Friday, January 18, 2008

Fairy Tales, Part I

I realized yesterday that taking care of Dad is a little like living in a children's book. Check out these similarities:

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

While Dad is not what one might call a "dwarf" he has lost some of his stature over the years; shrinking from his fighting height of 5'8" to something less than that! When asked how tall he is (usually in a doctor's office with his shirt off, his pale wrinkly skin looking a bit like the Saggy Baggy Elephant of Golden Book fame), I've noticed that he stretches himself to his greatest height by throwing his shoulders back and holding his head up as if a senior officer had just yelled "Attention!" Not surprisingly for an older gent who still needs to feel tall in the saddle, Dad's answer is apt to include every quarter inch like a toddler who adds even half-years to his age.

In reality it doesn't matter how tall Dad is, added partial inches or not. I outgrew the other members of my clan, including Dad, years ago. It was as if I was destined to be the tall (singing?) girl in a family of dwarfs.

I don't think I'm telling an untruth if I say that Dad wears his dwarf moniker - Grumpy - with pride. What may have started out as a bad day, with a pain in his butt or back or heart, has turned into a somewhat chronic personality trait. I have noticed that he can turn on the charm if a pretty girl or daughter-less-seen comes around, but mostly his countenance is glum. Age is his excuse, and since I'm not 90 I don't have much of a comeback. However, when I look at other nonegenarians and see them smiling I have to wonder if Dad is grumpy because he's old or just because that's the way he chooses to be.

Luckily, Snow White had a few other characters in her enterage to offset the grumpiness. I do too. I have Jack. What would a fairy tale be without a Prince Charming?

I also have a circle of furry friends to help me fend off negative vibrations. Black Beauty, aka "Smiley," appears to have a humongous grin when Jack talks to her or she hears the always enticing words "wanna go for a walk?" My two kitties have a Disney-esque charm that tickles me in spite of their blantant desire to chow down on the birds whose colorful feathers add beauty to our cottage home. (Don't all fairy tales include birds and cottages?)

Rounding out the story-book menagerie is my pig of happiness puppet which reminds me that happiness is an inside job. Each of us gets to choose the emotion that is right for us. Some of are grumpy while others have a general "distaste for mumbling and grumbling." *

I had an epiphany of sorts last week. I discovered that I find ironing a rather serene experience. If I approach it as a form of meditation rather than a chore, the time I spend pressing out wrinkles in my shirts actually becomes a way of ironing out a few wrinkles in my life. By putting on a movie or cd, and zoning into a steamy kind of zen rythm, I fairly whisk through an otherwise tedious job. Taking my cue from the movie version of Snow White, I have learned that whistling while I work is not such a bad idea. I'm not much of a whistler, but it's the whistling attitude that I try to embrace.
Still working on the happy ending, I am,
Merry ME
* The Pig of Happiness, Edward Monkton, Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC, 2007

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Aromatherapy

“The way to health is to have an aromatic bath
and scented massage every day.
Hippocrates

It may be hard for the generations behind me to realize this, but when I was growing up the Bath and Body Works stores that are in every urban mall today didn't even exist. Our choice of soap was somewhat limited. There was 99% pure Ivory (for babies) and yellow, antibacterial Dial. Nothing came in pretty squirt bottles except Johnson & Johnson's baby shampoo. We made do with a 2x3x1 inch bar. Since five girls used one bathroom, we all shared the same bar. How's that for personal hygiene? We also used, if you can believe this, terry cloth washcloths, not plastic scrunchies that come in various colors. Mom shopped at the Navy commissary so we pretty much made do with the basics.


Looking at my shower enclosure and bathroom closet today, it would be hard to realize I grew up with this kind of soap deprivation. Or maybe because I grew up with no choice at all, it explains the eight bottles of sweet smelling bath gels that take up every spare inch of the shower. And just for the record, this number does NOT include the selection of shampoos I offer myself on a daily basis.

Last year I went to a dermatologist to have the red scaley patches on my legs and arms checked out. His diagnosis? Too much bathing, combined with water that is too hot and soap products that come in bottles that sell for over ten dollars.

His prescription? Only shower every other day, don't use soap (use Cetaphil, something that looks like soap but doesn't smell or feel like soap), dry off completely, and follow with a liberal coating of lubriderm. I left his office, scratching my head (too much drying shampoo no doubt), and wondering from what non-bathing planet did he emerge. In my life I have few true pleasures, showering is one I'm not going to give up without a fight. Red patches be damned!

So, there I was standing under the shower this morning, using more hot water than any person who claims to want to help save the planet should use in a week. I carefully peeked open one eye looking for the bath gel du jour. I spied the bottle of "Tranquil Mint" body wash and foam bath from B&BW's "stress relief" line of aromatherapy that I bought myself for Christmas. Ah, tranquility. That's more like what the doctor should have ordered.

Here's what the label says: Relax and refresh. Peppermint essential oil refreshes and combats mental fatigue. Rosemary essential oil improves thinking to foster creativity. Tranquil mint, where have you been all my life?

I used to worry about too many conflicting smells. Because I didn't want to end up smelling like a fruit salad, I made a point of always having my bath gel and body lotion match. I've always been a matchy-matchy girl, but that's a story for another day. Now, in a concerted effort to get the job done, I just grab the first lotion my hand touches. This morning it was another bottle from the aromatherapy line - Lavender. Usually part of my nighttime routine, "true lavender," says the label, "is known around the world for its aility to soothe the mind, body and spirit." It really does help me feel sleepy; not to mention it reminds me of my sister Linda which puts me to bed with a smile in my heart.

Tranquil mint and lavender - how's that for a de-stressing cocktail? No mental fatigue, improved creativity, and a soothed spirit. I should be floating on air! I think the real test for this kind of therapy will be when I hear Dad's walker bumping down the hallway. If, when I say, "Good morning, Dad," and he answers with his usual, "grrrrrrrrrrrrr" and I keep smiling, I may just become the B&BW's aromatherapy poster girl!

Keep smiling,
Merry ME

What Was I Thinking?

"That's the way things come clear.
All of a sudden.
And then you realize how obvious they've been all along."
Madeleine L'Engle


At the same time I was complaining about having no inspiration, I was reading a book that was clearly inspiration just waiting to be realized. It just took me a couple of days of pondering to figure it out.
Mothering Mother by Carol D. O'Dell is the author's story of caring for her 90 year old mother who suffered from Parkinson's disease with a couple of years of Alzheimers thrown into mix to keep things interesting. It's a great book and should be on every caregiver's bookshelf. Coincidentally, O'Dell lives here in Jacksonville. When she wrote about walking along the river to clear her head, I imagined she was just down the street. Feeling like we were neighbors who could wave to each other on the occasional outing, made her story even more recognizable somehow.

Not that it was difficult to believe what the author was saying. She wrote honestly, with both humor and candor, about a situation that was neither pretty nor easy. Amazingly O'Dell wrote her book while still raising teenage daughters and going to school herself. What I can't quite figure out is how she managed to care for and clean up after her mother day after day and still have the energy for normal things like shopping, attending church and making love to her husband. I think it helped that her husband was, without a doubt, her best advocate. I like to read about husbands like that.

The similarities in our situations stop with the age of our respective parents, yet O'Dell wrote about my life. In fact, she nailed the business of parenting a parent. Watching the person who raised you cross a somewhat obscure line to become a childlike version of someone you once believed hung the moon is not for sissies. O'Dell paints a word picture with poignant detail. She wrote the story I'd like to write but lack the confidence and know-how.

Reading O'Dell's essays (none of which were very long) helped me to realize that if I look closely, I have all the writing inspiration I need. As long as Dad is alive, I really have no excuse for not writing on a regular basis. I don't have to wait for inspiration or a particular muse to strike. What I need to do is take each day as it comes; then find the words to tell the tale of a self-proclaimed grumpy old man with a failing ticker whose engineer's mind is still sharp enough to keep his moody middle daughter on her toes. On any given day it could be happy or sad, maddening or insightful.

But why write a story that I know has only one outcome? Hmmmm.

Perhaps because we're all in this life together. The more we reach out our hands (and words) to help each other out, the easier it can to be for all of us. O'Dell opened a window into her world for me. Opening mine to someone else is not so much noble as it is passing on the gift.

And there's also a less compassionate reason - I've got to have something to do while Dad does crosswords.

Merry ME

Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir. O'Dell, Carol D. 2007. 208p. Kunati. You can get it on Amazon. Tell them I sent you!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Inspiration

"You can't wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club."
Jack London

Besides having other things to do, AntiJen says she hasn't been inspired by much of anything worth writing about lately. I've got to agree. My well of ideas has dried up like the water around Atlanta.
Perhaps I'm just in a post-Christmas funk. All that joyful activity is bound to lead to a kind of blah new year beginning, isn't it? Try as I might, I just can't get excited about boxes of Valentines that were put on sale next to the Christmas leftovers. I might not feel this way in February, but right now I long for a simpler, doily and red construction paper kind of holiday.
I guess I should just face facts. My life is pretty boring. There just isn't a lot of inspiration in my days' routines. Another, more experienced writer might be able to tell an interesting tale about the number of times a week I go to the grocery store. Personally I find it weird ...

In contrast to most days, I awoke this morning to my sister Jean whispering for me to get up. It was 6:30 am. "Come watch the sunrise with me," she said. The only reason my eyes would even open at that hour is because (I should be embarrassed to admit) I did nothing but sleep and eat and sleep yesterday. Obviously I'd rested enough in the last 24 hours. I got up, dressed quickly and headed into the fog.

Jean has decided after living here for six months, that she needs to seek out new vistas. There is a lot of country between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans - she's going to see it all. Well, at least she'll see the part that runs along I-10 corridor. I think I know the feeling. I've "been there and done that." Unlike me who moved away from home at 18, Jean has never lived too far from Jacksonville. It's probably time for her to explore the world.
More than people or things, I think she'll miss the beach more than anything else. She's made a small section of the Jacksonville coastline her own little sanctuary. It's really quite fun to watch her dance and sing praises as the waves lap at her feet and the gulls move out of her way.
Alas, the fog was so thick this morning, it was impossible to see the sunrise. And even though there have been reports of right whale sightings in the last few days, we couldn't have seen them if they had been swimming right along the shore. We think we saw a school of dolphins jumping and playing in the surf but the dark spots on the gray water might have been pelicans!
Normally the ocean, the tide, the shells, the birds, something beachy would provide me with writing inspiration. But today everything was pretty gray; it's hard to write about gray. Even my mood was a little gray. I realized I how much I'm going to miss my baby sister. I have to wonder if after testing out her new wings, if she'll ever feel like returning to her roots. Those thoughts are way too deep for that hour of the morning.
As we headed back to the car we passed a few warning signs, signs we probably should have paid attention to BEFORE we went seaside. Swimmers were told to use caution because of riptides. Fishermen were told to fish only in a defined area. And all beach goers were told, in words and pictures to beware of tsunamis.
Yes, tsunamis. Should anyone be strolling along the Mayport beach and see a gigantic rogue wave coming towards them this sign clearly says it all. Run for your life!

Look at the little man trying to out run the waves! First of all there's no high ground for him to run to. And, secondly, even if there was, if you look at that the man and take note of the size of the wave, you can tell he's doomed.

I have to laugh. Jean has lived in Florida most all of her life. She's dodged hurricanes, redneck neighborhoods and a diet of chicken and dumplings. I would venture to say, her chances of experiencing an earthquake and tsunami in Jacksonville are pretty slim. But guess where she's moving ... California? I wonder if they have tsunami signs at Coronado Beach?

Still looking for inspiration,

Merry ME

Friday, January 4, 2008

Ivy Jane ... another name for Love

Once upon a time, in the land of evergreen trees, majestic mountains, and abundant flower markets, a baby was born. At twenty-nine minutes past the stroke of midnight, on the first day the new year, Ivy Jane Wichansky came into the world (in the words of her Aunt Wendy) "ready to rock."

And just like that, the world was changed. What might have been just another ordinary year, with its usual hillocks to climb and valleys to cross, became a time of excitement. What could have been just a ho-hum day took on an air of expectation. Lights became brighter. Colors [especially pink] became more vibrant. Ordinary little body parts, like eyes and ears and fingers and toes, instantly became objects of wonder. Even poop took on an extraordinary air!

Ivy Jane is not just any baby. To her parents, extended family and friends, she is unique. No one just like her will ever be born again. That is miracle enough.

Yet, like all newborns, Ivy Jane came into the world bearing a single message. Every child that is born knows the secret of life. The problem is by the time we're grown most of us have forgotten it. Sadly we stay too busy, we focus our attention on other things, and consider "secrets" to be the purview of children.

In those last few nano-seconds before Ivy Jane took her first breath, however, the Creator of all things good, whispered in her ear.

"Love, my precious little one, love," the Great One said, "that's all you need to know."

And so it is.

For when all else fails:

Love is the key that will unlock the mystery.
Love is the salve that will heal all wounds.
Love is the gift that surpasses gold or jewels.
Love is the power that can harness any storm.
Love is the first tulip that blooms in the spring.
Love is the rainbow after a shower.
Love is smile on stranger's face and the spots on an old man's hands.
Love is the wind that whistles through the trees.
Love is the tide that never stops to ask why.
Love is galloping across the open plain on a spotted horse.
Love is the wild Montana sky.
Love is sleeping in your daddy's arms.
Love is the pride in your mother's eyes when you win your first spelling bee.
Love is the dread that fills your parents' hearts when they hand you the car keys for the first time.
Love is the sand and the sea and dolphins dancing in the waves.
Love is what the meadowlark sings.
Love is what comes wrapped up in Christmas paper.
Love is the purr of a kitten or a slobbery wet dog kiss.
Love is saying hello after a long day at work;or saying goodbye after a life well lived.
Love is cheering for your favorite football team even when they aren't so good.
Love is saying thank you.
Love is being patient when learning how to tie you shoes.
Love is that rush of excitement at the top of a roller coaster.
Love is reading a good book, taking a bubble bath, or walking in the rain.
Love is holding someone's hand when there are no words to say.
Love is talking to your mom on the phone.
Love is eating an Oreo cookie.
Love is a new pair of shoes and fancy French socks.
Love is a hot cup of tea or a glass full of ice cold lemonade.
Love is climbing a mountain or standing on level ground.
Love is warm, flannel pajamas or a soft, cuddly onesie.
Love is playing hopscotch on a summer afternoon.
Love is catching fireflies later that same evening.
Love is roasting marshmellows and making s'mores.
Love is salmon swimming upstream, penguins standing on a block of ice, and being brave in the face of a getting vaccination.
Love is glint of sunshine on an icicle covered tree.
Love is swinging on a tire swing.
Love is homemade apple pie or gingerbread men.
Love is getting a letter from an old friend.
Love is getting help lugging your groceries to the car.
Love is a big red balloon.

Yes, indeed, love is all this and more ......

Each of us has been given this gift by the Creator. But, like I said before, as grown ups we sometimes forget to remember love is reason we're here. On January 1, 2008, Ivy Jane became our reminder; a messenger of sorts. It's a big job for such a little one, but what else does a baby have to do? Even though she's too small to speak the word, her eyes will reflect love. Her hands will reach for love. Her lips will cry for love. And her ears will listen for love. Our job is to take good notes and [re]learn the message, for it is ageless and endless.
Welcome to the world Ivy Jane.

Thank you for the precious reminder of the glory of love.
Be well.
Be happy.
Be at peace.
May you always and forever know love and show love.
I can't wait to see you in person. Til then I send you a great big hug.

Merry ME


P.S. That hug is big enough for Molly Jo and Gary, too! And Aunt Wendy, and Aunt Mandy Jane, and just about everybody else in your little corner of the world.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Choice

"I believe with all my heart that we shape our lives and we shape ourselves.
One's philosophy is not best expressed in words;
it is expressed in the choices one makes. "
Eleanor Roosevelt
Today is the first day of a new year. Already the world has been blessed with new life, as it has been diminished by the destructive side of human nature. The good news is this - we still have the power of choice. We can look towards the light, or we can choose the darkness. We can reach out in love or we can choose to remain cold and isolated. As with any rose, we can choose to see the beauty and embrace it, or we can complain about the thorns. Life is all about choice.


Believing as she does that "conscious choices make for conscious living," Sandra Magsamen wrote this New Year's afffirmation in the January issue of her studio newsletter, Living Artfully (http://www.sandramagsamen.com/. It is a little too early in the day - and the year - to come up with anything better so I include it in my blog as a reminder of the role choice plays in my(our) life(s). As Sandra suggests, use it for yourself- add to it, change it or rearrange it to declare your choices for your life.
I choose to be passionate and curious about life.
I choose to be happy, to laugh and to play.
I choose to be inspired by nature.
I choose to be imaginative, inventive and inquisitive.
I choose to be kind, thoughtful and compassionate.
I choose peace over fear
and
I choose to love with all of my heart.

Here are a few of my own:

I choose to think "la la" in the face of negative remarks.
I choose to pray more, complain less.
I choose to keep my mouth shut and not offer unsolicited comments.

Feel free to add your own.

Happy New Year. Happy Choosing.

Merry ME