i can just tell

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photo by Phoebe

Dear Blog, it has been four weeks since my last post. Bless me Father for I have sinned, it has been four weeks since my last confession. As a kid, I was always majorly intrigued by confessional scenes in movies like the one in Flashdance! The dimly lit space I imagine smelling like Frankincense, the mysterious presence behind the partition, the downtrodden expression on the confessor. Dancing, welding, confessionals, leg warmers, hot dogs. For some reason, I recall hot dogs, am I right about this? And the ice skater friend with the sweaty boyfriend and the pervy father. What a movie!

My current state of mind in this particular moment is supremely grateful for my friends, my husband and kids, my mother-in-law, our various babysitters, my siblings, my aunt and uncle who live near my mom, my mom’s friends, her caretakers and nurses, and the random stranger angels that the universe has kindly thrown my way. Like the one at the airport who saw me with the most loving and knowing expression in her moon shaped, chestnut colored eyes. I was alone with my three kids standing on line to get a boarding pass for my “lap child”, sobbing. After saying goodbye to my sweet mom and one of my closest and best friends who came to spend a couple of days with us, I was in bad shape. Always in airports.

This friend who came a visiting, asked if she could do anything to help while we stood talking in the kitchen. Well, there is one thing. I told her she could take my mom’s Cocker Spaniel, Betty, to the vet to have her anal glands expressed. She had been scooting on the floor and her bottom was clearly in need of attention. A google search informed me that this is not something human beings have to worry about, fortunately.

But the visual of my friend backing out of my mom’s driveway with my 7-year-old daughter in the back and the dog in need of anal expression riding shotgun, is a vision I will not soon forget. Nor will I forget the look on her face when I told her I would need to get her prepared for the appointment with gloves and goggles. Fortunately, that was a joke. But talk about angels, she is the real deal, that Sal and I love her very much.

When I got up to the ticketing counter, the woman with the kind eyes, said, “I know how you feel, I haven’t seen my mom in two years.”  When I asked her how she knew that I was crying over my mother, she softly said, “I can just tell.”

Angles of all sorts are getting me through this time. Especially in airports. Must have something to do with wings and flying. But I take great comfort in knowing that when life is hard, we are never truly alone. And that we are supported by seen and unseen forces. I believe we are very much loved, appreciated and divinely guided.

And every glance, text, email, voice mail, hug, gesture, card, shared meal, walk, are the bones that hold us up. As Glennon Doyle Melton says, “We belong to each other.”  We really do. I can just tell.

 

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the truth of who you are

I am holding the preciousness of my daughter’s 7th birthday yesterday close to my heart. It speaks to everything I am feeling right now. The ups and downs, attachment, joy, gratitude, disappointment, elation, bittersweetness, and challenge of letting something we love go.

She had a good day. And at the end of it, she laid flat on her stomach crying in her bed  because it was over.

Earlier in the day while she was at school, I walked with my youngest as the Autumn sun streamed through the leaves. I saw a man, a neighbor driving away in his truck with a huge flag for the person I am not voting for, waving proudly in the air. I felt my chest tighten. He raised his cup and looked at me through his glass window. I waved back feeling proud of myself for actually doing so.

I then felt slightly ridiculous that for a split second I thought about not waving. I don’t want to be someone who doesn’t wave or smile because of a difference in opinion.

But sometimes I forget who I am and who I want to be.

I really want to see underneath the surfaces and beyond the layers of story and opinions that keep us separate.

Although I fail at this pursuit regularly, I prefer to operate from soul to soul. The best in me and the best in you. Or like we say in yoga, Namaste, the light in me honors the light in you.

But I’m human. And sometimes I mess up, make mistakes and act out of fear or anger instead of Love.

Forgiveness is important too. And acceptance. I’m trying.

Today, I am blissfully thankful for this touch of Fall weather sweeping through. The heat is finally calming down, thank goodness. I am not sure if it will stay but it is a welcome change for now.

And things are always changing. Always in flux. Why is this so hard to accept? Because we tighten, we attach, we hold on to our memories, our ideas for how things should be. It makes us feel safer, maybe more in control. The future is uncertain and that is for certain! Pema Chodron reminds us to recognize impermanence even celebrate it as it is a “principal of harmony” that exists in our world. When we see it, she teaches us to name it as such. The leaves and acorns falling, the relationship changing, the birthday ending. Impermanence.

I didn’t really feel like writing today because I have too much to do while the baby sleeps, namely take a shower and attend to a massive amount of laundry. I didn’t know what to write. But I am writing what is in my heart. What is making my chest feel heavy and my heart feel like a sinking ship. By giving name to what it is; the worry, the tinge of sadness, the fear of the unknown, the shimmer of gratitude and love, I feel like myself. Not the one who doesn’t wave but the one who does no matter what.

Because I am in awe of the miracle and mystery of all of it. And all I can really do today, in addition to the laundry and grocery shopping, is surrender to it all.

“Being who I am. Just being who I am. That’s the big trick. I spent so many years trying to be someone else; trying to be what I thought I was supposed to be, or what someone wanted me to be. And then trying to get what I wanted for me from the scraps, or by sneaking around and doing things behind other people’s backs. Exhausting. Let me tell you, it’s an exhausting way to live. But the cancer stripped me down. Nothing left to lose, as they say. So this year I said to myself, fuck it, no apologies, I’ll just be who I am. I’ll see how that works.”

The more I stopped trying to be a perfect little human for everybody else, the more I stopped expecting other people to be perfect. The more I trusted myself, the more I trusted other people. It’s the darnedest thing…

I wanna tell my kids this. I wanna tell them not to care so much about what other people think. Not to be afraid of saying what they want, what they need. I wanna say, don’t dim your light; don’t live small. You’re not damaged goods; you don’t need to be fixed. Just be who you are -’cause that’s what the people who really matter want anyway. The truth of who you are. ” – Maggie Lake from Marrow; A Love Story by Elizabeth Lesser. 

 

Life is but a dream

 

Life is but a dream…

Row Row Row Your Boat. I sang this to my baby girl today. And she smiled. Such a bright light. A bright light drowning out the noise.

The sadness, the horror, the violence. I bet the mamas of those slain men sang them this same song when they were babies. When their eyes shone bright with innocence, purity, and trust. Like all of us moms, they had dreams for their children, the loves of their lives, the pulse of their worlds, that they would grow up to be happy, healthy, and safe. Certainly alive.

They can’t drown out the noise. They don’t have the option to do so like I do.

We eventually go to bed because we have to sleep. We shut our eyes from pure exhaustion. For a moment in the morning we think we have been spared, that the nightmare from the day before was exactly that, a scary dream. Or it was actually someone else that it happened to. Which doesn’t make it anymore terrible and heartbreaking but it doesn’t impact your every breath in the same way.

You have survivor’s guilt but you bargain with the powers that be that you will behave differently, will be more giving, more helpful to everyone. You won’t talk shit about anyone anymore. You will not take one minute for granted. You are so thankful.

If only you could go back ,you think, and do things a tad bit differently. Kept a better eye on them. Kept them on the phone a bit longer. Not have let them go there. Told them to be careful. Told them you loved them louder and more often. But you don’t want them to live life being fearful of their every move. That is no way to live. We are free for fuck’s sake. This is the land of the free and the home of the brave after all.

But it is not your fault. You know that.

After a few very brief moments, the pit in your stomach is there again and it’s growing all the way up to your throat. You feel like you could throw up or you want to go back to sleep but of course you can’t. You want to numb it, take something, drink something, feel something else. Anything but this. Please G-d, anything but this. It has to be a mistake. It feels so surreal. Like you are just going through the motions.

Everything is different. Everything is tainted. You will never be the same. This is not a dream. This is real. This is very real.

People who pray will pray. People who paint will paint. Many will talk. Many will cry. Many will help. Many will not. Many will post to Facebook. Most don’t know what to do. Those of us who write will write. Because we can’t just sit here and do nothing. We don’t want to be insensitive. We don’t know if it is our place to say something, do anything, because we can’t possibly imagine what it is like. What they are going through.  We were spared, we are so grateful. This time.

It will be in the news, it will be everywhere. Constantly. Until it isn’t. Until the next horrific event happens. Until the initial shock and devastation is a little less raw. A wound. A scab. A scar.

Some reach out, some hide, some can’t take it. Some say helpful things. Some say annoying things.

For a moment there is something that gives you a glimmer of hope. Again. A glimmer of hope and peace. A view of the big picture. We can’t know, we aren’t meant to understand. We will do better. But then the light goes out. Again. And it happens again. Again. Again. Again.

We say ENOUGH! Or NO MORE! OR shout something else. But nothing changes. Or does it? Is it changing? We just keep being asked time and time again to come together and love each other more, and let things go more. To be more compassionate.

We can protest. We can lead with our hearts. We can sign petitions and write letters. We can speak the truth. We can volunteer. We can raise money. We can speak from our hearts, from our fears and insecurities. We can give voice to what we really think. We can talk honestly with one another. With our neighbors, our in-laws, our friends, those who are similar and those who are different, our bosses, people that intimidate us, our kids.

But more than anything, we have to stop being fearful. Because we don’t want to live being fearful.

This is the land of the free and the home of the brave.

But until we are all brave, we won’t all be free.

yes, you are creative

shadow    artwork by my daughter and me.

Sometimes you just have to get out the paint and make a mess. Get your hands dirty, stain the deck, leave sparkles in your midst.

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And please remember yes, you are creative. It is not whether you are an artist or not, you most definitely are! How are you an artist? Maybe it is through paint or music or the way you cook or write or move or tell a story or decorate your house or simply how you live your life and organize your days and nights.

 

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We want to hear from you. We want to hear what you have to say. We want to witness how spirit moves through you with color and texture and words. Share what makes you alive and what makes you laugh and what makes you scared and how you find comfort.

pheartrainbow

It is all about love anyway and we all could use more of that.

Pom Pom

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Sitting on my front steps this morning, stealing a few minutes of quiet before lawnmowers and obligations, I enjoy my watered down coffee while breathing in all of the signs of life around me.

The little marigold seeds sprouting up, the cool but humid air, and the Magnolia tree with its new white cottony blooms. They look like little pom poms.

This reminds me of my grandmother, my dad’s mom whom we called Pom Pom. The name, coined by my sister, had something to do with a hat she had made.

Pom Pom knitted beautiful sweaters, blankets, hats and scarves. My cousins called her Gammie and Gammie Maine because that is where she lived before she went back to New Jersey.

And before New Jersey, it was Scotland and Connecticut. That’s when she was Alice.

But to me, she was always Pom Pom.

When I think of her, I think of peach colored pants, the polyester texture dimpled like Ruffles Potato chips. Later, they were replaced with soft velour that my mom bought for her.

My mom would call her to check in and make sure she had enough chocolate. When I think about those phone conversations, they feel like a tangible example of unconditional love. My mom, always there for her.

Pom Pom was the most flexible grandmother I had ever seen. She would sit in a chair cross legged with hips as open as a book, watching t.v. enjoying a Scotch and maybe a cigarette.

She was so beautiful in her old black and white photographs. I used to look at them, admiring her elegance along with her perfectly coiffed hair and posture, stunning smile, and lovely nose. Sitting with her handsome husband; my dad’s dad and her three boys.

She looked happy. Before her husband died so young and she had to move back to the states from Scotland with my dad and his brothers.

She eventually married again. This time to a man with a son and a daughter. Thank goodness, she found happiness again.

I recall her saying things like, “Good Night Nurse” and “Watch your tongue, Bud” and telling me how lucky I was when I would pull a juice box out of the fridge.

I felt that I never knew her very well. But I always loved knowing that she was one of five girls, a colorful and beautiful bunch of sisters.

Sometimes when she visited us in Arizona or New Jersey, she seemed sad or distant. I wondered if she would have rather have been somewhere else.

But I fondly remember her the last Thanksgiving with my Dad before he died. She sat at our dining room table with the china with the letter B on it, wearing a cowboy hat that I put on her head while we listened to the song, “I’m too sexy.” She was a good sport that night!

This remembering today makes me feel incredibly grateful for my mom and my mother – in-law and that my kids have had so much time getting to know them. Being picked up from school, vacations, playing card games and Scategories, making macaroni and cheese along with various desserts, and the best part…hearing lots of I love you’s – indelible memories they will treasure forever.

It also encourages me to love the heck out of people even if they bug me or I don’t quite “get” them. It feels like a nudge to believe that people are doing the best they can.

I knew my grandma loved me even though it wasn’t something she said. And it was interesting, we never spoke about religion and I don’t think of her as being particularly religious. But before she died, she asked me to “speak to the Lord for her”.

It felt like a gift, like a window into her soul and an acknowledgment of mine. This, I will carry with me forever. And in some way, I feel like I am getting to know her more now, a slow and sweet unveiling of her spirit and her story whispering to me through the breezes and the blossoms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kindfulness

 

“Nothing can make our life, or the lives of other people, more beautiful than perpetual kindness.” – Tolstoy

“Surrender to kindness.” – Stephanee Howell at http://www.makebelieveboutigue.com

Kindness is like a tree. It grows from a tiny seed and then roots and sprouts in different directions creating new life and beauty along the way. We can’t see how deep or how far reaching the roots travel or know how many lives have benefited from the shade and oxygen the leaves provide.

When thinking about kindness, the Mother Theresa quote, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love,” comes to mind.

And no where is this more true for me than at the grocery store.

I often complain about going to the grocery store. There, I have bumped into people, hid from people, thrown up in a reusable shopping bag when pregnant with my second child, and strolled around with an older bagger who pushed my cart while I held my new born baby not knowing where to put him while I shopped.

Once, I had a panic attack when I left my two year old daughter in the shopping cart and sent her for a “ride” with my groceries in the very steep cart escalator. I screamed and flailed and freaked out until an employee came over, stopped the escalator, walked up the other side and grabbed her, fortunately unharmed, out of the cart. She was holding my phone at the time and had, unbeknownst to me, recorded the whole ridiculous event. She seemed to not think much of the whole ordeal while I found it terrifying and humiliating.

Another time, I had a meaningful chat about life after death by the nuts (maybe not a coincidence.) And the day I lost my dad, the clerk at the register lifted up a bag of prunes forgotten by a miserable man who had scolded me after I spilled a container of yogurt, and declared that, justice had been served!

Last week after shopping, I watched a man help an elderly woman struggling to push her shopping cart over a ramp. Before I could put my cart aside to help her, he eagerly asked her with a voice like liquid honey, “Do you need some help?” I smiled at him and he winked back with a twinkle in his eye.

Seconds later, feeling bolstered by the kindness I had just witnessed, I watched as a young guy stopped his car in the middle of the parking lot on a busy Sunday afternoon to usher an adorable family of ducklings across the street to safety.

I stood with goosebumps and tears in my eyes.

And just the other day when I started in on a long winded diatribe about chicken pot pies to a woman who I had never seen before working at the register, she didn’t look at me like I was crazy. She simply listened. And then cried.

I explained to her that I was disappointed that they didn’t have the chicken pot pie in the deli that I like. I wanted that particular variety because I thought my mom would like it. She was coming into town for the first time since starting chemo and it was hard to find the right food to eat. As I rambled on, she stopped scanning my groceries and looked at me with tears in her eyes. She told me she understood how difficult it is to watch those we love go through something so hard.

Then she asked me if she could hug me. It was my turn to cry. And I cried. And cried. And cried.

It was like any other day, but it wasn’t.

Sometimes I want to do more to help others. I feel like I am not doing enough.

But If I have learned anything from these kind interactions with strangers while engaging in such an ordinary task like grocery shopping, it is that small kindnesses do matter. And they are contagious.

“There are only proofs of love”, Gretchen Rubin writes in her book, The Happiness Project. Most people cannot read minds and don’t know how loved and appreciated they are unless we show and tell them.

When I grocery shop, I always forget something important like toilet paper or cookies. Or I spend too much money. Or I am there for too long. Or I would rather be doing something else. But I am starting to change my tune because I have experienced great kindness there too.

And I will never forget that hug and how it changed not only my day, but me.

For a very sad but touching tale about the impact of kindness: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/pay-it-forward-said-california-man-matthew-jackson-who-died-one-day-later/

tinsel, dreidels, songs, and gin and tonicas.

beach I love Christmas. As a little girl, I would go to bed strangely early on Christmas Eve, like right after dinner early. And like most kids, I simply could not wait for Christmas morning. Eventually, morning would arrive. But the waiting wasn’t over. Before we could see the tree and get our hands on our presents, my three older siblings and I would have to sit on the stairs and wait as my father showered, shaved, took the dog out, got his camera ready, and made sure the lights were on. It is funny now to think about my dad; all clean-shaven wearing a flannel shirt, sitting enjoying Christmas morning while the rest of us had nary a tooth or hair brushed. And sweet too, because he really just wanted it to be perfect for us. Preparing for the big day meant taking the obligatory holiday photo. This was most likely a disaster and usually included my dad yelling at my oldest sister. She did not like getting her picture taken, and getting her to smile was not an easy task.  “G-damn it, Heather,” I am quite certain was uttered a few hundred times as we posed by the fireplace or on the beach on vacation with missing teeth and awkward hairstyles. buffy Christmas also meant all of my siblings would be home. This was awesome because I got to share a bed with Heather who went to college when I started elementary school. I thought she was cool, and I liked having her around. She mostly liked me too, although probably not very much when I  said in response to her disagreeing with my choice of tinsel for the tree, “You don’t get to decide, you don’t live here.” I suppose she was right after all, silver icicle tinsel was much better than the hairy gold tinsel I favored. silver When I was feeling generous at Christmas-time, I would walk into the kitchen, open up the junk drawer, and amidst the paperclips and batteries, find something like a plastic Smurf that I could wrap and then re-gift. This, I was told, “didn’t count.” (I’m thinking of trying this again this year, perhaps I can scrounge up an old Rubik’s cube for my sister, Kerry, who has always been masterful with them.)

These were also the days when my dad would come home from work with lots of gifts from the nice people he worked with. My mom would most likely be getting dinner ready, and perhaps mixing a gin and tonic, wearing a real Christmas sweater –  not an ironic one, but a real live Christmas sweater with teddy bears and presents on it – as he walked through the door with gigantic tins of flavored popcorn and rolls of different shades of brown wrapping paper.

One year we took all that unattractive wrapping paper and had an ugliest wrapping job contest. Another year, much later, we had an ugly candle contest. Vying for the top spot in the competition were lots of little wax figurines with wicks on top of their heads. When you lit them, their faces started to melt. This was demonic and creepy, and not at all merry or bright. I also recall a festive red rat candle with beady green eyes. I think, however, that our corn on the cob won first place. I mean a life size corn candle is hard to beat.

I apologize for rambling, but I cannot write a blog about the ghost of Christmas past without visiting my love of Christmas carols and hand-made ornaments. Oh and Christmas letters…maybe I’ll save that one for next year.

First, ornaments. Every year, at my mom’s house, I gingerly take them out of their little boxes, and pray that I don’t uncover a dead mouse. I look at the ornaments with the dorky kind of sentimentality usually reserved or made-for-T.V. holiday movies. I can’t help myself, there is a whole lot of nostalgia there. I adore the pink and blue gingerbread people that a neighbor made.  ( I originally thought my grandmother, “Pom Pom” made them, but the fact checker in my family, Rich, corrected me, and you don’t question his memory, trust me). Each one has our names on it, and every year I have been oddly obsessed, in a disconcerting way, about making sure that my sisters and brother only hang the one on the tree with their name.

Another favorite ornament is the yellowish wooden one with the red piping around it depicting some sort of historical scene from the 1700’s. This ornament was made by Heather in Ms. Aloupis’s fourth grade class. Just today, as a matter of fact, my brother shared another interesting fact with me about Ms. Aloupis. It seems in 4th grade, when he was in her class, she spent an entire afternoon teaching the kids about none other than Charles Manson. Thank goodness they didn’t make ornaments that day.

And the caroling…oh my, the caroling…I love Christmas carols. I can hardly listen to The Christmas Song or the music from Charlie Brown without getting choked up. When I was little, my friends and I would have our parents drop us off of in a neighborhood with lots of seniors (not those in high school but rather elderly people) because we thought they might appreciate our singing the most. Sometimes I saw tears in their eyes. I hope this was due to them being touched and not us being off-key.

And lastly, I love the Nutcracker ballet; the music, the growing tree, those over-sized mice fighting with toy soldiers, and especially the dance of the Sugarplum fairy.  Which reminds me, one Christmas party, about twelve years ago, I begged a male friend of ours to don a pink tutu and dance to a techno version of the song while throwing candy canes at people from our balcony. It really wasn’t too hard to get him to agree to my request. Some people laughed, but I think others were royally confused, and perhaps a little agitated with being pelted by a candy cane in the head as they tried to enjoy a nice little illegal bonfire in the middle of a group of apartments. Thank goodness, our landlords, the father and son duo who called themselves Stan Fard and Stan Ford (for some reason they didn’t want us to know they were related and clearly thought us not too smart,) didn’t find out or we would have been evicted that time for sure!

For the past 17 years, I have also celebrated Hanukkah with my husband. And for the first time since we had our son and daughter, we have our very own Christmas tree. A lovely little Frasier Fir that smells fantastic. But we call it a Holiday tree and along with the candy canes, snowmen, and Santas, are blue and silver ornaments, dreidels, and stars of David.

For a variety of reasons we have never had a tree before. One reason being that we celebrate Christmas with my family in New Jersey, and two-ish, because we are raising our kids Jewish. I was also worried about something an old curmudgeon said to me years ago when I first moved to Tampa. He told me my kids would grow up confused because I hadn’t converted.

He is probably right, my kids will be confused. I mean with me as a mother…yes I am certain there will be some confusion served up piping hot and probably with a song.

But when I think of recent memories like my son teaching my siblings how to sing a song in Hebrew in front of my mom’s Christmas tree, or my sister-in-law making a menorah out of cupcakes, or my husband singing the Adam Sandler Hanukkah song after passing out lyrics to his family, I see a beautiful melding and honoring of all of our customs and traditions. Some quirky, yes, but that is what makes it special.

And when I look at our holiday tree, I don’t see confusion, I see love. And now I love Hanukkah too. From our mixed bag of (mashuga) nuts to yours, Happy, Healthy, Holidays!