Posts Tagged ‘My Life’

I’ve been called many names like perfectionist, difficult, and obsessive.  I think it takdes obsession, takes searching for the details for any artist to be good. ~Barbara Streisand

I turned SIXTY this past September.  That’s a big 6 and an 0.  Six DECADES of life.  And I still feel like I’m 17 with the whole world at my feet and eternity to explore it in.  As my birthday approached I became increasingly reflective, contemplating the past and what I have accomplished and musing about how much time I had left to accomplish anything,; whether I could accomplish anything that mattered,  and what I wanted that to be.  What kind of legacy did I want to leave behind?  How could I be the best me I could be?

These musings were very private and personal so they didn’t get written about.  At least not for public consumption. They consumed a great deal of time and energy and as a consequence this Blog and many other things were neglected.  It was a downright obsessive compulsive period that lasted much longer than I would have thought  but in many ways I am glad I took those long months off and engaged in more than a little self indulgent navel gazing.  It was good for me because I realized that I had been shambling  through life like a tumbleweed blown hither, thither, and yon at the whim of whatever breeze blew the hardest.  I need to focus.  I need to narrow down what I will give my precious little available head space  and physical energy to and set some goals.

I don’t usually make formal New Years Resolutions because when I do  I usually set such lofty goals for myself that I can’t possibly live up to them.  But then that leads to vague, unfocused rambling semi-goals  that are seldom really productive.  Every year I do choose a few  new to me things to learn.  Usually something difficult and something not so difficult and something easy. I really enjoy learning to do new things and I have learned a lot of things over my lifetime.  I’m proud of this ability and I’m proud of the many varied interests I have.  I think it keeps me young and my mind alert.  (I may be kidding myself about that part.)  Most of all it means that I am very rarely bored.

However, where I get into trouble is my expectations for myself.  For instance last year I vowed to learn to play bridge and I did learn the basics but bridge is a complicated game and there was so MUCH to learn that I became overwhelmed so I quit.  I wanted to be able to jump into a game with people who had been playing Bridge for years and be competitive.  I was not content to BE a beginner.  And that is my hubris.  I expect too much of myself.  I’m too competitive.

The same thing happened when I decided to learn to crochet before my daughter was born.  I didn’t just want to learn to crochet, I wanted to crochet her coming home from the  hospital outfit and when I was a couple of months along I chose a lovely and not too complicated  pattern. I managed to accomplish learning how to crochet and I did manage to make my daughter’s coming home outfit before she was born but I didn’t learn some things that were essential for crocheting a truly lovely garment.  And my disappointment in my effort led me to quit putting in any more effort to learn.   I couldn’t do it perfectly so I didn’t want to do it at all.  I realize now that it really was too hard to learn more than the basics  all by myself.  What’s more, I wasn’t willing to do the dull practice of crocheting simple scarves and hats that didn’t require complicated turns and counting stitches to get to the point that I could point with pride at what I had made. If I cannot produce a garment that looks as if it had been made by someone with 20 years of experience crocheting then I lose interest.  I want to be an expert in 3 easy lessons.

Of course that doesn’t  happen.  My expectations for myself were and always have been too high.  If I can’t be an instant expert, leftover tapes from my childhood begin to play in my head and I  abandon whatever didn’t come easy immediately.  So this year, late in life, I have decided to learn how to lower my expectations and learn something difficult one baby step at a time and not let my failure to be perfect at doing it right away get in my way. After all, over the years whenever I wanted a new scarf or a hat, I have picked up the yarn and needles and crocheted one and now people see my work and offer to pay me to crochet for them.  I have finally become an expert in scarves and hats. I’ve decided after all this time to learn to be a beginner. Not so difficult things usually comes pretty easy for me so I felt that the key to correcting this flaw in my character was to break something down into its simplest components, to begin at the beginning  and become an expert in one small piece at a time before I allowed myself to move on the the next small piece.

So these are my New Year’s resolutions.

1.  Find a teacher to teach me how to do something difficult the right way and quit expecting myself to be able to learn new things without help.

2. Accept that I cannot become an expert in something until I have finished the business of being a beginner.

3. Put my ability to be obsessive to good use and learn to deal with the boredom of the repetitive details of being a beginner until I have ceased to be a beginner at step one before I move on to step two.

4. Do allow my compulsive nature to jump ahead to what I consider  the “fun stuff”  ruin the process of learning.  Learn to accept “failure” and frustration as part of the process of learning.

5. Relax and enjoy being  the best me I can be.

These are the new things I want to learn this year:

Making good light fluffy cream Scones

The Korean alphabet

Understanding and using Linux terminal  command lines

Oh, and one more resolution:  BLOG about my experiences



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I’ve been under the weather—literally—lately. With the advent of this early spring comes changing weather fronts moving rapidly across my state as the spring rains come and go with the barometric pressure rising and falling on an almost daily basis, especially at night. For whatever reason, that means my chronic illness flares and my pain level rises to the point I cannot sleep well. In addition, spring brings seasonal allergies that exacerbate my asthma. In short, I’m a mess.


I finally caved and called the Doctor to ask for a renewal of the one-step up from my regular pain medication that I take when things get bad but getting back to my baseline isn’t coming as easily as it usually does. I waited too long to cry uncle… Hence very little writing is getting done.


So I decided I would make a very short post about the pick-me-up beverage I “invented” yesterday which was inspired by some Chai Masala (Indian Spiced Tea) I had last week. I added some Chinese Five Spices mix made by Tone to some strong iced coffee, sweetened it with half a teaspoon of Stevia, and poured in some 2% milk. Holy Cow! That was some seriously good stuff! Even better than the Chai Masala.  I had another glass today and it made my tongue smile and improved my mood considerably.


Try it!  I think you’ll like it!  And it’s lowfat!


Barbara Gavin-Lewellyn 


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I really liked the play of light on the curtains and plant in contrast to the near silhouettes of the children playing together  in this picture.



Barbara Gavin-lewellyn


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On the rocks!

Barbara Gavin-Lewellyn

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To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.
~e. e. Cummings

God was invented to explain mystery. God is always invented to explain those things that you do not understand. Now, when you finally discover how something works, you get some laws which you’re taking away from God; you don’t need him anymore.
~Richard P Feynman

I’ve been trying to write an essay about my irritation with how the word atheism is defined and applied to non-believers such as myself by believers—mostly Xtian believers–and found myself becoming too “scholarly” and “preachy.” Most likely because this is an emotional issue for me. I tend to go into my head rather than write from the heart when my emotions are strong. It’s a protective coping mechanism and it works fine for what it was adopted to do but it sure leads to lousy, boring writing.

Soooo when I read the WordPress daily challenge for March 1 about constraint, I realized that that was a perfect explanation for what was going on with that essay and my dissatisfaction with it. I felt constrained to be nice and avoid offending the 80-90% of the populous who are theists—believers in at least one of the various gods and goddesses currently being worshiped.

 But why? Why worry about what kind of spin some theists want to impose on what I write? Well, being an atheist in America is definitely placing yourself squarely in the ranks of a very small minority. Coming out boldly as an atheist and proud of it opens you up for all kinds of disapproval and criticism. There are plenty of people willing to assure me that my fate is eternal damnation and torture. A lot of them enjoy thinking about the prospect. Many of them seem to take my disbelief as a personal insult.

 The theists that might be reading this blog include my extended family of origin some of whom I have recently reconnected with after many years of self-imposed exile. I’m not sure how they will react if they happen to read this post and since my FaceBook account and WordPress account are inter-connected, there’s a good chance they might.

 I grew up in a family steeped in evangelical fundamentalism, attending a church where the literal interpretation of the Bible was not only encouraged, it was demanded. They believe the Bible should be read as the literal truth. When it says Jonah lived in the belly of a fish for three days, they believe that Jonah really lived in the belly of a fish for three days. They don’t believe that would happen today but they believe their god made it happen back then and if it wanted to it could make something similar happen today.

 I have wandered far astray from that milieu and have very little in common with these relatives except blood ties, a shared history and memories that are more than 30 years old. Don’t get me wrong, that is really no one’s fault but my own. No one chased me out. I doubt they even knew I was going until I had been gone for so long it occurred to someone to wonder what was up. I chose this path deliberately and frankly, I’m not sorry I did. It saved my life and it had absolutely nothing to do with me “losing my faith” and becoming an atheist.But still, I know–well really assume–that my lack of faith in the god they believe in will probably shock them

I’m not looking for a fight with them but I’m afraid they will be offended by and possibly even hurt by some of what I want to say. Part of me wants to apologize to them in advance but then I get pissed about that because they feel perfectly free to post their prayer requests and Bible verses wherever they choose, secure in the knowledge that they won’t suffer the kinds of ire I am often subjected to for my lack of belief. There’s another form of those constraints again. My fear of having to defend myself and my beliefs in the face of criticism

Please don’t misunderstand, none of my relatives have explicitly made an issue out of anything I have said or done recently in regards to this issue and I’ve made it pretty clear on FaceBook that I am a born again atheist and recovering fundamentalist. In fact, only one of them has commented and she graciously gave me permission to exercise my freedom to have my own opinion which amused me to no end since she is my son’s age.

It’s amazing how quickly one can fall back into the dysfunctional patterns and habits you worked so hard to overcome. I haven’t even seen these relatives face to face and here I am, the parentified child wanting to take care of them and their feelings. Wanting to apologize for being me. And none of them have even asked for that or anything else for that matter. Sigh…

This post is supposed to be about using constraints to free yourself up to write. I’m flipping it on its head, declaring freedom from the constraints that keep me from writing freely and giving myself permission to have my own opinion and beliefs. Tomorrow I will exercise my freedom of expression and blog about what it means to be an atheist without worrying about what anyone else thinks or says or does. I will let them be responsible for their own reactions and not fall into the trap of feeling responsible for them. I will write from the heart and with passion because I AM passionate about this subject. I will write as if no one who will be reading what I write will disagree with me once I have made my case.


Barbara Gavin-Lewellyn 

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If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.
George Bernard Shaw

Happy is said to be the family which can eat onions together. They are, for the time being, separate, from the world, and have a harmony of aspiration.
Charles Dudley Warner

Family. Can there be a more prickly source of joy and despair in our lives? Last night my children, Daryn and Kerryn, came to have dinner with me. We haven’t had a meal together just the three of us in years. There were a good many conversations that began “remember when…”

Daryn brought Kerryn his electronic key board (she wants to learn to play the piano and is planning to take piano lessons!) and while I got dinner on the table and took pictures of it, she began trying to play chopsticks. I was immediately transported back in time, wandering down memory lane. That was the one piece I taught them as youngsters and they loved the fact that we could all three play a part. Whenever we got near a piano back in the early years the three of us would play chopsticks.

Last night was special. My kids became kids again and I was the Mom. We were the family of origin once again.  The salient unit. Happy being together.

Sadly, I forgot to take pictures of THEM. I’m pretty sure they enjoyed having just the three of us together without spouses, grandchildren and extended family members present. We’ll have to remember to do it more often.

On the menu: “left over” Boef Bourguinon (I froze some of the beef and broth when I made it a couple of weeks ago and added fresh vegetables. Fairly quick and easy.) and Dairy Free “Buttermilk” Biscuits. It was a great meal for a night spitting rain and snow and the biscuits turned out really well.  So far I have had only one failure with my egg and dairy free adaptions of family recipes.  That’s amazing!

Barbara Gavin-Lewellyn

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Oh mother tell your children
Not to do what I have done
Spend your lives in sin and misery
In the House of the Rising Sun

The Animals


Way back in the distant recesses of time when my children were in grade school, we lived in a small HUD Family Housing complex in Fort Atkinson, WI while I was going to college in Whitewater. The horrors of the almost white glove inspections that the female half of a husband and wife management team used to put us single Moms through are responsible for my recent angst and near panic about getting my current apartment ship shape for the yearly inspection. Shirley (names have NOT been changed to protect the guilty) was a bit of a harridan—no, I take that back, she was a full blown harridan.

Shirley never called me by name. Not once in four years. When she talked to me, she called me and the rest of the single Mom’s who lived in her little fiefdom, “you people.” It was pretty obvious that she didn’t have much respect for any of us and openly despised most of us. I think she and her husband saw themselves as the keepers of our flagging morality brought on by the scourge of divorce. The most horrible thing had happened to us. We had no man in our lives to take control of matters.

She was certainly not impressed with our housekeeping skills. As far as I know, none of us ever passed her inspections the first time around with the possible exception of Frankie’s* Mom and she was even scrubbing Frankie down with ammonia. (I’m serious. Frankie’s Mom had issues with germs, the poor lady. More importantly, poor Frankie.) Shirley always gave us a list of things we had to have fixed on her return visit which would be a surprise visit. There could be no dirty laundry, furniture had to be one inch away from the walls, no dishes in the sink waiting to be washed, and even the window channels had to be absolutely spotless.

I personally think that was just an excuse for her to get back into our apartments to find out if we were doing something else she and her husband disapproved of. Specifically, whether or not we had a boyfriend who may or may not have been sleeping over. Shirley and her husband, Dick (a more appropriate name for that jerk could not have been invented), disapproved of boyfriends in no uncertain terms. When she gave me the keys to my apartment, she casually said “Of course you know that you are not allowed to have overnight guests.”

Silly, naive me, gaped in surprise and said something to the effect of “You mean my kids can’t have their friends over to spend the night?” “No,” she snapped, “I mean that you can’t have a man spend the night. Of course your children can have friends over to spend the night.” oh…

I was pretty sure that there were no such rules for HUD housing in general and that Shirley and Shirley’s husband, Dick, couldn’t actually make rules like that for this complex in particular but I was desperate for affordable housing and had no man in my life that I wanted to spend the night with at the moment anyway so I just filed that away for future reference. I did wonder if it would be OK for me to have a female spend the night and if it would matter if I was entertaining a lesbian lover but for once in my life, I opted not to make waves and bit my tongue. Besides, I didn’t have a lesbian lover either. Rebellion would come later.

I made sure I re-read my lease to check if I had been foolish enough to sign something that had put such a ridiculous restrictions on my non-existent love life though. You never knew when I might get a lesbian lover after all. I wanted to be prepared. I hadn’t.

Rebellion came closer not long after I moved in when I realized that Shirley and Dick were cruising the parking lots after 10pm and again before 6am every morning to check for strange cars and asking certain neighbors whose apartment those strange cars were visiting. How did I discover this? Why Shirley asked me about a strange car that was in MY parking lot, that’s how. She TOLD me it had been there at 10pm and still there at 6am.

My reply that I didn’t make it a habit to check whether any of my neighbors was being naughty and had no intention of snitching on them if I did find out they were might have been a bit rebellious. Shirley was not happy. I suspect I went onto the potentially naughty list after that conversation. I Certainly made the not cooperative list.

Rebellion came even closer when one day while I was talking on the phone, I opened my front door for some reason to find Dick standing outside it in an attitude of listening concentration. I can’t remember who I was talking to or what the conversation was about but I certainly remember the guilty look on his face as he scurried away.

At that point, I went and asked my new neighbors what in hell was going on with the management. They knew all about it. They advised me that if I wanted a boyfriend to spend the night I should tell him he needed to park on the street. Preferably a block away. What’s more if I wanted to talk about anything that was happening with my neighbors or some rule I was personally breaking, I should check to be sure Dick was not lurking around somewhere.

It was during one of the get-togethers inspired by my questions that someone (it might have been me) said they felt like they were living in “Shirley’s House of Recycled Virgins.” Soon we (okay, *I*) had composed a song sung to the tune of “The House of the Rising Sun” which has since been lost to many years time and moves to several other apartments. I made it a point to be singing it whenever I noticed Dick lurking about the building trimming hedges he had trimmed less than a week ago. LOUDLY and with gusto.

We plotted about how to bring this matter to a head and prove to Shirley and Dick that treating us like wayward teenage sluts was going to cause them more pain that it was causing us. We began discussing Dick and Shirley when we suspected one of them might be listening, saying the most outrageous things we could think of to say. A couple of us even tried to set Dick up into making a pass at one of us by talking about how hot we thought he was. We were out to make Dick and Shirley’s lives as miserable as they made ours.

I offered to have some guy come over and spend the night a few nights and make it more than obvious that he was at my house but the problem was I didn’t know any guys I wanted to invite for overnight pajama parties. I was such a party girl.

Outright rebellion came the following summer when Shirley finally accused me of having an unauthorized overnight male guest. I must confess that I, in fact, did have a male guest over night. He just happened to be my brother-in-law’s happily married brother-in-law who spent the night at my place with me chaperoned only by my two young children as we were traveling from Florida to Nebraska. We had stopped by to dump off most of the junk I had dragged to Florida with me, buy a new tire since we had had a blow-out somewhere in Georgia and deposit my check into my bank account. And sleep.

The ONLY way she could have known this is that someone tattled. We were traveling in MY car and had arrived at 11pm and left before noon the next day. To add insult to injury she waited three weeks for me to get back from Nebraska to confront me with this indiscretion.

She was also not happy that I had “abandoned” my apartment for three months while I was in Florida and Nebraska visiting relatives and had shut off the refrigerator. Not only that, I hadn’t bothered to put anything away when I made that flying visit to Wisconsin. I had simply unpacked the car and left everything sitting in the middle of the living room. In an untidy pile. I hadn’t even made one of the beds when I left the next day—my son’s bed which only got made when I KNEW Shirley would be there to point out my sloppiness and moral ineptitude and I just wanted to get through the damn inspection without making waves. How could I be such a pig?

AND, and, and how could I afford to go running off to Florida and Nebraska for such a long vacation. She had half a mind to report me to the authorities. That’s when I started laughing

How did she know all this? Because I didn’t answer the door for several days in a row when she came to talk to me about my unauthorized male visitor so she let herself in and investigated and she asked the neighbors where I was since it was obvious someone was watering my plants. By then I had done a little sleuthing and knew she couldn’t legally do what she was doing as far as guys spending the night and a bunch of other crap she and Dick were pulling and was in the process of gearing up to complain to HUD about them.

I gave Shirley a piece of my mind and told her that she couldn’t make the rule about guys spending the night stick and if she ever came into my apartment again for any reason that was not specifically stated on the lease, I would file a complaint to HUD if I didn’t do it based on this particular incident. Furthermore I didn’t give a rat’s ass if she called the welfare office. They couldn’t tell me how to spend my money or where I spent the summer either as long as my kids weren’t being neglected.

She tried to claim she did indeed have the right to ban men from the apartment and that she also had the right to come in for maintenance reasons. I invited her to start eviction proceedings because I intended to have as many male visitors spending the night as possible and maybe even a female lover or two but advised her she better call a lawyer because I intended to own her new car and anything else of value she owned if she tried to do that since I knew it was illegal. I asked her who had complained that something wasn’t working in my apartment or what she was specifically looking at that needed maintaining that wasn’t covered by the yearly inspection and would not require a 24 hour written notice. She glared at me, harrumphed and turned heel to leave. I never heard another word.

I was fed up though and did indeed write that letter of complaint to HUD. It was 3 or 4 pages long and included every egregious bit of crap she and Dick had pulled on any of the residents that I knew about. I also proceeded to go door to door within the complex and got more than half of the 32 tenants to sign it. Within a few weeks HUD sent letters to everyone living there and advised us all that the management had been advised that most of what they were doing was illegal.

That was the beginning of my life long interest in political activism ever since.  I never made my son make his bed again when it was time for inspections. I never found myself a lesbian lover either.

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