New Year's Wishes From the Little Log Cabin in Southwest Virginia

Another year gone...

In May, I discovered my little cabin in the hills and it has become my sanctuary. The place where I go to find quiet and peace.

I have seen summer, fall and now the beginning of winter there and so far, every season is full of beauty.

The writing hasn't gone so well this year, full of fumbling and false starts. It's as if a part of me is in deep freeze, inaccessible when I call on it to spark the passion necessary to good writing.

Oh well. I think it's hard to write well when the pressure is also there to make it pay the bills. Silly me, picking two professions that don't pay nearly as well as say...computer wizardry. Wish I could say I would do differently in my next life, but I'm fairly certain I would still lead with my heart.

My Sister Flea gave me the good word when I went down to visit Mom last week. She breezed into our designated shopping spree location saying, "Good news! This is your year to achieve!!" I said, "Does that mean make money?" Flea smiled serenely. "It just said achieve- so I suppose that means whatever you set your mind to will happen."

I took it as a good sign.

Maybe if I spent a little more time up at the cabin...


A Rainy Sunday in the Holler...

Rain, rain, here to stay...It's come again for another day...

I tried to get Maggie to go for a walk but she pitched a fit! I mean, it was just like a two-year-old's temper tantrum- head shaking, bucking up and down on the leash like a wild horse, throwing herself back toward the porch.

She's never done that. I guess she was just trying to make sure I knew she still deserves her "Psycho Dog" title.

I spent the day slogging back and forth to the barn, carrying boxes of indoor decorations and the woebegone Christmas decorations that had been lying out in the yard, victims of the last wind and rain storm.

Everything was snug and cozy until the propane gave out. I suppose I'll have to call and get an account set up with a supplier. Oh well, the leftover propane was fun while it lasted...At least I'm getting good at keeping the wood stove going.

Tonight as I drove back down the lane toward my city home, I noticed the creek down by the neighbor's horse farm was swollen with rainwater. By now I'm sure my spring box is full of water, so the water crisis is officially over-for now. What a relief!


The View From My Southwest Virginia Home...

Here I am, snug as a bug in a rug. The woodstove and the fireplaces are going. The cabin is scented with the sweet smell of brown sugar from the bean and ground beef stew that simmers in the crock pot in the kitchen.

Earlier, Maggie the Psycho Dog and I went out to check the creeks that rim the property to see if the rain had brought any measurable water and luckily it has.

May not look like much, but this summer when the spring box dried to all but a trickle, the beds were bone dry. It was a joy to hear the squish of boggy water beneath my feet as we slogged closer to the bottom land where the two creeks converge.

Across the lane, by the pond, I could actually hear and see the swiftly flowing water and follow it onto the far side of the property.

It is pretty much winter here. The leaves have all fallen. The branches make stark brown streaks across the gray sky. Here and there along the creek beds I find ferns and sweet green moss, a little reminder that winter has yet to fully arrive.

I suppose I'll need to take down the Christmas decorations tomorrow before I head back. There's nothing more depressing than the end to such a happy time and only the dull months of winter stretching endlessly toward Spring.

But, for now...I'll enjoy one more night of color and idealism.


How Do You Want to Move that Mountain?

Okay, I don't talk about this much, but those of you who read this blog regularly know I'm a psychotherapist, right? I talk about one part of that career when I talk about my nursing home patients but I rarely, if ever, discuss my private practice.

I write about the nursing home patients by disguising certain facts and creating an amalgam that protects their privacy because I feel they are in danger and I want the world to know about it.

My private patients can fend for themselves but my old guys are mostly helpless victims who need my active help. Part of what I do is rant here about the terrible state of elder care in our nation by making it personal, by giving you a glimpse into their daily lives.

I will never do that with my private patients. But today I read a blog post at a very popular blog, http://dooce.com, that really sums up the way I wish everyone could see therapy.

Heather, the blog's author, has battled depression and anxiety for years and talks about why therapy and medication has helped her. This particular post deals with her struggle to understand why her friend won't seek professional help.

She says, "I think many people are afraid that if they take medication or even agree to see a therapist that they are in some way admitting failure or defeat. Or they have been told by their boyfriend or their mother or their best friend that they should buck up and get over it, and that asking for help is a sign of weakness. Well then, let me be weak. Let me be a failure. Because being over here on this side, where I see and think clearly, where I'm happy to greet my child in the morning, where I can logically maneuver my way over tiny obstacles that would have previously been the end of the world, over here being a failure is a hell of a lot more enjoyable than the constant misery of suffering alone.

Yesterday I wanted to say this to someone but didn't because I'm afraid she will stop talking to me about certain things because I'm not telling her what she wants to hear. She wants me to tell her that she is right and that if she ignores a certain very large problem it will go away. But I don't understand why being right is more important that being happy, why someone would go on living with a sick, nauseating swarm of junk in her stomach rather than trying to figure out how to fix it, because the act of even admitting that she feels this way is somehow a character flaw."

I tell my patients, "Pretend I'm a shovel and your problems are the mountain of stinky poo standing in the way of your happiness. Now, why would you want to move that mountain all by yourself, without a shovel?" I say, "Look at my office as a landfill. Come here and dump all the garbage you want to get rid of. Leave it here and don't worry about it. Don't let it rent any more space in your head."

When someone really needs medication because the dark cloud sits too heavily on their shoulders, I say "You'd take insulin if you had diabetes, or an antibiotic if you had pneumonia, why is depression any different?" But there is still this pervasive stigma against therapy and medication. Still! Even therapists resist therapy!

I am so glad to hear someone who's been through it and doesn't mind telling the world - hey, therapy really works!

Okay, done with my sermon.

I'm in New Bern, visiting my mother and my Sister Flea. The Flea and I are having a blast. We made one of our mega-shopping tours of the Wally World where the Flea convinced me to buy a winter coat because it was really cold last night and she swore that despite what I'd heard, it was going to remain cold for the next 2 days.

Ahem. It's going up to 60 today, Flea!!! But I really do like the coat...

When I went to see Mom in the assisted living facility she said, "Now, you should know I'm not in my right mind."

I'd been there 3 hours when she said this and she'd seemed fairly lucid. But when I said this she nodded wisely. "I know, I can be very lucid and yet crazy at the same time. I even forget what I've said."

I nodded wisely. "Welcome to my world, Ma," I said.

We're all bozos on this bus!


Dropped Balls and Invincible Wimmin...

My damned balls dropped again!

The same big three chicken wire light balls blown down by the windstorm last week, the same three repaired with a pound of duct tape a few days later when the plug came undone. This time they fell victim to a tiny gust of wind that snapped their fraying hemp guy wire and sent them plummeting back to Earth.


This time there were no boys around to lend a hand or give advice as to the "proper" way to remedy the situation.

So it fell to the old wimmin to take care of it.

Me and Mertis to the rescue. Like almost always.

It was like living in the middle of the frontier West. I went and got the potato gun- which resembles a huge, black bazooka, dug through the boxes in the attic to retrieve the "ammo" and ran outside. I also brought a box of tissues because, for some reason, that's what I saw the boys use to "lube" the shaft of the launcher.

We tied one end of the roll of hemp rope to the ammo and Mert shoved it down into the gun's barrel with a stick.

Once we'd loaded the gun, we hooked it up to the bicycle pump and began to ramp up the psi. However, we had no idea what the ideal pressure was for launching our three rock, duct-taped bullet. Mertis just pumped it for awhile and when we decided we were approaching a "danger to ourselves and others" limit, we unhooked it and headed out into the middle of the front yard to fire our missile.

"You think there's a lot of kick to it?" I asked Mert as she cradled the gun against her shoulder and carefully aimed for the highest branch of the highest tree.

Mert shook her head, ever the tough cop. "Nah, didn't look like much when they did it," she said gruffly.

I nodded and stepped back, out of the direct line of flying projectiles and hemp rope spools.

"Where are you going?" Mert asked, looking back over her shoulder at me.

"I'm getting out of the way of the rope ball, in case it flies out of control," I told her.

"You can't do that," she said a trifle impatiently. "You have to pull the trigger."

Indeed. Poking out of the side of the black pipe was a baby gate handle.

"Pull it back when I count to three," Mertis instructed.

A potato rocket launcher makes much the same sound as the rocket launchers I see on the news. But I must tell you, firing a rocket in the front yard when you're old and you know your kids think you're incapable of achieving such a level of frivolity, really rocks.

We fell on each other laughing and hooting as the red bullet flew up into the trees, shot over a branch and began its downward arc. When it reached the ground we removed it, replacing the rock ammo with light balls and hauling them back up into the uppermost branches of our pin oak tree.

We were invincible.

And then we were too big for our britches, thinking it might be just a bit better if we tugged the middle ball over toward the center of the yard.

So, we had to start all over again. But the good news was, we got to fire the gun again, this time just as a group of earnest carolers arrived across the street to serenade the neighbors.

Let me tell you, there is nothing like the loud burp of a rocket launcher and Mertis yelling, "Incoming!" to bring a group of off-key choir members a bit closer to their chosen faith.

Yep, that's me and Mertis, all right. Just keepin' it real in the hood!


Barks- Toffee and Otherwise

It was 3:38 a.m. I am asleep, having bad dreams about abductions, battles, perverts, you name it. If it was bad, it was happening in my dream. That's when the woman yelled out in the hallway outside my bedroom.

I sat straight up in bed, on full Mama alert.

"Low battery alert!" the woman cried. "Low battery alert!"

Okay. Why did she wait until 3:38 a.m to tell me this? Why not 3:38 p.m.? Why not midnight? Why when she knew the po-lice had already encircled my house once this week, would she decide to scream at me then? Doesn't she know it's almost Christmas? Where's her holiday spirit?

I know. I know. The former school safety patrol members are saying "That was a Christmas present. She could've been saving your life." And for that I am grateful. She also saved me from the Unibomber or whoever it was I was dreaming about. But today, I dragged around like a half-dead cat, never fully awake and too wrung out to go back to sleep.

Oh, well. That question and others like it will go unanswered until another day, I suppose. Until then it's back to making Toffee Bark. My most successful holiday recipe and by far the easiest-

Line a parchment paper lined jelly roll pan with saltines. (It'll take one of the 4 sleeves that come in the cracker box.) In a saucepan melt 1c. butter and 1c dark brown sugar. Bring it to a boil and boil for 3 minutes. Immediately pour over saltines and spread to cover the crackers completely. Bake at 400 for 5-6 mins. Remove from oven and sprinkle with 2c of choc. chips. (I combine semi-sweet and bittersweet.) Let sit for 5 mins. Spread melted chocolate and top with 3/4 c chopped pecans. Now, I don't like pecans so I substitute toffee chips.


PMS and the Po-lice or Why Highlights are Good for my Hair

I don't know where the day went- but this is how bad my PMS has become...

When the boys left for school and/or shopping and Mertis was downtown attending a Christmas luncheon, I abandoned my To-Do list, left the kitchen a trashy mess and retreated to the relative sanctuary of my little office to write.

I was in the middle of a scene that takes place in the middle of a quiet, bucolic country setting when Mertis returned. She slams through the front door yelling, "Nancy! Where are you?! Are you here? Are you alright? Is anyone else in the house?"

Okay, let me preface this by saying I have PMS and it is not pretty. Old Mert is jarring me out of the writing "zone" to ask if I'm home and alone? Damn straight I am! Wouldn't my car in the driveway be a clue? Wouldn't the absence of other cars denote that I am finally, blissfully, alone?!

So, I look up at her like a snarling tiger to see her standing stricken in my doorway, her face pale, her eyes wide.

I do not think my PMS has the power to affect people quite that much and I am right.

"Nancy, there are at least three cop cars in front of the house and police officers everywhere! What's going on?"

I scowl at her. "Right, Mert," I say. "Not now, alright? I'm trying to write a scene and..."

Mertis stiffens, turning into her law dawg self. "I am not kidding!" she snaps. "If you don't believe me, see for yourself!"

I hit the Save button first, slowly put the laptop aside and follow her to the street.

Mertis examines the driveway, frowning. "Where's the truck?"

I tell her the Eldest Unnamed One is using it as his brother has the only other vehicle and is at school.

Then I scan the street.

Well, damned if there aren't a bazillion cops and cars clogging the road in front of my house!

The wine rep across the street is outside with her husband. "They were just getting ready to enter your house," she cries excitedly. "They've been running all over the place!"

Mertis gives me an "I told you so" look and says, "When I came down the street and saw all the cars in front of the house, I thought you'd been the victim of a home invasion and they'd made their get-away in the truck!"

I poo-poo this idea. "The dogs would've killed anybody foolish enough to try that," I say.

I leave her to talk to her buddies after they haul a kid out of his house and cart him off downtown and walk back inside to begin cleaning up the kitchen. It is a little disconcerting to realize this much activity had been happening in my front yard and I had typed on unaware that anything at all was wrong.

I do the only thing I can do when faced with this hindsight realization- I start cleaning up the trashy kitchen. After all, if I am to be unexpectedly invaded by bad guys and po-lice, the least I can do is clean up my kitchen. It's along the same lines as being caught in a car wreck with your oldest pair of underbritches on. It's an indication of poor breeding and a lack of preparedness. It would mean I wasn't raised right. I would bring shame and dishonor upon my family of origin.

Mertis wraps up her conversation with the police sergeant and finds me hard at work loading the dishwasher.

"Didn't that scare you?" she demands? "Wouldn't you have been freaked out if you were me and saw the house surrounded by police officers? I mean, they don't just leave their cars running and hop out in the middle of the street unless they're trying to get somewhere in a hurry. When I saw the sergeant's car like that, well, I knew something was really wrong."

I nod, shrug my shoulders and refuse to concede her point. I tell her I try not to get my panties in a wad until I know I have good reason. In this case, by the time I got involved, the action was pretty much over.

But I feel weird and discombobulated now. I fiddle around, starting and stopping four or five of the things on my To Do list before driving downtown to my hair appointment.

"So," the hairdresser says. "What's new?"

"Nothing," I say, momentarily forgetting. "Just another day in paradise."

She looks disappointed which is when I remember she doesn't like quiet clients, it makes her anxious and when she's anxious, the hair-do doesn't go well. I can't just sit like a lump on a log, not with my entire hair future at stake.

"Okay, actually," I say, leaning forward to stare into the mirror at her. "I was a few minutes late because the cops had surrounded my house and were about to breech my front door. You see, there was a crazy man on the loose and one of the neighbors thought he had me held hostage inside."

Her eyes widen. "You're lying!" she cries, but I know a hopeful tone when I hear one.

"I kid you not," I reply. "Good thing I didn't have any illegal substances in the house. I would've missed my hair cut!"

Really, a 52 year old soccer mom with a crack stash? I'm sure it happens, but let's get real, this is me I'm talking about...Then I look around the room.

Suddenly every tattooed, pierced, fringe hairdresser in the salon has stopped speaking as they all pretend to not be eavesdropping on our conversation. I pretend not to notice but I pitch my voice just a wee bit louder as I tell Karen all the details, even the ones I decide would have made the event more interesting had they really happened.

Karen gives me shimmering, delicate highlights and one of the best haircuts she's done since I started going to her.

Mental note to self: Try to incite a riot in my neighborhood before the next hair appointment. And they say crime doesn't pay!


Moony Mommies and Holiday Nostalgia Attacks

He looked lost- Which wasn't hard to understand given the greater picture...The installation of the new TV to the new HD box and pre-existing surround-sound system.

This is what I like best about the holidays- the chance to slow down long enough to watch and enjoy the world around me, in particular, my boys.

And to see how my family sees me-

The sweatshirt I am wearing seems to reappear every Christmas. The boys were in preschool. The teachers pulled the children out into the hallway, dipped their hands in green paint and made wreaths out of their hand prints. I remember opening their package on Christmas morning, pulling out the sweatshirt and crying.

The next year- another sweatshirt. This time their feet formed a moose head and their hand prints were the antlers. And I cried, touched by the little, carefully preserved bits of their rapidly passing childhoods.

Every year I pull the sweatshirts out and wear them. I point to the images emblazoned across my chest proudly, mushy with my soupy-mama love and memories of the sweet scent of boy hugs and kisses. The objects of my affection roll their eyes in mock, or maybe real, horror. The girlfriend smiles indulgently and exchanges a knowing glance with the boys.

It is an all too familiar ritual- sappy mothers mooning over their grown children during the holiday season.

The Unnamed Ones take it in stride, as they do most everything these days.


Having a Lovely Time, Dad- Wish You Were Here!

It's almost time for Christmas vacation. I won't be back at the nursing home for 3 weeks. "What will we do if there's a...well, um..." The social worker's voice trails off and she give me an apologetic smile.

"Emergency?" I say, supplying the word she doesn't want to use.

"Well, yes," she says, sighing. "Three weeks is a long time."

I smile at her. "If something goes wrong around here, call me at home and tell me to get up off the couch and get down here."

I tell her this because this one home tries very hard to do their best for their residents and because of this, I don't mind if they call me. They won't be trying to cover their liable tails after some neglectful incident- they'll be trying to avert a crisis.

I tell her how hard I know they are working- how I see it every time I visit and it makes me feel good. And then I confess I can't go back to the home we both left because it is too hard. "I feel so guilty about it," I say.

Jan shakes her head. "You can't, you can't, you can't" she murmurs over and over, until I realize she is also telling herself.

I stand up, ready to leave but I don't go because I know there's one more thing I need to tell her. "I know this Christmas will be hard," I begin. "At best, strange, without your dad."

She nods. Her dad has been gone for 7 months and mine a year and almost 3 months. I know how much she loved her dad.

"We took flowers to the gravesite yesterday," she begins but breaks off and shakes her head.

"But he's not there, is he?" I whisper.

Tears fill her eyes. "I know he's in a better place," she tries. "But I feel mad, too. So much has happened and keeps right on happening. I want to say, 'Why'd you leave me to deal with this?' But I know it's not his fault."

She begins to cry. "It's the weirdest things. Like he had an old Plymouth Volare. Thirty years old with 54,000 original miles on it. He did all the work on that thing. Then when he got sick, he couldn't work on it anymore but he wouldn't sell it." She pauses a moment, gathering the strength to talk. "We sold it last month. We had to. You can't hang on to everything and Mama needed the money. Anyway, the man came by the other day and that Volare looked so good. He said he'd put 24-hundred dollars into it and it looked perfect. But things like that...they just tear me up."

I know. I tell her about cooking with the Eldest Unnamed One, just like I used to do with Dad. "Even though it's neat to see the generations continue and see my Dad in my boy, it still hurts because I miss my dad and it's not the same."

I am dangerously close to losing it myself but I "hold the tail," so I can stick with her. But later when I walk to the car, it is all I can think about, all I can feel.

I miss my dad but I live on, trying to follow the things he taught me. Doing it, in part for him because that is what he would want, I think. He would want me to pass the essence of who we are and what we are about on down from one generation to the next. He would want me to let the love he gave me flow on to my sons and their children and the host of others who will follow us.

But it just isn't the same as having him here.

Don't get me wrong- I'm having an exceptionally good time with my boys and my friends, but I'm just aware of how much he would enjoy all of this and how much I would like one of his hugs.


Countdown at Holiday Central

Greetings from the Rooftop of Holiday Central!

Mertis and the Youngest Unnamed One braved the approaching storm front and the second story roof pitch to plant the big wreath and the colored icicle lights high atop the house.

Then, in a fit of over-zealous light-slinging, I managed to blow out the entire right exterior side of the house- power-wise, that is. The electrician is coming tomorrow. And he said I couldn't possibly blow the new panels- Ha! I showed him! (Wonder how much it'll cost to fix this kettle of wattage?)

Well, it was good for one night at least-

On top of that, a second front blew through with a vengeance. A body count of the front yard casualties revealed one reindeer, 4 multicolored trees and the biggest strand of light balls had fallen victim to the wrath of the wind.

It's been a wonderful weekend, despite wind and power failure issues...With lots of cookie baking and tree decorating.

Mertis made one of her cookies talk, then bit his head off.

The Manly Men Duo worked hard on the indoor tree lights.

With good results, I think.

The Eldest Unnamed One and I have cooked up a blizzard of soups and dinners and will be attacking the yeast bread lesson some time this week. In the meantime there are cookies to be baked and mailed.


Christmas Chicken-Wire Light Balls- Up at Last!

Hanging chicken wire light balls high up in trees, keeping the lines untangled, managing three-way taps and keeping track of what goes where must use the same area of the brain I use for balancing my checkbook because I am hopelessly befuddled before the whole ordeal is over.

But, they're up. Finally!

And I feel about like a reindeer caught in a multi-colored blizzard of twinkle lights...

Christmas Cookie Baking at the Cabin

It's been a busy few days. First, a weekend of cookie baking at the cabin...

Sweet, innocent Christmas cookie baking that quickly disintegrated into the kind of cookie baking only two adolescent, unsupervised males can do...

Followed by more decorating around home...

And then the annual selection of the Christmas tree...

Which will remain a work in progress, probably until the Eldest Unnamed One comes home for winter break.