Monday, June 6, 2011

In Praise of Weeds (the nuisance plants, not the show or illegal substance)

As a suburban homeowner, I should make this clear. I’ve purchased Round-Up, and I’m not afraid to use it.

But I appreciate the likes of dandelions, chickweeds and their ugly cousins hairy fleabane and oxalis more and more these days. Those unsightly, haphazard and intrusive bits of greenery that pepper a lawn with uneven patches, varied textures and irregular blends of color are truly part of the natural order of things.

They are part of the “big picture” of life.

Of course, I don’t always like weeds when I’m gardening. But when I’m pensive or feeling philosophical, I tend to see things differently. It is then that I like weeds for what they represent: rebellion, non-conformity, imperfection. I appreciate them for what they say as they poke through the cracks of my sidewalk or my patio.

Weeds are nature’s Post-It Notes. The small ones whisper, and the large ones shout: “YOU ARE NOT IN CONTROL HERE!”

Sometimes, we need to be reminded that perfection is an illusion, that control is relative. 

In the past two weeks, I’ve been delayed by bad weather, a power outage, a sewer back-up, and a dead car battery. I know others who have had more dramatic weeds in their lives recently—health problems that were ignored for too long and turned into something serious, poor choices that delayed new beginnings and healthy growth, bitterness that escalated into financial consequences.

We all have weeds in our lives.

Some weeds we share over lunch or complain about at the water cooler. Some weeds we hide to mask our imperfect lives and to maintain the persona we have created for the world at large—on Facebook or in our own relationships. But what weeds tell us is that these problems and issues are things that bind us together in our inability to fully control our own universes. Whether it’s the imperfect husband who strays, the child who gets into trouble, the old friend who disappoints, there are remedies for each of these situations and usually part of the remedy involves self-reflection, adaptation and acceptance.

Here’s what else I’ve learned from weeds. Sure, you can pull them, but unless you treat the root they will grow back, sometimes stronger, larger, uglier. And not all weeds are ugly. Some have pretty flowers of lilac and gold, some have white feathery petals that seem heaven sent.  It's as if, by noticing the pretty weeds, we are reminded that sometimes even what's unexpected or unwanted can bring beauty, joy or color to our lives.

Dealing with weeds is a personal matter. We can keep them small and manageable, coexist with them and trim them back from time to time. If we have the energy, we might even spray a little Round-Up on them or dig down to the core when they bother us too much. Or, depending on our state of mind, we might even start seeing them as everyday reminders that imperfection is a natural state for living things—and finally embrace that.

Friday, February 4, 2011

8 Things to Do Instead of Watching the Super Bowl

Now listen. I like football. Really, I do.  But I just can’t get into this year’s match-up between the Steelers and Packers. True, it should be a great game with two powerhouse teams with oodles of history behind them and some of the most crazy, passionate fans in the NFL.


Maybe it’s because I’ve recently shoveled enough snow here in New Jersey to start my own little Alpine Ski Village and I'm just too busy. Maybe it’s because I’ve been preoccupied with wiping a six-year-old’s nose for the past few days.

No matter.

I’ve made a list of things to do instead of watching the Super Bowl on Sunday. Each item is more riveting than the next, so I’ll likely continue this list during the NBA Finals, or the Stanley Cup Playoffs, unless, of course, MY TEAM is in the game:

1. (For the East Coast and Midwesterners only.) Take down the outside Christmas decorations. Sure, they are mostly buried under 18 to 36 inches of snow, but think of the fun you can have trying to find them!  On second thought, maybe just leave them up and pretend they are Valentine’s Day decorations, until the thaw hits.

2. Prepare for tax season. Super Bowl Sunday is a great day to prepare all the paperwork, receipts and other detritus from your 2010 tax year, uninterrupted. What joy!  Better make sure the calculator has batteries.

3. Clean the dryer vent.  This is a fire hazard and is very important. Never mind moving the appliance, disconnecting it and inhaling particles of lint up your already stuffy nose. When you do this, you are getting exercise and avoiding danger. Think of it as an adventure, like running from the bulls at Pamplona, except at home.

4. Re-caulk the bathtub and shower. Come on. You know it has to be done. No one will be bathing while the Super Bowl is on, so now’s your chance. Think of the fun and satisfaction you'll have checking this item off your “honey do” list along with the mastering the challenge of getting the caulk off of your hands, shirt and favorite pair of jeans. 

5. Clean the junk drawer.  Quick!  Do you know where the masking tape, crazy glue or scissors are? Can you find a pen that works among the drawer of soy-stained take-out menus and expired coupons? If you answered yes to these questions, there is something wrong with you.  If no, you can rest assured that, when done, you will revel in the sharp, crisp signature you can now make from a pen full of ink, as you write out your next electric or gas bill.

6. Purge your closet.  What a great way to start the new year!  Discover how much weight you’ve really gained as you sort through hundreds of dollars worth of clothing that no longer fits. BONUS: This is a great way to justify NOT going to a Super Bowl Party and eating all those nachos, and drinking all that beer.

7. Call an annoying friend.  Think of it as a public service. This person doesn’t need to burden someone else at a Super Bowl Party with tales of unrequited love, bankruptcy or an undiagnosed acid reflux disorder. Bless your soul.

8. Organize Photos. Begin with the 3,300 digital images on your smart phone or digital camera. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t finish. You can tackle (a pun!) the shoeboxes and paper bags of pictures from the last 20 years of your life next year, during the Summer Olympics.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Truth About Life

No one tells you that life is what you make it.  It can be difficult or challenging, but it need never be misery. It can be draining or exhausting, but it need never possess your spirit or your will.

No one tells you these things because you have to embrace such truths on your own, or the power of the lesson is lost.  No one tells you because, frankly, you’d never believe them.

You have to live it.

Chances are, by age 30, you’ve most likely experienced at least one rotten reality of life. Maybe it’s a broken relationship or a failed job, a bad diagnosis, or a tragic loss that shatters your world (or what you thought was your world) into pieces. Yep. All it takes is three decades and we’ve  generally experienced some part of the requisite suffering that human beings endure while on earth. Nobody understands it, except to presume it is all a part of the natural disorder of life – the curve balls that we face in the full count of human existence.

While living through the immediate challenges of living, hardly anyone is able to imagine discovering a pearl within the slop that life has hurled at them. It would not be healthy to do so right away. It would not be natural or healthy, say, for the newly divorced single mother who has lost her job and her daycare provider to see rainbows during the storm.  We all grieve as the rain pours down.

Yet, once the destruction passes, a glimpse of possibility is revealed — but only if we are willing to receive it. And that is our choice, and the only thing which separates those who rebound and rebuild from those who collapse and give up.

Rebuilding after tragedy is something humans instinctively do, something innate in our DNA that compels most of us to reach higher even when the ladder has been kicked from beneath us. In time, we construct another.

The resilience, the spirit, the desire to overcome is always there, if you can just find the one voice, the one truth in your life that can summon it.

If you are still standing, that’s a good first step

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Technology: Blessing or Curse? You decide.

During my weekly writing jaunt to the suburban Starbucks “where the cool kids hang out”  I overheard a group of, ahem, middle aged ladies discussing their views on how technology has transformed our world for the worse. 

“Every time I want him to do something, take out the trash, go to the store, mow the lawn, whatever, he’s on the damn computer,” Mom A complained.  (I think she was talking about her husband.)

Mom B chimed in. “Kids don’t even know how to talk to each other anymore. They just IM. Nobody has manners or respect. And don’t get me started about attention span.”

“Yeah. You’re right. If I want someone’s attention, I have to text or write on their Wall. I can scream all I want, but when I text, they pay attention,” bellowed Mom C.  They all chuckled.

I, however, LOLed.

I listened to them lament about the good ol’ days as they cursed the way the Internet sucked time from their lives, how they get caught up in Facebook, playing games, shopping and reading anything that they wanted, without restriction. Where there used to be boundaries, there is temptation. Even finding a good sweet potato pie recipe so that Aunt Mabel will be impressed on Thanksgiving is no longer a holy chore. It just requires a nanosecond search. Where’s the glory in that?

I listened with great interest, straining to hear them as they sipped their Frappuccinos, Tazo teas and Vivanno smoothies. Sarah McLachlan was singing about remembering something or another.

Ladies! You're wrong! Technology fastens us to the world and our collective humanity! I wanted to say.  But, I knew that would be rude, or obnoxious, or downright stalker-ish. I was on my laptop after all; Pfft....they'd never take me seriously. Couldn’t I just write with a pen and paper and enjoy a cup of coffee? they’d retort. 

I didn’t want a confrontation.

So, just for kicks, I started to Google the emotions I was feeling and the thoughts I had as I listened to their chatter. In doing so, I was astounded at the gravity of my argument FOR technology.

Herewith. First search: fucking annoyed.  877,000 results. Not bad, I thought there’d be more, I muttered to myself.  Maybe I needed to be more delicate with my language. BINGO.  “I’m annoyed.”  65,300,000 results in .75 seconds!  DAMN. See? Lots of people become annoyed. I'm not alone.

My stomach growled. Second search: I’m hungry. 23,000,000 results. Now that’s more like it.

Yawn. I need more coffee.  I’m tired.  48,800,000 results. WOW. Talk about a universal connection. So many people are tired. Even people in Indonesia and Mongolia get tired, I learned.

Mongolia. Such a poor country. Many stray animals.  Search: My dog died.  7,090,000 pages. So sad. They also have poor sanitation. Search: Eat shit and die. 450,000 results. Again, I thought there would be more, but there was a nice Urban Dictionary refresher for those who use the phrase disparagingly.

I passed gas. (Well, actually I didn’t, but since I was on the topic…) Search: 9,730,000.  Again, jeez, I really thought there’d be more than that. In India, the average person passes flatus two to four times a day and it is not foul-smelling. Still. Out of the billions of people in the world, I just learned that passing gas is right up there with being hungry, and is way more common than being "fucking annoyed." How interesting!

The women began discussing politics.

Search: Obama sucks. (This seemed to be their consensus, not mine.) Hmm. 5,770,000 results, including a Facebook fan page with 26,000 people who like this.  To be fair:  “Bush is an idiot.”  Hot Damn! 6,460,000 results.  Uh-oh. Fan Pages with far less “likes.”  No wonder the Democrats lost the House, I thought.

Well, that’s America, I smirked. Search: Coca-Cola. 33,300,000 results.  Ah, the pause that refreshes. Or was that Pepsi? Nope. Let me check. Yes. It was Coke’s slogan.  I was right.

Usually am.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Time to Laugh Again...

"Sure, it's a jungle out there, but I can still laugh about it."

For six months now, I’ve been in a somber mood, doing more thinking and ruminating than I’ve probably ever done in my life.

Losing a parent will do that to you. You begin to drill into the heart of issues you never contemplated and the world becomes more enlightening and more confusing, but not less funny. 

I’ve had enough of  somberness. Within the healing process of grief, I have gained tremendous insight into the circle of life and have finally become…Simba. (smile)

There’s a voice inside that has been bottled up too long now, and it’s banging on my thick skull to let it come out and play. I want to have fun again, laugh out loud again and, like my beloved mother who always found humor in life,  I want to live joyfully, once more.

This includes writing joyfully (or sarcastically, as the mood strikes me.)

I’m returning to my roots as a thinking humorist because I’m tired of all that heavy lifting. I’m moving in a different direction and, at last,  I feel I’m able to make fun of life again in our perfectly flawed world.

Sure, I’ll still be writing about deep philosophical issues such as “Who’s the better actress…..Betty or Wilma?” and the striking similarities between the actions of a driver who has overwhelming road rage versus a driver who has an overwhelming need to pee.

There will be times to examine the infinite questions of the universe, including why people who drive red cars cannot be trusted to act rationally, and how the lighting and colors in Walmart hypnotize you into buying things you do not need, and compel you to mysteriously lose the receipt so you cannot bring them back.

The wise Zen master once said, “Eat when you are hungry; sleep when you are tired.”  I add, “Laugh when you are ready.”

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Stretching the Mind Opens the Heart.

I’ve been thinking a lot about life and the things I’ve witnessed, lived through, experienced and learned from. From the mundane to the monumental, they are essential memories that have become ingredients for the recipe of me – how I see the world, how I live, what I consider important and  what I consider superfluous.  From  a first kiss to a final goodbye, my experience may be different on the surface from yours, but deep down, the feelings and connections are identical.

Our humanity draws us together as a knot does a rope — with each experience being a knot that shortens even the longest distances, the farthest continents. This is how we’re connected, though we may be too busy fighting the traffic, fighting the establishment, making ends meet, or texting at a red light to consciously notice. Because, after all, the emotions felt upon the birth of a healthy child in Kenya and the birth of a healthy child in Connecticut are not different. Joy, relief, amazement, wonder......Awe.

And when the babies arrive, maybe on the same day at precisely the same hour, their lives begin in separate lands, on separate journeys toward experiences that will make them who they become. Because, no matter where we are born, we eventually grow and arrive where we are from where we’ve been. And so, it’s bewildering that we often cannot accept that others are different, even though we realize, at least intellectually, that we “get different” through a route that is completely the same.

How great would it be for people of every race and creed to honor the bond that makes us all part of the world, the universe, the human race. How magnificent would it be if the cultural issues that separate us, the disparity of wealth and knowledge, the variations of faith and belief in the Divine were all to vanish while we drink in the truth that we are together, at this time, sharing this planet as our ancestors did. That we all are born and grow and feel joy and pain and heartbreak as every one who went before us, no matter their tribe, caste or social status. This alone should bind us to each other. This alone should make us kin. 

But it never does.

What’s needed for that realization is a simple thought:  It’s by an accident of birth that you are you and I am me. And that’s precisely what makes us the same.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

New Passages. New Perspectives.

A few weeks ago, I visited a Children’s Museum and went through the Alice in Wonderland exhibit. The proportions of everything were deliberately skewed in keeping with the fairy tale and to demonstrate Alice’s point of view.

Funny how that imagery came to me today, as I reflect back on this year full of changes, my new perspective on life, and my place in it. Now, four months since my beloved mother’s passing, I feel more connected to her than I ever imagined possible back then.

I stand on the threshold of significant life changes  – the first “beginnings” and milestones without my mother here on earth. My son will be off to college in New York City next week. I will begin graduate school. My daughter will turn 21 in a few months. In life, Mom would understand these changes and the emotions they bring. In life, she’d encourage and guide (and sometimes prod) me when I entered such transitions. But in spirit, there is none of that.  I simply feel her presence in my heart and I believe I cannot fail. In spirit, my mother’s guidance is as real as if she were sitting in front of me, sipping her coffee from a straw in her cup, sharing biscotti with me in my kitchen.

And I never could have imagined any of this.

Like Alice, something very strange is happening to me, albeit in a good way. I feel an inner wisdom that wasn’t present before. It’s the same wisdom I sensed when Mom was here, guiding me around corners I hadn’t yet approached, letting me learn on my own, yet giving me the Cliffs Notes version whenever it could help.

It’s as if, in her passing from  this life, Mom has passed the torch of  “matriarch” to me, her only daughter, handing me a new role  that I never even considered. What a revelation it was when, longing for her optimism and humor, I began thinking, “Who is most like my mother here on earth?”  The answer came in her voice, through my head.  “You are,” she said.  “You are.”

So as I shopped with my daughter to stock her new apartment with food and other necessities, I felt that sense of pride and maternal love that I know my mother must have felt when she experienced that transition with me. As I talked with my son about his future and his dreams, I felt the same sense of  joy and excitement Mom must have felt when I started my college career.

In a few weeks, the seasons will converge and my first summer without a mother on earth will be over, yielding to an autumn when life’s backdrop will change colors, once again.  With every passing day and month, my perspective will deepen, and my vision will become more clear. I know this not only because I feel it in my heart, but because my mother tells me so.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Living “In-Between…” Thoughts on Life After Any Loss

I am learning to live “in-between.”

I am grieving the loss of my mother, who peacefully passed in my arms on April 23, just three days after my last post. But as grief ebbs and flows, low tide is filled with planning and dreaming of what life holds in store, as I move toward the unknown on this uncharted journey.

Living “in-between” happens for each of us when crisis strikes. When we arrive there, it’s a place full of contradiction.

I know this because I am alternately strong and weak, determined and defeated, bold and hesitant. Everything has changed, and so have I.  So I live in this uncertain space, trusting that the waiting will reveal an unknown truth, a purpose or meaning behind the introspection and newfound patience that I've learned to have with myself.

No one knows how or when they will be called upon to live “in-between,” but I’ve found strength in recognizing that, even within despair, there are moments of happiness that peek through the clouds, just long enough to let you know you’re still alive.

Whether you grieve the loss of a loved one, the end of a relationship or a tragic realization that destroys your current world like an errant asteroid, whatever crisis you face will have a beginning, a middle and an end. Resolution will occur, in time.

“In time,” I say to myself. “In time.”

In time, I’ll be able to have memories without tears, look at keepsakes without a tight chest and quivering lip, or take a familiar drive to a familiar place without envisioning my beloved mother beside me.  In time I will feel whole again.

Like anyone who has experienced loss of any kind, change is upon me. Since I am not one to rush through pain (it actually makes it last longer, I’ve found), I am embracing the grief, honoring it, and giving it its place in my life – for a time.

Living “in-between” means I have given myself permission to live into my own answers, to uncover and discover a new self, even if I cannot imagine it yet.

“God closes a door and opens a window,” holds true for me. It’s also true that like so many who struggle through loss and grief, I’m still in the room, feeling the walls but not finding that window. I suspect it's because God knows there are days that jumping out of it may actually seem like a good idea to me. 

“In time,” I say to myself. “In time.”

Until then, you live “in-between.”

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Message of the Final Mile...

I had promised to blog every week, but real life rudely interrupted my plans when my mother got very sick about eight weeks ago. Since then, my life has been a jumble of medical details and logistics that would challenge even the most organized person. (Meaning: Life was already messy, but now, it’s close to impossible.)

My mother and I have entered a territory known as the final mile. The last hurrah. The end of the road. Hospice.

We have talked about death and dying before, but never with the boldness that this arrangement provides. We have discussed what she’d wear, what I’d say (she fully expects a eulogy from her daughter, the writer), how I’d dress, what I’d do after she passes on, how I’d grieve, promises I’d keep, and how my life might be better/worse without her here, in my home, in the addition we had built especially for her eight summers ago.

For 11 years, mom has been with me, and it’s been a journey full of firsts, but none this monumental. None have had such purposeful introspection.  None have had the calmness or the serenity, nor the frenzied worry which sometimes occurs simultaneously when you least expect it.

I know that my mother is going to die.  I don’t know when, but I know it is coming.  I’ve always known this, of course, even as a young child. Death happens to mothers. Death happens to everyone. I knew this in sixth-grade when a friend whose mother had passed on had released his birthday balloon to the heavens so his mother could participate in his celebration from above.  I knew this as a teen, when my neighbor’s father passed away, and I had my first taste of seeing the loss of a parent through a close friend’s eyes. And I knew as a young woman, as I felt the loss of my father profoundly, and took up the mantle of caring for my mother after making a solemn promise to him as he peacefully passed away.

I know this is the beginning of the end, because I have spent a decade trying to prevent it.  But now, we are poised to let it come. I know this is the first real acceptance of the inevitable because it is what my mother wants and needs. She wishes not to return to the hospital. She wants to stay home and let nature take its course. And we have agreed to be taken along with it because Mom has endured a lot of suffering. And while it’s true she has experienced a lot of happiness on my watch, she now has little energy left for the final leg of the journey, so we are coasting.

Meals are not rushed, but savored.  We say “I love you” more often. We joke around more frequently, and I find myself brushing the hair from her eyes as I tuck her in at night, just as I did with my children when they were sick.

Even though I’ve been caring for my mother for 11 years, this is really the first time I have felt the profound role reversal that is often described when an aging parent relies on you for everything. Her dependence is defining our relationship, but there are still golden moments. There is so little left to offer me, but she provides her wisdom and her reassurance that I am doing everything right for her. There is so little left for her to finish on earth, because, she tells me, “I raised two good kids.”

That she sees me as part of her life’s work is jarring. This is a woman who had forsaken cuddles and trips to the carnival with me when I was a child. She worked tirelessly to build her business and left me on my own too often, for too long, and too many times to count. Growing up as her daughter meant always seeking her unspoken approval but never quite believing it when it came. So, at age 46, I still find myself striving to be that good child, that good daughter —and now, she says that I am.

Perhaps this is the first time she has spoken these words with such conviction. Or perhaps, as the sun sets on her life, it is the first time I am truly hearing her.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Finding Meaning in "Almost"

When you are given a morning, rejoice in it. When you are given an evening, revel in the moonlight. When you are given a second chance, fall to your knees and thank God.


That’s what the doctor said. “Almost.”

It’s a weird word to hear. It’s a strange word to look at on a printed page.  It’s a peculiar word to contemplate, when ‘almost’ means that something nearly changed the trajectory of  your very existence in a way that could never be undone.

I’ve had a lot of “almosts” in my life.  I almost married a different guy. I almost took a job as a  pharmaceutical rep.  I almost was killed when a person barreled through a red light on a busy city street.

And for every “almost”  I’ve experienced, there has been a revelation, an overwhelming sense that destiny somehow removed me from a cruel fate, or saved me from myself, or led me to select this thing but not that,  which presumably made my world  exactly what it had become in that moment.

“Almost” was what the doctor said.

My mom “almost” died. 

Certainly she would have passed away had I not called the ambulance when I did, had I not gotten her the care she needed before her oxygen levels plummeted even further.

But what the doctor didn’t say was that I “almost” killed her.

A decision to give medication to my mother created a cascade of terrible consequences that forced her weakened body to become nearly lifeless, albeit with a beating heart and faint breath.

I almost created a situation where lifelong guilt and regret would have plagued me, destroyed me. Thankfully, I was spared.

In examining the meaning behind my latest  “almost,” I had an epiphany. The purpose of “almost” is to teach us that there are still lessons that need to be learned and held closely to truly be absorbed.  Whether it’s realizing that texting while driving nearly caused a head-on collision, or losing your temper nearly injured your child, “almost” is a necessary part of living and learning. 

It doesn’t matter if you’re a second place Olympic athlete or a finalist who goes home empty-handed, “almost” always delivers a lesson worth considering — good or bad.

I am grateful for my “almosts” in the same way I am grateful for cold rain after a hot day. It’s refreshing to know that nearly accomplishing a goal, nearly failing a challenge, nearly destroying something dear to you can have unintended yet positive effects on your future.

An “almost” allows us to catch our breath and redefine what we stand for, who we are, and who we want to become.  We can decide to try harder or accept our standing.  We can decide to mentally adjust a bad habit or a faulty presumption so we can do better — or maybe not. We can contemplate the what-ifs and be more grateful or more mindful.

Some people pile their “almosts” in a heap and pay them no attention, while others put them on a tidy shelf  to extract meaning, nuance and lessons from their grand diversity or striking similarity.

Either way, the nature of  “almost” means we are truly blessed by such possibilities. It is up to us to embrace them. 

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Celebrating Love....Happy Valentine's Day!

“What’s love got to do with  it?” croons Tina Turner.

“Why do fools fall in love?” asks Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers.

As humans, we have lots of questions about love, but few answers. What draws people together, it seems, is as mysterious as the Bermuda Triangle, and sometimes, just as dangerous.

When I was a kid, my father would say, “There’s a lid for every pot.” At age 10, I knew he wasn’t talking about the Paul Revere cookware inside our oven, but I wasn’t quite keen on the meaning.  Then, one day, Dad made that remark as we walked across the street from two "lovey dovey" hand-holders: a less-than-hygienic couple who drank heavily and lived with their crusty children in a fetid little row home a block from our house.

They were repulsive but blissful.

But Dad wasn’t judging as he uttered those words; he didn’t say them with even a hint of disgust. He seemed simultaneously satisfied and amazed by the fact.

And therein lies love’s mystery.

Sometimes it’s easy to understand certain couples.They are like-minded. They drive Priuses and recycle. The eat sushi or barbeque. They go to church and love Chicago (the band, the musical, the town, whatever). They walk alike. They talk alike. (You’re humming The Patty Duke Show theme song now, aren’t you?) These are the couples that bring a sense of order and comfort to an otherwise chaotic world.

But who hasn’t witnessed an “odd” partnership between two people who seem to not belong together, but nevertheless seem blissful, and even downright ecstatic at their union? How many times have we silently sang "One of these things is not like the other...." when witnessing the duo of Hot Guy/Ordinary Girl,  Old Guy/Hot Mama or — dare I say it — Hot Guy/Ordinary Guy, Hot Mama/Homely Mama? How many times have we looked at such couples and wondered, to quote the internet acronym, “WTF?”

It turns out that love is blind, after all. Anyone who has ever loved differently than what is considered “usual and customary” understands that love is a feeling that doesn’t declare itself off-limits when an unspoken connection or chemistry exists.

No one ever said that the lids and the pots have to match; they just have to fit.

But, even though we may rationally grasp this, or even pay lip service to it, it doesn’t stop some folks from stereotyping, categorizing, condemning, or judging those who are not like them in matters of the heart:

“She must want him for his money.” (or something else).

“He must be good in bed.” (because he is as ugly as sin.)

“That’s disgusting and unnatural.” (because I don’t understand it).

"He's old enough to be her father." (what's wrong with her?)

Fortunately, love is more powerful than all the judgment that seeks to undo it. Many times, the couples who seem least likely to endure have more years of joy together and get the last laugh. 

So cheers to you, overweight guy with the skinny girl. Asian woman with the Irishman. Black woman with the white man. Filipino with the Italian. Senior citizen with the baby boomer. 

You found love and your heart is happy. You are proof that the Beatles said it best — “All you need is love.”

May we all be so lucky.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Snow Daze.....

Mother Nature hit the pause button today. As an 18-inch blanket of snow lay outside my front door,  I am reminded of the joys of staying put.
Nowhere to go can be a great place, when you rest in nature’s palm. Make some hearty soup, throw a log on the fire, and watch the snow tumble down from your cozy rocking chair.  

Be still.

Snow delivers a permission slip to slow down, to breathe deeply and appreciate life,  inviting us to look within. When we stare into a roaring fireplace and lose ourselves, or merely note the peaceful silence of a glistening night, we glimpse into a world of perfection. We can see that snow is magic, and we become a part of it.

As children, we understand  and embrace this. Snow days are seen as a gift from heaven, with flakes falling down on tongues and eyelashes, and opportunities to build snowmen and create celestial figures from our own body. Like a new toy to be shaped and molded into whatever our imaginations could allow,  childhood snow reminded us of possibilities. And as the wintry mix snuck down the hoods of our jackets and tops of our mittens, we could not only feel the cold, but could absorb the wonder of special memories being made with family and friends.

But, for most adults, snow days mean tending to sidewalks and front steps. There’s milk, bread, and eggs. Get gas for the car; buy food for the cat or dog. Don’t forget the aspirin after a day’s worth of shoveling. If we’re not careful, the magic is contaminated by obligation and responsibility. If we’re not mindful, awe and inspiration are replaced by grouchiness, impatience, and complaints about a messy foyer floor.

The snow is still falling as I type this. Outside, a flock of  Canadian geese is flying above the treetops, just beyond my neighborhood. They are squawking loudly, as they always do when they pass by. But today, thanks to a magical snowfall, it feels oddly serene to hear them.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Why Old Friends are the Best Friends.

It was 1975. On the playground during recess, I played the games of my childhood with other kids who, like me, wore the Catholic school uniform that signified our unity and connection. Black or white, Irish or Italian, Asian or German —we were bonded together in spirit, and for life.

It wasn’t just that we had the same teachers, shared the same prayers, the same coaches and the same hot lunches. It wasn’t just that we were classmates, teammates, bus mates and, at the time, soul mates. We were brothers and sisters, in a sense, with values shaped by nuns who had rulers and rules, and giant hand bells they shook to get our attention.  It was that, molded by all these factors and shared experiences, we understood each other and everything around us without saying a word.

Thirty-five years later,  it’s still true.

An outing with an old friend from the old neighborhood brought back the same comfortable feelings that I had as a kid during afternoon recess.

Like chocolate milk and soft Philly pretzels after morning prayers, we share a bond that can only exist with someone who has known you since childhood, when it was unthinkable to pretend to be something other than what you were. It’s a bond unfazed by a fancy car or a fancy job. It does not judge a messy house or a messy life.  It's just there, accepting, knowing, caring – because someone who knows you from “way back when” still does, in the truest sense, even after 35 years.

And it’s so comfortable.

Old friends bring us back to our roots, helping us see and feel the world as we did when life was simpler, and so were we. They take us down memory lane and catch us up in a blink of an eye, as images flood our brains, and stir our senses. 

When it occurs, we understand how we got this far.

I am 11 years old again and it’s springtime. Sister Mary Agnes is ringing her bell. Recess is over and we rush to get in line.

“Are you ready to get back to work?” the nun asks.

“Yes, Sister,” we reply in unison.

Our shoes click on the playground surface as we begin to walk inside.  We take our seats in wooden desks, and say another prayer.

Our future is shaped in this classroom, she tells us. 

And, yes, so is our past.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Giving Thanks.....And Giving.

Sometimes you don't have to look far to find opportunities to give, and to give thanks. Sometimes it takes a tragedy to remind us of this.

With Haiti earthquake relief efforts underway, money and prayers are flowing toward the devastated homeland of so many wonderful people.  But, too often, it is just not enough.  Yesterday, on CNN I saw a Haitian woman speak of the loss of her 5-year-old and 2-year-old. "There was no burial," she said.  "I just threw them away."

I just threw them away. 

I began to cry when I heard her speak. I could not understand her language, but I could understand her pain. I cannot imagine such suffering.

Or, maybe I can, as I get a glimpse of it, closer to home.

Last night,  I walked up Walnut Street and saw a homeless man sitting outside a theatre. His sign said, "I am Mike and this is my dog Sparks. We are homeless. Please help us."  He sat in the dirt next to the parking lot, cradling his sad-looking dog in a blanket on his lap. A tattered bag of dog food sat beside him. Many passersby placed money in Mike's grimy paper cup before they went to see their show.

I wondered about Mike. How did he come to this point in his life, begging outside a theatre on a January Friday? Where was his family? Was Sparks his only friend? The questions were unending. The answers never came. I didn't ask.

Further along the street, a woman pushed a cart full of all her worldly possessions. She settled on a grate near a parking garage, desperate for the heat that rose up around her as if embracing her weary body. No one said a word to her as they walked by. No one helped or even offered to help. It was as if she were invisible.

My brother works for the Department of Youth and Family Services. He sees neglect, poverty, ignorance and evil on a daily basis. Much of it is forgotten once the paperwork is processed. The brain cannot take the pain of remembering the details every day. Children are removed from homes. Parents are sent to prison, to rehab, to anger management. Children die. It's just part of a broken system.

And then there are the lucky ones.  Those of us who have not lost children, who are not begging, who have a home and a warm, clean bed in which to rest and who have not experienced the pain of a broken system that is as powerless as the children it seeks to protect.

It shouldn't take an earthquake to help people in need. Little earthquakes are happening every day, all around us. If we pay attention, we can feel the aftershocks. If we look beyond ourselves, we can see the need.

Today, I make a pledge to give thanks, but more importantly, to give more of myself.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

My Cat, the Shrink.

Tonight, I talked with my cat for 45 minutes. And I believe he talked back.

No, I wasn't drinking (although I considered it.) I wasn't depressed (although I should have been). I was merely frustrated, looking to figure out a vexing problem concerning my future and my life. Reo, or "Dr. Reo" as he should be called, patiently listened, his honey golden eyes gazing lovingly into mine. He purred as I lamented. As I explained my options and waited for his reply, "Meow," he said. He rolled over, exposed his tummy to me and gently put his paw on my shoe. It was enough.

I grabbed his toy feather ("Da Bird –the best darn cat toy in the universe"), stroked his furry chin, and we played for another quarter hour. In my 60 minutes with Reo, I noticed something amazing. I had gone from head-in-the-oven panic to tomorrow-it-will-be-better tranquility. All because he listened. Or maybe just because I talked.

The Humane Society of the United States estimates that 4 to 6 million cats and dogs are euthanized each year instead of being adopted. Reo was one of the lucky ones. And so was I, to have found him.

The companionship, the unconditional love, and the energizing spirit of an animal that depends on you, loves you and is happy to see you every day should be enough to empty the cages of every shelter in America. It should be enough to make every sad, lonely person get up out of bed and have a connection with life. It should be enough to cure blues, to lift hopes, to put the big things into perspective.

Because when it comes down to what really matters in life, Reo knows, as all animals do, that love is the answer. And a good talk with a good friend can make a world of difference.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year, New Life...yeah yeah.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, including New Year’s resolutions. As the ball drops for 2010, the hearts of all humanity who possess timepieces are transported to a world of new possibilities and fresh starts. In America, we vow that THIS IS THE YEAR we will eat healthier, exercise more, save more, relax more, complain less (maybe), and generally get our collective shizzle together.

But doesn’t every day, every hour, every minute bring this same newness? Flipping a calendar page to a new day is the same motion as flipping to new year, isn’t it? Perhaps, but it is not nearly as sexy as a NEW YEAR. A promise that’s made beneath a backdrop of fireworks and Cool & the Gang is all that it takes for us to say “YES! I WILL_________.  (Fill in the blanks. It's your resolution, after all.)

Of course, ringing in the new year is also a reason to drink, celebrate, and give a formal “goodbye” to a rotten year which may have included a lost job, a bastard boss, or an ex- who finally is out of your hair, your life or your bank account. Those are great reasons to celebrate and to make a solemn promise toward a better life, a better year, and a better (more successful) resolution.

As we close out the first decade of the millenium, I have realized that my New Year’s resolutions from 1999 aren’t so different from today. They are the things I still struggle with, the pesky little “shoulds” I know are somewhat important, but they haven’t (yet) given me cancer, a heart attack or an eviction notice from the Department of Health, so I’m not sure how really important they are. My list of recurring “resolutions” includes, in no particular order:

1) Becoming more orderly. My garage resembles a landfill at certain times of the year. Right now, it’s not so bad. Chances are, however, it will begin to become disturbingly impassable as I try to find a hammer or screwdriver on some February Tuesday. The lack of order and time-suck of not being able to find tools when I need them isn’t the only problem; it’s what the disorderly garage telegraphs to me: “You, my dear, are a pig.” To which, on good-humored days when life is humming and my priorities are in order, I guiltlessly say, “Oink.” But on days when God is giving me a mid-term exam, I am less inclined to dismiss the chaos and what it implies. If cleanliness is next to godliness, then a clean garage for me implies sainthood. This stays on the list for 2010.

2) Taking better care of me. What a cross this is for me! But I am better at it now. I finally realize that “If momma ain’t happy/healthy/sane, nobody’s happy/healthy/sane.” Filling my cup has become easier as my kids have gotten older, more independent and capable of cooking their own meals. This will remain a resolution for 2010 because of new and improved ways to define “taking better care of me,” particularly with the opening of a quality day spa nearby. :)

3) Reading more. I read all the time, but it is never enough. I have vowed to read more fiction and to stop being so damn practical. Enough of current events and new ways to brush the cat. Where is that trashy novel? Gotta find it.

4) Getting rid of deadwood. I am so much better at purging the things, people, commitments and ridiculous self-limiting thoughts that weigh me down, but there is always room for improvement. When in doubt, I just say “No.” This stays on the list for 2010, and will likely remain forever. Deadwood seems to find me, no matter how self-actualized I become.

5) Write more. Or shall I say, write more that matters. I’ve had plenty of business this past year, but I don’t count that as soulfully satisfying, or enriching my self-awareness as a writer. Somehow, writing websites and brochures on the mechanics and cost benefits of solar energy falls short. So, dare I say it? I will blog at least once a week. That’s a new resolution for this decade, and one I can stick with.

Now, dear reader, your resolution must include reading the blog. Deal? :)

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Power of NO. Two little letters can change everything.

I’m saying “No” more often these days. I’m not sure why, but DAMN it feels good.By uttering just one syllable, I’ve freed up time in my life and space in my mind for ME. What a concept.

Maybe I’ve finally shed my Savior complex and come down off my own martyrdom cross. Resurrecting my own priorities, I’ve finally decided that someone else can do it, whatever it is. What a rush.

There was a time when I accommodated everyone. It wasn’t that long ago, and I’m still digging myself out of several deep holes created in my misguided desire to be helpful (or needed, not sure which). Who’s sorry now? I am.

It’s about two levels of disappointment and realization. First, I’ve realized that by saying “Yes” to something, I am saying “No” to something else. Usually it’s myself.

The second level of disappointment and realization is more powerful, actually. Having someone to whom you have repeatedly said “YES” say “NO” to you in your own time of need brings the power of “NO” into brilliant perspective. It’s actually cathartic. When favors are rarely returned, it’s like ice water in your face as you sleep. It really wakes you up —or at least makes you want to bitch-slap someone. Since bitch-slapping is not always possible or feasible (especially in texts or phone conversations), quietly saying, “I understand” may give pause. Then you may ponder the universal justice that is supposed to be karma.

I’ve found, however, that counting on karma often takes too long. At the next opportunity, my own special brand of kryptonite can be revealed: a sweet and sincere “No.” (Shakes head. Feigns disappointment.)

And boy, it feels wonderful.

Not everything deserves a “No,” of course, but annoyances and disruptions by strangers are at the top of the list. No, I don’t want to sign up for a free vacation right now— I’m here to shop, get root canal, and pick up my pet crocodile. No, you may not have my unlisted telephone number or my mother’s maiden name. No, I don’t want to buy any cookies, candy, ice cream, or pizza to support the Jaycees. (What are the Jaycees, anyway?)

I’m not turning into a hard-hearted Scrooge by saying “No” when it suits me. It's all about boundaries and protecting my priorities, which, for the record are just as important and worthy as anyone else's. I’ll still be helpful when I genuinely wish to be. I’ll still be cordial and civil, for example, to the bratty children whose parents audaciously send them to sell me (and my other neighbors) their magazines and cookie dough, even when they know that I (we) also have kids’ magazines and cookie dough to sell this year. I’ll laugh and say, “No. Oh gosh, I’m so sorry, but I just spent $40 on new magazine subscriptions to help my son win a prize! I’m sure you understand.”
Then I’ll close the door and do something I love.

Like taking time, finally, for me.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Purposeful Procrastination.....

As an occasional procrastinator, I firmly believe this deeply misunderstood trait has a purpose in my life. I do not see procrastination as a character flaw. In fact, I trust that God appreciates a little quiet introspection, a little self-indulgent nap-taking, a time for twirling one’s hair instead of paying the bills or mopping the floor. I also trust that I’m less motivated to act and to do anything well when my mind simply needs to just be and to soak in the joys and trials of life in the moment. Carpe diem whenever it suits me works for me, just fine.

In the past few weeks, I haven’t written. I haven’t posted. I haven’t spoken to friends on the phone. I’ve simply stayed home and pondered, in full-throttle procrastination mode, without any particular destination, of course. Stuff got done, but nothing earth-shaking। Nothing I had “planned” to do was important enough to drive me crazy. Most importantly, no deadlines were missed as I procrastinated and pondered what to do next.

Now, you might say, pondering and procrastination are different. Maybe, maybe not. It’s true that I ponder when I am about to latch onto a new discovery, so it may frequently accelerate my overall goal, and thus cancel out any ‘procrastinatory’ effects.

Sometimes I procrastinate to ponder what I really would like to do, other than the thing I don’t wish to do but really should do at the moment. And then, Eureka, I am motivated to move forward with said goal because I actually figured out what I felt like doing next. It is a self-produced carrot and stick, courtesy of procrastination.

Best of all, it means I can get the unpleasant task out of the way and move onto greener pastures, until I am struck by another worthwhile task, such as separating tangled rubber bands in my desk drawer.

It’s like that for most people, I think. The reasons are complex and probably neurological. I suspect that researchers will one day discover that procrastinators who are creative geniuses often display many of the “pondering” traits I exhibit when I have to perform any unpleasant massive task (caulking the windows) or a tiny but relatively annoying and inconvenient one (fixing a light switch).

Until they prove that procrastinators are NOT simply refueling their minds, repurposing their energy, and reevaluating what is important to them, I’ll just forgive myself for leaving the trash cans on the curb for four days. I know I’ll get to them soon enough.

After all, I have thinking to do.

Friday, October 16, 2009

What your Facebook Friends Would Tell You if They Only Had the Nerve

Dearest Facebook Friends,
        You deserve the truth, but I will never share that on my status updates, comments or on my wall. I’d rather be (INSERT) vague, coy, clever, superficial because you wouldn’t want to know the details of my real life because it’s too (INSERT) depressing, boring, weird, dysfunctional, kinky, spiritual, pathetic, illegal, perfect. Believe me, you wouldn’t be able to handle these details if I did share.
      So, in celebration of our friendship and connection, I am now offering honesty for all of us, who dare not speak— eh, I mean, type. Up until now I have been silent for fear I will offend you, or will be deleted from your friend list, which really scares me because, frankly, I need all the “friends” I can get at this point in my life. You see, it’s about feeling a part of the crowd, because as a kid I was (INSERT) obnoxious, shy, neglected, despised, admired, mean, vivacious, in rehab, nerdy, constipated and finally (sigh), I belong. Also, it is soooooo nice to have the illusion that 150 people really care about my life and what I do or say or think on any given day.
        But enough about me. This is about you, and our relationship.
      I value your place in my life (a little). So it doesn’t matter if I know you from the greasy spoon job I had 30 years ago for six months in my freshman year of high school when I had acne, braces and all my hair. You are still my friend, and we are connected. So I owe you at least this much.
        Please forgive me.
     Okay, this is brutal, but you really can stop sending me flowers, drinks, Farkle Chips, animals from Farmville and Mafia Wars requests. I don’t know how to play these games or return these gifts, and if I did, I would get sucked into the infinite internet vortex of wasted time and wouldn’t be able to feed and clothe my family. Ditto for prying notes and quizzes which border on the adolescent. In case you haven’t noticed, I don’t care which Jonas Brother I will marry, because, you see, I have children that age.
      I know you think it's harmless, but try to understand my embarrassment and annoyance over your probing of my relationship status. “It’s complicated” doesn’t mean you need to unravel the mysteries of my desperation on my Wall for all to see. I've been in therapy. Enough already.
      Stop making me feel badly about myself. Do I really need to see your (INSERT) Jaguar, Mercedes, summer home in Venice, beautiful body, white teeth, sexy husband/wife, nuclear family, while I eat a hot dog alone in my cubicle? You have no idea the pain you cause me.
        And your pictures. I must admit, I look at them. But keep the poses that are (INSERT) sexually suggestive, physically revolting (bikini wax, please!) or really really boring (the palm trees from your hotel room? the DisneyWorld sign? Really?) to yourself. Why waste precious bandwidth?
      These are just a few things I’ve shared to make our friendship stronger. There’s much more I could tell you, but I’ll do that some other time. It’s getting late and my eyes are bleary from stalking, um, I mean viewing, your other friends’ unrestricted profiles and their comments and photos.
      Always remember that I love you, Dear Facebook Friend, but not enough to give you my phone number. Hahahahaha. LOL. :)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

One Phone Call Can Change Everything...

Ironic that I got the phone call on October 1st. October, the month of ghouls, ghosts, mischief and Breast Cancer Awareness.

I wasn’t expecting this call. I had forgotten that I had a mammogram a few days before. But here I was, four days later, thrust into a jarring mortality-realization moment that took the form of a cheerful female voice telling me that I needed to come back in for additional views and perhaps an ultrasound. There are dense areas that weren’t there last year or the year before, she said. The computer scan may have picked it up, she wasn’t sure. The radiologist felt I needed additional views. This was what the lady with the perky voice was telling me.

My heart stopped as I processed what this Messenger of Fear from my gynecologist’s office was saying, and not saying. There she was, telling me that the referral would be ready for me to pick up tomorrow. (Do I really need it that soon? What’s the rush? Translation: This must be bad.) She wasn’t saying I had cancer. She wasn’t saying they thought I had cancer. She wasn’t saying I didn’t have cancer. She was just saying that they couldn’t tell if there WAS cancer or something else in my right breast. WTF.

I sat dumbfounded. Suddenly the plans I had for the day were replaced by more pressing matters. What does “area of density” mean, anyway? What are “additional views” and why would it take one-to-three hours when my original appointment was less than 15 minutes? Internet searches ensued, leaving me more bewildered than before I started. Too much information can make a wild imagination run wilder. In a flash, I imagined losing my breasts, my hair, and my life. Who would come to my funeral? I snapped out of the mini-nightmare when the phone rang. Damn telemarketers.

Cancer would explain how I’d been feeling ­— a bit off, tired, not fully present – I thought to myself. No wonder I don’t want to do the laundry. It all made sense. Unexplained fatigue can be a signal that cancer is lurking. Even though there were other plausible reasons for my fatigue, such as having coffee at 7 p.m., going to bed at 3 a.m and getting up at 8 a.m., I feared the worst. I had read about fatigue and cancer, so it must be true, right?

Frankly, I read a lot of things. Calcifications, microcalcifications, carcinoma in situ, all these terms in a language that I never wanted to understand or even hear, for that matter. This language did not romance me. This language did not comfort me. This language scared the hell out of me and it made me more anxious and panicked. “Why the hell did I start reading this stuff?" I berated myself for not remaining more level-headed.

“I cannot do anything until I really know what is going on,” I chanted as mantra, trying to calm the inner turmoil that the Messenger of Fear had stirred.

In that moment, I decided not to waste my time supposing this or that when I don’t know what MY situation is. Of course, before I had made that decision, I already had read enough sad internet breast cancer stories to populate my imagination for a long time. Too long. So I stopped looking online for ‘what-ifs’ and started living as if I was fine. Trouble will find me soon enough, I reasoned. I can’t sit around and wait for the shoe to drop when the shoes are still on.


With just four days until my repeat mammogram views and ultrasound, I have time to contemplate what I will do right if I have cancer (Get the best doctor/surgeon. Take better care of myself.) and what I will do right if I don’t have cancer. (Take better care of myself.)

Either way, I have given myself permission, for now, to worry, ponder and assess where I am right now in my life. If I think about it that way, the phone call can be a catalyst, with or without any disease.

I hope for the best.

Update 10/13/09……I am fine. Repeat tests were normal, although I am returning in six months, which is standard CYA protocol today. And yes, I am taking better care of myself. All because of one phone call.