Tag Archives: writing

What can I use that I already have?

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What can I use that I already have?

“What can I use that I already have?”

Here’s an unsolicited peek into my somewhat odd routine: what goes on in my bathtub. Don’t be scared, it’s not what you think. I take long baths in all seasons, sometimes more than one a day, even in addition to a shower. Other than my car, the bathtub is the closest thing to an office I have. Since the advent of the smartphone (and to be honest, it was before that too, just more cumbersome) I use my time in the tub to reply to correspondence, make my class playlist, read, set my schedule, order things that I need online. Like vitamins. Or a one-inch necklace extender for my niece. Or next month’s book for book club.

Online list fulfillment, for goods or information (can I use my stand-up paddleboard on Medina Lake?) is so immediate that it’s easy to overlook all that is right in front of us. Like many, I’ve been thinking-trying-hoping-planning to downsize, to purge, to live more simply and save more money. So, this morning with that in mind as I noticed I was near the end of the tub of my favorite moisturizer, wondering if there’s a backup in the hallway linen closet… it hit me: “what might I use that I already have?” Two birds, one stone?

I’m not suggesting skipping the Cerave and using coconut oil, (although, let’s be honest, we already know I’ve DONE that for everything from moisturizer to mouth-pulling and hair-taming), but I do have drawers and closets full of things that I either need to use, donate, or pass on to someone else. The gift bag I saved last week when friends brought me gourmet chocolates (which didn’t last 48 hours), the reader glasses I inherited from Jane, a pricey hair product that my sister passed on to me because she didn’t love it, the complimentary promotional notebook from my husband’s software conference (I could open a notebook store at this point.)

These things are taking up space, waiting for “someday,” I guess? Even if each of them wouldn’t be my first and best choice, I believe they’re worthy of being used, and why can’t I compromise on the ideal for certain things? I can’t imagine a friend would object to receiving a gift in a re-purposed gift bag bearing the name of a chocolatier. Or that I (or anyone else) would notice a temporary change in product on my rarely-styled hair. Usually, old hairspray and sweat are keeping it atop my head in a scraggly bunch with some small help from something containing elastic. And for all the notebooks I fill with ideas, essays, and lists, why would I need to buy one with a cartoon cat demonstrating yoga poses on the front cover?

My friend has given me her extra high-end cosmetics, and still an internet ad for a cool eye-brightening stick has reeled me in. Candles are in almost every room of my house, and I don’t light them very often. And does anyone really need designated “travel pajamas?”

It might be fun, or so I told myself this morning, to work my way through these things taking up space: my mom gives me the conditioner packet from her hair-color box, and our heating and cooling annual checkup included a free cooler-bag. Stuff is junk, yes. But I mean, I DO travel around with homemade peanut butter and often fruit in my car, so at some point that bag might not be a bad idea!

It won’t go perfectly, but imagining myself creating space, downsizing, having less clutter, and donating or repurposing more of these things to have calmer closets and emptier surfaces is appealing. I know I won’t be awesome at this, but I’m going to try.

And, then,

What I AM a little better at, what is less practical, is turning the sentiment (“what can I use that I already have?”) into a more figurative question.

Part of my job, if my job(s) include yoga instructor/student or a wannabe writer, is thinking that way: off the mat, outside the box.

As we strive for personal improvement by reading another self-help book, continuing our education, learning a new skill, making ourselves busier by doing ALLLL the things…adding to our schedule and resumé and activities list and that of our family members as well…

What if we each take a moment each morning and ask ourselves, “what can I use that I already have?”

If you’re a stellar soup-maker like my sister, and now have an emptier nest, you can share your gift with someone lonely, ill, or elderly. Most single people might be more inclined to open a can than go through the work of making homemade soup for themselves, so there’s nothing more appreciated! If you have tons of old books, you could write messages in them before donating to a local bookstore (there still are a few!) or make the message and the book choice even more personal and use it as an ACTUAL GIFT in a REUSED gift bag for a friend’s birthday with the promise of a picnic together. Last week a friend told me that when her daughter moved into a new home, the next-door neighbor gifted her a cutting from a plant. It had been given to that neighbor years ago by the previous owner of the home she had just moved into. What a precious connection! Could you take your dog to visit a nursing home? In the past year and a half, we’ve all seen people who sew make and share masks, a perfect example of this idea. A Facebook friend across the country, a real go-getter whom I only know once-removed through my husband, invited me to an accountability group of people trying to support and motivate each other. And don’t even get me started on the friend who came over to shovel a few tons of gravel for our firepit while we weren’t even home helping!

So, we are doing it already, right? But next time you’re tempted to overextend yourself, to stress yourself out trying to think of what you can do or give or be to someone…ask yourself that question:

“What can I use that I already have?”

I don’t mean just when it comes to giving gifts or sharing things. Let’s be honest, we’re not all going to do this instead of buying gifts (or at least I hope not!) But to add richness and purpose to each of our lives, instead of constantly asking yourself what MORE you can add to accomplish more, to contribute, what about what’s sitting in the crowded closet of your personality, the jumbled shelves of your talents and skills? Why add more to the pantry when its already so well-stocked?

If I could draw, I’d want to make the best custom cards. With clever sayings in them! You’re funny? Make someone laugh today. A stranger, even. You’re an awesome mom and your kid just went to college? Reach out to a young mom who may be struggling and remind her in your wisdom how these long days come up painfully short. Remind her of one of your favorite parenting hacks. If you used to be a bartender, don’t just serve wine at the next gathering, make a signature drink! If you’re direct, let that serve someone well by not skirting around an issue. (Thanks, Kim W.)

Your advice is invaluable. Your experience is needed. Your special talent can fill a gap like spackle today. There’s that quote about judging a fish by its ability to climb a tree, or something. Why do we try to climb the trees if we are so beautifully suited to the water, and vice versa?

Amy Grant sang, “Do you protect what you already own?”

My yoga teacher used to quietly say, “everything you need is right here.”

Ask yourself: “What can I use that I already have?”

Love Lifted Me

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The weeks leading up to my parents’ 35th wedding anniversary in 1994 were tense.

After so many years of bowing to the desires and demands of his wife and three daughters…my dad had ceased shaving.

My tan, athletic little fireball dad who had gone salt & pepper before my birth in 1969, who by this anniversary was definitely heavy on the salt, had decided for the first time in his life he would let his facial hair grow.

To be fair, this was the closest thing to a mid-life crisis Hap ever had.  This and a very inexpensive, very yellow old Porsche convertible which would come a few years later. 

But Dolores, our mother, was NOT having it.

Why?

“Because you look like Kenny Rogers!” she’d say, with a grimace.

And while Kenny was a very nice looking man, that was not the look she wanted to see on the face of her husband. And she was not playin’…she was not pleased, she was not kind about it. She was punishing him in ways small and large, I’m sure. We were scared–if Hap didn’t shave, if the cold war continued, what would happen when they showed up to the fake event that would actually be their surprise anniversary party and were barely speaking?

Luckily, through whatever marital manipulations will remain unknown to we three sisters, as the date neared Boots somehow prevailed and Hap shaved. They showed up to the party and were greeted by the two grandchildren they had by that time, along with the best friends, coworkers, and extended family they had cultivated during that long marriage. They cried tears of joy, and as the saying goes, a great time was had by all.

They were treated to a slide show of memories, and part of the soundtrack to that slide show was “Through the Years” by Kenny Rogers. It was their song, their family song–not their song as a young dating couple, but their adult, grown-up life song:

“Through the years, through all the good and bad…I know how much we’ve had, I’ve always been so glad to be with you…through the years, I’ve never been afraid, I’ve loved the life we’ve made, and I”m so glad I stayed right here with you…through the years.”

It was just a song, but an emotional one. My dad was a huge fan of country music, the country music before it would have a surge in popularity with younger people after that time. Before artists from Kenny forward would sway it towards pop. His country music was Ronnie Milsap and Lynne Anderson. I remember watching the Barbara Mandrell show with him as a kid and arguing that I preferred her sister, Louise Mandrell. He shook his head, “no way.” He liked Barbara. He liked that she could play so many instruments, a petite scrappy blonde who took on that steel guitar like other women took on baking. As her own song says, Hap was “country when country wasn’t cool.” Oh, sorry, he listened to country when it wasn’t cool. He may have owned a plaid shirt and a straw cowboy hat to wear to a convention of other financial planners and insurance salesmen, but he was not “country” the way Mandrell meant it. Not in the real ways, but I’m fairly certain he lived vicariously through Little Joe Cartwright and the Big Valley Barkleys.

Back at the anniversary party in 1994, Kenny Rogers’ voice took us all on an emotional photographic journey of our longtime neighbors and friends “through the years,” which included a third generation of children playing in the same two backyards. And while no more Kenny Rogers songs were included in that day, as I awakened this day in 2020 to the news of Kenny’s death, my mind’s eye shows me quite a few other snapshots that Kenny Rogers’ songs frame:

A cassette tape of his greatest hits played over and over…and over…on a driving trip to Nashville, when my parents allowed me to bring my best friend and next-door neighbor Kristine. It is only as an adult that I realize they wanted me to bring her to keep me occupied so that I didn’t annoy all the joy out of the vacation for my older sisters. There were several of those trips, so I cannot recall if that was the same one that also included the family/neighbors on the other side, which would have included Sandy and Karen, my elders as well.

My days in Tennessee were eclipsed by thoughts of a boy named Mike who worked at the stables of Loretta Lynn’s Dude Ranch, who gave me a peacock feather. It was obvious he was in love with me. I was a pre-teen. I assume he was old enough to have a work permit.

I wrote a few postcards on that trip, one to yet another neighbor and friend, Lisa, to whom I had written something like “the trip is fun, MOST of the time,” which was a dig at Kristine getting on my nerves, and me on hers, and a lesson learned when my mother (who was about to mail said postcard) handed it back to me with a “shame on you, that’s unnecessary.”

I wasn’t yet at the age where I bought much music for myself. I had listened to (and ruined) many 45’s and albums of my sisters in the early 70’s, fought through a few of Hap’s 8-tracks, and then when cassettes came out, I just listened to whatever was in my parents car. So, some Kenny Rogers. I loved the song Ruben James, “you still walk the fertile fields of my mind…faded shirt, withered brow, calloused hands upon the plow…loved ya then, and I love you now, Ruben James.”

Over the years Kristine and I shared many choruses of “Coward of the County” and “The Gambler,” and I privately swooned over “She Believes in Me.”  “Lucille” took on a new shine when in my adulthood, my coworker/friend Maureen told me a story about an automotive breakdown using the lyrics, “ya picked a fine time to leave me, loose wheel…”

But after childhood, I didn’t really follow Kenny Rogers, and his signature low growl in songs like “Lady” annoyed me. Years later I joined in the mocking when he had plastic surgery and those eyes were wound up a little too tightly. I never really sought his music again. I felt like he was making an aging attempt at being a sex-symbol.

But his song, my parents’ song, “Through the Years,” was the closest thing to an anthem our family had, and it was revisited on many anniversaries after that. My parents would go on to celebrate their 50th anniversary. By their 52nd, my dad was in a nursing home. By their 54th, he was gone. Sirius satellite radio continues to bring songs like that into my car, and when that happens I laugh, or cry, take a snap with my cell phone and text it to my sisters and my mom. Same thing happens with John Denver’s “Sunshine on my shoulders,” Sunshine being the name of our childhood dog. Thank God for music.

Now, it’s March 21, 2020. One of my sisters texted me this morning about Kenny Rogers’ death and how it made her cry, for all the reasons illustrated above. Kenny’s death might be getting more airplay today if we were not in the midst of a global pandemic of Covid-19, Corona virus. My husband keeps telling me to write about the worldwide crisis, to document the days we are all quarantined so we can read it and remember the details years from now. I haven’t done that yet, because what can I have to say about it–what we ate that day? What time we Face-timed the grandkids? Who of us still have jobs?

Instead, here’s my offering today. Kenny Rogers has died, and his music is part of the soundtrack of our lives. Hearing the clips of his songs again makes me smile. Nostalgia is strong, and I still know every word to those songs. Thank God for music, have I said that already? During this terrible health crisis when countless will be sick, many will be lost, and more will be devastated financially, I will go online and hopefully find one of those Kenny songs I sang after playing it over (and over, and over) on that trip to Tennessee, and I hope the sentiment rings true to us all:

“Love lifted me, love lifted me. When nothing else would do, you know love lifted me.”

Love Lifted Me

 

From Rachel, on her first birthday… (with peace)

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A conversation today with my sister prompted me to post this poem. I haven’t thought about it for a while. I wrote it in 1996, when I sat down with paper and pen and it flowed out almost in its entirety, fully formed. I definitely felt like a vehicle or a channel, because I did not have a hand in creating this–it came straight out in the pen. It was made into a framed print, a photo of which I have included here, and I no longer had it saved as a document anywhere. When I sat down today to “copy” it down, I still knew it by heart. Rachel’s spirit, or the Holy Spirit–but I humbly admit, not my own. I hope it comforts someone else out there.

Rachel S Lemon Hospital photo, November 26, 1995

Rachel S Lemon
Hospital photo,
November 26, 1995

From Rachel, on her first birthday

It is okay

To hurt, this day

For things I’ll never be…

But don’t forget,

Your world holds things

You’d never want for me.

Disappointments I will never have,

Pains I’ll never suffer

I will not fail

I will not fall

And we’ll never hurt each other.

By today, I may have walked

But would I have ever run?

By someday soon, I may have talked…

Would I ask of you, “how come?”

So there are many childish words

You never will hear spoken…

No, my heart was never whole…

But my heart was never broken.

I may not get to be with you

But I’ll never live in fear

You’ll never get to see me smile;

But you never saw my tears.

I lived from warm & loving womb

To a castle in the sky…

And there’s no need to wonder how

There is no reason why.

I paused here, not to hurt you

And not to say goodbye…

But just to put my angel face

Before this family’s eyes…

So now you have an image

Of the girl who would be me

For you are still not ready

To blindly set love free

Until the time when you believe

The things you cannot see.