The weather has done its best this year to kill off all my plants. Thankfully, I was able to share the fruits of them and even share some of the plants themselves with friends just the same. One of the sweetest messages I received on my phone last year was a photo of a plant I had given to a friend that had shot up and was producing like mad in my friend’s yard, which made her excited and very happy.
We’ve lugged our citrus trees and my mango plants in and out of the house many times this winter. The next pineapples I plant will be kept in large pots so that I can do the same with them (dastardly ice storm in a climate where you aren’t supposed to be!). I don’t mind starting over so much. I’m getting much better at my kitchen scraps taking root the first time (the blessing of many failed attempts in quick succession).
I love citrus trees. No place really feels like home for me without them. I got this idea of the good life early on, visiting my grandparents in Tarzana. Their backyard, like many of their neighbors’, smelled of pool, cement, dog, lawn and magnolia, citrus trees, and berry bushes. Add music, an ice rink, a personal library, and quiet to that and you’ll pretty much have my personal definition of heaven on earth. I got pretty close to that ideal when I lived in San Diego, Santa Barbara, and Fresno, and have struggled to find it ever since. Hence, why my mom buys citrus trees for me whenever she can.
We’ve built up our current “grove” to a lemon, a key lime, and a tangerine. Our lemon tree is the oldest and (currently) the most generous of the three. We had a harvest of over sixty-five lemons from it last year (I gave some of the branches and flowers from it to friends throughout the year, otherwise there would have been more). The lemons we get from it are fragrant and surprisingly sweet, as the heating repair man and his family will readily attest. My mom made lemon curd from some of them that was positively dee-lish and had one of the young men we know aching to come over to learn how to make some of his own with us.
I love the fruit but my delight of delights in citrus trees is in their blossoms. Elegant, white, with a fragrance that is fresh and transports me to many early happinesses, I love citrus flowers- especially those from lemon trees. In Fresno my bed was next to a window that allowed the scent-sations from our pink lemon tree to waft in to me. That coupled with watching the light awaken a watercolor painting above me to shades of day and dusk, made my recovery from my first heart surgery much easier for me than it otherwise would have been.
It’s difficult for me not to hope deep down when I have citrus flowers budding and bursting open about me, which has made the recent profusion of them very welcome in my life, especially recently.
I’ve been much closer to my ideal life several times before, years before, but I can’t really be a deep shade of miserable with so much life and beauty at my fingertips. It’s my mom’s and my stepdad’s gift to me with each new tree that they bring and are willing to tote in and out when the weather is maddening, because they understand and love me. It’s a very special bit of my happy in a place that otherwise rather refuses to feel like home to me.
Years ago when one of my nephews was just a baby, we had a game we liked to play together. Now that he is back from Poland, I had the chance to spend some time with him in person for the first time in a long time. He knows I’m his aunt, we’ve talked and Skyped over the past two years, but he didn’t remember me.
But then again, he kinda did.
Memory is a funny thing. I started playing the game I used to play with him with the toddlers in our family and he ran over to me like a shot. Something in him opened up, and in that moment he was that baby and that toddler with me all over again, remembering the love and the trust he felt being around me back then, and radiating that love and joy back to me now.
That’s why traditions and rituals are important. We don’t remember everything, but if done right, we remember the love.
I think about that in regards to a little girl I know who I helped for a time. Like me, she loves pretty glasses and goblets. One day when I gave her one filled with water, her mother worried a bit. She was little. She may break it. But I sensed in her a little of myself at that age and I remembered my great-grandmother and how she treated me then, trusting me with some of her special things from a very young age. I remember how that made me feel. I remembered the love. So I gave this little friend of mine the goblet. To her family’s astonishment, she still has it-intact. She drinks from it at the dinner table every night. In time, the goblet will almost assuredly break- life is like that- but hopefully the love and the joy she feels in these moments now will continue to come back with every sip she takes from a fancy glass for the rest of her life. I know that that’s how it has been for me.
My little friend, like my nephew, is likely too young to remember me at sight for the rest of her life. But she and my nephew are not too young to remember a game, a goblet, and more especially the gift of being understood and loved. The memory may be buried deep, but it’s in there. And that, like my memories of my great-grandmother, makes me very happy.
I taught myself to read when I was four and have read fairly easily and happily ever since- until the last few months that is. It’s been hurting a lot to read just lately. I often have pain after reading one page. War and Peace and numerous other books don’t read well that way. That put me in a bind with several of my projects. It’s likely that it will only get harder for me to read as time goes on. That is difficult. It makes me want to push and use what I have before I lose it, but being sick for so long I understand something else too.
Lots of movies that depict people who are seriously ill portray them living full days for the first time in their lives. You can live a filled-to-the-brim day here and there, but I don’t know of anyone, especially someone who is sick, who can keep that pace up for any length of time.
In the movie that best portrays what it really feels like to be seriously sick in life altering ways, The Doctor, one of the characters who is dying from cancer stops the man who is trying to help her get her “full day, crossing-off-the-list-of-something-she-wanted-to-do”. It turns out that she is tired of racing and pursuing. She just wants to enjoy where she is, now.
One of my biggest regrets is how I treated myself my senior year of college. I had been bleeding internally for nine months. I had surgical cancer tests over my Christmas break. I came back to finish my degree as organ after organ stopped working properly. My heart meds stopped working. I didn’t appreciate at the time just how sick I truly was, but I was consumed with grief and frustration that after so many years of working and planning I was not turning in work at the level I wanted to. I was not living up to my potential.
I rode myself so hard those last few months in ways I never would have dreamed of doing to anyone else. I finished, but at a high cost to myself both physically and emotionally. This last bout of really sick I realized I had an opportunity. Fun as it may be to watch people in movies get a chance to relive a pivotal moment in their life, this time getting it right, we don’t get that opportunity in real life. But we do get the chance to learn from those moments and alter how we live now. This time, I’ve tried to treat myself the way I wish I had treated my college senior self- with patience, gentleness, and compassion. It required changing some expectations I’ve had for myself.
I’ve come to the conclusion that for books with audiobooks available, I will listen to the audio versions of them and call those books read. I’m saving my eye time for ones I won’t be able to experience any other way but reading them slowly myself. I’ve also reached a point where I can appreciate that being able to read in short spurts can actually be a blessing. I absorb the ideas sometimes better that way. I think about them more deeply while I wait for my eyes to be up for the next reading of a page or a paragraph.
I’ve also had to come to terms with the fact that I am a woman who deludes and disillusions herself cyclically. I can beat myself and be beaten with a reality stick regularly and the dreams and delusions still manage to find a way up and out. And I cling to them willingly, knowing that they help me forward, even if it is only for a few hours or a few weeks. I go into it knowing full well that there will be disappointment later on. When it comes I struggle and cry it out, then, after a few days or a few weeks depending on the circumstance, dream and lead myself on yet again. And fail yet again. And try yet again. Because I’m still living and quitting is like killing yourself before your time.
I realized much of this consciously this afternoon, in front of a bookcase in a thrift shop. The disease that could blind me and that is making it hard for me to read should, realistically, make me stop looking at books. But my love for them is too deep. So there I was, waiting for my mom to finish, looking at the titles and dreaming of the possibilities. I grabbed one and held it. This is my shopping test. If holding an item while I shop makes me feel tired or iffy about it, I put it back. Then there was another one. Simplified Russian Method. The last few weeks I’ve been playing from Russian piano methods. The music I can read; the rest has been a closed book to me. I don’t like not being able to read a book about something that interests me. This is why I started studying German. This is why even as I struggle to read in English, I bought the book that would help me read Russian- because I’m crazy optimistic like that.
As a child, I was fascinated and concerned about what went on behind the Iron Curtain. I marvel and rejoice when I’ve had the chances to learn about, talk, and interact with people from countries like Estonia, Bulgaria, Russia, Poland, and Moldova- countries that once fell under the heading of the Soviet Union. Having access to them, their talents, their books, and their learning- what a blessing! Which is why I’ve added Russian to my languages that I want to be learning, and why I will be saving up for ice dance lesson DVDs from a Russian woman who coached the skaters I want to skate like, even though I’ve just recently been able to start walking again, and won’t have access to an ice rink for who knows how long. These things spark my soul, make me want to reach higher and try harder- but even if I never reach the heights to which I aspire, I am finally reaching a place where, like the woman with a brain tumor in The Doctor, I can also enjoy not chasing, but appreciating and enjoying and sharing what I have been given right now. And this time around, because of what I learned, there’s a lot less suffering and a lot more happy.
I know most people don’t see work as a gift, but it is. It was a gift to my grandfather when the WPA allowed him to work to feed his family during the Depression. This is where most welfare goes wrong I think: there is a dignity in work, a bit of shame being dependent and forever on the receiving end of things. We’re ultimately happiest when we can both give and receive. That’s my experience anyhow.
Someone who knows what it is like to work is Katie in The Farmer’s Daughter. For many years I wanted to grow up to be like her- so skilled and beautiful, honest and strong.
I love Loretta Young in this movie, but one of my favorite people in it is Charles Bickford as Mr. Clancy. He has dignity and wisdom and a sense of humor that I’ve always admired. He’s kind of the male equivalent of Hattie McDaniel to me (who steals the show for me in Margie and Gone with the Wind). I hear negative comments about people who work hard for a living and it sets off a hot button in me. I have little tolerance or patience for people who look down on those who cook and clean and care for people for a living. These people work hard, doing jobs many people do not have the inner strength and dignity to do well if they were in their place.
In the hospital, it was almost always the person who brought me my meals who, in those brief moments, comforted me and cared for me and saw and treated me as a person- not a patient. I don’t take that lightly. But I am digressing.
The fun in the movie The Farmer’s Daughter is sprinkled throughout. I couldn’t find clips of Mr. Clancy. *sigh* You’ll have to watch the movie to come to know and love him as I do, but there is a clip of a scene that I feel is very important and character building. It happens when Katie’s father, a Scandinavian immigrant farmer, calls her out on quitting and not standing up for what is true and right. As a great-granddaughter of Scandinavian immigrant farmers who eked out a living just barely, but felt blessed for the privilege to do it and to provide for their families, this clip has special meaning to me. I hope you enjoy it and it’s reference to what Congress should be, and so often, isn’t, and that you’ll remember that the ability to work is a blessing- one of the foundational elements of meaning and being truly happy.
Over Thanksgiving I was able to go walking up in the mountains of Arizona. Pine needles collected themselves in piles along the little used roads there. I think it was because of the recent snow that they had grown soft and spongy underfoot. It added some spring to my step each time I stepped on them so I sought them out all along my way. On the roadside, snow sparkled on grass like soapsuds or like sea foam that the ocean leaves behind on the sand sometimes. It was a double joy to see it. It was beautiful then, but it also reminded me of the beauty and calm stored away in my soul from walks I took along the shores of the Pacific and the Atlantic years before.
We got caught in a storm on our way to the cabin. They closed the highway we were on when traffic looked as though a toddler had taken his toy cars and thrown them at the freeway; cars and semis scattered and jack-knifed, spun-out and over-turned. Thankfully we eventually made it to an exit with a hotel safely that night. Arriving at the cabin a day later than planned, my stepdad lit a fire in the fireplace and we looked out the windows as the snow floated down delicately all around us. It’s the first time in my life that I felt like I was inside a snow globe. It was beautiful.
I’m an I-can-appreciate-and-enjoy-snow-for-two-or-three-days-a-year-so-long-as-I-don’t-have-to-drive-in-it kind of person. I like how a fresh snow can make drab and dirty landscapes glow and sparkle. I like how it softens the sound around us. Snow brings a different type of quiet with it. It’s always made me marvel.
I like how snow can be transformed into a dancing hula girl snowman complete with eyelashes and “grass” skirt courtesy of my mom’s imagination, pine cones, a bit of greenery, and pine needles.
I like being the first to leave footprints across its pristine, white canvas. It’s the closest I’ll ever get to that “first steps on the moon” kind of feeling and I delight in it.
I like how it slows me down and holds me firmly in the now. Snow is usually a rare treat where I’ve lived most. Living where I do, where we just aren’t prepared or equipped for it, when it snows, everything stops. It’s nice to have that once in a while.
Snow can be like New Year’s. It whites everything out and lets you think and start anew as it muffles out some of life’s noise and distractions before it melts and freshens the ground beneath it. At least that’s what it does here down South for me. When I lived North it did slow me down too, in those extras minutes I had to clear off my car in the morning, or those exceptionally cold mornings when it froze my car doors and locks shut. I don’t miss those mornings. But sometimes, I miss moon boots and electric blankets and cups of cocoa that mattered because they brought your taste buds and insides back to life- unfreezing you from the inside out.
So yeah, snow brings me a bit of happy, a bit of sparkle, a bit of still, and a bit of wonder to my life- now and then.
If you haven’t heard about Dinovember yet, take a look at this post. What an amazing project, and how lucky are those kids? We all need a bit of the magical in our lives.
My final semester of college, I was really sick- barely holding on sick. One day I came home to my room to find it had been invaded by a leprechaun who left green footprints on my floor and treats on my bed and dresser. That memory still makes me smile. It was how the lady I was living with at the time made St. Patrick’s Day a delight for me while showing an enormous amount of love.
Like these parents do for their children. Even if you don’t have kids, I think you will want to check it out to enjoy a bit of happy.
I love that my book collection contains books from exotic places all around the world including China, Australia, Germany, Britain, France and Dayton… Ohio. Yeah, that Dayton, Ohio one is my most recent bit of happy where books and packages are concerned. More so because it came with a note that made it even more exciting and special to me than it already was. I love having books that were loved before me. And I love this book.
Plus it’s always nice to get mail that isn’t a credit card offer or my burn bill that is slowly being paid down to zero as we speak. A few more months and my leg will once again belong exclusively to me. Yay! Another bit of happy.
One of the benefits of being a reader of books without a large following is the joy in tracking them down and giving them a home with me. It’s the thrill of discovering them in the first place. Of becoming friends with someone who is unappreciated and overlooked. It’s holding books printed over a hundred years ago in the palms of my hands- of feeling their weight and history, it’s smelling and breathing the wisdom of them in. But I’m talking about books when I intended to talk about packages.
But that’s what most of my favorite and most exciting packages contain, so it’s hardly a huge mental leap. I love packages that have tracking information that I can follow until they arrive. I especially love being surprised by packages that come earlier than I had anticipated or been led to believe. I MOST especially love when a package arrives at the precise moment it will bring the most joy to me. Those packages in particular feel like angels hastened them into my arms.
The Robert Pace Teacher’s Guide arrived all the way from a music lover in Dayton, Ohio last week. Yeah, baby, definitely an exquisitely magnificent form of happy.
This episode of Cosby is one that always makes me smile. It combines several things I enjoy: Cosby, Shakespeare, and a delightful performance by Tom Conti as the Bard. It is a quirky, fun reminder of how wonderfully exciting living in our time is, and it also addresses one of the main reasons I enjoy studying Shakespeare myself.
Bill Cosby wants to know why he needs Shakespeare in the first place. In a small way, this episode shows how experiencing Shakespeare can help you to feel understood, and can help you to see and live your life a bit differently, hopefully, a little better.
For me, my personal Shakespeare moment came in a play few people are familiar with- Cymbeline. There is a passage in Cymbeline that opened up a part of me that is difficult for most people to understand. It was my best friend as a teenager who gave details and information about me and my family to the men who were trying to kill us. It’s hard to process that kind of betrayal. How could you love someone who could do something like that? What happens when you still do? King Cymbeline experiences this same difficulty when he finds out after her death, that his second wife was a horrible, evil person and that she hurt the daughter he loved. He laments:
Were not in fault, for she was beautiful;
Mine ears, that heard her flattery; nor my heart,
That thought her like her seeming; it had
To have mistrusted her: yet, O my daughter!
That it was folly in me, thou mayst say,
And prove it in thy feeling. Heaven mend all!
“That thought her like her seeming.” It’s been very difficult for me to learn to trust again, but somehow this passage helps. I am not the only one who has misjudged someone to the detriment of someone they love. Even though Cymbeline is fiction, it helped me to feel understood and also to realize that being taken in by someone doesn’t automatically mean that we are a fool. It can be because we have the virtue of looking for and trying to believe and draw out the best in others. We can be deceived whether we look for the worst or the best. I try to be careful in not endangering my loved ones again, but I think generally speaking, it is still better to try to find and trust the good in those around us. That’s how my family ended up having drug dealers protect our home for us. Crazy story, but a true one.
Now for a Cosby episode that is clever, fun, enlightening, and a bit of happy:
Where we live has been a massive construction zone for years. Road work everywhere. I keep thinking there must be something about road construction that I don’t know that makes putting every road on all four sides of a subdivision under construction at roughly the same time make sense. Ditto with every freeway around us, which makes quite a few. And the streets that parallel one another. And the freeway exits, three to four in a row. I’m not seeing the wisdom in it, though I do thank Heavenly Father as we maneuver our way through it, for giving people jobs, people who probably really need the work.
My mom has her own way of dealing with the exasperation. She treats those massive orange END ROAD WORK construction signs as protest signs. “End road work,” she reads aloud as we gain freedom for two blocks, “YES!”
When my niece was here, she joined in the fervent and perpetual plea of those signs to “Make it stop! Please make it stop!” I still hear her voice and feel her enthusiasm and delight at turning those signs into a message that was not the original intention. And it makes me smile.
There are many things outside of our personal control that affect us personally. When we can’t change them, or hurry them up, it can be incredibly frustrating. Often, the only thing we can really change is how we see these things, and how we react to them.
In high school, when the student parking lot jammed to a stop as we tried to leave (as it always did until the year our school stopped teaching driver’s ed and the local economy crashed to the point where fewer students had vehicle access), one of the guys who carpooled with a friend who had a sun roof would stand up and would signal the drivers around him to take turns sounding their horns, to test their pitch and tone. He would then conduct us in impromptu renditions of songs like “Mary Had a Little Lamb”. He turned a daily frustration into a fun experience. I remember we actually reached a point where we felt a bit cheated and disappointed on the days traffic moved too quickly for our silly symphonies to conclude or commence.
Which is why, though I will be glad when all this construction finally ends, I will miss the protest signs that bring my mom and me a bit of happy… eventually!