A Surgery Surprise

Mary Oliver

Mary J. Oliver, July 29, 2011

As I reported in my post Life Postponed this January, I haven’t been feeling well for quite awhile.  I finally did get in to see a surgeon on February 21 for a consult. He promised to   call the following week to set up  gall bladder surgery sometime in the near future.

My body couldn’t wait that long.  I had a horrific flare-up on Friday, February 24.  The pain was almost unbearable in the afternoon, but  I “toughed it out” that night.   I have a high tolerance for pain, which has not worked in my favor this time in my life.

Saturday morning I woke up with a fever, so I phoned the on-call nurse.  She told me to report to urgent care, where I was seen very quickly. After an interview, an EKG, check-up and blood tests, the doctor spoke to Dave and me.  He said my white blood cell count and bilirubin was way up and I needed to report to the emergency room.  I thought, “Well, I’m finally going to get this ugly old organ outta me!  It may be a more expensive way, but it will be OVER!”  We were pleased that I was getting the attention I needed.  After an ultrasound of the gall bladder area, I was admitted to the hospital and hooked up to several IVS.

It took a day or so to get my blood count and bilirubin in better zones.  Once this was settled, I went to surgery at 8:40 a.m., Monday, February 27.  Surgery to remove the gall bladder is usually a one hour operation.  When I woke up in the recovery room, there were two nurses hovering around me.  Even without my glasses, I could see the clock hands pointing to noon.   Too woozy to fully take that in, Dave joined us on our journey to room 731 at St. Joseph’s Hospital–where my sister and I were born, where one of my sons-in-law was born, where my mother died 22 years ago, where my youngest grandchild was born almost six years ago.

Dave was a acting weird.  He was pacing the floor, stretching his limbs and finding it hard to sit still.  He told me that Dr. Panian, the surgeon, would be in very soon to talk to me about the surgery.  Meanwhile, I was chattering away about the Academy Awards ceremony I watched the night before.  I generally hate awards television, but it was the only show available on the hospital network that I was even remotely interested in.

Dr. Panian arrived around one o’clock.  He told me that the operation had been much more difficult than expected because the gall bladder had become hard, dried out and fused on one side to the stomach wall and the other side to the duodenum.  He had to enlarge the slits for the laparoscopic surgery.  With the laparoscope he detected a spread of cancer cells from the gall bladder to the side of the abdomen and across the duodenum.  Considering the sites where the cancer had spread, this was an inoperable cancer.  My prognosis, with palliative chemotherapy, is one to two years.

Anatomy of the biliary tree, liver and gall bl...

Anatomy of liver and gall bladder

Image via Wikipedia


Dr. Panian had talked to my husband after the surgery, so Dave knew all of this. He  had volunteered to tell me, so Dave had tried to mask the knowledge and keep me as “Mary, who did not know she had cancer,” as long as possible.

One side of my brain doesn’t think it is real, but the rest of me feels assaulted by bad karma.  I feel cheated out of the opportunity to grow old with Dave–which we had promised ourselves when we got married almost 16 years ago. I don’t want to leave my two daughters now that we are in fulfilling times in our lives.  I want to watch my three grandchildren grow up.  I still have plans and projects that I will not see through to the end. I will miss the change of seasons, my cats, the wildlife around me.  I’m not ready to leave yet.

Covered Bridge near Yellow Springs, Ohio

We will be talking to the oncologist this week to decide the course of therapy.  My nasty old gall bladder had placed me at the bottom of the surgery list.  My cancerous gall bladder puts me right at the top.  It is unusual to have gall bladder cancer at all, but a 64-year-old having it is very strange.  Dr. Panian told us the only cases he encountered were in women in their mid-seventies.

I am fortunate to have a loving husband and sister, as well my daughters, relatives, friends and friends of friends to offer up prayers and good wishes.  In the midst of tragedy, there are blessings.

Yellow Crocus between bricks


Wanna-Be Cowboys

Today my younger daughter, Jennifer, and my three grandchildren are visiting the National Western Stock Show .  I guess I should have been more diligent about taking my daughters, Jennifer and Julianne, to the Stock Show every January when they were young since Jen considers it a yearly event for her daughter.  She values the experience for her child and enjoys it enough to take her two nephews as well on a rare day off.

Julia, Andrew and Beck at the National Western Stock Show. 16 Jan 12

I remember my own visits to the Stock Show while growing up in Denver.  We went to the rodeo several times.  It is always held indoors, since this is Denver, Colorado in January!  There are three venues near what used to be the stockyards.

I think I got my fill, though, as a teacher of second graders for six years.  The National Western Stock Show was a regular field trip for that grade in the Denver Public Schools.   We had guides who helped us lead 30 or so youngsters through the throngs of visitors and around the cattle, sheep and horses.  Still, I always worried about those children who lagged behind or wandered off.  There’s always one!  The children I taught didn’t usually attend the Stock Show with their families, so this field trip was a good educational experience for them.  Even though they always held their noses with the first whiff of the animal droppings, they came back to the school very excited about the animals and cowboys, trailing an earthy stock show fragrance.

National Western Stock Show Parade - 17th Stre...

Herding longhorns down 17th Street Denver National Western Stock Show Image via Wikipedia

English: Downtown skyscrapers in Denver, Colorado.

Denver SkylineImage via Wikipedia

My sister-in-law has visited Dave and me in Denver several times.  She lives in Evanston, Illinois, just outside of Chicago.  On one of those trips she mentioned her surprise that people from Denver consider themselves Westerners.  When Dave told me that, I was surprised.  Of course we consider ourselves part of the West—the Wild West even—although throughout my lifetime Denver has been trying to be considered MORE than a “cow town.”  Anyone who visits Denver today will see a city that has grown beyond the “cow town” image.  Maybe that’s why Connie was surprised that Denver’s citizens consider themselves Western, not Midwestern!

My mother’s family came to Denver from Columbus, Ohio in 1920.  My grandmother’s younger brother, Edwin, had moved to Denver for a job opportunity selling mining equipment.  My grandparents and family followed a few years later.  Eventually, the entire Horne/Rockfield side of the family had settled in Denver.   The legends and myths of “The West” were clear in their minds, as you can see by these pictures.

My Ohio to Denver family saw themselves as pioneers when they moved to Colorado. This is taken in about 1925 in Indian Hills, a mountain community outside of Denver. It is almost in the suburbs now.

My mother (the tall "Indian") with her cousins, parents and sister at their cabin in Indian Hills. circa 1925 They look rather grumpy here. A fascination with western lore, the many westerns on TV in the 1950s and early 1960s, influenced Baby Boomers around the country. When I visit antique stores and look at old pictures, people in cowboy clothing prevail.

World War II brought my father to Denver.  Lowry Field, as it was called in those days, provided technical training for the Army Air Forces involved with armaments, i.e. gun sites and the loading and dropping of bombs from the air.  He fell in love with my mother, Denver and the mountains and returned here after 3 years as a Bombardment Officer in the Mediterranean Theater.  This is where I was born and my love of Denver began.

English: Lowry Field, Denver, Colorado

Lowry Field Denver, CO World War II era Image via Wikipedia

A fascination with western lore, the many westerns on TV in the 1950s and early 1960s, influenced Baby Boomers around the country.  When I visit antique stores and look at old pictures, people in cowboy clothing prevail.

Aunt Emily visiting from Illinois, with my sister Beth (pointing the gun) and me, Mary Julia 1954

Last year I wrote a post titled The Code of the West in which I referred to a set of principles developed for a curriculum unit in a local school district.  I believe this code applies to our lives today as well in the past, whether we live in the west, the east, the north or the south.  These are universal principles.

The Code of the West
▪   Live each day with courage
▪   Take pride in your work
▪   Always finish what you start
▪   Do what has to be done
▪   Be tough but fair
▪   When you make a promise, keep it
 ▪   Ride for the brand
▪   Talk less and say mor
▪   Remember that some things aren’t for sale
▪   Know where to draw the line

                                                                                                                 Happy trails to you!

I’m Remembering A Sunny Christmas: Redux

English: A Christmas tree lit and decorated, s...

Image via Wikipedia

Today I’m reposting a blog entry from last year.  It was one of my early posts, but I think it bears repeating because I didn’t have many followers back thenThis year we had a sunny Christmas too, but it was also a white Christmas—that is, there was significant snow on the ground.  Our Christmas was different this year for other reasons as well.  Our grandson Andrew was sick with the stomach flu for several days, including Christmas Eve.  My daughter, Julianne, did not know how this was all going to turn out and didn’t want to expose us to the lingering germs.  She texted us about 9:30 p.m. on the 24th with the news that Christmas was off for the following day.

 As it turned out, we are having our feast and gift exchange today, December 27th, with everyone well  and my other daughter and her family back from Omaha and able to join in all the fun.  We will have an extended Christmas season in 2011.  That’s fine with us!

Andrew, Christmas Day 2011, with new skateboard

REPOST: I’m Remembering A Sunny Christmas (2010)

Andrew skateboarding on a snowy Xmas day 2011

 On this sunny day with no snow on the ground, we still enjoy Christmas.  Everyone thinks Colorado is perpetually covered in snow, but that isn’t true in Denver.  Some years, maybe–but I don’t have nostalgic memories of snowy Christmas days from my childhood.  Yes, I am a Denver native and I grew up here!

The persistent rumor that Denver is like the mountains isn’t true.  We are high, dry and sunny most of the time.  The Christmas days I remember when I was a child include running around outside without a coat, wondering what to do with the sled stored in the garage.

When I was a child, we spent Christmas time driving to different people’s houses to visit, admiring the gifts spread under the tree and eating tasty snacks.  When we were young we enjoyed a big dinner with all the old relatives coming over.  Eventually they didn’t travel, so we went to them on Christmas Eve day.

When I had young children at home, my parents came to our house.  My daughters and stepsons would watch out the window until they arrived, then jump up and fly out the door, crying, “Grandma, Grandpa!”

We unwrapped gifts for hours it seemed, since there were eight people sitting around the family room.  No ripping into gifts for us!  Everyone watched the person opening the gift, waiting for that pleased look of happiness and surprise.  The wrappings were neatly disposed of, the presents set in each family member’s personal pile.  Then the next person would unwrap.  The youngest person in the family always handed out the gifts.

Some years my mother brought the turkey, all cooked and cut up, while I prepared everything else.  I usually concocted a fancy dessert.  My specialty was Baked Alaska, created several days ahead of time, with the finishing touches done just before eating,

After we finished dinner, my parents and I would sit around the table and talk. The kids would drift away to play, but mother, dad and I would reminisce about the old days.  The candles would burn down to stubs, leaving wax on the tablecloth.   The short winter day dimmed to dusk.  This ritual is what I miss most at Christmas, especially since both my parents died around Christmas time, many years ago.

Christmas is nostalgic for many folks.  Maybe that hint of nostalgia makes the holidays that much richer.   A few tears for those who are gone–mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, children…

They exist in other places and times, maybe in another city or state or country.  They may be only a memory, their bones in a grave under a headstone,  or their ashes blown away by the wind.  However, for as long as we live,  they are the beloved wisps of memory around our Christmas tree.

I have worked for years on a poem about the losses time brings.  I end  my 2010 Christmas thoughts with this work, dedicated to my parents.

Mary Elizabeth Rockfield Harris                 16 Sep 1915-4 Jan 1990

Roy David Harris                                  25 Aug 1911-14 Dec 1997


“sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt”

“these are the tears of things, and our mortality cuts to the heart”

Virgil, The Aeneid

Little did I know of time,

when wishing for tomorrows,

these moments I was living in

would never be again.

There would never be again an

hour when growing shadows

dimmed every dear face

gathered near, the candles

weeping their demise

upon  the white linen.

There would never be again a

time when sunlight streaked the

faded carpet, while you sat beside

me, dust motes between us

swirling to the rhythm of our words.

The  hope of our tomorrows lost,

too soon today becoming yesterday;

Sunt lacrimae rerum–

these are tears for all those things

that will never be again.

©2010 M. J.

The Third Time Is A Charm


Dave and Mary Xmas 1994

When I told my husband that I was writing a blog post about him, he dismissed the news with, “That’s going to be very boring.  Why would anyone want to read about me?”  He liked the title, but thought a good alternative would be, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!”  I have to say, that is fitting as well.

Although I’ve written several posts during the 18 months I have kept this blog, I don’t think I have given proper due to Dave Oliver.  He definitely deserves credit for everything does everyday to show his love, attention and thoughtfulness.  He sees to all the little things that make the difference—grocery shopping, vacuuming and mopping the floors, cooking and CLEANING OUR CATS’ LITTER BOXES.  Dave also steps up to help my daughters, their spouses and our grandchildren.

I mentioned in my last post [Time Tunnel] that I have been married three times.  The first marriage was in November 1968, lasting until we divorced in June 1978.   My second marriage was on the rebound.  We met at Parents Without Partners and blended our families with a wedding in June 1979.  We were not the Brady Bunch, although each of us doubled our families, including the cats!  My younger stepson described my cat as his “step-cat,” which seemed quite humorous at the time.  My second husband had two boys and I had two girls.  That marriage withstood many ups and downs, finally ending in September 1992.

I was in my middle forties in 1992, with 23 years of marital experience stretching between two marriages.  Some of my friends were also divorced by then, one of those failing at a second marriage too.  I was in psychotherapy with a skilled psychiatrist who guided me through this divorce, its aftermath and my years of self-discovery.  My daughters were happy that I was on my own, having witnessed the chaos and darkness of the past 13 years.  When they both left for college, I was living by myself for the first time in my life.   I expanded as an autonomous being—missing my children, but savoring time as my own best friend.

David Oliver and I met in November 1993 at a weekly singles group listed in the Denver Free University newsletter.  It was called The Sunday Night Club [SNC].  I enrolled in this activity along with a writing class titled “Writing the Wild Woman.”

The members of the SNC got together for activities and networking.   Like-minded people organized outings to local theater productions, salsa dancing, wine tastings, board games nights, etc.  Dave and I connected through a breakout group that loved going to the movies.  The first movie we scheduled was The Piano on the following Tuesday night at an art theater near downtown.

As luck would have it, this theater was located in the Governor’s Park neighborhood of Denver, where I had bought a condo in January 1993.

A heavy snowstorm blew in early in the afternoon, but I decided to drive to the theater and see the movie anyway, even if no one else showed up.  Three other people did arrive—Dave and a couple in a relationship.

Dave and I became a couple from that evening on because we didn’t want the conversation to end.   We set another movie date for the next Tuesday, followed by a Friday night date a few days later.  A routine quickly developed–our Tuesday movie nights, dinner with a rented movie on Friday nights, a dinner we cooked together on Saturday nights and a Sunday afternoon walk around the historic neighborhoods we shared.  We talked on the phone every night we weren’t together. This kind of friendly romance was new to me.

Dave is an architect and he taught me lots of architectural terms as we picked our favorite houses along the streets we explored.  Since I am a Denver native, I knew historic details that enhanced our growing familiarity with the beautiful old homes we admired.  My mother had grown up in this same area of Denver, so the stories she had told me became wonderful nuggets to embellish what we were learning.

Dave at Beck's birthday party July 2011

Dave and I were fortunate to live close to each other, each of us in corner condos on the ninth floor of our buildings facing west.  Dave’s condo sat on the edge of beautiful old Cheesman Park and mine overlooked the Governor’s Mansion and other notable mansions and grounds that I could see from my balcony.  We have been talking and loving movies ever since, as well as reading and discussing mysteries and history, poetry, music, our previous relationships and marriages.  In addition, we have traveled to cities all over the country to visit plantations, estates and famous homes.

For the first time in my life,  I was spending time with a man who was also a friend—who loved to talk and shared many interests with me. We had the same attitudes about politics and religion, and we agreed on ethical and moral standards–all the basics that create a strong relational foundation.  He even listened to NPR—the first of my friends who did!  He was also a Democrat!  Another plus.

My daughters loved him and he loved my daughters and their boyfriends.  He even grew to love my cats!   Eventually we decided to marry and picked the date of September 20, 1996.

When I was a young girl, I never envisioned myself in  “serial” marriages.   Although my sister’s first marriage also failed, she remained content in her second union.   By the time Dave and I married, I understood my previous failures. Both of us worked through our problems separately in therapy, combining the techniques and strategies we had learned to build a strong relational foundation.

I overheard fellow teachers at school whispering comments about me when my third wedding became public, including snickers about my name changes.   I chose to view these as sign posts denoting my growth as a human being.   I didn’t plan to explain myself and no one asked.  Only one person told me that it took courage to marry again.  Smiling, I replied that was a tribute to my extreme optimism.We have never regretted our leap of faith. Our goal is to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary in 2021.  Hope all of you are there to celebrate!

Do we need a battle hymn to be good parents?

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

All of us begin our lives as children, and we evolve into adulthood from the childhood we experienced.  The choices and decisions my parents made about discipline, religion, playtime, homework, grades, lessons outside of school, summer camp–these and more–contributed to the adult I became.  In my childhood, my grandparents and other older relatives were also influential in my attitudes and self-image.

My childhood laid the foundation for the career I chose as an elementary school teacher.  I have been around children all of my adult life—as an educator, a parent, a step-parent, and now as a grandparent.   In most ways, my life has been about guiding and teaching children and I have strong opinions about education and parenting.

A controversial book about these subjects hit the book lists this year.  It is Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua.  As I avidly read this book last week, I knew my personal review had to become a blog post.  Amy Chua took a great risk writing a book comparing her commitment to Asian parenting vs. Western parenting (American parenting in particular). She points out all the ways in which American parents are more concerned with their children’s happiness and self-esteem than how well they learn and achieve.   According to the author, being number one and at the  best  at everything  are the parent’s goal for every child.  If a parent has to insult, browbeat or otherwise compel a child to practice an instrument, review for a test or rewrite an assignment, so be it.   Achievement is more important than comfort, rest or happiness.  Children owe it to their parents to become the best.

First of all, let me say this book is very well written, short book.  At times it is even humorous, to the point that I thought she was laughing at herself and would recant everything she said at the end.  She did not do so, even though one of her daughters actually rebelled and followed her own path.  Ms. Chua adopted two dogs and discovered that they were individuals and required different handling.  Ultimately, training a dog to do what that breed should do was a tenet she abandoned, but this was not true for her children.  I thought dog training would lead to a greater understanding of all the ways in which she was oppressing her children.  Not so…

As a trained educator, experienced parent and humane person, my concern is that any helicopter parent, male or female, Asian or western, should realize  that the goal of education is not to mold a child;  instead, it is to enable a child.  When we work with children, the obligation is to establish a foundation  of basic skills, teach our children how build on those skills and help them discover their lifelong interests as self-directed, independent learners. If educators and parents pave the way, young people will link their  skills and with their interests.

Children and young people need time to dream, create and think.  They need time away from academics to move, dance, sing and pursue arts and sciences in their own time.  If children are not allowed to make their own choices and mistakes, discover their strengths and weaknesses, they will not develop self-confidence and autonomy.  The children of today are the leaders of tomorrow—we want them to become independent, self-directed learners who are also creative, open-ended thinkers.  These are the skills necessary to successfully navigate the complicated future that lies ahead.

The Code of the West

My family in 1925 in the mountain community of Indian Hills, outside of Denver. They shared a cabin there when they weren't in their Denver homes.

Last week I finally got my desk sorted–again, although it isn’t cleaned yet.  Eraser shreds, dust from the open windows, crumbs, cat hair, cottonwood fluff, bits of yarn, all still linger here.  What really bothered me was the stacks of paper everywhere–print outs, receipts, folders that I kept moving from place to place.  After the garage sale bust of last weekend–never again!–there was even more stuff to be sorted, stored or given away.   All this organization took time, but it was purging!  Now I know where everything is again as well as what needs to be accomplished.
One benefit was finding a folder where I stuffed newspaper clippings that I wanted to think about.  One of them was a profile about the granddaughter of a Colorado pioneer family who had just turned 100.  She was a truly amazing woman…I say was, because just the day before I had read her obituary in the newspaper.  She died at 101.  Synchronicity!  Another article I found inspired the title of this blog posting.

The Code of the West has inspired a curriculum unit developed by the Ann Moore of Cherry Creek High School and is available from the Cherry Creek School District, a suburban district in the Denver Metro area where my children and one son-in-law attended school, my grandchildren attend now and my other son-in-law teaches.  The curriculum is titled, “Making a Difference: Cowboy Ethics in the Classroom.”  It is intended for middle school and high school students.

The key principles are good for life on the range, in business and on Wall Street.  After watching several documentaries about the recent financial collapse around the world, including the Bernie Madoff debacle, maybe the code has worldwide applications!   See what you think.  It’s very simple:

  • Live each day with courage
  • Take pride in your work
  • Always finish what you start
  • Do what has to be done
  • Be tough but fair
  • When you make a promise, keep it
  • Ride for the brand
  • Talk less and say more
  • Remember that some things aren’t for sale
  • Know where to draw the line

Happy trails to you!

Goldfinches return–it must be spring!

Goldfinch enjoying nyger seed at our backyard feeder.

Goldfinch enjoying nyger seed at our backyard feeder.

Dave filled our bird feeders to the top last weekend.  What perfect timing!   We have two–one for the sparrows and chickadees and one for the finches–and chickadees as well.   The squirrels are foiled by the sparrow bird feeder–they really cannot get onto or into that model! It is smooth all over and the lid screws down tight, so they are flummoxed.  It isn’t easy to flummox a squirrel.  They may be rodents, but they would take over the world if they could figure out how to cross a street.  Some of the seed invariably drops to the ground, for the enjoyment of pigeons, mourning doves and other ground feeders.

Our long wire mesh feeder is filled with nyger (a kind of thistle) seed.  The individual seed is tiny, but doesn’t fall out of the feeder easily.  The top of this feeder also screws down tightly, so the squirrels hang on it and can pull out seeds, but cannot dig into it.  Wednesday we saw a pair of goldfinches on the feeder. The iridescent golden yellow of the male, the subtler yellow brown of the female–hooray!  That is the whole reason I bought that feeder.  After reading in the local paper a few years ago that if I put out a thistle feeder, goldfinches would come, I had to have one.  Just like the baseball field of movie legend, the promise came true.  By the middle of summer we will have three or four goldfinch couples feeding in our yard.  Somehow they work a deal with the squirrels, because we see our furry neighbors as well.

The robin’s nest in our flowering crab out front still has the robin’s nest from last year.  We don’t know if they return to the same nest.  I’ve heard the robins outside, but don’t know when to expect them to start raising a family.  We were surprised they nested right by the front door last spring, other than the fact there are just the two of us, Dave and I, coming and going most of the time.

Spring is everywhere, in the midst of strong winds and the threat of snow on Monday.  What would April be if we didn’t get snow?  The crocuses are pushing through the bricks, the morning glories are sprouting.  Tulips have shoots and the crab tree has buds. Our honeysuckle is greening up as well.  With so many windows in our house, I can track hourly the growing of shoots and buds!  There are some advantages to growing older–having time to pay attention to details.

Yesterday we went to the park with our grandsons. We grilled some brats and hot dogs, much appreciated by all.  We ate too many potato chips–the reason we never buy them except for special occasions.  Boys are amazing–climbing, running, jumping, digging.  They had a great time, as did we.  If felt good to feel the sun on our backs.

Later on all of us gathered at Jen and Rich’s house for a hamburger cookout.  This get-together opened the season of fun times together for celebrating lots of birthdays and special occasions.  The Cousins–Julia, Andrew and Beck–ran from back to front, playing, digging, kicking balls, performing a “show.”  It is always gratifying to see everyone together again.

Three cheers for the grass, the trees, the flowers and the growing of children and family bonds.  Renewal abounds!

An old wedding dress…

Julia with her fancy "up do"

I have been involved in “e-tailing” for almost four years now.   I own and operate three virtual stores.  One of these stores markets antique and vintage items.   While checking out the competition recently, I focused on the category of used wedding gowns.  The ones that sold fetched good prices.

Vintage clothing is not a category in my shop.  I have an “accessories section” for leather gloves from my mother and aunt and some vintage scarves I’ve collected over the years.  I wore scarves wrapped around my head as headbands or ponytail adornments in the 1970s and tied in fancy bows or knots around my neck in the 1980s.   Otherwise, I never keep clothing, except for the lovely satin wedding gown up in our attic.  It has been in the family since 1942.

My mother chose this dress it for her wartime wedding that year, and my sister and I chose it for our weddings in 1968.   However, my niece and daughters did not want to wear it for their 1990, 1999 and 2000 weddings.

My 8-yr old granddaughter, Julia, spent the day at our house this past Monday because her school had a “non-pupil contact day.”  I told her about the dress while I looked through old pictures to use in listing the item.   She looked at wedding pictures of my mother, my sister and me in the dress, and then pictures of her mother and her aunt in their wedding gowns.

She wondered aloud why her mother and her aunt did not want to wear the shiny satin gown with a sweetheart neckline, rucked  (fabric sewn into folds) bodice, long tight sleeves and a cathedral train.   I explained that they wanted different kinds of weddings than the older generations did.   “Oh, I can see that,” as she explained the differences she had noticed between our formal church weddings and  the smaller gatherings in an old historic home for her mother and a city park for her aunt.

After a pause, she wistfully commented that it was nice when things were passed down.  I asked her if she wanted the dress and she softly answered, “Yes.”  I quickly replied, “I will save the dress for you. It is yours.  Do you want to see it?”  Oh yes, she did!   I took her up to the bedroom and flipped opened the window of the “acid free chamber” in the box where the gown has been stored since I had it cleaned and  preserved.  I explained the fabric was called a “blush” satin because it was originally white, but turned a cream color over time.

When I said, “Grandpa will put this right back in storage,” she smiled a big smile, then added,  “I won’t be getting married for a long, long time.”

So, I’m not selling the dress, for all the right reasons!

The Joy of Grandchildren

Julia, Beck and Andrew

Not too long ago I saw a teaching colleague whom I hadn’t seen for years.  We discussed retirement and caught up with the doings of our children.  When she mentioned that her daughters were married and lived in other states quite far away, I expressed my regrets.  She said, “Oh, that’s fine.  I don’t have to babysit my grandchildren.”  I was amazed!  How diminished my life would be without my children and grandchildren close by!  They are my family, and family is right at the top of my list of priorities.

I’m writing this after we hosted our grandsons for an overnight this past Saturday. We always try to plan ahead for their visits so that we have the right treats and activities available.  Andrew is six and Beck is three.  Actually, they are “halves”–three 1/2 and 6 1/2, which does make a difference, especially for Beck.  A year ago he fussed for his mother, but now that he goes to preschool, he pushes her out the door.  I guess he is asserting his independence, which part of the whole growing-up experience.

The evening moved smoothly with Moon Sand (appropriate for indoor play, but very messy).  It is made in Sweden, but marketed by a Chinese company.  Just so readers know, it isn’t something fancy.  I bought it at Target.   The package  says the sand stays moist and no water need be added.  Well, it was moist, but neither Sweden or China had anticipated a dry mountain climate.  Frustratingly, the molded sand didn’t hold together very well, but that didn’t matter to the boys.  They built roads, walls and ramps and ran their play dump trucks over and into  them.  When we were ready to clean up, Dave found more of Beck’s sand on his chair and the floor than on the table.  For those who might wonder, it cleaned up beautifully!

Andrew is the best big brother I have ever encountered.  His mom and dad have taught him to look out for Beck and he takes that role seriously.  He is as vigilant as a parent.  Not only that, he thinks his brother is very funny, which he is.  When Beck demonstrated the Happy Feet penguin dance, Andrew ran up and hugged him.  He remarked that he was lucky to have Beck as his little brother.  What a sweetheart!  During dinner, Beck took a big bite of pizza and then grabbed my water bottle, taking a big swig.  He then remarked, “That was spicy!”  Andrew commented, “That’s Beck!”  When Beck decided he wanted to eat breakfast in the kitchen rather than in the dining room with us, Andrew advised, “Just ignore him.  He does stuff like that, but he’ll eventually come in here.”  He was right!

The previous two sleepovers we hosted included the boys’ cousin, Julia.  She is 7 1/2 going on thirty–also a very responsible young lady and full of creative play ideas.   Our townhouse is her stage, with the boys trailing along behind her while she serves as the director.  Andrew used to just let her tell him what to do, but occasionally he will say, “I feel bad when you leave me in the other room and go off with Beck.  I don’t like what I’m doing!”    Usually, however, they mesh very well, all three of them.  Both boys adore Julia.  One day she said to me, with a big sigh, “I don’t know why my cousins want to be me.”  I remarked that they looked up to her because she is the oldest.  Her reply: “Just wait until Andrew gets into second grade.  It is really hard.”

Whenever the grandchildren leave, the house seems very quiet.  We both suffer a let down, with all their young energy gone.  Young children are infinitely fascinating–their perspective and immediacy.  Of course, I was an elementary school teacher, so I’ve always enjoyed the freshness of young eyes.  However, Dave doesn’t have children of his own, so he has never had close enounters with youngsters growing up right under his nose.  He loves how the ordinary is extraordinary to kids–all his household tools, kitchen utensils, flash lights, hats–it goes on and on.  One of Dave’s great assets is his ability to remember how it felt to be a boy and the fact that he had a wonderful Dad who taught him how to do things and honored his curiousity.

“Our granchildren accept us for ourselves, without rebuke or effort to change us,as no one in our entire lives has ever done, not our parents, siblings, spouses, friends–and hardly ever our own grown children.”~

Life-Work: Finding The Space

So far 2010 has been about organizing my Stuff–and it needed to be!   People who have retired from a paying job still crave some kind of  work.   When I retired from teaching elementary school in September 2002, I thought I knew what I would do as a “second career.”  I had spent four years working as a half-time teacher, “transitioning” into retirement.   After that “practice” retirement, I realized that the real thing requires on-the-job training.

Throughout the years I worked as an elementary school teacher, I dreamed of being a writer.  I had always kept a journal, but I added poetry and stories when on summer breaks from teaching.   During the school year, inevitably I became  frustrated with the regimen of classroom teaching.  I  saw myself setting my own agenda and working as a writer from home.  In hind sight, I know that most people become frustrated with their work, picturing  what they would do if they had it to do all over again.  Often writing is one of those romantic choices.   However, during those years, I was the only person I knew who believed she was a writer trapped in a classroom.

However, this isn’t a blog entry about suddenly discovering my calling.   Rather, I am writing about life-work.  Although I love children and I am glad that I had the opportunity to teach, I have never been sorry to be doing something else.  My teaching experience has helped me to play creatively with my grandchildren and enjoy being part of their expanding discovery of the world around them.  I have no regrets about my professional choices because they gave me insights into childhood and the importance of keeping my mind open to new opportunities.

Since retirement I have worked as a writer, though I haven’t received much money for my efforts.  I  finished writing a book in November.  It is “resting” while I decide on marketing and publishing strategies.  I love blogs and  blogging and have now started my third blog (!).  I’ve also developed numerous hobbies that are both creative efforts and keep my days full.  Fitting new interests into a townhouse, however, requires a different kind of creativity.  Enter Dave, my husband, the architect.  He knows all about space!

I have two working spaces in the house.  One of them is this room where I am writing.  It contains my computer and printer, paper, notebooks, pencils and pens–as well as two cat beds.  I also do the household accounts, so I have calculators, check books and the bills here.  This is The Office.  Since I  also taught myself to knit recently, I have knitting books, needles and the yarn I am currently using stored in here.  My bookcases contain dictionaries, writing books, genealogy books and family records (another hobby), most of the pictures from my ancestors,  childhood and my life up to now.  We also store some of our cookbooks in this room, plus my recipe collection–although cooking is not one of my hobbies.

Upstairs I have another room, called The Atelier.  It is also shared with our two cats, two more round beds for them and the towels stretched across a top shelf in the sunniest window.  This space was to be Dave’s architectural studio, but the room’s orientation is too hot and bright in the afternoons–which is why the cats like it and it is sometimes referred to as The Lair.   Dave’s  closet and bathroom are off of this room.  The walls show off some of his favorite architectural scenes and the bookshelves store his favorite mystery books. There I have my sewing machine and table,  patterns, wool for felting, felting needles and tools, as well as sewing books & doll magazines.

I restarted my doll collection after I gained a granddaughter, so I have my doll collection in a display case in the bedroom.  Dave built a play scale (not miniature) doll house for my granddaughter Julia and me.   When she comes over we play elaborate games with my dolls, and a few that I bought for her.

This doll collecting led to another mini-hobby–buying and selling dolls and doll stuff on eBay.  That endeavor has gone into semi-retirement, although I did enjoy it.  I had many business writing experiences creating descriptions for dolls, as well as reformulating my shipping and return policy. I also resold online most of the hardback fiction that I bought and hadn’t passed on to friends and family so that we would have room for other Stuff.  Our new neighborhood library, conveniently located several blocks away, sees a lot of us now!

For the last few weeks Dave and I have been reorganizing and storing my cloth and yarn stash since he has moved his office/studio to the basement.  Now that he is a retired–but still open to options–architect, we reshuffled his Stuff, my Stuff and our whole living space.  Most of my teaching materials and supplies are long gone.

During this next phase of both our lives, and the lives of friends and family who have retired, we have noticed that retirement isn’t easy on a number of levels.  My father said that you have to prepare for it, but I’m not sure that is really possible for everyone.  Most people don’t realize that retirement can feel like being “side-lined”, whether you chose to retire or were forced into it–with tinfoil parachutes, as my sister-in-law called her sudden forced retirement not long ago.

Even though I wanted to retire, to start something new, I still felt at loose ends.   My job had defined my daily parameters with schedules and requirements, so I was ill-equipped to delineate my own timefor a long time.  Then there was always the question of where to spend my time.  I had whole days to “squander,” which didn’t feel right to me.  I was flighty and unfocused.  It has taken years to work my way through all that I thought I wanted to do and find what fits my evolving interests.

I know I am a work-in-progress, just like the two sweaters I am knitting.  I work awhile, tear out a few rows, re-knit them and add that many more.  I’m counting on the sweaters being done long before I am!