Remembering the aunts

I am feeling the awkward tug of time as I realize I have one aunt left who is alive.
True, this is a reality for those of us who dwell in the middle years. Elderly relatives drawing breath a final time as they depart on their forever journeys.
Similar to Frodo and his uncle Bilbo’s leaving behind their home in Middle Earth In Lord of the Rings and setting sail for the Grey Havens and eternal rest.
His friends Sam, Merry and Pip are left to mourn and remember, and continue on with their lives.
Aunt Connie
I am experiencing those shadows with the passing of the last aunt from my dad’s family. While feeling quiet joy at being newly reconnected, via FaceBook, with my mother’s only sister.
Last night I spent the wee hours, mulling over my aunts’ influence on my life. Each was mother to several children, two all-male clans, and the third and four to families of all daughters.
Being aunt must have been sliced in between those realities. For the most, part our interactions were limited to “hello’s” and “may I’s” when visiting their homes and playing with cousins.
But there were a few longer visits. What stands out even now were the books they kept at their homes, wandering through the woods, and berry-picking.
The only time I ever got lost was during a long visit to my maternal aunt when I was 9. My parents were away on a trip of reconciliation (that didn’t last long) and my cousins and I lugged “home” buckets of blackberries to be made into pies. A fragile, brown-covered book drew me into the saintly world of a little girl from the past.
The large woods close to their house beckoned and I decided to go on a walk there one afternoon. No cousins or brothers allowed. I soon found myself in shadowy, unfamiliar territory, and getting lost. Was that tree with its gnarled trunk familiar? Where did that path lead?
My woods at home was spread out over a hill.Up meant home. Down meant wandering territory.
These trees of huge pines, oaks, and alder spread out over a single level and those clues didn’t mean anything. It seemed like hours before I finally spied a familiar landmark and reached my aunt’s home and safety.
The other aunt I was closest to lived in the country and I gladly plunged into the role of “country girl.” on visits. My aunt must have chuckled at my early risings to mend torn linen dish towels with a needle and thread. Haul wood in for the wood stove. Feed the turkeys named Thanksgiving and Christmas and go through the woods to gather berries and view the wild mountain fed river that marked the far edge of their property.
I renewed my relationship with her in my early adult years, sad that a long-term illness confined her to her apartment. Her resilient spirit stayed upright, and her willingness to try the too crisp cookies baked by a little girl. Dunkers, she called those cookies.
There was never enough time for long visits in the final years — a fact that still frustrates me — but she is forever so close in my heart.
I so miss her. I miss each aunt in quiet ways. And I am happy to have this opportunity to relink with my last aunt before she is called away. . . .
(C) 2017 by Mary Louise Van Dyke. All Rights Reserved.

Outside inside the box

Don’t stuff me in a box and paste labels on me.
I can think inside – over- and outside the box.
I want homes for the neglected people who sleep on US streets and for refugees who come here.
I am flawed and need forgiveness — and I will do what I can for those who need my caring.
I advocate for those not yet born, and for the elderly and those individuals who live with intellectual and physical difficulties.
I pray and believe I am heard. Loved. — and my appreciation of science lets me know the composition and names of the constellations.
I want businesses to succeed and provide jobs for people of my community, and for our leaders to address the challenges to our environment.
I comb through fragile documents for vignettes of the past — and welcome news of increasingly better current medications and treatments.
I am a human being who appreciates dialoguing with people from North America, Europe and Japan, Israel and Africa.
With each new encounter, I grow.

— Mary Louise Van Dyke

(C) 2017 by Mary Louise Van Dyke. All Rights Reserved.

Take Flight

Little bird, clad in new flight feathers

You tremble. Gasp. Wings clench tight. 

Struggle to peer over the edge of your twigged sanctuary.

There! You spy a sibling perched on tree limb so far away.

Wings will you soar there?

But its so so far away.

Beak pokes down. Bright eyes follow to see what is there.

Oh too far. Too far! And is that “rowr” a cat?

You flop back into the cooling hollow of your nighttime hours.

Stay here. Must stay here.

Faintly in the distance you hear your siblings sounding bright chirps.

Made it! Made it!

Your heart beats strong stronger stronger strokes

Your wings flutter slightly. Open wider. You struggle to rise.

What is out there? A soft wind bats at your wings.

Come and play!

Once again you perch on the edge of the limb. Eyes close. Open

Spread out unshuttered wings

Come and play, breathes the wind

You lean forward breath in and take flight.

(C) 2017 by Mary Louise Van Dyke. All Rights Reserved.

Beyond the march — dialogue is needed

<meta http-equiv=”refresh” content=”0; URL=/marylou.vandyke?_fb_noscript=1″ />Today is the women’s march in Washington D.C.

Not being there, I wish them well in their determination that Change Begins Now. However, achieving that change — goes far beyond today’s event.
Rhetoric — such as “oh those stupid (insert group of choice)” is easy to do. We (including myself) are all prone to muttering our discontent at the way things are when we disagree.
Digging deep within ourselves to allow long lasting, impactful change and mutual understandings to occur, challenges us.
Dialogue — is how I see change occurring — and not just with those who happen to agree with us.
Dialogue is difficult. It involves listening — on all sides. Such as writing thoughtful letters to those newcomers to the federal government and issuing invitations to see real life situations such as in education.
It involves switching off our comfort zones on topics such as abortion, for example, and offering ways to support the women who choose to carry their babies through to birth and beyond.
It involves the best of us. Are we up for the challenge?
(C) 2017 by Mary Louise Van Dyke. All Rights Reserved.

Caregiver duties wrap up for now

Being on active duty as my mother’s caregiver/spokesperson is wrapped up – for a time.

I hope.

How long this period will last is one of those unknowns dumped on us by life. Although only in her 70’s, her health is nowhere near the robustness of her parents who were taking trips, still living in their house, and making weekly treks to mow their son’s lawn.

I always imagined Mom’s journey would run on similar lines. Strong genetics. However, I should have factored in the fact that life lobbed many emotional projectiles at her. She’s coped as she could, creating a soft-colored environment in her home, buying dozens of “pretties” for the joy of it. Seeking quiet spaces and focusing on collecting reams of ancestral data.

So the cycle of active worry and care ends for a time. Life seems changed since November when Mom’s being unable to manage to walk and care for herself, pitched her and myself into a flurry of lists of agencies to contact for help, and visits with and from health care providers.

What alterations will stay, I wonder?

The final visit with a home therapist is scheduled for later this week and the focus will be on helping Mom learn how to use the bath bench that arrived by mail last week. I hope – I will encourage her – to use it.

The prescribed walker is still hanging out unused in the living room. Sometime soon I’ll be faced with hauling it back to the local Lion’s Club where we got it.

A Meals on Wheels volunteer showed up yesterday morning with another bag of food. I deliberately retreated to my room so I wouldn’t have to watch Mom struggling to slot the culinary offerings into the freezer, filled already with her treasure trove of frozen meals. The service with freshly made meals will continue. And the frozen meals will stay . . . .

Later in the day, Mom and I tackled the challenge of finding her a supplemental dental plan. Mom dialed the number but got overwhelmed by the automated instructions. She handed me the phone and I switched it to speaker mode so we could both hear.

A male representative came on line and I explained what my mother needed. He lavishly praised me for the great job I was doing for my mother – with Mom hearing every word.

I buried my face in my hands. Those words were sweet to hear – but Mom was trying to speak for herself.

Will she be able to do that more now as part of the changes? I really don’t know. Being able to advocate for ourselves, voice what we want, need, think is such a basic part of life.

So here we are – and I’m hoping for calmer days ahead with Mom relishing her life – and me, her daughter, being glad she can do so.

© 2017 by Mary Louise Van Dyke. All Rights Reserved.

Good bye 2016. Adieu!

Good bye 2016. Adieu! Also good riddance!

2016 showed itself to be a teeth-grinding, heavy weight time for many of us. I will say particularly for me in the past couple of months. Particularly in regards to my great and grand aspirations for writing a new novel – and having reality strike.  describe the sensation as the jarring noise that occurs when someone smacks a piano keyboard with the flat of their hand. Notes that would sound just fine by themselves, converging together into one loud din.

And the realities of care giving. Experiencing major quantity and quality time with an elderly relative – and wondering exactly how strong is the bond that binds us. Before I scuttle out the front door, madly seeking me.


Then there were the occurrences beyond my control – Politics. Major persons passing. Politics.

Okay. Dusting off my hands here. Be banished oh realities of 2016.

Well, be gone as much as is possible. I don’t own any magic pixie dust to banish the troubled times to the bottom of the nearest dumpster, swathed in plastic and tied firmly with my best knot.

What I do possess is determination. 2017, you WILL help me unearth opportunities to show how determined I can be. Even if I have to pinkie wrestle you for the honor.

True, my creativity took a serious beating for a couple of months. But I am ready to haul my novel out of the mental closet, brush it off and get going again. Chapter 4 awaits – and the realities experienced by a man who is struggling to live up to his family’s lofty scholastic achievements.

He and the other four major characters (yes, I write in multiple character perspectives) have a lot of stretching – think pretzel dough here – and “larning” to do – and we’ll see where he and all of them are at by the time I type Finis.

I’m also making a promise to myself – I suppose it could be called a resolution – to seek out the company of people. I am sooooo really overwhelmed at times – and it’s time to seek more of what refreshes, renews, restores me.

Like earlier this week and visiting a museum where the elderly gracious lines of a mansion and some stunningly beautiful artworks in material are displayed. Where the spirits of the past are present – strongly I might add.

I greatly appreciated viewing antique pieces belonging to the original occupants. A baby’s cradle carved from wood. A high chair. Smiling as I savor the joy ahead later this year for my son and daughter-in-law as they welcome their first born.

I am signed up for a class on Tuesday nights. Nothing with college credit to it, just an opportunity to meet with others and discuss our mutual thoughts on the text. Maybe some cooking classes to extend my culinary abilities.

A gym membership? Of course that is probably the most common resolution made by adults – “I’m going to get to the gym. Every day. I swear it.” But if I’m going to successfully wrestle determination out of 2017, I need to keep honing my muscles. Both mental and physical.

K. I’ve nattered on long enough here. You have your own good-byes to make to 2016. A word to describe what your goals are for this year – and possibly even purchasing that gym membership.

Wishing you determination!

© 2017 by Mary Louise Van Dyke. All Rights Reserved. For more information contact the writer at .

What Carrie Fisher’s passing means to this fan

Carrie Fisher, 60, – best known by many of us as the forthright, quick thinking Princess Leia of Star Wars – has died after experiencing a cardiac arrest late last week.

Her family and friends are mourning the person she was to them, now. Mom. Friend. Sister. Daughter. Co-star. Writer. Lover. The past few days have, undoubtedly, been a roller coaster of hope and despair, and hopefully with opportunities to hold her hand and let her know how deeply they love her.

Carrie Fisher Credit Actress Carrie Fisher © Riccardo Ghilardi photographer.jpg

For me, that’s not my part in her life – or she in mine. I met her – as most fans do – by sitting in a darkened movie theatre while watching her bring the role of Princess Leia to life. My interest in her was sparked seeing her holographic figure insert a disk into the quirky R2D2 and saying, “You are our only hope.” I wondered if I could have refused to give away the location of the Rebellion’s hidden base.

How would I feel as Princess Leia being forced to view the destruction of Alderaan and everyone I knew and loved?

Those moments in the original Star Wars trilogy provided rare proof of how strong female characters could be. Role models, even while attired in a white robe and ear phone hair style. In the next two movies, the Princess demonstrated her capabilities as a leader and devotion to the Rebel Alliance – even while trying to resist fellow fighter Han Solo’s advances.

Yes she did want to kiss the sort-of-ex mercenary. Couldn’t quite resist that dashing bad guy who could be rather sweet at times. But through all of that she never lost her core purpose of ensuring the rebellion must survive. I cheered her on. Rejoiced when Luke Skywalker turned out to be her twin and she let her hair down – literally – and let Han know he was Man No. 1 in her life.

In Fisher’s real life she battled addictions to cocaine and the ups and downs of life with bipolar disorder. She shared her experiences as an author, including in her Postcards from the Edge best-seller. Seemingly there was little peace for her at times, parallel to her fictitious counterpart.

In 2015 “The Force Awakens,” we saw her character, now in the middle years, still in the role of leader even as she mourned her son’s plunge to the dark side. Leia and Hans Solo found a moment of reconciliation, embracing, leaving many of us wishing this opposites attract couple might find their way back to each other.

So what happens next for Princess Leia? According to the Reuters article, we fans will have the opportunity to see the next step in her journey. Filming for Star Wars Episode VIII. Filming finished in July – the movie opens December 2017.

I cheered her presence in VIII. While the new stars are definitely worthwhile seeing, I appreciated having original actors lend another layer of “reality” to the movie. While nothing appeared easy about the Princess’ in-between years, her presence in the film proved how deeply her gritty “I will survive this” persona is part of the series.

Fisher’s real life death means producers and directors will have to decide how to proceed with her character in the final film.

Will they pay homage to her with a computer generated imagery (CGI) version, I wonder? Or rearrange the current raw footage to show her passing in the second movie.

I hope the film crew finds a solution that satisfies us, her fans, and would have pleased Fisher.

Thank you, Carrie Fisher, for giving us your interpretation of a character that we love and want to emulate, albeit hopefully not against a room of storm troopers. May you find peace and may the Force be with you. Peace to your loved ones.

© 2016 by Mary Louise Van Dyke. All Rights Reserved. For more information, go to

Re-igniting Holiday Spirit

Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to re-ignite your joy to the world holiday spirit?
sad-christmas  For me, trying to light the spirit of Christmas feels like struggling to ignite a campfire with soggy wet kindling that won’t stay lit. Listening to seasonal songs and nibbling on holiday goodies offers momentary sparks.
That glow gets dowsed by all the tasks that need doing. This year’s realities  feature my mother’s ongoing health care needs, and my working (also) as a professional caregiver. So many hours of making sure others’ needs are met.
And my children are adults. Christmases past spent together as a family, with pets poking at discarded wrappings, and the melting sweetness of cinnamon rolls aren’t part of our lives.
So how do I re-adapt my expectations to Christmas present? Re-discover the sweetness of silent nights when my children slept and I did last minute stocking stuffing?
Last week, snowflakes coated the ground, giving me a hurrah!, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas feeling. Which lasted until southerly breezes swept into town and melted away all the snow angels and snow people.
Because of living in a house crowded with my mother’s possessions, there’s no Christmas tree to rock around this year. But I assembled and mailed out packages to relatives who live far away. My older son let me know the package had arrived in record (two days) time. I was delighted to hear he’d taken it upon himself (while his wife is away visiting relatives) to purchase and set-up their family tree. He also launched a new family tradition for tree decorations and made sure their cats don’t use the tree for climbing practice.
Today my plan is to bake some goodies to give as presents to relatives who live nearby and wrap the last of my gifts in holiday style per Christmas regulations.
However, if anything is guaranteed to send me into a I’ll have a blue funk for Christmas spirit, its swathing gifts. The paper doesn’t do what I want it to do – well, specifically my fingers don’t create those lovely sharp creases or those lovely curly strands of ribbon without great effort and often not even then.
My older son, on the other hand, sent me a photo of a present he’d wrapped, complete with ribbon, and I marveled. He’s better at wrapping than I am – and kudos to him!
But its time, time right now, to step away from my inner Grinchy feelings. Find a way to ignite my love of the holidays.
Christmas — will come. Must come. Whether there is a roast beast to serve or stockings stuffed with goodies. Or missing some faces around the table. The day nears – a time to draw close to ones we love whether in person or via phone or social networking.
Wishing you joy.
© 2016 by Mary Louise Van Dyke. All Rights Reserved.

Not enough time

I sit here withered, locked in silence
Gazing down from on high as traffic blurs past,
And I wonder if you are gazing out your window, gulping down the quiet
Or spilling through your day in a blur of motion
As little ones clamour and the wash cycle beeps done
And the breakfast dishes are piled haphazardly
And work calls and the Christmas season beckons
And there’s just not enough time
Not enough time
And I am locked, still, in long hours of too much time
Dominated by a silent companion that commands me huddle here
Instead of springing up to join the busyness of your world
Pressed down in my chair, I await the day
When energy surges again through me. Allows me to
 claw off this grey veil and toss it in the scrap heap
and once again experience
enough time
with you.

(C) 2016 by Mary Louise Van Dyke. All Rights Reserved.

For permission to use this work, go to


November train wreck

Oh November. What a train wreck you proved to be!

I switched my calendar to you, November, with glowing bright ambitions to complete writing a novel in one month. Struggling to hope that somewhere out there was an affordable home meant to be mine. Content to be a caregiver during long weekend shifts and to chill out in my room during my off-hours.

Well, November, you had other plans for me. Smashingly, derailing plans as I discovered.


The writing contest I was participating in dared me to write 50,000 words in one month, or approximately 1,667 words a day to meet the goal. That’s a lot of words – and a lot of energy.

But I felt up for it. Hungered for it. Time to reclaim my inner novelist.

Well I made my start, kept on track for the first week or so. But then my mother got sick suddenly and couldn’t walk or manage life details without needing my assistance.

I had to stop. Focus on her needs.

I should have been more prepared for that, I suppose. Part of middle age is reluctantly giving up the illusion that ones’ elderly parents are hearty, and will remain healthy and be around for a long time to come.

But November, you definitely slammed that illusion. Each of my parents has health challenges. My dad struggling to recover from bypass surgery. Mom and mobility challenges – and well, having her associated life issues popping up.

Holing up in my room and staying on track with my writing wasn’t possible.

So I learned Mom prefers drinking water that isn’t hot or cold. Found myself sitting with her in waiting rooms, hoping medical staff would call mom’s name soon. Wheeling her down corridors to the examination rooms.

At home time was spiked by health care workers knocking on the front door. Sitting down with them to discuss the details of mom’s illness and how to make life more accessible for her.

I told them while I play a role in her recovery and ongoing health concerns, I want to be my mother’s daughter. Not a paid caregiver for her.

I’m still unclear on where the boundaries between those two are.

Even with December here now, there’s still so much to do. Paperwork for a caregiver program for which thankfully she qualifies. Getting a walker for mom to use – even while I fear she probably won’t use it much – and it will sit in a corner of the already overcrowded living room. Perhaps she’ll use it to hold  bags of groceries yet to be eaten or drape it with scarves she might wear some day.

The novelist inside me is stirring. Visions of characters and the next chapter to write  simmering. Waiting to emerge as my energy grows to encompass the newest realities of my mother’s life – and of mine. No home of my own for now.

So November, no, you don’t get the final word. But I cannot say I will remember you fondly.

© 2016 by Mary Louise Van Dyke. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint go to: