Hands…The Dangling Strength That Hangs From Our Arms…

Hands.  Although hardly pretty, I’ve really come to love my hands.  They’re the outward representation of my spirit and in their lined palms, they have held all that I’ve loved, lost, hated, feared, created and comforted. They even hold the scar from a mishap with a tomato can lid while I was pregnant with Emery and trying to precook meals in anticipation of her arrival.  I was told, after my 10 stitches to the palm, that I’d never be able to get an accurate palm reading on that hand as there’s an extra line.  Maybe that tomato can lid added something to my life by adding the line – at least that’s the theory I’m going with.

My sister, Susan, told me that she had a yoga teacher once ask the class to look at their hands deeply enough that they almost seemed separate from the rest of their body and think about what they’ve done in your lifetime.  I had never really done that before and became rather obsessed with the idea of my hands.  Sure, the other parts of my body have also been along for the ride,  but it is the hands, the very visible hands,  that have created,  destroyed, cradled, protected and applauded their way through this life.

Susan told me that during the process of thinking about her hands, she thought about other hands and which pairs she would recognize.  She told me she would recognize my hands easily and wondered, would I be able recognize my own children’s hands out of a group of several?

“Of course I would!!!”  (this definitive YES is in no way trying to neutralize my confession in an early post of not recognizing my own new born in the hospital…)

But I later wondered…. would I?

Somehow hearing that Susan would recognize my hands gave me a deep sense of comfort.  She said they were hard working hands.  She’s right. My hands have always felt right at home digging in the dirt.  I know there are tools for that, and they do help me get the job started, but when it comes to placing a new plant into the earth I want to have full on skin to dirt contact.  That being said, I’ve entered into the season of perpetually dirty nails that do not know their way around a nail salon and quite honestly, kind of feel like they don’t belong.  With garden centers, on the other hand,  I’m full in.

While thinking about hands, I couldn’t help but think back to a few years ago and the volunteer work I did in Perú at a center for the poor elderly.  One of the activities I chose one day was to give manicures to any of the women who wanted them. Much to my surprise, almost all of them did, creating a bit of a frenzy at the small “station” I had set up.  I had danced with these women, chatted with them in their homes,  played games with them, but my favorite, by far, were the manicures.  There was a real intimacy in holding their hand, while painting their nails and like little girls, they were in awe of the process, watching carefully and boldly pointing out to me when my little brush painted outside of the nail line.

These hands made my hands look pampered and delicate.  THESE were working hands and just like Madge on the Palmolive commercial, I had all the waiting hands soaking in soapy water.  I told them it was to soften the nail so I could cut them, but in reality it was simply to clean them up a bit as most were filthy. Again, these were working hands.

One of my favorites, Maria Rivera, waited patiently in line and finally took her spot as my last customer.  She had the hands that needed the most work.  Her fingers were bent with arthritis and her nails thick and dirty and terribly ignored.  She had definite ideas as to how she wanted them to look – cut short, painted bright pink and made to look pretty.

“Bonita y rosada por favor.”

I did the best I could to make them not only bright pink, but well manicured and far cleaner than what she started with.  She seemed pleased.  As I held her hand in mine and tried  to file the nails down to a respectable length (they were far too hard to cut), I couldn’t help but think about what Susan had told me about hands.  As I worked my way across the nail of each of her short, thick fingers, I thought about the history I had been told about her, specifically how her own son had tried to strangle her.  Were these  hands that I was holding the same ones that pulled her own son’s hands off of her neck while trying to save her own life?  What else had these very strong hands done to protect the body that they dangled from?  No doubt there were many stories and I wanted to sit back and hear all of them while I held her fight, her strength and her integrity in my own hands.  These same hands, that were her protectors, still honored her vanity and drew perfectly arched brows over sad brown eyes, and placed a gold hat that looked like a half-popped jiffy pop container on top of her neatly coiffed hair every morning before coming to Los Martincitos.

Me and Maria Rivera

I felt honored to feel such intimacy with these women while working on their nails and making them pretty and pink.  The task at hand was the manicure, but I felt like I gained far more than what I gave.  The simple pleasure of being with these beautiful hard-working women who had experienced so much hardship in their lives, one at a time, while holding their hands and letting its energy mingle with my own was a gift.

Amelia… far prouder than she’d let on…
Petronila de Leon’s nails… pretty in pink!


These hands looked a whole lot different 24 hours later…

Besides the fact that the polish was old and sticky and the women insisted on sitting right next to me rather than across from me, which made for awkward angles, plus having to work under the frustration of swarms of flies (I later discovered that directly on the other side of the wall we were sitting in front of was a garbage dump), it has become one of my most treasured memories of my time in Perú.

My own hands, the same that so often had been told to put it down, leave it alone and stop picking at it, followed the rest of myself into a nail salon for a manicure the day before my son, Thomas’ wedding last year.  After the nail tech brought out the third wrong shade of pink,  I had to leave because I started crying.  Yes, crying. That’s not a typo.  When I got home my other son, Grant, asked me if I got my hands all fixed up (boy speak for manicure) and I told him no that I had to leave because I started crying.  He said nothing for a few seconds then responded with:

“You’re not ready for him to get married, are you?”

“No.  He’s still 9 years old… or so it seems.”

Clearly this was not about the wedding, but rather was about my having to face, full on, the passage of time, which felt a whole lot faster than was comfortable.

It’s easier for me to be more accepting of my stubby fingers with rough cuticles and often less than perfectly manicured nails when I think of what these hands have done for me.  The small hands they’ve held while crossing the street, the plants they’ve placed with hope into the dirt and the weeds they’ve pulled out in frustration,  the family dog that they held while he was being put to sleep and the tears they wiped away for so many days that followed, the babies they’ve held, the stories they’ve typed.  I love them in all of their flawed imperfection as they represent my history, my life and my spirit in full view.   How can that not evoke a crazy sense of pride of ownership…dirty nails and all?

The End.


My 365 day project…

Everyday, since January 1, 2014, I have been taking a photo and digitally putting it into a self-publish book.  Some days I’ve had a plethora of photos to choose from and other days I’ve struggled to come up with the one photo that will represent the day, more or less.   I’ve given each photo a date, the number of days into the year it represents and a caption.  By the way, today is day #146…

It’s been an interesting journey that has brought on challenges that I had not expected, which surprisingly has NOT been to remember to take a photo and digitally upload it into the book on a daily basis.  Initially, I tried to outdo myself daily, each photo upping the last, most of them scenic, none of them boring, but 146 days into the project, I know now that the days that I think I’ve got nothing, are the days that I find myself slowing down, listening and simply observing and I’m always surprised with what I end up with.  They are usually the days with the photos I’m most proud of.

The process has given me a different lens to view my day through (pun intended)… and through that lens, I’m finding the beauty in places and situations that I never noticed before….
Unexpected bonuses.
Open eyes.

Here are a few of my favorites…

Day #1


Day #36


Day #37
Day #71


Day #77
Day #91
Day #114
Day #146


From birthing to adulthood, there’s one thing I’ve learned, marvel in your creations, Moms, this day you’ve earned! Happy Mom’s Day!

Being a Mom was something I always knew I wanted in my life, although I never thought of myself as maternal before having kids. I was the one when playing house that wanted to play teenagers on dates with guys in convertibles, not mommies holding their crying babies.  When my first was born, anxious to show him off to one of my sisters when she came to the hospital, it took me three tries of pointing through the nursery window before I located the baby who I had actually birthed.  I was devastated.  Maternal, in what I thought maternal was, hadn’t magically appeared with childbirth for me.  I didn’t even know which baby in the rows of pink and blue swaddles was even mine.  I was post C-section, pumped up on morphine, so will blame the drugs.  But still….

It didn’t take me long, once home, to begin to understand what maternal instincts were and feel their presence in everything I did.  A couple became a family and a me became a we and it felt like it had been like that forever.  During the first few nights at home, I woke up far more than the baby did, simply to check to see if he was still breathing.  I know I’m not the only Mom who has stood over a bassinet in the middle of the night with her hand hovering a few inches over her baby’s mouth for the reassurance of the small warm puffs of life.

I wanted to be the best mom I could and between reading books about my child’s emotions, self-esteem, health, creativity and happiness, I sanitized, scrutinized, organized and sterilized every morsel of our 6 pound bundle of joy.  I wasn’t ready to believe that a dropped pacifier doesn’t have to be sterilized every time it hits the ground or that schedules don’t necessarily have to be adhered to.  I relied on the educated advice of others to get me through infancy (Dr. Spock included), as I didn’t yet have the confidence to veer off the path and do what felt right to me.

A short 18 months after my first was brought home from the hospital, we had a second son.  With two you get reality.  Parenting books, sanitized pacifiers (or sanitized anything for that matter) and rigid schedules all went out the window, along with expectations and sadly,  a few elements of my own personal hygiene.   Getting though the day with babies fed, no blood and some semblance of a dinner on the table at night was enough of a goal for me.  Thankfully, I had sisters who weren’t afraid to question me on my personal hygiene, reminding me that showering, shaving, and getting out of my jamies by dinner time would serve me well in the long run.  Still, in all the chaos of the non-perfection, non-scheduled, non-sterilized and very tired life, I felt gloriously maternal and totally in my element.

My oldest son, Thomas, in his brilliant curiosity, reminded me to slow down and simply look at things.  He questioned everything and when really pensive about something, he’d say:

“Let’s think about this till Saturday night, OK, Mom?”

We spent a lot of time stretched out on a blanket watching clouds drift by.  He called it our afternoon television.  I called it wonderful.

Slow down.  Look at things.  What’s the rush?

Thanks, Thomas.

This child, who was not even 2, during a frustrated moment I was feeling with his baby brother who had been crying nonstop for days it seemed, tapped me on the shoulder and with the innocence that can only come from a child, said:

“Just love him, Mama… just love him….”

Out of the mouths of babes…

Our second son, Grant, was my free-spirited, creative child from the get go. He taught me how to play again and through him, I tapped into my own magical and creative spirit.  Grant lived his life at full tilt and as a little boy, it shows in most of the photographs as he was usually sporting some sort of wound on his face from something that he never could exactly remember the how’s or the where’s behind it.

Grant was my kid who needed to be free… and as a toddler, hated wearing diapers in the summer while playing outside.  After a few rounds of trying to fix the situation with duct tape, I gave up and let him be free –  of diapers and tan lines.

I let go of the “supposed tos” and “shoulds” with Grant and when he decided that he wanted to wear plaid pants that were too little, swim shoes and a navy blue blazer to his preschool graduation, when all the other kids would be in shorts and tee shirts, how could I say no?

He took things apart, put things together, created from nothing and imagined everything.  He was observant to a tee and would comment on a new outfit, new recipe or if I had changed something in the house and with his observations came honesty….

“This doesn’t taste very good, Mom…”

Or the one that really caught me off guard was this, spoken at age 4:

“You’re pretty, Mom, but not a babe.”

“What do you mean by that, Grant?”

“Babes wear fancy dresses made of leopard.”

Was this from the Flintstones or a Victoria Secret catalog?  I opted on the former.

Have fun.  Make stuff and make stuff up.  Quit worrying about what anyone thinks.

Thanks, Grant.

When Emery was born, I wanted to  ride the brakes for as long as I could as I knew she was the last.  I dismissed the rules, threw out what little was left of the schedule and simply enjoyed being a mom.  For 5 years, short of taking her brothers to where they needed to be and keeping the family fed, I accomplished nothing while achieving everything.  I acted on whims and my gut and flew by the seat of my pants with her, which more than once had me calling her in sick to her mother’s day out/preschool program because we wanted to have an adventure instead, which always started with buying cinnamon rolls as big as our heads (we measured… kind of….)

Emery reminded me of the beauty of spontaneity and impulse decisions and that every once and a while cake for dinner and pizza for breakfast is A-OK and if you need to call popcorn a vegetable, then so be it. I broke all rules with her, including letting her sleep with me as an infant, but if that’s how I was going to get a good night’s sleep, then that’s how we were going to do it.

I slowed down to an almost stop with Emery… and it was deliciously wonderful to live life at the pace and the viewpoint of a little girl who twirled her way through life with a smile on her face and a song in her heart.  Her deep routed compassion for others, both of the 2-legged and 4-legged variety, touched me deeply… still does.

When we first took our new puppy to the veterinarian and he made an initial examination then left the room, she asked me why the vet was a man and I started to explain that it might have been the “woman vet’s” day off when she interrupted me with this:

“Why isn’t the Dr. a dog?  Wouldn’t a dog be able to understand our puppy better than we people could?”

I couldn’t do anything but smile.

Compassion.  Spontaneity.  Wear twirly skirts and dance.

Thank you, Emery.

Slowing down, having fun, finding our spontaneity… March, 1991

A mom once told me years ago that she wanted to be the kind of happy with her two boys that I was with my kids.  When I questioned her on it, she told me that she always watched me walking with my kids from the door of Thomas’ school to the car.  She said we looked so happy – a holding hands kind of happy.  I’ve thought about that a lot over the years.  Even though the hands were held tightly with an under my breath threat if they let go due to traffic, she was right.  I felt very happy all linked together with my kids.  I still do (although I’ve let go of my need to hold their hands in traffic, but still will stretch my arm out a la seat belt mode in a sudden car stop to protect my passenger, which more than likely is my purse or a bag of groceries these days…)

To all three of my kids, who as a new mom, I rubbed my hands in anticipation of being your teacher,  your guide, your mentor, your inspiration – you were the ones in the teacher role.  I’ve learned far more from the three of you than my maternal self ever thought possible.  Thank you from the bottom of my very full heart.

It’s been a banner year for this mom as I also got to claim the role of Mom in Law times two this year, a role that I hold dear to my heart, Brooke and Miles.  I get to gloss right over the sit up straight and eat your vegetables part and go straight to the simply enjoying part.  I love you both like my very own.

I once read that the decision to have a child is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body (Elizabeth Stone).  To all of the moms out there who have hearts walking around outside of them,  this is your day.  Wishing you all a very happy Mother’s Day.

Mother’s Day, 1992


Up and Running…(part 2 of “Letting Go”…)

Thanks to the help of my good friend, Lawson Barlow, my toilet is now up and running.  While he toiled away at the mess I had made (I’m learning the importance of using the right tool… you called it, LaMonte), his wife, Terri, and I enjoyed mint juleps on the screened in porch.  Who says that letting go and letting someone else step in and help you can’t be all that and a sprig of mint?

Although I can’t discount the importance to my own sense of confidence and self worth that comes from doing things myself, I think that asking good friends for help sometimes, hard as it is, can do far more for me than three days of a closed bathroom door with a heap of wrong tools filling the sink,  including a newly purchased hack saw.  Today, the feeling of knowing I’ve got great friends who will come to my rescue trumps the feelings of pride that comes from doing it myself.

In the event that this happens again, and it likely will given that I have 3 toilets in my house, Lawson gave me my very own pipe wrench, guaranteed not to strip the threads like my over-used pliers did.  With the addition of a new, never used hack saw and a pipe wrench,  my tool box it starting to look legit!

Up and running again!  Thanks, Lawson!


Learning to let go….

Along the same lines of my giving readers a heads up not to scroll down for the naked photos that did not exist in my “Skiing Naked” post, I need to be up front about the content to follow which is not about past relationships, disappointments, unmet expectations, or worse, but rather is about fixing toilets.  I had hoped this post would have a happier ending, or an ending, but it doesn’t and for those who want to continue to read this, I’m going to ruin the ending that doesn’t exist and tell you that the toilet is still not fixed and I have not let go of the issue.  The best I can do right now is to focus on the silver lining, which at this very moment means stuff to write about; stuff that may sound kind of funny now but had me in tears two nights ago.

The toilet fill valve on my guest bath toilet decided to quit, or kind of quit, but it was making noise, which is never a good thing… that much I do know.  When I took the video of what was going on post flush in the back of my toilet to the hardware store, the kind gentleman who was helping me knew exactly how to fix it and showed me what to buy and what to do with it, step by step.  I am not mechanical.  I struggle with reading instructions and then having to figure out how to follow them.  Although he was only a toddler at the time, it was my son, Grant, who put together the Little Tykes toys and equipment that seemed to flow into our house non stop for several years.  Even without the ability to read at age 3, he seemed to know intuitively how the brightly colored plastic pieces fit together to make something.  I marveled.  I had mechanical envy.

As the kind hardware store man is wrapping up the explanation with me on step 7 or 8 or whatever step has you giving the final check with a flush, I asked him,

“Which way does the shut off valve go to turn the water off at the toilet?”

Sometimes it’s best to humble yourself and come clean.  He knew, at that point, who he was dealing with and backed up slowly to the beginning.

“A slow clockwise turn… that would be to your right.”

At one point he mentioned “youtube videos,” and that information, coupled with my new knowledge of knowing how to shut off the water to the toilet, was all the information I needed.  I thanked him profusely, bought the $18 part and was on my way.  I’ve got to admit that there was a tool belt that caught my eye on the way out of the store, something I’ve always wanted, but I feel like it needs to be earned and I’m not there yet.  Maybe this was the home improvement project that I’d earn my belt on.

The idea that this was something I’d be able to do myself gave me a great deal of satisfaction and pride and not having to shell out a hundred dollars (I’m guessing?) to have a plumber walk through my front door, even happier.  I’d love to be able to add fixing my toilet to my list of accomplishments.  Really.

With feelings of confidence, I lined up the pieces that came out of the box, including the instructions, on the countertop, watched a youtube video three times, turned the water off, drained the back tank, disconnected the water hose from the toilet then got stuck.  I could not even BEGIN to budge the plastic lug nut on the outside of the toilet (I don’t even know if that’s what it’s called, but that’s what I’m going to call it from here on…) and surprising to me, the me who throughout my 20’s used a clog to hammer a nail into the wall, was even using the right tool.  After about 45 minutes of struggling and torquing myself in half to get to the side of the toilet in the first place, I gave up, which came in the form of me sitting on my bathroom floor in tears.  I know it may not sound tear-worthy for most, but those emotions were coming from a place far deeper than the back of my now drained toilet.  This was about doing something so small yet so big BY MYSELF, without having to ask for any help (I’m not counting the gentleman at Ace because that’s his job).  The flip side of wanting to feel that sense of accomplishment is that for the past 9 years,  broken toilets, flat tires,  sump pumps, birds nests in porch lights on fire and beeping house alarms have become my chore to deal with by myself, whether I wanted to or not (and that “by myself” includes calling the repairman, AAA man or handyman).  Although it’s taught me a lot, asking for help to begin with, it’s not something I’ve gotten the least bit comfortable with, even after 9 years.

I’ve done a whole lot of scary things in those 9 years without giving much thought to them, but a beeping alarm, a running toilet and a flat tire requires immediate attention, whether you want to give it or not.  This is the emotional spot that when I work from I start breaking things, on accident AND on purpose so when I texted Robin to see if Jim had a hacksaw, it was more a cry for help than anything else (although I still think sawing the stuck lug nut off may be the answer).  He didn’t.  And so I turned out the light, closed the door and drove to Baskin Robbins where I ate the better part of a double scoop of jamocha almond fudge ice cream on the 5 minute drive home.  Enough.

The next night ended in a similar way… frustrated… with a lug nut that still won’t move, but this time I made a 1/2 recipe of chocolate oatmeal no bake cookies simply because a whole recipe scared me as I knew I’d likely make my way through all of them.  1/2 recipe was a good idea and yes, I did.

The project is still looming behind the closed door and I fear that one more night with the same results are going to end with my head in a bag of Crispy Cremes, but I’m still not quite ready to let go and call a handy man.

Still with hope…
Hope fading…

I’m not sure how many days of walking by the closed bathroom door it will take before I call for help, but right now, I’m standing strong in the face of the challenge and am merely giving myself a break before going back in with a different attitude or maybe different equipment… such as a hacksaw…

To be continued…