Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Life is but a Dream

Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream.

For some reason, as I was running this morning, this little tune sang itself in my head. It struck me that this little poem is a lesson in balance.

When I was in my forties, I decided it was really important to go to graduate school. I said to my sister, " if I do this, I'll be 52 when I graduate". She said "you'll be 52 anyway." The ever supportive Manly Spouse said nothing, just handed me the phone.

I loved being in school, and I am all for setting goals, whatever they may be, at any stage in one's life. I am proud of my accomplishment. Having said that, for me it became the beginning of a period of extreme unbalance in my life.

I worked my patootie off (if you know me at all, you can imagine how difficult Statistics and Quantitative Analysis were!) (thank you, tutors!) and got my MBA. I loved it, but during the following couple of years I forgot to breathe. Even after I graduated, I worked 12 - 14 hour days, and Manly Spouse kept saying, "I want my wife back."

I only sort of listened. In my "spare time" I was painting furniture. While I was scraping, sanding, painting, I started to breathe again. I walked away from the corporate job... I felt a huge weight lift off me. Thanks to a small inheritance the Manly Spouse and I were able to, with severe budget cuts, maintain a comfortable life.

I continued to paint furniture, and every once in awhile I would sell a piece from my virtual shop at at local Craft Fairs. I was still manically working though, and Manly Spouse kept looking at me. He didn't know it, but he was telling me to breathe.

I got the cashiering job at the big box store. It has good insurance. I get to look at babies, talk to four-year-olds, and make pleasant conversation all day long. My basement is full of hand painted furniture and objects, so I can't paint any more....

I go to work, I write, I play in my garden, I get to see my children and most of my grandchildren almost any time I want. I am rowing my boat. Gently down the stream. Merrily. I understand it's a dream. It's a beautiful, love-filled dream. A friend of mine wrote about "my little life in a big world" i am working towards balance in my little life. I am rowing my little boat. I am breathing. Ahhh...

Monday, July 25, 2011

Purslane, thou art Mine Enemy...or Are You?

As I was running through the neighborhood this morning, I reflected on the abundance of Purslane ... well, everywhere.  It looks like the green part of the pretty Moss Rose, or Portulaca (I love to say that word!), but without the pretty flower.  It insinuates itself in every flower, vegetable, and herb bed in my yard, and, as I noticed this morning, in every sidewalk crack in southwest Omaha.

Yesterday, I spent a pleasant half-hour or so helping my daughter-in-law pull a bunch of the stuff out of her herb garden, and as we did this, I came across my old frenemy, the humble Lamb's Quarter.   I was reminded of my first summer in Omaha, in a rented house with a back yard overgrown with Lambs Quarter, and a recipe called Cheesy Chard*.   I picked bunches and bunches of the stuff, and used it in place of the chard. It was really tasty, and I remember my little boys ate it up.

So might there also be a healthy, and yummy, use for this other ubiquitous weed? I googled "purslane recipes" and got 147,000 results. Okay then. According to a blog called Culinary Musings , "purslane is ...a free backyard source of protein, vitamin E, vitamin C, and the best source of Omega 3 fatty acids of any leafy plant.".

I also learned that purslane has an evil twin, Spurge. The aforementioned website has pictures of both, so check it out if you're not sure. I might make some cheesy purslane, or stuff some of the new summer squash with it. Just get it out of my herb garden, dammit!

Speaking of Lamb's Quarters, I googled Lamb's Quarters recipes just for the fun of it, and there are some cool recipes on Phoenix Farms blog: If you're at all interested in cooking with weeds, check that one out too. The Lamb's Quarters recipes are from her post dated May 4, 2010.

If you have been following this blog at all, you may be thinking I would be cooking some up for The Manly Spouse... I'm sorry to say that nothing green passes that man's lips unless, of course, it is breaded and deep fat fried. So no, this will be a solitary pleasure.  I'll be cooking some brown rice today, and pulling weeds for dinner tonight. I'll let you know how it turns out.

* Gramma Sally's version

  • a big bunch of Chard (or other leafy green, Kale, Spinach, Lamb's Quarters). You can use lots, because it wilts down to about 1/4 volume.
  • an onion
  • previously prepared rice (I like short grain brown rice, but use whatever you like)
  • some grated cheddar cheese
  • a 1/2 cup or so of previously cooked chicken (optional)

Sauté the onion till it's translucent, add the chicken and rice, then the greens. Cook it until the greens are wilted nicely in the mixture, then stir in the cheese. Yum!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

An Ordinary Life

As a young woman I became a follower, or "devotee", of a certain spiritual practice. At the time it seemed important to me that I live a life that I deemed "extraordinary". That it was a far reach from my upbringing in the Episcopalian Church helped. I practiced the simplest of spiritual teachings, but lived spiritual life that, well, showed. It seemed important to have as few possessions as possible, and I lived like a happy gypsy. I felt pretty special, but I never felt quite special enough.

What I love about my life today is its ordinary-ness. I no longer feel the need to be just a little different, or to stand out in a crowd. The funny thing about this, is that I may be, in the eyes of some people who love me, a little odd. At least that's what they tell me. I think I'm pretty normal, although, extremely above average. What odd about that?

My life with the Manly Spouse is so quiet and uneventful, miraculously drama-free. We putter around in a house that is too big for the two of us. We live in a clutter of furniture and flotsam collected over our years together and collectively sigh that we have too much stuff. We are attached to some of it, well I guess I should say I am attached to some and he is attached to the rest of it: a 200 year old piano I am unwilling to sell, even though it is unplayable, because it sat in the parlor of my parents' house forever. My husband's raggedy couch that is lumpy and threadbare and has an imprint of his body that ensures that it fits him just right. A dining room set that is too big for the dining room we use twice a year, but those couple of times of year are pretty important around here, so the rest of the year we use it for other things, like drying herbs (that drives the Manly Spouse crazy!)

These little worries are precious to me. They are reflective of the ordinary life we live. Together.

Paradoxically, when was in my 20s and I was trying to be extraordinary, I learned the value of a simple, physical existence. Now that I am older, and presumably wiser, I am able to enjoy the stuff of my life while experiencing a spiritual life that simple, easy, and unencumbered.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Mother's Day

Older Son's 35th birthday is tomorrow.  My personal Mother's Day.  We are having lunch.  It seems not enough.  It has never seemed like enough.  

One year, when he was about 8 or 9,  I don't remember what he wanted for his birthday, but I couldn't afford it.   So we took a  walk to Goodrich Dairy and he got a strawberry ice cream cone. Then we went to the Gerald Ford Birthplace and hung out for awhile.  There is a pretty little flower-filled park there, where the house used to stand.  I don't know if the day was memorable for him, but it was for me.  We spent a lovely afternoon together.  I felt guilty for years that he didn't get his .... whatever-it-was-he-wanted.  But now I realize it was one of those special, rare moments a parent gets to spend alone with a child.

Most of the time when my children were young, we didn't have much money.  In Denver, when Older Son was in the First Grade, I worked in an office downtown.  First husband was responsible for getting Prodigal Son, then "the baby" to day care each morning, and Older Son and I would walk the six blocks to the bus stop each morning.  I would drop him off at the one public school in Denver that was offering a before and after day care, then hop back on the bus to my job downtown.  In the afternoon it was the same thing, only backwards.  During those walks we practiced Arithmetic, talked about books we'd read, and sometimes were responsible for keeping the earth turning on its axis, simply from the pace of our feet.  I admit that the latter was usually on bitter cold winter mornings in the dark.

I guess it kind of reminds me of the semi-regular lunch dates we have now...  A time to chat, share stories, catch up.  I get to hear about the various antics of his five children, and he gets to hear about my latest project(s).

Tomorrow we're going to the sandwich place of his choice, and were going to hang out. We're going to enjoy each others company, and laugh.  I might give him a little gift card from the superstore where I work, but the real gift will be the time we spend together. Luckily, we won't have to keep moving to ensure that the earth turns on its axis. Phew!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Running with my Father

I started running late in life... Age 57 to be exact...  Let me back up a little.  To January, 2009.  I looked at my loving husband, the manly spouse, and recognized, again, that there would be no changing him.  He is a smoker, and a true meat-and-potatoes guy.  

My health was actually pretty good, considering the 50 pounds I had gained, and lost and gained again.  My cholesterol was a little higher than wanted it to be, but not too bad, all things considered.  But (there is always a "but", isn't there?) I was afraid of dying before my husband.  It's good to have someone love you as much as he loves me, but there is no way he could get along without me.  That scared me, suddenly.

So I got up off my ridiculously wide behind and joined a gym.   A couple of months later I put some personal trainer hours on the MasterCard and hired a 28 year old former marine named Dave to torture me twice a week.  Having been on every diet known, I thought I was pretty savvy about nutrition, but I learned a bit from Dave, in between torture sessions.  I stopped weighing myself, concentrated on building strength, and the weight started coming off.  

Then I went on a search for an undergarment that would hold "the girls" in place so I could run without hurting myself.  Thanks to the Internet, the Queen of daytime T.V. recommended one that looked like it might actually work.  Seemed like it might in the fitting room... I could breathe, but just barely.  Now, for a test drive... Success!  I was ready to rock...  Thirty seconds later, I was exhausted!

Keep going, Dave said.  I did.  Soon I could trot for a whole minute.  Geez.  I also did not like all the mirrors around the treadmills at the gym.  How am I supposed to envision a lean, young body, when everywhere I turn, I see the old fat girl?  Thankfully, it was March, and the snow was melting.  If I go out early enough, no one will see me.  Walk, run.  Walk, more mail box.  

I decided to channel my father.  I had inherited his copy of "Aerobics", first published in 1966.  It was encouraging to see his notes...  He had struggled, at the beginning, as I was... I knew it, because he had written notes in the margin.  Also, I had to report back to Dave.  The Marine.  He had tattoos.  He laughed at me when I whined.  He made me laugh at myself when I whined.  

By the end of that summer I was running a half mile.  Back to the dreaded treadmill over the winter...  Geez, would I ever get past the 1/2 mile marker?  My father was running three to four miles daily well into his eighties,  I had just turned 58 and I felt stuck.  

Winter passed, I moved back outdoors.  Gradually I felt stronger...  It happened, it seemed, all of a sudden.  The half-mile became a mile, the mile became two, and I found a 3 mile route that didn't have too many hills and... Ta da!  At age 59 I am running (okay, trotting, really)  between 2 and 3 miles four or five days a week, depending on my work schedule.   

I gained 15 lbs over last winter,  probably because my MasterCard could no longer afford Dave, and he moved to another gym, and I hate the treadmill.  Winter walks twice a week just didn't cut it.  My friend in Montana says "get some snow-shoes!" (The manly spouse scoffs.).  Nebraska is not quite as snowy as Montana,  but I did see some spiky things you can strap to your sneakers for running on icy surfaces.  It gets pretty darn cold here, but if you're moving, and your nose is covered, it's not so bad. I'm pretty excited about this coming winter.

I imagine if my father was still here, he would be cheering me on. 

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Time to Take off your Shoes and Splash through the Puddles

When you learn that someone you love has cancer, it seems especially important to take each day one breath at a time. For the person affected, being in denial (just a little bit), makes it loom less.  You make your calls, get your second opinions, schedule your surgery... Most importantly, you repair your vacation plans.

Your gotta do what you gotta do, but you still need to have fun. I read recently that it takes 25 years of employment for the average American to earn the minimum amount of vacations days allotted to most Europeans.  In many other advanced countries, where there are statutory mandated minimum paid vacation days from 20 -29 days per year*, industry continues, commerce goes on, and the world does not come to an end.  This person I love, the one who Is planning her surgery, told me she is taking a month off.  In the over 40 years of her career, she has never taken a whole month off, not even for her honeymoon, which was 3 weeks.

I myself have never, purposefully, taken more than 2 weeks, just for vacation.  I've been unemployed for longer periods of time, but to take a month off, just for a vacation?  In the U.S. it's unheard of.  In my corporate job, I often worked 12 - 14 hour days, in anticipation of some future reward.  The reward never came, and when I returned from my 2 week vacation, I put in my notice. I learned during that vacation, that I was not cut out for that which I had gone deeply into debt to educate myself.  My job cashiering at the big box store?  I like it.  My painted furniture business that brings in about $200 a year?  I love it!

No matter how much you love your job, or your career, you still need vacations...time off to do traveling, fun things, or just nothing.  Don't wait to get cancer to take a month off, if you can.  

So I'm going to rearrange my vacation plans this summer.  I'm not going to try to cram it all in a two-week time frame either.  I haven't figured it out yet, but I'm going to get all my puddle splashing in somehow.

* I got most of this information from an article from