Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas Is Coming...


The geese are getting fat (I always liked those lyrics). Okay, I know I’ve touched briefly upon this before, but just to review: Christmas is only a week away and I don’t have a tree yet. Nor is my Christmas shopping done. Nor is the grocery shopping. The house hasn’t yet been cleaned. There are no lights in my windows. I haven’t brought out all the Christmas coffee cups with the little birds on them.  My cards have not been sent (in fact, I have no stamps). Yadayadayada.
            How did this come about? I’m not sure, exactly, but I think it has something to do with the fact that I’ve been so caught up in the present moment that I haven’t been planning for the future. Which just goes to show that you can go a little overboard with this yoga thing. Somehow or other I’ve been filling my days for the past few months with everything that has nothing to do with preparing for Christmas. So here I am, in a pickle of sorts.
            Looking on the bright side, however, there are certain things that I know that will happen that I have nothing to do with and no reason to worry about. For instance, my favorite (and only) brother, sister-law, and nephew are definitely going to show up at my house on Christmas Eve, as is my mother-in-law and other family members. My children, without a doubt, will be here. My husband will actually be taking the day off.  My little niece (who is not so little anymore) will be dressed in her finery and prancing around the Christmas tree (if I get one in time, that is!). The North Carolina segment of my family is going to call, and if I am very, very blessed (which I usually am) my pastry chef niece is going to send me a box of utterly amazing cookies from her bakery (The Underground Baking Company). Whether my tree is properly trimmed, whether each and every present is properly wrapped in a style of which Martha would approve, whether I manage to get all the laundry done before next Saturday…etc...doesn’t really matter.
            So why worry? Over my piano is hanging a beautiful snowman picture that my 23-year-old middle son made when he was in second grade; I have a warm, cozy home, and a family. Why sweat the small stuff, when the greatest gifts of all are everywhere we look?
            Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, and peaceful holidays to all! 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Ask "the Experts"



Lately, I’ve been noticing that there are a lot of experts around. There are experts on parenting topics, on gluten-free diets, on traveling, on fitness routines, on medical issues such as diabetes and stress, and on, well, just about everything you’d ever want to know anything about. I’m quite certain that there are experts out there on buttons and belly buttons, and probably on the proper way to pop popcorn. Bookshelves these days are filled with books written by “experts.”
            I have a healthy respect for expert advice. I wouldn’t want to tackle a plumbing problem without consulting a plumber, nor would I try to master a difficult yoga pose without consulting a yoga teacher (those headstands can be treacherous!). I respect the knowledge and experience and commitment of doctors, lawyers and pastry chefs, and have a great reverence for anyone who knows anything at all about calculus or chemistry (two subjects I would surely have failed had I been forced to take them in college). And if you are passionate about something, and interested in it, then why shouldn’t you become an “expert” on the subject? There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, I love knowing that there are people who are experts on Charlotte Bronte, or who have devoted their lives to the poetry of Longfellow, or who know every kind of fish in the ocean, or how to correctly dry flowers.
            Of course, I also know that when it comes to making important decisions in our lives, there is really only one expert: ourselves. An expert is not going to tell you whether you’d be happier on the West Coast or the East, or whether you should marry the girl next door or run away with the postman. And sometimes, I wonder, with all the expert chatter going on around us on TV, in books, on the Internet and so forth, how in the world are we going to hear what our “inner expert” is saying?
            I love gathering information and researching various subjects, but when it comes to my personal life, I know that there’s only one place to go when I need an answer, and it sure isn’t to Dr Phil, Wikipedia or About.com. As my first yoga teacher would say when a student was confronted with a decision, “Just sit with it.” 
Without even moving, in silence, it’s amazing how true expert advice bubbles up.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Spinning Season



It’s a bit of a miracle that I’m writing this blog, because I was pretty sure I’d never find the opportunity. This time of year—during the holidays—I, like so many people, have been spinning out of control. I’ve taken on way more than I can realistically handle, and I haven’t even started my Christmas shopping yet!
            As a yogini, I like to think I am calm, centered, focused, balanced and that I would never stress out, throw a temper tantrum, cry from frustration or exhaustion, stub my toe because I wasn’t looking, lose important papers or objects, forget to do the laundry, run out of decaf, or be late with a writing deadline. But this week, I’ve done all of these things and more (or less), and not in a very yogi-esque manner. I didn’t even finish the book I was reading for my book club meeting. For shame! (My excuse was that I had six other books I was reading that I had to review for work, but hey… “Excuses are self abuses” as Kundalini yoga master Yogi Bhajan liked to say).
            I was beating myself up about all this the other day on the phone to my best friend (I had taken a ten minute break from the madness to call her as we hadn’t talked in more than a week), when she suggested that I might fix myself a cup of tea and take a relaxing bath. What a novel idea! Of course, I never got to it, but I did come up with a nifty concept for slowing down: I decided to take an ax to my overflowing to do list. One side now says, “MUST do today,” and the other side says, “SHOULD do today.”
It’s amazing how many things were on that should do list—far more than I could ever possibly accomplish between the hours of 6 a.m. and midnight. But the must do list was much more manageable. In fact, the very next day I got everything done that absolutely HAD to be done. The rest of the stuff will just have to wait.
            My point? Why do we put so much on our own shoulders? Most of the things I have to accomplish (both work-wise and personal-life wise) between now and December 25th are self-imposed or are the result of me either taking on too much, being unwilling to say “no,” or expecting more of myself than is reasonable or necessary.
            Last week, at an early morning yoga class the teacher said, “You can take this hour for yourself.” Those words resonated with me. Yes, it’s okay to take one hour out of the day just for you. Stop spinning. Stop worrying. Stop doing. We are human beings, after all, not spinning tops.
            As a writer, I have a tendency to kill myself over meeting deadlines (why do they call it a deadline, after all?).  But sometimes, like everyone else, we yogis need to take our own advice. Slow down, smell the roses, and just breathe.


            

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Butterfly Effect



A few weeks ago my Kundalini yoga teacher asked me to help put together a display window for his new yoga center. I teamed up with another yogini and we surveyed our homes for appropriate objects that might be yogi-esque enough for the display. She had a few beautiful vases and some large, silver candleholders. She also contributed some lovely purple fabric.
            I searched my home to find something I could bring, but the only item that called out to me was my butterfly—a large, metal butterfly that hangs from a wooden frame. The butterfly was a gift from a dear friend who ran the first yoga studio I ever practiced at; when she closed the place she handed me the butterfly and said, “This is for you."
            I actually never had a thing for butterflies, but my mother adored them. As a child I was always looking for butterfly gifts for her: candles in the shape of butterflies, notepaper, mugs, butterfly jewelry, etc. So when my mother died I kind of took over her butterfly love, and whenever I practiced yoga at Nesheemah (the name of my first yoga studio), I would look up at the metal butterfly on the studio windowsill and feel that my mother was with me (as she always is, in my heart).
            So, I realized, I’d become attached to that butterfly and I didn’t really want anyone to borrow it, even another yoga studio. Just as I was leaving to set up the display, however, the butterfly caught my attention. “Bring me along,” it seemed to be saying. “Let me do my stuff.”
            Okay, so I don’t really hear the voices of butterflies, but something prompted me to let go that day and offer the butterfly up. My display case coworker was thrilled when she saw it and so was my teacher; the butterfly took center stage in the window, and looked perfect.
            It wasn’t until a few days later, however, that I realized that the butterfly was weaving its magic, just as it had at Nesheemah. In the sunlit window, its shadow seemed to sway and flutter as if the butterfly was alive. I glanced up during my yoga practice and thought again of my mother, of how she spread her love and goodness to everyone she met, and I knew that to hold on to something like that is really not the idea.  Just as I shared my mother’s love with my siblings, cousins, friends and so many others, the butterfly’s magic was meant to travel. I wasn’t surprised that many people who came to the center during the opening weeks commented on its beauty. Perhaps it had even reminded some of a person they’d lost and loved.
            This week, the window display was changed and I brought my butterfly home to its rightful place on my piano.  It looks even more content there now that it’s had a chance to do what butterflies do best: happily flutter their wings and create love's ripple effect.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Merry Turkey to You


The other day I was sitting in a popular coffee shop sipping a decaf and working on my computer, thinking about how nice it was to be out alone (with neither friends, spouse, nor offspring, for a change), enjoying my day and getting my work done, when out of the blue I realized that I was suddenly beginning to feel extremely uncomfortable and agitated. At first, I was mystified by my abrupt change in mood, so I decided to “tune in” to my surroundings and see what the problem could be.
            It didn’t take long to discover the source of my angst. Quite simply, it was the music that was being played in the shop: “Sleigh Ride” by Leroy Anderson, a holly-jolly, uplifting song that is just right for a frosty December morning. (“Just hear those sleigh bells jin-gle-ing, ring-ting-tin-gle-ing, too…”)
But not for a mid November morning, in my opinion. I then glanced around and realized that all the display cases were filled with bags of “Christmas Blend” coffee, and bright red mugs sporting snowmen. “What a shame there’s no such thing as a holiday called Thanksgiving,” I heard one of the cashiers quip. Alas, the poor young man had been listening to Christmas-in-November music for hours. At least I could pack up my laptop and leave, which is exactly what I did!
            I stepped out into the warm November air (it happened to be a sunny morning in the high fifties) with a sense of relief, but I was plagued for the rest of the day by that Christmas tune in my head, and the nagging question, “What’s the rush?” Is there some pressing reason why we can’t have Thanksgiving and then Christmas? (Right-wingers are always alleging that the liberals are trying to steal Christmas, but it seems that the real holiday that’s been absconded with is the one that occurs on November 24th.) Why is it necessary to race through or completely ignore a holiday that has to do with gratitude and sharing?
            And why, I asked myself, must we rush, anyway? Life speeds by quickly enough all on its own without us giving it a push. I for one would rather savor the month of November which this year has been delightfully mild than race headlong into snow storms, ice, and holiday credit card bills.
            Don’t get me wrong—I love December and I adore the winter holiday season—in due time. In yoga we have a funny little saying: “What time is it? Now. Where are we? Here.” And as for Christmas, “We’ll get there when we get there.” Last time I checked, the date was in December: just ask my Christmas cactus, which hasn't bloomed yet!
            So enjoy your family and friends, and Happy Thanksgiving to all!
 (And an extra special Happy Anniversary to Ruthann and Thomas, my sister and brother-in-law, married on November 25 for 50 years--living proof that love and enjoying the journey are what it’s all about.)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Suggested Donation: Love


Recently,  I had the opportunity to help run an event. I am not a person who likes to be “in charge.” Nor am I talented at “delegating.” But I learned a few lessons from the experience, the most important of which (no big surprise) is to feel and express gratitude. 
            In my former pre-yogic life I often complained about people who let me down. Folks didn’t return my phone calls, came late to meetings, or took advantage of my generosity (i.e. I’d baby-sit their kids but they wouldn’t return the favor). Everywhere I looked I saw people who were selfish, unwilling to commit, not considerate of others. I loved to moan about how unfair the universe was to put these people in my path. If I ran the world, I said to myself, things would be a helluva lot different.
            My perspective has changed in the past few years, and now, confronted with the same sorts of problems, I have an entirely different approach. Helping to run this grand event (I had several other organizers on my team, fortunately!) was interesting. I noticed that some participants did not want to be involved in helping out. Instead of being angry and resentful about that, I told myself that they had other things on their mind right now. Some people actually promised to show up and do certain things at certain times, but then didn’t make it. Instead of being disappointed with these people I told myself that they are still learning. Some committed to a few things, and did them well; but they weren’t willing to take on too much. Instead of comparing myself and my commitment to theirs, I decided to gratefully accept what they could offer.
            Then, of course, there were the people who stepped up to the plate without my asking. They carted food in, carried musical instruments, helped others who didn’t know where to put their stuff, cleaned up spilled drinks, made tea, went without lunch (and were willing to go without dinner). Instead of focusing on those who didn’t deliver or show up I decided to turn my attention to these wonderful angels who were there just when I needed them.  They didn’t expect anything in return; all I had to do was say “thank you” or “you are doing an amazing job” and they absolutely glowed with happiness. I began to think how lucky these people are, and instead of feeling annoyed with those who weren’t pitching in, I began to feel a little sad that they were missing an opportunity to give.
            I also realized that I had one day--not so very long ago--been in their shoes. There were times in my life (especially when my kids were little) when I would run the other way if I even heard the word “volunteer.” I was way too busy to make cupcakes for a school party, head up the PTO, or be a Cub Scout den mother. Many times I did just a token bit and then fled. I was overwhelmed by many responsibilities, and giving  more of myself seemed impossible. This memory of my former self gave me more compassion for those  who weren't willing to donate their time or effort. One day, I believe, things will change for them.
            Anyway, the event was a huge success, but the best part of it all for me as an “organizer” was saying thank you to the people who helped. It was also a wonderful learning experience for me—not so much about running the event—but in the important practice of focusing on the gifts that are offered, no matter how small, instead of ruminating about what is lacking. I came away wondering why we ever spend our time thinking about what isn’t when there is so much that is









Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Bird, the Bassoonist, and the Baloney



Actually, there was no baloney. (Certainly not! I’m a vegetarian!) But there was a bird and a bassoonist staying at my house last week. As many of you know (and experienced) a good portion of Northern New Jersey lost power last week. So we opened up our home for four nights to a septuagenarian bassoon player and a cockatiel.
            After all, what are friends for?
            I was thinking about this question while anticipating the grand event of 11/11/11, the official start of the Aquarian Age. After researching the subject a bit I found that the age we are now entering is a time when we are really going to have to depend on one another and pull together if we expect the planet to survive. We’re already seeing the effects of globalization, and realizing how deeply we’re all inter-connected. And when something happens like a hurricane, a flood, or the simple loss of heat and power, we turn to our friends (and sometimes even to strangers) for help.
            Last night, I had a conversation with my middle son about friendship. He was home for the weekend (he now lives six hours away), and a couple of his buddies from high school wanted to get together. My son was tired from driving, and just wanted to “chill.” But then he said to me, “What are friends for?” and recounted how these two particular chums had given up New Year’s Eve last year to drive five hours up to Cape Cod so Sam could work on a senior project which involved tromping into the cold woods along a shore line at dusk and possibly risking his life (I didn’t ask for details), to make photographs for his architecture degree. His friends went along to keep him company and make sure he was safe. In return, they got to miss all the local New Year’s Eve parties and spent most of the day in the car. Well after midnight the threesome finally hit the bars on the Cape and had a fantastic time. “But we would have had fun anyway,” my son admitted, “Even if we’d just sat around doing nothing.”
            So, from bird, to bassoon, to nonexistent baloney, to Aquarian Age, to friendship, I guess this is my way of underlining the fact that now, more than ever, we depend on the kindness of others. 
            Anyway, it was cool to have a bassoon around the house. And it was also kinda nice to be whistled at in the morning (by the cockatiel, that is!).

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Ho Ho Halloween



A few days ago, I was thinking about carving my Halloween pumpkin. Unfortunately, the squirrels had nibbled it a bit, and I was considering buying another until I discovered that the grocery store was all sold out. Why am I carving a pumpkin, you might ask? After all, my kids are grown and/or away at college. But old habits die hard.
            Then came the snow, a highly unusual occurrence for October in New Jersey—even for the end of October. In fact, I can’t rightly recall that it’s snowed in October in the 29 years that I’ve lived in the “Garden State.”            
            The snow sent everything into a tizzy, of course. Tree limbs fell, power was lost, the town robo-called a “State of Emergency.” The weekend before Halloween was turning out to be not at all what I expected, at least weather-wise.
            This made me all the more determined to locate a pumpkin somewhere and carve it by Monday. I’ve been making a Halloween Jack-O’-Lantern for at least 28 years (the age of my eldest son) if not much longer (I may have missed a few years when I was in college). My dad always made a big deal of carving the pumpkin, and like many other holiday traditions, it’s stuck with me. There is nothing quite like walking up my dark hill at night and seeing the glittering candle-glow in Mr. (or Ms) Pumpkin’s mouth.
            I realize that I have no control over the weather, and very little control over what happens in the Universe at large. But there are little things we can do as human beings that keep us sane when chaos reigns around us. For some, it’s meditation or mantra. For others, it’s listening to Bach. Maybe it’s something as simple as straightening the kitchen counter.
            For me, carving a pumpkin is just one of those things, so even if I can’t get to the store tomorrow, and even if all the pumpkins are gone in the entire county, I am going to carve my squirrel-nibbled, snow-encrusted pumpkin and light a candle in the name of good old-fashioned predictability (which basically means that the only thing we can really count on is that the unpredictable is bound to happen).
            Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Date With a Real Dog




No, I haven’t been going out with unattractive men; actually, I had a date with a beagle/pug mix the other night. A friend of mine who adores animals had arranged to foster a little dog named Donna, who was likely to be put to sleep at a shelter down south. She will foster the dog until a proper home is found (my pal already has three greyhounds and a couple of kitties).
            As you may or may not remember, I am not a “dog person.” But I do like dogs, especially little ones. So I was happy to tag along for the midnight pick-up of this pet, and I hung around until 2 am when she was happily settled in her new NJ digs.
            Several others were waiting for the après-midnight drop off when we arrived at a dark, empty parking lot in rural New Jersey (yes, there is such a place!). One couple picked up a one-eyed boxer—welcoming the animal with open arms as if he were a long lost child. Another woman was there to collect several dogs that she said she’d swiftly find homes for—she’d already placed more than a dozen homeless pups just this year.
            I was impressed and humbled by the commitment and devotion of these animal lovers.  Yes, I love animals, too, though I don’t have any pets at the moment. Nevertheless, I certainly appreciate and honor the members of the animal kingdom.
             But these folks take being an animal lover to a whole ‘nother level. Would I drive a van full of barking dogs from North Carolina to Vermont in a single day, stopping all along the way to make canine deliveries? Would I take one of these little guys (or gals) into my home and swear to honor her or him in sickness and in health, to walk her every morning at 5:30 am., to take her to the vet for check-ups and shots, to let her sleep in my bed at night or turn all my black clothes into hair balls? Well…no. Not right now, anyway.
            It’s just that dogs require a lot of attention, time, and money, as I was reminded when sweet little Donna immediately peed and pooped in her new, clean doggie bed, just like a baby (but without a diaper). On the other hand, dogs don’t go to 50-thousand-dollar-a-year colleges (or any colleges, as far as I know, though school is definitely required for some). So even if there are costs involved, dogs are a heck of a lot cheaper than kids.           
            Much is written and thought about angels; whether you believe in them literally, metaphorically, or a mixture thereof or not, you do feel the presence of angels when you see and experience human nature at its best. What I witnessed a few nights ago –a simple exchange between humans and “man’s best friend”--reminded me that all living creatures are here on this earth to be loved and to offer love. What could be a more angelic message than that?
             Anyway, here’s to Donna--“Oh, Donna Oh, Donna…” with a nod to Ritchie Valens. Thanks to a miraculous combo of human love/savvy, a lucky twist of fate, and divine intervention, she was saved at the last moment from an undeserved and untimely demise. Animals are awesome (and so much fun to name!). Here’s to Willow, Pooh, Clyde, Giselle, Twinkie, Heidi, Sid, Toby, and Mindy, too!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Wonder of It All




Here's an excerpt from my new, expanded gift book: All About Motherhood: "A Mom for All Seasons" and Other Essays.  Go to http://tinyurl.com/allaboutmotherhood or your favorite online bookstore to order (make sure you get the new, expanded edition)! Hope you enjoy!

You know that catchy tune about “The wonder of it all…”  that you can’t get out of your head, even if it’s driving you nuts?
            Well, that’s sort of the way I feel about parenting. “The wonder of it all...” describes exactly how the whole process works out, starting with that first little sweetly squalling newborn with those tiny feet that look so tasty you could gobble them up, and culminating in a grown kid you’re dropping off at college.
            The process is so perfectly designed. For instance, I just adore newborn babies.  I can’t fathom a more wondrous, magical time than those first few weeks with an infant.  But imagine if that infant never grew up. Imagine having to change little diapers ‘round the clock for the rest of your life? If our infants stayed infants forever, we’d never get any sleep. We’d never get to go out to the movies with our spouse, without paying a babysitter or dragging Grandma out. And forget about ever wearing high heels again. Yes, if that little baby stayed little for too long, we’d surely go crazy.
            So, the baby miraculously evolves bit by bit into a toddler, surely a wondrous process. And toddlers—filled with curiosity and energy—are marvelous, of course.  But if they remained toddlers forever, we’d never get to the bank because of all the dawdling, and our walls would perpetually have crayon marks on them, and we’d never want to chance getting that expensive white sofa or manage to put all the toys away. We’d be singing the same song over and over or reading the same story over and over or playing Candyland for the rest of  our lives. And that would get tedious.
            So the wondrous little toddler grows into a school-aged child, and school-aged children are surely marvelous. I adore those elementary school years; playing Frisbee or tag, having real conversations about ponies or volcanoes, watching our kids take up music lessons or sports. But if they stayed that age forever, we’d look like old grannies at back-to-school night, and the piles of homework would never get off our dining room tables, and we’d be endlessly mired at soccer fields or baseball fields, so that the laundry would never get done. So as much as I adore elementary school kids, I must admit it’s a wonderful thing that they do move on.
            I’ve always loved teenagers, to tell you the truth. I think they get a bum rap, because they’re really a lot of fun. I love having a house full of teenagers, love listening to their music, adore chatting with them about politics, religion, or football. But let’s face it, folks. If our kids remained teenagers forever, we would never get any rest.  We’d tire eventually of waiting for them to come home from dates, and we’d be worn out completely from carting them to various college fairs and tours. So as much as I love my teenagers, I must admit that at some point, it’s time to bid a bittersweet good-bye. And that’s just part of the wonder of it all.
Anyway, think of it this way: If you really love babies that much you can become a pediatric nurse. If it’s toddlers that are your thing, you can work in a preschool or become a pediatrician. If you love school-aged kids, well, of course, you can teach; you can take your pick between elementary and high school kids.
            So you see, the plan is perfect! And even though I don’t ever want my kids to grow up, I have to admit it’s a phenomenal blessing that they do. But no matter how old they get, I’ll still love their big feet and the sound of their raspy voices (though I’ll no longer nibble their toes). Ah, the wonder of it all!














Sunday, October 9, 2011

Love the Place You're At



The other evening I met a friend for coffee at a local ice rink where her little boy was taking a hockey class. The place was teaming with kids in skates and hockey gear,  bustling with frazzled, harried parents who hadn't eaten dinner yet (and it was almost eight). Some were on their cell phones with spouses figuring out where they were going to meet (with the kids in tow) to dine later, or discussing what the spouse at home was going to order out or cook. The air was electric with excitement, and with kids coming and going off the ice, and parents either talking on their cells or chattering with their kids, it was almost impossible for my friend and me to hear one another.
          As I left the rink a little while later,  there was  a lightness to my step. I was leaving my friend to gather up her child, drive home and cook dinner or meet her husband at a kid-friendly restaurant. I had already had a leisurely, early meal and was looking forward to an evening of complete and utter solitude.  All around me were parents hauling hockey gear, kids tiredly dragging their feet after their practices or games. I thought to myself, somewhat guiltily, "Been there, done that, and glad I don't have to be there again!"
          The truth is, when I was transporting (I won't say hauling or dragging, though sometimes it seemed like it) my three boys to their many extracurricular activities over the years, I often wondered what I would do with myself when those days were over. My life was a whirl of Cub Scout meetings, softball games, band festivals, school concerts, trumpet and saxophone lessons, swimming lessons, art classes, fencing lessons, and so on and so forth (not all at once, thank God). But there were plenty of days when my kids were young when I did not stop driving or running until they were tucked in bed (or when they got older and needed to be driven to the mall, dances, or parties at all hours, until I was tucked in, well past my bedtime). Yes, I did my time and I loved it. But I'm not sorry it's over.
          Now some of you out there who have little children are probably feeling sorry for me (or at least you're wishing a horde of grandchildren upon me so I could get my life back in order). And some may be envious, because you may be feeling rather tired of carting kids around all the time. But the best reaction, I believe, to what I'm saying is exactly the point I want to make: Love the place you're at, the time of life you're in, no matter what it is. Don't look forward, and don't look back.
          Or, as we say in yoga (a phrase I really rather detest), "It's all good." But actually, it is. When your kids are little you're still young enough to  have the strength and stamina to withstand all that racing around (unless, of course, you're one of those guys who has married a much younger woman and you're in your sixties with infant twins or some such thing--and if you are then bless you), and when you're middle-aged and older and your kids are grown you deserve to rest on your laurels. You deserve to saunter out of an ice hockey rink with your arms empty, with no one dragging at your ankles, into an empty, cool, clear night of stars in which you will pour yourself  a glass of wine, or brew a cup of tea, crawl into bed with a wonderful book, and love the life you have.
          Yes, I'd adore grandchildren...one day. But for now, the place I'm at is just where I want to be. My boys still get hugs and dinner when they come home from college or pop in for a visit, but then they stride out into the starry night on their own, happy as clams to be no longer holding my hand. The arrangement of growing up, it turns out, was quite a brilliant plan.
      

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Just a Reminder!

Just in case you missed my last blog, this is a reminder that October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month, and if you haven't already joined, it would be great if you could sign on with Dr. Susan Love's Army of Women, an online effort to find the cause(s) of and cure(s) for breast cancer.  And though I hate to be a nag, since I totally missed the fact that last month was National Yoga Month (even though I practice yoga almost every day!) I figure it's entirely possible that some of you out there are not aware that this is  a special month to raise awareness of breast cancer (though it's kind of hard to miss those pink ribbons everywhere--even on the Yahoo home page!). 
            According to Army of Women (http://www.armyofwomen.org), the initiative "is dedicated to recruiting one million women of all ages, ethnicities, with or without breast cancer, to sign up and participate in innovative breast cancer research studies." You can view the current research projects on their website; some are quite fascinating. I participated in one on life style and exercise and it was as simple as filling out a survey. Others are more complex.
          I love research (reading about it, anyway) so for me this is a perfect way to be part of the movement to eradicate this disease (sorry, but running isn't my thing. However, I would consider standing on my head if it would help).  If you'd like to join, thank you! If you want to take a pass, that's okay, too. You can also join (which basically involves getting emails from AOW about the work they're doing) and never participate in any studies--just pass on the info to women you know who might be eligible or interested. 
        That said, I'm declaring November as National Chickpea Month--so get ready! 


   











Sunday, September 25, 2011

October's Coming: Are You Aware?

photo: Carolyn Meyers
Anyone who’s had breast cancer (or loves someone who has had it) is “aware” of the disease. So when October rolls around each year and those phone calls, marathons, and flyers start coming around, reminding everyone that it’s “breast cancer awareness” month, I just want to close my eyes and ears. Yes, I know all about breast cancer, I’m perfectly well aware of it, and I don’t want to think about it anymore, thank you very much. I’ve never been a big advocate of pink ribbons, pink bracelets or pink hats. Actually, until I had breast cancer, I loved the color pink. But now it sort of makes me cringe.
            So why, you might wonder, did I then partake in an event this past weekend, the sole purpose of which was to promote breast cancer awareness and raise money for the breast cancer nonprofit Susan G. Komen? Well, to be perfectly honest, one of the reasons was because it seemed like a great excuse to hang out with my brother (whose idea it was to attend). The other reason was because the event was held in the beautiful Adirondack Mountains, at a lovely lake, and involved kayaking into the middle of the water and forming a huge “raft” of nearly 2000 kayaks and canoes. In fact, we were trying to beat the Guinness World Record and apparently we did! Go to http://www.onesquaremileofhope.org for details.
            So it was a lovely day and wearing a pink hat and bracelet seemed a small price to pay on my part. A funny thing happened, too, while I was sitting in my kayak in the middle of that raft of humanity, all of us gathered there to support a cure for breast cancer. I looked around and noticed that there were people of just about every age, size, shape, color, gender, etc. because (yes, we’ve all heard this before) breast cancer—or any cancer—isn’t just about the person who “gets it.” It’s also about their parents, their children, their spouses, siblings, friends, lovers, neighbors, their co-workers, and anyone else who loves or knows them. Breast cancer is not just about some middle-aged lady in a pink T-shirt and pink hat: it’s about everyone.
Participating in this event did make me more aware, not only of the way cancer touches so many lives, but of the larger issue of what we are doing to this planet to make this possible. The more we poison and abuse our environment, I believe, the more this cancer---and other types of cancer—will grow and spread. In fact, in just the past year I have learned of so many more friends and acquaintances who have been diagnosed---one as young as 23—that it boggles my mind. Every time I turn around, there it is. My prayers, every day, are filled with people whom I personally know who have cancer. And I imagine that yours are, too. (If you don’t pray, I know you’re sending out healing vibes.)
            Thus, no one has to remind me about breast cancer. But sitting in my kayak on a sparkling blue lake, I was reminded of how we are ALL in this together. This raft will sink or float depending on what we as a species do. Will we continue to torment our planet, or learn to nurture, replenish, and respect this sacred orb upon which we live?
            The fact that nearly 2000 kayakers showed up at a remote Adirondack lake gives me hope, and hope is certainly part of the equation.
            If the spirit moves you during the month of October or any other month, go to Susan G. Komen (http://ww5.komen.org/) to make a donation, or drop one at my special cause, Army of Women (http://www.armyofwomen.org). But even more importantly, let’s do everything in our power to stop poisoning our planet—which, we now know for certain--is a not-very-roundabout way of poisoning ourselves, and the ones we love.
 Kathy and Carolyn at Fourth Lake

At last count, 1,925  kayaks and canoes (plus passengers) at the One Square Mile of Hope breast cancer fundraising event for Susan G. Komen for the Cure in Inlet, New York. The event will be listed in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

R U My Guru?


The other day I was driving up a road and noticed a sign for a place called “Perpetual Academy.”  As I passed by, I thought to myself, that’s exactly the school I’ve been in for most of my life. In fact, the older I get the more I seem to learn, and I’ve finally figured out that just about everyone I meet has something to teach—whether it’s my dear friend who recently gave me instructions on how to get rid of fruit flies (without banning fruit) or another friend’s husband (a right-winger who gets me so fired up I have to really utilize my patience and diplomacy skills).
             I was listening to a lecture by a famous “sixties counter-cultural” guru a few weeks ago, and he said the very same thing. In fact, he made the observation that a guru--one who brings “light to darkness”-- could be anyone. It could be your husband or partner, your kid, or even your plumber. (And the funny thing is it could be your plumber who teaches you something about tolerance, Latin, or fine wines—you really can’t predict what you’re going to learn from a particular person, and it’s a mistake to assume that the guy bending over your toilet is only on this earth to offer tips about faucets and drains). That’s the great thing about learning—it arrives in many shapes, sizes, and forms, and many times you just don’t see it coming.
            It’s that back-to-school time of year when kids are trotting off with new backpacks and sneakers, but to me the most fascinating aspect of learning is indeed its perpetual quality. Math facts, the ABCs, and chemical equations are just the tip of the learning iceberg; I didn’t really begin to crack the books until many years after formal education, when I married, had kids, and began working in the real world outside the classroom. And some of the most important lessons I’ve learned didn’t come in grad school either—I learned them after my cancer diagnosis, or in my yoga classes, or when I listened to the words of the Dalai Lama. As time passes the more I’m aware of how far I have to go before I really master the most important lessons in life—the ones that have to do with compassion for self and others, for instance.
            Out of curiosity, I looked on Perpetual Academy’s website but I couldn’t read it; the text was in an Asian language. But I figured it was just as well, since I don’t really want to enroll in a structured program. Besides, all I have to do to keep learning is get up in the morning and open the door: Gurus, it seems, are around every corner.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Past, Revisited



For the past few weeks, my husband has been transferring our old VCR tapes to DVDs in an effort to preserve them for posterity (though most likely he’ll have to do it all over again in a few years when the next technological advance makes them obsolete). In any case, each time I’ve passed by the TV screen while he’s been playing the tapes, I’ve been mesmerized.
            I’ve watched snippets of my children (now grown men) throwing water at each other in the bath tub, clips of me nursing my babies, pictures of my now-deceased parents, photos of various friends and family members who looked—twenty years ago—stunningly gorgeous and young.  I could only, actually, watch so much before I began to feel anxious and sad. After all, we seemed so happy then! My mother was alive, my kids were little and sweet (though feisty as hell), and I didn’t have a single gray hair! Times were certainly happier then.           
            Or were they? The films show only one side of the story, don’t they? The birthdays, the anniversaries, the first joyful baby steps. Obviously no one was taking pictures when the boys were hurling objects at one another, or when my husband and I were quarreling. Yes, pictures tell the story they want to tell.
            I was thinking about these family photos this week when the newspapers were inundated with photos of 911. I understand that as a collective we need to commemorate this horrific event (just as many need to reenact the crucifixion of Christ by watching a Passion play every year), but I wonder, is it really good for us? Is it really necessary?
            One of the tenets of yoga is a practice called vairagya. It’s about letting go. It’s about letting go of the pain, grief and memories of the past, letting go of suffering and attachment to pain (as well as attachment to pleasure). I’ve been working hard at this for the past ten years, and so at this point in my life, I wonder how much value there is in looking backwards. Some towns are even blasting sirens for a minute in remembrance of the 9ll victims. For some of us, those sirens will be a release of some sort, and a tribute. But for others it will be a revisiting of unrelenting fear and torment.
            At the conclusion of my Kundalini yoga exercises, which are sometimes incredibly difficult, my teacher often says, “Let it go. It’s over.” As I recline on my back in resting pose (Savasana) recuperating from the amazing feat I’ve just accomplished (or tried fruitlessly to accomplish), I’m grateful that the pose is in the past, and that I’m in the present.
            Though I know this may be controversial, especially on this day of national mourning, I for one would like to use this time to be here now. Yes, respect the lessons of the past, learn from them, celebrate the beauty and bravery of the lives of loved ones who have passed on. And then let go. Vairagya.
                       

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Summer's End


Yes, I know summer is not really over until September 23rd, the day of the autumnal equinox, but in my book summer ends when the town pool closes. Summer, on my personal calendar, also officially starts at the town pool—when it opens on Memorial Day, and comes to its zenith at the 4th of July fireworks, which can be seen perfectly from my pool chair underneath the willow trees.
            The reason I have these self-imposed restrictions on the dates of summer, is because of my kids. Until I became a mother, I didn’t really experience the seasons in quite the way I do now. But with little children, Memorial Day meant a parade (and, since all three of my boys played instruments it later meant that they all marched with the band), and Fourth of July meant fireflies, fireworks, and glow-in-the-dark necklaces. Labor Day was always the official last day before the closing of the pool and thus the official end of summer. Now that my kids are grown I still abide by these parameters.
            Until now. Thanks to Hurricane Irene, our town pool was flooded a week ago and won’t re-open until next year. This has put an unwelcome twist on my end-of-summer timetable (of course, Irene did much more extensive damage than town pool closings; many people in my state and others are still dealing with the havoc).
            But back to the pool for now, which this year opened several weeks after Memorial Day due to an electrical fire on the grounds, and is now closing a week early, thus totally tipping over my internal seasonal apple cart. I could moan and cry about this, but I’m not going to (after all, boo-hooing about a pool closing is pretty lame when some folks' homes are ruined).  Instead, I’ve invited my "pool" friends (who are actually year-round friends) over for our annual end-of-summer pool party (sans pool), and I’ve decided, this year, to adjust my summer clock and head for the beach next week (I don’t like crowded, hot beaches in the summer, anyway, so September is a better time to go). 
            Anyway,  apple picking, leaf gazing, deciding what to be for Halloween, and working in the yard without getting bitten by thousands of mosquitoes is just around the corner.  In fact, I’m so looking forward to Autumn that maybe I won’t even feel a bit depressed when I wake up on Labor Day and realize there’s no good reason to put on my bathing suit.
            I view this as yet another opportunity to let go of plans and expectations and make the most of what I consider to be the last day of summer. And even though our celebration won't be pool-side this year, we can still get together and toast the happy fact that Irene is no longer with us.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Arnold Goes Back to College



Those of you who know me realize that I don’t have a son named Arnold. But I do have a son who has a goldfish named Arnold (named after the composer Arnold Schoenberg, not Arnold Schwarzenegger). Arnold has been home with my son for the summer, but tomorrow he was scheduled to return to college (had it not been for Hurricane Irene, that is). Come Monday, if all goes swimmingly, Arnold will be on his way back to academia.
            Why do I write of Arnold and not my son, you may ask? Well, by now those who know me well (and some who do not), may be tired of reading my sad, sentimental scribblings about my kids growing up and away. So this time I decided to write about the fish. After all, I’ll miss him. And I learned a lot from him this summer.
            One thing I learned from Arnold is that fish communicate quite well. For instance, in the early morning hours when I often rise to do a yoga meditation, Arnold swims in happy circles. He seems to enjoy the mantra music I play (or at least its vibration). Later in the day, when Arnold gets hungry, he often swims to the top of his bowl and makes a little chirping noise at the surface of the water. If anyone happens to be eating nearby, he frantically searches for food; it seems as if he doesn’t want anyone to have to dine alone. Like his namesake, the fish is damned brilliant.
            I’ve learned other things from Arnold. Occasionally, when I’m feeling sad or sorry for myself I look at him and wonder how he can be content with swimming in circles in a little bowl all day. Of course, he doesn’t really know what he’s missing. But I think there’s a lesson in learning to be happy with what one has. When I look at Arnold, even on a down kind of day, I always feel pretty lucky. At least, I think, I’m not in a fish tank (though sometimes it feels like I am!).
            At night, Arnold sleeps peacefully at the bottom of the bowl. You can stay up late talking or walking around, but Arnold is unmoved. He knows when it’s time to pack it in.
            He’s also a patient fish (except when he’s hungry). That is to say, he just swims along, day after day, doing what a fish does. He’s not a drama queen (or king). He just is.
            So, I will miss Arnold (and I can’t help but say it, I’ll miss my son, too!).  But I know college, the dorm, the girlfriend, his studies, parties, all-nighters, and all that fun stuff awaits him. He’s a college fish, and there’s just no changing that. Still, I do hope he’ll be back next summer!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Backup Plan


Michael Thompson/Dreamstime.com
When I was starting my career as a writer many moons ago, my father suggested that I have a backup plan. I suppose he believed that my chances of supporting myself with writing alone were iffy, so he suggested that I get my teaching degree.  Well, many boring (to me, anyway) education classes later, I got not only my certificate to teach English at the secondary school level, but also my permanent certification which required me to take even more boring (to me, anyway) courses at the graduate level. I was fully prepared to institute my backup plan, should I ever need it. Thankfully, however (for myself as well as for the students I might have had), that certificate is still sitting somewhere in the back of a closet. I have never used it.                       
            So! My question is, are backup plans really so necessary, or are they somewhat of a hindrance, causing us to not give our “all” to our dreams? If you truly believe that you are going to succeed at something, do you really need a backup plan? And if you honestly trust that you are going to fulfill your intention to do something, then why do you need to have some other plan hovering in the back of your mind?
            I suppose, for practical reasons, it’s sometimes good to have a backup plan in place. For instance, if you’re invited to dinner and you are a vegetarian, do you have a plan for what you will do if the hostess comes out carrying a big, greasy lamb stew? Or, what will you do if a huge, fallen maple tree has just blocked the road you’re taking? Or, what might you do if you were planning to wear your white skirt but when you take it out of the closet you realize it’s been eaten to shreds by moths? And what if you really want to go to Harvard, but Harvard rejects you? Does that mean that you should just throw up your hands or should you try getting into the community college around the corner?
            OK, you may have backup plans for all of these scenarios. But do you need a plan for what you’ll do if you really want to be a musician, or a lawyer, or a doctor, or if you want to learn how to ride a horse or play the piano or if your heart’s desire is to climb a particular mountain?
            I set an intention to become a writer when I was five years old, and despite my dad’s well-meaning advice I never wavered from that path. No, I didn’t get rich and famous, but I have been able to pursue my dream on many different levels, and sometimes I wonder if I hadn’t been so dogged in my pursuit, if I had ambled off in another direction, or taken a few years off writing to teach, would I ever have gotten back on track?
            In any case, I’m not advising my kids to plan backup careers, even if it can be difficult to get jobs in the fields of architecture, psychology, and computers (especially in the current economic climate). If they ever become vegetarians, however, I will advise them to keep some nuts or granola bars in their pockets!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Feel Free to Chime in



When I was a child in upstate New York, I often walked around our block, passing an old stone house on a corner where most of the kids in the neighborhood believed an ancient witch lived (it helped that the house resembled a miniature castle). I knew that wasn’t true because my mother had explained to me that an elderly widow and her maid inhabited the house; the reason no one ever saw this woman was because she was in poor health.
But there was something magical about the turreted stone house; each time I passed, especially in the winter or on a windy spring day, I’d hear the tinkling of chimes, and their eerie yet beautiful sound would always make me stop in my hurried tracks. I was a bit frightened that “the witch” might appear, yet the sound of the chimes was comforting—it possessed a sweetness that made me feel still inside.
Even as I’m writing this blog, my own chimes are tinkling in the August night, reminding me that as I sit here writing, the world outside is dark, breezy and filled with sounds of the present. Tonight is also a full moon, so between the chimes, the moon, the crickets, and the pattering raindrops, I almost expect that witch to appear.
Of course, I’m no longer afraid of witches (I rather like them), but chimes still appeal (no pun intended) to me (they must, as I now have several sets of them). Though they can drive one absolutely nuts on a windy March day, most of the time they are gentle reminders. In my youth, I loved them for their beautiful sound, but now my adoration goes much deeper (especially of those glorious, resonant Woodstock chimes). What I like best is the fact that you never know when they’re going to burst into your consciousness and remind you of the present moment. I can be thinking about bills and taxes, or dentist appointments or kids who don’t call, or how much work I have to do…and then, all of a sudden, I hear the chimes, and just say to myself, “Ah, yes. I’m here, now!”
On a very still day, the chimes aren’t of much use. But they’re still pretty to look at, and you never can tell when a breeze will stir them, seemingly just to wake you up!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

"Morning Person"


When our kids were little, we usually walked them to school. We live in a mile-square town and bussing isn’t necessary, so we’d start each day with a half-mile trudge to the other side of town. Neither my husband (who did the bulk of the morning drop-offs) nor I minded—but my youngest son was never happy about this. “He’s just not a morning person!” the crossing-guard lady would comment every day, as my littlest shuffled past her, dragging his feet and looking miserable. He really wished he could be back in his cozy bed.
            I know that feeling, for I’ve never been a “morning person” myself. If I had my druthers I’d stay up until two or three a.m., sleep until 11 a.m., and then begin the whole process over again. But that’s not how the world works for most people—most have to get up and go to work. And for those who toil in their little home office (like myself), I’ve found lately that wasting the morning hours is a huge mistake. In fact, the earlier I get up these days the better everything goes. And early to bed, early to rise really is healthier for the body.
            My mom was always an early riser, and in the past I never could figure out what the heck she did with those morning hours. She’d rise at 5 or 5:30 a.m. and drink exactly one small cup of coffee. Sometimes she’d read the newspaper or wash dishes from the night before. Or she might just sit quietly watching the birds in the feeder (by ten p.m. she was ready for bed). I always found it peculiar that anyone would want to give up a few good hours of sleep in the morning just to sit and stare out the window.
Until now. Lately, I seem to be following in my mother’s footsteps, rising earlier and earlier. I find that this time of day holds a beautiful silence. I like being the only one awake in a quiet house. The phone doesn’t ring (nor do texts buzz), no one is driving up my block, and I can sip my decaf without folks interrupting to ask me where the tire pressure gage is or whether their favorite jeans are dry yet.
The ancient yogis believed that the “ambrosial hours” or the “amrit vela”—the two hours before dawn-- were the best for meditation. That may be true, but I find that even getting up at a reasonable six a.m. makes a big difference in the day. At this hour I can hear the cicadas, the chimes over my doorway, and the finches in the tops of the trees. I can think about how I want my day to go, set an intention for the things I want to accomplish, and witness the first moments of a new day miraculously unfolding.
I don’t really need an ancient guru to tell me that morning is the best time of day; my mother’s example said it all. In any case, I’m no longer a "night owl."  
“Night, all!” fits me better.




Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Family Jewels




I’ve always had “a thing” for jewelry. I guess I inherited this trait from my grandmother, who wouldn’t be caught dead without her beads and matching earrings (she even wore them “to meet her maker”).  My mother, on the other hand, was modest when it came to bling. Christmas earrings during the holidays (screw-on, for she didn’t have pierced ears), a string of beads when she went to church. The only rings she owned were her wedding band and engagement ring, unlike her mother, who had at least a few diamond dinner rings.
             Apparently, the jewelry gene skipped a generation, but came back with a vengeance with me. I only wish I had more fingers to put all my rings on, more ankles for my ankle bracelets, more wrists for my wrist bracelets, more necks for my necklaces (though one chin is quite enough, thank you!), and a whole host of ears for my hundreds of earrings (though I’d look quite the freak if I did!) I don’t know why I have this jewelry infatuation (and it’s not as if the jewels I wear are expensive—believe me, they’re not!).  I just enjoy them.
            But here’s the question about jewelry and every other possession. Do we own them or do they own us? Case in point, just this week, I was scheduled to take my little emerald ring in for a check-up. I bought the thing 8 years ago, and it came with a guarantee; the only hitch is I have to have it inspected by the jeweler every six months. This particular ring has quite a history already; twice they’ve had to replace a stone or two, and once they replaced the entire ring due to faulty prongs. It’s getting to be a bit of a pain (who wants to be held hostage every six months by a ring, after all?) and I’d almost opted to forgo the check up and take my chances this time. But at the last possible moment, I decided to go. And sure enough, as I took my ring off to hand it to the storekeeper, I noticed that a stone—once again—was missing! It actually must have fallen off on my way to the shop. So I had to leave my emerald for repair yet again.
            By now you probably know (if you’ve read this blog more than once) that I’m always looking for messages from my friend, “the Universe.” But this time I was mystified. Did the missing stone mean that I’d be better off without my ring? Or did it mean that if I’m going to have a ring then I should commit to taking caring of it? Does the Universe want me to know that I’d be better off without all these belongings? Or is the message that if one does have belongings one should treat them with care?
            I’m guessing it’s a little of both. In any case, I’ve vowed not to buy any more jewelry (of course, gifts are never rejected!), but I also vow to do my best to keep my gems in good shape. As for diamond rings, I have only one—inherited (no surprise) from my grandmother. And, like the emerald, it sure ain’t my best friend! 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Cat Woman


I have always loved cats, but because my son is allergic to them I haven’t had a cat in years.  I did inherit my mother’s cat for a time, but dear Jill lived with me only a year before she passed on to cat heaven (or is it haven?)  Since then, no felines have graced my home.
            Enter the Universe. Thanks to a dear friend who takes frequent vacations, I have cats in my life. But Butch (I call him this to protect his identity—it’s not his real name) is a mean cat. At least, he’s mean to everyone but my friend. The last time I was enlisted to feed him he reached out and scratched my hand as I was placing his food dish on the floor (he’s also been known to bite at my ankles!) After consulting a few cat experts I decided to have a talk with him, and the next day before I fed him I explained that his very survival depended on me, and he had better cut it out. Butch behaved for the rest of my friend’s vacation.
            This week, I’m feeding two cats and a bird. One of the kitties is a little feisty, so I steer clear of him. But the other, a soft-meowing, fluffy feline, is sweet and shy. She likes me, though, and we have a special relationship, the kind of relationship you can only have with a cat. In other words, she never jumps on my lap and licks my face or wags her tail at me. She just comes prancing out from under a chair and swishes by my legs. Cats have a certain respect for another person’s space, and I like that.
            Which is not to say that cats can’t be very affectionate. As a child I had a tiger cat named Happy who was extremely friendly. Happy even learned from my father how to shake hands (I guess Dad really wanted Happy to be a dog!). In any case, he was my best friend and I could tell him anything. He never disapproved (Happy, that is, not my father). And then there was “Kitty,” a lovable cat passed down from my husband’s ex-girlfriend. We lived in a rather shabby apartment in New York then, and he (Kitty, not my husband) loved to bring trophy mice into our bed.
            Yes I know, I know. Many of you are dog lovers, many of my very best friends are dog lovers, and I respect that. I’ve loved a few dogs myself (heh, heh). But I just prefer cats, and some day I’m going to have one again. (And FYI, I’d rather be trapped in a room with Butch for a week than have to spend one day feeding a certain slobbering black lab that another dear friend owns.)
            In the meantime, I’m the visiting cat lady. My beloved friend F suggests that I could be making a killing on this new profession, charging folks $20 or more a day to take care of their kitties when they go away. But that would sort of take the fun out of it. I’m feeding and caring for these kitties because I want to give back. In yoga, we call it “seva,” which means “selfless service.” I expect nothing in return from these cats (or from my friends) except for them—friends included--NOT to scratch me. 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Feelin’ Squirrelly


Some years ago, my beloved yoga teacher told our class a story about her trip to Mexico. Every morning she was awakened at the crack of dawn by a rooster, and day after day she was annoyed. Finally, she just decided to accept the rooster for what he was and enjoy the morning. “Why get mad at a rooster for doing what a rooster does?” she pointed out.
            The same applies to many other things: For instance, why get annoyed with a two-year-old for being two? Why get irritated with a 16-year-old for acting like an adolescent? Or feel angry with your middle-aged spouse for sometimes behaving like an old fuddy-duddy?
            And all this goes as well—in my experience of late---for squirrels. Squirrels which are some of the most annoying pests around.
            This year the squirrels have especially tested my patience. In the past, they’ve snacked on my tulip blooms and buried their nuts in my potted plants. But lately, they’ve found a new and especially aggravating habit. Over my deck is a beautiful pear tree, which bears tiny Seckel pears. And every day the tree is full of squirrels, who nibble at the pears, spitting out at least as much as they consume. Though I sweep the deck a half dozen times a day it’s always covered with pear droppings. Forget about going go out there with bare feet. Even sitting in a deck chair is chancy---unless you don’t mind plucking pear bits out of your hair.  Why not pick the pears myself? I don’t spray them so they’re on the wormy side. And anyway, the squirrels always get to them first.
            I’ve tried yelling at the varmints, shaking the tree, even shooting at them from the bedroom window with a super soaker squirt gun (please don’t rat me out to the PETA folks). But the squirrels munch on. Why? Because they are being squirrels, of course; they’re doing what squirrels do.
            It seems that I have some crazy kind of squirrel karma going on and I suppose there’s a lesson here that I need to learn. I guess it’s just that the pears are ripe for a relatively short period of time, and if I have to sweep the deck more often, well, what’s the harm in that? Accept the rooster, the groundhog, the teenager, the colicky infant, even the mosquito, for what he, she, or it is.
 Come to think of it, compared to those nasty, stinging mosquitoes, squirrels are remarkably cute. Just maybe I’ll buy them a bag of peanuts.
           
            

Sunday, July 10, 2011

O Linden Tree

Ever since I’ve lived at the top of a tiny hill on a dead end street in a mile-square town in New Jersey (which is more than twenty years now), a particular aroma has wafted through my windows every June. Without fail, somewhere around the third or fourth week of the month, the beautiful aroma of a huge, blossoming linden tree pleasantly awakened me. Until now.
            Yes, this is the first year that the aroma was absent, because early last fall the owners of that tree had it removed. Apparently, the roots of the ancient linden were wrecking havoc on their house foundation. And so, one sad, dark, rainy morning, I awakened to the sounds of saws and machinery, and much to my dismay by the end of the day the tree was gone.
            I knew I would miss its shade when I trekked up the hill with a bag of groceries on a hot July morning. But even more, I knew I would miss that particular perfume, a smell that, for me, has heralded the beginning of summer for the past two decades.
            I tend to mourn things that change, leave or--might as well just say it-- die. And even though I know that nothing ever stays the same, I cling to the belief that I should have my linden tree each June. I know that I can’t control the ages of my kids (or my own age, for that matter), but I’ve always felt that something as simple as a tree blooming in springtime would be mine forever.
            Yes,  I'm aware that nothing ever says the same. And yet, there are times when I feel that even if something can’t stay exactly the same, it can still be in some form or another (other than in memory). So this June when “my” linden tree should have been blooming, I took a walk around the neighborhood, and lo and behold I found another beautiful old linden tree. After a few visits, I finally arrived on an evening when its aroma filled the air, and I stood on the sidewalk doing a kind of improvised yogic pranayama (breathing technique) which I have now named “Breath of Linden,”  and is a sort of breathe/sigh/gasp combination.          
            We must accept that things change, this I know. But occasionally, I believe we can “tweak” this message, and discover new ways to make the person, thing, experience, (or in this case, mammoth, blossoming linden tree) still part of our lives. The wafting, sweet aroma of the linden tree will never again come to me in the home that I live in now. But for as long as I can walk, drive, hobble or crawl, I can go to it.