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Category Archives: create

Remainders

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Every once in a while there’s a book that I’m afraid to read, but I know I should read it. Usually they contain some sort of horrible behavior that will give me bad dreams for a long time. Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder, is one of those books that I have been avoiding since it was published in 2009.

I had read, totally respected, and enjoyed several other Kidder books: House, Among Schoolchildren, and Mountains Beyond Mountains. What kept me from Strength in What Remains was the story of genocide in Burundi and Rwanda 1994-2008.

I was mistaken in avoiding this book, because although it tells the story of man’s inhumanity to man and the unspeakable atrocities that took place, it is just as much a story of one man’s ability to survive under these horrific circumstances. Deo is this man, and Kidder makes him come alive in every paragraph, every sentence, every picture that the reader creates in his/her mind.

This is a book I could not put down. I started it on Saturday and finished it on Sunday morning. Deo suffers greatly, and yet is able to push through the pain, the misery, the loss of his old life, and the trauma in the new life. The reader sees the battle to survive in war-torn Africa but also sees the desperate struggle to survive in New York City with two hundred dollars in Deo’s pocket, unable to speak English, and vulnerable to every sort of vermin the City has to offer. Both experiences create desperate, debilitating, unforgettable memories that may fade, but never go away. They haunt him like shadows in a darkened hallway forever.

Reading this book certainly put life in perspective for me. It presented struggles that were real and traumatic. It shows hope build and then be dashed. These are stories that were difficult to tell, but needed to be spoken, and most importantly, needed to be heard. Kidder is a wise, articulate, compassionate writer. He tells Deo’s story, and we can’t put it down.

 

Green Sprouts

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Some spring days try to fake me out into thinking it’s summer. That has happened recently. The sun shines brightly on the deck, the chairs look warmed and cozy, and there’s an ever so gentle breeze that bends the trees. It looks like it’s perfect for an afternoon with a book and a lemonade.

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However, once out there, my feet are cold, I need a sweater, and I’m saying “Screw the lemonade, I need some hot black coffee.” So having donned woolen socks and sweater, grabbed a cup of steaming java, I persist in moving the chair around the deck to catch the most direct rays of the sun. Yes, I know, I’m pushing it. Jumping the shark or something like that. But I do long to bask in the sun with a good book… it will happen, just with layers for awhile.

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Today a walk to the beach was truly an aerobic exercise in staying vertical against the wind. It was “refreshing”— ok- it was nippy, and I walked fast because if I stood still, I’d complain more. At WoodNeck, the windsurfers were out in full glory. Sails, black suits, full beards and huge smiles. One energized 60+ year old said the water was 50 degrees and the air was 50 degrees, so that makes it 100. I bitched about nothing after that.

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It’s true that the daffodils have bloomed and the azaleas and forsythia are full color. Periwinkle and all types of short wild flowers have started to open. Spring is really happening, just a little late and a little slower than usual.

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I’ve also noticed that I’ve got a couple of “anniversaries” that are happening right about this time. I’m marking the beginning of my fourth year of retirement from teaching at Bentley University. This is the first year that I was completely unaware of semesters, final exams and last day of classes. I’m having a blast doing exactly what I want, when I want to. The freedom is exhilarating and my list of “want to do’s” grows each day—in a good way. I’ve had the opportunity to read from my stacks of collected books as well as raid the library for some unexpected delights. I love the lack of curriculum and the full range of opportunities.

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On a similar note, I’m celebrating my second blogiversary of http://www.yarnsista.com. Two years of writing generated 99 posts, almost 6000 views and a tremendous amount of fun and satisfaction for me. It’s a place where I can write about my passions: the Cape, my life, my books, my fun with fiber and anything else that captures my attention. Taking photographs has been a new skill to work on. The iPhone camera is a blessing. It makes learning by trial and error plus lots of practice very attainable.

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I also just celebrated my first year of doing yoga. Now that is a very big deal. With the help of many compassionate, wise teachers, I have begun my practice and continue to expand it. My back no longer hurts me; I can move without aches and pain; I’ve lost weight and am much healthier than ever. All of this is exceptionally good news because I’m about half way to 122 years old, and I’d like to be flexible and balanced right up to the last breath. Three yoga classes and one Pilates class per week should help me get there.

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So all of this spring/rebirth/new growth stuff is working. I have no complaints and am looking forward to it all. Life is good.

 

Yellow Yellow Yellow

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Today it actually felt like Spring here on Cape Cod, despite the fact that I did have to put on a layering sweater before donning my jacket. I love the rituals that seem to have evolved for us living here.

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It’s April; the daffodils must be in bloom at Spohr’s. We avoid the official events on Saturday and go on Sunday– before people get out of church for Easter Sunday.

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We don’t like crowds and love the quiet of the plants, the trees and the bay. That’s how we roll.

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The property used to house a family who planted a zillion daffodils from the beginning of time along with maintaining lovely gardens with all kinds of green goodness.  I really love the daffodils.

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Daffodils are just what I need after what seems like a never ending winter. They’re yellow– come on– yellow– you can’t help but smile at the color and the way they dance on their stems. I love how they’re clumped together and not planted in discrete rows.  Rows are for folks who can color inside the lines and don’t like yellow… that’s not me.

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On days like this, I do wish I planted one thousand daffodil bulbs in my front yard last fall.  Better yet, I wish someone else planted them for me… in clumps, randomly up and down the hill with more than enough to have a full bloom outside and a big bouquet on the kitchen table. Maybe this fall…

 

 

 

The Knob/Quissett Walkdoc April 13,2014

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Walkdoc April 9 Woodneck Beach

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This morning we got up early and took a walk to the beach. There never has to be a “purpose” for such a walk, but listening to the early morning bird songs was our hope. I have no idea what types of birds were singing, tweeting and/or squawking, but I took them all in.

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I’ll never learn their genus,species, or be able to identify individual birds, and I don’t care. I’m not much into labels, but I love the bird music!

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There’s something about the sounds birds make in the Spring that sets the pace for all the other changes that evolve. I remember some of the sounds, others seem new; maybe my ears hear things differently. It is like a breath of fresh air that pushes winter aside and ushers in green sprouts.

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It was just a pleasant, gentle walk down the beach. I collected shells and collected my thoughts.

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Walkdoc 3/23/14

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WoodNeck Beach

WoodNeck Beach

 

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Chinese Checkers

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Many of you who know me are aware of that fact that, until a year or so ago, my favorite form of exercise was lifting my fork from the plate to my mouth. Ok, maybe not that bad… maybe it was aerobically turning the pages of a good book….Or speed/power knitting. Then I discovered yoga and would now be lost without it. It centers me; my back doesn’t hurt, and I’ve lost my fear of falling over. Yoga has made an impact both on and off the mat.

Then, quite by mistake, a week ago, I arrived at the yoga studio for a 9 AM Vinyasa class. Something was quite different. The mats were going the “wrong” way. There were strange flexible rings in the front of the room and pile of elastic exercise bands that brought back memories of physical therapy and a demanding personal trainer. There was no “yoga” music in the background and many of the people in the class had real muscles.

My regular yoga teacher, Michelle, quietly told me that this was a Pilates class—the first one offered. I clearly didn’t check the latest schedule. So I looked her in the eye and said…“Well, can I do this Pilates stuff?” Without pause, she replied, “Of course, get in there.” So I did.

Learning something completely new and physically demanding at the ripe, young age of 61 might have scared me off. But it didn’t. I told the instructor, Monica, this was my first Pilates class ever… she was encouraging and her cues were crystal clear. I could follow her directions and make this Pilates thing work. The stretches we did were different than warm ups in yoga. Each move was more intense, took me out of my comfort zone and had to be repeated multiple times. I stopped worrying if I could do it, and just followed the teacher. Before I knew it, I was pulsing mini sit-ups without fears or tears.

Was it fun—no, not really! It was challenging, and I could feel that I was working my body in a different way than in my yoga practice or when taking long walks. I had to overcome the awkwardness of not really knowing what I was doing—and learn something new. It meant giving up the pretense of control and taking baby steps into the unknown. At the end of class, I was thrilled and amazed that “I did it!” I fully expected to hurt and have multiple Charlie-horses simultaneously—so I took an hour long soak in a hot Epson salt bath—and David did bring me a small (ok, medium) glass of brandy while I sat and soaked until my finger tips looked like white prunes. It was heavenly! I laid back and realized that I walked into a Pilates class unexpectedly and didn’t run away… instead I was looking forward to next Friday’s class.

How could this happen: One self-care action follows another and another and another. An entourage of wise, compassionate, skilled yoga teachers (Thank you and hugs to Kirsten, Megan, Michelle and Sandy McA) move me forward on and off the mat. They teach me yoga and so much more. I meditate and quiet my overactive mind. Most importantly, I delete toxic people and excessive commitments from my life. This all opens up room for new opportunities and new growth. I remember years ago, Danny Rothenberg told me that I ought to consider leaving more open space in my life. He made the comparison to Chinese checkers. “You need some open spots in order to jump ahead. You have too many marbles on the board.” It has taken me years to follow up on his advice.

So the benefits of life with “fewer marbles on the board” are numerous. Yes, I’m a regular Pilates and yoga student now, and I’m in much better shape than I was a year ago. I have learned the value of subtracting obstacles from my life in order to add more of the good stuff. It does come back to simplicity and having a “short list” of what is important. My hubby, David, has been talking about the value of a “short list” forever. I’m getting there.

Zoey

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Zoey

Zoey

This past week was a tough one. We had a surrendered cat at the shelter that seemed to be uncomfortable and looked like she was in pain. A visit to one vet yielded some, but not much, comfort to both me and the cat. The kitty, Zoey, was a very pretty black cat with very sad eyes. Every day the gang at the shelter would check in to see if Zoey ate, pooped, moved around, or maybe even played a bit. A week went by and there wasn’t much improvement. She did eat and took her meds, but things just didn’t seem right.

On Thursday we decided a second opinion was in order. I carefully wrapped her like a little furry burrito in soft blankets and gently put her in the carrier. She meowed once as if to warn me to be careful because she hurt. While walking to the car, it started to snow and she looked out of the carrier and checked out the white flakes. Her pretty black coat was sprinkled with snow—and I think she liked it. She laid down and purred.

Once at the vet’s office, Zoey checked out the big dog that was leaving and looked the other way. She had bigger fish to fry. Little Zoey remained quiet and relatively peaceful. I talked softly to her and let her know we were going to see a vet who I hoped could make her feel better. Dr. Lucy entered the room and paid attention to both of us… me and Zoey. She picked up that Zoey was in pain and did not do anything to make it worse. She asked questions, collected the history and then she connected the dots.

Poor Zoey had spinal lymphoma. The diagnosis was “no prognosis”. This is the first time I’ve ever been in this situation—I didn’t expect it at all. I thought I was going to leave with a magic bullet, and Zoey would be well and happy. I can’t explain the feeling in my chest… it’s like everything dropped to the floor—or a hole got blown through me from front to back… The vet said this is a very painful condition that moves throughout the body quickly. Zoey’s pain was unrelenting, and there was nothing I could do except… well you know where this is going….

I made a few quick calls to my hubby who could miraculously understand and support me through my sobbing, and to my partners at the shelter—all best friends who are both compassionate and wise. I thought about taking her home with me for the night, but transporting her back and forth would only prolong her agony. For Zoey’s sake, it had to be sooner rather than later. David said he’d be there asap—but a half hour was too long to have her in pain. So, it was time, and Dr. Lucy helped both Zoey and me through the process of releasing Zoey from this miserable condition.

I’m always surprised when strength shows up in the midst of a shitstorm. Zoey had been given something to help her relax, and I pet her gently and talked to her and held her close. What do you say to a dying cat? Well, I sang “I love you a bushel and a peck.” Her eyes were open and she looked at me, and I cuddled her in my arms. While I was fumbling to do the next “right” thing in this situation, I told her Papa Stan who spent hours with her at the shelter said hello and wished he could be here, but he was in spirit. In the whirlwind of anxiety, sadness and fear, I thought of my Dad and told Zoey that he would be waiting for her. He loved cats—he had green eyes and freckles—and she’d recognize him. He’d play with her and be with her forever “up there.” She cuddled up closer. I let her know that my dad sings too, so she better get ready for “Five foot Two, Eyes of Blue, And oh my baby what I wouldn’t do, Has anybody seen my girl”. And yes, I sang it to her.

When it was time for the final injection, Zoey was at peace. She kept eye contact and had the most peaceful look on her face. No more sad eyes, no more tense body. She was at rest. I held to the bitter end, but it wasn’t so bitter. It was sweet and restful and right. She got more kisses and hugs and was set free. I will miss her, and she taught me more than she’ll ever know.

On the drive home, the snow seemed so other-worldly. I realized that this was one of the most difficult things I ever had to do. I also realized that my Dad is still such a strong, supportive force in life. He’s always there for me… always. I can see him with Zoey in his lap amidst the clouds. She’s purring and he’s singing to her.

Big Snow 2/15/14 Walkdoc

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Walk doc January 29, 2014

Bird Snow Fort

Bird Snow Fort

 

Pink, White and Gray

Pink, White and Gray

 

Those eyes.

Those eyes.

 

Melts my heart.

Melts my heart.