Monday, January 28, 2013

Fifty Shades of Blue, a post by Nancy L. Agneberg

An ah ha moment. As I was driving to Minnesota last week, I realized why I was not so eager to pack up and head west this time.  True, it was minus something degrees and was doomed to stay that way the whole time I was there, but that was not the reason, at least not entirely. One of my intentions for the new year is to spend more time with my father, more casual and normal time, more one on one time, and this would be the first of those times in the new year. I enjoy being with Dad, so why had I lingered at home that morning and why had I taken my time packing for the three days in the apartment? 
     Ah ha! When my mother was dying of colon cancer, I spent a week every month with her and then longer when she was closer to death. I would leave our country sanctuary in Ohio and fly to Minneapolis on a Sunday morning and then return home on Friday evening. The decision to be with her at those times was intentional, knowing that each month I would more than likely see changes in her, but I was never sure what they might be and what might be required of me. How much less of her would there be and how much closer would we be to saying goodbye? 
    Ah ha! My intention to spend time with Dad on my own every month feels like that time with Mom and reminds me of the inch by inch grieving I did all those months, leading to the power punch grieving when she died. The difference is that Dad is in good health and doing well. Obviously, at 89 his death could happen at any time--this is no time to be an ostrich daughter-- but there is no current diagnosis driving my decision. 
     Ah ha! There were two tasks Mom always wanted me to do during my stays with her: clean the refrigerator and straighten the linen closet. "Your father doesn't know how to fold the towels." And along with having lunch with him, what was I planning to do during this visit? Clean the refrigerator and straighten the linen closet! The heart remembers more than we can imagine and just the thought of those tasks brought me back to those days, doing things that Mom could no longer do for herself, but remained important symbols of her role as Mrs Clean. 
     Both of those tasks were ways of saying, "Mom, don't worry. Your house will be cared for. Dad will be cared for." Straightening the linen closet, especially was almost a ritual.  Refolding and smoothing and stacking. Piles of pink for the guest bathroom. Piles of pale blue for the master bathroom. I was stunned to see so many pink towels frayed and worn, but Mom was married to a certain shade of pink to match the wallpaper in that bathroom, and she couldn't find the right shade of pink in replacement towels. I made an executive decision and eliminated a towel or two every time I came. Not only were there stacks of those towels, enough for a girls' locker room, but Mom no longer opened that closet door.  
     And now for the blue towels. My sister bought Dad some fresh, thick white towels for his birthday this summer, thinking they would replace the worn, faded, and frayed light blue towels Mom favored in their bathroom. Mom has been dead for almost 10 years now, and he has used the same towels. Guess what we found on the floor of the linen closet? The white towels still in the box, just as Amy had given him. We chuckled and tsk-tsked and set about refolding and smoothing and stacking, but also eliminating the worst of the blue towels. 

     Later in the day my sister and I bought new blue towels. We didn't look at the price. We didn't even test for thickness or softness. Nope, we swarmed through the linen department like Goldilocks. This one's too grey. This one's too green. This one's too bright. This one's too dull. This one, this blue, is just right, close to what Dad expects to see when he opens the linen closet. 
     Ah ha! How much there is to learn about being in a different role in life--the daughter of an elderly parent. The daughter of an only parent. The daughter still missing her mother. The daughter seeing her father still missing his wife. Sometimes it is the simple things, the every day tasks, such as folding towels, that reminds us of how life changes and how life stays the same.   

Thursday, January 24, 2013

An Edith Wharton Morning, a post by Nancy L. Agneberg

Reading and writing in bed on a cold, cold morning is the height of luxury as far as I am concerned. I gather my journal and the book I am currently reading as part of my meditation and reflection time, along with a letter or two to write and maybe, if the day ahead is really spacious, also the book I am reading for pleasure. In this case, that book is the amazing The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis. 
     I call this time an Edith Wharton Morning. 
     Edith Wharton was a prize winning American novelist, short story writer and designer who lived from 1862 to 1937, a time of graciousness for those who could afford it. When I visited her home The Mount, an open to the public museum, in Lenox, Massachusetts, I stood in her bedroom and imagined breakfast being delivered to her in the morning by a maid who obviously didn't have quite the same gracious life. Edith, no doubt, was wearing some sort of frilly bed jacket (Do they even exist any more?) and asked the maid to bring her her writing and reading materials after she had opened the heavy drapes, giving Edith a view of her famous gardens. One of Edith's good friends was the equally famous American writer, Henry James, and they wrote to each other faithfully over the years. I imagine her also responding to written invitations to tea or a dinner party and in turn inviting others to dine. Perhaps she wrote a thank you note or two, for one did that promptly and diligently in those days. 
     If you are a fan of Downton Abbey, and I certainly hope you are, you will no doubt envision Lady Grantham in bed in the mornings while the rest of the family, dressed and ready for the day, is served breakfast in a dining room.  
     My Edith Wharton Mornings are not quite the same as what I have described. No one brings me a breakfast tray or opens heavy drapes. I am in flannel pajamas and later will have to make the bed myself. However, like Edith, before entering the day, the world, I spend quiet time connecting both with myself and with others in my world. A birthday card here, a note in response to a Christmas letter there, a word of sympathy and love to another. I don't know if Edith used that quiet time for prayer, but my Edith Wharton Mornings are also for prayer. Prayers rise from my heart as I lean back into my pillow. 
     I first named these favorite "slow to enter the day" mornings as Edith Wharton Mornings after my cancer surgery 10 years ago. We lived at Sweetwater Farm then and the view from bed was of our gardens and the back pasture.  Sometimes the goats or llamas or even Asa the donkey would be in view. My bedside table contained all I needed--the books and journal and writing materials. All my thank you notes for the many kindnesses shown during that time were written during those easy mornings. A slow morning was part of the healing. I measured my strength by the length of the time in bed, eventually returning to the former routines of getting up and dressing right away and leaving the bedroom, bed made, laundry in my arms for the washer. 
     Current Edith Wharton Mornings are a matter of choice--a choice that was not in the viewfinder when I was in the midst of raising a family and working full time. Most mornings now I am at Curves by 6 and have already made the bed, but sometimes a slower pace is desired or perhaps even needed. I am grateful for the privilege of choice in my life and realize that I don't exercise it as often as I could. I often move through my days as if I was still in those crazy, busy, and yes, special days of my life. This is a new and yes, a special time of my life; a time when "shoulds" are not as dominant and a time that allows for spaciousness, for choice of how I want to enjoy my time, for Edith Wharton Mornings. 
     What new choices are possible in your life now? In what ways are you living the way you have always lived? Is it time to consider new choices?    

Thursday, January 17, 2013

What Now?, a post by Nancy L. Agneberg

An announcement. A scary announcement. As part of my intention to Live Fully Now, I will write 8-10 hours a week. This does not include writing emails or letters or even writing in my journal, but it does include writing posts on this blog. It means starting a new writing project. That sounds like a simple enough statement, but let me unpack it a bit. First of all, there is the commitment to write--a commitment I am not only making to myself, but I am announcing it to anyone reading this blog. Underneath this commitment is an understanding that I am not living fully if I am not living as a writer. I have been published a few times, but my one attempt at a book is still in manuscript form with no book contract in the offing. Even so, I have known I am a writer since I was in the 6th grade. 
     Two mothers who had volunteered to organize a school newspaper asked me to write a poem for the first edition, and I remember feeling pleased about that until they said they would wait while I wrote it. I sat at my desk, and they sat in the empty classroom with me and chatted with each other and waited for me to write a poem. I knew there was something wrong with the notion of poetry on demand. I knew that wasn't the way I worked or felt my way into inspiration. I knew they had no idea what it was to be a writer, but somehow I did. I managed to write a poem,  and I recall not being totally unhappy with it--until it appeared in the school newspaper, and I discovered they had edited it and in my mind, changed the whole meaning of it, damaging my integrity as a writer! That experience in an upside down way confirmed to me even more that I am a writer. 
     Sometimes I forget. Sometimes I do what the writer Ann Beattie says she does. She vacuums instead of writes. I have been doing that a lot this last year, and that's why I need to state clearly that I am wearing my writer's hat this year. I need to remember what writer Sophy Burnham's spiritual director said to her, "Did you ever consider that God puts longings in our hearts in order that we execute them?" 
     But here's the next part of the scary announcement: What should I write? Well, that's what I have been grappling with these days. What's next? What now? And that's what the mess on my desk is all about. I have been reading notebooks, a stack of notebooks full of snippets of ideas and half started projects. I have browsed my files and my bookshelves. I have read journal entries and looked at past blog posts. I have meditated. I have brainstormed with myself, jotting down themes and possible titles. I have addressed the question, "What book do I want to read? What book if I saw it in the book store would I wish I had written myself?" I have paid attention to where my energy and engagement seems to be. What material will reinforce my intention to Live Life Fully?
     I think I have an answer and a direction, but then comes the next part of the scary announcement: beginning! Sophy Burnham in her book For Writers Only offers this wisdom.
      When I am happiest, I write almost every day. For long periods, however, my time is taken. Days pass...weeks. Then I forget all over again how to write. I forget I can begin. I forget I ever once began. At times like these, then, fear and doubt must be fought with all the weapons in our arsenal. These include: affirmations, prayer, stillness, trusting, waiting, walking, reading, not reading. Writing about my fear and writing this book now to remind myself of how creation comes."
      I will begin. I am beginning. I am beginning, however, with an additional intention that comes with some degree of wisdom, I think. A reminder to be gentle with myself, to remember that life happens, and an intention is a hope, a plan, a work in progress, but not a rule measured and punished. So far this week I have been wearing the writer's hat for just over 6 hours, so I seem to be on my way. I am keeping the question Avez-vous ecrit aujourd'hui? (Have you written today?) in front of me.
    What about you? What's next? What now? What needs to begin yet again? Or for the first time? What needs to be part of your life for you to know that you are living life fully?


Monday, January 14, 2013

Wise Women in the Den, a post by Nancy L. Agneberg

They aren't here now, but I still feel their energy, the energy of wise women who gathered together for a day-long retreat in our home. A retreat to mark the beginning of a new year. A day inspired by  Nollaig na mBan or Women's Christmas, which originated in Ireland and is celebrated on or near Epiphany, January 6, the end of the Christmas season. Women's Christmas began as a day when women could rest from all the tasks women generally do at Christmas and a day when women could celebrate and honor each other. And that's just what my women's spirituality group, Wise Women, did as we enjoyed time for quiet reflection and time for sharing with one another. 
    We each came with our own hopes and thoughts for the day. My role was simply to provide the space, along with a basic plan and questions and suggestions to consider. After an opening meditation together in the den, we each found a place in the house to spend the morning. One in the sunny guest room, the Girlfriend Room. One in Bruce's den where she spread out her yoga mat. One in the lower level office area. I was in the Mama Chair in the living room, my normal location in the winter months for journal writing, meditating and reading. Quiet energy filled the house as wise women reflected on their lives. 
     I had prepared for my participation in the retreat by rereading my 2012 journals --always a good way to remind myself of where I have been, along with the patterns of the last year, the growth and the need for further growth. I discovered almost a total preoccupation, at least in the journals, with selling our home as part of our plan to downsize and eventually retire. Coming into the new year I was feeling one-dimensional already, but reading the journals certainly reinforced that impression. With that in mind my hope for the retreat day was to clarify and set my intentions for the new year. I started by opening a new journal, always a good place to start!
     I asked myself, "What is the invitation of 2013? Will it be a year when I surprise myself? How will the paradox, 'moving forward and standing still' be manifest in my life? In what ways will I choose to use my gifts, and how will I be called upon to use those gifts? What do I want to read in my journal at the beginning of 2014?" 
    I realized how much of the past year had been spent waiting--waiting to sell the house before I take the next step, whatever that step might be. I have been patient, but when is patience and waiting not such a good thing? What is the shadow side of waiting? How has being patient impeded me from living life fully?
     And there it was: Live Life Fully
     When I Live Life Fully, I am aware and engaged. I do what I love. I love more fully.  I have more energy. I am clearer about what is needed and what the priorities are. I am capable of growing and giving. 
     When I Live Life Fully, I am in the present moment.  
      Last year's intention was simpler and clearer, and even measurable: write a letter every day. 365 days and 365 letters.  
     This year's intention to Life Life Fully will evolve, and its meaning will transition as life changes and as circumstances present themselves. In Mark Nepo's words, "the heavenly pivot," or "unplanned unfoldings." Being with the Wise Women reminded me that when I ground myself in my ongoing spiritual practices --meditation, journal writing, reading/studying -- and when I choose activities that support my body, mind and spirit, including exercising daily and eating well and spending time with family and friends, I just naturally Live Life Fully
     At the end of the day, Wise Women gathered in the den to offer safety and support as we shared learnings and discoveries from the day. We honored each other and the wisdom we each possess. May we each Live Life Fully.   
Note: Thanks to Jan L. Richardson for introducing me to the idea of Women's Christmas. See her site /blog/women's-christmas-the map-you make-yourself/

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Annual Favorite Books of the Year List, a post by Nancy L. Agneberg

Lists. I love making them and love reading them. I come by that naturally, for my father is a great list maker. For example, he has kept lists of every single flight he has taken in his life. Recently, he made a list of all the people with whom he has worked over the years. Over 300 names! He even made a list of everyone in his first grade class. Not bad for an 89 year old man. 
My favorite lists, however, are lists of recommended books--many are added to my ongoing list of books I hope to read someday. In that spirit I offer my own list of Favorite Books of 2012. Here they are in no particular order:
* The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obrecht
* Coral Glynn by Peter Cameron
* Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
* Glaciers by Alexis M. Smith
* The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
* Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
* Room by Emma Donoghue
* The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philip Sendker
* The Magician's Assistant by Ann Patchett
* The Forever Marriage by Ann Bauer
* Joe Sandilands mystery series by Barbara Cleverly (still have a couple left) 
* The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones
* The Chaperone by Laura Moriarity
* The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
* A Good American by Alex George
* Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
* Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
* Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (AGAIN!!! --almost an annual read)
* Awakening the Energies of Love, Discovering Fire for the Second Time by Anne Hillman
* Aging as Spiritual Practice by Lewis Richmond
* On Rereading by Patricia Meyer Spacks
* You are Here, Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment by Thich Nhat Hanh
* Wild, From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail by Cheryl Strayed
* Kayak Mornings, Reflections on Love, Grief, and Small Boats by Roger Rosenblatt
* When Women Were Birds, 54 Variations on Voice by Terry Tempest Williams
* Patience, The Art of Peaceful Living by Alan Lokos
* Against Wind and Tide, Letters and Journals 1947-1986 by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
* The Morville Year by Katherine Swift
* Healing the Heart of Democracy, The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit by Parker J. Palmer
* In Lieu of Flowers, A Conversation for the Living by Nancy Cobb
* Help, Thanks, Wow, The Three Essential Prayers by Ann Lamott
* The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe
* The Emotional Life of Your Brain by Richard Davidson and Sharon Begley
Sneak Preview. Currently, I am reading two books I am positive will be on the Favorite Books of 2013 list: Seven Thousand Ways to Listen, Staying Close to What is Sacred by Mark Nepo and Dearie, The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz. And I am adding to my "want to read" list by reading My Ideal Bookshelf, Art by Jane Mount and Edited by Thessaly La  Force. 
A List Gene. It seems, by the way, that the list gene in our family has passed down the generations. Our grandson, Peter, almost 5, is a great listmaker already. He suggested we make a list of all the animals we saw at the zoo this fall. He asked his mother to make a list of what he could take for lunch at daycamp this summer and all the things he and his buddy could do when she came over to play. And, of course, there was his list for Santa. Someday, maybe he will make a list of his favorite books as well, too.
Your List. I would love to know what is on your favorite books of 2012 list and what you hope to read in 2013. Send me your list.