really tight, making me feel like I'm breathing through a coffee stirrer. This lasts for the entire time I'm taking it, which fortunately is only for 28 days on and then I get a break of 28 days off.



I'm finally finished with the nebs and vesting about 1 1/2 hours after I started. Time for breakfast- no skipping meals! After breakfast comes 30 minutes on the treadmill for aerobic exercise, which is very important for keeping the lungs in good condition and clear of mucous. Then 30 minutes of strength training to help me optimize my functional ability. Having only 45% of my lung function limits what I can do and the strength training makes my muscles more efficient, thereby allowing me to do more than I normally would be able to. Then some yoga and stretches and finally off to the shower. Oh, and I can't forget that the neb cups - all three- need to be washed in hot, soapy water and then boiled for 15 minutes to sterilize them. Whew! After all this I'm ready to start my day, 3 1/2 hours after getting out of bed.



The process is repeated in the evening, except for the exercise and one of the nebs (Pulmozyme)- therefore the process is a bit quicker. I find the evening treatments more of a challenge to be compliant with. In the morning I just get up and do them - if I need to be out early, I just get up earlier to allow the time I need. The evening, however, is more tempting to skip. If we're out or getting together with friends J makes sure I plan some time to sit down and do the treatments. I'm sure without his gentle encouragement, I'd be skipping the second set of nebs quite often.

The good news is that barring any unforeseen viruses, this routine has kept me healthy for the better part of 6 years. Typically, the statistics show that on average CF patients lose 2% of their lung function per year. I've miraculously kept mine steady since 2002, so clearly the time put into keeping well does pay off.

I think people have a hard time understanding just what I do with my time; even my closest friends (unless they have spent a few days with me 24/7) are unaware what my treatment regimen consists of. I think they would be shocked to know exactly how much time goes into my self-care. On top of that, CF is somewhat of an "invisible" disease: I don't look sick and except for my cough and the need to take pills when I eat most people would never even suspect there was anything wrong with me. The up side is that CF is fairly easy to keep a secret if I don't care to share it with someone.



There are times when I lose sight of the benefit of the treatments that have become so routine for me, but there it is: they keep me healthy. There will always be the frustration of not having enough time to do the things I would like to do, regardless of whether I take care of myself or not. In the long run it's good for me to remember that my health must come first and that all the time spent on treatments is not wasted: it is time well spent.

Size Doesn't Matter

There are so many ways in which we as individuals can do good things for ourselves and the community. Yesterday I was thinking about the book How to be Good by Nick Hornsby, a humorous look at the extremes one man goes to in order to do what he thinks is "good". Giving away posessions, taking in someone who needs shelter and in the process causing hardship and strife within his family. In his own funny way Hornsby prompts the reader to consider: what is doing good? Does one have to deprive one's self in order to promote the greater good? What if your good acts towards one person cause harm to another? Can there be a balance?

The protagonist (I can't remember his name) believes that in order to be a be a good person, things need to be done on a large scale. He sacrifices the feelings of his own family to do what he thinks is right, trying hard to be an ideal person. It appeared to me that he failed, not because he didn't help people while performing his acts of kindness, but because he hurt is family in the process.

Typically, when we think of someone selfless, it's someone who is doing things on a large scale: travelling to impoverished countries to assist with education, joining the Peace Corps, donating large sums of money to charities, taking in as many homeless animals as their space allows. Absolutely noble acts, no doubt about it. But what about people who do things on a small scale, are their acts any less important? Do we have to renounce all material posessions and put aside the feelings of our families in order to be truly "good"?

Clearly the world is a better place because of the people who do things on large scale; we need activists and those who make these causes their life's work. Does that make the things we all do on a day-to-day basis any less important? I'd say not. Each person is capable of doing great things, many of which go unnoticed. Isn't it important to cherish your family, love and support your children, friends, parents? Share what you have without going without? Doing your part to take care of your pets, home and the environment in a responsible way? How would the world be if we each started with these small things and then expanded the circle of giving as circumstances allowed? Just something to think about.

I'll close with two of my favorite quotes from Mother Theresa: "In this life we cannot do great things, we can only do small things with great love."

"If you can't feed 100 people, then feed just one". Amen!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Starry, Starry Night

For the past several years I haven't felt that excited about Christmas, in fact I've felt downright Scrooge-ish. The entire thing has been a turn off, from the over-the-top buying, constant bombardment of advertising, excessive indulgence of food and drink; not to mention the extra work of decorating, the mess, and then deconstructing the setup only a few weeks later. It all just seemed so pointless, so wasteful and far away from the intended message.

I should say that I'm not a Christian, so it's not as thought I'm one of those people who goes around saying "Jesus is the reason for the season". I prefer the more pagan meaning of the holiday, the winter solstice, shortest day of the year and warding off the long nights with plenty of lights and celebration. Peace, love for fellow man and an appreciation for the stark beauty of winter. A turning inward and concentrating on in our homes and in ourselves. All that good stuff.

That having been said, I have to confess I have a different feeling towards the holiday this year. Who would have thought? We are on an extremely tight budget since J has been out of work for the past 10 months. The economy is in the toilet and people everywhere are cutting back. The retailers and economists see this is a bad thing. But for some reason it has re-instilled the excitement and anticipation for me this year. We've made it clear to family and friends that we are not buying gifts, anything that will be given will be handmade, with a few exceptions for the children in the family.

Due to the 2 new furry additions in the house, who are getting bigger (and more destructive) every day we have decided not to tempt fate and put up our traditional live tree this year. We have an Alberta spruce that is about 2 feet tall in a planter out back which will serve as our tree- even if the kittens do climb it, which I'm sure they will, they won't be able to knock it over. The worst that can happen is a few ornaments may be pulled off and used for batting practice. Needless to say, we'll save my grandmother's good decorations for another year and only put up the sturdy, kitten-proof ones.

The idea of using a live tree that hasn't been cut makes me happy. It's much more sustainable than chopping down a tree solely for the purpose of decorating for week or two then discarding it. Plus, it doesn't cost anything. After Christmas is over this little shrub can go back outside and will continue to decorate our back garden for years to come. I'm hoping this will be the start of a new tradition and we'll use it each year from now on.

I'm making all the gifts we're giving this year, whether it be to friends or family. I should have started ages ago, but a bit of pressure is the best motivator for me. Our spare bedroom is a shambles, fabric and yarn are everywhere. But it makes me happy to be creating things with my own two hands that I'll give to the people I care about.

Some might find it ironic that it's the difficult times that are bringing back the joy of the season for me - maybe I would have enjoyed Christmas more in the past few years if I had just thought about what is truly important to me: Simplicity. It was right under my nose all the time!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Thanksgiving Number Three

W and I returned from Buffalo Saturday evening after the 8 hour drive, thankfully it didn't snow, although the skies looked like they wanted to for the entire ride back east. Aaaah, how good it is to be home! Being away is always lots of fun, especially with family that we don't see often enough, but nothing- nothing- compares to being in your own home. After 3 days of being around people the quiet is more noticeable and that much sweeter. It was a lot of fun seeing all the nieces and nephews on J's side, how much they've grown since the last time we saw them! It was fun getting to know them and hopefully now they'll remember us for the next get-together. The twins were especially enthralled with the scarves I was knitting them for Christmas. I can't wait to send them off now.

Yesterday morning I received a call from my dear friend Kathy. She and her family were having a belated Thanksgiving at their house and invited W and me to celebrate with them. How could I refuse? The prospect of spending the day with good friends and eating another delicious turkey dinner was far too good to pass up. It was a lovely time, K had all the traditional dishes: squash, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, stuffing, cranberry and, of course, turkey. We ate, laughed a lot and then ate some more. It was the perfect ending to our Thanksgiving "season" this year - spending the day with old and dear friends. I do feel truly blessed.

Now I have the pleasure of two days alone before picking Joe up at the airport Tuesday evening. It is awfully quiet around here, and I miss him, but it's also nice to have a little alone time to recharge my batteries. I don't have to worry about waking him up if I decide to get up early to make muffins for W before he goes back to school. I can clean the house and turn up my cheesy 80s music as loud as I want and not worry about bothering anyone else. I wish I was better able to explain it: there's something in me that just needs a bit of space now and again. I love being around people and I can't imagine being alone full-time, I'd never want that, but now and again I just want to be by myself. I guess it's just the way I'm wired. The next 2 days will be refreshing and I'll be extra-glad to pick J up at the airport tomorrow night.

One last thing to add to our Thanksgiving blessings list: a friend with CF received his double lung transplant on the 27th after waiting only a day! He is doing amazingly well and I couldn't be more thrilled for him and his family. That alone makes this year the most special Thanksgiving I can remember.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Over the River

Tomorrow morning we are off to my in-law's house for Thanksgiving. The 8 hour drive will be a lot easier now that we have 3 drivers to divide the driving time- the last time we were there was several years before W had his license. Boy, is this visit overdue!

There has been a practical reason why we haven't been in so long: W was in the marching band in high school and didn't want to miss performing at halftime during the Thanksgiving day football game between Swampscott and Marblehead. We'd dutifully go to the game to watch him play and invariably, each year for four years, it was cold and pouring rain. No matter! Football happens in all types of weather, and the warm apple cider when we got home tasted that much better because we were chilled to the bone.

Now that he's in college there's nothing tying us here for the actual day of Thanksgiving. In addition, all J's brothers and sisters will also be gathering at their parents' house this year, so it was important for us to be there too. It will be fun to see how much all the nieces and nephews have grown. Some we haven't seen in 5 years!

My sister-in-law,who is an incredibly good sport, prepares the Thanksgiving meal (with help, of course) for 20-25 people. There's going to be quite a crowd, very different than my tiny immediate family. The TV will be on in the background with all the men gathered 'round, watching the game and the women will be busy in the kitchen, while the kids run around having fun. Complete chaos, but nobody minds.

W and I will drive back on Saturday and J will stay on for a few extra days to spend time with his family. He and his sisters are going to the Bills football game Sunday night, sure to be a chilly but fun time. As for me, I look forward to getting home, settling back into my quiet space and curling up on the couch with a glass of wine and a good book. Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Giving Thanks

Yesterday J, W and I made the drive to Lunenburg to my brother's newly rebuilt house to spend the day with my side of the family since we will be in Buffalo for Thanksgiving this year. In a way we're quite lucky that our families of origin are so far apart; there's never any haggling over how to divide a holiday between the two. We're either here with my parents or away and spending the time with Joe's parents and siblings.

This year Scott decided to host our get-together in his new house, which was wonderful. It's beautiful, spacious and the view of the lake is so pretty. The kitchen is easy to work in. We all contributed to the meal and kept it fairly simple.. just a turkey breast, stuffing, gravy (which I forgot!), squash, mashed potatoes, green beans and an apple pie with ice cream for dessert.

It feels more comfortable for me to have the day without such excess. In the past, the tradition has been to make 3 times as much food as is needed, eat ourselves until we're uncomfortable and then spend the rest of the day on the couch, wishing we hadn't eaten as much. In keeping with my philosophy of forgoing excess, it was nice to have just enough food. I can't speak for the others, but I certainly didn't gorge myself and felt much better for it. What makes us think that in order to appreciate having food to eat we need to stuff ourselves? Can't we be thankful and just take what is enough?

My family is very un-touchy-feely so I didn't bring up the idea of everyone saying what they are thankful for prior to the meal, but it did cross my mind as we were on our way to my brother's house. I suppose it would have put everyone on the spot; how to think of just one thing we are thankful for? We have so much.

I'm thankful that this year we are able to celebrate 2 Thanksgivings; one with each family. They will be about as different as night and day, but that's what makes the world go 'round.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

In Sickness and in Health

One thing I've noticed since I've been reading various blogs is how much I look forward to new posts. When a few days or a week go by without something new I feel a sense of disappointment and wonder what is going on that the person hasn't been able to write. Of course, no matter how much one enjoys an activity, there will inevitably come a time when a bit of a break is needed. Sometimes bloggers will announce that they are going to be absent, and some just seem to drop off, leaving the reader to wonder when, if ever, they will be back.

This past week I've been sick with a virus. Nothing specific, just low energy, achy and needing to sleep much of the time- no other symptoms! If I didn't know others who had the same thing I'd worry that it was psychological, which is typical of me. I am getting better at listening to my body as I get older; I took a few days off from the things I do. No cooking, no cleaning, no typing, no tutoring, definitely no exercise and even no yoga. I slept all night and napped much of the day away on the couch. I felt guilty, lazy and useless (as I always do when not in motion) but those feelings weren't enough to force me into activity. Lo and behold, I started feeling better on Friday. Rest is a good thing. Memo to myself: Rest is a Good Thing!!

I wish I was able to handle not feeling well more gracefully. I usually fight it for a few days, hoping that if I ignore it the illness won't be "real". I don't think this has ever actually worked for me so it's probably high time I stopped using this particular way of doing things. I'm sure one of the reasons I hate acknowledging that I'm sick is because any illness tends to hit me harder because of my underlying health problems. I get sicker and the symptoms last longer and have the potential to turn into a lung infection - my body unable to fight both the bacteria that always live in my lungs in addition to the virus. Knowing this, why wouldn't I rest and allow my body to heal as soon as I notice I'm not feeling well? Chalk it up to a conditioned way of doing things, what the Buddhists would call samsara. I guess now is a good time to recognise that this doesn't work for me and make a change. Better late than never!

Back to my original point: It feels like a long time since I've written and I did miss it. I'm glad to be feeling better and that my mind is able to dwell on things other than the "poor me's" of feeling ill. Next time I'll post that I'm going to be away for a few days, even if only to remind myself that I need to take the time off.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Quotation of the Day

Give us courage and gaiety and the quiet mind. Spare to us our friends, soften to us our enemies. Bless us, if it may be, in all our innocent endeavors. If it may not, give us the strength to encounter that which is to come, that we be brave in peril, constant in tribulation, temperate in wrath, and in all changes of fortune and down to the gates of death, loyal and loving one to another. -- Robert Lewis Stevenson


This quotation caught my eye today. I can't think of anything else to add to it. I've read that in order to live your life in the most authentic and genuine way think of yourself on your deathbed. Ah, not a pleasant topic! Consider what you have done with your life; what would you do differently? What do you want people to say about you at your funeral?

I must be in listing mood of late because here is my list of things I consider to be important in terms of the way I live my life.

1. Be a good partner, friend wife to Joe.

2. Continue to be a good mother and support to Wilson throughout all the changes he's going to encounter in life.

3. Be a true, loyal and honest friend.

4. Respect the planet and environment.

5. Live as simply as possible: make what I can on my own, be it meals or household items.

6. Be contentented, accepting of and comfortable with myself.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Wee Rant

I'm going to preface this by saying that I'm more than aware I have absolutely nothing to complain about; I have a roof over my head, enough to eat and my health and that of my family is stable. I have friends who are facing financial ruin, some who are suffering from devastating health problems and those who are desperately unhappy. I am so lucky. The following list is some very minor annoyances that I need to get off my chest.

1. Leaf blowers. Who invented these infernal machines? Noisy, stinky and a scourge to the environment.

2. People who delegate too much. "I'm having a party- can you call so-and-so and invite them?"
Sure, and then I'll tell them to RSVP to you so I don't get stuck in the middle of this when the invitee asks me what does the host want her to bring!

3. People who don't take responsibility for their own plans. "Call me and remind me the day before that we we're supposed to meet". Jeez, if it's not important enough for you to remember on your own, should I even be wasting my time with you???

4. Rude drivers. I know, I know, I'm supposed to feel compassion for them and not let it bother me when they cut me off or sneak in ahead of me instead of waiting in traffic like the rest of us, but sometimes they still annoy the heck out of me.

5. People who think it's all about them. No matter what you are going through their problems are always bigger and they feel the need to talk about them endlessly.

Whew, ok. I feel better now.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Marlena

Dear Marlena,

You've visited me a few times in my dreams of late, so I thought it might be a good idea to sit down and write you a letter. I thought about you a lot over the summer but it was in a different way than I am now. I was so shocked to hear the news, I suppose that was part of the denial phase. Now I'm just missing you and wish that I could pick up the phone and tell you all the things that are on my mind.

Even though we've only been in touch on birthdays and at Christmas these past few years, I've always considered you a dear friend. We had our babies together, went through teething, toilet training, kindergarten, middle school and the traumatic start of high school. Not to mention working together every weekend, that was such a bonding experience, and made us so close. I took it for granted that you'd be here when we sent our kids off to college.

We had such similar parenting styles and were so much alike, it was fun to compare notes, recipes and tips on household management. Remember when we discovered meal planning? What a difference that made! It's funny to look back on it now, it seems so common sense!

It was great to talk to someone who understood exactly how I felt when our kids went off to kindergarten, then middle school and finally high school. I had imagined calling you this past August to see how you were doing about sending Lizzy off to college; I wonder where she went?

I sent her some old photos I had of you and her from when she was a baby-- her first birthday, Wilson's birthday parties. I hope they'll bring her some comfort, I can only imagine how much she misses you. I'm sure she's being a wonderful big sister to Joseph and Jason. You rasied her so well.

Remember the time when we brought the kids to see the Enchanted Village at Filene's and had to cut through the Combat Zone from NEMCH? I can't believe we did that! I guess age does that to you, doesn't it? We were so young then, and thought nothing of it.

I guess what I really wanted to say is that I miss you very much. I'm sorry I never got to tell you what a dear friend you were (although I hope you knew) and how much I admired you. I'm sure you were as graceful, elegant and poised during your brief battle with colon cancer and in death as you were throughout your life. I never, ever in a million years expected to outlive you. Peace, my friend. Love, Kim

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Clutter

Yesterday I finally got my laptop back after it spent 6 weeks in the shop being repaired. Of course, the hard drive has been wiped clean- everything removed-which I knew would happen from a previous experience. Fortunately, a dear friend K helped me set up an external hard drive on which to back things up, so I didn't lose any of my photos or important information.

Getting the computer back without anything on it gives me a fresh start- there's no clutter! I'm determined to get organized: I'm going to put my photos in folders by year, delete things I no longer need and have a lot less "junk" on here. It's a good feeling to pare down to only what is essential.

On a larger scale I've been trying to do that with our house and closets this fall as well. Admittedly, it's more difficult to get rid of "real" items as opposed to folders and files on a computer. So many things we hang on to just because we might need them some day. I believe we are programmed to do so, the hoarding mentality of our ancestors, for when times get tough.

I've especially seen this behavior with my grandparents: the effects of the great depression. Nothing is wasted, from the tiniest scrap of food to tin foil, which is rinsed and folded up for another use. How wasteful we have become! I know I think nothing of rinsing the extra food off the plates, down the drain, completely wasted. When my grandparents passed away and my parents had to clean out their house they found the closets and basement stuffed full of old cans and jars of food that were probably 20+ years old. It's understandable why someone who had to live through a difficult economic time would want to have something to count on if times should become hard again. But can't there be some balance between having what we need, not wasting, yet not hoarding?

Yesterday while waiting in the doctor's office I read an article in one of the magazines that was lying around about a woman who was forced to evacuate her California home due to wild fires. She was later shocked at the posessions which she grabbed to take with her: her dogs (of course), sweats and shirts, some flea market finds and makeup. She said that upon reflection she couldn't believe she didn't grab her family photo albums, some underwear and her kids' momentos. I suppose part of the reason could be chalked up to panic, not being able to think clearly in an emergency, but it also does make you think-- what would I grab if I had to evacuate the house? What is truly important to me?

I have to admit it's a bit ovewhelming to think of my entire house, all my posessions, and try to pick out a few things that are most important to me. The computer is much less overwhelming, I can start there. I will get rid of all the clutter on my desktop and in my files and perhaps will feel so good from that experience that I will be motivated to de-clutter other areas of my life as well. Clean closets, here I come!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Morning After

I have a huge sense of relief this morning now that the election is over- first and foremost because the candidate I was supporting will be the next president- but there is also relief that all the political rhetoric, advertising and mud slinging is going to be over with. I'm hoping that regardless of who people supported they can take a deep breath and we can move on as a country. I fully recognize that it's a terrible disappointment to have the candidate you were hoping for not be elected; I was in that position during the past 2 elections! I remember well the sense of let-down and resignation of the "day after".

I have to confess that I slept through the announcement of who won last night, but it was looking pretty good for Obama. Still, I didn't want to assume he would be the one to obtain the 270 electoral votes. I was happy to wake up to the news this morning, but also was quite aware that there are many people who either stayed up last night to hear what they dreaded, or woke up to the news this morning. I truly believe that everyone has a right to their opinion and those who were McCain supporters had the best interest of the country at heart. We all want to achieve the same end, but just have different paths by which we choose to travel. I hope that Obama's supporters will be considerate of those who were in the other camp and that there won't be any gloating or rubbing of salt into the wound.

I truly hope that the new administration will lead the country in a good direction. That's what everyone wants, be they republican, democrat, libertarian or green rainbow. Certainly, there are many challenges: the economy, the war(s), healthcare, education and the federal budget deficit to name only a few. Hopefully the fresh ideas will prove to bring about a positive change.

I'll wrap this up by saying that I fully respect everyone's views and will hold those who are unhappy with the outcome of the election in my heart. I'll do my best to listen patiently as they expresss their views, not imposing mine, but acknowledging their disappointment and what is most likely their concern for the direction of the country. I hope time will demonstrate that by using the democratic process, the majority of people made a good choice and that the country will be better off for it. Only time will tell. Peace.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Darkness and Daylight Savings

I'm not a poetry person by any means. Often the meaning I take from a passage is different than the one the author intended, which makes me feel foolish, or that I can't understand what he or she was trying to say. One poet I do enjoy, however, is Mary Oliver, because her themes are mainly about nature and the world around her. She also lives in Truro, MA and often writes about the surrounding area and the ocean.

I was flipping through one of her books this morning and this poem spoke to me. Over the weekend we turned our clocks back an hour, gaining that extra precious time for sleep (or however we choose to spend it). We have several lamps that are on timers, which all need to be adjusted when we change the clocks, both in fall and spring. For some reason this makes the change in the daylight even more noticable.

This time of year is harder for many people, myself included. The days grow very short and often its dark by 4:15 in the afternoon. The sun doesn't come up until well after 7am -- such a short day! I try to look at it as part of the cycle, the earth is tilting away from the sun, we spend more time indoors, nesting, coccooning and eating warm, hearty foods. It's a time for reflection, lighting our world from inside, rather than depending upon the light and warmth from without.

Although this poem takes place in summer, when the sun goes down after 8pm, it reminded me regardless of the time it sets, we turn on our lamps and light up from the inside.

The Lamps - Mary Oliver
Eight O'clock, no later
You light the lamps
The bog one by the large window,
The small one on your desk.
They are not to see by-
It is still twilight out over the sand,
The scrub oaks and cranberries.
Even the small birds have not settled
For sleep yet, out of the reach
Of probling foxes. No,
You light the lamps because
You are alone in your small house
And the wicks sputtering gold
Are like two visitors with good stories
They will tell slowly, in soft voices
While the air outside turns quietly
A grainy and luminous blue.
You wish it would never change-
But of course the darkness keeps
Its appointment. Each evening,
An inscrutable presence, it has the final word
Outside every door.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Furry Perfection

Millie and Gracie

My transformation to Crazy Cat Lady is now complete, we have 4 cats living in our house. Gracie and Millie arrived yesterday, trembling and overwhelmed, but by night time they were shyly playing with us. We have them in the spare bedroom until they are a bit bigger and feel more comfortable with their new environment. Whenever we enter the room they run under the bed to hide, but it takes less and less time for them to come out.



I've been trying to spend a lot of time with them so they'll get used to me, I love sitting in there and just observing them. It's better than watching TV! They are so playful, everything is a toy. I'm glad we decided to get 2 of them, I think the transition would have been much more difficult for them if it had just been one. This way they can comfort each other in this strange environment.



As I was watching them last night I was struck by how utterly perfect they are; miniature beings, full of life and completely un-selfconscious. When you think about it, everything that's alive is perfect, just as it is, but we humans, with our "higher thought process" spend too much time in our heads and don't realize we are fine, just as we are.



Buddhism values all life, from the smallest insect to the largest animal and believes that we are all divine beings. Watching these 2 little creatures that actually makes sense to me! They are so comfortable being exactly who they are- they don't put pressure on themselves to be any different and they live completely in the moment. If that isn't perfection, what is?



It's thought that every time something or someone new enters into your life they are a reincarnation of someone you've lost; someone you need to work things out with. My list isn't that long, but it does make me pause to think: if I did believe in reincarnation, who would these kittens be? A friend who died before 30? My grandparents, who all lived into their 80s or 90s? A patient from work? It's interesting to ponder.



In the meantime, though, I'm just going to enjoy these adorable, fuzzy balls of perfection.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Autumn Around the Garden










I'm not sure if it's my imagination or not, but the colors this fall seem to be particularly bright and have lasted a long time. Usually we get a windy rainstorm that blows all the vibrant leaves off the trees just when they are at their peak. I couldn't resist taking a few photos around the yard yesterday so I can remember how beautiful the colors look when all I can see is white out the window.






The crazy little tree Cynthia gave me (still don't know what it is!) turns this gorgeous peachy-salmon color just before the leaves fall off. One day the leaves are greenish-yellow and then the next day they're like this. Don't blink! You'll miss the transformation.




Likewise with the climbing hydranga vine on the oak tree out front; the leaves are green and then overnight they turn this pretty yellow. Even Joe noticed the change this year, and he's not a gardener by any stretch of the imagination.




The burning bush in the back garden is at its peak, one of these mornings I'm going to wake up and there will be a pile of little red leaves underneath it. At least I'll have the pictures!


Now if we could just get rid of the noisy leaf blowers that the lawn services use to clean up everyone else's yards... whatever happened to families raking leaves on a sunny afternoon? I guess that's a topic for another post.




Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Authentic Life

I had the pleasure of eating lunch with a friend today whom I consider to be very spiritual and wise. I always enjoy the discussions I have with this particular friend because they make me think and see things from a different angle.

One of the topics we covered today over our minestrone soup was living an authentic life. Not just talking the talk, but also walking the walk. For a long time I've been passionate about the environment and sustainable living, but this fall I've had more time to explore these subjects and do research online (thank you vesting time!) to learn more. I feel like I've barely scratched the surface with what I know, but I'm motivated to do all I can to live a simple, environmentally friendly, sustainable life.

The first steps I've taken have coincidentally been beneficial because of the worsening economy: decreased consumerism, making do with what we have and thinking of alternative ways to produce/obtain what I need. I've been cooking and baking things from scratch since we got married, but who says that all things purchased have to be new? Second hand shops and swapping used items with those who no longer need them is a great way to "repurpose" items. That way something unneeded doesn't end up in a landfill and will find a new use.

This holiday season, because of our financial status, we are going to be very low key. I'd much rather receive a meaningful, homemade gift that came from someone's heart, than something purchased just for the sake of it. Some of my very favorite gifts have been hand made: a sweater my mom made me or a painting from a friend. Hopefully the people on my gift list will feel similarly. For me, part of the pleasure of giving something is enjoying the process of making it; one of the reasons I enjoy giving quilts so much!

The past 3-4 years I've had a very difficult time getting into the "spirit" of Christmas because the consumerism and what the holiday has come to stand for is at odds with my beliefs and the things that are important to me- living simply and appreciating what we have. I'm hoping this year that something good will come out of the recession and our financial situation and that I'll be able to enjoy the holiday more than in recent years.

Over coffee and dessert A and I talked about getting together with a few friends for 4 consecutive weeks and making hand made gifts for people. We both loved the idea, which incorporates the things I believe in: togetherness with friends, sharing creativity, and putting a little bit of ourselves into the gifts we make. Holiday presents that keep us present.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Art of Making Do

We had the pleasure of our friend Jill's company for dinner last night, in addition to W surprising us and coming home for the weekend. The food was simple, Joe is a master of throwing a few things together and coming up with something that is very tasty and nutritious. It was a spur of the moment invitation and worked out perfectly for everyone.

The fact that we (ok, J) made a wonderful meal out of what we already had got me to thinking: this is something that is very easy to do. In the past, we've thought nothing of running out to the store to pick up a few extra ingredients to make a meal, or get a special dessert at Trader Joe's. Since gas prices have skyrocketed, we've been trying to do one or two big shops a week and if we need something additional, such as milk, we'll walk to the store to get it. When you to walk, it really makes you think: "do I truly need this, or is it just something I want?" Oftentimes, it's the latter.

All those little trips to the store for extras add up, $8 here or $10 there, in addition to the gas, on things we didn't really need. So, last night when we found out Jill and W would be joining us, we talked about picking up a few extra things for the meal.... but then we paused a moment and thought: "wait a sec, the meal will be fine without those extra ingredients." How accustomed we are to purchasing things for pleasure, not necessity.

If we can apply this to our food shopping, what else can we apply it to? Anything and everything we purchase! I've read that before any major purchase its good to use the 30 day rule, in which when you want to buy something, you should wait a month and then see if you still feel the same way about the item. I know if I employed this rule, after the month had passed, I'd probably have forgotten all about what I wanted to buy!

I know it probably sounds crazy, but I do believe this recession has many good aspects to it, as evidenced by the example above. It's really making us think about how we spend our money, what is important and the difference between need and want. Even though times are difficult for us right now, and surely they are much more difficult for those who have less than we do, I think its important for us to be grateful for what we have; to look at the way we live and what is important to us. I think that given some time a more frugal way of living is going to come naturally to us and hopefully it will get us away from consumerism and the emptiness that brings. I hope that then we will be able to say we are living a more authentic and satisfying life. Happy Friday!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Heart and Forgiveness

At my Tuesday evening yoga class the teacher has been talking about the different chakras, one each week. We've worked our way through the 3 lower chakras, which have to deal with the external, and this week discussed the heart chakra. The color associated with this place is green, something that makes sense to me as we open our hearts and feel love for the world around us. The heart chakra is the transition to the upper areas, which deal with the internal, our own spiritual growth.

The essence of the heart chakra is love- spiritual love, not the clingy, "i need you", attached sort of love. Love for all living things-- including ourselves! Sometimes that is the most difficult love of all. Unconditional love. We did some heart opening postures and by the end of the class I was feeling so centered, so grounded, and almost had a glimpse of that universal, unconditional love for everyone and everything.

One of the subjects associated with this chakra is forgiveness. Tricky subject, forgiveness. I know I've always associated forgiveness with being able to forget something that happened. According to yogic teachings, it's not about forgetting, which sometimes feels like you are condoning a "wrong" that was done to you. It's about understanding that each person does the best they can with what they are dealing with at any given time. Most often, when someone doesn't give us what we need, or hurts us, it's because they are in pain themselves, or lacking in something, or afraid.

Of course there are always exceptions, but in most cases, others don't intend to hurt us. It just happens that we are not on the same path at that particular point in time. We may need more than they are able to give; or perhaps because of something they are dealing with in their own internal makeup, they are unable to provide what we need. It doesn't make them a bad person or even wrong; it helps to be aware that they have their own issues.

This realization can lead to more compassion for others. Compassion and forgiveness go hand in hand; when we realize that it's not just about us, it becomes much easier to forgive actions that we perceive as "wrongs" against us. Perhaps the person who just cut us off in traffic is late to pick up her children and is worried about them - a position we have probably all been in at one time or another. When we remember how we felt in that situation it's easy to forgive the person. "Sure, go ahead of me, I know just how you feel, your kids are your focus, not driver etiquette!" Certainly, we'd all say that if we knew the person's situation!

Today I'm going to work on unconditional love and forgiveness - seeing things from other people's perspectives instead of just my own - and hopefully this will make me a more grounded and peaceful person.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Does This Make Me a Crazy Cat Lady?




I'm told you should never ask a question you really don't want to hear the answer to, so consider the title of this post a rhetorical one. I guess I already know the answer!
Meet kitty #2, as yet unnamed, whom we will be bringing home in addition to Gracie. Crazy? Most definitely! She was originally claimed, but then the person backed out. I've had my eye on this little female from the start, she was the first born and is a bit timid and cautious, but has a very sweet disposition. For some reason she has always appealed to me, maybe it's her unusual coloring or it could be her personality. For whatever reason I'm enamored with her. When I heard that she was once again unclaimed I looked into discount spaying programs, the only way we could afford to adopt 2 kittens. My research paid off, I found a place that will do it for a $65 fee, which is just a bit more than one fourth of what my regular vet charges.
Two kittens. I have read that it is better to adopt 2 together so they have a playmate, thereby relieving the owner of some of that responsibility. We'll see, its a completely new experience for me! All I know is that they are adorable and I can't wait to bring them both home.
Name suggestions, anyone?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Silk Quilt from a Sow's Kimono


One of the things I like best about fall, aside from the beautiful weather, is the return to doing things indoors. I spend more time in the kitchen and we once again start eating hearty meals: soups and stews that simmer on the stove for hours and make your mouth water with their tantalizing smells. Gone are the grilled meals and salads that we enjoy during summer, giving us a break so that we will enjoy them again when the weather turns warmer next year.
In addition to cooking I get to return to one of my favorite hobbies: quilting. Somehow, there is so much to do outdoors in the summer that I don't make time for it. Plus, who wants to have fabric draped over their lap on a hot and humid afternoon?
This fall I've kept to my frugality pact with myself... no more new fabric. I've been having a good time using the closet-full that I already have, and it hasn't even put a dent in my supply! It feels good to use up what is already there, I never "need" more fabric, but sometimes when I see a beautiful print I think, "oh, I just have to have that!" This year I'm resisting that impulse and using what I already have.
I have a friend whose husband is Japanese and has a huge collection of kimono that he inherited from his mother when she passed away. The fabrics are all silk and have the most gorgeous patterns. I've been helping her "recycle" these kimono by using them in quilts, something I've always wanted to try. The photo above is the completed top of the first one I made, I'm happy with how it turned out. I need to piece the batting and backing together (no new fabric, remember?) and then I'll finish it up. I think it will be cool to have an all silk quilt and I'm already planning on the one I'll make to give to C in exchange for the kimono.
The fact that I'm recycling something and putting it to good use makes me feel happy. I also like the challenge of having only so much to work with, which forces me to think outside my narrow mental box. Sometimes there isn't enough fabric to make the quilt as I had originally planned- it forces me to be creative with a solution and to be flexible- not locked in to my original idea, something that is good for me to practice.
In the pictured quilt, I had hoped to have enough of the main kimono fabric for the 4 borders, but it became apparent that was not going to be the case as I got closer to being finished. What to do, what to do.... I decided to extend the center pattern out into the top and bottom borders to make up for the lack of continuous fabric, and I think it worked out well. Here's to being flexible and creative solutions!

Parents' Weekend

Yesterday we spent the afternoon with W at Babson, touring the college and the downtown area, where there are lots of cute little shops and boutiques. The campus was like something out of a brochure, the maple trees all at their peak of color, the ground littered with their fallen leaves. It was a beautiful fall day to walk around.

It was wonderful to see W, as always, and our visit reminded me of how much I enjoy his company. Sure, every mother loves their child - I'm no exception - but I also truly enjoy him as a person and having conversations with him. I'm so proud that he's adjusted well to school, no doubt one of the most difficult transitions in life, that he has a nice group of friends and is doing well in his classes.

It has been the biggest joy and privilege of my life to be a parent. When I look back now, I think "how young we were!" when W was born. I can't claim to have been a perfect parent, though I have done my very best to be a good mother and role model. I think W has inherited the best qualities from both of us (thank you genetic roulette wheel!): J's solid, calm, rational demeanor and my sensitivity, empathy and interest in other people. W is really a joy to spend time with: funny, attentive and interested in a variety of topics.

It's amazing to think how quickly the past 18 years has gone by and there will always be a funny feeling to the house now; someone is missing. But the trade off is that W has grown into a fine young man, one who can stand on his own two feet and is able to handle whatever comes his way. I'm proud he's turned into such a wonderful person- what more could a parent ask for?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

As She Grows




I had the pleasure of visiting my friend who is taking care of the mom cat and kittens today for an hour today before picking my in-laws up at the airport. How the kittens have changed in just a week! They're very coordinated now, constantly playing with each other and quite fiesty. I was relieved that Gracie seemed more interested in me this week, last week she was incredibly unimpressed with my presence.

The kittens are intrigued by the camera's flash and sit still for pictures, anticipataing the flicker of the light. I was able to get some great photos of them today, in the one above is Gracie and her only brother, whose name is Chester. They are the most adorable little balls of fluff! Joyce is kind enough to let me come over to visit with them frequently and it amazes me how much they change in the matter of just a few days. She'll check with the vet, but hopefully I will be able to bring Gracie home in 3 or 4 weeks. Definitely something to look forward to!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Change vs. Transformation

What is it about change? I've never liked it. Give me a routine and I'll happily stick with it for ages. For me, the most unwelcome type of change is one I have no control over, something caused by an oustide situation or someone else. Does this make me a control freak?

My Tuesday evening yoga class is held in a room with a wall of windows on one side, which overlook a lovely garden filled with trees, shrubs, inviting benches and winding paths. Five weeks ago when the class started the sun was shining brightly even as the class ended. Last night it was nearly dark as we were packing up our things. Between the time we lay down in Savasana and when we sat up again, the sun had gone down. During the final moments of the class the teacher asked us to sit and look upon the garden: notice the fall colors of red, orange and yellow, the fading light, and the way nature is preparing for the change of seasons. Only she didn't use the word change; she used the word transformation.

I really love fall, it is truly my favorite of all the seasons here in New England. The weather is at its best: consistently nice temperatures, unlike spring with its raw, chilly winds, up and down temps and rain. We've had a stretch of weather that has been gorgeous for the past couple weeks: 60-70 degrees and sunny, surrounded by the amazing colors of the fall trees. The one drawback to fall is knowing what comes next: the long winter, being stuck indoors and the short days. Seasonal Affective Disorder, anyone? For some reason, knowing this is approaching has always been a damper on fall for me.

Last night, as I sat at the end of yoga class looking upon the vibrant colors of fall, it occurred to me that if I would just enjoy the moment, each hour, each day and not be thinking about what is to come, I'd like fall much better. Its impossible to prevent the change of fall to winter, its a process that must happen each year, just like the changing color of the trees.

I was struck by the word transformation; it has a much more positive connotation for me than the word change. In my mind, transformation is more of a process, not just a singular event, something being different. Each year the trees put on their brilliant show, the gardens die back, the leaves drop and winter comes. Is this change? Yes, but its also transformation, part of a process that must happen in order for spring to come. Instead of fighting the change and dreading the winter, letting it spoil my enjoyment of fall, I need to change my outlook. Clearly, mother nature isn't going to alter her course because I don't like winter! So it's up to me: Stop thinking about what is going to happen in the future and enjoy the nice day in the present!

I was reminded of the Serenity Prayer, something I learned 25 years ago in Sunday school: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change, the strength to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

We can't stop the changing of the seasons, but maybe a different outlook, seeing it as a transformation, part of the process will help with the acceptance part.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Acceptance

In the landscape of spring, there is neither better nor worse. The flowering branches grow naturally, some long, some short. - Zen saying

Another quote that reminds me to accept things as they are, we are the ones that give the labels "good" or "bad". Things happen as they will and it is not for us to judge, but only to accept the things that we cannot change.

This isn't to say that we must lie passively in the road and take whatever comes our way; only that there are things we can't alter, such as which branches will grow short or which will grow long. We need to be able to discern those things from the ones we can do something about and let everything else go. Acceptance.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Three Things

Last night as I lay in bed just about to fall asleep I thought of the three things I'm most grateful for at the moment: my wonderful husband who sticks with me through thick and thin; our house, which we have put 16 years of loving work into and my health, which has been (knock on wood) stable. Sometimes its the little things I'm grateful for, like a delicious muffin, but these are the three "biggies".

Today I'm looking forward to my morning walk with J, working on my current quilting project and a visit from my parents. It's going to be another beautiful fall day, warm and sunny and I plan to enjoy every moment. Here's to trying to stay mindful today!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Desiderata

This poem was published in 1927 by Max Ehrmann as a prescription for happiness. A dear friend loaned me a book containing this poem on Friday night, amazing timing as she didn't even know of my spiritual and philosophical explorations lately. Sometimes the universe delivers exactly what you are looking for without your even asking for it. Desiderata is a Latin word meaning "things that are yearned for" and I italicized my favorite line.

Desiderata
Go placidly amid the noise and haste
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself to others, you may become vain and bitter
for there will always be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the w0rld is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity
and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield
you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees
and the stars; you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.
-Max Ehrmann

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Amazing Gracie



Here is little Gracie at 4 1/2 weeks old, I went to visit her last night and got some updated photos. The kittens are all out of their nest now, exploring the room and starting to play, much steadier on their feet. At this point Gracie is the smallest of the bunch, curious and very playful. She seems more interested in exploring her surroundings than cuddling or being held. I could have watched her and her litter-mates all night, they are so adorable! Towards the end of my visit they all curled up in their bed, one big jumble of feet, tails and fur and went to sleep. A couple of them were purring, but it was difficult to tell who because they were all so intertwined.

I've never adopted a kitten before, it's a lot of fun to know the actual "birthday" and age as well as being able to watch her grow from a tiny baby. My other 3 cats were adopted as adults, ages 1-3, which is wonderful because adults are harder to place (seeing the kittens I understand why!). My first cat I rescued as a baby from the mean streets of Chinatown in Boston at 1am after working an evening shift, she was a mere 5 weeks old and on her own at that point. She was feral and never truly liked being touched or cuddled and unfortunately kept her wild side all of her short life. Because of her wildness, the vet was never able to properly examine her, even though she was declawed and medicated prior to checkups. She died a young cat, at 4 years old, we were never sure of the reason, but the vet suspected a bad heart. She was a beautiful calico cat, but not an ideal pet by any stretch of the imagination, so my experience with kittens is quite limited. This is a totally different scenario, seeing Gracie with her litter mates and mom and watching her grow, then taking her home when she is old enough to leave.

My quote for today is simple, and I really don't have anything to add, so I'll end with it here:

The world is ruled by letting things take their course. - LaoTzu