July 20, 2015

A chicken. Of all things to plop down on a brain, refusing to free it for dwelling on any other thoughts: a chicken. As if my brain had become the hatching ground, I’ve been dwelling on this chicken since yesterday evening. More precisely, this chicken is a hen. A broody hen. I had never heard of such a thing until now—somewhat surprisingly, since I used to take a certain amount of pride from the fact that I was in on the family neck-wringing and feather-plucking when I was young [my fervor for the task dampened slightly, mind you, when I adopted, and named, a pet from among the bunch. But that is another story: a woeful tale . . .].
But I suppose many decades have passed between then and now, and enough of a lifetime to forget some of my farming roots. Which is why I was all ears as my mother-in-law gave me the tour of her 19-hen collection, explaining the process she has gone through in learning, from scratch [;-)], how to raise and care for different breeds of egg-layers. I kept shaking my head as I listened, repeating “I had no idea . . .” I had no idea there was so much involved in the process of caring for these creatures. I had no idea they had such intriguing quirks and tendencies. I had no idea they were so, well, so much like people! At least, that’s what I was thinking when I was introduced to the “broody hen” . . .
Basically, from what I have learned thus far, a broody hen is one whose hormones and circumstances have made her enter a single-track state of mind: she is ready to raise her young. This means she will squat stubbornly on her eggs, to the extent that she will forego other aspects of daily chicken life: taking her dust baths, eating, even drinking water! What makes this biological phase problematic for the average chicken farmer is that a hen will enter the “broody” phase whether or not her eggs have been fertilized. In other words, if there is no rooster available, so no chance of the eggs hatching, she will nevertheless insist on hatching them, hunkering down until she loses her own life in the waiting.
Admittedly, this analogy does not apply to humans in the same extremity: I doubt that someone would inadvertently pine away while waiting for a “hatching” that they do not know is impossible. I do, however, believe that a great deal of applicable truth can be drawn from this natural phenomenon.
And it need not necessarily be about having children, though that is certainly something people get single-minded about: fertility clinics and adoption agencies abound to give evidence of this fact. All manner of potential fixations, however, can get our attentions and energies lopsided: I know I have my fair share, rotating in and out with life’s seasons. I wish I could propose a grand solution: a happy ending to this writing. With a summer that has consumed me with its travel, moving preparations, and medical issues for both my husband and I, I find myself feeling woefully unprepared for a one-week-and-counting move to yet another continent. I suppose even in the best of circumstances, though, I have never found a way to actually be prepared for these—or for any other life changes, for that matter. Maybe the best I can do here, now, is sit in the peace of a few days left in the gentle company of family and be . . . and maybe learn a thing or two about raising chickens :-)

So this will be a short post. I am just beginning the process of figuring out what I can do one-handed (and wrong-handed). Here in the middle of my biggest book project in my career as a librarian, with combined inventory of 11,000 plus cataloging of 600 titles, I am suddenly one (and wrong) armed.
My morning commute into work today turned into a visit to the international clinic. “As far as breaks go,” he assured me, “this is about the best kind you could have gotten.” While grateful for that fact, I’m afraid the prospect of immobility is still a looming, and daunting, one for me. But here it is, and so begins project See-What-I-Can-Manage-With-One-Arm. So far I have begun wrong-handed tooth brushing, and one-handed typing. That is not much of an accomplishment when I think ahead to all the rest of the things to be done … but off to it! :-)
This is the offending sticky-upy piece of metal:

This is my elbow’s landing skid:
And this is the result:


June 1, 2015

So she didn’t die. The morning after the day of death-scare, she woke up and simply decided she was going to live. It’s still a mystery to us; but we watched her develop a hearty appetite for the super-nutrient pet vitamin we had bought, get back to her usual self, and return to all those normal kitty habits that I never thought I’d be happy to hear/see:
incessant meowing at the start of certain kitchen preparations: she has an uncanny ability to smell even frozen-solid meat
sharpening her claws on my yoga mat, or on any surface that she deems worthy of her scratching time (i.e. those that will show clear and lasting evidence that her claws were there)
making sure we do not forget how to get to her litter box, by leaving trails of litter from any given room in the home
showing her affection for the broom by following me when I sweep and running to splay her body over it at each stroke.
I had to throw away the lovely cross I had painstakingly made for her. Ok, so maybe it was neither lovely nor painstakingly made: but it did feel a bit odd to just toss a grave marker with her name on it.
We also had to resume project find-a-new-owner in full force—even more urgent now that a week had passed in which we had grown lax in the search. Then, suddenly, a photo sent by a friend to her friend led to a phone call the next night, which led to a pickup the next day. Yes, Lily has a new home: quite a perfect one, in fact, for an older cat used to having plenty of adult attention. Her new owners are a young couple who have not been married for long and who, we suspect, will find Lily to be the perfect first “child.”
A part of me wants to wonder about the meaning of all this: why the roller coaster of emotions and reactions? But the more practical part realizes that it is simply time now to move on with the business of moving. A library remains to be inventoried this week; books remain to be catalogued; our home remains to be packed up and cleared out . . . yes, on to the business of life. But, hopefully, with a remnant of the peace that comes from knowing that someone’s got my back. Someone’s on my side :-)

lily’s life

May 21, 2015

My cat almost died this week. She may, in fact, still die. But I am currently eyeing her with hope as she eats small bits of my experimental offerings: scrambled eggs with cheese, bits of chicken, fish eggs. She has moved out of her chair enough to keep an eye on me—significant improvement from last night’s inability to even get herself down from the chair to her litter box. I say “my” cat when I should actually say “his” cat as, in truth, she is a daddy’s girl. So during the past 2 weeks of his village travels, she has seemed to just give up.
We suspect that she is aware of the changes looming ahead, in that uncanny manner that animals seem to sense their owners’ stresses and life events. At an old age, with one set of owners who raised her before us, she may just be saying that she is done with transition and will not cooperate with another one. So in a matter of hours, my great moving stress of finding a new home for her morphed into one of preparing for her death while nursing her as she lives. While at work today, I borrowed a shovel and made a cross, preparing myself for what I feared I would come home to. Instead of a burial, however, I have been alternately holding my breath in waiting and giddy with each active move she makes.
The strange part about this all is the revelation it has given me so far as my own transition and grieving process goes. Up to now, I have been consumed with the business of it all: overwhelmed by the prospect of getting all the books I ordered cataloged, managing inventory, and closing up with school business. I have also been increasingly guilt-ridden over my impatience with the string of goodbye parties and activities I’ve felt obligated to participate in. It seems as if all the other friends and coworkers, who are also leaving soon, have this ability to make the most of these last times together, to cry at the farewells, to wax eloquent about what has meant the most to them about life here. I, on the other hand, am unmoved: all I seem to be able to care about is trying to take care of business.
As I walked with one close friend after the most recent of these gatherings, I voiced my frustration, desperate to get it off my chest. She said she understood, and kindly offered that I should allow myself to feel what I felt, and let myself process as I needed to. While agreeing with her intellectually, I still could not shake the guilt for not caring about what I “should” care about.
But last night, as I woke up yet again to see if Lily was still breathing (the night was spent in a fitful manner of dozing and then reawakening in a fear that she was dead), I realized that I was crushed by the sight of her feeble shell of a self. And not only that, but it moved me to tears. Could it be, I wondered, that my cat is giving me the gift of grief: the ability to get out the emotion that has been locked behind an padlocked gate of ice?
I hope—I pray—that it is so . . .

a couple of cases

May 2, 2015

I wish I had my husband’s heart. I wish that, in the face of a series of significant farewells, I grew sad and reflective, as I see him doing. I wish that, when tears flowed at the prospect of a pending goodbye, my own eyes welled up at the prospect.
I was born to root . . . but bred to roam: raised in a fashion that left me stunted in “normal” settling tendencies and filled with quirky gifts, a few being:
the ability to pack all I really need for a move into two suitcases
a skill at finding the perfect new homes for random items that need giving-away in order to accomplish this 2-suitcase move
the capacity to unpack said 2 suitcases and feel comfortable in a new home in approximately 2 seconds . . . ok, so maybe 2 hours :-)

The other day I discovered an author, as I browsed the poetry section to find a poem to read for one of my classes. His name is Mattie Stepanek, and apparently he has had a fair bit of fame, once making it to the New York Times’ bestseller list. He died at the age of 13, after losing his 3 older siblings to the same disease that took his life (Muscular Dystrophy). This poem in particular struck me, with words expressing the emotion that I with I could express:

“Simple Ablution”

People complain that
Others cry too much.
How sad.
How angering.
How blundering.
Tears are like rain.
They come
Gently, or strongly.
They come
Quietly, or loudly.
They come
Refreshingly, or devastatingly.
But they always,
In some way, come.
And cleanse, and console.
There’s a mess to fix
After the rain,
After the tears,
But it always makes people
And think.
And take notice.
We should all cry
For each other.
If everyone in the world
Cried with and for
Other people and life,
We might be
More caring and peaceful.
We could cry enough
That the world would be
A cleaner and healthier place,
For our people,
For our life,
For our future.

What wisdom coming from such a young heart, and from such deep sorrow in so short of a life! I mused on these words as I finished the workday, trying to coax the appropriate sadness out of myself when speaking to others about my nearing transition.
Shortly thereafter, the school bell sounding, it was time for Track practice to begin. Only two of the students were distance, so I was decided to try to make it a good conversation time as we ran. Both had come on the trip we took a few weeks ago, so I asked them to tell me their highlights from that international track meet. Expecting them to talk about the medals they had won or their time socializing with buddies, I was caught off guard by the first response given: it was a song I had made up one day, as I accompanied 2 girls to the nearest bathroom. Noticing the rhyme one had accidentally spoken, I began to sing a song about how “we all need to pee.” Once getting started with it, of course, I couldn’t resist hamming it up a bit, and making a fool of myself in the process :-)
Now, stereotypically, one would think that this sort of behaviour, coming from one’s 35-year-old coach, would mortify a couple of teenage girls who were, incidentally, in the company of several hundred other teenage girls and boys. So when she gave this response, I looked at her in disbelief. Then I laughed. And the joy that welled up in my heart as we all laughed together brought tears to my eyes.
So maybe not the kind of tears I was trying for but, hey, I’ll take it :-)

*When it came my turn for highlight-sharing, I had an immediate response: our post-meet airport photo shoot. At this point in the game, the races were done and all were happy from the success, tired from the effort, and grungy from lack of showering after the fact. These factors seemed to combine in order to create a mutual sense of giddy carefreeness as we waited our the flight delay. For some reason, it made me particularly giddy to get to join in on the fun as we took a series of jumping photos . . . and somehow, it seems a fitting image for this particular post.


April 3, 2015

Not yet. What if the answer I am to end up with, at the end of an extravagant journey, is “not yet”? What if I, an admittedly impatient—at times, I’m afraid, impulsive—individual, am to come to end of orientation with the realization that I must turn down what was such an invigorating prospect to me?
When all is said and done, I near the end of this trip suspecting that the worth of it was in the family time that it allowed, more so than the academic experience itself. Mind you, I do still believe that the ideas I have are intended to result in some form of higher academic pursuit: I just cannot help but hope that this can happen in a way that does not take away the financial freedom acquired by living “outside the box,” in a sense. Up to this point, we have [previously independently and, now, together] avoided the normal sorts of financial obligations that come from school, home, or other debt; consequently, we have been able to pursue work that does not provide the “normal” sort of compensation.
So what I now realize, after a trip that combined doctoral program orientation with a family visit, is that I am not ready to give up that ability to do such family visits because all funds [plus much more than what we have :-)] are dedicated to education.
As much as I wanted to pursue this, and as much as it invigorated the mental synapses, I suspect that a bit of time will allow for a creative inspiration as to how this dream might be pursued in a way that fits us—the odd birds that we are. Funny thing, that word: fits. It occurs to me that this words has made its way into my vocabulary in a sort of thematic manner; in different seasons of my life, different fits have come . . . “if the shoe fits” . . . “a bun doesn’t fit in a burkha” . . . perhaps, now, “if the dream fits?”
Yes, I’m afraid that a part of life might be realizing that sometimes a dream has to die. Or maybe it is not exactly a death: maybe it is more of a releasing. Didn’t the poet warn “hold fast to dreams/for if dreams die . . .”? It may feel like a death, in that it is no longer held to oneself. But the truth is that it has been let go into the unknown future. Like a dove sent ahead to scope out the territory, it seeks out the growth that we cannot yet grasp hold of. Then, when the time is right, it returns to us, now a green branch of hope carried back from a shining future. So the brightness beckons us forward once again, towards a dream reborn into something better . . .

a picnic

March 11, 2015

It was a picnic. Of all things to throw me over the edge today, I must admit to it being a picnic. We had decided last night that, it being an evening without extra classes, we should use tonight to pack and picnic and head to a city park supposedly lovely with spring blooms right now.
I should have known better than to plan our outing for the day of the week that never fails to use up every ounce of my work energies: this year the Wednesday schedule simply maxes me out so far as the number and combination of classes.
I also should have known better than to make the plan for a week in which I am extra short on help with library maintenance tasks.
I especially should have been wary of any extra adventures in the week of a pending decision I need to make: a huge, many-years-impacting decision. I am perched at precipice, peering into the doorway of a dream come true . . . but a dream that stretches the limits of my confidence. Quite frankly, I do not know if I can do it, never mind if it is wise for us to commit to the expenses [spanning multiple sorts of “costs”] of it.
So it was that I came to the end of the day spent. So much so that a simple request to teach an extra class tonight brought me to a teary-eyed “No—I cannot: not tonight!” I texted P as I got on my bike to tell him I was on my way home. I also warned him, adding that “I don’t know if I can go out—I think I may need to stay home tonight.” I didn’t wait for his response before starting out . . . I knew I didn’t need to. I am married to a man with infinitely more patience and understanding than I can generally muster myself. I didn’t need to wait for the “No problem” that was to come.
Nearing home, I was getting back onto the bike after walking through a doorway when I paused. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a flash of blue on the ground. Though I do not normally take time to pause at this point in the day, I did. Others walked around me as I then bent down and cupped a stunning butterfly in my hands. I do not know why I had the impulse to do so, but as it crawled along, limping from some sort of likely-fatal injury, I wanted to bring it home. P met me at the door and started to move my bike for me but I stopped him. “Wait—I need to do something!” I pointed to the bike basket, and to what was flitting about inside it. We cupped it together in our hands and snapped a photo of it before releasing it again. I do not have high hopes for the future of this butterfly life . . . but I do have hope. Perhaps the same can be said for my own.


February 2, 2015

This week I had an uncomfortable experience as an educator. I made a decision to refer one of my students to an extra-help class. It was a decision I made very quickly, putting together pieces in my head about the student’s work this past semester and then dashing about to various people I needed to consult for the change to happen. It was fine so far as decisions themselves go: there was no harm in the effects of it. But I realized that I erred in jumping impulsively from thought to action without stopping to question possible alternative solutions or to question my own motivation for acting so hastily. Thankfully, I am not high up in the rankings of administrators in my school, so the checks and balances occurred in spite of my “now” mentality; yet it gave me pause when I realized my weakness for such impulsivity.
As so often happens, though, there was grace for the weakness. So much so that I was blessed with a sweet moment of “needed-ness” in a way that filled my own “neediness” . . . kneading.
In between classes, I heard the kids across the hall and poked my head into the open door. The teacher, in mid-sentence, beckoned me in. “I bet Mrs. G knows how to knead dough,” she announced to the little ones. I laughed at the truth of this suggestion, realizing that I did so multiple times per week, to keep my little household [i.e. my bread-loving husband] stocked. So I ended up helping to instruct a bunch of 6-year old pairs of hands in the art. And as bread making so often does for my own mood, this communal activity did the trick of easing my educator’s angst, smoothing . . . and soothing.

baby steps

January 23, 2015

Is it possible to transport one’s sensibilities back to the experience of learning how to walk? I feel like I have done so this week. Several weeks ago, one of my knees decided to rebel against me. I kept functioning as usual, so far as daily activities—and running—goes until I could not do so any longer. Finally, a week ago, I admitted that I had to stop running; it has been so very humbling to realize just how hard this has been. The downside, I suppose, to being trained for a marathon, is that not being able to run those long distances anymore . . . not being able to run at all—has left me jumping out of my skin in an itch to move.
Some research into the symptoms led me to peg the pain on a common long-distance runner’s ailment known as ITBS. From what we’ve been reading about it, it can heal itself naturally, but does require enough time off to at least start the healing process. Stretching is also crucial. Both of these two things—time off and stretching—are, I must admit, not customary for me. Thanks to a supportive husband, however, I have an in-house physical therapist these days. I also have a sounding board to help fend off my tendency to overthink, and so brood, over anything I feel is amiss in my life.
And there have been clearly divine gifts during this time of “fasting.”
Getting to teach Grade One P.E., for instance: I have been on a high over the possibilities, after working on a lesson involving basic motions combined with upbeat music so as to “dance” in a way that helps young bodies learn direction and coordination.
The weather has also suddenly, drastically, improved. After being housebound by the cold and precipitation, this week of bright sunshine has brought us back outside, soothing nerves and lifting spirits.
Today I asked my walking buddy if she’d be up for a “trial run” after work. She responded with her customary “Sure!,” and we went out. I had to know if my pain-free spell meant I was ready to run again. So at a snail’s pace, and in hamster circles around a mini track, we ran. I mused on the strange nature of this “run,” and wondered what sort of growth lesson I was learning. I can think of quite a large number of potentials at the moment :-)
This week the elementary classes celebrated the 100th day of school. As a part of it, the kindergartners created a banner of their footprints. Baby steps . . .?

words & worlds

January 19, 2015

In a strange sort of irony today, I was asked for book recommendations to help a young one about to transition from here (home) back to the United States (parents’ home). She explained that the child’s teacher had asked her to help, after the teacher and parents had noticed some unhealthy fear that seemed to be stemming from the pending move.
I was about to do some online searches to provide inspiration, coming up blank with an off-the-top-of-my-head self-query. Then I stopped myself and wondered if, instead, I should try a potentially less-professional approach. I still don’t know if my decision was correct but it’s what I decided . . . so be it. This is what I explained:
I told the woman that I remembered my own walk through transitional grief, at around the same age as this child. Even though I had some other traumas coming into play, in addition to the move, I do vividly recall the confusion brought on by the move from the country I knew as home to a strange and unfamiliar U.S. I also recall taking comfort in the books I read. I told her that the Chronicles of Narnia had provided me with a beautiful fantasy world that I could “escape” to when reality was just too much for my young sensibilities to process. I shared how other books [such as Where the Red Fern Grows, Missing Mae, and Out of the Dust] had allowed me to identify with a grieving character, so that I could weep along with a fictional person for the very real people that I had lost. I also suggested that books such as A Little Princess and The Secret Garden may help by providing a young heroine to identify with who was dealing with similar transitions.
After talking for a bit about these titles, along with a few others, I admitted that I was probably not offering the expected sort of “therapy” titles that she had been told to look for. I know the series of board books that were marketed as such: titles listing behaviors children should avoid and attitudes they should aspire to have. I also admitted that the books I was listing were probably above the target age range, and perhaps too long to lend themselves to an easy one-time chat with a child. But I just couldn’t help being wary of overly didactic, expected types of material. I also happen to believe that high quality literature can reach a much broader age range than some people seem to think . . . and that children are able to see through a lot of conventional grown-up assumptions. So I went with my gut.
As it turns out, my gut response turned out to resonate with this woman. A mother of TCKs herself, I guess she may have observed some of the same things I had experiences. Who knows what the outcome will be for the child in question: but I like to think that the stack of books I checked out today will resonate, in some positive way, in a young one’s heart.


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