Wednesday, December 31, 2008

One Year Over ...

“Generosity consists not the sum given, but the manner in which it is bestowed”
Unknown

As this day ends so does another year. I haven't written anything in the past weeks because, as usual, I got caught up in the whirlwind of holiday shopping, wrapping, mailing and decorating. Even though I thought I had downsized in all categories, I still somehow managed to have way more to do than time to do it in.

But here's the strange part. I was on "go" most of the time, but I never really got frazzled. Oh sure, I poured myself into bed every night, and fussed at my sweetie more than once, but I don't think I experienced as much anxiety as in years past. And I definitely found time to listen to Christmas music and rest in the spirit of the holiday. These are good things!

I haven't been writing but I have been thinking - reflecting. And this is what I've decided. For me, the theme of 2008 has been generosity. Everywhere I've turned this year I've had an almost overwhelming sense of the generosity of people (known and unknown), places and things.
Knowing this, feeling this all around me, kind of wants to make me do the happy dance.

There were years gone by when I went to bed before midnight with blankets and pillows pulled up over my head thinking that sheltered as I was in my own private cocoon, there was no possible way the new year could touch me. Depression can get even more depressing when everyone one around you is clanging pots and pans, drinking champagne, and welcoming in change. Depression doesn't leave much room for change; dark is dark.

I've had some of those oh-shit-not-this-again dark days this year. Yet on the bleakest of days I reached a lady on the phone who calmed me with her gentleness. Not to mention the miracle of miracles that the doctor had an opening that this angel assigned to me. I could look at it like she was just doing her job. But I believe it was more than that. It was one person reaching across an invisible boundary and saying, "don't worry, everything is gonna be alright."

I've had lots of those moments this year. I've witnessed love and light even as a man lay dying. Just the other day my sweetie slammed on the brakes so not to run into the "#?@*! idiot" in front of him who was stopped in the middle of the road. As the idiot moved a little Sweetie's line of vision opened up. Right in front of us, crossing four lanes of traffic, was a momma duck and a trail of yellow ducklings following in a single line. What a moment! There was not one honking horn, or uplifted finger, just a bunch of cars waiting for this family to waddle by at its unhurried pace. That was a lesson for me. A lesson about slowing down, about sticking together in scary circumstances, about looking both ways then stepping out in faith.

Here are some other examples of the generosity with which I've been gifted this year:

  1. Life - Near the stroke of midnight on the first day of this year Miss Ivy Jane Wichansky was born. Like a special gift from our Creator all wrapped up in a pink blanket, this baby (and so many others) serve as a reminder that good things come in small packages.
  2. Heart - Not much more I can say about Terri St. Cloud that I haven't said already. Her heart is larger than average. She's not afraid to share it with others. She is an example of what generous giving is all about.
  3. Words - Carol O'Dell wrote and published a book about taking care of her mother. But she didn't stop there. She is in the business of helping others tell their own stories. She edits and encourages with kindness. She makes you believe in yourself even when you don't think you have a clue that you have anything to say. She helps you tell your story, then claps like a cheerleader.
  4. More words - my writing group, as I've said before, let me know I'm okay just where I am. First they give me rules to follow then the freedom to break them if I want.
  5. Family - I know how dysfunctional we are. Yet, we are all here together when it counts. Aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins from 5 to 12 gathered recently to share Thanksgiving dinner and old memories. All the while making new ones. 500 photos tell the story of how good a family can be.
  6. More family - My sister, Linda. Her giving spirit doesn't end. She keeps the family heirlooms, stories, pictures, tea sets. She remembers every birthday. She pushes you out the door when you haven't had a vacation in 2 years. She makes Christmas stockings, borrows camel suits, and buys yarn for baby hats. Mainly she says not in words, but in her actions, "life is hard, let's share the load.".
  7. Photographs - In the midst of construction piles and hurricane strength winds my son grabs his camera and takes these phenomenal pictures which he willingly shares with people who don't have a clue what it's like to live in place where every time the sun rises or falls new shades of orange are created.
  8. More Photographs - Wendy has been taking pictures for as long as I can remember. Her newest endeavor is to make these incredible books on PhotoWorks so that her pictures are not stored away in a box but can be looked at over and over again - a gift that gives on giving.
  9. More photographs - I've recently re-discovered one of my favorite authors, Jon Katz. In the years since I've read one of his books, he's moved to a farm and picked up a camera. Every day I am wowed by several of his photographs. He's good enough to make a Florida girl who wears Birkenstock sandals (sans socks) 360 days a year want to move to Vermont and play in the snow, with a cow or a sheep or a donkey! The pictures he takes of his hospice dog take my breath away.
  10. Spirit - The Hispanic people in my church have a kind of spirit that is infectious.
  11. Humility - Fr. Georges
  12. Humor - Fr. Georges
  13. Honor - Fr. Georges. Since I grew up in a house full of girls I have no idea what it's like to have a brother. All that changed on the night Georges walked into our house kissed my father and sang happy birthday to Jack in 5 languages. My heart has grown over the year as I watch this self-effacing man take what's been thrown at him (and it's not all been pretty) with grace and love. He's not above a snide comment or two. He doesn't always take things lying down, but he practices what he preaches when it comes to loving. He has a smile that he's not afraid to share.
  14. Listening - My Sweetie has a special knack for listening. Even if he is deep in thought at the computer or entrenched in a nail-biting football game, when I tell him I need to talk, he stops on a dime, turns his head towards me, opens up his body posture and says "what's up." He listens with more than his ears. I think he hears with his heart. And he doesn't but in, he lets me go on and on. Sometimes he holds me. Sometimes he lets me wipe tears and snot on his shirt. There's a fine art to good listening and Sweetie is a pro.
  15. Unexpected gifts - Every time Jean goes to the beach the ocean coughs up a special shell or token. Her eyes are always open to the glories she'll find * Black Beauty sharing her bone with a stranger we brought into the house for a few days * The quilting lady fitting my little quilt into her queue of quilts to be done before Christmas - not once but TWICE! * Sorrow's Christmas give-away. * An apple-bearing Santa :) * Dad clapping his hands to the salsa beat of an well-known hymn * Great service from a Peruvian waitress in an Italian restaurant * Sweetie's son and daughter-in-law braving an allergy attack to say Merry Christmas * The look on Sweetie's face when he sold his first item on E-bay * A curly headed tot * Chinese carved ice sculptures * Yellow tree* Fairy wings
  16. Love - I had an idea this year. I asked for help; not easy for a girl who has control issues. People I don't know came forward. They gave baby hats, shoe boxes, bracelets, prayers, money, joy, and time. Mostly they gave love. I talked to a lady I've never met on the phone yesterday. She said, "my heart jumped" when I made an announcement in church. I knew exactly what she meant because with every gift of love given my heart has done double back flips.

I'm sure there's more. But I think I've hit the highlights. It's been an amazing year. I can only imagine that if I keep my eyes and heart open, 2009 will be more of the same. Challenges will come. Trials will arise. Shit will happen. But I've learned I can count on the generosity of others to get me through.

My prayer is that I give as well as I get.

May you be blessed in the year ahead. Looking forward to what comes down the pike,
Merry ME

Thursday, December 11, 2008

30 Places I'd Like to Sleep

15. In a hammock strung between two palm trees, with a gentle ocean breeze to keep me cool.

14. I think I'd like to be a kid again all tucked into my bed, wearing my new Christmas flannel pajamas trying hard to stay awake to see Santa but knowing the sooner I go to sleep, the sooner I can awake to the magic that is Christmas. I think when you are old(er) and there are no kids around, Christmas just doesn't feel the same. That doesn't mean it's not still good, it is just not magical - kind of like hot chocolate without the marshmallows! The baby Jesus, red flannel pjs, toys that don't need batteries, sitting on Santa's lap, holiday meltdowns, homemade stockings filled with goodies, decorating sugar cookies, shaking and counting the packages under the tree, school plays, wishes, candy canes, Christmas pageants, it's all really about kids isn't it?

13. At the El Tovar Hotel at the edge of the Grand Canyon. I always believed I was a beachy kind of girl. And truth be told, as you have already ready, the beach is indeed one of my favorite places. Nothing, however, compares to the majesty of the Grand Canyon. To say it is "grand" is an understatement. As John Wesley Powell once commented, "The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself. The resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers in attempting to portray its features. Language and illustration combined must fail. "

The El Tovar is a little easier to describe as it is man-made. The hotel opened its doors in 1905. Most of the lumber had to be brought in by railway. Even though it has been renovated several times, my memory is that the hotel retains it's "lodge" feel while at the same time makes you feel quite glamorous. There is a porhc that surrounds the hotel with big log rocking chairs. Oh, to sit and rock and watch the people and the sun move across the canyon. Now that's a day of rest and relaxation right there.

A short distance from El Tovar's front door is "my" rock. The few times I've been privileged to visit the Grand Canyon, I've spent time just sitting and looking out over the majestic vista. The rocks are always the same, yet as the light passes over and the years pass, one knows that it is constantly changing. It is a beautiful spot. I don't think the park rangers would let you sleep on sidewalk, and I've traveled as far into the canyon as I ever hope to get. The obvious next best to sleep it the hotel. You can wake up with the sunrise coming in your window or go to sleep with the colors of the setting sun. Either way it is tre magnifique.

12. Anywhere but here!!!!!!!

11. In a treehouse. The 1960 Disnery version of Swiss Family Robinson is one of my all time favorites. In my nannying days, Robert and I watched it about a kazillion times. Originally Robert was afraid of the scary pirates, but we watched it so many times, he soon learned to love the coconut bombs the family used to out maneuver the bad guys. For me, the treehouse was the best part of the whole movie. Ever since I've had a secret (not so secret anymore) desire to have a getaway/sleepover high up in the trees.

How about this place in Washington. It's 50 ft. up in a giant Cedar tree with a view of Mt. Ranier that would most likely make waking up at the top of an evergreen canopy seem like 2nd best. [http://www.cedarcreektreehouse.com/]

I read yesterday that a man in Delray Beach is going to have to move his $25,000 tree house as it blocks the view of the other historical houses in the neighborhood. I think when he started the project it was going to be just a little playhouse for his daughter. Thus he neglected to get permission to build. After a few years of legal wrangling, the City Council gave the guy a "move it or lose it" ultimatum. As if building treehouse with French doors, gabled roof, rope bridge extending to the main house and staircase leading 23 feet up from the ground WITHOUT the appropriate permits wasn't enough, this nut says "he plans to use a crane to pluck the 220-square-foot tree-top abode from the strangler fig it now rests upon and swing it to a tangle of sea grapes." [http://www.palmbeachpost.com/localnews/content/local_news/epaper/2008/12/03/1203treehouse.htm].
I'm thinking a couple coconut bombs would be a lot easier than a crane!~me

10. Spoon-style with my Sweetie

9. In my Sweetie's arms snuggled up under some blankets, my head on his chest listening to the beat of his heart. In my fantasy sleep dreams, Sweetie won't be coughing and I won't be snoring.

8. In a swimming pool. I realize I can't swim and sleep at the same time. I could sleep in one of those plastic chairs with a cup hole in the arm so you can have your rest and drink at the same time. Indeed that would be pretty relaxing on a hot summer afternoon. That way you can rest, get hot, roll over and cool off, then repeat the process.

But I'm thinking of a different kind of pool relaxation. I haven't done it in years. I heard Michael Phelps in an interview last night and he talked about having to swim 10,000 meters on a regular basis as part of his Olympic training. Personally I can't even begin to imagine what that would be like - I think the farthest I've ever gone is 30 laps - is that a mile? There's something that happens when you've been swimming for awhile. Once your body gets warmed up and your breathing gets into a kind of primordial rhythm, your arms and legs begin to glide through the water remembering at a cellular level how to move. You become one with the water. Back when I was swimming on a regular basis I got myself into this water baby state a few times. It sounds weird, maybe my goggles were just pulled too tight, but I can remember thinking I could communicate with other swimmers in an Orca kind of way. After awhile I stopped counting laps, stopped smelling the chlorine and let myself "go with the flow". It's not sleep, but a similar kind of bliss. Relaxed, no cares, no worries, just me and the water.
"Swimming: From the outside looking in, you can’t understand it. From the inside looking out, you can’t explain it." Author Unknown
~me


7. On this beach. Anahola Bay, Kauai, Hawaii
My sister and I spent one week back in the late 1980s in Kauai. Just the two of us. It was pure bliss. For those seven days the world seemed to stand still. It was just Linda and I, the ocean, some palm trees, sandy beaches, tropical fish, lush gardens, good food and company. This picture is similar to one I took at the time. Notice there are no people on it. The day Linda and I were there, we dined on Duane's famous Ono burgers in the solitude of a beach that seemed to be made just for us. Us and a big yellow lab. Don't know where he came from but he joined our picnic, dug a rather large hole, then left.

In the years since my Kauai vacation, I've often tried to meditate to reduce my stress level. This beach is the place I always see in my mind's eye as I slow my breathing and calm my anxiety. It doesn't always work when a hygienist is picking at my lichen planus covered gums with a sharp instrument - not sure anything short of a triple shot of Jose Cuervo would help that - but for the most part this beach is very definition of peaceful.

I bet if I had a towel and lots of sunscreen I could sleep an afternoon away undisturbed as the tide washes across the sand and the breeze rustles through the palm leaves. Undisturbed, that is, except for the cute hula boys, wearing sweet smelling flowered leis, singing a sweet leilani lullaby accompanied by the strings of an island ukulele and a big yellow dog kicking sand in my direction.

Aloha,
Merry ME

6. Curled up on the rug in front of a roaring fire.

5. Somewhere at Grammy's camp in Vermont.
Picture in your mind the movie On Golden Pond. My grandparents had a camp that was similar, set in the woods of Vermont, right on Lake Carmi not far from the Canadian border. Originally the camp consisted of three cabins - one large with kitchen and bathroom plus two smaller ones that barely held a double bed and a bookcase. I believe I slept in every cabin, but mostly I remember sleeping on the porch of the big house. As a kid, I had to go to bed before the adults. They'd pull a curtain closed as if to keep the grown up conversations away from sleeping children. I'd fall asleep listening - not caring so much what was being said, but knowing that I was surrounded by family.

I also slept in my grandmother's bed once. I'd gone to visit - my first trip away from home by myself - when I was around 13. That was an eventful visit. I was kissed on the mouth by a boy about whom there is nothing else remarkably memorable. I also started my period. Right there in Grammy's bed. Funny the things you remember.

The beds at camp were okay. I was a kid, I could sleep anywhere. However, one of the places I fantasize about today, is the boat dock. What would it be like to take a towel and a pillow and a good book and lie down on that sun bleached dock. I'm sure the water from the lake lapping right up onto the rocks where chipmunks played would lull me to sleep. When a dragon fly buzzed over my head or a motor boat whizzed by, I'd simply roll over, read a few more pages and fall back to sleep.

I haven't been to the camp in years, but it is one of the places I fantasize about running to when the world gets too unbearable for me. The big house is gone. Probably, Grammy's card table and Scrabble game, too. No doubt the Fiesta dinnerware, the wringer washer, and the electric sheets have been sold on ebay to make room for more modern memories for the great-great grandchildren who spend summers there now.

I wonder about the hammock? ~me


4. On the pull-out couch that used to be in our den. It was old and had a hard metal bar that ran across the bed. It hit me right square in the back. It wasn't very comfortable at all. But it was where I got to sleep if I was sick enough to stay home from school. Mom would make up the bed, put Grandmother's red Lone Star quilt on top of me and that's where I'd recouperate. I could sleep in front of the TV, listening to the Price is Right or Days of Our Lives. Mom would put her cool hand on my forehead to check for fever. Then she'd offer Campbell's soup to soothe my sore throat. One time I remember she rubbed me with alcohol to bring down my temperature. [Funny how the mind works. I just had a flashback of how I rubbed her body with lotion when she could no longer do it herself. What goes around comes around.]

Don't get me wrong. This sleep fantasy is not about being sick. It's about needing to let someone else do the caregiving for awhile. It's about missing my mom more today than other days. It's about wanting things to be different. Going back different, where I know what to expect; not going forward where the the things that are going to be different are still unknown. I don't want to be stuck in the past, but I'd like an afternoon or two to bask in the gentleness of my mom's love.

It sounds like my inner child wants some attention and my grown up self can't think beyond cooing Thanksgiving dinner. ~me

3. In my own bed .... in a house that has no one in it but me so I can sleep the sleep of a person without a care or concern in the world. I can go to bed when I want, and sleep as long as I want. ~me

I'm going to try to keep all these sleeping blogs on one post. Not sure it's going to work.


2. In a Smoky Mountain log cabin in the spring or fall when the weather is warmish during the day but cool at night so I can sleep with the windows open and only my nose sticking out from under the blankets. The kind of place where waking up is a gradual process gently punctuated by the music of songbirds and the peaceful sound of wind chimes swaying in a mountain breeze. ~me


1. In a hotel, near the beach, with a balcony door open so the sounds of the ocean can caress me to sleep. This is kind of my all-time, whenever I want to run away fantasy. I've done it once or twice before. It is usually as theraputic as I want it to be with the possible exception of I never get to stay quite long enough. ~me

An aside:
Ma & Pa Clampett Go to the Beach

My sister came to visit a couple weeks ago. A long overdue visit that was way too short in duration. I wanted to savor every moment we were together. She wanted that too, but more than sister time she wanted me to have some Mary time, or some Mary and Sweetie time. She wanted to give me a break from my caregiving duties. You gotta love a sister like that. Her insistence won out over my procrastination. We didn't get as far as Key West to stay at the B&B my son offered. We just hopped in the car with a couple small bags and headed east to where the highway meets the Atlantic Ocean.

I won't go so far as to say we were out of our league, but if you imagine a north Forida version of the Beverly Hillbilly's driving up to a fashionable hotel, you might get some idea of what it was like. We had no Granny rocker on the car roof, but we were still pretty surprised to be greeted by not one, but several valets. One wanted to park the van in the $15.00 a night parking lot designated for hotel guests only (hotel guests, I might add, who are paying well over $100 for the privilege of sleeping in a place that charges to park in their secure lot); one to open the car doors; one to carry my knitting bag and one to open the hotel door. Knowing that each of these men would expect a tip, Sweetie and I opted for the five dollar lot across the street that belongs to a hotel that advertises "every room ocean front." I know now that I should have paid more attention to that sign.

We walked into our hotel - I begrudgingly handed over my bag of yarn to the young man who must have thought it was yarn hiding the family jewels in the the bottom of the bag I was protecting with my life. Truth be told, I was trying to protect my pocketbook.

After we checked in, the very pleasant and polite hotel employee gave us our key, the information that all the drinks and snacks in the room were covered by the "Resort Tax," and a big smile. Sweetie refused to give the bellhop his satchel. I decided since I was on vacation, even if it was for only 24 hours, to go whole hog and let the guy carry my pajama bag too. He took us on a semi-grand tour of the hotel just trying to find the elevator. I knew immediately I should be dropping bread crumbs. I was taken by the smell of lavender coming from the spa. Mmmmmmm. I was getting sleepy already. Vacation bliss!

I knew when we turned west down a rather long hallway that something was wrong. We were headed away from our "oceanview" room. "Excuse me," I said with trembling voice. "I don't think this is the direction of the ocean."

"Oh, no mam," responded the bleached blonde/suitcase carrying surfer dude who obviously had more hotel experience than my Sweetie and I put together. "You've got a room with a view of the ocean ... not an ocean front room. But I'm sure we can get you another room for another $80.00."

Sweetie was ready to duke it out with somebody. But I realized the mistake was all mine. I didn't know there was a difference. Besides, there we were in a room with a very luxurious king sized bed covered in a cozy looking comforter and lots of pillows. If I stretched my neck around the corner of the hotel I could see the ocean. And I was sure that once I opened the window I'd be able to hear the ocean waves even if it was mixed with traffic sounds and beach people making merry.







Okay, I admit it. I got really pissed when I realized the window didn't open and there was no balcony to stand on. My sleep fantasy had begun to fizzle. Not so pissed that I wanted to make a stink, but disappointed.

But, who can stay disappointed with a whole refridgerator full of paid for snacks, some of the biggest grapes I've ever seen and a flat screen TV just waiting to entertain us with a Jaguar football game. Sweetie opened up a bottle of Evian water and settled into the pillows. I rested on the chaise lounge and began knitting. Ahhhhhhh, serenity.

Thus we enjoyed our night away. Not quite what we had expected yet good company and really good sleep. Have I mentioned before that my Sweetie is an early riser? Yup, 5am comes along and his eyelids pop right open. He tried to be quiet, he really did. I know he did. I put one of the pillows over my head to block out the sun streaming through the non-opening window. I burrowed under the comforter. I think I was awake an hour or so earlier than I would have been at home. Check out time wasn't until eleven. Didn't this man understand my need for sleep?

In his defense, I wonder how he could have let me sleep when he was staring at the resort tax bill that had been slipped under the door in the wee morning hours? What? Hadn't I already paid the resort tax with my online reservation? Apparently not. The noise(s) I kept hearing as I tried to catch the last of my 40 winks was the sound of glass soda bottles and snacks being stuffed into the carry-it-ourselves-luggage. Sweetie, figured we paid for it, we were going to take it with us. We didn't touch the terry-lined silk robes, and we take any towels. Everything else was fair game. Our bags were noticeably heavier upon departure.

We could have complained. However, the only purpose that would have served was to point out to the hard hearted hotel employee, who had already heard all the resort tax complaints he coule handle, that we were bigger rubes than we looked like. Lesson learned. Next time we head straight for the flamingo pink Seahorse Hotel.

Live and learn,
Merry ME

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Rainbow Moment

“So much of who we are comes from those who have touched us,
other lives we have shared.
When we mourn a loss we also celebrate all the ways
that another’s life is reflected in our own.”
Hallmark card
My neighbor died last night. He was 83. He had been battling cancer for the past few months. His fight is over now. I'm sad, but mostly glad he's not suffering any more. I believe he's in a better place.
What's especially hard when someone dies, is knowing what to say to the ones that are left behind. Even if it's true, they don't especially want to hear, "he's in a better place."
A couple of weeks ago I had a rather unique experience. I was asked to sit with my neighbor while his sister went and did some things. I knew that things might not be pretty. But I went with a happy heart and a desire to be with George. My priest used to call it the ministry of presence. He assured me I didn't have to say anything, that people often just want a person to sit with them. Hell, I can do that. I'm a pretty good sitter.
I had noticed that George could use a little tending to. His nails needed to be trimmed and he could use a good slathering of Lubriderm - not to mention a shave. So I took some things with me and George didn't seem to mind my playing manicurist. I trimmed, and filed and rubbed lavender Shea butter into his parched skin. No words passed between us as I held his hands in mine and gently massaged his fingers. The lavender aroma put us both at ease.
The week before we'd been having a conversation about his life and he told me this wonderful story of friendship. His lifelong friend was visiting before moving to California to live with his daughter. "What do you need?" the friend asked. And George answered that it had been ages since he'd had a real bath. So the friend did exactly what you'd want a friend would do. He took the dying man to the bathroom and bathed him in a tub full of warm water and love. I love that.
I told George I'd never shaved anyone before, but that didn't faze him. He told me where to find all the shaving paraphernalia then laid back with his eyes closed while I shaved off week's worth of whiskers. I finished with a gentle slap of Aqua Velva on his cheeks. I wish I had a picture of his smile - it spoke what no words could.
Not much I could do after that but sit there. I held his hand til I thought he was almost asleep. That's when he said, "Bless you Mary" and some other words I couldn't quite make out. He spoke in a low murmur then finished with an strong "amen." That's when I realized that he had just prayed for me. He was tired. He was dying. Yet, he prayed for me. I was humbled to my core.
On the way home I prayed that I wouldn't soon forget the afternoon. I prayed that it wouldn't be our last time together, but, really, if it was, I couldn't ask for more. I prayed for understanding. This afternoon's experience felt like a precursor to what might come as I continue to take care of my father. Between George and I there was no struggle. Between Dad and I the struggle is still intense. George allowed me to do for him the same things my father still needs to do to maintain his very existence. He's not ready to let go. I've seen now that there is a difference. There may come a time when Dad is okay with me rubbing lotion into his pruney skin. Until then, I need to share with Dad what I shared with my neighbor. I have to remember that some days it's simply my presence that is most important to him.
Feeling privileged,
Merry ME

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Moved by Art

"Art is pictures straight from the heart."
Ben, Los Cerros Middle School, 1999


I had a rather unique experience today. I don't believe it's ever happened before. I wonder if it will ever happen again.

As I was slowing for a traffic light that was about to change from red to green I glanced into the window of a small art gallery* and caught just a glimpse of a painting that I knew I had to see close up. Like the fairy wings of a couple weeks ago, I knew this picture was worth a trip around the block. My tires didn't squeal, but I bet I made it back to square one in record time. I was right about the picture - a Nativity scene done in brightly colored oils. It was worth the trip. Perhaps it is because I go to an Hispanic church and have grown fond of their use of color, but I felt like this picture in it's abstract beauty had a Latin feel to it. I poked my nose to the glass trying to get a closer look. Already gone from home for most of the day, I had no business dilly dallying at an art gallery. Still, I couldn't help myself. I had to see what was inside this surprise treasure trove.

I've never been much of an artsy person. I don't know a Picasso from a kindergartner's work. But I do know what I like. My choices are as varied as my moods. Some of my favorite paintings, in fact, have been a whimsical childishness to them. This picture, however, was different. It literally spoke to me.

Like the angels encouraging the shepherds to follow the star, "Come along, Mary," the painting seemed to say me. "If you think this one is good, just wait til you see what's inside."

I stepped across the threshold into a place as comfortable as a painter's living room. It had a slight scent of oil paints and turpentine. Pictures of all sizes lined the walls. Giving a nod to the holiday season, there were handpainted ornaments and pieces of intricately beaded jewelry.

The owner of the gallery, Reet London, was almost like a work of art herself. From Estonia, she spoke with a Slavic accent. She was tall and thin. She moved like a dancer. Her skin looked as if it was made of fine porcelain - the kind you want to touch. The only thing that said she was a artist, other than her stature, was the black paint stained apron she wore. Unlike the artist in me, her hair was not astray, she had no paint on her cheeks, hands or shoes. I bet her brushes sat neatly in a tray in her easel.

Reet and I spoke of the Nativity picture. It was painted by an 80 year old Israeli man who moved to Jacksonville to live with his daughters. His work has been shown in galleries all over Europe. He paints the pictures he sees in his mind's eye. In a moment, I wanted to know the man, to sit on a stool in his studio and watch him paint. I wanted to bathe in his talent.

Then, when I didn't think it could get any better, Reed showed me another picture. This one was bigger, had more going on, but was still colorful. It was a painting of the Crucifixion. My hands didn't know what to do. Should I cover my mouth, grasp my heart or reach out to touch the canvas with the same reverence and awe that the ladies at the foot of the cross possessed? In typical fashion, I started to cry.

I had no idea what was happening to me. Like I said, I don't really "do" art, rarely visit an art gallery and often "dis" the stuff that auction houses sell for thousands of dollars. But this, this reaction was physical. This painting touched me in a place I've rarely been touched. To me, it was beauty personified. The pictures together - the Nativity on one wall, the Crucifixion on another - were not only art - they were church. It was like I was standing in the presence of the Alpha and the Omega. The beginning and the end right there on Hendricks Ave in Jacksonville, Florida? Weird, huh?

I'm not sure what it was all about. I've got to tell you, though, so far it tops my list of things that moved me in 2008.

In the hurry up days ahead, I'm wishing you art-filled moments that will take your breath away,
Merry ME

* http://www.europeanartgarage.com/

P.S. I googled "Reza" and could only find information about Iranian, not Israeli, Rezas.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Cat's Cradle

"Cat's cradle is a well known series of string figures. The name of the entire game, the specific figures, their order, and the names of the figures vary. Versions of this game have been found in indigenous cultures all over the world--from the Arctic to the Equatorial zones."*

I don't know where the name "Cat's Cradle"comes from. I began to get a clue, however, when I woke up to find a ball of yarn strewn across two rooms. Undoubtedly a certain girl cat who had a way too much time on her paws was to blame.

The evidence is circumstanial. I don't believe it would stand up in a court of law. But I know these black felines pretty well. The girl cat is not afraid to sniff around a bag of yarn when the lights are low and the house quiet. Boy cat might watch and egg her on, but there's no way he's brave enough to do the dirty work.

Take a look for yourself and see what I mean.

1. Down the hall










2. Around the corner


















3. Into the den








4. Onto the desk









5. Under and over and back around the pens and papers








6. Girl Cat: "Here, let me help you roll it back into a ball."


7. Boy Cat: "Looks like fun, but I better stay here and watch for mom."

I must be getting mellow in my old age. Thinking about how much fun they must have had makes me smile!

Here's hoping all your yarn is easily untangled, Merry ME

http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Cat

Was it as good for you ????

"Feeling gratitude and not expressing it
is like wrapping a present and not giving it."
William Arthur Ward

Here we are, the day after Thanksgiving. As if the days of the year aren't already moving fast enough, the time from now to Dec. 31st is going to pass by like a snowball rolling downhill, picking up speed and extra snow as it goes. The time of the year that should be the most sacred, the most meditative goes by in a big blur of decorations, Christmas carols, too much food and too much stress.

See, I've already moved beyond this post-thanksgiving day. I think yesterday may have been one of my most organized, best choreographed food fests. Okay, so the turkey was just a teeny tiny tad undercooked (I know - gag!) and the brownies were just that much overcooked. I think it all evened out in the end.


Mostly the the family dysfunction that usually shows itself in all its glory at holidays was missing. I remember laughing not bitching. I remember lively conversation, not stoney silence. I remember blessings, not hurt feelings. And that, my friends, is what the holiday season is all about isn't it? [Photo L: A man and his pie - it'a a beautiful thing!]

There was another family gathering taking place 2000 miles away. Most of my favorite people were together for the first time in 15 years. Cousins were reunited and grand cousins got to meet the people they'd been hearing about for most of their lives. Young and old together the way a family is supposed to be. In my mind's eye I picture it rather Rockwellian. I can't wait to see the actual photos, because I bet someone has red eyes from crying, sleepy eyes from lack of rest, and a plunger in hand because they forgot the "don't put the potato peel in the disposal" rule. Ahhh, now that's going to be a holiday to remember.

When I dragged my lazy ass out of bed this morning at a near record late hour ( it was still am, though not for long) my Sweetie had already unloaded the dishwasher and put the living/dining room back in order (you gotta love a man like that!). Now I've got to figure out how to put the good china back in the cupboard and find the turkey in the mass of refrigerated leftovers because the second course of Thanksgiving dinner is about to begin.

Today I have a grateful heart. While early money-saving shoppers are out there doing their best to help the economy, I think I'll put on a gentle Christmas CD, eat a turkey sandwich and burrow down into the gratitude.

I hope you can find the time in the coming weeks to do the same,
Merry ME

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Giving Thanks

"There is a calmness to a life lived in gratitude, a quiet joy."
Ralph H. Blum

I think I get the "quiet joy" part of that quotation. Haven't quite perfected the calmness!
It's the night before Thanksgiving. I've baked 3 pies, 4 loaves of pumpkin bread and a pan of brownies (which I forgot about until just now so they may be a tad overdone. I hope no one notices) today. As I write potatoes are boiling away before being smashed and buttered. Wow! That almost sounds like I'm organized. But I'm not going to jinx things by patting myself on the back just yet. I think I'll wait to do that after the burnt brownies have been served.

I may be organized when it comes to making a gala feast, but shamefully I've been so busy baking that I haven't stopped long enough today to count my blessings. Even though I whine a lot, I know that I am blessed; perhaps in more ways than I deserve. I've read some really good gratitude blogs and letters today. I'm pleased to say I know some pretty grateful people.

As I think back over this year I see that there is a common thread among the items on my gratitude list ... people. I've met, and re-met, some really neat people (and kritters) this year. People who made me smile and held me when I cried. People who praised my abilities, understood my failures, shared their truth and accepted mine. People I can't imagine not knowing. People I try to say thank you to on a regular basis. Friendship is a two way street, I hope I give as much as I get.

I believe that what goes around comes around. If I live my life trying to bless others, then those blessings will come home to roost. I haven't perfected the art of gratitude yet, but here's a list of people to whom I offer a heart full of thanks.
  • To Georges Jallouf thank you for showing me what it's like to have a brother; for being so good to my dad; for sharing your love and your smile; for teaching me the meaning of humility.
  • To Ana thank you for accepting my dad as he is and for always giving us service with a smile.
  • To Terri St. Cloud thanks for sharing your heart - with me and with so many others. [http://www.bonesigharts.blogspot.com]
  • To Carol O'Dell thanks for sharing your creativity and caregiving skills; for inspiring me and encouraging me to write my story. [http://home.comcast.net/~cdodell]
  • To Dale Beaman thanks for the example of your strong yet gentle spirit. [http://beamancoaching.com/]
  • To Linda for everything you do to put the fun in dysfunctional.
  • To Sorrow thanks for your circle of giving. It's a great lesson to all of us, not just your kids. [http://sorrow11.wordpress.com]
  • To Jean for showing me how important it is to keep putting one foot in front of the other no matter how many times you get turned down.
  • To Johnson thanks for being my own personal hurricane predictor, for sharing your great photos, and for making me proud.
  • To Chuck thanks for continuing to lift my spirits by working you haircutting magic
  • To unnamed health care workers thanks for making hospital visits, if not pleasant, at least bearable.
  • To the unseen cooks at Paneras, thanks you for bear claws and broccoli cheese soup. Mmmm. Divine, simply divine!
  • To the women in my writing group thank you for your honest yet gentle critiques; for letting me know "I'm okay" just the way am.
  • To Fr. Miguel and his "happy band of Christians" thank you for breathing life back into our church. Seeing Dad clap his hands to the salsa beat of a praise song is proof that you can teach an old dog new tricks!
  • To my vet, thanks for all the information on how to keep a cat from peeing on the furniture. I pray I'll never have to use it again.
  • To the two black cats thank you for reminding me the need to be forgiving
  • To Fr. David thanks for listening
  • Thank you t0 the EMT's who didn't blink an eye when I dropped the F-bomb because I was so worried about my Dad. I guess you've seen it all.
  • To Carol Sanchez thanks for helping to make my vision a reality
  • To Barak Obama thanks for your ideas, your dreams, your hopes for this country.
  • To the men and women in uniform at home and in foreign lands thank you for your sacrifice(s). May God keep you safe.
  • To Wendy thanks for coming to visit me. You continue to light up my life.
  • To the lady from the Walmart electronics department who cut fabric for me even though she clearly didn't have any idea what she was doing.
  • To Spud Bud, aka Frank, thanks for adding a little canine excitement to our otherwise ho-hum days.
  • To Black Beauty thanks for continuing to watch out for us. You are a big hunk of dog love.
  • To Bill McCarthy thank you for the work you do and for opening my eyes. [http://www.southwestindian.com]
  • To John Katz, thanks for sharing your life at Bedlam Farm. [http://blog.bedlamfarm.com]
  • To Ewell and Hoppin John, thanks for your songs.
  • To Gary and Molly Jo thanks for giving me a window into the world of Ice; and for coming all the way to Florida so I could meet Ivy Jane! [http://www.gaylordhotels.com/gaylord-palms/special-events/kissimmee-orlando-events/best-of-florida-christmas]
  • To Dad thanks for the ever present opportunities to practice patience and compassion. I pray I'll perfect these skills before it's too late.
  • And last, but never least, to my everloving Sweetie for all you do to comfort me, teach me, help me, guide me, and love me. You are the best. [http://coachjackcook.com]
I am blessed,
Merry Me

Friday, November 21, 2008

Homework Assignment

"No day is so bad it can't be fixed with a nap."
Carrie Snow

I'm not usually very good with assignments. Like exercising or dieting, an assignment is something I know I should do, but before I get started on it, I have to dig in my heels and whine a little.

Yesterday at our writing group Carol told us of a good workbook to help stimulate writing [How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci by Michael Gelb] One of the author's suggestions was to jot down 100 questions you have about your life. 100 questions in 30 minutes. 100 free associative questions that don't have to have answers at the moment. The whole point is to get the questions down on paper.

We didn't have time for a hundred so Carol asked us to write down 5. Here are mine ...

  1. Why am I so angry?
  2. How can I get my $$$s in order?
  3. How can I be more compassionate in the face of fear?
  4. How can I get to Seattle and Key West more often?
  5. How can I get more sleep?

Good Lord, a few more questions like that and I'd have to check myself into a mental health facility for some intense therapy. In a way, though, that's what writing is for me - therapy. Probably why I should do more of it instead of letting things rumble around in my head the way they do.

Each of the women in the group shared one of their questions. When it got to me, I asked the sleep question. Who knew a question about my seemingly endless need for sleep could generate so much compassion and wisdom? You don't have to be a rocket scientist or Sigmund Freud to figure out that my need for sleep is most likely more emotional than physical. But it helps if you're a friend who can help you see the forest instead of the trees. Carol suggested that a way to exercise my writing muscles - i.e. journal more frequently - would be to write every day for 30 days about a different place I'd like to sleep.

THIRTY DAYS ????? That sounds a tad bit like NABLOPOMO! That sounds like work! Just thinking about it makes me feel kind of sleepy!

Yet at the same time, I think it sounds like a fun assignment. If I could sleep anywhere in the world, where would it be? Would I sleep alone or have company? Would I sleep a la naturale or would I snuggle down between handmade quilts in flannel pajamas? Would I sleep on a bed or in a hammock, or on a raft bobbing on an ocean current? Hmmmmm? I'm beginning to like this assignment.

So I'm in. I've got a ton of things to do before Christmas. Hell before Thanksgiving and that is only a week away. But this "to do" sounds like something I can handle and something that will be good for me. I don't know if I'll be any closer to thinking like DaVinci, but it's worth a try.

Stay tuned, Merry ME

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Mary the Fairy Hartmeyer

" Spread your wings and let the fairy in you fly! "
Author Unknown

When I was a little kid we lived in Philadelphia. Just learning to talk I am told I had my own way of saying things - chish (fish), chork (fork) and chank (Frank) - sort of a combo of toddler and south Philly. Also, for some reason that has never been thoroughly explained to me, I dubbed myself "Mary the fairy Hartmeyer." I must have had a thing a young man named Hartmeyer who worked for my father. Go figure! Mary the Fairy was a name that stuck over the years. Not stuck as in "Swaying Sapling" but it had enough staying power that one of my personas is easily influenced by fairy paraphernalia.

I went to my writer's group this morning. It felt good. I felt free; or at least on a longer leash. My sister was making breakfast for Dad. I left his "where are you going?" comment at the door. [Note to self: Maybe the gruffness of his voice has nothing to do with what he's saying. Maybe he's not growling at me, a growl is just his normal tenor. Could it be that where are you going is just a question so he'll know where I'm going? It doesn't have to be a snarl - WHERE ARE YOU GOING NOW MISSY?"]

The group's discussion was compassionate and gentle. There was a thread of wanting to control how other's live their lives running through the conversation. We all seemed to be saying we care for people in our lives and only want things to be better for them. When our intentions are good, why don't those people act on the wisdom we so generously confer on them? It's a question I live with daily so I could definitely relate. Two hours and two giant glasses of iced tea passed by all too quickly.

As I drove home something white and glittery and shimmery caught my eye - not an easy thing to do at 60 mph. But I knew immediately what it was. Fairy wings!

Fairy wings on the side of the road. Was that an ominous sign - some poor fairy had lost her wings? Or was it an omen - I needed to dig deep and bring my fairy self back to life? I would have whipped a James Bond (or James Ellington) u-turn, but there was a big fence in the middle of the highway. So I drove west, turned south, crossed back over the freeway, drove past the wings twice, turned around on a side road then parked in a deserted parking lot to get to within a block of the wings lying forlornly in the gutter.

As if I were rescuing the whole fairy not just her wings, I picked them up tenderly and checked for any breaks. Except for a slight tear in one corner, these gossamer glories were in perfect condition. I knew I had discovered fairy paydirt. I knew these wings were meant for me. White with silver glitter.They even match my hair!

When I got home, I tried them on. Like Cinderella's glass slipper, the elastic bands that hold the wings on, slipped right into place. The wings sit just over my shoulder blades resting comfortably on the spot that I believe was made for such glamorous accoutrements. I am pretty sure I can fly if I close my eyes and stand on my tippy toes, but for now, just wearing the wings is enough.

I don't know why things happen the way they do. I don't know how the wings got to where they were or why I was the only person cruising down the highway who decided to stop and pick them up. But I do know that something as simple as fairy wings, can make a person feel lighter, happier.

Clapping my hands because I believe, I am,
Merry ME

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Crayola Wisdom

"No word in the English language rhymes with the color names orange, silver or purple."
Crayola.com

I've said it before and I'm sure I'll say it again. I love Reddi Arts. It's more than an artist's paradise of canvas, paint and brushes. There's a little bit of heaven for everyone who walks in the door. You want books? Reddi Arts has them. Not your every day, run
of the mill, novels. Reddi Arts stocks books that speak to your spirit. The kind of book that cries out to you when you pick it up to scan the jacket, "take me home, you'll be glad you did." Reddi Arts is the place to go if you want a picture framed. Reddi Arts is a kaleidoscope of delight if you are a lover of anything that has to do with paper, pens, crayolas, paint, glue, ribbon, greeting cards, soap, stamps, and on and on.

I love Reddi Arts!

I think it's been a few months since I have been in the store. It's a dangerous spot for my pocketbook. But today I had to drop off a piece of material for the print department. It was a simple/in and out task. A half hour after my original reason for being there passed and I was still wandering through the aisles. A book in the baby section spoke to me. I flipped through it, savoring the quotes and poems. I scribbled a few on the only piece of paper I could find in my purse - a torn and tattered dinner receipt. Is that cheating, to write down something you like in a book, but not buy it? I'm pretty sure I'll go back and buy it someday. Today I was keeping my promise to Wendy not to use my credit card.

Just as I was putting the book back on the little stand where it belonged, I read one more quote. Something that made me pause and think, "I wish I'd said that." I googled it as soon as I got home. The receipt wasn't big enough to write the whole thing. Apparently this little gem is not new:

"Maybe we should develop a Crayola bomb as our next secret weapon. A happiness weapon. A beauty bomb. And every time a crisis developed, we would launch one. It would explode high in the air - explode softly - and send thousands, millions, of little parachutes into the air. Floating down to earth - boxes of Crayolas. And we wouldn't go cheap, either - not little boxes of eight. Boxes of sixty-four, with the sharpener built right in. With silver and gold and copper, magenta and peach and lime, amber and umber and all the rest. And people would smile and get a little funny look on their faces and cover the world with their imagination."

I wonder if Barak Obama might consider Robert Fulghum for a position on his cabinet. In my opinion this is the kind of change the world needs. Crayola bombs and Cotton Candy grenades.

Wishing you a colorful day,
Merry ME

Friday, November 14, 2008

The "C" word

"When you think about it, what other choice is there but to hope?
We have two options, medically and emotionally:
give up, or fight like hell."
Lance Armstrong

We've actually been saying cancer in our house for about a month. It was tentative at first. We've known the doctor was removing "spots," either by cauterizing or surgery. But each time I figured the cancer was gone. After the last surgery, the doctor pretty much assured us that the cancer was going to repeatedly return. It was time to consider a more drastic kind of treatment. That, or be prepared for surgery every few months. Neither option sounded good to me and I'm not even the patient.

Today we got the rundown on the corresponding "C" word - chemotherapy. Because Dad's age and so-so health the optimal treatment of bladder removal is a no-go. Thus, Dad and the doctor agreed on a mild dose of chemo. I asked a lot of questions but basically I'm just along for the ride (and, I suspect, to clean up the mess.)

I've got to tell you, nothing about this treatment sounds pleasant. On the other hand all the staff, nurses and doctors appear to do their best to make the ensuing treatment bearable. Only time is going to tell how Dad will respond, physically and emotionally.

Other possible C words associated with chemo:

Curmudgeon - the cancer patient's general disposition
Crybaby - the caregiver's general disposition
Crap - what both the patient and caregiver say when they get to the clinic only to find the scheduled appointment has to be postponed due to low blood counts
Clean - what the caregiver is going to have to improve so as not to cause the patient infection
Comfortable chairs - what the caregiver is going to need to sit through 3-4 hours of treatment. It looks like all the patient has to do is ask, and he gets all the comfort he needs.
Compassion - a skill the caregiver needs to improve upon

Wish us luck,
Merry ME

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Alls well that ends well

I was strolling through the hardware store when my phone rang. Expecting it to be my Sweetie wanting something else from the plumbing aisle, I was surprised to hear a woman's voice. Thick with what I thought was a Spanish (but turned out to be German) accent the voice expectantly asked if I might have her dog. Remembering to be careful about who I turned the stray over to, I asked a few questions. Not that I really needed to. From the moment I heard the yearning in the woman's voice I knew she was the one I worried about after I stopped worrying about the dog.

She described him to a "T" even telling me about how he yelps when you touch the bump on his tale because it was once broken. Before the phone call was over I was making an appointment to give Blackie, aka Spud back to Eva.

I tried not to be sad. In all honesty I can't afford the vet bills for another pet. Mainly I was really pleased that this story was going to have a happy ending.

At 5:30 on the dot, Eva knocked on the door, starting a chain event of dogs barking, cats scurrying and my heart thumping. I opened the door an excited black dog at my heels. It only took one nano second to see how much this woman and this dog meant to each other. There was more barking. Poor Eva couldn't stop crying.
It is still a mystery as to how, why and where Spud made his fateful escape from Eva's car. The reason I never saw any "Dog Lost" flyers was because they were posted on the other side of town. Although the pooch was last seen near where I found him, he'd still done some traveling and crossed some busy roads. It explains why he just plopped himself down and decided to take a nap.
Seeing how happy the reunited family was as they walked down the sidewalk, I felt pretty proud of my rescuing abilities. Hard as it was to see them drive away, I know I did the right thing by keeping the dog rather than take him to the pound. Spud's visit added some much needed spice to our otherwise stagnant lives. Even Dad enjoyed seeing the spunky pooch chase a ball and bark at the cats. However, I think Black Beauty breathed a sigh of relief when the little whippersnapper was led away. There's only so much butt smelling an old lady dog can take.
Eva promised to bring Spud back to visit. The cats can't wait!
Feeling good,
Merry ME

Monday, November 3, 2008

Blackie

Perhaps I've watched to many episodes of Cross Country and the Dog Whisperer. Perhaps I'm just a sucker for big brown eyes. Either way, I have fallen for a wayfaring stranger with 4 short legs and tail that seldom stops wagging.

Last week, after dropping my sister off at the airport I drove home in one of those fogs where you think you're driving safely but in all actuality your mind is a million miles away from the activity at hand, i.e. going 65 miles per hour on a 4-lane highway. It always kind of surprises me to find I've gotten myself home in one piece.

As I neared my own neighborhood on that fate-filled day, a black fur ball on the sidewalk next to a busy street pulled me from my depression. It seemed strange that a dog would have picked that particular spot to lie down and take a nap. Something was not quite. In an instant, I went from woe-is-me mode to Super Girl. Knowing I couldn't do the rescuing myself, that I needed my trusty sidekick, I sped home and yelled from the door, "Sweetie, I need you!"

Talk about fast moving. When I yell like that my man can hustle. He stopped only long enough to slip on some shoes and a shirt. Without a care for the early morning chill, he jumped in the still running rescuemobile without long pants or a hat. Bundled up in a warm sweatshirt, I didn't even notice that my sweetie might soon be in the same state of hypothermia as the dog we were going to pick up.

I drove past the dog once heading North, then made a U-turn across a lane of cars heading for work in the other direction. Al Unser couldn't have done it any better! To my semi-observant eye, the dog had not lifted one paw in the ten minutes since I'd last seen him. I stopped the car right next to the tired pooch, and the real rescuer hopped out of the car - noticing for the first time the temperature was hovering in the 40's. Undaunted, my man walked up to the black bundle of nerves. He carefully but with authority (like I said we've watched a lot of Cesar Milan lately and know the human has to assume the role of Alpha dog in all situations) held out his hand for a good sniff by a dog who could barely hold its head up. Having grabbed a collar instead of a jacket, Sweetie slipped it around the dog's neck with a swift singular motion. The dog then stood and walked himself right into the back seat of the car as if he knew it was his lucky day. If dogs pray, I've got to believe this dog's prayers had been answered. It might sound egotistical, but if I were a dog that needed to be rescued and didn't live anywhere the Selah, Washington, I'd want to be rescued by Sweetie and me!

Even though I did everything a good rescuer is supposed to do, I fell hard for the cuteness of this dog. I called around to the local shelters leaving my name and number as well as a description of the dog. I called a dog rescue place only to receive the helpful information that I should NOT give the dog to just anyone because lost dogs are often used for dogfighting bait. (I could have lived my whole life without knowing that.) I had the pooch scanned for a microchip. I put an ad in the newspaper. I drove around the neighborhood looking for Lost Dog signs. Then, feeling like I'd done all I could do to no avail, I let down my guard, shot right past like and began loving the transient canine.

In the beginning my Sweetie demanded that I wash my hands every time I touched the dog. Dad paid little attention to the visitor as long as he was restricted to a pallet in the garage. He made it clear HE already had a dog, and didn't need/want another one. Then I had a thought; just a little tickle at first, but one I couldn't let it go.

One of the first pets my parents got when they returned to the mainland after their Hawaiian honeymoon was a black cocker spaniel, named what else - Blackie! The more I thought about the coincidences - my sister's visit, the John Edward's show, a dog that seemed to be waiting just for me to drive by and my parent's history with cockers - I pretty much convinced myself that Blackie, or Frank as others are trying to name him, is a sign from my mom that she's hovering nearby. Sure, she could have tried to reach me by making the washing machine spin backwards. Yet in typical mom fashion, she knew I need a love message not more work.

It's a stretch I know. Still, I haven't gotten any calls from disheartened owners. The pallet piled up with blankets has moved into the family room. Black Beauty (Dad's dog) has let the interloper know she's boss. The cats are slinking through the house taking a wide berth around a dog who just wants to play. I'm pretty sure our family has been increased by one. One very cute, obedient, just-what-Mama-ordered black dog. [Photo Left: "Maybe if I just sit here but don't look at her, the cat won't even know I exist."]


I'm holding off a visit to the vet. I don't want to pay to have the dog examined, immunized and neutered only to find out he is a Grand Champion canine whose stud fees could bail out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

I don't know why these things happen. But I do know a dog by any other name has got to be love.

Merry ME

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Touched by an Angel

" A little consideration, a little thought for others, makes all the difference."
Winnie the Pooh

Terri St. Cloud became a friend of mine through one of those circuitous and serendipitous moments that life sometimes throws at you. A year ago, I took myself to the beach for a brief retreat. As if I had all the time in the world, not just a Saturday afternoon, I strolled into a store full of sweet smells, handmade gifts meant to bring one comfort and serenity. I met Bella who, not only convinced me of the recuperative value of a Tibetan Bowl massage, she pointed pointed out some bonesighart prints. Rather uncharacteristically attuned to the moment, I felt as if Bella was some kind of angel put in that spot on that day just for me. Her advice was correct on both counts. Sadly, not long after that the store closed and I never saw Bella again.

I checked out the bonesighs web site, and through another angelic turn of events, began exchanging emails with Terri, a really cool lady ... artist, author, mom, teacher. I don't recall now what our original correspondence was about, but I immediately felt safe opening my heart to this wise stranger. She made me feel at home even though we live in hundreds of miles apart.

I don't know Terri's whole story but I know she's had her share of sadness - lots of sadness. Instead of dwelling in that pain, Terri used it to make a better life for herself and others. Thus bonesigharts was born.

Along with everything else Terri does, she writes a blog - Honor Yourself (http://bonesigharts.blogspot.com/). In fact, she is a blogging queen. She even has her own blog groupies! So imagine my surprise and good fortune when she wrote about me, not once but twice. That's pretty cool, but that's not all. She gave me this blog award.


The award comes with instructions to pass it on which I will do when, as Terri says, the spirit moves me. I wonder if it's okay to send it back to her!
I've been thinking lately about how connected we are on this planet. Even though many of us (me included) muddle through life in our own little world, I think we are meant to embrace each other - loved ones and strangers alike. It's that power of love thing; positive energy rippling across the universe. Surely one day love is going to win out. Terri says it better. Here's a quote from an Oct. 28th post:
"we matter to each other.
we just do.
and our moods and interactions with each other
really do make a difference.
and we have no idea how much, do we???"
Well I certainly know what it means to have a mentor like Terri. If you haven't been there before now be sure to visit her website (http://www.bonesigharts.com/) you'll be glad you did.
Thanks, Ter, for all you do to lift my spirit. My prayer is that it will return to you four-fold.
With a grateful heart,
Merry ME

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A much belated post

"Give love and unconditional acceptance
to those you encounter,
and notice what happens."
Wayne Dyer

I've had these thoughts in my head for awhile. I should have written them down weeks ago.

A little background: Apparently it was no big surprise to anyone but me that when I moved back into my childhood home to care for my father in the last years of his life all my codependent traits flared back up with a vengeance. Slowly at first because when I first moved back I felt my adult persona still in charge. I sort of faced my father as a women in her fifties rather than a child of five. But as the years pass, my isolation grows and my inner age diminishes by years.

While in conversation with my therapist during my most recent funk, we began to discuss codependence - again. "Oh that,"I recalled. "Didn't I already deal with that? Didn't I already pack up my people pleasing insecurities and guilt like sweaters in June, then stuff the box to the back of my closet/psyche?" Yeh, well, funny thing about time, it moves in circles, not straight lines. Sometimes the stuff at the back of the closet works its way to the front.

According to my old and very yellowed copy of "Codependent No More" codependency has as many definitions as people who suffer from it. To some a "codependent person is one who has let another person's behavior affect him or her." To another * it is "an emotional, psychological, and behavioral condition that develops as a result of an individual's exposure to, and practice of, a set of oppressive rules - rules which prevent the open expression of feeling as well as the direct discussion of personal and interpersonal problems." But here is the definition that really hit home for me*. "Codependency means," said one woman, "that I'm a caretaker."

In my situation, as with most codependents, it means putting the needs and wants of other people ahead my own. After awhile, everything gets out of whack, the self seems lost and the everyday emotions become way out of proportion. Anger takes on the appearance of a nuclear mushroom and sadness is way more than blue, it's the color of a dark, roiling sea. Eventually I forget (if I ever knew) how to be who I am and depend solely on the perceived reaction of other people to know how be in any given situation. It's no wonder I feel powerless because I pretty much gave all my power away.

You'd think, having been through years of therapy and 12-step meetings to address these issues, I'd have recognized the baggage before it got too heavy to carry. I didn't.

Back to my original point ....
I joined a group of women writers during the summer. I've written about them before. The group facilitator is a published author with more books coming and more energy than 10 of me. The other ladies are all in some stage of writing - just for fun, about to be published, telling their story, in love with words. I love the energy of the group. I love reading and hearing what they have to say about their own work and the work of others. I love getting away from my testosterone-filled environment to spend two hours with women who don't go out of the house without mascara (me being the only exception to that rule!) I love the iced tea and pastry at Paneras.

Yet, after a few weeks I noticed that I stopped writing. My ideas, my words, my window to the world dried up - a metaphor for how my life seemed to be going. Because I don't have any real goal for my writing, other than pleasing my family based fan club, I began to feel less than. I worried about breaking the writing rules we were being taught. I dreaded even the gentlest of critiquse even though not one of them was anything but plauditory. I was grateful for the days I could legitimately miss a meeting. How had this happened? How had I gone from excitement to dread in just a few short months?

After spending an agonizingly long day trying to re-write something I'd posted on my blog so I'd have something to "turn in", I made a break-through of sorts. I printed up my story, but I also invited the ladies to my blog (what? open myself up to more critique? what was I thinking?). I offered up what I feel I do best, write from the heart, not the rule book.

Guess what happened. Each one of those women read my blog and said I was okay. They gave me permission to be who I am right where I am. It wasn't their praise that touched me, though admittedly I felt rewarded, it was their acceptance. In essence they said, "hey girlfriend, you're one of us. You don't have to try to please us. You just have to do what you do and let us into your world. We're interested in your world."

Do I sound like Sally Field at the Academy Award show? "They like me!!!!!!!!!!!" I think I know how she felt that night.

On the way home that day, I became painfully aware of how entrenched my codependence has become. I was a little sad to think I need validation from strangers because the man who depends on me to clean up his pee doesn't even realize he's starving me. The overriding emotion, however, was how grateful I am for friendship and acceptance. What a gift.

Along those same lines, here's a quote from a recent post from my friend Terri St. Cloud **, "when you get to watch someone find their talent, that's such a good thing....and when you get to watch someone start to believe in their talent....and then trust and believe enough to offer that talent.....well....that's a little piece of heaven."

I think it's a two-way street. When we offer the belief and the trust and the acceptance we gain a little piece of heaven, but so does the person on the receiving end of the trust, belief and acceptance. We're all in this world together. Being co-dependent isn't necessarily a bad thing, until it gets lopsided.

Thank you to my writing pals for the reminder,
Merry ME

* Codependent No More, Melody Beattie, Hazelton Foundation, 1987, pg. 28
** http://www.bonesigharts.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Goodbyes Suck

"Why can't we get all the people together in the world that we really like
and then just stay together?
I guess that wouldn't work.
Someone would leave. Someone always leaves.
Then we would have to say good-bye.
I hate goodbyes.
I know what I need.
I need more hellos."
Snoopy


Elton John sings that "sorry seems to be the hardest word." But I think he's wrong. I think the hardest word to say is "goodbye."

This morning, after a week that seemed like it had less than the optimal 7 days, I took my big sister to the airport so she could fly back to Washington. I don't know how many miles it is between Washington and Florida but I know the distance between sisters is way too big. Oh sure, we have cell phones and Internet access, but tell me, is there anything better than sitting knee to knee, sharing iced teas and life stories?

As we stood on the sidewalk, shivering in the record-breaking autumnal morning chill, we hugged - the kind of hug that says,"thanks for coming; thanks for caring; thanks for all your support." And, "you're a great sister and I'm missing you already." An I-know-everything-will-be okay-but-it-will-be-so-much-okayer-if-you-could-just-stay" kind of hug.

Sometimes it feels like I've spent my whole life hugging people I love and saying goodbye. I've stood pierside as an aircraft carrier lined with sailors left homeport for six months. At one time or another, I've said farewell to my husband, my children, my parents, my sisters, and long-time friends. I've held furry friends as they drew their last breath, and I've said final goodbyes to more people than I'd like to count.

Funny how every new goodbye conjures up memories of all the old ones; after awhile they all weigh heavy on my shoulders. I spent the day trying to catch up on a couple hours sleep, feeling sad, leaden. But I'm also feeling grateful for my sister's visit, glad for any time we could spend together. While she was here, there was an ever so slight, but still noticeable, lessening of my caregiving burden. Linda dad-sat so my sweetie and I could have a night away. And, like an invigorating tonic, my beloved sister pumped up my sagging countenance with her unceasing affection and support.

It's time for me to go to bed. I think my sister is probably just getting home. It's been a long day for both of us. At least I didn't have to eat stale peanuts (assuming, of course, that airlines still serve peanuts!)

Sayonara,
Merry ME

Monday, October 20, 2008

Getting harder

"Resolve to be tender with the young,
compassionate with the aged,
sympathetic with the striving,
and tolerant with the weak and the wrong.
Sometime in your life you will have been all of these."
Dr. Robert H. Goddard (American rocket engineer 1882-1945)
Saturday was a pajama day for me. I placed my butt on the couch, turned on the TV and only moved when someone called from another room ... M A R R R YYYYYY!
I had a ringside seat of a reality series that was being shown in its entirety on the WE channel.

The show was called the Baby Borrowers. It was an experiment of sorts - if you can call parents giving up their children to teenagers who don't have a clue about child rearing for three days an experiment; it looked more like torture for both the real parents and the wanna be parents. Here's the premise. A group of teenage couples from all over the country, are in "love" and want to have a baby (I never heard marriage or commitment mentioned - just the baby part, but I tuned in a little late). So they sign up for this reality show to find out what it's like in the real world, i.e. labor, delivery, sleep deprivation, poo diapers and, oh yeh, working a 40 hour week to pay the rent.

I felt kind of sorry for the kids. At the beginning of the first show they still had stars in their eyes. They got to sleep in the same bed in a house that was made just for them. The TV monitors didn't bother them. They were in love. They laughed.

After a few days of wearing a weighted pregnancy belly and one wisecrack from her sweetie, one girl took the belly off, locked herself in the bathroom, refusing to come out even to attend the classes that graphically detailed the birth process. To his credit, her partner hefted the bellypack over his shoulders and went to the class. It was pretty clear that this couple had some problems and bringing home a baby was perhaps going to be the proverbial back-breaking straw.

In the second episode, a group of parents delivered their year old, teething, not-always-sleeping-through-the-night infants to the couples. The teens were given a notebook full of instructions and then left to fend for themselves. The parents were on the other side of the make-believe neighborhood watching 24 hour monitors of how things were going. There was also a professional nanny shadowing the couple, ready to step in if an emergency presented itself.

Maternal instinct kicked in pretty fast for a couple of the pretend moms and even one of the fathers. However, the teens were like most new parents - scared, unprepared, and ill-equipped for a child that cries non-stop. Let's face it poop happens and saying the "F" word and stomping around the bedroom isn't going to change the smelly diaper.

As I watched the couples tossing pillows over their heads in the middle of the night to shut out the sound of baby wailing, or standing over the baby in a sleep deprived stupor trying to talk the child into going back to sleep, or crying to a partner whose sound sleep has not been penetrated by the screams, "I don't want to do this anymore, you do it!" I realized taking care of an older person who doesn't feel so good is a lot like taking care of an infant (maybe more like a stubborn two year old but I slept through that episode!).

Since Dad got out of the hospital, my nights have been long, my REM sleep short. When Dad calls my name, I am yanked from a deep sleep to instant movement by a great surge of maternal/caregiving adrenaline. I had no idea I could actually move as fast as I have been moving. One minute I'm in dreamland and the next I'm by Dad's bedside with some semblance of coherence. This morning I grabbed his antibiotic instead of his pain meds, then forgot the 2nd pee pill thus having to make 4 trips to the kitchen before my brain actually kicked into gear, yet in the end I got him accurately medicated. I smoothed back his hair, handed him a dry pair of underpants and crawled back into bed.

Knowing I should sleep while Dad sleeps I was unable to turn of my adrenaline stimulated brain. Memories of my first days of motherhood flooded into my foggy brain; praying for the crying to stop, pacing back and forth between my bed and the crib, wondering what I'd gotten myself into. Infant rearing and parent caring are two sides of the same coin.

While somethings are the same - the round-the-clockness of routine - one big thing is different. When you are taking care of an infant, you are helping it to live, togrow. When you are caring for a parent at the end of his life, there comes a point when you realize all you are doing is marking off the days. The work is about making the patient comfortable in his last days. Days that could possibly extend into years. The joyful reward is replaced by on-going sadness.

Yesterday my Dad started talking about getting a 2nd opinion on treatment plans for recurring bladder cancer. I suppose even though we all know he's no candidate for surgery, chemo, or radiation, it wouldn't hurt to have someone other than me tell him so. But at the same time that he kind of, sort of, clung to the hope of living longer, he mentioned letting go, doing nothing, dying. Conversations like these make this caregiver/daughter emotionally confused.

It's his life. He is going to do what he has to do. At the end of our life's journey, we all have to make the decision to hold on or let go. But I find I'm caught in the middle. He's my father. I want him to live. I'm not ready to be an orphan. I want him to enjoy the days he has. I want him to smile. I want him to get fresh air, go to church, tell jokes, be happy. Even though it means I have more work to do, I'm not quite ready to let go. I believe wholeheartedly in the Hospice concept, but I'm not ready to embrace it. I rage inside because it's not even my choice. It's his.

We had a fight about pain medication this morning. For all my years of experience, I'm really not so different from that young guy on TV who cried in frustration at the baby in the crib crying in frustration. Neither children nor parents come with instruction manuals. Maybe Baby Borrowing should be a requirement. If there is such a thing as Dad borrowing, I'm not sure I'd recommend it. Perhaps on the job training is a better option.

Forgetting how to be merry
ME

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Later that night ....

Post Surgery
12:30 AM

Dad: Mary, I'm all wet.
Mary: Hmmmm.
Dad: Call the doctor.
Mary: It's after midnight. He's asleep.
Dad: Let's go to the Emergency Room.
Mary (out loud):Hmmmmmmm
Mary (in her head): Oh, my God, I can't face the emergency room tonight.
Dad: I'm wet. It burns.
Mary (in her head, sounding like Prissy from Gone with the wind): I don't know nothing about leaking penises.


Mary: Hi Dr. Mona, sorry to bother you at this hour.
Doctor: No problem. What's going on?
Mary: Dad's leaking. Dad's in pain.
Doctor: Oh, he's just having bladder spasms.
Mary (in her head): JUST???
Doctor: Is he bleeding? Is he feverish? .....

Crackle. Crackle. Pop. Silence.

Mary: F#!&*K !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! JACK !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Jack: Yes dear.
Mary: The GD phone isn't working. What do I do now?
Jack:Huh??????

The phone rings again.

Doctor: As I was saying. Why don't you just remove the catheter?
Mary: I don't know nothing about removing no catheters.
Doctor: I'll tell you how.
Mary: Oh, well in that case.
Doctor: First you cut the short tube ......

Mary (scissors in hand, remembering Carol O'Dell's advice to look for the funny in a situation): Okay, Dad, here's the plan. We're going to cut your pecker off.
Dad: Good idea.

Mary(on her knees in front of her father who sitting on the toilet, not much visible except the plastic tube extending from penis from hell.) Here we go!
Dad: What are you cutting?
Mary: The part of the catheter that keeps the balloon inside you blown up.
Dad: Balloon?
Mary: Don't ask me, I'm just the cutter.

Cut. Pull. Success.

Dad: oooohhhhhhh. ahhhhhhhhh. That feels better already.
Mary: Thank you Jesus!
Dad: You sure have earned your salary today.
Mary: Yup!

Dad: I think I'll go to sleep now.
Mary (downing two Tylenol): Sweet dreams.

Dad: Mary ?????
Mary: Yes, Dad.
Dad: Do you think I should take a pain pill?
Mary: Are you in pain?
Dad: It burns. I'm wet.

Mary (finally in bed, pulls up the covers, curls into a fetal postition): Deeeeep siiiiighhhhhh
Jack: I love you. Sleep well.
Mary (in her head as she falls into well-deserved and deep sleep): I love you too.

A little less than Merry but truly blessed,
ME

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Been there ... done that!

In the days since I last posted anything, I can honestly say I've thought about writing. I've had some ideas, but never made the effort to put fingers to keyboard. However, I have been knitting and have a bag full of almost 50 teeny tiny baby hats to send to Save the Children.

Today was one of those days spent sitting in hard, uncomfortable chairs in a hospital waiting room. Gratefully, it wasn't as long a day as it could have been. Any day, though, that starts before 7:30am is going to be a long one for me.

Dad had a tumor removed from his bladder. An aggressive cancer that will probably return. But at his age and with the condition of his heart, these cystoscopic surgeries are really the only treatment option.

I know Dad is the one who should be getting the sympathy, not me. However, in my normal it's-all-about-ME mentality I've got to say even though I signed on for this job, I just never figured I be on such intimate terms with my father's pecker. He's had this surgery before but in the same way a person experiences situational amnesia, I obviously blanked out any memory of catheter cleaning and changing. It came back to me as the nurse was giving me a mini- course in Foley maintenace how last time we went through this drill, I spilled pee all over Dad, me and the bathroom. There's a trick I'm sure I'll have to practice that keeps the pee from shooting out across the room as soon as tap is opened.

I know it's kind of rude to listen to conversations that take place on the other side of a hospital curtain. However, I couldn't help but perk up my ears when I heard a doctor say to his patient in the cubicle next to us, "I haven't done this procedure before, but I'll give it my best shot. If it doesn't work, I'll have to think of something else."

What????? He's never done it before? Is that appropriate doctor/patient conversation? I'm guessing the patient had already had some kind of sleepy juice as I did not see him get up and walk out as fast as his plastic-tred tube socks could carry him, his untied hospital gown flowing in the breeze.

I wonder, is it wrong to use another's misfortune to spur me on to writing again? Perhaps between pee emptying escapades I'll find some humorous tales to share.

Looking for my rubber gloves,
Merry ME