11/3 Walking and words: Cacophony

I like to think my walks are islands of solitude when my best thinking happens. No music through ear buds so I can hear my thoughts and pay attention to my surroundings.  (Safety first!)  I’ve forgotten that I’m never really alone.

After logging 14,000 plus steps yesterday I was mainly pleased to have gotten out early despite some aches. A cold morning, the last for a little while, but I was dressed for the second and third mile not the first so I was fairly comfortable.

Gloves would have been nice though.

I walked down the alley that passes our church and that’s when the inner conversation started.  The Right Brain piped up: “Oh take that photo! The light is great and the clock shows how early it is!”

wpid-wp-1446561993365.jpeg

I was happy to oblige because basically the RB was correct.  But if I always agree, we never really move.

The app regularly broke the silence with update: time, distance, pace. No judgment, just facts. But the Left Brain took offense: “Move faster! Three years ago you were 5 minutes faster!”

I felt myself speed up, but the cranky Right Knee immediately showed herself: “Wait a minute, this is how we got into this mess.  We moved too fast for my healing self.”

I settled back into a steady, albeit slower pace. The various parts of the body would chime in but I let them fade to the background.   Then we got to this place:

wpid-wp-1446569724188.jpeg

and I agreed with RB — I had to stop.  Groans from the Left Brain that I wasn’t making any progress.  Squeaks from the Right Knee about all this stopping and starting when I moved again.

“I’m going to buckle, I just know it!” Right Knee exclaimed.  “I’m going to collapse and then you’ll have to use that phone to call the paramedics and go to the hosptial in an ambulance!  I’ll be useless!  Useless I tell you.”  A drama queen, that right knee.

Then, for the first time in four years, the LEFT Knee spoke up:  “How come you pay her all the attention?   I’m going to hurt now too.  Just see what happens when you favor one knee over the other.  I responded to cortisone in 2011, how come she can’t do that?”

The Left Brain ordered both knees to shut the hell up because dammit all, we’re slowing down.

Mid Back decided that she needed to offer some thoughts:  “You know, I feel sort of achy.  If you’d only just use the mind-body connection and make the abs do some of my work, I’d have some support.  You remember that Pilates training, don’t you? I showed up and helped you do Teaser, but did the abs do anything? Nooooo! It’s all me, it’s always me. Make the transverse abs do something instead of just hanging out and swaying my options.” (Apparently, backs are sarcastic.)

I actually did listen to the back, brought the abs back under control and all the complaints faded for a bit, whispering in the background but at an ignorable decibel.

wpid-wp-1446569724159.jpeg

All at once, coming toward me in a single, unified running body was a cross country team.  Boys and girls moving at a steady pace, taking turns at the lead to draft for the others.

“I want us to do that,” whispered the Left Brain.

“Don’t they make a lovely picture,” mused the Right Brain.

“We wish we could move with such ease,” mourned the Knees.

“At least they have good posture, bet the abs are involved, ” muttered the Back.

Silence from all as we considered how to move that lightly, that freely again.

And then Right Brain saw another photo.  “Please, oh please!  I promise it’s the last one!”

wpid-wp-1446573354302.jpegAll parts agreed that it was lovely with an agonized could we please move on?? from the Left Brain.

I started to head out of the park down a street I’d never walked before.  Pretty houses still dressed for Halloween, though maybe fewer ghosts in deference to Thanksgiving.  The air was still cold, but the magic of the second mile made it feel comfortable.

And then the Glutes Triplets — Max, Mede and Min — made their presence known.  “If you don’t stop this soon, we’re going to make getting up and down the stairs and in and out of chairs (“ooh, a rhyme!” from Right Brain) a raging agony for the rest of the day.

I thought, hmm, good day for Foam Rolling.

There was immediate silence.

“Take your time,” came a small chorus.  And so I did.

Will see what happens tomorrow.

November: walking and words

20151102_073728I have a modest goal to walk every day in November, aiming for at least 7,000 steps before 9 am.   After nearly a year of negligible consistent movement and another OBX Half Marathon passing me by, I decided to make certain things a habit.   Walking is first.

I won’t be a slave to my Fitbit — in fact the only rule is to move consistently before 9 am, rain or shine.  Otherwise I’ll have workout gear on and do one more email, read one more post, answer one more question and then it will be 4 and all I’ll really want to do is start dinner and relax.

The tandem goal is to add photos and words to this space daily.  Now that we’ve moved into a new house, now that certain health issues are in the rear view mirror, it’s time to clear the mental palate and work at the words.  The photos may or may not serve as prompts.  There may or may not be lessons in the words.  There may or may not be made up histories about my new home town.

There will be consistency.   Curious to see what that brings.

A sedentary story

This first winter back in the mid-Atlantic is gray and as my personal light continues to sputter, I’m second-guessing that word of the year.

I’ve gone through my photos and put sunshine where I can — on my phone, on my walls. And I’ve searched out words that will coax me through one more day of gray and coax the inner light to shine a little brighter

I know the light is banked right now because I can’t move the way I want.  My walks outside are currently curtailed because of a bit of knee surgery next week. Right now my gait is uneven and I can feel my whole body list to the left to compensate for the right knee pain, so walks are a matter of getting from here to there instead of moving for the sake of moving.

I miss giving over to a familiar route on a regular basis, when muscles loosen as I settle into stride and pace and then finally my thoughts loosen too.  Not being able to find my best route in this new place keeps me from feeling settled in.

I prefer winter and fall, when you can feel the bone structure in the landscape—the loneliness of it—the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it—the whole story doesn’t show.
Andrew Wyeth

Winter walks have that quiet anticipation. When I read that I remembered two walks last year. On the first, I admired the lacy branches of trees arching over the Neuse River. I loved how stark and still they were against the sullen sky.

20140209_182938798_iOS

On a sunny Saturday in June I decided to find that tree again. The other wpid-wp-1420670298421.jpegwalkers/runners/cyclists and a trio of young brothers on skates were a little puzzled by the woman looking up and muttering to herself, but I was determined.  When I found the tree, I was ridiculously thrilled that I’d won my personal game of Concentration.

How? Well, that winter walked etched the bones of the tree into my memory.  All (ha!) I had to do was find the bare, broken branch on the left and follow the trunk to that smaller arch that bore the fanciful lace of branches.  And while the June photo shows the full story, I keep going back to January.

I prefer winter walks as it’s much easier to dress comfortably when it’s cold.  I prefer solitary paths with interesting, spare stories like the spindly black branches against a gray sky.  A good portion of this winter will be done by the time I get the all clear to get back to my pace and stride so I’ll have to find that structure of this new place a little faster, but with just a little more light on my side.

A story about the bravest woman I know

Sometimes you have to tell stories about other people.  In the Catholic Church, January 1 is The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.  My story is about Mary, Mother of Courtney.

Six years ago, I attended the Romance Writers of America conference in San Francisco.  During one of the down times, I sat with a group of friends in the lobby of the hotel, laughing, sharing, cross-chatting — the basics of friendship among women.  I don’t know what I said or did, but suddenly my friend Anne Marie stared at me hard.  Then she turned to another pal and said, “You know who Laura reminds me of?  Mary Lenaburg!”

To which the other friend nodded emphatically and said, “Yes!!!”  They listed all the things about this Mary that they thought we had in common — we tended to take care of people, we had kids around the same age, we had the maps of Ireland on our faces.  On and on they went, praising the virtues of this Mythical Mary. It seemed she was a member of their local Washington DC chapter, while I lived in Arizona and only saw this group annually.

Anne Marie introduced Mary to me at a huge party that Friday night.  (I think Miss Mary came into the introduction cold, while I was fully prepped about her.)

mary and me
July 2009

And from the moment we said hello, I knew my friends were right.  Being Mary and Laura, we found ourselves at the table where everyone threw bags and shoes on the way to the dance floor, and stayed there to make sure nothing went astray. And as the party swirled around us, we found connections on many levels — we each had two kids with boys first; we were both part of large Catholic families, we’d done our share of moving and setting up new homes, we both knew the all the words to the songs in High School Musical.  The sobering connection was we both had intimate knowledge of children with chronic illnesses and what that adds to your list of parenting.

At the time, I didn’t know how different were the levels of those chronic illnesses. Both of my children had episodes with theirs, requiring hospital time, surgery, ongoing medications, but through the ups and downs they went to school, played sports, lived their lives.  Mary’s Courtney was a miraculous special needs child who wasn’t going to break out of her wheelchair and dance along with High School Musical — but she sure as heck was going to hum along.

And this is what we shared, Mary and I:  we knew what it was to partner with a spouse and be a vanguard for our children in front of doctors, nurses, teachers and everyone else who had an opinion of how things could be done “better.”  And while we were at it, we tried to create a normal routine for the child who was healthy at that time.

Since we first met in 2008, I think Mary and I have spent time with each other in person probably fewer than 10 times.  But she’s been a daily presence in my life through Facebook and this blog and Instagram.  No matter where she’s been at in terms of Courtney, I knew Mary would chime in with a postive word or thanks for giving her something to ponder.  And I’d wonder where she’d make the time to say a word.

She lives her faith boldly for all to see.  Mary is a not a prayer warrior, she’s a Prayer Amazon Queen.  Her prayers, her faith, her honesty in that faith are what draw people to her and to her blog Passionate Perseverance.  Courtney has been the center of that blog but Mary shares her thoughts on fashion, baking, sewing and for some reason, threw a video of her doing a cartwheel in there.  For all to see.

Because Mary, she is not a hider.  She’s a dig down and show the world the true ups and downs of parenting such a special young woman.  She’s shared when her faith has hit rock bottom and it was all she could do to hang on, she’s shared the miracles that have abounded in their lives, she’s blogged without caffeine, running on fumes.  Mary has shared without shadow, throwing light on corners of her life.  It’s amazing and humbling to read her words.

This fall, she opened the window into a home preparing for a child entering her last days of life.  Her honesty in her sorrow at letting Courtney go even as she knew that Courtney’s body could no longer bear the burdens of the flesh was sobering,yet uplifting. The week before Christmas, as the end drew nearer, social media was bombarded with #candlesforcourtney as people from all over the world, stranger and friend alike, winged prayers for a calm, quiet passing for Courtney.  And strength for the family she would leave behind.wpid-20141228_130316.jpg

Mary ended 2014 with Courtney’s funeral.  She would be the first to say the bravest one was Courtney, but I think that bravery was only possible because Courtney’s mama (father and brother too) fought for her every single day.  And she’ll also be the first to say that a post like this isn’t necessary, but I think it’s important to honor people who bring a clarity into your life — for a moment, for years — however long that clarity is necessary.

When she’s ready, I know Mary will return to blogging and she’ll be as open about the new shape of her family’s life as she was with Life with Courtney.   I fully expect to be humbled and uplifted all over again.

 

A story about starting

I knew it would be an adjustment going from a home with walls of windows to a 100-plus years old flat that runs fwpid-wp-1419173451566.jpegront to back, north to south. Now we have windows in the front, back and along the west side of the flat overlooking an alley and facing the building next door.  I knew that we’d  have to raise and lower shades to protect from city lights instead of watching day fade to night and dark give way to light without any obstruction.

I knew that we’d have to purse light by heading out and about in our new city.  In August, I was up for the challenge.

But the reality of pursing that goal is hard work made harder by a knee that protests any set of stairs and walking with any sort of pace.  So instead of grabbing hold of the the light here, I’ve been watching it reflect on the buildings across the street and the spires that pierce the sky above this small city from inside that century-plus years old flat.

20140921_113353_Android

No movement added to the creeping tendrils of winter dark make for a somber, annoyed and frustrated end of the year.

I’m not good with starts of any sorts (the prime example of this would be consistently adding posts to this space after a “new” beginning).  I usually just want to be the middle of something instead of anticipating a start.  Why?  Partly because I have a decent enough imagination to make bogie monsters out of the most benign happenings.   Or maybe it’s just the fear of making a mistake and unraveling back to the error.  Honestly, you’d think knitting would have cured me of this, but it just makes it worse.

I succeed when I ignore the Start and instead just begin.  No matter where I am if I just give it a go without any strings on the action, so much the better.

wpid-wp-1419173376159.jpeg

This morning, at the start of the shortest day of the year, my writing focused on the dark outside and realizing that in 182 days there will be light in the world around me.  How was I going to bring the light inside?

I set a goal of standing (or sitting in an outdoor cafe) in the light in 182 days. Being me, I actually started toward that goal yesterday with a hip opener yoga sequence in my living room.  So the start is already behind me instead of looming large ahead.

 That light doesn’t have to be from the sun as long as I feel lit from within.  Right now it’s all I can do to keep the small flame — akin to the sputtering candles on a birthday cake — alive, but I’m ready to figure out how to make it a 3-wick 3-foot high pillar candle.

And look at me, I’m already at day two!

As an added bonus, I’ve put off the work of finding a word of the year for 2015. Instead, while writing this it found me.  Simple and clear as day.

Light.

A bar story

Painted in Waterlogue We are pub people, my darling husband and I.  When we’re at the beach some of our best days end with pulling up a stool at the corner of our favorite bar, sipping the libation of choice and watching the choreography of the bartenders at work.

Conversation comes and goes, the crowd changes with the hours. Early on, the stools are taken by people unwinding on their way home from work, a little later it’s families eating on the dining room side of the taproom, even later it’s the crowd seeking the evening’s entertainment — sometimes staying put, sometimes looking to move on to the next exciting place.

On this particular evening, we finished up our own dinner at the bar and were thinking about winding up the evening.  A couple moved into the empty space next to me and as the stools had been moved to a table, MDR offered the lone stool on his side.

The woman accepted quickly, then walked over to get it, but my husband gallantly moved it over for her.  Her spouse watched and shrugged as if to say, he’s got it — no bother to me.  Actually, he might have said it out loud. She thanked us kindly and they were served their drinks. Normally I’d have let them be, but his accent stopped me.  It was southern, though not the US southern you normally hear around us.  They were visiting from south England — Cornwall to be exact.

And because I just can’t resist asking the questions, we ended up with so many answers. They’d only just gotten to the US two days earlier and were at the start of a five-week jaunt. The primary purpose was to meet their three-month old grandson, but they had other things on their list:  they would leave the beach and head to Raleigh to try the Red Oak brewery, then on to Nashville, then Rosine — the birthplace of bluegrass. Then they planned to stay with a friend in Hazard, Kentucky who may or not be constantly stoned, but who’s gotten rich and poor several times by always giving away his money when he was flush.

This wasn’t their first trip — or rodeo.  They actually found a rodeo in west Texas purely by happenstance when the wife insisted they pull off in Graham as it’s her son’s name.  A state trooper, a parade, some locals and a couple of turns later, they were the only Cornish at a very local rodeo.

They had strong opinions on US citizens when they visit the UK (not that nice) and when this couple visits here (amazingly friendly). They’ve driven from Seattle to San Diego. They’ve done a Segway tour in Philadelphia.  They have not been to Boston because he still holds a grudge for the Tea Party (the 18th century one). They are open to unexpected stops and adventures along the way.  She’s the navigator with fold up maps and atlases.  He’s the driver and the storyteller.  They were a lot of fun.

And they were a lesson.  Or two.

The guideposts to their travel?   Historic railroads, cemeteries, battlefields, music and beer.   Not a bad way to spend your time.
We never got their names, but I know they showed up exactly when they were supposed to in order to show us that adventurers have many faces.  And adventure is whatever you choose it to be.
The other lesson?  Always take a photo of the interesting people you meet.  You never know when the memory of them will be the next story.

The next step

I’m working on a longer story right now.  But these are words that have propelled me for weeks.

IMG_1311
Beach road, right in front of me

There is no sure thing.  I can only ask this:
What are you ignoring?
What are you resisting?
What part of your life have you locked out and sealed shut?
And I’m not talking about something invisible and unspeakable.  Just take a look at what is right in front of you — the obvious and unavoidable — and step foot there.  All that is ever required of us is that we lift one foot and place it in front of the other.

Karen Maezen Miller,
Paradise in Plain Sight: Lessons from a Zen Garden

 

Third time. Charm.

IMG_2209The text came in just before noon on the last Sunday in March:

 “Dear Laura,
time for a new Laura Reeth blog post.
Love The universe.”

I read it, smiled.  Texted the friend serving as the embodiment of the universe:

Dear Universe,
I know.  I know.
Need to push through and
stop making excuses.
Thank you.

And then I put the phone down, pushed the thoughts away and moved along.  Except I did that moving pretty much standing in one place.

It’s not that I don’t want to write my stories in this place I’ve created.  I do.  But the words seem trapped behind a thick clear wall — I can see them but I can’t find the doorway to access them.  In fact after writing the first two sentences here, I got up and walked away from the computer — for three days — because it was just so hard.

Of course it’s hard.  It’s hard to come up with words, phrases, sentences that make sense.  It’s hard to put the work out there.  It’s hard to have faith that the stories will come if I show up.

But hard is not impossible.  I just keep giving into a maze mind that throws up dead ends and detours and full-stops to keep me trapped behind that wall.  Because it’s not the words that are trapped, it’s me inside that maze mind.  The words are flitting about happily in their polysyllabic universe.  Happy.  Free.  Untethered to any of my grand notions of gravitas.

I’ve friends who are fully invested in the hard part of telling their stories.  They may love the words, the flow at certain points some days.  They may detest them an hour later.  But to a person, they show up every day and make those words appear on the screen.

Since I refuse to even give the words a chance, they remain beyond the screen, detached from me.

I’ve taken a few photos since that text, shared them on occasion, hoping that showing what I see at any given time would jump start me to those levels of determination and discipline to tell what I see.  There is no magic, there are only steps.  And the first step is ignoring the voice in my head that edits — usually unkindly — as each word appears on the screen.  The sensible part of me says, stop it! Stop it now!  The maze mind just says heh, heh, heh.

I could go on and on, bore myself silly with the reasons why I don’t show up when I know full well that the showing up is a good portion of the work.  There are stories I need to tell, they are ones only I can tell and if I don’t do it, those stories leave this world with me without once being given life.

Last Sunday at the end of a quick, solo trip to the beach, I was up at 6:20 with a beautiful dawn straight in front of me.  I had some new lenses for my camera phone that MDR gave me as a Mother’s Day gift and they were burning a hole in the small case I had — I needed to get out there and see the world in a new way. But there was departure looming a couple of hours ahead of me — how could I get out there and use them and get everything done?

I thought, “you know, if I had a perfect life I’d walk every morning on the beach.”

The Maze Mind was heh, heh, heh-ing all over again.  But this time the sensible portion of my brain turned on me and said, “then get the hell out of here and walk.  You always have the time.  Now make some.”

And that was the step.  Lace up the sneakers and go — 20 minutes, 30.  Half mile, less, more.  It didn’t really matter, it was stepping out the door and going.  If I didn’t walk on the beach departure time would still come around, but I’d mourn the fact I had to leave and didn’t see the early morning beach.

So I walked.  And I thought. About this space.  About a million and one changes coming up in the next three months. About how even if I didn’t do any writing here I’d still turn 53 in two months.

What came through loud and clear was how are you going to spend those two months?

The answer, simply, was show up and tell some stories.

And so, I start.  Again.

 

 

 

 

A visual story about messengers

I find that when the universe doesn’t like my response to a message (see deer/spirit guide story) it likes to nudge me along.  So when I stalled on my promise to myself to take action and be kinder to myself, the universe sent reinforcements:

photo (52)

 

Yes, a spirit guide party, right in my very own backyard.

Message received.  Honestly, I’m afraid NOT to take some action because there could be 20 the next time I look.

Warmth

I’ve notice that my photos pretty well capture my personal gravitational pull to cooler colors, especially the blues and the greens.  While I’ve avoided grays and blacks recently, I’ve never been one to instinctively choose from the neutral/brown family of colors.

IMG_0007
Umbrella and blue sky, 9/13

In this wicked, relentless winter of 2014, my photos seem to be a record of a constant search for warmth.  As I’ve walked through properties with an eye to living in western PA, I’ve only taken photos of rooms that appeal the most.  Most of the photos include wood that runs the gamut from caramel to molasses in color, warming my imagination in many, many ways.

Over the past six weeks, we’ve walked through houses older than the ages of our four previous homes combined. Thus the spaces are tighter, the ceilings are lower, reflecting the goal of conserving warmth in times when the fireplace or the radiator were the only source of heat.  And as we’ve looked at homes that sheltered families for decades, our eyes, used to great rooms and fireplaces that start with the flip of the switch, can sometimes see those closer rooms as not just right.

photo (49)
Pius St fireplace, unfiltered

Finding the just-right for a couple, after years of looking for spaces that fit a growing family, is an interesting exercise in getting reacquainted.  City living?  Small town living? Condo close to work?  Longer weekday commute so we can just leave the cars parked for the weekend and walk wherever we wanted?  They are questions we’ve asked over and over for months and are still puzzling through.

The last time it was just us was 26 years ago when we purchased a rehabbed duplex in Jersey City.  It’s what we could afford and as we both worked in Newark it was an excellent reverse commute. It was a start.  But even then we were not alone, we were buying with an eye to those children we planned to have.  In the seven years we lived there, both kids came home from the hospital to the duplex, both kids learned to climb stairs on a 12 foot metal spiral staircase. Both kids had to adjust to the suburbs when we moved there in 1994. They may not remember that time in their lives as vividly as we do, but that duplex was the foundation for this family.

Those kids are grown, living in their own cities now.  And while we’ll always make space for them, the next home reflects us as a couple and what we ultimately choose will please ourselves.

It’s harder than we thought.  The fireplace above reminded me of that first home we made. MDR is thinking a little more space.  And that brought on more reacquainting questions: Would we fit in quickly in a small town that focuses on schools and children or would a city offer more variety in terms of the people we’ll meet?  Do we want to walk to a restaurant or are we willing to drive to find food we love?  It’s the little questions, personal to us that keep us on our toes.  Asking, always asking.

So we’ll keep looking and find the place that works. One with a little compromise from both sides built into the home we make next.

Pius St. fireplace, golden
Pius St. fireplace, golden

In the meantime, I took the fireplace photo, deepened the golds and browns and caramels I saw and tucked it away to remind me that first and foremost, we look for warmth.