Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Seize the Day

It's New Year's Eve, the day when people tend to pause and reflect on the outgoing year. Both television and newspapers are filled with the events of the year--headlines made, people who have died, tragedies, failures and successes.  That's what we do when something comes to an end, it seems, reflect.  What made history this year?  What did we accomplish? Where did we fail.  We pause, and then we pack the year up and move on--new year, new goals...hoping that somehow our lives will get better.

In years past I have done the "resolutions" thing, only to discover that an idea is doomed to failure once it receives this label.  If I really want to do something it will get done, with or without my resolving to do it.  The need to promise only indicates to me that it is not something I really want to do, or maybe I want to do it but am not yet ready to commit to the process of accomplishing it.  Yes, for me, resolutions are things that I feel I should be doing--not things that I want to do.  Good, old fashioned guilt--that's from where these vows arise.

So, I'm not making any resolutions this year.  True, I have goals, hopes, dreams.  I'd like to return to playing my guitar and piano on a regular basis.  I hope to get back to painting and I'd like to check out photography as an art form. And of course, I desire to keep writing.  Maybe this year is the one in which I'll write my novel.  I don't want to disappoint Frank, after all.  But, that being said, I realize how my novel writing may come from someone else's expectations and hopes...perhaps not yet my own. Still, writing a novel is something I will keep on my bucket list.  

Bucket list!  That reminds me...I'll go back to my list this year and see what things can be accomplished.  Maybe, with the new year, my list will be revised.  I'm getting older, after all, and the last few days I have been feeling it.  My joints are stiff; my bones rattle and crack.The aches and pains that come with cold, damp winter days remind me of my own mortality.   

If I were to make a resolution it would be to do the things I long to do, the things that are life-giving and joy producing.  Joy is contagious, so why not treat the world to this gift?  I will choose to live my life more authentically, creating an inner joy that I hope will spread.   If not now, when?   "Carpe diem!"

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Fancy is as Fancy Does

If you have a young girl in your life, you may be familiar with the "Fancy Nancy" books. Like anything marketed to young children, a whole line of spin off products are now available, including a Fancy Nancy doll, dress up clothes, stickers and colorforms (remember those?) Kathryn, my oldest granddaugther at 4 and a half (you know they're growing up when they start counting in halves) is a huge fan of Fancy Nancy. In fact, she takes pride in being a fancy person herself.

Kathryn is a very outgoing and talkative child. One can barely get a word in when spending time with her. She is confident and take-charge. For a long while now, she has been picking out what she will wear each day. It's always a dress or skirt and she comes up with the craziest combinations: vertical striped blue and green skirt with horizontal striped pink tights topped off with a sparkly pink shirt and red cardigan. You get the picture! But on her, somehow, it works. Perhaps because it reflects her unique and rather complex (for a 4 1/2 year old) personality.

Today we are going to visit her. Now when I go there, I have been given strict order from Kathryn--I must be fancy too. So I took a shower, slathered myself with scented lotion and put on my makeup. True, I am still wearing jeans, albeit with my fanciest thermal top--all flowery and feminine. I may wear nice shoes instead of my usual hiking boots.

I have to go now. I still have my nails to paint and my hair to do. But if I don't get around to it, that's okay. Kathryn will be happy to do it for me once I arrive. Purple and green nails--nothing says "Kathryn" like those!

Keeping up with Kathryn by being fancy isn't easy. But it is fun! It's an easy way of making her happy and it's nice having something in common. Oh, to be 4 and 1/2 again!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Looking Forward to a New Year!

I have changed the title of my blog from "Soulsearcher's Stories" to "Calliope."  I just wanted something a little bit more imaginative. Sure, it's only one word, and yes, its a musical instrument, but what the heck?  If Lin can have "Duck and Wheel with String" I figured I could go musical.  I sometimes think I'm more musical than literary anyway.  Or at least AS musical as literary.

This weekend I bought two CDs--those ones they feature at the kiosks in target where you press the picture and hear a sample of the music.  I bought one featuring Mozart compositions played on violins; the other is a piano version of Beethoven.  I find classical music to be very relaxing.  I draw a bubble bath, light a scented candle or some incense and turn on classical music.  It's my personal, affordable spa experience.

One of my hopes for the New Year (I refuse to use the term "resolution") is to blog more often and to be more creative in my writing.  Maybe relaxation is a way to tap my right brained-ness.  I don't know if it helps, but it can't hurt.  

I do know that I am ready to pack up 2008 and put it to rest.  It's been a hell of a year--too much in the way of turmoil.  Another hope is that 2009 will be a better year, even in spite of Amy going to Iraq.  

I read a small article this morning about a new year's celebration or ritual (?) in which you can shred something you want to forget about 2008.  The article listed some samples of the choices people were making. Some were shredding  bank statements; one person was shredding a lone sock that he found in his dryer.  As for me, I think I might shred the following:  pictures of my daughter's former fiance, a Christmas card that I received complaining about our family dynamics, the many unkind and small minded articles that appear all too often.  In fact, I might decide to shred my entire calendar.  There were some good things about the year, but those are already imprinted on my heart. The rest of the year can be put to rest.  It's time to move forward.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Today is one of my favorite days of the year--December 23rd. With it comes all of the anticipation of the holidays without any expenditure of the excitement.  It is the same reason that Friday is my favorite day of the week--I'm all about the anticipation, I guess.

Yesterday when I left work I reported that if the predicted snow came I might not come in this morning.  And yet, here I am. The roads weren't that bad.  True, I worry mightily about being rear-ended by some nut in a hurry to get somewhere.  Especially since I did get hit from behind one clear and sunny afternoon while just sitting at a red light, minding my own business.  For some reason I just wanted to come in today.  Hardly anyone is here, and I like that.  It's quiet and there is a total lack of stress.  I can write on my blog, in between answering the few calls that come in and scheduling post-holiday appointments.  Yeah, it's dark, quiet, lonely even and I love it. It's the anonymous hermit in me coming out again.

On the way home I'll stop at the grocery story for a few last minute items: milk, something to bring to the in-law's tomorrow, maybe a snack or two for Christmas.   I really enjoy these pre-holiday days, the ones where everything I'm going to buy in the way of gifts is wrapped and under the tree, the cookies are already eaten and the egg nog is almost gone.  Now I can sit and listen to Christmas music or watch another holiday movie without guilt.  Of course, there are always things to do--the empty boxes from decorations still need to be put away.  Another bottle of wine needs to be picked up for dinner.  Those things will always be there.  Nothing is ever 100% after all.

Still, Christmas magic is in the air.  We'll spend it with two of our three kids this year.  Amy will be celebrating with Johnny in Japan and I'll shoot her an email or a facebook message.  She'll be okay for Christmas.  We had our celebration with her last week.

At midnight mass, I'll say prayers for family, for safe travel, for peace.  And I'll express gratitude for all that I have, even now, in spite of the poor economy.  I'm more than content, I'm joyful.  Joy is better than happiness, which can be fleeting and dependent on circumstance.

So for any readers out there, whatever you may be celebrating, whatever plans you may have, I wish you joy!  Joyeau Noell!  Feliz Navidad!  Happy Hannukah!  Peaceful Kwanza!  Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 22, 2008

No More Ordinary

It was a good day for a family dinner. All three of our adult children were in town.  It's been a long time since that has happened and it was wonderful. The weather was unseasonably warm for December and our granddaughters, Kathryn and Lea, played outside with the bubble makers that Amy brought them from Japan.  Millions of bubbles, or so it seemed, floated all around the house.  It was a beautiful sight, the bubbles catching at just the right angle, creating a prism effect. "Magical," I thought.

More beautiful than the bubbles was seeing my children together after so many months apart. Adults now, they were close growing up and they are always able to pick up right where they left off. They played with the bubbles, delighting in the fantasy world they created, as much as the little children did.  Laughter floated through the air as well, tinkling upward melodically to reach me at my vantage point, standing by the large kitchen window and holding my grandson.

The smells of the dinner added to it all--roast beef, ham and freshly baked rolls created a symphony of aromas.  The wine was poured, the dishes placed upon the table.  We all sat down for a family feast--a celebration of the goodness of just plain being together.

It ended all too soon.  The predicted ice-storm cut the day short, ending early in the evening.  Erin and James longed to get on the road early.  Before their departure, we took family pictures--all of us together--as well as individual shots; our recorded history, this is what we looked like at this time in this place.

It will be many months before we can all be together again.  Jeff headed back for Washington, DC the next morning.  Amy has since returned to Japan.  Like many families these days, ours is scattered far and wide.  We don't have many days that we can all be together, just the occasional opportunity like this one day a week ago.  There is no ordinary any more, only special events, one at a time.  One day--one dinner, marking a special occasion, an event in the lives of us all.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Shopped 'Til We Dropped!

It was our first of several visits to the mall.  Amy and I had left in a hurry and not taken time to eat anything. As soon as we arrived, we realized that we were famished.

"Are you hungry?" she asked.

"Yes, are you?"

"Yeah.  Should we get something now?"

"Well, it's still a little early.  Let's shop for awhile first.  It's not that crowded so we should be okay."

We wandered through the mall, looking for something to jump out at us.  It's hell not knowing what to buy for presents.  We looked and looked, but nothing really caught our eye or our interest.

We sauntered into the Gap, not really expecting much, but ending up with two sweaters.  American Eagle, PacSun, Eddie Bauer--nothing!  Amy had few ideas of what to buy and I had fewer.

"Let's just eat now,"  we agreed.

The food court seemed just as uninspiring as the rest of the mall.  Taco Bell?  No way.  Never.  Great Steak?  Hmmm....not today.  Frulatti?  Too cold for a cold drink and sandwich.  

We settled upon the Japanese place, I forget the name of it.  Because she lives in Japan, Amy eats with chopsticks; they don't offer forks or spoons at their restaurants.  As for me, well, I have never been able to master the art of the chopstick, but I was willing to give it another try.  Of course, I picked up a fork as well for my backup plan.

Sure, our Japanese fare was Americanized, with soft drinks instead of tea and loose white rice instead of the usual sticky rice that the Japanese serve.  Nevertheless, we enjoyed it.  Amy was amused by my efforts to use their traditional utensils.  To our surprise, I mastered it pretty well by the end of the meal, using the fork only for my last few bites of rice.

The sustenance provided the energy needed for a couple more hours of shopping.  More successful now, we both lugged shopping bags of goods of to our car.

Reaching the exit, the door opened for us as we were greeted by the cheeriest of bell-ringing volunteers. 

"I have no cash," I sadly reported.  Yes, I was actually disappointed that I could not donate.  "Wait!"  I remembered the change in the bottom of my purse.  Digging around, I counted out about a dollar's worth of it.

"Sorry, I only have change"

"No problem!  Any little bit helps!  Merry Christmas!"

Amy and I walked to the car arm in arm, talking and laughing. 

"It is a merry Christmas," I thought to myself.  

We turned on the station with continuous Christmas carols and began our drive.  We would have to return to the mall another day, but this was a good one, happy and satisfying. We were exhausted, in a good way and looked forward to the warmth and comfort of home.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Return Trips

Well, Amy left today.  I brought her to O'Hare at about 8:50 for her 10:45 AM flight.  Just as I expected, her time with us went all too quickly and we were unable to do all of the things and see all of the people that she would like to have seen.  We tried, really we did, but ten days doesn't really amount to much.

I was supposed to work yesterday because we had a staff meeting scheduled, always a priority event for us here.  Nevertheless, I took another vacation day at the last minute. It was Amy's last day in the states, and we decided to drive down to see Erin, James and the kids in Mahomet, just west of Champaign.  I let Amy sleep in for awhile and then off we went--our last adventure together for a long time.

Amy has a couple of Marine friends who live along I-57 in the small towns scattered along our route.  One friend, I think his name is Matt, lives in Manteno, just north of Kankakee.  She brought her camera along to take pictures of the road signs along the way so that she should show them to her friend in Okinawa. 

"Yes, we drove right past your home town!" I imagined her saying.  "See, here's the sign for Manteno, here's another one for Kankakee..." and so on.  Amy has a very sociable demeanor and bubbly, enthusiastic personality, enabling her to make even a rather mundane road sign into something of grand significance.  

The only problem was that she was also working on her laptop while I drove and she missed all of the signs on the way there.  The sun was shining and the pictures would probably have turned out very well.  Now, we had to initiate plan B--that I would be taking the pictures while we drove by on the way home--in the dead of night, windows down, cold wind blowing.  Sigh! yes, that's the way things happen for us.

After a nice visit, I was happy to oblige.  Truth be told, I was happy just to let her do the driving.  I-57 is long, winding and dark during the night time hours, wreaking havoc on these tired and worn eyes.  Taking pictures sounded like a reasonable alternative.

I was actually able to capture most of her requests with more than adequate success.  My best shot was the one of the Manteno sign--clear as a bell and centered perfectly, it was! I burst with pride in my accomplishment, especially since this is the sign she most wanted to record.  It wasn't easy, we had to decrease our speed considerably will pulling onto the shoulder, not quite stopped and parked but very nearly so.  

"Great shot!" I bragged.  "Okay, that's the last of them."  I rolled up my window for the last time and relaxed into the warmth of my surroundings.

Arriving home later than we'd planned, we began the process of packing up whatever clothes and belongings Amy decided would make the return trip.  Folding, sorting, and refolding, all the while people called or stopped by for that one last hug or one  more "fare-thee-well."  Amy took several more pictures--our two dogs, my husband and I, the dogs and both of us.  We passed the camera around to each other so that everyone could get a picture with her.  Every passing minute of this final day became digitally recorded.

The washing machine continued to churn while Amy critiqued her photos.  "Delete, save, save, delete..." the litany continued for each and every shot.

"Ughh!  Oh no!"  was her dire warning cry.

"What?" I cried, panicking.  Had she lost her wallet with her military ID and debit card? Perhaps her orders had been misplaced.  

"She left something in Mahomet, I just know it" I thought.  "What?!" I demanded to know.  Immediately!

"I accidentally deleted the picture of the Manteno sign," she wailed.  "I meant to delete the picture of your coat, the one you took when you were holding the camera backwards..."  

"Is this a criticism of my photographic ability?" I wondered.  "Hmm... well, if so, it's justified."  I just don't have it when it comes to cameras.  Especially anything other than a point and shoot.

"Well, we'll get in the car and drive out and take another one."

"Really?  Can we really do that?"

"Sure," I replied.  "After all, we have to wait for the laundry to be finish up anyway.  And you can always sleep on the plane.  It is a fourteen hour flight.  Plenty of time to sleep."

We put on our coats and jumped back in the car, warming it up for a few minutes before we drove off to Manteno yet again.   What better final adventure or memory for her last day at home?  There was nothing more important that needed to be done at 1:00 AM this dark Thursday morning.  And never will there be anything more important to me than her happiness.  It was such a small thing to do for her, compared to all the big things that she continually does for all of us.

"And now because we can get off and turn around, we can take some pictures in the town, too.  That way you'll have more to show than just the road sign."

"Great idea!"  she smiled.

Before her return trip to Okinawa, we had our own return trip.  Moments and memories like these make her departure a little bit more bearable.  They create the images that I will savor in the coming months.  There were many moments like this in the past few days.  Stay tuned and I will be happy to share more of them with you.  It is my way of reliving our time  together and a way of remembering Amy.  Return trips...a way of revisiting our lives and love...together.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

No Deal

Yesterday I went to work late. I wanted to let Amy sleep as late as she wanted; she is still on Japan time, after all. Add to that the jet lag from 14 hours plus of flying, and you can imagine how completely exhausted she was.

Before she awoke, I had thought maybe we could spend some time together--do breakfast or something like that. But, by the time she got up, I had already eaten and so instead we went to the DMV to replace her lost driver's license. She had tried to replace it while in Japan, but all the Illinois DMV would do was to send her a 30 day permit. With the mail delivery being the way it is, by the time it reached her in Japan, it had already expired.

Isn't it funny (weird or ironic--not "ha-ha" funny) that the Illinois Secretary of State will do little to assist a Marine half a world away, but that so many of our governors are corrupt--either serving time or being arrested for deal-brokering? What a strange place, this state called Illinois. Well, maybe not the place itself, but the people who run it. No influence, no cash--no deal!

That was it--going to the DMV was sum and substance of our adventure for the day. I dropped Amy off at her old high school, to visit her dad and the other teachers and then off to work I went. Yes, Tuesday is the day I always need to show up. But I'm on vacation now--taking my remaining few days of time off to spend with her.

Perhaps today we'll go to the mall. We have a way of making it fun, laughing at the silly things we see and do together. We're looking forward to a Fruilatti and maybe going to Panera for lunch, if not today then some day soon. It's all up to her. When I don't see my kids for long periods of time I tend to spoil them. We'll go to their favorite restaurants and I'll buy them things they don't really need, fun things they wouldn't buy themselves. I already have a few things in mind.

Still, this is Amy's leave time--her last few days of complete freedom. She has no schedule now, but can just sleep in. She doesn't have to report, can wear what she wants and can just be herself--literally and figuratively letting her hair down. And so I'll let Amy make the decisions about who we see, where we go and what we do. It's all about her for the next few days. I'm just happy to have her home again.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Celebrating Amy

Last night a friend of mine unexpectedly dropped by the house. When I answered the door, she was there with her daughter.

"I needed to drop something off," she said. "I don't know if we were still meeting tonight and I wanted to be sure you had this."

At that point, out jumped my daughter, Amy, from behind the bushes. Yes, Amy, my marine daughter is home for a ten-day visit. Sure, it's not the 30 days we hoped for, but it's better than nothing--much, much better. It's been a long seven months since we've seen her.

She looks great, tan, fit, healthy and, most importantly, happy. She seems to be doing well and she seems glad to be home.

Needless to say, I am putting my entire life on hold. I won't be writing much unless she is out visiting or sleeping, like she is now. I will only be going to work for the inevitable and necessary meetings and events. I am even giving up my tickets to "Dirty Dancing" and my trip to Navy Pier. If it can't include all three of us, Amy, my husband and I, it is off the table.

Sorry Frank, but my novel will have to wait. To be honest, it isn't that good anyway. But when I get back to it, I may have more twists and turns from this very unexpected and happy surprise.
Thanks for your understanding and patience--this is top priority right now and the time will go by so very quickly.

In the meantime, please check the blog now and again. I may be posting some of our activities for all to share.

Off the radar for now--see you all soon!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Off to Work--TGIF!!

I am going to be heading off to work shortly. First, I need to look at the bills to see what's due, maybe write a couple of checks and get them in the mail. Then, off to work I go! At least it's Friday, and it may be a shorter day for me to boot!

I have to admit that I'm looking forward to the weekend. I'll take time to consider options, but there aren't many these days due to this bad economy. At least the weekend offers some respite, a chance to just be myself, without pretense, without worrying about the constant criticism that comes during the work day.

Maybe we'll go see a movie tonight...what's playing? I wonder. I'll take a look later today, hoping to find something that takes me completely away, the same way that a Calgon bath might...remember those old commercials? "Let Calgon take you away." Ah, that sounds so good right now.

But for now, it's off to work. Just wanted to write some musings as I may not have a chance later today (see previous posting.)

Onward and upward--trying to stay positive and hopeful!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Down, but Not Out (Yet)

Today is a hard day.  Everyone at work has been called on the carpet--not doing enough, not quick enough, totally incompetent.  These are the words being bantered about by the boss.  Hardly uplifting, I'd say.

Some days it's hard to stay positive.  Does he really believe that we come in here only to do a "bad" job?  I don't know but it feels that way.

So I don't feel I can write much today--even while on my break.  Big brother is watching, it seems, assuming the worst in all of us.  (sigh!)  See you all later...

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Back to the Blog

Okay, so I haven't written, but I have to say that's because I have been busy, very busy--busier than usual.  I had a house full of out-of-town guests over the weekend and every minute was consumed by either eating, visiting or Christmas shopping.  Our computer is in my son's old room and since he was camped out there I was unable to spend any significant amounts of time on the blog.  So, nothing has been posted, but that doesn't mean I haven't been writing or that I don't continue with my novel.   Oh, yes, I have ideas--some of them good, others not so much, but I will continue on, working hard to complete this challenge.

I'm not sure if I am ready to post my novel in it's entirety.  I want to be able to print it out and bind it together for those who have requested a copy.  These will probably be the only ones in print...will that make them a collector's item?  Could be!

In the meantime, I will continue to post more often.  Probably everyone has given up on even checking my blog by this time.  But in a surprise moment, my son confessed to me that he has been following it regularly.   I felt excited when I heard that.  He hasn't commented yet, but its good to know that my adult children are interested in what I have to say.  It's been a long time coming.  I guess I'm not so "square" after all...