Little Memories Everywhere

One of my friends in Pueblo died suddenly a few weeks ago. I got a message about it from another friend in town and then her daughter, who I also know. Her death was not COVID related, but apparently the escalation of a chronic condition that moved too fast to catch. And so she was gone. I sent the appropriate condolences and have messaged back and forth with her daughter and other friends, trying to offer comfort and advice on grieving (there is no real advice, you grieve how you grieve and it lasts as long as it lasts). But since we were also friends on Facebook, I now see her comments on past posts when my daily memories come up and here in my room there are always constant reminders of her.

I first met Karin right after I moved to Pueblo in 1993. At that time, aside from a few big-box stores, there wasn’t much shopping in town, and what there was was located in the “historic Union Avenue district.” Karin’s store was on D Street, off Union, a little emporium called Instant Karma. I loved it before I ever walked inside. It was a tiny space, then, filled with funky, hippie-type clothing, sarongs, bed spreads/throws, incense, crystals, Tarot cards, books, CDs and cassettes (definitely dating myself here!). Ms. Karin fit right in. She was a small woman herself, five foot nothing, a bit zaftig, and her persona definitely matched the store. She was a cross between Stevie Nicks (wardrobe), Barbra (hair and accent) and her own unique fabulousness. I never saw her once after that without receiving her standard hello of “Greetings!” She loved all dogs, her husband, Tom, with whom she shared a birthday, her two daughters, her sweet mother, Anita (who also became a friend), and above all, John Lennon.

Her store became my happy place. I found it when I was having a particularly hard time getting settled in a new place, something I had not experienced since I was a kid. Moving to Pueblo from Atlanta was definitely a culture shock, especially at that time. The town was still reeling from the near complete shutdown of the steel mill that had been the major source of income and employment for most of the population. Customer service was an unknown idea and women treated each other very differently than I was used to. I was absolutely to be regarded with suspicion since I wasn’t from there. Karin never treated me with anything but friendship and caring, even at our first meeting.

I bought my first goddess book at her store, Z. Budapest’s “The Goddess in the Office” and it really helped me deal with the passive aggressive treatment at my job. As I look around my room now, nearly 30 years on, I see a lightweight cotton paisley bed spread that I have used as a table cloth and now current serves as block for a gap under the French doors to the back porch. I see a short lightweight robe, black with yellow dragonflies, that I travel with when I need something to toss over my swimsuit on the way to the pool. I see a string of small, cheerful bells hanging from my curtain rod next to my window that I jingle every now and then because I love their airy sound. Karin had a similar string on her door to let her know when folks came int. I see right here on my desk, my favorite Tarot deck, Osho Zen, which has been a huge part of my life ever since she let me shuffle through the cards to see if I wanted it. I still buy the same brand of incense she used, Escential Essences, that’s the only brand that doesn’t send me into allergic fits. Every time I burn it, I think of Karin.

And then, there are the Buddhas. I can’t say I’m a full blown Buddhist, but Buddhist teachings and writings have influenced me greatly over the years. Letting go of attachment and expectations in my life has helped me in so many ways. I bought my first Buddha at Karin’s, after she expanded her store to a huge, open space on Union Avenue. He’s metal and heavy and has an odd little rattle, as if something was trapped inside during the making. He sits on the altar by my bed, a quiet reminder of time passing.

I also worked for Karin for a little while. She was going through some tough times with her younger daughter and needed to be away from the store for various things. I told her I could hold down the fort for a few hours a week if she needed me and I was glad she accepted. I enjoyed being the one behind the counter and providing the greetings when folks walked in. Sadly, as with many businesses, the 2008 mess hit Instant Karma as well and she had to close. It was a sad day for me and for many others, let me tell you. Several months later, Karin had a garage sale to try to recoup a bit on her inventory, and there I acquired my other Buddha, larger, black pumice stone, and so peaceful. He graced my little grotto in the apartment after I broke up with my last ex, and had a place of honor in my Denver room. Now, he sits on my small bookcase across the room from where I write this, yet another memory of a woman who touched so many people in her too-short life, who was loving and generous and joyful. Karin, my friend, you are missed, but I am so glad I knew you and that I have so many reminders of you all around. What a gift to the world you were!

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Not Working

Today marks ten months since I quit my last job as a medical transcriptionist and eight months since I have been in Texas with friend A. Thanks to her generosity, I have managed to eke out my extremely meagre savings this long without having to seriously look for another job. And a couple of weeks ago, I discovered that I will soon be able to draw survivor’s benefits on my late husband’s social security, so it may be that I won’t actually have to look for a job any time soon. To say that I was surprised and stunned at this news is the understatement of the decade. Once again, my dead spouse is treating me better than any of the living.

I love not working. I have not had this amount of time off from a job since I started working for pay at age fifteen. I only took one month off after I had a baby and one month when I moved across the country from Atlanta to Pueblo, and only that long because it took a while to find a job. I’ve basically been employed for nearly 50 years, so it’s safe to say I don’t even know what it’s like to not work as an adult.

This is not to say I don’t stay busy. One of the reasons I came here was to help A out around the house, etc. I wrote about my sweeping duties and these have expanded over my time here. I do pretty much one hundred percent of the cooking and grocery shopping. The teenager can put frozen things in the oven and heat stuff in the microwave, but that’s as far as her cooking skills go. I showed her how to use my rice cooker and that made her really happy and now she even cleans it after she uses it. We take small miracles where we can find them. So, I sweep and cook and shop and keep things organized. I check mail for A’s brother, who lives behind us in a small house A had built on the property for her daughter years ago when she first bought the place. He suffered multiple strokes in February when we were having terrible weather and spent nearly sixty days in hospital and rehab facilities. For a while, I was making and taking him lunch three or four days a week and adding him into our dinner portions as well. Then he decided he needed to go to an actual rehab hospital for several weeks and he made great progress with them. Since he got back, he can move around more, and do is own cooking. But I am here if he needs help and he doesn’t hesitate to call.

These are all things that A would have had to manage while doing the full time job of teaching. So, I definitely don’t feel like I’m freeloading or being a burden. I’m also happy to run errands into town like picking up prescriptions or mailing things or whatever else needs to be done. Why wouldn’t I? I know what it’s like to work full time and never be able to go to the post office or a particular place because you’re headed to work before they open and not off till after they close. I’m happy to do these things for A because she’s my friend and because I can.

I thought for a while about trying to find some kind of job on line part time but as things piled up here and more things happened regarding brother, etc., I realized that adding an actual job into the mix of the things I was already taking care of was not something I wanted to do. I realized I like getting up when I want to. I like taking an hour or more to have coffee in the morning. I like jumping into the pool when it’s not thundering and lightening outside (we have had Noah levels of rain this spring!). I like working on my quilts and having dedicated space to do so. I like taking a nap if I feel like it. I get lots done every day, but every day I get to decide when and how I get it done. *I* get to decide. And if I don’t get to something on my list, no one yells at me. No one accuses me of lying about having computer problems or other situations. I get to do the work I do on my terms and my friend is happy with it. I can be her sounding board and her shoulder to cry on and vice versa. I have mowed part of the property once on the big zero-turn mower, and I will probably do more of that, but with all the rain it’s been hard to find a dry time to mow and I need A to be here at least a couple more times before I try it completely on my own. But I will conquer it!

I’m also learning pool maintenance. A’s cousin wanted to do something nice for her, so she paid to have the pool serviced and a new sand filter put in. Again, A was at work when the job was done, so the guy showed me how to do it (I made videos!) and I have been taking the water samples in every week, adding the chemicals, clearing the filter as needed, etc. Add one more skill set to the list.

So here I am. Apparently on my way to retirement in spite of myself and extremely grateful for everything that fell into place to allow me to do it. And now, the coffee is done and the sweeping beckons. See you soon!

A Different Planet

I’ve been in my new space in Texas now for a little over a month. As far as I can tell, things are going well. My friend and new roommate suffers from depression. She has dealt with this most of her life for various reasons. This was not a surprise to me. She also hates to cook, something I knew as well, and one of the ways I feel all right living here basically rent free, since I take that worry off her shoulders and try to make sure she eats a little better than she has been. She is type 2 diabetic and trying to get her blood sugar under better control and hoping to get off insulin in the near future. As far as these two things, nothing has been unexpected. However, I didn’t realize that entering the kitchen of a depressed person who hates to cook would feel like being on a different planet.

When I got here, I stayed for just a couple of days to get my rental van unloaded, then drove back to Denver to get my car. During the time I was here, I cooked several different things that ensured there would be good food that could be heated up, etc. for the coming week or so until I got back. I left the kitchen pretty much spic and span, aside from the parts of the counter taken up by piles of junk mail which I didn’t feel was my place to simply throw in the trash (although most of it is likely months, if not years, out of date).

When I got back, I wasn’t quite prepared for the kitchen. I had made a batch of Brunswick stew which I left in the crockpot in the fridge. Apparently, they had finished it a couple of days before I got there, but the crock was still in the sink, full of water. Most of the dishes were also in the sink or across the counter. Friend had said she made Salisbury steak a night or two previously and the skillet with remains was still on the stove. There were horse buckets in the middle of the kitchen, which is difficult, since the kitchen is TINY and nearly all of the floor space is taken up by an island which contains the stove top. There is barely enough room to open the side-by-side fridge on one side and the dishwasher on the other. Clearly, not a well thought out design. But the up side is that you can access the stove and cook on any burner from nearly anywhere in the room!

Mail and clutter was piled up where there were no dishes. The dog’s water dish was in exactly the right place for me to kick it across the room every time I moved (that was fixed immediately). The floor hadn’t been swept (a tile floor that is breaking and cracking due to house settling as the result of a flood which didn’t enter the house but washed underneath) probably in days and there was absolutely no rhyme or reason to any of the cabinets.

I say this as a description with absolutely no judgment. While I am not depressed now, I have been in the past and there are days when simply walking down the hall to the bathroom seems to be more than one can cope with. Only the thought of having to change the sheets from wetting the bed got me up. So, if there were dishes in the sink and dust on the floor, I could deal with it. Once I got the rest of the stuff out of my car and got in for real, things moved quickly. There is still a massive pile of junk mail in one corner of the kitchen, but it’s not a corner that would be used much anyway due to its location, so it can stay there a while.

The other interesting thing was finding about half a million lids for food storage containers with no container that fit them. Cabinet by cabinet, I searched and finally made some matches, but decided that if I couldn’t turn up a match for a lid or a container, then out it went. That freed up some space quickly.

Then I had to assess utensils, cookware, etc. One nonstick skillet, mid-quality, one small cast iron skillet, a little too small for much (maybe baking cornbread). Stoneware baking things. No cookie sheet but this horrible heavy stoneware thing. Pampered Chef, maybe? Regardless, I’m not a fan. A pizza stone, which is fine. There’s a 3 quart stoneware casserole dish with a lid that won’t fit in the oven except on the lowest rack, which appears to be the only baking dish she has, so I bought a nonstick cookie sheet, one of those speckled roasting pans and a glass 8 x 8 dish at Walmart. She had muffin pans and loaf pans and other small kitchen items.

I got the pantry cleaned out and organized as well as the fridge. Items from 2015 to 2019 got tossed. Old spices got tossed. Rusty cans got tossed. Friend and granddaughter talked about a cake mix she had bought “a while ago” to make and showed me round cake pans. When I found the mix in the pantry, it had expired in 2016. When you hate to cook, a mix is too much.

So now we have a routine. I got her some protein-y things for breakfast (keto type cereal, full fat Greek yogurt, etc. She HATES eggs and cannot eat them unless they are baked in something). She’s all about leftovers, so that’s good, and she is more comfortable now asking for something she wants. She’s a fiend for chicken salad and loves mine. I’ve rearranged and reorganized things to where they are a bit more functional and logical (for me, anyway). Granddaughter is bringing dishes out of her room on a more regular basis and also eating with us. We run the dishwasher most every night and tonight, she even washed the dinner pan and put stuff in the dishwasher before she headed to bed.

I think the planets may be coming into alignment, and this is a good thing.

#BuckFifty – Day 19 – Friends

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Growing up, I never had any friends.  We moved around a lot until I was in high school, so I went to different schools, lived in different states, and any time I got to the point of making a friend, off we went.  I was too young to be at a pen-pal stage and in those ancient days before e-mail and instant communication, those tenuous ties of early friendship were gone with the Mayflower moving van.  I did have my one dear friend that I met when we were both babies, and we wrote letters here and there, and occasionally her family would visit, but it wasn’t the same as an every day BFF that everyone else seemed to have.

Consequently, when I got to high school and started to make some friends around the 9th grade, they were always precious to me.  I developed a close group during those years, though, sadly, we lost touch after we scattered to head off to college.  I have reconnected with a few on the Facebook, and that has been good.

In college, I made another group of friends, women who have loved and supported me and each other for nearly 45 years now.  They are my rocks, my stability and my inspirations.  I know there is nothing that happens to me that I can’t ask them for help, advice or even just a little humor to toss into the mix.  I can’t imagine my life without any of them.

And then there are the friends you make along the way.  Like J.  I first met J when she and her company were clients of mine in the executive recruiting business (aka “headhunters”).  We talked professionally on the phone and had a very good working relationship.  It developed to a point that I sent her my resume for a potential job at hers. In those days, you still put “hobbies” and things like that on your resume.  I put down that I liked Star Trek and wrote and edited fanzines.  A few days later, I got a call from J.  After we had the usual chat, she lowered her voice and nearly whispered into the phone, “Are you a STAR TREK fan?”  A friendship was born.  We agreed to meet for the first time to continue our out of work conversation.  We connected in the Five Points MARTA station in downtown Atlanta and I don’t even remember what we did, drinks or lunch or whatever, but the connection was made.  After that we met for lunch, often at The Magnolia Room in Rich’s Department Store (now defunct), then an Atlanta mainstay.  We talked about everything.  Sometimes, I brought my daughter along.

When I left my first, abusive husband, I literally had to leave under cover of darkness and take only a few things in my car.  A couple of months later, the papers were signed, my new ex had left the state to go back to Kentucky, where he was from, and I had agreed to let my daughter go with him for a couple of months, so that I could have a little breathing space.  Then, I had to tackle the task of having to pack up the house we were living in and move out.  I was moving in with my parents, so I had to either pack efficiently, give stuff away or leave it behind.

J offered to come help me pack.  A relatively small thing, but at that point in my life, it was huge.  I was paralyzed with all the emotion of having to go back into that house.  I knew I had done absolutely the right thing in getting away from an abuser, but still I felt like an utter failure.  I was up in the air about my job, my kid, my whole life.  J helped settle me down.  We spent a day wrapping things in newspaper, and putting them in boxes.  We talked about this and that–I have no recollection of what.  Somehow, with her help, I got through it, got everything out the house, got settled with my parents, and a few weeks later, got my daughter back home unscathed.  I am honestly not sure I would have been able to do that without her helping me for a few hours that day.

That’s what friendship is.  That’s what you do.  You just be there.  You don’t have to fix things, you don’t have to be Superwoman.  Just be present.

J and I are still friends, even though we haven’t seen each other in years.  We share things on Facebook, keep up that way, like so many people.  I hope in the next couple of years, I can travel back to Atlanta and we can meet again to reconnect in person.  I hope maybe one day I can talk her into visiting Denver.  But if not, again, she will always be my friend.

Rampaging…

You might think this is going to be a rant about G or the breakup or whatever. It’s not. This is a rampage of pure appreciation. There is SO MUCH to be grateful for.

This morning, I drove out east to see some dear friends and just hang out. It was much needed me time. It was an absolutely beautiful Colorado morning and I was so thankful to be living here in this state that I love so much. I was thankful for my job, that allows me to work extra pretty much whenever I want, so I have decided to work enough extra every month to cover my car payment, which will help immensely. I can do it…an hour or so for 20 days out of the month, and covered. It’s a blessing to be able to do that and not even leave my house. I was so grateful to have my little car, to have my insurance, to have my renters’ insurance paid up for a year, to have a new world of volunteerism with the County Extension service and the Master Gardener program that I completed at the beginning of April.

I am grateful to be able to put the boys to work tomorrow helping me get plants from a local vendor for our big fundraising plant sale. I am grateful for a friend from the class who offered to help me move my artwork from there to here. I am grateful for our DSS worker, who came for a home visit today and told me to go get the furniture we need (dining table and 2 chairs, futon and dresser for E) and said, “We haven’t spend any money on you guys, you need this.” I am grateful for friends who feed me lunch and give me over-the-door towel hooks, and wonderful coffee from Germany, and delicate crystal classes to drink my wine and whiskey out of (still have to get those 2 items, but I will be very grateful when I have them), and an amazing tool bag, so I’ll never feel helpless at home if something goes wrong.  I am grateful for E’s friend’s mom who invited me out last night…imagine, ME going OUT on a weeknight no less. I am grateful that even though I overslept this morning, my drive to get E to school is shorter, and so we made it there on time. I am grateful that E actually straightened up his room for the home visit today! I am grateful for food in the freezer and fridge. I am grateful for people who sell me wonderful, delicious local chicken and duck eggs. I am grateful for this quiet little apartment that is starting to feel like home. I am grateful for the ability to put things behind me without resentment and move forward. I am grateful to be writing on this blog and I am grateful for anyone who reads it at any time. I am grateful for social media even though it drives me crazy at times. I am grateful to be able to catch up and keep up with old friends this way.

I am so grateful today that I honestly feel like I have become gratitude. I know this feeling won’t last. I know I’ll dip and have lows just as deep as this particular high is right now. I also know that’s okay. I can be grateful for the full spectrum of emotions as well and know that they are all normal and valid. I can accept everything just as it is…and everything perfect just as it is.

And then, time to fix dinner. 🙂

Ten Thing Monday

Well, last Monday slipped by nearly unnoticed, and to be honest that was a good thing. In fact, I could just tuck all of last week away in a nice, bright envelope and shoot it out into orbit for all the good it did me. But wait. Maybe it did do some good after all. Sometimes blessings come from the oddest places. Thus, without further ado, my ten things for today:

1. I am grateful for other people’s families and their multitudes of examples.

2. I am grateful for friends who are willing to meet for coffee.

3. I am grateful for those unexpected blessings that sometimes come from people I barely knew.

4. I am grateful for having the wherewithal to buy a new (to me) car.

5. I am grateful for this home that we have created and continue to create so strongly.

6. I am grateful for books that show up in my life at the exact moment I need them the most.

7. I am grateful to have a partner who really does want to listen to me, even when talking out loud is the most difficult thing I could ever do.

8. I am grateful for the positive growth and changes I am seeing in my grandson.

9. I am grateful to experience the joy of high school sports from an entirely different perspective.

10. I am grateful that the wheel is turning, that the Equinox is coming, and that fall is already hinting in cool breezes and dusty, fading flowers. I love the fading of the glory just as much as I do the brilliant colors of high summer.

What were your ten things today?

Book A Day #18 – Bought On A Recommendation

Once upon a time, I had a long-distance relationship with an astronaut. Well, he was wearing a space-suit when I met him, but really he was a Klingon, or he wanted to be. Over the course of our correspondence, we discussed a lot of things, books, reading and science fiction being amongst the top. We looked for slightly different things in our reading lists, but were both open to new authors and reading experiences. I bought the following on his recommendation and it is an excellent read. There’s a lot of real science in this fiction and it harks back to the Grand Masters of Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, et. al.  However, it’s also a really good story, a mystery even. So, if you say you “don’t like science fiction” may I dare you to give this one a try? If the last couple of paragraphs don’t give you chills or at least get you thinking pretty hard, then I promise you never have to read another piece of speculative fiction ever.

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Book A Day #13 – Makes Me Laugh

A couple of years ago, a good friend from college came to visit. We spent a pleasant week doing a few touristy things, cooking, hanging out around the house, talking about reading, writing, and movies…in other words, a damn near perfect visit. Over the course of her stay, she mentioned the book in question. I told her that I might have heard of it, but I had never read it. She was shocked, SHOCKED, I tell you, and vowed that I must read it posthaste. Once she got back home, she actually ordered and sent me a copy, which I received in good time and immediately started to read.

Oh, my Lord. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I laughed while I was reading this book. Now, you have to understand, both my friend and I are from the South, raised by Southern parents and went to an iconic Southern college, so this book resonates like nobody’s business. But trust me, even if you never set foot in the South, I guarantee you a good few dozen belly laughs in this book. And in the spirit of my friend’s generosity, if you really want to read it, and can’t find it, e-mail me and I’ll get you a copy. Yes, I want to share this book that much!

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Book A Day #8 – Have More Than One Copy

These books have been personal favorites since I was just a wee girl. I discovered them around age 7 in a large, beautifully illustrated edition that I read in to rags. From then on, I could never watch a television, film or animated version without my teeth going slightly on edge because of the sheer bastardizaiton of the two very separate stories. I learned to love fantasy, expanded my imagination, and acquired an amazing new vocabulary of poetry by reading these books. I also learned that girls can have fabulous adventures on their own with nary a boy (or a grown-up) in sight. Although I had no idea how the game of chess worked, I became fascinated with the workings of the individual pieces and a few years later, learned how to play by watching other kids at my school. And finally, I think I can say, because of the language and certain turns of phrase, that reading these books was the beginning of my love of all things British.  The photo below shows two of my copies of these books, but I do think there may be a third volume lurking somewhere around the house!

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A Wonderful Time

I can’t believe it’s been over a week already. Last Friday, I was having lunch with my brother, then heading to the college for our evening re-connect reunion dinner.  I arrived on Thursday, having had a wonderful night with a dear friend in Denver, who took me to dinner and a comedy club for much-needed laughter at nothing in particular. (Best line of the night: “NASCAR–like painting numbers on a ceiling fan!”)  The flight out was non-stop and uneventful. I experienced a first when I arrived at the airport before security was open.  The advantage to that was a very quick line through and an early take off and landing in Atlanta. The weather was gorgeous. I forget how green everything is there, and how lush…that trees and undergrowth will encroach right onto the streets if allowed.

One of my local college friends met me at the top of the arrival escalator with a sign that said “Crone #1” and the party was on! We ate lunch at an airport restaurant while we waiting for three other travelers coming from different points. Apparently, the Universe was happy that we were getting together because three flights that were supposed to be a couple of hours apart all landed within minutes of each other and everyone converged on baggage claim at nearly the same time.  After all belongings were collected, we dodged cars across the arrival lanes to get to our vehicle. As we went, one friend commented, “This just seems so normal!” As, indeed, it did.

The reunion itself was a cookie-cutter of those past and yet to come. Meet up on Friday, college and class things on Saturday (new officers elected, exhortations to give money, does anyone know where these people are, etc.) and then the procession to the Hall where we appreciated and were appreciated by others. This year was a little bit special because it was the 125th birthday of the college (or, as one friend’s daughter exclaimed, “Mom, this is your 125th reunion!” Well, not quite…), and we celebrated with a large cake, singing Happy Birthday and various photos taken with “flat Agnes” the life-size cut out portrait of the college’s namesake.  After that, free time and wandering until we met again at a classmate’s house for a wonderful dinner, and finally on Sunday, more eating (and drinking) at yet another classmate’s home for brunch before we all had to scatter to our various directions and resume our regular lives.

So that was the bare bones of the weekend. What couldn’t be predicted or known; however, is the amazing depth and breadth of the friendships that were formed 35 years ago, sometimes haphazardly, sometimes instantly, in dorm rooms, classrooms and yes, sometimes even locker rooms and restrooms. The women I am proud to call friends live amazing lives. They conquer challenges that would fell superheros. They write, they grow, they heal, they love and laugh, and give back to the world in infinite ways that will continue to live on long after we are all gone.  I am so proud to call all of them my friends, and incredibly humbled that they want to call me the same. No matter what we majored in, regardless of what we do for a living today or how much we might leave behind financially, this is the true legacy of my college…deep, enduring friendships that have carried us all through the best and worst of times, and will continue to do so until each of us has passed into our next adventure.

Thank you, all, for being my fortune.