Thursday, December 20, 2012

save the owl!

i work at an independent bookstore in the middle of main street in a fairly small town in ohio. contrary to the way many independents have gone recently, the learned owl has been able to get through its struggles and rough spots to remain in business since 1963. in spite of the big box stores and the evil online empire, we are still alive and kicking. 

the building, built in the 1860s, is relatively small, but we have three floors of books, cards, puzzles and the occasional knick-knack for all ages. there is many a nook and cranny, surprises around every corner, and it is not unusual to see children on the floor in front of the shelves with a favorite book or an adult poring over an intriguing cookbook or coffee table tome. it is, in short, a respite from the hectic life we all lead, a calm in the storm of our everyday lives. we have been known to hear people sigh, and breathe more easily, once they walk through our door; the presence of books has a calming affect on people.

of course, it might also be our dear book shop dog, ruby, who greets folks when they come in, unless she's napping in the middle of the floor, which is actually a frequent position for her. but not to worry - she is not fazed by people stepping over and around her, and loves having little ones snuggle in next to her for a visit while parents and grandparents do their shopping. 

the owner of the shop has been working her magic in town for 29 years and recently decided to pursue her many other interests. she is looking for a buyer for the shop, someone who will continue the legacy of the owl. there have been several interested parties, but no one has yet met all of the criteria.  

i am fortunate to be able to work with people who share a love of books and who enjoy delighting in them, discussing them and recommending them. our customers are the best in the world and being able to help them find the perfect book for themselves or for friends and family is what we live for as booksellers and having them return to tell us how much the book was loved is even better! there are customers whose parents shopped at the owl for their school books who are now buying books for their own children. there are customers who have moved away and who come back whenever they're in town to visit, commenting on how much like coming home it is to be in the shop. and there are people who stumble in more or less accidentally, who have lived in the area for a while but never knew we were here, who become regular customers and book club attendees and dear friends.
this brings me to my pitch, something i generally am uncomfortable with. i never even liked to collect for unicef on halloween when i was a child, as i am uncomfortable asking people for money. however, the learned owl is very important to our town, and to me. none of us can imagine what it would be like if the learned owl was not here, and our events coordinator has decided that she is ready to take the reins from liz and so has launched an indiegogo campaign to raise money to purchase the business. all of us who work at the learned owl, and i dare say most, if not all, of our customers are 100% behind her. please consider a donation in support of the learned owl and small independent businesses in general at   we thank you in advance.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

with thanks, through tears

two years ago today my dear mother died. this morning, very early, i awoke briefly, almost two years to the minute that she died. perhaps she whispered to me on this, one of the last days of autumn, her favorite time of year. perhaps her sweet spirit reached out to touch me on a day that i have always connected with her - thanksgiving day.

it is a blue sky, sunshine, cool breeze day here. the resolute leaves that still cling to their branches are golden, and shimmer in the breeze. yet another memory of mom, who taught us the poem written by christina rosetti in 1947 - "who has seen the wind? neither i nor you, but when the leaves hang trembling, the wind is passing through. who has seen the wind? neither you nor i, but when the trees bow down their heads, the wind is passing by."

on my walk this morning several flocks of geese flew overhead, soaring and even rolling playfully as they exchanged places in their formation. i stopped and watched them, and as they passed directly overhead the sound of their wings as they propelled themselves forward reminded me of the sound the freshly-laundered sheets made when mom snapped them off the clothesline. i could picture her standing in the backyard in her well-worn yellow/blue/white plaid summer dress, her navy blue keds on her feet. she would walk from one piece of laundry to the next, unclipping the clothespins and dropping them into the cloth bag hanging on the clothesline by a metal frame. she'd snap the  sheet and fold it carefully, laying it in the basket at her feet. when the basket was full, the clothespin bag hanging heavy on the line, full of weathered wooden pins awaiting the next load, she would bring the clothes smelling of fresh air inside and put it on the big oak pedestal table in the center of the kitchen.

this is the first year since mom's death that i have been able to allow myself to think about her this much. i am still overwhelmed by the realization that i will never see her again, never hold her hand or lean into one of her wonderful hugs, never hear her say my name again. it simply can't be true, i think. how can someone with that much goodness and love and kindness be gone forever? how can i keep going from day to day without being able to tell her how dear she was to me, how much i loved her?

today, as i stood at the kitchen counter chopping vegetables and beginning to prepare our thanksgiving dinner, i felt a whisper (but only a whisper) of peace as i sensed her spirit with me. i thought about her slim, beautiful hand holding the knife with me, removing the pan from the oven with me, calculating what time we should put the turkey in to insure that it would be done by dinner time. there was always such a wonderful energy in the kitchen on thanksgiving day. we would get the turkey out of the fridge and rinse him in the sink, and then one of us would sit him up on the edge of the sink and cross his turkey legs, engaging in playful puppetry until one of us remarked on the poor fellow having to get trussed and baked. 

the leaves for the table in the light blue, sun-filled dining room were retrieved from the closet and we'd tug and pull the table apart, place the leaves like puzzle pieces and push the table ends back together, our feelings of excitement and appreciation expanding like the table as we looked forward to the family coming later in the day. the table would be laid with the light blue tablecloth and mom's everyday china, white with delicate blue and yellow and pinkish-purple flowers along the edge, with just the slightest bit of gold, not too showy. upon opening the box in which she kept the good silver the smell brought back memories of thanksgivings with grandparents and cousins when i was a child in connecticut, and in minnesota. it was a comforting smell, a smell that connected me to my past, that reminded me of the child i was. i laid the silver at each place, two forks at each place in honor of the special day and the special menu. special water goblets were set out, though mom always took the smaller one that didn't match the others. it was as though she wanted to be sure that we all felt special and included, but it was a subconscious action, not a contrived one. 

i would taste the gravy and mash the potatoes and sprinkle the french-fried onions on the green bean casserole, put the rolls in a small paper bag and sprinkle it with water so it wouldn't catch fire in the oven as they warmed up. how funny that we never thought to use tin foil, but we never did. the bag worked just fine, although sometimes there'd be a roll or two that had an especially browned spot if we forgot about the rolls in all the excitement.

we all sat around the long table then, mom at one end, dad at the other, their children and eventually spouses and grandchildren between them, the bountiful feast in the center of the table. though we didn't say a traditional grace before eating, it was obvious in the light in all of our eyes and the smiles on all of our faces that we knew we were blessed and loved and we all gave thanks for the gift of family in our own individual ways.

now mom is gone, our father suffers from alzheimer's, and we are all miles apart from each other. we haven't shared thanksgiving dinner together for a long time, but the invisible connections forged in the past remain strong and the memories of years gone by comfort me.  there is still much to be thankful for. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012


i am elated with the results of the election, having supported president obama for the past 4 years. he is a man of the people, all of the people, in this country. he was elected by men and women of america who know the importance of working in their own back yards to effect change, who know that just sitting back and complaining about the state of the world means denying themselves the right and privilege of involvement we are all entitled to. we have the opportunity here to speak our truths without fear of punishment and to work for the greater good. 

when we react to disappointment that our "team" didn't win by mud-slinging and denegrating another's character, what do we accomplish? what are we teaching our children and our grandchildren? do we want them to learn respect for others, or do we want them to learn to label and define people based on their street address or their bank accounts? one of the tenets of a free society is that each and every individual has the unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness. don't we want to be a society of integrity, understanding and compassion for one another? to what purpose blaming and impugning those with different ideas? aren't we all in this together? 

i'm not a person who spouts scripture, but i've spent enough time in churches to remember some that may apply here. jesus is purported to have said "...i tell you the truth; when you refused to help the least brothers and sisters you were refusing to help me." is helping the least of these something you only have to do sometimes? was he suggesting that we can decide to choose only some of the least of these? or is it the expectation that we remain open and aware of all of the least of these around us and help each other to the best of our abilities? it is within the realm of possibilities that any one of us could find ourselves in that category at some time in our lives. the golden rule applies to everyone, doesn't it?

and how about "bear one another's burdens" or "as each has received a gift, use it to serve one another? (thanks to google for laying out these passages for me. ) one of my favorites is the beatitude "blessed are the peacemakers". how can we not live that one out? 

it is time to walk the talk and put those words into action to work together to make the world a better place, starting in our own backyards, one interaction at a time. toss the pebble and watch how far the rings extend outward. ditch the division. increase the inclusion. reach across the street, the aisle, extend yourself to another in the spirit of connectedness, because we are connected. each of us has a story worth listening to and each of us has the ability to make a positive change. 

be the change you wish to see in the world.  gandhi

Friday, November 2, 2012

fishing, not catching

late october in kitty hawk, on the outer banks of north carolina. sun, insanely blue skies and a cool breeze off the ocean, rejuvenative after the 12-hour drive from ohio. 

i thought that i would do a lot of writing at the beach. no work schedule to worry about, no laundry to do or meals to plan, no errands to run. nothing but time to write, right?  what I didn’t consider is how positively mind-numbing it is to be on the beach. the mesmerizing sights and sounds lulled me into a trance as i sat and gazed out at the ocean. i was hypnotized by the sight of the tiny shore birds that scurried like overly wound up toys, away from the water as it lapped the shore, pecking at the sand in a frenzy as it receded. i zoned out to the music of the waves rolling in, then crashing, then fizzling. i was calmed and soothed by the sight of dolphins swimming, surfacing and chuffing, exhaling and inhaling, then diving into the surf together, like synchronized swimmers. so efficient and natural and effortless.

so, rather than try to force words onto the page, i immersed myself in my surroundings. i walked on the beach and inhaled the salty air, remembering childhood trips to the ocean, turning my face to the sun with reckless abandon, relishing the healthy dose of vitamin d, something in short supply from now through april in northeast ohio. i imagined chuffing my mind clear of everything but what was around me: the birds, the packed sand beneath my bare feet that shifted and softened as the waves carried some back out to sea, the breeze coming off the ocean. 

i passed several people fishing, including one fellow who was lying down on his back in the sand with his fishing pole perpendicular to his body, as though he'd been impaled, the end of the line bobbing in the ocean 25 feet out. i told him he had the best fishing form on the beach and he replied, "there's nothin' better than this." indeed.

another fellow, with calves and feet like tanned leather, wearing sloppy shorts, a plaid cotton shirt and a faded, beat-up denim hat to shade his grizzled face, stood motionless, gazing out to sea as though conjuring the fish to his hook. when i asked him whether he was catching breakfast or dinner, he replied "it's called fishing, not catching." no rancor, no disappointment, just simple acceptance. experiencing the vast and eternal quality of the ocean forces a change in perspective. not catching? no worries.

so i spent the rest of the week aligning myself with the idea of "fishing, not catching", not angsting over the issues of the world (which have been particularly troubling of late), or worrying about my grown sons (who i missed more for the miles and miles between us) or counting calories. i made a conscious decision to allow the days to wash over me like the gentle waves, allow them to carry me to wherever i needed to be, providing me with whatever lessons i needed. there is comfort in giving over to the rhythms of mother nature, the original crone. take the time to notice the constancy of the natural world, which has always been and will always be, long after we are gone, and draw strength from it. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

where is your spirit?

evening. present day. the sounds of monday night football are erupting from the television. spouse exclaims "the home team is playing!", and when he doesn't get the response from me he hopes for, asks, "where's your spirit?"  little does he know he just gave me excellent food for thought. where is my spirit? 

actually, i'd rather call it "spark", or "passion" or "life force". the word "spirit" reminds me of organized religion, something i choose to stay as far away from as possible. a story for another day... 

truth be told, my spark has gone missing. here i am in the third and final stage of my life on this side of the thin veil. a more-than middle-aged woman with less than full time employment, i have two grown sons with lives of their own. my spouse works more-than full time, travels, plays golf and basketball and cards with the guys. crones don't whine, so i don't begrudge any of them their lives or their activities, but i've lost myself somewhere along the way. the cliched empty-nester, home with the dog and the laundry and the echoing walls, i feel like something is missing. 

because we make a comfortable living, i have time to lament my situation. having that luxury can be a hindrance to happiness, but taking the time to work through this next chapter is time well spent, and eventually i hope to have some epiphany about how to enjoy the last however many years of my life.

when i was younger there was so much to look forward to. i had energy and optimism and a healthy enthusiasm, a passion for life. there was no internal dialogue in the moments before rising about whether or not it was a day worth getting up for, and having an entire day ahead of me was cause for celebration rather than apprehension. the highlight of my day wasn't climbing into bed at night as it sometimes is these days, waiting for the unconscious state that allows me to escape my life for a few hours. comparing my life as a maiden
 to my life as a crone is perfectly normal. we all think about our lost youth now and again. evaluating where we've been and how we've changed (and, hopefully, grown) is part of life. we settle into the rhythm of days we thought we wanted, finding some of it as good as we hoped for, some much different than we expected, all the while wondering where what seemed like gobs of time went. if we're successful, we adjust and find new things to engage us. 

my sister recently told me a saying she has heard her mother-in-law, a sweet and wise woman, say. "too soon old, too late smart" is a cautionary tale for all of us, maiden or crone. it's time to stop looking backward and look ahead to the beginning of my next chapter, the one where i figure out how to relight the spark, find what i'm looking for, and recognize it when i find it. how will i do that? how, indeed.  

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

a walk around the lake

i feel very restless today. strange - lately i'm either slothful or restless, no in between. i can't get off the couch (though i don't know where i'd rather be or what i'd rather be doing) or i can't stay on it (but have no idea where to go). it feels imperative that i make a big decision about my life, that i choose between door number one and door number two, in order to move out of this limbo i'm in. i have to take the right fork or the left fork - the path straight ahead has come to an end. 

knowing i have to do something to calm my nerves and distract myself from my inertia, i head to a park close by, leaving the dog, the laundry and the empty house. even making that small decision has a positive effect on my outlook. i take the situation in hand. a positive step.

it is autumn. it was my mother's favorite season, and it is mine. while many see this time of year as a harbinger of the cold, white dead of winter and so dread its coming, i feel energized by all that it brings. i walk around the man-made lake and breathe in the crisp, cleansing air. the trees that were left when the lake was dredged some 60 years ago are proudly displaying their vibrantly colored leaves and along the shoreline they are reflected in the still water. as i walk and focus on the simple yet complex beauty of the natural world, i feel the restorative influence of the season begin to dissolve the grey veil covering my soul.  

as i round the first bend i see several geese in the water and one brave soul standing right next to the gravel path. i greet him and wish him well and feel emotionally lighter for having done so, perhaps because the act of reaching out is so crucial to life, even if it is "just" to a goose. truth be told, on a day like today, i'd rather be interacting with geese and ducks and the wind that scatters the leaves than doing anything else. i feel connected to something vast and important and abiding. by taking a few steps along the path, putting one foot in front of the other, i notice that my mind becomes more focused, less scattered. wallace stevens once said "perhaps the truth depends on a walk around the lake." there is no doubt that i feel closer to my own truth when i am here. i make a promise to myself to return as often as i can, to choose this place of calm and quiet over the passive world under the covers where i once waited for something to change. 

do i know now what door to pick, what road to take? nope. i still don't have any idea. what i do know is that when the time comes for me to make a decision, i will know in my bones that it is the right one for me. as the trees of autumn let go of the changing leaves, so do i let go of old worries and fears, resting for a spell so as to re-emerge into something new and subtly different. i have found a calm and centering way to be aware of and learn from for what dr. bolen calls the "ineffable yet profoundly transformative" experiences. i am ready.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

time is short

yesterday i was home and slothful much of the morning. instead of sinking into total apathy, i laced up my shoes, strapped on my ipod and headed out the door for my walk. while listening to john whelan's energizing two-button accordion and irish pipe music, it occurred to me that a lot of the clutter i've allowed to camp out in my head is unbecoming of a crone. i thought about the book crones don't whine, written by jean shinoda bolen, a psychiatrist, feminist and former board member of the ms. foundation for women. i think of it as my guidebook to living into this phase of my life. in it she writes, "to aspire to be a crone is to want the psychological and spiritual growth that she symbolizes. the crone is an archetype, an inner potential that we grow into becoming." i want to stand in that line.

taking a tip from organization gurus, i made two virtual piles of the clutter: issues deserving of more consideration and issues needing to be pitched once and for all. if living into psychological and spiritual growth and attaining the inner potential of crone is the goal, then i'd have to do the work.

one absolute truth is that crones don't hold grudges. someone once said that resentment is like taking poison and hoping the other person will die. holding a grudge, or holding on to a negative experience, replaying it over and over in your mind, has the same effect. most of the time my thoughts swerve from how to take the high road (crone behavior) to how to hurt those who have hurt me (revenge, which requires emotional detachment, something i've never been accused of having.) taking the road less traveled is hard, though ultimately it does make all the difference. 

time is short, and getting shorter. why sully it with thoughts about something i can't control or change? my walk clarified things. my energy and outlook improved with the beat of the music, the temperature and feel of the autumn wind whipping the brightly-hued leaves around my feet and the musky, earthy smells of this, my favorite time of year. i was revitalized mentally and physically away from the noise of civilization, surrounded by the natural world. why waste precious energy on the petty behaviors of people who haven't been in my life for over two years? to what purpose wasting time on how things were done and how they might have been handled? why expend precious moments worrying about how those people are living their lives? realizing i had no desire to hold them in my energy field any longer, i relegated them all to the trash pile. much better. 

and so the day ended with my spirit calmer and stronger than when it began. in repose mentally and physically, i thought briefly of the buckets of agitation and clutter that still need attention, but decided that banishing them would have to wait for another day. the present moment, i told myself, is for rest.  

Friday, September 28, 2012

and so it begins...

i really like the notion of the triple goddess, an ancient archetype of maiden, mother and crone. at this point in my life i'm ever so far from the "simple joys of maidenhood", and though my child-bearing years are long gone, i will forever embrace the jumble of emotions that come with motherhood. now i am at the garden gate that leads to the third phase, which brings with it the opportunity to evaluate my life, to process the past and let it go, and to muse over what may be ahead. while many hear the word crone and immediately think of a cranky, warty old woman like the witch in hansel and gretel, she is neither. she is a woman with a renewed perspective of what is important. the crone is wiser, calmer and more centered, less worried about what others think of her and more interested in the well-being of those around her and the world at large. 

for as long as i can remember, i have carried a hodgepodge of thoughts around in my head, having silent, private conversations about all manner of things. sometimes i can weave a few of them together into something of value, capturing it for my journal or a letter to a friend. my collection of blank books and special pens comforts me, and the aesthetics of the pen creating words on the blank page soothes me. as the words flow across the page something releases inside me and i feel relaxed and centered. a day without writing is like, well, a day without writing.

and so i begin the long overdue project of sifting through the flotsam in my mind. wish me luck.