Beauty Through my Lens – Botanical Butterflies

When I went to the Naples Botanical Gardens last week, I had some photo fun in the Butterfly house. I bought a membership, so I am able to show you my favorites knowing that I’ll be able to go back for more in a couple of weeks.

I feel so fortunate to be able to experience life through so many of my senses. These images that are flat and still, bring forth memories of how the butterflies flitted around. I also just finished Barbara Kingsolver’s book Flight Behavior. The story is about poverty in the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee with the plight of the Monarch Butterfly as the scaffold around which the story is built. I learned a lot about butterflies and so they are on my mind right now.

Last night as my husband and I were drifting into sleep, he put his hand on my shoulder. His touch was so light it could have been a butterfly landing. It felt so tender and loving. I think I will store this memory so if I ever have to live without him, I will be able to draw it out whenever I see a butterfly. What a miracle that my skin, eyes and brain can all work together to give me so much pleasure from something so small and fleeting.

Now all I have to do is protect the environment so I don’t loose the butterfly.


I Don’t Miss Me Anymore

It was a long time coming and I’m not sure when it happened. I don’t miss me anymore. This is a strange thing to say but I know the frightening feeling that comes from loosing my sense of who I am. I know the sadness that comes from not believing there is enough left of me because of the changes in my life due to contracting a chronic condition. I really did miss me – but not any more.

Those of you who have been following my blog for a while know it was originally named “I Miss Me, Too” because that was what I wanted the title of my book – the one that I’m not writing any more – to be called. Here is what I wrote on my ‘About This Blog’ page when I started blogging. It explains how I came up with the title.

One day during that first year after being diagnosed, I was in the kitchen with my husband of 40 years. He stopped working, looked at me, and said that he knew I couldn’t help it but he missed me. He had tears in his eyes. My eyes welled up and I said, “I miss me, too.” We embraced and cried together.

I feel like I turned a corner, when I stopped missing me. How many times have I said that? Whenever I started a new computer file for my journals, the first entry begins “I feel like I have turned a corner.” There are 10 files of journals that cover 8 years – so ten times I had turned a corner. I guess you could say I’ve been around the block a few times. This seems to be my way of explaining that I made a leap of progress towards my emotional and physical healing each of those ten times – now eleven.

Those leaps of emotional healing didn’t happen suddenly. It was more like a long slow, continuous process and what happened was that suddenly I realized that I felt different. Change takes a lot of work. We have to have a vision of what we want, and maybe observe others and think about what we would like to be, and we need to practice actually being like our new vision. Sometimes we need to look at our pasts, confront old ghosts, heal old wounds, let go. Sometimes we need to acknowledge our sadness and anger. It takes conscious effort and courage and perseverance. I have been working on it for nine years so far – taking many small steps and spending lots of time on plateaus where I prepare for my next step.

I began to feel the shift to feeling more whole when I started my blog and became a part of the blogging community. Focusing on how to use a new camera and learning how to take interesting photographs allowed me to connect with a long neglected part of myself. Blogging gave me a platform for sharing the emotional turmoil of having fibromyalgia by posting rewrites of portions of my not-to-be-published book.

Writing for the blogging community was much more rewarding than writing for publishing and thus brought a dynamic, evolving meaning back into my life. My focus began to shift from sharing my illness to wanting to share the life I was living – through photography and story. I discovered that I could touch people’s lives and my life was enriched through the life stories of others. It feels like I am on a shared journey of life that is being recorded through our blogging.

The second event that seemed to give me a new sense of self was the long camping trip to Newfoundland. This trip shifted life for both me and my husband. A while after I was diagnosed, we were talking and he went into that funny mood that says he is thinking about something that needs to be said but he doesn’t want to say it. He finally confessed that he was feeling guilty because he believed I got sick because he “dragging me” on a three-week camping trip to the Canadian Rockies. It is true that I started having symptoms about 6 weeks later – but proximity doesn’t prove causation. He let go of the guilt but still had to live with the fact that our life was changed.

Lake Louise

Lake Louise (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our trip to the Canadian Rockies was the last traveling camping trip that we had taken and the trip to Newfoundland was similar in length and work. I had some anxiety about doing the trip but I really wanted to go and knew how to prepare. He had a lot of anxiety because he feared I would get really sick a long way from home or wouldn’t be able to participate in our travel activities. After we returned, he told me that he was really surprised that I had done as well as I had. Our eyes connected and he said that it felt really good to have me back.

I guess I am back. I’m not the same because we both know that we had to do things to take care of me – but I was alive and vibrant and involved on the trip. I worked along side of him and carried my half of the work load – almost and most of the time. It was similar to our Canadian Rockies trip, but I was different. We have adjusted to the changes in me so I can be like I used to be; even though I’m not. Maybe we don’t remember what I used to be like, but he isn’t either. In any case, we have found a way to live life fully, together, that is rewarding for both of us.

This triggers silent tears because it was hard and it wasn’t always clear that it would happen. I spent a day or two feeling sorry for myself. Not in a bad way as I would if I felt like a victim. No, I felt sorry for myself as I would feel towards someone who had gone through a really rough time. I felt sympathy and compassion towards myself. I feel compassion and love for my husband who had to endure all that I have been through but didn’t always know how to handle it. But then neither did I. It was scary and hard.

I have read a lot about grief but I have never seen anything written about the grief we feel after going through a time of healing. When I was a therapist I frequently would sit and listen to people express their joy after making changes in how they thought and felt and the big difference it was making in their life. Then they would grow quiet and their eyes would get glassy. I knew at that moment they needed to lick their wounds – they were remembering how hard it had been, how hard they had worked, how much pain they had felt as they went through the healing process. I am feeling that way.

At the same time, in a strange way, a hard to define way, I am afraid of stepping into the future. I had learned how to live with my emotional pain and sadness. I had gotten used to not knowing who I was. I had adjusted to not being able to do a lot and my husband didn’t expect me to be able to do most things. What if he forgets that I have limitations? What if he expects more from me than I can deliver? What if this living life fully, together, doesn’t last?

Can I maintain whatever it is that I’ve found – forever? I need to remember that this is a new day – singular. All I have to do is live today. I planned for my tomorrows, but none of my futures were improved by feeling anxious about them. I can plan for tomorrow, but I need to live today.

On this new day I may experience pain and fatigue and not be able to do much of anything. On this new day I may have lots of energy and be excited about the work and play I have planned. I am still overdoing on good days, and still paying for it with a day or two of not feeling well. I know how to take care of myself and I’m usually satisfied with moderation but also willing to pay the price for pushing the boundaries.

I have found ways to exercise my brain and body. I have found multiple communities in which I can nurture and be nurtured. My husband and I have settled into a fun and comfortable relationship. I can face my God and see her smiling at me. I don’t miss me any more because I have found a way to live that has integrity.

If you have written a post that expresses similar themes, please leave us a link in a comment. I would love to have us connect in this way.

Memories of The Painted House

We have been spending most Januarys in southern Florida for 30 years. Every few years we would mention the painted house, the one with flowers and vines and birds and birdhouses. We found it as we were walking to the beach one evening many, many years ago. In resent years we drove around looking for it – but couldn’t find it. We knew about where it had been but it wasn’t there now. Maybe we weren’t looking in the right place. It was lost.

The other day I was looking for some other pictures and found these. Yes, the painted house! Just as I remembered it.

I think I know where the house went. The bulldozer got it. It was on a corner, in that first block from the gulf beach. People can’t own beach property in this city, but they can own property along the beach. And all of these small, quaint southern-Florida houses are being bought up to build HUGE houses, with lots of foliage blocking the views of the beach for people going down the street. It makes me sad.

I guess there are times when we want to hold onto the past. I know that European cities face this dilemma. I was talking to a woman in London about city ordinances to preserve the old buildings. She wasn’t in favor of it because she said what is built today will become tomorrows historic buildings. Of course she is right. We need a balance of preserving and inventing, hanging on and letting go, old and new. But I do miss the painted house.

Weekly Writing Challenge: A Few of My Favorite Things – Books

When I read about this WordPress Challenge I was intrigued by the thought of cherished objects. I have lived many years and have accumulated many objects that represent my relationships to others and experiences that have shaped who I believe I am. I enjoy these objects because when I look at them I am reminded of people who I have known, places I have been, things I have accomplished – but I have never used the term cherished object to describe them so this got me thinking about what a cherished object would be.

For me an object is just an object – I try not to be too attached to them because things get broken or lost or stolen. I learned this when my kids were little and we were financially struggling. I didn’t have a lot of nice things but had a pretty little glass something-or-other that I really liked – maybe even cherished. I don’t remember now what it was or where it came from. But it got broke – by one of the kids – by accident. And I cried. I cried because I couldn’t have anything nice in the house. This child felt badly, she cried, and I didn’t want her to carry guilt because deep down I realized that it was just an object and really didn’t matter in the big picture of life. This child was much more important, was much more beautiful than a pretty “whatever.”

I have also found that some objects that were important to me become less important – I can delegate them to a box in the basement or, even better, dispose of them. That part of my life is over or whatever that object represented isn’t as important. And sometimes this act becomes symbolic of the emotional struggle that comes with life transitions. Most recently this has happened with books.

I love books – in fact probably the most memorable birthday gift was a book given to me by Aunt Bernice when I turned 12 – going into 6th grade. It was a real book, not a Little Golden Book that I had lots of. This was a library bound type book – I think the name of it was Strawberry Girl. I put it on the shelf of the two-shelf bookcase I had in my room and I felt important. I don’t know what the reality was, but the picture in my memory is that it was the only book in the bookcase – any others that might have been there were removed either at the time or in my memory.

I don’t know what happened to that book but many books have replaced it. When we built our new house I made sure there were enough built-in bookcases. For my books. I don’t collect books so I didn’t need bookcases on every wall and in every room. Instead I needed just enough bookcases to store the books I enjoy and are memories of my life. And I had bookcases at work – with professional books that I used for reference and for my teaching and to tell people who I am.

You can tell who I am by looking at my bookcases. Don’t bother looking for my work bookcases because I had to empty them when I retired – more about that later. At home you can see the type of fiction I like to read by the books I have saved – the ones that I might get around to reading again some day because they were good, well-written stories.


And of course there is a shelf of books that I haven’t gotten to, yet. Below the books I haven’t read yet is a shelf of children’s books that have entertained the child within me or have connected me to grandchildren.

Children’s Books

I have a shelf of children’s books in the basement that we read to our children and grandchildren. I picked out the ones we liked the best and I’ll let children and grandchildren take what they want and then give the rest to charity. They aren’t important to my life any more.

I have a shelf with my quilting books, and decorating books that I collected when we built the house. I’ll probably give the decorating books away soon because I like my home and won’t be making changes for a long time. These decorating books aren’t cherished because they aren’t an important part of my identity. I used them to create the home that does reflect who I am and the family I am a part of.

I have a place for books that represent and nurture my religious faith. Other shelves hold books about fibromyalgia, from and about places I have traveled to, and books on plants and landscaping. My bookcases also hold pictures of people who are important to my husband and me, both past and present. I guess I cherish these, because of the relationships they represent. I change them sometimes – as relationships change.

Gardening & Family

Many of my most cherished books have been my professional books. I loved my work, and what I did as a therapist and a college professor was closely tied to books – I used them all the time. Faculty have books – lots of them. And when people visit their office or cubical they look at their books. I did when I was a college student and visitors to my office looked at my books to find out who I was – because the books I had on my selves defined my professional interest and my areas of knowledge.

When it was time for me to retire it took several passes to decided which books to sell, which to give away, and which ones I needed/wanted to keep. It took several weeks because I was breaking down a part of my identity. In a way I was sorting out who I was and who I would still be after I retired. I ended up keeping only those books that had shaped my thinking and impacted on my professional activities. These were the books that were most interesting and written by people who had a major impact in their field. They are the books that I have put in the bookcase across from where I sit in my reading room.

Professional Books

I have also placed items on these shelves that remind me of who I was and what I did during those years. The items in these bookcases have helped me transition into living a life that is different because of the impact of having fibromyalgia and growing older. They are cherished because of the memories they evoke of fun times, professional relationships, professional accomplishments, and because they are a part of who I was and who I still am.

My bookcases are going to need some work soon. I am reinventing myself and will need to make room for my new interests. I have started buying photography books. Actually I started buying books of photography a long time ago because somewhere deep down I was inspired by how pictures could tell stories or capture beauty.

Beginning of Photography Collection

I’ve been thinking that I might have to clear out some of those professional books, the ones that aren’t so important, to make room for the books I’ve been buying on how to use my new camera and how to make good images. I’m excited about the changes that are taking place in my life now that I have the time to travel and a new reason to go. And my cherished books reflect those changes.

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