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Twelve Years Later
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Welcoming Life

Health and Love

It's been three years since I've added a blog post, but today I am beginning again.I am writing this in honor of my husband, Larry.Who battled cancer for 4 1/2 years with that same smile you see on his face in this photograph.What prompted me to go to my writing desk this morning was a comment I just read in a NYTimes story written by a husband whose wife has cancer.
He related how the pill his wife takes was $400 (a pill) from Novartis.The first year she was able to get assistance from the Novartis Foundation.But last year her application was denied.The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) gave significant relief in helping to pay for this pill that is helping her, but they are will see no such help for what is currently being discussed as an ACA replacement plan.The last sentence that he wrote in his comment was "if (won't write name) passes we will either go bankrupt or my wife will die.It's as simple as that."

I do not know this man who wrote that comment and wondered if I should share his words, but I recognized his pain and worry. I shuddered when I read it, recalling a dark night over fifteen years ago standing in front of CVS prescription counter being told that the medication my husband had been prescribed would cost $9000.I nearly fainted, but knew I had no choice but to get out my credit card.Just a tiny bit of humor--I remember saying to the pharmacist who was receiving no pleasure from having to tell me the cost that maybe American Express could do a commercial on this-the no credit limit card.
I paid for the pills and never told Larry about how much they cost.We didn't keep secrets from one another, but this was a good one to keep.
I knew I would do what I had done for the past four years, while Larry battled physically, I battled with insurance companies.I won this battle with the help of his doctor who had no idea the pills cost that much (a problem right there). 
The point is when your family member is sick and requires medical help, you do not ask questions, you can't say, "we can't afford it." You just say "yes, please do everything you can do."
I don't mean to be maudlin, maybe that's why I stopped writing this blog. But I'm back.
It's the human story that keeps us kind.
I will keep the husband and wife who are facing an uncertain financial and medical future in my thoughts and pray that those who can help them will by passing healthcare legislation that is kind not cruel.

Lending a hand

This sculpture is one of my favorite images. I took this photograph in an outdoor sculpture garden in Tubac, Arizona while visiting friends.

What made me think of it today was an article I just read in the New York Times about Gloria Steinem turning 80. I have to admit that I was shocked by learning her age. I guess because I will always think of her as being 38 when I was 25,  forty two years ago when I first heard her voice and took her words to heart.

I was the mother of two toddlers. This I knew-- I loved my children, but I was confused about what my life held in store for me. This I also knew--I couldn't quite grasp why I went to college--was it to learn how to do laundry, was it to learn how to vacuum, was it to learn how to have coffee with my neighbors? Each of those, of course, are rhetorical questions. No, that is not why I went to college. Actually, if I had, I would have failed miserably, because I was good at loving my children, but I was not good at all doing those other things that took up my daily life.

Enough true confessions. The story this morning is that Gloria Steinem and her "friends" were the outstretched hand to me depicted in this image. They pulled me up and made me see that there was a new world for women--a world where respect for exercising a new vision of what was possible.

Gloria Steinem lent a hand to women who were confused about what life expected of them. And I don't mean that the message was "forget your family." Quite the contrary, at least for me the message was figure out who you are as an individual, becoming more of a whole person better able to love your family.

The new vision was exhilarating and exhausting. I'm sure my children can attest to the exhausting part. It wasn't easy for the family unit to adjust to my new energy devoted to more than keeping a house running smoothly; a lot of my new energy was directed to learning about what I could accomplish.

Gloria and her words got to me. She sparked a flame that thankfully could not be extinguished, and I will always be grateful to her. She pulled up a 25 year old to new heights. And the strength she encouraged then, helped me again when I became a widow at 55. She helped instill a spirit of independence in me. So it is with gratitude that I wish her a happy 80th birthday, and hope that it's not too much to ask that she keep paving the way.


Twelve Years Later

I've written and deleted many words in the last several hours trying to capture how I feel "twelve years later." The twelfth anniversary (somehow I don't feel the word anniversary should be associated with sad events-but there it is) of when Larry left our house for the last time.
The words I've written and rejected don't do justice to the excruciating moment when Larry died, nor do they capture what has transpired in my life in the succeeding years. They seemed trite and redundant.

But this image does for me what my words cannot. It is a photograph I took in Maine last summer. I knew then as I know now that its meaning was epic for me--which was I have been able to let the light back into my life. I've shrugged off the dark clouds which I thought would shroud me forever.

The image also echoes my belief (possibly childlike) that I believe Larry is in the clouds--along with others who went before and after him, and that they swirl happily together in a blessed firmament. 

The shooting rays of sun struck me as a sign of hope and confirmation that life goes on--that in
fact it is possible to "welcome life after loss."

I will light a candle tonight in memory of Larry, I will silently toast the life we shared together and I will pause to be grateful for those who love me and have shared my journey.

Giving Thanks

Last Saturday night, I celebrated an early Thanksgiving dinner with my son, daughter-in-law, and their six-year old son. As food preparations were being made in the kitchen, I peeked into the dining room. Without being asked, my grandson was busy "decorating the table." This is what he did: he wrote large place cards (like the one pictured) to place under our glass plates--the message read "thank you for everyone who ever exists" (some had "s", some didn't). Then he drew flowers to put in front of his mother's and my plates and in front of his and his father's he put a paper on which he had written  their favorite football team-my son's the PATS-his the Jets (the start of a friendly competition, I surmised). Then he got out his piggy bank and found four gift bags and into each he put some change and placed those  on our seats. He did all of this without being asked or coached. I will never forget his inspired generosity and creativity. We sat as a family around the table and each of us said a grace of Thanksgiving. 

The next day, we went to church. I don't know what it is about organ music, but I crumble and tear at the sound. As I sat there next to my son and daughter-in-law, I tried to compose myself, but then I saw two elderly women, bent over, but very dignified walking down the center aisle--each with  a helping hand-but each very proud that they could still walk. At their sight, I wilted and wept gently; I was a 67 year old child who missed her mother. I got out of my pew, tried to reassure my son that I was all right and walked to the back of the church to gather my wits. He followed-I said "I miss Grammie", he got it, we stood there for a moment and went back to our pew--my daughter-in-law handed me a package of tissues and later said "I knew exactly what happened".

Emotions run deep for me around the holidays. Eleven years ago, I didn't know if I would ever be able to honor them with the ways to which I had become accustomed. Thanksgiving was my husband's high holy holiday; he was a man of great gratitude and he loved to share the bounty of the blessings that he cared most about--his family and his friends. My parents and grandparents  instilled the memories of their own holiday pageantry--my grandfather sharpening the carving  knife with a steel, my granny carrying into the dining room a turkey that seemed almost larger than she. My mother's pecan pie, my father's eloquent graces.

Eleven years later, my children and grandchildren have taught me that life goes on, love endures and sadness falls away, making room for creating new traditions.

This Thursday, I will share my second Thanksgiving family gathering--this time with my daughter and her family. We talked this morning about how to fit our family and friends around the table--a table that will be covered with my grandmother's linen table cloth. We will light the candles, say a prayer of thanks and feel the presence of those who "live" vividly in our memories.

Red Sox and memories

Last night after 95 years, the Red Sox won the World Series at home! At Fenway Park.

My husband, Larry, was a Red Sox fan. I was too. The team and Fenway Park were part of our family's lore before we met each other. There are stories.

My brother, Tommy, was listening to a game on the radio in our Maine cottage years ago, and my father asked him why he wanted to listen to the game since the Red Sox were doing so poorly that year. My brother responded, "this is an important game, it determines who is in last place!"

I watched my son weep as he watched Bill Buckner's fielding error in the 1986 World Series against the Mets. Rob is a baseball fan (actually an all sports fan), and I texted him last night so we could share the memory of when Larry asked him a couple of weeks before his 18th birthday if he would like to see the Sox play the Oakland A's. Rob said he would, but they are playing in California. Larry said, "I know, and that's where we're taking you for your birthday." We went and Rob caught a Mark McGwire fly ball. 

My daughter, Katie, fits into the memory reel as well. Last weekend, we watched the game together, the one that featured the now famous "Obstruction" call. She went to her Iphone immediately to check the rule and said to me (as I was groaning) "the call was correct" and read me the rule.

Larry and I were married in Boston. The night before the ceremony, we had our rehearsal "dinner" at Fenway Park where we treated relatives to a double header. He won my father's heart at that moment. He already had mine.

I have a hard time watching important games alone. I miss the camaraderie of cheering with someone. Last night's game was big, and I knew I had to watch it. My text to Rob helped, I needed to say, I miss Lar, and I knew he would understand. 

I reveled in the win; it was an historic moment. It was more than baseball's moment--for me, it gave me a chance to relive happy memories.  And perhaps more importantly, the Red Sox lifted a town, Boston, brought down by a tragedy a chance to cheer again.



Our big fat happy family wedding

Our family got together last Saturday for a family wedding. When I explain about our family, I think it would help if I handed out a diagram of who belongs to whom; it's a gnarly, wonderful tree. The fact is, we all belong to each other.

At this wedding celebration, there were husbands, wives, former (I don't like ex) husbands and wives, cousins, grandchildren, aunts, uncles and friends. We were all there to share in the happiness of two people promising their love to one another, and we were all caught up in the moment of that precious devotion.

The bride was beautiful, her husband adoring. There is something very special about witnessing unabashed love. It breeds a sense of renewal and hope. 

One of the things I worried about after my husband died was whether or not I would ever feel that sense of wonder again--the wonder of witnessing true love. Would I be jealous? Would I be envious? Two emotions that wreck the heart and soul--so I fought against the temptation.

When the loss is raw, it is hard to be exposed to lovers swooning. I did protect myself, by just turning away from events where I knew my husband's absence would be devastating.

My heart has healed. And nowhere was the evidence more revealing than at this wedding. I danced with my grandchildren, laughed with my children and their spouses, and felt privileged to share special memories--decades old.

My husband had this cupid's bow designed. It was his first present to me. I explained to the bride that I take it out of its black velvet bag for occasions where love is celebrated, and her wedding was one of them.

The pearl arrowhead points to my heart when I'm wearing it. In a corner of that heart is a tiny ache, the place where I keep my husband's love close to me. The rest of the heart rejoiced in the laughter and friendship felt this evening.

Julia Child and Women's Liberation

I started reading this weekend Dearie  The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz; it's wonderful. It is more than I imagined. I thought I was going to be reading another story about how Julia Child revolutionized how we cook. Even how she is obviously the reason why watching cooking shows on television has become a national past time. I like to cook, my husband Larry--not so much. He could make a mean peanut butter and jam sandwich and excelled at fresh-squeezed orange juice--but that was about the extent of his prowess in the kitchen. But we both used to love to watch Emeril Lagasse's show on the Food Network and the phrase "kick it up a notch" became a family favorite. Even when Larry was weak towards the end and food wasn't so appealing, we would still entertain ourselves watching Emeril.

That's how I viewed Julia before I started reading this book. I thought she kicked cooking up a notch and taught women how to be more inventive in the kitchen. I never realized before reading Dearie  that she grabbed the attention of women in the early 1960's, much in the same way the Women's Liberation movement was opening our eyes. Here's an excerpt from  Dearie

"The story of her emancipation and self-realization runs parallel...to the struggle of post-war modern American women: the dearth of opportunity available to her, the lack of respect for her untapped talents, the frustrations of the educated housewife who felt bored and trapped by the traditional role that had been handed to her by the tedium of housework, the demands of motherhood, being the perfect cheerleader, the perfect hostess...The domestic life of that era was fraught with dissatisfaction."

In the book, Spitz quotes journalist Laura Shapiro "Homemakers read the Feminine Mystique for the same reason they watched the French Chef. They had been waiting a long time and they were hungry."

WOW! Those words blew me away. I never made the connection. I married my first husband in 1967 two weeks after I graduated from college. I was one of the homemakers described in the earlier paragraph. I loved my children with all my heart, but I felt like a duck out of water most of the day. I was confused about why I went to college and what I was doing with that education on a daily basis. I was not a good homemaker, so bad at keeping up with the laundry that one day my husband had to wear his jock strap to work because he had no clean underwear.

In my mid-twenties with two children who were two and five years old, I started to volunteer at our local political headquarters. A few hours a week turned into a paid position, and from there I went on to build a full-time career.

Did I know then that Julia Child was one of my heroes along with Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and Marilyn French? No, I did not. But in retrospect because of reading this book, I now know she was. 

I did like to cook. I did not like the other aspects of housework -obviously! I recall getting Julia's books at the library and being charmed by watching her on PBS. The apocryphal story about her dropping a turkey or chicken on the floor during a televised episode was actually Julia flipping a potato pancake in the air and a portion flew out of the pan--she patched it up. The best thing that came out of that incident was her legendary remark "if you're alone in the kitchen, who is going to see."

I was fortunate to see Julia in her eighties speak at a luncheon in Rochester, NY. I got to shake her hand, but now I wish I had been able to thank her for more than helping me to become a better, fearless cook. I wish I had the chance to thank her for helping me to become a better, fearless person.

The image in this post is Julia's omelet. A staple in my kitchen--a kitchen which now provides sustenance for mostly me. I have it at least once a week. I found out from reading Dearie --Julia made this omelet in her first appearance on WGBH-TV on a science show in 1962. The show that launched her career and changed how we cook forever.

Puttering/Idle hands

Yesterday morning, Sunday, I started the day reveling in the fact that I had nothing planned. I began by reading the news (carefully selected, because I am presently going mad about the political state of affairs) and browsing some of my favorite blogs. One of the blogs, though, had me scratching my head; it is a blog written to sharpen the mind and get more out of work experiences. What had me thinking twice about what I read, was the fact that the writer was discouraging "puttering." The subject of the blog was how to use weekend time wisely and "puttering" was not advised. The writer  even went so far as characterizing the word as something the "elderly" would do.

Yikes, I never mind stating my age--67. As a matter of fact, I intend to hoot and holler with every succeeding decade I am granted. But I'm not too fond of the word elderly being combined with something I like to do which is "putter."

I was brought up in a family where accomplishments were prized. Laziness was not abided. The expectations were not harsh--but there was a bit of the "idle hands are the devil's workshop" discipline practiced in our home.

I am semi-retired. I am not particularly fond of the word "retired" either; I think it smacks of being put out to pasture. For me what it means, is that I do not have a 9 to 5  job to report to any longer. I am a writer, and as such, I make sure that I write every day and do something every day to market my book Above and Beyond Wellfleet. The "semi" part of retirement for me has been to fill my day with the luxury of puttering and not feeling guilty that it equates with being idle. 

Some definitions are in order. Puttering  is to busy or occupy oneself in a leisurely or casual manner.
Idleness means you have no particular goal in mind. I putter, but I do not think I am idle.

Yesterday, was a day without a set schedule. The day was mine to putter about.  I managed to respect my upbringing by deciphering the difference between doing nothing and doing what I wanted to do.

At the end of the day, the batch of herbs pictured were turned into an herb seasoned salt. Apples from an earlier trip to the farm market were made into a spicy applesauce. When I woke up, neither of those activities were on my mind--or schedule. They just came to me as the result of appreciating a beautiful Fall day.

Frost is around the corner, and I wanted to save the herbs. The farmer market's tables groaned with beautiful,  just-picked apples begging to be preserved and shared.

I puttered happily. I felt in no way elderly and more importantly felt at the end of the day that I honored what I had always been taught--make every hour count including appreciating joyful leisure.

Lasting Friendships

What do these two photographs have to do with one another? The one on the left was taken last Friday (September 20, 2013), the one on the right was taken when I was in sixth or seventh grade. The first is now-at 67-the latter was taken when I was 11 or 12. The answer to the question is that they were both taken by dear friends. The first by my friend, Carol,  who has been my constant companion and kind critic on my book journey. The second taken by my friend, Sharon, when I was a newly transplanted sixth or seventh grader, having moved to a new place for the second time in three years. Both answered a prayer. Carol and I were close in college-in each others' weddings, shared our early  marriages and new children together. We lost touch for awhile, but found each other serendipitously weeks before Larry died--when I needed her the most. Sharon befriended me when I was a pretty sad youngster. As I wrote in Above and Beyond Wellfleet, my father endured some financial misfortune and at the time this photo was taken in her room, our family was still in the throes of recovery. It's hard to move as a young adult--well, really it's always hard. But being the new kid on the block is especially unsettling. Carol and I discovered that for several years we had lived twenty minutes from each other on the Cape--but our chance meeting felt like it had been ordained by someone greater than we. Sharon took me under her wing. I remember the good times we had together, and how she made me feel welcome in a strange land. I especially remember that when my beloved black cocker spaniel got hit by a car and died, Sharon wrote up this fantastic "legal" agreement giving me part ownership of her black cocker spaniel, Caviar. Friday , Carol accompanied me to another book discussion. She seems never to tire of hearing my words and it amazes me, and warms my tender writer's heart more than I can express. Yesterday, Sharon sent me a message on FB saying that she had been sorting photographs and came across this one taken in her room. I adore the fact that there is a photograph of President Eisenhower on her credenza. I think we were supposed to grow up Republicans-maybe she did--I did not. But no matter.
Isn't that the beauty of lasting friendships--we never forget each other. The spanning years actually bring us closer together--because we still care for one another--we remember childish laughter, struggles in young family adjustments, and cleave to one another just at a time when we think our memories may be growing dim.
Not so--they shine brightly for me. I feel so privileged to have Sharon and Carol in my life and my other friends that keep reminding me that I have truly so much for which to be thankful.

Forever Friends

I'm tired tonight. But not as tired as my dear friends who lost a grandson last week. I know a little something about grief--BUT this pain experienced by my friends is the worst horror. The order of life tragically turned upside down.

I didn't know if I would have the courage to travel the miles to give a comforting hug.I didn't know if I were brave enough to stand in a room with my friends (the grandparents) the parents, the siblings, the aunts and uncles, the cousins, the young friends, and the old friends and be strong enough to comfort, rather than yearning to be comforted about such a senseless loss.

But as the lyrics of the song echoed in my head "that's what friends are for--the good times the bad times." These friends were close couple friends--another reason why I was initially weak about being able to attend the memorial service.I would be going alone--and that thought made my decision doubly difficult.

Fortunately, my heart and head got it together--you "show up" for your friends who need you. You do travel the miles just to say for a minute--"I love you, and I'm here." Because that is the worst thing about losing a loved one--not much that you relied on makes sense anymore. But the love of friends and family makes the difference. Hope is rekindled.

These friends were there for me. The room at the reception was filled with friends who carried me over the worst time of losing the love of my life. "That's what friends are for."

I painted this hydrangea for my friends--it's on the cover of the sympathy card I am sending them. I hope they will laugh a bit when they see it--because we used to laugh at my need to collect hydrangeas--even if they weren't mine. Confession--Larry and I lived next door to the parish house in Wellfleet. The house was used for offices for the church across the street. In the late Fall I would go out after dark and snip off  the hydrangea blossoms, surreptitiously and quickly put them in a grocery bag to take home--believing that I was doing a good thing--pruning the flowers before they turned brown and ugly. My friends--for whom I drew this sympathy card--would ask me "Con, were those flowers 'taken'  from the church?"

I'm tired tonight--but they are bereft. Their friends cannot make their pain go away--but I and we can let them know that we are here with outstretched hands, open hearts, constant prayers and the hope that they know that treasured memories are the strength that heals.
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