Friday, March 6, 2015

Daffodils and "Downton Abbey"

It is still a snow-covered world here today, but the first Daffodils have hit the stores.  I look forward to this little treat all year. 
And it is a gorgeous blue-skied sunny day so far, making Daffodil Bouquet Day even sweeter. 
This February was rough.  "And the hits just keep on coming" kept coming to mind each week.
March 6th already.  Bring it. 
I had five days off beginning February 28th, and I!  completely!  vegged!  out!  I finally watched "Downton Abbey"--ALL of "Downton Abbey," beginning season one Saturday morning and watching the season five finale late Wednesday night--and was as charmed by it as everyone assured me I would be.  Mr. Carson--"[the] old booby!"--has won my heart.  Love that character.  And Violet's laugh makes me laugh every time I hear it.  Mrs. Hughes' "Oh, heavens, girl!  You're building a fire, not inventing it!"  The aqua dining room with the cream doors.  The swishing of the dear pup's tail in the opening sequence.  The music.  The DRESSES!  Violet and Isobel together.  Lovely Sybil.  Ah!  It was well worth the wait, and it was the perfect way to put a horrid February behind me. 
And now March is here, and here with Daffodils and sunshine.  Happy day. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Patricia/Balisha

I took this picture two weeks ago today in the hopes of finding articulate--and ideally, beautiful--words to accompany it in honor of sweet Patricia of the blog "Simply Balisha" (and another blog for years before that one).  Only a month after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer, Pat has entered a hospice facility and has posted her goodbye in her final blog post.  She has found words, and I still have not.  Clergyman Phillips Brooks once shared his belief that none of us can be good without the world somehow being benefited by that person's goodness, and since I can't seem to find my own words this month, I'll simply agree with his as I nod toward Pat. 
 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

February

"Did you know," inquires my dad in his last letter, "that ice-chipping is much worse than snow-shoveling?  Well, it is.  75 lures later, I still have three weeks to kill before March 1st--my sanity cut-off date.  Pitchers and catchers report coming soon.  Cardinals are singing.  I'll cling to any ray of hope. "  Indeed.  I wasn't minding winter until this past week but now feel like I've gotten the gist--If I were in Boston, I'd say I've more than gotten the gist.  We got hit by our own three-feet-of-snow blizzard here in February 2010, so I empathize--and am ready to move on to spring.  This photo. . .after a mile-and-a-half walk a few days ago. 'Have been in a rotten mood all week, and it's not like me to be in one for this many days.  I blame the wind, the slippery sidewalks, everyday life nonsense in general, phantom wisdom tooth pain--they were removed thirteen years ago, but now and then, the site of one missing tooth starts aching--and lack of enough real walks.  Blehhh!  I echo Mom's postscript-drawing in Dad's letter below. 
My younger brother turns thirty-three today.  It is my father-in-law's birthday too.  And by Saturday, a small package containing chocolate-marshmallow hearts for my niece and my nephew and a copy of this sweet book will reach my niece Alyssa--of bat-and-cat-drawing fame--who turns eight this weekend.  Both my grandmothers, Mike's niece, a great-aunt, and my older brother have all had birthdays this month too, and each circled cake-and-ice-cream date on the calendar is a bright spot in this otherwise dreary month.  And thank God for that. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Mom's Orange Sunset

My mom began oil painting when I was about five years old, and when I would return from school in the afternoons, she would be in the process of finishing a piece and arranging her makeshift kitchen table/studio back into its usual red or blue gingham tablecloth-covered self.  The smell of the turpentine she used to clean her paintbrushes instantly transports me to those afternoons, as do the voices of painting show hosts Bill Alexander and Bob Ross.  Their "happy little trees" were such a part of my childhood.  I can still hear the whippa-whippa-whippa as Mom's wide brush slapped back and forth against the canvases with the oils.  And how many times did I hear her comment that the only thing about oil was, it took the paintings forever to dry. . . .
Mom painted mountains and rivers and forest scenes and bodies of water.  Much later, by the time I was in high school, she would prefer painting in acrylics and would be selling her artwork--mostly landscapes and wildlife--in local shops and in both Farmington and Mystic, Connecticut, as well. 
While home a few months ago, I lamented that I hadn't saved any of her old paintings.  She had always sold them or given them as gifts, and it seemed such a loss that we had none of them--and not even pictures of any of them.  "Oh," she said looking pleased to have been asked, "I still have one canvas somewhere in the basement.  I don't know if it's in your colors, but you can have it if you want it."  She rummaged around downstairs for a few minutes before handing me this orange sunset. 
I treasure it, of course. 
Mom's paintings were beautiful, both in what they captured and in what they represent to me now:  My young mother--just-turned thirty--only thirty!  almost a decade younger than I am now--became interested in something, set out to learn how to do it, did it, and managed to do it without a proper or permanent work-space and while busy raising three young children.  My younger brother was only a newborn when she started, I was in kindergarten, and our older brother was around eight years old.  I think of my mom, getting us off to school, taking care of my then-baby brother, doing everything that needed to be done around the house, and still carving out the time to set up easel and paints in our little kitchen, only to disassemble it all each afternoon so she could be ready for us by the time we got home--and simply because it made her happy and she loved it. It mattered to her, and so, she made the time.  Beautiful. 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Past Two (Lazy, Indoor) Weeks

Well, I highly recommend kicking off a new year by conquering one's fears and achieving something that's been on the To-Do list for ages.  It's infused the past two weeks with significantly more lightness and dance-around-the-apartment-to-my-favorite-songs JOY than I usually feel in January and February, for sure.  In the spirit of celebration last week, I treated Stuffed to a comfy new cat bed--and he's actually been curled up in it, wonder of wonders--and a catnip ball, and I gave Mike an amazon gift card.  We can all use some extra fun here in these weeks of day-after-day of forehead-freezing wind and back-wrenchingly slippery sidewalks.  I got my taxes done this week.  And filled out some student loan paperwork that had been on my to-do list too long.  And got another box of books and book characters ready to mail to the school.  And worked at my job, of course.  Otherwise, I have been lazily cuddled up with an afghan more often than not:  reading stretched out in bed, reading in my chair with my feet tucked under me, or refilling glass-after-glass of chocolate almond milk, hot chocolate, or iced tea while making my way through the episodes of "The West Wing" that I missed when it was still on TV.  In short, aside from a few must-do duties, I've spent the past two weeks vegging out, and it's been lovely.  I treated myself to the dvd of the first season of "Downton Abbey"--I've only ever seen some the first episode--and plan to relax with that sometime soon, as well.  Eleanor Roosevelt's book You Learn By Living is brilliant.  I admire her so, especially for her managing her shyness so beautifully.  I have only a few pages left in J.K. Rowling's The Silkworm, Steve Berry's The Lincoln Myth, and Steven Rigolosi's The Outsmarting of Criminals:  A Mystery Introducing Miss Felicity Prim.  I've been skipping around in Frances Mayes' Under the Tuscan Sun--one of your favorite books, Lisa, I know!--since around Thanksgiving, probably.  I'm a fast reader, but I like just reading a section or so of that book and waiting awhile to dip back into it.  It is a soothing read, with some of the most beautiful writing.  Patti Smith's Just Kids has been hauntingly beautiful too.  And "Mrs. Mimi's" teaching memoir, It's Not All Flowers and Sausages:  My Adventures in Second Grade, along with Searching for a Savior:  The Trials and Triumphs of a First-Year Teacher, because I've never been able to shake the idea of giving a teaching career a second go.  (I taught two months of middle school when I was twenty-four.)  We'll see.  For now, I'm reading and watching and thinking and daydreaming:  teaching kindergarteners how to read, solving mysteries with Cormoran Strike and other detectives who need my expertise, assisting Josh and Donna at the White House, falling asleep while an owl watches over me from my bedroom windowsill in Tuscany, discussing shyness and fear-conquering and driver's license-acquiring with Mrs. Roosevelt. . . .The rest of me continually re-wraps itself into a blanket, only getting up to pour another drink or to feed the cat, but my head--Well!  My head and I, we're GOING places, I tell you.  :)

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

At the Ripe Old Age of Almost-38

I finally got my driver's license yesterday.  When my best friend died in a car accident in 1995, I don't think my friends or family or I had any inkling that it would scare me away from driving for so very long.  My dear Sommer had been on her way to pick me up for school on March 1st of our senior year of high school when her car went off the road.  The investigators never determined what caused it to happen, and that fact left me uncomfortable in cars at best and terrified in cars at worst, even as a passenger.  

I tried in 2002, when I was 25, to get my license.  My dad taught me to drive, and I spent more than thirty hours in practice that summer, but I failed the test twice--parallel parking mistakes, both times--and wasn't comfortable enough even then, so I didn't bother taking it a third time.  In the summer of 2003, now 26, I tried again.  I renewed my learner's permit and went out to drive with my dad a few more times.  One evening, I didn't navigate a turn properly and almost hit an elderly male driver.  I could have killed this poor man, not to mention my dad and myself.  That was only about ten minutes into that evening's drive, but I turned the car toward home and never went driving with my dad again.  I let my permit expire, and until last fall, that was the end of that.  My parents tried to tell me to "get back on the horse," and my aunt Laurie continued, for the next few months, at least, to ask about my progress, but it would be eleven more years until I would try again.  After awhile, no one asked or mentioned it anymore.  It was just an awkwardly understood subject:  Val Doesn't Drive, It Freaks Her Out.  It was the one aspect of the entire trauma of Som's death that I wasn't able to work through and get past.  

Until yesterday. 
 In 2013, I decided that I was going to get my driver's license before the twentieth anniversary of Sommer's death, which will be March 1st of this year.  I studied for my learners' permit--the written test--again, researched local driving schools and sent one a long email that September to tell my story and see if any of its instructors were up for the challenge of helping me. 
 "Please know," I warned toward the end of that first email, "that I don't get behind the wheel at all without thinking of [Sommer] and imagining her last moments, so this is still a tough road ahead of me."  The founder of the driving school promptly wrote back to say that she would be honored to work with me and that another student of hers with a similar story had just gotten her license, and to please call so we could talk and arrange my first lesson.  But I was still too scared, and I put it off another entire year.  Another entire YEAR, you guys.  Bah!  And then I realized this past summer, now September 2014, and now 37 years old, that the twentieth anniversary of Sommer's death was only six months away and that if I didn't start now, I'd never get my license by then.  And twenty years, it was now clear, was more than long enough to have this particular monkey on back.  In a fit of bravery, I found myself calling Cindy--Just do it, before you chicken out--and before I knew it, we were talking and laughing and had made appointments for my first two lessons.  I quickly renewed my permit yet again, rewarded these small acts of courage with a bouquet of pink roses--the pink roses would become a tradition throughout this process--and hoped and prayed that I could somehow make it happen this time.
My first driving lesson with the wonderful Cindy from the driving school was September 23rd of 2014.  I hadn't told anyone--not my parents, neither of my brothers, none of my friends, not even Mike--that I was attempting to get my license, so no one knew--until yesterday!  --that any of this was happening.  No pressure for me that way--or no additional pressure, I should say, and much less stress.  I met Cindy in a neighborhood store's parking lot (after Mike had "safely" left for work), and she immediately had me sit in the driver's seat.  That alone was sickeningly scary to me.  To anyone walking past us as we sat inside this car in the store parking lot, it was just a student having a lesson with a driving school instructor.  I knew, though, that I was terrified that I was going to die in a car accident during this first lesson and had actually written a goodbye letter to Mike and left it on our dining table for him.  I was that scared.  After reviewing the controls and features of her car, Cindy had me drive around the neighborhood to see how much I'd retained from 2002 and 2003.  "You're doing beautifully," she encouraged me and added that it was clear that I'd retained a lot of what I'd learned with my dad twelve years prior.  "Usually during a first session, the student's veering all over the road and stopping and starting really abruptly and the whole car's bucking and jerking.  You're doing none of that."  As in 2002 and 2003, though, my driving may have looked okay to the people in the car with me, but I myself felt nauseous with fear.  "I feel like I'm going to cry," I confessed, and Cindy asked if I wanted to pull over.  "You won't be the first student who's needed to stop and cry," she reassured me.  I didn't stop and cry right then, though.  I waited until I got home.  :)  And I forced myself out again for a second lesson that same week.  I rewarded myself for those first two lessons with another bouquet of pink roses, and I scheduled another session for October.  
On Halloween, my third time out with Cindy, I drove on the parkway for the first time.  I drove on the parkway!  And drove in rain (and on wet leaves) for the first time.  And through a restaurant drive-through for the first time.  (Cindy wanted a diet Coke.)  :)  And drove through my first roundabout.  All the cars in Cindy's driving school are equipped with accelerator and brakes on the instructor's/passenger's side too, and I think knowing that if I couldn't control the car, the instructor could, is one of the biggest factors in my success at learning to drive this time.  With some of that specific fear finally removed, I was finally able to absorb what I was learning instead of going through the motions while really focused instead on the Oh-my-God-it-will-be-just-like-what-happened-to-Sommer-I'm-going-to-kill-someone-this-is-life-and-death-it-will-happen-again-because-of-me-this-time the way I had been in 2002 and 2003.  "I've got you," Cindy would remind me.  "I'm right here."  When I returned home from that session Halloween afternoon, I wrote in my journal:  "It started raining as I was getting ready to meet Cindy, which added to my anxiety--I was almost nauseous before this lesson--but now I'm glad it was raining because it makes me feel that much braver and that much more accomplished.  Today changed things.  I can picture myself really driving after today.  It's going to happen this time, it really is."  I ended that journal entry by doodling a driver's license cake, 
and it would be a vision I would hold on to, some positive visualization of the celebratory cake I was determined to make the day I finally got my license.  And after this lesson, I treated myself to a small china bowl with pink roses I found at Goodwill, a twist on the pink roses tradition for this turning point in the process.  
In November, I had two more lessons, one being a review of parallel parking and the other my first official highway lesson during which I drove to the airport and back.  Cindy told me then that if I were to take my driver's exam that day, she thought I had a pretty good chance of passing it.  She would still want more time to do a mock driver's exam with me, but this was the first time she had mentioned my being even somewhat ready for the test.  Later that month, I dreamed that my older brother and I were in a car and I was driving us somewhere, and we were laughing and talking while I drove.  This is the first "driving dream" I'd ever had that wasn't a nightmare, and when I woke from it, I realized I wasn't afraid to drive anymore:  That stage of my life had ended. 

 My sixth lesson was December 19th and was, indeed, preparation for the exam.   (Gah!  I'm really doing this!)  And on December 21st, I decided to (be optimistic! and) go ahead and  schedule it.  Unlike in 2002, the Department of Motor Vehicles now has a road test-scheduling feature on their website--no more walking in and taking a number as I had before--so I was soon scheduled to take the exam the morning of January 6th.  I spent Christmas and New Year's sick with dread, although Cindy said I was ready now.  And finally, after four months of "sneaking around" and keeping all this a secret, I told Mike what I'd been up to.  I still didn't want to tell him, but Cindy had said that she was going to pick me up at 6 am--6 am!--the morning of my exam so that we could repeatedly run through the road test route and practice in the DMV's official parallel parking space--it is off-limits during business hours for anyone not taking the exam--before my test, and I couldn't come up with a "story" for why I would be leaving at 6 am, so I finally had to tell him the truth.  On January 3rd, I had my final lesson with Cindy--more test preparation--and I mentioned while we drove around the DMV lot that a storm was supposed to hit in the next few days.  "Ugh!" she groaned, then added, "Do you want to see if they'll just let you take your test today instead?  They might be able to squeeze you in."  I didn't like what I was wearing, though, and I knew that if I passed the test that day, that would be my outfit on my driver's license for the next few years, so I told her I'd wait for January 6th.  And then I laughed as I realized that if that was my reason for not wanting to take the exam, I really was finally ready for it.  :)  The city was hit with snow and ice the night before my exam, though, and in the wee hours of the morning, I texted Cindy to let her know I wanted to reschedule it.  I hadn't driven on snow or ice before, and the idea of doing so for the first time the day of my driver's exam didn't thrill me.  Later that day, I rescheduled my exam for 8:30 am January 27th, and I've spent the past few weeks alternating between nausea and panic and tears as the clock has counted down to Test Time.

 I got absolutely no sleep--not a single second--Monday night.  The city, like much of the northeast, was hit with a mess of snow, and Cindy had told me to let her know by 4:45 am at the latest whether I wanted to cancel or take the test.  All night, I wondered what I would decide.  At 4:02 yesterday morning, I sent her a text message:  "Unless you think the roads are too bad, I will try the test today."  I figured that even if I didn't pass the exam, at least I could consider it a driving-in-snow lesson.  (I had still never driven in snow.)  And Sommer's birthday was last week, and part of me wanted to do it this month for her, as a gift of sorts.  And I was just tired of having this dread hanging over my head since December 21st.  And a defiant damn-it-I'm-going-to-DO-this part of me had begun to burn:  I wanted it.  Wearing a locket with a favorite photo of me and Sommer inside, and carrying Dad's handmade fishing lure in my bag as a good luck charm, since he had been my first driving teacher, I woke Mike at 5:45 yesterday morning to tell him that Cindy was here and I was leaving.  "Hopefully, we'll be having a celebration cake tonight," I told him as we hugged goodbye. 
Although Cindy did not agree with me, the practice before the exam was horrible.  I messed up something every single time I tried to parallel park--and the parallel parking is what had thwarted my first two attempts to pass the test in 2002.  I repeatedly drove the route well, but I only managed to try to parallel park correctly over and over and over again right until 8:24 am when Cindy said I really needed to go inside to check in and start the test.  The man who would be my examiner asked me to sign my name at the check-in desk, and my hand was actually shaking.  Then my arms started shaking.  The examiner tried to joke with me--"That's a nice Irish name," he said sarcastically as he looked at my signature--but I was so nervous and nauseous, I could barely smile at him and was just trying not to cry.  I turned to Cindy and whispered, "Cindy, I'm SHAKING.  Even my ARMS.  What am I going to DO?"  She said I would be fine and tried to distract me by showing me some vacation photos on her phone, but I have rarely been as big of a mess as I was in the moments before the exam began.  I couldn't bring myself to make eye contact with Cindy again as the examiner and I headed outside, but Cindy told him as we walked past, "Val's good.  She is.  She's ready."  Cindy, Cindy, Cindy.  :)    The examiner walked out to the car with me and said that I could start the car and get situated for a second because he needed to walk down to the lot's parallel parking space to make sure the cones were set up properly and the space wasn't too messy from the snowstorm, since I was the first exam of the day.  While he checked out the space, I got myself sorted out in the car and prayed--and to Sommer specifically--for courage and calm.  I have to do this this time, please help me, I just have to do this, I need to pass this and get on with my life, I need this stage to be over, I need to pass this, please, PLEASE. . . .The examiner returned, and after he was done explaining a few things about the exam, I told him, "I'm almost forty years old, I hate being this nervous!"  He looked stunned and said that he hadn't realized that I was that nervous.  "You hide it really well," he added.  Ha!  (Cindy said later that he told her the same thing about me after the exam, while they were waiting for me to come back inside:  He wouldn't have known that I was nervous at all if I hadn't mentioned it.  To me, it was beyond obvious, but apparently not.)  And then, just like that, just like a switch had been flipped, all my nervousness went away, and I thought, I've got this.   It was like I could see the entire test and day before me--Val passing the exam, Val posing for elated pictures with Cindy after the exam, Val at the grocery store buying ingredients for her celebration cake after the exam--like it had already happened.  I've never felt such a strange and sudden calm. 

I demonstrated all the vehicle controls correctly, the examiner got into the car and asked me to use the horn and windshield wipers for the final part of the vehicle controls section of the exam, and then I backed up--dodging a snowplow driver who was a little too close to our car for comfort--and drove us down to the parallel parking space.  Before putting the car into reverse, I took a second to think through the steps, and then I did it.  I just did it, as smoothly as an expert driver in a driver education video.  I just did it.  I asked the examiner if he wanted me to apply the parking brake "just to be official," and he said no, and then he added, "I actually just want to sit here and savor this a minute because I know I'm not going to see anyone else do as good of a job parallel parking the rest of the day."  ! ! ! ! ! ! !    I calmly thanked him--although I felt like cheering and giddily clapping my hands--and off we went for the road test part of the exam.  Part of the route was a snowy and somewhat slippery hill, now in even worse shape than when I had practiced on it with Cindy just minutes earlier, but I controlled the car well, and the examiner complimented me on that too.  "As long as YOU know that I've come to a full stop here. . ." I said at two different stop signs, "But I'm going to have to inch forward a bit.  I can't see anything."  As if the examiner didn't understand how to drive and wouldn't have comprehended such amazingly advanced skills.  ;)  But I wanted to make sure that he knew that I knew. . . since he had warned me before the exam that he is a "stickler for stop signs."  "Of course," he replied both times.  "You do whatever you need to do to drive safely, especially in these conditions."  While waiting for traffic to clear at another point so I could make a left turn, another driver flashed his lights to signal that he was letting me go, and when the the examiner saw that, he quietly said, "Oh, NICE."  :)  He was mild-mannered and quiet and the perfect fit for me for the exam.  'Back onto the main road, and thank God, no icy patches on it--just snow and slush.  Before I knew it, I was pulling back into the DMV lot and parking the car.  The  exam was over.  And after twenty years of being terrified of all things driving-related, I was told that I had passed my test and could go inside to get my picture taken for my license.  
On no sleep, in the city, and on my first day ever driving on snow, I got my driver's license.   
Click to enlarge.  :) 
 The examiner talked with me for a minute, answered a couple of my driving questions--I asked him what advice he had for me as a new driver--congratulated me, and went back inside to start the next person's exam.  As soon as he left, I got out and went to the back seat for my bag--letting in a bunch of swirling snow when I opened the door--and took a second to reach inside and grab my phone to send a quick text message to Mike.  Without waiting for a response, I zipped up my bag, locked the car, and turned around to see Cindy waiting for me outside the DMV's door.  "Can you BELIEVE it?!"  I cried out, then really started to cry.  "Yes, I CAN!" she replied, and we hugged before I headed over to the counter have my picture taken.  And it is, like most driver's license photos, a hideous picture of me that looks nothing like any of the other pictures taken of me yesterday.  :)  But it's my DRIVER'S LICENSE picture, so how could I complain?!  
 My examiner kindly took a couple pictures of me with Cindy before he began the next person's test,
and when Cindy and I got back into the car, I pulled out a couple thank you gifts I had made for her:  A vintage car-shaped planter with a Hyacinth bulb inside, 
 and a card I'd drawn to look like a license plate.  
On the way home, Cindy said that maybe it was Sommer who had "magically" calmed me down as the exam began, and I have to agree.  She also admitted that while she had believed I would be fine and would pass the exam, she had also been really nervous for me (with my trembling hands and arms) right before it:  "I've been doing this so long, I don't really get nervous anymore when my students take their tests, but I was almost SICK over you!" she told me, and we laughed over her "You make me sick, Val!" for awhile.  After more picture-taking and some goodbye-hugging, Cindy dropped me off, and I soon found myself in the grocery store, just as I'd envisioned, buying ingredients for my celebratory cake--this one is a Hershey's recipe actually named Celebration Chocolate Cake.  I couldn't stop sneaking peaks at my driver's license--"my driver's license," I just wrote!  I have a driver's license!  --as I walked around the store.
Back at the apartment, I immediately called my dad.    I mentioned his good luck fishing lure, of course.  And I sent messages to my brothers and their wives.  My secret was now out! I answered text messages and phone calls and emails as I baked my cake, crying again as I reread that first message I'd sent to Mike right after the exam.
Oh, life is so sweet some days.  So perfect and down-to-the-last-detail SWEET.    After all three cake layers were out of the oven, I took an hour-long nap--my first sleep in twenty-nine hours---and woke to a congratulatory phone call from my mom after she'd gotten home from work.  She couldn't believe I'd kept it a secret, and for so long, and that even Mike hadn't known until I scheduled the exam.  She sounded just as shocked by my accomplishment when we said goodbye as she had when we'd said hello.  :)  She doesn't even drive in the snow, so she was really quite stunned by all the story's details.  :)
And finally, after supper last night--Mike ordered an extra-cheese pizza with mushrooms, my favorite--I got to enjoy the cake I'd begun drawing sketches of months before.  Positive visualization at its finest.    To complete the roses tradition, I used the pink roses tablecloth I'd been saving for this occasion.  And was in bed by 9 pm, for the best sleep I've gotten since before I'd scheduled the exam last month.  :)  Ahhhhh!  I did it!  Six days after Sommer's birthday and with just five weeks remaining before the twenty-year mark of her death, I did it!  Mike and I don't have a car--we can walk or take the bus to everything we need in the city--so for now, the driver's license is more a symbolic gesture and an accomplishment than it is everyday joy rides, but I told Cindy I would continue to schedule sessions with her just to get more/regular driving practice, and sometime this spring or summer, I want to rent a car and drive home to my family for the first time.  One step at a time.  Today, I'm still basking in the accomplishment, marveling at yesterday's sudden serenity, and looking forward to another piece of my cake.    I did it!  

Saturday, January 17, 2015

A Day of Rest

 Finally, a day off after an aggravating work-week.  Strawberries and red grapes for breakfast.  A chicken Caesar salad for lunch.  I started Patti Smith's memoir, Just Kids, this afternoon.  Beautiful writing.  And a beautiful cat stretched out on my legs while I read.  Leftover chili for supper.  And now, a big bowl of popcorn on my afghan-covered lap while I return to my book.  Bliss!  One of my favorite professors in college always wrapped up his Friday afternoon classes by advising us to have either a productive or relaxing weekend, whichever it was that we most-needed.  I think of that advice on evenings like this, when I look back on my day and its hours of reading, cat-cuddling, and catching up while Mike reads in his own chair beside me. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

My Dream Braided Rug (or Bargaining FAIL)

Click to enlarge. 
While Mike watches football tonight, I've escaped to the bedroom to glue all the magazine clippings I've saved lately--mostly decorating ideas, some outfits, some quotes, a few recipes, some home/life tips--into my inspiration scrapbooks.  In tonight's pile of saved clippings is this page I printed and mailed to my mom in the summer of 2010.  I had found--well, seen--my dream rug on eBay and saved the seller's photos to show her.  If you click the above photo, you'll better understand my heartache at not being able to "Buy It Now" this rug.  Ah!  It is perfect for me--and a whopping 10' around so is the perfect size for under my table.    Mom had saved this page with some of her mail and gave it back to me when I was home in November.  Seeing the rug photos again makes me swoon, and rereading my note now makes me laugh. 
The eBay seller had listed a "Buy It Now" price of $850 plus shipping costs, but had set up the auction so it began at nothing and included the "Make me an offer" option.  I thought I would be crafty--I thought I actually had a SHOT at this gorgeous rug (poor naive little Val)--so I made an offer of forty dollars, thinking that the seller would say (s)he couldn't go lower than $250 or so, I'd make a counter-offer of $100, we'd settle on $150 or $200--prices that struck me as fair--and I'd ride off into the sunset on my magic rug.  I was already imagining the rug under my round gingham tablecloth-covered table,  Stuffed curled up in all his black and white glory on the colorful braids, patchwork cushions on the chairs, red Geraniums as a table centerpiece, and Holly Hobbie herself eating her heart out over this perfect, perfect rug.  On this wave of braided bliss, I confidently submitted my offer of $40.  The seller pulled my magic rug out from under me when (s)he wrote back, just seconds later, "I think you meant to add another zero to that."
My heart!  It's so silly--we're talking about a RUG, just a rug--but it still hurts.  The seller expected a STARTING offer of $400?!  Gah!  And why sellers don't just start the bidding at whatever they deem the lowest acceptable price to be instead of using the vague "Make-me-an-offer" tactic, I don't know.  I'd have never gotten my hopes up if I'd known the bidding was to start so high.  My heart, my heart!  I watched the eBay listing each day hoping that maybe the seller would lower the "Buy It Now" price or put it on sale at some point, since I couldn't imagine anyone would bid on this beautiful rug at those prices anyway, but--no.  Once when I checked it, the auction was updated as having sold--to a buyer who had simply bought it for the full "Buy It Now" price of $850 plus shipping.  And to think I had made a starting bid of $40!  Ha!  And moreover:  Someone out there has this sweet rug!  Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh.  I hope it is well-loved and is admired every day, I hope there is a cat or dog cozily curled-up and napping on it right this minute, and I hope I myself find another just like it someday.  If I had enough space to work on one, I might, but I also wonder if, if I even had the work-space, by the time I'd buy enough materials to make a rug this size, if it wouldn't add up to a lot more than I'd want to spend on just one item anyway.  I don't know.  In the meantime, I keep the photos and my note in one of my inspiration scrapbooks and hope for "someday."  And I think:  Forty dollars!?!  HA!  Val, Val, Val.  :)

Friday, January 9, 2015

In-Bloom

The Hyacinth is almost in full-bloom now, exactly a week since I brought it home from the grocery store, and I keep thinking as I admire it--pausing for a long sniff of the flowers every time I walk past the mantel--that I should start giving out single bulbs in forcing vases as holiday gifts, as this has brightened the past week so much.  My older brother used to give pots of Amaryllis as Christmas presents.  Collecting the vases and selecting the bulbs would be a sweet little project this year. 


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Brighter Days and French Breads

"The shortest day has passed, 
and whatever nastiness of weather 
we may look forward to in January and February, 
 at least we notice that the days are getting longer.  
Minute by minute they lengthen out.  
It takes some weeks before we become aware of the change.  
It is imperceptible even as the growth of a child, 
as you watch it day by day, 
 until the moment comes when with a start of delighted surprise 
we realize that we can stay out of doors 
in a twilight lasting for another quarter of a precious hour."
~  Vita Sackville-West, 
December 30th, 1956
I love that passage.  Right now at five-o'clock, it is still light out.  I'm not minding January this year.  Some years, as they say, are better than others.  Last year, almost everything about the month got on my nerves, or so I remember it.  This January finds me feeling hopeful and cozy.  Three loaves of Glenda's French bread are in the middle of their second rise and will soon be placed in the oven to go with tonight's supper--it feels like a soup and bread night here--so the scents of yeast and flour are in the air.  Love.  The last time I made French bread, it was 2001 and I had just turned twenty-four.  I used my grandmother's recipe and ended up with ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! dozens?! of small and almost-inedible loaves.  Grandma had died just a few weeks before and I tried to honor her by making her bread for a family dinner.  Bad, brokenhearted timing, and after hours of kneading, punching-down, forming loaves, and baking:  Bad, brokenhearted bread too.  I trust that tonight's loaves will be better.   The smell of homemade bread, in all the bread's stages, always takes me back to my grandparents' kitchen outside of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.  Just before sliding her loaves into the oven, Grandma would slice a small X into the top of each one.  One Baking Day while I was staying with at my grandparents' house, I decided to add the finishing touch of a letter V to each of the loaves, and Grandma was first perplexed and then amused.  Few things taste as good as fresh bread with butter, and the smell of the loaves instantly transports me back to Grandma's apron-covered side.  It is always--likely forever and always--almost impossible to believe that if I went to my grandparents' house at any given moment, that I wouldn't find them there.  Surely, Grandma is nodding off a bit in her armchair right now as I write this and thinking every time she wakes that she really needs to get up and put together a little supper for her and Papa.  Surely, Papa keeps walking from the back porch to check the thermometer to the kitchen to look out the window at the snow.  If I called right now, I would wake Grandma from her catnap, but she would be tickled to hear from me, and we would want to hear that the other was staying warm and would ask what the other was making for supper.  She would tell me what she and Papa might watch on television that evening--usually a nature program--and would mention that Papa would be walking down to the post office in the morning to mail her next letter to me.  I would tell her that I'm taking down the Christmas tree tonight and that Stuffed has been stretched out like a piece of gum along the bedroom radiator all day.  We would say "I love you" before hanging up and soon we would both settle down to our simple meals of homemade soup and French bread.  

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

January Hearts

It is 13° outside and feels like -4°, according to the weather reports, but I forced myself out for a short walk this afternoon anyway.  I'm sure it did me good, but the wind is beastly, and by the time I returned home, I felt like a cartoon character in need of an anvil-hit to thaw myself.  It was freezing here last year at this time, too, though, and there is an odd comfort in seeing that.  Here we are again, one week into January.