Thursday, December 31, 2009

The End of Another Year -- Beginning of a New One

I took the Shack offline for a few months. I thought I had kept this blog more or less anonymous, just the stories of one life among many, nothing here really to garner notoriety or excessive attention. But, I found, I dropped a few crumbs in other places and it is possible to back track and find my real identity. Those crumbs are still out there, though my conclusion is this -- who really cares? Very few who will ever read this, and in the interim, I've done what I can to explain my purpose for taking up space out here, apologized for unintended hard feelings--stopping short, of course, from apologizing for facts.

But, while I contemplated "who cares," I felt it was prudent to lock the door and let it sit. A short time ago and without any fanfare, I opened it back up. I did learn a few things, though, that I'll do my best to employ in the future.

One is that crisis makes better reading. Turn on the television and try to move through all the channels without finding some crisis-oriented "reality t.v." Betcha can't do it. What isn't as exciting is the resolution to crisis. Like when I go on a rant about something that's bugging me, but I don't write about how I make peace with it. I don't apologize for having strong feelings, and I surely don't apologize for finding serenity--I just rarely post about the latter here. I guess I see the IOCC as a place to do that, but it paints a very incomplete picture. So, if I feel the need to go on a rant, I'm going to try my best to follow it through. I have yet to experience darkness that wasn't followed by dawn. Though obvious, perhaps it needs to be spoken.


This past year has been filled to the brim, both with challenges and with blessings. I used to keep track of them here, and maybe, in this upcoming year, I can resume that practice. I'll try. God knows, that's all any of us can do.

Till later...

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Scattered Far And Wide

I've been busy. Writing? Yes, mostly correspondence, though an occasional essay or two. In the interest of posting something here, I'm offering a link to the latest two, published on the IOCC blog--both of a spiritual nature:

Following the Signs

Meditation on Being

Comments and constructive criticism welcome.

Till later...

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Two Days Off...

This is an odd sort of April Day. Yesterday began cold and rainy, giving way later to warm air and sunshine. Today began in that way, and by the time I tossed on some clothes to head to the post office, it was already 74F. At 10:30am. Warm, sunshiny, nice breeze. Tomorrow is expected to be more of the same.

The trip to the post office capped my academic work for the semester, overnighting a paper to one of my professors in lieu of traveling back to campus to get the job done. I still have to return on Monday, pick up my students' portfolios to grade, but by Wednesday at the latest, I'm free and clear for four whole months. It's nice being back in the country, not feeling rushed to do anything or go anywhere. I wore a pair of plaid pajama pants belonging to one of the boys out in public this morning--Mary or Tiffany had accidentally sorted them into my clothes, and I had no plans to give them back until I had a chance to wear them at least once--and my toilet consisted of no more than brushing my teeth, tying my hair into a quick ponytail, and finding my sunglasses. A younger woman could get away with this sort of thing in the city, but I'm too old now. Only in the country do I feel that I can be at home wherever I go.

The original plan would have had me in the city early in the week to write, to pick up my students' work, to turn in my own paper, then to wait for Christopher to take his last final so that I could load him up and bring him home, too, for the summer. My husband has taken over that task, so Chris will make it home as planned tomorrow. Me? "Life on life's terms" intervened. Monday evening, after dinner, while I sat, much like I am now, except upstairs in bed rather than on my front porch, laptop open, intent on my favorite mah jong game, my legs began to ache more than normal, my lower back tightened, keeping on, on, on up until...I sighed. George coated me down with Capzacin, I crawled into bed and prayed for relief by morning.

No go. From Tuesday until Thursday evening, the pain was acute, settling in on that right hip, the one I pulled the first time when Sage was three weeks old which left me, for weeks afterward, caring for an infant while my sciatic nerve shot pain the full length of my leg; the one I later pulled again two? three? days after Sage learned to ride a bike for the first time, the day he crashed, driving his eyetooth through the corner of his upper lip--though of course it wasn't his accident that destroyed my hip that day. I'd felt it pop out of the socket while I dragged the washtub full of clay from the side of the bank, dragging it rather than heaving shovels full of it because clay is heavy, and I am strong--I was strong. I needed a trench to transplant what I then thought were prairie roses and now am not so sure. They were so beautiful, pink, single blooms, with delicate thorns, found in the clearing in the woods on top of Hoover Hill. I couldn't lift the entire tub, so I grabbed one of its handles and gave a good, hard yank, feeling my pelvis move independent of my right leg, and *pop!* There it went.

So it was only moments after I'd replaced the brown bottle of muscle relaxers, of which I'd taken three? four? (memories muddy like the clay), swallowed down with a cold Rolling Rock, back on the shelf that Denny came in and said, in his trade-mark sarcastic way, "Whelp, I don't think he lost any teeth, but he'll probably need a stitch or two." And of course, Denny, being three or four Rolling Rock's ahead of me on such a beautiful summer's day, wasn't going to risk his driver's license to take Sage to the emergency room. That would be his response, had I the mind to tell him what I'd just done. Not, "I can't drive him. I'm intoxicated," but, "Don't think I'm going to get pulled over for DUI."

Sage was about eight seconds (nine? twelve? twenty?) behind Denny's entrance, one hand in Aaron's, one covering his mouth, blood seeping through his fingers, wailing at the top of his three-year-old lungs.

Sage had asked me, while I was digging, if he could go jump ramps with the other kids. "Mom, I'll wear my helmet. I'll be careful. I'm a good bike rider, huh? Right? I'll be careful, honest, I will." Sage, Little Man, Midget Magumba. He was the darling of the neighborhood. He spoke better than many kids years older than him, always asked funny questions, rarely ever threw tantrums. The boys had built little dirt mounds in the back yards behind the apartments. What could happen? He'd fall off the bike into the soft grass?

But it wasn't those little ramps he wanted to jump. The landscapers had dumped several loads of dirt near the entrance to the complex to build up the back yards nearest the creek. The "ramps" were taller than a good-sized man. When I realized he had come from the wrong direction, my first instinct was to check his arms, his legs for broken bones. Denny stopped me. "He didn't make it any further than the first speed bump."

Determining that Sage would not need anything larger than a dish towel to catch the blood (a tissue would likely have worked at this point--the blood had nearly stopped), I scooped him up in one arm, grabbed my purse and keys with the other, and tossed him into the front seat of the Caravan. I was no longer thinking about my hip. There's one chemical that is more effective than any pain killer known to humankind, and that is a mother's adrenaline. I didn't remember my hip until we were about four miles from the apartment, still three miles from the hospital. That's when the muscle relaxers, chased with cold beer, kicked in.

Just as a mother's adrenaline will kill pain in a heart beat, a mother's fear that she may do harm to her child causes a converse response. Whereas before, I'd sprung to action, now, all I wanted to do was slam my feet down on the breaks, not move another inch, lest I might, now high as a kite, hit another vehicle head on, side-swipe a mailbox (of course, on the passenger's side, where Sage sat), ram the tailgate of the truck in front of me. My foot off the gas but only hovering over the brake pedal, I inhaled deeply, tried to coral my thoughts into one place long enough to calculate the distance, the ease of travel, and the probability that I could make it the next three miles without killing us both--though I might think I deserved to die for such an idiotic move.

We made it there just fine, and though Sage required two stitches, his tooth was in good shape. The doctor praised the mandatory helmet laws and impressed upon me how much worse Sage's injuries could have been. Sage had given up the tears by the time we reached the hospital, and though I was oblivious to it, his inspection of them in the hand-held mirror the doctor offered began his fascination with having himself put back together. The years would hold many more such adventures. I was oblivious because it's difficult paying attention to doctor's instructions, mother's guilt, and a curiously quiet three-year-old all at the same time.

The doctor slowed, then stopped his speech to ask, "Ma'am, are you alright?" I could feel my lower lip quiver. As fuzzy as some of the details are of the day, as fuzzy as my head was at the time, I remember that quite clearly. It wasn't a good sign. My eyes filled, then overflowed, and the sobs began. While old doc was attempting to calm me, thinking, of course, that I was concerned for my son's safety, I threw my hand up, grabbing his shoulder, and cried, "I'm STONED."

Maybe it's not all that unusual for zonked parents to bring injured children to the ER. Doc called for a nurse, asked her to walk us both to the waiting room and to fetch me some black coffee, and there we sat. I know it was a couple of hours before I felt sober enough to drive. Sage, with his new stitches and a stack of story books, didn't seem to mind.

His birthday is in three weeks. He'll be nineteen. He lives about twenty minutes from here, and doesn't, at this time, have a working car or even a bicycle to come visit. We haven't seen Denny in quite some time, though the last time I spoke to him on the telephone, he's as sarcastic as ever.

I'm here, thirty-five miles from those apartments and six and a half years from any concerns over my mental ability to drive. Physically? That's another story. The seven mile round-trip to the post office nagged at my hip quite a bit, and the gardening I'd like to begin will have to wait. I've got two days off, to spend any way I like. I found an Anne Rice book on the shelves that I never got around to reading--Servant of the Bones--and it seems like a good guilt-free read about now. My house should fill up over the coming days and weeks with children home from adventures, people over for barbecues, music piped out onto the porch--life.

Till later...

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Finding Your Way Home

Seek and ye shall find.

I’ve been looking for ways and means to expand my spiritual life for awhile now, knowing that my daily reprieve and daily bread depend upon regular spiritual renewal. Along comes a book that amazes me with its simplicity and knocks my socks off with its depth of Love. That book is Finding Your Way Home: Words from the Street, Wisdom from the Heart by the Women of Magdalene.

“Magdalene is a two-year residential and support community for women coming out of correctional facilities or off the street who have survived lives of abuse, prostitution, and drug addiction” (111).

Magdalene was founded in 1996 by Reverend Becca Stevens, an Episcopal minister in Nashville, Tennessee who had the simple goal to “create a safe place for the women, a home where they could find love as well as space, and time to work seriously on recovery” (112). Magdalene is guided by twenty-four spiritual principles which are, Stevens says, “practical ways we can love one another without prejudice or judgment” (10). The ministry has grown from one house with room for five women to five houses—several of which have been donated by the community, outright or through fundraising events.

One of the principles, Proclaim Original Grace, states, “Our journeys all start and end with God, and everything we do is a step toward our return to wholeness. Because grace is our beginning, we are worthy of all good things” (19). Each of the twenty-four principles are described in several ways, facet-like, and then followed by the written testament of the residents, staff and volunteers of Magdalene.

The ministry is supported in part by Thistle Farms, a non-profit business producing and marketing bath products. It is operated by the Women of Magdalene, teaching them job skills, responsibility and a sense of unity and cooperation. Found on the website,, is this explanation to the question, “Why the Thistle?”

Considered a weed, thistles grow on the streets and alleys where the women of Magdalene walked. But, thistles have a deep tap root that can shoot through thick concrete and survive drought. And in spite of their prickly appearance, their royal and soft purple center makes the thistle a mysterious and gorgeous flower.

And now, three years in the making, they also have a book to help support their community, a book written by the women of Magdalene. The book is small in size—it could probably be read in one sitting—but don’t let that fool you. Like good literature, it inspires one to action. The principles that guide and heal the women of Magdalene are ones that can be used to guide and heal any life. As a person who already does her best to follow a spiritual program for living, Find Your Way Home is a wonderful resource for daily spiritual renewal.

To promote the release of their book, the women of Magdalene and Thistle Farms are launching a blog this week, The Voices of Thistle Farms. Please visit & visit often!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Birthday Wishes

Today is my mother’s 83rd birthday. I made her dinner this evening: turkey breast, mashed potatoes and gravy, buttered corn, and my husband made a fruit salad (amazingly tasty for this time of the year).

I picked Sage up, and we went shopping. I finally got to see where he has been living—his first real residence away from home—and it wasn’t nearly as nasty as I’d made it out to be in my imagination. It wasn’t clean by the most generous standards, but I didn’t have to wade through the living area, and I could actually see the floor in his room.

We went to Lowe’s to get a few things on my list, then to K-Mart because it was right next door. Jade had her warm sweats stolen during indoor track season, and now that outdoor has begun, K-Mart was as good a place as any to find replacements. Joe Boxer’s were on clearance. What we didn’t find was a gift appropriate for an 83-year-old woman who doesn’t need anything else. I considered and rejected several books. She already has a “devotions” library. An abuse memoir would depress her. Anything that might have a sex scene for some reason I can’t fathom embarrasses her.

When we were near the end of our errands, at Martin’s to pick up a cake, we finally chose several plants for her garden. Green chrysanthemums. White tulips. Purple hyacinths. The ghost of the hyacinths still lingered in my car when I took Sage home many hours later.

Lately, I’ve been regretting not asking my mother more about her life. She has dementia, precursor to the Alzheimer’s that reduced both my grandmother and my aunt to children late in their lives. Ma’s memory is affected, and she’s losing her words, but she hasn’t yet lost her faces. Sometimes she’ll refer to my brother as my uncle, or my children as my siblings, but most of the time, she’ll merely lose our names, or forget who did what for her.

Last weekend, when I took her shopping, I had to admit that it hurt when she could only recall (and recount, over and over) what my brother and his wife have done for her, and then today—she seemed to have no recollection that it was me who took her to pick out and buy her new bed. It hurts, even though the truth of the matter is that I slip in and out, doing only what I need to do, whether it be taking her shopping, arranging her financial matters (usually without her direct involvement, so how can I expect her to acknowledge that?), or, like tonight, busy myself in the kitchen while she tries to engage one of my children in a discussion about the wonders of Depends.

Then I heard her tell me about my brother’s role in the purchase of her new porch furniture. She said something. She said, “I didn’t ask him. He just brought me what he thought I should have.” Then she told me that his wife picked the cushions for the chairs. And I wondered—when did she ever get what she wanted? When I took her to buy the new bed, who made the decision? I led her to the best mattress and box springs set in the store. I directed her to lay down on it. I chose the headboard, based, of course, on where the bed would have to be placed, assuring that the window would not be blocked. If I took a seat and let her roam the store, would the outcome have been different? I suspect we would have left empty-handed.

It seems it’s always been this way. My father named me. My mother wanted to call me Susan, but my father felt differently. Somewhere, she has notes that he’d leave for her before going to work with suggestions. What he wanted. Of all the notes she put in his dinner bucket, there aren’t any that say more than “I love you.” He made the decisions. My uncle and aunt named my brothers. I strain to think of one decision (other than demanding she not go to an “assisted living” home) that my mother has made for herself.

I want to ask her questions about this, but her eyes are shallow. They twinkle only when her birthday cake is placed in front of her, one solitary candle lit in the middle, and we remind her, “Make a wish!” She hesitates. She begins to say, “I wish I’m alive another…” Then her voice trails off, and she begins to blow. It takes three tries before she gets it right and the candle is extinguished. Another what, Ma? Another how many years? Does she get her wish? Just this one?

George asked me if I enjoyed the evening, and I said yes. I don’t know if it's the truth.

Till later...

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Pen Pals

So, I've been thinking about cyber relationships. Over the years, I've developed quite a few close friendships with people I've never met. I'm not talking about MySpace random adds from folks who occasionally "hit" my page with comments. Most of the time, I've met folks through special interest groups, or by (as they say in sales) "making a cold call" on someone's blog. Some of these folks I've met face-to-face. I went to a beautiful wedding a year and a half ago for a couple I met through a message board. Even my husband, the supreme pooh-pooher of internet culture, had a great time, loved these folks who've become my close friends.

And in thinking about it, of course I'm writing about it, too, trying to get at the roots of what attracts me to it. Then I find the prison letters.

It seems that between September 1983-January 1985, I was quite the prolific letter writer--mostly to men in prison, but to some military men as well. I say "seems" because the whole period is rather foggy. I do remember that my sister gave me the picture of one of the guys (rather, his mug shot--no idea how she got that) and asked me to write to him when her new husband expressed jealousy. She would never tell me why he was in Pennsylvania's roughest state prison. He told me it was for simple assault, the first time he'd ever had trouble with the law. Personal experience ten years later taught me that you don't get four years for that. I later found out he was a rapist.

And another, one I knew from the neighborhood. Last summer, he was arrested for raping a four-year-old girl. I wrote to him for over a year, and other than being overly obsessed with Ozzy Osbourne and being a horrible speller, he was just like any of the other guys.

There are two names on the envelopes of letters I have yet to read that I don't even recognize. I put them all in chronological order and have been reading through them off and on all day. Those should be interesting. Maybe I have an honest-to-goodness murderer in there?

Most of the folks I correspond with today are doing what they can to make their lives better. The guys (always guys) I wrote to when I was fifteen, sixteen years old (and why, I wonder, did my mother allow it??), at least the first two, never seemed to do anything with their lives. The first one--I googled his name and found an article from last year. He'd been arrested after leading the cops on a high-speed chase. Back in prison again. Wow.

I'm just thinking about this. I have a lot of friends today, but outside of my immediate family (husband, grown or nearly grown children), I can't say I have a "best" friend. Not a face-to-face friend. I'm wondering, then and now, if I've used these epistolary relationships to fill some sort of lack. Hmm...

Till later...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Winter That Never Ends

So, I'm researching time. It's for an assignment: pick your most favorite line from anything you've written this semester, then choose one word from that line and research it. You must find facts about this word that you did not know when you wrote the line--three facts from science, three from history and three from literature.

My word is "time." I feel like like it's cheating a bit. After all, time is scientific, time is historical (all the hubbub of time in relation to the birth of Christ), and literature, oh, literature!--always obsessed with capturing time, the ultimate act of ego.

And as I do my research, I look out my window, see the snow not falling but blowing sideways, trying to plan my trek back to the city, trying to nail down my schedule for the optimum driving conditions. Do I go tonight in the dark when it will be colder, but less windy? Do I drive back in the morning, when the weather forecast predicts a higher chance of precipitation, adding the pressure of arriving on time, regardless of the potential for hazardous driving?

Ah, hubris. What does it matter? If that line I chose holds any truth at all, I'm only fooling myself. The winter never really ends, and every moment is the only moment.

Till later...

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

My Odd Life

I can't say I have a topic to write about, though I'm feeling pressured (by myself) to update, let any casual reader know that turning 40 did not push me over the edge. I've been referred to as a "middle-aged woman" several times in recent days--in a matter-of-fact sort of way by one of my younger friends, and it felt okay. No, really, it did.

I've slipped into a level of acceptance about my age that feels almost like my old Harley boots--molded to my particular quirks, though still with an odd bump here and there. Comfortable, but not something I want to wear for days on end--which is okay, because I keep the ten-year-old me around to inject me with a good dose of silliness and novelty. My Ace brings her out in me with little trouble. The years roll off of me at the end of the week when I go home to him.

Which brings me to the odd part of my life. It hit me when I was wandering around this quiet apartment today. I'm a married woman, a mother, and yet I spend all this time alone, and when I'm not alone, I'm with folks that none of the most important people in my life have even met except through my anecdotes. I imagined this life a long time ago. I visualized, even, this life, but it was before children, before cleaving to a man I adore. We're all okay with it (I believe), even though it wasn't really part of the plan. It's just... weird.

Life sure is full of surprises.

Till later...