I've spent the last few afternoons working out in the gardens. Mild November weather (low 50's) makes up for the hot July weather in NC.
This perennial sunflower, which we planted last year, is over 12 feet tall. It's been blooming beautifully for the last two months.
It's not always easy to find pineapple sage. One year, the only place I could find it was at a store in Black Mountain, NC (4 hours away) when we were on vacation in July. It takes all summer to get large, and then blooms wonderfully in the fall.
We have these chrysanthemums all over in the garden. They're wonderful in the fall, and the insects love them. These are some of the last blooms.
One last bloom on the twice-blooming azalea.
These chrysanthemums are the last perennial to start blooming in the gardens every year. I love their bright yellowness.
I bought too many pansies this year, but I love them.
We've had two freezes so far. We put some of the deck pots in the garage for two night so we still have some annuals - like this geranium.
This African impatiens also was in the garage.
The hanging basket also went in the garage.
The last blooms on the tickseed
This cone flower is in a pot waiting for us to finish redoing part of the flower bed. I'll plant it later this week.
Plants haven't been doing well in this part of the flower bed for the last few years. We dug lots of bulbs, and a few not-very-happy plants out of it yesterday, and our sons are digging it up, adding soil amendments, and mixing it all together. Tomorrow, we'll finish up, and then I have lots of bulbs, pansies, and perennials to put in.
"It is hard for us to appreciate the courage of our families when they came over to America (and every American family, save for Native Americans, has 'come over' at some point). To be from a small town where everyone knows everyone, then leave everything you know and cross an ocean, and then to arrive and try to make new lives in a place where you don't even speak the language, with people from all over the world brushing up against one another - that's truly courage. That's why my heart is with immigrants we see all over the world today" - Just Getting Started - Tony Bennett
I started reading this book on vacation, three weeks ago, and I'm still reading it. I've read numerous chapters out loud to my family, but I only read a chapter a day. I'm trying to stretch out reading it since it's so good!
Each chapter is about a person in his life and what he learned from them - from his parents, to earlier 20th century performers such as Fred Astaire, artists such as Picasso, musicians such as Count Basie, and more recent performers such as Lady Gaga, with whom he recorded a whole album, Cheek to Cheek, in 2014. He occasionally mentions negative traits, but doesn't dwell on them. This is the opposite of a "kiss and tell" memoir - it's a celebration of talented people in his life.
Here are Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga performing Irving Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek" at the 57th Grammy Awards where they won the award for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.
The last hour before you start a theater show looks crazy. Everyone is getting into costume and doing their makeup in front of too few mirrors. People are making sure their props are in the right place. Actors with mikes sing for the mike check. The run crew makes sure the lighting, curtains, etc. are correct. The orchestra and the singers warm up. Everyone is excited and rushing around. The house opens and the audience starts to arrive. Everything gets quieter backstage, but the excitement still simmers.
Finally, the lights go down. The orchestra starts the overture. Everything quiets down backstage. The actors get into place onstage and in the wings. You focus on what you're about to do. It's like you're suspended and waiting to move.
In that beautiful moment of suspension, focus, and anticipation, I often (okay, almost always) have some of my most focused prayers - that the show will go well for everyone, that the audience will enjoy it, that cast members who are sick or sad will be able to enjoy the show...
...and thanksgiving. Those are some of my most thankful prayers - particularly during this summer's show since I wasn't even sure I'd be able to sing again last fall after my surgery.
I don't know that I've written about this before because... well, your best prayers are supposed to be at church, right?
After not being able to go to church for months after my partial thyroidectomy last year (post here), I embrace any way that I can worship. I've always thought that one can encounter God all over, not just in church. But after months of being too dizzy and exhausted to make it through a formal service, I now enthusiastically advocate meeting God anywhere and everywhere.
Otherwise, only the healthy can encounter God in a significant way! If you can only meet God in a long church service after a drive which exhausts you, that leaves those with health problems out in the cold. If you look at the stories about Jesus, leaving the sick out is not following Jesus!
I've always liked physical expressions of faith - making the sign of the cross, kneeling for prayer (before I had knee surgery), genuflecting, etc.
During my long recovery from surgery, I started feeling like genuflecting at places other than in the Nave at church.
At Ayr Mount in the spring...
...at family dinners, at choir rehearsals (I could go to rehearsals long before I could last through a formal service), while doing short hikes in the mountains, out in the gardens, etc. - anyplace I felt thankful and closer to God.
At various churches, we've heard all sorts of things about how and why to pray to God: To remind God of His promises (evangelical); adoration, petition, thanksgiving, confession, and intercession (Catholic), because the Bible tells you to, etc.
Since my surgery, pat answers about prayer seem even further away. Petition? Walk around the Duke Cancer Center and see the small,tired children with bald heads and large stuffed animals being wheeled around in strollers or wagons by their parents. Why was my cancer solved by surgery, and their treatment goes on and on? I don't know. There are few prayers that are more fervent than the prayers of those parents.
I still pray. Mostly for other people, a bit for me, lots of thanksgiving. I pray because... God.
There's really nothing else to add.
Praying in a church at a service is nice - it's pretty and inspirational. I no longer believe that it's essential - because anything that leaves out the sick can't be the only way to God.
I still believe the Eucharist is important, but - and here's the difficult part for me - I no longer believe that it's essential because anything that leaves out the sick can't be the most important way to God.
My faith at this point is expressed in two ways.
First, by taking care of people. After not being able to do much of that for months, it's so wonderful to be able to do. Those of you who were in this year's musical saw that on overdrive this summer. I recorded music to help people learn it, had the altos over to my house to work on music, hosted set painting work evenings in our garage, sewed, and I'm now going through the over 1,000 photos that my husband took at a dress rehearsal to edit the best ones for the cast.
Taking care of people - and almost all of that could be done at home because my energy isn't back to lots of running around yet.
Second, by singing to God. That's where the title quote from St. Augustine comes in. After the post-surgery possibility of totally losing my voice, singing is even more important that it was before. Whenever I sing, and whatever I sing, I'm always singing to God. It doesn't matter if it's an Alleluia, a choir anthem, a musical theater audition, blending my voice with others in the chorus of a show, or singing along with a song by P!nk. I'm always singing to God.
[Note: I wrote this a year ago, after I was in a local production of Li'l Abner. After not being able to sing for four months the previous fall/winter because of my partial thyroidectomy, I actually got my first solo singing role in a theater production! Being with my theater family that summer and being able to help out so much, was very healing for me after a long year of a slow recovery (and choir helped immensely over the spring, even though I wasn't well enough at that point to make it through a long Sunday morning). A year later, after two more wonderful musical theater experiences (Ragtime and Annie), I've come back to this post, and it's still pretty much what I believe. I'll be looking for a church closer to home (hopefully) in the next year or two.* What I'm looking for in a church hasn't really changed from what I've always wanted, but I'm finally being really open about what I feel is what I should do with this time I have been given. More on that in future posts, but, it's really all here in this one. Singing and helping people.]
* Younger son has one more year of homeschooling left so I'm not splitting my focus at this point. Also, we've always rushed into joining churches, and I'd like to do things differently this time.
Yesterday, younger son and I headed over to the West Point on the Eno park in Durham to see the sand sculpture from the Festival for the Eno.* Every year, the sand sculpting group, Sandy Feat, makes a large sand sculpture about the yearly Festival theme. This year, bees were the theme (click here).
The bees are launching one of their number with fireworks, bombs, and explosives.
This one is giving the rider a boost.
The stinger of the rider.
The other side
Since they have four "arms," this one can light the explosives with one claw...
...while covering its ears with two more.
I always enjoy the sand sculpture, but, this year, I really got a kick out of it because the name is from one of my favorite classical pieces to play on the flute.
Back in 1981, as reported by the New York Times, the flutist, Sir James Galway, challenged the Canadian Brass to see which could play Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee the fastest:
It all began last weekend at the Chautauqua Music Festival in upstate New York when James Galway, the Irish flutist, played ''The Flight of the Bumblebee'' in 52.45 seconds. Mr. Galway challenged the Canadian Brass to play the Rimsky-Korsakov piece faster.
''We were at a distinct disadvantage Tuesday night when we accepted the challenge,'' Chuck Daellenback, a tuba player with the Canadian Brass, said yesterday in Toronto.
''I play the piece on the tuba, and not only is the instrument unwieldy, but halfway through my hand gets cramped, and Ronnie Romm, our trumpeter, must continue the fingering while I continue to blow the horn.''
The Canadian Brass was clocked at 60.05 seconds, but Mr. Daellenback figured that because of all the problems involved playing ''The Flight of the Bumblebee'' on the tuba, ''we were entitled to an eight-second handicap and we declared ourselves the winners.''
Then, on Tuesday night in Toronto, the Canadian Brass tried harder and huffed and puffed its way through in 55 seconds.
In January, we took our first family vacation to Florida. We had a wonderful (and very non-crowded, which in Florida was a good thing) afternoon at the Mead Botanical Garden. There were so many anoles all over!
I hate it when we lose an hour of afternoon sunlight in the fall. No more sunny evening walks with dear husband except on weekends. We made the most of our late afternoon walk today by going to Ayr Mount. The light was beautiful!
I'm so happy that we haven't had the first frost yet!
The Eno River
Brugmansia blooming in the garden behind the historic house.
Through my time in the Catholic and then in the Episcopal Churches, the Eucharist has been central to my worship. No matter how bad the homily/sermon, regardless of the music for Cantor versus choir, no matter how little I could pay attention due to active small children, receiving the Eucharist meant a great deal to me. Most of the time, we haven't lived close to a church with a daily Mass, but, even so, I tried to go to the occasional Daily Mass - whether at St. Leo's in Winston-Salem where we worshiped with the nuns before work or at St. Thomas More in Chapel Hill, which was just close enough to daughter's ballet class that I could get to the 5:15 Mass and back in time to pick her up (until the following year when her class was later).
After last year's cancer diagnosis, surgery, and very slow recovery, I'm not sure where my faith is now. I pray, but it's more along the lines of "Please?" than for any thought that my praying will change anything. Maybe I pray because, in some small way, it connects me to God. Or maybe I pray because it seems rude not to. Or maybe it's habit.
It's now been half a year since I received the Eucharist. That's where the cancer surgery recovery comes in.
I miss the Eucharist.
I won't go into the details of my current physical condition. It would be so easy to descend into a whine, which is part of why I haven't blogged these last few months. But here are the parts that relate to church:
Anesthesia: My doctor said it could be months before I got back to normal due to my sensitivity to drugs. Besides making me tired for months, the anesthesia made me unable to multitask. Do you know how many things that affects? - Putting together a mental picture of the scene you're looking at, having a conversation and reacting to non-verbal cues - even having a conversation and just looking at the other person. I've spent lots of dinners conversing but staring at the tablecloth. Just walking across our yard was visually overwhelming. It was months before I could drive again. It's much better than at the end of the summer, but I still get overwhelmed very easily. All the different people and activity at church? I can't handle it yet. I've missed so many theater performances that my friends have been in the last few months because I can't handle that kind of overwhelm. I'm still also very easily tired and worn out. Just the drive (with older son driving) to church and back would wear me out, much less a service where there is so much to do right.
Post-Operative Traumatic Stress Disorder: Yes, that's a thing, and it was my diagnosis back in October. Not only are things overwhelming, they're threatening. Younger son and I were having pizza before one of daughter's dance performances a month ago. The restaurant was very crowded, loud, and brightly colored (not harmoniously). You know in horror movies when all of a sudden a benign crowd turns menacing - usually the camera work goes slantways and the people elongate. That's what it felt like. I had to quietly talk myself out of the restaurant. After walking around in the peace of Durham streets, I was better. Again, I would find church overwhelming - particularly since they combined the two later services last fall so there would be lots of people I don't know, and it would be much more crowded. [POTSD, for me, also involves a lot of anger - to a level that I've never experienced before. Really, put it all together, and I feel like a stranger in my body.]
Thyroid hormones. I had a partial thyroidectomy so that, hopefully, the remaining thyroid would give me what I need. My hormone levels have been going down since surgery. I find out in two weeks whether or not I need to go on artificial ones. That's also contributing to my exhaustion.
Costochondritis (inflammation of the chest muscles and tendons): When this is bad, my chest won't expand for me to breathe normally. Trying to squeeze into a crowded church would make me tense up all of those muscles.
So, I don't have the energy to go to a service. I've considered trying to go to the Daily Service at the Episcopal Church in town, but I'm not sure I'm up for being a stranger at a formal church,* and I can't usually do more than one out-of-the-house activity a day or I'm exhausted, nauseous, and dizzy. Their Daily Services are on Wednesday, which is our busiest day.
So praying seems kind of unreal - actually, very little in the whole panoply of faith and church involvement (over the last 32 years) has had anything to do with my cancer treatment, I haven't received Communion for half a year, and I'm wondering what faith has to do with anything. Much of my church involvement seems like it's been whiffling activity - except for the parts I've enjoyed like choir and our Catholic small group. Church involves lots of running around - it's almost defined as that. I've always tried to do that, but I absolutely can't now.
I ran across a Buddhist-themed quote yesterday which prompted this post. I can't find it now, but it was along the lines of the importance of really looking at what is around you and giving thanks.
That, I can do.
What's interesting is that there isn't any reason that a follower of Jesus can't follow that idea. In fact, it's quite appropriate.
So where do I find my faith now?
In the face of my husband, who's been so patient and encouraging with my slow recovery, who jumps at any opportunity to make our living situation better for me, and who does acupressure on my chest muscles before bed every night so that I can breathe well enough to sleep.
In the face of my older son, who, even if he feels awkward when I cry, just sits there with me, caring written all over his face, and who also drives me all over the place.
In the face of my daughter, who cries with me, who has been so busy taking care of me, and who comes up with new ways to help every time I turn around.
In the face of my younger son, who is fiercely protective, has unlimited, highly expressive, teen-age sarcasm for anything (or anyone) that hurts me, and who has spent so much time looking out for me this last year.
* I did go to a wonderful, less formal, Christmas Eve Lovefeast at the United Church of Christ (6 minutes from our house)(where I've played flute before). Not unexpectedly, because this happens a few times a day, I had a brief period of exhaustion about halfway through. It was uncrowded enough that, if I had decided to, I could have just lain down on a pew to listen to the rest of the sermon. People there were really welcoming - which was wonderful because that was only about two weeks after my restaurant experience.
I haven't blogged much the last year. I had a very slow recovery from a very bad reaction to the anesthesia for my surgery. Most of what I wrote about, but didn't publish, had to do with my cancer surgery and recovery. Who would want to read a lot of whining?!
I reread some of my unpublished posts from the last year. They're really not that bad, and there is a community that might be interested - those going through similar situations. I might publish them next week.
My family has been wonderful - encouraging me, driving me around (I drove on the highway for the first time a month ago), taking walks with me when I was too dizzy to take them by myself, doing chores, cooking dinners - and lots more.
Although I have gotten slowly better so this doesn't count as a chronic disease, I've gotten lots of encouragement, suggestions, and support from online chronic disease groups and thyroidectomy groups.
Exercise. Even if it was only a few laps up and down our court with someone accompanying me, exercise has been so helpful. It's been a long climb to get back to where I am now. I danced and sang through a whole summer musical - and I only had a few bad days!
In the fall, I had a difficult time focusing on having a conversation with one person (more on that in tomorrow's post). Except for my family, I was isolated for months - not because I didn't want to talk to people, but because I couldn't! In February, choir got me back into community, and the summer musical was absolutely wonderful! I worked and chatted with people every evening for hours - something I couldn't have done a few months ago. It made me so happy!
My faith has changed a lot in some ways, and not at all in others. More on that in another post.
Since we homeschool, my 17 yo son was the one at home, helping me, most days. I would start making dinner, then get a bout of dizziness and nausea and he'd finish. I would start laundry and, etc. His last year has focused on me so much, and he's been so wonderful, helpful, and encouraging. His senior year is going to be two years long so as not to shortchange his homeschooling.
Daffodils and crocuses will come up at random times in January and February, but trout lilies don't usually come up early. They're one of the major signs of spring for me - and they were all over at Ayr Mount last weekend.