the book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day

This was the first New Year’s Eve I remember in my life, where I didn’t count down like everyone else usually does. I’d planned on, after our dinner guests left, taking a friend and my family to a Buddhist meditation at midnight. Instead I was sitting with these folks in the Emergency Room, waiting to visit a friend who’d been trucked in after a collapse. My kids, husband, and my girl H. played some kind of Twister knock-off on a carpet a few feet away. Next time I looked at my watch it was thirty-four minutes past midnight.

The fireworks from the hospital’s hill were lovely. It was cold. Nels had about three girlfriends by the time we left the parking lot. A social child. Also, earlier, a grouchy child who’d disrupted our earlier dinner a bit.

My friend at the hospital seems out of the woods. I am very grateful. I gave him my number as he’s staying overnight, and told him to call if I could bring him anything at all.

***

We had a good day today; the kids and I accompanied another family to adopt a kitty for little E. It was pretty choice, getting to visit with and pet the kitties.

My Lovely Daughter

Phoenix was a very kind little girl at the shelter, taking stock of each kitty and remembering their names and tempraments. There was another Phoenix working there as a volunteer, a teen boy. He and my daughter got along great, although I think like many he didn’t, at first, think a younger child could conduct themselves with aplomb at a kitty shelter.

E. & Her Daddy, Talk Kitties

E. and her father discuss adoption plans.

Raider

Raider. A favorite of J.’s. He was a handsome kitty. But E. was intent on adopting a lady kitty.

I LOVE YOU NOEL AND I KNOW YOU FEEL THE SAME ABOUT ME

Here’s a kitty I like to call Noel, MY NEW BOYFRIEND. HE LOVED ME SO MUCH AND IMMEDIATELY CLIMBED IN MY ARMS right after I snapped this. He is the handsomest thing I have ever seen. Not convinced? Would you like a closeup?

NOEL IS MY NEW BOYFRIEND

I am going to get a tattoo of Noel and his likeness. His green-blue eyes are the inspiration of many sonnets. I’m sure he will be adopted out in no time and it just kills me.

Nels + Noel + Erin

E. + Nels + Noel. You can click through for like eighteen adorable pictures of them all looking at a “flashing light” they saw outside.

Nels + Noel

Nels reacts to something Noel said, probably something very suave and witty.

Erm... No Thanks, Panther

Panther may have trouble getting adopted.

Happy New Year. Anyone reading here with any regularity knows how grateful I am for my life. How blessed. I don’t mean “blessed” because so much good shit has happened to me or because God is super into me, I mean “blessed” because I’m very glad for the gifts I have. It is the gladness, the awareness, the awakenedness, when I have it, that is the gift.

Here’s Ralph taking a picture of me tonight just before tacos, because I wanted a new photo for Twitter. Thank you, husband, for taking a picture and making it of my ENORMOUS FACE.

New Years', Pre-Tacos

My baby likes bacon / And that’s what I’m making!

I’m inexplicably tired this evening so while my mom visits and Ralph bustles about making dinner I lay on the couch under a blanket. I feel vaguely nauseated so I’m giving myself permission to rest. An hour earlier I’d been trying to do some work, and after a bit of that I’d realized I was floating in an odd trance. One difference between me today and me of not-that-long-ago is that before I might have rested just as I’m doing now, but I’d feel terribly guilty doing it. OK, I still do feel a little guilty. See, the Guilty Monster inside me is still trying to blot out my existance and my conscious contact with God.

Dinner was incredible. Ralph made some kind of corn butter rice, lemon broccoli, and cedar-planked salmon, the latter of which was the most tender and delicately-flavored salmon I’ve ever, ever had. It was seriously amazing. Wedges of perfectly-ripe cantaloupe completed the meal. All five of us sat down and shared repast and conversation and after that the kids packed their suitcases, kissed me goodbye, and headed to my mother’s.

Ralph is very good at following recipes. He doesn’t take shortcuts if he can avoid it. It pays off. He is a very good cook because he has learned alongside me over these years (although he doesn’t seem to think he has) and he has a more exacting and precise methodology than I.

I haven’t mentioned here (yet) that for the last six days or so I’ve barely cooked. Ralph has taken over the job of meal planning and preparation – now his territory for the nearby future. This means he plans out what to eat and makes grocery lists, shops (a lot more than before, although I continue to do some), cooks and cleans. And me? I help. I let him have this job, but I help.

Oh shit, I am ambivalent about this all. But I am very sick and I am recovering. I also will mention I did the bulk of this work, like so many women in families, for… OH TEN FUCKING YEARS. I got so burnt out that I wasn’t even angry or resentful. I was just so so tired and confused. Even though in the past I’ve done this task well enough, the past few months I wasn’t very effective. My appetite had dwindled and my inspiration began to implode. My fridge was feast or famine and I drooped leaning against the door looking in, uninspired and uninterested. It was Sucktown, USA.

I am now the “helper” and Ralph the master. Last night I told him it was hard going for me to accept this – those old old labels of “selfish” keep rising up and yammering in my head. I have lost objectivity to know how fair it is for him to cook, as I told him, because he worked fulltime and it didn’t seem right (I can’t even believe I believe this, but old training is quite effective). To this he responded, “YOU work fulltime, taking care of yourself and keeping our children alive.”

The other day I asked him, Was this what it was like for ten years, you mostly got this great food and you didn’t have to think about it much? He said, “Yup, pretty much.” and we both laughed. Then he said, “I know I shouldn’t laugh, but, yeah. I was playing Legos with the kids.” I’m not mad about any of this but I’m kind of stunned. I’m just sick is all. I need time to myself and time to rest. And time to help others and time to be here for my family too. I have a backlog of not-resting. It’s kind of incredible. I could have lived this way a lot, lot longer, but I can no longer do so.

My appetite is returning. Slowly but surely. Tonight’s meal sure was simple and lovely and fun – for all of us.

Deserve’s got nothing to do with it

Today my daughter hands two bills through the car window, to the man we often see impassively holding a cardboard sign. He’s youngish and handsome and has a sun-worn face. Today he has a nod going, maybe heroin or methadone, maybe just sleepy. It takes him just a beat to notice us. We give him the money and when he thanks us I say, “You’re welcome” and I feel not the slightest bit of angst or anxiety or grandiosity or depression about any of the business and I drive on and feel a tremendous sense of gratitude.

I have a book important to me I read everyday, and on the first blank page is a handwritten note, “What’s my motivation today?” Every day that I ask myself that question, I remember I’m put upon this planet to help others. The plans in store for me, well I have no idea (this is actually often quite calmly terrifying, more in a minute). I have come to know my purpose is to help and I’ve come to know I don’t know ahead of time where and when and maybe I’ll never know if I did or how much. The guy with the cardboard sign is just one example of someone I’ve helped (maybe), and not the only person I’ve helped (maybe) today. As for who I’ve harmed, I don’t know that either, although I hope if this is revealed I can make restitution.

This man with the cardboard sign, maybe that money went straight to benzos or a bottle of Boone’s Strawberry Hill. Maybe it went to food or socks. Most certainly his life isn’t any less worthy than mine, which means maybe it’s as simple as someone asking for something and I get to say Yes or No, and when I give I get to know I haven’t earned those two bills any more than he has, as far as I know. If I hadn’t been given the opportunity to give the money, then seen the opportunity and taken it, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to know I don’t deserve the money, it’s just something in my pocket. What a relief it is to know this last.

What a relief it is to no longer teach my children greed, athough they have every opportunity to invest in that quality in their lives, should they wish.

I have a rule about help for others, a suggestion given to me by someone who’s helped me quite a bit, maybe my first spiritual teacher in the flesh who I’ve recognized as such. She told me I could give and help as long as I did not rob my own family, and she told me to pray I do the Next Right Thing. That’s easy enough at least for starters. In the moment it isn’t always clear if I’m robbing my family or not, and I’ve come to rely upon a fledgling bit of intuition and I’ve had many such incidents I won’t bore you with now, although I assure you they were not at all boring for me.

It would be easier to live the way I used to because then I had Plans and I knew how things would turn out. Then I could obsess about things I wanted to do or acquire or feel smug about eventualities I was sure I was avoiding through my virtue (I’ve since discovered, I have no virtue). I could pretend I’d earned or deserved or worked hard for the comforts I have and the wonderful people I get to see every day. Then I had it all tidied up: I’d raise my kids like this, I’d do such-and-such on this day, I wouldn’t throw away my time on people unless I knew the return I’d get (although I never would have put it in such direct terms, most especially not to myself). I’d give gifts for friends to keep me in their good graces. I’d avoid enemies. I genuinely thought if I didn’t do things for others or say the polite thing or the thing I thought they wanted to hear, they wouldn’t like me.

Now: I have no enemy I avoid, not on this earth. Now: I don’t do things to be liked. Now: I like myself more than I have previously (I’m not claiming cause & effect, there, with those two separates). I don’t much worry who likes me. I know I’m loved. And I love so many, and I feel it so often.

One of the things I’ve realized in a most striking fashion is I could never, ever pay back the gifts I’ve been given. It is not possible. I have to live with knowing this.

It was easier to live the way I lived before. Back then I didn’t tremble like an ant before God, prone to devastation or heartbreaking good fortune alike.

A cat named Mustache

a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives

The last few days I’ve thrown myself into new work with addicts and alcoholics, giving rides here and there, buying breakfast for the flat-out underemployed, caring for other people’s kids, teens and pets, taking a friend on a birthday date, and helping those who have a hard time making ends meet.

Plus all that other stuff of caring for my own kiddos and husband and pets and household as best I can. And having a bit of a social life, and a sewing life, to boot!

So, I am behind on both writing here, and responding to comments. I apologize.

One thing I want to point out is the few people I’ve helped recently, or a handful of them, have given me a valuable lesson. A friend I took a dozen eggs to yesterday because she didn’t have food money until today, the difference between she and I (back when we couldn’t afford food and utilities and our lifestyle, and were bouncing checks and igorning collection bills because it was all so overwhelming), is this friend asked for and accepted help. Asking for and accepting help, in appropriate ways and from appropriate parties, has been a new(-ish) cornerstone of my life. Let’s face it, without help I was flailing at best and often a Toxic Asshole either running from, or attempting to selfishly dominate, many of life’s challenges.

The Toxic Asshole part of me is still live and kicking and surfaces more often than I’m proud of, but there’s another presence within that I like a lot more. She’s like a Baby. Baby Awesomesauce. Baby Awesomesauce is growing up just fine, but things take time.

Of course giving back gives me immense rewards so it is in itself a selfish activity of sorts. One of the hardest things going right now is to know when to give freely to others, and knowing when if I were to do so, it would rob my family of something I should be giving them (time, groceries, mostly).

I put my faith in the path set before me and I know that one day I’ll look back and see with clarity where my life is heading, and why.

***

In lieu of Friday links I have two pieces of local interest:

First, Ralph and I put together a collection of my sewn pieces for sale at the On Track Art Walk tomorrow. I would love to earn money for my craft, to have my pieces find gleeful homes, and – most of all, to find a sewing community. If I had a dream it would be to be involved with a community center/studio where I could create, and help others do the same. I don’t have the resources to start this myself, but perhaps someone out there does. In any case, I’m ready to be Out There a bit more.

Second, our local town’s annual festival came out with their official t-shirt. Many HQX residents do not endorse the shirt and are taking actions, including boycotting, writing letters to the editor and City etc, and printing a better shirt¬†and donating profits (you can read more about it here, if you have Facebook).

From my G+ post here are some of my thoughts:

“I love my town and I love my country. One thing I love about both is the right to protest ideas and products that are violent, offensive, and bad for children and grownups and probably even small puppy dogs. Yay local Jokay Daniel who’ll be selling the alternate shirt & donating profits; also J. for being instrumental in creating alternate shirts.”

Reading the comments in the Facebook group is pretty darn cool and makes me proud of my HQX peeps.

***

And finally, something to ponder:

A cat named Mustache