Feeling the feelings

It’s been hard for me to write. It’s been hard for me to talk. It’s been hard for me to breathe. It’s been hard for me to put one foot in front of the other, knowing that everything is about to change; accepting, crying, laughing, my actions inspiring various family members to be unhappy/annoyed/righteously pissed off at me because—EVERYTHING is about to change.

I’ve known every day I needed to write, needed to cry on the page—NEEDED TO EXPRESS MYSELF AND FIGURE THINGS OUT. 

It’s been a whirlwind. A tornado. A cataclysmic, seismic, Earth-rumbling last few months. 

The Move is happening.

It’s not happening. The buyer dropped her offer. I countered. She found issues. OF COURSE!!! I live in a 100+ year-old house that’s been patched up with mortar and love and love and love and crossed-fingers for the entire almost 30 years I’ve owned her. She’s a mess, like her mom. But she is lovable and wonderful and my grandkids accept her, and me, and don’t dwell on our mutual flaws. To my little ragamuffins, Angel Cove Cottage by the Sea and her potbellied, floppy-chinned, grey-haired Grandma/Mama are perfect. Our little home by the Pier has provided a refuge where we can paint and grow and plant and spill and drip and dribble and be bare-footed and pajama-ed throughout the day. Here, we can build forts and paint rocks and drink wine and refill the imperfectly-engineered pond again and again because, that’s what we do. 

Here, in this land of dirt and four-legged family member hair, and dog and cat ashes, and egrets and fish and spiders and mosquitos and fire pit cabernet nights (and mornings and afternoons), we can be our imperfect selves. 

Angel Cove Cottage by the Sea and her sister, rentable, partner-in-crime, Moonstone Cottage by the Sea is our perfect, imperfect abode:

This beautiful, paint-chipped, termite-gnawed home has been my place, my vision, a sanctuary I have forever seen as beautiful and hopeful, a creative, open-canvas refuge that my carpenter dad tried to sway me away from “a money pit” and toward a more modern dwelling. He wanted me to knock it down and build three on a lot and make a profit. 


But I couldn’t. I felt Angel’s soul. I listened to her secrets. I understood her story.

Here was a place I could grow and imagine. 

Why then, you might ask, would I sell a home that I obviously love? 

The question has been torturing me for a very long time. 

Frankly, it has to do with money. With responsibilities I can’t afford as a single, retired woman. It has to do with a sense of duty and not being able to be an adequate caregiver to a home that needs a healthy checking account to keep her afloat, to launch her into the next generation.  I don’t happen to have a bunch of cash to do all the fixing and day-to-day caretaking. Nor do I have the enthusiasm to do all the daily upkeep. She’s a lotto handle: the continual raking, sweeping, dusting, watering, wiping down, putting away, cutting back, repairing, painting, plumbing—all by myself. Every single dollar goes into house upkeep and management. And I have concluded that I’d really rather use my money to go on adventures. 

I’m a 66-year-old cliché. 

My kids don’t understand me. One suggested I needed a Zoom “What’s Wrong with Mom?” intervention. 

I totally get it. I’m shocked. I’m actually having earthquake aftershocks. I cry all the time. But I put one foot in front of another, like a Zombie. I feel, but I don’t want to feel. I love, but I know it’s time to say goodbye.

Here’s the map of my decision: I have been responsible since I was 19, married the wrong guy, got pregnant, got pregnant again, got divorced and waded through this land of single parenthood with the help and strength of my parents, sister, and cousin. I tried—always—to do the “right thing” and make the best out of a bad situation. But it was hard and I often screwed up as a juvenile parent of babies. Still, my babies were my priority. They before me.

When Ryan was 13, I married Bruce, who provided stability and love. We both did our best. But it wasn’t enough and more than a decade ago we divorced. 

My point? God only knows. This is how my brain has been of late. Fragments between tears, between reaching out to God, looking at sunsets, listening to the backyard pond, watching squawking, nesting crows, knowing I’m making the right decision, doubting that I am. 

This day, I knew in my heart, would eventually come. 

My Realtor contacted me: Looks like the deal is back on: The buyer wants the house—warts and all. Escrow is going forth.

I suppose in some folks’ eyes, I should have continued to labor and toil, and die in the house, like I thought I would. 

Perhaps I should have lived small so my children and grandchildren could have, eventually, lived big. 

I suppose that’s what better people than I would have done; sacrifice until the day I died and be the Noble One honorably cloaked in a legacy of self-sacrifice, the one everyone at my funeral had high praise for.

No, I gotta be the selfish shmuck who called it a day, got out before the cookie crumbled, went on an extended vacation. Had no specific plans.

I’m baffling. I baffle my family. I baffle myself. 

These days of packing, of stripping the walls, of selling most of my material possessions in a matter of days, is excruciating, informative, and ultimately liberating. I have nothing to water, nothing to dust, nothing to resurrect memories. The Next Door Neighbors are happy to take all the stuff off my hands at bargain basement prices. And, I am happy to release them. Quickly. Before I feel the pain. Gone. As of today, almost everything.

The only thing I have left are kitchen items, boxes of already-sorted memories, the grandkids’ toys, Mom and Dad’s grandfather clock and the hope chest. Time and hope.

Photos of a lost me. Scrapbook moments. Letters. Wishes. Dreams and experiences diverted. Dust. Cracked yellow news clips. Toss? Keep? Does anyone care?

My things now belong to someone else. 

And in a few weeks, Angel Cove Cottage will share her life with a single parent, someone who, like me, only a few decades my junior; a woman who sees beauty where others see problems. A new owner who feels optimism and has the financial means to bring this fine home to a new level of comfort and modernization. 

Part of my emotional tsunami has to do with exactly this: My time, this part of my life, this passage, is over. Angel Cove deserves youth, enthusiasm, physicality, ms.-fix-it-knowhow, and, of course, the mighty funds to bring her up to speed. While I still have the love, I lack in the other areas. It’s just a single person’s reality: a person’s retired income doesn’t stretch very far.

I’ve known this day was coming. I could have postponed it another few years, but it was a’coming. With my sister and cousin moving, with my fortunate (as of now, good health–touch wood–), it seemed like all roads were pointing to, “Don’t let fear dictate your life. Or sentimentality. Or opposing voices. Or the what-ifs.” Just do it.

I am going to miss her. Deeply. Forever. And ever. I will miss the ghosts. I will miss the future parties. I will miss the backyard breakfasts and Wine Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesdays around the camp fire. I will miss my gazebo and bagels, cream cheese and the Sunday Los Angeles Times. I will miss the projects. I will miss the potential. 

But I can tell you, I have loved this sweet home probably more than any other homeowner who has ever lived here. I have given her everything. And now it is time to let go. 

The Journey

PREFACE

Today is my 66th birthday. In 14 years, I might be dead. Gruesome, I know. But my dad, 14 years hence my current age, had open heart surgery at 80 and my mom, she died in her 60s–my age, I believe. So, there you have it. Reality. 

I decided on this day of my 66th birthday, as I gaze at the sea from the Central Coast cliffside and drink Eberle 2019 Tempranillo grown by Claudia Woodland, the grower I met at an impromptu winetasting on my way to a 10-day camping sojourn, that today would be the day I start writing my book. It’s a story about the twists and turns of an unexpected, yet expected, life of a grandma, a mother, a cousin, a sister, a retired teacher, a former journalist, an ex-spouse who decided to sell her house and start over.

Today, the 66th day of my birth in Lawndale, California, a young couple put an offer on the house, the house I have loved and lived in for almost 30 years. This beautiful California Craftsman that I have adored, believed in, supported and nurtured for a bunch of chapters my life, well, someone else now sees themselves in, sees their future in; without me, the master storyteller, the craftsmith, the caretaker. My home without me and my children and grandchildren.  Without my hopes. Without my future. Without the story I thought I’m charge of, The Story, the one I anticipated was going to be told. Without. Without. 

Without.

The light. 

The seedlings.

The worries. The financial burdens. 

Without the future I anticipated.

Without me. 

Today, on my 66th birthday, a new family will fall in love with my house, with the past, with their future. 

And I will launch mine.

A new beginning.

If I am blessed to live 14 more summers. !4 more healthy years. What will I do? Where will I live? How will I feel? What will I say about what I did, what I accomplished 14 years from today?

This story is about what I accomplished. What I learned. My regrets. My sacrifices. My successes. My risks. And my lessons. It isn’t a fairytale. I’m not proud of some of the experiences I will share. But let me promise you, it will be real, it will be gritty, it will be the ride of your life, via me, and you better hold on to your seat. It’s about to get real.

I have 14 summers, maybe more, if I’m lucky. 

CHAPTER ONE

It didn’t exactly work out the way I thought it would. The young couple who fell in love with my house backed out. The stock market crash made them nervous, they said, so they decided to keep their money in the bank. Probably a wise decision. 

It was strange though. I met the “interested buyer” today. She was walking by, on the phone, and took the “seashells” (Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451”) out of her ears. She wanted to chat, like an investigative reporter. I immediately knew she was the potential buyer from the description my Realtor provided; lives up the street, obsessed with the garden, would need to sell her house first, wondered how she’d keep up the house, the garden. She asked, “Are you going to lower the price?”

No. Some of the money from the sale will go to help a family friend who is sick. I need to have enough money to live on, I told her. 

She asked if I’d ever rent the house? “I might.” But I won’t. Too much hassle. I am at a point of my life I just don’t want to be responsible. Don’t need the complaints, the aggravation. 

100% she was the woman who was supposed to submit an offer this weekend. And I blew the deal. I acknowledged the steep, old staircase is a problem, and listed the various projects around the house that need to be done, that aren’t a big deal to me, but probably an issue for others. I  said that the new owner would probably want to expand the house and add square footage. I confessed to her how hard it was for me to sell, that I loved Angel Cove Cottage by the Sea. She is a loved house and I saved her from being scrapped by developers, I explained.  An R3 lot is enticing to those who wish to squish three tall condos on a lot. 

My sister called right after our encounter: “What! Never—ever–talk to a buyer.”

Times are different, I guess. I can’t be chatty. Not supposed to be forthcoming. Play the game. And because I didn’t, maybe now that’s the reason the house won’t sell. Fool!

I had finally just wrapped my head around change and now, maybe I won’t. I jumped and the parachute I thought would appear didn’t. Fortunately, I have a soft landing. I am still in my 105-year-old cottage by the sea with all her aching bones and paint bubbles and cracks in the ceiling and slopping floors. Character, that’s what they call it, and she surely does have it. Indeed, it’s a lot to keep up for me. Expensive too on a retired teacher’s salary. But I was really looking forward to–and ready–for a change, to travel and re-set my life. It may happen. I figure I’ll keep her on the market until the first week in June and if no one is interesting in buying her, then I’ll tighten the financial belt for the summer and wait-it-out until the prices spike again in about five years. Then I’ll be 71. 71 years old. 

She could sell. There’s still time before the next interest rate hike. But I am prepared to accept being in a holding pattern for a while.

It might be for the best. My ex-husband is pretty sick: He needs support and I’m it; I’m all he has. I’m ready to run, and his life is about to get really, really serious. 

How can I be so selfish?

I long to flee; I want to experience what my life might have been like had I said, “No,” instead of, “Yes,” back when I was a teenager and ridiculously naïve. Looking back, what could I have said or done to young JanZ to improve her decision-making skills? 

“Believe in yourself,” I would have whispered. 

“Don’t be afraid. I am with you.” 

I am in the most unusual moment in my life: I’m ready to graduate, but it might not happen. Not yet. So I have to, as author Michael Singer says, instead of latching on to the difficulties, having them attach to my soul, I have to let all that’s going on around me, “pass through me.” I am working on it. 

ONE WEEK LATER…

I am in tears. I am having stress headaches. I have two offers on the house. Lower than asking price. Still…

It’s what I wished for, what I’ve been dreaming of, and now that it might be real I am filled with an overwhelming sensation of disappointing my children, breaking their hearts. It’s an unbearable feeling, knowing that those I love most don’t understand what I am doing, fear that I am making a horrible mistake, one I can never take back.

I have so much love for my little beach cottage. She is an almost living, human, part of my family. I never imagined selling her.

But I believe it’s time to let go, time to move on, time to explore what’s out there, fulfill the dreams that have lingered in my head, and in my journal.

A few minutes ago I called my Realtor and told him, through tears, that I had made a decision:

Let’s counter the counter offer.

Later today, I’ll likely know the answer.

Perhaps I’ll feel like eating again. Perhaps, I’ll sleep. Maybe I won’t feel like throwing up all the time.

I jumped, I mean really jumped, and now I wait to see how the Universe will unfold. 

I know my life’s “torment” is terribly inconsequential compared to real problems. But this is a big moment for me.

Last night, as I struggled to sleep, I asked God for a sign. I didn’t dream the answer, nor did I hear any harps and choirs. I didn’t even get a call back from the plumber I was expecting to show up 30 minutes ago. Instead, I got my answer from my two adult kids: They gave me their blessings.

“It will all work out, Mom,” my daughter said. “I may not agree with your decision, but you’re an adult and you need to do what’s best for you. I will always love you.”

“It might be for the best,” my son reassured.

Turns out, jumping isn’t what I thought it would be: It’s much scarier.

See, all along, I thought all this worry, frustration, and doubts were about selling property. Not so much. It was about trust, me, standing on the top of what felt like the world’s tallest diving board, legs shaking, hyperventilating, and trusting that nudge, that gust of wind–my children--who gave me permission to fly.

 

Love and loss

It is, without debate, a glorious Sunday before Memorial Day. Low 70s, slight breeze, monarchs dancing in the misty currents, absence of sirens from the Hermosa Beach Fiesta festivities, skywriting planes overhead, two impending offers on my house, another showing later this afternoon, and a glass of Brecon Last Sandwich wine on the tray before me. Yes, life IZ good. 

I have every reason to be abundantly grateful. I’m healthy. My family’s healthy. Bruce is recovering from his left foot and ankle amputation. He’s positive, forward-thinking. He knows, as our friend Julie reminds us, it’s one day at a time. God is with us, and you, and everyone. 

Yet. And yet. And yet.

Those Texas families. Those children. Those teachers. And everyone who has suffered loss. It is Memorial Day Weekend 2022 and it’s hard to feel happy, it’s hard to complain, when you know there are so many people suffering, shouldering the wrenching immobility of grief. Those precious, bruised families are in my constant prayers and thoughts: Lord, be with them every second of every day; let them know they are not alone.

COVID’s re-emergence. The impending Recession. Politics. (Ugh) Mental illness. Gun violence. Ukraine. China. 

And my beautiful house on the market. No, it hasn’t sold. As I said, I have two offers, but both are far below asking price. Looks like I missed the multiple offers over-asking-price wave. 

Sell for less than I expected/needed?

Hold on? 

Rent her out for a few years?

Chill and do nothing?

Enjoy? Count my blessings?

I am in such conflict that I can’t sleep.

I want to do “the right” thing. 

Sell with enough money in my pocket to start my next chapter seemed right a few weeks ago. 

But now? With the prices dropping? 

It is all pretty overwhelming. I don’t want to make a mistake. I don’t want to have regrets. I don’t want to be stupid. 

The Real Estate World has changed in the last month. Big time. I guess, in the scheme of things, it’s all relative. Sell high, buy low. As long as I buy low it’s OK. But the deal is I’m not so sure I want to buy, want the owner headache. As I’ve written about before, I long for freedom, an abandonment of responsibilities.

But as I sit here in my backyard, enjoy my glass of wine, watch Monet nap on the chair, and think about all the suffering and hardship, I realize how very silly and selfish my concerns are.

I can live big. I can live small. I don’t need to be here with the butterflies and the hummingbirds and the drone of yard-blowers and buzzing jets. I could be in a tent along a stream. I could be in the small bedroom in my sister and cousin’s new/old 1960s home in Lunada Bay. I could enjoy being here for the rest of my life. 

But I dream of being somewhere else. 

What’s this all about?

Hope. And trust. And adventure. And freedom. And taking chances. And being still. And listening—and trusting—that voice inside me telling me that it’s OK to feel everything at the same time; the good and the bad, the maybe’s and maybe not’s, the you understand and don’t understand my decisions, the it’s time to rest and take a nap and it’s time to go outside and brush the leaves that never stop falling. 

I’m wondering, is everyone feeling such conflicting thoughts these days? 

Excuse the lack of maybe-it-strangely-makes-weird-sense transition, but…

Bruce needs a walker now. He’s s getting the hang of scooting to the side of the bed, lifting himself up and hopping to the bathroom. He smiles. He’s feeling God’s love, feeling the support of friends and family from afar. 

The IRS took back his 2021 tax refund check–the one he sweetly gifted to me and I kept as a loving souvenir–because he made $155 more last year at his minimum wage job than he was required to. That bit of extra $$ triggered the IRS software to collect back taxes he owed from 10 years ago. Pretty sucky, right? 

But he is looking forward, looking ahead to the day, months from now, he gets his prosthetic leg and can walk along the Esplanade. But today, he returns to Sunnyside Rehab, a place where he’s endeared staff members, especially Tammy, the physical therapist who has taken a’ liking to him. Bruce tells me she lives in her sister’s converted garage in Harbor City. She’s older, has physical issues herself, but works hard with patients, like Bruce, to heal.   

An angel. 

They are all around. On the weathervane atop Angel Cove Cottage by the Sea, my lovely, on-the-market home. At Trader Joe’s, where I witnessed a cashier gift a bouquet of flowers to a red-eyed child who’s pup just went missing. And you. My reader-angels who will find a way today, tomorrow, and the weeks to come, to bring reassurance and hope to the worried and broken-hearted. 

Thank you for being you, for lifting me and others up, for being, as Maya Angelou said, the rainbow in someone else’s clouds.You bring light and hope to the world. Know you are dearly loved and cherished.

It’s all a matter of perspective

Just saying, RV generators are the enemy of quietude-seekers

I’ve had some brilliant, peaceful, coastal windy camping days. All of my neighbors have been kind, quiet and respectful. The woman to my right, Clarita, lives in San Luis Obispo and is on a fixed income; she saves up her gas dollars—walks instead of drives–so she can afford an occasional four-day escape. The woman on my left is also camping solo in her well-used Subaru Outback. Very quiet. Very minimalistic compared to Clarita who has pink flamingos and spinning flowers and full-on, four-course barbecue dinners for herself. She calls herself “old and cranky” and follows the beat of her own drummer. “I do what’s right for me,” she kinda snaps, explaining why she refused my help as she tried to put up her tent on a particularly breezy afternoon. Me, I’m a combination of both neighbors with checkered tablecloths, my peace flag that I drape wherever I camp, my twinkle lights, yummy tofu and kale curry and rice that provided three leftover meals, and my cool electric bike, last year’s birthday gift from my kiddos. Unfortunately, the quiet neighbor quietly left early in the morning and The King Kong of Generator Annoyance moved in. The couple, about my age, are griping and yelling at each other and I am sooooooo glad I am in my Zen Zone of Solitude.

It’s been an interesting trip so far, not because of the things I’m doing. I’m doing very little camping in my VW European camper along the Central Coast. But because I’m settling into what it’s like to really be alone. I have my dog, Monet, and the strangers I meet and talk to. I have my books, my music, my art, my journal—my thoughts. A lot of thoughts. 

Is selling the house the right thing?

Is being a vagabond traveler for a year—-smart? 

Am I leaving my family in the dust?

Am a schmuck for not swooping in and caring for Bruce?

Will being alone turn me into a hermit crab? 

Will I become grouchy?

Will I become a drug addict?

Will I get healthier minus the stress? 

Will I meet a soulmate?

          (Do soulmates even exist?)

Will the stocks crash?

Multiply these questions by a million wondering thoughts and this is how solo-clearing-the-deck has impacted me.

And my conclusion? It’s OK and it’s OK. 

Because when you’re busy, when you’re responsible, when you’re paddling in survival mode, you just don’t have time to ask questions. Not really. You just need to get through the day, and the next, until it’s your vacation and you’re camping next to King Kong Generator Guy or in Maui next to the sloppy Spring Break Crew from the Team Mobile Conference and you get ticked off because “this is my time” to kick back and relax and “Why are they being so selfishI JUST NEED A BREAK!”

And that, I say in a giddy, almost dreamlike floating state, is what’s so great about being retired and vacationing alone: every single day is a vacation and that’s why I want to sell the house: I don’t want to be responsible for cleaning and brushing up and repairing and being house-broke. I want to see what’s out there. It could all be terrible. I could be making the biggest financial mistake of my life. “Once you move, you can’t go back. I hope you’re doing the right thing,” cautions my well-intended son. But when I close my eyes and shut out Mr. Generator, shift my focus, toss the fear into the burning embers—and breathe—I feel centered; I feel led.

It’s all an experiment, when you think about it. No one knows for sure about anything. Not whether this is the peak of the real estate market, not if your job is secure, not if you’ll stay healthy or get sick. We are all just doing our best and sinking into some kind of peaceful acceptance, while still planning, while still hoping, that life IZ good and getting better.

In a couple of days, I will turn 66. That sounds pretty old, even to me. But when I look at the lifeline on my right palm, something I’ve taken solace in since I was in high school, I think I have time for some adventures that I wish I could share with my homies, my entire family, because that’s how I am—if I’m having a good time I want you to as well. 

But, it’s not to be. People are busy, working, fixing up their new/old fixer-uppers. 

And I am left with my traveling dog, and my blog pals. I hope you can hear me. I hope you can see what I see. I hope you can feel the ocean breeze and feel the veil canopy of Spring and allow yourself to be drenched in the chorus of birds that are right there, wherever you are, serenading you, luring you into the swampy, hazy forest. The generator, it’s still there, pulsating away like a rabid dog, but so are the blue skies and 72 degree temps and that lovely bottle of Halter Ranch “Synthesis” and my grandson and big-hearted son who will be joining me in a few hours for my birthday weekend. Oh, and my cousin, my bestie, who will be making the drive here by herself—a first! What a person does for love.

Together, we’ll break bread, break open a few bottles of Paso wines and break the silence with screams of grandson joy, love and and a ton of fort-building. Happy weekend everyone. May each of you saturate yourself with the people, and the place, that brings you happiness.

I jumped

Sometimes, a lot of times, no, most days, I don’t want to write. I know it may sound strange since I’ve known I was a writer since the 3rd grade and Miss Maxine Way at Beryl Heights Elementary School pronounced in her Southern drawl, “Janet, you have a way with words.” But it’s true. I would rather clean the house, watch ridiculous YouTube videos than sit down in front of computer screen, or even my beloved paper journal, and write. 

It’s not because writing is a chore, although sometimes it might feel like it. It’s because writing is bleeding. 

But writing is also discovering and tinkering and growing into a more introspective, soulfully connected person. 

Writing at its most profound, most potential level, is about rolling up your sleeves and getting down-and-dirty naked with The Truth. Fluff is cool and mostly where I start, where I’m comfortable, but it’s not the big fish I’m trying to catch and release. From what I have encountered after 59 years of journaling—-whew!—-is that the best stuff creeps up on you toward the end of your session, that you have to put pen to paper, fingers to the keyboard, for about 30 minutes or more several times a week, so that you hard-wire the absolutely true, almost magical experience of the revelation of IMPORTANT STUFF. When you are done writing, you step back and say, “Wow, where was that hiding?” To me, and other writers I admire, this is why we write even though it can be hard to start, even though we can think of every excuse in the world not to start, even though we’re scared of what we may or may not discover.

Like now. 

I am camping at my favorite spot along the Central Coast. I’ve been camping here for 30 years. For the first leg of my journey I’m solo exploring, with the exception of my cattle dog traveling partner, Miss Monet. I talk to myself outloud, play with paints, go for hikes, eat healthy foods, listen to music, sing really loud and off-key, talk to strangers, read and read and read, but ever-looming in my stash of creative distractions is my journal. My job. My purpose. My key. My connection to my deepest self, the one that is pretty and young, ugly, old, distortive, imaginative, playful, angry, sad, confused, hopeful, confident, cranky and loathsome. I am every character in every Disney movie. I am the soundtrack and the animation. I am Cruella and Snow White. I am 2022 inflation and Canada’s universal medical care. I am the President of the United States and I’m his basement custodian. Journaling reveals the whole kit and caboodle of my foibles and  strengths and sieves out the icky and productive compost in my noble attempt to be my best self. 

So here it goes: 

I am scared. 

I jumped. 

I put my beloved house on the market two days ago. I set a high bar regarding the dollar amount I need to walk away with: After  taxes, commissions, etc., it makes no sense to sell unless I have ample money to build a new life. Better I rent it out for a few years. But somehow, someway, I need to get the footloose and fancyfree travel bug out of my system. 

I have been hemming and hawing about whether I should or shouldn’t sell for years now. It’s not that I don’t love my home. It’s a treasure, the site of so many, many memories that scroll through my mind like the rewind button on an old video machine. I love what I’ve done, what I could afford to do, what I had the limited skills to accomplish, but I’ve reached a phase of my life that I don’t want to be responsible any more. I don’t want house-caretaking to take up my days. I want to live an adventure. Like I am right now as potential buyers make appointments to thumbs up or thumbs down the “prized beach property”. I realize, given my lack of financial resources, I’ve done as much as I can to Angel Cove Cottage. I don’t have the funds to push her to the next level. Fixi the staircase. Remodel The Cave. Tear out the firepit and rethink the backyard corral that was never built to my satisfaction. Without a second income, such renovations aren’t possible. 

But frankly, even if I had the money, I realize it’s time for a change. Time to do something new to keep myself fresh. I need to be a bit scared, I need to not play it safe all the time. 

So now that I’ve written it down and shared it, it’s real. It’s happening. Or not. Either way, I’m good. Because at least I took a chance. At least I stopped contemplating an idea that’s been swimming in my head for a long time. I stepped into a new beginning. 

“14 Summers”. That’s the title of the book I’m about to start writing.

If I have the good fortune of living to 80, that means I have 14 summers left. 14 is my grandson Jack in four years. Bronson in six. Millie in 12. Hudson in 13.5.  How would a woman—me–use her time if she didn’t have to waste? 

Stay tuned…

From lost to found

It occurred to me this morning about 3 a.m., that we’re all out at sea, cruising to places we think we want to go to, or the opposite, getting stuck miles from shore. We wait. The skies rumble as the waves engorge and we think we’re going to die, and some of us do, but most of us don’t, and then it gets calm again and the heavens open and the rainbow appears and we know we are safe and good things will happen.

It occurred to me at 4:45 a.m., weeks before my 66th birthday, almost a year after retiring from 20 years in the classroom, that I’m an old motor boat, sputtering and stalling; I may capsize. But I probably won’t. But I might.

It occurred to me at 6:30 a.m. as my roomies—The Two Amigos–stirred, and my former teaching colleagues poured coffee in preparation for igniting the Future of America, and my ex husband, Bruce, breathed in-harmony with the comatose patient lying next to him at the rehab facility, that best-laid plans are like sailing in the wind with your eyes closed: You hope for the best, prepare for the worst, but in the end, none of us are really in control; there are mightier forces at play.

It occurred to me at 6:55 a.m. that we’re all actors participating in a real-life drama. We wake up, do what we do, think what we think, get shoved around by the do-this and do-that’s of our respective careers and life circumstances, and we are basically held together by duct tape and string; that we all are, in fact, vulnerable to the elements and opportunistic, rat-toothed, mean-spirited humans (fill-in-the-blank). At any moment, who are we kidding, we could unravel. So we stay busy, stay important, stay goal-oriented.

But step off the boat, we might drown.

At 7:15 a.m. I wonder, what keeps a person steadfast, purposeful, in control even under the most dire circumstances?

It occurred to me after my first cup of coffee, that we think we have it all together, but we don’t know for certain until we’re tested. Not small tests, like the jolts of a malfunctioning electrical system, but actually capsizing and being thrown overboard with your left leg wrapped around an anchor chain.

As I step outside and scan the horizon, I lust for certainties; a steady, mapped-out course. I long for conformation, desperate to be drenched in the spiritual, church-choir affirmation that assures me I’m headed in the right direction.“Give me a sign,” I pray.

I got one from a man chained to a wheelchair, a 72-year-old former photojournalist whosefoot and ankle are about to be amputated, whose entire life turned topsy-turvy a couple of months ago, who’s learned to be more open and sensitive as he cherishes simple pleasures like a cup of instant coffee at bedside and an hour visit from his ex-wife.

Bruce. The guy I divorced. The man I have fretted over, journaled about, screamed, cried, hugged, hoped for, counseled with, and in the end, loved and could never fully let go of as a friend, gave me one of the most valuable gifts I ever received; a book, “Nowhere for Very Long”, the story of a woman who was determined to change her life by chucking it all and going on the ultimate van road trip. Inside, he inscribed, “Dear Janet, I hope this book will inspire you to the great adventure surely ahead of you. As the jacket note states, ‘…from lost to found to lost again…this time on purpose.’ Love, Bruce.”

“There’s more,” he said. “I made a bookmark.” He was beaming. Tucked in the center of the book was a tiny fabric sunflower taped to piece of scrapaper, scrawled with jagged words he penned: “Live your dream. Have an adventure.” On the same page, was a check for $2,000, the IRS refund money he desperately needed, but insisted on giving it to me. “I mean it, I’ve thought about this a lot; I want you to have it.”

It is impossible to explain the profound impact of Bruce’s magnanimous gesture. Overwhelmed, in tears, Bruce’s blessing for me to go forth and follow my dreams even during his darkest hours is something I will never, ever forget. In his bleakest moment, Bruce placed someone else’s life above his own.

It occurred to me at 7:45 a.m. as the ladies showered and prepared for work and Monet climbed back into bed, that that feature film we’re all starring in, has tender, close-up moments like the one I just described. Angels who keep us afloat, keep us steady, keep us dog-paddling in the foggy swells when we’re uncertain where we’re headed or if we’ll even make it.

No one knows the affect–both positive and negative–one’s actions can have on another soul. An unsolicited Starbuck’s, a surprise car wash, even a homemade bookmark, have the power to positively change the course of a person’s day, maybe even life.

It occurred to me as I watched the sun rise above the silk oak tree and imagined our daughter teaching her energetic fourth-graders, Bronson eating his four fried eggs, his papa driving to work, Jack wrestling with his new puppy, and my nieces and nephews, brother and sister-in-law all starting their days, that today might be a good day to go sailing.

It might get bumpy.

The wind might steer me off course.

But maybe, just maybe, it won’t.

****

Bruce and I chat about many things during our almost daily visits at Sunnyside Rehab Center, from family members he wishes he could help, to regrets about decisions he’s made in the past. But he’s learning, as am I, to accept life as it unfolds. Which makes me think of the last line of a Robert Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken”, I memorized in third grade: And that made all the difference. It seems appropriate to end today’s blog with Frost’s advise:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

It’s kinda like this…

Since last we left, B’s medical troubles have continued to decline, I still dig my new love, Led Zeppelin, and the theme of CHANGE hurricanes like a News at 11 Accuweather forecast.

Tail end of March, beginning of April, lucky girl me got to journey to Maui with my tribe for a week–I seriously dream of living there–and now I am presently in New York rounding out Spring Break as I re-connect for an extended week with the babies and East Coast tribe. Got to visit a colonial heritage farm in Conn., watched my daughter run a 10K in Central Park, walked around the village of Forest Hills, played in local parks, ate mostly healthy foods, visited my favorite French bakery for a latte and baguette three times, and stocked up on Pinot Noirs and a bottle of French, overly sweet bubbly. I could get used to my vagabond life, and I am making plans to be a full-time traveler and nester-where-I-most-feel-at-peace person.

I’ve carried angst for so long, but now, everything in my being is telling me to get off the train and enjoy life. Let it go, as my granddaughter sings, travel light. Several of my former colleagues who chose to step off the merry-go-round have been touting this philosophy for years. I know they’re right, but something keeps holding me back.

Today at the playground, I met two women; one a grandma who is five years older than me, and a daughter in her 30s whose mom recently and unexpectedly died. Both women spoke of regrets.

Catherine, the older, German grandma, shared her story as we entertained our pre-nap grand babies: “I shouldn’t be talking to a stranger, but I need to.” She told me about her sick husband’s terrible, neglectful medical treatment, feeling trapped, having no time because she’s constantly caring for others. She says other than her daughter, she has no one else to talk to. “My husband secluded me, maybe because we were new to America, Germans in New York City.”

She tries to confide her stress to her children, one a doctor, the other an accountant,
“but they don’t understand.” They’re busy, raising their own children. building a life away from Mom and Dad. . “They say they will help, but they do nothing, nothing. I am on my own.”

She longs to travel again, go back to Germany to visit her aging sister. But she can’t; she has to care for her husband who had a heart attack four years ago, and her young grandson whom she watches three days a week.”It never ends,” she said, gritting her teeth.

“If it ever comes to it,” Catherine said, throwing her hands in the sky, “I’ll take drugs. I am serious. I don’t want anyone taking care of me.”

I wonder if other people in the park think she’s yelling or mad. She moves in close, then moves back, raises her voice and gestures passionately.

“I have things I want to do, but I don’t see it happening.”

I tell her I understand. Life can be hard.

“You never think illness will happen,” she continued. “My husband can’t go anywhere except doctors’ appointments. And me, I need my hip replaced but I don’t have time to do it because everyone needs me.”

She kept looking at her phone for the time. “I have to take my husband back to the hospital. I was there for nine hours last night.” I get it, I really do. The stress of a stressed-out medical system is incredibly frustrating and wrong to average people like Catherine’s husband and B. Because of poor medical care early in the infection to his foot, now it has to be amputated.

The frustration to the patient, and those who care for them, is overwhelming and terrifying.

“I think I’m going to sell my house,” I told her.

“Do it,” she said, “while you can.

“To hell with leaving your kids money. It’s your life. You worked hard. You deserve happiness.”

Her little grandson was crying and it was time to walk back home for his lunch and nap. “I’ll send you positive thoughts and prayers,” I offered as she strolled out the playground.

I continue swinging Millie, who was snacking and apparently eavesdropping, as too was the mommy of 2-year-old Daniel. “I couldn’t help but think about my mother,” she said, her eyes swelling with tears. She died last month of septic and pneumonia. “She wanted to travel, but she never made the time.”

She lived in Georgia with her sick husband; she never felt she could get away, even to visit her New York grandchildren and daughter. “We were so close. I am still in shock,” she said, wiping away tears. “I cry every day. So does my father.”

I listened to her story, how her mother placed her family’s needs above her own, even refusing to go the doctor after a persistent cough wouldn’t go away. She ended up with a raging infection that was too aggressive to treat. After four days in the hospital, she passed. “I was on the plane with my son and husband. I never got to say goodbye.”

I glanced at Millie and noticed her staring at the grieving woman’s face.

On our way home, I explained to Millie that the lady was sad and missed her mommy. Millie could relate. She shook her head and sweetly said, “Miss Mommy.” I assured her that her Mommy would be home after work and that Daniel’s mommy would be OK. “OK?” she repeated.

Astounded by the empathy of a 2-year-old and the gushing vulnerability of two strangers, I am reminded once again of the preciousness of life, of time, and the importance of living life with a sense of purpose and assuredness, adventure and joy. Being eager, being excited about what’s around the corner, is the key. My dad knew it. He always had something to look forward to: “Where there’s life, there’s hope,” he used to say.

Being stuck, being overly aware of where the closest CVS and Costco are located might not be the ticket to self and spiritual growth. Gotta shake things up, keep it fluid, keep the limbs ready to pounce, say “Yes” to opportunities, especially when it comes out of no where, which turns out, is really somewhere, like the swollen maple leaves flying in the skyscraper sky on our way back from the 10K.

In a few weeks, I am going to jump out of a parachute, take a chance on The Great Next. It will feel like Frisbeeing my RUHS Seahawk mortarboard into the sky, and not fretting–-I mean it—about where it will land. It is, after all, made out of cheap fabric and cardboard. Disposable, compostable.





Dazed and becoming less confused

A long time ago, in the days when people wrote letters and there was no such thing as texting and Instagramming, my girlfriend, Julie, and I would write each other. I addressed the letters to Dearheart and placed the time, date and mood of the day on the upper left corner. I wanted a chance to live in a Monet pixelated landscape. I wanted to feel a connection to environment, what was going on in my world as a mum, new homeowner, frustrated spouse and struggling writer. I don’t know why, but I thought that by sharing my truth it would somehow bring us closer, because truth is what I craved from her and everyone in my life.

Truth is a difficult thing, I’ve discovered.

Peeling back the layers and figuring out what’s really there, the why’s, the motivations, the Real Deal. Tough stuff.

I used to tell my 8th grade English language arts students, just last year as a matter of fact when I was in the virtual classroom because my first COVID vaccine was still “brewing”, that to understand why the protagonist and antagonist does what he/she/it does, you have to find The Source, like the source of a river. And even when you trace the pathway back to its beginnings, there are other why’s and how’s and when’s. But with enough patience, persistence, discovery and, yes, sometimes pain, it is possible to hike to that mountaintop of origins.

A long time ago, there was a rock group called Led Zeppelin. Boys and girls, they were a big deal back when I was growing up. (Flashback to my classroom where I discovered, to my dismay, students didn’t know about 1970s and earlier iconic billboards like Zeppelin, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and cherished novels like ‘My Side of the Mountain’.) Anyway, when I was your age I was more into pop music like Elton John and Cat Stevens. Zeppelin was kind of a “guy’s band” because of all the heavy guitar riffs. Still, when I was invited to a Zeppelin concert at the Sports Arena in Los Angeles by one of my guy friends, I said. “Yes,” and rocked my head and jumped up and down like all of the other drunk and stoned fans. It was a scene, a place to be, that I frankly remember little about thanks to Boon’s Farm Strawberry Hill Wine and multiple trips to the bathroom.

But recently, on my way to and from the nursing home to visit Bruce, I’ve been listening almost exclusively to Zeppelin. I’ve submerged myself in interviews, live concerts, music I like/love and tunes I don’t need to listen to again. And I have become a huge fan, as in, if I see a T-shirt with the band’s name on it at Target, I’m buying it.

Why? Because when I was busy with my life, studying for tests, cheerleading, boy-friending, arguing with my siblings, feeling misunderstood by my mother, I completely missed out on Zeppelin’s brilliance as musical and lyrical story-tellers. Set in the context of the time, Zeppelin was doing something different musically from their peers and I think that’s what turned off my pop music-tuned ears. At the time, I couldn’t get past the screeching and screaming that, now with 50 decades under my expanded belt, I fortunately understand in an entirely new way.

Which is pretty awesome, right?

I, you, can take something once discounted because of a lack of perspective, open-mindedness–whatever–and sit down and listen and connect with it in an entirely new way. We can love something or someone we once denied, even distained.

As painful as this recent passage of time has been for me, I realize that I’m realizing.

I’m getting to the core, the Source.

Dearheart, as the squirrels unearth Fall’s treasures and the crows frantically strip twigs off my backyard Silk Oak Tree in preparation for a new beginning, so do I. The Truth will set me, and you, free.

Bruce is still under medical supervision and other News of the Day

Thanks Dear Readers for your thoughtful notes of concern about my ex-husband, Bruce. He is in a “rehab facility” doing the best he can to make sure his foot remains his foot. As those of you who’ve either experienced or witnessed the debilitating effects of diabetes, Bruce’s current battle is combatting an ulcer on the bottom of his foot. He’s been coping with the none-healing open wound for years. A few weeks ago, it got infected and his doctor was too busy, I guess, or didn’t understand the urgency, to see him; as a result, the foot got swollen and burst like a blister, which caused a horrendous secondary infection. All really nasty stuff. After two surgeries to clean up the infection, days of IV antibiotics (by the time he’s done, a total of 24 days), he, and his doctors, are doing everything within their power to make sure his foot/leg isn’t amputated.

There are many lessons:

The most important: Think of refined sugar as poison, because it is. Eventually, it catches up with the body until the mechanisms go out of whack.

Second, be a bitch. If your healthcare provider isn’t responding, pats you on the head and says, there, there, REFUSE to be shelved. COMPLAIN LOUDLY. Bruce tried for a week to schedule a doctor’s appointment. When he finally went to Torrance Memorial’s Urgent Care on Lomita Boulevard, the doctor never even looked at his foot, yet prescribed oral antibiotics to address what he suspected was an infection after verifying that his 102 degree temp wasn’t COVID or the flu. Bruce never even got out of the car for an evaluation. Not good. What should have happened is he should have immediately been sent to the ER. Yes, it felt dramatic and would have cost the healthcare system a bunch of money, and that’s why he didn’t initially decide, F-this, I’m going to the hospital! In the long run, this is a case of pay me now or pay me later. Sadly, Bruce’s poor health is further compromised.

Hopefully, he will recover, but the honest truth is it is touch and go.

My ex-husband’s medical debacle has revealed to me a Second Major Flaw in America’s health care system: What happens to a patient once discharged from the hospital? If he or she is poor, can’t be independent, mobile, feed, dress and bathe themselves while recovering, they end up in a nursing home. Subpar, stinky, peeling paint, gross food, inadequate, low-paid staff facility where American seniors are sent to die. That’s where Bruce is.

He’s not going to die. Not now. He’s there to recover and get on with life, get the foot healed so he can hang out with his grandsons. But being at “Sunnyside” Rehab Center makes an already depressed person even more depressed. It’s easy to feel forgotten, useless, washed-up with no hope for the future.

Look, when you Yelp a facility and see it has two stars and multiple complaints about loved ones dying under their “care”, but you have no choice to “shop” for other facilities because you have no financial resources, you know you’re in trouble.

Nursing homes like “Sunny”side, as a result of COVID, have strict visitation restrictions:

  • you have to make an appointment, and they are limited
  • you have to wear protective masks
  • and, if going inside the building, you have to show vaccination records and take a COVID antigen test. Because I know fresh air is good for Bruce, we meet in the patio every night at 6:30. Our visits are filled with laughter, News of the Day, food and treats, music–anything to get his mind off where he is.

“I had Fernando paint the pantry black. It looks really good,” I say, showing him a photo.

“Bronson wants us to donate to a fund-raiser to help homeless children. If he gets enough money, he’ll be principal for the day!”

“I washed the windows.”

“I got up early to water and watch the moon set over the ocean.”

“I started re-reading Amanda Gorman’s ‘Call Us What We Carry’. ‘We write because you might listen. We write because we are lost and lonely, and you, like us, are looking and learning.‘ ” She is wise beyond her years.

He smiles and eats a bite of homemade vegan Irish stew.

“It was a beautiful day today.”

The dogs are good.”

“Did I tell you I’m writing a novel, loosely based on my life, and the future?”

“How are you coping?”

Did you start that book I brought? It’s supposed to be good.”

“Is there something you need?”

“I know this is incredibly hard. Try to stay positive. I’m proud of you.”

Time’s up.

He thanks me and we hug.

“Until tomorrow.”

The health aide opens the steel door, we wave goodbye and say “love you’s” and my ex-husband vanishes back into the room he shares with a man who doesn’t talk.

In the car, I try to compose myself before driving the now-familiar route home. The oncoming car lights burn my red eyes; I feel like I’m trapped in a steel drum tumbling down a cliff.

At home with my barking, prancing roommates, I pour a glass of wine and YouTube the Kennedy Center rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2cZ_EFAmj08.

In a blink of an eye, I’m old.

“How did it happen so fast?”

I want to know the when’s? The how’s?. The future? Why? So I can prepare, plan ahead?

But as all readers know, the best part of a book happens toward the end, the climax, the cliffhanger. Skipping ahead would be, well, unthinkable.

There is a season

I went to church on Sunday for the first time in many, many years. Not everything is as I remembered. Services don’t take place inside the 100+-year-old white church steeple sanctuary, rather they are held in the 1960s-built Parish Hall and outside in the courtyard. Christ Episcopal Church has been Covidized. And the lead minister who’s been replaced several times over since I left the church some 18 years ago, is new. She’s a mum of two twin girls; instead of calling her Father, she’s referred to as Mother. And she’s originally from England.  And she reads her sermons rather than speaks off-the-cuff. The music’s new too. I didn’t recognize a one. 

But the Episcopal service is the same structure, as are the prayers. Communion is way different: Each parishioner is given our own sealed tiny wafer and a thimble of sweet wine. All sanitary and in plastic kinda like the ginger and wasabi containers that come with To-Go sushi. Environmentally horrendous, but some clever inventor’s $$ meal ticket-response to the pandemic. I doubt that anyone will ever again feel comfortable sharing the Communion chalice; this new fast-food approach to sharing the body and blood of Christ may be here for good. 

What drew me back to church is my friend, Mona, who invited me to check it out after I posted my last blog. I’m obviously going through life-changing turmoil and she instinctually sensed I might benefit from a visit to God’s sit-down restaurant. 

She was right. 

Being in a faith community renewed my faith and brought back memories of the first time I went to the church in third grade having convinced my parents that I needed to go to a house of worship, and then later, after my mom died and my heart was broken. Despite my flakiness, I will always consider Christ Church as my home church, the place I seem to be drawn to when my life is mixed up. Being there yesterday gave me a place to formally say, “Here, God, take this. I can’t carry it by myself anymore.” 

Christ Church is a tiny little wooden chapel, a ten-minute walk from Angel Cove Cottage By the Sea. Sweet, not flashy; a building that’s withstood two world wars, various economic collapses including the Great Depression, the zealous tear-down of neighborhoods replaced by 1950s stucco, and a revolving door of ministerial leadership that has, unfortunately, taken its toll on the congregation. But with the new minister, Mother Julie, a USC MBA graduate who’s worked in the entertainment business before heeding the call to ministry, the little church by the bay has a chance to once-again be revitalized. There’s birds singing in the trees in the outdoor sanctuary as the church bells ring and the violinist and pianist use their musical gifts to ease the soul. 

So many flashbacks at this church: My dad in his walker, proudly wearing his medals on Veteran’s Day. Katie, who was a tot, and her Sunday School buddies. Father Rob and his growing family. Me, having the freedom to teach Sunday School in a way that reflected my personality and spirit. Me, being able to question, doubt, and grow as a mother, woman and Christian. This historic sanctuary gave me a home where I could be the flawed, creative person that I am. I was loved for being myself and embraced wholly, as was every other parishioner. 

Truly, it was a remarkable time and place back in the early 1990s guided by a remarkable leader who allowed each of us to find our own path. No egos. No dictatorship. Christ Church was the People’s Church.

Yes, I have decided, I will go back next Sunday. 

It’s Lent, the purple weeks, and from what I remember about this time on the Christian calendar and my own experience over the years, a Season of Tests. Trouble seems to bubble up to the surface. Lots of it. Like waves. Think you handled this crisis, this miserable person, BOOM, here’s another challenge Ms. Smartypants! It’s like two-by-fours hitting you again and again, stunning you, until you are so bruised you instinctually put up your dukes, like the mustached boxer in a black and white film, and shout, “Let me at ‘em, let me at ‘em.”  Problem is, for me, my one-two-punches are a waste of energy; weak and unpracticed, I end up falling on my butt. 

Confession: I’ve been holding the weight-of-the-world on my shoulders for far too long. I need a lounge chair and tanning oil. 

Church seems to have helped, although I’m less than 24 hours from the experience.

But so has movement: I’m on a clean-the-house, get-rid-of-stuff, re-thinking and staging each room, frenzy. Preparing for the unexpected. Preparing for the expected. Preparing for change. I’m in-process mode. And the way I process the unprocessable (because I’m in the middle of it) is to overeat or overdrink or organize, of which I am choosing the later. Organizing equals clarification: Do I need that? Does it bring me joy? If not, thank you and goodbye. And that, quite frankly, is the hard part. It’s where I’m at.  Maybe you are too. It is, after all, Lent, a time of reflection, upheaval, and on the other side of it, a glorious Easter sunrise. 

I am with you, always, He said, he re-assured, in his darkest hour. 

This is a test. 

This is a test.

This is a test. 

Or as The Byrds’ sang in the 1960s….there is a season. “Turn! Turn! Turn!”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W4ga_M5Zdn4