Shoe Bliss

Buster-Brown-Comic It’s a stereotype that women love shoes, and like so many stereotypes, there’s a kernel of truth in there somewhere. It isn’t just Imelda Marcos. We’ve all seen those episodes of House Hunters, where she either has a room dedicated to shoes. Or she need a room in which to put her collection of shoes. There’s usually a  smiling, indulgent-looking man in the mix somewhere. When a box of shoes arrives in the mail for me at my house my husband gets that look too. “More shoes?” They’re not Manolo Blahniks. No Jimmy Choos in my closet. I have a tendency to twist my ankle when walking, even in bare feet. I don’t have any clothes that go with that sort of shoe. I sure don’t have the body to wear them naked anymore. But if you love Christian Louboutin, if that’s your shoe groove, all the more power to you. They’re works of art, those shoes. So beautiful. Just not on my feet. Yes, I am the girl of the sensible shoes. I started out in Buster Browns. Once when I was 13, I traded a family heirloom for a second-hand pair of red platform shoes, like something out of  Aladdin Sane. (Weirdly, the other shoes I remember from the closet of my early adolescence  were Earth shoes, blue Adidas court shoes and riding boots.) Mostly my shoes are solid. Save one pair of kitten heels for grown-up occasions, I could sprint after a dog in every pair of shoes I own. il_570xN.331660452 Physical therapists like my shoes. Now, don’t go away thinking my shoes are boring. In my closet, at one time or another, you could find flocked floral black and white Dr. Martens. Pale-pink leather lace-up paddock boots. Black Mary Janes with purple flowers. Yellow clogs with ladybugs. Cobalt blue Beatle boots. At least six pairs of Dr. Marten’s combat boots– and I still want the ones with the Union Jack toe. Not a fan of running shoes, (or running) though I did get a pair of Merrells the last time I went on a fitness thing. I loved them. They were black, modern, sleek, almost elegant. They were designed for “natural running.” They nearly ruined my feet and left me with a year-long misery of plantar fasciitis. Right now as I sit at my desk in my jammies, my feet are toasty and warm in Stegmann boiled wool clogs. Sexy? Ooo-whee, let me tell you. One afternoon I went into a shoe store in Santa Cruz with my friend, Christy. Christy is not just my wonderful friend, she’s my astral twin, my sister from another mother. We walked into this shoe store and our mouths dropped. We clutched each other’s arms. “Look at those shoes!” she whispered. It was a whole store full of our favorite sort of shoe: fun, sensible, playful, comfortable, zany shoes. Cute shoes you could wear running after a dog. Thank God they weren’t having a sale. The right shoe makes you feel like anything is possible. You can slay dragons, talk people off ledges, catch the thief, land the contract, get the guy, get the girl, grab the brass ring. (And this is true whether the right shoe is a five-inch stiletto or a Bass Weejun.) The wrong shoe is as bad as the wrong foot. Best not to even start. I get a new pair of shoes and I fall in love. I hate to wear anything else. I wear those shoes until the seams are falling apart. (Like that last pair of crimson red Naots. God those were great shoes.) Then I’m heartbroken and I have to go shoe shopping again. But shoe shopping for me is a bit complicated– they just don’t have my shoes at Payless or Shoebilee, or Shoe Carnival. My shoes make themselves the object of a quest. And when they arrive, finally, at last, generally through the mail, all is bliss at our house for awhile. This is my perfect shoe. I really appreciate a good black Mary Jane (named after Buster Brown’s sister, did you know that?) and I’ve had lots and I hope I have many more pairs of comfortable, sturdy, sensible black Mary Janes in my life ahead. Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 12.04.41 AM But a red Mary Jane. That is something else altogether. Hans Christian Andersen’s grim tale notwithstanding, that is the shoe that speaks to me. I never had red Mary Janes as a child. My mother was sensible and bought me the brown ones. I’m making up for that now.

Oh I used to be disgusted And now I try to be amused. But since their wings have got rusted, You know, the angels wanna wear my red shoes. But when they told me ’bout their side of the bargain, That’s when I knew that I could not refuse. And I won’t get any older, now the angels wanna wear my red shoes.

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Banjo Song

Myrtle B. Wilkinson playing tenor banjo, Turlock, California, 1939. Photographer unknown.

Myrtle B. Wilkinson playing tenor banjo, Turlock, California, 1939. Photographer unknown.

Last year, on Ash Wednesday, I started a new writing project “Writing for Lent,” in which I intended to write every day for 40 days. I made it for a week.

This year, I thought, I’ll try it again. I don’t have to write 1000 words a day after all, I can write 100 words. Or five.

And because fate has a wicked sense of humor, the morning started out with an email about a fundraising letter I’d written.  The email included an edited version of the letter with every bit of music stomped right out of it. Obliterated as surely as if the editor had used a hammer on a piece of Limoges.

Not that I’d asked for the letter to be edited, mind you.

So, in the spirit of plaint, I posted rhetorically to Facebook, pondering the mystery of why no one takes professional writers seriously. Because they don’t. Everyone truly believes they can write a book. They can write an article. They can write a sonnet.

And I suppose they can. We are all taught to make one word follow another after all. Surely years of discipline and experience and millions of words arranged on a page count for nothing, right? Because we all can write.

The general consensus of that thread was that I was mean and nasty and horrible to think that professional writers should write unmolested by those who think they have the mandate to fix what the writer wrote.

So I took it down. I almost wrote that I took it down because I love my friends and there is a tiny little granite marble of truth in that statement. But mostly I took it down because it made me feel worse.

No matter how I tried to explain, I couldn’t make myself understood. It didn’t make me feel like much of a writer, I tell you.

And tonight, I wanted to write about how much my life, this series, writing in general and the very business of getting up and lying down again makes me think of banjo music; an endless frenetic loop of Foggy Mountain Breakdown.

And it’s not that I hate banjo music. I like banjos. I’m one of those people– banjos, bagpipes, the Mongolian horse fiddle– I like them. They make me feel cheerful. (Ruth, I know you’re gritting your teeth.)

And anyway, it was just a metaphor, but I couldn’t find the structure to make it fit, and it’s late, and there’s still so much to do and pluckpluckpluck twang forward roll. Sometimes that’s just the way it is, on and on and on.

But tomorrow, another piece, perhaps one that will settle into place, orderly and melodic, a way to get in touch, a message more deftly conveyed,  a better song.

And if I’m lucky, one the day after that.

 

 

 

Scenic Route 53


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“A great alternative way to reach Grants from Gallup is via Scenic Route 53, which runs parallel to, and south of, I-40. It takes a full day to really experience this out-of-this-world landscape of lava tubes and red arches, volcanic craters and ice caves, as well as unique historical attractions and traditional New Mexican towns.”  

-Lonely Planet

On Friday, I turned 53. I’m not particularly bothered by it. I happened to be online around 1 a.m. and commented that I’d been 53 for 53 minutes, to which my mother (the next day) said “Not exactly.” Which is true, I wasn’t born until 6:40 in the evening. My father had gone home to make a sandwich.

And it was one time zone over, so I guess I wasn’t truly 53 years old until twenty minutes of eight on Friday. But that’s not what this is about. I could be turning 39 or 57 or 10.

This is about expectations.

Like everybody, I’ve had good birthdays and crappy ones. I’ve had full-blown week-long celebrations and birthdays that passed with little notice. Oh wait, that last part’s not true.  I’ve never had a birthday that passed without notice.

But lately I’ve started to realize that the enjoyment I found in a celebration had direct correlation to what I expected from it– but not having any expectations is not only not realistic, it’s not the answer.  The answer is this: make your own fun.

One of the very best things about my birthday is that the weather, which has been a socked-in-solid deep freeze for the last several weeks began to thaw. I know it isn’t spring, this is still January. But it was forty something, and the air felt soft. I went out into the world wearing a velvet coat.

It starts with a swim at the Y, a brand new luxury for me. The day before my husband went with me to sign up for a membership and bought a parking pass for good measure. Then we went out to buy shoes.

“Shoes?” you query. “Who needs shoes to swim in a pool?” Well, that’s true. I don’t need shoes to swim in a pool. But I might need them to sneak a little walking or racquetball or some other exercise disguised as fun. This is a very delicate arrangement, I don’t want to frighten my good intentions.  These are the shoes, they’re far more gaudy than any pair of shoes I’ve ever bought in my life, my footwear exists in the spectrum from Doc Martens to sensible Mary Janes.

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After swimming, it was off to the kind of meeting that makes you wish you were having a root canal instead. For two hours. Lord help me. Save us from people who refuse to be reassured and offer nothing in the way of solution or support.

And I didn’t even get paid for those two hours lost forever from my life, on my birthday no less– it was all part of a volunteer gig. On the other hand I was the youngest person in the room. That gives me faith that 53 is not all that old, and that there are still plenty of years ahead for me to make trouble.

After the meeting, a late lunch with a friend. The white tablecloth restaurant where we hoped to go had closed for lunch, so we ended up at Panera, but that was alright, I had a favorite salad and it was delicious. My friend gave me this wonderful birthday card, one of the best I’ve ever seen. Inside it says “You’re just a few clicks past thirty.”

 

bostonbdayI would have lingered longer but I had to go pick up my son.

At home, there were birthday cards– one, from my father’s widow, had a generous check enclosed. There was an odd shaped package from my mother, which turned out to be a tall object resembling an umbrella stand.  We don’t think it truly is an umbrella stand, but it has found a place in the hallway and I like it.

Earlier, on our way to the closed restaurant, I passed by the windows of a shop I had only seen from the car. I’d always thought it was a high end gift shop– you know, home of the $40 paperweight. But walking by the window I saw on a shelf a figure of a dog, but I hadn’t had time to check it out before going home. So, it’s my birthday, right, I’ll indulge myself a little.

Back to the shop, and it is chock full of interesting stuff, shiny baubles and costume jewelry and beautiful French wrapping paper. The dog figure is only ten dollars, but it looks like the head of a mastiff on the body of a hound, so I pass on that, but pause over a number of bracelets, inspect some marked down Christmas ornaments and buy some French wrapping paper. It’s a place I’ll go back to, I’m only sorry it took me so long to go in the first time.

From there to the weird hum of the Goodwill outlet, where I found a blue plaid wool blanket, a poster from a Grand Funk Railroad tour, a first edition of LeRoy Neiman’s Art and Lifestyle, an interesting Melmac tray and a Magnajector. This is a Magnajector.

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From Goodwill to the grocery store, and flush with the unexpected birthday check, I splurge on steaks for us. And a ganache-covered torte to serve as birthday cake.

Birthday dinner, then was sublime. More relaxed than any restaurant and you could go back for seconds. No candles on the torte and no singing (that may have been a misstep) but the cake was awesome.

It was nearly midnight before I sat down to check the computer. There were emails. A couple of texts. Some Facebook messages . . . and more than 150 posts wishing me a happy birthday. Some of them so perfect as to be gifts all in themselves.

Like this one.

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And this one from my friend, Terri, quoting Byron.

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And this one from my pal Mark, noting my return to the water.

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What gift could be better than messages like those from friends like that?

And then I found out all kinds of interesting things about the number 53.

  • It’s the number of an incredible scenic highway in New Mexico.
  • 53 is a prime number.
  • It’s the code for direct-dial calls to Cuba, a place I desperately want to visit.
  • 53 is the racing number for Herbie the Love Bug.
  • The Daily Mail says that 53 is when middle age begins.
  • At 53, Ludwig van Beethoven completed his Ninth Symphony
  • Sidney Sheldon began writing his first novel at 53.
  • Robert E. Peary reached the North Pole at age 53, and that’s how old Walter Hunt was when he invented the safety pin.
  • 53-year-old playwright Vaclav Havel became president of Czechoslovakia.
  • Sue Monk Kidd published her first novel, The Secret Life of Bees, at– yep, 53.
  • The atomic number of Iodine is 53. In it’s gaseous state, it’s violet, like the cardigan I’m wearing in the photo above, taken on my 53rd birthday. It is present in ocean water, as I too, would so like to be. But the Egyptian-inspired pool at the Y will have to be a close second.
  • The character of the Grinch (who stole Christmas) is 53.

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As is Dewey Largo, who in the episode of The Simpsons that I just happened to watch on the night of my 53rd birthday, sings “My country ’tis of thee, my job is misery. Life disappointed me, I’m 53 . . . .”

(I think I aged better than Mr. Largo.)

 

Here’s what I know: you are responsible for your own happiness. I had a wonderful happy birthday, because I decided that I would have a wonderful happy birthday. Many, many people, friends and family alike, helped make it even happier. But from the time I got up in the morning I decided to celebrate the day like the present it was.

Today I am still eating birthday cake. Lucky girl.

The Proust Questionnaire

A Parlor Game.

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The other day I noticed that Joan Didion had filled out the Proust Questionnaire. Years ago, I’d read about the Proust Questionnaire, a kind of parlor game popular in late 19th c. Europe, where friends compared their answers to a particular set of questions. The questions were said to reveal one’s True Nature.

Two examples of Proust’s answers survive: those from a birthday party, in which Proust, then 13 was asked to answer fifteen questions in Antoinette Felix-Faure’s birthday book; and those from another social event seven years later. The questions are similar, but the answers reflect the different mindset of a twenty-year-old man from a 13-year-old boy.  

Vanity Fair has maintained various celebrities’ answers to the “Proust Questionnaire” as a regular feature on its last page, as well as an interactive version for mere mortals to enjoy. You can find Proust’s answers to the questions, as well as join the more than 2000 people who’ve participated in the “The Proust Questionnaire Archive” here.

These are shared, not because I think anyone is much interested in my answers, but because thinking about the questions is worthwhile.

 

 

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Contentment with what I have.

 

What is your greatest fear?
Everyday I make an effort at Being Fearless. I’m almost there.

 

Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Eleanor Roosevelt.  William Faulkner. Boadicea. It depends on the day.

 

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Sloth.

 

What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Greed.

 

What is your greatest extravagance?
A plethora of dogs

 

What is your favorite journey?
To the sea.

 

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Piety.

 

What is your favorite way to fill your hours?
Treasure hunting. Reading.  Friends. Anything but writing. Okay, writing sometimes.

 

What do you dislike most about your appearance?
That there’s so much of me.

 

Which living person do you most despise?
All or none. There are many I hold in contempt, but few that I would waste so much emotion on as to despise.

 

What is your greatest regret?
That I wasted so much time. And continue to.

 

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Words.

 

When and where were you happiest?
On the ground in the winter leaves with a hound, lost 9 days, wiggling with joy in my arms.

 

Which talent would you most like to have?
Musicality.

 

What is your current state of mind?
Fluid.

 

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I’d have more self-discipline.

 

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I’ll only know when I reach the end of my life. My son, though, is high on the list.

 

What is your most treasured possession?
My wits.

 

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
I know it when I see it.

 

Where would you like to live?
I love where I live. I just wish it was closer to the sea.

 

What is your most marked characteristic?
Willfulness. That’s both a blessing and a curse.

 

What do you most value in your friends?
Laughter. Love. Loyalty. Not necessarily in that order.

 

Who are your favorite writers?
Randall Jarrell. James Joyce. Faulkner. And a thousand others.

 

Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
The hunter, in Randall Jarrell’s The Animal Family.

 

Who are your heroes in real life?
My husband. My mother. Elizabeth Warren. Al Jenkins, the coroner of Park County, Montana.

 

Who is your favorite painter?
Edward Hopper. John Singer Sargent. Alex Colville.

 

Who is your favorite musician?
Beatles. And so many more.

 

What is your favorite bird?
Sparrows.

What is it that you most dislike?
Selfishness.

 

What is the quality you most admire in a man?
Compassion

What is the quality you most admire in a woman?
Compassion.

 

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
A bear.

 

How would you like to die?
Quietly.

 

What is your motto? 
Res ipsa loquitur. (“The thing itself speaks.” )

 

100 Days of Gratitude

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with apologies to Gabriel García Márquez

It started with one of those silly challenges on Facebook. At least it wasn’t the one with the bucket of ice water. “Post three things you are thankful for for seven days and nominate two new people each day.”  I nominated other people for two days and then stopped. Being irritated at people for not rising to the occasion did not help me to count my blessings. By the time I got to the seventh day, I didn’t want to stop. 21 things didn’t seem enough gratitude somehow. I kept going and finally on the 20th day (yesterday) I called it a wrap on Facebook. But still I am thankful for so many more things . . .  And I like the way this is making itself a habit in my life. So for the next 80 days, I’ll post here three things for which I am grateful, truly, deeply, madly grateful. In the end, on Wednesday, December 24, I will have marked a hundred days of gratitude.  They are in reverse chronological order, with the newest listed first.

Day 100: Wednesday, December 24.

Today is the 100th day. Tomorrow is Christmas. In the mail today, a surprise that left a lump in my throat. A package from a long-time friend in Wyoming, she’d made me a tote bag. We’re good friends, but we’ve never exchanged gifts before.

She’d written on the on the package “a little something to cheer you up!”  The tote bag is printed with photographs of  that which I love dearly. My son, my husband, my mother, my father, my dogs. Me.  And even if receiving this unexpected gift made me cry a bit, it did cheer me up.

It reminded me not only of those people and things (and dogs) I am most grateful for, but also how blessed I am to have friends like Tammi, and so many other wonderful people who cheer me up when I am down, who bring me back down to earth when I have floated too far, who tell me their stories, and share with me both their sorrows and their joys, who have never let me forget that I matter.

So finally, that is the lesson here, on this eve of the holiday of light, that the tie that binds us all together, that which is most essential,  the most important lesson in being thankful is love.

 

Day 99: Tuesday, December 23

31 years ago today I married for the first time, in City Hall in Cambridge, Massachusetts. On the way to work afterwards, I ran over a 100-year-old Chinese man with my car. (He lived.) I am grateful that Bob and I were able to extricate ourselves from this folly without many tears or much wreckage. Wherever he is out there, I wish him well, a Merry Christmas, a long life. I am grateful that the Chinese man did not die, at least not that day or in the days afterwards– and has taken a role in our family folklore as to how I came to marry–8 years later– another Chinese man  and bring forth a half-Chinese babe (penance, don’t you know) and I am grateful for the enduring love and friendship of Aline Carriere, who was with me on that day, who remains my dear pal today, and who is ever in my heart.

 

Day 98: Monday, December 22

1. Today the day is longer than yesterday and tomorrow will be longer than today. 2. I spent all morning on the phone. It could have been ghastly, but was instead, remarkably delightful. 3. I had warm cherry pie for breakfast.

Day 97: Sunday, December 21

I went to high school with the guy on the right, Ed MacMurdo. He and his husband Jerry and nephews Jakob and Jeremy were in Columbus for a hockey game. This is the first time we’d seen each other in 36 years. It felt like we’d seen each other last week. It was the best. (And the restaurant was great and the food was excellent and I loved Jerry and the nephews were angelic and they brought me a bottle of Chardonnay and a tin of maple syrup and honestly there must be a hundred things here to be thankful for. ) 10806202_10153421095399202_1546893439833494646_n

Day 96: Saturday, December 20

Solstice is tomorrow, but we celebrated today. We are blessed with the company of friends, a troop of penguins made from olives and cream cheese, red wine, music long into the night.

Day 95: Friday, December 19

E. and I are crabby with each other this morning. I almost wrote a post about how much it bugs me to be second-guessed all the time. Then I remembered my friend and high school classmate, Rhonda, whose husband died suddenly on Wednesday. She’d probably give anything to be second guessed by her husband right about now. Thinking of her with love in my heart this morning . . . and my cranky, grumpy husband too. I love you, Elmer.

Day 94: Thursday, December 18

Today I went to a meeting I dreaded. I am grateful that it didn’t go too badly. I am grateful that they served largely inedible pizza from a local chain so I didn’t have to worry too much about being poisoned.  I am grateful that this is all behind me now.

Day 93: Wednesday, December 17 111 years ago today, two brothers from Dayton achieved 12-seconds of powered, reasonably controlled flight. For some this might generate a sense of gratitude for being able to take a rocket to the moon, or a Cessna to the cabin in Alaska or a packed flight to Grandma’s in Peoria. And yes, I’m grateful for those things. But I am grateful that Orville and Wilbur were from here– two can-do boys from just down the block. I am  grateful because one day, driving down a hill in Dayton I thought “I should write a book about Orville Wright.” I don’t know why I thought this. I’d never thought about the Wrights with any particularly intense interest before. This came upon me like a kind of annunciation, a gift. There is a wealth of information here– diaries, photographs, letters, drawings, and a sense of Orville belonging to the community; this funny, inventive, ingenious man . . . and together, we are making a book.

Day 92: Tuesday, December 16

My husband reports to me this morning that a Consumuer Reports survey revealed that the 4 worst gifts to get were 1. Liquor 2. Home Decor 3. Flowers and 4. Books. Books! (I wonder what those ingrates think the best gifts are– gift cards? cash? iPads?) Let it be known that I am always grateful for books. And flowers. And a good bottle of scotch.

Day 91: Monday, December 15

Today we made lemonade out of the Jeep. Not that the Jeep was a lemon, it gave good service until the very end which was catastrophic. But one, the salvage people wanted it and two, the tow truck driver was kind and three, now we have enough money to not worry so much about the holiday.

Day 90: Sunday, December 14

I made the time today to finally answer an email from a former student of my father’s. It turned into this vignette of an essay. I am grateful to David Weinstock for reaching out across all those years to say what my father meant to him. I am grateful that my father was the sort of person that his students still remember 40 years later. I am grateful that I can think of my father, finally, and not be shattered by the fact of his death. Day 89: Saturday, December 13 I am happy for my friends Don and Kelly, today they had a wonderful win with their lovely foxhound, Glory. Glory is littermate to our Kismet.  Even better was the warm and happy telephone conversation we enjoyed after a time of being “out of touch.” I am very grateful that some dog show judges still know a good American Foxhound when they see one.

Day 88: Friday, December 12

When you’re injured, you shield the part of you that hurts. Today that’s what I feel like– as if I am still recuperating.  I am grateful for that luxury. I am grateful that the clerk at the post office is friendly. It’s very nice that my husband  is willing to entertain my silences.

Day 87: Thursday, December 11

Slept in.  Waffles.  Excellent pot of coffee. Still hanging in there, that’s a lot to be grateful for.

Day 86: Wednesday, December 10

Dark and tired. “Foxhunters on Facebook” has booted me off their forum. One of my favorite people in foxhounds is giving up and giving away all of his dogs.  A day with more problems than solutions and I am so very tired. Hope seems to have escaped my soul. Can I still feel thankful? Yes. I can’t name them, the fog is too thick. But I know they are there.

Day 85: Tuesday, December 9

Done with the Awards Dinner for Dayton Kennel Club. I love, love, love the Engineers’ Club and relish the rare opportunity to spend an evening there. Glad to be the subject of thoughtless gossip because we all got a good laugh out of it.  Somehow in the midst of making centerpieces and gift bags and getting ready I may have found a solution so that my mother might still be able to spend Christmas with us.

Day 84: Monday, December 8

A nice trip to the grocery late at night. The store is deserted. My twenty-year-old son is good company.

Day 83: Sunday, December 7

Floundering again, and trying hard to find reasons to feel grateful. I know that I am blessed in many ways. It’s just so hard to reach out and hold on to it sometimes.  My husband calls me in to sit on the sofa with him and watch the Simpsons. It’s the Christmas episode. I laugh. That’s three, isn’t it?

Day 82: Saturday, December 6

It stopped raining. I went with a friend to Pearson’s Restaurant and discovered the best corn fritters I’d ever eaten. And exquisite pie. The migraine headache stopped. Blessings all round.

Day 81: Friday, December 5

Thrift shop with my great friend Martha. Merino wool sweater. Antique Delft plate, beautiful shape. Commercial Cook Ware Heavy Aluminum Saucepan. Total outlay– six bucks. Fabulous outing on a rainy day.

Day 80: Thursday, December 4

I am thankful that my 20-year-old son wades in to the hard stuff when it’s really needed. I love his slightly arcane sense of humor. It gives me great pleasure that he’s grown up to be such an exceptional human being– and he gets full credit. Did I have a hand in it? Sure. But he is his own man, and a damn fine one.

Day 79: Wednesday, December 3

Among my blessings today are first and foremost the wonderful members of Fort St. Clair Kennel Club. Finally, a kennel club with More Cupcakes, less Drama! What a marvelous meal we shared tonight at Galo’s Italian Grille, where we rang in the holiday season with great style. What a great Yankee Swap we had and everyone went home happy. Who can ask for anything more?

Day 78: Tuesday, December 2

Today is my husband’s birthday, so it is only fitting that he be the object of my gratitude. I am grateful that he is a morning person, because I am not. I am grateful that we have spent much of our 22 years together laughing. I am deeply grateful for his good health and good genes– such that turning 71 should only still be the middling chapters with plenty of years left to go. I love you, darling.  (This is last year’s video, but it deserves a replay.)

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Day 77: Monday, December 1

Our friend Gary gave me a ride to Home Depot so that we’d have a way to bring the Christmas tree home — in his van, rather than tied to the top of the Mercedes. There was a wide selection of trees, including those leftover from their $20 tree promotion, so we found a beautiful tree and didn’t have to pay much for it . And because I didn’t have to pay a lot for the tree I was able to afford $5 for an exquisite white phalaenopsis orchid. And that was all before 2 p.m. So many things to be grateful for.

Day 76: Sunday, November 30

I am grateful that I am not a vegetarian. This is one of many reasons. vegetarian mock chicken I am grateful for leftovers, and not having to eat out of cans like the one above. But I am also grateful that my forays into Chinese groceries so that I have opportunity to feast my eyes on cans of fried gluten, giant winter melons, 50 pound bags of monosodium glutamate, and colorful fish laid out for dinner.

Day 75: Saturday, November 29

Three-quarters of the way through. I’ve been reading snippets here and there about how making an effort to be consciously grateful improves one’s life in a great many ways. It certainly does make you seek out the good, even on the most dismal of days. For instance, my husband is still in bed because he’s not feeling well. But I’m glad that’s it not ebola. I’m appreciating the silence in the house without the squawkbox in the background. (That would be the television, not my lovely husband. Though it seems he needs a steady diet of MSNBC to thrive.)  I am blessed that there is coffee in the cupboard and now I’m going to go make a pot of it.

Day 74: Friday, November 28

I am thankful to not be out among the throngs trying to score a new television. (I guess that’s the silver lining to being broke, because had I the means, I might be tempted. Or not.) I am grateful that everyday won’t be as cold and raw as today is. I am grateful that my poor dear husband, in bed with a cold, felt well enough to get up and eat our belated Thanksgiving dinner.

Day 73: Thursday, November 27

On this, Thanksgiving Day, how lucky I am that I can decide to just put off Thanksgiving dinner for another day, and everybody else just says “okay.” It’s not that they’re apathetic, but like me, the spirit hadn’t found them. Tomorrow will be better. I am also grateful that so many people have patience with me lately and my occasional cranky spells. I don’t mean to be cranky, but some days are like that. It’s been a remarkable year for me and there are so many people to whom I feel indebted, grateful, blessed by their friendship and love. Many thanks. xoxo 6a60a0da07b36be42de0f2b2cf134525

 

Day 72: Wednesday, November 26

Fettucine carbonara while watching the Peanuts’ Thanksgiving Special. A New York Strip Loin roast on sale, making it cheap enough to consider for tomorrow’s dinner. Finding Sweetzel’s Ginger Snaps in Ollie’s Bargain Outlet. All about food, because food is simple.

Day 71: Tuesday, November 25

I am grateful that the white hot rage that I felt over one more cop getting away, literally, with murder is starting to ease. I am grateful that I resisted the temptation to drink myself into oblivion last night, though I am enjoying a whiskey at my desk tonight. I am grateful that Thanksgiving will be simple this year, instead of fraught.

Day 70: Monday, November 24

A bad day, hard to find the silver linings. A cozy chat with the guy at the meat counter. A sense that the Rubicon is behind us.  The slimmest of an “atta girl”. Sometimes it doesn’t take much– a tiny pinpoint of light is easy to see in the inky darkness.

Day 69: Sunday, November 23

I am grateful for a box of cannoli and the affection that goes with them. I am grateful that the tire blow out was not dramatic and we came to rest gently at the side of the interstate. I am grateful that I am married to a man, who, when I say I think we should drive 200 miles each way to see friends and collect a box of Italian pastry simply says “Sure.”

Day 68: Saturday, November 22

It is a blessing to have friends who will call to tell you that the roads are icy and there are major pile-ups and the three interstates that I’d need to take for three hours to the dog show are closed. It is a blessing to have an unexpected day off. It is a blessing that the winds that blew in from the south (Chinooks we called those in Montana) drove the temperatures to a balmy 55 degrees, clearing the roads and giving us all a nice break from the icy winds of late Novembers.

Day 67: Friday, November 21

I am grateful that yesterday when I stood up in front of a group of people to tell them something extraordinary, that they looked back at me, nodding in agreement. I am grateful that the women in the neurologists office really seem to care if they can find me an appointment or not. It tickled me  to make the US Marshals at the Federal building grin

Day 66: Thursday, November 20

My parents bought an antique brass bed for me on Prince Edward Island when I was 15 years old. I slept in it for years and brought it with me to my marriage and this was our bed all our years in Montana. We started out here in Dayton in a different antique bed, which was fine, but it was not my nice old brass bed, which finally I retrieved from Montana in 2009. So the bed was here in Dayton, but it just ended up in the garage– we never got around to getting it in the house and the other one out.

Last night, I got ready for bed, brushed my teeth, put on my jammies and jumped into bed. And it was my old brass bed! Elmer and Julian had switched it out yesterday while I was out with Jill and then with Tracy. Such a great surprise! I slept better than I have in a long, long time. I am grateful to my parents for this wonderful bed, I am grateful to my wonderful husband for bringing it back into our lives, I am grateful for the wonderful deep and peaceful sleep I found there.

Day 65: Wednesday, November 19

1. That rare magic of friendships that seem to transcend the constraints of time and physics. 2. Donuts and coffee in a shop where time has stood still since 1970. Except for the prices. The prices moved forward. 3. Laughter, shared among friends: nothing better.

Day 64: Tuesday, November 18

I am grateful that my days are so full, even to the point of exasperation. I am grateful that the dog let me take the dead squirrel from her without offering to take my hand off in return. I am grateful to be sleeping in my own bed tonight.

Day 63: Monday, November 17

Nice surprises, even if it makes me want more nice surprises. Red wine in a jelly jar on a snowy evening in November. Sleeping dogs.

Day 62: Sunday, November 16

I am grateful to have a respite. I am grateful that we still have one working car. I am grateful that I’m about to eat a ham sandwich.

Day 61: Saturday, November 15

I am grateful that when my Macbook laptop slid out of the backseat and onto the pavement tonight that it was cushioned by the power cord that fell beneath it, and it was in its case and everything was fine. Fine. I was happy to take a loaf of purple wheat bread from a good friend in the early hours of the day.  I am grateful to have spent the day again in the company of week-old puppies.

Day 60: Friday, November 14 

i. A genuine offer of help, delivered.  ii. Cold, but sunny. iii. Egg tart at the Chinese restaurant.

Day 59: Thursday, November 13

There must be something. Tap tap tap. I don’t want to give in to platitudes, I am trying to make this exercise a habit in seeing the glass mostly full, and appreciating that. Some days are easier than others. Not that this was a bad day, just a kind of meh day. Things went differently than I expected them to. I couldn’t quite get the rhythm of it. People are snarky. I am a people. Thus, I am snarky. But still, there must be something. Or three somethings.  1. Italian majolica cream and sugar, with lid. No chips, no cracks, no breaks. Nestled in the mounds of detritus at the Goodwill outlet. 2. I am grateful that I was taught to be generous with other people, even when they least deserve it. 3. Strangers who smile, sing Christmas carols, drop trinkets in my palm, fill the air around me with laughter.

Day 58: Wednesday, November 12

It is always a wonderful surprise when people actually do what they say they are going to do. I am glad that I have had the necessary peace and quiet to hone my thoughts about a complex problem. I am grateful to be smiling.

Day 57: Tuesday, November 11

On this Veteran’s Day, I am grateful that my husband didn’t get himself killed in Vietnam even though he requested overseas duty. The Air Force somehow took pity on that Chinese-American boy and sent him to Alaska instead. On this Tuesday, I am grateful to spend the day watching puppies and daydreaming. And in the briskness of November, I am grateful that my friend Martha wanted to go out on a rainy night and how much fun we had sitting at Tank’s, drinking Guinness.

Day 56: Monday, November 10

This morning, at 4 a.m., a close friend received a phone call from police that her sister and brother-in-law had been seriously injured in a brutal home invasion. I am so grateful that Sue & Leo survived. I am relieved that the perpetrators– a young woman recently fired from Leo’s firm and her male companion have been arrested. And while it is small consolation, at least they have an answer to every victim’s first and most often unanswered question- “Why?” It’s a small thing, but a blessing nonetheless. Wishing the best of recoveries to them both.

Day 55: Sunday, November 9

I am grateful that it’s over. I am grateful for this wild ride. I am grateful for the strange intimacies that spring up in the course of such a project. It is funny to spend ten days in the company of acquaintance, and come out transformed on the other side.

Day 54: Saturday, November 8

It is a blessing that tomorrow is the last day of the Book Fair. Monday of course, will require my attention, but at 6 p.m. tomorrow, the last customers sail through with their bags of books and we are done until next year. I am glad that so many of my colleagues there are willing to consider changes not just outside of the box, but in the next county. I am glad that there is a fresh baguette and good butter for supper.

Day 53: Friday, November 7

I am grateful that although I started out the day feeling angry, I allowed myself to be soothed. I am grateful that I have multiple pairs of shoes to get through long days on concrete. I am grateful to have good company in some of life’s shittiest travails.

Day 52: Thursday, November 6

After the reception I endured tonight, I am glad that “gluten-free sweetened vegan rice balls” are not a regular part of my diet. I am glad today is finished. I am grateful that I can go to bed now.

Day 51: Wednesday, November 5

Well, I’m sure not grateful for the election results. But I’m grateful to my long-time friend Pam for saying I’m welcome to come back to Canada. I’m grateful for dinner at our favorite Chinese restaurant. I am grateful to feel so thoroughly alive, even if that means I wake up in the morning feeling like I’ve been beaten with sticks.

Day 50: Tuesday, November 4

Am I grateful? I don’t know. I’m trying to be. It is election day and that is a struggle. I am tired: physically, mentally, emotionally. It is raining. Tomorrow promises more of the same. But surely I can find three things that make me feel blessed.  I am grateful for small victories, for simple pleasures. I am grateful that Canada remains an option if it all gets too fucking awful.

Day 49: Monday, November 3

Today could have been fraught. It wasn’t. That is a blessing beyond measure. I am exhausted, but happily so. That makes two. Today I was surprised to find myself laughing. This is a good thing. A very good thing.  

Day 48: Sunday, November 2

I am grateful for the extra hour, for the sleeping hounds, for a sweet episode of the Simpsons.

Day 47: Saturday, November 1

It’s the Day of the Dead. I wake up thinking about my dear friend from high school, Jeanne MacKenzie. I am grateful that she has made it through the funeral of her mother yesterday. I am grateful that Emma Maillet is at peace now. I will be more grateful when we have an effective treatment, nay– a cure– for Alzheimer’s Disease. Godspeed.

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Donnie and Emma Maillet, Mavillette Beach, NS.

 

Day 46: Friday, October 31

I am glad to be done with Halloween. I don’t mean that I’m glad that all the kiddies have gone home and we’re sitting on the sofa eating leftover Snickers bars. We haven’t had trick or treaters in years. Finally we just stopped trying. It’s a relief finally to let go. I am glad to find a bag of MaryJanes at the grocery store. They’re not the classic yellow brick banded in red, (robed in orange and black for the holiday) but they are wonderfully nostalgic all the same. I am grateful to have a bushel of green tomatoes on the kitchen island.

Day 45: Thursday, October 30

I haven’t been grateful. Losing the dog took it out of me, and I stopped thinking about gratitude . I thought about putting one foot in front of the other. I thought about getting my head above the deep and choppy grief. This has happened to me before: I stumble over something and then I can’t quite get it together. But the last days have been better. I’ve accomplished a laundry list of things. And I’ve started to think again about what it means to count my blessings. I’ll keep it simple: the last tomatoes of the season, old books, autumn leaves. Tomorrow I’ll be more ambitious. And this project spirals out to December 24th– a gift to myself.

Day 44: Sunday, October 19

I am grateful today for the love of my family. It was wonderful to spend the evening with my aunt, uncle and cousins– revisiting family lore, restoring old connections, renewing years of great affection. I am grateful that the Fort St. Clair Kennel Club puppy match went so well this afternoon, even if it was lightly attended– and for all the people who made it so much fun. And I am glad that I have a soft bed to fall in to, because I am very, very tired.

Day 43: Saturday, October 18

This evening, I made 72 cupcakes, six at a time, in our toaster oven. I am grateful to my husband for being such a helpful part of that assembly line. I am grateful that I usually get to enjoy our fabulous and crochety Wolf Range, even if it is not cooperating right now. I am happy to be ready, more-or-less, for tomorrow’s puppy match, even if there are not enough hours left to get adequate sleep.

Day 42: Friday, October 17

This is my mother’s birthday. She is 29. Or whatever age she chooses for today. I am grateful that she’s my mother. She’s not very conventional, and her unique and brilliant and quirky facets have made me what I am. But it’s not just that: how lucky I am to have her company, her insights, her observations. And I am deeply thankful that what she wants from me for her birthday is the first ten pages of the book I’m working on that. She may have asked for the pages, but she’s the one giving the gift.

Day 41: Thursday, October 16

Today I struggled forth to spend a couple of hours at a volunteer gig, even though leaving I felt like I would rather do anything else. Perhaps curl up in bed. But I’m glad I went out, because nearly as soon as I turned my attention to the tasks at hand, I felt the burden of my sadness lift. I am so grateful to my great friend Martha, who wouldn’t take no for an answer and convinced me to come with her to the Goodwill Outlet, one of our mutual favorite places. I am grateful to see the light at the end of the grief’s tunnel. It’s not that I am without grief, or that I will ever stop missing this wonderful dog. It’s that I am beginning to find a place where that grief can live.

Day 40: Wednesday, October 15

I am grateful that the sun comes up in the morning. I am grateful to have the luxury of just dropping out for a bit. I am grateful to still have hounds to play with in the yard. They too seem sad.

Day 39: Tuesday, October 14

Yesterday we said goodbye to Jazz, our oldest Foxhound, our beloved companion, a character in her own right. A big thanks to the friends we met through Jazzy’s adventures– Donald and Kelly Leonard, Tammi Stidham-Lindskov, Bill and Odebt Massey, Susan Lowder, Kathryn Baxter, Jaye Wright, Lynda Anderson Marsh, Rose McCurdy, Dennis Pincheck, Judy and Kelly Rea, and Nancy Punches. I’ve probably forgotten someone– I’m sorry. No way to properly thank Fran Menley, who gave me this beautiful girl more than ten years ago. We are so grateful to our friends at Indian Ripple Veterinary Clinic, Tracy Leonard and Gina Bono and Becky Blansett who eased us through one of the hardest things ever. It should be easier to let them go after a long and glorious life. It isn’t. Give your old dogs a hug tonight. Ch. Indian Creek Jazzy, one of the last puppies of the great Final Answer. July 15, 2001- October 13, 2014.

Day 38: Monday, October 13

I am grateful for the comfort of friends. I am grateful that my dog was so splendid through her dotage, right up until the very last days. I am blessed to know that grief will ease in time.

Day 37: Sunday, October 12

Monday is the Canadian Thanksgiving, but many celebrated today.  This seems only appropriate then to count a few things Canadian that I am so grateful for. I am grateful that I went to school in Canada– because it afforded me a kinder, more inclusive, less centric view of the world. (Also there were many fewer “mean girls”.)  I am grateful to have Come From Away– because at least I got there.  I am so deeply grateful to my Canadian friends– from sea to sea– hands down some of the very finest people I’ve had the privilege to know. Thank you for being such marvelous friends, and wishing you all a blessed Thanksgiving.

Day 36: Saturday, October 11

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free ‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be.

Day 35: Friday, October 10

This gets more difficult each day. It isn’t that I’m not grateful, or that I don’t stop to be appreciative of the good things about my life. Or that this little exercise hasn’t taught this old dog a few new tricks for finding the silver lining.  Maybe it’s just the change in the weather, but the last two days have found me feeling so cranky. And I can’t even put my finger on exactly why. But I am grateful that I have the luxury of not going out. Not just not going out, but staying home to make a proper cup of tea and being mindless for just a bit. Tomorrow, and I am grateful that I expect there will be a tomorrow, perhaps I will feel more cheerful.

Day 34: Thursday, October 9

I am grateful to live in a place where I can buy a dozen beautiful long-stemmed roses for five bucks. I am grateful that my husband likes to cook. And I like to cook. So we get to eat. Regularly. I am grateful to have a stack of books waiting to be read.

Day 33: Wednesday, October 8.

And so we come to the one-third point . . . .99 things to be thankful for. I am thankful that the kennel club is such a convivial group of people. Every meeting is a real pleasure. “Dog People” come in every stripe imaginable, but there’s no group more fun that the folks at Fort St. Clair Kennel Club While I have some chronic illness to face, I am grateful that none of it is too likely to claim my life in the next weeks or months or years. I still have so much to do. It is a true blessing to see everyday that people survive. They survive accidents, they survive illnesses, they survive the loss of those they love. And still, they find a means to smile, to laugh, to go on living.Where there is breath there is hope. And one extra, to make a tidy hundred: Most of my days are happy ones. How lucky can a girl get?

from the shrine to Guadalupe in New Orleans

from the shrine to Guadalupe in New Orleans

Day 32: Tuesday, October 7

So this is how it works. This was a tough day. Not in a profound way, which can be a gift in itself. But instead it was an aggravating, mean-spirited, the insolence of downright-stupid kind of people day. Also I felt terribly unappreciated– and when no one thanks you for the things you do, the end result is that it’s hard to find anything much to be grateful for. And I didn’t. I found salve in a memory of my father revived in my own behavior. But I’m not sure it’s behavior I want to emulate, though truth be told there is a “Take No Prisoners” component to my personality too. I wrote all that. And posted it. But it didn’t feel right. It seemed like I had my shirt on inside out or a bit of stone in my shoe. An eyelash astray. It’s easy to be grateful on days when the blessings roll down on you like spring rain. Days like today are the work. 1. I am grateful that I have reached a place where I recognize that running out of patience and lighting my own fuse not only creates misery around me but only makes more of the same for me. 2. I am blessed that my dinner plate was full of French toast and bacon. It’s a plate full of comfort. 3. And I’m grateful for this. 

Day 31: Monday, October 6

I am grateful that the episode that brought me to my knees- unexpectedly- this evening was temporary.  I am grateful that although I was frightened for a moment, I was not afraid. Instead I was calm and just a little aggravated at being out and about and having to soldier on when I really just wanted to lie down. I am glad I have a physician’s appointment next Monday.

Day 30: Sunday, October 5

On this autumn day: wool, roast meat, small-batch bourbon.

Day 29: Saturday, October 4

Blessings for Saturday ~ my friend Denice is home from the hospital after her heart attack. The incident was mild, she will make a good recovery. The silver lining is that she can be pro-active in staying healthy for the next 35 years or so. Grateful too for small things today: a fresh pot of coffee, a funny video of a baby elephant my husband saved to show me, 24-hour copying service. Glad to wake up, always, on the right side of the grass.

Day 28: Friday, October 3

I am grateful for my instincts. They  have sheltered me from evil, they have brought me untold happiness (and a few riches), they have guided me through times both dark and joyous. Some pleasure is mine that people are starting to catch on to the terrible phenomenon that is pink-washing. We are all more than aware of breast-cancer. The companies that sell you pink stuff this month are exploiting cancer patients to pad their bottom line. Cancer can’t be cured by shopping. More on that here. Truly I am grateful that there are not enough hours in the day. When I think of my grandmother, mostly blind and quite deaf, sitting in her room at the nursing home waiting to die, I am humbled that I am so busy. And yet, she too, was a very busy woman when she was my age. Each Tuesday and Thursday I volunteer with a group whose median age is about 70. Plenty of them are over 90. They give me hope that, if I’m lucky, there are still many years of bright future in front of me.

Day 27: Thursday, October 2

1. I am glad to have my half-grown wild boy home again. 2. It is a blessing to have learned at last not to leap to judgment. Even with the most exasperating people. Sometimes just being still and quiet brings its own rewards. 3. I am grateful to be learning, oh 50 years in, to find validation within instead of looking for it in others.

Day 26: Wednesday, October 1

1. I am grateful for October. My favorite month? Maybe. Close. 2. My husband is retired, I am working on a book. We are on a shoestring budget. But at least we have that– enough to get by and days to fill as we see fit. 3. I am grateful that our dogs sing: a melodic chorus every time they hear the call of a siren. It is beautiful. I am very glad to know that the neighbors thing its beautiful too.

Day 25: Tuesday, September 30

I’m grateful that they didn’t kill off Director Leon Vance on NCIS. Sometimes it’s the little things. There was an unexpected blessing in volunteering to wash the dishes. This is the 23rd anniversary of the day I arrived in Livingston, Montana. I’m grateful we found the wherewithal to leave, even if it took many years. It’s a wonderful thing to know we never have to face another Livingston winter.

Day 24: Monday, September 29

1. I’m glad that I decided to count these blessings here. Because it’s public, it keeps me honest. Because it’s not for an audience per se (like Facebook) it keeps me honest. Yes, I realize that’s a paradox. 2. I am glad that when I went to the Goodwill Outlet today (79 cents a pound for whatever it is) that I found a 55-pound slab of marble. And they charged me two bucks for it. 3. I am blessed by the fullness of my hours.

Day 23: Sunday, September 28

1. Out of a disagreement with a neighbor sprang a spiteful exchange and after an hour or two, a detente and reconciliation. I have found a way to be grateful for the guy across the street and the garden he’s making. It feels good. 2. I’m glad that I resisted the impulse to disown my stepdaughter because she makes choices that are unfathomable to me. It bothers me to see her associate with people who hold her in utter contempt, but there is nothing we can say to make it different. So I found a way to just let go of my own expectations. 3. I am observant, by training and by nature. This has been a great blessing for me in so many ways. I’ve seen stories others didn’t, I found treasures others passed by, I’ve saved my own neck from time to time.

Day 22: Saturday, September 27

Again, another day where I’ve hardly been able to find three things to be grateful for. I know they’re there, but it has been difficult. Still, I will try. 1. I am grateful that if I had to be flattened by a severe migraine, that I was at home. That I had the leisure to crawl back into my bed and know that someone else would tend of all of those things that needed to be tended. I am grateful to have had medication to take to make the pain stop even if, in doing so, it extracted every ounce of energy I had . 2. I am grateful to my friend Shortwest Rick, a man who lives ten blocks from me. I’ve never met him, and yet he has never failed to be anything less than a splendid friend. He has been supportive in so many ways, and his friendship is dear to me. He founded a chapter of NextDoor for our mutual neighborhoods (which used to be joined by a bridge) and helps us connect the dots in the neighborhood. 3. I’m glad I ran across this phrase. (It seems to have had an active life on Twitter, though I’d never seen it before; a friend posted it in honor of her wedding anniversary.) “I know I’m a handful, that’s what you’ve got two hands for.” It made me laugh. It feels good to laugh. I’m grateful that even on mediocre days I can still be amused.

Day 21: Friday, September 26

Sometimes it is very difficult to stop and be quiet long enough to truly focus on that which makes me grateful. There’s too much television news. There’s too much injustice in the world. People are so angry and afraid. So let me sit and think for a minute. 1. I am grateful for our pile of bricks: a sturdy brick house, 100 years old, in a big overgrown yard just steps from the river. Some people are frightened of my neighborhood. I am grateful for it, and for the interesting, lively, and kind people who populate it. 2. I am grateful that I can get water out of my refrigerator door. I am grateful because I’ve always wanted to have a refrigerator door with an ice-water dispenser, and to have one makes me feel all grown up. At 52. But also I am aware that more than a billion (yes, billion, with a “B”) people in the world, 1 in 7 of the world’s population, don’t have ready access to water. We are so very lucky. 3. I am glad that the Yankees game didn’t get rained out.  Derek Jeter got a magical exit from his stellar career.

Day 20: Thursday, September 25

On the twentieth day, I am grateful for the company of friends. Always. I am grateful that pork loin is on sale again, it’s good to be able to afford meat. I am very, very grateful that the lost sheltie Noah has been reunited with his owner after a 19-day absence. I remember that kind of euphoria, and even in just remembering, there is joy.

Day 19: Wednesday, September 24

On the 19th day of counting my blessings, I am making decisions. I woke from a bad dream this morning and was grateful that it was only a dream, and also for the opportunity to address a variety of things that were quietly brewing anxiety in my soul. I am grateful to spend half an hour in the garden, hunting tomatoes hidden in the lush growth. We are coming to the end of the harvest, and it has been bountiful. You will be grateful that tomorrow is the last day for this for me on Facebook. It is a useful exercise, especially when I have to think about it and not just give lip service to That Which For Which We Ought to Be Grateful. I think I will go on writing quietly on the blog about giving thanks for the next 80 days– 100 Days of Gratitude– (with apologies to Gabriel Garcia Marquez) which would end after Thanksgiving and before Christmas. The biggest surprise is how much happier counting my blessings has made me feel, and for that I am truly grateful.

Day 18: Tuesday, September 23

Day 18. I am grateful that I was blessed with an adventurer’s heart. I am humbled that when I ask where I can bring my brown dog to swim I get so many wonderful suggestions. Thank you! And I am so pleased that I decided to just meander through Baltimore yesterday morning (instead of circumventing it on the interstate) and saw this tacked to a tree at an intersection on W. Franklin St.

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Day 17: Monday, September 22

1. Home 2. Dinner on the table. 3. My own bed.

Day 16: Sunday, September 21

Day 16 of Things to Be Grateful For. I am grateful to have left “Amish country”, for so many reasons. Enough to write an essay, which is coming. Crossing over the Susquehanna, I felt anxiety lift like fog. It was a delight to find WXPN on the radio dial. That’s the public radio station from the University of Pennsylvania, and it came in loud and clear the whole time I was in Lancaster and again today. It’s fun to get in the car and hear something you like. I am a compulsive station-changer most of the time, so this was really something to have listened to one station for the last four days. Like most, they stream on the inter-webs, so perhaps I can continue listening in Dayton. And this. I am so grateful for this. His exuberance and joy in the water made me cry with happiness. 10689754_10204517842727352_5147441612090849798_n

Day 15: Saturday, September 20

On the 15th day of counting my blessings: I am so glad that I was able to come out to Pennsylvania for the Chessie National. Not just for Ransom’s win yesterday, though that was such a wonderful surprise, but because it is lovely to see everyone again. It feels good to get reconnected. And I even got to meet a couple of wonderful women who I’ve previously known only through Facebook. Because I am in Pennsylvania, I am thrilled that tomorrow’s breakfast will be served at Jennie’s Diner, an honest-to-God stainless steel sided diner just down the road in Ronks, PA. And I am grateful that tomorrow Ransom and I will go down to the sea to swim.

Day 14: Friday, September 19

14: Yes, that was yesterday. I was soexhausted by the excitement of the day, that it was all I could do to fall into bed. I am grateful to have had the luxury of doing so. When the judge pointed to Ransom, a great “whoop!” went up from some folks at ringside. Friends, of course, and probably some people with schadenfreude happy to see the upset. That whoop! was so wonderful. It is a great thing to win, but it is even better when others feel joy for you– and to say I am grateful for that is an understatement. I am grateful to have this journey with this dog. Eleven years of adventure. It’s been a great run.

Day 13: Thursday, September 18

Day 13 (written in the wee small hours of Day 14, so it goes) First and foremost, I am very grateful to have arrived safe and sound in Lancaster, PA– 9+ hours and 500 miles from home. Second, I’m really glad that the Pennsylvania Turnpike makes the tolls so ridiculous ($21.00? Seriously?) that I decided to find an alternate route across the state. (Like it’s not enough that the pike is skinny and potholed and jammed with trucks.) Third, and this one was so unexpected– US Route 30 across Pennsylvania is wonderful. The Lincoln Highway is incredibly beautiful, lightly traveled (at least on a Thursday in September) and fascinating. I will come back another time when I can mosey rather than zip. I’m so glad I came that way. It took longer, but it was worth it.

Day 12: Wednesday, September 17

On the 12th day, this gratitude business is harder. I’m stressed out, I’m hours and hours behind where I should be and other people are sleeping, the television is blaring. No one is helping. So here goes. A deep breath. I am grateful that even though the tension makes my lower back twinge and spasm, I have a wonderful Aeron chair in which to sit to gather my wits. I am grateful that I don’t actually NEED anyone to help me. I am smart enough, and strong enough and have stamina enough to do it myself. I am blessed that my problems are only problems of such a modest magnitude.

Day 11: Tuesday, September 16

With not enough hours left in this the 11th day of gratitude, I am grateful that the dog I have to wash still tonight enjoys having baths and will enthusiastically leap into the tub. I am blessed that he is still going strong at 11+ and it is a real delight that on Thursday morning we will head out on one more adventure together.

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Day 10: Monday, September 15

On the tenth day of counting my blessings: I am grateful that I did not always get what I thought I wanted. I am glad that I know what it is to be frightened and hungry and cold and broke– because I think that makes me more compassionate. I am lucky to have experienced pain, even excrutiating pain, because coming out the other side of that makes me so glad to be alive

Day 9: Sunday, September 14

Day 9 ( or the ten minutes that’s left of it ) — As much as I have enjoyed looking after my friend Sandy’s fearsome foursome this week, tonight I am grateful to be tucked up in my own bed. I am grateful for to dear Elmer, who has held down the fort and taken such good care of our thundering herd this week. I am grateful there was leftover birthday cake for dinner.

Day 8: Saturday, September 13

Last week I was challenged to name three things a day that I am grateful for. I should be done. However, it feels like a mere 21 things is not enough. A couple of years ago my friend Susann Saarel, a fantastic photographer, did 365 days of gratitude with a photo for each day. While I have no hope of clearing that bar, I think I’d like to ruminate some more on that which I am thankful for. Counting my lucky stars makes me feel happy. On the 8th Day: How lucky I am that my stepfather taught me how to cook. My mother will cook, my father would make sandwiches. But HCB loved to create stuff in the kitchen and from him I learned both technique and a sense of adventure. And I am so happy that I have a Wolf Range to cook on (even if the #$@&%*! igniter needs to be replaced) –it was in the house, and truly– it is more fun to cook on than your ordinary kitchen range. And I am oh-so-grateful for the tomatoes that keep filling baskets and windowsills and the kitchen island set forth by the three little plants we bought at the grocery store. It is a gracious plenty.

Day 7: Friday, September 12

Today, day seven, I am grateful for my extraordinary son. I am grateful that he has made it to twenty in good order. I am grateful that he is a kind, articulate, interesting person. I am so proud that we are related. Happy Birthday, Julian, you’re the best. Love, Mom.

Day 6: Thursday, September 11

Uh oh, only 46 minutes left of this, Day 6. What am I grateful for? Today I am grateful that no extremists decided to underscore the anniversary of 9.11 . I am grateful that I know so many people, octogenarians and more, who are still going strong. They give me hope that the future is not just for the young. And I am grateful to have a bowl of ice cream waiting for me.

Day 5: Wednesday, September 10

On this, the 5th day of counting my blessings, I am reminded how happy we are to have moved to Ohio. How grateful I am for the many mysterious and arcane facets of this place. How delighted I am that we are not facing a winter storm warning today. (I hope our friends in Montana are hunkered down.)

Day 4: Tuesday, September 9

This morning I am grateful that my friend Susann’s husband made it through the night in ICU in Montana and lives to see another day. I am grateful that, in Indiana, young Allison made it through her emergency appendectomy with flying colors. I am grateful.

Day 3: Monday, September 8

On the third day of Being Grateful . . . 1. I am so very thankful that I am still able to find Brown Cow yogurt at the grocery store. They are down to carrying one flavor, maple, but that’s my favorite so I can live with that. It is full cream, full fat, only sweetened with maple syrup and I could survive on it if I had to. 2. It delights me that I was able to find a new purple dress on eBay for twenty bucks to wear to the Chessie National specialty. Brown dog and black dress is the very picture of drab, so I needed to add a little color. 3. I am grateful that I can still call my mother on the telephone. And I think I will do that right now.

Day 2: Sunday, September 7

Day Two in a series of Being Grateful: 1. I am grateful to my dear friend Jeanne Maillet MacKenzie who reached out over an enormous gulf to find me from high school and in doing so made it possible for me to reconnect with my life on Prince Edward Island and the folks there, and for the remarkable friendship that she and her wonderful husband Daibhidh Uilleam MacCoinneach have extended to us. (And guess what, they’re tagged to share with us what makes them grateful, if they so choose. xoxo, Jeanne and Dave.) 2. I am grateful that all my arms and legs and fingers and toes still work reasonably well. My brain is sometimes a little quirky and one pinky has a hitch in its git-a-long, but for the most part, the old girl is still running smooth. Thank God. 3. I am very grateful that my DH, Elmer Lieu, is a morning person and that it is his beaming face that the doggies get to see first thing every single day.Thank you, honey! (And now you can share what makes you feel grateful too.)

Day 1: Saturday, September 6

1. I am grateful to have been given this opportunity to publicly reflect on all the things that make my life better, so thank you Tai. 2. I am grateful that it’s this challenge and not the one to dump ice water on my head. (Those of you who think “Aha!” don’t bother, I wouldn’t do it, even if I am grateful that it’s brought in millions of dollars for a deserving charity.) 3. I am grateful that we have a late summer day in Ohio without high humidity. Maybe I’ll make some meringues.

Blocked.

I haven't been blocked by anyone in this photo. Yet.

I haven’t been blocked by anyone in this photo. Yet.

If you are opinionated (as I am) and occasionally contentious (as I can be) and sometimes cranky like me (guilty) you will eventually find yourself blocked by someone on Facebook. Or several someones. Often I don’t even notice, as the people doing the blocking are not people I know (in real life or in Facebook) but just someone on the other side of an opinion in one of many forums.

To be fair, I’ve done my share of blocking. Frequently. I have very low tolerance for name calling for instance, and if you want me to block you, that’s a quick and direct method. Similarly, threats against me or my family, a volley of expletives (again with the name calling) or the realization that you are that sleazy animal rights stalker from Southern California-in-yet-another-guise will get you the boot.

However I rarely block anyone, particularly people I know, because I’ve disagreed with something they’ve said. Nor do I un-friend them for their political persuasions, religious beliefs, eating habits or opinions. I have many friends (not just in cyber world, but in real life) and indeed, family members,  who don’t vote the way I do, express their spirituality in a different fashion and have vastly disparate opinions from mine. I don’t love them any the less for it. How boring would it be if we all went around in lockstep?

(Quite boring. I can say that while I was in Boston, probably all of my friends fit neatly into one little demographic. Montana changed all that, and the best thing I carried away from that place –other than my husband– was learning to see people as something beyond their collective sentiment.)

This is not to say that I’m not dismayed or even irritated by some of the things I see posted on Facebook. I have learned to use the “hide this” button and if the poster is zealous and prolific in their postings I click “unfollow.” That person and I are still friends, I can still look in on them, I still value them and their (sometimes wrongheaded) opinions. No doubt I have been “unfollowed” a lot. I know that I can be intense. I used to apologize for it, but not any more. It would be like apologizing for having a German car, or liking dogs or having green eyes. It is what it is. I try to rein it in enough so as not to be too rude.

Because I am direct, and plain-spoken, often my opinions are thought “rude” or “condescending” or even contemptuous when none of that was ever intended. We have yet to figure out a way to do rueful or ironic or wry in social media and being that those qualities are so often a part of my self-expression– well, I am often Misunderstood.

Since I am a professional writer, this has been a source of great frustration for me. I should be able to make my own voice easy to understand. I think the difference is that I don’t distinguish between writing an essay and writing a comment. Someone told me once that I’d have fewer problems if I learned to “dumb it down,” but that’s not going to happen. And anyway, I don’t have a low opinion of the people who I’m communicating with, at least not until they give me a reason to have that opinion.

This is all a very long introduction to saying that today I discovered I’d been blocked by a high-school classmate. I don’t know how long this block has been in place or why. There was no disagreement, not even a heated discussion. Or any discussion at all. In truth, I’d “unfollowed” her quite a long time ago, for reasons that are not important here.

I went to high school in Prince Edward Island, Canada. I consider myself extraordinarily lucky in this way. When I realized that one of the Canadian gold medalists at this year’s winter Olympics was a fellow alumna, I was thrilled. I wasn’t the prom queen, or the most popular girl in school, I didn’t get the lead in the school play. (I was the editor of the high school paper. Some roles are cast early.) But I remember high school as a place where I was as content and happy as any 16-year-old has a right to be. I had lots of friends, and some of those friendships have survived nearly 40 years, even without benefit of social networking. With the advent of Facebook, I’ve been blessed to reconnect with so many more.

Not everybody though. I don’t think I’ve had a friend request from anyone from Three Oaks Senior High School that I’ve ignored or refused, but I understand why some people didn’t send me one. Fine. No big deal. Just like in high school, you don’t have to be friends with everyone. I am “Facebook friends” with my high school boyfriend, with whom I had a serious and overly intense relationship for three years. When I saw him again a couple of years ago he introduced me to his nearly grown-up daughter as “someone who went to Three Oaks at the same time (he) did.” Geez. You think he might have at least said we were friends.

Never mind. The gist of it is that I had fun in high school and liked the people there. So today, when my old friend Anne was writing about the gym room her wonderful husband has built for her, and I saw that she was answering questions that I couldn’t see, I asked her who it was. Because I was really surprised that someone from school would block me. Not want to be friends? Okay, sure. But block me? 

When Anne told me who it was, I laughed.

In a way, it was more emotionally honest of this woman to have blocked me than to have ever have been my Facebook “friend.”  She didn’t like me in high school, though we had many friends in common and she was never openly hostile.  But she never let an opportunity pass to score off of me. If she thought she could quietly wound me, she went for it. She was one of the first instances of “backstabber” that I’d had to deal with. The O’Jays had it right: they smile in your face.

The thing was that everybody wants people to like them. I wanted her to like me. She liked my friends, why didn’t she like me? So when she sent me a “friend request” a few years ago, I accepted it, and I was pleased. That’s a little pathetic, isn’t it?

Who knows why she sent me a friend request. Maybe it was some kind of passive-aggressive thing. But it didn’t take long before there were clues that 35 years after we’d graduated she didn’t like me any better than she did in high school. I don’t know what I did or said or posted finally that made her hit the “block” button, and I don’t care. In a way I’m grateful that she took the step that revealed the truth that she glossed over for more than three decades. It’s a relief, truly, to not pretend anymore.

The Tea Cup List

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For years, in the quiet hours before New Year’s festivities, I dutifully crafted a list of resolutions, usually on the flyleaf of a brand new journal.  They ran the gamut from good thinking  (“Be comfortable in your own skin”) to the painful (“Find a good man”) to the absurd (“Publish that book of poems.”) Almost without exception they became instead a list of failures, mocking me each time I opened the journal. Good God, who needs that to start the new year? Or any time. Eventually I gave up making resolutions (and became comfortable in my own skin and found a good man) — for that matter I gave up keeping journals: much time is wasted contemplating one’s own belly button.

When I turned 50, it seemed like the right time to make a bucket list, so I did. It’s a good list and it’s holding up well. But a Bucket List is like a Lifetime Achievement award, a road map for the things you’d like to eventually accomplish. Some of them are less practical for the short term.

Last week while making quiche I thought, “this year I’m going to teach myself to make a pie crust that is both dependable and delicious.” This thought was soon followed by another: what else would I like to accomplish in the coming year? The usual self-castigating cast of characters danced their way across my consciousness. “Lose weight!” they sang. “Write every day!” they crooned. “Get your thank you notes sent promptly!” rang out the chorus.  No, no, no. Those are all worthwhile and virtuous. But I want something else. Something fun.

Like a bucket list, but smaller and more immediate. And thus, dear friends, we have it. The Tea Cup List. (And many thanks to my dear friend, Fran Menley, for supplying the name of my wonderful new list for the New Year.)  I hasten to add here that I’m not posting this because I think that you are all so fascinated with what I’d like to do in the year to come, but because I think some of you might want to borrow this idea to make your own happy plans for the new year.

Larkin’s Tea Cup List for 2014

1. Gild the living room ceiling.

I bought the paint for this nearly two years ago. The previous owners of the house painted every surface of the living room a kind of golden ochre, in flat paint. The color works, but the texture is wrong.

2. Throw away all my old tired undies.

You know the ones. A little hole here or there, a stretched out elastic, that pair that was never comfortable. I can either buy new or go without. 

3.  Spend more time with friends.

Facebook alone is not good enough, especially when you compare it to a great meal together or time spent on a treasure hunt. For Trisch, who wrote to say “Come see me in L.A.” and Pam, who wants to share lobster rolls again on PEI, I’m intending to include you in this. Distances may be long, but the will is there. 

4. Go riding once in awhile.

I miss horses. I don’t want to own one again, but I’d love to be  seeing the world through the ears of a horse. 

5. Buy a kitchen torch and use it.

This is actually related to something on my Official Bucket List, which was to make a Baked Alaska, or just eat one. In any case, having a torch is useful. 

6. Take Ransom to the beach.

My Chesapeake Bay Retriever will be 11 in June. He needs another trip to the beach.  We live in Ohio, so the beach is something to be pondered;  though Lake Erie is not that far. There’s always  his ancestral homeland, the Chesapeake Bay. Perhaps I can combine it with Number 7. 

7.  Go to Kitty Hawk.

I’m writing a book about Orville Wright, and I live in the Omphalos of Aviation history. But I have to go to Kitty Hawk all the same. I wish I could take the train there, as he and Wilbur did, but alas, those days are gone. I can however . . . 

8. Take the train to the Library of Congress

The train goes from Cincinnati to Washington for less money than it costs to drive. I figure if I get a room at a hostel and don’t take a car, I can walk to the Library to do the research and I won’t be so tempted to waste time goofing off.  Which brings me to 9…

9. Write Five Days a Week

I am a writer, goddammit. It is my job to write.  This may seem to be one of the Mean Fairies of Resolution, but sometimes just defining how you’re going to do something is an enormous boon to doing it. Plus which, I get two days off. 

10.  Renew my passport, and go.

It makes me uncomfortable, almost itchy, that my passport has expired. Time to get a new one– let’s see, passport number five. Canada is not that far away. 

11.  Find a place to swim.

The old YMCA downtown has a wonderful pool, done up in 1920s Egyptian-inspired tile. Time to join. I bet my friend Martha will go with me. 

12. Re-tile the fireplace in the living room.

Speaking of tile. Our house was built in 1913, as Dayton was recovering from a godawful flood. (And yes, it’s built in the flood plain; which strikes me as a wonderful faith and foolishness combined). Over the years it’s been both well-tended and utterly neglected. The previous owners bought it for a dollar from the city. They did a lot of wonderful work in terms of restoration, but some things were a miss– like the dusty pink bathroom tile they used on the fireplace surround. It’s designed to have tile, just not that tile. 

13. Kiss more.

This is a philosophical position. I don’t have to be quite so prickly. 

14. Explore more.

There are so many things left to discover ’round these parts that it still feels like we just moved here. It’s been nearly six years.  Long past time to make time to see flea markets, abandoned watercraft, draft horse farms, haunted places, coonhound gatherings, caverns, dives, and museums of the obscure. I want to go to Henry’s and eat pie. 

15 .  Learn to make a pie crust that is dependable and delicious.