Hello to Riley

 

Riley at 9 months

Last night I Skyped with Stephanie and Riley, and later, briefly, with Alex. Do you know that program? Skype is a program that you download to your computer and it allows you to talk, free of charge, to anyone else who has the program and is online at the same time. You can do a computer-to-computer phone call, video call, or instant message exchange.

I had a video call with Stephanie and Riley. Riley demonstrated her crawling skill, her new-found ability to pull herself up to a standing position at the coffee table, and then to walk around the table, holding onto it for balance. She also blew bubbles with her tongue, gave Stephanie big open mouthed baby kisses, played with a few toys, tried to push the laptop buttons on the computer she was in front of, modeled her new footed pajamas, and generally melted my heart with her little face. What a cutie!

I think back to the 80s when my children were little and we lived far away from family. We
sent photos and talked on the phone. We could even video, but that had to be physically mailed for the grandparents to view…no way to transmit by computer or internet in those days. What am I saying? We didn’t even have a computer until my son was a pre-schooler, and no one had internet. (Al Gore, we were waiting for you!)

I think about earlier eras when phones were not available. When Alex was deployed to Iraq a few years ago with the army, he was able to call us regularly, and send email. Now, his wife is deployed there, and he is stationed at Ft. Campbell, KY. They talk almost every day, free of charge, via Skype. No waiting for snail mail, although that is still useful for sending packages.  You can communicate with someone on the other side of the world in an instant now. Nothing like earlier times. I felt so fortunate when Alex was deployed, thinking of moms of soldiers from past times, who had to wait for a physical letter to arrive in the mail, and wonder if the sender was still safe and well on the other end, perhaps weeks after the letter had been mailed. Although it wasn’t easy to know that Alex was in a dangerous place, it was easier to have regular reassurance that he was well and whole.

And living in Alaska, I am reminded that many decades ago, generations back, when hearty pioneers and adventurers came here, they might never again see or communicate
with family left behind. Connectedness was much more tenuous and fragile long ago, and in frontier communities, life itself was fragile. I can’t imagine how it would feel to say goodbye to a son or brother, perhaps a husband, or, much less likely, a daughter, and never see them again because they were swallowed by the vast wilderness.

But happily today, the problem tends to be the opposite of long ago. Now some say we are too connected. We rely too heavily on electronic media to interact. And that can be true. People text each other rather than go to the next room to say something. Or they text rather than phone and actually speak to someone. Of course, there are times for all methods of communication. But although I value the ability to see and hear my family that lives far away through the magic of technology, I will continue to value face to face time more. The ability to Skype doesn’t replace the ability to touch. It is an improvement on still photos, and photos were an improvement on portraits or drawings. But I didn’t get any kisses from Riley last night; no electronic tool or program can replace the real thing.

So while I will continue to use and embrace technology and the convenience it offers, let me just say, for the record, that when it comes to babies, hugs and kisses are the best, and so far, there is no technology that allows for  sharing those across the miles. And actually, that’s true for others too…although Riley is an easier target for my kisses than my 23 year old son.

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Community

I’ve found a whole new community in the past few months. I’ve done quite a bit of poking around on the internet (living in Alaska gives you a lot of time, especially during winter months, to sit in front of a computer screen). I’ve read a lot of posts on a lot of websites, and I’m always impressed by the amazing and seemingly endless variety of topics being addressed on line. I think you could google almost any word and find pages and pages of links to visit, whatever the subject.

But since I’ve plunged into the blogosphere, I’m finding new connections and a whole new digital community to explore and get to know. The site I use for my blog, WordPress.com, offers free hosting and a robust array of tools for bloggers. My guess is that most people using the site are like me: recreational writers, using it as an outlet for self expression. I know there are some professional writers using the site’s hosting service as well, and I suppose there is the potential for any writer to move into a professional realm, if there are enough readers and writing talent to support that move. That isn’t necessarily what I aspire to, although it would be an interesting development.

But the unexpected pleasure I’ve found is the ability to meet kindred spirits; to be touched, amused, and inspired by strangers, who, like me, are using this medium to chronicle bits and pieces of life. Just like the web in general, the variety of subjects people blog about is limitless, ranging from the profound to the mundane. I’m continually surprised by the things people notice and then write lengthy posts to describe, or complain about, or celebrate with words. Some writers share their most personal and intense experiences, and others have a gift for elevating some obscure scrap of life to a laugh out loud experience. I love it when I stumble across a post that brings a smile to my face or a nod of recognition: I know exactly what the author means, I couldn’t agree more, I get it…all those affirming phrases that come to mind to validate my discovery of someone who (at least in a specific posting) is just like me! Not that I think being just like me is the epitome of greatness…of course I’m open to others being themselves…maybe the reality is that I am just like them. But there is the human quality in each of us that enjoys the flash of recognition that opinions, emotions, observations are shared. Sometimes I have the “aha” experience of reading someone’s post and realizing they’ve captured some insight that I get too, but hadn’t quite articulated for myself.

As the old saying goes, it’s a brave new world. Sometimes, when I see glimpses of daytime TV, I think there is too much sharing. That’s why I like the internet so much. You can choose to read or skip content. Of course you can turn off the TV, no one if forced to watch programs that give too much information. But I feel a bit more empowered to be selective on line. If I find a blogger whose writing I enjoy, I can easily view earlier posts, I add a link to my blogroll, I can send a comment of appreciation to the author. Without being too personal and while keeping the comfortable distance of real space between all of us, we have the digital ability to reach out and touch, to nurture friendships, to feel safe in our environment, and yet have amazing freedom to explore.

Of course, in a different way, this ability to check out others from a distance is what all the on-line dating sites are all about. I’m not looking to meet a soul mate on line. But I appreciate the opportunity and the serendipitous joy of finding the kindred spirits out there, of broadening my horizon from my living room, and the pleasure of finding another way to experience the human connection that wasn’t possible just a few short years ago. For all the parts of me that are truly old-fashioned…I love old movies, old music, tradition, family values, faith, classics, standards…I love technology too. Thank you Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and all those computer geeks out there who make it possible (here’s a special nod to my brother, Brad) to enjoy the benefits of these inventions without having to understand the mechanics, and thank you to all the companies that through some magic of economics are able to offer services for free and make it possible to participate without financial risk.

Sun!

After almost two weeks of rain (this is a coastal rainforest!) this weekend we have sun. And like the sunshine in Colorado after a big snow, sunshine in southeast Alaska after prolonged rain is brilliant, making the water of the Tongass Narrows twinkle like jewels, and streaming in through my windows to brighten my rooms and my spirits.

I used to think, when we lived in Colorado, that after a big snowstorm the skies had been washed with all the moisture, and the sunshine of the following day had a special quality. There was a stronger presence of the light, it was more luminous, clearer, than on other days. Maybe it was just my imagination, or maybe there is some scientific truth in what I thought I saw. And since rain is just another form of precipitation, it makes sense that the same thing seems true here. I don’t know if it is the amount of rain or snow that makes a difference, or the length of the storm…maybe it takes a significant amount of water, in one form or another, and enough time, to wash the skies. Like the difference I see in my windows when I clean them, it is noticeable to me. And I always have a special moment of recognition and enjoyment when the skies clear and I realize that I’m witnessing a day of magic once again.

Or maybe I’m just starved for the sun…who knows? Anyway, I’ll enjoy it and be thankful for a break in the clouds, and wonder again to myself and to others why there is such power in the sun to cheer people. What is the connection? We are all affected by our environment, I understand that. I know about Vitamin D and seasonal affective disorder, about the benefit of added light in winter months. I know there is science surrounding the connection. But I’ll never understand why the simple addition of sunshine makes me want to skip through the house with a light heart. And maybe I don’t want to know…maybe it’s more magical to simply enjoy the moment without analyzing the reasons behind it: to accept it as a gift of life and nature.

Cream

Cup of coffee with whipped cream

My name is not Paula Deen. But though I don’t share her flamboyant style, I do appreciate her unembarrassed embrace of butter. I have a similar relationship with cream. Not milk, not half-and-half. Heavy whipping cream. I add it to my coffee every morning, and I’ve progressed from just liking it to needing it. In fact, if I can’t have the real thing, I prefer no coffee at all. No non-dairy creamers for me!

I used to be more inhibited. I used to buy cream for the special occasion recipes, the holiday, once-a-year treats, and guiltily finish off anything left in the carton in a once-a-year coffee splurge. The rest of the time I was much more restrained, and my coffee was just a morning habit. Half-and-half, or even milk, did the job of diluting the robust flavor.

I’m almost a vegetarian, and I have great cholesterol numbers. Maybe that’s why I’m comfortable with my food vice.  A few years ago, I began to buy cream a little more often. I think it was about the time I turned 40. Anyway, cream moved from a once or twice a year place on my grocery list to a weekly item. Now I am never without it, and my morning coffee is rich, satisfying, decadent. It’s not just a habit, it’s my morning comfort and reason for crawling out of the bed at 5:00 AM.

I often wonder who my fellow cream addicts are. I notice there is always a generous supply of cream in the dairy case, and as I only buy one carton a week, there must be others out there regularly supporting the cream component of the dairy world. Thank you, fellow cream lovers! I probably couldn’t carry the industry on my own, even though I’m delighted to do my part.

My husband is a steak lover, and when he drinks coffee, it is without embellishment: serious black coffee, like he learned to drink in medical school. He developed a coffee habit for the caffeine kick. I drink it for the flavor, and although I know it probably sounds sacrilegious to most people, I’ll trade steak for cream any day. If I’m going to have something that impacts my cholesterol, I’ll take it in a liquid form, thank you very much. At dinner, I’ll be the one with veggies on my plate. But I’ll make up for it at breakfast, when I indulge. And I’m over the guilt.

Do you have capacity?

I am sometimes asked this at work: do I have capacity to add a new task or project? My answer is always yes (if you’ve read earlier posts, you may recall that I have a “yes” policy). But seriously, I do have capacity. My current position is a nice blend of projects, tasks, meetings, people…enough variety to keep it interesting and challenging, and yet not so stressful that it keeps me awake at night.

But when I think of this question in other contexts, I find myself wondering about my capacity. Everyone has a reservoir of strengths, energy, natural talent, courage, enthusiasm: the positive attributes that we all want to claim, and need, to meet daily challenges. But people have negative traits as well, and life can be derailed by discouragement, depression, fear, indecision. What is my capacity in the big picture? No life is static. There is an ebb and flow of circumstances and fortune. There is good and bad, enough to brighten and scar every human. Sometimes my capacity to absorb and bounce is much greater than at others.

It is difficult to be objective about myself. I know (or think I know) the reasons behind my my successes and failures. Even so, I can’t always explain why some days are easier; I’m focused, on target. And others, nothing works as well, or effortlessly. Isn’t that the universal human experience?

The important lesson is two-fold: an insight for myself, and a flash of enlightenment in the way I see others. For myself, I acknowledge that tenacity, persistence, and courage will carry me through the down times. I have to have faith in the process, allow time to work for me, and some days, just be willing to go to bed and get up to try again in the morning.

And how does this translate to the rest of the world? I know when I’m having a day that feels out of sync, off balance. And because I know, I make allowances for myself. Even if I’m disappointed in my performance, I can also have some patience, some tolerance for my shortcomings: tomorrow will be better; I’ll get it right the next time. I have to remind myself that when someone else disappoints me, lets me down, that I am probably seeing that person’s diminished capacity at that moment. It’s a bad day, or a bad week; but tomorrow will be better; they’ll get it right the next time. Yes, in fact, it turns out that we’re all human, and riddled with flaws as well as virtues. And although each of us can be our own worst critic, we also know when to give ourselves a pass. The challenge is to extend that to others in my life; to share the gift of grace. It isn’t easy, and it doesn’t always come naturally. But it is right.

And a personal disclaimer: if you see me not practicing this philiosphy…well, I must be having one of those days…and tomorrow will be better.

Tuesday night soup

I love soup in the winter. It’s one of the ultimate comfort foods, and besides the obvious fact that it’s a warm dish in a cold season, I like to make soup because you cannot make a small pot: without major effort, you create multiple meals. I don’t like leftovers usually, but soup is a different story. Soup only improves with a day or two in the fridge.

So my soup of the week is a meatless version of creamy chicken noodle soup. I started with:

  • a pot of boiling water (I used a medium size stock pot)
  • 3 Knorr chicken bouillon cubes
  • 2 finely grated carrots (full size, not baby carrots)
  • 1 stalk of celery, diced
  • sliced fresh mushrooms, about 1/2 lb
  • fresh black pepper, to taste

I cooked the vegetables in the bouillon and water and added approximately half of a 1 lb box of Barilla cut spaghetti pasta. As the pasta cooked, it absorbed much of the broth. I added more water to cover the pasta, two cups of milk and a topping of cheese (any type of cheese that melts well will work with this dish, just use whatever you have on hand, and as much as you want to reach your desired level of cheesiness).

As the soup simmered, the flavors combined and the pasta thickened the broth. Yummy!

Soup is filling, nurturing, and forgiving. You can put together many flavors or a few. If the mixture is too thick, add water, broth, or milk. If it is too thin, you can thicken with a cornstarch slurry, instant potato flakes, pasta, or rice…any starchy component will thicken broth. Add herbs, spices, cheese: you literally can’t go wrong as long as you are tasting as you go, adjusting seasonings, and keeping the broth and other components in a spoonable ratio. Soup is a good vehicle for learning to combine a variety of ingredients to create a cohesive dish. You can start with a basic recipe or concept and follow your own taste and imagination to create something unique. If you already cook, good for you! And if you’re a novice in the kitchen, this is a good place to begin learning basic skills.

Give your creativity free reign and enjoy!

How old are you really?

There’s a quote I like:

“You are not just the age you are. You are all the ages you have ever been.”                       ~ Kenneth Koch

Sometimes I see this in my children. Although generally quite mature, they have their moments! I have been known to ask, “How old are you really?” When I ask this question of my son, the answer is usually three. He’s typically laughing when we have this exchange, so I know he knows I am just gently teasing him. But there is some truth in the quote that resonates, and it frequently catches me by surprise.

Last weekend, I watched “The Sound of Music.” (My niece is rehearsing for the play at her school and was singing some of the songs  – put me in the mood to see the classic. Thank you, Mary Ashley!) As I watched the familiar scenes and heard the beautiful music, I was a small child again, hearing the music play from a big reel-to-reel tape recorder my parents had. I knew all the songs by heart, long before I ever saw the movie. Of course that was before the era of video tapes or dvds…you couldn’t see a movie whenever you wanted when I was a child. In some ways, it made the experience more meaningful, almost sacred. Some movies were shown on TV once a year, and if you missed it, that was it. “The Sound of Music” was one of those films that had an annual showing. It was the first movie I ever bought, when buying movies became an option. I’ve long since replaced that video tape with a dvd, but whatever the format, the movie and the music remain favorites, and I’m always transported to childhood by the magic.

It’s a strange sensation, and one that everyone experiences at some time. From a scent, a taste, music, or the trigger of a sudden and unexpected familiar scene, transportation from one age to another is lightning fast, and often rich with detail. Or other times, for me, the impression is fleeting, just a glimpse into a past time. The moment can be full of sentiment or remembered joy.

So I am fifty, but also six, also twenty-three with a newborn, forty and celebrating my 20th anniversary in Mexico. Of course, as the old saying goes, “You’re as young as you feel.” Well, some days I’m younger than others.

What age are you today?

 

The kindness of strangers

Yesterday I experienced kindness from a stranger. I had a project that I needed help with at my house, and a woman that I did not know was recommended to me as someone who could help me. She came, she did help me, and she left. And I will probably never see her again. She did not take money for her actions. She just helped me.

I also had an opportunity to help someone yesterday, who, although not a complete stranger to me, is little more than an acquaintance. An older woman that I know only slightly is moving out of her home to an apartment, and some mutual friends arranged a work party to help her with the final clean out of the house. I went over and scrubbed bathrooms and kitchen counters, spent three hours of Saturday doing chores that were not fun, but were helpful to someone who needed the help. And I had the ability to give it.

Both experiences were good. I felt good to give help, and I was humbled to receive it, so graciously given. I like to think that I am a kind person. I am very polite and frequently go out of my way to make small talk with people or reach out to show an interest in others’ lives. But I am often too busy to do the hands on work. I am busy, but so is everyone. I know that I will not be devoting hours each Saturday to some worthy cause. But yesterday was a reminder that now and then, when an opportunity presents itself to go beyond polite words, beyond the easy kindnesses, it’s good to do that.

It was also a reminder that the statement that it is easier to give than to receive is true. It was a little uncomfortable for me to be on the receiving end of kindness, because I am so used to being self-sufficient. Not that I never need help. But I rarely feel the need to ask for it…I pay for what I need, or work out an exchange of favors, or find a way to do it myself. Receiving help from a stranger, someone whom I can’t repay, drives home the point that kindness, just for it’s own sake, is valuable. It makes the world a better place…the phrasing may be trite, but the reality is not. I find, once again, that the lessons that are repeated so often in life are not the ones that we don’t know: they are the ones that we don’t practice enough. So I’m going to try to be more observant, more open to opportunities to do more, speak less. Words are easy, and although there is comfort in words, there is value in doing. It’s been a while since I took a meal to someone or stepped out of my busy-ness to do more than offer words. But I can surely find time to incorporate a little selflessness in the midst of all the busy-ness of life, and the reward is simply the feeling of making a difference.

Facing the tasks

As I said in yesterday’s post, the house is on the market. Most of the things on my to-do list have been completed. The interior has been painted, the walls are fresh and clean. That was the spring/summer project last year. Some minor repairs have been made. But I have a few things left to do, and I’m struggling to finish the last tasks. I need to freshen the paint on the sun room window sills where the dogs put their paws when they are looking out the windows at people on the sidewalk below. They’ve left evidence of their habit of looking out and alerting me to passers-by. And the window sill in the kitchen above the sink needs a little attention as well.

Then there is my never-ending process of sorting the boxed items in the basement. I had a burst of energy last fall and got through a hefty amount of stuff. Some I gave away, some I threw away, and some I kept. But there are more boxes to be sorted out. My incentive, aside from wanting to know that the stuff I haul out of Ketchikan is what I really want to keep, is that it is expensive to move off an island. Everything has to be barged out, so I want to be sure I’m not paying to ship out and store items that I could eliminate here.

So I have another ambitious list for the weekend. Touch up the windowsills. Sort a few boxes. Challenge myself to eliminate things that I no longer use, need, love, value. I always say that “things” have two best days: the day you buy something, and the day you find a new home for it! Of course, some possessions never leave. But there are an astonishing number of things that outlive their usefulness. The challenge is to determine which is which, and to remove the things that are cluttering my space and my life. After all, if I end up spending some extensive time in the RV, I won’t need a lot of stuff. I only need my partner, and he travels pretty light.

Why do I find it hard to deal with these tasks? I don’t have ambivalence about selling the house or moving to the “next” in life. Maybe it’s that the remaining tasks are not the major ones. Painting a room is a big project, but it also has a big impact. You can get a lot of satisfaction from walking into a room that has been transformed by new paint. The small tasks just don’t deliver the same bang for the buck.

When I reach this stage, I usually resort to bribing: I think of some reward for myself if I tick off the items on my Saturday list. Frequently my rewards have to do with some decadent chocolate goody and a chick flick. I learned a long time ago that I am not above a reasonable bribe. It works well with children too, and as long as everyone understands the deal up front, I don’t have any problem with a fair exchange of goods or privilege for behaviour.

So here’s hoping that I am energized and motivated this Saturday. It feels good to mark chores off my list, and if I get through my list, I’ve got a new chocolate bundt cake to try (but that’s a couple of postings back!) And the best reward of all: I’m getting ready to launch, ready to reorder my priorities, ready to renew my life.

Here we go again

The house is finally listed. We made the decision to put it on the market a while back, but chose to wait until after the holidays so we could enjoy our time with the kids without the pressure of potential showings. And after all, December is not typically a big month for house hunters to be out looking…just too much going on with most people.

But here we are, the sign is up, photos have been done for ads and the realtor website, and I am conscious as I leave for work each morning that I should take a look around, be sure that things are tidy. Not too difficult at this stage of life; very unlike earlier home-selling experiences when we had kids at home and staying show-ready was a bit more challenging. The biggest issue I have to deal with now is the ever-shedding Pete, who can leave dog hair on a freshly vacuumed floor by merely walking through a room.

Still, it is an odd experience. Every time we have put a house on the market, I have the same sensations: excitement at the thought of each day bringing the potential of a buyer; and the protectiveness that I feel opening my home to strangers to like, dislike, critique, reject, or buy. After all, this is my space, my decorating taste on display. You can’t go through the process of opening a home to anyone who wants to view it with a realtor without feeling some loss of privacy. But of course that’s the idea: you want a lot of traffic; the more, the better.

I’ve watched enough of the cable shows giving advice to home sellers that I know to de-clutter (an ongoing personal quest anyway), and to minimize the personal touches so that potential buyers can imagine their own look and possessions in the home. It makes the beginning process of disconnecting a little easier. That’s the other thing that begins to happen. I find that I begin to detach emotionally, to tell myself I’m on a countdown, knowing that sooner or later the realtor will call to say we have an offer. The biggest thing to be concerned about at that point is the size of the offer. Will it be close enough to our asking price to accept? I have to be prepared to let go, to give up my space, to move on. Maybe it’s a good thing that the whole experience of selling, from listing to offer to the closing, typically takes a few weeks to a few months. When it happens, I’ll be ready. And then on to what’s next! In the meantime, I’ll concentrate on the process, prepare to let go, and vacuum every day.