Sunday, December 26, 2010

My Three Eggs

When my kids come home from college, they seem to have an exaggerated lust for eggs, whether it’s eggs for breakfast at 3 p.m., or omelets at 3 a.m. (which, I assure you, I am not involved in making). I try with regularity to foist granola or oatmeal upon them, but the call for eggs is deafening. Thus, when I looked into my egg carton the other night, and noticed that there was only ONE egg left, I made a mental note to get to the store the first thing the next morning, before anyone might arise looking for--you guessed it—eggs.
            This feat I easily accomplished, returning home before noon with fresh, brown organic eggs, and several other bags of food.  So when my youngest son emerged from his bedroom, seeking scrambled eggs at 2 p.m., I was ready. I opened up the container where my one remaining egg was nestled, intending to add it to my newly acquired batch, and found…to my utter amazement…not one egg but three! Three perfect eggs ready for his “morning” repast.
            A Christmas miracle? Perhaps. But far more likely, when I originally looked into that egg carton, my fear that there would not be enough eggs for breakfast was so great that it clouded my vision.  Though three eggs were in the carton I only SAW one egg, went to bed thinking of one egg, and got up the next morning thinking of one egg. I completely convinced myself of something that was utterly not true.
            The next evening, in a conversation with a friend, I learned of an entire family drama that had been constructed around the simple misunderstanding of a word.  Let’s just say the word was harlot (which it was not). But if it were, let’s just say that numerous people were insulted by its use, and constructed all kinds of negative scenarios and outcomes, and argued and bantered about the misguided individual who had used the word, until it was finally discovered days later that the word harlot was never even used at all.
            The mind is a curious thing. But even more curious than the mind itself, is the way in which we allow it to race off into all kinds of crazy directions, without really thinking, and that we actually permit and sometimes even encourage our minds to make things up that are completely false (i.e. missing eggs), create unpleasant scenarios that will never happen (i.e. angry college students screaming for eggs), or to cause needless suffering (i.e. actually he did not call her a harlot—he used the word harpoon in a totally unrelated context).
It simply boggles the mind!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Season of Miracles

© Michael Beckerman |

I’ve always loved the Christmas season because it’s a time for awe and wonder. If Thanksgiving is for gratitude, Christmas is for miracles, magic, and the suspension of ordinary reality (not that any reality is really ordinary, anyway). But this season is rife with high drama—whether you take the Christmas story literally or not. The Three Kings, the manger scene, the angels, the star, and so on. And then, on the commercial side of the event, there’s Jolly Old Saint Nicholas, elves, reindeer, and all of that. Chanukah is rife with miracle stuff, too, so unless you’re a total grinch, it’s really hard to get through December without giving a nod to the miraculous.
            I know there are plenty of people (even in my own family) who complain that this season is just a big excuse for malls to stay open late. And while I agree that the present-buying mania has gotten a bit out of hand, I still think it’s useful to set aside a time just to say, “Wow.”  And I don’t mean, “Wow! This is an awesome robe from Nordstrom’s!” either. I mean, Wow, isn’t it amazing that all these years later we’re still repeating the story of Christ’s birth, and we’re still aware—whether we believe in every detail of this particular story or not—that there is something greater and wiser than we running the show here.
            This week I learned of several events that reminded me of the miracles in every day. A friend of mine just happened to be five minutes down the road when her spouse was injured in a city across the river from their home and was able to swiftly come to his aid. Another pal learned that he had to spend time with a fellow he’s been feuding with—his company “unwittingly” threw the two together so that now they must work out their differences. My kids all got home safely for the holidays from far-flung places. I returned a book to a friend who—unbeknownst to me-- needed that book on that very day. Two bald eagles I’ve been awaiting—last seen a year ago at this time--suddenly appeared in a tree overhead. The list goes on.
            I do feel awe and wonder when I think of how life works. And in this holiday season I’m reminded that whatever one believes, the very fact that there is such a thing as a capacity for believing is a blessing. This time of year is for belief, trust, and amazement. Some might accuse me of being a little “woo-woo” about things, but that’s okay. “Woo-woo” is very close to “Wow! Wow!” in my opinion.
Happy Holidays to all!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Solace of Silence

© Jon Helgason |

Christmas can be such a noisy time of year, filled with all manner of fabulous sounds--the jingling of sleigh bells, the clomping of reindeer hooves on the rooftops, the carols, children’s laughter, The Messiah, and the screeching of UPS trucks delivering last-minute packages. But even better, in my opinion, than all the beautiful music and joyful jingling of bells, is the kind of silence that winter brings. As far as real stillness and quietude goes, anyone who’s ever walked in the winter woods can tell you there’s nothing quite like this season for silence.
         I  have a dear friend who loves silence and is always talking and writing about it. The reasons she loves it are many, but among them is the pure capacity of silence for self-healing. When I sit quietly on a winter morning, light a candle and gaze at the trees outside my window, all seems right with the world. With the windows closed (no, I’m not crazy enough to leave them open!) I can’t even hear the pecking of the woodpecker as he flits from tree to tree. Let me be honest—winter is my least favorite season. Yet I look forward to its arrival every year, because with it comes a sense of peace. And though I rather envy those who live out west or on tropical islands, for me, winter is a healing tonic—it’s a time to seek and fuel the warmth within my own heart, since it’s so damned cold outside!
          My favorite winter sound is barely audible-- snow falling, tapping gently against a window or settling on the boughs of a pine tree. I also like the muted sound of snow under foot—the scrunching noise under boots when I step outside to clear a path (snow blowers may be a necessity for some, but I much prefer the determined scrape of a shovel).
          Yes, I know that just a few miles from my house cars are tearing up the highways to the malls, kids are whining for candy canes and toys, and couples are arguing about how high the credit card bills will be after the holidays. But in my home, on a winter’s morning, all is silent--at least until the kids get home from college.
          Winter’s silence is somehow different than any other I’ve encountered (in other seasons there always seems to be a cricket chirping somewhere or a screen door slamming). When I imagine what life would be like without it, I realize that silence is an extraordinary gift, and a cold winter's day is the perfect time to enjoy it.


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Somewhere...under the Rainbow

© Lane Erickson |

The other day was rainy, windy, and pretty darn nasty, though it wasn’t all that cold. I was inside for much of it, writing and doing household chores. Around 4 p.m. the wind died down, the sun peeked out, and I decided to venture outside. I’m glad I did, because in the eastern sky, rising up like a wide, colorful bridge to infinity, was a stunning rainbow. I stared at that rainbow for a good long while, soaking in its elusive beauty. After all, you never know when you’re going to see another rainbow again.
            The next day, I asked a number of people if they’d seen the same rainbow I did, but everyone I questioned said no. They’d been in their offices, or shopping in a store, taking a nap, or at the gym. Not a single person I questioned had seen this remarkable sight. This made me feel rather glum.
            But then a strange thing happened, or rather, a few. For one, I took a glorious walk along the Delaware River, and I thought to myself while watching the geese and ducks paddle swiftly by in the cold, rushing water, “Isn’t this almost as good as a rainbow? Isn’t it, actually, sort of like a rainbow, in a duck kind of way?”
            While I was walking, I happened upon Elizabeth Gilbert’s fabulous store, Two Buttons, and went inside to warm up and shop for a few Christmas presents. While I was there Jose (aka Felipe), Gilbert’s husband (whose fame is known to those who’ve read Eat, Pray, Love or Commitment) happened by with a bottle of Chilean wine and poured me a taste. Soon after, he brought out bags of fresh popcorn and distributed them to all the willing customers in the store. And again, I thought to myself, “Well, isn’t this sort of like a little rainbow in my day? Getting served wine and popcorn by Gilbert’s sexy (if  ‘of a certain age’), Brazilian husband?”
            And then I began to think of all the small rainbows in all our days—the hugs from kids, and the phone calls from long-lost cousins, and the unexpected whiff of hot soup on a stove…you get my drift. I began to feel less sorry for the folks who had missed the virtual rainbow, because hopefully, if they are aware and awake, they will see all those other rainbows in their days. Surely, a real rainbow in the sky is an incredible gift. But you don’t have to actually see it to know what a rainbow is.            

Sunday, November 28, 2010

...And a Buddha in a Pear Tree

c Tony Campbell/

It’s that holiday time of year again, and the battle lines are drawn. Wait a minute. This is Christmas, or Chanukah  (or some other festive, spiritual celebration) so why talk about battles? It’s just that every year when the frenzy begins (no later than the strike of midnight on Thanksgiving) I’m inevitably lured toward the misguided notion that I must get everything done by December 25th (and to perfection!) even down to the high-maintenance baked beans my mother used to make that take about six hours to prepare. Unfortunately, the intricate process of putting everything together for the holiday can seem more like a battle than a labor of love.
            Today, when I began ruminating about how many shopping days are left, and how I will get the package for my sister’s family to North Carolina on time, and whether there will be enough time to do all the gift-wrapping, cooking, and cleaning, I happened to glance out my home office window. And there, in a tree just a few feet away, sat a mourning dove. The dove wasn’t moving, other than an occasional ruffling of feathers and glance to the side, or a slight puffing of its belly (maybe doing some yogic pranayama?) but she seemed to carry an important message. Is it possible, I wondered, to approach this hectic, frenzied season as this mourning dove does? With ease, and confidence, and knowledge that it will all turn out all right, even if I just sit around puffing my feathers every day for a while?
            Of course, the dove doesn’t have to fly to the mall, or drive in Jersey traffic, or balance her check book, or shop for dinner for fourteen, or figure out what a longboard is and the best place to buy one (apparently, all the rage for getting to class at college). Nor does the dove have to bake cookies or pies from scratch, or orchestrate the Christmas meal so that a dozen dishes are done and piping hot at exactly the same moment. But these are my choices, and the choice of the dove is to sit in a (believe it or not) pear tree and soak up the winter sun.           
            I know that as the shopping days keep ticking away, I’m bound to get caught up in the hysteria as I always do, but this year I’m going to keep that plump, happy dove in my mind. Not that I necessarily want to look like her (though after all the Christmas cookies and pies I may), but I do want to emulate her sense of peace and calm. Yes, there are squirrels racing up the tree, leaping from branch to branch, hurling nuts, chasing each other’s tail, but the dove just sits there like a Buddha.
This holiday season, I’m going to try to be a bit more like her.  Let those shopping squirrels go crazy if they want, but I’m going to sit still and breathe!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Gratitude For All

I’d like to put a different spin on the usual Thanksgiving message, which, of course, is gratitude for the amazing blessings and abundance in our lives. Naturally, I do feel grateful for my family, for the food on our table, for my friends, and for the rising and setting of the sun each day. But above and beyond that I’d like to say a few words about the things in my life that didn’t work out the way I hoped they would, about the disappointments, and rejections, and screw-ups that allowed me to learn. For instance:
  • I am grateful that so many agents rejected my wonderful manuscript, The Cobra Cure, because all this rejection has taught me, as Winston Churchill once advised, to “never, ever give up.” I am grateful that I have finally learned that it’s the journey—in writing, and in life—not the fruit of the action or the end result that truly matters.
  • I am grateful that numerous young men whom I once had crushes on in high school and college did not end up to be my mate. Yes, they were cute, and cool. But they were not the kind of fellows I would have been happy with in the long run. And so I am grateful that for whatever reason, they broke my heart (or I broke theirs).
  • I am grateful that I did not give birth to a daughter. Yes, I know that daughters are fantastic, and for years I thought it would be nice to have one. But three sons have taught me so much about life that I’m not at all sorry they came my way. They are my boy blessings.
  • I am eternally grateful that I did not get several of the "real" jobs I thought I'd have excelled at, because this has enabled me to live my life as a freelancer, which has been perfect for me. And because I have no “job” I can’t be fired or laid off. And I can take a walk—or a nap-- in the morning or afternoon if I feel like it.
  • I am grateful that I was rejected by Cornell University because had I gone to Cornell University I would never have met my dear friend Francine at Kirkland College.
  • I am grateful that I was born into a family that always had plenty to eat and lots of love, but very little extra cash. The fact that we could only afford one vacation per year to a modest cabin in the Adirondacks made that one week so special that I’ve always remembered my childhood vacations with extraordinary fondness. And I feel lucky that because there wasn’t much money around, what to spend it on was never really an issue.
  • I am grateful that I live in a cozy little house that doesn’t take me all day to clean. I am grateful that the huge Victorian I had my eye on didn’t pan out, because if it had I would be doing a helluva lot of dusting.
  • I am, lastly-- for this list could go on and on--truly grateful that five years after being diagnosed with breast cancer, I am still here. I don’t view cancer as a gift, but I am grateful for the many lessons it taught me about living my life to the fullest.
  • And…this is really the last one…I’m grateful to you few folks who read this blog. Thanks, sistah! And to my best friends….and to a few others (you know who you are!) I didn’t really want hundreds of “followers” anyway, because then I’d really have to watch what I say.
  • Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Out of Thyme

© Suto Norbert |

Not long ago, I found myself in the spice aisle at a local supermarket, mumbling to myself, “I’m out of thyme. And there’s no thyme! How can this be? I can’t find the thyme!”
            Sure enough, every other spice was on the shelf: turmeric, curry, rosemary, cardamom, you name it. Just no thyme.  I decided not to waste another second looking for it, and went on with my shopping. But privately, I was laughing. Had the universe played this little trick on me just to remind me that lately I’ve been taking on more than I can handle?
            The fact is, there simply is not enough time in the day—a lament I hear all too often from everyone I meet (except perhaps fashionably bored adolescents, but with all the extracurricular activities, even these are becoming rare these days). And there seems to be no way to beat the system; no matter how you slice it, the day always comes out to exactly 24 hours.  Recently, I read an article that claimed meditation makes you more productive, thereby at least creating the illusion of more time. But having tried this technique for a month I must report that while meditation is grand, it still doesn’t add any hours to my day. In fact, because of my meditation, dinner is now routinely late.
            I’ve also heard the argument that if you really want to do something badly enough, you will make time for it. Now this is truly a curious claim, because even though I really want to attend my yoga class, meditate, walk, write, clean my house, and pay attention to my family, it seems that there is never enough time for everything. I have yet to figure out how to create time without cutting something out (maybe if I keep meditating the answer will come to me?).
            Adding to the confusion is the fact that we recently turned the clocks back. This is fine if you’re an early riser but if you like to be productive in the late afternoon, forget it. It’s now time to start preparing dinner at about 3 o’clock.            
            I’ve tried getting up really early to solve this dilemma, and the result is that I need a nap in the mid-afternoon, a time when I should be completing one of the many tasks on my list. I’ve also tried staying up really late, and the result is that I can’t pull myself out of bed in the morning. And yes, I’ve tried going to bed and rising at “reasonable” hours, but even this doesn’t seem to alter the fact that there is simply not enough time to get everything done.
            I guess the lesson to be learned is simply to accept what we cannot change, and just keep the focus on making the most of every moment.  In the meantime, I’m heading to a different grocery store, where I hope to at least replenish the thyme over which I do have complete and utter control.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Having a Bad Hair Day?

Do you let your hair get in the way of having fun? I don’t. In fact, just the other day I went out with my hair in an atrocious knot. The knot was caused by wind at the beach, so was I going to bring my brush and comb along? No way. How my hair looked was the last thing on my peaceful, happy mind.
            I bring this up because I’ve noticed lately that every time I log onto my computer the media hounds are criticizing or ridiculing some movie star’s hair, dress, or shoe style. I’ve even noticed some nasty pictures of Michelle Obama going around the Internet, as if the First Lady has to look like a model all the time  (hellooo Eleanor Roosevelt?) And someone is always teasing about Sarah Palin’s tresses (I must admit I’m guilty on this count). But why -–in such an "advanced" society—must we collectively behave like adolescents? Who really cares how Lindsay Lohan’s hair looks on any given day? And so what if some other celebrity’s pants are on backwards? Have we nothing better to think about?
            Many years ago, I went for a walk in the rain wearing a ridiculous red plastic hat. I admit the hat was decidedly untrendy and unstylish, but its broad floppiness kept my head dry. Years later, I found out that a very attractive male had considered accompanying me that day, but he decided—based on my hat—that I was not worthy of his attention. Later, upon meeting me without the hat, he cursed his decision and confessed that he had foolishly pre-judged me purely on the basis of my silly attire. Once he got to know me, this fellow liked me quite a lot.  But not surprisingly, perhaps, the relationship didn’t survive.
            My point? Though I don’t like to use my blog for grousing, it does bother me that we can’t—as a society—look a littler deeper than one’s hair, hat, or pocketbook to decide whether someone is worthy of respect or affection. And I find it more than a bit annoying that the Internet plays into this tendency, by allowing the media and regular folks to post embarrassing pictures of others without a second thought.
To wit, I’m posting the above picture of myself at the beach, with bad hair on a beautiful day. If only I’d worn my red plastic hat!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

My Country, Right...or Left

© Paul Moore |

Today is Halloween, and that’s a scary thought for those who believe in witches and goblins. But even scarier, in my opinion, is the fact that every year just after Halloween, there’s an election. This means, depending upon whether you lean to the left or the right, and upon which party is in power, someone is bound to be disappointed or downright angry. On the other hand, someone is going to be clicking his or her heels and popping open a bottle of champagne.
            Now, anyone who knows me even a bit probably realizes that I am to the left of the left. But last night I was at a gathering with a group of friends who are mostly right-wingers. It’s a strange but true fact that in this—need I say it—“great” country of ours you are bound to run into people of all kinds with all kinds of political, religious, and other types of beliefs. Some choose to “hang out” only with those of their own kind, but I have a habit of making friends with all types of people.
            Of course, at times this can be tricky, and last night when the conversation turned toward gun owning there was a moment when I considered bolting out the door. But then someone started cracking jokes and before I knew it I was howling with laughter. Though these particular friends are Republicans, you see, they are also funny as hell, and when I had a bout with an undesirable disease (actually, I can’t think of a single, desirable disease) a few years back, they all took turns bringing my family dinner. So yes, they lean to the right, but does that make them wrong about everything?
            It’s part of my yogic quest in life to refrain from judging others. This doesn’t mean that I don’t vote in a way that reflects my beliefs, or that I don’t give money to causes that are peaceful, or that I won’t stand up and express myself verbally or otherwise when it comes to war, the environment, or other issues. It does mean, however, that I try not to disparage or look down upon people who don’t think the way I do.  As my first beloved yoga teacher used to put it, “Who are we to judge?”
            I guess the point that I’m trying to make is even though elections are frightening, especially for the losers, we need to keep the things we all have in common in focus. Friends are friends, whether they are blue or red, and I love my country (but not more than I love humanity and the world) whether it is right…or left.
            Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Pencil Me In

© Sarah Cates |

In my husband’s business, which happens to be music, there’s a curious phrase that’s often used. I frequently overhear him on the phone saying that he will “pencil it in.”  This simply means that the date is tentative; he may or may not end up with the gig, and the person calling will let him know in a few days if he’s on or not. At that point, he will turn the pencil marks to ink.
            I have mixed feelings about the “pencil it in” concept. On the one hand, it’s good to keep options open. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with making a tentative plan. On the other hand, I like decisive action. Are you free next Saturday or not? If not, then say so now and I will make other arrangements!
            I’m thinking about this penciling predicament today because I had extensive, detailed plans of how this day was to go in my mind, but when I woke up, I found that I had to erase everything I’d envisioned. Because I had checked online and knew the weather was going to be balmy I had planned a long walk, either at the beach or in a nearby nature center. I had also planned to attend an early yoga class. And then I intended to work outside in my garden. I had pretty much inked in the entire morning and afternoon with little or no room for adjustment.
            Now, if you’ve ever been a mother or father and have had little kids around (or even bigger ones) you swiftly learn that your plans are bound to run amuck. Diapers need to be changed, kids fall off swings and need to be rushed to the emergency room, elaborate dinner plans are nixed because junior suddenly has a tummy ache. Your kid may not get into the college of his dreams, or the girl he intended to go to the prom with may suddenly dump him (usually, after you've already paid for the wrist corsage and tux). Yes, parents are used to this sort of thing. And when plans change for our kids do we whine or have a tantrum? No, we sit down with them and figure out an alternate plan.
            But once the birdies have flown the nest, we think we’re in control again. And perhaps I might have been, had I not awakened to a stuffy nose and terrible cough, and—after a few early morning stretches—a hopefully not torn but most definitely injured ligament in my knee. No long walks for me today.
            Thus, the "pencil it in" concept came to mind when I realized I could sit in my house feeling sorry that all my plans didn’t gel, or I could erase my vision and replace it with something else. Reading a good book, napping, taking a short, gentle walk around the neighborhood to admire the changing autumn leaves was not such a horrible alternative. In fact, it’s my suspicion that sometimes “the universe” plants little (or large) obstacles in our paths, just so that we will slow down and take a day off.
            Though I most definitely prefer writing in ink, I will admit that there’s something to be said for folks who can accept that a plan isn't working,  and come up with another. After all, the eraser was invented for a reason.  And musicians are not the only ones who sometimes need to "pencil it in."

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Venture Forth!

I attended a rather unusual concert today. One of the pieces involved a piano, violin, cello, and a narrator who spoke about the adventures of Sinbad the Sailor. “Venture forth!” was a phrase he used and it struck me as perfect, since I’ve been thinking lately not only of stepping outside my own “comfort zone,” but also about how parents (myself included) should encourage their children to try new things.
            Actually, the concert itself was a stretch for me because I usually choose dependable geniuses like Mozart or Bach. But today the composers were contemporary artists (and you never know whether such folks will be brilliant or intolerably tedious). But while dissonant, modern tones usually make me flinch, I thoroughly enjoyed the music today.
I also stepped outside my “zone” this week by attending an all-day meditation workshop. A few years ago the mere thought of remaining still for the length of an MRI was enough to send me racing to my doctor for anxiety meds, but this weekend I somehow managed to engage in a six-hour (with breaks) meditation. I also recently attended a highly unusual event where hundreds of people gathered to be physically and/or spiritually “healed.” This--like the atonal concert and the meditation sit-a-thon—was another instance in which I stretched beyond my usual, self-imposed limit. In the past, a huge crowd of people dressed in white (unless at, say, Beyonce’s wedding) would make me quake with fear. But I now know that I can be in a place, observe, and react in a way of my own choosing. Besides, I always have the option to leave.
            Now, I’m not telling you this because I want to brag. Nor will you find me parachuting out of airplanes or bungi-jumping off cliffs any time soon. Stepping outside one’s comfort zone, after all, is relative. For me it might be a magnificent feat to eat a raw clam. For you-- a raw clam aficionado--stepping outside of your comfort zone might mean nabbing a spot on the next space shuttle.
            It’s easy to get in a rut or hang onto our habits—picking the same local diner for lunch, or wearing the same black sandals. But just as we want our children to experience new things—to try the asparagus, go out for fencing, or give writing poetry a shot---we need to keep the door to adventure open in our own lives.
So venture forth! I’ll be right behind you.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

I'll Be There

photo: F. Lipani

What is the difference between commitment and dogged stupidity? I made a commitment this week, and without going into the gritty details, let me just say that it involves being up at six a.m. for the next forty days. Although I am a person who has probably only seen a sunrise a dozen times (I much prefer moonrise or sunset as I'm usually wide awake at those hours) I realize that many people rise before dawn on a regular basis. I am not one of them.
          This would be no big deal, but due to a "miscommunication" with my college-aged son I spent a good part of my day in a parking lot and didn't get any of the things accomplished I'd hoped to (including this blog). So now I will be up most of the night working. Do I still have to get up at 6 a.m.?
          There's little that irritates me more than people who back out of a promise (especially a promise to one's self) for no good reason (the flu is a good reason; lack of sleep is not unless one is operating a car, an airplane, or performing surgery). In fact, I would much rather have a person tell me "I can't commit to that" than have them commit and then not show up.
        Perhaps, you're thinking, one too many guys stood me up when I was a teenager? Actually, that rarely happened. But I was raised with a model of commitment before me 24/7: My parents were married for fifty years and in that time my mother always went to church on Sundays, and my father never missed a day of work (unless he had the flu).
        Commitment is a word I also associate with devotion.  I like the idea of being devoted to something--to an art, to work, to family, to caring for an old, ailing aunt, to just being there when you have promised to be there.  In a world in which everything can change in an instant, the fact that commitment, devotion, steadfastness, loyalty, still exist is, in my opinion, rather miraculous.  
        So yes!  I will be getting up at six a.m. Care to join me? 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Simple Gifts

When I was growing up, a charming print of a little girl sitting on a bench below a bluebird in a tree hung on my bedroom wall. As a youngster, I innocently believed this was a picture of my mother, because the little girl's face held a sweet expression so like my mom's, and her hair was the same shade of brown: she looked just like my mom in the photos I’d seen of her as a child. I’d often gaze at the picture before I fell asleep, comforted by the vision of my mother as a little girl.
            My mom died almost ten years ago, and when I joined my siblings to divide her belongings, this picture was the only item that caused a bit of discussion, as we all wanted it, and we all confessed to thinking as children that it was a picture of our mother. Eventually, my sister and I decided the print should go to our brother. Still, we both yearned for it, and wouldn’t let go of our fantasy that it was not a picture of some nameless child, but a portrait of our mom.
            Enter, the Universe.  About five years ago, on a trip to a quaint bed and breakfast in Cape May, New Jersey (a good six hours from my upstate New York childhood home), I happened upon the very same picture—which I later learned is a copy of a painting called “Spring Song” by the German artist Simon Glucklich--in the ladies room. I approached the bed and breakfast owner and told her my sentimental story. “If it means so much to you,” she offered, “You can have it for fifty dollars.”
            Needless to say, I went home with the print, which I later discovered sold for 98 cents in the l927 Sears Roebuck catalogue, but now goes for anywhere from $25 to $50 on eBay. I also learned that the little girl was the artist’s daughter, and that she was blind.
            I was thrilled that I’d stumbled upon the print, but this was not the end of the story. Recently another print was offered up when my brother happened upon one more copy in a local shop. He bought the slightly larger print for $25 and decided to give my sister the original, so now we all have "Spring Song" hanging in our homes.
            I recount this tale because I’m forever amazed by the gifts we receive every day, and by the unexpected ways in which our heart’s desires are answered. Call it “coincidence” if you want, but I like to think that there’s a deeper reason why—without searching the Internet or actually seeking the picture—all three of us ended up with the very print we’d so highly valued as children.
 The tale is a reminder to me, too, of the fact that some of the most treasured gifts in life come without hefty price tags—the seashells collected at the beach one breezy spring day with my children, the checkered wool vest my dad wore when he went fishing, the scent of my grandmother’s favorite perfume.  And though it’s not a stunning Van Gogh or a gorgeous Monet, this sweet, old-fashioned picture is a priceless reminder of at least three childhoods, as well as one mother’s abiding love.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

My Sister, My Self

My sis and me, l954

I just had a visit from my sister, who lives a twelve-hour drive away from me, so we don’t get together as often as we’d like. We were delighted to see one another, stayed up half the night talking, took her little rat terrier to the beach for a run, dissected our continuing hopes and dreams, and reminisced a bit about the past.  When I’m with my sister, life is pure bliss.
Now, I know that not everyone feels that way about his or her sisters or brothers. In fact, I know quite a few people who run the other way when their sis is in town, or who cringe when they find out the brother who tortured them with nasty tricks as a child will be at Thanksgiving dinner. Sadly, there are brothers and sisters who don’t even speak, and I’ve heard far too many tales (especially after a parent has died) of folks who no longer communicate with siblings in any way, shape, or form. Oftentimes, these rifts occur after a parent’s will is read, which just goes to show how “stuff” can really get in the way. 
 I don’t blame these individuals, because everyone has a reason for why they stay connected—or disconnect—from another person, whether that person is a blood relative or not.  But I count my close relationships with my brother and sister among my life’s greatest blessings. I don’t take my sibs for granted, and I do have to work (a bit) to keep the connection strong. (Though it matters less and less as we age, there is just a tad of space between us in terms of years. I was our parents', ahem, afterthought.)
             Whatever the case, I’m personally declaring this week Hug Your Sister Week. It seems like a good week for it, since my sister is here. But even if your sister is around all the time, you might want to give her an affectionate squeeze. There’s something to be said for people who share the past in a way that no one else ever can. (And I’m sure there’s something to be said for being an only child, as well!)
 After all, only my siblings know what it was really like to wake up in the night to the sound of our father’s house-rattling snoring, or how long the trip to our favorite lake in the Adirondacks seemed on a hot August morning. Only my sibs truly understand why we all hate that grizzly, vile stuff called cube steak, or why the very word penuche (a delicious maple sugar fudge our mom used to make) can bring tears to our eyes.
 Of course, we are different in many ways, but siblings are our first living lessons on how much we share in common.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Make Like a Tree!

photo © Terhox |

A few nights ago, in a gentle yoga class for healing and stress I’d brought a friend to try, we did an interesting pose. We gathered in a circle, raised our hands to touch our neighbors’ hands, stood on one leg, and lifted the other to a bent position, resting the foot just below the knee of the standing leg. Tree pose is usually done solo with hands in prayer position or with hands and arms lifted straight to the sky. In this case, however, we all managed to stay balanced by gently relying on others. If one went down, no doubt we all would have toppled. The miracle was that though some were novices and others had been practicing for years, we all were able to stand firm when we were given an opportunity to borrow or share strength from one another.
           The pose (or asana) struck me that night because I’d been thinking about balance all week. It seems that everyone I know (including myself) has been struggling in this area. Maybe it’s the changing seasons, but everywhere I look I see that people are having trouble keeping their feet firmly planted on the ground. The worst offenders seem to be those who have over-scheduled themselves (and their kids) to the point where so much as reading one page of a novel before bed is a ludicrous impossibility. “I just don’t have time!” is the lament.

            This makes me wonder what would happen if we totally realigned our “to do” lists. What if instead of starting with “finish the report for tomorrow’s meeting” or “grocery shopping and make dinners to freeze for the week” we began the list in a different way? What if our to do list looked more like this:
1.     Take a walk at sunrise or sunset.
2.     Listen to Mozart, Willie Nelson or Deva Premal every day.
3.     Kiss and hug kids, spouses, friends, and others.
4.     Journal and/or read.
5.     Meditate, or just sit and be grateful...
You get my drift.
Hmm, I wondered, would this be possible? Especially for those who work full-time or are home raising children?
And then I remembered the Tree pose. It is difficult to find balance in our busy lives, and the bottom line is, it’s your own strength and dedication that will get you there. But if you stretch your branches a bit and offer some support to a friend or if you admit that yes, sometimes YOU need support or help, I’ll bet you’ll find yourself standing firm and tall. If you offer a little strength, and borrow a bit as well, you may be surprised at how things seem to come into balance.
 And you’ll have time to read!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Control Freak? NOT!

photo © Genarosilva |

What can you control? This is a question that’s been plaguing me lately. Or, if not really plaguing, at least mystifying.
Iyengar yoga is for “Type A” people, I’ve been told. But I am definitely not a “Type A” individual. Still, I love Iyengar, because this yoga practice requires me to put some discipline into my life. I’m a go-with-the-flow kind of woman. It’s sometimes both a challenge and a relief to have to fold blankets in a particular manner and pay attention to what my left little toe is doing (as we do at Iyengar class) because most of the time my head is drifting up in the clouds. So really Iyengar yoga isn’t just for those who match personality-wise—it’s also for people who don’t fit, because we may actually get more out of it.
On to motherhood, my other favorite topic. Of course we need discipline in our lives, as do our children. Schedules, routines, rules, all of these things have their place.  But some of my happiest mommy moments are from days when I let all the rules fly. TV at dinner? Go for it!  Halloween candy for breakfast? Eat your heart out! Of course if I did these things every day someone would have to call in the social workers. But once in a while moms have to go with the flow. If we don’t we will surely send both ourselves and our children into years of therapy. As one wise auntie once advised on this topic, “Don’t try to control too much. You may make it worse.”
            Here’s the question: how much control is good and now much letting go do we need? My best childhood friend and I used to have a saying: “Too much of a good thing is bad, but too much of a bad thing is worse.”  I think that’s the case with control (not that it’s a bad thing). But when you try to orchestrate every bit of life you lose the magic. Better to err on the side of free-flow, is my opinion.
            I for one like waking up in the morning and not knowing where my day is headed. Yes, I “set an intention” in yogic terms, and I try to envision all the best things coming my way. But I also leave the door open to surprise, serendipity, and chance. That way, I’m not shocked because I have to drop everything when my college sophomore calls with a 103 temp and wants to come home for some R&R. Nor am I distressed when I realize that I have lots of work to do, but this just may be the last late summer day to catch some rays (and Vitamin D) at the beach.

            Flow with the river? Or fight against it? I prefer to know that there’s a thing called “possibility” in every day. Without it, life is just one neatly folded blanket too many. With possibility, that blanket can be a tent, a warm covering, something to drape over a mirror when you don’t feel like looking in it, a place behind which to change into a bathing suit, an ad hoc throw for an antique chair, a baby’s lovey…etcetera.
Why limit a blanket? Why limit your self?  Just let go!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Empty Nest? No, Never!

photo: © Lyn Baxter |

I'd been hearing about--and dreading-- this frightening "syndrome" for many years before I became its victim. You know the one--the horrible affliction that parents suffer when all the birdies fly the nest, leaving mom and dad with (supposedly) nothing to do. In fact, for years I'd prepared myself for the terrifying day when all the beds (except mine and my husband's) would be empty, when there would be only two places instead of five at the dinner table, and no school lunches to make. Yes, when our first son left for college and eventually his own apartment I wept with abandon, and when the second son was delivered to faraway Pittsburgh for his college experience I cried for days. And just last year, when our third offspring left for his Freshman year, my knees buckled and I nearly crumpled to the floor. I couldn't imagine what my life would be like without piles of laundry and elaborate family dinners to make. After all, I'd been on this nesting track for twenty-some years.

But  then, a funny thing happened. A bunch of other eggs that had been sitting in my nest for a couple of decades began to hatch! I'd warmed them here and there, and paid them a bit of attention over the years, but I'd never really had the time to sit with them long enough to give them life. With my wonderful children off on their own and following their independent agendas, however, these eggs began to crack.

Inside, I found hours and hours of yoga--a practice I absolutely love. No longer did I need to "steal away" to yoga class--I could go any time I liked!  And so I began to practice Iyengar yoga almost every day at the gym, and to explore the beautiful and spiritual path of Kundalini yoga. About the same time, I found myself reading scores of books from the toppling pile I hadn't gotten to while raising my children. And my husband and I began taking daily walks, sometimes for hours. Midday lunch at a fancy French restaurant? Why the hell not? A day-trip to the beach in mid-February? Go for it! How about meditating, gardening, or lifting weights? Or just lighting a candle and journaling? Yes, I still did some "work"--writing is my trade. But the "empty nest" offered an opportunity to "fill" so many hours I'd never had to myself before. 

Of course, I miss my children, as most parents do. And I love having them home for summers and holidays. But I must admit that the "empty nest" syndrome is not what it's cracked up to be. Instead of lonesome days reminiscing about diapers, sandboxes, and school plays, I find my "empty" new  life to be over-flowing.  The empty nest, I've discovered, isn't a stage of life parents should fear; instead, it's a golden opportunity to spread your own wings and soar.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Teachable Moments

Not long ago, my dear friend F sent me an email that went something along the lines of:

"I took my cat to the vet yesterday morning to have him de-matted: they gave him what they call a Lion Shave...everything except his tail, paws and head is completely bald.  Of course, I took pictures. Maybe my son will help me get them posted on Facebook.  Or maybe he'll just ridicule me for not knowing how to do it myself.  Maybe that's how we should have responded to THEM when they were little: "OH MY GOD! I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU GOT A KNOT IN YOUR LACES--CAN'T YOU DO ANYTHING?" Or maybe, "EVERYBODY KNOWS HOW TO DRINK OUT OF A CUP--I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU DON"T KNOW HOW TO DO SUCH A SIMPLE THING!"

I thought this was pretty funny until I asked my own college-aged son to help me launch this blog.  Of course, he was too busy, and couldn't understand why I needed help anyway.  After all, kids these days are fully versed in the ways of blogs and the Internet, and have little patience for fumbling moms who don't know the difference between a tweet and Twitter.

I decided to share F's comments with my offspring, reminding him that there were plenty of times in the past when I dropped everything to help him tie his shoes or reach a drinking cup.  My logic didn't set well: he argued that I'm an adult who should know how to post pictures, whereas he --at the time--was an innocent four-year-old.

True enough.  But no matter what age we are, we're still learning.  A teacher can be anyone from a grizzled octogenarian to a two-year-old who demonstrates the oh-so-Zen value of staring at ants crossing a mound of moss for a good twenty minutes just when his mom is in a hurry to get to the bank.  We learn from our children, and they learn from us--it's a two-way street. (You needn't wear an orange robe to be a guru--
someone who brings light to darkness--which reminds me of a book I just finished called Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merrulo--great read!) 

Well, my friend did post her pictures on Facebook, and as you can see--with the help of my fabulous son--in the end I did manage to start this blog.  Yes, there are times when we have to buck up and figure things out for ourselves.  But there are also occasions when we should feel free to ask for help, just as there are times when we need to be patient with and compassionate toward people who may not possess our particular nugget of knowledge.  We're all simultaneously teachers and students, no matter our ages. The bottom line is: Nobody has all the answers, and sometimes we need a little help from our kids.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Goldfinch Day

Did you ever notice the thing about birds? They're there one moment, and gone the next. Take the goldfinch, which happens to be the state bird of New Jersey, the "garden" state. I rarely see these birds because they like to hang out in treetops. I can hear them sometimes, but I don't see them.  This spring, I discovered something curious. I bought some zinnias--just by "chance," and placed a few pots around my deck. A week or so later, I noticed that the petals of the zinnias were strewn all over the place. Were the squirrels getting into them? Nope, it was the goldfinch. One morning I looked out and there were two of these beautiful birds--a male and female--fluttering from zinnia to zinnia, pecking the hell out of them. What a fabulous sight! "My point?" you may ask. Simply that beautiful things, people, experiences, come and go. We may not know why they show up in our lives (maybe because we planted zinnias, maybe for some other reason), but show up they will, as certainly as the sun rises and sets. Right now, my goldfinches are gone--haven't seen them in weeks. The zinnias--what's left of them--are still there, but no awesome little birds are nibbling their sweet petals. But maybe in a few weeks, the birds will be back--heading down to Cape May or somewhere, after spending a couple of weeks in the Adirondacks. I'm not a bird expert (and this is not a bird blog, though my favorite book about writing is Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott), but I do know this: Life is chock full of goldfinches.

Monday, August 16, 2010