Thursday, December 31, 2009

[Hard] Rock Lobster (with apologies to The B-52's)

Guess where/with whom we're spending New Year's Eve? - good guess!

A history of my love for them can be found here on Star Maker Machine, the weekly-themed collaborative blog to which I contribute - I've only seen them once before live... and that was with my sister Mari about 15 years ago, when I danced so long and hard I thought I was going to have a heart attack... :-)

My daughter Sarah works at the Hard Rock Cafe and was able to get us tickets - the show doesn't even start until 10 p.m. but we'll get to the area a few hours early and have dinner at our favorite restaurant in the complex. Calamari, a Bluepoint chopped salad and a dirty martini - oh my!

We have the option of following The B-52's into the Center Bar for a New Year's Eve countdown... but that's going to be "a hot mess", according to Sarah - we'll probably just follow our regular tradition and head home to the jacuzzi to drink champagne and watch neighborhood fireworks...

Happy 2010! - may it bring us all health, peace, blessings and boundless love... <3

SONG: Rock Lobster by The B-52's (YouTube video here)

BOOK: The Totally Awesome 80s Pop Music Trivia Book by Michael-Dante Craig

POEM: At the End of the Year by John O'Donohue

The particular mind of the ocean
Filling the coastline's longing
With such brief harvest
Of elegant, vanishing waves
Is like the mind of time
Opening us shapes of days.

As this year draws to its end,
We give thanks for the gifts it brought
And how they became inlaid within
Where neither time nor tide can touch them.

The days when the veil lifted
And the soul could see delight;
When a quiver caressed the heart
In the sheer exuberance of being here.

Surprises that came awake
In forgotten corners of old fields
Where expectation seemed to have quenched.

The slow, brooding times
When all was awkward
And the wave in the mind
Pierced every sore with salt.

The darkened days that stopped
The confidence of the dawn.

Days when beloved faces shone brighter
With light from beyond themselves;
And from the granite of some secret sorrow
A stream of buried tears loosened.

We bless this year for all we learned,
For all we loved and lost
And for the quiet way it brought us
Nearer to our invisible destination.

"Then sing, young hearts that are full of cheer, with never a thought of sorrow; the old goes out, but the glad young year comes merrily in tomorrow." ~ Emily Miller

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Peace At Last (Hem)

This is a picture of me that my daughter took from the back seat of the van as we were on our way to South Carolina on the first leg of our journey - I only intended for her to capture the Santa-in-a-hammock ornament/totem that my friend Melanie gave us to take on the trip (similar to "a Buddha on the dashboard", according to her)... but I do really like the extra detail of my face in the rearview mirror... :-)

This is the third Christmas since I started my blog... and I went back to my 2008 and 2007 posts for inspiration - perspective is everything, as I read about mom's decline in health over the last few years. We knew this was going to be a hard holiday, our first without her - what we didn't know was how much, in her absence, she'd be with us in spirit...

The 12+ hour drive each way has become routine - we know about how long it will take, about where we will stop... for gas, meals, etc... and which CDs we'll be listening to on our journey (yes, holiday music prevails on the way up). I had put A Christmas Waltz by Frank Sinatra on this year's mix... and it evoked tears but also smiles each time it played - Mimi was everywhere!

Stepping stones along our path:

~ the visit with my husband's family (his sister, her husband and their two daughters) was the best it's ever been... warm, inviting and friendly - sadly, his brother and nephew couldn't make it (snowed in New Jersey and doing a tour of duty in Iraq, respectively)... but we enjoyed our time together... and look forward to a new arrival (nephew's expected little one) in June...

~ we were able to spend quality time with my husband's stepmother, taking her out to lunch at one of our favorite haunts in Batesburg, South Carolina - I had forgotten much I loved lima beans! Afterwards, we went to my husband's father's gravesite - hard to believe Bob has been gone two years...

~ arriving in Georgia to spend time with my side of the family is always a highlight, but we knew it would be bittersweet - we ended up staying at my sister's the entire time, and her hospitality is unrivaled. We had plenty of room to stretch out (she's in a new home after she and Bill divorced last spring), allowing us alone time but also bonding experiences - there was plenty of delicious food every time we turned around, meals and "nibblies" (as Mari calls them)... and I made it my goal to orchestrate kitchen clean-up, loading and unloading the dishwasher when necessary so as to save Mari that job...

~ we all went over to my brother's house for lunch one day, as we had shamefully never been there, since each year we only spend 3 days in the Atlanta area before driving home - this year, without mom in the equation, it proved do-able (another closed door/open window opportunity)...

~ my husband took the kids to a movie the day after we arrived so my sister and I could get her final shopping done - we ordered Chinese food (a tradition) and then went to her friends' party on Christmas Eve. My friends Steve and Betty came over Christmas afternoon to visit before they had to be at another friend's home - the revolving door was comfortable and never hectic...

~ I joked about this year being an Instant Gratification Christmas, as there were more than a few occasions when we gave each other our gifts ahead of time (a gorgeous purple paisley scarf from my son Eric... and Trivial Pursuit Team from my sister) - there were still plenty of surprises Christmas Day: Season 1 of Pushing Daisies from my son Rob; my favorite Origins perfume from my daughter Sarah and her boyfriend; the movie Julie & Julia, another gift from Mari; a large purple swirled mug and a box of green Chai tea from my 13-year-old niece Julia; "a sister is a forever friend" silver bracelet from my brother Brad (he gave Mari one just like it). I gave everyone calendars chosen especially for them, along with either a book, CD or DVD - we all completely pegged each others' tastes without going overboard. Yes, mimosas were served - yes, we stayed in our pajamas all day!

~ Saturday morning found us packed up and driving to Flowery Branch (mom's town), where we went by her gravesite and then visited with some of the Ya Ya's (mom's neighborhood women) - sadly... Ann, one of her best friends (who I got very close to this summer, driving back and forth to exercise class) was killed in a head-on car collision a week before Christmas, and I felt so sorry for these amazing women who had lost two dear friends in less than six months...

~ I came down with a horrendous head cold Christmas morning so my last few days were a struggle, especially on the ride home - I finally have my appetite, sense of smell and sense of humor back... so all is well... :-)

Everything we did invoked thoughts of mom, and there were a few meltdowns along the way - we also had many memory-inducing moments, and we knew we were surrounded by her love, faith and pride. She raised us well and we'll continue to carry on her legacy, as well as create one for our own children - Merry Christmas, Mom (we miss you more than words can say)...

SONG: Peace At Last by Hem

BOOK: Watch For The Light: Readings For Advent And Christmas by Philip Yancey

POEM: Going to Bed by George Bilgere

I check the locks on the front door
and the side door,
make sure the windows are closed
and the heat dialed down.
I switch off the computer,
turn off the living room lights.

I let in the cats.

Reverently, I unplug the Christmas tree,
leaving Christ and the little animals
in the dark.

The last thing I do
is step out to the back yard
for a quick look at the Milky Way.

The stars are halogen-blue.
The constellations, whose names
I have long since forgotten,
look down anonymously,
and the whole galaxy
is cartwheeling in silence through the night.

Everything seems to be ok.

QUOTE: “Three grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.” ~ Joseph Addison

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Heartache Can Wait (Brandi Carlile)

I really don't know how I've managed to go three weeks without a blog post - chalk it up to a combination of busy... and sad... and the Christmas season. I miss recording my thoughts - I have vowed to do better in 2010... :-)

Some of you will receive a printed copy of the following enclosed in our holiday cards, which have only just been mailed out from my sister's home in Cumming, Georgia - it's been a whirlwind but most amazing trip already, and I hope to write more about it in the next day or so...

In the meantime, early on this Christmas Eve morning, please accept my sincere wishes for a holiday that is warm, blessed and loving - I am grateful for everything that has come my way, the good and the bad, from which I have learned and grown... and for the support and patience of friends and family as I continue to stumble through this first year without my mother...


Constance Elaine Izzo Driskell Maresco – September 9, 1930-July 19, 2009

"The death of someone we know always reminds us that we are still alive - perhaps for some purpose which we ought to re-examine." ~ Mignon McLaughlin

How does one put a life-changing summer into words? - everyone receiving this knows that mom had been ill for the last few years... with kidney disease and pulmonary fibrosis, both progressive and irreversible illnesses. Most of you also know that my initially-intended two-week visit to Flowery Branch in mid-May segued into my becoming primary caregiver for Mom until her passing mid-July – some of you realize the import of those two months, as we circled the wagons as well as widened the circle. A select handful involved considered it an honor and a blessing to help mom on her journey and to aid in her transition – she handled everything with her usual grace, style and humor... preparing not only her financial and legal affairs, but readying us for her expected yet hard-hitting absence...

Upon the advice of friends, we set up a CaringBridge website in late-May, when we brought in home hospice – it was not only cathartic for Mari and I to track the details of mom's days, medically and emotionally, but it proved to be a multi-dimensional way for her loved ones to stay informed as well as to respond. You can visit the link below and click on Journal to view what Mari and I wrote along the way... and click on Guestbook to share others' musings (which we read aloud to mom every day) – it actually brings me peace and comfort to re-visit periodically... and it takes me right back to CSI: Miami and Happy Hour and nebulizers, oh my (weak smile... :-)

"I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. Life is no "brief candle" for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations." ~ George Bernard Shaw

Mom herself could have written the above quote... because she most certainly did live her life that way – she made every single minute count. She was generous, kind, bright, funny, vivacious, spiritual... and she left an immeasurable legacy to her children (me, Mari and Brad), her grandchildren (Sarah, Robby, Eric and Julia) and everyone in her path, whether relatives by blood or marriage, life-long friends or brief acquaintances. She embraced her final months with dignity, courage and faith - her light continues to burn and set an example for the rest of us...

This holiday is most certainly bittersweet, as we head out in just a few hours on our annual family trip to South Carolina and Georgia – there will be so many triggers of grief, but there will be equal sparks of memory. We will uphold previous traditions and make new ones - Mom's spirit will give us the strength and the serenity to navigate this first major holiday without her. WWCD (What Would Connie Do) has become our new mantra (good one, Mari!) - words to live by... literally...

The Moss Family (Sue, Chico, Sarah, Rob and Eric)

The Heartache Can Wait by Brandi Carlile

Getting in the Christmas Spirit: A Gift of Inspiration for the Holiday Season by Tian Dayton

POEM: An Old Man Performs Alchemy on His Doorstep at Christmastime by Anna George

Cream of Tartar, commonly used to lift meringue and
angel food cake, is actually made from crystallized fine wine.

After they stopped singing for him,

the carolers became transparent in the dark,

and he stepped into their emptiness to say

he lost his wife last week, please

sing again. Their voices filled with gold.

Last week, his fedora nodded hello to me

on the sidewalk, and the fragile breath

of kindness that passed between us

made something sweet of a morning

that had frightened me for no earthly reason.

Surely, you know this by another name:

the mysteries we intake, exhale, could be

sitting on our shelves, left on the bus seat

beside us. Don't wash your hands.

You fingered them at the supermarket,

gave them to the cashier; intoxicated tonight,

she'll sing in the streets. Think of the old man.

Who knew he kept the secret of levitation,

transference, and lightness filling a winter night?

— an effortless, crystalline powder

That could almost seem transfigured from loss.

“As each day comes to us refreshed and anew, so does my gratitude renew itself daily.” ~ Adabella Radici

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Girl Shanty (Sons of the Never Wrong)

December 1, 2009
Everything You Do Matters
The Ripple Effect

In a world of six billion people, it’s easy to believe that the only way to initiate profound transformation is to take extreme action. Each of us, however, carries within us the capacity to change the world in small ways for better or worse. Everything we do and think affects the people in our lives, and their reactions in turn affect others. As the effect of a seemingly insignificant word passes from person to person, its impact grows and can become a source of great joy, inspiration, anxiety, or pain. Your thoughts and actions are like stones dropped into still waters, causing ripples to spread and expand as they move outward. The impact you have on the world is greater than you could ever imagine, and the choices you make can have far-reaching consequences. You can use the ripple effect to make a positive difference and spread waves of kindness that will wash over the world.

Should the opportunity arise, the recipient of a good deed will likely feel compelled to do a good deed for someone else. Someone feeling the effects of negative energy will be more likely to pass on that negative energy. One act of charity, one thoughtful deed, or even one positive thought can pass from individual to individual, snowballing until it becomes a group movement or the ray of hope that saves someone’s life. Every transformation, just like every ripple, has a point of origin. You must believe in your ability to be that point of origin if you want to use the ripples you create to spread goodness. Consider the effect of your thoughts and actions, and try to act graciously as much as possible.

A smile directed at a stranger, a compliment given to a friend, an attitude of laughter, or a thoughtful gesture can send ripples that spread among your loved ones and associates, out into your community, and finally throughout the world. You have the power to touch the lives of everyone you come into contact with and everyone those people come into contact with. The momentum of your influence will grow as your ripples moves onward and outward. One of those ripples could become a tidal wave of positivity.

I am a long-time fan of Oprah Winfrey... not only for using her wealth and power for philanthropic good... but in her desire and ability to share global truth - today's show (which I'm pretty sure was a re-run) was hard- and heart-hitting... and I have vowed to do my part, for the holidays and year-round...

Go here to learn more...

SONG: Girl Shanty by Sons of the Never Wrong (see #9 for lyrics)

BOOK: Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

POEM: Singapore by Mary Oliver

In Singapore, in the airport,
A darkness was ripped from my eyes.
In the women's restroom, one compartment stood open.
A woman knelt there, washing something
in the white bowl.

Disgust argued in my stomach
and I felt, in my pocket, for my ticket.

A poem should always have birds in it.
Kingfishers, say, with their bold eyes and gaudy wings.
Rivers are pleasant, and of course trees.
A waterfall, or if that's not possible, a fountain
rising and falling.
A person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem.

When the woman turned I could not answer her face.
Her beauty and her embarrassment struggled together, and
neither could win.
She smiled and I smiled. What kind of nonsense is this?
Everybody needs a job.

Yes, a person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem.
But first we must watch her as she stares down at her labor,
which is dull enough.
She is washing the tops of the airport ashtrays, as big as
hubcaps, with a blue rag.
Her small hands turn the metal, scrubbing and rinsing.
She does not work slowly, nor quickly, like a river.
Her dark hair is like the wing of a bird.

I don't doubt for a moment that she loves her life.
And I want to rise up from the crust and the slop
and fly down to the river.
This probably won't happen.
But maybe it will.
If the world were only pain and logic, who would want it?

Of course, it isn't.
Neither do I mean anything miraculous, but only
the light that can shine out of a life. I mean
the way she unfolded and refolded the blue cloth,
The way her smile was only for my sake; I mean
the way this poem is filled with trees, and birds.

QUOTE: “They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” ~ Andy Warhol

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The First Thanksgiving (David Stoddard)

From The Writer's Almanac:

Today is Thanksgiving Day. When we talk about the first Thanksgiving, we're referring to an event that happened in 1621 in Plymouth, Massachusetts. But there were actually Thanksgiving ceremonies in the United States much earlier — in 1565, 600 Spanish settlers arrived in what is now St. Augustine, Florida, and had a Mass of Thanksgiving to celebrate their safe arrival, and followed it up with a feast. Other Thanksgiving celebrations occurred in El Paso, Texas, and in the Virginia Colony.

But the most famous is the Thanksgiving in the fall of 1621, when the Plymouth colonists celebrated with the Wampanoag Indians. It was the colonists' first harvest, so it was a joyful occasion. The Pilgrims had barely survived the last winter and had lost about half their population. But since then, they had built seven houses, a meeting place, and three storehouses for food. Now they actually had food to store.

They invited the Wampanoag Indians to feast with them. The Wampanoag people and their chief, Massasoit, were friendly toward the Pilgrims and helped teach them how to live on different land and with new food sources. A man known as Squanto, a Patuxet living with the Wampanoag tribe, knew English because he had been a slave in England. He taught the settlers how to plant corn, beans, and squash and how to catch eel and shellfish. And he was their interpreter.

So the Pilgrims asked the Native Americans to share in their first harvest. Harvest festivals were nothing new; both the English and the Wampanoag had similar traditions in their culture.

At the first Thanksgiving, they didn't eat mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie, and they probably didn't even eat turkey. The only two foods that are actually named in the primary accounts are wild fowl and venison. The meal was mostly meat and seafood, but probably included squash, cabbage, corn, and onions, and spices like cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and pepper.

Unlike our modern Thanksgiving, this event wasn't just one day. Many of the Wampanoag had to walk two days to get to the Plymouth settlement. There were about 50 English people and 90 Wampanoag, and since there wasn't enough room in the seven houses for the guests, they went ahead and built themselves temporary shelters. In between eating, they played games and sports, danced and sang.

The most detailed account of the first Thanksgiving comes from one of the Pilgrims, Edward Winslow. He wrote:

Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labor. […] At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted.
Thanksgiving has been celebrated as a national holiday on different dates, in different months, and one year it was even celebrated twice. It wasn't standardized until 1941, when President Roosevelt signed a bill declaring that the fourth Thursday in November would be Thanksgiving Day.

Happy Thanksgiving to all - the house is already redolent with the aromas of various food offerings... and we're expecting a full table of loving family and special friends. Of course it's a bittersweet day, this being the first major holiday without mom - I'm making her Southern cornbread dressing, and Sarah's preparing her pecan pie recipe, in remembrance...

I thought I was going to be okay with this holiday, because we didn't normally celebrate it with mom, but I've had some rough patches these last few days - the memories transcend calendar boxes and timelines and, bittersweet as it may be, we will honor the grief mixed with the gratitude...

It was interesting to go back and read
last year's post, not too much different than this year's sentiment - wishing you and yours a most wonderful Thanksgiving...

SONG: The First Thanksgiving by David Stoddard

Bless This Food: Ancient and Contemporary Graces from Around the World by Adrian Butash

POEM: Cranberry-Orange Relish by John Engels

A pound of ripe cranberries, for two days

macerate in a dark rum, then do not

treat them gently, but bruise,

mash, pulp, squash

with a wooden pestle

to an abundance of juices, in fact

until the juices seem on the verge

of overswelling the bowl, then drop in

two fistsful, maybe three, of fine-

chopped orange with rind, two golden

blobs of it, and crush

it in, and then add sugar, no thin

sprinkling, but a cupful dumped

and awakened with a wooden spoon

to a thick suffusion, drench of sourness, bite of color,

then for two days let conjoin

the lonely taste of cranberry,

the joyous orange, the rum, in some

warm corner of the kitchen, until

the bowl faintly becomes

audible, a scarce wash of sound, a tiny

bubbling, and then

in a glass bowl set it out

and let it be eaten last, to offset

gravied breast and thigh

of the heavy fowl, liverish

stuffing, the effete

potato, lethargy of pumpkins

gone leaden in their crusts, let it be eaten

so that our hearts may be together overrun

with comparable sweetnesses,

tart gratitudes, until finally,

dawdling and groaning, we bear them

to the various hungerings

of our beds, lightened

of their desolations.

"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them." ~ John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Cinnamon Girl (Neil Young)

This is embarrassing to admit... but, other than a few bouts with strep throat in the past, I haven't been to a real doctor for a thorough check-up in over five years - I know, I know... shame on me...

My dear daughter has been nudging, nagging and nipping at my heels (understandably so - she's worried)... and I finally went last Friday - knock on wood, all seemed to go fairly well, although I'll go back in two weeks for urine and blood test results. One thing that did concern them was that my blood pressure was high - they checked it twice, did an EKG (which showed nothing, thank goodness) and sent me home with a low-dosage blood pressure medication. I've of course been doing some research on hypertension and medical side effects... and discovered that daily usage of cinnamon can be very helpful in healing this health issue - this cracks me up, as I've had a reputation for years as a cinnamon lover, craving it on/in anything! Now I'm just going to have to choose it sprinkled in my oatmeal or yogurt, over apples or in my tea... rather than in breakfast rolls, cake or toast - I can do this...

I also have "prescriptions" to get a mammogram, a bone density test and a colonoscopy (all standard tests for a woman in her mid-50's) - my gynecologist appointment (for a routine pap smear) is scheduled for the first of the year... and I know I need to see a dermatologist then too (South Florida sun can be harmful to the skin - major understatement). It is empowering to make these forward steps... and I was already feeling the need to do a better job of taking care of myself, after spending all summer taking care of mom - the doctor even made mention of the fact that givers have a hard time receiving (even though this was her first time meeting me, she had me pegged). I started crying - it's all still so fresh... but I want and need to change... now... not just for myself, but for my spouse, my children and my circle of friends...

I'm also still walking almost 3 miles a day, 6 days a week - if I could be smarter with my food choices... and limit my food portions, I'd make some serious progress toward looking and feeling better...

SONG: Cinnamon Girl by Neil Young

BOOK: Cinnamon: Spices of Life by Barbara Wexler

POEM: Lessons by Pat Schneider

I have learned
that life goes on,
or doesn't.
That days are measured out
in tiny increments
as a woman in a kitchen
measures teaspoons
of cinnamon, vanilla,
or half a cup of sugar
into a bowl.

I have learned
that moments are as precious as nutmeg,
and it has occurred to me
that busy interruptions
are like tiny grain moths,
or mice.
They nibble, pee, and poop,
or make their little worms and webs
until you have to throw out the good stuff
with the bad.

It took two deaths
and coming close myself
for me to learn
that there is not an infinite supply
of good things in the pantry.

QUOTE(S): “I really don’t think I need buns of steel. I’d be happy with buns of cinnamon.” ~ Ellen DeGeneres

“It’s not that some people have willpower and some don’t. It’s that some people are ready to change and others are not.” ~ James Gordon

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Old Dogs (Bill Staines)

For my dear friend Melanie, who only yesterday lost her beloved dog Xena... <3

SONG: Old Dogs by Bill Staines

BOOK: Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant

POEM: I Ask Percy How I Should Live My Life by Mary Oliver
(Percy being her dog)

Love, love, love, says Percy.
And hurry as fast as you can
along the shining beach, or the rubble, or the dust.

Then, go to sleep.
Give up your body heat, your beating heart.
Then, trust.

QUOTE: "You think dogs will not be in heaven? I tell you, they will be there long before any of us." ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

Friday, November 6, 2009

To Live Is to Fly (Townes Van Zandt)

I am now apologizing to myself for not blogging in two weeks - I miss it when I allow myself to skip more than a few days, not to mention it's easy to forget what happened in the meantime. I confess to having been in Roly Poly Mode... and I'm trying hard to snap out of it - in coming up for air a bit, I realize what a blessed life I lead...

Yeah, the fact my mother died mid-July is one big, fat, f*cking sadness still weighing heavy on me - I expect it will be with me forever, even as the hits to the heart come further apart. I still can't predict my reaction when I think or talk about it - sometimes I am fine... others I am inconsolable... and I imagine that's "normal" (having done some research on the grief process)...

I am finally reconciling to the fact that life does indeed go on - I have memories of good times, lots of photos and a no-regrets feeling that most only dream of. I also have amazing family and friends to hold me up during this difficult time, as I try to find my way out of the stuck place - much to be thankful for:

~ a 3+ hour cathartic lunch with my dear friend M, who I hadn't seen since before I went up to Atlanta - she lost her mom this past February, and has helped trailblaze this unknown path for me...

~ our October book club meeting, for which we read Middlesex, a wonderful book that's been on my bedside table for over a year - combine the literary stimulation with the comfort of other BookSluts (our new official name for ourselves), and I'm in "died and gone to heaven" territory...

~ saw the movie Where the Wild Things Are with my husband and two sons (my daughter was out of town that weekend), at the urging of my "baby" (21-year-old E), who remembered me reading him the book when he was but a small child - the movie was extremely enjoyable, but viewing it flanked by "my boys" was tear- and goosebump-inducing...

~ experienced a quiet Halloween, staying home and passing out candy to almost 100 trick-or-treaters, the cutest of which was a young (one-year-old, maybe?) Asian boy on his father's shoulders, dressed in a Sumo wrestler costume - my dog stood in the doorway in equal parts joy and amazement at the parade of visitors...

~ my friend Judi asked if I wanted to hear John Irving speak at a bookstore function which, with the purchase of the ticket, provided an autographed copy of his newest book (below) - it was not only great to hang out with her one-on-one (we're usually in group gatherings), but a dream-come-true to see one of my favorite authors up-close-and-personal (he's warm, he's witty... and his reading of a key passage in the book took my breath away)...

~ I presented a service at church last Sunday, revolving around the book Life Is a Verb, tying it into my mom's illness and promoting the "what would you do if you only had 37 days to live?"
philosophy - I wove in some wonderful poems, played some appropriate songs and received warm, and sometimes tearful, appreciation...

~ finally got together with my dear friend Kate, to walk the Labyrinth and catch up on each other's lives these last few months - she is a cherished friend, with whom I always pick up where I left off, which can never be taken for granted...

~ participated in a Religion and Poetry workshop at the church, where I had the opportunity to share favorite Ellen Bass and Jeffrey McDaniel selections - the ensuing discussion was thought-provoking as well...

~ I have been kicking *ss in the physical fitness department for the last month, attending a BodyWorks + Abs class at the gym twice a week, and walking the 3-mile route in my neighborhood four days - on the seventh day I rest... :-) My friend Mel has kept me good company a majority of the time, but she's been out of pocket the last few weeks for one reason or another, so I'm having to self-motivate, which is always a challenge - I miss her muchly... but I'm proud to say I've risen to it, and am thoroughly entrenched in addicted mode (my legs twitch to get on the road as soon as I get out of bed each morning!)...

~ my husband and I signed up for a wellness program with a local franchise of a national chain, and have been enjoying monthly massages (part-therapeutic, part-pampering), which we've turned into Date Night, segueing to dinner afterwards - it's nice to spend time with each other in a relaxed mood, away from the house...

Days, up and down they come

Like rain on a conga drum
Forget most, remember some
But don't turn none away.
Everything is not enough
And nothin' is to much to bear.
Where you been is good and gone
All you keep is the getting there.

Beautifully said, Townes... :-)

SONG: To Live Is to Fly by Townes Van Zandt

BOOK: Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving

POEM: Sweet Darkness by David Whyte

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.

There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your womb

The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.

You must learn one thing:
the world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

QUOTE: "I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. Life is no "brief candle" for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations." ~ George Bernard Shaw

Friday, October 23, 2009

I'm Your Man (Leonard Cohen)

I posted some of the following on Star Maker Machine (for our Early Theme)... but it's worth repeating here - I've also expounded a bit:

Oh... my... god, my husband and I saw Leonard Cohen last Saturday night and it was a religious experience (concert review here) - I admit to hyperbolic tendencies but... I swear it was the best concert I've seen in my entire life (all 55 years' worth!)...

The Songs of Leonard Cohen, his debut album, was released in December 1967... but I didn't become aware of him until a year and a half later when, as a high school sophomore, a friend played me Roberta Flack's version - I of course liked her voice... but I adored *his* songwriting, and went on a mission to find the original. I still love to tell the story of typing term papers to put myself through college... and one guy didn't have quite enough cash so he offered up his copy of New Skin for the Old Ceremony to supplement my payment - we called it even...

My husband reminded me I turned him on to Cohen's music when we started dating - Cohen Live retains a place of honor in the 5-disc CD changer in our bedroom, 33 years later. His lyrics are poetry and sex and humor all rolled into one... not to mention that sonorous, seductive voice - I'm Your Man indeed (whew!)...

We spent a ridiculous amount of money for 2 ninth-row floor seats last weekend but, for all my devotion, I'd never had the opportunity to see him live... and it was the proverbial no-brainer as he had recently returned to the stage after a 15-year absence (since his manager had embezzled all his money, about $5 million) - I swayed, I swooned, I swore (f*ck me - is this a dream?!?) as he preached to the choir, turning the many-thousand-seat arena into an intimate lounge, connecting with each of us on a generous and gracious level, grateful that we still cared enough for his music to be in attendance...

Cohen is now 75 years old... and he displays the wisdom of his age while maintaining a youthfulness of spirit - he skipped on and off the stage, in a three hour show, punctuated with only a 20-minute break somewhere in the middle. When any member of his spectacular band (everyone on the stage was wearing a suit, even the women) was performing a solo, Cohen would take off his fedora, place it over his heart and give that person his full attention. How very cool to have Sharon Robinson, his collaborator on many songs, as one of the Greek chorus of back-up singers - the other two, Hattie and Charley Webb, treated us to a stellar rendition of If It Be Your Will about 3/4 of the way through the show. Cohen's personal comments between songs, although obviously rehearsed, felt sincere... and the professionalism of musicianship was evident in every aspect - my husband and I were in tears at various points throughout the evening...

The next day, I went googling for his most recent recording, as I felt I had missed one or two, and found the Live in London 2-CD set - I of course ordered it immediately, it came yesterday and it's been wonderful to re-live the magical moments from this tour. Sometimes coming face-to-face with one's icon (even in a crowded concert hall) can not only meet but exceed one's expectations - I'm even more of a fan than I was, if that's at all possible...

SONG: I'm Your Man by Leonard Cohen

BOOK: Leonard Cohen: Hallelujah: A New Biography by Tim Footman

POEM: Book of Longing (Dear Reader) by Leonard Cohen (Los Angeles, March 22, 1998)

I can´t make the hills
The system is shot
I´m living on pills
for which I thank G-d

There´s sun in the leaves
and birds in the tree.
Nobody believes
it´s written by Thee.

I used to be song
I used to be cock
but time is long gone
past my laughingstock

I bid you good-bye
There´s nothing to add
I´ve tried and I try
to stop going mad

I followed the course
from chaos to art
My dick was the horse
my life was the cart

I´m back at my desk
(the end of the line)
a bee in my breast
a snake in my spine

The silverware shines
that my mother left
to me when she died
fulfilled and bereft

My leash is too long
I think that I´m free
I´d leap at the young
but I´m sixty-three

I know what I want
It took many lives
I´m cured by the cunt
I´m killed by the eyes

The sorrows are real
as froth on the wave
as shit on the beach
the city´s disgrace

Who cares what I say
I´m not who I was
I´m paid what I pay
I´m always in love

The summer won´t come
´till I go to bed
The birds will return
when the dog is dead

You can´t say it right
when you touch yourself
But truth´s not advice
It is total health

The crap on my back
the piss in my face
but happy at last
in the Holy Place

You can´t go too deep
if you want to swim
where the mermaids weep
out of love for Him

I`m nothing but lust
I´m nothing but pain
I did these mistrust
but Never Again

I say what I want
for I am the Child
of G-d coming home
and His Wife gone wild

I don´t need a thing
I use what I have
a moth-eaten wing
a worm cut in half

With these I invoke
The Name to draw nigh
I´m clamped in a stock
to hold my head high

My animal howls
My angel´s upset
And deep in my bowels
the shit of regret

You can´t stop a man
from loving too much
I´m still licking stamps
from trying it once

My pen is too wet
My ink is too black
The Winner won´t get
his foot on the track

But the one like me
with light in her eye
is utterly free
to crawl or to fly

And she´ll know the path
I carved through the pain
my will cut in half
and Freedom between

I´ll meet her one day
when the time is right
for me to display
my flare in the night

for the space in space
to cough up the Word
that seals our Embrace
unharmed and unheard

And Mercy at last
for one doubled up
and tied to the mast
with the flags of love

And thank´s be to you
for helping me out
when Youth had no clue
what´s it all about

Your kindness is kind
your trueness is true
I pray that you´ll find
your Beloved, too

as I have found mine
where I´d never look:
in the threaded spine
of my Longing Book.

QUOTE: "The heart goes on cooking, sizzling like shish kebab." ~ Leonard Cohen

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Life (Will Kimbrough)

John Lennon was right - Life really *is* what happens to you when you're busy making other plans (weak smile)...

Thanks to everyone who's been worried about me, and got in touch, one way or another, to let me know - your concern is justified. Hard to believe it's been almost three weeks since I posted - as I just responded to a comment from a friend, after my mom's passing I seem to be segueing from the stages of shock and numb to depression, and have been spending a lot of time in my head, processing. It's all destined for a future blog post (soon, I promise!) but, in the meantime, I wrote up most of the following the week after our September 30 book club meeting... and then never got around to uploading it - it still holds true... maybe even more so, considering my current state of mind...


Your horoscope for October 6, 2009

If you keep waiting and waiting for things to happen, SUSAN, you may wake up one morning and realize that your whole life has gone by and you never did half the things that you dreamed of doing. The time to take action is now so put your plan into effect. You may need to make some compromises, but you will find that in general, people will willingly follow your lead.

...and, for the week of October 4:

LEO (July 23-Aug. 22): Change your password. Take a different way home. Ask a question you've never asked. Dream up a new nickname for yourself. Choose a new lucky number. Change the way you tell the story about an important event in your past. Make it a little more difficult for people to have you pegged. Eat a type of food you've never tried. Do the research necessary to discover why one of your opinions may be wrong. Add a new step to your grooming ritual. Feel appreciation for a person whose charms you've become numb to. Surprise yourself at least once a day.

Last week was our book club meeting, the first back together after having taken the summer off - I love this diverse, funny, kind circle of women who are wise in literature and in ways of the heart. It was my turn to host and to choose the book... and I picked Life is a Verb by Patti Digh - it's had quite an impact on me the last almost-year and I wanted to share the ephiphany-inducing collection of stories...

"In October 2003, Patti Digh’s stepfather was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died 37 days later. The timeframe made an impression on her. What emerged was a commitment to ask herself every morning: What would I be doing today if I had only 37 days left to live? The answers changed her life and led to this new kind of book. Part meditation, part how-to guide, part memoir, Life is a Verb is all heart.

Within these pages—enhanced by original artwork and wide, inviting margins ready to be written in—Digh identifies six core practices to jump-start a meaningful life: Say Yes, Trust Yourself, Slow Down, Be Generous, Speak Up, and Love More. Within this framework she supplies 37 edgy, funny, and literary life stories, each followed by a “do it now” 10-minute exercise as well as a practice to try for 37 days—and perhaps the rest of your life."

I've said that there were no regrets with my mom's passing... but there has been a minor one - I sent her this book last January after I visited and, when I was there this summer, caregiving, I had every intention of reading parts of it aloud so we could discuss. Time and energy (or rather, lack of both) intervened, and I never got around to it - so... I asked each of our bookwomen to choose a section that "spoke" to them and encapsulate it for the group - I am pleased to say everyone exceeded my expectations, and the conversation was quite stimulating, deep and, at times, emotional...

These days, I'm really trying to embrace be-here-now, seize-the-day, enjoy-the-moment mode - in fact, I made a mix of relevant songs and gave everyone a copy during our gathering. The point of the book (and my selection of it) is, in Patti's words, "about living each individual, glorious day with more intention. It was simply about saying yes, being generous, more fully inhabiting the life I have, not creating a new one."

Our menu consisted of food that made us feel "alive"... and the array was delicious and inspiring - we topped it off with dessert from B.J.'s, which I discovered a few weeks ago and declared it the best carrot cake I've ever eaten (you can really taste the nutmeg!)...

P.S. Apropos of nothing... although I've not been posting my contributions here (as I used to), I still write for the weekly-themed Star Maker Machine music blog, and last week's topic was Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse - it was an educational and inspirational exercise in which I was proud to participate...

POEM: Following the Road by Larry Smith

I have left my wife at the airport,
flying out to help our daughter
whose baby will not eat.
And I am driving on to Kent
to hear some poets read tonight.

I don't know what to do with myself
when she leaves me like this.
An old friend has decided to
end our friendship. Another
is breaking it off with his wife.

I don't know what to say
to any of this-Life's hard.
And I say it aloud to myself,
Living is hard, and drive further
into the darkness, my headlights
only going so far.

I sense my own tense breath, this fear
we call stress, making it something else,
hiding from all that is real.

As I glide past Twin Lakes,
flat bodies of water under stars,
I hold the wheel gently, slowing my
body to the road, and know again that
this is just living, not a trauma
nor dying, but a lingering pain
reminding us that we are alive.

QUOTE: "The only dream worth having is to dream that you will live while you are alive, and die only when you are dead. To love, to be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and vulgar disparity of the life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget." ~ Arundhati Roy

Monday, September 28, 2009

If I Had a Daughter (Terri Hendrix)

(Click on the picture to view it clearly)

Today is our daughter Sarah's 28th birthday - unlike the poem below, she is not married... but the sentiment is the same ("she made it to here"). As parents, we do our very best to raise responsible, kind, smart, generous, witty and respectful children and sometimes, despite our hard work, for one reason or another, it turns out otherwise - to know that, almost three decades after her birth, our daughter is still a source of pride and blessings is more than my husband and I could hope for, much less be able to verbalize...

We hosted a party for her yesterday, at her request, at our home... and it was a joy to see her friends mingle with her office mates hanging with her boyfriend's buddies - she shone as she greeted, introduced and made everyone feel welcome in the worlds-colliding gathering. We grilled out, we played card/drinking games and we engaged in stimulating conversation - okay, there was football game watching, too!

She has not only survived but she has thrived - we did many things right... but we are also lucky to be able to call this amazing young woman our daughter...

If I Had a Daughter by Terri Hendrix

A Short Guide to a Happy Life by Anna Quindlen

POEM: After Our Daughter's Wedding by Ellen Bass

While the remnants of cake
and half-empty champagne glasses
lay on the lawn like sunbathers lingering
in the slanting light, we left the house guests
and drove to Antonelli's pond.
On a log by the bank I sat in my flowered dress and cried.
A lone fisherman drifted by, casting his ribbon of light.
"Do you feel like you've given her away?" you asked.
But no, it was that she made it
to here, that she didn't drown in a well or die
of pneumonia or take the pills.
She wasn't crushed under the mammoth wheels of a semi
on highway 17, wasn't found lying in the alley
that night after rehearsal
when I got the time wrong.
It's animal. The egg
not eaten by a weasel. Turtles
crossing the beach, exposed in the moonlight. And we
have so few to start with.
And that long gestation—
like carrying your soul out in front of you.
All those years of feeding
and watching. The vulnerable hollow
at the back of the neck. Never knowing
what could pick them off—a seagull
swooping down for a clam.
Our most basic imperative:
for them to survive.
And there's never been a moment
we could count on it.

QUOTE: "Suddenly, through birthing a daughter, a woman finds herself face to face not only with an infant, a little girl, a woman-to-be, but also with her own unresolved conflicts from the past and her hopes and dreams for the future.... As though experiencing an earthquake, mothers of daughters may find their lives shifted, their deep feelings unearthed, the balance struck in all relationships once again off kilter." ~ Elizabeth Debold and Idelisse Malave

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ma-Me-O Beach (Joan Armatrading)

Was it really only 48 hours I was gone? - amazing the tricks time can play on us...

As noted previously, my husband and I celebrated our 33rd wedding anniversary last week - actually, the date of our union was September 18... but the celebration took place the last few days, as we decided to check into a hotel on the Ft. Lauderdale beach as a well-deserved and long-overdue getaway...

Since I spent the majority of my summer taking care of mom, and then the last month at home attempting to catch up from being away, I had forgotten how much I'd missed being outside... in the sun... particularly at the beach - my husband and I have now vowed to do this at least once a month, even if for only one night. There's much to be said for the curative powers of the ocean, an overload of sights, smells, sounds, sensations and salty tastes - I am tan, I am relaxed and, most importantly, I feel that I am on my way to a self-healing of great magnitude...

It has been a most difficult year, as I was reminded often over the last few days, remembering back to August 2008 when we took the family beach vacation Mom had always wanted, which would be our Last Hurrah, since she went on 24/7 oxygen a few weeks later - I segued from being a mess as I watched her decline... to experiencing the redemption of aiding in her peaceful passage...

I just felt so aware and flexible and receptive during this time off - what could have been a problem... wasn't... because I didn't allow it (room changes, husband's behavior, inclement weather). It all happened for a reason, and I took delight in whatever came my way (the trade-off of a larger room for one with a balcony, letting go of expectations and rediscovering the prose of two of my favorite authors:
Pat Conroy and Anna Quindlen)...

I slept... a lot... I woke up to watch two glorious sunrises... and then went back to sleep... I stretched... I walked (some days twice!)... I gave and received love... I had my favorite meal (calamari and a dirty martini)... I reclined on a rented beach chair under the shade of a fluttering umbrella... or not, when I wanted to bake in the sun's rays... I wore my mom's bathing suit... I felt more limber and thin and self-confident and, yes, even beautiful than I have in a while...

I immersed, literally and figuratively, in the reconnection with my husband... as well as solitude and serenity - may this be the start of a new year of health and gratitude and acceptance... in my relationships with family and friends... and for myself...

Ma-Me-O Beach by Joan Armatrading

Rise and Shine by Anna Quindlen

POEM: All My Body Calls by David Whyte

All my body calls
for something in this sleeping
we call the spirit.

But how
from lifted arms
where stars run through fingers
and the night is like sand
do I breathe a fragrance of its wisdom
do I call its name
or listen to the drops
that trickle down to earth
and hear
life being given
not only through the moving hands of the forest
but through the hand that reaches in
the dark unmoving regions of the chest
and uncovers slowly
the enormous
shape of the ocean.

QUOTE: "Don't grow up too quickly, lest you forget how much you love the beach." ~ Michelle Held

Friday, September 18, 2009

Peace Like a River (traditional)

Today is my 33rd wedding anniversary - for three hours, I had my air ducts cleaned out. Lest you think that is a metaphor for... something else... I assure you, it is the literal truth - we have been on a straightening/cleaning jag (motivated by a party we're giving next weekend) and that was one of the things on our To Do List. Later tonight I intend to invoke the metaphor as well - our evening is low-key because we are headed to a hotel on the beach for two nights mid-week for our actual celebration (more on that as it gets closer... :-)

I've spent the day re-evaluating what's kept us going these 3+ decades - my daughter told me earlier that she didn't think she'd ever get married because we are the only people she knows who have stuck it out, while everyone else is divorcing, some even multiple times. I told her that it shouldn't discourage her, and that we have had just as many troubles as everyone else - the risk is the reward, and the leap of faith is the longevity... that we just keep getting up and doing it again... amen (to quote Jackson Browne)...

My husband makes me crazy... and he makes he feel adored - he is frustrating... and he is flattering. He is honest, even when I don't want to hear it... and I know I can trust his words and his actions (how many people in our lives can we say that about?!?) - he is intuitive, which is sometimes annoying but mostly a blessing. For my birthday last month, he wrote in my card: "Another year of challenges and you keep on going with class and dignity! I not only love you but admire you!" - sigh...

Tomorrow will be two months since my mom's passing... and one month since I've been back home in Florida - I'm beginning to move past the numbness and into question/overanalyzing mode. I've been lucky to have some good friends who will listen to my process without judgement and I'm finally feeling... dare I say it?... peace - I still miss mom and I still cry a good bit... but I know I am a better person for the experience...

Last Sunday was Water Sunday at our UU church - the format is that people bring water from (or use tap water that symbolizes) their summer vacation or travels. It's a lovely ceremony, and one in which I usually participate... but all I could think of was that I spent mid-May through mid-July refilling mom's oxygen tank twice a day with distilled water... and I knew I couldn't verbalize that without falling apart - water as a life force was quite literal in my case...

After the service, I was speaking with an older woman from the congregation who spent her summer at various doctor's offices - she too had refrained from the public ritual of sharing. We decided to ask the interim minister if she could "officiate" while we privately poured water into the community bowl and spoke our tearful intentions - it was quite cathartic... and, yes... even peaceful...

By the way, the ending hymn of our church service was Peace Like a River and, when I got home and turned on our local folk and acoustic radio show at 2 p.m., it was the first song the DJ played - meant-to-be... :-)

Wind chimes ping and tangle on the patio.
In gusty winds this wild, sparrow hawks hover
and bob, always the crash of indigo
hosannas dangling on strings. My wife ties copper
to turquoise from deserts, and bits of steel
from engines I tear down. She strings them all
like laces of babies' shoes when the squeal
of their play made joyful noise in the hall.

Her voice is more modest than moonlight,
like pearl drops she wears in her lobes.
My hands find the face of my bride.
I stretch her skin smooth and see bone.
Our children bring children to bless her, her face
more weathered than mine. What matters
is timeless, dazzling devotion—not rain,
not Eden gardenias, but cactus in drought,
not just moons of deep sleep, not sunlight or stars,
not the blue, but the darkness beyond.

QUOTE(S): "Love is the river of life in the world." ~ Henry Ward Beecher

"As I make my way around this life, I look for signs and baubles and charms and amulets and secret texts that there is a meaning and significance to human life that is under the control of some great moderating force. I like the glimpses of sorcery and fantasy that sometimes enter the human arena at the oddest, most unexpected times." ~ Pat Conroy