Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

478 Words About Why I Can’t Write

October 11, 2012

Several weeks ago, I read Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, a memoir by Anna Quindlen, a well-known journalist, columnist, and novelist.  As I always do with a library book (since I don’t have to decide whether or not to buy it), I waited until I’d finished it to read the reviews on Amazon.  I like reading reviews after I’ve read a book.  Sometimes, it’s a little like being a fly on the wall at a book club, and reading other’s thoughts on a book often gives me insight or clarity that I’d earlier lacked.  Besides, if I read them before, it can color my own opinion.

I liked the book quite a lot and was amazed—since our lives are so radically different—at how many of her reflections and observations I could relate to.  She’s famous.  She’s wealthy (with a “summer” house).  She’s well-educated.  She’s had a pretty easy life.  I’m not.  I’m not.  I’m not.  And I haven’t.   Nevertheless, I found myself smiling and nodding in recognition a lot as I read.

So, I was very surprised to read so many negative reviews (although there were lots of folks that felt as I did).  I was struck by how many people seemed to feel that her life of privilege rendered her incapable of relating to ordinary people and that ordinary people would be incapable to relating to her life.  I can say that as a very ordinary person myself, I didn’t feel that way at all.  And since she lives a life of fame and privilege, I don’t find it particularly surprising that she writes from that perspective.

But the thing that struck me most was how many people said that the writing was “egocentric” and “self-centered.”  One person said that it was all about “me, me, me.”

People.  Hello??  It is a MEMOIR.  It’s supposed to be about me, me, me!  (Or in this case, her, her, her.)

Anyway, for some reason reading all those negative reviews made me think about my recent Thirty Days of Grateful Praise.   I started wondering just how many people might have thought that about my writing.  That is, that there is too much “Me, me, me” on my blog.

This notion, of course (since I am a ridiculously neurotic person and have felt particularly neurotic lately), sent me into a state of being unable to write anything on my blog.  Hence, the lengthy blog silence. I do apologize.

So…haha…I have just written over 400 words to tell you that I can’t write.  Only to discover, to my surprise, that perhaps I can.

Nevertheless.   I WAS going to simply post photos of the last month here at the Doublewide Ranch, so even though I’ve now written more than 450 words, I’ll post the photos anyway.  Then, there will be 6,478  words.

Yes, I know.  As we say here in the South, I’m a mess.  🙂


(28) Thirty Days of Grateful Praise: Imagination

July 29, 2012

Imagination is a wonderful thing. It enables you to see things that others may not see.

There’s no way I can describe in just a few paragraphs just how essential my imagination has been to me (even to my very survival) but I really can’t end my Thirty Days of Grateful Praise without mentioning it.

No need to rehash it here, but my childhood was difficult in many ways, and I cannot tell you just how many times I found refuge in the realm of my imagination.  I was often called a “dreamy” child, but it wasn’t so much that I was dreaming, but that I was inhabiting an internal world that was infinitely more friendly and easy to live in than the tumultuous world outside my head.

I go there often, even now, though I’m no longer a defenseless child.  It’s still a pretty wonderful place to be.  Imagination is a place of such unlimited possibilities; you are not limited by what you see with your eyes.  Because sometimes what you don’t see is even more interesting than what you do.

With my imagination, I am never alone.  It’s a lively and often entertaining place.  Several  years ago, I wrote a post where I compared the thoughts that constantly go through my head to the cars of a runaway circus train.   Almost anything I see or hear will inspire a constant parade of images in my mind.  Just recently, for example, I was reading someone’s account of the vacation they’d spent on a farm.  She wrote of just how much her children enjoyed getting eggs from the chickencoupe”.  Which, of course, should have been chicken “coop”, but thank goodness it wasn’t because the phrase chicken coupe triggered the most delightful image in my mind of a couple of well-dressed chickens tootling down the road behind the wheel of their lovely chicken car.  The rooster was wearing a bow tie and fedora; the hen, a flowered hat.  Poultry in motion.  The image made me laugh and laugh.

And now I’m imagining that you’re laughing, too, because you’re envisioning your own silly images of chickens in a roadster.  And I can tell you that imagining that makes me very happy, too.

(23) Thirty Days of Grateful Praise: Kindness

July 24, 2012

Morning light shines through a morning glory leaf

When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people. ~Abraham Joshua Heschel

Sometimes someone says something really small, and it just fits right into this empty place in your heart. ~From the television show “My So-Called Life”

As long-time readers of my blog know, I am immensely proud of my children and their accomplishments and have bragged shamelessly on them from time to time.  But there’s something else about them that I’m far prouder of, because I believe that there is no attribute more important.

And that attribute is kindness. I am so proud that they are kind.  I am thankful that they are tender-hearted.

How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life you will have been all of these. ~George Washington Carver

Instead of expounding on kindness, I think I’d rather tell you about one of the earliest acts I can remember of kindness shown to me.  I was only about six at the time, but I’ll never forget it. It seems such a small thing, but its effect on me at that time was profound. And then, I’d love it if you’d comment about an act of kindness YOU remember, something that perhaps “fit right into this empty place in your heart.”

When I was six, one of our distant relatives who was a piano teacher offered to give my brother and me piano lessons in exchange for him mowing her yard.  I believe that she was a good person at heart, but she was rather short-tempered.  I think perhaps she wasn’t meant to teach children.  When I didn’t practice enough and made mistakes, she would begin a tirade that started with yelling and ended with her grabbing her cat, dropping him on the keyboard (whereupon he’d do a dissonant dance across the keys then leap with a yowl out of the room).  She’d then yell, “That cat can play better than you!”

I’d usually hold in my tears until I could escape into the yard as I waited for Mama to pick me up.  One day, after the teacher had a particularly awful outburst, I ran into the yard as usual.  It was pouring rain, but I stood out there anyway, sobbing in the cold rain and shivering as it soaked my hair and clothes.

Suddenly I felt a hand touch my shoulder and heard the snap of an umbrella being opened.  I looked up to see Bascombe, my teacher’s husband, who was as gentle as she was caustic.  He never said much, but always seemed such a kind presence.  And now he was standing beside me, still saying nothing, but holding the umbrella over me to keep me dry.  There he stood for a very long time, getting more and more soaked himself, but quietly making sure a little girl was sheltered as she cried her heart out in the rain. He never said a word.  He didn’t have to.

What small acts of kindness have you always remembered?

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. ~Leo Buscaglia

(18) Thirty Days of Grateful Praise: Our view

July 19, 2012

We’ve had autumn, spring, and summer rainbows aplenty. I don’t recall any winter ones, though. We can often see the entire rainbow arc.

When we bought the Doublewide Ranch, I asked the folks we bought it from if they’d miss the view.   “Oh no…not at all,” they said. “Sometimes you just get tired of seeing the same old thing every morning.”

I was astonished.  The view is the reason we bought the place (and paid way too much for it).   Our doublewide sits atop a small hill where we can see, not only the skyline of Asheville ten miles away, but much of the surrounding valley, as well as the tall mountain ridges that rise up from the valley in the distance.  Not to mention the vast, endless expanse of sky.  I have to laugh remembering what she said about “seeing the same old thing” because even though we do see the same mountains and the same valley and the same trees, it is never the “same old thing.”   Even now, in just the last five minutes, as thunderclouds moved in from the northwest, the sky has gone from bright blue to blackish-grey and the mountains are partially obscured by what appears to be a rainstorm about ten miles east.  The colors of the hills, the trees, and the grassy valleys are ever-changing with the seasons, and even the skyline of Asheville is transformed as more high rises are constructed.

Sometimes, I’ll lie awake worrying about this and that, occasionally even thinking of how we spent our nest egg on this place shortly before the economy went bust, and now we’ll never get it back. As it is for so many families, our place is now worth much less than we paid for it.  But at first light, as I stand on the porch seeing Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man off to work (as I do every morning), I am amazed anew at the vista of mountains, fields, trees, and sky before me.  I still sometimes can hardly believe that I get to wake up to this every single day.

Sure, in some ways it IS the same thing every day.  But it’s wonderful to depend on those mountains, those hills, and those trees (for the most part) being there every day.   Really, though, it’s never the same because nature’s many-hued palette changes from hour to hour, from day to day, from season to season.  I am grateful for the ways in which our view never changes, and I am grateful for the ways in which it does.  I’ll never, ever take it for granted.  And I’ll never, ever get tired of it.

I watch the sun rise over the mountains almost every morning.

Sometimes, when the mist is thick, the mountains look like islands in the sea of fog. Here, the fog shines with an almost holy glow.

Full moon sky

In winter, after the rain

Asheville from our porch–late afternoon

From our porch…in summer

(13) Thirty Days of Grateful Praise: Electricity

July 14, 2012

Oh no! The electricity went out! Whatever shall we do??

(the above picture from this post:

I was going to write about something else, but guess whose electricity went out?

On a bright, sunny day, no less, but that seems to be the way of it out here in the country.  I generally take it in stride, but today, I was in the middle of so many things, all of which require electricity, so it was a little more troublesome than usual.  For those of us with wells, losing power means losing water, so perhaps this would be a good time to express my thanks, too, for the clear, cold, fresh water that normally flows so freely through my pipes.

We take so much for granted in this country.  So I think it’s good for us to be inconvenienced sometimes, to be startled out of complacency.  I was.  And even if I felt a little cranky, it did make me more aware of how blessed I am, so it was a good thing.  And I think I can say that I’m grateful for it, too.

(9) Thirty Days of Grateful Praise: Mufflers

July 10, 2012

Yes, I know it’s a tailpipe. But it’s attached to a muffler. Besides, mufflers are ugly.

Okay, you’re probably thinking, “Gee whiz, Blue Ridge Blue Collar Girl, this is the weirdest Thing to Be Thankful For yet!  And, if you don’t mind my saying so, girl, you’ve had a few weird ones already this week, heh heh…”

Yeah, I know.  But, as it so often is, you don’t fully appreciate certain things until there is an absence of them in your life.   And there is most definitely an absence of mufflers in my neighborhood.

It’s been that way since we moved here, but this summer has been the worst one yet for atrocious automotive auditory assault.   I’m not sure why—perhaps teenagers out of school—but it would seem that the majority of motorists on the busy road in front of our house are mufflerless.

I’ve heard there’s a law against that in North Carolina, but it would seem that it’s never enforced.  I’ve often wondered what would happen if I called the law and said I’d like to press charges.

“Yes, officer.  I’d like to report an ear assault and battery.”

“Someone assaulted your ears, ma’am?”

“Umm…well, in a manner of speaking, yes.  My ears have been…hurt.”

Yeah, I bet THAT would go over real well.

One of the guys Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man works with drives his Harley to work every day.   He is one of the Intentionally Mufflerless, and the sound of his motorcycle is deafening.  He wears ear plugs while he’s on the road, so he won’t damage his ears.  He seems to not grasp the irony of this.  Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man asked him, “What about the other people on the road having to listen to that?”

He said, “Well, this way, those people will hear me coming and they won’t drive their cars out in front of me.”

Umm…seriously, dude.  Anybody could hear you coming from five miles away.  And I don’t think that’s really necessary for vehicular avoidance.

Sigh.  I feel sometimes like screaming at them, “Please, people…for the love of all things holy—GET A MUFFLER!” But somehow, I think that wouldn’t do much good. My words would almost certainly fall on, well…deaf ears.  I’m kind of resigned to it, really.  About all I can do is wear ear plugs myself.  Either that or I’ll finally go deaf from the constant noise.  Sometimes that seems like the only possibility for relief.

So I’d like to say that I’m thankful for, not only mufflers, but the many mercifully mufflered amongst you.  I thank you with all my heart.  And my poor, battered ears thank you, too.

(1) Thirty Days of Grateful Praise: Buoyant Optimism

July 2, 2012

As mentioned in the previous post, I’m proud to be called a dork optimist. So I was thrilled to read your comments and discover that I have so many dork optimist comrades!  It seemed appropriate, then, to make my first Thirty Days of Grateful Praise post be about our ability to find joy in simple pleasures.

Interestingly, for me,  some of this likely has its roots in less than happy circumstances—the fact that my life has, in many ways, been hard and there’s never been a lot of money for the “extras” seen as necessities by modern society.  Clearly, when you’re in this situation, mourning the things you don’t have rather than celebrating what you do have is surely the way to unhappiness, so I’ve mostly chosen the happy path.

I’d never be one to romanticize financial struggles—it’s a hard business, especially these days.  But if you look for them, there are almost always gifts hidden in in even the most difficult of circumstances.  I do think that having less has helped me appreciate far more even the smallest pleasures.

I think, too, that hard times have a way of bringing into sharper focus what’s important and what’s not.  It turns out that some of the simplest, most humble things are the very things that make my life rich.  And if I Iost them, I would be impoverished indeed.

So maybe you can add “simple-minded” to my dork optimist moniker.  The older I get, the more I value simple-mindedness.  The older I get, the more I see the simple as deep.  And the older I get, the more I turn away from the clamor of the world trying to make me believe otherwise.

Simple-minded dork optimist.  Yep…that’s me.  And I like it.

For Dork Optimists Everywhere

June 28, 2012

(My fellow dork optimist, Sue Heck)

Here’s where I’ll confess that I wrote this almost a month ago and was just about to post it when something unexpected and quite unpleasant happened to us that on the face of it should have been a simple matter but turned (through no fault of ours) into a grueling and draining situation that really put the sense of hope and optimism I wrote about below to the test.  I was feeling so discouraged and disheartened that it seemed almost disingenuous to write about my sense of hope and optimism when I was feeling quite the opposite.  It’s important to me to write true and honest here, and so far, I have.  And, truth be told, I’m still feeling a bit cranky.  But I realized that maybe the Thirty Days of Grateful Praise exercise I mention might be the very thing to pull me out of my funk.  So here goes…

I really don’t watch much television, but there’s one show about an average, ordinary middle-class family that I love.  It comes on right in the middle of the week (Wednesday nights), is set right in the middle of the U.S.A. (Indiana), and is called (perhaps not surprisingly) “Middle.”

I love it because it’s so real.  Although the lives of the Heck family are often messy and far from perfect, almost always in the end, love and hope prevail. (Not unlike the Blue Ridge Blue Collar family, I guess).  I find all the characters on the show compelling (though I often want to throttle Axl, the arrogant oldest son), but I really, really love Axl’s younger sister, Sue.

It’s an odd thing perhaps for a middle-aged woman to choose as her role model a barely-out-of-middle school teenage girl (who’s just a television character, at that), but I have.  Sue Heck is my role model.

Sue has an enduring (and completely endearing) optimism that remains steadfast no matter how many times life knocks her down.  And life knocks her down a lot.  Although she almost never makes the cut, she continues to try out for everything at school.  Although the “popular” crowd in high school rejects her, she cheerfully continues to be herself.  And although her brother Axl belittles her, too, she continues to love him as he is.  Sure, sometimes she has moments of despair and discouragement, but she always bounces back; she is always steadfastly resilient. (In fact, I think Sue’s picture should be beside the word “resilient” in the dictionary.)

In one episode, when Axl was continuously disparaging of Sue (in the way that older brothers can be), Sue was so persistently sunny and hopeful in the face of it that even Axl finally had to show a grudging admiration.  “You’re like this…dork optimist,” he said to Sue.

Benjamin happened to see that show with us, and afterward, laughing, he said to me, “That’s who you are, Mama…you’re a dork optimist.”

Now I suppose not everyone would be happy to be called a dork optimist, but I was honored.  And I guess it’s true.  The “dork” part, I suppose, applies since that’s the way the world often regards those of us who don’t conform to the norm and insist on being ourselves.  And I’ve always been blessed with the ability to find humor and hope in bleak situations and to find joy in the smallest pleasures.  It doesn’t take much to make me happy.  I was like that as a child, and I’m like that now.  So often, I still find the greatest delight in the very things that others dismiss or overlook.

So, in honor of Sue Heck and dork optimists everywhere, I’m going to do something a little different from my usual long, rambling, occasional posts.  I’m going to write (starting sometime soon) a little post every day for at least thirty days, naming thirty things big or small that I’m thankful for—thirty things that give me joy.  We’ll call it “Thirty Days of Grateful Praise.”  Of course, I don’t expect anyone to comment every day, but I’d be pleased to hear from you during that period about what makes you happy. What delights you—big or small, silly or serious, shallow or deep?  I’d really love to know your simple pleasures, too.

After all, we dork optimists need to stick together, right? 🙂

Finding Our Way Up

March 7, 2012

Back in late October, we took a hike that, while only two miles and small compared to the hikes we used to take, was big in its significance to us.  Since Tom injured his knee a year ago, he’d been unable to hike,  and we both keenly missed our usual treks to favorite trails up on the Blue Ridge Parkway and elsewhere last summer.  And since Benjamin broke his back the previous summer, he’s been reluctant to subject his still vulnerable spine to the rigors of a mountain hike.

But Tom’s knee has been slowly healing, as has Benjamin’s back, so the late October weather was a perfect time to give our long-unused hiking muscles a little workout.  I researched many trails before finding one that was challenging enough to test our mettle, but easy enough to be free of undue pain.  I found the perfect hike on Bearwallow Mountain, a privately owned mountain south of here, part of which has been placed in a conservation easement so that folks like us are free to share the beautiful views from the grassy pasture at the top with the lucky cows who graze there.  The summit of Bearwallow is 4,232 feet above sea level, so the elevation gain is considerable.  But the new trail, built by volunteers from the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy and other groups, is so skillfully built (with switchbacks and gorgeous rock features) that we climbed with ease.  Thank you, volunteers–we are so grateful for your work!

Here’s a wood duck we encountered on the trail.

To our delight, the asters were still blooming and the honeybees still buzzing

Though it was late in the season, there was still color sweeping across the top of Bearwallow. 

I loved how these trees, bowed but not broken by the wind, almost seemed to be growing from the rocks.

Some hikers online warned of possible rogue cows on Bearwallow, but all the bovines seemed peaceful to us, if quite curious.

Because of all the communication towers on top of Bearwallow, as well as a former fire tower, there is a gracefully winding road to the top, which we traveled for our journey down.  I felt sad when our hike ended, as it was the first time in a very long time that I’d been able to, at least temporarily, shake off the sense of constant disquietude that has dogged me for a long time now.  I was worried at the start of the hike about Tom’s knee and Benjamin’s back, as well as anxiety about other troubles that seems to gnaw at my gut almost constantly.  But somehow, watching Tom and Benjamin ahead of me climb the trail with strong and sure steps, helped to ease that gnawing for a while and I felt at peace.  And the beauty of the trees and mountains and rocks and sky as far as the eye can see at the top, along with the placidity of the curious cows, filled me that day with a joy and serenity that I had not felt for a long time.  Even now, I feel a sense of comfort and well-being,  looking at these pictures and remembering how I felt that day when I laid down my burdens for a while.

I guess we need to take another hike…soon. 🙂

You Can’t Judge a Box By Its Cover

January 26, 2012

Beautiful Imperfection–A battered butterfly (missing its lower parts but still flying) that we encountered on a hike

So, I tried hard to write a funny post.  The last thing I wanted to do was write again about our troubles.  Alas, I couldn’t seem to muster the light-heartedness I needed to write it well.  Not that I’ve lost my sense of humor.  No indeed.  It’s fully intact, as any of my friends or family can tell you.  Along with my sense of wonder, thank God.

The incident in question WAS funny, though.  Even if it didn’t seem so at the time.   When I saw the article in the paper before Christmas about the Senior Santa shoebox project at Meals on Wheels, I really wanted to do it.  Only problem was, I had to wrap a shoebox.  More precisely, I had to actually cover the surface of a shoebox with pretty paper in a presentable manner that did not resemble the work of a demented chimpanzee.  

Sounds easy enough, but the truth is, I am gift-wrapping impaired.  Incredibly, even gift bags are a challenge to me because I can never seem to get the tissue looking right.  So covering a shoebox seemed about as daunting as sewing that dress I was required to make in eighth grade home ec . (Poor Miss Nettie Herring—I was surely the most challenging sewing student she ever had!) 

But Dorothy,of the Wrexham Knitting Group in Wrexham,NorthWales made it look so easy!  She nimbly wrapped the shoebox with the cool, calm efficiency of a brain surgeon.  In fact, I’m quite certain Dorothy, if she put her mind to it, could easily learn and perform brain surgery.  She certainly made me believe, after I’d watched her about ten times, that I, too, could wrap a shoebox.  Until, that is, I actually tried to do it.

No need to recount every detail of the sad struggle.  Let’s just say it took me two hours, a whole roll of gift wrap, and lots and lots of tape.  Along with much wailing and gnashing of teeth.  It was a grim business, I tell you.  Until the end, when I suddenly became aware that I was breathing hard as though I’d run a marathon and that I was literally dripping sweat in a sixty-five degree house.  Which was, of course, ridiculous, and I started laughing.  Sort of like a demented chimpanzee, haha. 

Amazingly, in the end, it didn’t look too bad.  And filling the shoebox was a lot more fun than wrapping it.  I do hope that the recipient of my humble offering was able to see the love in it rather than the ragged edges.  Which, now that I think of it, is the very thing we hope for in our relationships with people.  That they can see the beauty and spirit in us, despite our ragged and lopsided edges.   That they can see that we’re doing our best, even when that best is far short of perfect.  That they can look past our differences and instead see what we have in common.  And that we may do the same for them.

In Benjamin’s journey back to wholeness, he and I have had a lot of conversations about the importance of being your authentic self, even when people reject that self.  Indeed, my children will both tell you that the #1 Mommy maxim they heard from me throughout their lives is the importance of being true to yourself.  Hard for all of us, but especially hard for an autistic person like Benjamin.  As an autistic person navigates the world, they are constantly challenged to conform themselves to the world in ways that are often difficult and in ways that may not come naturally.  So their struggle to conform, yet maintain that inner core of authentic self, can be exhausting.  And often discouraging. 

Benjamin’s working hard to learn that balance.  And in helping him, I’ve often been reminded of my own need to remember the truths I know about myself, but sometimes lose sight of when I let the world pull and push me off balance.   That equilibrium is so easy to talk about, but so hard to achieve.  And that struggle for balance, as I tell Benjamin, is something we all have in common.  It’s something we all share–whether we’re autistic or not.  The important thing is to not lose sight of who you are or the sense of your own beauty. And to remember always who you are capable of becoming.