Alpaca Mommies

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That’s us.  We have a new family of four little alpacas, ranging in age from almost 1 to almost 2 years old.  Three are females, one is a male.  They are beautiful, they are smart, they are peaceful animals to be around.  We learn things every day.

Bandit was a sweet and friendly little boy when he was in the big herd. He has black fleece with a white face and a slightly longer nose than the rest of the alpacas we have.   But now he is the leader of the little herd at his new home, and you can tell in his posture and mannerisms, that he takes that role seriously — it’s almost like he’s become an adult overnight.  He leads the way, he protects his females from us when they don’t want to be bothered, he spits when he’s not happy with something we’re doing or something one of the females is doing, he’s the first one and the pushiest one to get grain or pellets when we’re giving treats. He seems taller.  It’s so interesting to see his changes, and Sarita sometimes has to remind him to be respectful of us with a flick on the nose.

Then there’s his old buddy, Jazzy.  The two hung out together all the time in the big herd, and she still seems to want that relationship, but it’s almost as though he’s moved on.  He spits air at her if she is annoying him.  Jazzy is the youngest, and a beautiful rich “sienna brown” color (if you remember the old big box of Crayolas). She will stand and look right at you with her big eyes, as if to say, take me back to my mommy, or perhaps, listen to what I’m saying, it’s important! She is extremely vocal, and we’re not sure what’s going on.  Does she have an allergy? is she talking to us? Is it something else not quite right?   She is the one that seems to feel the separation from the big herd and her mom the most, but she’s also become more approachable than she was at the beginning.  Sarita took her to the vet to find out what’s going on with this unusual sound she’s making, we wanted to be sure she wasn’t having trouble breathing.  We don’t have a trailer, so she had to ride in the van.  She climbed up in the back seat and rode, looking out the window.  No pooping or peeing until she got out of the van at home, and she had gone through x-rays and blood drawing and everything. Still don’t know what’s going for sure, but she is a sweetheart.

Carmelita is the oldest, but it’s as if she just wants to fade into the woodwork.  She hums a little questioning hum when we’re around, I think it’s a bit of a nervous reaction, and she’s shy.  When the others were eating grain out of my hand, she was looking for the dropped pieces on the ground.  She is the one who didn’t want to go into the barn on the first evening.  She kushes (or cushes) (sits down) when she is frustrated or doesn’t want to be led, and that’s what she did.  There was no getting her up.  We had to leave her in the yard until dark, and then she stood up and Sarita was able to bribe her into the barn with a bowl of pellets.  That was the only time though — she follows everyone else in and out of the barn like it’s second nature now.  She is a dark, rich brown, slightly lighter underneath, and quite small for her age.  She stands a little knock-kneed, and has a hairdo that covers her eyes.

Canela is cinnamon-colored with a black nose and dark ears and a relatively short nose, very beautiful. She is a really interesting alpaca.  We never got to know her when visiting the big herd, because she was always by her mother, or always moving away from us.  But she has turned out to be the most independent female, wanders away when they are all gathered together, doesn’t let Bandit intimidate her, seems to take care of herself very well without always needing to be part of the group.

They have adjusted very well to their new home, and will wander from one yard to the next, happily eating hay or eating the elm leaves on the branches that we throw in their lot, given by our neighbor when a dust devil took them down from his tree.  I like to work in the kitchen of the studio house and look out, following their progress around the yard, or watch them all kushing near the chairs we have out there.  When it’s time to go in the barn for the evening, they follow me in, with Sarita bringing up the rear, hoping for some treats when they get into the corral.  They figured out where the gate in the fence was, and how to go down the lane to the barn.  They watch the barn kittens play, and Bandit looks like he’s daring them to come in the corral, which they do as sneakily as they can, and then dash back out.  Today, however, kitten Raya came in and settled herself next to the water bowl, even with Bandit looking and walking over.  He leaned down and almost touched noses with her, which was remarkable.  I guess they’re getting used to each other.  It’s a cozy barn, and they seem content in it, and we feel confident that coyotes, and other animals that might pass through town as they come down from the mountain or up from the arroyo, won’t be able to get to them.

We can sit out in the yard with them, and they will come near and watch us, and then they all lie down near us in their graceful manner, and just look relaxed.   It’s very peaceful.   Sarita is so happy that her life is exactly the way she pictured it in her dreams, except that she hasn’t enough hours in the day to do all she wants.  I’m glad that she is happy, and that I can do whatever works for me to help take care of them.

7:00 in the morning is not necessarily my favorite time of day, but I have to say the light out in the barnyard at that time is extraordinary, the mountains are illuminated in morning sun, the air is cool and everything is quiet.  It is a wonderful time to be out with the alpacas.  And then when the chores are finished,  I can go back to bed if I want.

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Gifts

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The month of July is my favorite month.  My birthday is in July, it has always been the month that was totally free from school work, and I love the summer.  This year was no exception.  It was, and continues to be, a time of wonderful gifts.

One of the best gifts was having my children and grandchild visit.  They have finally seen where I live, and now they have a better understanding of why I love this “quirky little mountain town” as my daughter called it.  She sees the peace here, she sees my happiness, she sees the lovely people we are friends with.  My other daughter suffered from allergies, so was not outdoors as much, but she too could enjoy the beauty and peace that we have.  She also loves our dogs (the border collie in particular, as she imprinted on Winona when she was a puppy), as well as the wonderful studio/house they were able to stay in while they were here, providing some privacy, plenty of space, and kitchen facilities for convenience.  That the visit went well, even with not too many activities, meant a lot to me.  They were here for my birthday, we went to breakfast and saw “Happy Birthday Susan” on the board at the restaurant, and my request for my favorite cinnamon rolls had been honored.    My grandson Zeke convinced us to go and visit the graveyard, which turned out to be a wonderful place, very quiet, beautiful view, interesting items left around the graves, interesting names.  He also talked us into stopping at the rock shop, which turned out to be an amazing collection of unique things.  He picked out a beautiful crystal right away, my daughter got a ring, and I drooled over the smithsonite.  Zeke built a cactus garden with Sarita, met and was extremely polite to our friends, went to the library for books on Egypt, and got a cowboy shirt and hat in the nearby town.  Everyone decided that it was a good visit, and they said that they wanted to come back.  My heart is happy.  I was exhausted by the end of the visit, but wouldn’t have traded it for the world.

The other meaningful visit was with old friends from Pennsylvania, who drove extra miles to be with us for part of a day and a night on their way to Colorado.  We were able to feel comfortable with each other immediately and had no trouble talking constantly until tiredness overtook us, even though it had been many years since we’d seen each other.  I feel so lucky to know these wonderful people, and that they really appreciated this new life style I have.

The music I play with friends and with Sarita is another gift.  We had a lot of performances at the end of June and early July, so by the time we played for Old Timer’s Reunion, I was getting tired.  But we played with microphones and a sound system guy who was terrific, we had a good, supportive audience (friends, family, and a few other musicians), and it was a great experience.  We have taken a performance break until later in August, but we have been practicing, working on new songs, and having a lot of fun.  Laughter and singing are great healers.  I have never had so much joy doing music with others, and I will always remember this.  As part of the gifts of music, my old friend who really inspired me to play fiddle and mandolin 44 years ago  (my sister’s ex boyfriend) sent me a mandolin just before my birthday.  I had made some comments to him on Facebook about possibly wanting a new one, he listened, and sent me one of his.  Wow, I couldn’t (and still can’t) believe it.  It plays differently from my other one, and is wonderful.  That is truly a long time friend.

I got beautiful gifts for my birthday — a ticket to visit my parents in Michigan from Mom and Dad, a necklace and earring set from good friends who purchased them at Old Timer’s, 2 beautiful ceramic bowls from the Ann Arbor Art Fair from my youngest, a beautiful and incredible kimono style sweater made by a local friend, and a coloring book, where every page is a work of art, along with my favorite prismacolor pencils from my oldest daughter.  Another friend is knitting me a lace shawl made from soft, lovely turquoise alpaca yarn that I had purchased.  I realized that the yarn is too small for my eyes, and I can’t knit with it, and she said she’d make the shawl I wanted and give it to me.  Once again, Wow!  There are a lot of loving people in my life.

Speaking of which, I have gotten spontaneous hugs from one of our utility people, from one of our barn builders, from a fellow doll collector I just met, from the people who are selling us the alpacas, and in the form of a lovely card from my close neighbor.  Each of those make me feel very lucky to live here.

The next big gift to come is our alpacas.  We plan on getting them  in a week.  We’ve gotten their hay, all the supplies we need, now just have to finish a bit of fencing and setting things up.  Oh yes, and we’re getting two kittens to keep them company (and take care of mice) in the barn.   Sarita has decided these peaceful animals are part of my treatment plan,  along with my dogs,  who already give me amazing love and companionship.   With my beautiful, hardworking, loyal and wise wife, I couldn’t ask for better company.   So whatever happens in September (pet scan, bone biopsy, starting on chemo), I have a very lovely life here at home to keep me centered. And gifts that seem to keep coming.

Second Chances

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I think one of the most amazing things about life, is that you always get second, third, fourth and more chances to do things differently, and even better.  The only time that is not true, is if a person decides to take his/her own life, then there is no other chance– in this life anyway– and I think that is very sad, but who am I to judge another’s path?

For me, I appreciate the “second chance” in many aspects of my life.  I appreciate the chance to be a better dog owner, to be a better friend, lover and partner, to be a better mom and daughter.  I am glad for the opportunity to learn how to knit and sew more proficiently, to try different kinds of music with my group, to read books that absolutely blow me away because they are so good and I never want to finish them, to live in a place that is my soul’s delight every minute of the day, to have and accomplish dreams that I never would have imagined, such as having a house devoted to being a studio, and having alpacas.

I appreciate the second chance to find parts of myself that may have hinted they were there during my first 60 years, but are allowed to fully blossom because I can explore them with ease and time now that I am not working.  It is shocking to look back and realize how much energy I had to put into daily life and work, even work that I loved, so that there was very little leftover to enjoy stillness, my own projects, and giving back to my community.   I never expected to have the chance to be retired at this age, but life (and cancer) gave it to me.  Tom Brokaw says that he had a lucky life that was interrupted by cancer.  For me, I had a life with ups and downs where I was often depressed or unhappy, that took a turn with cancer.  Yes, in a way it was interrupted, causing me to have to quit work, quit some of the physical activity I had done, put things on hold while I went through treatment, but it became part of the flow of my life, not just a singular interruption.  My life has changed, my priorities, my relationships, my activities, and that is all part of my path.  I accept cancer as one of the ups and downs I’ve always had.  And the happiness that resulted from being with Sarita, and the deepening of our relationship due to cancer, is also in that flow.

I’ve had some rough experiences lately, that have reminded me of other ones earlier in my life.  In those days, they were devastating in their effects, yet the latest ones, which do come with some grieving, do not devastate me.   For example, we played music recently for a cafe, and for the friends who owned it.  It was basically for free, for the love of the music and the friends, and we practiced and practiced to be able to do our best for them.  Well, through some misunderstandings, and unclear communications, the friend/owner got quite mad at us for playing too loud and keeping people from sitting at a nearby table, and after berating us, had us move to a nearby room to play the rest of our set.  Moving to the room was okay, but her way of communicating that to us, was not.  We have since made the decision not to go there anymore.  It is somewhat sad, but we realized that probably we weren’t as good “friends” as we thought we were, and that neither of us would miss each other.  Time is too short to be around people that are not kind, and since it doesn’t look as though she will be apologizing, we will turn another direction for our future.  That’s okay, it’s like that in life, constantly making decisions about where to spend time and energy, turning in one direction or another.  We will not be putting this place or person down to others, but she will go on her path, and ours will probably not cross it.  Second chances mean that we can constantly choose where we go, and with whom we spend time, without it becoming a catastrophe.

Another thing that can change with second chances, is our perceptions.  Sarita and I have been recently talking about that mysterious “veil” between this world and the next.  I went to the Orkney Islands and studied death and that veil with a spiritual group several years ago, and  I do believe there are places where the veil is thin enough to allow something, maybe communication, maybe spirits passing back and forth.  The stonehenge- type places and the cairns, they are definitely filled with power.  But is it a physical thing, or is it because of the perceptions of the people that live there?  Or is it physical because of the perceptions?  In our wonderings of these things, we are deciding that we would love to have our little compound here, be one of those places, if possible.  We are thinking about death in a practical way, and we would like to feel as if we could talk to each other, see signs of each other, communicate in some way, after one of us dies.  If we do rituals on solstices or whenever is important both astronomically to the earth and to us in particular, if we meditate regularly together, if we believe that we were called to this magical place, if we create a peaceful and calm and loving environment through our way of living, our love of the land and animals, our actions toward others, and our celebrations, then can we have our place right here where the veil is thin and we can really be with each other both in this life and when one of us is gone?   Well, we are going to try.  I love that I have a chance to think about this with my partner, to develop our spirituality together, to revise and edit and grow into our beliefs.

I guess the best thing about second chances, is that nothing is stagnant.  Life is always changing and moving. Sometimes, I admit, that has been really hard to deal with.  Just when I think everything is going well, my friend moves away, or takes a different job. Or a friend gets sick and dies.  Or something happens with my money.  But whether the change is something that anyone can touch and see, or whether it is just my perception, whether I am moving in a different direction because of a painful learning experience, or because of the joy of anticipating something new,  I know that I can always make new decisions and that things can always get better.  I can truly forgive myself for all of my past decisions that weren’t so well thought out, or that didn’t work out to what seemed like an advantage for me or my loved ones.  I can feel as though I’m always trying my best to be kind and honest and loving and generous.  That’s how I’d like to be remembered, and if I fail today, I will try again tomorrow.

Embracing Dreams

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We have made it to New Mexico, we have done almost everything we wanted to do to prepare to live the creative life that we’ve imagined, and just as we are coming to the completion of all our big projects, we are out of money.  Not bad timing.

But oh, what we have done in a year, and that is because Sarita and I create a dream, and then we plunge into making it come true.  When we told a former principal at our school what our plan was, she said we should just take a leave of absence (not quit) from our Bay Area school, in case things didn’t work out as we hoped.  But that is not our way.  We follow the path, and if things don’t work out, we go a different direction.  But we don’t ever really go back.

The advantage of having a cancer that reappears, is that there is no time to waste.  So once we figure out what we want, we just go for it, and watch it become reality.  We now have a beautiful barn, a big lot that is empty and waiting to be internally fenced, a new house/studio filled with all kinds of fiber, material, yarn, mementos and favorite furniture, and the prospect of four baby alpacas coming in early June.  We’ve worked hard, we’ve hired wonderful workers who’ve worked hard, we’ve tried to be patient through the weather and the time frames of others, and we’ve done it!  I can hardly believe it.

It’s not as though we were waiting to live until it’s all done.  We’ve been living, and it’s been busy and sometimes a little crazy, and a lot of fun.  But soon we get to have a different kind of fun — with our new babies, and all the creations that we make in our new studio, and hopefully, with visits from our family and friends.  And of course, there are always more projects to add in any time, like building a chicken coop, etc.

Now I’m faced with my cancer creeping back, and all I want is to have a good amount of time in this new life we’ve worked so hard for.  It might be too much to ask for, and when fear begins to envelope me, I feel as though I should just quit everything, and succumb to it, because it’s so hard to fight.  Then I tell myself, I am not dead, and even if I never get to wear the things I’m sewing or knitting, even if I never paint another wood mandala, even if I never write another song, I am enjoying the process of sewing and knitting, the process of playing folk and country music with my friends, performing informally for various places in the area, and coloring in my mandala coloring books, one of my most peaceful activities.   I still feel healthy (or at least, healthier than I’ve felt for the last five years), and I don’t want to rush back into the regimen of drugs and chemo.  A multiple myeloma webinar I heard last night, said that once I have to go back to drugs, I will never be off them until the disease is over. And I know that means until I am dead.  So now I have about 2 1/2 more months without chemo (maybe more if I’m lucky) and I need to take complete advantage of that time.

Hanging the clothes out to dry, picking up glass from the alpaca lot (which has endless broken glass, nails, etc. from its former life as a vacant lot), baking honey buttermilk bread,  snuggling with the dogs, knitting while watching “Outlander”, learning a song with my group that I used to sing to my daughter when I brought her home from the hospital — these are the things that bring me joy on a daily/weekly basis.  I’ve also made the decision that I don’t want to travel at all, outside of a trip to my parents’ house in Michigan.  Traveling is too stressful, and I basically don’t want to be anyplace else.  Even traveling and exploring this area might not happen.   I don’t regret any of my travels, but I mostly did them because I thought I should, and because other people wanted me to.  Sarita and I are stay-at-homes, and I’ve decided to just embrace that completely.  Feels good. Actually, feels like a relief.

When I thought I was dying before, I had this urge to give stuff away.  I did give away a lot, some I regretted later, but only a little.  I am having that urge now, but I am going to resist, because I’ve just “decorated” both homes so carefully, I want to enjoy everything until the very last moment. Putting the pictures up was the last decorating act, and they are incredibly satisfying.  The art work of my family members and friends, the pictures of my kids, grandchild, and niece and nephew, the picture of Sarita and a brother, and me and my sister, framed together in a sweet gold frame — I love looking at these every day.

So mostly, it’s about enjoying every single hour (not about what I accomplish), and it’s about staving off fear, because I know that is detrimental to my health.  And it’s about lots and lots of talking with Sarita.  We can spend a few days and nights talking about the things we fear, and the decisions we need to make when one of us dies, and how to live on the small amount of money we make, and then when those days are over, we both have a sense of calm and peace, at least until the next issue comes along.  But I have no doubt we can work out anything.  We have only been together 8 years, but several of those have been quite challenging ones. Luckily, we both have a belief about being together in a next life, so it doesn’t really matter how many years we are able to have in this one.  We found each other, and that’s what counts.  Whenever death takes me, I can say I have known what happiness is, risk, intensity, pain,  and love.  I have lived.

Blog Effect

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Sarita is writing a wonderful graphic novel about the first year I had multiple myeloma — bone marrow cancer.  She is putting it on a blog as she colors it — about one page per week.  www.donkeyinalbany.com  Amazing how much work it takes to color and get the shadows just right.  But it is magnificent. She says it’s a story about herself as the caregiver that year, I say it is a story about me as the cancer patient.  She really wants to get it out to other cancer patients and caregivers, and so she’s decided to put it on the internet for free, but also with the hope that eventually it will be picked up for publishing.  The exciting thing, is that the International Myeloma Foundation has decided to include it in its online weekly newsletter, as well as its printed quarterly newsletter.  We are both thrilled that it will get out into the community.

The book is about the scary beginnings of my disease, and the difficulty in diagnosing it, and the effects on my body and our lives.  I had to quit teaching, I could barely sit up, the numbness from my tumor was creeping up to my chest, and I was taking tons of ibuprofen because that’s what my doctor told me to take for the “stress” that was making my ribs hurt.  (Of course the ibuprofen had other effects that made me miserable.)  Then it goes on to my diagnosis, my chemo and radiation, my vertebroplasties (back operations where they pound “cement” in between the vertebrae to keep them from collapsing), and eventually my stem cell transplant.  I was so afraid during all of that, but reaching out to people in the myeloma support group in the Bay Area helped, because I saw that they were regular people like me who had survived many of the same things.  Well, I guessed I could too, although the prospects felt horrifying.  At least I had Sarita, and that really made all the difference to me in deciding to go for it.  She was always supportive, always there, always encouraging me to keep going.  And even when it didn’t look so good, she was there to talk to me about death, read books, do meditations, and think about the afterlife.  That was just as important to me.  It is unimaginable to be unable to talk about death with my partner.

Now as I read each page again that she is working on, I have a flurry of feelings.  Sometimes I can’t remember, because I was in so much pain, or was so drugged up, or it is just too much for my emotional self to recall.  Sometimes I remember vividly, and I shudder, because it feels like I’m living it again.  Sometimes I just appreciate the beauty of her work, her perfect depictions of us all, the beautiful colors, the body lines that show just what we were thinking and feeling.  And sometimes I feel just plain scared again.  But not as scared as I was when I was living it the first time.

Because my myeloma is starting to creep back.  It’s coming back slowly, very slowly, and it’s not time to make any decisions yet, because it hasn’t affected my kidneys, and I’m still feeling good, but the time will be coming when I have to make some decisions.  In four months I may have to have another bone biopsy.  At some point after that I may have to decide on chemo again, or, as my doctor would prefer, another transplant.  Yikes.  I’d told Sarita I would do all that once more, in order to hopefully get a few more years, and I absolutely know that I can do it, based on my previous experience, but it sure isn’t something to look forward to.  It means I will be sick for a year or two, have to get all my immunizations again, eat yucky food, if I can eat much at all, and not touch plants for a long time.  Just when we are getting ready to plant a garden and trees, and I am trying to grow flowers.  Well, I can handle it, I definitely can.  And I’m in my true home, in a state that I love, in a community where I feel comfortable.  And it hasn’t happened yet.

The truth is, there is a lot of research on myeloma, one of the rarer cancers.  There are a lot of chemos out there, a lot of clinical trials, a lot of choices.  Unfortunately, the people I know with this have not fared so well, but I have to remind myself that every year there is more known and more possibilities for tackling this cancer.  Because it’s in the bone marrow, and most patients have auto transplants (which means we give ourselves our own stem cells, which are as free of myeloma as absolutely possible but never completely free), it means that the myeloma never really leaves us.  There is no complete remission.  I am constantly reminded by all doctors, that it will eventually come back.  It’s a matter of keeping it at bay as long as possible.

So all of this is to say, I love Sarita’s book, and I love all of that being in the past (so that I thought about it as little as possible for the last two years), and I’m just starting to mentally prepare for it to happen in the future, but meanwhile, I’m living like a banshee.  Doing exactly what I want, working really hard not to feel guilty about anything, and being grateful every single minute.  It’s a very good way to live, I wish I could have done it in my earlier years.  I am happy every day, and looking forward to every activity, even if the activity is coloring in my coloring book while watching netflix.  Whatever happens, I am a lucky woman.

 

The Color of Winter

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When it turned into late January and February, I started remembering the flowers that would be blooming at my old house in California.  First the crocuses and hydrangea and the plum tree in back, then the magnolia tree,  tulips, irises, and finally, my absolute favorite, the lilac.   I found a special lilac to plant, one that didn’t need really cold winters in order to bloom, and it paid off — it was such a beautiful bush every February, that people walking on the street wanted to take pictures and smell it.  It is one of my favorite scents, even if it is old fashioned, it appeals to my love of vintage everything.  I worked hard the first few years I lived there to have lots of color in my yard as well as in my house, and I appreciated every new bud that I saw on my way to work, as well as inspected the yard when I got home for the latest flower to show its face.

It is very brown here on the ground in New Mexico during January and February, unless there is snow, and then it’s white.  It turns out that I don’t mind the cold here at all, in fact I am usually warmer than I was in California, even though the temperature is lower, I guess because of the dryness.  I also don’t mind the snow, and find it absolutely beautiful, whether it’s drifting or blowing.  And we do have amazing skies to constantly watch (now that I can actually see the sky, which was often hidden by trees and buildings in the Bay Area), and the skies are often pink, orange, gold and gray-blue.  But I do miss my daily dose of flower color that helped me get through the hard months of Jan. and Feb.

I realized, as I sat doing my knitting in the new studio, watching the sky out the windows and feeling the peace of the space around me, that I have found my color elsewhere, although I hadn’t yet verbalized that to myself.  I am now knitting a pullover, using variegated yarn that is called “popsicle.”  It is very bright, orange, pink, lavender, yellow, and there is no doubt that I will be quite visible when I finish it and wear it.  It makes me really happy to work on it, and I think its gorgeous colors are the reason.  The other thing I’ve been doing is sewing a lot.  I’ve been ordering some really fun material, and 90% of it is colorful — warm oranges with East Indian prints, bright greens, several pieces of aboriginal prints that include all kinds of color and design, pink flannel, mauve with gold spots, Japanese indigo material with little dragonflies on it, and on and on.  I actually sort through the material several times before deciding which one feels right to work with and then I find just the right pattern for it.  I get immense pleasure from looking at all that I have.  Colors, designs,  and patterns are soul satisfying to me, and today I have realized that even though this is probably always true, it is especially true in winter, when I’m missing color in the outside environment, and when I’m prone to feeling gray inside, if the day is gray outside.  I like that I can figure out solutions to problems before even worrying about them much, it makes me trust myself and my ability to take care of myself.

I look forward to putting up pictures in the new studio, as I’ve just realized that is another way to find color when I’m inside.  Although that’s usually the first thing I do when I move, it’s taken a while this year, and they are still packed in the garage for a few weeks more.   Their brightness is in my mind’s eye, but it will be better next winter when they are surrounding me everywhere in the house and studio.

As for the outside here in New Mexico, we have planted bushes and bulbs and trees that are supposed to have color on them at some point, but I don’t really know this climate yet, and if and when they will actually bloom.  I know that there will be amazing wildflowers in the desert in the spring (if we have rain), and I know that I am ready with all kinds of seeds to throw in my new yards around the studio when it is time.  I’ve heard that mid May is the time to plant outside, before that is still prone to frost.  But now I feel like I can wait more patiently, understanding this strong desire for color and how to get it at all times of year.

I  heard that a woman who lived here and recently died, always had bright, plastic flowers in her car.  They got “planted” by a good friend in a little plot of dirt on Main St. as a memorial to her, and look almost shockingly colorful in the gray of winter.  I think she and I may have had something in common.  Someone else who figured out just what she needed.

Thoughts on the Men in My Life

As a teenager, I thought I could only successfully have friends that were boys, because girls were always competing, in particular, for the same guys.  Girls couldn’t truly be trusted, nor did they seem to trust me.    I did have some experience with this problem — my best friend was constantly flirting with my boyfriends.  And then my other girlfriends got mad at me for having a boyfriend with whom I spent much of my time, and so they deserted me.  It was frustrating.

I got married to my boyfriend when I was 18, and at that time most of our friends were his friends, which is to say I didn’t really have any friends of my own.  That was kind of lonely, and I felt like I disappeared.  I was also going through a pretty bad depression at that time, due to: learning some disturbing information about a man in my family;  moving out of state for my husband to go to grad school;  and the frustrations of trying to get a job in my field.  I actually had a job in the new state before we moved, but when I went in to talk to the man who hired me, he decided I was stupid because I couldn’t figure out the schedule of activities he was describing (while seated, but not inviting me to sit, and not having anything written down), so he dismantled the school in which I was planning to work. There must have been other things going on that I didn’t know about, but talk about being intimidating — he was the king. And I was too new to the field (and the state) to feel brave enough to stand up to him.  Other men at the time included my husband’s advisor,a little guy, but not very nice to women, unless he was having an affair with them, which was rumored to be the case frequently.  I stayed away from him as much as possible.   There was also the man who wanted to be my advisor in grad school.  He thought so much of himself he could hardly stop talking, and he made it clear that everything we did as grad students was to help him become more well known.  I eventually dropped him and got one of the wonderful women in the department to be my new advisor.

Many of the men I’d known acted like they knew whatever there was to know about everything in the world.   I would often feel intimidated by this, because as The Confidence Code, a book I read recently said: Women don’t act like they know something unless they’re 100% sure, whereas men bluff their way through, figuring they’ll be sure eventually.    I got tired of the whole dynamic however,  and just checked out from men to a large degree.  It wasn’t that hard.  I got divorced,  and eventually got a female partner.  I worked in an elementary school where most of the teachers were women (as was our principal).  I found women friends. My partner and I both have daughters. I had less to do with family members.   I’m not saying that every man in my life at that time fit the profile of:  acting like a know-it-all teacher to us poor ignorant women,  behaving self righteously, and being power hungry, but many sure did.   (And I’m certainly not saying that I haven’t known women who are that way!)  And yes,  I had known a few good men, a husband of a friend, a boyfriend of my sister’s, they seemed to consider women equals, they listened as well as talked, they weren’t threatened by smart and confident or even emotional women.  But these men were few and far between.   So I pretty much left men alone, and had as little to do with them as possible.

Since Sarita and I have moved to the Southwest,  things have once again shifted.  I expected to run into a lot of “macho cowboy” type men, who put women in their “place”.  I’ve been surprised.  I now not only have the men in my daughters’ lives, including my grandson, but a whole new group of men  — neighbors, the guys I play music with, guys involved with fixing up our houses, fences, and getting us our animals, the guy who works at the local cafe,  even guys who deal with our utilities.  For the most part, these guys have been kind, helpful, friendly, and  humble.    They have not seemed to have any issues with Sarita and I being women partners.  I do not feel intimidated by them, but in fact, have been more myself than ever before.  I can be excited, tired, emotional, kind of crazy, anxious, ignorant, confident, wise — whatever I am feeling, I find I can express.  Now this might partly be because I am not working, so I am not overly stressed, I have some space from the dramas of my family, and most of the time I do exactly what I want.  I seem well suited to this area, and I have dreams that are coming true, so I am definitely in a good “place, in all definitions of that term.   But I am truly impressed by the men in my life at present, and it feels so much more balanced than anything I’ve experienced since childhood.

The other half of this is that I’ve gotten to know some vulnerable aspects of my men friends, and we can discuss things like death, our spiritual lives, conflicts, pain, and how personal priorities have changed with time.  In other words, things that are important to us people who are in the last third or fourth of our lives.  Yet the kind men Sarita and I deal with now are all ages, from pretty young (twenties) to pretty old (eighties).  We have had a lot to learn since moving here, both about how to live here, and about what we want our places to be in this community.  We have had women and men help us consistently, with kindness and respect.  Sarita is learning more do-it-yourself things that will help us here.  I am less inclined (or physically able) to cut wood, get hay, and spread manure, but more into the community service, keeping track of resources, and taking care of other parts of the homemaking.  We are respected for both.  No one tries to take over any of the things we need done, but are willing to show us and connect us to the right people so that we can eventually do them ourselves.

I am already impressed with the general kindness of the community, and this respectful behavior takes it over the top.  Hard to know how much is due to the area, the pace of life here,  the smallness of the community, mine and Sarita’s ages, but there is a difference from the Bay Area and other places (and people) I’ve experienced.  It’s a huge relief to live in a place where we feel cared for, and can care for others.  And that includes both women and men.  To make a complete generalization, it seems as though men don’t need to prove themselves as much, women are not competitive, and I’ve finally gained some confidence about who I am and what I need (and what I’ll tolerate from others).  Relief.