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DIVISION

Cindy Maddera

I noticed last week that there was a lot of outrage and debate happening over whether or not we should still be playing the Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer cartoon. The Huffington Post did an article about the jokes posted on twitter during the Tuesday evening airing of Rudolph. Turns out that some people took what started out as a joke about this 1964 Christmas classic, a little bit too seriously. Other news outlets picked up the story and turned it into the telephone game. It went from ‘we’re just making hilarious observations’ to ‘this cartoon should be banned!’ The next thing I noticed was my Facebook timeline filling up with Rudolph images and outrage. I just shook my head at all of it because now even Rudolph the Reindeer, a cartoon about acceptance and inclusivity, has become a weapon of division.

STOP FALLING FOR IT!

It’s not just Rudolph. The idea of banning the song “Baby it’s Cold Outside” has got some people riled up and shouting about taking the #MeToo movement too far. I’m not one to go around saying ban the music and books…because Nazis, but I’d rather listen to other holiday songs than one where a guy is pressuring a girl to do something she’s not so sure she wants to do. For me that’s called freshman year of college and my brief foray into online dating. I don’t need to hear a song about that. But to each their own. I think the meme that really tops it for me are the ones that are intentionally incendiary. “I celebrate CHRISTmas. Sorry if that offends you!” Honestly I don’t care what you celebrate; what offends me is the obvious attempt to start an argument.

This is a time of year when there is supposed to be joy and good will. According to Charity Navigator, 31% of annual donations for 2014 happened in December. It is a holy month for some religions, many of which encourage acts of charity and kindness towards those less fortunate. If there’s one month out of the year that should bring us all together in love and peace, it should be the month of December. Yet we have managed to find ways to incite hatefulness and arguments even during ‘the most wonderful time of the year’. What is wrong with us? Is it just easier to incite hatefulness and arguments than it is to be kind? Maybe for some, kindness only happens on a face-to-face level, that it doesn’t transcend to online and social media. Maybe it’s easy to forget that the things we post are a reflection of who we are as a person.

It makes me ask myself: What kind of human being do I want to be?

THANKFUL FRIDAY

Cindy Maddera

One night this week, I dreamed that I was being attacked by a swarm of mosquitoes. I was walking on a beach that was dirty and littered with drift wood. There was a man walking a few paces behind me and we both started running when the swarm hit us. I ran while hitting my arms and legs and waving my hands around my head. The mosquitoes were thick and everywhere. I could hear them inside my ears. I heard the man behind my yell out “here! take my towel!” and he draped the towel over my shoulders as we both ran. I could see my car up ahead and knew that I just had to make it to the car. I woke up suddenly, gasping and scratching at imaginary mosquito bites. I talked about this dream with Dr. Mary. We discussed the meaning of it all, how the mosquitos represented little annoyances I had had and the comfort of the towel and knowing that I was close to safety. Then I told Dr. Mary that I didn’t think I needed her every week.

I was surprised to hear myself say it. I hadn’t planned it. I had been thinking about it recently, but I didn’t realize that I was ready to do more than just think about it. Dr. Mary was not bothered by this, but did ask what prompted this decision. I told her that for the first time in a really long time, I was entering this holiday season without feeling the need to constantly breathe into a paper bag. I told her that I feel like I’ve taken bags and bags of guilt to the garbage dump. I’ve been holding onto guilt about Chris. I say out loud all the time how Chris would be okay with how I’m living my life, but I never really truly believed the words I was saying. Instead I felt guilty about this life I’ve forged without Chris, but my guilt wasn’t all Chris related. There was guilt about Dad. There was guilt over not being all the things I could be for all people. There was guilt for my grief, for being sad, for missing Chris even though I’m with Micheal. At times my guilt over everything was crippling.

I don’t feel that guilt any more.

I have discovered that it’s one thing to treat others the way you wish to be treated and quite another to treat yourself the way you wish to be treated. Actually, it seems to be more difficult to treat myself with patience, kindness and respect. It’s work, but I’m doing it. A year ago, there was no way I would have allowed myself to book a holiday trip that did not include my family. A year ago, I would not consider making a trip to Oklahoma at Christmas time that did not include driving all over the state in attempt to see every single person. I would already be berating myself over not being or doing enough. I’m not saying I’m cured or that I still don’t need to spill my guts to Dr. Mary. I just don’t need to spill them every week. It has been almost two years since I thought about jumping out of a moving car into busy traffic. Progress.

I am thankful for progress.

VERSIONS OF US

Cindy Maddera

Michael and I choose a new ornament for the tree every year. The ornament is supposed to reflect something about us and the year. Our first year ornament makes absolutely no sense. Santa is riding a giant trout and there’s a fishing pole dangling out of Santa’s hand. It’s ridiculous and confusing. And completely appropriate for the time. This was probably six months after we first met; four months after he had officially moved in. We were ridiculous and confusing. The second year we bought a record player ornament. It was the year Michael had set up his record player and I bought a bunch of Doris Day albums. Later ornaments would be a camper (of course) and something Star Wars. Then we stumbled upon two ornaments that carried an odd resemblance to us. The guy had a curled mustache and wore an orange sweater. The girl sported a stocking cap on her cropped brown hair. They were ornament versions of us.

This would become a recurring thing. We now have two small doll like ornaments. One doll is wearing a plaid shirt with hiking boots. He’s sporting a medium length beard and holding a small Christmas tree. The girl version is bundled up in a coat and scarf. She’s holding ski poles even though there are no skis on her feet. The resemblance is uncanny. The two ornaments look so much like us that we even considered using them in our Christmas card. Maybe I did. I vaguely remember taking a crappy picture of the Cabbage holding the two dolls. Michael and I were looking around Target on Saturday for this year’s ornament and I heard him say “Hey look! It’s us!” I turned around to see him holding up a gnome with a long beard and girl doll wearing a cap and scarf. I guess a cap and scarf are my go to winter looks, but I busted out laughing at the idea of these two being the ornament versions of us. They are by far the most hilarious versions we’ve come across. We bought them along with a seal ornament because this year we saw a lot of seals.

Earlier in the day we had been talking about Christmas cards and pictures for the cards. I always start out with an intention to take or have someone take a nice festive picture of the three of us, but it is so hard to coordinate. It doesn’t help that the Cabbage is in that poser stage where it is more reasonable to believe that one can collect marshmallow poop from unicorns then it is to get a genuine smile from her. For this year’s card, I didn’t even try. I just used some random pictures I’ve taken this year and I’m perfectly happy with this. As we talked about the cards, Michael mentioned the idea of us wearing ugly Christmas sweaters. I winced slightly and replied that Chris and I had already done that. Chris and I used to plan out elaborate Christmas cards. We took joy in the whole process. It was like preparing for our very own Christmas pageant and we would start making our plans for the photo shoot in October, gathering costume materials and backdrops. People looked forward to what we’d do for the next year. I’m not going to lie. That first Christmas after Chris died and I had to put Hooper down, I considered photographing their coffee cans of ashes wearing Christmas hats for my card. I didn’t because I figured there was less than a handful of people who would see the dark humor in this. Everyone else would just see it as the the sad country song that it really was.

I don’t even attempt the elaborate Christmas card with Michael and the Cabbage for a number of reasons, but mostly because I’m not trying to recreate a life I had. The things that made sense for me to do in my relationship with Chris doesn’t make sense to do in my relationship with Michael. Because it is not the same relationship. Chris and I had our own thing. We made silly Christmas cards. Michael and I have our own thing. We find versions of ourselves in Christmas ornaments.

I DON'T OFTEN CRAFT, BUT WHEN I DO I USE A GLUE GUN

Cindy Maddera

Early last week, I started noticing a trend on social media. People were posting pictures of their Christmas trees with captions that read “we finally got the tree up!” It was the word ‘finally’ that started to put me into a panic. I hadn’t even started to consider decorating for the Holidays. I’ve had stuff sitting in my closet to make a new Christmas wreath for ages, but I put it far enough back in the closet to not really pay attention to it whenever I open the closet (every single day). I’ve had more important things to do. Like sitting on the couch with all the animals piled on top of me. The most pressing thing on my list of things to do was to reorganize our linen closet and bathroom cabinets. We had a big basket on one shelf of the linen closet that was filled with various medications and toiletries. What I should really say is, we had a big basket of garbage sitting in our linen closet. My main goal for this weekend was to fix that basket and by fix, I mean get rid of that basket.

It just didn’t seem possible to get the linen closet organized, a new wreath made, and put up all the other Christmas decorations in one weekend. So I cheated and started cleaning out the closet and bathroom cabinets on Thursday. I also started working on the wreath that night and when I got home Friday night, I drank a couple of cocktails and got out the glue gun to finish it. I’m thinking of starting my own YouTube channel called “Drunk Crafting with Cindy”. I can sell my crafts on Etsy. I think my new wreath turned out really nice. Wreath accomplished, I made a plan for Saturday that included a trip to the Container Store (the most loveliest place on earth, I’m not kidding) and bringing up all the Christmas boxes. At the very least I had to get our menorah out because the first day of Hanukkah starts tonight. But when I opened the Christmas boxes, I couldn’t find our menorah. I have no idea what happened to our menorah or why it was not put back into the Christmas boxes (I blame everything that goes missing on the basement flood). So on top of the trip to the wonderful Container Store, we had to go hunt up a new menorah.

Then a Christmas miracle happened and I learned to bend time to my will. Grocery shopping happened, stocking stuffers were purchased, the tree was set up and decorated, stockings were hung, Christmas cards were ordered, gifts were bought, linen closet got organized (lazy susans are not just for kitchens), the house got cleaned, laundry was completed. People, I made a loaf of sourdough bread. I wrote this blog entry! I just high fived myself. I went from feeling really behind on all things to overachiever. The problem was that I let myself fall victim to the trap of allowing social media to measure and gauge my success. This living life and doing stuff thing is not a competition. I am not behind on anything (except maybe the gas bill…did I pay that?). No one is marking my name down on a failure list for not putting my tree up the day after Thanksgiving.

But I’m hanging on to my new found super power to bend time.

THANKFUL FRIDAY

Cindy Maddera

I stood looking out the kitchen window as I washed our breakfast dishes. It was that time of morning when the sun is just about come up. Every thing was tinted dark and cast in shadows, like looking through sunglasses. I noticed one of the chickens poke her head out of the coop. She tentatively stepped out onto the ramp. It was Marguerite. I watched her as she pecked at the snow that rested on the ramp to the coop. A few seconds later, Foghorn peaked her head out the coop door and looked around. She carefully stepped forward to stand behind Marguerite. Neither of them ventured further than the first few rungs of the ramp and did not stay out long. The two of them carefully turned around and made their way back inside the coop. I assume they are nestled on their perch inside the coop. The four of them packed in there on the perch puts off enough warmth to keep them comfortable.

We’ve had the chickens for almost three years now. Technically, this might be our last year of eggs. They haven’t laid an egg since late September I think. That’s the time of year they all molt and lose their feathers. The chicken run and coop become littered with an array of colored feathers and the chickens take on a patchy Kramer-esc look. Bed head. They roll out of the coop in the mornings with bed head. Michael and I talk about what to do with one of the chickens when they die. We can’t bury them in the back yard. We might be able to put in a chicken graveyard in the front yard. Michael’s afraid he’s going to just have to put the dead chicken in a bag and put it in the dumpster, the same thing we do with the dead things Albus brings home. (Most common sentence in our house starts with “There’s a dead squirrel…”)

We also talk a lot about a new chicken coop. This chicken coop, along with the chickens, has been sort of like our first pancake for chicken raising. Our coop is difficult to access, making it hard to give them water. They recently decided to start laying their eggs inside the coop, but away from the nesting box. I cannot reach eggs that they lay outside of the nesting box. Michael has to reach his long arm into the coop and retrieve the eggs. There’s not a door to the run section and so it has to be lifted up to change out their water. I finally figured out a way to do this on my own, but all the chickens escape when this happens and I’m left with trying to figure out how to get them back in the coop. Josephine does a fairly decent job of herding, but it also looks like she’s attacking more than herding. The chickens end up fleeing to the safety of their coop. We talk about leaving the door open to the coop during the day and just letting the chickens roam free during the day, outside the safety of their chicken run. This has just been talk because secretly we both fear that something bad will happen to them.

Our original plan was to get three chickens. At the last minute, I picked up a chick and cradled her in my hands and said “Maybe we should get four in case one dies.” We took four chicks home and they have all survived. Each one has their own personality. They are not lovey dovey chickens. They barely tolerate being held and they have to be chased. They don’t come up to willingly. Matilda will bite you. But we love them. We love them enough to talk about doing it all over again when we lose these four.

CRASHING TO AN END

Cindy Maddera

I realize that it is not even December. I mean, it will be December by the end of this week, but right now it is still November. We have a whole month left in this year and I shouldn’t be rushing ahead. Except my brain is totally rushing ahead and I keep thinking about what I want to accomplish next year. I had only one thing that I wanted for this year and that was to complete a project. Any project. I’m thirty something days away from completing my 365 Day photo project that I have been posting daily on Flickr. I am going to complete a project this year. Also, I’ve been saying for years how I need to clean out the basement and pair down. I’ve just stopped putting this down as a resolution because every year I fail miserably at this. I might get one corner cleaned out only to fill it up with crap again. Sure, it took a major basement flood to get this goal accomplished, but by golly, that basement is clean and we have way less stuff.

These accomplishments have inspired me to start thinking about doing stuff. I’m not quite sure what stuff I want to do, but I want to do some stuff.

I think that on the top of my list of things to do next year is to expand my photography skills and build up a portfolio. Maybe even take a class or two. Someone in the office said to me in regards to our California trip that I must have taken a lot of pictures. Really, after sitting down to upload and edit, I did not end up taking very many pictures. I had even debated before the trip whether I should even bother bringing my Nikon with me. In the end, I decided to pack it and then I did make an effort to use it. That first morning at the cabin, I was awake before everyone. I snuck out of the cabin with my camera and went for a walk. The sun was just coming up and the air was crisp. I thought I might try to make my way to Tamales Bay, but it was further away than it looked. I walked the winding road far enough to reach a place where I could at least see the bay and was rewarded with light from the sun peaking up over the hills and filtering through the clouds.

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Later on, we all hiked out to Kehoe Beach. I took some pictures there that I am really happy with and that evening I captured a picture of the moon that I’m pretty proud of. The camera stayed in my bag for the rest of the trip because it ended up raining on us for most of Friday. We spent the day in the cabin, playing games and telling stories. I knew that I wanted to stop on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge on our way back to the airport. So I just let the photography slide to the way side in order to just be present in the moment. When Michael pulled our car off the highway and up to a parking space that overlooked the bridge, there was already a line of photographers set up at the look out. Serious photographers. They all had big fancy lenses and tripods. I got out of the car with my dinky Nikon and thought “what the Hell am I doing?” I was a joke. I closed my eyes and took a breath. When I opened them, I looked out at the Golden Gate Bridge, fog rolling in and the sunlight filtering down. We were high enough to be above the fog and the sunlight filtering through that fog made the water sparkle. It was blindingly beautiful.

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And I captured it all on my dinky little Nikon.

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I want more of this for 2019. I want to feel less intimidated and I want to feel more confident in my own abilities to capture beautiful moments. I want to accept that part of me that is an artist.

SOMETIMES YOU'VE GOT TO GO

Cindy Maddera

A few months back, my friend Heather sent me a text mentioning that she had her company cabin for Thanksgiving. Some of you might remember the last time I went to the cabin with Heather. I might have mentioned it here, but the cabin is in the tiny town of Inverness, CA. It sits high up on a hill surrounded by trees and the windows face Tomales Bay. I told Heather that if we weren’t tightening our belts and paying off debts, I’d invite us to tag along. Her reply was “it’s not until November.” She had a point. I cashed in some frequent flyer miles and we sold some stuff on Craig’s List. We bought plane tickets and rented a car and crashed her Thanksgiving.

And I’m so glad we did.

Michelle, who you might remember from that time I was a bearded lady and she was one half of the first ever interracially conjoined twins, flew up from San Diego. Heather’s friends, Maria and Mateo, flew in from Arizona. We’d never met, but I had heard some stories. Maria and Mateo ended up riding in the backseat of our rental car every where we went. I got so used to the two of them sitting behind us that I felt like we’d forgotten something when we left the cabin early Saturday morning. Instead of a turkey dinner on Thanksgiving, we ate Dungeness crab. In fact, we ate Dungeness crab for almost all meals. Turns out that six pounds of already picked crab meat feeds a party of six for two days. Just an fyi if you ever find yourself needing to place an order for picked crab meat and you order a pound per person, the person taking your order is going to scoff at you. You will ignore the scoffing and order that amount any way. Be prepared for the leftovers.

Instead of spending the holiday with family, we spent it with people we didn’t really know. I felt a bit of guilt over this. I claimed Michelle as part of our tribe the moment I met her three years ago. After spending five minutes with Maria and Mateo, I felt the same way about them. I even feel a little sad that they live so far away and are unavailable for random rides in the backseat of my car. So that guilt quickly dissipated when I realized that I was spending time with family. I was spending time with the family I have made for myself. We ate. We drank. We hiked to a beach. We played games and told stories. Mostly we laughed. Good lord, we laughed so dang much. I am very very fortunate.

Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is to go to a little cabin in the wood with no TV and very spotty cell signal. Make sure the cabin is filled with good people and a nice roaring fire. Be sure to spend some of that time on long walks and part of that time watching the rain. Laugh and memorize every silly ridiculous moment.

This is self care.

THANKFUL FRIDAY

Cindy Maddera

Every morning this week, my alarm has gone off at 4:50 AM and I have crawled out from under my heated blankets. I have pulled on my thermal leggings and long-sleeved T. I have unrolled my yoga mat and I have spent an hour in practice. I do not adjust the thermostat and the house is chilly, but I move my body through rounds of sun salutations to warm myself up. Often, Josephine comes back in from doing her thing outside and climbs back under the covers of my bed. She has a new haircut and she probably needs a sweater. She rolls herself up in my comforter like a burrito. It is only near the end of my practice, when I am settling down into a ten minute meditation, when I hear her jump from the bed and run into the living room to find me. Then she climbs into my lap and curls up like a ball. Instead of counting through a mantra, I scratch the dog.

I call it puppy meditation and I think I’m on to something. Like, move over goat yoga. Puppy meditation is taking a seat.

There have been plenty of scientific studies describing the health benefits of caring for and owning a pet. One study gave a group of people a rabbit or a turtle or a stuffed toy that matched one of those two things and then measured anxiety levels. Anxiety levels were lower for people who were petting the live animal. Even if it was a turtle. A review paper submitted to BMC Psychiatry found the current pile of scientific papers out there regarding pet ownership and mental health to be accurate in showing that:

‘pets provide benefits to those with mental health conditions through the intensity of connectivity with their owners and the contribution they make to emotional support in times of crises together with their ability to help manage symptoms when they arise.’

Even if it is a turtle.

There are lots of meditation techniques. Walking. Candle gazing. Chanting. Mindfully petting a dog fits right in. It’s a really nice way to start out the day. Every one is happier. Me. Josephine. Albus not so much. He curls up on the bathroom floor and gives us the side eye. But I bet if you had a nicer cat, you could have kitty meditation. Even turtle meditation.

I am thankful for puppy meditation. I am thankful for my puppy.

P.S. I bought Josephine an advent calendar. Michael incredulously said “You bought the dog an advent calendar?!” Then I told him why I bought the dog an advent calendar. Every time I get us one, the candy is terrible and there’s lots of complaining about who has to open it and eat it. Josephine’s little nubby tail is going to wag so hard that it’s going to make her whole body wiggle with excitement every time we open a day on the advent. We could be opening garbage and she would do all of her tricks. If anybody is going to gain joy out of a daily advent calendar, it’s going to be Josephine.

MODERN LOVE

Cindy Maddera

My music selection has been all over the place lately. I go from a Kesha station in the mornings to Morrissey in the afternoons. Some times I toss in some Pomplamoose or broadway show tunes. Last week, it was David Bowie. Hours and hours of everything Bowie. Modern Love started playing and for the first time I noticed that David Bowie speaks at the beginning of that song. His speaking voice caught me off guard. I was suddenly struck by the sound of it and immediately regretted not having a chance to have a intimate conversation with David Bowie.

David Bowie died from the same thing Chris died from. Cancer of the liver. I know what Mr. Bowie’s last few days looked like. I think of his wife who had to witness his last few days. I think of a few other women who have had to witness those last few days of their own spouses. I want to squeeze all of them tight and just whisper “I know. I get it.” The image of how they looked in the last few days are never going to leave your brain. It will float to the surface of your memories at random. Michael’s drunk face does it for me. I guess, at least I know what he’s going to look like in his final days. Also the smell of Jason’s Organic henna shampoo does it. It’s a shame because I really liked that shampoo.

The scientist in me finds it fascinating how the soul of a person sort fills the organic spaces like balloons. As the soul shrinks, the body doesn’t get smaller. It gets more hollow. Sunken. The body gets more and more unrecognizable as the person you knew. There are machines that photograph the entire insides of the human body, but there’s yet to be an image of what one could interpret as a soul. Everything has a name and (mostly) a function. The large intestine, small intestine. Heart. Liver. Kidneys. I would be tempted to say the appendix could be the organ that holds the thing that makes you, you. I’ve never known a person who has had that removed to know if they’re different afterwards, but considering that the removal of an appendix is pretty standard procedure would have me ruling out particular organ. I don’t have my tonsils and I’m pretty sure I still have my soul.

Pretty sure.

There’s something there that doctors haven’t seen that keeps us inflated and whole. Something more than air. It is the thing that makes you who you are. I know exactly the moment when Chris was no longer Chris. The same thing with Dad. There’s a part of me that wishes I didn’t witness those moments when the balloons filling up the their organic spaces, started popping. Those popping balloons didn’t even make a sound. No warning, yet I knew it was coming.

I know when to go out and when to stay in. Get things done.

Is that what’s holding our souls steady and in place? Knowing when to stay in so we can get things done?

It’s time to change the station.

VETERANS DAY

Cindy Maddera

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The World War I Memorial and Museum starts their celebrations at least a week in advance. This year the building is lit with images of poppies. I’ve yet had an evening free where I could go and see it. It hits me every Veterans Day; every time I see social media fill up with photos and thank you notes. Veterans Day arrives and at first I view all of it from a distance. I don’t really remember Veterans Day being a big thing. The pastor during Sunday service might have given a sermon on soldiers and faith and then request that all military veterans stand for recognition. I don’t remember parades or fan fair though. Veterans Day was one of those holidays celebrated quietly with only a moment of gratitude taken before moving on with our day. Then I remember.

My Dad was a veteran.

It’s an easy thing to forget. My Dad’s time in the U.S. Air Force ended long before I came along. Randy is the only one of Dad’s children who was around during Dad’s service and I don’t know how much of that time he remembers. Dad never really mentioned his time in the military. He could go on and on about the camping and beauty of Michigan where he was stationed and how much he enjoyed living there. But he never mentioned anything about his actual time on base. The few things I know came from my mother. She talked only once about the tensions between the US and Russia during the Cuban missile crisis and how Dad was on call at the base. Russia was entering US airs space daily. It was a very tense time. Dad never spoke a word about it.

That was his way.

Dad would on very rare occasions impart snippets of the serious moments of his life. Years after doing so, Dad told me about riding on a charter bus with his fellow Union members to the Oklahoma State Capitol to protest the Right To Work amendment. I was so surprised by this story. I knew my Dad was proud of his Union and attended all of the meetings, but I had no idea of his actions. Dad would tell us stories of fishing and camping. He would talk about the mischief he would get into with my Uncle Russell. Yet he never talked about the serious moments. Not even towards the end. And when I think about it, Dad was not the only service member in our family to not really mention their time in service. Pepaw, a veteran of the second World War, would tell you a few details about his time spent in the South Pacific and only when prompted.

I overheard a story on the news of a veteran’s reaction to someone thanking him for his service. This man was gracious in his response but then gave some advice. He said instead of saying “thank you”, tell a veteran “I remember". It is more meaningful to be remembered. I am grateful for those who have the fortitude to serve this country in the military, but I also want to remember and never forget those who served. We forget that our veterans serve for only a certain amount of time before moving on and living ordinary lives. They move on, have careers and raise families. They retire and grow old. Instead of thanking a veteran, maybe we need to prompt a veteran to share their story.

To remember.

THANKFUL FRIDAY

Cindy Maddera

I’m sitting in the library, typing this and it is currently snowing. It started yesterday around lunch time. I don’t know when it finally stopped last night, but we woke up to everything coated in a layer of frozen slush. The sun came out just enough today to melt that layer away and now it’s started snowing again. It is almost a fitting ending to this week. It is as if someone decided to throw everything at me this week just to see what I was made of. Well…I’m not made of fluff and sugar or things that are brittle. Je suis forte.

I stopped at a cemetery on the way to work this morning. It is one of our historic cemeteries that offer two for one plots on the same grounds as baseball legends Buck O’Neil and Satchel Page. It seems like a morbid thing to enjoy, but I love old historic cemeteries and this one has the most beautiful trees in the Fall. Sometimes a fog rolls in and lingers along the tombstones like a 1950s black and white horror flick. There’s a cathedral style crypt built into the side of a hill near the back that is hauntingly beautiful. Despite how I feel about cold weather, I can’t help but notice how beautiful the snow can be and I knew that the cemetery would be a perfect place to capture that beauty. The only regret I have is that I didn’t have my Nikon on me. The decision to stop was a spur of the moment choice and I hadn’t thought to pack that camera. In the end, though, it didn’t really matter what camera I had in my hand. Something sparked as I stepped out of my warm car into the cold cemetery. I thought “Oh…hey! I remember this feeling!” traipsing through the snow and taking pictures. As I left the cemetery, I noticed another car had followed me in. That person was now standing outside their vehicle with their camera maybe feeling that same spark.

I’m going to be just fine.

PEEK-A-BOO

Cindy Maddera

I’ve been reduced to tears of anger, frustration and fear three times this week and it’s only Wednesday. Part of it’s been the election. Part of it has to do with work stuff (the first rule of blog club is to never blog about work). Some of it has to do with holding onto things I need to say but I’m afraid to say because I’m a big chicken. A tiny bit of it is me just feeling sorry for myself. An even smaller bit of that is my disappointment over the ending of the most recent episode of the Walking Dead (WHY DO WE STILL WATCH THIS?!?!). There’s an 80% chance that it is going to snow here tomorrow and I’ve just about got a hole dug out for me to be burry my head in it.

I feel like all the good parts of me have dropped off the planet. My writing is sparse and full of complaints and gripes. My photos are forced and unimagined. My yoga classes are uninspired and meh. I feel like shutting down here until the end of the year. We saw our first Christmas themed advertisement last night and Michael and I both booed the TV. Michael has already started asking me about what I want to do for my birthday in January and I almost told him to just fuck off. I can’t plan that far ahead. I can’t really plan ten minutes ahead right now. We’re lucky that I make up the menu for the week on Thursdays. It’s the reason we have food for this week and meals I don’t have to think about. We’re spending Thanksgiving with friends at a cabin in the woods in California. In my head, I’m already eating an Ike’s sandwich and taking long walks in woods of tall trees. I’m photographing the fog that rolls into Tomales Bay and looking for giant slugs.

Maybe this is where I’ll find those missing good parts of myself.

I’m not giving up completely for the rest of the year. I’ll be around only because I know that writing here keeps me somewhat sane.

SCSC, PART 2

Cindy Maddera

Ida’s best friend, Myrtle, lived in the local nursing home. Myrtle’s son, Howard, had moved his mother into the Hanalei Assisted Living Center a year ago after Myrtle had accidentally set her kitchen on fire. It was a simple mistake, one all of us have made. Myrtle had forgotten to turn off the burner after boiling water in her tea kettle. She had never had a ‘senior moment’ before and Howard latched onto this one with might. Myrtle knew that her son wanted her out of her bungalow so he could sell it to developers. Her house on the beach had become hot property. Myrtle was contacted almost weekly by some developer or another offering her an outrageous sum of money for her tiny little house. Howard had not thought twice before dropping his mother off at Hanalei Assisted Living and was probably living it up in Oahu with the fortune he’d acquired from selling Myrtle’s house.

Myrtle didn’t really mind too much. As a mother, she wanted her son to have everything he dreamed of having. If that meant putting her into assisted living and selling her house, then so be it. What she did mind was the center’s strict rules and prison style schedules. The director of the center refused to let patients go any where near the beach, let alone try to stand on a surfboard. They were relegated to exercising on a treadmill in the gym or walking the gardens attached to the backside of the center. The gardens backed up to a wildlife refuge, so the bird watching was good, but bird watching and surfing where incomparable. Myrtle longed for the ocean, her board and escape. Ida visited every day and the two of them would sit in the rockers on the large verandah that surrounded the main building, plotting Myrtle’s escape.

One day, Ida was explaining how she’d heard that you could mix a few drops of Visine into someone’s coffee and it would give that person explosive diarrhea. “We could put some in the security guard’s coffee and the orderly’s soda drink.” “That doesn’t really work.” Ida and Myrtle looked up as a tall older gentleman with stooped shoulders dragged a rocker over and settled himself in it. “Bernard Muller. I don’t mean to listen in but I want the same thing you two seem to want. Freedom and surf.” After Bernard, came Lelani Kahale who wasn’t so much interested in surfing as she was just being able to get in the ocean with her snorkel, mask and spear for fishing. Lelani brought Alexi Sokolov into the group. She’d been eating her meals with this man since she moved into the center and he told her fantastical stories of being a Russian spy. She thought his skills might come in handy.

So now, they were a group of five, not counting Ida’s new apprentice, Floyd who didn’t realize yet that he was also a part of this group and would in fact play a pivotal role in their escape plan.

THANKFUL FRIDAY

Cindy Maddera

Not too long ago, maybe near the end of September, we had a couple of weeks of rain and cloudy skies. It was bleak and dreary and many of us wondered if we were ever going to see the sun again. Actually, this scooter season, I ended up getting caught in the rain more times than I ever have during a scooter season. I worried that we were going to move from Summer right on into winter without getting a Fall. Eventually the clouds went away and the sun came out. Everybody’s basements dried out. The weather shifted from warm and muggy to cool and dry. The days have been sunny with mild temps while the evenings and nights have been down right cold.

Turns out warm days and cold nights is the perfect weather recipe for amazingly vibrant Fall leaves. We all learned in basic biology about how plants use chlorophyll to make food from the sun. Trees make lots of chlorophyll during the months were have the most sunlight, Spring and Summer. As Summer turns into Fall, trees start breaking down chlorophyll to prepare for the darker days when we don’t get as much sunlight. As chlorophyll, which is also a pigment, is broken down into smaller molecules, underlying pigments like yellow and orange show through. Reds and orange come from sugars that get trapped in the leaves. On warm sunny days, more sugars get trapped in the leaves and then on cool nights, chlorophyll breaks down. The leaves end up being more vibrant and stick to the trees longer.

Science is beautiful.

Every time I step outside, I think I’ve stepped onto the set of some Hallmark Channel made-for-TV Thanksgiving movie. The trees are so vibrant and breathtaking that they don’t even seem real. Just when I think it can’t get any prettier, another tree shifts over to flaming red or blinding gold and I mumble “are you fucking kidding me?!” to myself because I just can’t believe I’m in Kansas City and not Vermont. The concept of a true Fall season is still new to me. I’m not sure I will really ever get used to it. When the leaves change color here and last for weeks, I am so pleasantly surprised. I think of it as my consolation prize for the colder temperatures and the impending winter. Fall is here to overwhelm the optic nerves with vibrancy before we settle into the cold dark gray of winter.

I am thankful for that vibrancy.

SATYA

Cindy Maddera

I am ‘friends’ on Facebook with most of the people I went to high school with. One of those is a guy who I remember as always being kind and respectful. He was the kind of guy that would change your flat tire, the kind of guy who made sure you were safe. I also remember him having a decent sense of humor. I don’t really know who this guy is now. Time changes us in good and bad ways. He often re-posts those memes floating around that are hateful or poke fun at someone who is different from his norm. Most often I don’t see these posts anymore because I went into my settings and changed the things I see posted. That guy recently had a birthday and I took a moment to wish him a happy birthday. He responded with a thank you and referred to me as a “sweet woman”. I told him that one of the best things about the internet is how it can be used to send good wishes and to encourage one another. I still want to believe that this man is kind and respectful, just maybe not so mindful about the things he posts.

I was reminded of satya when I attended a yoga class at work on a day I don’t usually attend classes. The teacher started the class with a lesson on this sanskrit word for truth. She talked about being true to yourself and your body on your mat. She talked about being kind to yourself. She talked about knowing your truth. This is not a new lesson for me. Satya is one of the five yamas, which are the ethical rules of yoga. Sort of a ‘right living’ manual. Satya can be interpreted simply as being to true to yourself. It can also be one of the yamas that could be studied deeply and can become very complicated. Satya follows the first yama, ahimsa, which is the practice of non-violence or simply, ‘do no harm’. We have to find ways of speaking our truths without causing harm to others. The practice of satya, off the mat, makes us more respectful and thoughtful.

The internet is a good place for the practice of satya. Other bloggers I follow (Chookooloonks and Elan Morgan) have been writing about creating ‘soft spaces’. On Monday, just days after the shooting that took place at a Pittsburg synagogue killing eleven people, there were 11,696 posts on Instagram containing #jewsdid911. Social media has become the most popular method for spreading hate speech, racism and misinformation. The President of the United States participates daily in the spread of hate and racism in his twitter feed. I have been struggling daily with the ugliness I see from the people in this country. I know of two wonderful women who have lost their husbands this month and my heart aches for them. I wish nothing more than to have the superpower to protect these women in their grief, to ease it for them in some way. I wish nothing more than to have the superpower to protect all of us from grief, hate, racism, the president.

I don’t have that kind of power, but I do have the power to create a soft space, a place of comfort to others. I do have the ability to speak my truth in a non-harmful way, respectful way. Let’s practice satya together.

THE SENIOR CITIZENS SURF CLUB

Cindy Maddera

The Senior Citizens Surf Club (or SCSC) was founded by Floyd Henderson and Ida Merryweather on Hanalei Bay beach on the island of Kauai in 1978. Floyd was 22 years old. He had dropped out of medical school on his second day of class, smuggled himself onto a container barge and ended up on the big island of Hawaii. He stayed there in a small village doing odd jobs from fixing small engines (not much different from the human heart really) to mending torn fishing nets (very much like stitching up a cut). Eventually he hopped on a fishing boat to Kauai with no intention of staying long, but with every intention of learning everything about building his own surfboard. Floyd had heard rumors of an old hermit who lived in a shack on the beach. The hermit was supposed to be the best surfboard maker to ever have made a surfboard.

It did not take long (Kauai’s not that big of an island) for Floyd to find his hermit. On his third morning on the island, Floyd hit up Hanalei Bay beach for some morning surfing. He was sitting on his board in the water, contemplating his next move when he spotted one surfer in particular. This surfer was slotted. That’s the term for when a surfer is tucked nicely into the barrel of a wave and this surfer was tucked in like burrito. Just as the wave started closing in, the surfer zipped out to the crest of the wave and then rode that wave all the way to the beach, skidding to stop and hopping off with a ‘tah-dah’! flare. Floyd almost applauded. He swam his board back to the beach to meet this person and ask him if he knew about this mysterious surfboard maker.

Floyd realized as he walked up to this surfer that he was not about to introduce himself to a young man like himself. No, when Floyd reached the surfer he was introducing himself to Mrs. Ida Merryweather, an eighty year old widow and obvious surf queen. She peeled her wetsuit off to reveal a floral print one piece swimsuit that perfectly matched the flower print swim cap on her head. Her skin was that soft brown wrinkled leather kind of skin of a person who had spent years and years outside in the sun, not bothering with sunscreen. Her hair, revealed as she pulled off the swim cap, was white as snow and sprang up from her head in frizzy curls. Ida was no spring chicken, but her smile was true and her ocean blue eyes sparkled with mischief. Floyd was immediately smitten with Ida.

Floyd told Ida that he’d come to the island to find the hermit who made surfboards in hopes of learning how to make surfboards. Ida laughed and shook her head saying “I never considered myself a hermit.” The shack on the beach was actually a two bedroom bungalow a mile from the beach with a workshop in back where Ida spent her days sanding, buffing and lacquering wood into beautiful surfboards which were sold in local surf shops. Floyd begged to be Ida’s apprentice. “Son, you didn’t need to beg. You just had to ask.” was Ida’s response and that’s how Floyd became Ida's apprentice. Floyd moved into Ida’s spare bedroom and in return for learning all he could about making surfboards, he ran the errands. He picked up groceries and made sure they were eating well. He did the yard work and fixed the carburetor in Ida’s station wagon. Ida taught him how to smell the wood for lightness and feel for weight. She taught him how to sand and how when you think you’re done sanding, you sand just a teeny bit more. Floyd became Ida’s caretaker and Ida became Floyd’s surf mentor.

By now, you’re probably wondering were the surf club comes in. Hold on. I’m getting to that.

SOUR GRAPES

Cindy Maddera

My alarm went off at 4:50 AM this morning and I made the choice to ignore it and not get up and do my yoga practice. In hindsight, the choice to skip my morning yoga practice was probably a poor one and set the tone for my day. I got my scooter out of the garage only to discover that it wouldn’t start. The battery was dead. It’s been cold here. It could also still be the same battery I’ve had since I bought the scooter ten years ago. Then I had to maneuver my not so light scooter back up the hill and into the garage, climbing over mine and Michael’s scooter to get out of the garage. I stepped into the stairwell at work to head out on my coffee walk only to realize that I had left my badge on my desk, trapping myself in the stairwell. I answered some asinine emails, struggling to refrain from just replying “you are stupid.” By the time I left for my chiropractor appointment, I was a festering ball of bitchiness.

When Chris and I still lived in Chickasha, there was a grimy little laundry mat around the corner from our apartment where we’d go wash our clothes. We were there one afternoon sitting with our books, doing school work while our clothes tumbled around in the washers. There was a young woman there with her two young children. The girl, just learning to read, was reading out loud from a children’s book she’d found in one of the chairs. The boy, just learning to talk, was walking around saying “Fuck this. Fuck that.” The young mother yelled over at her daughter '“Crystal-Lynn, shut up. No one wants to listen to you read.” She said nothing the boy. Sometimes I feel like that little boy lives inside me whispering “fuck this. fuck that”, goading me to say it in turn. Crystal-Lynn, I hope you’re still reading even if you have to say the words out loud to do so.

The sun is shining. The basement is clean. We’ve done preventative maintenance to keep rain out of the basement. The washer and dryer are paid for. I went to book club last night and didn’t feel like the odd girl out for not liking our chosen book. My life is pretty good. I have no reason to walk around shouting “Fuck this and fuck that.” Yet I am seriously considering doing just that. I am a prickly pear. A prickly pear with a creativity block. This is why I’m writing about grimy laundry mats and delinquent toddlers. I have nothing better for you. In fact, I’m banging my head on the keyboard right now trying to figure out a way to end this post.

Fuck this.

Fuck that.

THANKFUL FRIDAY

Cindy Maddera

I took up a 365 day photo project this year where I take a picture of myself everyday for 365 days. Many of you know I’ve done this before. I’ve completed two years. Almost completed another year. Skipped a year. Tried again for another year and failed. When I decided to do the project this year, I was thinking about how I felt after finishing the first year, how taking all of those pictures of myself made me actually like my face and body. By the end of it, I didn’t mind being in front of the camera. I thought about how I have lost that confidence. When I looked in the mirror now, my face looked bloated and saggy and sad. Forget looking at my whole reflection in a floor length mirror. So I’ve been slugging my way through this year’s 365 day project hoping to see something of me that made me feel less bloaty and saggy.

It took me two hundred and twelve days to get to a place where I thought “okay….okay. you’re not so bloaty and saggy.”

A few months ago, I travelled to Oklahoma to visit with friends. I stopped at the Oklahoma Welcome Center just outside of Kansas to take a bathroom break. When I stepped out of the stall, I came face to face with a woman wearing the exact same clothes as I was. Except she was thinner and pulling off the outfit way better than I. It took a second glance for me to realize that the woman I was looking at was actually me. There was a full length mirror right outside my bathroom stall. It was obviously a carnival mirror and two women walked in on me while I was taking a picture. Later that weekend when I was at the Jens’, I was getting ready in their bathroom and noticed that my reflection in their mirror was also very flattering. Again, I chalked this up to some weird quirk of Oklahoma. Like maybe all the mirrors in Oklahoma are carnival mirrors. Even when my doctor told me at my recent check-up that I had lost ten pounds since the last time I was in, I was not all that impressed. Maybe a little surprised. I’d stopped stepping onto the scale ages ago. It just never seemed to change and I stopped caring. I stopped trying to like myself.

Maybe it has something to do with getting rid of so much stuff, but I finally feel the loss of those ten pounds. I don’t only feel it, but I can see it. I see it in the mirror. I can see it when I look down at my body, when I’m moving through my vinyasa. I can see it in the pictures I take.

Finding lost confidence. That’s something to be grateful for.

OUR BASEMENT FLOOD WAS THE BEST THING TO HAPPEN TO US

Cindy Maddera

Every year, my New Year’s resolution includes cleaning out and pairing down. Every. Year. Every year, I fail miserably. This year? It took a flooded basement to get me to complete this goal. The insurance company contacted a cleaning service Thursday morning and by Thursday afternoon, the whole crew was in my basement. They told us that everything on the floor was a loss unless it was made of metal. This included the pallet shelves Michael built. All the things on those shelves had to go into our dining room and living room. The garage filled up with all of the unsalvageable items. Friday morning, Michael and I went shopping for a new washer and dryer and some new shelves. Michael called a dumpster service and Friday afternoon we had a big trash dumpster parked in our driveway.

We tossed. We threw. We hauled. We hustled.

By Saturday night we had cleared out all the garbage from every nook and cranny of the house and garage, as well as a pile of brush from our yard and the neighbor’s yard. We managed to pair ourselves down to three boxes of keepsakes, a box of my mother’s china, three boxes of ebay items, a few games, four boxes of Christmas decorations (including the tree), one Halloween box, two tents, a metal detector, one pottery wheel, and some of our large kitchen items that we don’t use every day. Ten boxes were placed in front of the garage for the Boys and Girl’s club donation pick up today. By late Sunday morning, I was washing clothes in our new fancy washing machine. The dryer sings you a song when it is done. The inside of the house has been swept and vacuumed and there is no evidence of the chaos of having all of the things in our living room.

I feel like we accomplished superhuman feats this weekend. Michael and I pass each other in the house and high five. I look around the living room and then say “hey, remember that one time when all of our stuff from the basement was in here?” Then I go down to the basement and walk around the clean floor. The basement is cleaner now then when Chris and I moved in seven years ago (almost 8 years). It is bitter sweet. At times I had to reconcile my need for the tangible memory versus just having the memory. I had no choice over the things that were damaged like Chris’s framed Simpson’s lithograph and framed Futurama poster. I held on to a few trinkets. A Saint Christopher charm. A Ghostbuster’s pin. An original Han Solo figure. Michael kept telling me that he didn’t want me to think that he was asking me to throw away all of Chris’s things. I don’t feel like he was pushing me to do anything I didn’t want to do. I don’t feel like he was pushing me to do anything Chris wouldn’t want for me to do. Chris struggled between wanting to be free of all of his things and wanting to have all of the cool things. I think, at times, he was crippled by the weight of the amount of things he had collected.

I remind myself that this house was never really mine and Chris’s. We never got the chance to nest in it together. We moved in believing that we would move out in a year and so we never really unpacked or painted the walls or even hung up much artwork. Chris was sick by the time we signed the paperwork on the house. All the changes that were made to the interior of the house came after Chris. Getting rid of his things doesn’t free me from Chris because I’ve never felt imprisoned by his memory but I do feel free. Free of the things that weighed us down.

THANKFUL FRIDAY

Cindy Maddera

Monday evening, while washing dishes, I noticed the water was not getting hot. Michael went to the basement to investigate and discovered that we had water in our basement. The drain had gotten clogged enough that water pooled causing the pilot light to go out on the hot water tank. It also fried the washer and dryer. That night I dreamed that I was trapped in a cabin with an enraged bear. The bear spoke english, but he was so blinded by rage that I couldn’t reason with him as I scrambled from hiding place to hiding place. He was angrily smashing furniture and ripping cloth with his large razor sharp claws, saliva dripping from his canines. I kept trying to calm the bear down and explain to him that I was one of the good guys and I just wanted to help him get out. He smashed the wood table I was hiding under and I woke up.

I don’t know if the bear represented Michael or the basement or a combination of both.

I am trying to negotiate with the insurance company on getting someone to help with the clean up process and with replacing the washer and dryer. Fans are blowing and the dehumidifier is humming in order to dry things out. The plumber showed up between two and six on Thursday to snake the drain. There is nothing for us to do right now but wait and make tentative plans on how we are going to tackle all of this mess. To add to our anxiety, the cat has been missing since Monday. The mood around here is at a serious low. I keep telling myself that it could be worse. We could have sewage backing up into the basement. Then I remind myself that even if we did, that wouldn’t be as bad as the first time I had sewage backing up into the basement, back when I was desperately trying to keep someone alive while trying to clean up raw sewage. You know that time when I was juggling Faberge eggs and I dropped all of them and they shattered into a million pieces? I suppose I am grateful that this time is not like that one time.

When I am not fighting off bears or wondering where the cat might be, I am thinking about the concept of not doing enough. Dr. Mary told me a story about one of her friends that she visits. The woman is 94 years old and she plays bridge every Monday with the same group of woman that she’s been playing bridge with for 60 years. Recently, this woman’s bridge partner passed away. Her name was Anne. Anne played bridge on Monday, caught a cold on Wednesday and then passed on from this world on Sunday. She was 92. Dr. Mary’s friend was devastated and said “I feel that I could have done something more for Anne.” I received many comments on Monday’s blog entry that expressed similar feelings in regards to a lost loved one. Wanting to do more for the ones we love is universal and often spills over to people we don’t even know. I’m thinking of that scene in Schindler’s list when Oskar Schindler breaks down and says “I could have saved more. I could have saved more.”

The knowledge that there are so many of us out there willing to do more for not only our loved ones, but for complete strangers, gives me hope. The trick is finding a balance between wanting to do more, doing what we can and accepting that we have done what we could. That acceptance part is probably the most challenging. It’s the tight rope of my Faberge egg juggling act.

UPDATE: The cat is home! He’s alive! With no visible injuries! Cleaners came and cleaned the basement. Everything that was in the basement is now in the living room/dining room and garage. Am I freaking out? You betcha ya!