The Worst Day Fishing…

You remember that old quote, “The worst day fishing is better than the best day working”? Well, not necessarily.

Recently, my husband Gene and I got up early in Purgatory, Colorado (It’s really Heaven), and drove 90 minutes to the San Juan River in New Mexico. We were excited to fish for “the big one.” 

I love that river. It was the first place I went fly fishing on my own; that was in 1997. I caught one fish that day, with a guide, in the snow; it was about 8 inches. But it was a milestone fish.

San Juan River, November 1997

Gene and I parked near Texas Hole, a large area near the Navajo Dam within the Quality Waters section, where only single, barbless, artificial flies are allowed, and trout must be “carefully” released. These fish – rainbows and browns – average 16-18 inches. (In 2019, Mary Freelove of Round Rock Texas, caught a 30-inch brown trout!)

So, we pull on our socks, waders, and boots. We load our vests with flies, floatant (stuff to keep the yarn indicators afloat, so you can tell if a trout is interested), tapered leader (attaches to your line), tippet (fine line to tie onto the leader when you’ve lost flies, and had to keep trimming the tippet to tie on new ones), nippers, forceps (for removing hooks from the fish), retractors (to pin on your vest and hold your nippers and forceps), and line straighteners. Then there are the extra flies, weights, and indicator yarn. I put my medicine, Kleenex, and lip gloss in a special vest pocket, and slip my phone into the plastic zippered holder that flips upside-down inside the front of my waders.

Yep. Fly fishing really is this much trouble. But once you get the hang of it, it feels natural.

We don’t want to leave our spots to eat lunch because they’ll be quickly taken, so Gene puts the picnic into the zippered pocket on the back of his vest, and I offer to take the two large waters in mine. I grab my walking pole, which attaches to my belt. (My balance is not good, due to Parkinson’s, so the walking pole, which I use as a fishing staff, is like having an extra foot in the sometimes slippery river bottom.) And off we go!

We walk down the path to the channel we need to cross to get to the thicket we will fight our way through to get to Texas Hole, a deep area in the river where your chances of catching “the big one” are the best. (Trout don’t move much from their territories, so when you find a good spot, you go back to it, unless someone else has been there recently.)

When we get to the channel, which is two to three feet deep, the current is fast, and the rocks are slippery. Gene takes my rod and I hold his hand and use my pole to cross. Then we fight our way through thick growth, taking care not to get our lines caught. (Thank God for hats!)

Gene waits for me in a portal to Texas Hole

We emerge from the thicket, and there’s the San Juan in all its glory! And it’s a beautiful, overcast day. The water is clear and the usual 42 degrees — it’s nearly always 42 degrees because it comes from the bottom of Navajo Dam. There are about seven guys wading and a few guides with their clients in drift boats out in the river.

San Juan River, just below the dam

Gene gets me situated near the mouth of one of the channels – a perfect spot to cast to, as the fish like to lie on the bottom and grab your fly as it goes by. There’s a guy down channel from me casting up past me and hogging the whole area. I do my best for the next hour or so to stay out of his way, but I can see he’s annoyed. I finally manage to get tangled in his line, and he untangles them and throws mine to me in disgust. “Damn women!” I can hear him thinking. Meanwhile, Gene has waded about 100 feet from me, and catches a nice rainbow.

Another hour goes by, and I need to pee, so I carefully make my way to Gene and let him know that I’m going to go back through the thicket and into a little clearing where I can hide behind some trees.  I turn around and begin to make my way carefully through the water, when – you guessed it – the current is too fast for me, I slip on the moving stones, and fall. My waders begin to fill, and the bottles of water in the back of my vest pull me backward, and I can’t get up!

Gene gets there quickly, and the bully — I mean the guy who’s been hogging the channel — kindly asks if I need help. (I hate it when I don’t want to like somebody, and they turn out to be nice.) After thanking him, Gene gets me to my feet and walks with me to the portal in the thicket, through the jungle to the clearing, waits while I pee behind a tree, and then carefully gets me to the other side of the channel. (Yes, this man is a saint. Well, most of the time.) Meanwhile, the 42-degree water inside my waders is beginning to penetrate my feet and legs.

We walk down the path to the picnic area, and out to the parking lot, my teeth chattering. First order of business, of course, is to pull out my phone, and it’s fine – Hallelujah! Then it’s off with my hat, my vest, my boots, and my waders (which takes two of us, as the booties, which are attached, are filled with water). My socks are a challenge, but I get them off and put on my flip flops, grab my dry clothes, and make my way to the women’s bathroom in my wet shirt and leggings.

Teeth chattering, and standing on the cement floor of the bathroom, I finally peel off the leggings, which were stuck to me, and take a good look at my feet. They’re bright red from the cold.

I get dressed, make my way back to the car, and sink into the front seat. Gene has eaten, and as I start my lunch, he walks back to the river to resume fishing. I’m not about to ask him to stop when it took 90 minutes to get here.

So, that was my day at the San Juan – August 11, 2021. But I’ll be back because I love this river. And I’m like the little girl in the pile of poop: I know there’s a pony in there some place!

Epilogue: We had better luck two weeks later:

Lessons Learned from a Nasty Vacation

We had planned this summer to take our trailer to Greer, Arizona, for the month of June. But we heard that the fishing would be lousy, and thought we’d go to San Diego instead, and take the kitties.

Have you ever tried to rent a place that says, “Pets Welcome,” with two cats? People hear the word “cats,” and literally hang up on you! So, the best situation we could find was a converted garage in La Jolla for three weeks. And it didn’t go well.

The refrigerator was smaller than the one in our trailer, so Gene walked several blocks each day to get us ice for the cooler. Our bar was set up on the floor behind the entry door.

You could not turn around in the bathroom. And the toilet was so close to the pedestal sink that our knees were under it.

The washer and dryer were in the owner’s back yard. We had to check with him to use them; then, arms full of dirty clothes, we made our way through two gates (and closed them behind us, so the dog wouldn’t get out), opened the double doors to the machines, stepped up on a platform, and tried not to drop anything on the ground below.

Then there was the furniture: When you sat on the couch, you sat almost on the floor, and you could feel the support bars under you. And the dining table was a card table with two folding chairs. The place was perfect for a 20-something single surfer.

The poor cats had no place to run and play, and that lack of space, combined with a skylight right over our bed, meant they woke us at the crack of dawn, ready to eat and be petted.

After a week, we’d had it. We both looked for something in San Diego, hoping there would be owners whose renters had fallen through, and were desperate, read: would take cats. After two weeks, Gene expanded our search, and found a charming little house in San Clemente, so we moved up there for the last week.

Our two-week nightmare got me thinking how lucky we are to be able to get through such an experience still liking each other! And some observations emerged as to why our marriage works. As in any friendship, fairness and reciprocity are important. If one person does most of the giving, resentment is sure to follow.

Here are the keys to our ability to stay happy together:

Empathy — the process that allows us to feel what others are feeling. Gene and I can share each other’s feelings most of the time. and have learned each other’s signals. If he gets grumpy and speaks very softly, as if it’s too much work to talk in a normal tone, I know his back is hurting, or he needs a protein fix or sex. 😊 If I’m giving him the silent treatment, he knows my feelings are hurt, and looks for ways to say, “I’m sorry. I was a jerk.”

Fairness – the idea that things are equal. If he cooks, I do the dishes and vice versa. Household chores are divided equally. He takes care of the garbage, the kitties, vacuuming, and spraying for bugs. And he pays for cleaning every other week. I handle the deep cleaning, keeping the place tidy, the gardening, and yard work. When it comes to birthdays and Christmas, we try to spend the same amount on each of our five kids, their spouses, and our 10 grandchildren. Same goes for pictures on the refrigerator and around the house: equal representation to the extent possible. As to personal toys: if he wants to buy a 1948 Chevy truck, he uses his own money; if I want to buy expensive rugs or take my kids on a special trip, I use my own money.

Speaking of finances, they can be a challenge, especially when a monk is married to a sucker for packaging. We have separate and joint investment and checking accounts and budgets for our separate and joint needs. We’ve been doing that for 20 years, and it works most of the time. We also try to consult each other before making purchases that will impact both of us.

Allowing for differences — He’s an introvert; I’m an ambivert, meaning I love people, but need alone time to recharge. We are opposites on the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory, and he’s a 1 on the Enneagram, while I’m a 2. You get the picture: we need to give each other permission to be who we are. And at the same time, we try to spend time together traveling, wine-tasting, fishing, hiking, taking walks, and watching TV. Otherwise, what’s the point of being married?

And when it comes to expressing our love for each other, his “language of love” is acts of service. He shows me he cares by making sure I have the things that are important to me, and by lending me a hand, sometimes literally, when Parkinson’s makes my life difficult. He has an amazing way of being there without hovering or making me feel weak. I try to give him my undivided attention (even when it’s not a subject of interest, like trailer systems) and let him be in charge of things that are important to him, like our finances.  

There’s another thing that gets us through the tough times: not only do we love each other, we love holding each other and having sex. And although the physical challenges presented to two 73-year-olds can be daunting, they’re not insurmountable. 😊

So, as we enter our 21st year together, it’s with the knowledge that even though we sometimes screw up, we know how to make ourselves and each other happy. And that means being true to ourselves and letting each other be who they are, too.

Don’t Be Pickin’ on Your Man

I got married the first time at age 20. My husband, George, and I moved to Seattle, George’s hometown, the following year. George’s parents were big fans of a psychologist named John Boyle. They invited all six of their children and their spouses to a John Boyle weekend, in the hope it would help us all to be good spouses and, if we had children, good parents.

That weekend I learned about two life-changing psychological concepts, the power of affirmations, i.e. positive self-messaging, and the importance of self-determination.

Throughout the John Boyle weekend, between interesting workshops on communication, etc., we worked on our own goals and made a tape of affirmations that we were to listen to each day. The one I remember moat clearly was, “I am completely self-determined, and I allow others the same right.” What does that mean? It means that your spouse and children are not an extension of you; they are their own people with their separate right to determine their own destiny.

I have practiced affirmations for years, but I still haven’t mastered the one I learned from John Boyle in the 70s, that “I am completely self-determined, and I allow others the same right.”

And here’s how I know that.

Fast forward 40 years. My second husband, Gene, and I bought a little travel trailer last February, just in time for the pandemic. We “camped” all over Arizona from March through November, feeling incredibly lucky that we could travel, fish, hike, and birdwatch, thanks to our travel trailer. Last summer, we discovered a little RV park in Greer, Arizona.

We’re back this year, and the couple who rents the space next to us year-round has been coming here for years from Laveen, in south-central Phoenix. Bob is a scruffy guy in his 80s, an avid bait fisherman, with a cute sense of humor and a twinkle in his eye. His wife, Darlene, is a quiet, kind woman, who invites you into their RV and shares their Bag Balm when you complain about how dry your hands are. We lead very different lives, but that hasn’t prevented us from becoming friendly.

So, Sunday night, when we arrived and re-introduced ourselves. We talked about fishing, and it didn’t seem to bother them that we were fly fishermen, “catch and release people,” even though Bob is a bait guy, who catches and cleans his fish and then gives them away because they don’t like to eat them. We got to talking about cooking, and Bob told us about his beef chili, which he makes from left-over steak that he freezes after family parties, when there’s “a good three pounds of beautiful steak left over.” Before we knew it, he had given Darlene the signal, and she disappeared into their RV and came out with a container of Bob’s frozen chili – enough for a meal for Gene and me!

Now to Gene, who is smart, thoughtful, a successful businessman, a great money manager and investor, a “Mr. Fix-it”, and a funny guy, once you “get” his dry wit. He’s also handsome and sexy and loves me deeply.

So, what’s the problem? I’m the problem. I fuss over Gene, fixing his hair, suggesting outfits different from the one he’s chosen, treating him like a Ken doll instead of the unique and wonderful individual he is. He hates it when I do that, and I know it, but can’t seem to help myself.

Now the point of my story is that it took our neighbor from the trailer park to help me see what I’ve been doing. the other day, Gene came out of our trailer to join the conversation Darlene and I were having with Bob, who was sitting in his truck all excited about the fish he had caught. Gene had been napping after a long day of driving, boating, and fly fishing, and his hair was everywhere. I was a little embarrassed, and I leaned over and whispered to Darlene, “Yep, he’s been napping.” And she said to me, “Now don’t be pickin’ on your man.”

That really got my attention. And I thought to myself, “Darlene is onto something. I am lucky to have this man in my life. Why do I care if his hair looks funny? It’s his hair, not mine. Same with his clothes. When he wants my opinion, he asks me. I need to take him as he is and be grateful. Besides, it’s not about hair… or shirts, or shoes, or any of that. We simply shouldn’t criticize the people we love.”

So, I came away from that encounter with two ahas: 1) I need to allow others, especially my husband, the right to be self-determined, and stop “pickin’ on my man,” and 2) when it comes to the people in our lives, the important thing isn’t how we’re dressed, how we talk, what we read, what we believe, even. What’s important is how we treat each other, and that goes double for those closest to us.

P.S. Bob’s chili is amazing!

Fishing, Life, and Me

Day 1

We arrived at Silver Creek*, wind blowing 20-30 miles an hour, with gusts of 40. If you know anything about flyfishing, you know it’s tough to fish in the wind. The line is heavy, but the flies are light, the opposite of spin fishing; so it’s not uncommon for the wind to blow back every cast you make. And the knots are insane.

It had been a four-hour drive, and I was tired (and not exactly ecstatic over the weather conditions), so I used the porta-potty, washed up, and took a nap in the car while Gene caught a nice rainbow trout. I got up and, protected as well as possible from the maddening wind, rigged my rod inside the open car door.

Thirty frustrating minutes later, I walked out to the creek and saw huge rainbow trout moving slowly in the clear, choppy water. Suddenly I remembered how much I love to fish. I caught up with Gene, just as he was catching his second trout, a 16” beauty. I could hardly wait to get going.

On my first cast, the wind blew my fly right back at me and tangled the tippet so badly, it took half an hour to untangle it. I had to kneel on the ground (I should have prayed while I was there), my back to the wind, slowly undoing the tiny nest. Finally, I got ready to cast, and noticed I had missed a guide when I threaded the line. I untied the fly, rethreaded the rod, tied the fly back on, and it was time for lunch.

Feeling more optimistic after hot chocolate, I barely got the fly into the air, and the wind threw me another knot. After an ungodly length of time getting it out, I needed to pee again. I walked to the loo, returned to the car, and battled the wind while tying the tippet to the leader with a double surgeon’s knot (if I did catch one of these giants, I wasn’t going to lose it because of a weak knot), tied on a chamois fly, and turned to walk back out to the creek. The wind was blowing harder, and although Persistence is my middle name, I suddenly changed my mind. “Hell with it,” I said to myself, and got in the car to read my book. Gene returned a short time later, having caught a third fish.

Lesson for the day: You won’t catch fish if your line isn’t in the water.

Day 2

Today we walked to the Silver Creek Fish Hatchery, where the trout can be 26 inches. It was about 30° and raining lightly, but there was hardly any wind. Then it began to snow, and we found cover under a juniper tree. I was reminded of one of our first dates – fishing at Willow Springs nearly 24 years ago – and I wondered if Gene would kiss me under that tree. But he was in task mode, and next thing I know, he’s a few feet away, standing under a different juniper with thicker cover. So much for romance. I held onto my rod and watched the snow land gently on my arm, and in a few minutes, the snow gave way to a bit of sunshine and we were on our way again.

We got to the hatchery, where there are picnic tables and a porta-potty. “Yay!” I thought. We fished for five hours, and I tried every fly recommended for Silver Creek: a dark pink salmon egg, a chamois, a black leach with a streak of red, a light pink salmon egg, a Parachute Adams, and a caddis. I had one bite, but the damn fish ate my fly and swam away.

Photography is one of my passions, so when I couldn’t stand the disappointment, I photographed the gorgeous scenery, got video and pictures of Gene catching another big rainbow, and took video of a young guy as he caught two monsters, one on a leach and one on a PMX.  

Gene caught another rainbow, and we headed into the magnificent sunset. Well, I thought, at least I got my steps in today.

Lessons for the day: 1) When you allow two passions to pull at you simultaneously, one of them is probably going to get short shrift. 2) Luck is often a reflection of focus and discipline. But sometimes luck is just fickle. 3) You won’t catch fish if your line isn’t in the water.

Day 3

We arrived about noon; it was sunny, and the wind was blowing about 10 miles an hour. It felt perfect. We decided to stay at the front section of the creek, rather than walking the mile and a quarter to the hatchery, since we wanted to be home in Phoenix before dark. Gene was committed to coaching me to victory,

I had taken the time that morning to rig my rod, decide what flies I was going to use, and organize my vest so that I had everything I needed when we got to the water. Nothing except a trip to the loo was going to take me away from the task at hand: today I would catch the big one.

We started casting and I paid rapt attention to the line, anticipating that adrenaline rush. Bang! Gene hooked one, and after some excitement, got the feisty thing to the net, deftly removed the hook, and released a beautiful rainbow. After an hour, we decided to go around to the other side of the creek.

They say that if you can see the fish, they can see you. I found a break in the reeds where I could cast and then move behind cover that I could peek through. I tried a zebra midge. Nothing. I pulled out my favorite, a black woolly bugger, and cast into the stream. No luck.

I set down my net and walked back to the parking lot to – you guessed it – use the John. When I returned, an old guy was sitting in my spot, looking as if he had sprouted from the ground, so at one was he with that exact spot.

He turned out to be a nice guy about 75, sitting in a sort of walker/chair, which allowed him to sit near the water, cast, and pull in a fish without having to stand.  I asked Richard about sitting in full view of the fish. “What do you do about that?” I asked. And I got the best advice of the day: “I let ‘em get used to me,” he said.

I moved to another even better place on the edge of the creek, where I could cast and then sit down on a built-in seat along the muddy shore. With my feet planted firmly in front of me, waiting patiently for the fish to “get used to me,” and ready to stand and finesse a huge trout at a moment’s notice, I cast my fly and waited. Enough said.

Just then an older guy walked by on his way to the parking lot, and I asked him how he’d done. “I’m frustrated,” he said. “I’ve been here since 8:00 and haven’t caught a single fish.” I told him I was having an awful time getting the line through the glue-filled hole of a new fly. He offered me one of his, not to keep, but to use to poke a hole through the glue in my fly, which I did, and voilà!

I returned Ted’s fly, went back to fishing, and 30 minutes later, still no fish and it was time to head home.

We walked to the car and I felt happy. I had learned a lot in three days… about fishing, about life, and about me. Today I learned that some days, no matter what you do, the fish just aren’t biting. Don’t take it personally. And although I already knew it, I was reminded of John Ray’s famous observation, “Misery loves company.” Oh, and I learned that sometimes I would rather take a picture or talk to somebody than focus on fishing, and that comes with a price. But for me, it’s worth it.

  • Silver Creek is a 45-mile-long stream north of Show Low, Arizona, in the White Mountains. It’s a tributary of the Little Colorado.

Now I’m a Believer!

My husband, Gene, is feeling “like a laboratory rat.” It all started with a grocery shopping trip two days ago.

I arrived first at Trader Joe’s, but after parking, putting on my mask, and walking past several rows of cars, I noticed a long line of socially-distanced, thin, white people patiently waiting their turn to go up and down those skinny aisles. I, too, am white (and yes, I, too, listen to NPR), but I haven’t been thin for some time and I wasn’t feeling patient. So, I walked back to the car, drove south about 100 yards, and pulled into a spot near Whole Foods.

I walked in and after being kindly directed to a clean shopping cart, I took a breath and looked around. It was like Disneyland for grocery shoppers! I had been to Whole Foods, but always for something special, like the apple tarts I took to a picnic, the multi-colored beets I used in a book club salad, and the plant-based “Italian” sausage I added to a spaghetti pie for a vegan friend.

I usually work my way from one side of a grocery store to produce. This was not one of those times. I felt like Alice in Wonderland, walking in no particular direction, watching the interesting masked people, and gathering things on my list. Because hardly any of the brands I buy at Safeway were on the shelves or in the freezer (and everything looked beautiful or at least interesting), I decided to buy two or three different kinds of soup, spaghetti, spaghetti sauce, turkey sausage, coffee, bacon, breakfast sausage, waffles, even laundry detergent for us to try.

It was freeing to know that I didn’t have to read every label to know that everything I put in the shopping cart was antibiotics- and hormone-free, organic (in the real sense), and safe for the environment.

And the shoppers were nearly as interesting as the store itself. There were “all sorts and conditions of men,” as the Episcopal collect says, people of all colors and types, some who looked like professional athletes. It made me realize that even if you were raised in a culture of comfort food (my mother put butter on everything) or have limited means, you can choose to make healthy food a priority over other things.

I got to the check-out stand and prayed that the sticker shock wouldn’t make me choke. The total was $375.00. I hadn’t spent that much in one grocery trip since I had three children at home!

But we humans have an amazing capacity for rationalizing. And I began to construct my argument:

  • At Whole Foods, all the food has been screened before being bought for the store, so you don’t waste time or money checking ingredients;
  • The store is conveniently located, saving you time and gas;
  • Whole Foods is owned by Amazon, so I get an extra 10% off sale items because I’m an Amazon Prime member (a total of $30.18 this trip or 8% of my bill)).
  • The experience is so pleasant, I can hardly wait to return, saving the annoying dance to the song, “Who’s Going to Go?”
  • Of course, the bill was higher than usual; I bought extra samples of some items, so we could try them. And I bought a salmon fillet, lamb chops, steaks, and…
  • What’s the most important thing we have? Our health. Our kids all know this; they eat very well. Yes, we have fewer years left than they do, but let’s make them healthy!

Gene was horrified when I told him what the experience had cost in actual dollars. So I let it go, and waited.

That night, we ate reheated Whole Foods spare ribs ($14.64 and enough for four) with barbeque sauce, beans, and salad. The ribs were the tenderest, tastiest ribs we’ve had in a long time. Gene fried the maple bacon yesterday morning, and we had it on peanut butter toast – the thing should be outlawed! Last night, he cooked spaghetti sauce with one of the marinara sauces and a combination of the sweet and hot fresh turkey sausage, crumbled and browned. He added his usual browned fresh mushrooms, red pepper, garlic, and herbs, and served the sauce over Tuscan spaghetti, also from Whole Foods. It was amazing!

This morning, he made fluffy scrambled eggs with cheddar cheese and served them with the apple chicken sausage, blueberries, and sliced strawberries. You guessed it: awesome!

So, I think it’s fair to say that after some testing, we both know the food from Whole Foods tastes better! The blueberries are sweeter and firmer; the avocados have more flavor and a more buttery texture; the turkey sausage is more interesting; the waffles have more density, so you only want one, and bacon from the meat counter (which is one of the best “rides” at the market) is actually cheaper than the packaged variety we usually buy, and so thick and flavorful, one piece is enough. Oh, and those spareribs!

Dinner is almost ready!

Now I’m a believer! And I think Gene is, too.

How Things Work

Gene and I went into self-quarantine on December 22nd, after being exposed to COVID-19. We had taken son David birthday presents on the 21st, and he tested positive the next day.

Then, on Christmas morning, daughter-in-law Kim needed to go to the hospital, having cut her forearm with a knife while trying to remove one of those awful zip tags from some packaging. The paramedics had come and stopped the bleeding, but she needed stitches. Of course, I offered to drive her, so David and the kids could stay home.  Kim and I wore masks, she sat in the back seat, and I waited in the car while she went into the ER. The next day, she tested positive.

So, feeling like Thurston and Lovey Howell on Gilligan’s Island, Gene and I settled into self-isolation. We ordered our groceries through InstaCart and put off errands unless someone offered. We took walks, binged on “The Queen’s Gambit,” watched old movies, read books, and even played double solitaire, something I have never been able to get Gene to do.

I gardened and cooked, had long phone conversations with family and friends, sorted old cards and pictures, did some deep cleaning, and made 100 phone calls to people in Georgia who were registered to vote in the run-off election for two U.S. Senators.

We had to skip Christmas Eve outside at Church with some of the kids, and I set the Christmas Eve table for just the two of us. But between Christmas Eve and Christmas day, we were able to FaceTime with all five of our families.

On January 6th, Epiphany, my side of the family congregated in our daughter’s back yard for a twice-postponed Christmas dinner and gift exchange. We wore masks and practiced social distancing to the extent possible with 10 grandchildren, as they played chess, jumped on the trampoline, swung in the hammock, ran around with the dogs, and rode scooters on the Sport Court.

The timing was good, since the big kids had been home from school on Christmas break and the little ones are mostly home anyway.

Like so many others, we are feeling grateful – for what we have and for what we haven’t caught. And in the process of our self-quarantine, I have acquired a new vocabulary from my husband, who could have been an electrical engineer. He kept busy working on an old chainsaw, his 1948 Chevy pick-up, and the hot water heater. And because he had no one else to talk to, I learned about magnetos, gap gauges, distributors, timing lights, circulating pumps, and temperature sensors.

I imagine this knowledge, which I plan never to use, will need to be refreshed occasionally, sort of like the game of football, which Gene patiently explains at the beginning of every season. But it is satisfying to know that I can turn on the hot water in our bathroom and understand why it takes so long to get hot, and why you need a gap gauge and timing light to fix a distributor.

Who knew that a pandemic would present an opportunity for me to learn how things work?

Gene’s ’48 Chevy PU with new wood trim

The One Main Thing

It’s New Year’s Eve, a time for reassessing our lives and ourselves. What have we learned? What have we achieved? Where have we failed? It’s a time when many set goals for the coming year.

If I am any indication, many of us keep setting the same goals and ignoring them as the years roll by. For example, there are books I thought I wanted to read, but never have. There are pounds I thought I wanted to lose which now have company. There are religious practices I thought I needed to follow that have gone unincorporated into my daily routine.

So this year I’ve had a good talk with myself and set goals that are based on thoughtful reflection of who I am and who I want to be.

Conservative rabbi Harold Kushner writes in his 1986 book, When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough, “Our souls are not hungry for fame, comfort, wealth, or power.  Those rewards create almost as many problems as they solve.  Our souls are hungry for meaning; for the sense that we have figured out how to live so that our lives matter, so that the world will be at least a little bit different for our having passed through it.”

Despite the tragedies, frustrations, isolation, and inconveniences of this past year, it has given us many gifts, among which is the time to assess ourselves — our motivations, our priorities, our behavior. Today, as we turn over a new page in our lives, I’m setting goals that will help me live so that my life matters.

  1. I’m going to take care of me, so that I’m available when my family and friends need me.
  2. I’m going to pay special attention to my husband and family, so they know they are the most important people in my life.
  3. I’m going to read more books.  
  4. I’m going to continue to write regularly because it forces me to think about what’s important.

To accomplish these goals, I have a list of activities, and one is to look at my goals every morning, so that I start each day reminded of their importance. Because if I forget what they are, they won’t become part of my routine. And having a routine is comforting in uncertain times like these, even for us spontaneous types. And when we’re comforted, we feel motivated and joyful and free to live so that our lives matter.

I will end my little essay with the following poem, which I hope will help you focus on the one main thing I believe will bring you joy in the coming year, and that is keeping your own company. Second to that would be carefully choosing all others with whom you spend your precious time.

 
Sweet Darkness
  
 When your eyes are tired
 the world is tired also.
  
 When your vision has gone
 no part of the world can find you.
  
 Time to go into the dark
 where the night has eyes
 to recognize its own.
  
 There you can be sure
 you are not beyond love.
  
 The dark will be your womb 
 tonight.
  
 The night will give you a horizon
 further than you can see.
  
 You must learn one thing:
 The world was made to be free in.
  
 Give up all the other worlds
 except the one to which you belong.
  
 Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
 confinement of your aloneness
 to learn
  
 anything or anyone
 that does not bring you alive
  
 is too small for you. 
  
 DAVID WHYTE  

Blessings

Dear God,

I am struggling with the concept of blessings. The word “blessings” is being tossed around like confetti, but I’m not comfortable with it.

First of all, if blessings exist, are they from you or the universe you created?

Second, if I am blessed, are others not blessed? And how do they feel if I talk about my many blessings? Third, if my children and grandchildren are a blessing, is Parkinson’s a curse?

And fourth, if blessings are from you, what makes us feel we can give them to others?  Do we have that much power?

I know for many of us, “Bless you” is just an expression, but I do wonder, especially when it seems to me that some of us are just lucky – lucky, for example, that we were born into a family where there was enough money for education and a culture around us that values it; lucky that we are good at sports; lucky  that we have high emotional intelligence and people like us.

Mette Ivie Harrison says:  “… when someone escapes a terrible car accident without a scratch, I am more likely to chalk this up to luck than I am to say that it was the hand of God. This does not mean that I would not be grateful if I survived an accident, only that I wouldn’t ascribe it to God’s choice to save me over the millions of other people who die in car accidents.

“Too many good people face terrible things for me to blithely say that I was blessed and they were not. Too many innocents are killed and too many wicked people spared for me to believe that God chooses the outcome of every event. I cannot accept that everything has a reason on this level. To insist that God oversees and approves all tragedies because He has a “plan” for all that pain seems to me to admit to a sadistic kind of father. I can’t look at the pain and suffering of those next to me and feel certain that they are “meant” to suffer and I am not. We are all meant to see each other’s needs and to help, regardless of either luck or blessing.” (“Mormon in progress,” “Huffpost” 6-11-17)

David Rokeach’s interpretation of a blessing makes sense to me: “The blessings we offer are indeed powerful but they are not magical. On our own, we do not have the power to cause that which we yearn for nor do we have the power to compel God by the force of our invocation (despite stories in both the Bible and Rabbinic sources of individuals who are seen as having such capacities). No, like our other prayers, blessings are aspirational; we express in word and gesture our deepest yearnings. A blessing is an expression of hope.” (Gates of Repentance New York: CCAR, 1978, pp. 13-14)

I believe in the power of prayer, and have felt my friends praying for me. And I feel that on occasion, you respond. And when you do, I think of that as a miracle (an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs), not a blessing (your favor and protection). And it is not because of me that it happens, but those who prayed for me. I did nothing to deserve it.

I’m liking the idea that a spoken blessing is “an expression of hope,” not a magical pronouncement, and that my good fortune is due to luck, but the prayers said for me may have gotten your attention.

So from now on, when someone says they are blessed, I will let it go. Perhaps they haven’t really thought about how it sounds to someone less-fortunate.  Or maybe they see things differently. And that is their right.

Thanks, God, for listening.

Pauline

Time to Focus

COVID-19 is getting old. And experts agree that bringing it under control may take until the end of next year. In the meantime, I’m trying to find the good in it while being mindful of those who are sick or have lost a loved one or their job.

Most of the good from COVID-19 is a result of having more time to focus, to pay attention, to listen, to do one thing at a time.

I’m finishing books. I have a habit of starting books, geting two or three going at once, and then, because other activities come along, not finishing them. But I get interrupted less often lately, and the stack is going down. I’m reading more and for longer periods before I need to give my attention to another task.

I realized some time ago that the ability to focus is one of the advantages men have over the rest of us. It’s in their DNA. Since man walked the earth, he was a provider, a hunter, a protector, and those things require focus.

Women, on the other hand, bear the progeny, and kids make things messy and disorganized. So, it’s in our DNA to multi-task. We can nurse a baby while cooking, watching two other children, and talking on the phone.

But jobs get done better when there’s focus. So, the trick is to focus on those things worth doing. COVID-19 has kept my life simpler and with the added time, given me the clarity to do the things worth doing and let the others go.

Gene is reading for fun! He has never been that kind of a reader. Reading, for him, has always been something you needed to do – for school, for work, for getting something done. Reading was practical. Because we’re stuck at home, he has begun to read for the pure pleasure of it. And in true masculine style, he sticks with one book for several days until it’s finished. Reading books gives us something to talk about besides cars, trailers, air conditioners, and fishing. And it’s fun to hear him laughing at a passage or to listen to him read me something.

I’m writing with a sense of purpose. Facebook has been an outlet for my writing, but you can’t develop good stories or interesting ideas in just one or two paragraphs. Hence, my blog, which, at my daughter’s suggestion, I started on April 3rd. This is Blog Number 22!

There’s a lot involved. Selecting the topic is the toughest part of the process. Then there’s the writing and research, the organizing, the rewrites, the editing, and the adding of media. And I can’t omit the platform, which is like learning a new language, a clunky one, at best. All this is good brain exercise and keeps me from flitting from one activity to the next.

Gene and I are walking again. I can’t attend my exercise programs, so walking has been a lifesaver — if we get up early enough to beat the heat. We talk when we walk, and it’s a helpful way to touch base on our projects or just run things by each other.

I have a friend who says that men will do anything if it’s outside. I think that theory has some merit. Think about it: he doesn’t want to cook, ask him to grill; he doesn’t offer to help with the cleaning, ask him to blow off the patio and hose it down; he doesn’t communicate, go for a walk and try to get a word in.

Good friends are calling, and I’m calling them. We can give each other our full attention. We can share funny stories and make each other laugh. We can take our time and give each other the space to say it all; that’s hard to do in a text or email. I come away from these chats rejuvenated and comforted. And I think they do, too.  

I’m putting my son’s mementos from preschool through 4th grade into a scrapbook. He’s 40 years old! I did this for his older sisters years ago, and I’ve started this project several times, only to have to clear off the dining room table and put everything away. Not this time. We never have company!

Gene and I do more together. This is a man who doesn’t want to be “mothered,” married to a nurturer. But because of COVID-19, he has let me learn to cut his hair. He seems to like the result and the money it saves. And I love doing it!Gene's 2nd haircut2 5-16-20

We fix lunch together, even if we go our separate ways to eat it.  We team up on chores, e.g., he vacuums, I mop. We run expenditures by each other before we go out and buy something, rather than just ordering it because we suddenly have time. (Okay, this one’s entirely mine.)

He has felt from the beginning that I have “too many constituents.” Now I’m home most of the time, not running in so many directions. I can give him my full attention when he needs to tell me something. And all this leads to a better sex life, which seals the deal.

So, that’s my list. Taken individually, the items may sound mundane. But together, they contribute to health, intellectual stimulation, and richer relationships, and that means a happier life. At the root of it is the time to focus. And COVID-19 has given me this gift.

Ironic, isn’t it?

P.S. Please sign up for my blog. I’m curious to know who reads it. And if you would add comments about how COVID-19 has improved your life, I’d love to read them. Stay well.

What about the Kids?

are you one of the lucky ones?

I don’t know about you, but I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve been able to escape the summer heat in Phoenix and have been living in a bit of a bubble during this time of COVID-19. I miss my kids and grandkids terribly, and I can’t wait to be with my friends again. But life has been full and interesting because Gene and I have been able to get away and have adventures.

On the other hand, families with kids at home are having an extremely hard time right now. And I can’t stop worrying about our children, all our children. COVID-19 looms like a huge specter, casting a gloomy shadow over our U.S. families.

If they can be home with their kids during the day, most parents are juggling childcare or their kids’ virtual school with work. They may feel guilty because, although they don’t have to put themselves in harm’s way like so many of our “essential workers,” they miss having a few minutes to themselves each day, even just the time they used to have in the car driving to and from work. Being with your kids 24 x 7 is not what God intended. That’s why we have grandparents and aunties. But because of COVID-19, many grandparents and aunties aren’t able, because of age, health issues, or distance, to come and save the day.

If kids are school-age, virtual learning is a crapshoot. Most kids have been given notebooks, but their teachers have never done this. Some schools are limiting the number of classes kids take each day, but if they are in two-hour blocks, that’s expecting a lot. After all, the average adult can only concentrate for 45 minutes. Why should an 11-year-old be any different? And those kids used to home schooling aren’t able to do the outside activities that normally break up the day, like children’s museums, playgrounds, bands, and sports teams. It’s boring to stay home all the time.

School-age kids, especially teens, want and need to be with their friends. That’s not easy right now, or even possible for some. Their parents must find that balance between giving them some freedom and holding them accountable. Kids may be uncooperative about virtual classes; they may be bored; they may be depressed. And in Arizona, it’s too hot most of the day to go outside, so they’re stuck in the house.

COVID-19 is an equal opportunity bummer.

For those parents who can’t stay home, for whom school is childcare, what are they supposed to do? In Arizona, our governor has mandated that schools find a way to take care of children whose parents are essential workers. We’ll see how that goes. A friend who serves on a local high school district board says their board is concerned that absenteeism is going to be at an all-time high as schools reopen and high schoolers stay home with their younger siblings.

I am a grandmother of 10, and I am grateful that my grandchildren are safe and healthy and have everything they need. Everything except a normal social life. But the absence of that one thing is causing frustration and unhappiness for them and their parents. And if the families who have all the basics are stressed and overwhelmed, imagine the challenges COVID-19 is posing for single parents, those without work, those with mental health and addiction issues, and those without the money to provide the basics.  

If we’re among the lucky ones, we must find a way to help. We may not be able to provide childcare, but surely there are other things we can do.

How about if we look at the kids we know and think of ways to give their parents some support. Are our grandchildren doing ok? How about the children of friends? The neighbor kids? The kids that usually go to our church, synagogue, mosque, or temple?

If we have a swimming pool, how about inviting parents to bring their kids swimming? We can unlock the gate and wave from the house or patio. A change of scene can help the monotony. Or we could take them a craft kit with an extra pair of scissors, fabric, needles and thread; or one with a crochet needle, the YouTube URL for instructions, and yarn; or one with an extra hammer, some wood glue, nails, paint, paintbrush and the pre-cut wood to build a birdhouse. My grandson made a flute out of bamboo last spring. All the directions he needed were on YouTube.  

If we love to cook, we could drop off a recipe with the needed ingredients, something the kids can make for the family. We could buy used DVDs that are kid-appropriate and drop them off for those days when parents are completely bereft of energy and would love to put on a movie for the kids to watch.

And how about kids we don’t know, the ones whose parents rely on nonprofit organizations for extra food, clothes, and toys? Now is a great time to go through our things with these kids in mind. It’s a win-win!

If we can afford it, we could go to Walmart or Target and pick up all kinds of goodies and drop them off at organizations we trust. They can get them to the right families.

When I return home the end of the month, I am challenging myself to do something for kids. And I challenge you to do the same. I may sound like Pollyanna, but it’s like the story of the young woman picking up starfish one-by-one and throwing them back into the sea: “It makes a difference to that one.”

“It makes a difference to that one.”

Please join me in making a difference and come back here to my blog and share what you’ve done.