Thursday, January 28, 2016


We’re approaching the time—five days from now—when we celebrate Ground Hog Day. It’s a fun holiday, in which we all agree to believe that a rodent in Pennsylvania can predict how much longer winter will be around.

By now you must’ve figured out that the “6 more weeks of winter” is, if you look at the calendar, almost exactly correct. March 20th or 21st is right around six weeks from February 2nd.

At the same time I’m looking at the calendar, and not really believing that this is the 28th day of the first month, with only three more days to go, and then one-twelfth of 2016 will be over—while all that is going on in my mind, I’m experiencing a midwinter blah. Or, better yet, Midwinter Blah.

I can’t really call it depression, because I have things to do that interest me, life goes on with its usual classes, events, and things to look forward to. My days are filled with reading, writing, sewing and quilting, knitting. Making a big pot of soup to freeze in meal-size servings is always fun. And delicious.

No, I don’t believe it’s a midwinter depression. It’s more like a period of hibernation. Going outside my house is a chore. Waking up rested and warm insures I’ll be able to get to whatever is on that day’s schedule. But waking up cold and tired? Skip it; that day might as well be X-ed off the calendar so we can warm up for the next.

After years of fighting the hibernation thing, I’ve decided this is the year to change my approach. Fighting has never helped. So—try embracing it. (This is what all the advice givers tell us, right?—embrace your pain/grief/disappointment/anger/yada-yada?)

Okay. I’ll try that. What does it mean, exactly, to embrace something I don’t like? (I don’t like snakes and mosquitoes, but I’ll be danged if I try to embrace them.)

Here’s one suggestion: “Sit with it.” Uh-huh. The aforementioned snakes and mosquitoes not being part of this activity, I can sit with whatever. Tiredness? Shoot, I not only sit with it, I lie down with it, burrow under three covers (head and all) with it, and let sleep overtake me. And it.

Cold? Same thing—put on heavy sweats and thick socks, jack the thermostat up a few notches, burrow under the covers. . . .

Inertia? Lack of ambition? Piece o’ cake.

Another suggestion: “Try something new.” If I can get past the inertia, I might entertain something new. Try a new quilt pattern. Read a new author. (I’ve started this already in 2016, by the way.) Visit a different coffee shop. Have lunch in a different place. I like the suggestion—I just have to get motivated to go out.

Or: “Share your feelings with a friend who will listen.” Always a good thing to do. If, that is, the friend isn’t going through the same thing herself/himself. If she/he is, write about it in a journal. Or make up a story about it. Write it in a letter—but maybe not send it; other people may think what we write is of the “cast in stone” variety, not wastebasket fodder.

I’ve come up with my own solution, using the “embrace it” idea.

It’s winter—sometimes the cold and wind are too much for me and I end up overtired from being out in it. Instead, I’ll practice being a recluse. (This is very easy for me, and way too appealing.) Only for a short time, though. The cold and wind can’t last forever; in fact, we have some high-40s predicted within the next few days.

While I’m practicing, I’ll sample the new authors I said I’d try in my post on Good Intentions a few weeks ago. The library is full of new books, new authors, and old authors I’ve never read.

Another activity: Get a small box and fill it with books to give away. I now know of three venues for used books: a book exchange downtown; the public library for its monthly sale; and a medical clinic with books (“bring one, take one”). I chose a small box so I can fill it easily; there’s always another small box hanging around eager to be filled as well.

And a third activity (one of my Good Intentions for 2016): Practice kindness and forgiveness as often as possible. You’ve already guessed that these intentions may be exclusive of being a recluse, but even a recluse can write letters, send little cards to say “Hi” to someone who’s far away, or even make a phone call. Forgiveness? You’re on your own with that one. It’s an individual need.

I hope your Midwinter is going well. In five more days we’ll be halfway through winter for this year. (Yes, I’m aware that the weather may be winter-ish for a long while beyond March 20th.) Halfway is good, though. Each day gets a little brighter (a minute here, a minute there). Flower bulbs and seed packets will be appearing any moment now. We have holidays to look forward to—Valentine’s Day, Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthdays, Easter—and pretty soon the stores will be stocking—you guessed it—swim suits!

Celebrate the day, whatever it is. Ours started out sunny. Hope yours does, too!

These guys always cheer me up!

Thursday, January 21, 2016


We recently honored the late Martin Luther King, Jr. with a day of his own. Next month we’ll celebrate the birthday-observances of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.

Today I’d like to honor some folks who don’t have their own day carved out of the calendars we all hang on our walls, but who are, just the same, outstanding. I’ll give them aliases so they won’t be embarrassed if they find out they’ve been discovered.

My mother’s first job outside the home was in a truck stop as waitress. She was perfect for the job—friendly, big smile, hard-working, full of good will. So my first outstanding person is a waitress I'll call Margo. Margo reminds me a lot of my mom: short blond hair, blue eyes, confidence in herself and her ability to do the work, personality-plus. I eat at the restaurant where Margo works about twice a month, more often in good weather. I always sit at one of “her tables” so we can chat. She knows what I like, even though my tastes change from time to time. She remembers little things, like salad dressing on the side, no croutons-no onion, on my salads.

A couple of times I ate at that restaurant when Margo was on vacation or it wasn’t her day to work. The other servers were good at their job, but I discovered I had to work harder to get my meal the way I wanted—Margo’s memory helps mine so much I don’t have to strain my brain.

My favorite clerk at the pharmacy where I pick up prescriptions is Jenn. She’s nearing retirement, and I’ll hate to see her go. We’ve had a rapport from Day One—she remembers my name (I’m not there often enough to be considered a “regular”), always smiles; if I see her out in the store, away from the prescription counter, we always take a moment to chat. The other day I was at the pharmacy in the cold-cold weather, and we agreed we didn’t have cabin fever yet. She said, “I wouldn’t get cabin fever anyway! I always have plenty to do—reading, stitching, cooking . . . .” Sounded like something I’d say.

The Post Office clerk I liked best was Pat, who has now retired. I saw her one day at Walmart and almost didn’t recognize her—she’s let her hair grow long. But she’s still outgoing and we recognized each other. Her knowledge of her job was wonderful; if you had a question, she could answer it. If you wanted to know the quickest way to get your package delivered, but didn’t want to mortgage the ranch to pay for it, she could provide possibilities—usually more than one. She always wished the postal patrons a good day when they left. I definitely miss her.

So far I’m not worried about my family doctor (whom they now call the primary care physician) retiring soon. She’s the age of my son, about 10 days younger, so I can always estimate just how long she’ll probably be practicing. Naturally I continue to seek her advice because she’s good at her job—not just caring and compassionate, but intelligent and willing to work with a patient who refuses to take another pill (moi) or go to physical therapy again (also moi). 

But there's a plus-side to our visits, such as: what brings me there that day (usually 5-7 minutes on that one); how my writing is going (she writes books about anecdotes from her practice, a la James Herriott); how her writing is going; or if not writing, her current involvement in a triathalon, marathon, family wedding, or trip to a developing country with medical students. I leave her office feeling healed in spirit, as well as in body.

Finally, I want to lift up three teachers who touched my life so that the ripples of their knowledge, their teaching, and their caring for their students are still opening out.

First was Miss Kincaid. (I've written about her before.) Ercel Kincaid taught fourth grade at Lincoln Elementary School in Charleston, Illinois. She was gentle and kind. She never humiliated a student. She encouraged talent. In her class I wrote my very first fiction story—I think it might have covered the front and back of one page of lined notebook paper. I fell in love with writing because of Miss Ercel Kincaid.

As a college undergraduate in English, I stressed over every darned paper I had to write. The problem wasn’t getting an idea—it was presenting all the information I needed to make the point. A three-page or five-page paper presented little problem; I could get my head around that size. But a 10-pager? Or 20?! I had the good sense to enroll in Advanced Rhetoric—which as we all know sounds like the dullest of the dull. But in the capable hands of Hank Sparapani, a recent IU Ph.D. recipient, the course was a joy to go to. I fell in love with writing all over again, all because Dr. Sparapani said to me, “You have great ideas. You just need to learn how to organize them into essays.” Nobody had ever told me I had great ideas. I nearly wept with joy. And I did, indeed, learn how to organize my ideas into essays.

The third teacher was Professor Steven Hollander, another English Department instructor, who taught several of the graduate level classes I took for my Master’s. This was another case of instant rapport—we had a similar sense of humor, liked the same music, read the same authors; we became friends, as well as teacher and student. When I taught comp classes in the department, Steve was the comp director. From him I learned how to teach—not because he gave lessons, but because I observed him in his classes and recognized his methods would suit me also. 

Do you have outstanding people in your life? Of course you do. The connections we form with folks we meet often, or seldom, do a lot for us: lifting us up, teaching us something about ourselves, and treating us as if we’re important to them, too. I wouldn’t be surprised if we are.

Thursday, January 14, 2016


I’ve never been a pioneer wife, stuck in a log cabin out west or up north, where wind and snow pile up to the roof and my life is contained within the four walls. (I’ve read about it, though.)

But I’ve come close.

Since a week ago when I wrote here, I’ve been out only three times. Once to go to my Heart & Hands knitting/sewing group at church. Once for coffee (home within an hour). And once to the grocery store (also home within an hour). Unless you count sticking my nose out to check the mailbox (attached to the wall of the house) and trundling the trash bin to the curb and back again hours later, I’ve been, basically, within my four walls all week.

Now a seven-room house has more than four walls. Every room in the place has four walls. But all seven rooms have become very, very familiar. I know where every draft comes in. Where the light is best for reading or sewing. How many books I’m going to have to sort and box up and remove because they’re no longer necessary for my healthy psyche. I’ll let someone else have the joy of reading them. And how much music—sheet and book—has accumulated over the years of playing the organ and piano, and must now be sorted, culled . . . .

The reason for this self-imposed staying at home is—you guessed it—weather. We had snow a few days ago. Not much, one to three inches. But those one-to-three didn’t stay in place—the wind came along and hustled thousands of flakes around. When that was finished, the wind picked up speed and just huffed and puffed and blew in through any cracks it could find. Then to make the point even more clear, the temp dropped. Do you know what happens to 14 degrees when the wind roars around at 10-20 mph, gusting to 30? If you live in the Midwest or Northeast or Up North, I’m sure you do.

I will say one thing for staying inside—a lot of things get done. Well, let me rephrase that: They have the potential for getting done. I did clean my house (and no company was expected). I finished all but one of the Christmas gifts that had to be abandoned in December due to exhaustion and running out of time; the last gift is now nearly done. Read one book and am now engrossed in Gray Mountain, a 2014 John Grisham novel.

Life could be a lot worse.

Cabin fever is probably not a good way to describe being cooped up in the house most of the time. I’ve experienced no climbing the walls or desperate attempts to go somewhere, anywhere! I cancelled two appointments a couple of days ago and was comfortable doing that. Yesterday I even admired the snow as it fell.

Today I plan to go out (already made it to the Y for a walk): Tai chi meets at 10, then knitting with my young friend during her lunch hour. Then home for a well-deserved nap, followed by a cup of tea and another go at finishing the little quilt I want to get mailed to my great-grandson in Ohio.

I’m quite content not to be a pioneer wife, stuck in a log cabin out on the plains. Or back in the woods. Reading about that life can be illuminating, but I’ll take the time and place I occupy right now.

Hope you can celebrate your own Here-and-Now.

Thursday, January 7, 2016


January 2014

January 2015

Snow, sometimes. 

But not this year, 2016.

So far it's been a Green Christmas, and a Green January.

The little snow we did get covered the tops of cars, roofs, and settled into the grass. Gone in a day.

Mostly what happens in January in my family is Happy Birthday Time.

I saw three of the January birthday girls (besides myself) on January 2nd when we had our family Christmas get-together in Ohio. The other two, both guys, weren't there when I arrived.

My stock of greeting cards had to be replenished in November and December so I'd be ready for the January onslaught. The USPS ought to be real happy with the Palmer Family.

My own approach to January is to ease into a quieter life after several weeks of (1) preparing holiday music and playing church services, (2) sewing and knitting gifts (some of which didn't get finished in time for gift-giving), (3) dealing with sinusitis and sleeping a lot, which seemed to be a required part of the cure, and (4) preparing the house for two of the children who came from Arizona and Minnesota to celebrate Christmas with their mom and the other two sibs.

The visit of my four offspring was the highlight of the holiday season. I could let go of my disappointment that some gifts didn't get delivered, and focus on seeing all my children together. We shared a big pot of chicken-vegetable soup and made sandwiches, drank tea and coffee, munched on chips with salsa, and devoured (inhaled is a better word) pumpkin muffins one of the girls brought.

This first week of the new year I hung up my new calendars (dogs, lighthouses, barns, pathways, more dogs) around the house. My very favorite is the family calendar made by my oldest daughter with photos she collects from members of the family, uploads to a website, and then prints out. This year's theme is Throwback--boy, did we adults look young! And some of us were babes in arms. 

Another project was rearranging the sewing area so I can finish a quilt to mail to Ohio. Once that's done, the living room will look more like itself again, and folding tables will be folded up once more and stored away.

"Another year over, and a new one just begun." John Lennon sings that on one of my CDs. 

Hope your new year, just begun, turns into one you want to remember.