Strange Lands


As a kid in the Seventies I was obsessed, like most of my age group, with J. R. R. Tolkein’s world of hobbits, elves, goblins and other evil forces as thinly veiled references to the real-life world conflicts experienced by the author and his generation. While I gobbled up all three books that compose The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the very dense Silmarillion, my favorite has always been The Hobbit, with its homey descriptions of hobbit dwellings and lifestyle as well as the humble but hospitable sanctuaries offered during the travelers’ perilous journeys through strange, magical lands.

I took great comfort in the hobbit habits of generosity and good will when odd strangers showed up at the door, even while they ate and drank you out of house and home. Bilbo may have had his misgivings, but he was determined to uphold his role as a good steward to his guests. In the age of technology, I’ve continued to indulge my childhood longings by binging on Instagram images of the amazing Hobbiton movie set in New Zealand and by appreciating the popularity of tiny homes, tree houses and the whole Hygge movement on the Internet.

I’ve always been drawn to creating artful, comforting and inviting sanctuaries in the many rooms, apartments and homes I’ve lived in. I feel at home in funky neighborhoods with more charm than affluence. Recently I’ve become obsessed with a local neighborhood of colorfully painted old bungalows sporting messy porches with fat felines and yards full of crazy art and wildly overgrown flowerbeds, a well-loved community garden and a little park with a children’s storytime theme sponsored by the city’s public library.

On Sundays my small family walks through these peaceful streets and I find myself back in the Shire, wishing that I wouldn’t have to go back to the dire news stories and inescapable violence broadcast over the media. I want my own modest house to be magically transformed into one of these funky oases that have taken decades to create in that older part of town. I wonder if, like Bilbo Baggins, my purpose is to leave for parts unknown or to remain in my hobbit world, tending a garden and keeping the hearth fire lit for afternoon tea and the other daily rituals that become so sacred in a world at war.

I used to scour Tolkein’s maps of Middle Earth on his inside book covers and follow the heroes’ journey, having the luxury of knowing what lies ahead. Nowadays, I stand at the highest point in my county, hoping to see the path clearly marked in these troubled times but the horizon and my fate are hidden from me. Am I to stay put and keep the home fires burning? Or will I be called back on the road to fight a formidable foe? Only time (and the next chapter) will tell.

In the meantime, I stock my pantry for weary travelers, and plan my next garden.

Life Cut Short


Numbers rising, mandatory masks, hospitals full and bars closed. All this and the college students haven’t really arrived yet. My world consists of wandering up the street to my daughter’s house, forays into our vegetable garden and pickups at the grocery store. Occasionally we don protective armor to hit the hardware superstore at the earliest hours and never on weekends.

My husband began to watch baseball again until the games were cancelled one by one because of Covid cases. The local schools push back their starting dates later and later. Restaurants reinvent themselves monthly. My writing is limited to supply lists for online orders, and my art relegated to decorating window shades with markers. My attention span is too limited and distracted for even the easy summer paperback reading.

Today I discovered that almost all of my houseplants are infested with tiny thrips that I can barely see now with my lack of close vision. My husband called it a pandemic, and I thought how appropriate, of course I need my own private pandemic on top of the national one. And then I got to thinking about other little pandemics going on around me; aphids engulfing the nasturtiums, spider mites sucking all the life out of pole beans, the usual Japanese beetle invasion and a plague of flea beetles on the arugula.

Then there’s the animal kind like the hopping hordes of rabbits (seven frolicking under our back porch one morning!), a rotating rodeo of groundhogs, voraciously domesticated deer herds and the raucous starling tenements in my neighbor’s eave.

All summer I waited patiently for a volunteer sunflower to bloom that I had moved to my front garden. It was just starting to flower when I walked by one morning to find the doomed bloom hanging by a thread, already wilting in hot summer sun, some sort of brown beetle making another fresh cut as straight as a surgeon’s incision in its stem.

My good mood deflated instantly. Was there nothing in this world allowed to achieve its full glory without threats from predators, disease and bad weather? Unwilling to accept another life derailed, I grabbed the flower after flicking off the offending bug, and brought my poor victim into the house to revive it in a vase.

From the photo above, you can see that it has continued to unfurl into a beam of light enjoyed in my dark interior, a fitting tribute to its resilience in spite of a life cut short and best laid plans gone awry. May we all find inspiration in the little accomplishments around us even as arrogant civilizations fail and topple in the storm.

Mellow Yellow


June was better. The house and garage are painted, our gardens flourish and we finally enjoyed a visit from our adult offspring after months of separation. Slowly, we’re getting to know the new neighbors, and they are becoming more familiar with us. Apparently painting a house yellow inspires reactions and conversations. Perhaps yellow is friendly and welcoming, I don’t know.

Flower beds are filling up and so far the vegetable garden has managed to escape the attentions from two fairly large bucks, several groundhogs and innumerable rabbits, not to mention a family of skunks and a digging outdoor cat or two. We have not received much rain, which worries me although the nearby reservoir is still full. My spouse and I continue to order grocery and farmer’s market pickups, and wear masks to stores first thing in the morning to avoid germs and crowds. There is no end in sight.

The bright spot is that our daughter is moving to our city in July and renting a house up the street. We will be a family again and for that I am rejoicing. Sure, there will be adjustments and boundaries, but we have all missed each other terribly this spring. Her new freelance business enables her to work from home, which is a luxury these days. Not all are so lucky but for her and her parents, this is the best solution in the short term.

While I still get overwhelmed at times, the tasks are not as frustrating and futile as they were the last two years. I answer to no one as I tend my small garden that will still feed two and maybe three people nicely in the coming months. We are on a waiting list for a small chest freezer, but hopefully we can stock up on frozen vegetables and local meats before winter. There are a few perks that I miss from the country, but not enough to give up my independence.

Even in the city, nature makes its home with us. Every night, my husband and I sit and watch the fireflies flicker in the backyard, while mama skunk ushers her youngsters under the neighbor’s shed in single file. She makes sure all are accounted for. Soon, I hope to feel the same about my little family.

Small World


As I write these words at the end of May 2020, the world is on fire. From my vantage point within the confines of a small bungalow on a narrow lot in a college town fallen strangely silent since the middle of March, my state and country’s rush to reopen just as civil unrest spills into the streets resemble the torrents of broiling rapids breaking free from a dam of oppression. And at my age, I finally know better than to test those waters.

It’s no coincidence that our 1925 house was built on a hill in an area with a high water table and plenty of swampy low spots. As the climate changes, this formerly northern state harbors the southern symbols of my youth including towering rhododendrons, enormous azaleas and fragrant English boxwood. While I relive the sights and scents of childhood on restricted neighborhood walks, we continue to meet neighbors who are strangely connected to previous people and places as the past repeats itself with yet another cool, wet spring that is sure to switch to a sweltering, stormy summer in a matter of minutes as we watch our street turn into a river running down to an unknown fate that only the young will be brave enough to follow.

Waiting on the hill for the next presumed Covid wave has kept my husband and me close to home with only occasional forays to a local nursery or hardware store. The convenience of online ordering helps us with no-contact pick up at the grocery store and farmer’s market along with delivery of various goods to our doorstep. We finally invited some friends over for cocktails on our open back porch this weekend at the acceptable social distance and felt vaguely rebellious. We watch daily reports of protest from the safety of our computers and television while searching for truth in social media, an oxymoron if ever there was one.

Meanwhile, we refurbish our old house, search for scarce supplies, appliances and commodities we took for granted only months ago, live frugally, plant our garden with last year’s precious seeds and watch the lone survivors from previous gardeners emerge in our yard. So far, the remaining residents are mainly peonies with their attendant armies of ants. I’m not a huge fan of this particular perennial because of its floppy nature, but beggars can’t be choosers in this time of Corona and I am grateful for any sign of life, however myopic. As my new post-surgery vision adapts to far-sighted ugly realities, I become more appreciative of what is under my nose on a dependable high ground, no matter how humble.

Taming The Fear


The time I’ve been preparing for all my life is here. For years now I could smell it coming in the wind, felt the rumblings under my feet, heard whispers from the trees overhead. I’ve spent a year painfully eliminating all that I knew and believed that was no longer sustainable or trustworthy, pushed along by an inner urging. With the past crumbled into a pile of lies and the future so murky that my sense of direction was lost, I groped along in the dark with only basic instincts to guide me. Where I landed is all that I had when time as we knew it stopped.

I thought I was prepared for this: stock up on necessities, stay home and till the garden, be creatively mindful, and support those who sought my help in any way I could as I recovered from surgery. I limited the daily horrors of the news, played soothing music and started garden seeds while listening to audio books and chatting with friends as I kept a watchful eye on my level of anxiety and proclivity for mental depression.

But doing my part in staying home to stop the spread of disease was not enough, it seems. Complications from my eye surgery began promptly on the day my state’s stay-at-home order was issued. I was forced to travel three hours roundtrip to seek medical attention, where I found out I had a retinal detachment underway with orders to lie flat on my back for five days after laser treatment to keep from having surgery in some already overburdened hospital.

I thought I was prepared but fear had other ideas. The villain finally got to me, and took what was left of any security and stability I had managed to salvage since starting over in a new home and town where we had barely begun to know our neighbors. My days and nights blended together as I memorized every crack in the ceiling above me, hoping for the best and dreading the worst, letting my overactive imagination play out in creatively dreadful ways. My dreams at night which had already taken a sinister turn turned ugly with anxiety.

Seeing no other way out, I began to give myself permission to grieve the beautiful eyesight that I had briefly experienced along with the world’s sorrow as precious loved ones everywhere suffer from this insidious virus or pass away alone in hospitals while others isolated at home are tormented by abusive partners set off because of their dire circumstances. It was overwhelming at times, but I kept hanging on to what was given to me–a loving partner who takes great care of me, health insurance to cover my treatments and a roof over my head with plenty of food and toilet paper.

Five weeks have passed in a blur of uncertainty, fear’s faithful companion. Lying still for so long was an exercise in release, of expectations, of routine, of control. With all the time in the world, I found that I could truly listen to conversations and savor the moments when I sat up to eat. Since I spent several weeks not bending over or lifting anything, I left the gardening to my spouse and watched him gain confidence when the plants responded to him. I let go of planning anything besides the next doctor’s appointment as I watched trees bud, bloom and leaf out from the inside as an exceptionally colorful springtime unfolded.

Despite fear of what was happening out in the world, I realized that this was an opportunity to be still and heal, to become intimately aware of my own physical needs and what I’ve always taken for granted. I was forced to finally learn moderation if I wanted to recover and proceed with any quality of life. Nothing was spared from scrutiny, from alcohol consumption to diet to screen time to worry. And I had to allow myself to be vulnerable but not a victim.

Yesterday, I was given the green light to live life normally again. I was told to do what I want, with the exception of engaging in any boxing tournaments. The country and the state where I live are starting to entertain lifting their restrictions. But I know better. The normal we knew is over. As time goes on, the more experts realize how little they understand about this virus, the more frightened the powers that be become of the unrest already taking place, and the more we as a people acknowledge how undervalued and under-compensated those who provide our basic needs and services have been.

Whatever my purpose will be moving forward remains a mystery without expectations. For the time being, my job is to live mindfully and provide for my own basic needs and those around me in a sustainable way, making sure to leave enough for others and never taking for granted good health, plenty of food, a safe place to live and the connection to loved ones again. Fear can only destroy us if we let it in to stay.

Year of the Rat


Every sixty years the entire calendar of Chinese zodiac signs and their elements begins again. 2020’s Chinese New Year marks the beginning of one of those cycles. The last one occurred in 1960, the year of my birth. In a reassuring sign of synchronicity I discovered this fact after announcing in the previous post that REBIRTH is my chosen word for 2020.

In Chinese astrology, the Rat was the first of the twelve zodiac animals to reach the Buddha’s door for a great feast after secretly riding on the back of Ox across a river only to scamper down across the finish line before anyone else. Even though Rat cheated, the Buddha admired the animal’s craftiness and placed it first on the calendar in front of Ox. In addition to twelve astrology signs, the five classical elements of water, wood, fire, earth and metal also contribute to the cycles, and once again, the Metal Rat is the first of all Rats in the zodiac calendar, which was the case in 1960 and now in 2020.

While this particular rodent gets a bad rap in Western culture, they are respected in the East for their resourcefulness and skills in adapting to difficult times. They are always on the go but seek stability in their lives. The Metal element adds strength, courage, generosity and forgiveness to the Rat, who has a tendency to be frugal (stingy) and ambitious (greedy). No matter which element of Rat, it is always the first zodiac sign of the twelve-year cycles that have been documented for well over 4,000 years.

In Eastern creation myths, the universe existed as an inert egg-shaped space until Rat gnawed a hole into it, allowing life-giving air to enter. Whatever year you were born, a Rat year signals renewal and regeneration with opportunities to lay foundations for the future and determine goals for the next twelve years, or in this case, the next sixty. Think about the new era that began in 1960 with all the social and cultural changes that revolutionized the world for better, and for worse.

Personally, I am on the other side of eye surgeries in February that removed cataracts and allowed me to see distance without contacts or glasses for the first time in my life with the help of toric lens implants, an advanced technology that was non-existent until recently. As typical of Rats, I had managed to adapt to my extreme myopia for decades with the help of contacts and glasses until they were no longer effective. I endured many months of blurry vision no matter what the distance and relied on others to help me navigate the world, which is not easy for an independent Rat whose fight-or-flight response is overly developed. I spent much of my time last year managing the fear of not seeing what was happening in the world around me, and what was worse–not being able to recognize what was up ahead.

Now I can not only see ahead, but what’s going on a block or two away, whether I want to or not. I’m finding this new super power a mixed blessing in many ways. There’s much to like about being blissfully ignorant, but that does not sit well with the nature of the Rat, who is ever vigilant to scarcity and danger, ready to pick up and move to safety at a moment’s notice. My ability to always have an escape hatch, whether I use it or not, has been a comfort to me all my life. When I have no better options, I will stand my ground and fight armed with a sword committed to fairness and equality. It’s no accident that I was born into tumultuous times where many were fighting for civil rights and social justice.

But the better options for me and perhaps all of us at the start of this new era, is to work together toward building solid foundations and setting progressive goals that improve our lives using the abundant energies of the Rat with the help of tools like creativity, resourcefulness, ingenuity, open-mindedness and restoration. In the long run, these are the only weapons besides love that can conquer the enemies of fear and want that loom on our horizons in the next sixty years.

2020 Vision


As the dust from moving house settles after the holidays amid whiffs of freshly painted walls and new furniture, I’ve been contemplating my word for 2020 while looking back at the significance of my choice for 2019. According to my rough calculations in scrolling back on this blog, I’ve been picking a special word since 2013 or so that began with One Little Word. That’s seven years of farsighted intention that has always been prophetic by New Year’s Eve.

Which brings me to my 2019 word, “Light.” It was a heavy year, judging from my few posts, highlighted by plenty of dark times. Ironically (or not), my physical sight began to noticeably dim last year, especially when I travelled to London and struggled to view Turner’s murky paintings in archival lighting. When I finally made an appointment with my eye doctor in August, I was stunned to find out that I had advanced cataracts and my vision had deteriorated dramatically over a year’s time. Because I have been extremely myopic all my life with a very high-powered prescription, the cataracts were causing blurriness that could no longer be corrected with glasses. Eye dryness has also prevented me from wearing contacts for decades so the only solution is to have cataract surgery at the ripe old age of 59 and corrective lenses implanted.

Obviously too young for Medicare, I still qualify for insurance coverage because my vision is so blurry that I haven’t been able to drive for the last six months. When I finally got in to see one of the best ophthalmologists in the state, my eyesight had deteriorated to the point that I was quickly fast-tracked to the “3-month” waiting list. Meanwhile, as a plein-air artist who was finishing a 4-year grant project by creating distant landscapes and holding a final art show, I struggled to see what I was painting and more than once had flashbacks to Monet’s foggy work in his later years due to cataracts. After touching up four years’ worth of art for the final show, I stared at the 25 paintings on display while wondering how shockingly bright these will look after my surgery.

Which brings me to 2020 wondering if I will be able to see 20/20 on the eye chart when I finish the surgeries in February. For my entire life I’ve never been able to see distance without glasses, and my blurred view of the world has both protected and isolated me from the harsh truths and prejudices buffered by my thick glasses and gullibility. And while my long distance vision may be restored, the near-sight that I have relied on for so long will be gone. The tiny veins that glisten on a dragonfly’s wings and the intricate maze of threads while detangling a knot will disappear into the lost lands of foreground without reading glasses or magnifying glass, so close yet so far.

No matter what the outcome, my focus and perspective have begun to turn inward in these grey days of perpetual twilight. The harsh artificial lamps glow with angelic halos and the sun has become gentler in what he reveals. The moon is welcome but ghostly now, and often tripled in a sky out of a science fiction movie. The senses of touch, smell and sound have become more amplified, and when night comes, the womblike absence of light surrounds me in a waiting period of gestation before the post-surgery grand re-entry and big reveal.

So it will come as no surprise (especially if you read the last post) that my word for 2020 is REBIRTH. I am prepared for a whole new world of light and color, sharp insight and fresh point of view. The little crossed-eyed infant from the past will get a second chance to take wondrous halting baby steps into my third life stage. And perhaps in life’s theatre I will prefer the balcony this time rather than a front-row seat to the world’s troubles. A little distance at my age may not be a bad thing while I cheer the young on in their noble causes and fortuitous frays without craving the spotlight myself.

After all, the bright lights would only blind me from the inner path I now need to follow.

Starting Over


The photo above depicts our new beginning and a fresh portal. We start again in a new city, a different community, another context. Here we pause at the threshold of the next decade as I step into my sixties. I have shed plenty to get here, some by choice, so much by force.

Perhaps there was no other way. Maybe the reward is sweeter because the path was perilous. Regardless, second guessing only leads me down into dark depths and serves no purpose in the tricky twilight of hindsight.

Life has led me here, in this moment. This is all I know. For now.

Happy holidays my friends. The times, they are a-changing.

Letting Go Revisited


There’s snow in the forecast as I write on this dark final day of October when the thinnest of veils has already curtained our surrounding hazy fields before the hidden sun goes down. If I look out to the horizon I swear I can see souls from the past and future flying by in the wind today atop frantic leaves searching for ground. After a very hot and dry autumn, the weather has already played a trick on all who had hoped for a fun night of treats this Halloween with its howling high winds and stabbing hard freeze.

Like the leaves that will be gone by morning, I’ve spent the day letting go of things in this time of endings. The outgrown and expired have been sorted into charity bags or given to compost. I complete my necessary end-of-the-month tasks and check them off a list. I finish chores that have been languishing for months and gather the perishable before nightfall. And I continue to pack my hopes and dreams in moving boxes.

Maybe transitioning in the spring or summer is overrated. Perhaps the best time to silently slip away is when the fields lie empty and the villagers huddle inside by their fires loudly boasting about summer conquests while feasting on their triumphs. I don’t have much to say after two years at a retreat center in the country, and what was gained will be left behind. I take only experience, a little wisdom and some bittersweet memories. They are heavy enough.

Hopefully by the holidays, my spouse and I will be sitting at a new hearth heated with love and quiet resolve to be true to ourselves. There will be lots of beginnings in 2020 but I am not afraid. There is nothing left to regret on this day between the worlds and wonder, when I am more than ready to shed the old and welcome the new.

Swallow Time


On the last day of July, I take a big gulp and write again. I’ve been trying to figure out what to say after such a long pause, how to kickstart a place that’s grown dusty and silent. Four months have flown by since I’ve marked the page. In that time I’ve traveled extensively, including a family trip to London and back to the East coast twice.

Photos taken with the phone become my journal by giving me handy dates when time runs together as it has this year. I began this blog ten years ago and as in 2009, 2019 is a “nine” year of endings. Several projects and obligations are coming to a close for me. Traumas from the past rise up to be acknowledged and finally put to rest so that I can begin a new cycle in 2020. A new sense of self is slowly emerging from an old chrysalis to the tunes of buzzing cicadas and chirping crickets.

I fear this season is racing along too fast despite exciting travel adventures, jolly gatherings with friends, musical evenings and a few precious days of perfect weather. Autumn will see the completion of some commitments, and while I look forward to a quiet winter, I haven’t had my fill of the sun after a very cold and wet spring and early summer.

At least the barn swallows haven’t left yet. They swirl around the barn roofs and power lines, fattening up on insects and waiting for the later broods to fledge. I take comfort in their aerial acrobatics every day, and am ever grateful for every mosquito they consume. I enjoy and yet brace for the day when the stucco nests are empty and the rooflines bereft.

Until it’s time again next summer.