Friday, September 30, 2011

Where We Love

After spending a few days with my mom and step dad, I headed back down to Sacramento to return my rental car and meet my dad and step mom. My companions on the drive:


I loved the drive to and from my mom’s house—it’s straight and easy, up Interstate 5, a trip we took many times when I was growing up. The drive gave me time to think, to sing along with the iPod, to watch for landmarks from my childhood letting me know I was getting close to my destination. I love the openness, the flat fields backed by misty little hills in the distance.


Sacramento was HOT. One hundred degrees a couple of the three days I was there—but, say it with me, it was a dry heat! And it was cool in the morning and evening, so still not as uncomfortable as Florida.

My step mom and I spent our time doing all the things we enjoyed when I was growing up: shopping, going to the movies and visiting with family. My step brother came over for dinner and we visited my step grandma at her assisted living facility, where my step uncle met us. (My dad and step mom have been married for more than 30 years, so her family is my family.) And, of course, there’s my “sister”:


One of the highlights of the trip: Harness racing at Cal Expo. My dad used to take us to these when I came to visit him in the summer. I adored watching the horses race, and one memorable evening, we got to ride in the starting car. Occasionally we’d arrive early and walk through the stables where I breathed in the scent of hay and horse and walked on air for hours afterwards.

Harness racers are standardbreds, who trot or pace around a track pulling a two-wheeled cart (called a sulky) and driver, at up to speeds of more than 30 mph. (In the pace, the two legs on the same side of the horse move forward together, unlike the trot, where the two legs diagonally opposite from each other move forward together.) Most races are a mile long. The most famous race is the Hambletonian, held every year in August at The Meadowlands racetrack in New Jersey, but you can see harness racing at many county and state fairs all over the U.S. (For more information, see http://www.ustrotting.com/. To learn more about standardbreds, go here.)


We ate dinner at the Turf Club and spent several hours watching the races. And let me tell you, it’s far too easy to place bets. You can buy a voucher for whatever amount you want, then slip your voucher into a machine, use a touch screen to place your bet and away you(r money) go(es). I limited myself to a $20 voucher.

My system of betting was highly scientific. First, I chose a horse whose name had some meaning for me. I got my dad to decipher the racing form and quickly read up on the horse’s stats. I usually placed a “win, place, show” bet, so that I would win if my horse came in first, second or third, and I liked to bet on long shots (or at least not favorites). My first race, I chose “Racetrack Diva” in honor of my friend’s horse, Glory, an off-the-track thoroughbred. Diva obliged me by coming in third. The next race I bet on, I chose “Amazon Dot” because of my love affair with Amazon.com. Dot won the race! I began to feel pretty proud of my system! You can guess what happened next. For the rest of the evening, none of my choices came in better than fourth. I ended the evening with a net loss of $3.90, which I consider well worth it for the amount of entertainment I got.


My family—both sets—basically spoiled me while I was in California, and gave me a much-needed break from my everyday responsibilities. I felt so lucky to be able to see my California family while my Florida family took care of themselves.

Monday, I asked, “What makes a place home for you?” This morning, I found an answer: “Where we love is home—home that our feet may leave but not our hearts.” (Oliver Wendell Holmes)

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Indian Summer


Diane Glancy is one of our country’s Native American poets, and I recently judged her latest book, “Asylum in the Grasslands,” the winner of a regional competition. Here is a good example of her clear and steady writing. [Introduction by Ted Kooser.]

Indian Summer

There’s a farm auction up the road.
Wind has its bid in for the leaves.
Already bugs flurry the headlights
between cornfields at night.
If this world were permanent,
I could dance full as the squaw dress
on the clothesline.
I would not see winter
in the square of white yard-light on the wall.
But something tugs at me.
The world is at a loss and I am part of it
migrating daily.
Everything is up for grabs
like a box of farm tools broken open.
I hear the spirits often in the garden
and along the shore of corn.
I know this place is not mine.
I hear them up the road again.
This world is a horizon, an open sea.
Behind the house, the white iceberg of the barn.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Copyright ©2007 by Diane Glancy, whose novel “The Reason For Crows,” is forthcoming from State University of New York Press, 2009. Poem reprinted from “Asylum in the Grasslands,” University of Arizona Press, 2007, by permission of Diane Glancy. Introduction copyright © 2009 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.

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Monday, September 26, 2011

Home


I returned late Saturday from my trip to California—and thank you all for your good wishes! All went well, and I came back refreshed in body and mind: no alarm clocks (except for the day I left: 3:45 a.m.!), and plenty of time to eat, drink, talk, read and even think (occasionally).

Before I go any farther, I’d like to thank my husband and mother-in-law who kept things running on the home front, making it possible for me to make this trip—love and gratitude to you both!

I flew to Sacramento, where I was born and where my dad and step mom still live, then rented a car and drove a couple hours north to where my mom and step dad live. I split my eight-day visit between the two of them. This blog post will cover the first half of my trip, and Friday’s will cover the rest.

I’ve written about where my mom lives before. Since we moved a lot as I grew up, this house is the closest thing I have to a childhood home. Many of my happiest memories occurred here, and it will always be one of my favorite places. It’s strange to me that though I grew up in California, went to college and got married there, I’ve now lived in Florida almost as long if not longer. (I don’t want to do the math!)

My first full day at my mom’s, I took a walk through part of the property, revisiting places I’d loved as a child:

 The acreage behind the house

The bee hives

The barn

The irrigation ditch

I returned covered in burrs:


I’d made two requests of my mom: visits to Trader Joe’s and to Cal’s Books, an awesome used book store in Redding, CA. TJ’s, as we always used to call it, was more an exercise in torture, because I couldn’t bring back much of anything…though I did buy some snacks and wine to enjoy while I was in California. And Cal’s…well, if you know me at all, you know the attraction there. I found only two books this time, which was probably just as well because I didn’t have room in my suitcase for more.

The last day of my stay with my mom, we checked out Anderson River Park, on the banks of the Sacramento River. After eating our lunch there, we spent the afternoon reading, chatting, relaxing and playing musical chairs trying to stay in the shade. Every so often, a breeze would blow off the river to cool us down. I wandered about a little, taking pictures.





This trip brings up the complicated question of where my “home” really is. Is it the place I grew up, where my birth family lives, and that I still love? Is it the place my husband, son and I live? For me, it’s both—the place of my roots that I will always long for AND the place I currently live with the people I love. I don’t have to choose—the more places that feel like home, the better.

What makes a place home for you?

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Friday, September 16, 2011

California Bound

 By the time you read this, I’ll be in the air, on the way to California to visit my family—all by myself. My husband and son get to spend some quality time with each other (heh) while I take a break. I spent much of yesterday afternoon packing clothes and deciding which books to take (yes, I know an e-reader would be easier to pack, but I’m not there yet—plus I’m still working on reading challenges!). I’m only carrying on (it's been my experience that checked luggage is lost luggage) so space is an issue. I won’t be posting for a week or so, but instead plan to fill the well a bit.


Have a great week!

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Just Sing

“…you don’t have to be a virtuoso at everything you do, in order to be virtuoso at life. Virtuosity in life means singing out—not necessarily singing well.”
—Marianne Williamson


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Monday, September 12, 2011

It's Coming

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”
—Albert Camus

Autumn is my favorite season. Yes, we have autumn in Florida—it’s just not like a typical “autumn” elsewhere. In autumn, cold fronts drop the humidity, and I begin to think being outside is a good idea again. In autumn, I plant a few vegetables hoping for harvest before winter comes.


In autumn, the light through the trees looks different—more golden and mellow instead of harsh and blinding.


A few trees change color, and love bugs appear, and Tank begins growing a winter coat that will have to be clipped off because it will be too hot for him until at least December. The busyness surrounding the start of the school year slows down, but the holiday rush hasn’t started yet. I’m still wearing shorts much of the time, but occasionally I can put on jeans without becoming a puddle of sweat. I feel thankful I’ve survived another summer and look forward to savoring the cooler months ahead.

Autumn isn’t really here yet—but it’s coming. It’s coming.

What’s your favorite season?

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Friday, September 9, 2011

Surprised By Happiness

When you think of being happy, do you primarily think of doing fun things, getting what you want, or having your life running smoothly? Me, too—but that’s only part of the picture. Happiness is not just something that appears when you reach a goal or finally have that free time you’ve been longing for. Here are some surprising sources of happiness:

For many, work is a source of deep and lasting happiness. Ariel Gore wrote in Bluebird: Women and the New Psychology of Happiness: “...in recent years I’d noticed a growing disconnect between the things I imagined would make me happy and the things that actually did. Potentially ego-boosting rites of passage in my career, for example—awards or good reviews—only seemed to cause me anxiety. Allowing myself to be absorbed in my work, on the other hand, whether it was writing or teaching or doing some familial chore I outwardly complained about, brought a quiet contentment I could feel radiate from my chest.” She continued later in the book, “When we strike a balance between the challenge of an activity and our skill at performing it, when the rhythm of the work itself feels in sync with our pulse, when we know that what we’re doing matters, we can get totally absorbed in our task. That is happiness.”

I don’t know about you, but when I need a quick shot of satisfaction, I begin cleaning and/or organizing. One of my favorite bloggers, Crazy Aunt Purl (Laurie Perry), coped with a scary and unexpected move by scrubbing grout! Perhaps putting one small area of our lives in order helps us cope with chaos elsewhere, I don’t know. All I know is a clean and organized office/refrigerator/hall closet is cause for rejoicing.

“Happy women know that no one gets to be happy all the time,” according to What Happy Women Know, by Dan Baker, Ph.D, Cathy Greenberg, Ph.D, and Ina Yalof.  As Gretchen Rubin notes in her blog post, “Negative emotions are a key part of rational thought and effective performance. Also, up to a point, they can be of great service to happiness. They’re loud, flashy signs that something isn’t right. Because they’re so unpleasant, they can sometimes prod us to take action when nothing else can.” Negative emotions are a part of life—feel them, accept them, learn from them—then let them pass.

According to Dr. George E. Vaillant of Harvard Medical School, what seems to contribute most to happiness as we get older are the coping mechanisms we develop to handle the inevitable pain of life. Coping mechanisms like humor, a positive outlook, willingness to control anger and hostility, and treating others the way we’d like to be treated, help us avoid depression and foster connections with others—both of which make our lives more enjoyable.

This makes me…happy. I see that many factors contribute to a person’s happiness—factors we can control, and ordinary things that are likely already part of our daily lives. Happiness is waiting…we just need to recognize it.

What surprising thing makes you happy?


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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Old Houses

Photo courtesy Fred Fokkelman
Here is a lovely poem by Robert Cording, a poet who lives in Connecticut, which shows us a fresh new way of looking at something commonplace. That’s the kind of valuable service a poet can provide. [Introduction by Ted Kooser.]

Old Houses

Year after year after year
I have come to love slowly

how old houses hold themselves—

before November’s drizzled rain
or the refreshing light of June—

as if they have all come to agree
that, in time, the days are no longer
a matter of suffering or rejoicing.

I have come to love
how they take on the color of rain or sun
as they go on keeping their vigil

without need of a sign, awaiting nothing

more than the birds that sing from the eaves,
the seizing cold that sounds the rafters.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2010 by Robert Cording from his most recent book of poetry, “Walking with Ruskin,” CavanKerry Press, Ltd., 2010. Reprinted by permission of Robert Cording. Introduction copyright ©2011 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.

 
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Friday, September 2, 2011

Go Climb a Tree


One of the bonuses of having my own horse has been the friends I’ve made at the barn where I board. Not long ago, two of us were grazing our horses in the grass along the dirt driveway, when a third friend, Mary Ann, strolled down the road, and reported that she’d just climbed a tree overlooking one of the horses’ paddocks—just to see if she could. This ignited an enthusiastic discussion. Marianne (yes, her name is spelled right: friend one in this story is Mary Ann, friend two is Marianne) admitted she’s climbed the camphor tree in her front yard, also because she wanted to see if she could do it. Marianne also remembered climbing trees with a friend when she was a kid, and rigging a pulley and basket system between their two trees, sending comic books back and forth to each other.

I haven’t climbed any trees lately (I’m thinking I need to get back in practice!), but it was a favorite past time when I was a girl. When we lived in southern California, we had an apricot tree growing near our flat-roofed garage. This tree, in addition to being covered with delicious fruit every summer, also sent its limbs up and over the garage roof, creating a small, enclosed bower, perfect for an 11-year-old who would take a book, shinny up the tree and curl up in a secluded and private reading nook.

Mary Ann just happens to be 60 years old. She has the most youthful spirit of anyone I know. She comes to the barn daily where she does barn chores and takes care of her 22-year-old ex-racehorse. I’m not saying it’s tree climbing that is keeping her young, but it can’t hurt.

Mary Ann and Frenchy
How often do we stop ourselves because we feel we’re “too old” to do something? Why limit ourselves like that? I certainly advocate being careful and following commonsense safety rules, but if you want to ride the roller coaster, white water raft, go hiking, dance to the radio—or go climb a tree—please, go ahead.

Is there anything you secretly long to do that you think you can’t? What keeps you feeling young and energized?

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