Sunday, October 23, 2016


October 17 at University Lake
Tentacles of moisture stroked my cheeks and dampened my just dried hair. I stood still and silent, cocooned in the mists of early fall morning fog. Staring ahead, I willed my eyes to focus, or at least to remember the lakeside scene I had photographed just days before. 

The trees that still clung to water’s edge were now but shadowy images against the backdrop of uncertain gray. Gone were the wind-whipped ripples that sparkled in the sunlight of brighter days. Gone were the gentle clouds that teased the imagination with suggestions of characters—like actors dressed for the part on a stage of brilliant blue. Gone was the line of trees that stood as stalwart witness to the certainty of a shoreline on the other side. It was a panorama of promised nothingness.

My grief is like a foggy morning—a season when a bright kaleidoscope of ever after dreams, has repainted itself in shades of speculative gray. This miasma is neither as dark nor as fearsome as some might think. Wrapped in a shroud of pain, I remember two things. First, although the mist obscures the distant shore, I have no doubt solid ground I cannot see still exists. Although I may not see far front of me, I can continue my way forward with cautious steps.

Secondly, sorrow is but a vapor that, given time, relinquishes its grip in the heat of unrelenting light. Lines penned by Carl Sandburg, one of my favorite poets, surface as I stand peering into the gray,

The fog comes on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on. 

And then moves on….

In time the fog will lift; it will move on. Until it does, you will find me walking resolutely through a metaphorical fog, confident that,

Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 
(Psalm 30:5b, 2 Corinthians 4:17)

Saturday, October 15, 2016


George and I didn’t fight often, and we didn’t fight about many things. We did fight about the lights.

He thought I should turn them off when I left the room. I thought I should leave them on—in case I came back later. He said leaving on the lights wasted electricity. I said light-filled windows cast a friendly glow that made our home smile in defiance of a sun-quenched sky. Sometimes he followed me around just to flip the switches off. It was not beneath me to circle back around and defiantly return them to their brightful position.

As much as I loved lights, I hated buying light bulbs. George regularly added them to the grocery list. I conveniently ‘forgot’ to buy them. I seldom saw a need. The lights were always working as far as I could tell, but he would insist and sometimes go with me to the store in order to stock up. I am sure George was quite aware that my refusal to buy bulbs was illogical and inconsistent with my insistence in leaving them on. He was wise enough never to point it out.

I could never figure out which bulbs to buy. Bulbs come with different bases, different shapes, different watts, and different hues. The selection of just one pack of bulbs took more time than picking out produce for a week—and did nothing for family nutrition. 

The cost wreaked havoc on a kid-friendly food budget and made me feel I couldn’t afford sacred purchases like Milano Mints. Then there was the challenge of getting them home—unbroken. They couldn’t be packed at the bottom of the bag where they would certainly lose if they jockeyed for space with peanut butter.  They couldn’t be too close to the top where they might take a suicidal tumble to the parking lot below.

As suddenly as George was gone, the struggle over lights and light bulbs ended. I stopped turning out lights because I seldom turned them on. I stopped buying light bulbs because I had no need.

The house wasn’t totally dark as long as I had houseguests and people who lived with me. But once they were gone, and all switches were under my sole control, the house settled into comfortable twilight, only enjoying reprieve when the sun extended mercy through partially curtained windows. When a lamp burned out, I used another lamp until that too was gone, and I either sat in darkness or moved on to another room. Overhead fixtures with multiple bulbs grew dimmer by 60 watts at a time until they gave up entirely.  I often used the flashlight on my cell phone so I could see where I was going.

I cannot explain why I didn’t see the growing darkness, anymore than I can explain why one night I had a startled recognition, “It is really dark in here and none of the lights work anymore.” My first thought—unfortunately this is true—was that I would have to do something about the lights before Christmas. By the next morning, I knew I had to do something immediately. One ladder, two hours and more light bulbs than I knew we had stashed away and once again I could turn on lights—if or when I wanted to.

The lights took matters into their own hands a few weeks later. I installed timers before an out of town trip—hoping to make my absence less apparent—and forgot to turn them off on my return. When my alarm rang the first morning back, the bedside light came on, even before I reached for the switch. Stumbling toward the kitchen for coffee, I saw warm lights anticipated my appearance. With utmost consideration, they humbly turned themselves off before I headed off to work. When I arrived home after dark, they were waiting cheerfully for my arrival. I have chosen to let the lights have their way.

I have discovered it takes light to find my way back to life. And when I am too tired or sad or out-of-touch to turn them on myself, it’s nice when they can lead the way. I am setting up those safeguards for myself.

I am belatedly apologetic to the man I took for granted when he kept the lights lit all those years. I get it now—the reason he always needed more bulbs. It is the price we pay when we insist, “Let there be lights.”

Wednesday, October 12, 2016


I was six bites into my lunch when my purse-shrouded phone vibrated with an urgency that couldn’t be ignored. Although I didn’t want to be ‘that woman’—the one who abandons friends she can see for the one she can hear—I reached for my phone. The message on the screen alerted me this was not a call, but an electronic reminder, one of many that regulate my days and keep me on track.

I am not alone in depending on technology for the prompts necessary for a disciplined life. Friends’ watches vibrate when they sit too long. When they get up and move, they calculate and tally the number of steps taken. There is even an app to regulate caloric intake.

Recently my iPhone installed an upgrade called ‘Bedtime,’ a feature that tells you when to go to bed in addition to sending a wake up call. It seems like living with an overprotective mother—without the benefit of warm cinnamon milk at night and the smell of bacon in the morning.

Once upon a time, traits necessary for a well-ordered society, like punctuality, temperance and perseverance were virtues to attain. Striving to achieve them marked a person as disciplined. Now we are free from depending solely on such antiquated devices as fragmented memory and erratic willpower. Instead we can rely on electronic gadgets to mark the cadence of a regulated life—as long as we remember to set them correctly.  In the electronic age, we can outsource discipline.

I, for one, could not be happier!

This development comes at a perfect time—the time in my life when I am transitioning from established routines to some as-yet-to be-determined ones. I am a novice in this pursuit. Although a lot of routine was established during four decades of marriage, it was my husband who was born for routine. I mostly adopted his ways. We discussed the rules of engagement early in our marriage.

We agreed on the what—that we would develop couple rhythms that kept us together as much as possible. We had witnessed marriages disintegrate, and based on our own observations with no corroborating research, we had concluded that bedtime, breakfast together and a predictable dinner hour were keys to a solid marriage.

We had to negotiate the how because he had been nurtured by an early-to-bed, early-to-rise family, and I was raised in a family of routine-adverse owls. We came to terms on a middle ground that leaned more heavily toward his way of organizing life than mine. I let that slide for two reasons. First, his way seemed the better of the two, and I hoped I could improve by emulating his habits (although I never admitted this to him).  Secondly, it wasn’t hard to give up habits I didn’t possess to adopt ones that meant a lot to him.

And so our life together was framed by structures that signaled we lived a disciplined life. He was up before the birds began their morning song; perhaps he even summoned them to sing. I was never sure. I may have been less enthusiastic, but I was not far behind. I could have set my watch by when he was ready to eat breakfast, lunch or dinner. Countless other patterns made for a regulated and predictable life. He was a creature of habit…but he was not a man of discipline.

A disciplined man would have resisted ice cream every night before bed. He would have chosen a shiny red apple or a juice-filled orange, not chocolate with toffee crunch—especially after high cholesterol became his constant companion and dominated the consultation at every doctor visit. Nevertheless, his nearly nightly ritual—after an evening shower, and precisely at 9—was to go to the freezer with a bowl in hand, find the ice cream and finish off the day with a couple of generous scoops. It was one of his favorite routines, but I digress.

Routines of a lifetime, along with the disciplines of everyday, are up for renewal. Their continuing presence in the lineup of my life depends on the benefits they offer. Routines like bedtime ice cream were his alone, and they have disappeared. Other routines remain, offering comforting familiarity and a lingering bond with the woman I used to be.

As I am in the market for new routines, I am aware that routine can spring up willy-nilly or be cultivated through thoughtful decision and disciplined follow-through. It is the latter kind of routine I seek; routine chosen with intentionality to order my hours and organize my days. Life-giving routine doesn’t appear overnight. It develops through careful choices and white-knuckle tenacity. It takes discipline until a thought becomes action, action becomes habit and habit becomes routine. 

It may require the aid of all of my electronics, but I think I can do it as long as I outsource the discipline.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016


“Portion control.”

“What?” I mumbled, as I reached into the bag for another cookie.

“What happened to portion control?” she pressed on.

My confused look told her I had no idea what she was talking about. Her stern glare indicated I should have figured it out. Our personal confusions clashed mid-air and hung suspended during my internal conflict. My independent womanhood fought hard to maintain supremacy over my inner child caught in the act.

“You are eating those cookies right out of the bag. Yesterday it was the chips.”

I could have given her more examples—new habits she didn’t even know about—but I stayed quiet. It might be better if my daughter didn’t know I now ate ice cream out of the carton and daintily sipped wine directly from the bottle. People who live alone don’t worry as much about spreading germs as avoiding another bowl or goblet to wash.

I had a fleeting epiphany. I concluded her challenge came from self-interest and concern for getting her own fair share. “Here,” I offered. “Want a cookie? You can eat all you want. And if we run out, I can buy more tomorrow.”

“No. I don’t want a cookie, and I don’t care if I have one tomorrow. You are missing the point.” So much for my epiphany.

"When you eat from the package, you have no idea how much you are eating. You always eat more than you planned." I couldn’t argue with that because I knew that although I had never planned to eat sixteen giant, deliciously gluten-free ginger cookies in one sitting, I had done it on more than one occasion.

“Portion control allows you to enjoy treats in manageable—and calorie reasonable—amounts. It means you will have some tonight and can have some tomorrow. It keeps you from swinging wildly between craving a particular food to never wanting to eat it again.”

It was pointless to argue with her logic, and so I began to remove two cookies from the bag and serve chips and salsa in small size bowls. I dipped ice cream one scoop each time. I stopped eating cranberries, walnuts and mini-marshmallows out of the bag and carried them away from the pantry in cute little cups. In the process of asserting my true intentions regarding food in my life, I had a new epiphany. Portion control isn’t just about food.

Countless activities in my life are just as out of control. I start tasks and don't know when to quit. I spend hours on the hamster-wheel of ‘just one more thing.’ I work too long, I work too late, and then sometimes I don’t work at all. A justifiable put-your-feet-up with a new book break and a bracing cup of coffee becomes a seven-hour out-of-body experience. I discover too late that while I have been transported to far off lands in other centuries, my fictional traveling companions didn’t feed me dinner, empty the trash or turn on the lights.

I am instituting portion control in my life this fall. I am setting timers so I take reasonable breaks. Instead of avoiding an overwhelming task, I am tackling it in less stressful segments of an hour or two. I subscribed to a blog on simplicity that gives me practical tips for decluttering my life. I am cleaning out years of living one shelf or one drawer at a time. My days are consumed in bite-sized chunks.

My daughter is right. It is about portion control.

Sunday, October 2, 2016


October Along the Cane River
Summer-spent leaves are losing their tenuous grip on the twigs to which they clung all summer. They endured then embraced the drenching rains and battering winds—satiating their thirsty roots and flexing with each gust.

It was the sun, more than the rain, that slowly changed them. Steady rays tanned their luxuriant green to crackling brown. One by one, they began their fluttering descent, giving in to much-needed rest as they settle on lawns and shrubs or crowd together in unwelcome clogs in downspouts and pool filter baskets.

It was these trendsetters in the autumn promenade that first got my attention as I skimmed the pool and emptied filter baskets. Their presence shouted October, as if it were their solemn duty to inform me—as if I hadn’t seen it on the calendar and braced against its impending arrival during the too-quickly-ending summer.  These harbingers of fall could have been subtler this year—I wasn’t likely to forget this was the month when life as my family had known and loved it ended and an uncertain future began.

Since I was a child, I have loved October—the cooler nights and drier air, the chin-dribbling taste of freshly picked apples and the smell of cinnamon-laced pumpkin. I have loved the crunch of leaves and the happy shouts of children on hayrides and in haunted houses. During my Mid-Western years, I was enchanted by the rich colors of leaves eager to shed uniform green and flaunt their adventurous individuality. Most of all, I have appreciated the way October signals change and transitions our pace from languorous summer into holiday festivity.

How can I celebrate October now when the hardest event in my life occurred during my favorite month of the year?

I contemplated following one of the rhythms of nature. Perhaps I could escape into mind numbing hibernation where sleep overtakes conscious thought. I considered flying south or east or west—not that direction matters since I only seek escape. I was sorely tempted to mimic the pattern set by leaves and drift downward to settle for decay. Yet such soul-numbing passivity contradicts the very nature of a month known for fests and frolics. I have already drifted too long on the Sea of What Might Have Been and the Ocean of What Will Never Be.

Now I look to October, a month that marches cheerfully toward the dark of impending winter, to inspire my own transition. I choose to face my lingering sadness head on. This October I want to enjoy the best of life around me, to engage new challenges and embrace fresh vision. I plan to write more so that I can chronicle my attempt—and truth be told—because it is the first of the things I most enjoy.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016


My daughter arrived the second week in May. She hadn’t been home for more than twenty-four hours when she asked, “Was the electricity off recently?”

“No. Why do you ask?” I asked.

“The clocks are slow,” she replied.

“I can explain. Time changed in March. The clocks didn’t.” I thought my answer settled it.

She was aghast. She had no frame of reference for such a flagrant disregard for time. Never before in all her years as George’s daughter had our clocks failed to march in carefully synchronized precision. Room by room, they were choreographed so that analog arms motioned in beautiful unison and digital dots winked on cue.

Changing the clocks twice a year was a ritual—not a fond one, but a ritual nonetheless. Never one to leave something as important as time to chance, George anticipated the impending change by five hours exactly—beginning his systematic sacrament at 9 pm. He wouldn’t be awake at 2 am when the new time became official. He’d rather not be caught mid-morning as time-befuddled as other wayward souls who waited until the morning after to do what should have been done the night before.

I didn’t forget to change the clocks this year. I simply didn’t do it. I cannot explain exactly why, although I can offer multiple speculations.

Perhaps I succumbed to a Miss Havisham moment, a refusal to move forward that meant I would forever embrace the tattered life of one for whom time stopped at the scene of her disillusionment. Maybe I was now a woman destined to nibble the leftover crumbs of a once happily-ever-after life. Although it is tempting to play the melodramatic heroine of Dickens’ Great Expectations, I cannot embrace either her eccentricity or her mean-spirited nature.

I could claim laziness. After a lifetime of denouncing the perils of being a slacker, maybe I was throwing in the towel of industrious living…and leaving it to lie on the floor instead of putting on the rack where it belongs. Alas, the clutter of a disheveled life drives me to distraction, so I suspect it isn’t that.

Men and women with the gift of mercy would attribute my failure to attend to detail as evidence of a mildly depressed state. “Poor dear, how she grieves,” they will whisper softly to each other—just before they head to the store to purchase me more tea, or a soft new journal or a fragrant candle—anything to show me how dearly I’m loved. Although I admit to a lingering sadness—along with a growing addiction to gifts to cheer me up—there is scant connection between the lag on my clocks and the sag in my soul.

After much consideration, I have concluded that not changing the clocks has been my ineffectual protest against time itself. Not changing the clocks was a token foot stomp of rage. It was October. He was gone. Breath left my body—even though I didn’t exhale. Time stopped—but apparently only for me. Without the slightest consideration for my feelings, or so much as a ‘by your leave,’ time marched on. I couldn’t stop it, but I didn’t have to dance to its cadence.

She didn’t care much for my explanations. She repeated, “You need to change the clocks.” So I did. She is after all her father’s daughter. She was right, and I am getting tired of adding that extra hour in my head every time I check the time.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016


He claimed it was love at first sight. It might have been the caffeine.

Nothing characterized our life together quite like coffee. We dated over steaming cups, placed on Formica tabletops in out of the way cafes. Two cups, and maybe one piece of pie to share, purchased hours of time to talk and all the coffee we could stomach. One conspirator of love, a waitress at the Olde North Pancake House, always let us linger for the hour after she locked the doors.

Our conversations went deeper than the bottomless pots of unlimited refills. Tendrils of steam may have blurred our eyes, but they did not keep us from seeing clearly into each other’s hearts. The intoxicating aroma, invigorating taste and comforting warmth formed the brew into which we stirred the entwining of our lives.

A Farberware percolator topped our registry list. Our honeymoon morning began with a silver carafe, delivered on a linen covered cart. Every morning after, our marriage awoke to eight cups of brew, the first cup brought to me in bed. Over a fresh pot in the afternoon, we discussed our day. We made the final one to temper the sweetness of dessert.

“No more caffeine,” the dietician explained in an effort to protect George’s heart. She actually yelled at me when I brought a latte to his hospital bed—although I yelled back, “It’s decaf.” Making nearly simultaneous cups—decaf for him and regular for me—was so integral to our existence, we added a Keurig coffee maker to our collection that includes a ten-cup drip pot for every day, a four cup pot for the camper, a thirty cup pot for parties and a stove top model in the event of an electric failure.

It should be no surprise that I drink too much coffee these days. I do it for my heart. Now that I know I’m prone to find my solace in a cup, I can appreciate the no-alcohol pledge of the college we attended. If our lives had been stirred together in steins or goblets in smoky bars, this story would have a sorrier ending.


Saturday, April 9, 2016


I had a moment’s worth of ‘young again.’ It smiled awkwardly from the formal script of a ‘plus one’ wedding invitation. I grinned sheepishly in return.

I am not sure why being addressed as ‘Bettejean and guest’ amuses me. This is, after all, a tangible reminder I am no longer half of a taken-for-granted pair. My name is now a stand alone—a stark and solitary figure floundering in a landscape of dedicated twos. It could (and maybe should) make me feel the pain of being old and left alone, but in a peculiar way, it doesn’t.

I associate ‘plus one’ with young adults, although my recent sense of ‘young again’ is not a throwback to personal experience. ‘Bettejean and guest’ is uncharted territory, an alien landscape yet to be explored.

My name has always tagged along behind the ‘and,’ never once preceded it. I was eighteen when my name detached itself from the second line of invitations to my parents in order to round out the line ‘addressed to George and….’

Through years of events and parties, I always knew who was the better half. With him gone, I do not take new invitations for granted. I never thought until this one came along I might be invited simply for myself. And whomever I bring along. On the one hand, leaving the choice of guest to my judgment seems a little risky. On the other, I do have a proven track record of choosing only the best.

I am so glad my daughter will be home in time for this event. I hope she is willing to be my plus one.

Sunday, March 27, 2016


George’s life was held together by an unshakeable faith in God, unflinching moral integrity, an enduring work ethic and duct tape.

At his passing, he left a legacy of faith, integrity and hard work. He also left behind a lifetime supply of duct tape, with rolls strategically placed in closets and drawers throughout the house.

If any man loved duct tape more than George, I haven’t met him. If duct tape couldn’t solve a household problem, them maybe it couldn’t be solved. It travelled with him more frequently than I did, going on work trips and family vacations. It was fortunate that it did, particularly the summer we rented a 33 ft. RV.

With neither instruction nor prior experience, I drove the RV, and four children, to North Carolina where George met us for a weekend of whitewater rafting. I travelled fourteen hours without incident, protected by excessive caution and the pure terror of driving such a lengthy vehicle. Then George arrived, full of eager inexperience and ready to take command. Within hours he backed the RV into a car where the bumper tore off the entire back (top to bottom) of the rented RV.

Yes, George, with the help of his like-minded brother, duct taped the ragged pieces together so I could drive the kids and myself home while he flew back to work. And, in case you are wondering, no, the rental company did not return our $1000 deposit even though I worked extra hard to clean the inside, and we did bring back all the pieces nicely taped together.

After just five months of taking care of house and home by myself, I am beginning to appreciate his love affair with duct tape. Friday, as insulation batting fell on my head in the attic, I knew just what to do. Eight pieces of duct tape later, the problem is solved for the time being. Saturday, when the wind kept threatening to remove a long tablecloth at an outdoor party, duct tape came to the rescue again. I might just have to pick up an extra roll or two.

Thank you, George. Now I am sorry I laughed at you and duct tape. You were right; I was wrong. Please forgive me.