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December 2010

December 30

"Thank you for families being there for each other.  Thank you for time to heal.  Thank you for dreams to hold on to.  Thank you for knowing people who are engaged.  Thank you for knowing people who are married and have happily stayed that way."       SAB       12-30-1997

So you see why I've floundered without her?  She just saw what was of value in everything.  Sure she had her moments where Chapstick and good egg salad along with Biore strips and doughnut bites were the creature comforts that commanded her attention, but usually she saw the bigger picture and I am so grateful that she left a guidebook for her slow to learn Mom.

Because it snowed on my birthday and I didn't want anyone on the road, we celebrated yesterday.  My Mom, my brother, my sister, my nephew and my niece took me to lunch.  My sister brought a delicious coconut cake and although my brother never gets a break from his blackberry, he was as attentive as work would allow.  It was a lovely way to celebrate yet another year.

On the way to Culpeper I had been trying... once again... to think through the mechanics of photography, and there seemed to be a subtle parallel to life that took shape despite my efforts to keep it strictly scientific.  Yes Shannon... I do over think everything  !

If the aperture on the camera is wide open, lots of light comes in, the shutter clicks quickly and whatever is right in front of you is bright and clear.  BUT... everything in front of and behind your subject is thrown out of focus and this can be disastrous when there is more than one beautiful smile in the frame.  That is what has been happening with my camera set on Automatic.

Of course, if I am willing to try a little harder I can switch to Manual and adjust the aperture and shutter speed myself and hope!  With a tiny aperture, very little light gets in and the shutter speed is much slower.  It requires planning and concentration, a little bit of breath holding and a tripod doesn't hurt. 

Now the revelation.  My camera is not limited to two settings... Auto and Manual.  It has a myriad of settings that I'm just beginning to discover.  If the camera is set to Aperture Priority, I can tell the camera how much light I want to let in and it picks the perfect Shutter speed...I have to think but I also have to trust the camera to be somewhat intuitive.  Not easy for someone with a white knuckled grip on controlling the Universe !

After my birthday lunch, Mom and I ran errands and then went by the lake to test my new photographic theories.  It was afternoon and the sun was behind clouds.  The lake was frozen over except for a small band that ran like a jagged crack between shores.  Far in the distance, Canada Geese had settled on the small patches of water.  We could hear the murmur of their conversations while several domestic geese and  crows chased an ear of corn across the frozen lake closest to shore.

I snapped several pictures on several settings but of course old eyes have difficulty with small screens, so I hadn't seen the results of the photos until this morning.  The first one (above), had beautiful light but the birds are still out of focus.  Others had the birds in focus but they were too dark.  Others too light.  I'll keep practicing but one thing became abundantly clear.

All too often we are so focused on what is immediately in front of us that we miss the magic that is going on all around.  Or, we are so overwhelmed by the busy ness of life, we miss what is right in front of us.  Like the camera, we have to make choices.  We can open our eyes and catch quick glimpses or we can open our hearts and get still and allow a bigger picture, a fuller more detailed image to develop.  Or... we can find a way to do a little of both. 


I haven't made all the connections yet, I still have so much to learn, but what I'm starting to recognize is the beauty in both and the necessity to be willing to risk Manual settings. 

The one thing I would ask, given the opportunity... I would genuinely appreciate an Instructional DVD and Manual (isn't that a funny coincidence?) for Life, the next time around !

"Thank you for a day with my family.  Thank you for insights on life light.  Thank you for coconut cake and candle wishes.  Thank you for sassy geese on frozen lakes.  Thank you for reminding me to breathe, life will unfold whether I know the plan or not !"      JJB       12-30-2010

December 29

"Thank you for blood sugars under control.  Thank you for E-mail and the people that use it ( J and C ).  Thank you for healthy food that tastes good.  Thank you for water.  Thank you for time to realize my purpose."       SAB        12-29-1997

I had lunch with one of my 'oldest' friends yesterday and was amazed, once again, that we are as comfortable at 50 something as we were at 15.  We lamented the wrinkles, the roots, the uncertainty and the foolishness that seem to accompany each birthday.  We ate pasta and warm bread and talked about husbands and children with the same enthusiasm that we use to discuss boyfriends and bangs.

We made a quick trip to the Mall where I knocked over a display of  Shakira's latest fragrance and tried to hold my breath as we passed the food court and the cupcake shop and Auntie Anne's pretzels, certain that even the mere act of inhaling those delicious smells would mysteriously add inches to my unsuspecting ribs.

We laughed about the Tammy Faye Baker syndrome.  That fear that the woman we see in the mirror, the one who looks gorgeous smiling back at us, might actually look ridiculous to the rest of the world.  I wished that I could let her see herself through my eyes for just a second.  I want her to see the beautiful woman who has barely changed in forty years.  I want her to realize that she is not what remains after being trampled by life, but what is born of courage and determination and a willingness to let her heart stay open.  Husbands can leave us feeling less than, but only if we let them.

I bought, with my Joseph and Beth gift card, (Thanks Bub!) one more photography book.  This one is wonderful... lots of illustrations... not too many words.  This one shows a great portrait on one page and an illustration of the lighting with the camera settings on the other.  I wondered what life would be like if we all came with illustrated instructions for capturing our Light.

  Jilli at window

A trip to PetsMart for an Emery Cat replacement insert and more cat food that the finicky once again turned their noses up to, Best Buy, large Diet Coke from McDonald's drive through from a little girl with the bluest eyes I've ever seen and a diamond stud in her nose, dinner of peas and carrots with whole grain crackers later... I got a call from another precious lifelong friend.

We chatted for a minute and she shared that she had inadvertently deleted several hundred e mails, one of which, the last from her husband while he was out of country.  Now that may not seem like such a big deal if you haven't been there, but her husband is now in Heaven and that last tangible connection to shared tenderness means much.  A quick search and we discovered that mail can be retrieved, even deleted mail and there it was... enormous sigh of relief.

Jules was watching a movie, one of those mini series sort of films on the British network about art and community and what we most value, when a charcoal line drawing of two young children was discovered behind pealing wall paper.  I'll have to paraphrase because I didn't want to miss a word to get paper, but in essence he said, "We draw or paint or photograph someone, to keep them with us.  To pluck a moment from the river of time, to hold close forever."

It's so true.  Think about it, pressed flowers, yellowing photographs, old love letters, greeting cards, scraps of material, a crocheted blanket, Raggedy Ann, an even more raggedy but well loved Winnie the Pooh, clothes several sizes too small, or if you're lucky two sizes too big, twelve year old bottles of Agree shampoo, sample size bottle of Tresor, scrapbooks, journals, well worn sweaters and E mail. 

Of course we are spiritual beings on a physical journey, but while we're here, those material mementos, (  an object or item that serves to remind one of a person, past event, etc.; keepsake; souvenir;  anything serving as a reminder   ) are like the scrap of paper placed hurriedly in a book to save the place until we return.  A scrap that allows us to return to and savor that bit of joy plucked from the river of time.

I have a small pewter bracelet that I was given when I was in High School.  I treasure it, and the giver !  Engraved on the well worn band are the words of Alexander Pope, "Teach me to feel another's woe, To hide the fault I see,".  

I didn't realize until this moment ( thank you Google, once again )that the quote is incomplete. 

The second phrase is, "That mercy I to others show, That mercy show to me."   The message is timeless, a message that once again reached through time to remind me that our connections to one another, although often invisible, are never broken.

I love those two '50 Something' women who grace my life with their friendship... they shared ordinary moments today and I received extraordinary gifts.

"Thank you for all of the women in my life.  Thank you for showing me life through their eyes.  Thank you for meals I don't have to cook !  Thank you for Olive Garden.  And like my precious daughter.... Thank you for time to realize my purpose."       JJB       12-29-2010

December 28 ~ And an Apology

"Thank you for wounds that heal.  Thank you for amended 'deals'.  Thank you for health improvements.  Thank you for Blood Sugars under 150.  Thank you for electric blankets."           SAB       12-28-1997

Living room

It's funny how revelations simply hover sometimes, waiting in that mellow place between sleeping and awake, and once in a while we're fortunate enough to latch onto them and bring them into the day with us.  That's what happened this morning.  As I was starting to feel the warm soft sheets, hearing the 'snoring man', asking for Divine inspiration and expressing gratitude for another opportunity in this new day... I heard Shannon whispering.  It wasn't as if she was talking to me in the moment, it was almost an echo from the past bouncing off the walls of my consciousness.

"Mom, everything you write is so depressing !"

At the time, I tried to explain to her that it didn't feel depressing to me, simply introspective and reflective and "deep", and she was too young to understand.  Maybe, or maybe she was trying to point out something that I couldn't see.

She was commenting on a poem I had written for one of my English classes about an Angel.  An Angel that was in shadow, so I was afraid and thought that it was the "Grim Reaper".  Then when I was brave enough to turn and look into its face, I realized that the shadow was my own, I recognized the familiar and beautiful face of my Angel.  I guess even then I wasn't able to find the right words to express what I was feeling.

So, this morning I took a nice long listen.  I realized that all this year I've tried to pull from Shannon's journal the inspiration for a dialog.  I've been inspired but I've also been a little too honest perhaps.  I've taken my socks and shoes off of my stinky feet, hoping that abandoning Pollyanna would be more relate-able.  Today I'm not so sure.

I realized, sadly, that for any of you who have been dear enough to join me on this journey of self discovery, I have tracked muddy boots into your house.  I worry that on those days when I let my sadness bubble to the surface, all you had left at the end of the day was the chore of cleaning up the muddy remnants of our time together.

That was never my intent but there is a very fine line between necessary honesty and muddy boots.  When I visit, I want to take my shoes off at the door and when I leave, I want you to feel only .... lighter and grateful for my visit, with no residual mud to cloud your day.

I'm not sure how it will work.  This will be an experiment in balance and I'm hoping for your patience and willingness to wander with me.  I will be completing Shannon's journal on the 31st.  Maybe that impending ending has colored my writing but she would be the first to point out that endings invite beginnings and change is both inevitable and vital.

I have a new book... a tiny volume by Shery Russ called "Guide Quotes ~ Discovering and Journaling Your Insights".

Today... we'll start with Number 1.  Isaac Newton said, "If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been owing more to patient attention, than to any other talent."

Guide Quotes Insight #1     Diligence and perseverance outweigh nearly every other characteristic when it comes to success; without these, even the most talented person is rendered incapable of anything besides half hearted effort.    ~  Describe times when your efforts have fallen short for this reason.

I guess I answered the writing prompt without knowing the question.  Isn't that so often the way in life?  All too often, when faced with self doubt or I fall short of my own expectations when comparing myself to others ... in my writing... in my photography... in my cooking or cleaning or organization or fashion sense or diet success ( or lack of )...  that nagging little voice in my head quickly suggests that I'm really not that good anyway so why bother.   Fortunately at 56, with so many people NOT in my head, cheering me on and whole heartedly mopping up the muddy footprints, I find it far easier to persevere.  I'll make renewed effort to write from the light side of life, to work harder at capturing that light in my photos and to realize that as long as Healthy Choice and Lean Cuisine, not to mention Vinny and Popeye can cook... we will eat !!!

I'm not promising that there won't be puddles, but I'll try not to walk through them or track them in.  Sadness is not something that we ever need apologize for.  It is a part of life that allows us to be more open, more understanding, more resilient.  But to not give equal time to the joys of life, to share those precious moments that celebrate all that is amazing and fragrant and delightful... that requires an apology, and my promise to get it right !

"Thank you for diligence and perseverance.  Thank you for Angel's Whispers.  Thank you for gentle mornings and unhurried awakenings.  Thank you for Linda's Christmas Bread and Earl Grey Tea.  Thank you for moments to look forward to ."       JJB      12-28-2010

December 27

"Thank you for snow.  Thank you for 'The Fifth Element'.  Thank you for Dean M.  Thank you for learning from life.  Thank you for the opportunity to change unhealthy habits."                             SAB      12-27-1997

It's been hard to write this month.  I felt too much to distill, too tired to edit and too pushed to sit still.  Now, sitting here, running my fingers across the words in Shannon's journal, I realize that this is exactly where I should have been.

I turned 56 yesterday.  It was cold and blustery and gray.  Christmas Day was very much the same.  My 'self' couldn't seem to rise above the cold gray that seemed to permeate everything.  I heard on the radio last week that contrary to what you might expect, even the freshly cut Christmas trees are dry and need to be rehydrated before decorating.  Apparently the cold pulls the moisture from the trees... I felt that way myself.

It wasn't anything specific that threw me face first into the doldrums... the Angel tree in Shannon's garden is lit and each photo is new, with new ribbon and sparkling suncatchers, gifts were wrapped and given on time, the family gathering on Christmas Eve was lovely, friends are amazing, Jules was patient... but there is something about the holidays that simply magnifies the empty chair at the table.  The gaping hole in my heart.

I know it has been thirteen years and to most of the world that is an eternity... plenty of time to 'heal' and 'put things behind you'.  I have considered all that happens in that time span.  Our formal education is complete in 12 years.  Our government has elected three new presidents in twelve years.  Wine is well aged,  Harry Potter has moved from the Philosopher's Stone to the Deathly Hallows.  None of my precious great neices and nephews were even on the planet.  Maw and Bob and Lizza were, and now they are in Heaven... and for all that I can logically accept, there are places in me that remain unchanged.  I know that it seems self indulgent or inappropriate or maybe neurotic of me, but despite all that I am blessed with, I miss my best friend.

Having admitted that, we can move on. 

Since I retired, I've had real difficulty settling on a direction, feeling like my life has a definitive purpose and turning a year older without any more clarity than I had last year was unnerving to say the least.  Then there is the clutter... material chaos that mirrors my emotional chaos.   I watch those shows about Hoarding just to be sure I'm not there yet.  You know, I think there is a valuable lesson in letting things go.  It is clear to me that if I want to be open to new possibilities,  I have to make room.  Resolution #1 which also applies to the ample girth I carry around on my hips and thighs... which also needs to go !

Resolution #2... begin a new Gratitude Journal.  It's wonderful to be able to look back on what Shannon was thinking, and realize that it is those same special things that make life ... life.  I want to give that gift to myself this time next year.

It's often helpful in looking forward to take a minute to look back... with gratitude.

I am so grateful for my Photo buddy, for my Mom's health, for the young women who opened their hearts to me this year and blessed me with their friendship, for old friends and new who are always just around the corner in Facebook sharing their ups and downs and wit and wisdom and photos and world views, for a body that works, a memory that doesn't, for a husband who listens and employs Shannon's 'nod tactic' so that he can survive my crazy days, for a roof over my head, for neighbors that feel like family, family that feel like friends, squirrels that watch through the windows from the crepe myrtle, cats that purr and shed, letters from pen pals and email from cyber pals,  for hot baths, a dishwasher, Mom's fruitcake, Shannon's journals, Laura's unnecessary shell, for Gavin, Avery and Hayes, a bed that feels like a cozy nest, smiles from strangers, and wounds that heal.... around the edges.

I'm beginning a new year.  I want to make it count.  I want to paddle some instead of just float.  I want to sing off key and not worry about who might hear.  I want to walk through this year with my arms open wide along with my eyes and my mind and my heart.  I want to be sitting here on this day in 2011 and know that my being on the planet has meant something.  I want to be content.

A friend recently reminded me of that old 7-11 commercial.  The one where the Dad growls at his wife, his kids and his car pool, then gets his 7-11 coffee and the sun rises from his smiling face... and all is right with his world.  We were observing how often we allow the one grumble, to obliterate an entire day of nice.  We tend to take all of the barbs personally, driving ourselves to exhaustion trying to figure out what we did to deserve ill treatment.... when the truth is , more often than not,  the perpetrator simply hadn't had their cup of 7-11 coffee !!   Why do we let that one un happy, mean more than the many happy s?   Resolve #3 !!

So many people sent me good wishes on my birthday.  Thank you !  Thank you !

I find that I am once again hoping that writing is like riding a bicycle... that in a few days or weeks perhaps, I'll be pedaling along without catching my pant leg in the chain or skidding through loose gravel, or tumbling into a ditch.  I hope to rediscover inspiration in the ordinary moments and share them in ways that will brighten your way and lighten your spirit, join sentences that make sense with words that connect us.

One thing I do know for sure... one thing I have to remind myself each time I begin again... it really isn't failure, as long as you're willing to keep trying.

Thank you for Christmas Snow that falls gently and melts quickly.   Thank you for friends that are always there even when they aren't.  Thank you for all of my family.  Thank you for a dent in the clutter.  Thank you for new beginnings.           JJB         12-27-2010

December 26

"Thank you for Mom.   Thank you for the money to be able to have the 'jar'.  Thank you for the desire to change.  Thank you for soft blankets.  Thank you for a bed that feels like a cozy nest."                    SAB       12-26-1997

December 25

"Thank you for everything I wanted and more.  Thank you for Christmas traditions.  Thank you for the chat with Lessie.  Thank you for new days to come.  Thank you for "Tootsie", that was a great gift."       SAB        12-25-1997

December 22

"Thank you for the sound of rain on the roof.  Thank you for nice pajamas.  Thank you for pictures for inspiration.  Thank you for little Santas.  Thank you for hand held Battleship."    SAB    12-22-1997