Ingredients

This morning I laid out the ingredients for Kale Pasta, which I’m making for dinner tonight:  deep green kale, yellow and red bell peppers, four cloves of garlic, campanelle pasta, spices, feta cheese, and then some kind of broth to loosen it all up.

I’m excited to make this dish and want to make it right now, but then it won’t be as nice by tonight.  It would be like leftovers.  Leftovers are great most of the time but not for this dish.

Lately cooking makes me feel good.  The whole process feeds my soul.

Last week I had a pear that was about to go bad so I went online and found out how to bake pears.  And then I baked pears and we ate them as soon as they cooled.

Last month I learned how to make small batches of applesauce and have made it twice so far.  That recipe is a keeper.  It tastes so much better than store-bought.

When my sister was here for a visit, she wanted to spend a day canning loads of applesauce.  The very thought of it made me tired and cranky.

Why do canning on vacation?  She said it would be no work at all since there would be four of us to do all the peeling, etc.  Oh, “no work at all” to drive to Rochester to get a ton of apples, then get the jars, sterilize them, peeling, cooking, etc.  Some people define “no work at all” quite differently from the way I do.

Needless to say, that idea was scrapped in favor of shopping for a day.

No, I prefer cooking by myself as a form of creativity and healing.

Healing is an animal of a different color.  It cannot be pushed or controlled.

Before my nervous breakdown, I imagined “getting” to cook when I didn’t have to work anymore.  Then I wasn’t working anymore but cooking was the last thing on my mind.  Post nervous breakdown, it was a good day if I woke up and ate!

If I had known how many years it would take for me to be at this stage of recovery, I might have given up.  But I didn’t know and I haven’t given up.

It turns out that for me, all of life is a form of creativity and healing.

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Past Perfect

When I was a young mother I was already thinking of the time when I would be a grandmother.  I imagined giving those future babies things that my own babies had used, and so I saved certain items for that purpose.

Then I did become a grandmother and took out the items I had saved only to find that I could not part with them yet.

The receiving blankets looked too shabby and worn to give as a gift.  But I still loved them.  The sweaters still looked so beautiful that I didn’t want them to get lost in the mountain of gifts that many babies today receive.  And…. I still loved them for what they meant to me.

Those baby days will always be uniquely dear to me because of how rare it has been that life has felt good and right.  My little pile of baby things is concrete evidence of that truth.

See how easy it would be to slide into compulsive hoarding?

I am however greatly improved since my 2013 breakdown.  Now I often have enough energy and imagination that I can dig into the corners of my house and make reasonable decisions about what to keep, what to give away, and what to throw away.

A couple weeks ago I chose to work on the top shelf of my linen closet where I store some inherited quilts and the little pile of baby things.  My fresh eye still saw how shabby the blankets look.  But my fresh mind got the idea that I could remake them and then keep them for my great-grandchildren or donate them.

It’s a messy thing to unravel old crochet work!  It’s very linty!  The yarn is not so good either but still usable.

I found that I had to concentrate on every step of the project because the yarn kind of sticks to itself.  Unraveling is tricky, rolling it back up is tricky, and re-crocheting it is tricky.  I had to take breaks and let the world back into my brain again.

By the time I got a new little blanket made I realized that the project was acting as an exercise in meditation.  My hands, the yarn, and the crocheting all helped me focus on the moment and let the rest of the world fall away for awhile.

Last night I started my third such project and it still helps me focus my mind in the same way meditation does.  I think I’m on to something here.

Such a weird little way into healing.  But it’s working so I’m going to keep going.

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Cranky

Holiday season is finally over with!  Yay!!

For us, it started with a dead boiler on an 11-degree-day the night before Thanksgiving.  It was a very old boiler that had given very little trouble over the years, so it was probably overdue for replacement.

Somehow, though, I had let myself hope that it would kindly last until the next owners of this house could replace it.  I let myself think that it would be the one expensive part of this house that we would NOT have to pay for.  Wrong!!!

Oh well.  The new furnace is tiny and cute and works like a dream, aaaaand since we had just paid off one loan, the finances were kind of seamless.  We merely exchanged one recipient of our money for another.  Nothing really changed as far as the day-to-day operation of this household.

Once December hit, however, my depression ramped up.  Again with the hopes–I thought maybe I was so sleepy because of the stress of the boiler incident.  December days are darker and I was busier with extra chores and grandchildren.  But the day after Christmas I suddenly perked up and was able to stay awake all day long with no naps.  My spirit was lighter and my motivation came back.  So, yeah, depression was the culprit for my symptoms.

Christmas hasn’t really been my thing for many decades.  But I feel like I have to participate and so I suppress the annoyance and resentment and voila! you have a perfect recipe for depression.  That’s good to know, right?

On the healing side of things:  for New Year’s Day we ate lunch out and then went to a state park because I wanted to see the rushing river water there.

The river and its waterfall did not disappoint.  It was a gorgeous sight.  I recorded a few short videos and took a handful of pictures so I could remember, though my phone cannot do it justice.

There is something about a crashing waterfall with its veiled figures of mist rising up and away that calls me.  I just like to watch.  I have no interest in white water rafting or otherwise actually getting in there.  It’s just beautiful to see.  It soothes me.

Now we come to today.  It is the first day of being back to the normal routine.  It feels a little heavy.  Now I have no real distractions to prevent me from doing the things I’ve been thinking about for weeks.  Yet I’m still wandering around aimlessly and having to force myself to pick something to work on.

It is so easy to fall into anxiety with this life I have chosen.  Old habits of worry, high standards, what-will-people-think-itis–all firmly ingrained in my brain.  I still have to remember not to do any of that and that it is okay to just be my natural self.  I still have to remember who my natural self is because it doesn’t actually feel natural all the time.

I just feel cranky.  I think maybe it’s like that crankiness you feel when you’re getting better from a cold or the flu.  Maybe crankiness can be a sign of improving mental and emotional health as well.

Cranky or not though, 2018 is done with, and I’m ready for 2019 and whatever it brings.

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My Way Back Machine

I spent several hours today transcribing my old journals.  Most of them are written in bound composition notebooks and they take up about a foot and a half on a closet shelf.

The journals have been bothering me for awhile now.  What if something happens to me and whoever settles my affairs reads them and is hurt by some of my words?  I have especially worried about any family members that I may have been venting about.  I wouldn’t want venting to be the last thing I ever “said” about a loved one.

Since there was nothing else to do today, I decided now was the perfect time to start the journal transcription project.

I began with journal entries from 1998–twenty years ago!  I was 37 years old.  That is the year my oldest son graduated high school and my youngest was in sixth grade.  I worked at a job I mostly loved for a boss I mostly had issues with.

I expected to be rather annoyed by my previous self.  But it has turned out that I’m not all that different as a person from who I was in those days.

Serious depression was beginning to rear its ugly head by then.  Encounters with people that I now recognize as having some issues with narcissism began to be a problem for me.  My lack of firm boundaries is readily apparent.  It turns out my awakening began earlier than I realized.  All these years I saw that time period as a time of many failures.  But in fact, I was figuring things out and doing my best with less than ideal circumstances.

I’m working backwards for now, so I ended my day with an entry from Fall of 1997.  My youngest was beginning to have issues with his peers in school and I decided that is a topic better saved for the morning light.  Now I know that his social woes turned out to be temporary, but in the moment it was heart-breaking not knowing how things would go.

It seems that I had forgotten more than day-to-day events.  I think I forgot for awhile who I am.  I lost my way for reasons of mental health, some betrayals, and a few really hard losses.  I expect this project will help me to heal my wounds and dust off my true and unique character which I have been pushing down for far too long.

I thought I was transcribing my journals to spare the feelings of others.  But it turns out I will be taking good care of myself at the same time.

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Spreading My Wings

Last Friday we went to our local arts organization to check out an exhibit that I am participating in.  The theme is Disturbed, which I thought was right up my alley, and I had submitted a black and white photograph of a moth on a window screen.

Surprisingly enough, I won Guest Judge’s Favorite–first place among about a dozen and a half other artworks.

This is only the second time I have submitted artwork of mine and it felt like a great accomplishment just getting it framed and submitted.  I wasn’t even sure I was going to do it this time as I was feeling frazzled and pressured by other things going on in my life.  But step by step I eventually got my act together and brought the picture in on the very last day they were accepting submissions.

Of course I ended up missing the opening reception for the show as I would’ve had to go alone and I didn’t want to do that.

I wonder what my reaction would have been if I’d been mingling in the crowd all by my lonesome when the ribbon was awarded?  Whatever total shock looks like, I guess!!!

As it was, I received an email with the good news and spent the next week savoring my accomplishment and telling only my husband.  It was like a little reward to every so often remind myself:  Someone liked my photograph better than all the others in the show!  How about that?  I don’t have to apologize for doing well.  I don’t have to explain what the picture meant.  Somebody liked it enough to hang a ribbon on it.  Somebody who doesn’t even know me thought it was really cool.

My photograph will be shown in the current exhibit until December and then move onto to another facility for others to see for a few more months after that.  By the time I get it back, there will have been a couple more exhibits for me to submit my work to.

This recognition was not necessary for me to keep going, but it did give me a little boost.  It makes me feel like I’m on the right path for now.  Actually, this feels like a new path for the first time in my life.

Which feels like a good reason to hope again.

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Aunt Dee was the Spoiled One

Aunt Dee lives far away from home, in Texas, and I am the only relative who still speaks to her.  She was the youngest of the four sisters and she is the only one with more than a high school education–Bachelors, Masters, and PhD.

Aunt Dee received dance lessons, music lessons, new clothes rather than hand-me-downs from the boy next door.  There was money to pay for these things for her because relatives would send money especially for that purpose.  Her father, my grandfather, who had always been self-employed, was old enough to be on Social Security.  This meant that for the first time there was reliably steady income, and that the house was paid-off, having been purchased a couple decades before her birth.

Aunt Dee was the only sister still at home when Aunt Brenda was dying of cancer.  Dee had a bird’s eye view of the ugly side of mortality at the age of fourteen.  And no one actually told her what was going on.  She found out what the deal was when, one Sunday in church, the minister asked everyone to pray for Brenda who was dying.  Aunt Dee had gone to church by herself that Sunday because her parents were home caring for her sister.  She was surrounded by friends, neighbors, and strangers, but no family, when the worst news of her entire life was suddenly announced from the pulpit.  No one knew this had happened to her until recently.  In my opinion, this event was a critical turning point in her development as a human being.

My mother often talked about the inequality between Dee and the rest of them.  She loved her baby sister, but resented their parents for the differing ways they were raised.  Now, though, Dee herself is resented due to her own adult flaws and foibles.

Aunt Dee has always been a remarkably cavalier person when it comes to the feelings and spaces of other people.  For example, she has this thing she does with bathrooms.  When I was younger she stayed with us a couple times during her years of world travels.  She somehow managed to flood our bathroom during her shower every single day of her visit.  My mother had a carpet in there which became soaked with each flooding and it created a ton of clean up work for my mother.  No work for Aunt Dee, though, who would laugh and leave the house rather than help mop up the mess she made.

For several years she rented a very nice apartment in town.  She disliked the landlords and would create floods in her bathroom that leaked downstairs into their home.  She would just stopper-up the tub, turn on the shower full-blast, and leave for the day.  This was funny to her.

She would regularly stay with friends when she moved to other parts of the country.  They all ended up kicking her out and banning her from their homes.

Aunt Dee had a dog for several years that she allowed to piss on other people’s beds and couches.  She would laugh and say, “They’re rich, they can buy a new one!”

She borrows money, never intending to pay it back.

She accuses other people of things that she actually does.

Since I am the only one in the family who will still speak to her, it has become my responsibility to alert everyone if I think she may have gone off the rails and become a danger to the rest of the family.

Aunt Dee was the sister with charm and charisma.  She had opportunities the others lacked.  She often received or just took what she wanted.  I doubt she will change at this stage of the game because the things she does give her the results she desires.  Even if her desires alienate every single person she has ever met or loved, I think it is likely she will live this way until she dies.

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The Short Life of My Very Good Aunt

Aunt Brenda was the second oldest of four sisters.  Her two younger sisters considered her to be the good one in their family, the one who was more of a mother to them than their actual mother.

Aunt Brenda left home as soon as humanly possible, like all the sisters did in turn.  She worked, went to church, taught Sunday school, took her little sisters to the soda shop and movies, invited them to her apartment, and basically mothered them when she could.

Then right after she turned 33, she was diagnosed with an especially aggressive form of breast cancer and five months later she was gone.

Aunt Brenda had never married because the love of her life cheated on her with another woman.  He had gotten the other woman pregnant and “did the right thing” and married her.  He still lives in town and I know who he is.  When I was old enough to drive, I got a fill-up at his gas station and he recognized me as Brenda’s niece.  He made a point of bringing it up, though this was the first time we had met.  It made me think that he still carried a torch for her all those years after her death.

My own memories of her are the fragmented impressions of a pre-schooler.  There was the time she gave me a Nestle’s Crunch Bar–I held it in my hand so long that when I opened the wrapper to eat it, the chocolate had completely melted onto the foil liner.  There was the Christmas Eve at our house when I sat on the living room floor and untied her shoes over and over again while she kept re-tying them.  And after she got cancer, there was the time we visited her at my grandparents’ because she’d had to move back home.  I remember her sitting up in bed and she had white bandages wrapped around her entire rib cage.

After she died I think everyone stayed alone in their grief.  It was a tremendous loss which just got stuffed down, and it stayed down.  That’s how we tend to handle all the kinds of grief in this family.

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