Rainy Glorious Day

Rainy day photo

The rain gently taps on my window drawing me to the view of my world drinking in the day. You can just barely make out the donkeys standing quietly in the loafing shed.

This morning I woke up facing toward the east with a gentle, dove-colored sky filling my view. It was a soft, sleep-in kind of morning–everything still and quiet, my dogs snuggled warmly by my sides. I could see our donkeys and horses all standing peacefully in the pasture. Not grazing, not moving around, but seemingly waiting for something. In fact, though everything about the morning suggested a feeling of calm, there was also an undeniable air of hushed expectation.

Then I turned over to the view out of my windows on the west side of the house. There I saw a sky banked by a mountain of dark, blue-gray clouds rolling in from the west, so intense in depth and color it seemed to be a dramatic oil painting still in progress. It was as if Mother Nature was holding her breath just long enough for our world to have a gentle good morning before she freed the thunder to rumble across the pasture.

Some people might look at a rainy, thundery Saturday as dreary or disappointing. Not me. I have always loved a good thunderstorm. I think, as a native Oklahoman, you learn to embrace thunderstorms, and I daresay enjoy them. The skies in our corner of the world can turn into living, roiling works of art in the blink of an eye. You either embrace nature’s moody displays here, or, quite frankly, you move away from Oklahoma.

This is not to make light of the fact that our storms can also turn destructive and even deadly. If you live in tornado alley, you have great respect for nature’s ability to lash out. But today’s storm is just a lovely, slow gift of a thunderstorm. No high winds, no torrential downpours, no threats of things to come. Steady rumbles, gentle rain and lovely shaded landscapes. You can literally feel the grass, trees and plants drinking in the day as a last life-affirming gift before the chill of fall turns the brilliant green landscape to soft shades of brown and tan. This is a day to embrace and appreciate. This is a day filled with possibility.

Yes, there are a thousand chores I could choose to take on today. My to-do list is lengthy and always evolving. However, rather than break out the vacuum, this feels like a day to explore. I think today is a day to wander through our spacious attic, pick out a mystery box, and open it to see what forgotten treasures it may hold.

Today also feels like a day to create. Maybe I’ll pick up a paint brush. Maybe I’ll finish my crochet project. Maybe I’ll search the internet for that perfect new light fixture for the kitchen.

Or maybe I’ll stretch out with the dogs on the bed again and just enjoy the gentle play that is the world outside my pane of rain-speckled glass. This day is a gift. A beautiful, blessed day.

“The rain began again. It fell heavily, easily, with no meaning or intention but the   fulfillment of its own nature, which was to fall and fall.”    – Helen Garner

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On Your Mark. Get Set. Groan!

ImageI awoke this morning feeling pretty groggy and sporting bedhead that resembled something befitting a 1960s-country-singing-coal-miner’s-daughter. Not pretty. Stretch, ascertain that all moving parts are indeed moving, and dive into the day. Or crawl. Maybe it’s more like crawl.

Ok, actually, I’m feeling pretty darn good. I just recently celebrated another in an increasing string of birthdays and it’s all good. I have never been one to dwell on the numbers. I am as strong, as young, as vital as I feel. Numbers don’t define me and shouldn’t define anyone.

Right now, I should hop out of bed, lace up my Saucony running shoes, and head out for a jog. At the very least I should get on my treadmill. Yes. I should get on my treadmill. I should. Ugh.

I know. Running is a good thing. It’s healthy. It keeps muscles lean and strong, it keeps the heart pumping. Most true runners apparently find it to be some sort of spiritual experience. A good run is a zen-like time to meditate, clear the mind, recharge the soul. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

I’m not that runner.

If we get down to the bald truth about me even attempting to move a mile or two at any pace faster than a brisk walk, it’s all about peer pressure. I’m blessed to have a great man in my life who likes adventure—he took me skydiving for one of my forty-something birthdays (it was WONDERFUL!) We also have an amazing group of friends who, and forgive me for being blunt, love to try crazy sh*t.

When I was a mere 50 years old…or, as I prefer to say, nifty years old…one of those crazy friends hooked me and Jim into the idea of running a 5k. Of course it was not just any 5k—it was a zombie mud run 5k. Yes, a race that included being chased by zombies cross country through obstacles. While this may sound a tad insane, my motto has always been, “If you see me running, you should run too,” so a 5K run that included random waves of attacking zombies equaled my perfect motivation to get in shape.

We committed to running the race about five months prior to the event, so I begrudgingly dusted off my running shoes and set out to see if I could even run a mile. Which I could not. I had my work cut out for me.

I plodded along through that summer, giving it my best shot. I did finally manage to run a mile, and then two. I even managed to run 3.1 miles. Well, run is a strong word. I moved at a pace somewhat faster than a walk and I pumped my arms in some sort of running fashion. But hey, it was progress. Yes, at nifty years of age, I was becoming a runner. Sort of.

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Our first Zombie Run!

I was not—am not—a good runner. I never found that runner’s high. I hit the fabled “wall” and just fell back on my butt. But I did run in that first 5k. Actually, it was more of a hike on really rough trails through wooded terrain with several quick, hysteria-induced sprints through zombie infested fields followed by slogging through mud pits, crawling through dark tunnels festooned with hot wires, climbing up cargo nets, skidding down water slides, and other “fun-filled” obstacles. We were a sore, soggy, sweaty, muddy bunch by the end of the day. It was an absolute blast!

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What’s a little mud? You pay big money for this at fancy spas.

So now I have competed in several zombie races and warrior dashes. I’m still a very reluctant runner, but I have found that I’m fairly good at climbing walls, wading through mud pits and swinging across monkey bars. Who knew? And I can still do a cartwheel. Hurts like hell, but by golly I can do it. That has nothing to do with running, I just felt the need to brag about that.

My crazy, wonderful friends and I just celebrated my nifty-second birthday. Rather than make me run on my special day, they opted to whisk me away to Worlds of Fun in Kansas City where we screamed our way through every head-spinning ride and roller coaster in the place. Did I mention that I love heights, the feeling of falling, and going really, really fast? Kudos once again to my inner five-year-old and the friends willing to humor her.

I’m not really out to prove anything, I’m just out to have a good time. If it seems a little crazy in the process, so be it. The key is that I’m finding out that life is not over just because your new best friend is a little lady I like to call Minnie Pause, who, by the way, beats the daylights out of Miss Struation in my book.

As I head into the second half of my life—perhaps better labeled the third quarter—I’m still ready to try new challenges. I’ll still attempt to be some sort of runner, not because I really want to run, but because I love chasing around with Jim and our wonderful friends. It never fails to be a great time that results in dozens of memorable Facebook tags.

And really, I’m still excited about testing my limits. I guess my theory is that if it doesn’t hurt too terribly much, I’ll continue to go for it. Yeah, “going for it” may someday mean playing shuffleboard instead of heading out to the paintball field, but for now…well, yeah, the next outing is this Saturday. Running around on a paintball field.

Another first. Another fresh set of bruises. Another day of living!

In The Next Moment…

Dad and Miles

Dad enjoying a visit from his great-grandson, Miles. Photo by Erin Tindell

In one moment my sister Terry and I were talking about how to best help our dad recover from a bout with pneumonia. In what seemed like just a moment later we were talking with a hospice nurse about how to best ease his transition from this life. In the next moment we were telling him how much we love him. In the next moment, he was gone.

It’s funny how life can radically change in just a moment. My dad had just turned 86 years old. He had been having some ongoing health issues, but nothing on our radar suggested that we were about to lose him. Oh sure, he took an amazing amount of pills on a daily basis. And yes, he had many issues that we just helped him deal with as best as anyone can. But he was still “sharp as a tack,” as everyone says, and ornery as ever.

Dad was not, in his senior years, what you would describe as low maintenance. He suffered from macular degeneration and was legally blind. He also had suffered a broken hip and the combination of his fear of another fall with “numb, damn feet,” from neuropathy, as he would tell you, relegated him to life in a wheelchair.

I won’t lie. My dad could be demanding. He would call me and my sister a lot, asking us to come by to take care of the tiniest issues. Little tasks that we were quite sure he was paying a good sum to the caregivers at his assisted living home to handle for him. But he didn’t want to call on them; he wanted us to come take care of things. He wanted us.

“My hearing aid battery needs to be changed.”
“Something is wrong with the remote for the television.”
“I need some more candy to hand out to my neighbors”
“I need you to bring me some new socks.”

The list of needs went on and on. It was really no big deal to help Dad with any of these issues, but with our dad, when he put in the request, he wanted resolution now. Not after work. Not on the weekend. Now. In THIS moment.

I tried to be understanding because it would drive me batty to depend on other people to perform these simple little tasks. And you know, when the blaring sound of the television is your afternoon’s entertainment, well, you want the dang remote to work now, not in a couple of hours. Plus, this was the man who gave us life. This was the man who worked long and hard to ensure that it was a very good life. This was the man who had been accustomed to having our mother by his side for 61 years. Maybe he had a right to be a tad on the impatient side.

So Terry and I catered to Dad in as timely a fashion as life allowed. There were daily phone calls. Nearly daily visits. Long visits on Saturday mornings for Terry; Sunday afternoons with Dad for me. There were trips to the doctor. There were trips to the pharmacy. There were visits from grandkids and great-grandkids. There were times when I would bring a dog or two to entertain Dad and the other residents. There were quiet times just sitting with Dad at a large picture window describing the view he could no longer see.

And in what seemed to be the next moment, there was nothing. He was gone. My schedule became oddly, hollowly open. For all of the times I may have complained about having to rush over to change a hearing aid battery or find a specific pair of socks, I was sorry. In this moment still, I am truly sorry.

In the next moment, Terry and I were making plans, calling family and friends, deciding how to celebrate a man who, in Terry’s words, filled a room with his personality. In one moment my sister and I were planning our speech for his funeral. We could do it if we stuck together. Together we were strong. Yet, in the next moment I was standing solo at the front of a church filled with dear friends and family.

My dear sister—the intelligent, strong, calm, logical, witty, organized Terry—was sick. It was nothing too serious, but she was quite sick none-the-less and unable to attend our dad’s funeral. My heart broke for her, though she was very practical and wisely resigned herself to getting better without lamenting a situation that could not be changed.

So in one moment I was looking to my sister as the matriarch of our family, and in the next moment, for just a moment, it was me. I was standing at the podium solo, visualizing my sister telling me that I was very much strong enough to deliver this tribute for both of us. Terry would have been standing to my right, but in that moment, she was only there in spirit. That beautiful spirit did carry me through and I believe I said all of the things I wanted to say, and the things she would have wanted to say, too.

In the next moment we filed out to form a receiving line. I’ve done this a few times, for grandparents, my oldest sister, my mother. Our family would line up with the heads of the family to the right, then filtering down in some sort of familial seniority to the left. I was generally somewhere in the middle. My parents and sisters had always been to my right, nieces, nephews and extended family to my left.

In this moment, however, I looked up to find that there was no one standing to my right. To my left, my dear partner, Jim, my wonderful brother-in-law, John, and the rest of our beautiful family stood at the ready to greet guests. But to my right? No one. I was at the front of the line. In this moment, I was the “head” of our family.

I was stunned. I’m the baby of my immediate family and even at 51 years of age, I was completely unprepared for the fact that I would be the head of this receiving line. It’s funny how things like that can hit you. Of course Terry should have been there, to my right, holding my hand. But in this moment, there was only me.

Deep breath. Push back the tears. Smile and be grateful for all of the wonderful people who came to celebrate my amazing, generous, larger-than-life father. In that moment, thinking of him, I banished the panicked inner child and found strength.

Now, in this moment, I’m sitting at my computer on a Sunday morning. I’m enjoying some quiet time before I decide what to do with my day. Nine months later, it’s still odd for me to not automatically plan an afternoon visit with my dad, but that was then and in this moment, I have nothing planned.

That can all change, though. In just the next moment everything can change. I’m grateful for this moment. I will also find gratitude in the next moment to come.

Mother of the Year? Probably Not, But I’m Trying.

“Aren’t you going to be sad when they’re gone?” I hear that question a lot these days. My answer is quick, honest and always the same. “No.”

This conversation, repeated on a daily basis, is in reference to two small babies that I am mothering right now. I am there for them 24/7. I make their formula. I feed them around the clock—initially every two hours, and now it has relaxed to every three to four hours as they continue to mature.

I’m up with them in the middle of the night. I clean things up when they go potty. I keep them warm, comfortable and safe. I hold them close. I play with them. I worry when they don’t seem to feel well. I celebrate each new stage in their young, tiny lives. I love them dearly.

But when the day comes that they are ready to leave, I will let them go. I won’t cry, I won’t try to convince them to stick around. Once my job as their adopted mom is done, they will go into the world healthy, strong, and without me. I will send them off with the full understanding that it is very likely I will never see them again. And I will sleep. I will enjoy blissfully full, uninterrupted nights of sleep.

squirrel in hand

James squirrel Jones at about one week old

Now before you resend my nomination for mother of the year, and before you condemn my babies as ungrateful brats, you should know that my little ones are squirrels. Little orphans, about two weeks apart in age, who came my way via a wonderful, dedicated friend who volunteers with a wildlife rehabilitation group. She is my mentor and I am grateful for her knowledge and guidance in this amazing, exhausting experience.

Several people have suggested that I turn my cute squirrels into pets, but that has never been my purpose and never should be. These are wild animals. They are not dogs, kittens or even hamsters. They are wild squirrels who just got dealt a bad hand at a tender age and I’m trying to help make things right for them.

I know my babies, now that their eyes have opened, must think that they have a giant, clumsy mom who looks and smells nothing like they do. They’re probably not sure I can even climb a tree (though I can!) But, they do know love and they do have in me a surrogate mom who is fighting for them every step of the way.

Feeding James

Feeding time

The day that I finally get to let these little animals find their way into a tree to chase and play with their wild cousins will be a truly joyous day. It will be a time for celebration knowing that all the weeks of coaxing creatures no bigger than my thumb to nurse from a nipple attached to a syringe was for a good cause.

I know I’m not a great substitute for their real mom, but I’m giving it my very best shot. So yes, I do look forward to saying goodbye to my babies. Goodbye means we have succeeded.

Squirrely

Squirrely Jones at about four weeks old

Overcoming Phobias—a Tribute to Seven and Wynona Spider

WynonaI have very few fears in nature. I greatly respect wildlife, but I’m not afraid of it. There is a difference. I am afraid, however, of spiders. Girlishly, squealingly, call-for-help afraid. At least I used to be. It all changed when a spider I named Seven, for the obvious lack of the second leg from the front on her right side, took up residence in a window outside of a spare bathroom at my old house. Seven fascinated me. She was elegant, patient, and quite the artist with a web that held the morning dew like tiny diamonds on a fine chain. A sight that initially gave me the shivers, but I could not take my eyes off of it, or her.

I watched Seven all summer. At night I turned the light on in the spare bathroom to illuminate the space behind her with a soft glow through the curtains so that small bugs and moths would be attracted to her web, ensuring her a good meal. I must say, I actually grew to care about Seven.

When sunset started to creep in a bit earlier every evening and the temperatures started to cool, I noticed that Seven wasn’t taking very good care of her web any longer. The bugs I was helping attract to her dinner table were now damaging Seven’s web. Holes that she once would have rushed to repair after containing her latest entrée in a cocoon of her silk now left gaps in her delicate lacy home.

And then came the day when I found Seven on the ground. In the cool of an early autumn morning, she had fallen from her web in the window and though still alive, she was very, very weak. I gently scooped her onto a piece of paper and moved her to my front flower bed where I placed her on soft leaves. I didn’t want her last moments to be at the mercy of my dogs, who delight in torturing bugs with games of pounce.

Seven died, as spiders do in the fall. She did not leave behind a sack of eggs as I hoped she might. She was just gone. Her web eventually fell away.

This year, I noticed a spider just like Seven, only with all eight digits, living outside the window of the sitting area just inside my bedroom door. Wynona Spider, as she is now known, has a beautiful web artfully filling one full pane of glass.

Wynona, as was Seven, is an argiope aurantia, commonly known as the black and yellow garden spider. Other names for this species are the zipper spider, corn spider, and, lo and behold, the writing spider. The latter nickname because of the similarity of the web stabilimenta (the zig-zag part down the middle) to handwriting. Well, no wonder I have a bizarre affinity for these spiders!

I have been watching Wynona all summer. She too is graceful, patient and an amazing artist.20130902_092841 (2) I think she is clever for building her web in a window. She has not gone hungry one night this summer. And today I notice that she has graced me with a gift. Today her once plump body has slimmed considerably and up toward the left top corner of her web, there is a round, sturdy egg sack. It is placed well, just in the corner of the window frame. It should be somewhat sheltered there from wind, rain, sleet and anything else the coming winter decides to throw at it. I know Wynona did her finest work on this sack and I know it will survive through to next spring in great form, long after she is gone.

Thanks to Seven and Wynona, I no longer cringe when I see a spider. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not heading out to purchase a pet tarantula. I’m not embracing the spiders that find their way inside my home—something Wynona would NEVER do. She understands boundaries (humor me on this one).

Fear and phobia have been replaced with respect and curiosity…from a safe distance. I am in awe of Mother Nature’s work. Instinct and the will to survive are characteristics that are strongly imprinted in every creature from Wynona, to the ants living in our driveway, to the coyotes who serenade us every night. I look forward to watching over Wynona’s incubating children over the next several months and I hope to be able to witness the moment when the little ones emerge. In the meantime, I still have the beautiful Wynona to enjoy for a bit longer and, with the prospect of a family that will likely number in the hundreds, I also have so many names to dream up…so many names.

Creativity. A Fickle Mistress.

20130901_113811 (2)I woke up today fully intending to devote a little time to the pursuit of art. I have been meaning to start a painting for weeks now. I even have the image sketched out on the canvas, just waiting for me to take the plunge. I also have a story for this very blog that I have started and have not allowed myself the time to finish. But today, Madam Creativity doesn’t feel inspired by paint. She doesn’t even really want to tackle the unfinished story. She wants to crochet. Really? You want me to crochet on a day that will likely top out at 100 degrees?

“Yes. Crochet,” she said. And true to her will, the only thing that seems to be calling my name today is yarn. So the hour that I had planned to dedicate to creativity will go toward figuring out a new project that involves alpaca fibers and a crochet hook. You really can’t force creativity, you just have to go with it- that’s part of the fun and definitely the challenge.

So. Who wants a new scarf?