Gratitude, Life, Menopause

Me and the Mice: A True Story

Creature

A post by artist Helen Hawes:

Iʼve got a mouse problem.

I can hear them in the walls scratching their way through my hard earned insulation.

At night they party while I lay awake planning the next dayʼs strategy for all out warfare, dreading the morning when I know I will find their prima materia left behind in my silverware drawer.

They even appear now and then fearlessly scampering, in broad day light, across my kitchen or living room floors.

The tenants are concerned and threatening to move out.

I am catching four and five a day in my have- a- heart traps. Still they keep coming. I have trapped well over twenty so far. I am both frantic and ashamed of my franticness.

Like the mice, all my worst fears seem to be coming out of hiding.

Who will see my dirty house?

Who will discover what a bad mother I am, an irresponsible adult, unable to control things around me?

The mice are in charge here. Nothing I can do. Like aging and death, the granddaddy of all my fears, these mice just keep on coming. Desperate and angry, but still not ready to kill them, I spend a small fortune on sonar devices. I put them everywhere.

“Now,” I smile crazily to myself, “I can speak mouse.” I can tell them in no uncertain terms to leave and never come back.

With an evil chuckle, I carefully place the last sonar device inside my oven, a very popular gathering place. I collapse into bed, hoping for a morsel of peace.

In the 90 degree heat I can barely breath and dreams of small hairy four leggedʼs dance in my head. Between nightmares, I call on every available deity for help, praying that the mice will be gone in the morning.

Finally, in the first faint glow of daylight, exhausted from a sleepless night, I stagger into the kitchen, where horrified I discover I can still hear the dreadful clicking of claws and high-pitched squeaks. There is a celebration going on in my oven.

I am not proud of what comes next.

On this hot muggy summer morning in 1986, at 21 Line Street, in the countryʼs third most expensive city to live, beside myself, in a fit of fury and self loathing, I decide to incinerate the hateful creatures.

I turn the oven on to its highest temperature and leave the scene of my murderous intent.

I go and sit on the coach in the next room, glowering and white knuckled in my pajamas, preparing myself for the price of victory.

I didnʼt have to wait long. In a very short time, from the next room, I smell burning plastic, and see sparks coming from the wire that leads to the closed door of the mouse cafe.

My fire alarm begins to wail. I had forgotten about the sonar devise I put inside the oven.

I race into the kitchen, grab a Santa Claus cooking mitt from the hook, and yank the red hot mechanism out of the oven. I feel the heat burn through the mitt, yelp in pain, and let the device drop hissing into a molten heap on my tile floor.Then I too drop to the floor and sit crying and defeated.

Moments of black despair pass as I remain locked in the final stages of a losing battle. At last I give up. I surrender. The battle stops, the dust settles, with nothing more to lose or gain, I can see what is really here.

I turn and pick up the melted device and bring it towards me. Its double speakers are spaced like eyes and the burnt out wires are standing on end like a cartoon of someone startled. A melted seam along the bottom sags open to reveal a toothy grin.

Creature

There looking up at me is the funniest, most lovable face I have ever seen. The device has transformed while in the oven and melted into this unimaginable creature that now sits smiling in my lap.

I begin to laugh and laugh and then the tears begin to flow. I feel such a kinship with this silly frantic face, all frazzled and dazed, yet smiling in a wide grin.

Helen

This is me, more lovable than I had ever dreamed I could be.

In this moment I see how precisely in place everything is to bring this image before me, how perfect my antics, how perfect my fear, and most importantly, how perfect the mice. I sit thanking god for the mice that brought me to this moment of sheer delight in the perfection of now!

Epilogue: The next day the mice were gone. Their job here was done. They had received my unconditional love. I had tasted the bounty of surrender and laughed with compassion at my illusions of control.

The sonar device, a gift, gratefully received, now sits on my altar of metaphors.

Photos:

Top Photo: The meltdown personified

Middle:  Helen, in joyful recognition

Bottom:  Helen with her grandson

Helen with Grandson

Helen Hawes has been a practicing artist since she was six months old, when to her mothers dismay she was creating dramatic wall murals with the overflowing contents of her diapers. Later she worked with architects to continue the wall mural theme with more archival materials.  As her imagery and scale changed she began to work as a consultant for a software company in Boston.

Another aspect carried forward from her childhood is the joyful discovery of cross species communication that has been ongoing since the day she arrived. This has enabled her to listen “innocently” to her drawings, drawn blind and in collaboration with the “body in situation”, which is limitless. She works with groups and individuals sharing this process to empower others to ground themselves in a palpable connection between direct experience and unconditional awareness.

She lives and works in Vermont, where she co-owns a small creative arts retreat center (www.geryunant.com).  She is a Focusing coordinator/trainer,practicing artist, and walker in the woods..  She and her three sisters give collaborative Playshops, which intertwine each of their specialties, music, visual arts, writing, and animation, into a film that each participant takes home with them. To date the workshop has been given in Sweden, NewZealand, Vermont, and the next will be in North Carolina. Keep an eye open on Facebook for the Four Sisters’ Playshops.

Life, Losing a Parent

Losing a Parent Part Two: Going Gentle into That Good Night or Being Less Wiggy About Death

Jake Jacobus

A post by writer Ann Jacobus:

As a writer, everything is a story for me, with a beginning, a point of no return, a crisis and a climax, a resolution, and a theme or moral.

I lost my mother, 74, in December of 2011,

My father died at 82 in January of this year, thirteen months later.

And they weren’t even married.

But they both battled cancer of one kind and another for many years.

I got a double crash course in dying, or in the “final stage” as Hospice calls it.

And the theme or moral I’ve determined is that we all should be less wiggy about death.

My folks died as they lived.

Mom, laid back and accepting on one hand; not afraid, yet on the other hand, enjoying some denial right up to the end.

Dad, fighting and refusing to relinquish control until the last forty-eight hours. That’s when, after nine months of serious illness, Hospice finally became a part of his care.

They raged against the dying of the light in their own ways, but I’m convinced they both finally made peace with their departures and went gentle, even gratefully “into that good night.” (Thanks Dylan Thomas)

I find this encouraging.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating just giving up.

But we’ll all have to die eventually.

And as we get older (versus the alternative), we all have to watch it happen to those we love.

If every plant and animal and human goes through the life cycle, with death being not only a normal part of this, but the most certain, guaranteed thing we’ve got, maybe we shouldn’t fear it so much.

There clearly comes a point when accepting it and moving forward into it makes sense. Even if it’s just the last day or two.

My mom was at home under Hospice care.

Dad was in the Hospice unit in the hospital.

I cannot say enough good things about Hospice.

They are such an antidote to our society’s fear and discomfort with death, dealing with both patients and their loved ones with dignity, in a gentle but straight forward manner, helping to make the “final stage” as rich and rewarding as it can be stressful and emotional.

I was honored and ultimately reassured to be present with both of my parents at the moment they stopped breathing in the quiet early morning hours.

The preceding days, two in my father’s case, four in my mom’s, were intense, sad, and full of wonder as the family found its own rhythms of coming and going, talking and silence, laughing and crying, keeping vigil at their bedsides.

The moment a loved one leaves this world is a sacred moment, difficult to describe in its power and awesomeness.

Being present at a birth (let alone giving birth) for me was a similar experience.

It brings us right up close with those big questions.

There’s that really big question: what happens to my parents, or to me, when we die?

Whether you are a religious and/or spiritual person, or not, check out this story—Neurosurgeon Dr. Eben Alexander’s experience: Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife. He’s written a book, but was also featured heavily in other media a few months ago. My sister, a doctor, sent it to me after Dad died.

Story, myth, spirituality and science (sort of), all intersect here.

For someone who just sent both parents off from this world, it’s comforting to contemplate reports of such a happy ending, and support for the theme of being less wiggy.

Dad Midland

Ann Jacobus lives in San Francisco with her family, where she writes YA and middle grade fiction, blogs regularly at www.ReaderkidZ.com, and is trying to be less wiggy about a lot of things.  Learn more about Ann at her website,www.annjacobus.com

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Photos:

Top–Jake Jacobus at the helm in Edgartown Harbor, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts

Middle– Jake and Ann in Midland,Texas

Bottom– Ann Jacobus

Aging, Life, Losing a Parent

Losing a Parent Part One: Lessons for the Living

Lib

A  post by writer Ann Jacobus:

During our fifties, many of our parents are reaching the ends of their lives and many of us are helping care for them.

It’s a difficult and emotional time; however, it can also be incredibly rich and fruitful.

Dying can teach us a lot about living.

There’s a great post by a palliative care worker, Bronnie Ware, called “Regrets of the Dying.” The concerns expressed by those who have accepted that they are in the “final stage” of their life, as Hospice refers to it, are pretty consistent.

The main regret of the dying is that they wish they’d lived life true to themselves and not to the expectations others had for them.

Got that? Our most likely regret when time is up: Not being true to oneself.

No one wishes they worked more and spent less time with family.

Most wish they’d maintained better connections with friends, and had the courage to express their true feelings

And last but not least, the dying wish they had let themselves be happy. Happiness is a choice.

A year and a half ago, I was flying back and forth to Dallas to help take care of my mom who had aggressive, small cell carcinoma in her lungs, colon, internal organs and eventually her brain.

She died peacefully December 1, 2011 at the age of seventy-four.  She was otherwise in good shape and participated joyfully in all the events she could, including a shopping spree at the discount store Tuesday Morning, a mere two weeks earlier.

About a week before she died, we sat in her room.

I was leaving the next morning for California, planning on returning in eight days. I had been two weeks “on” caretaking, so was tired and ready to get home.

I didn’t know it was our last conscious time and conversation alone.

Lying in bed, she kicked up one of her legs and patted it. “I’m really going to miss them,” she said. “These have been good legs.”

I had to agree.

Then she said, “I really thought I would have more time.”

She knew the end was near.

She never did many of the things Hospice said were typical (like withdrawing), so I assumed she still had some time.

I ended up rushing back two days later because she took a sudden downturn, and didn’t really speak again.

Family members nearly always want to know how much time there is. Hospice wisely refrains from predicting. Things can change quickly and people die slower, faster and occasionally not at all.

The “final stage” of life though, is all about learning to give up control and taking full advantage of each moment.

Lessons not just for the dying.

Paradoxically, as a caretaker, you can get caught up in the taxing day-to-day and lose sight of the main event.

That night, Mom looked at me, her eyes bright with so much love it was unsettling.

Our family tends toward undemonstrative, but Mom and I hugged a long time and said how much we meant to each other.

I’m so grateful that I seized that moment to express my love one last time and say goodbye even though I didn’t realize I was.

That I didn’t put it off, certain of having more time.

Because I didn’t.

So, to your folks, and all those you love, say everything you need to say.

Hug a lot.

Also:  Appreciate your body. It’s a great piece of engineering and biology.

Mom, Lacy, Annie

Ann Jacobus lives in San Francisco with her family, where she writes YA and middle grade fiction and blogs regularly at www.ReaderkidZ.com. Learn more about Ann at her website, www.annjacobus.com

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Photos:

Top–Ann’s mom, Libby Jacobus, in Dallas, Texas

Middle– Libby, Ann, and Ann’s sister Lacy near Mexico City

Bottom–Ann Jacobus

Life, Menopause

Guest Post: Deep December

IMG_1401

A guest post from Judy Brown, a December birthday girl:

December is deeply filled with activity, parties, decorating, shopping, church, family and friends.  It holds a deep spot in my heart for the traditions, the church gatherings, many family memories, both old and new.

This year I challenge myself to a fresh focus….. to fill my deep December heart.

When I place an old family ornament on the tree, I want to whisper a new wish for someone dear.

When I contemplate the advent messages, I want the meaning to latch on to my heart.

When I light a candle , I want to brighten my winter days, and yours, with hope.

When I listen to a favorite holiday melody, I want to create a centered rhythm to my day.

When I smell cookies baking, I want to fill my spirit with the scent of serenity and then pass it on.

When a snowflake falls on you and me, I want it to melt away our stubborn thoughts.

When I give a gift to someone special, I want to tie my compassion and friendship in the bow.

When I say a “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah” or other holiday greeting, I want to elicit a happy smile.

When I greet my children, I want my welcome home hug to fill their core with gladness.

Most of all, when I pause for a deep breath during this December’s flurry, I want to exhale gratitude and then promise to never take love for granted.

My best wishes to you for a deeply meaningful holiday!

Photo Above:  Judy loves to feed our feathered friends in December and all winter long.  The birdhouse graces her yard.

 Photo Below: Judy and her daughter Jamie in the snow

Jamie and Judy in Snow

Life

Guest Post: To My Mom, Who Taught Me Not to Wait (and a Novel Giveaway)

A guest post by writer Janet Fox:

I want to write this post about my mom.

She died young. Correction – she died at an age that I now consider too young to die, since she was only fifteen years older than I am now when she died. And frankly, fifteen years is going to go by like – click – that.

She didn’t have the chance to be the grandmother I longed for her to be for my son. She didn’t have the chance to see my first (or second…) novel published. She died suddenly and without warning, and as in all things in my life, she taught me something very important.

She taught me not to wait.

Among her papers as I was sorting them – because my father couldn’t – I found a pile of unpublished children’s stories. They were sweet, old-fashioned, lyrical. I read them and thought, huh. These are wonderful. What if I could do that. What if I could write something like that. What if…

I’ve always been a cautious person. Wait and see. Take it one step at a time. Consider the plan. But when Mom died she gave me the courage to open up my creative heart and let it all pour out. There’s no question that my first novel was written for and about her (a girl loses her mother, tries to find her, and instead finds herself).

In fact, all my writing now is about reaching out to my mother, finding the girl to woman connection, letting myself grow into the woman that she would admire.

I’m burning with stories now, stories that I must get down on paper, stories that are bursting to be told, characters that are reaching for the light, and this is all because she taught me to let them out, taught me not to wait.

What if we didn’t wait? What if we never waited for the right moment, the settled-downness, the quiet? What if we didn’t wait for the nudge of death to drive us to action? What if, as women, we shifted into the fullness of our lives right from the start?

If you are a cautious person, the time is now. Don’t wait. Take my mom’s lesson to heart. Find your stories and let them pour out like honey. Give them to the page, to your daughters, to the world.

Give them to yourself.

And, to my mom, I give my sweetest thanks.

Janet Fox is the author of award-winning books for children and young adults. FAITHFUL (Speak/Penguin Young Readers 2010), set in Yellowstone National Park in 1904, is a YALSA Best Fiction for YA nominee and an Amelia Bloomer List pick, 2011. FORGIVEN (Speak 2011), set in 1906 San Francisco during the great earthquake, is a Junior Library Guild selection 2011, and a 2012 WILLA Literary Awards Finalist.

Her most recent novel, SIRENS (Speak 2012), is set in 1925 New York and is told from alternating points of view of two girls who must confront a gangster and uncover dark secrets.

Janet is a former high school English teacher and received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults in 2010 (Vermont College of Fine Arts). Janet lives in Bozeman, Montana but you can also find her at www.janetsfox.com and   http://about.me/janetfox.  She blogs at: www.kidswriterjfox.blogspot.com.

Giveaway:  For a chance to win a copy of Sirens, simply enter a comment by December 5 saying you’d like to win.  I’m giving away two copies!

Life

French Lessons: Create Your World Claude’s Way

 

On our trip to France  last month, my friends Judy, Lisa, and I took a jaunt to Giverny, to the whimsical gardens of impressionist painter Claude Monet.

At  his Giverny home, our tour guide explained, the artist set the scenes.

Claude didn’t sit around hoping sunflowers would pop up  outside his windows.

He planted the bold beauties.

Claude didn’t just dream about the grace of water lilies.

He created water gardens.

Monet didn’t simply wish his world would turn brilliant with yellows and blues and purples and reds.

He put them there!

Lesson here is that while it’s way cool to stumble on what you need and want in life, sometimes it doesn’t work that way.

Sometimes you need to plant it yourself before you can capture it on canvas.

Congrats to Donnie, who won the lovely Marylou Falstreau gift cards.

Life

French Lessons: Il Pleut/It Rains!

Reflections on our trip to Paris, written by Judy Brown. This is Post Two in a series titled “French Lessons.”

It rains.  Adapt.  Be flexible.  Despite lugging our rain coats and umbrellas around, Barbara, Lisa and I coped quite well with the drizzle and downpours during our fall Paris trip.

The light sprinkle on the water surface at the garden (Jardins des Nymphaes) at Giverny actually enhanced the visual experience.  The willows were still weeping, the autumn flowers still splashed with color, and the pond now had movement that mesmerized the eye.

Life calls us to adapt to the daily drizzles and to the heavier monsoons. I recall how soon after my first child was born that she unknowingly taught me how to be flexible.  Go on a trip, cook a nice dinner, meet friends at exactly 2 pm.  Forget it.  But it was ok.

Francois, our French tour guide in Paris, took us on a whirlwind trip of the Louvre and Notre Dame. He was well versed in history, a character, and could put any chatty woman to shame.

I often directed the side conversations to learn more about French life and his life.

Francois is happily married to a younger woman from Spain, and they are hoping for their first child very soon.  They even have the conception date planned for December 24!  Hmmmm….will he also learn the same lesson?

I think he might be on a good path to being adaptable, however.

He shared with us that because his small household has 2 native languages, they split the day.  During the day they speak Spanish.  At night they switch to French.  How fair!  How flexible.  How creative! Francois did bemoan, however, that when they argue, the language agreement often fails!

The other man in our life while on our French trip was Frederic–very stately, proper, and I must say, quite good looking!

Our two hour round trip car ride with Frederic provided lots of talking time. I tried not to get too personal, but when I probed about his personal life and asked how long he had been married, he said, “Oh we forgot to get married, but we have been together for 4 years.”

Adapt.  Be creative.  Find spunky new umbrellas, buy fancy rain coats, get plaid vinyl boots. Il pleut.  It could  always rain on your plans.

Photo Above:  Lisa, Judy, and Frederic in Monet’s garden.

Below:  Barbara in her raincoat.