Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Home upgrading, sharing living space--making me a better person

I have posted much here about my home, and my deep connections to it.

When my family--paternal grandmother, parents, older brother, and me--moved here in January 1964, we established a suburban compound of sorts, almost hermetically sealed. Due to complex dynamics, we were actually quite an isolated family unit. I may have mentioned in other posts that this is why I actually fled the house for my freshman year in college, and that word "fled" is a deliberate choice.

Fast forward many years, I'm back to stay. It's my firm resolve to have this residence where my mother can live out her days in as much comfort as possible, and where I can pursue my own "second half."

What brought about my change of heart? It happened almost imperceptibly over time. Some of it occurred with the shifts in the emotional atmosphere as certain family members would pass away, and others would move out--and then come back, drawn to the house's potential, I think.

And then, there was the game-changer-- the introduction of a roommate in 2012. My son's old bedroom was valuable, but wasted, space. I had a female friend occupy this room for about a year, and there has been no going back since then. Aside from the relatively small monthly income, it been an eye-opener, an end of the innocence.

You see, from 1964 to 2012, there were no extra-familiar occupants. The family made up a kind of secret society, with our own implicit lexicon, routines, and rules about the physical environment and the people within the walls. The city-assigned address, as I said before, was the compound. The fact that we rarely entertained, and I was discouraged from having friends over--overnight, or even for the day--further fostered the isolation.

After my female colleague/friend moved out of town last year, I found another congenial roommate--a guy! It occurred to me just recently that with the woman, I always used the word "tenant," and with my current occupant, I have shifted to "roommate." This maybe be food for thought about the level of compatibility. When Mom first heard that we were to have a man in our midst, besides my gentleman friend, she was anxious and highly resistant. Since then, she has accepted the idea, and actually considers him part of the family and home.

My roommate (I shield his privacy by withholding even a first name) has added a warmth to our current composition. Asides from sweet gestures, like bringing small, gifts to my Mom--a bouquet at Easter, occasional chocolates or pints of her favorite ice cream--his presence has compelled me to be mindful of how I share living space. Before, with the previously-mentioned family, we just sort of stumbled over each other, and frankly, were pretty intrusive--often downright disrespectful of each other, now that I think about it.

Over time, my family of origin took our home, and each other, horribly for granted. I was smacked in the face with this fact for the first time when I went away for my freshman year in college. I was a terrible roommate! If I could find that woman on whom I inflicted my unconscious behavior, I would kneel before her and beg forgiveness.

My current roommate has not only lent his gentle spirit, but his fresh perspective. It has been useful, including for how I am managing this upheaval with the progressive home remodeling projects. He has been most forgiving of the inevitable noise, the dust, and the parade of workers. The first benefit is that we will actually be getting air conditioning to make the summer more bearable--for the first time since the house was erected in 1923.

So, I consider this not just a home upgrade, but a personal one as well. Long overdue!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Estancia cabernet, Vivaldi en espanol, and this fork in the road

The past two weeks have been intense. Work-related life from a suitcase is a rather "different" (putting it politely) routine for me. So, what I'd like to say at this point is that I have at least taken away a few nuggets of pleasure.

While on this sojourn, I have had some fleeting moments to savor a wine that is new to me -- Estancia cabernet. I researched it, and places like Bev Mo are sold out of this variety and vintage -- no wonder, if any of you have had the good fortune to taste this.

Then, there's 104.9 FM, XLNC1, broadcasting to the San Diego/Baja California region. Those close to me know that music, especially quality classical radio broadcasting, is very important for me. It provides a calming backdrop for my day, whether I'm working at home on my computer, in the car, or...wherever.

When I lost the signal the other day in the "North County" from my beloved KUSC, I began station-surfing for an alternative, and came up with XLNC1. It's a wonderful station I encourage folks to check out; you also can listen online, as I'm doing now. Where else can you find bilingual announcers presenting classical renditions of works by great composers like Vivaldi, Brahms,...and the Beatles and Freddy Mercury? Yesterday, I heard a Lennon-McCartney song done artfully with full orchestra and chorus. A little while ago, I heard a strings-and-piano version of The Stars and Stripes Forever.

On a serious note, I'm (re)evaluating my most recent career move. I've gone on record as saying that pursuing full-on employment is my intention until I'm 100 (literally!), and I'm sticking to this position. It's important to me for reasons beyond the obvious (income), those including socialization and cognitive stimulation. I've seen too many folks I know retire, and then have their outer and inner worlds implode, and that scares me beyond words.

While I'm been very far away from home for my orientation, my mother is being well-cared-for, and the air conditioning is finally being installed, overseen by my "outlaw" Hal. Next is the electrical revamp of the 1923 wiring. After that, Hal and I will contemplate the kitchen and bath overhaul.

I've kept in touch with the home front during my breaks by phone and text, and have been astonished with the level of homesickness I've experienced. Even now, as I look ahead about six hours to my return to San Diego for the third week, I'm not exactly looking forward to it, which is uncharacteristic for someone who usually loves to travel. Perhaps I shouldn't have been so candid here, I don't know.

So, as I contemplate my next step, I always have my music. I'll keep in touch.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Mustard Seed as a Reset Button

My life has been rather frightening lately, and I have been seeking tokens or images that will help serve as anchors and inspirations. At about 4:15 this morning, I awoke and thought of the two above pieces of jewelry that have been stored in my dresser drawer, unworn for literally decades. Even at such an early hour, I got up and retrieved them, and even though I haven't worn anything but earrings for a long time, I'm resolved to make these my signature pieces from now on.

The small pewter cross was my maternal grandmother's. When I saw it again, I recalled the woman who, in the depths of the Great Depression, and with a sick husband and toddler daughter (my mother), decided to go to work rather than accept the welfare that was offered her. With only a high school diploma, she worked her way up in the New York State Welfare Department, first as a clerk, and many decades later, retiring as the head of that agency's accounting department. Grandma was feisty, smart, a woman of faith and self-confidence, and she wore this cross all the time. Her image is with me much of the day, and I'm trying to hear her courageous voice as I face the days ahead. Here she was in 1975:

Mom continues to hang in physically, with the tenacity she inherited from Grandma. The bracelet is one she had in her jewelry box, and I remember being fascinated as a child by the tiny globe charm with the mustard seed in the middle.

The Book of Mark gives this version of Jesus' parable, "He said, 'How will we liken the Kingdom of God? Or with what parable will we illustrate it? It’s like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, though it is less than all the seeds that are on the earth, yet when it is sown, grows up, and becomes greater than all the herbs, and puts out great branches, so that the birds of the sky can lodge under its shadow.' ”

Mom never really told me about this story; I had to find it out myself in my own meandering, lifelong spiritual quest. The small size of the seed, and how it comes to benefit nature, sort of calls to mind my diminutive mother. She, too, held together our often-fractious family, and forged her own nursing career in mid-life, against many odds. Mom became the the tree, one might say, whose branches provided nurturing and strength to the four generations that have passed through our family home. In the pictures below, Mom is the small, dark-haired nurse on the left.

So, as I have decided to wear these heirloom jewelry pieces, I want to recall the strength of my mother and grandmother, and be worthy of their legacies. Recently, especially as I work toward beginning the upgrades on our longtime home, I've begun to doubt myself. I wonder if I'm really up to the challenge of taking on the role of lady of this house. It's been my vision to have Mom live out her life here as comfortably as possible, and to make this place a residence to be proud of, and pass to my son and daughter-in-law. Also, when the caregivers aren't here, and I'm doing Mom's care myself, I wonder if I'm "doing it right," and if Grandma (who passed in 1996) is approving of how I'm taking care of Mom, her child.

Like many therapists, I have to chide myself to practice the interventions I give my clients. From now on, when the useless "What if I can't?" refrains begin playing in my head, I have to consider another text:

"He replied, 'Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.'" -- Matthew 17:20, New International Version.

Grandma and Mom each started at their crossroads with little or nothing, and ended up having beautifully successful lives. It's time to recall that, and step out in boldness.

Usually, when I doubt myself, I have to admit it's late at night, it's been a long day, and my fatigue and overwhelm are doing the talking. So, to wear my grandmother's and mother's jewelry, touch it, and honor them in my daily actions--that's the best I can do.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Changes to Plan

I'm struggling on to get my home improvement project off the ground, and it's costing lots of time and frustration. Tomorrow I'm going to be exploring PLAN B (what a way to spend a "day off!"), but in the meantime I've found ways to siphon off my irritation and the adrenaline by-product.

I've decided to just spend all my non-working time here at home, doing whatever I can MYSELF. Painting, ripping up the yucky carpet, sanding down the floors to make them look "distressed." Hey, there are all those shows I've watched, books I've acquired, not to mention all the wealth of info on YouTube. I can do this! (I almost feel like I channeled Rosie the Riveter with that last statement) Provided I know I'm in this effort for a long haul, what's the rush? And doesn't it figure that the larger the amount of sweat equity I invest, the more pride I will feel in my home once it's done.

Check out the tool above. Over this past Memorial Day weekend, my gentleman friend made the ultimate chivalrous gesture--he began the first round of lawn removal. Bless his macho heart, he was out there in the midday sun, trying to use my lightweight hoe to take up nasty, entrenched clumps of weeds, when my beloved longtime neighbor and friend came over and loaned us this serious implement. It was handmade for him by a friend, with the blade part measuring 5 " wide and 10" long. The solid handle is 36" long and 6" in diameter.

It served Chuck's purposes well, and the neighbor kindly said we could keep it at my house to continue our efforts to tame the Cascadden Jungle, front yard as well as back. I can't wait to use it myself!

In the meantime, I'll get out the long-unused roto-tiller, and fire that baby up.

I finally made the formal acquaintance of the gentleman at the end of the alley, and plan to pick his brain about how to duplicate his success with the beautiful cacti on the front of his property. People seem to be pleased when asked about their work, and it will be another way to cultivate a neighborhood friendship.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Psalm 121

After I was accepted into La Verne College (now University of La Verne) in 1972, I gleefully marked off each calendar day until mid-September, because I felt like I couldn't get out of Burbank fast enough--or far enough. That day Mom and Dad packed my stuff and me into the back of the 1971 VW, and we headed to the freeway onramp, I waved ecstatically from the back window to some kid standing on the corner. I remember he looked somewhat bemused, but he returned the wave nonetheless.

And yet, here I am, back in Burbank again since 1988, and in no rush to consider leaving again.

Lately, with the challenges of caring for Mom, who is now slipping away from me a little bit more each hour with her physical frailty and dementia, I treasure the very safe idea of home -- this house, this community of Burbank, even the foothills behind Sunset Canyon and Brand Park. When we moved here in 1964 from upstate New York, I was fascinated with the hills as a geological formation, and tagged along with my father up at the De Bell Golf Course, or my "big brudda" to Stough Park.

Decades later, as a single mom, I took every opportunity to hike with my young son behind Brand Park, and didn't mind when my car's back seat acquired a messy payload of sticks, pine cones, or other souvenirs from nature.

Now, with family responsibilities and work demands, I find the hills calling to me again. The other day, after Mom's faithful caregiver arrived, I seized the precious hour's time before my first client, and escaped to the Canyon Grille at the golf course for breakfast. The early morning sun...the quiet...the rolling green of the course outside the sliding glass doors, already open to allow the birdsong to waft in...

No matter how much I chafed against Burbank and its hills as an adolescent, they were still here, waiting for me when I was ready to return home. When competing appointments, cell phone calls, health issues, mounting projects and household tasks seem to bury me, the hills are always there, waiting. In the Sixties, many called places like this "Nature's Church," and I'm more inclined to agree as time passes. These foothills are where you're likely to find me these days when things in town get a bit too much...

I recognize and respect that readers of my blog have diverse spiritual beliefs; nevertheless, for those who will accept it, I offer the following as a calming thought for today, and every day hereon:

"I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber. Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand. The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul. The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore." -- Psalm 121

Monday, April 14, 2014


I'm doing more than mere "spring cleaning" these days. I've begun a full-scale, ruthless purge.

Previous posts have seen me discuss the curios and cheap furniture items that have gone to the Vietnam Veterans of America or Out of the Closet. Now that, thankfully, I've run out of those items, and my living room has breathing room, I've turned my attention to even more annoying things cluttering up my home office and my bedroom.

When I see the number of things in my email inbox--unread, read and "to be answered," spam, etc., etc., my eyes glaze over. Seriously, the count is getting toward the 5,700 mark, and so I've begun my counter-offensive -- making one daily task to "unsubscribe" to at least ten senders, especially when I either don't know them, or "I'll get back to this one later" becomes the knee-jerk response.

Ditto my list of bookmarked websites. As my career and personal lives have wended their ways forward, and my interests have changed, I just haven't kept up with paring down the site addresses cluttering up my PC. Poor thing--no wonder it's slow. So, tonight it's click-delete time! After I've taken in the lunar eclipse, that is.

And then, there's this dress you see. Back in 2006, when I was still on the loose in the dating world, I was swept off my feet by someone. I won't go into details, because the memory of this person would only serve to stir up anger that's best left in the past.

Anyway, I was invited to a full-on gala--dinner, awards, testimonials; in short, it was to have been a "magical evening," even though that term is too often and too easily used.

After work one day, I went to Nordstrom--and I can count on one hand the number of times I've crossed that store's threshold. During a two-hour spree, I bought this Empire-style dress (I know my photos don't show it off properly)--satin bodice, chiffon-y lined skirt. Even though I was still in my size-14 days, it flattered me, and I felt like a princess for the first time since I was a young girl. A pair of black heels (my very last pair, I should add!), black stole, and slinky black hose completed the ensemble. I was gorgeous, and ready to "go to the ball." The fact that this single outfit cost me more than all the clothes--in total--that I'd ever bought in my adult life didn't trouble me at all. This was an important evening, and I wanted to be a proper lady escort.

Two days later, I got a voice mail. In a terse, 15-second message, my date simply said he wanted to take someone else. That was it. And I never heard from him again.

The dress promptly went into the closet -- way to the back. In time, I actually forgot I had it. A few months ago, I was surprised to see the original zippered bag with "Nordstrom" printed across the front, and with the shocking price tag still attached to the dress. So, out it came.

No, I wouldn't wear it. First, I'm happily a few sizes smaller now. And second, I've been with someone--my gentleman friend Chuck--who I believe truly deserves me. I won't stand for being disrespected--ever again. Now, at my age, I can love with my heart and my head.

Tomorrow, during a break, I'll take the dress to a local consignment shop. Let's see how much I can recoup, and silence the visual noise that still resonates.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

What Being an RA "Newbie" Has Taught Me - Rheumatoid Arthritis - Health Monitor

What Being an RA "Newbie" Has Taught Me - Rheumatoid Arthritis - Health Monitor

Well,golly gosh, even as old and jaded as I am, I still haven't lost the capacity to be thrilled.  Here's me, featured in an article!  Except for the few times in my life when I've written letters to various publication editors and had them printed, this is new for me.  And there is a little talk about the possibility of me actually authoring my own pieces. After all, writing, my beloved means of expression, has taken a back seat lately, and I want to change that.  It saddens me that I have several drafts of things in my computer, slowly ripening, still waiting to be harvested.

My association with Health Monitor Magazine began quite accidentally, when I picked up a copy in my doctor's office about a year ago, and took one of their readers' surveys.  It led to a couple of phone calls, and then this piece. 

Few things make me happier than sharing real-life experiences to encourage others, along with the work I do as a therapist.  "Letting one's light shine" is such a satisfying way for us to help each other enhance our quality of life.