Category Archives: empty nest

Like a Stone

poolWhen my youngest brother was a toddler, he managed to fall into a swimming pool, diapers and all, and sink straight to the bottom where he sat (he claims today) eyes open wide, gazing around while he waited for our oldest brother to jump in and pull him out. (Which he did.)

Possibly, knowing Paul, while he was waiting he continued calmly pondering on with whatever deep philosophical problem he’d been preoccupied with when he tumbled in.

Leaving aside for now the question of why the grown-ups–our parents and the friend who owned the pool–didn’t notice, it’s the image of Paul at the bottom of the pool I want to talk about.

Because that’s me and always has been. Sitting at the bottom of the pool, in over my head, at times waiting not-so-patiently to be pulled out because I don’t have the life skills to rescue myself.

(The grownups–yes, those two–were too preoccupied with their own insanities to have taught those.)

Yet time after time, I did figure out a way to get myself afloat again. No matter which deep pool clueless-me got tossed into. And I was usually fairly clueless, indeed.  I learned I was leaving Tennessee at fifteen to go north to Exeter, for instance, when I came home from swimming (seems to be a theme here) and found an admissions rep in our living room. I sat on the piano bench, still in my wet swimsuit, and answered his questions without a clue what it was I was getting into. It’s a boarding school, I told my friends, like where girls go to learn to ride and dance. Which is what I’d gleaned from reading various British girls’ books.


But I figured out how to survive there, even to thrive.

A scenario repeated again and again.


So why so hard this time around to figure out how to navigate the deep waters of empty nest (to wildly mix metaphors) and ended (homeschooling) career?

Maybe because we’re less resilient with age? Maybe something to do with the peculiar situation of living in such isolation in our remote mountain cove? Or maybe I just haven’t been trying hard enough?

It doesn’t actually matter why. The point is I’ve got to figure out how better to push off the bottom.

Because big brothers aren’t usually around to pull us out.






Made to Measure


Some people are good with rulers. I’m not one of them. My best relationship with a ruler occurred decades ago when we lived in England for a year. Every new entry in every essay book we kept for every subject had to have a perfect line drawn separating it from the entry above, a little the way you use those long black thingies in a check-out line to separate your groceries from those of the person ahead of you. I was good at drawing those lines, once I learned how not to leave long smears of ink from the fountain pens we were required to use.

So the task of creating an arrangement of family photos on our living room wall continues to daunt. Aka frustrate. (Aka madden.)

pics on floor

Because I have to measure. (Not to mention use a level.) I know that in this, the continuation of my second freshman year, I’m supposedly reveling in learning new skills. But precision work like that makes me want to throw things.

You might ask, why, then, am I so interested in learning to quilt? A craft that requires precision at every infinitesimal step? Answer: I’m still in the delusional, what-pretty-fabric stage.

It hasn’t helped my photo project that some of the frames I’m using come from my grandparents’ house and are some sixty fragile years old. Nothing worse than finally getting to the hanging-picture-on-accurately-placed nail moment and having the frame fall apart. (Glass breaks when it hits a wood floor.)

My point (I do have one) is that I’m just not a precision person. The art of eye liner, for instance, continues to elude. One of my uncles (now deceased) a physics teacher at Exeter was probably a precision person. One, at least, of my sons has inherited the gene. And while it’s true we can learn new skills, and especially as we age probably should to stimulate our brains, we can’t become what we’re not. Which I’m always wanting to do. Become the person who’s the life of the party instead of the empress of all introverts. Become the person whose phone vibrates every few minutes because so many friends are texting in (see above). Become, for the moment, anyway, the person to whom marketing oneself comes so naturally that it won’t take longer to write the query letter to prospective literary agents than it did to write the 60,000 word novel.

But–I’m stuck with me. Like it or not. And maybe that’s one of the most basic skills I need to be learning: how to live with what I’ve got.


Surviving January

The view from my desk:
my desk

Hang on: is that a Starbucks sign up there?

Well, yes.  Confession time.

It’s January, and that doesn’t just mean dicey weather and post-Christmas doldrums. It’s the month this cup,starbucks cup

bought last month as a gift to, well, myself, gets me free coffee every single day. OK, not ‘free’ exactly, since I did pay for it up front. But the frequency of my visits mean I’ve more than made up for the original investment. Especially when you consider that at this, “my” Starbucks, refills are plentiful and courteously given.

Now, I can’t say enough about the friendliness of this particular store, so I’m going to save that for another post. Instead, back to that word, “investment.” Because this cup is one.

How so?

I’m really quoting my husband and a couple of friends on this, but–having this cup is one of my best tools for warding off winter weariness. A malady all-too-familiar for those  of us who work at home and/or deal with chronic illness and/or depression.

Because I bought it in the first place, my thrifty self wants to make having it worthwhile. Therefore, excuse, even encouragement to go to Starbucks! Which just happens to be close to the pool where I swim. So, encouragement to do those laps! (So I can reward myself with going to Starbucks.) Even when the temps are in the teens, as they were this week. Even when the pool heater is broken, as it’s been for the last couple of weeks. And–even when the outside doors to the pool are propped open because of other equipment issues, as they were yesterday when it was sleeting, snowing, and generally being less than optimal conditions for an ”outside” swim.

And regular exercise, you already know, is a key part of any battle against depression.

Finally, there’s the reality that being a regular at pool and coffee shop means I’ve built up community of sorts. Which means I get the added benefit of socializing: a real gift when you work alone at home and live in a remote mountain cove where the nearest neighbors are–trees and more trees.

Let me quickly add that I’m not here surfing the Net. I’m working–(writing, that is, and whether this is “real work” or not is a subject I could waffle on for days. And do)–. And something about having just enough background noise makes me concentrate in a way I sometimes can’t at home, where I fight the compulsion to tend to any number of more-tangible, “more necessary” tasks than writing seems to be.

Anyway, that’s my confession, and I’m sticking to it. At least until next week, when January ends. When I’m going to have to come up with a new excuse for frequenting my satellite office.

How do you get through January?


In Spite Of

Why now?

I’ve been wanting to start up my blog again. But had to waffle for awhile about whether its title–“my second freshman year”–still applied a year later.

I decided it did: who’s to say when I’ve ”gathered enough credits,” so to speak?

Just when I’d resolved that, Paris happened. And I felt the need for silence. First, out of a kind of respect. Then out of a sense of overwhelm. How on earth to respond to that?

Which eventually translated into ‘what is the point of posting a tiny blog about small doings when there’s so much big stuff happening out there?’eifel tower

Then I read a Facebook post by a friend from my decades-ago FIRST freshman/sophomore years at Harvard. A summary doesn’t do it justice, so here it is:

“I spent a lot of my birthday yesterday reflecting upon the violence in Paris the prior evening – its impact on lives, and the implications for our future. Like so many others, I searched for reasons to believe that we will reverse the current trajectory toward more of the same. (I’m still working on that.) But I was lucky yesterday. In the face of this horrific reminder that our lives can be taken at any moment and anywhere, I received birthday wishes all day long from friends who reminded me of my belief that love is what we are here for and just how rich I am in it. Thank you my Friends, who live with me in the One Percent of the love distribution, for all the love you have thrown in my direction. We have got to figure out more ways to spread it.”

That post reminded me that it is the small things of our lives that make up life. Which most matter: cooking that Thanksgiving turkey, greeting a harried checker at Walmart, contacting a friend to wish him or her well on the birthday or any other day.

That’s one way we fight the fear and confusion and cycle of hatred that terrorism creates.

To quote someone I WISH I’d known during my first freshman year, Mother Teresa, “None of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”


Supersizing Us

Facing a longish drive home after a day in Alabama heat helping our son and daughter-in-law move into their new house, where does the imagination naturally leap?

You got it right first guess: the nearest frozen-something store.

yog coneSuper-friendly clerks welcomed us with smiles into their spotless frozen yogurt shop and explained the procedure to us novices: choose a cup size, chose a flavor or two or three, then roam the range of toppings, everything from crumbled oreos and all else chocolate

fro yo 2 to fresh raspberries and every other berry,

with brownies waiting at the end of the line. The super-helpful clerk then offered the fact that the average filled small cup weighed in at around eight dollars.


I pulled my jaw back up. All this was a long way from my usual Piggly-Wiggly low-fat vanilla, $2.49 or so a box, and who cares if it’s a little freezer-burnt by the time I finish it off?

We browsed the nearly two dozen flavors, sampling as many as allowed.fro yo 1

I can personally recommend the blackberry cheesecake with a side of creme brulee. (Strawberry cream cake–too sweet and with an after-taste; southern pecan–awesome, but not refreshing enough after the day we’d had.) James settled on green apple sorbet (I prefer my apples straight up), blackberry, and something dense and chocolatey.

green yog

Time to find the small cups and get started filling, but–we couldn’t find them. After a prolonged hunt, we decided that the tub-sized dishes in front of the swimming-pool-sized dishes must, by default, be the “small.”

Which is when I was ready to flee to McD’s, where a cup of plain vanilla something costs about a dollar and is just the right size (legitimately small) to refresh without spiking glucose levels sky- high.

Standing in front of the array of soft-swirl machines in my usual dither, I did the math. At forty-nine cents an ounce, an eight dollar “average person’s” small size is something like sixteen ounces of fro-yo and toppings.

That’s a heck of a lot of frozen yogurt.

Especially when you consider that every ice cream box I’ve ever read states that an actual serving is a half cup. That’s four ounces, if you’ve forgotten your second grade math text with its cute line drawings of cups, pints and quarts.

The shop’s “small” cups, by my calculation, would contain eight half cups. Eight times an actual serving? And even if, like most people, your home serving from a box is more like a cup than half that, that’s still four times what’s listed.FullSizeRender (3)

Then consider that most of us can’t resist 1) swirling their soft-serve above the cup or cone,

yog swirl


not to mention 2) piling on the add-ons till they’re visible, i.e. again above the line.yog with toppings 2

How many servings would that make? I shudder to imagine.

I guess it’s no news that we prefer instant delight to health, but it’s still startling to see the process made not just so easy, but almost inevitable.

Not to keep you in suspense: James and I startled the clerk by weighing in our cups at more than considerably below the average. Kind of super-below.

I have to admit, it tasted heavenly. I’ll certainly go back someday, though only if I’m feeling willpowerful– and have the image of that pitiful half-cup firmly in mind.




IMG_5942This is the one. Eight pounds, eight years old, almost toothless, and currently recovering from her former life in a Missouri puppy mill in a loving foster home down in Panama City. While she waits to move to her ‘forever’ home.

With me.

Her name, now, is Miss Kay, though I’ve got another one in mind. We have a lot in common. We’re both 56, we’ve both gotten through some tough times, and we’re both missing teeth–she’s lost all but two, and I’ve got all but two.

Losing teeth is apparently common in dogs who survive puppy mills. Miss Kay was bred so continually (she’s small and pretty and pure dachshund) that her body never had time to recover, and as all mothers know, those babies leech calcium.

You have to wonder how humans could look at eyes like hers and see her only as a thing to make them money,  then cast aside.


Which makes me wonder what else we ignore, in our stampede for our own pleasure and profit.

Hats off to the All American Dachshund Rescue for giving Miss Kay a chance at life, along with the others they find and foster, at great expense and with a lot of effort. Knowing how hard they work–Miss Kay’s foster parents volunteered to drive her (and their own 3 dachshunds) five hours north so she could settle in to life at our house before Christmas–I’ve gotten over how arduous the adoption process was. Pretty much like becoming a foster parent for a child minus the mandatory classes: a lot of paperwork, a house visit to inspect both premises AND parents, a contract, and some money. Well, I guess you don’t pay to foster children. Though in some cases, maybe you should have to: it might weed out those occasional less-desirable homes. But that’s another blog.

Here she is with her current foster family. Standing a little apart: do you know the feeling?

IMG_5899She may find life a little quieter here….

Meanwhile, wish me luck as I welcome her home this weekend.


Sunday Dinner

photo (5)Thanks to yesterday’s bounty, we can have pie today. An unusual treat for this household, since I gave up serious cooking and baking when the kids got old enough to do it for themselves.  (Maybe something I’ll re-discover this year? We’ll see.)

But today’s real feast was the unexpected gift of uplifting words from a couple of friends who hurried over after Mass to ask about an ongoing health issue. Add in a warm welcome into a Sunday class from our deacon and his assistant, and, well, my emotional menu has soared into the five-star-restaurant range.

We forget how vital it is, those words of support. They may seem like insignificant crumbs to you, the giver, but they can be life-giving nourishment to the recipient.

Thank you, friends. Today, I have that most fragile and elusive of treasures, hope.

A reminder from Emily:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –


Has someone served you some hope lately? Or have you offered some to someone else?