Beauty for All

She sets her easel up as the sun hits the mountains and begins to paint. Watercolor, acrylics and oil paints at her elbow, with brushes for every kind of paint stroke. She imagines bold strokes of color or points of color dotted here and there. It is always a bit of a surprise, even to this painter, what masterpiece will reveal itself. Humble tears come with awe at her vast  powers to create and destroy. Mother Nature pauses for a sip of coffee and then begins to paint wildflowers on the mountain sides and in the meadows. The Crested Butte Wildflower Festival is coming and she will be ready for her yearly show. 

I went to see the show in Crested Butte a couple of weeks ago. It was magnificent. Of course, I had to share the beauty with many other people. I don’t like to share. Growing up I had to share a bedroom, a bathroom, a car and a single fry pan. After church on Sunday we called for our turn with the fry pan so we could make our eggs the way we liked them. Back to Crested Butte….  Susan and I found a perfect trail to view wildflowers, and happily set out. It seemed we had to stop every few feet to take a photo with our phones. I wanted the photo to remember the scene, but also to share with others and get validation about how beautiful the flowers were. After awhile I decided to stop taking photos and enjoy the beauty on my own terms. Selfishly, I didn’t want to share anymore.

But something happened that I had not expected! As I walked along I noticed an elderly couple (I am not that old) naming the flowers and deliberating about those they did not recognize, and finally consulting their wildflower guide.  I recognized the Lupine but they told me that there are many varieties and colors of Lupine and pointed out a silver Lupine. Soon I was following them and asking what this or that flower was and I was focused on their words and the flowers.

We were sharing the flowers! I forgot that I wanted the beauty all to myself and became a member of our group of three. They were enjoying themselves and I was enjoying them enjoying themselves. The flowers became even more beautiful to me because I could name some of them. The bickering between the couple about the names was very sweet, I could see the beauty in their relationship. Susan met up with me later and I was happy to share what was up ahead. 

We are social animals and usually do not live in total isolation from others. We seek solitude to heal and refresh ourselves and then return to our tribe. I have feared being a group member because I would need to perform and try hard to be accepted. As Groucho Marx said “ I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.” Being together in the face of great beauty is the glue that holds us together. I suspect that tragedy is also a glue the holds us together. If I focus on what is out there in the world my attention is not on myself and how I am doing. I am present for the sharing and it brings me joy. 

Just remember I get the first turn for the fry pan!


Eau de Wet Canine

Rain. Lots of rain. Dogs and people soaked by big plops of water from the sky. My doggies take time to find the perfect spot for urinating or defecating – rain be damned. They run back in and do the doggie shake boogie, spraying water everywhere and then proceed to their spots on the sofa—evading my attempts to dry their footies. Hence, the wet dog scent permeates my home and nostrils.  Musty, and smelling distinctly stale and a bit moldy. My heart loves the wet canine scent even if my nostrils rebel. Roscoe and Molly are loved wet or dry.

Old Spice. My Dad used Old Spice Aftershave and the scent lingered in the bathroom and on his body. Old Spice meant that Dad was going out—-to church, to visit family or even square dancing. Dad was dressed up if he smelled like Old Spice. My friend says her alcoholic Dad drank Old Spice!  As a teenager in male company I smelled the men’s cologne Brut. The smell was younger than Old Spice and suggested a bit of “the bad boy”.  And we all know how attractive “bad “ boys are! These drugstore scents are part of my olfactory memories. Smells trigger memories.

My Mom got gift bottles of “Evening in Paris”-purchased with hard earned cash by myself and my siblings. When we were children, Mom always said we could get her “Evening in Paris”. Our local variety store had this “perfume” so that’s what we bought.  I put perfume in quotes because calling the scented liquid in the blue bottle “perfume” is a big stretch.  My trained nose says it smelled, and that is the best I can say for it. I was surprised to see that my more sophisticated cousins had perfumes like Chantal No.5.  Perfume can say a lot about someone.

If I pay lots for a bottle of perfume it better improve my image. That whiff of perfume when I get close should say how wonderful, confident and beautiful I am. Nothing has worked so far, so I quit wearing perfume. Never fear, there is always scented soap and body lotion, and the sticky sweet smell of dryer sheets whiffing into the air. No one has marketed perfume that smells like fresh baked bread, freshly brewed coffee or cookies just out of the oven. Why not? I remember arguments with my brothers and sisters about which farm animal shit smelled the worst.  This is a serious subject for farm kids everywhere. If you need to know, I picked pig shit as the excrement with the worst smell. 

So what are we masking with all the scents in our lives?  What do humans smell like? Dogs seem to know what others dogs smell like, but our noses have a much weaker sense of smell. We can smell some dangers, like the scent of gas or fire but mostly we go through our daily lives taking our sense of smell for granted.  Until we smell popcorn being made in the room next to us, or we sniff Play-Doh before we hand it over to our children.

So to make a long smell, short remember that “You stink!” is in the nose of the smeller.

Animal Crackers

Grilled cheese sandwiches, Mac and cheese, ice cream, chicken noodle soup and animal crackers. Comfort food. Sushi is not comfort food, and tofu isn’t either.  All of my comfort foods can be made or bought easily and I was introduced to them as a child. Only children would think that making crackers into dinosaur shapes or animal shapes would make them taste better, but they are more fun. I did have great fun making words with Alphabits  in the milk in my cereal bowl. Mental stimulation and breakfast in one.  And who was on the cover of the Wheaties box? 

These culinary musings bring me back to a time when choices were much fewer, but maybe more satisfying. Our choices have grown exponentially, but I am not sure I am more satisfied.  Are we all victims of Choicitis?  This new disease is an epidemic in our society and causes paralysis or diminishing returns when faced with millions of choices. Hell, I have a hard time choosing which font to use as I write this. For those who may be wondering it is “Helvetica Neue”, but I had a hard time choosing because I also like “Helvetica” and “Futura”. The list of fonts is long and I want to make the “right” choice.

When I need toothpaste, I walk to the toothpaste section in the super market and stare dumbly at the shelves and shelves of toothpaste. Questions, more questions! Do I have sensitive teeth, or need to whiten them? What about my gums? Cavities? Bad breath must be addressed. Is my enamel hard and healthy? Have you noticed how long advertised claims have grown. After reading all the things toothpaste or mouthwash claims to do,  I must then choose one. And then I see a plain tube of toothpaste, the only claim on the tube is it will help clean my teeth. I’m embarrassed to say that I seldom choose this toothpaste, instead I run down my checklist of concerns and search diligently for the “just right” choice. What if there were only 3 choices of toothpaste? Number 1, Number 2 or Number 3?  Imagine. Think of how much time this would save me, and how much longer I could actually brush my teeth. Choicitis would begin to be tamed, no matter how small the progress made.

Choosing the best shampoo for me is another exercise in frustration. How can a poor ill-informed consumer like me make the right choice. Is my hair dry or oily, fine or coarse, colored or not colored, thin or full, curly or straight… get the idea. I have managed to rein in my menu deliberations to just a few minutes. I become impatient with fellow diners who ask detailed questions about menu items and then say they need a few more minutes. Which car to buy? It hurts my head to think about making this choice. Which computer to purchase?  My head hurts more. That plain tube of toothpaste looks a lot more attractive to me!

Keep it simple is a motto I try to live by; obviously I have lots of work to do but I am not giving up. As of today Choicitis does not have a vaccine to prevent it, but there are ways to lessen the damages. When I ask myself how important is it if I make the perfect choice, I can often see it simply is not that important. My teeth will not turn black and fall out if I choose Colgate instead of Crest. Suave or Herbal Essence is not a life or death decision. I am a bit concerned that we recognize so many brand names of products. Could you buy me shampoo becomes could you buy me only Herbal Essence? I think a lot of our choices are manufactured by manufacturers. Is men’s deodorant made any differently that women’s deodorants? Women’s products are more expensive than men’s. Why? Is the product better or is the advertising better? 

A lot of questions in this post, and this is a symptom of Choicitis.  I love Animal Crackers by the way and don’t really care which animal I am eating. Never quite sure of ourselves, others may know more. I do know one thing for sure. If you are choosing love or hate, always choose love. Always.

Better Late than Never

These lines in the “children’s” book The Velveteen Rabbit are about becoming Real:

It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” 

― Margery Williams Bianco, The Velveteen Rabbit

These lines always bring tears to my eyes and longing to my heart.They are filled with Truth and Hope. It takes a long time to grow into yourself and I am still growing and becoming more “shabby” as my years add up. For a lot of my life I have been one of those “… people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept “ I drove myself to maintain a body that I thought was ugly or attractive depending on my feelings in the moment.  My heart was guarded by porcupine quills, but I still got shattered and broken many times. I broke into pieces like Humpty Dumpty.

My years on this planet don’t, by default, make me Real, I do have loose joints, eye problems and shabby wrinkles. My angst over outward beauty, adoration or perfection is now just a whimper from my ego.   Getting to “I don’t care.” is so freeing. I wear cargo pants, and now comfort is my primary criteria for foot wear. I don’t care!  If Real is my destination, then I know I must take the bumpy, winding road of experience and learning. When we don’t learn from our experiences we can’t be Real. Denying reality or refusing to change means we can’t allow learning or love into our lives. Loving and being loved are both requirements for becoming Real.

I know “It takes a long time.” to become Real, but I believe there are moments that can put us on the fast track to Real. These moments like birth and death transcend time, a split second that is years long. My awe at the beauty in the world and my grief and despair in the face of losses are both necessary to “become” Real. My baby’s first cry or Roger’s last breath were moments that cut thru years of protecting myself. In those moments, I became more Real by allowing myself to feel vulnerable and open.

Living with love has been joyful and piercing with pain. Tyler’s graduation events were many and he invited me to be a part of them. I was honored.  I got “damp”a couple of times in rain showers, so looked like a grouchy wet cat. (Sideline : Grumpy cat passed away, he will be missed.) I got shabby looking by the end of the day, but those shared fist pumps “Yes!” were very Real. I thought I would fade away when Roger died, but like Roger I was able to transcend some of my earthly limitations.  I became stronger and more compassionate.

My sister is dying of cancer and she is horribly thin, gaunt, and weak. She is beautiful. She is loved.  She is Real.

Don’t Look At Me…

You won’t see me in a video announcing I am running for President.. Uh,uh no way!! “I will not seek nor accept a nomination for President.” LBJ and me. Even if I were qualified (I’m not), I would sprint away from politics. But then there are lots of unqualified people in office, including and best exemplified by our POTUS. I am certainly not too old, at 66 I am just a babe in the current roster of candidates and office holders. But then I am too old for the other end of the age timeline for the current Democratic primary candidates. Running around the country seeking votes would be too tiring for me, but I would love to visit Iowa and say hello to everyone. Nope. I am not running for President.

It is easy to hide in the sea of humanity, just skimming the surface with eyes wide open like crocodiles and hippos. I can glide along and watch the world and not make waves. Of course if someone falls in and irritates me I can take care of myself.  Gulp.  When I was in school I waved my hand “Pick me. Pick me!” I wanted to be noticed and rewarded for the right answer. I didn’t want to be noticed when I was picked last for the softball game at lunch hour. My reputation as a loser was confirmed for all to see, and I wished for the earth to swallow me up. Running for public office is the ultimate “Pick me. Pick me!”  My hat would  read  “You Gotta Love Me.” Think of all the great speeches I could give and the chants and applause for me. I can hear it now. “Build the bridges and roads.” and “ Lock Trump up!” 

If everyone around me says they see green and I see red, do I automatically decide I am wrong and begin to see green? It’s kind of like if something is repeated often enough it becomes the truth, even if the original statement was a lie. I think this may be brainwashing at its best. The question for me is if I stand tall when people are throwing roses at me , do I still stand up for myself when tomatoes and eggs are being fired at me? I might want to duck if frogs are coming my way, I am not an idiot. So a candidate offers a policy plan and the rest of the world picks it apart. Even the vulnerability queen, Brene Brown, might agree this is too much vulnerability for one person to handle.

The closest I can come to diplomacy is  “You’re wrong, but I am listening.” When I have strong feelings I usually chomp at the bit to speak, but dust a little shame on me and I slink away like a frightened and submissive animal. To speak or not to speak that is the question. Do I want to be noticed? How strong are my feelings? I think I would be one hell of a political speechwriter. What a wonderful way to get my words heard without standing at the podium like a bullseye.

Would you vote for me?

A Poem-More or Less

I checked the time

Analog and digital

Its time for a rhyme

But not lyrical or mystical


Feelin’ like a poetry slam

Pound it out hard

You can call me ma’am

Just don’t let down your guard


I always start slow

Then speed up multiplied 

My words hit blow by blow

True and genuine, bonafide


Let’s talk or not

I’m ready to slug it out.

Death show me what you got

I’m fighting my own doubt.

Death will take us all. We can go kicking and screaming or yielding quietly. What do you need books on death and dying for? Certainly not how-to books to conquer death, more like how to live as you are dying. I want to beat up Death, scream you can’t have my sister!  I need to believe that Death is not cruel and is simply following the rules of nature and of the universe. I will never understand, but I know that fighting Death is a waste of my precious time.

Hanging Out With My Sisters

My sisters and I are not sweet, nor are we a sanitized version of Sisterhood.  We never lose at “Red Rover, Red Rover Come Over”- nobody gets through our linked arms.   “Come on you wimp, you can’t get through.”, we taunt. Our language is Sisterspeak and few would understand why we are laughing so hard about llamas or Sister Margaret Mary. Some of us speak softly and are more reserved, but none of us are shrinking violets. I suspect I am the most opinionated sister, but all of us have beliefs or opinions we passionately defend. You can’t herd cats and you can’t herd me and my sisters.

I am the oldest, a bookend, and my sister Lisa is the youngest, a bookend — in between are 6 sisters. Lisa and I talk about being bookends and how it is our job to keep all the sisters standing tall. We know we will lose a sister soon as cancer is on the attack again, but she will never lose her place in the Sisterhood. Our arms are linked, holding her up and creating a safe place for all of us to grieve and say good-bye. Laughter also helps us to process and remember our shared history.

Our Sisterhood is composed of individuals with strong personal identities. How the hell do we manage to keep the Sisterhood strong and united? I think it’s because we know that no sister is an island. (Apologies to John Donne)  We honor our shared identity of Sisterhood and  recognize that we are not in this alone. The Sisterhood is not a fixed entity, but a living and breathing organism. Although we grew up in the same home, our histories are not the same and our relationships are not the same. The circle of Sisterhood is strong but not static. Is the whole greater than the sum of its parts? It seems to be in the Sisterhood.

Through the years, as a Sister, I’ve been angry and hurt, compassionate and kind —sometimes all at once. Confident in the love of my Sisters, I have learned to love myself. I  never doubted that my Sisters would hold me up when Roger died. We share our “dime” stories to remind all of us that Roger is looking out for me and my Sisters. In many ways I have learned who I am within the circle of Sisterhood.

I love remembering how a bunch of us Sisters would be getting dressed upstairs, and how we  ran back and forth between bedrooms in our under wear, raiding each other’s closets. There were quite a few “discussions” about who could wear what. I learned my fashion sense or nonsense from my sisters. There are still certain articles of clothing that are remembered fondly or raise the question about what ever happened to them or who stole them. Memories are a part of the mortar that holds us together. Laughter holds us together too.

My sisters and I are doers, we get it done. A lesson learned from Mom. Why is it that when you most want to change something,  “doing” is not the answer. Perhaps the Sisterhood has  shown the most strength in the yielding to  and acceptance of our Sister’s coming death. We have to let her go, but not before we have loved her fiercely, the way that only Sisters can.