Transitioning from 2022 to 2023

I feel off balance at the beginning of this new year. Maybe I was assuming that the beginning of a new year would result in the obliteration of the old year and a fresh start without any garbage from the past year. But I’ve been around the block enough times to know that this isn’t the way it works.

We had brutal cold and snowy, icy roads during the last couple weeks of December that disrupted our Christmas celebrations so the wrapped presents were still under the tree Christmas night and the ham was still in the three season room waiting to be carved. Now January has been almost balmy, feeling more like late November weather. And we have been in Florida during the first weeks of January for most of the past 35 years, but not this year.

The past year was a very stressful year for us, a year of sadness, a year of “missings.” Yesterday Jim went into our travel trailer to check things out and came back saying he really likes our camper. We didn’t use it at all last summer – it was jacked up without wheels. We both miss the summer road trips pulling our summer home behind us and he is wondering whether we will use it this next summer. I told him that last summer we didn’t go out because he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to do the heavy work that is required of him. This year he is doing better with medications and I said that we wouldn’t know if he could do it unless he tried. He was happy with this answer.

I have been working on being patient this past year as Jim is struggling with coming to terms with the impact that Myasthenia Graves is having on his life – the weakened and cramping muscles, decreased energy, and sometimes slow mental processing. Watching him struggle to find meaning for his life has triggered the memories of my struggles adjusting to living with fibromyalgia. I remember so well the pain of loosing my sense of self and fearing that I no longer had value, that I had no purpose for living. I am remembering the scene of Jim telling me, with tears, that he missed me – and I, with tears, saying I missed me too. I don’t feel like I have lost him although I struggle to be patient when he gets stuck thinking things through when solving problems with me. Yes, I remember my own mental fog that used to sometimes be like pea soup.

In January, after the tree is taken down but the manger scene is still on the table in the middle of my living room, I am reflecting on how the birth of Jesus should impact on who I am and what I do within the social context of 2023. What difference does it make in how I live my life that Jesus was born 2023 years ago? What do I need to do as a 78 year old woman who deeply loves a man who is struggling with health issues; a woman who has needed to take on the work of negotiating with people and making hundreds of decisions in our rebuild project after Hurricane Ian flooded our condo in Florida; a woman who is fearful for democracy here in the U.S. and around the world, who fears for my grandchildren and great-grandchildren and those in underdeveloped nations who will hurt because those before them have destroyed the environment? I know what I would like to do as I ponder the teachings of Jesus, but I also know I have limitations due to age and decreased physical functioning. I would love to get involved, to work for justice, but the fatigue that forced me to retired from paid work also makes it impossible to volunteer in the world of work. I have been working on patience for a long, long time but now I need something different – I am feeling called to practice gentleness.

As I wrote that last phrase, I feel this calling deeply and intensely within my soul – I need to become a gentlewoman if I am going to successfully deal with life, that messy life that is following me from 2022 to 2023. I will start by being gentle with myself as I define what it would be like to be a gentlewoman. And my knowledge of how people change tells me that I will need to start practicing personal gentleness until it becomes a part of who I am. At the same time I will practice gentleness (along with honesty, firmness and grace) with those people that I live with. This is consistent with the research (Harvard Longitudinal Longevity Study) that has found that as we age social relationships are very important for our mental and physical well-being.

Have you thought about what the start of a new year means for you? What guiding principles do you draw on when thinking about who you are and how you want to be? I think the process of maturing/aging is the same for everyone – we just go about it differently.

Moving from December into 2022

We have had a mix of weather during our December stay in Michigan. We had a beautiful snow just after we arrived, but also had rain, ice, and slush. There were a few sunny days with comfortable temperatures. Unfortunately I had a multitude of excuses for not going out with my camera – most of them centered around my comfort and safety. I want to believe that I can trapes through snow on slippery, sloping ground with the agility I did when I was 40 years younger. My dream of the perfect composition of woodland, fields, snow and shadows doesn’t seem as compelling as the nightmare of falling again. I did venture out into our yard to capture the intersecting beauty of a coating of ice that foretells of hard winter to come, covering fall leaves hanging onto their branches in spite of strong winds, and buds that have formed as a sign of hope that spring will come once again.

This year Christmas was as wonderful for me as a sappy Hallmark movie – once I got my head screwed on straight, or more accurately, eliminated almost half of my healthcare appointments. I told my kids I couldn’t do our Christmas Eve family gathering this year after I realized that my daughter couldn’t be with us to help out with preparations and cleanup. As Christmas got closer I realized I didn’t have to sacrifice getting together with children & grandchildren, & one great-granddaughter. I would keep it simple. We got our usual spiral sliced, bone-in ham (left-overs for everyone and the bone for soups) and I bought frozen mac & cheese. My granddaughters love corn soufflé so I told them I would buy the ingredients if they would make it. Emily got here first and she made two pans of it so there would be plenty for everyone to take some home. I opened a jar of my home-made applesauce, pickled beets, and made a cranberry-orange relish the day before. Jim bought rolls and a vegi tray. Daughter Carol brought Christmas cookies and an apple pie. It was so simple and instead of fussing about, I spent my energy having fun with these wonderful people who are dear to me. I don’t regret those years when there were twice as many people and I made multiple dishes from scratch. They were a lot of fun – but not any more. Now I find fun and joy in different ways.

The week between Christmas and New Years seems to be a time of reflection for me. We took the tree down a couple of days after Christmas in preparation for flying back to Florida on New Years Day. The next day I took down the wreaths and greens and packed away other Christmas decorations. It caused a small ache deep inside as I put Christmas “away.” Packing away the manger scene was a slow process as I thought about whether we could, or should, be putting Christmas behind us. It made me think about what my faith means for me, why I believe in the Christmas story, why I believe in Easter. For several reasons I have lost faith in the church (we do have a church in Florida that feeds us spiritually), but the stories of what Christ taught about peace, love, joy, kindness, gentleness, patience, goodness, faithfulness and self-control make for a good life. His teachings are sound, even though interpretations by humans are sometimes flawed. What we believe in is a choice, and this Christmas I reaffirmed that my belief in Christianity provides a strong foundation for facing an uncertain future. This eve of a new year finds me at peace.

Wishing you safety, comfort and joy as we navigate the coming year together.

Thoughts on a New Year

The end of the last year and beginning of a new year involved an ice storm followed by snow. It really didn’t matter because we didn’t go anywhere and didn’t have guests driving on bad roads. It was a nice kind of quiet, giving me time to prepare some special meals with my daughter. I also sat observing what was happening outside and thinking about what is going on within my head. Occasionally I took some photos through the window because stepping outside was treacherous.

I was surprised at my strong reaction to the end of 2020. Usually the transitions to the new year have gone by without much notice in our home. Usually just a “Happy New Year” and a little kiss in the morning because we didn’t want to stay up for midnight. The other thing that surprised me was that, on the one hand, I couldn’t have been happier to see 2020 in my rear view mirror but on the other hand I was very much aware that nothing had changed between December 31 and January 1. I have strong hope that there will be governing stability with the new administration, righting damage done by the previous administration and moving forward by leading congress in creating economic, environmental, criminal justice and health care policy that solve our social problems. There is a lot to do and his cabinet appointments seem to be good picks for the job.

Then we experienced the attempted insurrection by a large group of thugs and traitors. We are proud of our freedom to publicly demonstrate, to let our needs and beliefs be known through physical presence. But that freedom doesn’t include threatening riots with fire arms and bombs, carried with the intention of threatening and harming others. It doesn’t include destruction of property and stealing. I was shocked as I watched it unfold, and I spent way too much time in front of the tv but I couldn’t walk away. I was horrified and angry at what I saw.

For my over-seas readers, be aware that we have the same far-right extremists that you have, those who want to destroy the government, want to protect white privilege, want to seize power for their own enrichment. We always have, but Donald Trump brought them out from under their rocks and out of their holes – told them it was okay to express their grievances that people of color and women were gaining too much power. Donald Trump and his supporters in positions of power (congress) fed them lies and told them they could fight, be violent. They told them not to trust or respect the institutions of our democracy and his followers wanted to hear this. They all worked hard to destroy truth and spread lies. You know the story, you have lived with this threat yourself.

As I hear news of our political crisis from the perspective of other countries, I am hearing a lot of caring and concern for the health of our democracy. Thank you for this. Please keep caring and know that President Biden and his State Department will quickly begin to reach out to try to mend fences and break down the walls that Trump loved to build. From what I have heard Biden has been highly respected around the world whenever he has traveled abroad in a professional capacity.

Here are some observations I have about our democracy from listening to hours and hours of very knowledgeable and brilliant experts with extensive leadership experience and doing a lot of reflecting:

The freedom of our press is very strong. What has saved me during the past five years has been the courage, intelligence, dedication, and truthful reporting of so many journalists. I am so exhausted that I am having a hard time writing this post, so I can’t comprehend how the journalists covering the White House, Congress, the election, the pandemic, and racial tensions can keep going. Some journalists were laughing that usually we see the President age as he goes through his time in office – this time it has been the journalists that we have watched aging before us. Our journalists continue to explore difficult news stories, make contacts with multiple experts and eye witnesses, and write endless articles and make multiple reports for tv news reports. Newspapers have provided excellent coverage and many are providing on-line free access to information about the pandemic (yes we are all still overwhelmed with a pandemic as the oldest democracy on earth has been assaulted). In spite of Trumps constant verbal assaults on reporters and news organizations, inciting his followers to make violent threats, our free press has held strong and flourished. Thank you.

Our Justice Department has been a mixed bag as Attorney General Barr became Trumps private pawn instead of being separate from the Executive Branch and working strictly for the citizens while upholding the Constitution. He will be gone soon and seems to be changing tune as he is thinking about his life after Trump. During this mess there were many federal judges at the state level who were making decisions based on the law and the Constitution – not on what Trump wanted. We do need justice reform because we have two justice systems – one for whites and one for people of color. I believe Vice-President Harris will work hard on that.

Our Congress has been crippled by almost all of those within Trump’s party either believing in all the evil that Trump is or have been to chicken-shit to stand up to his bullying. They have been spineless and lack integrity as they chose Trump over our Constitution and the well-being of our citizens. The Republican Party has lost power until the next election in two years. Hopefully we can heal and strengthen the moral compass of our government in that time. In my mind, this is the weakest link but I believe we have the best man for the job coming into power. He has years of experience working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle.

I am very hopeful that there are now many more people who understand the perils our democracy can face if we don’t stand up for what is right. I am hoping there will be enough social pressure against white supremacy and anti-democratic beliefs to force these traitors to our Constitution back into their holes as we work to make the justice system strong enough to prosecute them when they stick their head out.

I believe we have always been a bit too far towards personal freedom (especially for white males) and haven’t taken seriously the “justice for all” and common good of society. This stems from the DNA and personalities of the people who have come to our shores from the very beginning and the nature of democracy as our forefathers (white, male, and usually slave owners) defined it.

Here’s to a new year and a new page in the on-going work of pursuing a “more perfect union.” We are all a work in progress.

Please keep yourself and your neighbors safe.

New Year’s Bird

For all of you who are eagerly anticipating your New Year’s Eve celebration, or for those of you who have already celebrated and are reminiscing; this is for you.

Duh, what?

Duh, what?

For those of you who like your birds with a little more class, you can fly on over to see Ailsa who started all this.

And I wish you all a great year – without too much “egg on face” or “foot in mouth”.

My Winter Garden, Hope & Another Year

hope winter garden 007

Leaves preparing for next summer’s daisies.

I like looking at my winter flower garden even though not much changes in Michigan in the winter. My winter flower garden is basically soil covered with mulch and dead leaves with a few bare twigs sticking up in the air, but I look at it for signs of hope. Planting spring bulbs in the fall has always felt like an act of hope because winter is coming and everyone can see that everything dies in the winter – at least it looks dead. I went out with my camera the other day, looking for signs of hope in the garden that has pretty much died back.

These mums bloomed not too long ago.

These mums bloomed not too long ago.

I look for hope in the new shoots from my perennials that come up early in the winter. And so many plants sprout buds in early winter, maybe trying to get a head start on spring that is so many months away. Spring is a sign of new birth, of seeing things come to life. After the long dead winter we look forward to new life. But I remember the year my mother died of cancer in March and that spring I didn’t want to see the green shoots and the leaves coming out in the underbrush. I didn’t want to see the daffodils and other early bulbs. I needed to feel the pain of death a little longer before I was ready to embrace new life.

Twigs of the Flowering Almond.

Twigs of the Flowering Almond.

My winter garden and the promise of new growth next spring got me thinking about hope. Maybe I’ve been thinking about it because of the pain I’m feeling for all the people who lost someone in Connecticut on December 14, and everyone who is experiencing loss because of wars and political unrest and because of violence in neighborhoods and homes. I’ve been in a reflective mood, however, for some time. Maybe it has to do with reaching a certain age.

We search for and hang on to hope at many times of our lives. I remember when I was just entering adulthood, I hoped for a good life with the man I loved and was going to marry. Then I hoped that I would be a good parent and that I would be able to give my babies what they needed. I wanted to believe that I would be good at the work I was doing so I could gain respect and better jobs. And I hoped that I could compete and be successful when I went back to school in my thirties.

Azalea buds.

Azalea buds.

We went through some tough times in our marriage, a few years into it, after the honeymoon phase wore off. There was a time when we didn’t know if we loved each other anymore but we had three small children and we had made a commitment to each other. That was a scary time – really scary. I remember lying in bed one night talking about what we were going to do and one of us said s/he was really scared. One of us reached out and took the other’s hand and one of us suggested we pray. I don’t remember who did what but it doesn’t matter because we were floundering together. Problem was, we were so scared we didn’t know how or what to pray. We just lay there, holding hands, moaning, with tears running into our ears. We were clinging desperately to the hope that we would be able to work it out. We did.

Another difficult time was when I became sick with a chronic illness. I have written about how I felt my life was falling apart and I was losing my sense of self. My husband was also really scared that he was losing his life, the life he shared with me. I’m not going to say more about that because I wrote about it here and here. I kept going because I hoped that I would be able to regain the life I had lost – and then I started to believe that I could regain a new kind of life. A life that is different but fulfilling. I wrote about that here.

Hens & Chicks that thrive in all conditions.

Hens & Chicks that thrive in all conditions.

I think I am searching for, watching for, signs of life in my garden right now because I realize I have a limited amount of life left. No, I haven’t been diagnosed with a terminal illness or am sucidal, but I do know that I might only, at best, have 20 years of life left. It sounds strange when I think that it is only 20 more birthdays, 20 more springs, 20 more holidays like Christmas and Easter. And both my husband and I talk about the fact that the other may die – and neither one of us wants to lose the other.

This type of thinking is a whole lot different than when I was 20 and believed that I had forever ahead of me and thought 30 was ancient. Or being 30 and realizing that I was just starting my real adult life. Or being 40 and realizing that I still had over half of my adult life left. It is funny, but at about age 40 we begin to think about years left instead of how many years we have lived. And then I turned 50 and realized that this was my prime – I had really hit my stride, I was confident. I didn’t like turning 60 but soon realized that there are some benefits to being over 60 – like discounts and more freedom to say and do as I want. I’ve even learned to love being retired.

This sedum looks new and fresh with its winter color.

This sedum looks new and fresh with its winter color.

As I look toward another year, a new year, I am realizing that turning 70 isn’t too far away. I have a lot of questions about what lies ahead. Will I be able to adjust to the new, inevitable challenges that lie ahead? Sometimes I think about the energy I use to have when I was young, but it seems okay that I now have less energy because I actually enjoy taking life slower and have found ways to do what I want to do with the energy I have. Will I reach a point where I will be unhappy because I don’t have enough energy to live life? Research indicates that successful aging is most related to quality relationships and reasonably good health. I don’t worry about relationships because I have lots of good friends and know how to make new ones. I am also an introvert so I can be happy with solitude. I worry about health because I don’t feel I have a lot of control over that, even though I am trying to live a healthy lifestyle. But then there are a lot of things that happen to us that we don’t have control over.

A lone maple tree with its buds of spring.

A lone maple tree with its buds of spring.

You know what? I think I will continue to look for signs of new growth in my winter garden. I may be entering the winter of my life but I don’t believe I have stopped growing. I have been resilient all my life and have had a strong drive for physical and emotional health. I have always been strong and determined and a fighter. I also have a strong faith in God that guides me and sustains me. Maybe there are some things in life that don’t change. I have Hope.