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Blog Post, The Last

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“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.” -Frank Herbert
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Dear Friends,

Three and a half years ago I started this blog. It was a creative outlet during a time when I was very much home-bound tending to the care of my father, and feeling very much the need to give expression to the stew-pot of random thoughts and observations simmering inside of me. Once again in my childhood home, surrounded on every side by things that reminded me of my youth and the familial happiness I had always enjoyed, I found I had a new, more experienced perspective  from which to  interpret the past.  Once again I walked the neighborhood frequently. (I used to walk this neighborhood by necessity, to get to school, to visit friends, or to go to the store, but since returning I have walked mostly to add variety to my days, and for my health.)

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As I walked, I couldn’t help but feel the past and present mesh into a finger-painted blur. The most interesting observation resulting from this fusing of times was that everything that was old was new, and everything that appeared new was shaped by the old. Once, there were orange and lemon groves skirting the foothills on the north end of town, now there are big, expensive homes that have stealthily crept up the mountainside. The homes in our more workaday neighborhood have remained the same, yet have become different, having undergone updates, remodeling, drought-tolerant landscaping, or having been worn down by time and neglect.  Still, basically, they are the same homes, roosting like hens on their nests waiting for something new to hatch out from under, within, or around them.

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One walk took me onto the premises of my old elementary school. Peering through the windows of the first classroom I attended at that school produced mixed emotions—the once tidy, orderly classroom with the honey-colored wooden shelves and cabinets housing fresh manila paper and stacks of sack lunches, had become cluttered and tacky with too much “stuff” covering the walls, windows, counters, and floors. The large picture windows on one end of the room, once brightly beckoning weary brains to recess, had been blocked at the lower levels so students, I supposed, couldn’t see out, or daydream, forcing Light, the literal Revealer of Knowledge, to diminish. Surely the school wasn’t perfect when I was there, but I turned away from that window feeling melancholy at the loss of something that was once unspoiled. Also gone was the old-fashioned playground equipment from my past: the extinct teeter-totters, the variegated metal rings and the uneven bars that all the girls of my generation had used to test out (and show off) their athletic prowess. The school still stood, was still in use, but it was changed and affected by the times.

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Our neighborhood park has often been incorporated into my walks. It, too, at first glance, appeared to be what it once was, but the trees have grown tall, or have been removed, old playground apparatus’ have disappeared, the rec center is now a day-care, and scores of soccer players now populate the lawns. When I was a child, the park, like the housing development, was brand new, the trees—but saplings back then—provided little to no shelter from the sun. The park has since become an oasis of shade, a welcome stop for grandchildren to climb trees and scramble over the playground, letting off pent-up energy from being indoors.

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The city center, once a cute, small-town “village” still has a reputation as such, but up-scaling has produced higher-priced, fancy restaurants, haute couture clothing stores, and a library that was once a quaint, little gem transformed into a ziggurat-ish eyesore. Still, much of the old has been preserved in town, and, for the most part, it retains its charm and attraction, for which I’m grateful, and very fond.

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Neighbors have come and gone, too. Mostly, they have gone. Besides me, those directly across the street are the only ones left from the “olden days.” They’ve been in their home almost as long as our family has occupied ours—over fifty years. They are both now eighty-five, and tend their front lawn with tender loving care and a fine-tooth comb. (It was only this summer they finally broke down and hired a gardener.) It’s comforting to see their familiar faces, and to share produce and jam, as well as watch over each other’s homes during vacations. They are like the pepper trees lining the street, rooted to the neighborhood, providing the kind of constancy that shades and protects that which is cherished. But I know even they will not last forever. Things change. Time slips by in unintelligible increments, quietly amassing into years filled with subtle change.

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I have often written about change in my blog, and here I am writing about it again, one last time. A year ago, my dear father passed away. The reasons that writing a blog were so appealing to me at the time I began this blog have become moot. A time for reminiscing has transformed into a time for wiping the slate clean, so to speak. That’s not what I’m really doing, of course, but it feels like it. It feels like I’m in process of taking down, ripping apart, discarding, or throwing away almost every remaining vestige of my childhood and former life, and of the lives of my parents, kissing them all a tender good-bye. Today, I went through another closet. My father’s old corduroy jacket was buried in a sack of old sweaters. I pulled it out, smelled it, and hugged it for a long time, weeping over the loss of my dear parents.  I took it into his old closet and hung it up. It won’t stay there, because going through the things in that closet are also on my have-to-do list. I have to do this—there is no one else who can. It is my lot, and I must face it, and carry the weight of it.

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Before long, the house will be sold. But first, it will have to undergo even more change—a face lift. Nearly everything in the house is original, except the carpet. The linoleum tiles can be picked up and moved around like puzzle pieces (the glue wore off long ago). The wood cabinets are thread-bare and tired. They cry out for me to put them out to pasture. The yards, too, have suffered great neglect during the last two years of my father’s demise, and the decade-long drought that beset California until this past winter.  Yes, the house must undergo change. It’s gray hairs are showing, just like mine. I miss the days of dark-haired youth, but there is no holding back time or the tide. We all ride the great gushing wave of eternity, and there’s no getting off. My own mortality beckons to me frankly, and it’s okay. I am not afraid of what lies ahead and beyond.

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But there is an overwhelming sense of so much to do. Will I ever finish? Does anyone ever finish? My parents didn’t. Each left projects undone, words unwritten, music not played. As I wade through receipts that are a half-century old, old negatives, artwork, books, clothing, letters, photographs, stamp collections, family history work, and endless, heart-strung memories, I find much of my parents’ life work in a state of suspended animation. I think “finishing” is a false idea, a foolish notion. We come to the great Finishing School of Earth without the slightest notion of finishing, of becoming fully polished and ready to enter the vast gates of eternity, though we may work toward it all our days. We struggle with human frailty, with ambition, or lack thereof, with responsibilities, fears, and trials. We grasp for every moment of joy life affords, and relish time with loved ones, friends, and the beauty of the earth. We study hard and take exams, we marry, and rear children, we gather the sheaves of the depth and beauty of life into the garners of memory to cherish in our old age. We wrestle with aging bodies, health, and dementia, and watch our beloved, aging parents become as children, needing their children to “parent” and assist them as they exit this life. They welcome and parent us into life, and we bid farewell and parent them out of this life. It is a circle. We are an intrinsic part of that circle. It will all happen again. As I sift through the relics of their lives, having to part with most of it, I wonder if I will have time to complete those things I have longed to accomplish. Simple things, like writing my personal history for my posterity, and spending time with and knowing each precious grandchild and great-grandchild intimately—having a relationship that will outlast time. Those relationships are the things that endure, that stay in the innermost pockets of the heart, and that are valued throughout eternity. Nothing can take that away from those who nurture those relationships. Not even time.

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And so, I have come to the point where I realize I have little left to write of in my blog, at least right now. I can’t think about it anymore. I must move on, finish, if possible, reliving my parents’ lives as I go through what they left behind, and attempt to finish what is left to live of my own life (and I hope there are decades-worth left). My mind and heart are beset with the sheer volume of stuff, the monumental size of the task, and the overwhelming sense of a book that has turned its last leaf and is winding down towards an unending finish. It is at this point I find I must also end my blog, at least for now.

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“A Random Harvest” has been therapeutic for me. It allowed me to reach out and interact with others without leaving my father or the house. It allowed me to ponder upon my past and to share the blessings of life that my husband and I have enjoyed, (alone and together), to muse on the beauty and poetry of life, and to observe with friends the interesting little inconsistencies, the absurd, the delightful, and the profound aspects of life. Whenever someone—someone known to me, and someone I did not know—responded with a comment to my little offerings, I felt a greater extension of the brotherhood and sisterhood we all share with one another. I hope you felt it, too.

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Mine are just little scribbling symbols of random, haphazard thoughts and ideas. But I have felt such gratitude and such unity as I have learned that others have felt much the same. How can I ever thank you for reading my obscure, little blog? For holding my hand, as we’ve walked this small byway on the path of life together? When I have looked at the stats page on my blog, I have been amazed at the people from around the globe who have—I’m not sure how—happened upon and read my humble thoughts. I find that absolutely unfathomable. But I am humbled and fascinated by it every time!

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I love Emily Dickinson’s poem about books– “The Frugal Frigate”–one of my favorites:

There is no Frigate like a Book 

To take us Lands away 

Nor any Coursers like a Page 

Of prancing Poetry – 

This Traverse may the poorest take 

Without oppress of Toll – 

How frugal is the Chariot 

That bears the Human Soul –

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In many ways, I feel similar sentiments about this blog. For me it has been a frigate—a chariot—bearing away my human soul, traversing lands, and ideas, and hearts, without oppress of toll. I have connected with others who share my love of all things good and virtuous. This makes me happy. There is a lot of good in the world! I’m so grateful!

 

So this will be my last blog post as “A Random Harvest,” at least for a while—maybe forever.  I am allowing it to enter into a state of suspended animation. At some later date, if a desire has not rekindled to post again, I will retire it into the annals of things of the past. Like my childhood home, my blog has run its course. Both have brought me joy, and I have learned and grown because of them. I hope it has been one small pinprick of light and joy for you, as well. I will miss it. I will miss you.

 

I declare to you my faith in a loving Heavenly Father, and His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, the “Author and Finisher of [my] faith,”(Hebrews 12:2) and the Holy Ghost. They are the hub around which my life revolves, and the balance that keeps me sane and happy. It is through Them that all sad endings, and supposed “unfinished symphonies” of life may be transformed into eternal joy and sublime fulfillment. I share my gratitude for a supportive and loving husband, Brad, (who has good-naturedly allowed me to feature him in my blog from time to time). I also share my love of family and friends, for there is nothing that brings greater joy while traversing this expanse of time on earth. I thank you for your comments, for your interest, and as always….

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….from the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.

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©September 22, 2017

*Note: All these beautiful book covers are public domain images.

+Featured Image: “Destiny” by John William Waterhouse (one of my favorites)

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Stepping Out

Jordan Pond House and Hike around the Pond (5)

Stepping out with friends Monica and Susan in the beautiful state of Maine!

Blog Post #50 Thursday

I very seldom travel. I forgot how.

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I guess that’s an exaggeration, but not by much. I used to get in the car at 6 AM, drive straight through and pull up in front of my parents’ home sixteen hours later having covered exactly 1,000 miles from my door to theirs.  I could do this virtually blindfolded. I had my gas station stops timed to within minutes. After pumping my gas, and squeegeeing off the mashed bugs who should have known better than to hitch a ride on my windshield, I greeted with the same fondness reserved for old friends the clean bathroom stalls that bade me rest a moment, and bathe my hands, arms and face in cool, clean sink water. Each towering mountain, the heat-scorched desert, the acres and acres of pastureland, and the seemingly endless road stretching down that long, one-point perspective to the horizon were as familiar as my own backyard. I’d lost count how many times my family and I had made that same trip. It was second nature to us—like kids riding bikes around the neighborhood.

But the past few years I’ve stuck like a leech close to home, draining the lifeblood of travel out of my soul, but with good reason. I had an aging father who needed me. As time passed, he needed more time and attention, and I became more sedentary as a result, and less and less mobile. The time came when he needed constant attention. My husband Brad and I played musical chairs at his side. Sometimes, after work, Brad would relieve me so I could run an errand or visit a friend. These activities were mostly local, and were mostly brief. After a while, even short trips to the grocery store became a nuisance. For the most part, I was content to be home.

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Brad and me sitting in my usual spot. You can see my dear father resting in his chair in the background. (2016)

I’ve always been a homebody. It’s in my nature and always has been. I’m a snail, loving home so much I carry it with me wherever I go. If I walk out the door, a bag of “stuff” goes with me (books, sketchpad, writing paper, pencils, extra clothes, sweaters, snacks—just stuff). I keep a backpack of stuff in the car for emergencies, too. No matter that I’ve yet to use the roll of toilet paper, toothbrush, stash of outdated food and stale granola bars, bottles of hot, stagnant water, flashlight (with extra batteries), first aid supplies, deck of cards, and a plethora of other necessary items from home stowed inside. I might need them, and so the pack continues to occupy its spot in my trunk until … well, forever. (I have plans to rotate the food…one of these days.)

Of course, it’s hard to need these kinds of items on a trip when you don’t go anywhere.

My dear father passed away a year and three days ago. Even after he was gone, I found my desire to go out almost nil. The fact was I had spent so much time sitting quietly at his side, I not only didn’t much care to go out, I didn’t realize I could go out; I had, in fact, forgotten this was a possibility. It didn’t occur to me to walk out the door. I had forgotten there was one. Yes, I saw it. I opened and closed it occasionally. I knew it was useful in admitting others, but the idea of using it as a portal to other places had completely escaped me.

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Our front door…the one I wasn’t using to go anywhere

It took time, but eventually, I found that there was a life for me outside of the house. I could go for a walk. I could run to the store—on a whim, if I wanted to! I could visit family and friends in neighboring towns while Brad was at work. I could do these things! But I still found myself somewhat paralyzed at home. Not because I was afraid to go out, but just because I was out of practice. It took a year to really understand just how much freedom to move I actually had.

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Then, one day, a trip that I’d been talking about for years and years with friends Monica and Susan resurfaced, like the boulders that grow in the town where I live. You think they’re gone because these rocks are out of sight—undisturbed and forgotten. Then, you do just the tiniest bit of digging, and there they are, sitting above the ground before you: hard, unmoving, eternal. The question of this trip was a boulder buried deep in the ground of my “never will dos.” For the first time in all the years we’ve contemplated this trip (I’m talking decades, here) I found that I had no reason in the world why I couldn’t go. For the first time EVER, the kids were all grown, I was not tied to a job, I had the needed funds, and I was free to come and go. I could go, if I wanted to. And I did want to. It was time. And so Monica and I got online at the same time and bought airfare to the other side of the galaxy! Well, that is an exaggeration. But for all the traveling I had done, or rather, hadn’t done, we might as well have booked flights to Jupiter! I have to admit I was a bit anxious about making this trip. We were going as far from Southern California as was possible while staying in the Continental United States. We were going to a remote little log cabin in the middle of Maine! For someone who, in the past two years had barely walked out the front door, this was galactic.

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Susan’s beautiful home in Maine (Photo by Monica Wilson)

Weeks before the trip I belabored my poor friends with questions. Would I need a raincoat? An umbrella? What kinds of shoes should I bring? (Water sandals!?) What in the world are those? (Yes, I live in a cocoon.) Will it be hot? Will it be cold? Did you say mosquitoes?! What would I like to do there? Bar Harbor? (Yes, I’ve heard of that. In Summer Magic, Hayley Mills’ on screen cousin, Debra Walley, said, “Well, if you must have Maine, why not Bar Harbor?” That was the extent of my knowledge about Maine, and Bar Harbor.) Sure, Bar Harbor sounds great! Acadia? Why not? Lighthouses? How quaint, yes! Cute little coastal towns? Absolutely! And so it went…plans were made, and I collected stuff from home to drag along with me…including my pillow, and a smaller pillow I call my “knee pillow.” Have to have my pillows. Can’t go away from home without that part of home with me! Oh yes, Monica, it’ll all fit in my carry-on. You’ll see!

 

Me searching for sea glass on the sand bar for which Bar Harbor was named, and other pictures of that beautiful area (Photo by Monica Wilson)

 

After the restful night’s sleep I did NOT get, before our flight departed LAX at the delightfully early hour of 6:30 AM, (did I say delightfully? Whoops! Big typo. I meant to write frightfully), I awoke at 3:00 AM, leaving my house at 3:45 for Monica’s. One barely recognizes Southern California at 3:45 in the morning. I zipped over those highways like a marble down a slide, since no one else in their right mind was on the freeway at that absurd hour! From Monica’s house, Monica’s husband, Jeff, graciously agreed to drive us to the airport, depositing us at our gate an hour and a half early for our flight to Newark. (There are no direct flights into Bangor.) Los Angeles Airport was jam-packed with traffic and travelers. Apparently, every other car we had met on the road during the middle of the night was also on its way to the airport, because the traffic we had managed to escape culminated in a massive jam-up in LAX’s terminal queue.

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Yes, this! Only imagine this in the middle of the night!

Once in the terminal, we easily found our way to the gate, which was undergoing construction—the only place in the airport without AC. (We counted our lucky stars that we were there at 5:30 AM instead of in the heat of the day.) Our seats were about two-thirds of the way back in an enormous plane. When cattle call was announced, true to form, the thundering herds stirred, and plodded through the cattle guards in two ponderous lines (corralled down from four lines) cramming to get on board. Flight wranglers with strained smiles herded passengers into two long rows onto the plane. If your seat was on the opposite side of the plane from the row you found yourself in, you had to merge into a bottleneck of cross “traffic” to get into the right row. (If we thought we’d missed the traffic on our way to the airport that morning, it definitely caught up with us on the plane.) At any moment, I expected to hear one of the wranglers burst out with,

music-note-clip-art-music-note-clipart-3 “Whoop-ee-ti-yi-o, get along little doggies, It’s your misfortune and none of my own….”

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Here we are, being herded into the plane along with the other passengers. (Photo by Michelle Floyd / Arizona Sonora News)

I felt sheepish as Monica scrutinized my carry-on, knowing I’d packed half my house, and my two pillows within. When she heard I was packing my pillows, she decided to check a larger bag in order to take her pillow along, as well, but alas, her pillow didn’t fit. I assured her my pillow was made of down, and squished way down into a tiny, compact bundle. (A good reason to call it “down.”) Still, my bag was so stuffed, if bumped just right, I’m pretty sure it would have exploded. I also had a (soggy) un-squished Subway sandwich for our lunch, my raincoat, a sweatshirt in case I got cold on the plane (I did), a pair of shoes, my purse, a quart baggie of toiletry items, and reading material to last a decade among other things stowed in a backpack (which was categorized as a “personal item.” This, too, might have popped open if pressured.

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Me with my “personal item” backpack–stuffed full (this is on another plane later in the day)  (Photo by Monica Wilson)

 

At last, we got settled into our seats, and waited till the cows came home, but the plane wasn’t taking off. After quite some time, a man with a backpack moseyed up the aisle from the back and exited the plane. More waiting. Finally, a distinctly blurry voice came over the loudspeaker saying that the passenger who exited was sick and wasn’t going on the flight. More waiting to take off. (We presumed the wait was because they had to untangle and retrieve the man’s suitcase from the cargo bay.) Monica suggested comforting thoughts like, “He easily could have left something behind on the plane—did they do a thorough search? They really should have everyone get off the plane and check!” At first, these ideas were lost on my untraveled, not-so-savvy pea brain. I was thinking that if he left something, he’d just have to do without! It wasn’t until we arrived in Newark that the gist of what she was suggesting sunk-in and lodged in my psyche—anchoring there, while collecting barnacles of unsettling ideas to fester.

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A starfish savvy seagull on the sand bar at Bar Harbor (Photo by Monica Wilson)

 

As I said, the plane was enormous, second only to the Spruce Goose in girth and length. Seats were eight across, grouped in twos by the windows and four abreast in the middle. We occupied two in the middle section, with me on an end and Monica in the middle seated next to a boy and his father. Monica, with her quick powers of observation noted the boy was not only reading, but reading a book written in French! When the boy’s father got up to use the lavatory, Monica seized the opportunity to find out more about the boy. He readily engaged in conversation, speaking in English with that conspicuously French accent that makes the speaker appear to be gargling as he speaks, or in desperate need of clearing his throat. He was from Paris, and had a distinctly Parisian look—you know, something about the eyes, nose and mouth. He and his father had been sightseeing all over the west—Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, the Bay area to name a few. In a few weeks, those two had covered more territory than the Millennium Falcon traveling at light speed, and he had a collection of photographs exceeding that of the Smithsonian to prove it. Again, at light speed, he scrolled through a plethora of pictures on his iPad stopping on a dime at his favorites. Personally, I found it hard to distinguish one picture from another. Every picture looked like frames in an epic roll of movie film. He seemed a very nice young man, and mature for his twelve years, judging from the way he so ably and amiably communicated with Monica.

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Once in Newark, we had a connecting flight to catch, but again we had to wait for the thundering herds to exit the plane. It was about as organized as a riot—people trampling over themselves and jostling into each other to make their next flights. As soon as we got off the ramp, I told a flight attendant at the gate that we needed to get to such-and-such a gate in a matter of minutes. She told us to go to a different gate where a bus would take us to our departing flight. We threw wistful glances at the women’s restrooms as we passed like speeding bullets, and hustled through the airport to said gate (I, with my stuffed carry-on and overstuffed backpack, moved like a pack-mule on steroids). Just as we arrived at the gate, a door opened to the outside where, down a flight of stairs, a bus was waiting. My carry-on thumped and thudded as I wrestled it down the stairs, (worrying it might strike the edge of the step and the contents pop open like a tube of Pillsbury rolls), and we scurried onto the bus. We were driven at a moderate speed over the tarmac skirting the terminal to the backdoor of our flight’s gate. Exhaling our thanks to the driver, I manhandled my lead-filled bags into submission out the door, and we hustled up the stairs and into line for the last leg of our flight to Bangor, all just in the nick of time.

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This is the tiny plane we flew on from Newark to Bangor.

We were dismayed to see a toy plane parked at the gate! My carry-on was deemed too large for the toy-sized cargo bins, and swept away from me as if by magic. I was promised its quick return upon arrival in Bangor. As we entered the aircraft, Monica and I cast surprised sideways glances at each other, noting the half-dozen individuals sitting in a line of single seats (one seat per row) to our right, before the plane opened up into a large cracker box having divided rows with two seats opposite the single-seated passengers. I was seated on the aisle seat in our row, Monica by the window. I could just as easily see out the window belonging to the passenger across the aisle as I could through Monica’s, and with less inconvenience to her. Our flight attendant was a jolly sort—very casual compared to the strictly business, cattle rustler attitudes of the attendants on the first flight.

 

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Maine from the plane window. Absolutely beautiful!  (Photo by Monica Wilson)

Thunderstorms had been predicted, but thankfully they did not materialize. (A literal answer to my prayers.) The flight was uneventful, quiet, and quick. We watched out both windows, sometimes Monica’s, sometimes the one belonging to the young man sitting across from me (who was from Maine and was eager to get home), to see a panorama of green unfold beneath us. Small, cleared patches of land appeared from time to time into which a house was tucked as if on a Monopoly board. Large, blue lakes (which we later learned were called ponds) dotted the landscape in abundance.  We thrilled to think that soon we would be on the ground and traversing the wonderland of lush green beauty, the quaint coastal towns, and the captivating wilderness of the state of Maine! We landed in Bangor just less than an hour later. We waited quite some time immediately outside the plane on the passenger boarding bridge with two or three other passengers for our carry-ons to be retrieved. The official said they were extremely busy in Bangor that day, having two planes on the ground at the same time! (Monica concealed a big city snicker when she heard this remark.) Finally, we were in the terminal, heaving a sigh of comfortable relief at the small, quiet, empty airport, and, more particularly, at the sight of the quiet, empty, clean woman’s restroom just a few feet away.

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Monica and me at the Bangor Airport

We had a wonderful visit with Susan, her partner Steve, their cat, nine Husky sled dogs, flittering lightning bugs, bunnies, foxes, deer, and other abundant wildlife, lush greenness, a sky full of twinkling stars, the hope of seeing a moose, canoeing on the glassy pond by their house, hiking, sight-seeing, eating great food, attending the theater, watching lobster boats, walking breakwaters, visiting lighthouses and quaint little coastal towns, visiting national and state parks, and talking about anything and everything. The time sped by.

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Susan, me, and Monica walking the mile-long breakwater to Rockland Lighthouse

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Rockland Light  (Photo by Monica Wilson)

 

Jordan Pond House and Hike around Jordan Pond (3)

Bouldering on the trail skirting Jordan Pond in Acadia National Park (that’s me)  (Photo by Monica Wilson)

 

 

Canoeing on Whetstone Pond (10)

Lobster boat and trappings in Bar Harbor (top)    Susan teaching me to row a canoe on the pond near her home (directly above)  (Photos by Monica Wilson)

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Some of the summer “camps” along the Pond  (Photo by Monica Wilson)

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Susan and Monica portaging the canoe after our ride

I bought the very thinnest souvenirs I could find to bring home to my family. Even so, they wouldn’t all fit in my carry-on, even though I squished my pillow down to a fraction of its normal suitcase size. Monica graciously offered space in her large checked bag for my overflow, and we returned home happy as clams to have made this wonderful trip together! (I’ll spare you the details of the flights home.)

 

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(Top) Lakeshore House Cafe and dock, (directly above) Monica so wished to see a moose, but we did see moose signs!  (Photos by Monica Wilson)

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Some of the beautiful scenery near Susan’s home  

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These wild roses smelled like cloves! De-lish!

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Monica kicking back at Lakeshore House Cafe

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Susan and Monica in the quaint seaside town of Camden

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Three crazy ladies who went to see “Those Crazy Ladies In the House on the Corner” at Lakewood Theater in Madison

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Susan, Steve, me, and Monica inside Lakewood Theater

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Our last evening together at Susan’s house in Maine

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Post Script. So now I’ve learned I can leave the house. I can go places and do things again. I learned that the “never will dos” are a figment of my imagination, and that I can do if I just open the door and walk out of it. On a par with the travel kind of doing is traveling outside of my little world via writing my blog. I have only written three blog posts this entire year besides this one. I’m hoping that as the fog in my brain clears as to stepping out, I will step out onto the page more often as well.

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© August 4, 2017

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.


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In Search of a More Normal “Normal”

Blog Post #36

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nor·mal

ˈnôrməl/

adjective

1.conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.

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What do you consider to be “normal?”

People talk of leading a “normal life,” or wanting someone they know to behave in a more “normal way.” Who hasn’t heard someone say, “I’m just a normal person,” or “I just want (or like) to do normal things?”

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I think it’s possible to explain normalcy to a point, but I think there’s a fine line separating what one person thinks is normal from what another person thinks. Maybe not even a fine line—maybe a giant firebreak sort of line, that won’t allow one person’s normal to leap over and infringe on, or burn, someone else’s normal.

This question of normalcy often arises early in a marriage. When Brad and I were first married over forty years ago, it was clear that what was normal to Brad was certainly not normal to me!

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Example:

Since I was five years old, it was normal for me to get up and pull the covers up over the pillow, making the bed first thing in the morning. At a young age, I so liked the feeling I got tidying my room that by the time I was a teenager, I often made the bed for my mother, and sometimes my siblings. This practice spilled over into married life. As soon as my feet hit the floor in the morning, I made the bed—provided, of course, that Brad wasn’t it in. Observing this routine for a week or so, Brad told me that it was normal in the home in which he was raised to pull back the covers to air the bed each morning, and he wanted to know why I didn’t do that. Feeling slightly defensive about my family’s normal, I told him that our mother expected us to make our beds first thing, and our sheets always smelled perfectly fine.

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In this case, as in many others, my normal and his normal did not match. It was many months—possibly years—before we came to the realization that even though our ways of doing things were different, this didn’t make one more right than another. We just had different normals. Once we pulled back and aired out these kinds of issues (and there were many), a more normal atmosphere settled in our home.

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A Normal Life

I’ve heard a lot of people say that they wish they could lead a “normal life.” Now, what exactly does that mean? The same principle that applies to the normal practices of making a bed or airing it out applies to normal lifestyles. There is a broad spectrum of what many would consider to be “leading a normal life.” For some people it is getting up and working a nine-to-five job every day. For others, it may mean putting in a couple of hours at work and the rest on a boat, or on the golf course. For many, it may mean caring full-time for a home and family. And for still others, it may mean jetting around the world taking pictures for NatGeo.

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So when you say you want to lead a “more normal life” what do you mean? Do you mean you’re so famous, you can’t go anywhere or do anything without being recognized, mauled, and paparazzied, and you’d like to go back to pre-fame life and anonymity? (For most of us “normal” people, this isn’t the case.)

Does it mean you don’t want to be accountable to others anymore, and only do what you want to do? (If so, maybe you are an entrepreneurial sort of person and it’s time for a career change.)

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Does it mean you’re tired of a certain type of drudgery? Or you feel trapped in a rut? (A lot of people fall into this category, making it a very normal place to be.)

It seems to me that the desire to lead “a more normal life” means you may desire some kind of a change, and in my estimation, change is never normal in the sense that change, by very definition, is a move away from what has been normal, or typical, or usual—even if that normal may have been undesirable. In this case, leading a more normal life may not be what someone would want. (If you followed this line of reasoning, give yourself a gold star.)

More Normal Behavior

And what of wanting others to behave in a more “normal way?” What does that mean? I’ve observed that it is normal for certain people to pursue a quiet, reserved lifestyle—staying under the radar, and liking it that way. It is also normal for certain other people to seek after the limelight—having a constant need to be noticed, applauded, or even censured—just so long as they are getting attention. And there are many who live a normal existence somewhere in between.

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People who want others to behave in a more normal way are often parents. The people they usually want to behave more normally are often their children. Here are some samples of possible uses of the word “normal” that may set a parent up for trouble:

“Why can’t you wear your hair (or your clothes) like normal people?”

“That is NOT normal thinking!”

“If we could just have a normal conversation….”

“If you would just use a normal tone of voice….”

Normal people don’t do that kind of thing….”

Inherent in each of these phrases is the large and looming misconception about how each individual defines the word “normal.”

Some people use the word “normal” and the phrase “classic example” from time to time to make a point. (I throw the phrase “classic example” in with the word “normal” because they are very much alike. A classic example is another way of saying something is not only “normal,” but “super normal.”  These are go-to words when making comparisons between normal and the way-out notions, behaviors, and characteristics espoused by others.

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The pendulum always seems to swing toward our own ideals when we are considering what is normal and what isn’t. And rightly so. Who out there wants to believe, or possibly admit, that their ideas about things are off-the-wall cuckoo? Or at the very least, abnormal?

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“Serious Business” by Charles Dana Gibson

I have learned that when people talk about things that are normal, not normal, or classic examples, they are frustrated with the changing world around them, and how those changes defy what is near and dear to them. This is a time for compassionate and empathetic listening, not censure—unless, of course, it is one’s own normal that has been challenged. Even then, it is wise to listen and try to understand, because we don’t always see ourselves through normal eyes. Sometimes, we view ourselves through tainted rosy glasses, or the sludge of insecurity or failure—making what we think is normal for us, really something that is not normal at all.

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A Normal Person

I think when people say they’re just a “normal person” they are doing their best to fit their square peg of normalcy into the round hole of what they think others consider normal is. Each individual is just that—individual. Unique. Each has a slightly different way of looking at things than even those closest to them.

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Karen and me—a long time ago

My sister, Karen, and I could finish one another’s sentences. We loved and understood each other: our hopes and dreams, our upbringing, our way of approaching things, and the many tiny little idiosyncrasies we had. BUT we were not one another’s “normal” at all. Normal for Karen was quite different from normal for me. The way she thought about certain aspects of life, the way she planned and lived her days, the clothes she wore, the food she ate, and many other things that were normal for her would have been very uncomfortable for me, and vice versa.

I suppose I’m just being knit-picky, but it seems to me that everybody’s normal depends upon them. And if that’s true, then there is no “true normal”—only a bazillion normals that suit the bazillion different personalities out there, or in other words, everybody’s normal is really something uncommon or rare.

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Still, to be fair, when someone says they want to have a “normal life,” I understand what they’re saying. (I think.) When things have been anything but normal, when life has gone askew, when the world seems topsy-turvy, when every day is different, or the demands of life have become overwhelming, then what some of us long for is to go back to whatever it was we used to do, before we stepped from normal into abnormal. It may also mean that we long to be like everyone else, or what we think everyone else is like, since—as has already been established—everyone else has their own normal, and is therefore not “normal” as Google’s dictionary would have you believe.Over-the-cliff

Normal Things

Normal” things give backbone to daily life. Routine is “normal.” Routine is a gift to someone who’s predictable life went suddenly awry.  Some people thrive on the kind of adventure that involves Indiana Jones situations around every corner—where being on the edge of your seat (or the edge of your last nerve) every single moment of every single day is, well…normal. That’s not for me! I prefer a healthy portion of predictability, sprinkled with spontaneity, and a dash of surprise.

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After recent upheaval, I ached to do normal (for me) things, such as wash a load of clothes, bake cookies, walk around the block, and sleep in my own bed. I dragged a bag of notepaper, books to read, food I liked to nibble on, and a script I was trying to memorize with me to the hospital and then the nursing home where my father was recuperating. I read to my father when he’d let me, and while he dozed or was distracted, I wrote dozens of notes, listened to the script via headphones, and read till my eyes grew tired. If you carry a little bit of normal with you, it helps, but there’s nothing like your own normal in your own space, in your own home, in your own daily routine.

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While he was in the hospital and nursing home, my poor father was in a constant state of abnormal, and it took its toll, causing a bit of disorientation. I could understand this, which is why I spent so much time with him—to bring a little bit of “normal” to his bedside while he was in a state of terrible transition. Now that he’s home, things are definitely more normal, but not quite. We are learning a new normal, and it’s sometimes painful, but a necessary part of life. We are adjusting and adapting until the inevitable time when things will be jostled around again.

What I have concluded by all of this is that once one leaves their traditional normal for any length of time, one can never fully go back. Change is the byword of life. Some little thing will always be different…or perhaps some big thing.

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Bathsheba Smith

The early Mormon pioneers knew much of upheaval and of frequent hankie waves bidding farewell to normalcy in their lives. Constantly forced to move from place to place, frequently driven from their homes and loved ones, they, at last, made their exodus across the plains to create a normal life according to their beliefs in the deserts of Utah. The story is told of one such Mormon pioneer woman, Bathsheba Smith. Her history tells that her husband…*“widened and heightened Bathsheba’s [covered] wagon substantially.” After he did this for her, she then…“carpeted the floor, put four chairs in the center in which to ride, and hung a looking glass, candlestick, and pincushion. Once, while fording a stream, Bathsheba’s awkward wagon threatened to wash downstream. Unruffled, she yelled, “Behold, Noah’s Ark!” 

 

Why would she do this? I think she was doing her best to bring a feeling of permanence and normalcy to their ever-shifting lives by taking a portion of her home—her normal life—with them.

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” Crossing the Mississippi on the Ice” by C.C.A.Christensen (c1865)

I heard the story of Bathsheba Smith forty years ago, and have never forgotten it. Her story is a reminder that you may choose to “bloom where you’re planted,” no matter how abnormal, or stressful, or difficult that may be.

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I think that maybe there is no normal “normal.” Not really. And I’m pretty sure I will continue to make reference to things that are normal, and hope for normal times to come. In spite of the ambiguity of normalcy, I am determined to “bloom where I’m planted” –creating my own sense of “normal” no matter where I am, how difficult it may be, or how abnormal others may think I am.

Is this normal?

You be the judge.

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© February 24, 2016

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear Friends, for reading.