Month: November 2020

A brief diversion in honor of Thanksgiving

Purse, keys, glasses, grocery bags, mask, hand sanitizer.   Out the door ready to meet a different world.  Do I need gas for the car?  Better take some protective gloves. 

I need to call and put in my wine order so they can meet me curbside. 

I wish that curbside pick up at Price Chopper had worked, but I still need to see and  touch the produce and skim the aisles for things I haven’t thought about, not to mention items to replace the ones that aren’t available.  Canned goods are getting scarce again.  Is the toilet paper aisle looking bare?  Trying not to hoard but experience has set the tone for grabbing now or risk going without.

I wonder if frozen spinach is back – better stock up if it is.

Another masked person with nose totally uncovered – really?  Do I comment or just pass by quickly? Maybe raising my eyebrows in that exaggerated questioning look will work.

Oh shit, I’m going down the aisle the wrong way, but I’m only a few feet from what I need, do I keep going or turn around?  Raised questioning eyebrows from person going the right way.  I just need to grab that tomato sauce right over there.

The price of beef is beyond belief, but I am so sick of poultry.  Beans, I need some beans to make meatless chili and maybe some of that black bean soup.

I am trying not to join the COVID weight gain gang so as attractive as pasta and rice are, especially in the cold weather, I don’t want to overdo it. 

Cheese – lots of animal fat for my low cholesterol diet.

What AM I supposed to eat – low sodium for BP, low fat for high cholesterol, low carb for weight management, can’t eat a lot of raw vegetables because of the diverticulitis, no nuts or seeds.  Roasted veggies are great – but every day? 

Eggs – not too many because of cholesterol and egg whites only get me so far.

Not fair, I exercise every day, do yoga and meditate, watch what I eat, and cholesterol and blood pressure are still a problem – even with meds.   And now even my glucose levels are rising.  Thanks family for the compromised genes!

But wait.  I am racing full steam down that negative track.  Finding fault with everything.  Feeling sorry for myself.   It’s Thanksgiving in a few days.  Where is my gratitude?  For what…..

I am standing here in a store filled with choices and quantity beyond imagination in much of the world.

I am walking on my own two feet with relative ease, able to reach up or down to retrieve items from shelves – except that highest one because my 4 feet 11 inches doesn’t get me there!

I am breathing clean air despite the mask, and have unlimited clean water available at a seconds notice. 

My warm coat and boots were selected from several in my closet. 

A long hot shower eased my stiff muscles and cleansed my body this morning in one of our two bathrooms. 

I am well rested from a night’s sleep in a warm bed in the solid shelter of my heated home – with my husband and dog snuggled next to me.

I am free to leave my home to walk my dog on neighborhood streets or in the well kept park without fear for my safety. 

 I drive a one year old car that demands no more than a tank of gas to get me anywhere I’d like to go – and have the ability to purchase that gas without counting my pennies or worrying whether the pump will provide an ample supply.

My cell phone is ready to not only connect with friends and family in the blink of an eye, but also to look up the ingredients for a recipe, see if I need my umbrella today, or find the words to that tune that keeps going through my head.

Medicine is available to assist in managing my health and I have insurance to help with costs. 

The number of choices available around every corner – color, style, flavor, cost, purpose etc. – sometimes makes me feel like not getting the exact item I want is a major problem – even when there are 20 other options available!  Just having a choice is a privilege, one I can easily lose sight of!

I am grateful for the big things like family, friends, health and shelter.  But I am also grateful for the small things that I often take for granted.  I am grateful to live in relative wealth, not just in dollars and cents, but in opportunities and possibilities offered within each day.

The sky brightens as clouds of worry and woe clear, revealing the reality of the state of my wondrous world.  

Happy Thanksgiving to all!  May your day be filled with wonders, big and small.

**Happy Anniversary**

It will be one year this week since starting this blog! It has been delightful and demanding all at the same time. I want to thank everyone for their support through my attempt to face another one of the many bears that hide in my personal woods – going public! Every read and comment has been greatly appreciated. There is more to come! Thank-you, Sue

The Beat

I had played the trombone in the school band and carried the bass beat in more than one song.  Om  pa pa……  Playing music had ended with my decision to quit band in the eleventh grade.  The absence was minor in the scheme of things as life moved on in different directions.  My children had taken up saxophone and violin in elementary school for a while, but set them aside as the tune of other things in their lives struck stronger chords.  Music was relegated to the listening mode, in the privacy of our individual spaces or headphones.  Then a friend invited me to an African drumming class.  The timing fit into my efforts to find escape routes away from home. 

The initial ease of learning just three basic striking methods – base, tone, slap – was appealing.  But it was the way the vibrations and rhythms shook my body that hooked my heart!  Each strike traveled through my hands, up my arms, to my core – shaking loose knotted threads of tension.  Simple combination were taught, then combined into increasing complex patterns.  There was no sense of familiar melody to help me organize the patterns for memory. I closed my eyes.  My ears searched for the rhythm until they caught it – then relayed it directly to my hands.  After repetition after repetition my body began to pulse, not just to the beat, but as part of the beat. Two hours passed in what felt like less than one.  Worry and woes flew out the window on the wings of the notes.  My breath flowed in and out like a deep soft whisper.  My palms were tender, and so was my heart, as if anger and resentment had been beaten out of it.  The rhythms coursed through my head for days as I discreetly tapped on any solid surface that came into reach.  This was serious.  The teacher had a good source for purchasing traditionally made wooden drums with goatskin heads and I couldn’t resist the pull to have my own, to feel the vibration seep into the depths of my body and soul. 

I went to more classes and drum circles and the feeling never changed – but I did.  My tense shoulders released as the beat spread like a virus through my body, elevating the heat in places frozen in resistance, and burning through the heavy doors that blocked the way to feeling joy.  I attended classes whenever I could, but sporadically at best.  I never went to one without the friend that had introduced me, but did not attend all that she did.  She was enthralled with the drumming and the connections she made – and with the dancing.  I watched the liquid flow of bodies in response to the music.  I tried to join in once, but soon retreated to the sidelines as the instructor urged us to move in ways my robotic body couldn’t even believe was possible– no matter how much I consciously tried to relax.  I wanted to dance, I needed to dance, but dance was absent from my current vocabulary. 

Despite the delight drumming drove into the deep corners of my being, I always felt like an outsider.  I never felt ‘cool’ enough or at ease enough, and reverted back to that silly smile I had used for so long as a limited tool for connection. We ended up moving to a different location, putting my friend and classes further away.  I let the drift grow. Not because I wanted to, but because added distance made it easier to avoid the discomfort interlaced with the desire. And because I was still attached to the turmoil at home, could not leave it behind, could not allow myself the release and pleasure of this distraction regularly.  My drum waited in the corner, silent for months at a time. Habit, fear, and constraint tried to smother the notes that had temporarily left them behind.  But the rhythm of the music had been brought to life and refused to be erased.  Drumming was more than a convenient escape.  It was a discovery of the place inside where ease pulsed to a primal beat.

Nostalgiaville

On the last day of the Nashville trip we drove to Springfield in search of yet another labyrinth.  After the past few brick and grass structures we were in for a surprise.  Arriving at the address we were greeted by a giant rocking chair over 20 feet tall!  We entered what appeared to be a small rustic village with a sign that read ‘Nostalgiaville’.  A long covered plank sidewalk was lined with worn storefronts.  An enclosed wooden tower three stories high, with windows on all 4 sides of the top floor, overlooked the grounds.  We looked for someone to direct us but saw no sign of life, so we started exploring.  There was a lattice and vine covered walkway that played Dorothy’s Yellow Brick Road as we walked through.  It opened onto what at first appeared to be a large garden.  We soon realized it was a gigantic labyrinth.  It was 60 feet from side to side with a path over 4 feet wide.  Outlining the twists and turns was a strip about 18 inches wide outlined with landscape timbers and filled with small trees, bushes, flowers, benches, bird baths, rock piles and ornaments of all types and configurations.  The strip was divided into sections for each state and filled with memorabilia deposited by visitors.  It was magnificent!

The size allowed us to walk side by side, but as we explored the treasures along the way we each found our own pace.  During this walk I contemplated a past relationship that had ended badly, and felt the pain I had held on to for so many years disintegrate.  I realized the ending had freed me to move on, to discover neglected areas.  I recognized my own responsibility for suffering, and the way I so easily aimed the blame at others.  The behavior felt familiar, and a pattern came sharply into focus.  I was there again, thinking if I loved hard enough I could fix someone else’s broken pieces; then feeling disappointed, resentful and angry when it didn’t work.  Who was really broken here?  Where did this fixing idea come from anyways?

Along the way I noticed there were no weeds on the path or the divider, items were thoughtfully placed, and numerous flowers were healthy and blooming despite the heat that had marked the last few days.  I felt honored to be able to walk in a place that meant so much to whoever cared for it.  We later met Cheri.  She alluded to her obvious poor health but spoke with energy and excitement as she described her ideas and plans for this odd place – her passion.  Listening to her made me wonder about my own passion.  Did I have one?  The room we were in was covered with 12” by 12” sections of assorted assembled puzzles, placed next to each other like quilt squares, full of color and interest.  Brewer, the St Bernard, strolled around us with an easy attitude that fit the place.  Cheri showed us some rooms she rented out with decks that overhung a running creek.   She explained:  “I ask people to pay what they feel is right, or what they can afford.”  One room was enclosed in the limbs of a large tree.  I pictured myself staying there, hidden in my own tree house.  As we walked with her I felt a powerful connection different from anything I had ever felt so soon after meeting someone. 

We stayed a bit and explored some more.   We met Arnie, who led us to a building that housed a museum of every kind of soda can imaginable – many that I had never heard of – stacked neatly on specially built shelves – obviously his passion.   Then we walked to the creek and removed our sandals.  I tried to follow my sure footed friend into the creek, but the rocks hurt my feet and I could not go far – a true tenderfoot!  Yet as I climbed up the steep bank I noticed feeling exactly where my feet were on the rocks, grabbing with my toes, using them to guide me to more solid footholds when the soil was loose, as if they had just awakened from a long nap. 

Before I left I gave Cheri my favorite green beaded bracelet that I had made and worn almost constantly for months.  I don’t know why I needed to do this, but I did, it felt right.  I wanted to come back and stay sometime, help do something here, maybe hold a labyrinth walk.  But I never did.

My friend continued on towards her place in Louisiana and dropped me at the airport on her way.  Nashville had offered me the comfort of its ‘countryness’ and a new awareness of the joy in the music I had rejected for so long, along with a growing acceptance of my roots.  A last minute trip that I imagined would be about escaping and spending time with a friend had turned into a quest full of discoveries and the opening of parts of myself buried long ago.

Nostalgiaville, TN
Gaitlinburg TN
Fiddlehead Grove, NY
Annapolis, MD

**Exciting News**

#CSSAgeisjustanumber

I am thrilled to have had a story published in Chicken Soup for the Soul – Age is Just a Number! This edition of CSS has 101 stories selected from over 5000 submissions. My story is titled ‘ Bears in the Woods’ (how appropriate!) and is about spending a night on the Appalachian Trail with my son for my 60th birthday. If you have read my blog you know about my intense fear of bears and of the woods! I wanted to face the fear of the woods in the darkness and was ‘lucky’ enough to meet a giant black bear along the way to challenge that fear also! The book hit the stores on November third. There are many wonderful stories about life and discoveries after 60!

Country Side

Nashville had never been on my ‘must visit’ list.  But an invite to join a close friend (and fellow labyrinth enthusiast) on a trip there opened an escape route – away from the atmosphere of anxiety at home and towards the refreshment of exploration and discovery.  We had no specific plans, but did have a list from the Labyrinth Locator for stops along the way.  One stop was in Gatlinburg TN at the Buckhorn Inn.  Flat jagged rocks, perched on their narrow edges and pointing toward the sky, outlined a path of wood chips in a field enclosed by trees.  My breath caught in my chest at first sight.   This was a structure like none I had never seen.  I entered the Labyrinth with a question – “How do I balance family needs with personal needs?” – then slowly began the journey.  The intense July sun radiated through dead still air and halted my steps twice, but both times a sudden breeze arose and I was able to continue on.  Words to a song started to spin in my head: “you’ve got to wake up every morning with a smile on your face and show the world all the love in your heart, then people gonna treat you better, you’re gonna find, yes you will, that you’re beautiful, as you feel.”  I wasn’t aware that I even knew those words, but they kept repeating, over and over.  I knew it was a Carol King song, but didn’t know the title. The words accompanied me through the labyrinth.  It was not the kind of answer I had expected, but I had no doubt it was the answer to my question.  My smiles had been overshadowed by a furrowed brow and the love in my heart seemed to have gone into hibernation.

 Following the walk I found a hammock hung in a shady spot nearby.  I swung there to cool down, the words still streaming by. We moved on to Nashville and welcomed our air conditioned timeshare accommodations.  I looked up the song title –“Beautiful”- and it seemed appropriate to start our exploration of the famous city of music as a song tumbled through my head.  It became my personal ‘theme song’ – and remains so many years later.

Music rarely found its way into my childhood home – except once a week when the TV was tuned to The Grand Ole Opry.  My parents, especially my father, loved it.  Sometimes I tried to find another place to be – not easy in a small house.  Sometimes I stayed but diverted my attention to a magazine or other distraction – anything to avoid listening to boring old people music.  Limited exposure led to limited appreciation of music of any kind – until the Beatles arrived on Ed Sullivan!  But even then, we only had our small childhood record player, and buying records was not an option easily available – not to mention that spending what little money I had on records was not my first choice.  Our family radio was tuned to the news and only used by my parents, and the transistor radio I requested for Christmas had such poor reception it was of little use.

 The Ryman Theatre was unknown to me, but we went on the tour at my friend’s suggestion.  As we moved from room to room, the guide’s vivid description of the rich history and evolution of the music and musicians that had passed through these hallways began to unfold.  I  looked more closely at the photos, became intrigued by the stories about famous musicians I had barely been aware of.  I became curious about what it must be like to love something so much you devote all your time and energy – your life – to creating it.   My excitement built as the tour continued – and did not end when the tour ended.   After, we explored the downtown. I left one of the many western gear stores with an unplanned, and surprising, purchase – a pair of cowboy boots! We had lunch at the Wild Horse Saloon and returned that evening for the entertainment advertised.  The music took me back to the living room in our small house in the country.  I wished my parents were there to experience it in person with me.   My foot tapped and my ears captured the stories behind the notes, breeding a new appreciation for my parents’ joy, as they listened to that weekly broadcast long ago.

Next day: more labyrinths, the first in Antioch.  It was a poor cousin to the one in Gatlinburg, consisting of a barely discernible brick outline in the grass.  But the sun was shining and a gentle breeze moderated the temperature. The morning dew dampened my bare feet. There were no questions looking for answers on today’s walk.  I moved slowly, noticing that the green portion of the path was mostly crabgrass, that stubborn enemy to my own suburban yard.  Then I laughed to myself, almost out loud, maybe a little out loud, as it occurred to me that the roots of the crabgrass felt like my own – strong, resilient, deep – while the surface appearance reflected my own self image – unrefined, coarse, not acceptable in a well groomed surroundings.  Tears erupted, then slowed and stopped – not fully released for fear that once they fell without restraint they would never cease.  A few steps further brought patches of softer grass, and the final turn into the center was carpeted in clover.  The center stone was made from bright blue shards of clay and glass embedded in concrete.  The strong urge to do a yoga sun salutation won out over my resistance to putting myself on display.  The sun’s rays melted my shoulders away from my neck and released my lips into a smile.  On the return trip my feet landed with a lighter touch – but I resisted their twitch towards dancing.  

Near the end of the path I watched a large beetle crawl up and down blades of grass, then tumble, right itself and keep going, over and over, blade after blade.  It was iridescent green, gold and purple – I thought beetles were black!  My journey ended as the beetle’s continued, on its own course of discovery. Thoughts of my Aunt ‘Ninnie’ flickered in – she would have loved Nashville – was she ever here?  Was she here with me now?  A steady intense noise buzzed from the trees nearby – Cicadas? Birds?  Not sure, but it was a wild song composed by nature.  I sat to write in a small copse of evergreens and the powerful scent of hemlock stopped my hand briefly as I basked in the flood of sensations.  I began to wonder how often I missed these experiences as I rushed from task to task at home.

We continued on to a second Labyrinth at the Calvary Methodist Church, located just down the road from the iconic Bluebird Café -famous for its reputation as a place for singer/songwriters, both famous and up-and-coming, to shares their songs and the stories behind them.  More bricks hid in overgrown grass.  I confidently headed towards the center – until I found myself at the entrance again without ever reaching the middle!  I chuckled and realized we can even lose our way on what appears to be a familiar route.   It was time to eat, rest, and leave the serious thoughts behind for the day.  And time to prepare for an evening show at the Grand Ole Opry.

We drove through a downpour to the ‘Opry’- in its large modern home, following the move from the Ryman Theatre in 1974.  We could see it in the distance but struggled finding our way through the unfamiliar maze of highways, bridges and exits to get there.  Once inside we found our seats near the front of the nearly full auditorium.   The traditional Opry show was not on tonight.   We were here to see the Oakridge Boys band.  But visions of Minnie Pearl and her hat with the price tag hanging off, along with singers Roy Acuff, Patsy Cline, and Tex Ritter crept in, perhaps refuting the diversion of my attention in the living room over 40 years ago!

To be continued…..