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.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Bunny Wars

On many summer evenings after dinner, my husband and I take a walk. As we stroll through a particular neighborhood not far from our home, we often see bunnies. The critters are often hard to spot as they quiver beneath a hedge or blend into a sandy spot beneath a tree. At dusk, they’re even often hard to identify in the grass. Of course, it’s the ears that usually give them away.
            As we walk, chatting about our day, our kids, and other subjects, we invariably try to spot bunnies, and we usually end up engaging in friendly competition, though I must admit when my husband sees more bunnies than I do, I’m miffed. Why do I want to win the bunny war? Beats me, because there’s absolutely no reward for winning, other than getting to say, “I saw more bunnies than you!” And no one keeps track, so night after night, the war repeats, with neither of us coming out ahead in the longrun.
            I never considered myself to be a particularly competitive person, yet the annoyance I feel when I’m behind in the bunny count seems to indicate otherwise. I’ve been examining this quality lately, too, because of my yoga practice. I’ve finally come to realize that there is absolutely no reason to look at what anyone else is doing on their mat (unless you’d like to learn how to do a particular pose that you’re having trouble with). But there’s no point, in yoga, to compare and compete. Your practice is your own.
            I’m sure there is something called “healthy competition” that does exist. There’s nothing wrong with beating someone at tennis or squash, or winning at a swim meet, or getting awarded a bid to build or design a house. And I’m sure it’s okay to audition for an orchestra and win because you’re absolutely the best flute player around, or to come home with the Pulitzer Prize for writing the great American novel. In fact, it’s probably natural and normal to compete, and that is probably why, as soon as I round the corner to what my hubby and I affectionately call “Bunny Lane,” my ears and eyes go on high alert.
            But….on the other hand, I wonder where competition leads. Are we doing it to better ourselves and our world, or to make someone else feel small or inferior?  And when we lose, do we accept our loss with grace, or do we stomp around feeling thwarted and insignificant?
            In spite of my penchant for rabbit counting, and my tendency to let my gaze stray to another yogi’s form on the mat, I have a feeling that competition isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. I’ve seen it too often in parenting (as in my kid’s an Honor Roll student), and in folks who compare everything from granite countertops to doorknobs. Competition is a cousin to envy and jealousy—two qualities I struggle to avoid.
            This is not to say that I have any intention of giving up on the bunny wars. In fact, I’m heading out right now, and I’m completely determined to spot more bunnies than my spouse.

Friday, July 1, 2011


Please sign and pass on this petition to help keep the New York City Opera in Lincoln Center. Thank you!