solstice memories

Katherine still loves her penguins

Trying to get used to this new editing page with its blocks and new steps I am having a difficult time… 🙁 But I must adapt to changes no matter how challenging this one is for me. It took me hours to create my last post but I will give it another go.

Today was a very emotional day for me. I took all the decorations off of the solstice tree, the best tree we’ve ever had. It was a Fraser fir. It smelled amazing! Its branches were strong enough to hold the glass bead garland my sister made for me years ago. I had such a good time decorating it with Tim, using all my white, silver and clear glass ornaments. A white skirt resembling snow. A white owl on top and a white fox curled up in the snow underneath it.

Katherine with the snow orb tree behind her

And while I was at it, I sorted through all the decorations I’ve been hoarding over the years and donated at least half of them. It’s funny when I think I’ve made so much progress simplifying my life and I still find object collections that have yet to be minimized. Now I have kept only the ones that truly “spark joy,” as Japanese decluttering author Marie Kondo teaches.

This holiday season was extra special for us. Nate & Shea haven’t been home to celebrate since they moved to Georgia in 2011, and Larisa & Dima were last here for the holidays in 2014. It was interesting how it worked out because we usually have our niece and her teenagers and my sister and her husband here for Christmas day but this year all of them couldn’t make it for one reason or another. We missed them!

It was wonderful having a house full of children again. I will especially remember the brisk winter walks we took. Also the first time Finn smiled at me, his whole face lighting up when he heard my voice, and holding my sleeping snuggle bug for hours… Getting two temporary PJ Masks tatoos from Katherine ~ Owlette is her favorite character from that show. She also introduced me to Puffin Rock, which has to be the most adorable children’s show ever. (It’s Irish but it can be seen on Netflix.) Katherine and I had some special moments together as she talks well enough to tell me about her life. I love listening to her observations. One time she darted down the stairs and exclaimed, “Grammy’s the best!” Talk about melting my heart…

Nate & Shea brought their nephews Julius and Dominic and they were sometimes here, too, when they weren’t visiting other Connecticut relatives, of which they have many! Julius, in his teens now, loved my meatloaf, which forever endeared me to him, and Dominic is so curious and active, he’s 10 after all, and interested in how families are related, cousins and all that. His main objective for this trip was to see snow for the first time. His chance came at 3 o’clock in the morning one day, and he was awakened to see flurries, but not the blizzard we were hoping for.

Dominic and Finn ~ Shea is Dominic’s aunt and Nate is Finn’s uncle. That makes them cousins, sort of, right?

Dominic and Katherine hit it off ~ it was fun to watch them interact and listen to their conversations. Nate, Shea and I took them to a holiday light fantasia which they both enjoyed very much.

One night Shea cooked us a lovely pork dinner, and another night Larisa cooked a chicken pie. Dima saved the day on Christmas when I suddenly realized I hadn’t even thought about dessert! All the stores were closed. He scrounged around in my pantry and was able to make some gluten-free chocolate-chip cookies, using a chocolate bar for the chips. It was great having Dima’s parents join us for that day, too. We all enjoyed the crazy gift basket tradition we have. Instead of exchanging presents we fill baskets with little items and take turns pawing through them to fish out whatever we’d like to take home with us. Some gag gifts, some treasures ~ it’s always fun.

And Nate helped Tim with his honey-do list. My pantry door stays closed now, the bathroom door no longer squeaks, the hole in the kitchen ceiling is patched and the dartboard is hung securely.

It was a wonderful two weeks!

old enough to die

“Old Woman with Child & Goose” by Willard Metcalf

Once I realized I was old enough to die, I decided that I was also old enough not to incur any more suffering, annoyance, or boredom in the pursuit of a longer life. I eat well, meaning I choose foods that taste good and that will stave off hunger for as long as possible, like protein, fiber, and fats. I exercise — not because it will make me live longer but because it feels good when I do. As for medical care: I will seek help for an urgent problem, but I am no longer interested in looking for problems that remain undetectable to me. Ideally, the determination of when one is old enough to die should be a personal decision, based on a judgment of the likely benefits, if any, of medical care and — just as important at a certain age — how we choose to spend the time that remains to us.

In giving up on preventative care, I’m just taking this line of thinking a step further: Not only do I reject the torment of a medicalized death, but I refuse to accept a medicalized life, and my determination only deepens with age. As the time that remains to me shrinks, each month and day becomes too precious to spend in windowless waiting rooms and under the cold scrutiny of machines. Being old enough to die is an achievement, not a defeat, and the freedom it brings is worth celebrating.

~ Barbara Ehrenreich
(Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer)

A year after my cancer surgery it seems like a good time to mention a book that tumbled into my life at just the right moment. After my brush with a life-threatening illness, the ideas set forth in Barbara Ehrenreich’s book, Natural Causes, make a whole lot of sense to me.

I spent many years carting my mother-in-law, my aunt and my father around to those “windowless waiting rooms,” getting test after test, some of them downright painful. My aunt finally put her foot down and proclaimed, “Whatever I’ve got, I’m taking it with me.”

She lived to be 103 in spite of refusing all the standard tests recommended for her in the last years of her life. When she died, it was from an infection. After accepting treatment for a day or two, she finally refused treatment for that, too.

Nothing ever came of those countless tests.

In my own case, because my mother died of breast cancer, I have submitted to many “required” mammograms and wound up with three false positives, causing weeks of anxiety. Now I refused to have any more. At this point in my life I am old enough to die, and if I wake up one morning and feel a lump in my breast, so be it.

The endometrial cancer I wound up getting? Well, there is no screening for it. Irony.

Fortunately I’ve found a general practitioner who understands my feelings and treats my “urgent problems” without pushing me into a “medicalized life.” Barbara Ehrenreich’s book has all the facts and figures I needed to convince me that as a culture, we are indeed killing ourselves, or at least making ourselves miserable, in order to live longer. All these expensive, invasive tests have not increased our lifespans.

Therefore, I have chosen to enjoy spending whatever time I have left to me without borrowing trouble.

due date

Larisa ~ 10.31.18 ~ Chapel Hill, North Carolina

The due date has arrived! It seems this baby plans on being late, too. Larisa is very uncomfortable and trying her best to be patient.

Tim has returned from Connecticut and has resumed taking Katherine to and from daycare. I’m doing laundry and cooking and we’ve both been helping out where needed.

Katherine is excited about Halloween and her best friend is coming over soon to go trick-or-treating with her. We have birthday celebrations scheduled for the next two days and another one next week. (Tim, Dominic and Dima) Lots of activity and a bit too much stimulation for me, but I’m pacing myself with periodic escapes to my room.

Dima got an early birthday present from his family, a combination smoker and grill. We’ve been having some fantastic dinners while we continue to wait for baby. 🙂

there is simply this moment, as it is

4.8.18 ~ Sandhills Horticultural Gardens, Pinehurst, North Carolina

Spirituality is life itself. Being life. Being this moment. Not as a practice or an attainment or something an imaginary person does in order to get somewhere else, but just because it’s What Is. It’s the natural state, the ever-present, ever-changing thusness of Here / Now. The part that falls away (if we’re lucky) is the search, the endless search to “get it,” to become “okay” at last… the belief in (and identity as) the psychological self and its problems and the endless attempts to cure them.

As I see it, there is no end to awakening, no end to spiritual exploration and discovery, no end to devotion and celebration and wonder… but what can end (and only now) is the search to fix “me,” to unstick “me,” to enlighten “me,” to finally get control (by understanding how the universe works, by getting The Answer, by finally vanquishing all “my” neurotic quirks and tendencies and solving “my” problems). When all of that ends, there is simply this moment, as it is. Boundless and free.

~ Joan Tollifson
(Facebook, July 18, 2017)

mindfulness of gratitude

“Soup” by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

Practicing mindfulness of gratitude consistently leads to a direct experience of being connected to life and the realization that there is a larger context in which your personal story is unfolding. Being relieved of the endless wants and worries of your life’s drama, even temporarily, is liberating. Cultivating thankfulness for being part of life blossoms into a feeling of being blessed, not in the sense of winning the lottery, but in a more refined appreciation for the interdependent nature of life. It also elicits feelings of generosity, which create further joy. Gratitude can soften a heart that has become too guarded, and it builds the capacity for forgiveness, which creates the clarity of mind that is ideal for spiritual development.
~ Phillip Moffitt
(Yoga Journal, July-August 2002)

Happy Thanksgiving!

new adventures

10.20.17 ~ Katherine loves reading her books

Katherine and her parents have moved to Cork, Ireland!!! For a year or two. It’s been an exciting summer and autumn as Dima & Larisa have been preparing for this grand adventure. Happily all of Katherine’s living ancestors, four grandparents and two great-grandmothers were on hand in North Carolina to celebrate her 3rd birthday in September. Grandpa Tim has discovered that flights from New England to Ireland are cheaper than flights to North Carolina so we surely will be visiting them soon. 🙂

weekend in the mountains

12.10.16 ~ cougar, Western North Carolina Nature Center

Last weekend we flew to a different part of North Carolina, where Tim’s brother had rented a vacation house in the southern Appalachians. So we had a little family reunion and an early Christmas there. We spent the better part of Saturday at the Western North Carolina Nature Center in Asheville. It was very cold there in spite of the welcome bright sunshine!

12.10.16 ~ Katherine was very much interested in understanding and using the map

We bundled up and enjoyed seeing many animals native to the Southern Appalachians. All of the animals there are rescues and could not survive in the wild. Katherine especially loved watching the river otters gliding in and out of the water, but I couldn’t get a good picture of them. They were moving too fast!

12.10.16 ~ Katherine studying the brochure

12.10.16 ~ sunshine made the bitter cold easier to bear

12.10.16 ~ Western North Carolina Nature Center

12.10.16 ~ watching other children play

12.10.16 ~ sunlit beauty

12.10.16 ~ let’s see, where should we go next?

12.10.16 ~ let’s proceed!

12.10.16 ~ taking in a bit of rock climbing

12.10.16 ~ we didn’t take this trail but I thought the sign was beautiful

12.10.16 ~ deserted picnic area – too cold for a picnic

12.10.16 ~ coyote, Western North Carolina Nature Center

12.10.16 ~ another beautiful sign

12.10.16 ~ screech owl, Western North Carolina Nature Center

This little screech owl is blind in one eye and is being used to educate the public about rescuing wildlife. Katherine was paying close attention.

12.10.16 ~ Katherine in Mama’s arms, watching the screech owl and listening attentively to its handler

We stayed in Asheville for dinner out at the Tupelo Honey Cafe, “a southern restaurant with mountain south roots.” Tim enjoyed the food so much he bought their cookbook! And after dinner we took in the Christmas light and music extravaganza at Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland. There were so many light displays it took us a full hour to drive through the two-mile maze, synchronized holiday music playing on our car radio! It was a pretty dazzling experience.

Sunday we stayed in the cabin, enjoying each other’s company by the fire. Dima, Larisa and Fran whipped up some scrumptious dishes for us. A perfect weekend!