Tag Archives: empty nest

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?


My Heart Bleeds Bright Orange

I wish I followed football. I really do. Then  New Year’s Day would have some sparkle to it. As it is, I’m riding on the energy of my Vols-fanatic family to ease the slow drain of joy as the holidays ebb away.


Hurrah for Epiphany next week, which at least means I can keep the tree up and the candles lit a little while longer.

But the cookie platter is down to one last piece of pound cake and a few crumbles of gingerbread.

And no reason to bake more since the house is emptying out, the kids preparing to go back to their lives.


So thank goodness for those solid banks of bright orange t-shirts as Vols fans cheer on their team in the Outback Bowl.tn football

Never my favorite color, especially after growing up in Knoxville where it’s as prevalent as pink dogwood, today it brings a needed glow to this final day of the holidays when the temperature and my mood hover somewhere in the grey mid-30s.UTAs does the sight of the entire winning team swaying to the Pride of the Southland Band as it belts out the Tennessee Waltz.

45-6: I’d dance, too.

Perhaps that would warm life up?

What do you do to make this transition easier?


Where, Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone?


Since NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) ended (yes, I hit the 50,000 word target, though I’d hardly call it a novel) I’ve disappeared into an equally absorbing project: the search for a small female indoor companion dog. For me. The quest is so much more complicated than I ever imagined it could be that I’d give it up except that I have this strong sense that finding “the dog” is my next step forward in this new childless, or I should say child-free, life.golden and kneeBut do you know how hard it is to find the right dog?

The first one I ever adopted 30-odd years ago, all I had to do was take myself to the Chapel Hill pound and sit on the ground for several hours to play with the puppies until I knew exactly which one was meant for me: sweet, sad-eyed mixed-something Loretta (for Loretta Lynn: something about the hair color and the personality, but hey, I’m from Tennessee). My kids might not believe it, since once they arrived, they got the space in the car, but Loretta went everywhere I went, and when I suffered through late night papers (I was getting my masters at UNC at the time), she was right there listening to the racket of my manual typewriter. (I said this was a long time ago.)

But now, finding a dog seems to have become as complicated as the first time I sat down to a “word processor” instead of my sturdy, foolproof, no-brain manual.  First, you don’t necessarily just go to the pound anymore. Animal Rescue is the thing, so you go online instead and try to figure out by pictures and brief blurbs which is your ‘forever dog.’ And then it’s not as simple as swearing to spay/neuter, pay your fee, and hurry home to housebreak: you fill out applications which frankly rival my daughter’s college apps in complexity. Some with overtones which a college app would never dare to have, of, a tone of “we really don’t think you deserve to have our dog, but go ahead and try to prove yourself worthy, if you can. Then don’t call us, we’ll call you. Maybe.”

sad eyed pound dogI mean, I KNOW these organizations are only concerned for their dogs’ welfare. Obviously they’ve got to screen out potential animal abusers and those with brief enthusiasm spams who will shortly thereafter get tired of the responsibilities and dump their adoptee by the roadside. I KNOW they’ve seen so many horrors in their rescue work that they have to be very, very picky about who they trust their rescues to. I’m not trying to criticize the animal rescue work.

But please, we do take care of our animals. Aside from the usual, we gave Loretta daily insulin shots when she developed diabetes, then kept her safe when she went blind until her death from old age. More recently, there was a massive surgery bill when our sweet Great Pyrenees Theo had to lose an eye to glaucoma, and I won’t go into the details of vet care for our Nubian dairy goats back when we were keeping those.

I’m pretty sure I’ve found the dog meant for me, but the hurdles involved continue to be so daunting that I’m wondering if the rescue people let go of any of their charges. Please send encouraging thoughts.

Or, if you just happen to know of a small, sweet sad-eyed dog looking for her indoor companion, drop me a line.




After Apple Picking



photo (1)

After Apple-Picking


My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.


Empty nesters worry about what they’re going to talk about with their spouse now the kids are gone. No more conversational buzz around the dinner table: no sibling squabbles to settle, adolescent crises to resolve, schedules to sort through.

Suddenly, there’s space for a couple to talk. To one another. There’s even–trust me on this, younger parents; it will happen–silence!

Wherever they’ve gone off to, our grown children have potential majors to discuss; unfamiliar colleagues to dissect; engagements and new apartments and how they’re going to budget for rent and dog food on a starting salary.

We’ve been there, done that. We’ve got to look at one another across the empty dinner table and create news from lives which have been fairly routine for years.

Or not.

It’s hard to sink into boredom with James around.

photo (3)


This morning, we headed to a kindly neighbor’s and picked enough apples to see us through much of the fall.  For most couples, I’d say ”year”, but, well, we eat a lot of apples. (And, yes, if you’re on my Christmas list, it’s likely you’re going to receive a jar of homemade sauce.)

Thirty-two years married, and I’m still never quite sure what James will do next. Fifty-something, and he still clambers so high up trees that it’s hard to spot him among the leaves.

While I stay safely on the ground, sorting through windfalls.

That’s the difference between the two of us.


(It’s one of the ironies of life that I’m the one most prone to accidents. One of my Christmas gifts last year was a set of knives actually sharp enough to be of use. And a box of bandaids.)

I think, even with the kids grown and gone, there’s going to be plenty to talk about in the coming years.

If nothing else, this weekend, we’ve got to figure out where to store all the apples.

photo (4)          What are you and yours talking about these days?


The Freshman Challenge

“I’m too old.”

We’re not supposed to talk like that. AARP Magazine, with its relentlessly upbeat articles on what we can do at ages when most of our grandparents were snugly tucked up in their beds, would hiss.

Yes, I began ballet at 50. Yes, a couple of years later, I ran my first 5K. Yes, I swim my mile each weekday morning, manhandle a filled garden cart over the large rocks that block my path, read children’s books.

But–what I can’t do is go back to college. Not really. I’m too old for the slumber parties that make up dorm life, too impatient to sit through lectures. And I rebel at the thought of assigned reading and writing footnotes again.

Anyway, the college I want to attend already has my daughter on campus, and she’d murder me if I suddenly started showing up in the cafeteria line.

photoWhat I can do is take on myself what one of her deans asked of the freshmen at their Opening Induction Ceremony. Challenge yourself, he said. Read something you wouldn’t usually read. Study something you’re sure is too hard for you. Listen to a piece of music you’ve never heard before. Introduce yourself to that person over there who’s not at all like anyone you’ve ever met.

Please note: I’m not quoting here, just remembering loosely. And if you, too, have sat through several different welcome speeches in a row after moving a child into her dorm in the rain after a five hour drive after getting up at 4 AM to get on the road, you know what I mean when I say his words are a bit fuzzy.

But that was the gist. This is your time, the speakers all seemed to say.  To explore, yourself and the world around you. To dig deep and find out who you are. To figure out what it is you most love doing, and how that passion can become a career. A life.

That I can do. Or try to. In this, my transition time. And without the tuition bill.

(Though I do wish I had welcoming committees gifting me with t-shirts and lanyards. And I sure wouldn’t mind a cafeteria which supplied regular meals and an endless supply of soft-serve ice cream.)

Have you gone through such a transition time? Done your own mid-life exploring? I’d love to know.





My Second Freshman Year!

So, how can a fifty-something mother of three mostly-grown kids, who lives in the rural middle of nowhere as a sometime-hermit, claim this as her “freshman year”?

I mean, didn’t I do that already, many decades and many (geographic) states ago?

Well, yes.


And no.

Decades ago, I pretty much went where I was told and pretty much spent most of my college time either earning the money to be there or adjusting to a culture which was–well–alien.

This time around, I’m choosing for myself: the “where” (here in my fairly isolated mountain cove). And the “what” of my learning (whatever catches my fancy).

The “why?”

I’ve just sent my last child/student off to college after 25 years of homeschooling. So I’m not only an empty-nester, I’m in major career transition.

There are empty rooms in my house (relatively speaking: still a lot of unfolded laundry piled on your bed, daughter). And there’s space in my brain. For the first fall since I was a very young mother of a very wiggly first toddler, I’m not planning curricula, compiling reading lists, creating schedules.

Well. Except mine.

So what’s a second freshman year?

Ah, that’s what this blog is going to explore.

I hope you’ll tag along for the ride.