The world is a rose; smell it and pass it to your friends.
– Persian proverb
If you have a garden, you always have a gift to give. I’m very fortunate. I enjoy the garden; my husband toils in the garden. I believe it is a fair distribution of labor in light of my domestic duties, which have compounded during these times.
“It’s the friends you can call up at 4am that matter.”
I’ve been very quiet lately and the friends who know me best have guessed why. Nearly four months ago, my husband and I moved from Carmel to Sacramento and I still haven’t quite caught my breath. Despite the fact that I love my new home and neighbors, I’ve felt overwhelmed, disoriented and sad. So, I’ve retreated …which is my way. It’s particularly easy to do that in the darkness of winter.
I haven’t wanted to share my unhappiness with others because it seems incredibly unwarranted. But, I began reaching out to my friends this week and they’ve reminded me of some basic truths.
Change, even positive change, is difficult.
My lovely friend waited until she was 50 years old for the right man to appear and she married him less than a year ago. Now she’s adjusting to her new home, role and life. She’s lost her desire to create and, as she put it, entered a period of “hibernation.” She wrote: “No doubt you and I will move through this season ( it’s just a season, after all) and blossom with new insights and greater creativity …in time.”
Your problems may not be BIG problems, but you’re entitled to them!
One of my friends lost her home several months ago. Just as wildfires were gobbling up California, her home was destroyed when a chemical fire spontaneously combusted in her garage. She was on vacation and got the news while she floated on a boat beside her husband. She’s negotiating with the insurance company who insists the value of her lost home is $80,000 less than the construction company does.
I felt guilty complaining that the carpet we had installed the week before we moved in was going to have to be ripped out and replaced due to an incredibly poor install. And yet, all she had to offer was compassion. “How frustrating!” she said after agreeing that moving was a major upset.
Each stage of life offers rewards and challenges.
One of my dearest friends is feeling the loneliness that comes from having grown children and a husband with a demanding career. She is truly one of the kindest people I’ve ever known and so it pains me greatly to hear her express doubt about her purpose. I wonder silently if it isn’t enough that she is such a generous person.
And finally, we’ve all got problems! Friends are there to remind us that we’re not alone.
May you all be blessed with friends as good as mine!
I had to say goodbye to my favorite neighbors last month and, in between the tears, I got to thinking about what it means to be a good neighbor today vs. when I was growing up.
In 1970 I was an energetic ten-year old who loved roaming the street with my siblings and friends. The doors to nearly every home on my block were always open. Mothers worked in those homes and they (mostly) enjoyed the interruption that a pack of kids provided. I loved particularly the woman who baked cinnamon rolls as heavy as bricks and the one who loved to sew but immediately left her machine to chat with us upon our arrival as if we were her contemporaries.
The neighborhood of my youth is a rare thing nowadays. (Hey, I’m pushing 60 years old and I think I’ve earned the right to use the word nowadays!) Seems to me the definition of a good neighbor today goes something like this: a good neighbor is one who doesn’t bother you, respects boundaries and keeps quiet. Of course, this is dependent upon where you live. I think you’re more likely to find satisfying relationships if you have young children and can bond over play-dates and carpools. But, those days are over for me and my husband and I never expected to have the good luck of becoming attached to someone on our block when we moved to Carmel.
Marietta and Frank’s former home is perched on a hill across the street from our home and it boasts expansive windows at the front. So, they could look down on us and see the daily comings and goings. It was quite easy for them to monitor things when we were on vacation. They saw the mail being delivered and they’d know if someone broke in and tried to take off with our t.v.
Our friendship began immediately with the kindness they offered before even knowing us. We moved into our house slowly and I took several loads of things in my car before the big moving trucks arrived. I made the trips solo as Tom was still employed and Natalie was in school and the drive was an easy hour and one half.
It never failed that shortly after I’d unloaded all of the boxes into my garage, I’d get a call from across the street.
“You are working so hard; don’t work so hard!” Marietta would advise in her rich Chilean accent. “Come eat a sandwich with us!”
I’d frequently receive invitations to take short vino or coffee breaks or to dine on superbly home cooked meals. It was like having a more perfect version of my mom living across the street and it was divine.
For five years, we celebrated birthdays and everyday occurrences like the sighting of a family of quail marching across the driveway or the first blooms of azaleas in both of our gardens. And a couple of days after the election of POTUS, we dined together to bond in our shared horror and grief about the state of our country.
Most recently, Marietta saw me regularly racing to my car decked out in my spandex on my way to Zone Fitness. She never missed the opportunity to provide praise and encouragement. One day I’d see her waving from her window, another day we’d meet in the middle of the street before getting into our cars to head our separate ways. She’d often say the same thing about my fitness goals that she said when I began my blog: Do whatever makes you happy!
I’ve been missing the chance meetings at the mailbox and the shouts out of car windows as we come and go. And, though, it’s not even fall yet, I’m already missing the annual delivery of freshly baked holiday fruit cake. Really, I’m missing the rare, warm and comforting feeling of knowing that there’s someone living so close by who cares so much.
Retirement brings with it the opportunity and desire to clarify one’s purpose…again. I thought a lot about my purpose in my 20s. I loved to read and write and I was inspired by Gloria Steinem and Barbara Walters. It was incredibly fulfilling to focus on my education. Some of the most enjoyable days of my life were spent pounding away at typewriters while earning my B.A. in Journalism.
In my 30s and 40s, I was busy, as most people are. I didn’t spend a lot of time pondering anything beyond purchasing a home, advancing in my career and then mothering my daughter.
Natalie is now an adult and I have the luxury of time to ponder my existence once again. But, it’s not merely an intellectual pursuit. A person’s “why” should serve to order her days. Our values should match our activities and so the exercise has value.
At 58 years of age, I’m struck by how little my perception of my purpose has changed. And, I’m encouraged to discover that I seem to be living in alignment with my core values.
I have always been compelled to create, decorate, celebrate, communicate, question, advocate and challenge myself. And, my voice has always been high-pitched and feminine and aligned with that of other women who believe in the cause of equality.
I’d like to say up-front that I fully embrace the “bitch” within me. I’d add that I’m intelligent, opinionated and articulate. Those are the traits that often precede the label: “bitch.” Of course, I know that. People can be quite direct in calling out women like me.
The late, great Bette Davis
If you share my personality traits, you know exactly what I’m talking about. I’d bet in living rooms across the country, women were rolling their eyes in shared disgust when POTUS referred to Hillary Clinton as “such a nasty woman” during the final presidential debate. (I’m rolling my eyes and shaking my head as I write!) That exchange played out publicly on the world stage, but it plays out in small ways in the lives of all women who dare to assert themselves.
There was a tiny, creepy moment at the bar at AT&T Park recently. I had been waiting forever to order my Irish coffee amidst a mass of people. There wasn’t a proper line, but everyone was behaving well until it was my turn. A very tall, very large man approached the bar from behind me encroaching uncomfortably on my space and causing me to shrink both physically and emotionally. But, I’m a true baseball fan and I wanted to get back to the game and…IT WAS MY TURN! So, I said so, politely.
He answered, “Fucking BITCH!”
I was afraid, but I didn’t let it show. The bartender came to my defense and quickly made my drink.
Moments like that happen all the time, everywhere. Taken in totality, they are exhausting and demoralizing. They are not comparable to sexual harassment and abuse. However, they serve to silence and diminish half of the population. Now, that’s a bitch!
My favorite people are the people who begin conversations with a question…this question: “How’s Natalie?” This gives me the opportunity to communicate straight from the depths of my heart. And, it immediately puts a smile on my face, because my daughter is my favorite topic.
I remember a strange encounter at Noah’s Bagels when Natalie was about four years old. I noticed a man at a nearby table watching us enjoy our cream cheese covered indulgence. On his way out, he looked at me and said he thought it was nice to see a mother and daughter so obviously enjoying each other’s company.
“Oh, she’s my greatest joy, ” I remember answering.
He corrected me. “Well, your husband must be your greatest joy or you wouldn’t have her.”
If I ran into that man today, I’d tell him the same thing. Indeed, I love my husband, still. But as Alice Thomas Ellis so succinctly put it:
“There is no reciprocity. Men love women. Women love children. Children love hamsters*. Hamsters don’t love anyone; it is quite hopeless.”
Being a mother is, at once, both the most humbling and the most rewarding experience of my life. I will never consider it anything less than a miracle. It will always be the choice I am most proud of. It will always be the responsibility that drives me to be the best person that I can be.
It’s so easy to go on and on about what makes my daughter special, but I’ll just say that, despite all of her accomplishments, it is her kindness and generosity that I am most proud of. As I’ve watched her grow into an adult, I am so comforted to see her display a quiet, resolute strength and a deep understanding and acceptance of herself and those closest to her. She is a young woman who I both enjoy and admire.
I’d like to thank her for letting me “drop by” to enjoy a donut with her and her roommates. There is no place I’d rather be today than sitting across the table from my girl at SLODOCO dipping a maple bar into my latte.
Happy Mother’s Day, dear readers!
* When I repeat this quote, I change hamster to dog. Kids loves dogs and dogs DO love them back!
“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”
—L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
There’s something so comfortable about October. It’s a month to simply enjoy. It doesn’t ask much of us, unlike November and December that bring with them expectations and responsibilities.
This month I’ve enjoyed:
shopping at the farmers market with my husband
artichokes in balsamic with sun-dried tomato aioli (bubbles on the side)
a visit to a pumpkin patch with three lovely Cal Poly students
hot cocoa with whipped cream sipped with a dachshund in my lap
pumpkin bread, pumpkin lattes, pumpkin everything
I ask only a couple of things of myself every October:
I begin my holiday shopping! It gives me such pleasure to find the perfect gift for everyone on my list. (My daughter’s birthday is December 20th, so I get to buy twice as much for her!)
I fill up bags of food and warm clothing to donate at my local food bank and homeless shelter. It is somehow even more rewarding to help others as the holidays approach.
And every year I find myself, quite unconsciously at first, reflecting on the year that is drawing to a close and the year ahead of me. The chill in the air and my plans for the future exhilarate me in a way that the month of January does not. I love October!