Change Is A Fickle Muse

Why do I seem to get restless and sometimes embrace change as a curative? Is it boredom? Do I accept or settle too early on some arrangement, thing, or situation before the idea’s baked enough?

Or is that we humans should probably never stick to one plane of thinking and instead, like a nomadic Zen bird, happily float to wherever the wind of change takes us.

Sometimes Ms. Change shows up wearing her evolutionary colorful robe, making me think I was the one discovering how to do something different or arrange something better (when it was really her idea).

Other times, Mr. Change appears clad in prison garb, as though his only option is to escape from or to something.

Or those moments when Mrs. Change knocks on my mind’s door wearing random, miss-matched clothing, each still with the price tag affixed from whatever store she klept them from. This wily muse sometimes offers dangerous suggestions, such as “You should go spelunking but to make it interesting, wear those funky shoes that look like your foot’s painted, the ones where you can see each toe’s, and, oh I know, do it in cutoffs and a tank top emblazoned with some forgotten band from the 60s.”

Don’t get me wrong: sometimes change, no matter which muse brings it, can be wonderful and make us think it’s a highly needed course-correction change, taking us on a path where the sun shines in a crystal blue sky, 70-degree temp, with a fresh, light wind.

Then there are those times when he/she/it/they don’t seem to help but instead make things worse, hell-bent on causing chaos and emotional hari-kari. Does change have a gender? Maybe, but if so, probably random and, despite the humor attempt above, certainly not stereotyped.

Yet what fun would life be doing the same things over and over, in the same place, always with the same people? Rutted. Colorless. Boring-ish… meh.

If you examine a life lived long, no doubt you’d see a life lived in phases, with each phase shifting what that person was like, or liked to do, or choices made. So change is not necessarily a bad thing and, in fact, is probably part of our human DNA, so to speak, evidenced by such phases lived across a life’s long timeline, or through self-examination realizing our own phases lived through.

So embrace change, challenge it, ask questions, but don’t automatically dismiss or avoid it. Okay, maybe that one time it suggested I take up skydiving wearing only a thong, but that’s an easy one to say no to. Probably.

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If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy this previous muse post (fictional, of course… or was it?).

Reboot Day

Another trip around the sun brings us to “reboot day,” or as most know it, January 1.

Many people spend time today creating resolutions for the new year. It is not a practice I do anymore, and have not for more years than I can remember. Years past I did personal annual reviews to look back and look forward, and I suppose that is a resolutionary effort, but really more project planning.

I am not judging or putting down anyone who makes an annual resolutions list, just sharing that I do not. Instead, any day of my year can have an internal personal announcement of my intention to do this or that. And sometimes I even follow through and do it, but not always. For me, a traditional January 1 resolution list lasts about as long as Thanksgiving leftovers, yet not nearly as tasty across the short number of days it takes to become but a memory.

I enjoyed January 1, when I was still working full time, more as one of those rare, weekdays off. Now retired, every weekday is a day off, so the thrill of such days at home and not at the office are enjoyed throughout the week, the month, the year simply as days I no longer commute to an office and work a full eight (or more). That reason is enough to celebrate January 1 as I do all days of the year.

If making a list of resolutions works for you or helps you form the habits to make them sustainable, then go for it and more power to you. If other traditions, such as the southern one of eating black-eyed peas on this day for good luck, works for you then go for it, too. For all of us, there is the hope that 2022’s reboot day marks the beginning of a safer year and one getting us closer to the end of the pandemic. On that, I think we can all agree.

Desert Winter

When all is said and done, winter probably gets vote for favorite season. I say probably because it is a complicated concept to be definitive about.

A frequent topic here (eight blog posts so far), I enjoy exploring what winter means to me and how I embrace its annual season of renewal, rejuvenation, and quiet recharge of life’s batteries. Winter is not quite the same without the cold, the snow, the shift into staying inside more for warmth, often with blanket cuddling the lap, mug of hot cocoa in hand, and a good book to read despite the inevitable accidental nap encouraged by those three conspirators. Most years, it is a more subtle change of gears in the mind than a shift nudged into place by seasonal weather changes. This year, for me, winter is a season in the desert.

Don’t think the garden loses its ecstasy in winter.
It’s quiet but the roots are down there riotous.

– Rumi

Winter for me typically means read more, relax more, or simply put, a slowed down pace of life to chill more (pun unintended). Most winters I embrace, without labeling it as such, the Danish tradition of hygge, or “coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.”

It is definitely a time when I give myself permission to do less, and ease through the days more than usual to sip each moment. And I must confess, to me the winter image is one of a blazing fire inside and white blankets outside with those endearing snowflakes easing to the ground with little urgency. This year the only blazing I see are the marvelous winter sunrises a desert delivers.

What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.

– John Steinbeck

This year I am still in my zone of seasonal renewal, albeit without the pleasant fire and white visuals. In the desert this winter, relaxing and renewing inside my camper van, I still have cherished memories of special winters past, ones with a fireplace blazing while outside nature’s en plein living winter artwork continues through the day. Those winters were not better than others without those two, but remain my halcyon memories. Winter is, as I choose to embrace it, is a state of mind and easily transportable to wherever one is, not just when the view outside takes on the look of a classic Norman Rockwell winter scene.

Yet winter’s renewing grace,
Its universal task,
Revives us all,
If we wear its mask.

– Gary Varner

Fabulous Feastivities

Growing up, Thanksgiving was always my family’s favorite holiday, and I think still is, despite my father and mother no longer part of the feastivities. Some of you might claim Christmas as your favorite family holiday, but for mine the highlight of the year was always the Thanksgiving feast and gathering. The days following found us enjoying leftovers and playing a variety of games or perhaps, lazily working a puzzle on the gaming table.

Raised always to be grateful and thankful throughout the year, not just one day a year, Thanksgiving was a culinary celebration. While the traditional mashed potatoes (real boiled potatoes mashed with heavy cream), gravy, cranberry sauce, yams, baked rolls, dressing, and pies of pumpkin and pecan persuasion were at the table every year, the main dish varied. Traditional butterball turkey made an appearance more than others, but sometimes we ventured into having a goose, individual cornish hens, honey baked ham (sometimes that was a second main dish), beef Wellington, or other non-traditional exotics.

But I will always remember my best eating came during the days after when I would craft my all-time favorite sandwich: turkey + mashed potatoes + dressing + cranberry sauce = bliss. To this day, I’ll grab one of those whenever I find one in the readymade section of a grocery store or on a restaurant’s menu (although never with mashed potatoes!). Of course, the store or restaurant versions pale by comparison in taste to the homemade kind, but still a treat that triggers past Thanksgiving memories.

As our family grew older and drifted apart, this November day rarely saw the whole family together but instead celebrating in our separate homes. I know a fond memory of my two adult sons during their years attending the University of Toledo were the Thanksgivings when I cooked a mega-fest and they took the short drive down to Findlay, Ohio, to enjoy the family’s traditional dinner. While they certainly enjoyed the meal time with Dad, I understood clearly their real mission that day was to take back most of the leftovers that would see them through the weekend. To that purpose, I always cooked way more than needed, and per their preference, always had a ham along with a main bird of some type (even duck one time). Ample leftover sides along with many slices of pumpkin and pecan pie also made the journey back to Toledo.

My highlight memory of this feast with them was always dessert, when they would take the can of whipping cream and bury their pie slice until it looked like a mini-igloo on the plate. We always laughed about that, from my traditional Dad joke of ”Want some pie with your whipped cream?” to the traditional first fork challenge to take away just enough whipping cream to reveal only the tip of the pie in that mountain of white.

This year, as I sit in my camper van in the warm sunshine of open land near Blythe, California, near the border of Arizona, I think of those feasting days and look forward to having more with my boys some day in the future. For now, I am thankful for the adventurous life I am leading, and for these fond memories of past family Thanksgiving days. I do have a somewhat festive mini feast of mine own planned today, courtesy of Trader Joe’s for the most part. Given that I eat healthy these days, this one decadent meal wisely does not include any traditional leftovers.

Hoping you are with yours on this day of marvelous feasting but if not, enjoy your own mini-feast while fondly remembering past times with family and friends.

Illuminating the Shadows of Memory

This post may not interest most of you, since it is about visiting a real place lodged in my memories from 60+ years ago. If one is fortunate, an opportunity may arise to revisit such places and illuminate the shadows of memory.

I am in California for probably the next several weeks. I started off on October 25th in San Diego to complete some amazing van upgrades at Landed Gear. From there, plan is to wander up the coast, stopping to see sights and visit old friends, new friends, and online friends not met face-to-face yet. This trip is also one of nature immersion, since California is one amazing state when it comes to natural beauty and million-dollar views (and Oregon and Washington coming after California). 

I am still enduring the shock of California’s over-populated everything and over-vehicled roads. It is a place where anything and everything is available, and no doubt the birthplace of many creative and technological wonders. But these days of dealing with the mass of humanity has me yearning to go hide in nature. Fortunately, on November 2nd I will begin such solace by slowly wandering up the Pacific Coast Highway going north. 

Ironically, I am a native Californian, born in Coronado (San Diego) while my father was in the Navy aboard an aircraft carrier. I lived here probably six months after birth, so clearly not writing about those memories! But we returned when I was 5 through 6 years old, and lived in two San Diego area houses. It is fair to say some of my earliest memories are from these places and still live in me all these years later. 

I have vivid memories of the Claremont house especially, playing with my little cars and trucks in the flower bed, and sliding down the hill behind it, overgrown with what we called “pickleweed” (found some this trip and through a plant identification app discovered its name is blue chopsticks). Over the many years since, I have lost track of how often I searched for what that plant was, or to find anyone else who had fun sliding down atop a cardboard ”sled” (when the plant’s pickle- or french-fry-shaped leaves break, the liquid inside is super slick).

Human memory, of course, play tricks over the years regarding the accuracy of remembered events and places. But thanks to my father, who wrote a family history book and included the address of every place we had lived (and to my sister in Florida who looked up the addresses for me while I was in San Diego), I was able to Google Maps my way there. Would I have recognized these two merely by driving by? Probably not, although the Point Loma house looks nearly identical to memories of it, yet the Claremont house was harder to connect, having a more radical makeover and vegetation change than remembered. To add to the verification, I remembered the elementary school was three blocks away. I turned the van around in the direction of that memory, and in three blocks there stood the school.

It was a bittersweet moment revisiting these two house. Remembering fond times of youth in the presence of a real place puts a wry smile on one’s face. But bittersweet realization quickly follows of how long ago those times were. Still odd though, that in this recapture of two places in my life, the memory-painted “picture” is surprisingly faithful to the actual places.