09 May 2015

Some thoughts on mothers, my mom, my mom's mom, and Mothers' Day in general

Savvy Sue, a year and a half old.
My mom considered Savvy to be my first grandchild,
hence her great grandchild.  Mom made her a toddler
sized quilt, featuring a paper~doll with all the accessories.
My mom died five months ago, I miss her every day.  In about a hundred ways, I think of things to share, things to say, things to do, places to go, people I want to meet her, funny things to tell her about.  I miss her, her laughter, her hugs, her expressions, her mannerisms.  I want to show her this movie, or that afghan, or this video, or this cute picture of Savvy.

Tomorrow is Mother's Day.  I miss her with a sharp keenness that I've not yet felt that is slightly different than her absence til now.  There is a reason for the traditional mourning period of a year and a day.  That first year without someone is full of firsts.  It is the first holiday season, the first spring, the first spring, the first Mother's Day, the first flowering, the first harvest, the first set of birthdays, the first snow.

I have thought, within that first week of mom's death, "if I am having this much difficulty with mom's absence. what am I going to do if my husband dies before I do?"  How will I handle that?  How will I ever get to an ok place then?

My mom's mom died when mom was 30.  I asked her just this past year, 37 years after grandma died, if mom still misses her as much.  Does she think of her often?  Every day, she said, in some way.  Even if it is something simple and not complex, like, oh how she would have laughed about this or that.

Mom shared more stories about her mom and her own childhood, young adulthood, being newly married, a young mom, etc this past year than before.  She'd found boxes of pictures the year before that, in her move to Mississippi.  We would go thru some, in batches, one day and then perhaps a few weeks later, another batch with more stories.  We'd laugh over some things, and marvel about others.

Mom was 67 when she died.  Her mother, my grandma, was 64 when she died in 1977.  I'm 44.  Heavier than either of them ever were.  I'm not diabetic and insulin dependent as my mother was.  I don't have the co~morbid conditions that accompany diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high triglycerides.  I had a stress test in September, because with heart disease being the cause of death for the two most direct women in my lineage, it was a good idea.  I'm fine, my heart is too.

That's not to say that I shouldn't be making changes and being more heart healthy.  I should.  Starting Tuesday, my husband and I will be picking up our share of the Community Supported Agriculture {CSA} in Lancaster Farms.  For sixteen weeks, we'll be bringing home fresh veggies ~~ whatever is in season and being harvested.  Eating better produce is a huge step in the right direction for us.

Mom would be glad to see that.  She'd also be glad to see that I will be resuming my water workouts.  Long time readers will remember my swim suittee years.  My stress levels are lower and she would be glad to see that.  She'd be glad to know that I'm treating myself some better, by encouraging my own creativity ~~ making afghans and playing with yarn.

But the main thrust of all this is not about making Mom proud, or happy, or pleased.  It's about me.  I'm the one who is here and still alive and still able to make those changes and still able to do new things or resume old hidden habits that were good to have.  And no good change ever comes about unless it is for the right reason, you do it for you, ultimately.

I love my mom.  She is a huge part of me, of who I am.  I sometimes sit with that, and feel the fullness of knowing her, of being her daughter, of being her friend.  At those moments, I weep for now, but eventually, I know that I'll wear that well and I'll both hear her laughter coming from my throat and also know that I am uniquely me as well ~~ for we are made of those who came before us and surround us now.

Happy Mother's Day for all you who are mothers yourselves, for you touch, mold, and shape lives in ways that you are not even aware of.  Some day down the road, you will have conversations with your adult children that will show you all that the things that they remember with clarity may be the moments you didn't assign any sort of importance.  Of course there will be shared memories wherein you both feel similarly.  Then too there will be memories that are viewed differently for all involved.  That is the nature of us as individuals, embrace that.

Happy Mother's Day to those of you who come into ready~made families that exist long before you ever arrived.  You may not have taken on any traditional role of mother, but you may be surprised to find that your partner's children and their children have certain views of you that place you in that motherly role...one of listening, loving, advising, and acceptance.

And for those of you who have lost your mothers, it's ok to miss her.  It's ok for tomorrow to be a bittersweet day of mixed memories and emotions.  It's ok to take a few moments just for you, to honor yourself as a child, with a mother of your own.

30 April 2015

Freshly Squeezed Newborn Baby Blanket

 I didn't realize until earlier this year, how far away from my own artistic endeavors I've gotten in the past few years.  I'd been so focused on external matters, being a caregiver, being a good citizen and giving back in my community, and being an encouraging person for other people and their creative efforts that I'd forgotten myself and my own creativity, my own needs, my own desires.  Then, a few months back, I was thinking about how this one woman I know has delved further into her art as a release from the more stressful and less creative obligations in her daily life.

A light bulb lit up, the bright hot filaments burning away some of the haze clouding my vision.  My aha! moment stretched into a whole hour, or perhaps week's worth of moments.  Instead of thinking, "I can't perform quality work at this time when I am so distracted, so overwhelmed, so tired, so stressed, so whatever", I could shift my perspective to something like, "being creative is not only an indulgence, but it also will help me in ways that are essential for my health and well being".

Now, theoretically, I knew that.  But in practice, I didn't apply that to myself.  For a very long time.  Years, even.

So I decided to do something about that.  Some days I don't remember to play with yarn.  And that's ok.

I visited the library the other day, and checked out more books than I have in quite some time, just to read at my leisure because I want to loll about in bed, in my jammies, and just read all day, and night, into the next day ~~ sleeping and eating when I want, because I have nothing due at a certain time.  Because that vague but threatening feeling of "or else" has overshadowed me and robbed some of the joy I had found in doing things that I used to like doing, turning them into obligations and chores.  Reading allows me to dust off the imagination and flex those wings, stretching them creakily to take a few rusty flaps at flying.  My brain takes a huge healthy yawn and settles in for some mental adventures of various characters through the years.  Oh, yes.

Over the past few months, I've started to knit again on a more regular basis.  I'm basically using the same pattern, creating chevrons, in both stockinette and garter.  I'm letting my own curiosity creep out cautiously and poke its paw into matters.  I'm indulging my desire to know, what happens if I use this yarn?  Made of this fiber?  What about cotton?  How about this fuzzy stuff?  What about this bulkier sort?  What about if I use these bamboo needles?  Or this size needle with that weight yarn?

Eventually, I'll move into trying this number of stitches, that depth of chevron, this width of stripe,   Then I might get more adventurous with colorways, color combos, yarn combos, and so forth.  Or I might move on to a completely different stitch, pattern, or technique.  Who knows?  Cuz that's part of nurturing that creativity for yourself, you can learn to go with that flow, and go where it goes, and see what's what along the way.

So to that woman who probably has little or perhaps absolutely no idea what sort of inspiration she has ignited for me, thanks for being an artist, for sharing your art, and for being an exemplary example for me and others...just by being you and living your life as you do.  Thanks for being you.

05 April 2015

Accepting grief, it's inevitable. It happens.

Today, my husband and I went to my mother's.  Jerry's been so supportive, in and of everything I do and don't do.  Having lost his first wife nine years ago and also his father when he was about my age, Jerry understands the grieving process and encourages me to continue to cope in whatever way I deem necessary and appropriate for me.

So when I dissolved into an ugly snotty mass of tears and allergens, Jerry just went to get the tissues, handed them to me and waited til I blew my nose and cleaned up a lil, and then hugged me while telling me that it was ok to do what I can and then stop to wait for another day.  Which was good, because it turns out that going through mom's clothes was harder than I thought it would be.  On reflection, it makes total sense that the sight and scent of her clothes, the outfits she'd worn, the shirts that were her favorites, the zippered hoodies and flannel shirts that were her jackets...those things brought mom more clearly to mind than I was prepared to deal with today.

I've saved a ton of her clothes, mostly because they are cotton and I can craft with them, making various items to give to others who loved her and want a piece of something of hers to remind them of her and to be close to her.  Even while I quickly designated which pile, box, or bag each item when into; I had ideas of what to do with this shirt, or these jeans, or that hoodie.  But then I was bowled over, when I opened a small center drawer and found her silk scarves that she'd had since she was a teenager, and other accessories and broken watches that had been her own mother's, and the few pieces of jewelry mom had used for special occasions~~a string of pearls, a wristband, an anklet.

And a photograph of the falls, which ones, I am not sure, was tucked into a stack of postcards, bookmarks, and print outs with lists of audio~books she'd listened to.  My father, so tiny next to the grandness of these falls, striding across the stones near the base; he must have been in his fifties~~so the picture could have been when my parents were traveling across country, or it could have been when dad visited mom in the Great Smokies of Tennessee, probably not the tall falls in Ricketts Glen, PA though.

As I view these things, the entire pool of people mom knew and folks who loved her deeply sit upon my shoulders, nudging me with exclamations, "oh! I'd like those ticket stubs, you know; she and I went to see that show every year" or "this goes to dad, I know he'd want that" or "Mic and mom loved these songs, that movie" or "the guys would want these, they were in the house for all those years in PA and then again in AR" or "mom's friend, so&so, would want this" or "this is just perfect for this person or that person".  The entire cast of "this is mom's life" waits in the wings, drawing back the curtain to peep out at what I am seeing, mumbling, "not that, don't throw that away" and I nod and put it in this pile to go to that person.

My psychiatric practitioner expressed concern last week that I'm not allowing myself to grieve.  That I am thinking, after this next event, or after this next month, or after this next set of deadlines, or whatever the next thing is, then I'll take time away from it all and grieve.  Then I'll have fulfilled these obligations; if I just drop it all now and retreat, it'll let these folks down, or that group in a lurch or this person disappointed.  And then I tell my psych. that the backlash and aftermath would be worse than if I just wait til after this next...she nods and smiles and tells me that this way of coping is ok too,  This is just another part of my grieving process and that's ok, she gets it.  And then I feel relieved, as tho I've passed another test of normalcy and acceptability that I didn't even know I was dreading.

Over four months, and I'm just now going thru her clothes.  Then my mental psych/therapist voice chides me for chiding me.  It's ok, I know, but I feel this tremendous inner pressure and yet I want to be the one to do this, I want to be sure to pack things properly and designate this item for that person or know that this box has that in it and will go to these people {usually that means, the guys, my father and brother}.

And I know, that in a few months, a few years, sometime later down the road; I'll be going thru what I have kept for me, to again sort things,,,because maybe this person will have said, "oh, is it ok if no  one else wants this, can I have it?" and that person will have asked, "do you know what happened to...?"  And I'll be ready to part with that item, or this painting, or that piece of clothing will have been made into this thing that this other person wants.

It's ok, being this work in progress and not having all the answers and not being perfect and being a mass of conflicted feelings and having strong reactions that swing widely and wildly from sharp pangs of missing mom to laughing at this memory or that shared story or cringing at hearing her voice coming out of my mouth.  Rolling my eyes, because I can hear her saying, "you watch weird shit," when my husband's sci~fy movie takes a turn into Cheesy~Cavern territory, is becoming customary and accepted, by others but mostly by my own self.  And that's ok.  And it's also ok when it's not ok.  Ya know?  If you've said goodbye to someone you love, then I think you do.  I think you know exactly what I'm talking about.  And if you don't, that's ok.

18 March 2015

Scholarships for Starkville Area Youth: Applications Due APRIL 15th

Starkville Area Arts Council does some pretty incredible stuff, I've discovered over the past couple years.  In addition to holding various events like The Magnolia Independent Film Festival, Everything Home & Garden Expo, Cotton District Arts Festival, Forks & Corks; the arts council also supports lots of other endeavors too.  One of those is to help make possible others' pursuits of artistic creativity though awarding scholarships in various amounts.

Summer Scholarships  ~~  These are specifically for Starkville and Oktibbeha County students age ten thru eighteen, who are not yet in college, and are enrolled in advanced art programs during the summer months.  This money can be used for lessons, tuition for various art camps, contest and competition fees, or workshops that further youths' artistic development.  That application can be found here.

College Arts Scholarships ~~  Area graduating seniors who are not yet attending but have been accepted into college, who will be majoring in visual arts, graphic art design, dance, theater, voice, music, applied art, or in another art related discipline, are welcome to apply for these scholarships.    These applications can be found here.

Both the summer scholarship and
 the college arts scholarship applications are due on April 15th.

Get on up...

A few days ago, I posted about some ways I've found over the years to pay it forward, to give back to my community.  One way that I've not yet discussed here is that over the years, I've worked with various non~profits.  Sometimes, on the receiving end of services or other benefits {when I was a kid, I was one of the many who received "free" or "reduced" lunch}.  Sometimes, on the giving end, as someone who could volunteer some here and there or be able to provide some items, clothes, etc that would be used.  Sometimes, I was an employee, so that I could coordinate services and get the right stuff to the right group.  And sometimes, I'd be the spokesperson for the nonprofit advocate group, speaking before another group of individuals, explaining what the needs are for that particular nonprofit.

The main reason I mention these things, here and before, is because some folks want to help, but don't know how.  Or they think they have nothing to offer.  But if you want to help out, you can.  Helping doesn't always mean writing a check, sometimes if that is what you can do and that is what is needed, then that is the most appreciated.  "Helping" doesn't always mean hard physical labor, though sometimes that is what is needed most.  Helping can come in many forms and often it does.

There are many nonprofits and other groups, so examine your own interests and see how you can use your talents to do something you would enjoy doing for a cause you feel passionate or at least care about.  Some people look at their tithe, their church work, etc as being their cause.  Some folks want to do something to help folks who are now in the same situation they had been in previously, because they can relate to that person.  Some want to help kids, some want to become involved in gardening, some are want to share their own talents and skills through teaching and giving lessons.  Some sew, some cook, some carve, some cure, some write, some organize others, ... the list goes on and on and on.

So if you think, "I'm bored"; give it some serious thought.  Think about what YOU want to be doing.  Then do it.  Do you want to sing?  Sing and learn more about music, the voice, pitch, tone, harmonies, etc.  Not sure what you want to do?  Then there are plenty of groups that can help you in the meantime, by asking you to volunteer for this activity, or that event, or whatever.

Get up off your duff, and DO something.  What are you good at?  Find a way to apply that to help someone else!

10 March 2015

Giving Back & Paying It Forward

Long time readers know that when I first moved to Mississippi some dozen years ago, life was a bit tumultuous and I was floundering lots.  Over the years, I began to replant my feet, regain some stability, and shape my life into a much calmer, peaceful place.  I had lots of help in doing so, mostly emotional and mental support; lots of encouragement and reassurances.

Because I believe that basic tenent expressed in oh so many ways is vital; I try to be sure to pay it forward, to help where and how I can, and to encourage others.  The principle to do unto others as you would have done unto you, to treat others the way you want to be treated, to know that what you send forth shall be returned to you, et al; can be found in most belief systems~~religious, spiritual, or otherwise.  No one single group can claim it exclusively; I think many strive to include this creed into their own canon, not just as policy, but also practice.

What this meant for me was that about ten years ago, I became more proficient in my use of yarn.  My creativity in the fiber arts grew and my interest drove me to seek other individuals and groups who would also benefit from the things I made.  I appreciate items that are functional and beautiful, so that's what I focused on doing.

Each January, I'd make a list of groups who served populations who could use the hats, scarves, bags, jackets, belts, and other accessories I make.  I'd look at the organizations to be sure that they were actually assisting the individuals and not just spending the bulk of their funds with administrative pursuits and such.  I kept the list local, starting in my town {Starkville}, then county {Oktibbeha}, then state {Mississippi}...before I could get to region {SouthEast}, I'd usually have a more lengthy list than I could hope to fill!

By February, I'd have contacted the organization to see what their needs are in particular and if they could use what I could make.  I'd know which group to focus on for the year and what items to crochet, knit, loom, etc.  Come the winter, ten months later, I'd deliver the goods.

It was a win win win situation; they'd feel good, I'd feel good, the organization would be appreciative.  Yea!!  We all worked together to achieve some goals!  Yea!!

As I became healthier, having better days, more often; I became more active in our local community.  I was careful to choose efforts that didn't depend on a deadline, because I felt too fragile and not steady enough to handle deadlines well.  I was very careful to not accept a position or activity that would rely sole on me and my efforts, because my health was too unpredictable and my energy levels were not very stable.  Sometimes, I would severely misjudge my abilities and my capabilities; and fall flat on my face.

For the most part though, I think I became a better judge of myself, of monitoring myself, over the years.  This meant that some days, some weeks, some months; I knew I'd have to take a backseat, or just not enter the car at all.  Those were quiet times, when I ventured forth into the community for grocery trips, doctors' visits, and Wellness Connection water workouts {spending time in the water was a great way for me to minimize my sensory input, similar to sensory deprivation but not quite}.

About five years ago, I married the most supportive, tolerant, accepting person~~the absolutely perfect fit for me.  With his encouragement, I did become a little more active in our community; joining the newly formed writers' group.  From that, then we became involved with the Writers' Village at the Cotton District Arts Festival.  Eventually, I became more involved with other aspects of Starkville Area Arts Council.  To me, these are ways that I can assist, giving back so that others can also be encouraged and move forward.

Sometimes, it seems like I should be doing more.  I feel like it's just not enough.  But then I look back and I realize how far I've come and that giving into the feeling of internal pressure helped to put me in a bad place to start.  It's a balancing act, one that I get right more than wrong most of the time.

The difference is that now I know that if and when I fall flat on my face, I can lie there for awhile, rest a bit, then let others help me get back on my feet, dust myself off, and move at my own pace.

08 March 2015

Libby, the Bichon Frise

We adopted a five year old Bichon Frise named "Libby" over a month ago.  She has a history of not really liking men all that much, they intimidate her and she is a lil on the skittish side anyway.  She was a breeder, at a puppy mill for several years, until her uterus pretty much crumbled and fell out.  Then the woman decided she wasn't useful and had to go.

That was last fall.  In November, a couple adopted her and took her home.  But then in January, they returned her to the foster home, because it wasn't a good fit.

In the beginning of February, I drove down to meet Libby at her foster home.  She wasn't really too thrilled, but was very submissive and complacent.  Our trip home was quiet and uneventful.

Libby came with a lot of stuff, a puffy doggy bed, a smaller doggy bed with fuzzy sides, a super soft blanket, toys, squeaky toys, tug toys, dishes, more toys, and so on.  I set a few things around the living space in various areas, so that she would have choices and also so that our strangeness had a few familiar things for her.  She seemed to prefer a lil chair that is next to my husband's.

Three Dog Night:  Jerry's angels
Libby, Sophie, & Chiquita
Within days, Libby and my husband had bonded.  She would whine when he went outside and she remained in.  She would curl up in his lap, with our other two lil ones and cozy down into just the right spot.  She would come running when he held the door open,  And when we went to bed, she would lay right up against his chest.

I credit this to my husband's extremely gentle and patient behaviour with Libby.  He voiced concern when we were considering adopting her, because of her history with avoiding men.  But Libby warmed up to him with no problems at all.  He made it possible for her to like him, on her own terms in her own time.

There are several lessons to learn here, some principles that can be applied to relationships in general.  Watching my husband and Libby learn to trust each other and patiently accept the other's quirks has really been good for me.  Libby's adapted to her new environment, as have we to her.  It's a learning process that will continue, but I think she's finally home.

So are we.

22 February 2015

The Seat of Grief

Just after Thanksgiving 2014, when it became more apparent that my mom might not be making a speedy recovery, when it became more apparent that she might actually not make any sort of recovery, when I realized she might actually die at some point in the very near future {which I was still considering a few months, not a few days}...I looked up "grief", because I had quite a bit of time to google things while I waited for the next allowable visitation within the Critical Care Unit.

I wasn't thinking, "great, how do I do this "grieving thing" properly?"; altho I do try to get things right in some ways and be prepared, which is why I've gotten to be so good with research and know an amazing amount of completely trivial stuffs.  I was thinking more about the fact that her life was changing and that even though she was not the sort of person who overly lamented much of anything; I did realize that one aspect that is often ignored in a changing situation is the grief you can hold for the loss of the dreams, assumptions, and goals that you once held for possible futures.

What I mean is that sort of vague feeling that people can have, when they realize that contrary to their childish beliefs that they could accomplish anything and be anyone, those options are not quite as broad in range as they had once thought.  Midlife crises are often about the grieving for dreams that will never be, even if you had not really wanted to be that astronaut who undergoes cryogenic suspension so that you can come to millions of light years away, you might grieve the letting go of that unrealistic dream you once had had.  So I knew that you can grieve for all sorts of things, including possible futures.

Or impossible futures.

So I looked up "grief" because I thought that mom's life is changing, and she will accept those changes, of course; but how can I help her to make the adjustments and accept the limitations even better.  That's what my thoughts were at that time.

Here's what happens when you google "grief", most of the articles and references focus on helping you through grieving the loss of someone you love.  Your spouse, a child, a parent.  That makes total sense, of course.

But not really what I thought I was looking for.  Apparently, I thought wrong.  Turns out, that was exactly what I was looking for.

The one big thing that stuck out to me, in the review of  "grief", was that lots of folks who are grief~stricken are very tense and they carry their grief, in a very physical way.  They develops aches and pains and often will seek medical assistance for discomfort that had not been present before.

"Wow," I thought, "good to know."

So I was not surprised at all, when I began to get achy over the past few months.  I didn't panic.  I didn't jump to the conclusion that I had flu.

One day tho, I realized, my ass hurts.  Not my entire ass, just the same place that had been problematic a few years ago.  A very deep pain in the right ass cheek.  And immediately, once I paid attention to it, the pain bloomed.

Several years ago, as I was getting out of my car at my mom's, deep in my right ass, a cramp seized so hard that it took my breath away and tears sprang to my eyes instantaneously.  I limped in severe pain and mom stood on her front deck, laughing her ass off at the rather humorous picture I presented, yelling at me, "walk it off, just walk it off".

I was laughing even as I cried in pain.

Turns out, I ended up in physical therapy, for a pain in the ass.  Most likely it was my piriformis, which is a muscle that is linked with sciatica.  Everyone knows that pain in the ass.

It is not an easy place to reach yourself.  And it is an awkward thing to ask of others, "would you rub my ass?  just get in there, really hard, and deep".  Misunderstandings arise and you can lose a few friends that way.

a few days ago, I finally had enough; so I contacted a massage therapist and made an appointment.  When describing the pain and location, after having explained that I was tense in general and that my mother had died in December and that I suspected that part of the reason that I was tense and achy was related to that; the massage therapist told me something that made complete sense to me.

Apparently, the seat of grief is in the complex layering of muscles in the pelvic and hip region.  Your center of gravity is there, and when you lose someone, your entire world is rocked.  So it makes sense that the seat of grief is found within your sit~upon.  It may seem less than polite to think that the loss of your loved one is directly related to that locale.  But I know that mom would be laughing her ass off about being a literal pain in mine.