Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Morning and the Painters are Still Here!!

Ladders thumping against the side of the house, boom, boom as they hit

Long, long lengths of heavy duty electrical cords, extended everywhere that I need to be

Green paint

Black paint, railings that will take days to dry

Already got some green paint on one of my favorite new thrift shop bargain rain coats.Can you imagine, I snagged it for five bucks and it sold for over a hundred originally. Painters told me it will come out.  We'll see.

Boom box boomba di boomba.  I think it's Portuguese. A lot of the men are Brazilian.  Loud and lively.  Good, because they need it to work and so do I.  All those parties this week meant laundry did not get done.  Now, it's getting done.

I'm sitting here, watching a guy on a ladder, way high up on the house next door.  Not one thought to safety.  If he falls, he'll get hurt and won't be able to work unsafely or otherwise for a very long time.  But he does not seem to care so I'll close the curtain and stop being an occupational health nurse for now.  Or a mother.

Oh, joy!  Someone is blowing leaves with a noisy leaf blower.  What's next?

All of this reminds me of the workmen underneath the window in Assisi.  Also young, foolish, unconcerned about their safety or the well-being of the residents.

No matter where you go, there you are.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Halloween Parts Two and Three. I Get Inspired by my Friends

Very soon, it will be time to start what I hope might result in the loss of some body fat.  But, this is not the week for any measurement of success in that particular area of my life.

Halloween, Part Two came yesterday and Part Three, just this afternoon.  Two luncheons with two groups of wonderful friends.

Every Tuesday morning, a small group of us gather at the home of our friend Lois.  We're all former members of a series of classes that were taught at the Museum of Art in Dennis.  That's where we all met for the first time and the bond formed.  We've been pursuing our creative dreams since then and while it has come in many forms, the bottom line is and always has been, fun.  Tuesday mornings feel very much like our kindergarten days. Pam says we're going to Brownies.  Boxes of paints,seashells, papers and whatever it takes to create what we may all have earlier dreamed up, appear on a table for sharing.  Scissors fly as we cut and tear.  Glitter is poured out as we sparkle our conversations and sometimes, we succeed in making something good enough to take home and put on display. Our coffee hour often morphs into prosecco time.

Yesterday, Lois hosted our Second Annual Halloween luncheon and it was a doozy.  She's a fabulous cook, loves to entertain, and does it all so well.  The entire house was decorated, Martha Stewart was channelled and the food was amazing.  The "Tuesdays at Loie's" group had a heck of a good time.

Lois' Dining Room

Several months ago, a group of five women met for the first time at a local coffee house for the purpose of sharing their creative lives.  That group is now up to fourteen members. The premise is that  creativity is inborn.  Human beings, by their nature, are creative.  It's just that sometimes we get sidetracked.  We don't believe that we have the ability because someone might have told us otherwise.  Perhaps, in our childhood, we were given the wrong message. Even if we do realize our creative talent, we often get too busy.  There are so many reasons why people need to be pushed back into their creative lives and that is exactly what we, the "Creative Chatters" do for each other.  We decide on a word and we create, based on that word.  Some of us write, some draw, some collage, some paint and one quilts. We surprise each other, like show and tell for grown ups.  We're strictly a no-judgement zone.  Everything is wonderful and the stories.......they are fun.  We're friends and we inspire each other as friends should.

Today, we gathered at "Chatter" Imogene's for a potluck holiday lunch and again, all the stoppers were pulled.  Her lovely house was decorated, the table was full of  fun and the food, way too much of a good thing.  We said "yes" to everything and we had no regrets.  There's always a next week, isn't there?

The hostess with the mostess

I'm exhausted.  But geesh, how lucky can one woman be.  I have to laugh every time I'm asked by an off-Cape person, about how we spend our time when summer ends.  We kind of would like to keep it somewhat of a secret because we love the peace and calm after the busy season.  Truth is, we have a life, a good one.  Friendships are very, very important to us and when we are together, we understand the meaning of life and we truly are inspired by each other.  Each and every day of the year.  Not just Halloween. What we don't have, we create because it's in each and every one of us to do that and it's all okay.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Halloween, Part One

Tuesday is off to an un-nerving and noisy start.  Painters are outside all of our windows, high up on ladders, sanding, sanding and sanding more.  There is NO getting away from it.  It sounds like we are living in the biggest dental office in the world and I'm just happy that for once, neither of us has a headache.  For now, I'm just trying my best to cope and to not get caught coming out of the shower or putting on my Spanx for the next part of the day. Most of our windows are uncovered.  We live in a tree house and we're birds on display at the moment.
VICTORY is sweet
Sara and Lucy

The week had a better start, trust me.
 We were privileged to have spent all day Sunday in Sudbury with our girls.
Our son in law left in the wee hours of the morning for his weekly ritual, yet another business trip.  We arrived to a huge welcome from daughter Sara and granddaughters Lucy and Phoebe.  And then the fun began.  A 5K road race, beautifully executed by Sara and seven year old Lucy, during which five year old Phoebe got full court press from Nonno who did playground duty.  Same playground that we visited with same kids two years ago but this time, something very different to observe.  Where were the Smartphones? Last time, all the daddies were busy with every virtual thing they could get their hands on, barely glancing up at their children at play.  Not this bunch.  These were the dads who actually participated in life.  They were here for the Sudbury Halloween Family Run and the difference was palpable.  I think these kids stand a good chance in the game of life.  It was fun waiting near the finish line for my baby and hers and as they came around the bend, the joy of the accomplishment was easy to see on that beautiful little face.  The joy wasn't too far from the face of the mommy who wins life's races every day.  Sure, we were proud but mostly, we were just plain happy.
Monstermashing with Phobe
Sara and the goddess Lucy

After a birthday party drop-off, lunch with Sara and Lucy which included a discussion of current events as deemed important by a second-grader (Woody Allen could NOT be the father of Mia Farrow's son.....he looks JUST like Frank Sinatra)......we were off to Round Two in the Halloween celebration.  Costumes on, makeup just right (I introduced the babies to my hot new lipstick color, Wild Orchid, and they got hooked),  we all headed to their ballet school for a huge party.  These lucky little ladies don't go to "Miss Frisbee's School of Dance" as did I at least a hundred years ago.  No, they attend what is the second best school of ballet in the state, MassBallet.(Guess which one's the first)  In addition to watching the beauty of lots of little girls in their fun and creative interpretations ranging from Dorothy of the Wizard of Oz to the most adorable little lady bug in glittery Ugg boots, we were treated to a short ballet. The talents of a few dozen "older" girls who have made the decision to use their bodies in beautiful ways and to move more than their fingers was showcased.  Funny, we did not see any tattoos or piercings.

  I wonder if their dads and moms made some kind of commitment years ago on a playground?  Maybe. It's hard work this mommy-daddy business of today but we ask God to bless them all and to inspire some wisdom into them, perhaps a peek into their futures would be the kicker.  As their approaching 68 year old grandfather says to his fitness students every day, "keep moving folks"

Monday, October 28, 2013


Here it is again.  Monday.  Dreaded by some, loved by others.  Those of us who no longer have to report to work look forward to this day each week.  New start.  All new entries on the whiteboard calendar on the refrigerator.  Full days, especially this week.  Creative pursuits await.  Gatherings with friends are on the horizon.  Lots to talk about.  Lots to write about.  The sun is shining and I wish I could invite the world in to see the view from the back of our apartment.  Breathtaking.  Alive. Hard to believe that one year ago, we awaited a hurricane.  Hard to believe that we, living so close to the sea, escaped the ravages that our neighbors to the south were forced to endure.  Sandy.  SuperStorm.  Just beginning this time last year.

And, at the very same time, my personal SuperStorm was concluding.  Fierce winds blowing about me had come to a calm and the beautiful aftermath was preparing to become the beautiful hereafter. A story that had been long overdue was about to unfold as I found my peace and closed chapter after chapter.  I'm calm and I'm gloriously happy as I notice in my own self a more creative and productive life, filled with confidence in my ability to weather storms of most any magnitude.

And, to all who weathered the storm, peace to you.  You are proud and you are stronger than any storm that comes to your shores.  You are Americans.  Never forget that.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

I'm Listening.......


Really pay attention to negative feedback and solicit it, particularly from friends. … Hardly anyone does that, and it's incredibly helpful."
Elon Musk
Elon Musk: The mind behind Tesla, SpaceX, SolarCity ...

Saturday, October 19, 2013

In the Neighborhood

The documentary class that I wrote about a few weeks ago, well, it's become a vital part of my life now.  I look forward to Friday afternoons and cannot think of anything that might cause me to stray from the path that leads to the college library at the appointed time.

We've already been treated to some great films.  We don't get clues beforehand, just show up.  My friend Miriam always gets there early and saves me a seat.  That kindness comes in handy because I come to the doc class directly after a quick lunch, having spent the morning in my writing class.  There's nothing that could make me feel more like an eighteen year-older than racing across a college campus to get to another class. Somehow, it was all so easier back in those days.  For now, I need that good friend who saves me the seat!

Yesterday's selection was extra-special.  With all the worries that are currently plaguing the country and touching our daily lives, Lily thought it might be good to see a film that was just about as carefree and flawless as one can get.  She was spot on when she suggested that we sit back and enjoy what she promised would be a film about goodness and purity, light and easy.  Her choice for this mission, "Me and Mister Rogers" a seventy nine minute love note produced by a team of brothers who befriended the PBS icon and found their lives transformed from the first moment.

In our usual fashion, the film was followed by group discussion. The discussions are an exciting and oftentimes exhilarating part of the experience.  This is a group of highly educated and opinionated people.  Not only do they share a love for the genre, but they also share a love of freedom of speech usually resulting in different and oftentimes passionate presentations of ideas.  One can only imagine those presentations last week when we viewed a film on the rise and fall of Elliot Spitzer in New York.  But this week's after-discussion was very different.  We were talking about a person who apparently never did anything wrong in his whole life.  Or at least, we would never believe it if we were told otherwise.  The world's most beloved neighbor, Mr. Rogers.

I don't think mine were the only tear-filled eyes.  Fred Rogers.  Mr. Roger's Neighborhood.  How can I ever, ever thank you enough.  Mr. Fred Rogers, now dearly departed Mr. Rogers.  Not a day went by without his voice softly invading our living just the right time of day.  Were you a babysitter? If you were, you were the most perfect babysitter.  Were you a teacher?  A preacher?  Or, were you just a good friend, one who really and truly believed that  deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex, that respect for each other is paramount and that we're all just fine, just the way we are?

I'll never forget the tone of voice, the gentle movements as a grown man sat on a bench to tie the laces on his tennis sneakers, his white shirt, his tie and his cardigan sweaters that his own grandmother had made especially for him.  He soothed the children as they readied for bed.  He told us all that we would be fine and that we would be loved no matter how bad our days were or how scary the night ahead.  He told us that our bodies were fancy, just like his, and talked about respect for ourselves and for others.  Not one word ever had to be censored and we hung on every one, distinctly feeling that Mr. Rogers was speaking to each of us personally. To this day, I miss Mr.Fred Rogers and I hope that he is in the best neighborhood in Heaven with every day beautiful. Somehow, I'm sure he is and I'm sure that they are, just as he so richly deserves.

The greatest gift you ever give is your honest self.”
― Fred Rogers

Thursday, October 17, 2013


"If there's someone looking to talk to someone, they find my mother. It never fails.  People just come up to her and start talking"

These were the words my daughter felt compelled to use in explanation as soon as we were able to politely break away from our twenty minute stance near the entrance to the Natick Container Store.  "Never fails.  Crazy person sits down next to her on a bench and starts telling her the whole life story".  The anonymous fellow shopper seemed to understand the humor and no further explanation was necessary.  We continued our browsing and we smiled,  Big toothy grins.  Moments before, we all had been amused and now we were enjoying the after glow that follows a fun encounter made even more fun by the fact that a short twenty minutes ago, we were strangers.  Some, stranger than others I might add.

He was sitting in a chair.  An office style chair.  He faced  the back of the huge, high-ceilinged store and we weren't sure as we passed through the entrance and saw the chair for the first time, if it was in use by a store mannequin or a shopper who seized the opportunity to try out a potential purchase or simply borrow  it for a little respite.  It really was hard to tell at first glance.  The back of a man wearing a seasoned sports coat, his arms splayed, resting on the sides of the chair.  As we got closer, we noticed that both hands were covered by black cotton gloves.  In his right hand he clutched several dollars in bills  His seated attitude seemed to suggest that he was at a cocktail party, money held as if it were a dry martini, legs crossed as if he were poised and ready to tell a story.  The sight caused both of us to share discreet giggle, this elderly chap, alone in an office chair in the middle of a wide aisle in the store.  Our tee-hees seemed to have been captivating enough to result in as clear an invitation to the about to strart party as if it had come in the mail.

"Hello there ladies!" and we were off and running.  His name was Fred. We quickly found out that he was ninety one and had proudly served in the Second World War.  He was neatly groomed with hair the color I remembered my grandfather's to be after years of using "Grecian Formula".  Naturally, he was wearing a shirt and tie.  The only clues to his current sad state of affairs might have been the spots on his tie and the khaki pants that needed laundering very, very badly.  Had he been dropped off here or did he drive on his own?  My mind raced to find a logical explanation of how this person who clearly was showing signs of dementia, could be holding a current drivers' license.  As he told story after story, his voice escalated without a moment's notice, catching us off guard each and every time. His excitement grew when he realized that he had an appreciative audience and the bellowing caused other shoppers to look and smile but none joined our little circle.

Each time we attempted to break away, we were stopped by "just one more story ladies and I'll let you go".
My daughter's curiosity about the handful of money was rewarded with an explanation.  "The nice man has gone to get something for me and when he returns, I'll give him the money and he will give me my....." whatever it was, we could not determine.  So, we stayed on and we listened to the story of the day he was in charge of distributing one beer each to his unit on Christmas.  "IT'S CHRISTMAS, HAVE TWO BEERS!"  followed by his own infectious laugh track  He had clear eyes that sparkled with each anecdote.  I could not help but notice the lovely skin tone on his face.  He was proud of the fact that he neither smoked nor drank, ever, attributing this to the job of beer and cigarette distribution while in the army.  Perhaps this was a man who lived a happy life and was still enjoying each day.  No signs of stress, and with so few wrinkles he could have passed for a much younger man had he not given the secret away.

Following a few more war stories, a sales associate appeared and our new best friend shifted his attention to the transaction.  We were free to move on and we said our farewells.  Walking away, my forty year old daughter leaned into me and said "Now, THAT'S the kind of grandfather I wish I had". Despite the fact that I totally understood her craving for some family fun, I could not help but think that on that cold Christmas Day, during that war, her grandfather was very far away from the one thing he might have most wanted, that nice cold beer.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Garden Apartment


A friend of over forty years sent me a note last week.  She told me what I had already heard from another,  that a mutual dear friend was gravely ill in New York.  I was saddened by the news of course.  The stricken woman is one of those sweet, gentle and loving individuals who was always ready to help and always did everything with a smile.  Both of these women are slightly older than I and both, well, they were a huge part of my early years as wife and mother. A flood of memories has set upon me, making me blue but very grateful for those times that we all had together when we were young.

Our very first apartment was in North White Plains, New York.  It was a "garden apartment" and we were on the top floor of a two story building that housed four groups of renters.  There were three individual parts to the complex known as "River Park Apartments" and ours was in the furthest back section.  The units that made up our part of the complex were identical to the others, with a large expanse of grass in the middle of a circle.  A sidewalk surrounded the circle and our building, Number 14, was dead center.  To get to it from the parking lot, we had to walk halfway around the circle or across the lawn. We moved into River Park in December when we returned from our short honeymoon and the dead of winter sheltered us from the outside world as we kept busy with our work lives and our new domestic responsibilities as a married but very young couple.

One of the advantages to living at River Park was the use of the free bus which transported people who worked in down town White Plains back and forth each day.  This meant that we only needed one car and that Joe would never have to worry about where to park when he went off to his job as a case worker for the County and I, as a nurse for the Western Electric Company in Yonkers.  In those winter days, we would come and go and occasionally, we would see another resident either doing same or making their way to and from the laundry room in the building next to ours.  Rarely did we stop for conversation.  An exchange of smiles might have been all the communicating we did, with some small talk in the laundry room once in a while.  It was a cold winter.

I soon became pregnant with my first child.  This was the natural order of things in the late sixties, early seventies.  Married, pregnant, stop work at seven months and collect unemployment.  By early summer of that first year, I knew the drill and was ready to march in that parade. Each day, as I made my way from my car back to my apartment, I passed a collection of young mothers, seated on lawn chairs in the middle of the grass in front of our apartment.  Toddlers and very young children sprinkled the area.  The sound of "Big Wheels" hitting the sidewalk as they went round and round was almost deafening.  Squeals, sobs and lots of kiddie noise went on from late morning until it was time for everyone to flee.Chairs were folded, toys were hidden, kids went into bathtubs and mommies started evening rituals in tiny kitchens, waiting for daddies to return home.

They all seemed to be enjoying this life and most of all, each other's company. Kids tugged at their legs, juice was poured, noses wiped and bathroom breaks were taken. I was watching real mommies in action and I was so intimidated, but envious and so wishing that I could break into what to me was the "In Crowd" at River Park.  Surely, they were bonded and the circle was already too tight for my entry.

 And then, one of those hot August afternoons, as I made my way from the parking lot, one of the mommies called out to me.  "It's Judy's 30th....come have a piece of cake" and I officially became one of them. Lasting friendships were made that day in 1971.  The celebrations continued.  Each birthday, new baby, and holiday was shared in ways that to this very day, I can recall with vivid detail.  Me and my baby boy, surrounded and nurtured in the circle of River Park.  Simple, beautiful memories and now, as I look back to what I swear was only yesterday, I feel sorrow for my aged and dreadfully ill old friend and such gratitude for the precious moments that made that segment of my own life the pinnacle that it was.

You are in my heart and in my prayers Shirley Pearl

You are a Pearl of a girl and you always will be.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A Little Story about Francis

As she knelt on the cool, dewy-moist green grass she drew in a breath of spring air, expanding her lungs as she stretched in appreciation of the beautiful morning and the landscape before her.
In the distance, she heard the church bells ringing their lively prima, the daily first call of the faithful, the only alarm clock that would be in existence for centuries ahead.  The people in her town, in every town in her region, in every region in her beloved country would have no need for anything more than the bells calling them to the first Mass of the day.  
They lived in fear of eternal damnation for an offense as grievous as failing to  participate in this daily ritual.  But today, Clare felt differently as she exited her home, slipping out quietly without the notice of her sleeping parents.  Today, she was drawn from her doorstep, out onto the streets which led her to the outskirts of her town, high up to the top of what is now known as the Rocca Maggiore. 
Clare did not fully understand what was happening.  Why was she so moved to her bravery and lack of fear of reprisal from her parents?  She simply left her home, followed her beating heart, and made swift in her movements, not stopping until she reached this vantage point.  From here, she had the most spectacular view of her town and as the morning fog lifted she could swear that she heard a voice…..resta qui…resta con mi….stay here, stay with me.
 “Am I dreaming?”  She wondered if this was just another of the voices that she had been hearing of late. From where were they coming….resta con mi…..drifting in and out of her head?
Slowly, the fog lifted, allowing the most spectacular ray of sunshine to follow.  Everything that she touched and looked at felt sweeter, brighter, a radiance she had never before experienced.  A new day presenting itself in a way so unique her breath was taken away.  New feelings stirred, causing her to be more awake, more aware of her surroundings.  She was not frightened.  Instead, she was feeling protected, warm.  The thought of returning to her home remained far, very far.  Nothing could lead her back down the little mountain.  Her eyes remained fixed.  Her view, the center of her town,  bustling with carts and wagons as they rumbled along unpaved streets.  All around, she became aware of the cacophony of sounds.  Sheep bleating, horses clip-clopping, children laughing and running along.  An everyday morning to all but her, it seemed.
Amid all of the morning activity came a new sound.  The sounds became louder and louder, filling the piazza below with an air of chaos, stopping all other sounds as passersby grabbed the children for fear that a madman was approaching.  Was he singing? Was he shouting?  Is he dancing or is he stupefied from drinking through the night into this otherwise perfect morning?  Louder, louder, totally obliterating the calls from the street peddlers as they shouted out their offers of merchandise.  Now, everyone stood in silence, most in fear as the man approached, whirling, twirling, shouting, and singing.  Who was he?
A religious freak” …..”he’s possessed by the devil”…..”Is he a madman?”….then suddenly, Clare recognized him.  As she stood to her feet and started to walk down the mountain, her gaze remained fixed upon the man who was dancing with joy, shouting “God” “Love” and “praise” as he whirled and twirled.  She recognized him as her good friend, the child she played with until he was too old for such things and too busy being the play boy rather than the play mate of their youth.  Now she knew him as the son of wealthy parents, living the good life, showing off his good fortune.  Could it be him?  Her heart started to race, faster and faster as if it were a bomb about to explode in her chest.  She enlivened her pace, briskly walking, now running toward the piazza in the Centro, and hoping to confirm the impossibility before her eyes.  “How can this be” she whispered to herself. 
Just then, the dancing, singing, shouting man in the expensive tunic lost his step and found himself on all fours in a puddle of water muddied by the early morning rain. Without missing a beat, he was once again on his feet, smiling, laughing, shouting “love, peace, joy”….over and over as more people began to recognize him and news spread  throughout the crowd like a wave crashing at the seashore…….
By now, Clare was once again in the center of her town, not far from the doorstep of her home, herself amid the crowds of startled townspeople.  From their own doorsteps, they tumbled onto the cobble stoned street, some rubbing their eyes as if they had seen an apparition or a dream sequence that they were trying to validate.  Silence quickly replaced their gasps at recognition and disbelief of the vision before them.  Some tried to subdue him in gentle ways.  Others drew whatever weapons they could quickly devise as they attempted to beat him down but the more they tried, the less they were able and the apparent “madman” continued his flight down the street, smiling and shouting his songs of praise.
As Clare’s heart filled more, she too started to smile. She knew now why this day was special, why she has been called to the mountain top to await this extraordinary demonstration.   Her friend was no ordinary man.   Her friend was named Francesco, better known as Francis and from the beautiful town of Assisi, they both would travel on and one day they both would be proclaimed as two of the greatest saints of all time.

Monday, October 7, 2013

A Dreary Fall Morning's Writing Exercise

A vivid memory of my childhood sees me talking with my grandmother in the old cellar of her house one afternoon.  She was my caretaker.  My mother worked full time so it was my grandmother who answered many of my questions about life.  A neighbor had died and I was curious about death, perhaps for the first time.  I could not have been older than five at that moment.  I asked her how you would know if you were dead.  Her answer was simple.  "You can't smell anymore".  Was she trying to explain respiration to a little girl or had she said "breathe"?  It did the trick.  For years, I carried an old jar of Vicks Vaporub in my purse.

What happens when someone dies?
Everything happens.
Everything changes.
 Everything, every detail, every piece of life, gets remembered, recalled instantly, for better or for worse.  In the quiet hours of the night.  In the waking hours of the day.  I recall.
My grandmother was only seventy four when she died.  She had surgery after having told my brother and his future wife, weeks before that, that she was afraid she would never see them again.  She was in the hospital, recovering from what was supposed to be simple and routine.  My mother and I were going tomorrow.  My mother arrived at our house,  to spend the night, ready for an early departure by car the next day.  The phone rang.  It was my cousin’s husband.  I had to turn and deliver the news to my mother.  Her first response was “but I was knitting her a pocketbook”  It broke my heart. Our trip to New York was very different from the one we had planned.  My grandfather was alone now.  I wrote to him every day, just a short note, but I wrote to him and told him I loved him, perhaps the first time he ever heard that from any of his grandchildren.

My grandfather was eighty four when his turn came.  My mother, totally unequipped for the role, went to his home to help him.  She told us of one of their conversations.  She said that even in death there is humor sometimes.  His words to her, “I knew it would come one day, but I never expected it this soon”.  In those days, eighty four was very old.  His suffering and his death made my mother scared.  Her belief in the power of prayer was affirmed during her watch.  She got down on her knees and prayed for help and moments later, it arrived in the form of a family friend.  He died in the hospital after he made sure my cousin Lenny promised to vote for Ronald Reagan.  His political beliefs were strong to the bitter end.
My sister in law Patricia C. Guardino developed bad headaches, bought a birthday card for my son, her nephew that said “Happy Birthday to my Cousin”, plopped down a bottle of Excedrin on our coffee table when she came for the party, never allowing it to be too far away. Not long after,  she was admitted to the hospital, an IV hanging with the name of a medication that I knew was not for anything simple or uncomplicated.  The nurses asked if I were immediate family, was I a sister perhaps.  “No, but I am as good as one”.  Patty and I were best friends.

“Here’s a quarter, there’s a pay phone, this is her doctor’s number”
 “Yes, doctor, I am ready to hear some very bad news”….  I was a nurse.  I understood.

It was I who was expected to deliver the blows.  First to my husband, her brother who adored her, then to her parents….but I could not do that so her doctor laid out the entire story about the next three short months.  She told me I could have her air conditioner.  She knew she would not need it.  That woman had the greatest sense of humor.   Her younger sister and I were at her bedside on that last day and it was then that  I told her that it was okay, that she could leave us.  We would be fine.  She died and I know she went to Heaven, and the order was changed in an instant.  Joe and I became the oldest of the children and nothing was ever the same.

My mother, well, she fought and she fought and she fought. Cancer after cancer after cancer.  Until that December.

 The warrior became weakened.

 Ever so slowly, she became who she was going to be for the rest of her life, an old woman.  Looked like one. Talked like one.  Sent me on countless missions. Wore me down.  Nearly killed my then ninety year old father.  He grew tired.  She got sicker and  feared the pain, the pain she had seen when her own father died.  The days grew more stressful.  The time was coming.  As time passed and her final days approached, an intimacy that I had never in my life had with my mother grew.  Ever since I can remember, my mother was private and modest.  As a young girl, I remember so vividly, the intrigue of the box, wrapped in plain paper which stood on the floor of her closet.  It was there, I knew it was something very private and never once did I violate her trust. They called the product “Modess” in those days. Hard to believe that tampons and pads would eventually make their very own appearance on prime time T.V., totally unabashed.  A cruel turn of fate that a woman who guarded her intimate life so carefully would have it all out in the open, no holds barred, no details spared. Over and over I was dispatched on yet another shopping trip, asked to make yet another phone call. I spoke to strangers, emptied the trash, gave care directives for the most private parts of her anatomy.  It was I who emptied the underwear drawer, carefully and reverently disposing of the unused remnants of her most current life. The removal of her underwear and her shoes, the two most difficult self-imposed assignments I have ever had to undertake.  I wept in the driveway. I stopped at the dumpster and did not turn around.

My mother’s passing has changed our family order.  The happiness has been sucked out of my father’s ancient bones and he is vacant.  He’s ornery most of the time without my mother there to put his fires out.  Death has once again juxtaposed us.  Who’s the parent?  Who’s the child?  Am I obligated first to my father and then to my husband?  What about his own very aged mother? Am I allowed to think of my children, their needs?  What about my grandchildren?  Who comes first?  I’m confused, resentful, angry that my mother did not give me any directives for the care of her “child” and that my brother is allowed to live so far away with that as an acceptable excuse for his not participating in this new order.

And, all the while, I am aging.

 And everything has changed.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Falling for Documentaries

I can't recall an autumn like this one.  The weather has been so spectacular, every day.  I keep waiting for a cold spell or for a dreary, rainy day and it simply doesn't happen.  I feel guilty if I don't get out every day, as if I'm wasting this opportunity to enjoy a special gift.  I know that the grey days of winter are not far off and that I will be wishing them away soon enough.  Nature has a way of keeping her promises.  She always seems to deliver, year after year.  The seasons.  Each of them, a full blown miracle.

A lot of people, my husband included, do not like to see the late setting of the sun come to an end.  He loves the prolonged hours of sunlight afforded by the summer solstice and does not welcome the shorter days with the early sunsets that begin a few weeks before summer's end.  I, on the other hand, find the early sunset to be comforting, quieting, peaceful.  A good day, filled with sun and fall colors, is almost too much for me and so the arrival of the shade of evening brings with it a special feeling and a permit to do the "evening" watching good films.

I love GOOD movies.  Independent films.  Art-house films.  Rarely will I see a first runner.  I don't even know who one quarter of the current "actors" are.  I use the term loosely.  So many of them don't really "act" do they?  But most of all, I LOVE documentaries.  So much so, that I attend a twelve week "course" in documentaries called "The Doc is In".  Every Friday afternoon, I, along with about thirty others, sit in a viewing room at the community college and see a film that has been chosen by a lovely woman named Lily and her co-director, Leslie.  We never know beforehand what we will be seeing so there's always a nice surprise.  These women are experts in the art of choice and so far, each film we've seen has been a triumph.
After the films, discussions follow.  One thing about the people who wash ashore onto Cape Cod, for the most part, are here because they WANT to be. I'm one of them. In the case of the doc course, as in the case of all the courses offered by the Academy for Life Long Learning, most of the students are retired, all over age fifty.  Each has had a life before this one and each brings elements and skills from that life to their current lives.  Meaning.....there is so much talent, so much intellect and so much life left.  So, I sit and I watch and I listen and I feel that I have been plunked down into a room somewhere in Greenwich Village. You can fill my shoes with sand but you can't take the rhythm of the New York subway out of this old gal. Oh, thank you Fridays.

Now, this one is not a documentary, but I will tell you that last night, at home, shortly after sunset, we saw a fabulous French film called "The Intouchables".  Loved, loved, loved it.  French with subtitles.  I need more of that......I'm going to Paris this winter and I have to start getting it all back soon.  Stay tuned.

Friday, October 4, 2013

On Creativity

I'm reading Steven Pressfield's book "The War of Art" and it is fascinating.

It's an incredibly simple and no-nonsense book that is helping me so much to understand this whole bit about creativity and why so many of us have so many problems launching the ideas that come and go through our heads all day long.  He calls this "resistance" and the whole book is based upon the identification of this "enemy" and the "battle plan" for overcoming it.

This morning I listened to a TED lecture (if you haven't tried this website, you're really missing something) given by Julie Burnstein, author of "Spark: How Creativity Works".  It was another simple but inspirational  guide, this time dealing with the four aspects that artists embrace in order to be creative. I hung on her every word.

Creativity grows out of our everyday experiences.  Perhaps the hardest, but he most important is the ability to embrace loss, recognizing that some things are more beautiful when repaired than in their original state.
I'm learning this on a very simplistic level - embracing broken seashells as I walk along the beach. For me, this is so new.  I used to only bend down to collect shells that were in their "perfect" and unbroken state, rejecting even the tiniest imperfection.  I hadn't realized what I missed until I started being less selective with regard to perfection.  I now have boxes and bags of shells, many of them, former rejects.

My creativity was unleashed after my retirement.  It seemed that during my career, while I used this "gift" in the workplace, it always was with restraint or permission.  Resistance is fueled by fear and the fear of making an error in the eyes of the "boss" was high test.  My time in Assisi, post retirement and post-loss, was a real catalyst to my creativity and I found it interesting  that Julie's TED lecture was given in November of last year, at the time I was there, refueling.  Thank you

So, I'm making a codfish out of a cow and I'm fearless.  Stay tuned for photos.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Back to Basics

“Why, Jon, why?" his mother asked. "Why is it so hard to be like the rest of the flock, Jon? Why can't you leave low flying to the pelicans, the albatross.  Why don't you eat? Son, you're bone and feathers!" "I don't mind being bone and feathers mom. I just want to know what I can do in the air and what I can't, that's all. I just want to know.” 
― Richard BachJonathan Livingston Seagull

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Morning Show

If you were here right now, looking out my window onto the pond behind our apartment, you would understand. You would know what I mean when I say that at this very moment, there is not another place in the world that I would rather be.  It's a beautiful sight, the water catching the reflection of the newly risen sun, the ducks gently paddling their way to what seems to be a meeting place. Will there be a roll call?  Do they discuss how they spent the night or perhaps plan for the day's riparian delights?  The trees surrounding the pond greet me each morning like show and tell time.  Look at me!  No, at me! See how I've changed since yesterday.  That one on the right of the path is almost totally orange now.  Soon, most of them will kindly shed their summer clothes and hide again until next spring,graciously allowing a less obstructed view.  All, except for the two that are closest to our window, the sad oaks that are being killed slowly by the thick green vine that will not quit.  The vine never loses its vitality.  It works all winter long, staying green.  I could be angry at this cruel reminder of the crime of choking the two innocent trees.  The vine is so strong and has already weathered several attempts at cutting it down at the base.  It has survived near-hurricane winds, weeks without rain, and heavy snows that left us paralyzed without electricity for days last winter.  Through wind, rain, snow, leaves green amongst other trees that will be totally bare for a while, holding secret their survival through another winter until the arrival of another spring.
I could be angry at those vines.  Not only are they defiant criminals but they also partially block one view of the pond below.  And, the truth be known, we oftentimes do curse their existence, wish them dead.....until that first time on that first snowy winter morning when the first bright and beautiful cardinal peeks out and makes its way onto a verdant branch, coming out from the shelter.  And I say "thank you" to the vine and bless you to the tree that has stood its ground for yet another season.  Oh, I'm sure there's an analogy in here somewhere but I don't have time to conjure one up right now.  I have to get back to the show from my window and thank God.