Friday, January 30, 2009

Homage to Betty Mahmoody

For Tacoma News Tribune readers of "In Your Neighborhood" my story will be somewhat familiar. The following is a more indepth account of what happened to our family.

Part I

As part of their Springboard English curriculum at the sophomore level, Gig Harbor High School students examine cultural conflicts as seen in the novel Kite Runner and the movie “Not without My Daughter” based on the book of the same name and written by Betty Mahmoody. Both are wonderfully powerful and for me the movie touches my heart. Because of the courage of Betty Mahmoody, the woman played by Sally Fields in the movie, I possibly escaped a similar fate.

During most of the 1980s I was married to an Iranian and living in the Bay Area along with my mother and my three children from a previous marriage. We had met in the late ‘70s while students at the University of Washington in Seattle. In 1983 we had a beautiful son we named after my husband’s two brothers. I cannot and will not say that our lives were perfect. Financial problems and my husband’s explosive temper (something I had not witnessed until we were married) were probably our biggest obstacles to happiness. Those two things were absolutely connected.

These were turbulent times for Iranians the world over. The Revolution was in its infancy with many happy to see the Shah depart, but at the same time concerned about how the Ayatollah Khomeini seemed bent on dragging Iran back into the 6th century. My husband’s youngest brother, who had just completed high school in Seattle, returned to their parents almost immediately following the Revolution. I never met him. By the time my husband and I met he’d gone and would later regret it when the regime refused to let him return to America even to have heart surgery.

My husband’s relationship with his parents and siblings was and is complicated. He is the oldest of his father’s sons, a weighty position in an Iranian family. In his early 20s he’d become responsible first for his next youngest brother when he arrived to attend the UW, followed quickly by their high school age youngest brother. My husband always said that his prematurely gray hair happened as the result of the responsibility for his brothers. I do not mention his mother here because Iranian wives are little more than chattel. She was, is, his second wife and of note because she produced three sons. The first wife had only two daughters and was abandoned by my father-in-law who took the girls and introduced them to their step-mother who was more of an age to be a classmate than a step-mother.

I knew that my husband’s relationship with his parents was different from my Western ideal of what a family ought to look like. I knew nothing of Iranian families and thought perhaps they had continued to relate to him like he was 18, the age at which he’d left Iran. His mother had been to visit once or twice over the years and he spoke of her lovingly. On the other hand I had seen him lock himself in the bathroom of the apartment he shared with his brother rather than talk to his father. This was pretty childish behavior for a man in his mid-20s. I should have taken more note of that at the time, but I ignored my first inkling that Americans do not have a corner of the dysfunctional family disorder.

Another alarm rang after we were married. My husband never called his family in Iran. That was hardly surprising because money was tight and calls half-way ‘round the world were not cheap. Reaganomics had failed to trickle down as far as I was and I had withdrawn from the university before we married and was working in the call center of a marketing research firm which paid blessed little. My child support from my first husband was erratic and slim-to-none. It was when his parents called us and my husband did not tell them we’d married that I put figurative cotton in my ears and didn’t hear the ringing.

When my husband graduated from the University of Washington he began to look for a position as a computer programmer. He applied at the fledgling Microsoft, but did not get the position. Whether or not the American hostage situation in Iran had anything to do with his not getting the position I can only speculate. Almost every night on the news we were treated to film of angry Iranians demonstrating against the United States with chants of “Marg-bar Amreeka!” “Death to America.” Whatever the reason he wasn’t hired, my husband never forgave Bill Gates. It became personal for him. I wonder how different things might have turned out if he’d gotten the position all those years ago. So instead, my husband headed to Silicon Valley in search of a position at a time when the economy was dismal and Iranians were hated by Americans. I stayed behind until Memorial Weekend 1981 when we followed him with all our worldly belongings in a Ryder truck which I drove, trailed by my mother driving my Fiat and leaving extended family behind.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Being Cents-able

I purchased a used copy of Your Money or Your Life by Dominguez and Robin and it became one of the many books waiting to be read in my room. Frugality has been a large part of my adulthood out of necessity. This book came up in Internet reading I did on that subject and since I was having a very bad year at work and longed to quit, the notion of being able to live on less was enticing. Summer, home repairs, and a sick mother sidetracked me.

At the end of the summer, as we watched financial institution fail and the stock market fall like a lead brick, we learned that there was a possibility of my husband’s job ending and our income being drastically cut. My quitting was no longer an option, but the urgency to stretch our money was renewed. After some digging through the stacks of books in my bedroom I found Your Money or Your Life and with highlighter in hand I began to read.

The book is not about creating a budget. It is about developing a new appreciation for your time, life energy, and knowledge about where that and your money goes. I am still in the baby steps of financial independence and living the sort of life my heart yearns for, but on the 8th of January I paid off Christmas and today I put $100into savings.

I must note that I am the one reading the book and attempting to change my life. My husband is frugal by nature, makes a great deal more money than I and we have different spheres of financial responsibility. I say this to point out that my finances amount to my salary and the drizzles and drabs of money I get each month. My resources are responsible for food for six, sundries for three, and clothing for two along with gifts and a YMCA membership. That said, if you are interested in my financial journey, read on.

Dominguez and Robin talk about people’s impulse to buy “gazing pins” which is anything an individual has trouble saying no to. Generally these are things that a person collects, sometimes just for the sake of collecting. Their collection has long since surpassed anything enjoyable. I have a cousin who has a collection of china dog figurines that has become an obsession for her. I’ll bet she has 3,000 of them if she has one and if there’s one at the thrift store you can bet she will buy it. My weakness is books. I am getting better at saying no to books, but I am not always successful.

I started the physical act of accounting for each and every penny—and I do mean every penny which includes the ones that I still stop to pick off the ground—in the middle of December. I might have waited until New Year’s, but it actually seemed like a good idea in the middle of Christmas madness to begin to take a hard look at where my money goes so I dug out an old ledger that I’d purchased at Goodwill. This baby is really old, but old things appeal to me and I knew enough of my personality and habits to know that it was going to have to be pleasing to me to do what the book was asking—keep track of every penny.

As is so often true, I missed my dad at this point because I remember him using just such a ledger to keep track of our family finances and his and my mother’s checking account. Each month the bank sent him their canceled checks and he would let me put them in numerical order and then he wrote them down in the ledger in columns according to what they were for. I remember it looking complicated and that may be why I’ve steered clear of such accounting, but Dominguez and Robin do not suggest that you use some complicated method or program. Just do what makes sense to you and pretty soon you’ll be making cents. Okay, no dad to call on, but I made something up for myself.

I started out small. For the last half of December and all of January I kept track of spending in two categories, food and nonfood, and of course a running balance showing deposits and expenditures. I color coded things. Nonfood, deposits, and balances are purple. Food totals are green. Expenditures are red. In conjunction with this I am being religious about saving receipts. Because I receive self-addressed envelopes from institutions I do business with, but respond on line, I have a cache of envelopes I am too frugal to toss out. As New Year’s approached I took twelve of these and marked them for the months of the year. Another Goodwill find, a large file box with dividers, became designated as the home of the envelopes as they fill up.

On New Year’s Eve I wrote the totals for my food and nonfood expenditures for ½ of December on the envelope, licked it shut, put it in the box and turned to a fresh page in my ledger. Across the top I wrote “January 2009’ and kept exactly the same sort of records. These are little mundane pleasures like the pens, but whatever floats my boat, right?

Because of my having shopped for Christmas for twelve months instead of one and because I was watching every penny during the latter half of December I was able to zero out the balance on my credit card on January 8th. I felt like confetti should have fallen from the ceiling, but I did my own little dance of joy.

Making the month and my money come out even has been problematic for me, largely I suspect because I haven’t paid attention to my spending as much as I thought I was. Immediately accounting for every penny I spend has had the effect of making me think not twice, but three times, before I do it. Taking the time to sit down and figure out what was food and nonfood and keep my running totals and balance of everything from what is in the bank to what is in my wallet has had a calming effect on me. And I know that at any given moment, assuming my math is correct, I know exactly how much money I have, not just in the bank, but altogether.

Since I get paid on the last working day of the month as far as I am concerned my financial month ended with one last trip to the store after work today. When I ran my numbers I came out with $109.56 at the bottom of the page. Eureka! I came out ahead and before I can go spend it on any gazing pins I went to the computer and transferred $100 from my checking account to savings.

For February I have added categories to the ledger. I am keeping track of charity, health expenditures, money I spend on my mother, lessons (grandson’s violin lesson, my daughter’s tutor, the YMCA), as well as food and deposits and, of course, books. Stay tuned for the continuing story of my financial renaissance.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Making Do in Hard Times/Anytime

I get more junk email than snail mail. I’m not always sure where it comes from. A few weeks ago I started receiving emails from, probably because I snoop around websites devoted to frugality. Today I received one from the above outfit with the “tip” titled “Coupons—not just for your grandmother.” Is this a news flash or am I just very old? Well, I am a grandmother. My age not withstanding, I have always clipped coupons.

There is a debate as to whether or not clipping coupons is worthwhile. In the Tightwad Gazette, Amy Dacyczyn is against the practice. She believes that shopping sales and big box stores is sufficient and that coupons only entice us into buying things we don’t need. I am sure manufacturers count on us being lured into such purchases or trying something new.

One of my favorite movie scenes is of Michael playing poker with neighborhood moms in “Mr. Mom.” Maybe coupon exchanges will make a come back, kind of like cookie exchanges without the baking.

When my oldest son and his wife first began their lives together I presented them with a nice little plastic envelope with dividers containing coupons. My son got it, but my daughter-in-law was a bit horrified. Coming from the home of wealthy grandparents I doubt if she’d ever actually shopped for food, much less used coupons. With some reluctance she caught on.

My strategy is simple, every Sunday my husband hands me the ads and coupons from the Sunday TNT. I circle things that look like bargains and cut out coupons that are for things that have the potential of being of use to me, my mother, my children or my aunt. This does not necessarily mean I will be buying these products, that decision will hopefully be made sometime between that Sunday and the expiration date on the coupon.

I have had a variety of containers for my coupons over the years from envelopes to a briefcase. When I was a stay at home mom I had a briefcase with rows of dividers and I cut out everything just in case. It was a tremendous amount of work culling the expired coupons and adding the new ones each Sunday. That was at the height of the refunding thing when it was worth your while to keep the receipts and UPC codes from products in order to send in for refund checks of two or three dollars. I had bags of UPC codes, box tops and receipts in my utility room. Because I wasn’t the only OC homemaker doing it, refunding eventually fell out of favor with manufacturers.

Currently I have a little cardboard envelope with dividers pre-marked with categories and which I found at Goodwill. Their price tag is still on it. (It makes me feel good to look at those little victories). I watch and wait for things to go on sale. Generally speaking besides being something we use, an item needs to be on sale as well as having a coupon. Store coupons such as those Fred Meyer puts in their Sunday ad are usually better than manufacturer coupons. I usually get the limit and keep the freezer and cupboards full. I no longer cut out every coupon because there are simply things which we used to eat that we would no longer buy on a bet…well, how bad would the economy have to get for us to go back to mac and cheese?

Monday, January 19, 2009

I Was Never Very Good At Tag

I was never very good at "tag" as a child and I'm still not. I've been tagged by Mizu, Kim, and Lorrane. Because they are wonderful writers, along with some other blogs I try to follow, I'm giving them a shout-out here. If you've wandered to the handle of my "Broom" you may be interested in knowing about the interesting and creative folks I've found in the blogosphere.

Mizu Sugimura tagged me first. I met her on our In Your Neighborhood blog spot (great place to find out what folks in the South Sound are thinking and talking about) and then a year later in person at the Antique Sandwich. She's one of my heroes because she's living the life of an artist which is my fantasy. She has several blogs, but the one I manage to get to is Liquid Muse.

When Israel began bombing the Gaza Strip, Mizu turned me on to the blog of a Palestinian mother who lives in NC. Her blog is a great way to find out the Arab perspective on what's happening over there as her parents are doctors there. Her Mother From Gaza blog is eye-opening.

Mizu is also responsible for turning me on to Lorrane Lemaster's Pet Peeves and Ramblings. Lorrane is a grandma in Yakima who thought her blog would be amusing to her grandchildren only, but the folksy tone of this Oklahoma native has drawn legions of followers and articles in Western Washington newspapers. She was the most recent blogger to tag me and I would be remiss if I didn't spread the word about Grandma's ramblings. I want to be just like her when I grow up.

The baby of my blogger world is Kim Thompson. She's a Tacoma native through and through and loves the place with ferocity. Her Gritty City Woman is a peak into the world of a mom and Tacoma's biggest cheerleader. Kim's embarking on the home-schooling road and I hope she continues to share her journey with us.

I've saved the best for last. I met Lorraine Hart (whose name should be Heart) in the Neighborhood two years ago when she chided me for lambasting people who drive elderly minivans with ecological bumperstickers on them. One of my pet peeves. Lorraine, who ministers to the body and soul of all who come her way, has become a great friend. Over cups of tea figurative and real we have developed a friendship that I hope lasts whatever time we've left on this side and eternity on the other. Lorraine writes two blogs besides on the Neighborhood. The one I try to get to for its wisdom and intellect is Walking Wolf Woman. Lorraine is a tireless Lyme Warrior who is out to beat the nasty bug that nearly beat her daughter. She's a fierce mama bear and the dearest of friends.

Now for random facts about me that is part of this tagging game.
1. About fifty years ago my birthday party was held at the Captain Puget Show. We were not actually on the show, but we got to see it live. I must say, that was a bit disappointing. Best not to break that fourth wall.

2. I was Honored Queen of my Job's Daughter's bethel, Bethel 63 in Bellevue. In Job.s Daughters I learned the art of being polite and sweet to people I would otherwise have not given the time of day, while wearing gloves and holding a cup of punch. It is a good skill. In addition I had some of the most fun of my life with wonderful girls.

3. The hardest thing I ever had to do was to take my father's ashes back to the Missouri Ozarks. I left a piece of my heart in the shady lot in Bona where my great-grandparents house once stood. If that property were ever to come on the market I would mortgage my soul to buy it.

4. I believe that any food that smells noxious in the cooking process ought not to be eaten. Mother Nature is telling you something--if it stinks, stay away.

5. Some of the best advice I ever received was from my first mother-in-law who said that there is always room for one more thing in the refrigerator or dishwasher. Yesterday I extended that theory to include the trunk of the car.

6. Once I won a refrigerator at Safeway. I'd gone to the store on a Sunday morning to buy more cinnamon rolls because my husband had eaten the last THREE, leaving none for my youngest. I was "mad as a wet hen" and when I got to the check out counter and they scanned my Safeway card bells went off and the clerk told me I'd won a refrigerator. We'd just bought one and I was anxious to get home, but had to stand around and fill out the paperwork. The refrigerator didn't fit in our kitchen so we took it to our summer house where we really needed it so it turned out fine.

I think I'm supposed to have 12 random facts about myself, but I'm not very interesting so this will have to do. Stop by some of the blogs of my pals mentioned above and say that Stephanie sent you.

PS I see that Lorrene Lemaster's rules of tagging are a bit different than Mizu's so here's the fifth line on page 56 of Sarah Breathnach's Moving On. It was that or page 56 of the JC Penny "home sale" catalog. That page is bathroom furniture with no text so here's Breathnach: "Her name was Dru Donnelly and by the time I'd left home in the late '60s to find my fame and fortune, she'd turned three homes into..."

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Room of Belonging

My New Year’s reading trifecta is Sarah Breathnach’s Simple Abundance and Moving On as well as Your Money or Your Life by Dominguez and Robin. They all speak to building what Oprah has been peddling as “Your Best Life Ever.” I did not know Oprah was doing this until I’d already made my reading selections, but I applaud her thought even if I believe that she sometimes slips into the Morrie Povich School of Talk Shows. I digress.

In Simple Abundance Breathnach says, “For years I have suspected that in happy and fulfilled lives domesticity and spirituality are invisibly but inexorably connected—one golden thread, one silver filament—which, when woven together, create a tapestry of contentment.” In other words, an environment in which chaos have been overcome.

I am not so ambitious as to be attempting to do all I do as a mother, grandmother, wife, daughter, and employee and completely revamp my house. I’m starting small in the creation of what Breathnach refers to in Moving On as the “House of Belonging.” I’m starting with a “Bedroom of Belonging.” I’m hoping once that is organized I can recharge and sneak out the door to the rest of the house. For that I will need the cooperation of a family of five others.

For 18 years our bedroom has been part college, part garage sale, part your life-my life. We are thrifty by nature and necessity and good at making do. In this economic time I do not propose to dash off to the furniture store nor call in a contractor, but what I’m doing is ceasing to make me and the place I spend quality time last on my list of things to do.

Because we have always had one foot out the door of this house with the intention of retiring to Ilwaco, we tend to not think as much about the place we spend the most time as we do about our old Victorian at the coast. Because of the economy and our commitment to family we will probably be right here in Pierce County for at least another three years. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but that’s lots of days to settle into what I consider the best part of it, snuggling into our bedroom. My husband has his den where he putters with his computer and stereo, but the bedroom is mine where I write, read and recharge.

I am blessed with the dearest of friends whom I ought to hate because she is everything I am not and the wind beneath my wings. She’s smart, organized, and possesses a sense of style that is remarkable. I’ve oft told her that was she to be forced to live in a tent; she’d soon have it looking as glorious as anything Rudy Valle had in the Sheik.

When we were little her Barbie’s house was always emasculate whereas my Barbie was lucky to have clothes on! Not only was everything in Gail’s room in apple pie order, the inside of her drawers were organized with things lined up like soldiers on parade. It was impressive, but it took fifty years for the bug to begin to bite me.

Our family is artistic by nature and consequently focused on the creation not the environment, but I have noticed that eliminating chaos becomes more and more important to me the older I get. Maybe that is because I am so likely to forget what I’ve done with things!

Going to visit Gail and staying in her home always refreshes my spirit as well as my body. Certainly it has a lot to do with our ability to finish each other’s sentences and a shared history of more than fifty years, but it also has to do with the fact that she has created, has always created, a “House of Belonging” that is beautiful to the eye and soothing to the spirit with chaos nowhere in sight and done it all with finds from Goodwill and thrift stores. Admittedly it is easier for her to maintain that calm as she hasn’t an artist son, a Special Needs daughter, a sweet but disorganized daughter-in-law, and a four-year-old grandson who fancies himself an artist, too, to contend with. I’ve left out my Virgo husband whom we are lucky tolerates the rest of us. But I believe that I can tame the wild beast of our bedroom without breaking the bank.

No, I’m not rushing out and hiring an interior decorator for my bedroom, but we’ve splurged on a new bookcase (books are the drug of choice for both my husband and me) and taken away the plywood thing cobbled together by a husband who thinks function is much more important than form.

Creating a house or a room of “Belonging” is work, but it is joyous work.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Turning the Mundane into Happiness

The Color Purple

One of the most important concepts of Simple Abundance is identifying happiness and finding it in the mundane things of life. How can the mundane make you happy you might ask? Let’s face it, how many of us are going to win the lottery or marry Prince Charming and even if we did there would be no guarantee of happiness. We have the life of Princess Dianna as living/dying proof that there are no fairytale endings. We have to make our own “happily ever after” and stop looking for it from without.

Unless terribly, terribly mentally ill, we each possess the potential for happiness if we will only have eyes to see it and ears to hear it. When I first began reading Simple Abundance about 10 years ago I began to look for little ways of pleasing myself. As women we are good at pleasing children, spouses and parents, but oft times do not take near the care of ourselves as we do others. We are taught from the cradle to be selfless.

I’m not talking about becoming “the worst girlfriend in the world” ala Almost Live. I’m talking about doing little things that please our heart and refresh our soul. Breathnach talks about taking time to artfully arrange flowers. My thing is purple.

Anyone who has known me long enough will realize that since about 1972 I have been passionate about purple in its myriad shades. It looks good on me and I realized it early on. Moreover, I enjoy looking at it on others and other things. And so I gradually have surrounded myself with shades of purple. I did not go out one day and decide to replace everything I own with purple, but as I’ve found things I’ve acquired them and many have been given to me.

I work as a Special Education Paraeducator which is a fancy word for “teacher’s assistant” who works with Special Education students. Since I work at the high school level I take a lot of notes all day long. Now if I’m going to perpetually be in high school I might as well do things to make it more pleasant than it already is. I have lavender paper, purple notebook and purple clipboard. One of my teachers gave me a purple power stapler at the beginning of this year. Now that was really something. I even have purple staples.

My purple pens are as important to me as the key that gets me into the staff bathroom. I freaked out in the Fall when Fred Meyer didn’t have my favorite purple pens. I like the way those particular pens feel in my hands, the color of the ink and the way that it flows as I write. I was not going back to school without fresh purple pens. So I ordered a gazillion online for $45. Happy Back-to-School, Stephanie! Like a squirrel with a tree full of nuts, I rest easy knowing that I have my cache of purple pens squirreled away in a purple tin box (from a gift box of candy) in my bedroom.

Maybe pens don’t do it for you, but I’ll bet that are little ways you could make yourself happier. Not “over the moon” happy, although the more you can develop that feeling over the small things the better off you are, but little things that make you smile on the inside, even if you don’t outside.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Turning Scared into Sacred

It would be easy to say that these are scary times we live in post 9/11. We are in the midst of a “recession” that will become a depression if we personally lose our job. Israel has invaded the Gaza strip echoing Russia’s invasion of Georgia this summer. There are no good guys or bad guys, just people hell bent on not getting along.

But when haven’t there been things to be scared of? As a child I was convinced I would not live to adulthood because of the Cold War turning hot. There were air raid tests, duck and cover drills, and our family had a plan of what to do in case of a nuclear attack. Before that there was WWII and before that the Great Depression and before that WWI…Well, you get the idea.

Just for today I’m not going to deal with it. I don’t advocate a complete succession from following the news both local and international. If you’re going to live in a democracy you damn well had better be informed about what’s going on in your neighborhood, your town, state, nation and the world, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t take a day or two off to focus on what is really important.

Fellow neighborhood blogger, Mizu, recommended reading Sarah Breathnach’s Moving On as a continuation of her Simple Abundance. I obtained a used copy and stopped cold where she discusses the economic times and personal treadmill that gave rise to Simple Abundance. Those were bad economic times in the early 1990s, though not as bad as those we are going through now. It is more important than ever that we focus on what we have instead of what we have not.

And then she talks about what scares you. If you reverse the “c” and the “a” in "scared" you get "sacred." Is that not what we are all really yearning for? I am. I work as a Special Education Para Educator. I am the mother of a Special Needs daughter who requires extended motherhood, something I would not trade for the world, but something that creates tasks added to the list of work, shopping, cooking, laundry, and housekeeping of my daily life.

After a Winter Break extended by snow days, tomorrow I return to what my life has become—a race to get things done—so for today I am turning off CNN and turning inward to contemplate the things I have control over. I cannot make the Israelis and Palestinians throw down their weapons and embrace, but I can embrace the frosty grass that sparkled in this morning’s moon light as I walked the dog and work at creating peace and sacred space within my own little spot on the spinning blue marble. I can trade love for fear.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

If, like me, you’re concerned about what is happening in Gaza click here to read Laila El-Hadad’s blog “Raising Yousef and Noor.” El-Hadad is a Palestinian journalist, wife, and mother living in Durham, NC. Her parents are in Gaza.

Remembering to Be Grateful

There are three stages of a woman’s life: maiden, mother, and crone. I am in the latter category and I’m not sorry a bit. I wish the body worked a bit better, but I’ve no one to blame but myself. Wisdom really does come with age. As a maiden I thought I knew it all already, as a mother I despaired of every knowing what my grandmothers knew. As a crone, I know I don’t know it all, but I’m working on it.

Rereading Sarah Breathnach's Simple Abundance each year is a nice way of reminding myself to bring into my life the elements that enrich my soul. In these times of economic uncertainty it is good to remember that most of us already have everything we need to be happy if we are mindful to bring it into our lives: gratitude, simplicity, order, harmony, and beauty.

Remembering to practice gratitude is key to being happy. It may seem difficult to feel gratitude at this time of recession and upheaval. My husband is going to lose his job. I am grateful that he has a pension from his previous employer, the federal government. He will be twice the husband with half the salary, but we are more fortunate than those who are a paycheck away from homelessness. As daughter-in-law Ana said, “We have each other. We’ll be all right.”

In inventorying that which I have to be grateful for, besides reasonably secure income which is only a measure of how society views us, not how we view ourselves, I have my family and friends. I cannot think of anything more important for a woman than female friends. I am blessed with wonderful women in my life in the form of an aunt, cousins as dear as sisters, and very special friends.
Life long friend Nikki

I was not always so blessed. While I’ve always had wonderful female relatives and a life-long friend, there was a time when I lived far away from all of them, when my world shrank to just my immediate family and when I needed friends most there were none at hand. I will never so isolate myself again. It may be that you can meet a friend from the past and take up wherever you left off, but friendships, as in all relationships, are like gardens and need tending. When we don’t they get weedy. Above is a picture of my daughter Amy with dear friend Marion.

daughter-in-law Ana and wonderful friend Jo

So today, as I go about bringing some order and simplicity to my environment, I will remember to be grateful for a place to live and those things (mostly my dear books), but also for having so many wonderful women in my life. Out of practicing these things I know will come harmony and beauty along with a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Carving Out Time

Carving out of the day time to reflect on nourishment of the spirit and creating the sort of life we want is difficult. Only two generations ago women did not have cell phones, dishwashers, and microwaves. We barely had washing machines (I dried my first child’s clothes on lines in a drying room in the apartment building where we lived) and vacuum cleaners and yet I contend our lives are no easier than those of our foremothers who sweated over a laundry cauldron in the yard and hoed a hard row in a garden. Our load may have changed its face, but not its nature. Now we are not only expected to be responsible for hearth, home and children, but for bringing home a paycheck and attaining what 21st society considers success to be and to be available 24/7 for everyone who considers themselves worthy of our attention.

In a busy household I find the shower my best place of rumination. Today it was washing my daughter Amy’s hair. Standing in the bathroom with the drone of the fan blocking out the rest of the world, I thought about what I want to do on this second day of a new year to truly make it “new”; to make a new beginning. At the same time I know that there’s still laundry to finish, I want to change the sheets on Amy’s bed, and I need to go shopping.

One of my New Year’s resolutions is a holdover from last year. It is to burn the candles and incense. When I receive little luxuries like lovely soap, candles and incense, my reaction is to want to save them for sometime special. That time never seems to arrive so I am trying to make every moment special and since candlelight suits me I burn my candles at night along with the incense. Sometimes I burn them in the morning while I shower and dress. I think that each moment of the day should be honored. It is hard to feel that way when you’ve small children that need attending to or you’re in the middle of some chore for an employer, but attempting to see the blessing of each moment of this life is so important especially for someone like me who is past the midpoint of life. How do I want each moment of what is left to me to be spent?

Today I will try to remain in the moment as I go about homey chores that I actually love and be mindful of how I am spending my money, society’s value of my life’s energy, and time. What can I do today to make the life I want in which peace and serenity will dwell. We will see.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A Time of New Beginnings

It’s January first, a time of reflection and new beginnings. Of course one can start anew anytime, but January 1st is so symbolic like absolution. A time to reflect on what lies behind and what awaits us in our future.

I looked for an image of the freshness of today and found none as beautiful as this one taken on December 30th 2008 over Home, WA by friend the wonderful singer, poetess and photographer Lady Lorraine Hart.

The past visited just yesterday I received a note from the granddaughter of friends of my parents. Elle wrote to tell me of her grandparents passing. My father and her grandfather worked together in Boeing’s Flight Test in the 1950s. Lately I’ve watched my father’s home movies of a New Year’s party circa 1957. The men all in white shirts and neckties, the women coiffured and glamorous. I am sad each time one of this rapidly diminishing group passes, but glad that somewhere there’s a poker or dance party now nearly complete. I will write to Elle.

A long hot shower to wash away the old year and start afresh while I consider the past 57 years and those left to me. What I want to make of them. A good day, too, to do laundry, to clean, to organize, rituals that for me welcome the new year and start it off well.

My resolutions are to keep track of the remuneration I receive for my life’s energy; to get out of debt; to live more in the moment; to use the special soaps and burn the sweet smelling candles, to eliminate the physical and spiritual clutter in my life and to care for myself with as much concern as I care for my family and friends.