5 Reasons Your Spirit Animal Might Be a Raccoon

I carry a little figure of a raccoon with me. I call her Rachael Raccoon (#rachaelraccoon). I place her in photographs that would be difficult to place myself in, or sometimes I just take fun little pictures of her. I admire raccoons, they are adaptable, clever, and tenacious. Not to mention, super cute. I once came face to face with one. I’d stepped out my back door, onto the porch. Just a few feet from me, on top of a chain link fence was a raccoon. Had it been any other animal, I might have run back inside and grabbed my camera for an opportune photo shoot. As it was, I just ran back inside. I could hear her cubs splashing in my little backyard pond, just beneath her vantage point on the fence. I had no desire of provoking the wrath of a mama raccoon.  

I have joked over the years that if I had a spirit animal, it would likely be a raccoon. Here are 5 reasons why the raccoon may be your spirit animal, too.

  • You often see value in things that someone else has discarded. Raccoons have earned their reputations as “trash pandas”, they aren’t opposed to some resourceful repurposing. While you may not be eating the neighbors’ leftovers, you aren’t above salvaging the occasional chair or side table. Your clever repurposing doesn’t end there, yard sales and second hand stores are also resources. After all, one man’s trash is another’s treasure.

  • You’re adaptable. From urban to rural, raccoons can live anywhere.They adapt and thrive in their environments. Wherever you go, there you are. You can make it work.

  • You have nocturnal insights. Sure, you can do things in the day, but whether it’s the cover of darkness, or the quiet stillness, something just clicks in your busy mind at night. You may suddenly be inspired to clean under the sink, or come up with a great opening line for your memoirs.

  • People sometimes misread that non-threatening face. That cute little face, those deep, intelligent eyes! But raccoons prefer to be left alone. So do you. Both you and a raccoon will sometimes draw the the affections of an idiot, the attention of a curious onlooker, or someone whose intentions are more threatening. Which brings me to the next point:

When threatened, you’ll defend yourself tooth and claw. You may be super cute, but you’re not going to take any crap. You don’t like being cornered, you’ll make yourself taller, spit, hiss and fight your way out. They’ll call you a crazy animal, but that’s what happens when your untamable spirit feels threatened.

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Waxing, in the name of beauty

In the name of self improvement, I busied myself this past week with various tasks involving beauty and fashion. I put away all my winter clothing, organized my closet by color, and tried on things for size. It wasn’t unlike shopping in my own closet. I’m presently out of excuses for not getting up and dressing myself in the morning. “I don’t have anything to wear”, will not cross these lips.

I “treated” myself to a full body wax. Yeah, I use treated in this context with some amount of hesitation. I imagined how luxurious it would be going into the warmer season free of the task of shaving my legs and armpits. I was somewhat apprehensive of the whole experience, as I’ve never been professionally waxed before. With heart pounding and inexplicable sweating, I laid myself bare on a table covered with crisp, fresh paper. I was unprepared for the uncontrollable knee jerks and sheer shock of having hair ripped in mass by the roots. I wondered for the first time, if aestheticians ever sustain any injuries from their jobs. No amount of deep breathing seemed to divert my attention from the stinging caused in some areas. My upper lip was included as part of the treatment. I don’t have a particularly hairy lip, but I figured, why not? The immediate result was a flaming red lip followed by a breakout of little white bumps (days later, they are finally subsiding).

Was it worth it? Contrary to my above description, any remorse I had was fleeting. I had a very professional aesthetician and I’m currently appreciating silky smooth legs (but I think I’ll pass on the upper lip next time).

Dance, Sing, & Wear What You Want

I worked diligently for two days this past week creating a dress. Pinning the pattern to the fabric, cutting out the pattern, then assembling the pieces. Sewing in the side zipper, making a hem, and attaching the straps. The final product is a vibrant cotton sundress in a watermelon print, a fitted bodice and full flowing skirt from a re-printed pattern from the 1950’s. The shape is classic, contrasted by color and print of the chosen fabric.

As a little girl, I was always partial to dresses. I loved the way I felt when I wore them: pretty and elegant. I would draw dresses constantly, too. I never lost my love of them. Now, when I try them on in stores, or I make them, I pay attention to not only how they look, but how they make me feel. Not every dress makes it past my final criteria: how do I feel in this dress? I prefer making them for myself, because that final part of my vision is incorporated from the beginning. My watermelon dress is the epitome of summer. Light, breezy, colorful, unique and fun. Exactly how I like my summers.

I have started to wonder what it is about our clothing choices that make us feel good about ourselves. While fashion can be considered superficial, it is largely an expression of self, a subtle (or not-so-subtle) way to make a statement. Most of my life, I wore clothing that made me feel good. The kind of clothes that would have been dearest to the heart of that little girl, all those years ago. Lovely dresses, and pretty shoes. I felt good about my decisions, took pride in balancing professionalism with the unique and vintage. But something happened along the way. Perhaps it was a criticism, or a backhanded comment. Too many articles about what women should and shouldn’t wear, maybe. I made a compromise about how I dressed myself, and it influenced how I felt about myself.

I’ve read a quote from Gabrielle Roth many times. “In many shamanic societies, if you came to a medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited, or depressed, they would ask one of four questions: When did you stop dancing? When did you stop singing? When did you stop being enchanted by stories? When did you stop being comforted by the sweet territory of silence?” I think I could add to this list a question I’ve needed to ask myself at times: When did you stop wearing what you love?

Having once compromised this aspect of self expression creates within me a deeper commitment to expressing myself in all aspects: art, clothing, words, and deeds. I will dance, sing, be enchanted, find comfort in silence, and wear what makes me feel good. I wish you the same!

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A Boy and His Dog

It must have been 1998. I didn’t have much working in my favor. I was a full time college student, and a part time waitress. My first apartment was void of most furniture, and my transportation was usually out of commission. At the time, I was driving a 1984 Ford Mustang, to type that or say it out loud is somewhat misleading. The name draws images of something cool and fast. That was not the case. It was not a great model, it was beige, not dissimilar to the color of a hearing aid. The driver’s side door was black and so was the hood (I’d had an accident the year before and the original door and hood had been replaced). Aside from its outward appearance, there were much bigger problems: the emergency brake didn’t work, and there was often a problem with the starter or solenoid. The starter would go out at random, sometimes the car might start as expected, but most times it didn’t. More often than not, I’d have to put the automatic transmission into neutral, pop the hood, get out of the car and bypass the solenoid with a screwdriver I kept in the car at all times. Fairly simple if the car wasn’t parked on any kind of slope. Since the emergency brake didn’t work, the car would sometimes roll away. I got pretty good at parking in the low places of any parking lot in town.

One sunny afternoon, my son and I pulled into the parking lot of Wal-Mart. Keeping the starting of the car dilemma in mind, I parked far away from the entrance where there were few cars. We started the long walk to the entrance. His little hand in mine, his golden curls glistening in the sun. We approached a vehicle with a person and a big box sitting outside. On the box was written, “Free puppies”. Of course we stopped, mostly because I loved watching every new experience of my little boy. I was immediately gripped with a strange sense of obligation: every little boy needs a puppy. I had visions of companionship and love between a child and a dog. I was painfully aware that I couldn’t give him everything that I wished I could, but I was fairly confident that I could do this. We chose a little black ball of fluff. She had little brown spots above her eyes that looked like eyebrows, brown feet, and a brown cross on her chest that looked like a bird in flight. We named her Princess Buttercup (I was a long time fan of The Princess Bride).

The decision I’d made to take on a dog was both a blessing and a nuisance. On the down side, she barked a lot, at everything. She was not particularly friendly to newcomers (she was downright aggressive, mostly), she would get excited and pee on the floor, I never could teach her how to walk on a leash. Over the course of her lifetime, these things never improved. However, regardless of how illogical it was for us to have a dog, she was a constant. She loved her boy, and he loved her. No matter where we lived or what we did: I was his mom and she was his dog. I like to think that these facts were a constant comfort to him. When we moved out from a broken down trailer, he was anxious and sad. Not all change is bad, but how do you express that to a child? Home isn’t a place, I told him. It’s a feeling. A feeling of safety and comfort with the people you love. I think that people recognized that feeling within us. My next landlord had expressed some reservations about a dog in our apartment, but she allowed it. A young woman, her boy and his dog. That was our sense of home. Buttercup had a long life. Her bad habits simply a part of the unity that we held. She was 18 years old, and she waited for her boy to come back from college before she took her last breath.

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Credence in Opinion

It’s a strange thing, writing about my life. Deciding what to share, what it is that I want people to know about me. My instinct is to write openly about my struggles and disappointments. I’ve noticed sometimes, though, that doing so can incite a reaction of pity or sympathy. That’s not really what I want, so I’m not effectively conveying my message in those instances. What I would really like to convey is a message of: that really sucked, it was awful, but I made it through, and I’m better for it. I want to convey a message of hope.

I was 17. My best friend for the past year and a half had suddenly and abruptly moved across the country. He was my boyfriend and constant companion. Things were bleak, and I was more than a little lost. The highlight of my days had started to become art class and it was the one class that I still attended regularly. I’d always loved art, but at this point, I really began throwing myself into it, spurred on by a substitute art teacher. The regular teacher was taking time off to recover from a surgery. The temporary teacher was young and vibrant, possibly fresh out of college or still attending. She was encouraging, and available for discussion. Perhaps it was her age that made her more accessible and approachable in my mind. I’d shared with her my desire to create art as a professional. Again, I was met with encouragement. She gave me information about the art department at the local college.

The regular teacher returned before the end of the semester of my Junior year. He pulled me aside one day told me he had discussed my plans with the substitute. He then told me that he thought I should reconsider, he didn’t think I had what it took to be an artist and added that I didn’t have a style of my own.

I was crushed. Now, I can look back at this moment and I realize that it was the first time of many when I would give too much credence to what other people thought of me and my decisions. But it wasn’t just his words that weighed on me. I had a secret: I was pregnant. I was lonely, lost, and scared. The thing that I clung to as my own, my artistic nature, had just been slapped down. Everything that I thought I knew had turned upside down, and inside out. I began to question everything from my judgement to my abilities.

Not long ago, I pressed my mother to tell me when she had been proud of me over the course of my life. She said that she’d never been more proud than the day that I stood in front of the whole school, 8 months pregnant, and did the choir program. I allowed myself to imagine what that must have been like for her. Sitting in the high school auditorium watching as her teen daughter held her head high. Surely, she must have seen my strength and determination in completing the task at hand, regardless of my advanced state of pregnancy. The only problem with her point of pride is that it never happened, at least, not the way she told it. I did finish my Junior year, I did sing with the choir, but I was only a few months pregnant at the end of that year. My pregnancy was not clearly visible.

I didn’t return for my Senior year. I received my GED that summer when I truly was round and obviously pregnant. When I started college the following year, I majored in English, not Art. But I couldn’t keep myself from art completely, and within my first year, I’d signed up for a watercolor class, because it’s what I was comfortable working with. Early one morning in the studio, my painting professor paused at my work station. She asked what I was majoring in, upon hearing my response, she pointed out that we needed to fix it. Clearly, I was an artist. It was a moment of redemption.

I’ve often reflected on the motivations of my high school art teacher. Perhaps it was intended as a way to motivate me. Perhaps he really thought I was in for nothing but disappointment. Perhaps it was a reflection of his own experience: he was telling his story, not mine. It doesn’t matter.

I trudged through a strange and tumultuous time, sometimes doubling back, spinning my tires, or completely misguided. But it all came up again: clearly, I am an artist. I create because it is a compulsion, a need within me. To deny it is futile. Regardless of what anyone else thinks of it.

A friend of mine from college sent me a photograph this morning. She’d kept a piece of my art. It would appear that it is a timely coincidence for this blog.

 

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Teenager in Love

I attended high school in a small town in Southern Colorado. It was the early 90’s, but the place had a distinct feel of the idealized American 1950’s. It was a picturesque town. The college kept the place thriving, I think. At the very least, it maintained a population of young people that seemed to be missing from other small towns that I’ve lived in.

Downtown was a classic vision. Buildings lined both sides of Main street, lovely brick structures with storefronts. There were two movie theaters a mere block from one another: The Grove and the Rialto. Their neon signs and bright marquis lit up at night. There were a couple of department stores: one a JC Penney, the other a family owned store. Both had been in the same locations for decades. Little shops and restaurants filled the smaller storefronts, including a bookstore, a Hallmark and a Woolworth. The Woolworth was particularly fascinating, maintaining a stock of everything from hand cream to kitchen wares. It still had a functioning diner, too. I enjoyed several handmade milkshakes prior to the closure of the store.

It was ideal for two teenagers in love. Everything in town was within walking distance. I lived only a few blocks from downtown , and my first date was spent there.

I'd been working on getting his attention for  what seemed an eternity. We’d talk and interact in class, sometimes after school. I signed up for the school play, just for the opportunity to be closer. I was cast as various extras, he was a lead role. I didn't really have the tenacity to shine on the stage, but he did. He was confident and comfortable, he could take on any role and make it convincing. When he entered a stage he commanded the attention of the entire audience.

I hung back late after school one day and he asked if we could do something together. phone numbers must have been exchanged. The details are fuzzy now. I remember most the way I felt. I was thrilled at the confirmation that he liked me, too.

The Autumn evening that he first met me at my house, we walked to one of the restaurants downtown. we walked and talked. I ate my burger sitting across from him. Nervous and elated.

Our days were spent together. He walked me home after school and we'd watch Tiny Toons, Animaniacs, and Batman. We’d eat lunch together, meet up at my locker between classes. We truly enjoyed one another's company. Laughing, talking, walking, and playing. Near The river's edge, through the seasons, we’d point out magpies as they’d take to flight. We’d go to A&W Root Beer Stand where we'd have root beer floats and listen to the jukebox, or peruse books and magazines at the bookstore downtown, watch movies at the Grove or Rialto, go to Dairy Queen or the Ace Inn, play at the Victorian Era Cole Park. We'd take my niece and nephew to the park sometimes, and play with them on the swings and slides. We'd listen to records and cassettes of oldies. We walked all over that town constantly, and it always felt safe. There was a sense of safety not only in our surroundings, but also each other’s company. We became the best of friends. It was ideal and picturesque, just like the town.

Spring Awakens

As spring awakens, I am motivated. The mild weather takes me outdoors where I can see the work to be done. I begin to fantasize about the plants and flowers I can grow. The peaches and plums in bloom bring hopes of tasty fruit and preserves to come. Raking, trimming and plotting ensue. There’s a sense of satisfaction when it is finally time to drive a shovel into the earth and turn the ground, and placing the first seeds or rhizomes of the season. This time, I planted foxglove, fern, caladiums, toad lilies and lily of the valley. Placed carefully in the soil with the hope of things to come. My vision is a lovely garden of color and texture in the shade.

This process inevitably turns my attention inward. I wonder how prepared the gardens of my mind and heart are. Are the weeds cleared to plant new seeds? Have I pruned the dead weight to give way for new growth? Is the ground ready to sustain new roots? If the answer is no to any of these, I must do the work. Pull the weeds, trim the dead wood, prepare the ground. Finally, I’ll plant seeds of hope, inspiration, and independence. My vision for these gardens is an inner sanctuary of peace where my creativity and love of the world around me can flow freely.

Chocolate Ninja Cookies

Several years ago, I embarked on a quest to prepare all my food at home. I became increasingly aware of food labels. A paranoia gripped me surrounding all of the things on the labels that I either couldn’t pronounce or readily identify. Social media only served to cement this fear with memes and enthralling videos of the food industry. All those things “they” didn’t want “us” to know. Suddenly afraid of the variety of colors available in M&M’s, I vowed to make everything at home, no preservatives and no unnatural food colors. I planted a giant garden, too big for me to keep up with. If I could grow fresh vegetables myself, I reasoned, then I would know that they weren’t full of pesticides. I wanted to be certain that the food I fed my kids would not lead to attention problems or food allergies.

My youngest son was in the third grade. He had always been a big fan of food. Stuffing both cheeks like a chipmunk, and filling his stomach like an engorged pinata. Despite his love of the stuff, he would often have stomach cramps and digestive problems. My need for reading labels may have stemmed from this. Whatever the case, I was sure that pure eating was the key to overall health. So entered “the secret ingredient”. Beets in the not-so-red velvet cake, beans in the soup, giant zucchinis pureed in the spaghetti sauce. The “secret ingredient” may very well have been the only saving grace of any of these meals. But it worked. The enthusiasm of a third grader would more times than not trigger the question, “What’s the secret ingredient, mom?” The real answer was usually far less interesting than my standard response. “My secret ingredient is love!” Followed by, “No, really mom…”. “Okay, you got me, it’s floor. My secret ingredient is floor. I dropped it.”

While he was pretty sure that I was kidding (I usually was), I began to notice an increased curiosity about the preparation of meals. I can’t be sure now if he was just making sure that I wasn’t dropping his food. But it became a way that we could do something together. He took some amount of pride in naming the dishes we created. “Fantastic Poppers”, for example. They were a dough pocket stuffed with cheese, spinach, swiss chard, and chickpeas (or some similar combination of high nutrition and fiber) baked to golden brown. The secret ingredient having been the chickpeas, hidden only slightly be being mashed up like hummus.

I think our shining creation came one afternoon when he wanted a sweet treat. I couldn’t possibly just run out to the store and pick something up (the food dye!). We came up with a cookie recipe, and a secret ingredient, of course. In his excitement, he couldn’t keep the secret ingredient to himself. I had to explain that the secret ingredient was supposed to remain that way, and if it was told the cookies might seek their revenge. After all, they packed a mean chocolate punch! We had some amount of discussion about the lives and ways of these particular cookies. They were all about honor, discipline, and tradition. We named them Chocolate Ninja Cookies.


 

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Grandmothers

My Grandma Eutilia, my dad’s mother, was a tiny woman. She always wore a house dress, with stockings and comfortable shoes (I don’t believe she acknowledged pants as appropriate for herself). Most of the time, she had an apron on, too. She had a designated chair at the round table in her kitchen, but she rarely sat in it for long. Most of the times I was at her house, it was for family gatherings. Regularly, throughout my childhood, it was a Sunday afternoon after church. Her children and their children would gather together. My aunts and uncles and countless cousins all descended on the tiny house in a remote little village nestled in a valley in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Northern New Mexico. North of Taos along the highway, then off onto a dirt road that lead further up into the hills. You’d mount the tallest hill along the road, and the valley would reveal itself from the height briefly, then disappear again as you descended down into it. Following the dirt road further, we’d turn at the house that had belonged to my grandmother’s father. My dad would point it out every time, with some amount of pride that it was his grand dad’s. It was a humble adobe house with a sharp pitched roof, un-inhabited, with its windows boarded up. The turns down the subsequent dirt roads lead to dirt roads narrower than the last. You could tell in this way that motorized vehicles were definitely not what the roads were designed for. We’d pass the village church high on a hill, where contrary to how it looked, Mass was surprisingly regular. The cemetery behind it: the final resting place of many of our ancestors and family. Past the school house, where I’d always presumed my father had attended at least part of grade school. I didn’t realize it as a child, but I’ve always been in love with the place.

We’d wind through the roads and finally arrive at our destination. It was on a small plot of land that, like most of the places in the village, had an acequia running through it (an acequia is defined as a community-operated watercourse used in Spain and former Spanish colonies in the Americas for irrigation). The irrigation allowed the residents to grow all numbers of things, and water pastures. To me, this place was a tiny oasis. There were chokecherries, peaches, plums, apricots, and apples growing in an orchard next to the house. My grandfather grew a garden, I remember standing next to the chicken wire fence that surrounded it. Giant stalks of corn well over my head, but I don’t know what else was grown past them, no kids were allowed in there.

We would be greeted outside the door by any number of people. In my earlier years, it was my grandfather. He’d take to the porch to sit in its cool shade on hot days, or to play craps, or maybe it was both.

“Come in, come in,” he’d say.

Inside, the kitchen would be the center of all the action. Grandma, busy cooking. People talking, joking, eating. My aunts often assisting Grandma, or cooking as well. Greetings would range from hugs to handshakes, and in a house full of people, it could take some time. I always had the urge to squeeze my grandma, to hug her, but never for too long, I was never sure if she really liked it. But she was so little! She probably hadn’t been much of 5 feet tall to begin with, I’m sure that as she aged, she got littler. Whether she liked it or not, she tolerated my affection, and I was grateful for it. “Come in! Eat! Eat.”, she’d say. Of all the things she said, I’m sure encouraging others to eat was the most common. It was a rare treat to see her do it, though. I’d spend the my time in the kitchen, watching her. Her hair must have been very long, but she always kept it rolled up in a bun at the back of her neck. It was always out of the way while she stirred the beans or made red chile. I observed her skills with making perfectly round flour tortillas. She’d ball each one in her fists, then roll it flat with something like a rolling pin, but smaller, no handles. It looked like a short section of a wooden dowel. I wonder how many tortillas she had to roll before mastering the art of making them so circular. She’d roll them one way, then the other, then flip them, and roll them again. Satisfied by her rolling, she’d pick up the circle of dough and toss it from one hand to the other a few times, then stack it with the others. They’d be cooked stove top, often on the wood burning kitchen stove. They were delicious. You could use them almost like a utensil, scooping beans and chile or fried potatoes with them. But they were good all by themselves, not like the ones you find in a grocery store.

I’d try to have conversations with her, asking questions. But between her broken english and my lack of Spanish, it usually required my dad explaining things to me. Regardless, I liked her, and I think she liked me. Gifts weren’t common, but occasionally, she’d give me something, and I held each one as something sacred. There was the yellow and white baby blanket she’d crocheted for me when I was a baby. Long after babyhood, I’d drag it around with me, for naps and on camping trips. It was cozy. Not too hot for summer afternoons, and just the perfect size for impromptu tea parties/picnics on the shabby patch of lawn in my front yard. The bright blue crocheted house slippers. They had fuzzy pom-poms. I wore holes in them. Then there was a gift that was rather exceptional: first, because it was purchased, and second because it was pretty for the sake of prettiness.My grandmother was practical, and this gift had no other use than being pretty. It was a necklace. A glass pendant in the shape of a triangle cut as a prism on a chain. If I held it just so into a beam of sunshine, little rainbows reflected from it. I wore it every day until it broke from the chain.

Drives back home from the beautiful little valley usually involved me asking more questions of my dad. No one place is close to any other in rural New Mexico, so I could get a lot of information. I wanted to know how many children Grandma had (13, I believe). About the children that had died young, how old she was when her mother had died, how her brother had fallen off of a wagon when he was a boy and sustained brain damage. I wanted to hear again about how he thought he could outrun her when he was a boy, but she had good aim. I imagined that she had to resort to rock throwing more than once. He liked talking about her. “My mama was pretty”, he’d told me. I tried to envision a younger version of her, preparing meals for all those kids or setting about on daily chores. I’d once watched her do laundry with an old fashioned washing machine, pulling the excess water out of a garment through the ringer. She seemed so strong and capable. My dad observed me once, years later, with a shovel as I gardened, “You don’t use a shovel like a woman,” he’d said, “like my mama.” Past the backhanded nature of the remark, I knew it was a compliment.  

I knew my mother’s mother, too. Her name was Nell. I don’t believe now that she was a very tall woman, but there was always something about her countenance and demeanor that made me think she was. I tried to make sure I was on my best behavior when I was near her, because I felt that she would take nothing less. She didn’t live in the same state, so visits were fewer. Sometimes she’d visit us, and a few times as I got older, I’d visited her with my mother. She would send Christmas packages, a big box would arrive at our lowly rural post office. She’d have something in it for everyone, carefully wrapped in bright paper with angels or Santa Claus printed on them. Usually clothes from somewhere like Sears. I say Sears because I think I recall going there with her. Sears must have been reliable for quality clothing to her generation. She’d also include a special treat: a homemade prune cake, wrapped in layers of tin foil and several boxes. I know it doesn’t sound particularly enticing, but it was. It’s a spice cake with canned plums and glazed with a sweet, sticky glaze that soaks through the entire cake. It’s a strange thing to ship, but it was thoughtful and welcome. She kept up with current events, particularly politics and sports. She had strong opinions and wasn’t afraid to express them.

She’d wear permanent press slacks, with a nice matching shirt. Or a dress with a hem just past the knees. She had a rather impressive collection of jewelry, too. Ranging from big, beautiful New Mexican turquoise and silver pieces, to colorful baubles of costume jewelry. She brought an outfit together with jewelry. I couldn’t tell the difference between a real gem and a fake one, so I would often ask her, “Is it real?” Years later, when I was a teenager, she sent me a pendant with my birthstone. She assured me that they were real sapphires.

I recall an afternoon one summer when she was visiting. The older kids must have had better things to do, because I remember that it was just she and I in the house. Always ready for a creative endeavor, I rooted through my mother’s sewing supplies and scraps of fabric. I wanted to make a cat. I carefully cut out my pieces to what I believed would be appropriate dimensions for my vision. Then I took a needle and thread and joined my grandmother in front of the television for “The Price is Right”. I settled in and began the process of threading my needle. I can’t say how long she must have been watching me, or how long I was taking. “Who taught you how to thread that?”, she asked me. I could tell by her tone that whoever it was must have been an idiot, but since no one had shown me, I told her so. I felt that if someone had taught me, they would have heard about it later. As it was, I was simply imitating as best I could what I’d seen others do. She took a moment to show me how it was done, then I carried on with my business. I can still remember my own disappointment with the quality of my work. Sloppy, uneven stitches all around the outside of my cat head. When I was close to the end, I’d hoped to find a small bit of fluffy batting to stuff it with, but there was none. I ended up stuffing it with toilet paper. My first sewing project was a sloppy cat head plush toy filled with toilet paper, overseen by my grandma. She must have had several other tips for me along the way, because I didn’t know what I was doing.

I liked hearing her stories, too. She’d lived in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. Having grown up not far from where I lived, in a community that no longer existed. My tiny town with nothing but a diner and gas station had at that time been a bustling place. I tried to imagine what it would have been like to hear the whistle of a train as it pulled into town, or go to a busy little general store, or a dance hall. I tried to picture her as a little girl, among her brothers and sisters in a tiny mountain cabin with her father and mother. I saw a picture of her mother once. She was a striking woman with high cheekbones, full lips, and thick hair. She had her hair piled beautifully on her head and wore a high collared dress in the picture. I thought she looked like my sister. She didn’t look like the kind of woman I’d imagined. She seemed too pretty for the hard life I’d heard about. Nell was my grandma's nickname, I still don’t know if that’s what her own mother called her, but I’ve wondered.

My grandmother was a bit of an artist, and I related most to that aspect. She would paint with oils. When I visited her house, I was free to peruse her vast collection of oversized paperback how-to books on painting and drawing. Western Landscapes, Roses, Faces, Horses, you name it, she had one. When I was about 12, she sent me several of her books along with my very own oil painting kit. It was a wooden box with a handle at the top. It opens like a suitcase, with a place in the lid for a palette. She included a basic set of colors and some additional tubes of paint, brushes, linseed oil and turpentine, and a set of 3 canvas boards. I took to it, and felt very refined and grown up. The smell of linseed oil instantaneously fills me with that same feeling of pride.

My time with my grandmothers was never extensive, but I gleaned a bit from my time with them. Though they were very different from each other, they both had a beauty in their strength and grit that I admired. As I’ve gone through my adult life, my admiration of these women has only grown. If I could, I'd sit with them again, and just listen.

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Catching Up With Myself

I’ve often wondered what it would be like if my 16 year old self could meet my current self.

I pondered this over the weekend. I took myself outside on a lawn chair and enjoyed a couple of hours of sunshine. The kind of sunshine that isn’t predicated upon the overall temperature, but the warmth of the sun itself. I miss the sun in the winter months, and though it wasn’t hot out, it was sunny and warm enough to enjoy the sunlight. In and out of sleep, I re-acquainted myself with that girl.

What would she have to say? That sixteen year old? Would she be disappointed? Would she understand the distance and time endured between 16 and 41? Those experiences and habits that filled the time. At some point, I gave up living life just for the thrill of it. I became all too familiar with the process of making it from one crisis to the next. In the process of surviving others’ decisions, and my own decisions, I may have forgotten how to live for the sake of living. Merely surviving. Being in a constant state of anticipation is not very fulfilling.

As I lay on a lawn chair, I imagined her reaction. It isn’t all lost, she would assess. Her knowing eyes would see it all for what it is. My adult self got caught up. Caught up in fulfilling an expectation of what was “supposed” to be.

Somewhere along the way that inner voice became replaced, or rather, overwhelmed, with the voice of someone else. I’ve read about how we all have an inner voice. Often referred to as “The Inner Judge”, for many people it often sounds like their mothers’ voices. Full of criticism and doubt.

But at 16 years old, my inner voice was very clear and no nonsense. She was sure and confident. She was disgusted by injustice, and She had a voice that was unafraid of calling it exactly as She saw it. She wasn’t afraid. There was a sure path and she wasn’t afraid of it. It wasn’t the easy path, but She knew who could be trusted, and who couldn’t, without even knowing  why. It was all so clear. It was before life had begun to feel like a series of battles. Tests of endurance.

In the years between 16 and the present, I’ve watched as people I love have succumbed. They’ve gone from a life worth living to succumbing to merely surviving. Waiting for death while the rest of what could have been a life passed them by.  Succumbing to addiction, bad relationships, poor health, any manner of half living.

As I lie there in my lawn chair, what seems like a million miles from where I grew up, it dawned on me. She was never lost or silenced. She’s been there, struggling to survive sometimes in the garden of my mind. Overwhelmed by the weeds of doubt. Weeds that needed to be pulled.

Having done some maintenance on that inner garden, it was very easy to hear the familiar voice of a higher self. It’s like catching up with an old friend. If I had actually been a separate entity from myself, there would have been a fair amount of laughs. The conversation may have started with:

“Hey, remember that time…” followed by: “Yes, I knew that wasn’t going to end well!”

Or…

“I couldn’t believe it when…”, followed by: “...I was really scratching my head at what the hell you were thinking!”

We’d laugh and laugh about the nonsense of it all! Then she’d look me square in the face, hold me firmly by the shoulders. She’d say in a sure voice and without judgement, “That’s enough of all that. No more. We’ve got living to do!”

So, I kind of hashed it out with the one person that really matters: me. I’m the primary person that my decisions and choices have affected. Here’s the thing: none of it’s been that bad, but I allowed myself to succumb to judgement. The judgement of others, the judgement of myself. I’ve found that I am my own worst critic. Whether decisions and circumstances were good or bad, I’ve learned and I’ve grown. By forgiving myself, I am freeing my mind to dream new dreams. I’m learning to turn off the loops that play in my head, that tell me I’m not good enough. I’ve survived everything that’s happened up to this point: rejection having been the hardest. I can’t make someone else love or accept me, but I can make sure that I love and accept myself.

I guess I could simply say that I caught up with an old friend this weekend, and she’s incredible.