Giving thanks

Although it is officially Thanksgiving today, I won't have mine until Saturday, when the kids can come home. They and their families are with their respective in-laws. It doesn't really bother me to put Thanksgiving off, because I am so proficient at procrastination that it feels normal to me to be late with something. Besides, it gave me a chance to work a few hours for a little extra money, and gave me time to watch the Macy's parade without keeping an eye on the oven to make sure the pies don't burn.

That said, today is Thanksgiving Day, and I wanted to post a short note. I am thankful that this web site offers me the opportunity to have a blog, for one thing. It's free publishing! Like keeping a journal, it requires me to process my thoughts every once in awhile - to try to make sense out of life; to remind myself of where I'm going and how I'm getting there; to remember that my life, no matter how mundane or anxiety-ridden, is still full of humor and wonder.

And, of course, a blog would not be a true blog without its readers. Chris is totally amused by my blog. He thinks I am having an Internet conversation with...well, mostly my sister. Au contraire, Chris - I have an extensive reader base! (I'm laughing here, but hey, you never know who is reading when anyone in the world can access it!) I know some folks have stumbled onto here by sheer accident, and others are just curious to find out what the old lady said today. Some people read this just to see what Caroline is up to, I would imagine. Some of my readers are family members; some are people I have never had the privilege to meet.

Nonetheless, I am thankful for each person who reads any of this, from those who have glanced at a single post to the others who are following this blog on a regular basis. By reading, you are helping me make sense out of my life, and for that, I am grateful. You are giving me a chance to reminisce, and for that I am grateful. You are giving me an opening to brag about my kids and grandkids, and for that I am grateful.

It's very intriguing to have Internet "relationships." Those of you who frequent various chat rooms and boards understand what I am talking about. My favorite medical transcription site in particular has brought together a diverse group of ladies with only one thing in common - our line of work. Most of us have never met anyone else on the site in person. We live all over the country, and some beyond that, and there is the high probability that we will never meet one another. Yet when one has a birthday, we all cheer, and when one has to tend to a sick father, we all give support, and when one's beloved pet dies, we all mourn. A strange kind of community - strangers, yet friends. We've shared gripes and craft projects and pictures of our children and grandchildren. We've posted about the perils of getting older, the anxiety of finding a new job, the frustration of poor dictators.

So in a way, I'm also thankful for the Internet. It has brought me to you (whoever you may be!) and you to me, in some unfathomable relationship that I will never understand and probably am only beginning to appreciate. Thanks for accompanying me on the journey.

Seeking treasure

While I was staying at the Beckwith house to help with new baby Charlotte, Rachel and I decided to take the baby on an excursion into Bangor, leaving Caroline home with Dad. Chris is one of those interactive dads who use their creative juices to, as he said, "raise the bar" for other babysitters (moms included, unfortunately, says Rachel). Accordingly, he decided they would have a treasure hunt.

He gathered some blank index cards and painstakingly drew very detailed pictures of places in the house, with an arrow to "mark the spot" where the next clue could be found. He started Caroline off at the refrigerator, where the first index card was attached. She examined the picture. As this idea was new to her, Chris initially had to give her leading questions to help her figure out what the treasure hunt exactly was and how it operated, but she learned quickly, going from one clue to the next.

The final index card showed a drawing of her bed, with an arrow pointing to the pillow. She felt all around the pillow, and finally lifted the pillow up and threw it back. There it was - the treasure - a wooden letter "I."

What kind of treasure is that, you might ask? As you wonder about the choice of such a mundane object, you may also consider this: Not only was this wooden treasure "untreasure-like" in its characteristics, it was something she already owned. Caroline owns a wooden puzzle which spells out her name in individual colored letters. The "I" had been missing for quite awhile, and all attempts to locate it had been fruitless. And there it was - right under her pillow - as if by magic!

Chris had the foresight to videotape the whole treasure hunt so Rachel and I could share in Caroline's adventure. He told us he had found the wayward "I" by accident, and instead of just giving it to her outright, he had decided to have some fun in the process. And Caroline truly enjoyed the hunt and the discovery of her precious "treasure."

Some experiences in life are hard to squeeze meaning from, like one of those diaper wipes that loses its moisture after sticking out of the little box too long in the air (I guess you can tell what I've been doing all week). Other experiences just ache to be commented on, and this, obviously is one of those.

We are all searching for life's meaning, the treasure that makes the journey worthwhile, interpreting clues on what to do next and where to go with our resources. Sometimes we need to be reminded that the journey itself is the adventure. And in the end, when we find that the "treasure" is something we already had inside of us the whole time, we are not disappointed, but instead are flat-out amazed! (Is it just coincidence that identity starts with an I?) The only regret is that it takes some of us so long to discover it.

There - I just had to say it. Sermon over!


I've had my share of surprises in my life. Some were painful (who knew you couldn't point an activated firestarter gel bottle at your face and squeeze???) and some were great but almost gave me a heart attack (my sister from Memphis flew up for my 50th birthday and just walked into the room unannounced). I was ecstatic when Ed gave me my first Celtic harp a few years ago- what a wonderful surprise! I had an unwelcome surprise this past Sunday when I glanced down at my license plate and realized it was due to have registration renewed in August.

Of course, our major surprise in the recent past was the discovery at her birth that our new grandbaby was a girl!

I think Holiday Inn ran a series of commercials once with the theme, "The best surprise is no surprise." Sometimes that's true. But in general, I really enjoy surprises. When you become an adult, it's easy to lose that exciting feeling that anything could happen at any moment. I guess when you're little, that feeling is always positive because you can't think of anything bad that could happen. As an adult, we know that bad things can and do happen, and if you are a believer in Murphy's Law, bad things will happen. So we tend to lose that sense of the next surprise waiting around the corner.

There are some surprises that leap out at me, and then there are others that make their way slowly to the surface, and all at once I realize, "Hey! Look at that!" For instance, I am always surprised when I read our son Matt's blog. His intellect is totally amazing! Now as I write this, I don't want to sound as if I thought he was less smart or that he couldn't have written about such complex ideas. We always knew he was smart. But since he has reached adulthood, I still marvel at the way his brain works and how much creativity he has. If you are interested in computer programming and web site development or just technological ideas, you should check out his blog.

Matt also had to have dental surgery this week. The problem should have been taken care of when he was a young teenager, but alas, no one suggested it and now the situation was immediately in need of treatment. Matt went into the surgery and through the surgery with an adult attitude of acceptance. All I could think about was Matt as a little boy, having to have a baby tooth pulled (a painful thing, since it had an extremely long root), and wanting to give half the tooth fairy money to his sister. Exactly when was it that he grew up?

One of the running jokes in our family is the definition of swine. It has always been a desire of mine to consider every occasion a teaching experience and to make sure our children are literate. I am not referring to the ability to read, of course, but to a possession of a general knowledge that I feel literate adults should have in our society. This particular joke started in a local restaurant when I was eating with the kids and their spouses. We were discussing the proverb, "Don't throw pearls before swine," and I took it upon myself to ask the them (the kids, not the swine) if they knew what swine were. Well, what the heck did I know?! They didn't grow up on a farm! How many times in their lives would they have had an opportunity to learn what "swine" meant? I was immediately reprimanded for my audacity in asking such a stupid question. Of course they knew what "swine" meant! They were college-educated adults, for goodness' sake! They still bring that up and are still amazed that I was surprised at their knowledge. What do I know? I still call them "kids," as you can see!

I had one of those sneak-up-on-you surprises this week as I stayed with our daughter and son-in-law to help out with our 2-1/2-year-old granddaughter Caroline and the new baby Charlotte. Our daughter, Rachel, has always been more on the stubborn side, with little flexibility and little tolerance for disappointments and changes in plans. She has many virtues, but I never would have put patience at the top of the list! Having said that, this week I have seen Rachel handling with utmost patience and calm her overturned household, undone chores, lack of sleep, C-section recovery, crying baby, whining toddler, and of course, me, her temporary live-in mother. I have seen things that would drive anyone else to a hair-pulling nervous breakdown, and Rachel just smiled and did what needed to be done. I raised a girl and it took me this long to really, I mean really, see the woman she has become.

What a blessing it is when we get to see our "kids" as adults - intelligent, wise, patient, skilled, taking on that which needs to be done with minimal complaining, exhibiting the serenity of acceptance on an adult level. We raised them both, and I like to think we had something to do with the adults they have become.

Yeah, I kind of like surprises!


During my many trips to and from Winterport to see my new grandbaby Charlotte and her family, I like to listen to Christmas music. I started doing that this year late; it was October before I started my Christmas music marathon, and it usually is September when I bring out the CD collection. I can't apologize for my rush - I just happen to love Christmas music. I think more than any other kind of music, it evokes powerful memories in most of us.

As soon as I had listened to "I'll Be Home for Christmas," I got out of the car, came into the house, and turned on the TV just in time to hear an ad for Wal-Mart, one of a series of ads featuring their slogan for this year, "Home for the Holidays." I believe deciding exactly where home is for us can be most confusing these days. If I'm home for Christmas, does that mean I am here in our Victorian house in Maine? Am I still in Maine but maybe at Rachel's house? Matt's apartment? Or, one of the more powerful images, am I in Memphis, Tennesee, on Josephine Street, where I grew up and where my mother still lives? Could I be in Collierville, Tennesses, at my sister's house? What if I'm just somewhere in Tennessee - is that being home for Christmas? And I can't forget Arkansas; it would certainly feel like home if I had my aunt and uncle and cousins together for Christmas (and one of those would have to be gathered in from another state!).

This year, as in other years, our family is sharing our kids with other families for Thanksgiving and Christmas. After all, when your children marry and some have children of their own, all of a sudden your family is enlarged tremendously, and the idea of home becomes fairly complicated. I think it becomes complicated even if you never have children. Once any two people unite in a relationship, there are more definitions of home added to the family dictionary. Can home be more than one place? Can we relinquish the idea of home being just a house or apartment?

Oh, it's easy when you're young. When I was a student at Lambuth College, and someone had asked me if I were going home for Christmas, I would have said, "Yes, indeed!" and I could have told you exactly where that home was located. When I married Ed, all of a sudden we had three homes - his, mine, and ours! My sister got married - and we added another home. We moved from a house in Memphis to parsonages all over Tennessee - each our home for a time, and each surrounded by friends we have left behind. Heck, during one transfer we had a "layover" and considered a Holiday Inn as home for 2 weeks! (I know hurricane victims are considering hotels home in terms of months, not weeks.) Now both our children are married and we have more homes added to the list. I think sometimes if I were truly going to be home for Christmas I would have to have St. Nicholas's magic of being everywhere at once.

And, of course, I could sum this all up in the famous saying, "Home is where the heart is." The older I get, the more I realize that whenever I am with family, I am home. Whenever I am with friends who love me, I am home. Again, the journey to simplicity keeps coming back to relationships, not things.

The problem a lot of folks my age face is the fact that not only are our family members living in other houses, but in today's world they are often living in other states or even other countries. In a way, that has expanded our view of home, but it also has made the actual possibility of everyone getting together more remote. And relatives are getting older, and time moves on, and we sometimes joke at funerals that it's a "reunion." It's sad that a reunion has to wait for a time like that.

We can't entirely dismiss buildings as a valid way to awaken home memories, however. Our memories are interwoven with places and people and things, and each has the power to touch a memory circuit in our brains enough that if we close our eyes, we are there again. Ed had an experience like that years ago when he was preaching. The congregation was singing "Silent Night," and all of a sudden, Ed says, he closed his eyes and the whole scene disappeared and he was back in his childhood church basement in Missouri, a boy of about 8 or 9 years old, singing that exact song. He insists this was not a memory per se; he was actually transported for just a minute to that basement.

So ideas of home cover much more than things and people present. Part of my home is my own childhood church, long burned down. Part of my home is my dad, my grandfather, and my great aunt, Aunt Bessie, and others who have passed away.

I'm glad the word home is broad enough to take all these meanings and give life to them. I'm glad the vivid memories I have of happy times and loved ones can still live in my heart. Sometimes home is indeed a state of mind. Of course, there's nothing like having my mom and sister present with me during the holidays. But I feel their love "across the miles," as the cards say, and I am thankful that love is strong enough to reach beyond distance, even beyond time itself...

"Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light gleams.
I'll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams."

Our Miracle

I remember when Ed preached on miracles. I also remember having a discussion on Bishop Spong's site about them, too. The gist of both discussions was that society too narrowly defines "miracle" as an event so totally out of the "ordinary" that divine intervention (which normally apparently is "out there somewhere" and keeps hands out of ordinary life) is the only way to explain it. Of course, that's not the case. Science has shown us the miracles in a leaf showing its true colors in the fall, a solid table consisting of active and moving subatomic particles, the complexity of the solar system and beyond, and the relatively recent relevations of mapping DNA.

Ed also preached that we think of birth as a miracle, but in reality, the very conception of a child is a miracle, and you would have to come to this conclusion if you study the mechanism of conception and all the obstacles built in to keep it from happening. It's a wonder babies get born at all!

But born they are, and last night we welcomed Charlotte Elise into the world, and now our world has changed again and will never be the same. During the short time we passed her around from person to person last night in the hospital room, we all agreed she seemed to have a calmer temperament than Caroline did at that age. Already she is showing her individuality.

Of course, all that may change, but right now it reminds us that she is indeed her unique self. I started to type "her little unique self," but with her weight at 10-1/2 pounds, I might be excused for omitting that word! General comments, though, were that she still seems little to us, despite her weight.

I think of Charlotte being our second grandchild, and think of Chris's mother, Alice, for whom Charlotte is a wonderful addition to several grandchildren, and I marvel at the miracle that each new baby is just like the first. The happy tears flow, the cycle of life continues.
I am blessed to be a part of it all.

Who will it be?

It's 5 a.m. and I have a vacation day from work. So why am I blogging instead of sleeping? Because my new grandbaby will be born today, and I am too excited to sleep.

Since I don't know Baby's gender yet, I will have to refer my new grandchild as "It" for the purpose of this post. Sorry, Baby, I don't mean to de-personify you. Our language just isn't sufficient for gender-neutral pronouns in this situation! Baby doesn't realize it yet, but today but in a few short hours, it will be leaving its secure world of the womb and be transported into a new world - strange, exciting, harsh, soothing, noisy - and it knows not what to expect. The only thing Baby will know is that all of a sudden it has to cry for its food, cry from discomfort, and be totally dependent on others for care.

This Baby will be lucky. It is being born into a close, loving family. It will be loved and cared for and encouraged. It will be taught numbers, letters, manners, respect, tolerance - and probably a little French along the way. It will be taught that "Daddy says sneaker; Mama says tennis shoe." It will be able easily to recognize Martin Luther King, Yoda, and Abraham Lincoln. These facts we know because this Baby's family has been successful in teaching these things to Caroline.

The mystery (and fun!) is in what we don't know. Because this Baby will certainly not be a carbon-copy of dear Caroline. Oh, no. Whether it is male or female, this Baby will have its own identity, its own interests and hobbies, its own little personality, and its own way of doing things.

I know from our children Matt and Rachel that no two kids are alike, and I am happy that each one of our kids has brought his and her unique identity to enrich our lives - as they have done so completely.

So what's next? Nobody knows! And that's the beauty of it! Welcome to the world, little Baby. Always remember that we love you for yourself, as we love Caroline for herself. The world will change for the better because of your existence, and we can hardly wait to see the kind of child you turn out to be. But the greatest thing about today is that we all will be relieved that you will finally have a NAME! It's been a long wait, and we are overjoyed! Love, Grammy

Working out from the middle

I spent the afternoon basting Rachel's quilt yesterday. I had moved the dining room table and chairs and spread the quilt out on the floor. Then I got down on my hands and knees with my needle, thread, and scissors, and started the arduous task of basting.

A quilt is like a sandwich; in fact, that's what they call it, a quilt sandwich. First I have to lay the backing fabric on the floor and smooth out the wrinkles. On top of that, I spread the batting, trying to keep the backing fabric smooth while smoothing out the batting. Finally, I put the quilt top on all of it and pinned everything together.

Pins are great (and oh so sharp!), but they serve as a temporary fixative. To keep the layers together long enough to get the quilt in a hoop, I must baste it with thread. Every quilter has her own basting preference (including other options besides thread) but I usually thread baste a vertical line down the middle, a horizontal line through the middle, a big "X" from corner to corner, then a grid few inches apart vertically and horizontally. (As a side note, my age came into play again, as I am having more trouble getting the thread into that tiny needle eye.) The key to basting and hand quilting a quilt is starting in the very center and working outward. It's awkward that way, especially on hands and knees all hunched over on the floor, but you have to start in the middle so you can smooth to the outside as you go. If you started from the outside edge, you'd have a big wad by the time you got to the middle.

Since I was sprawled across the floor and crawling here and there for most of the afternoon (and my muscle soreness proves it), I had plenty of time to think. Lately I have been doing some list-making (at which I excel but lack on the carrying-through part) about goals and priorities. I think that having your priorities in place is like basting from the middle. Once you start with good, solid, clear priorities, it's much easier to negotiate the rest of your life. In others words, you get a much better result starting in the middle and working out than starting out working in.

I am reading a great article called "The Power of Clarity" I found on the Internet. After I finish it and think about it, I'll post some reflection. In the meantime, I'll give my pin-stuck fingers a few days to heal, be there when my new grandbaby is born on Monday, and talk about goals and priorities later. After all, I think a new grandbaby just jumped to the top of my personal priority list!

Playing with the angels

I had something extraordinary happen to me at work today. I spent the day doing my job, but my mind was going over superficial aggravations about how the office was being run and who's getting away with what, etc., when I opened up an e-mail from someone who was sending me a sincere apology for her part in a working relationship/friendship rift that had been simmering since June. It was so totally unexpected that I just stopped typing and sat there for a few minutes.

One phrase in the e-mail jumped out at me. "Life is too short." I immediately thought about my friend, Bernie. Today would have been her 52nd birthday. She died at the age of 49 of hepatitis C that she received from a transfusion 20 years earlier during a C-section. She often joked about the fact that she was a longtime non-drinking Baptist and was ironically dying of liver disease.

Her real name was Kathleen Capon White, wife of Francis White, a nurse anesthetist in Memphis. I called her Bernie in high school, because in French class we had to adopt French names and she chose Bernadette. We met in 4th grade, grew up in school together, became Candy Stripers together. I was her matron of honor and she had served at our wedding a few years earlier. Her postpolio syndrome made it impossible for her play the piano, so she took up the dulcimer instead. She sang and played beautifully!

The last time I saw Bernie was at Rachel's wedding. Bernie was in the last stages of her hepatitis, but she insisted on flying up here for the wedding anyway. I didn't know at the time that I would never see her again on this earth. If she had lived, I know she would have been a faithful reader of my blog and I know also she would have had a creative blog of her own. She had much to share the world.

This is the way the world turns upside down. Before Bernie received her hepatitis diagnosis, I could have made an extensive list of people in our lives that I was sure would die before Bernie. Life does not follow logic, however. Now I feel her today over my shoulder, repeating, "Life is too short...for petty annoyances and grievances and complaints. Appreciate what you have."

I suppose I have a form of survivor's guilt. Bernie died before 50; I am 51 now. Bernie never saw her 3 children get married; I have seen both mine on their wedding days. Bernie never lived to enjoy a grandchild; I have my second one coming into the world on Monday. In a way, though, I feel as if she is living through me, and not only through me, but through Francis and her children and her music and her gorgeous cross-stitch pictures, and she is living through all those who have benefited from her life and love.

Happy birthday, Bernie! I miss you so much!

"Thar's Gold in Them Thar Hills!"

On a recent trip to Bangor, I saw cars slow down in front of me and I groaned. I had forgotten about the never-ending construction, and after our heavy rains, I just knew the section of unpaved road would be bad. Following the lead of the other cars in front of me, I slowed down and together we winded our lethargic way across the uneven dirt.

I was on my way to meet Rachel and Caroline for toddlers' music class, and I didn't want to be late. I pride myself on my ability to be punctual (especially when Ed is not dragging his slow self with me) and I was mentally calculating how much later this road repair would make me. I was sure that every other driver was thinking the same thing. At that point, we all had something in common - frustrated impatience.

Finally the highway delivered us out of the construction zone, and all the drivers sped up to recover lost time. I pressed the accelerator, then had to release my foot immediately, because there before me was the most gorgeous display of fall foliage covering the mountains and nearby hills; it was splendor in gold! It took my breath away, and I slowed down. We've had a less-than-perfect autumn here in Maine, because the key ingredients to assure a colorful foliage season were lacking, and what the rain didn't destroy, the wind did. The color of the leaves that remained on the trees was on average not very brilliant. But the view on this stretch of highway was miraculously preserved.

I considered how my situation had reflected the busyness of our lives. We find ourselves in a boring waiting game and once the wait is over, we speed through the remaining journey in a mad rush to make up time - in the process, missing the gold. I thought it was so ironic that we drivers were required to crawl through the boring scenery, and just as the view turned spectacular, we were trying to drive so fast that most of us totally missed it. For me, it was when autumn 2005 redeemed itself - and I almost didn't notice.

Rachel is scheduled for her c-section next Monday. She told me that after Caroline was born, she was always looking ahead to the "firsts" - the first time she would roll over, the first time she would crawl, the first time she would walk. She said she really had looked forward to the time when Caroline could talk, and especially when she could say the word Mama. It was only when she began her second pregnancy, knowing it would be her last, that Rachel vowed to appreciate and enjoy each stage of the new baby's life, and not try to hurry through to the next milestone.

Ed says I have the most accidents when I go too fast. I also tend to miss some darn good scenery.