Monday, March 30, 2009

What if ....

"We achieve inner health only through forgiveness
-the forgiveness not only of others
but also of ourselves."
Joshua Loth Liebman


I told a little bit of my version of the story.
Father/Brother Georges said she's fragile.
Fragile like fine crystal? Hard as tempered steel? Can one be both?

Father/Brother Georges says healing will come with forgiveness.
Not just of others. First you must forgive yourself.

"Ahh," I said as a very dim light bulb began to glimmer.
I thought back to all the people I've blamed for the problems in my life. I thought I'd made peace. What if peace isn't the same as forgiveness?

Maya Angelou says, "you can't do better until you know better." I think the important people in my life did things the way they did because they didn't know any better. That knowledge deserves my forgiveness. It was their stuff.

I thought about being a scared little girl and thinking the things that happened around me could somehow be my fault. How? Why? Nobody told me different. I didn't trust anyone enough to speak my fears out loud.

I wonder was I alone? I doubt it.
No, I know it ... we were all wounded.
Wounded by harsh words and teasing. Flip flops and leather belts. Silence and unspoken truths. Fear.

What if I forgive myself for all those things I thought I was responsible for? Put the responsibility back where it belongs.
What if I said out loud, face to face with the person in the mirror:

"IT WASN'T YOUR FAULT."
"YOU DIDN'T CAUSE IT."
"YOU DID THE BEST YOU COULD."
"I FORGIVE YOU."
"WHEN YOU KNOW BETTER, YOU'LL DO BETTER."

What if forgiveness leads to compassion? What if compassion leads to understanding? What if understanding means not being angry anymore? What if not being angry makes room for love? What if love creates the family we've been looking for?

What if ....
Merry ME

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Scavenger Hunt - A Bricky Thing

I live in a neighborhood that was once a plantation owned by John Sammis. According to local history the tract of land was part of a Spanish grant to a man who established one of the "first water-powered sawmills in the county." In 1837 the operation of the the mills was turned over to Sammis, a New York ship builder, who in turn sold the property to a New Jersey religious group in 1873. There is some question about when the original Sammis residence was built, but it still sits at the end of my street.

At the other end of the street is the plantation cemetery. When you're a kid growing up, having a cemetery on your block is cause for all sorts of scary stories about ghosts and boogie men. I used to walk through the overgrown foliage and wonder about the lives of the people who were buried there. To a white girl growing up in Florida in the days of separate bathrooms and water fountains, I tried to guess if the names on the headstones belonged to plantation gentry or slaves. As an adult, the cemetery holds more of a historical interest for me. I just read that one of the "oldest tombstones in the county was erected there in 1841."


As you near my street two brick posts stand on either side of what has always been a main road in and out of the neighborhood. I don't know for sure, but I think they are all that remains of the plantation gateposts. As soon as I saw "a bricky thing" on the Scavenger Hunt list, I knew I wouldn't have to travel very far for a good photo op. None of these shots shows the whole gate post but I think the moss and hook are pretty cool looking. I couldn't decide which I liked best so I included all three. I particularly like the tiny white snail hiding out in the midst of the moss.




Here's hoping there are some interesting brick-y things in your world,
Merry Me

Scavenger Hunt - Something inspired by poetry

2.) Larabee is one of the blogs I follow on a regular basis. LPC takes some awesome pictures. Lately she has also been posting poems by Hafiz (the most celebrated Persian poet) along with her pictures. Go ahead, check it out. I think a lot of her photos could also be listed under "peaceful easy feelings." Enjoy! ~me
Trees
by Alfred Joyce Kilmer*



I THINK that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth's flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
This is one of the oak trees that has been in our neighborhood, some say since the Civil War. I don't know if that's stretching the truth or not. It is not an exaggeration to say they have been around a lot longer than the homes or people. Sadly, though they look large and lush on the outside many of these trees are actually dead inside. Come hurricane season it's not uncommon to see the behemoth trees lying on their side, or across some one's roof.
At this time of year, however, they are lush and lovely. The blossoms have fallen off, leaving a haze of green pollen dust in the air and on the cars. But if you look up it is as if God has been painting each new leaf with a different shade of green.
I don't think my photography or editing skills can really do these poetic beauties justice. But it's my best shot! Enjoy.
Merry ME
* Am I the only person in the universe that didn't know that "Joyce" Kilmer was actually Alfred Kilmer? All these years I've thought it was a woman who wrote this ode to trees. Live and learn!

Scavenger Hunt - Green

"If your knees aren't green by the end of the day,
you ought to seriously re-examine your life."
Bill Watterson


2.) Photo by Key West Johnny

I had many thoughts about what I could get in the color green and ended up with this one. My first thought was tropical vegetation, and I liked this one the best. Hope you enjoy.






1.) I'm pretty sure this might come under the header of "cheating". I did take the picture but I took it last summer. It's springtime so I feel confident that I will have ample opportunity to photograph the color green in many of its awesome variations.

But I have to tell you, I really like this photo. That frog is all about being green. ~me

Scanver Hunt - A Peaceful Easy Feeling, con't.

" ... I wanna sleep with you in the desert tonight
with a billion stars all around
'cause I gotta peaceful easy feeling
and I know you won't let me down
'cause I'm already standing on the ground ..."
The Eagles - Peaceful Easy Feeling

Merry Me Note: I'm changing the way I do things. I'm going to put NEW pictures at the top of the post instead of at the bottom. I'm hoping that will prevent me from having to fix the spacing every time I add something.

4. Here's Weneki's "peaceful" picture:

This pic doesn't capture it, but it hints at the peaceful easiness that I sense when I see sleepy Lou in the room with me. He spends so much time in hiding, but sometimes he just can't help it and has to come make himself known and let himself go. He's got a fair amount of angst in his bones, but he sets it aside about once a day and I love witnessing it.

3. I'm not sure of the ethicacy of sharing someone else's blog pictures. I just got a bunch of photos from Jon Katz ... the man stays pretty busy with his dogs, writing and farm, but never fails to fit in a good amount of picture taking every day. Here's a link to a picture of his dogs that totally says, "peaceful, easy feeling" to me. The path no longer has snow on it which has got to be cause for a celebration! But the remarkable thing, according to Katz, is this is the first time all four dogs were on the path together, off leash, and not battling for the position of Alpha dog. Don't you know they are just soaking up the sunshine. I think I hear John Denver singing in the background!


2. Sorrow sent this picture. The beauty and gentleness makes me weep. It certainly does capture a peaceful easy feeling.





1. Sweetie says he'll never live in the NE again. Too cold. Too much snow. South of the Mason-Dixon land is about as North as he'll go. So imagine my surprise when we were playing around on findyourspot.com and he checked the box that said he was only interested in living in the NW. It makes me just want to hug his neck!

He doesn't like to shovel snow, but this guy I love sure does love to sleep with the air conditioner turned down low enough to form icicles on his eyelashes. Since Dad is in control of the AC control Sweetie settles for the next best thing. He turns the ceiling fan to high! Slightly cool air swishes around our bed at night like rotor wash from a hovering helicopter. That's about as good as it gets in Florida.

Unless it's March and the outside temps still have a bit of chill in the wee hours of the morning. I snapped this picture when he was sound asleep on the patio. With only his nose showing he was almost in his version of Eskimo heaven.

Merry ME

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Scavenger Hunt - Bird Happiness

"A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer,
it sings because it has a song."
Maya Angelou

1. Hey wait a minute ... that's no bird!

I hung a new feeder right outside my kitchen so I could enjoy the birds as they feast. I think it must be too close to the window, because except for a very brave - or hungry- nuthatch the feeder has been totally ignored. Until yesterday when the squirrels discovered it. I say squirrels, as in more than one, but I may be wrong. It may be just this acrobatic rodent that keeps coming back for more. You can't really tell because the I'm shooting from inside the house, through the window glass and screen, but this guy is holding on with his back feet as he gobbles up what he considers his fair share.






2. As you can tell by this picture I am not much of a wildlife photographer. I've found that in order to get a good picture, even with my zoom lens, I have to be almost right on top of my subject. Trouble is birds have a tendency to fly away before I can even get them centered in the view finder.



The canary and finches are what you might consider a "captured" audience. They can't fly away when I get up close with my camera, but you still can't see them real clearly because of the bars of the
cage. This is the best I can get of what must be bird bliss.

Every morning I refresh the birds' water. I think this is probably the best part of Ernst's day (Ernst is a champion German Roller canary, so we've changed our family's traditional canary name from Tennessee Ernie Ford Bird, to something more German sounding.) As soon as I turn my back, he hops down to the perch nearest the water dish, dips his beak in as if to test the temperature, then does a bird version of a cannon ball into the middle of the water. It is pretty funny to watch.




At first the finches in the cage next to Ernst gave him a look like he was a bird brain! (I couldn't resist!) But they have begun fighting over who gets to bathe first. Even as small as they are, only one will fit in the bowl at a time. I feel quite delighted to provide a bit of happiness to these creatures who fill our kitchen with such pretty music and color. [Photo L: Hoppin' John getting ready to dive in.]


I'll keep trying for some better bird shots, but I think I'm going to have to rely on my fellow picture takers to do this item on the list justice.

Loving Spring,
Merry ME

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Living and Giving

“We make a living by what we get,
but we make a life by what we give."
Winston Churchill


Dad signed up for hospice care this week. Because he is not in the end stages of dying, it almost feels like "much ado about nothing." First there came an admitting nurse. She went over all the same information we'd already heard, asked the same questions, got long involved answers that we've got well rehearsed. The bottom line, Dad was assured that he would not be kicked out of the program if he didn't die on time or billed for services rendered, so he signed the papers. For me the hardest part was signing the DNR - Do Not Resuscitate Order. He already has advance directives in place, but you have to read close to see where it says don't try to revive him if he stops breathing. I pray I will know what to do -or not do- when the time comes.

Yesterday, Bob, the Teal Team nurse came by to assess Dad's condition. Same questions, same answers. Same incredulous look on Dad's face when I made a comment about the beginning of his cancer and how it's progressed. Same pissy feeling in my gut when he poo-pooed one of my answers. Bob explained the medications that would be coming. We nodded our heads in understanding and agreement. When the pills arrived, we disagreed on why they didn't send everything we expected.

The Social Worker stopped by this morning. Dad re-asked about the meds, re-asked about having to pay for anything, and re-glared at me when I didn't immediately say I get plenty of time off! Let's just not go there! I have the number to call if I want to be spelled to have "fun"! FUN ... what a concept!

So we're in the program. Does it make sense to say it feels a little like getting married? I've bought the dress, got new shoes, planned the service and now all I can do is wait. Crappy analogy, but probably the waiting feels the same.

We went to a funeral last week. I think with every farewell we attend, Dad shrinks a little in stature and disposition. It's got to be hard watching friends pass away one by one. One lady at church even said at the last funeral, "I wonder which one of us will be next." Ouch!

The front cover of the bulletin for this week's funeral had a quote from the gospel of Matthew,"Well done, my good and faithful servant." Can there be a better eulogy? When I read it, I immediately thought to myself, I hope this is what God will say to me when I cross over. And I hope that the people in my life know that this is my goal, to love and serve well.

Along the same line, here's what Jon Katz of Bedlam Farm Journal said in one of his posts today:
"Every morning, I ask myself three things. How can I best love the people in my life? How can I live my life? How can I send my signal to the world that I have stories to tell, and they are important to me. I am conscious of a connection to the many other souls struggling to get their messages out, from paintings to poems, to love to freeing the inner spirits that are wanting to get out.

So every day I write a chapter, take a photo, make a telephone call that moves my life forward, connects it to people (sometimes animals), puts a mark on the world, however small and insignificant. Somebody close to me told me yesterday that i have no idea who I am, and I believe this is true. I am accepting that who I am is reflected in what I do, not what I think or see."

It makes me wonder ... how do I send my signal to the world. I'm hoping that who I am is reflected in what I do. And when it's not, that I can quickly and earnestly change it.

As you "reflect" on your day, I hope you will be able to say to yourself, "well done." If not, remember, tomorrow the slate will be wiped clean and you get to start all over again!

Merry ME

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Scavenger Hunt - Something Cool Behind a Fence

"The wide world is all about you;
you can fence yourselves in,
but you cannot forever fence it out.
J.R.R. Tolkien

1. My sister Linda sent this picture along with this description:


We have cows across the road from us, maybe about 20. Every Spring, that number almost doubles in a two week time with each of the mothers giving birth to one or two babies. Every time I drive by, I think I see a new little one laying next to his mama all curled up. Then, as they gain a little strength, they frolic. There is no better word than frolic, and all the little ones frolic back and forth while their mothers eat grass with one eye on the playing around them.

Yesterday, many of them were gathered in a corner of the field right across from our driveway. I grabbed my camera and crossed the road to take a picture. It was very funny, the little calves stopped what they were doing, some watched, some turned their back. One who was feeding darted in back of her mama and peeked at me from underneath. The others watched me and tried to pretend I wasn't so close. But what was really funny (I wish I had remembered the video option on my camera), is the parade of mamas sauntering quickly to the fence near me, all mooing their mama moos to their babies - Moo-she's a terrorist! Moo-don't look at her! Moo-don't smile! It was very fun."

Weneki thinks, and I have to agree, that this picture could also be used under the Scavenger Hunt category of a "cute bottom." (Although I think the size of the picture does not do the cute bum justice.)

Good going, Linda Lu. These pictures make me want to visit the NW even more. I'm guessing this might also be birthing season for the Alpacas. If only I could twitch my nose and be someplace else.



2. Sorrow sent this picture after reading the above post. Indeed these cuties are "something cool behind a fence." Now I'm wondering if Sorrow raises alpacas (llamas?) along with making awesome pottery? If she tells me she shears the beasts, spins the wool and knits sweaters I'll be pretty impressed. Not surprised but impressed.

Sorrow says: "The alpacas are friends of ours and yes they do have names, but I can't remember what they are, as they have about 20 of them! They live about 6 miles from our house. ?? and temptation is the one thing May West and I live to indulge."

May all your fences be small ones,
Merry ME

P.S. I am challenged! Is the best way to add additional pictures to put them at the top or the bottom?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Photo Scavenger Hunt

"I think a photography class should be
a requirement in all educational programs
because it makes you see the world
rather than just look at it. "
Author Unknown

A couple of weeks ago I was reading Molly's Blog and was quite intrigued with her idea of a "Road Trip Scavenger Hunt." I haven't been on a scavenger hunt since I was a kid and I've never been on one that was all about collecting photographs not items. Just the other day Firebyrd posted a list of "Joy" photos on her blog which I totally loved. And, as if everyone but me is aware of this fun Kodak activity, Shutter Sisters blog is asking for pictures that represent hope.

One theme, lots of pictures.

I don't know if this is a new concept or an idea that's been around for awhile. Either way I think it's a brilliant. I immediately challenged Weneki to a similar adventure. My dream trip would be a mother/daughter driving adventure. Perhaps we could go to my sister Linda's home. It's not too far from Weneki and the snow has all but stopped leaving the mountain pass is passable. I'm a dreamer. This road trip isn't going to happen any time soon.

So, my second choice would be for each of us to have the same list of things to photograph at random, when the muse strikes or the opportunity arises, and share them back and forth. I'm going to try to get my son, Key West Johnny, to join in the virtual trip because the kid (in his mother's humble opinion) has an incredible eye for photography that is just being tapped. Living where he does, he has a dual specialty of sunsets and flowers. I know I'm biased but some of his photos make me weep with pride and for the beauty captured. When he has a web site up and running, you know I'll gladly share it.

One of my birthday cards from Weneki included my scavenger list. As with most things creative I want to drop everything else and focus in on the list and nothing but the list. Who cares if Pop has to eat or the beds need changing, my head is spinning with ideas of how to capture the perfect shot.

I have no photography skills other than a propensity to point and shoot. I love digital technology because you don't have to wait for film to be developed to see if the subject moved or my finger covered the lens. Ever since I've had my trusty Canon Elph that fits in my pocket I feel like I'm ready when the photo appears. It's the lighting or the angle or the zoom that leaves me wishing I knew what I was doing.

Here's the list, feel free to join in the hunt if you feel so inclined.
  1. A reflection
  2. A really cute bottom
  3. A peaceful easy feeling
  4. Green
  5. Something adorned in a hat
  6. A brick-y thing
  7. Something cool behind a fence
  8. Bird happiness
  9. A delicious beverage
  10. Something inspired by poetry
Feeling challenged in a good way,
Merry ME

P.S. Not sure how to include others' photos on this blog. You could email them to me. That would work wouldn't it? Anyone got any better ideas?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Joy Hangover

“Contentment is not the fulfillment of what you want,
but the realization of how much you already have.”
Anonymous

Yesterday was a grand day. The best kind of birthday. I was surrounded by people I love and who love me back. I was gifted, cheered, and sung to (in five different languages which, with the addition of Brother/Father Georges, has become our family tradition). I was feasted and treated to a decadent, chocolate-chip lava cookie a la mode. I wore a tiara out in public and actually felt deserving! People look at you kind of funny when you wear a tiara, but nobody snickers. Little girls, God bless them, point and act as if they are actually in the presence of royalty. I'm thinking tiara wearing would be mandatory if I were president.


There is still confetti in the rug which I am seriously considering keeping. My book supply has been replenished. I can't wait to start reading. Lately I've been so tired when I go to bed the pages have been all fuzzy. I have two bokays of beautiful and good smelling flowers, chocolate cake to eat and puzzles to work. Indeed, I have been blessed.
(Photo: Dad, Princess Mary, Georges
I do not know why I was holding my arms like that. It looks like I was trying to lift my boobs up and I wasn't doing a very good job. Notice that the red Mary Janes match the new red skirt. I love Mary Janes. Dad thinks only babies should wear them. What does he know?)

I gave up drinking alcohol a long time ago so I think the tired feeling I have today must be a joy hangover. It might have something to do with the not one, but two plates of shrimp scampi I scarfed down last night or the dessert, but I choose to believe its the unusual amount of joy I experience. (Photo: This picture does not do this succulent Red Lobster delicacy justice.)


Dad has reminded me more than once that my birthday is over, that I have to wait for another whole year to pass before I have another day, and that there is no reason to still be excited. Yeh, he's a bit of a party pooper. What he doesn't know is I have decided to continue my celebrating as long as the huge roast is still in the fridge waiting to be cooked. That is too big a piece of meat to eat just because. I know how to stretch out a good thing! (Photo: JoJo, Princess Mary and Sweetie, aka Ernest Hemingway)

Times goes on. Laundry continues to pile up. But life is good.

How can it not be when there are cute little girls like is in the world? She was sitting on the waiting bench at the Red Lobster and took an immediate shine to me - as I did to her.

Wishing you the best of everything topped off with a pink rose, Merry ME

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Happy Birthday to Merry ME!

To day is my birthday and I gotta say I'm feeling quite celebrated. Who cares if I'm 57, not 7, my adult and inner child personas are soaking up the love and celebrating being special today. Sweetie woke me up by singing the birthday song which on any other day might have caused me to grumble. But who can't smile when they know the birthday song is being sung in her honor?

I've opened cards and presents. There is confetti all over the floor and the smell of lavender in the air. My sister has become the master packer. You never know what's going to come flying out of the envelope when you rip it open. It makes me want to have a bunch of lavender plants just to use as packing material. Mmmmmmm!

I have a few things I have to do so I'll finish up the story of my birthday adventures tomorrow. For today, and everyday, I hope you take the time to celebrate who you are and who you are yet to be. Take stock of your good points, change the things you consider changeable and throw all the negatives into the trash can. Life is good. But it's too short for negative energy to rule the roost. When you've worked yourself into a big ol' bundle of love pass it on. Make someone else's day by celebrating them.

Here's a birthday thought for all of us! Enjoy.

"Everything you take for granted is a blessing.
Everything you fear is a friend in disguise.
Everything you want is a part of you.
Everything you hate you hate about yourself.
Everything you own does not define you.
Everything you feel is the only Truth there is to know.
Everything you wish for is already on its way to you.
Everything you think creates your life.
Everything you seek for you will find.
Everything you resist will stick around.
Everything you let go of stays if it's supposed to.
Everything you need is right where you are.
Every time you bless another your bless yourself.
Every time you blame another you lose your power.
Every time you think you can, you can.
Every time you fall you must get up and try again.
Every time you cry you're one tear closer to joy.
Everytime you ask for forgiveness, all you have to do is forgive yourself.
Everyone you see is your reflection.
Everyone you know mirrors you.
Everyone wants to be happy.
Everyone wants to live in joy.
Everyone seeks a higher purpose.
Everyone breathes the same breath.
Everyone needs love to survive.
Everyone has a purpose to fulfill.
Everyone's the same as everyone else.
We just get caught up in labels, names, skin color and religion.
Everyone's the same as everyone else.
No one wants to feel the pain.
Everyone's the same as everyone else.
Everyone is dying for love to remain."
Mastin Kipp*

Sending love all around,
Merry Me

*http://www.thedailylove.com/

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Restaurant Supply

"I can spend hours in a grocery store.
I get so excited when I see food, I go crazy."
Cameron Diaz
In honor of my birthday my friend (Brother/Father) Georges took me on an adventure to a restaurant supply store. There was an Arabic method to his madness. He takes me to a place I can by a rib roast for half the cost, then I, in turn, invite him to share my birthday dinner with him. Plus he's been a little depressed and he says I make him smile. I like hearing this because this man always make me feel good. He is the brother I never had.

I've been to big warehouse food stores before like Price Club or Costco, but never to a place that serves only restaurants. Restaurants and people like Georges and I who borrow someone else's membership card. The only other time I've been to a place that is so cold they provide down-filled jackets was last fall when I went see to Gary Wichanskie's carved ice show. With the exception of the slippery ice on the floor which provided several opportunities for falling on one's keester, and all the food of course, as opposed to ice slides, carved Nativities and giant icicles, this refrigerated food market was remarkably similar. Okay, the only resemblance was the size of the room(s) and the below freezing temperatures. But in a way it was the same kind of adventure! Being with a fun person, being cold, and seeing something I've never seen before.


Truly, I've never seen so much food in one place before in such large quantities. It was quite amazing. Indeed, the prices were drastically lower than the grocery store, but when you have to buy a slab of meat that might not fit into a home oven, you still come out of the store with your pockets turned inside out.

[Photo L: Guacamole anyone? A whole box of avocados, the good kind from California and it only cost $35.oo as opposed to $1.50 a piece which is so outrageous I never buy the buttery green pieces of gold.]

I found myself having the same kind of reaction to restaurant supplies, i.e. pans, spices, spatulas, aprons, mixing bowls and whisks, that I have every September at the beginning of the school year. I can get lost in an office/school supply store and gorge my senses on pens and paper faster than you can say "Recess!" I'm not kidding, I found myself lusting over a guava colored chef shirt. Where do these strange desires come from?

If you are a vegan you don't want to know about the piece of meat I bought. I almost didn't get it because neither Georges or I could figure how we would cut through the bones to make family sized portions. I had forgotten that I have my very own food inspector/ meat carver at home who would know exactly what to do. Like the pro he once was, Sweetie put on an apron and grabbed the biggest knife in the rack. He carved that sucker into 2 roasts and 5 steaks - each one fit for a king. [Photo L: Thank God I didn't see one beef knuckle. I did, however, see pieces of meat I wish I hadn't.]


I don't know if I'll go back to this frozen den of restaurant delights any time soon, but I do know this. Even if I have to cook it, I'm going to have a delicioso birthday dinner. [Photo L: Have you ever seen so many carrots in one place?]


Getting hungry just thinking about it,
Merry ME

Irish Recipes

"Omit and substitute!
That's how recipes should be written.
Please don't ever get so hung up on published recipes
that you forget that you can omit and substitute."

Jeff Smith (the Frugal Gourmet)

I thought I'd share the recipes I mentioned yesterday.

McLinden's Irish Mystery Chicken
(From a Bottle of Irish Mist)
4 thin slices baked ham, cut in half
4 whole chicken breasts, split and boned
1 can (10 1/4 oz. condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 cup (8 oz.) sour cream
1/2 cup Irish Mist
1 cup (1/4 lb.) s;iced fresh mushrooms

In 8x12" baking dish arrange the ham slices. Place a chicken breast on each slice - skin side up. Mix remaining ingredients and spoon over chicken, covering completely. Bake at 300 degrees for 1.5 hours. Serve over a bed of wild rice, with sauce. Serves 6-8.

Apple Dapple Cake

Cake:
1.5 cups oil
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
3 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. vanilla
3 cups raw apples, peeled and chopped *
1 cup nuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream oil and sugar. Add eggs, one at a time; beat well. Add vanilla. Sift together cinnamon, flour, salt, soda and baking powder - three times.** Add to the creamed mixture. Stir in choppped apples and nuts. Pour into a greased/floured tube pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 1-1.5 hours, until toothpick inserted comes out clean. Poke holes in the top of the cake with a bamboo skewer. Pour glaze over hot cake and allow to stand for one hour before removing from pan.

Glaze:
1 cup brown sugar
1 stick margaine
1/4 cup evaporated milk

Bring ingredients to a boil. Boil for 3 minutes.

This cake is very moist and VERY sweet. A little piece goes a long way. Especially yummy served warm topped with vanilla ice cream.

*I use a combo of Granny Smith and Braeburn
** I'm not sure why sifting three times is necessary, but I always do it.

Photo: http://baskersfunfoods.blogspot.com/2008/10/apple-dapple-cake.html

Happy eating,
Merry ME

Apologies

"Devotees of grammatical studies
have not been distinguished for
any very remarkable felicities of expression."
Bronson Alcott

I just read over my last post and was appalled to see so many mistakes. My editor must have been out drinking green beer and looking for leprechauns with little teeny pots of gold.


Also, I have no idea how to make the spacer work on blogger. I try to separate paragraphs by a double space. Sometimes it works. Sometimes I get 4 spaces and sometimes I don't get any, which seems to have happened yesterday. I change it, then re-publish but it has a mind of its own.

Carol told the writing group the other day that editors can weed out submissions by just scanning it for grammatical errors. Which is kind of funny because we all decided that kids today don't get grammar rule drilled into their heads like in the good ol' days! I have a soft spot in my heart for grammar but obviously don't catch all my mistakes. Please forgive me and know that I'll correct when I catch them.


Merry ME

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

St. Patrick's Day

"May you always have laughter to cheer you,
those you love near you,
and all your heart might desire
and enjoy a wee bit of Irish inspiration this St. Patrick's Day."
I love this picture. I took it while on one of my walks looking for the extraordinary in the ordinary. I love the way those flowers just stuck their pretty purple heads up out of the weed pile. They don't seem to have any anxiety about not being good enough, or pretty enough, or useful enough. They just wanted to enjoy the warmth of the sun and grew towards the light.
For me, St. Patrick's Day is just another day. I don't have an uncontrollable urge to wear green or eat corned beef surrounded by cabbage and potatoes. However, it is usually on St. Patrick's Day that I pause to remember a couple of dear friends who were Irish devotees.
Hugh McLinden was a man I met through work in San Diego. Hugh was one of the earliest designated helicopter pilots in the U.S. Navy. He had some stories to tell. I don't doubt that many were embellished over the years to solicit a more than a few "omigods." Still, I'm guessing flying over a frozen Korean landscape in an aircraft that defied science must have been the source of many a hair-raising story.
Hugh found a reason to stop by my desk on a fairly regular basis. He'd be at the base to get his teeth worked on, or shop at the Commissary so he'd come the office to drop something off, or pick something up. With little regard to the piles of work on my desk, he'd take a seat, settle in and begin, sometimes where he'd left off, regaling me with tales of the past. Hugh never failed to bring me candy made by his beloved Elizabeth. She didn't get out much because of several infirmities, but she made candy and afghans that Hugh handed out like unwanted advice!
After retiring from the Navy, Hugh was a high school math teacher. He was also historian and world traveler thanks to airline privileges secured by his daughter. He was father to six children, I believe, and several grandchildren who he liked to spoil. Hugh was all Irish. For years after I moved away he'd call me on my birthday. Our birthdays were only a few days apart and both came on the heels of St. Patty's day - the reminder that usually jogged his memory! We'd exchange Irish music Cd's and Irish blessings. To this day I can't hear Danny Boy or see a bottle of Irish Mist and not think of that dear old man.
My other Irish friend was Bettie Garrett. I didn't know her all that well, but Bettie left an unmatched mark on my heart. She was a devout Catholic, yet could cuss or smoke up a storm. She paid her way through school by cooking for the nuns in a nearby convent. It was quilting and cooking that brought us together.
No, that's not really true. Bettie's quilting style was much to perfect for my taste and her cooking abilities far more advanced than mine will ever be. It was Bettie's concern for my daughter and son-in-law that drew me in past her gruff exterior. She never failed to ask about them or listen to my concerned answer. We hadn't known each other long when she told me she had pancreatic cancer and little time to live. I think Bettie was the first person that I ever knew who had the disease. I was stumped as to how to proceed with a friendship that had a time limit set on it. "Be my friend," she said when I asked what could do.
It was one of Bettie's dreams was to see the green hills of Ireland. Her cancer diagnosis pretty much ended the dream. Never to shy away from a grandiose idea, I decided to bring Ireland to her - as if I could wrap up the whole island and set it down in her back yard. I started collecting anything that might conjure up the Emerald Isle. I can't remember now what I put in the basket but it was a pretty fine collection of Irish trinkets. Because I was Internet challenged I did the search by driving around town and begging. When I explained my gift basket idea to a woman at the Delta airline counter (I wanted a poster) it was like we were kindred spirits. She joined me on the search. [I love it when people get me!]. Anyway, I was able to present my friend with a token of my friendship that made both of us feel good.
I've told the story several times about how a few months before Bettie died with thoughts of Tuesdays with Morrie on my mind, I asked her if we could go through her cookbooks, pick out her tried and true recipes and leave a legacy for her family - not to mention me. She struggled to get of the couch and took my hand as we walked into the room that housed her library of cook books. She stopped in front of a shelf of books that took my breath away. Oh sure, she had her favorites, the ones most used with turned down pages and gravy-stained covers but that woman could find any recipe you asked for even if it was in the book crammed into the tip top shelf. It was an amazing assortment. We both knew that it would take years of Tuesdays to complete a project like I was suggesting. And we both knew Bettie's life was limited to weeks. I admitted defeat but can still kick myself for giving up so easily.
Except that you make/eat it in the Fall of the year when there is a cool chill in the air so you might want to wear an Irish knit sweater, I doubt there is one thing Irish about Apple Dapple Cake. However, I can't get through apple season without making the cake and remembering the friend who taught me how to turn cups of sugar and oil and apples into quite a tasty autumn treat.
It's no surprise that both these lovers of all things Irish were staunch Catholics. They loved family. And they loved me. I was pretty lucky to know them both.
Here is a video that was sent to me this morning that pretty much defines friendship the way those two lived it: http://worriersanonymous.org/Share/anirish.htm I wish the same for you and yours.

Hopin' there's a bit of the Irish luck in your future,
Merry ME

Friday, March 13, 2009

"Did you ever stop to think and forget to start again?"
Winnie the Pooh

I titled this blog Random Thoughts, which is not highly original, because I've found in my advancing years that it is hard for me to stick with to one subject for any length of time. Like a butterfly flitting from one pretty flower to another, my mind glides from subject to subject as if on a summer breeze. I wonder if this could be the reason when I look around my living spaces - the couch where I sit and type, the kitchen counter, the bathroom shelf, my bedside table - are so cluttered. Obviously when I pick something up - a bill, a spoon, my toothbrush, a book - to use for its intended purpose I put it down without much thought to orderliness as I go on to the something else.

For example, in the space where I'm sitting right now there is a table covered with seemingly important papers. An insurance statement that should be filed, some recipes I copied from a magazine I sent to Weneki, a newspaper article, an empty envelope (or two), a take out menu co-mingle on a table top that has not seen the light of day in weeks. Oh, did I mention the cat brush, my glass of tea and the paperclip? It is an odd assortment, and my point exactly, of what my mind must look like. The randomness of it all is both scarey and enticing.

In keeping with my blog's name here are a few thoughts I've had lately:

1. About a year ago I signed up to receive a word a day from dictionary.com. When looking for something else yesterday I discovered that I now have a file of 251 words that doesn't seem to have an end in sight. I believe my original intent was to make a concerted effort to use each new word and have it become a part of my vocabulary. Instead, the words pile on top of each other in a file that is way more organized than if I were writing them on 3x5 cards. I seriously doubt I will ever use words like inanition, pandiculation, defalcate, yegg or xanthou in a sentence. Still, I can't bring myself to hit the delete button.

2. I read a column in today's newspaper about a young man who was born with Cystic Fibrosis and how he lived his life to the fullest even though a good portion of it was spent in hospitals. I've spent my share of hours sitting and waiting, listening to the steady beep of the blood pressure monitors and, when all else fails, counting the drips of saline going through an intravenous line. Instead of complaining about it this kid and his mother started a 501(C)foundation called The Big Fun Box (http://www.thebigfunbox.org/). They give kids who are in the hospital these cool red plastic lunch boxes full of brain stimulating things to do. I remember one time when one of her friends was faced with hours of ER waiting Wendy did something similar. With a degree of knowledge that could have only come from "been there, done that" experiences, she put together a bag of treats and magazines and puzzles to help the family wile away the hours when praying felt redundant. Hoorah for great thinkers and givers.

3. My writer's group assignment for this week is to write about something that was "stolen." Question to myself - should I make something up or is this the time to come clean about that itty-bitty, no big deal tube of lipstick I took from Woolworth's for no other reason than to see if I could get away with it? Or should I confess to the very real possibility of being a cleptomaniac by telling the purple bra story? How is it that guilt can be as palpable today as it was 40 years ago? I call it the Bonnie Ann MacDougal effect.

4. One of the best parts of my day is reading other people's blogs. I have to wonder what it says about me that I have embraced and been embraced by people on the Internet more so than real live people? Blogs have become my window to the world. It's easy to blame my isolation on my father when in fact, the truth might lie in the fact that I'm more comfortable with writing words than speaking them. Does that make sense?

Case in point: I've come to know and love Terri St. Cloud from her blog, honor yourself (http://www.bonesigharts.blogspot.com/). When I think of this fellow (is there a female version of fellow?) blogger I think of a big ol' heart with legs for walking, hands for painting or holding, ears for listening and eyes that see right into the heart of the person she's with. Recently she wrote a post about doing an "art gig" and about how scared she was. Not just in a shy way, but scared as in not wanting to let other people down. As if she actually might not live up to strangers' expectations. Good Golly Miss Molly, with all the strangers in the world how could she possible begin to be what each of them expected. But, I knew exactly what she meant.

I surprise myself when I'm at church and stand in front of the congregation (no longer strangers, which helps - a lot!) and speak. I'm surprise when Sweetie calls me a natural coach. I'm not at all surprised when someone puts me down - even if it's just teasing. It's hard to be "ME" and be what I think people expect of "ME" at the same time. Where do these expectations come from?

In a similar vein, Jon Katz wrote in a recent blog (blog@bedlamfarm.com) "March 11, 2009 - ... Sometimes, [Somerset]Maugham wrote, a man hits upon a place to which he mysteriously feels that he belongs. "Here is the home he sought, and he will settle amid scenes that he has never seen before, among men he has never known, as though they were familiar to him from his birth. Here at last he finds rest." I wonder has this blog become my home? Would I be just as comfortable with a black compostion notebook and a yellow #2 pencil? Is home where you are or what you have with you?

5. Why am I sitting inside typing when it is such a beautiful day outside and I could be digging in the dirt? (Answer: To get to the dirt I have to scoop a winter's worth of poop. This does not sound as much fun as dirt digging even if it is outside in the sun.)

6. Is it cheating to Google crossword clues for my father? If it is, in the big book of Right and Wrong does sitting with him while he puzzles so he doesn't feel lonely balance things out?

7. What am I going to make for dinner? (Something Mexican covered in cheese, sour cream and guacamole. Mmmmm)

8. In her last post AntiJen (http://www.antijen.blogspot.com/) wrote a "Crazy Cat Lady" story that I admit made me shudder. It seems to me that in the natural order of animal heirarchy the human, i.e. the pet owner, i.e. ME or Antijen or whoever, should have the final say over where the pet, i.e. cat, i.e. Ratty Catty, Boy Cat or Cry Baby, gets to pee. The trouble with cats is they believe they are at the top of the animal pyramid and humans are somewhere at the bottom near the dogs. Cats obviously feel like they can pee wherever they damn well please. Still, I wanted to scream across cyberspace from Florida to California, "Antijen, take control. Throw those cats outside."

So, imagine my dismay when I was putting the freashly washed and delightfully outdoorsy smelling blankets (whose sole purpose is to protect the couch from the animals who look upon the couch as their own personal platform bed) on my somewhat new (less than a year) couch and discovered a rather LARGE wet spot right in the crack between the cushions .

NOOOOOOOOOO! I screamed. How could they? I thought we'd worked through this unacceptable behavior. I thought we had an understanding? I thought I had gained the upper hand!

I should probably toss the couch out for the garbage men or college students who roam neighborhoods looking for such a pot of gold giving no regard to the suspicious odor of urine. I know I should toss those litter-challenged felines out on their cute little black butts right behind the couch. But seriously (and this is takes us full circle right back to the start of this post) all I can think of is there goes my idea of having a tea party.

A real party, with guests that know each other come to the house and drink tea and chat and eat store-bought pastries that I try to pass off as my own. I can't very well invite people to come to my home and sit on a pee-stained couch. I've soaked it with Simple Solution which my sister, who has had her own share of sneaky pee-ers in her life, swears by. Still, when I look in the living room, I see no sign of the comfortable brown recliner I fell for in the furniture store. All I see is a big microsuede litter box. Damn!

Okay, that's enough randomness for one blog. Randomness? Is that a word? Hmmm, I'll have to go to my "words" file and check it out!


Sometimes I scare myself!
Merry ME

Thursday, March 12, 2009

"I am thankful for the mess to clean after a party
because it means I have been surrounded by friends."
Nancie J. Carmody

Wow! I am really blown away by all the IWD Remarkable Women. To everyone who wrote in thank you for digging deep and sharing so many powerful stories; for being brave and honest; for your willingness to to acknowledge the accomplishments of outstanding women. I read each comment several times and am so impressed. I'm also very glad nobody paid attention to the "One Woman" rule. Cheaters of the world unite!

For me the common thread that wove all the stories together is the fact that all the contributors mention what I think is the heart and soul of women united. A love that is big enough to share with others in need. Mothers, grandmothers, sisters, daughters, teachers, friends, even perfect strangers had an impact on others because they took the time to give of themselves the gift that keeps on giving. They gave this gift without asking for anything in return.

I especially honor what "Ginny" and "Melissa" had to say. I cried when I read their comments, because I know how hard it is to 1) think that I am worthy, and 2) put it out there for the world to know. These ladies (and I'm guessing each of the contributors) have given up listening to the negative tapes and have chosen, instead, to believe in their own goodness. Hooray!!!

I had an email from one of the therapists I wrote about. She thanked me for mentioning her but added this, "You, however, should be your own hero! We have on so many occasions spoken of your amazing courage, determination, and values."

Won't it be a tremendous day when each and every woman in the world can be her own hero!

Here's to good women:
May we know them
May we raise them.
May we be them.*
Thanks again to all of you who made the party so much fun. And just in case you're wondering, there's no reason why people can't keep contributing.
Blessings,
Merry ME
* I changed the words around a little to suit me!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY BLOG PARTY

In honor of women everywhere ...
Welcome to the
International Women's Day Blog Party

(Turn up the sound: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iuB3_HLcFfk)

International Women's Day is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. To this end, this party is a way to honor those special ladies who have inspired us and made us better than we ever thought we could be. It is with gratitude and pride I welcome you to my blog. I'm anxious to hear your stories and celebrate your choices.

All you have to do is go down to the bottom of this post and click on the comment section. That will take you to another page where you can write your tribute in the space provided. You can use your Google/Blogger user name or remain anonymous. There is nothing to join. If you choose to post anonymously please leave your name in the comment section so we'll all know who you are. When you're through hit publish and voila your lady is on the list.

After that if you know your choice has an email address come back to this post and click here . You will be sent to the bonesighart website where you'll find an E-card that Terri St. Cloud and her boys made just for this occasion. Send the card to your special lady and she'll be able to come right back to this site to read what you had to say about her. It sounds kind of circuitous, but remember, it's the thought that counts and your honoree should know you're thinking of her.

If you were coming to my house I'd have baked some cookies and made a big pot of tea. We would sit around a table dressed with a lace cloth and a vase of pink tulips in the center. I'd have my mom's silver tea set all polished up and looking pretty on the buffet. Alas, this is a cyberspace celebration, which would leave all the cookie eating to me. So instead I bought myself some tulips and this Willow Tree "angel of courage." Look at the way she holds her hands in the air as if she just made a 10 point landing off a balance beam, or became head of her own company, or graduated from college, or picked herself up and dusted herself off and headed off again down the road of life. I'm sure she's saying "I did that!" or "Yes, I can!" I bought her for me, but she belongs to all of us.

---
Margaret Winn, Lisa Smith, Christine Osterloh, Ginny Boney
this post is for you.

My struggle with clinical depression began when I was a teenager. At least that was the first time the darkness that seemed to be a part of me was given a name. Since that time I have been on a lifelong journey to squash those demons. As Oprah might say, this one thing I know for sure: depression is not just an emotional disease. It affects the body and the spirit as well. Like the commercials say, depression hurts. And, like a tornado, it can turn everything in its path upside down not just the person who has it.

Here's the good news. Depression, like diabetes, can be managed and kept at bay. I found that the fight needs to be a three-pronged attack - physically, spiritually and emotionally. My saving grace was that along the way I found therapists to walk with me on my journey. Sometimes they led the way, sometimes they followed. I think there were even a few times when they encouraged me to STOP so we could both catch our breath and determine which road we were going to take. I wouldn't be here today if not for their wisdom and understanding.

I cannot narrow down my IWD choice to one person. Instead I pick the ladies who have been with me when I was curled up in a fetal position or standing on the top of a mountain top saying "Hurrah for me!"

I know it seems a little weird that there are so many. I've come to believe that each of these women was put in my life at just the right time by Divine providence. Each lady appeared exactly when I needed the special gift she had to offer. I have been blessed.

When I was 15 I had my first emotional breakdown. That episode brought with it a lot of firsts. First time in a hospital psychiatric ward. First (and only, thank God) time I was tied to my bed to keep me from throwing a temper tantrum. First time on anti-depressant medications. First time I felt safe enough to give my feelings a voice. First time I learned what it was like to have some one listen to me.

The psychaitrist I began seeing, Dr. Margaret Winn, was a bit of a character. She was quite tall, always wore high heeled shoes which accented her height. Her bleached blond hair was teased and sprayed into a bouffant do that wouldn't have moved in a cyclone. She wore bright red lipstick and chain smoked filtered cigarettes. She took copious notes as I rambled on about whatever. She might have been a little cold, she wasn't a hugging type of therapist. But I grew to trust her and I grew to understand how important it was to have a voice.

I got married, had children, suffered some emotional setbacks but kept myself together - sort of - until my second break down in 1981. I had a complete separation of who I was inside and who I was trying to be on the outside. Basically I was lost. I began the long way back to myself when my husband went on a 6 month deployment. I liken this part of my life to a re-birth experience. I was so fragile, it was like the therapist I was seeing (a man) had to care for me like I was an infant. Even looking back on it now I wonder how I did it. It's like I was 2 different people. One who was put together and functioning like an adult for all the world to see and another who barely felt alive in the privacy of her own room.

Enter Lisa Smith. Lisa was tall and thin with long blond hair. Her office was tiny but dressed artfully. I felt safe with her. If Dr. Greff got the reborn infant, Lisa had to deal with the toddling youngster trying to learn how to walk through a minefield of unaddressed emotions. Then Lisa, like the man before her, told me she was moving out of state and we had to end our relationship. I was in a safe place, but I don't know for sure if I was in a growing place. I wouldn't have ever said it was time to move on. She cut the strings for me.

Remember that stubborn streak I mentioned in another post? I decided I was going to lick depression on my own, no meds, no shrinks, no rules. I started acting out - kind of like the rebellious teenager I never got to be. This option didn't really work for me. I called Christine and began growing up in earnest. Two steps forward and several backward, but Chris never left me. She listened. She encouraged. She pointed me in the direction of 12-step meetings. She called a spade a spade. It was Chris who said to me with a precise mixture of firmness and gentleness that the situation called for, "Mary don't ever tell me again you don't do anger."

Huh? Me angry? Never. Yeh, well maybe she was right. And every time I feel my blood start to boil, I have to say to myself, she was right. I still don't like it. But hopefully I've learned how to tame it.

When I made the decision to move back to Florida to help take care of my mom, Christine sent me on my way promising that I'd be okay. It's been 13 years. I still have dreams where I'm trying to call her and can't remember the phone number. When I wake up, I check the number to make sure I still have it if I need it. Every once in a while I dial it just to hear her voice on the answering machine.

Before I left I asked Chris about a poster she had on her wall that I saw every time I walked into her office. The picture is of an Amish quilt. In small print near the bottom there is a quote by Sue Bender, "Miracles happen after a lot of hard work." That pretty much summed up my experience with Christine. Hard work and miracles.

Since I've been home depression, my nemesis, has returned a few times. I knew I needed to be on medication. For me clinical depression is very clearly a chemical imbalance that needs to be controlled by pharmaceuticals. I've stopped fighting it. I've learned to read my body and my moods and know when things are getting a little out of whack. I am followed by a psychiatrist which, in my opinion, is the best way to handle these types of meds.

Through Dr. Joseph I worked with not one but two ladies. I've learned talk therapy is as necessary as Prozac to keep my moods in check. With Ginny Boney I've done some pretty intensive inner child work. In the end, after all the crying, all the talking, all the journaling a lot of my problems boil down to a need to re-parent the little girl inside of me who gets so easily scared and upset. When I'm sitting in Ginny's office, clutching a couch pillow like a teddy bear, Ginny's soft, gentle voice speaks to that child. She helps me to listen to that little one who cries out, "Hey, what about me!!!" By hugging me like a mother and a friend, Ginny has taught me how to hug myself.


Mmmmmmmmm. I'm sitting here all alone but feeling kind of embraced in a circle of love. Again I have to say I am blessed. Thanks for reading this really long post. I hope I've conveyed how special these ladies have been to me. I know the onus is now on me. To give back some of what I've received. To reach out, to listen, to be gentle, and to hug the people I come in contact with. For it is in the giving that we all receive.

I close with this prayer: Let us go forth then, O Living and Loving God. Let us go forth in the power of Your Presence deep in our hearts, and the power of your presence overflowing in our communities. Let us go forth confirmed and strengthened in our vision. Let us go forth named in Hope and Love, and sustained in these challenging times. Let us go forth as valiant women of justice and peace.*

God bless you all, Merry ME

*http://www.sistersofmercy.org/index/php?option=com_content&task=view&id=340&Itemid=224

Saturday, March 7, 2009

It's My Party, I'll Cheat if I Want To!

"A teacher's purpose is not to create students in his own image,
but to develop students who can create their own image."
Author Unknown

I feel myself nearing the finish line of inspirational-women-I-have-known posts. Which isn't exactly true because I'm sure there are many more that have impacted my life for good, or for bad, than I could have written about. As I've been digging into the recesses of my mind for the past few days, I am amazed at what you can find out about the people you thought you always knew. Perhaps it's not the discovering that's important, but the acknowledging. When my dark side screams to be fed by anger, depression, guilt, and worthlessness, because I've done these self-imposed writing assignments I don't have to choose the negative. Instead I can call on the light I know is there and serve up a cocktail of beauty, strength, wisdom and humor. Who knew all this insight would come from one simple party idea?

I know who I'm going to write about tomorrow. But at the risk of doing a little more cheating, I want to call attention to a few more ladies who made a difference in my life.

First is Mary Carden - my 6th grade teacher. I think the reason I remember her more than some of the other teachers I had is because of her belief in me. You know how scared you are on that first day of school? You're not sure who's going to be in your class, where you're going to sit, if the teacher is nice or strict, if you're going to be put in a group with serious learners or boys who like to make farting sounds with their armpit. Maybe I'm the only one who had this first day of school angst. It was powerful, and if I were to walk into a classroom today, I would still feel it wrapped around me like a Mexican serape.

The sixth grade was kind of a turning point for me. I was not quite grownup. I had no boobs but hairy, hairy legs. I was on the verge of still being aware of my intelligence and learning that to get along in my world I was going to have to downplay my achievements. I don't know why that thought permeated my future, but insecurity won out over confidence every time.

In Mrs. Carden's class I had a cheerleader. An adult who didn't put me down or challenge my successes; she was an elixir of which I couldn't get enough. I did anything I could to please her. I learned my spelling words. I wrote stories. I was the first to raise my hand. I soaked up Mrs. Carden's praise like a sponge and asked for more. But I did this at a price. I wasn't the most popular kid as I was most likely known as a brainiac. I tried to walk the balance beam between being cool and being smart. I never mastered it. It was a struggle I had for many years. In the recesses of my childhood heart, I believed that I was smart. But I also believed I had to keep that knowledge buried in order to be included in my family of origin and in my peer group.

In the 8th grade I was blessed by another teacher, Barbara Bates, who encouraged me to dig deep and put my intelligence to the test. Much to my dismay she made me reach beyond my comfort zone and tackle books like Jane Eyre and Rebecca. To this day, when I hear the word "primeval" (not very often, I admit) I think of the Longfellow poem and Evangeline's search for her beloved Gabriel.

In Miss Bates' English class I became the queen of sentence diagramming. Kids today don't even know what that is. But in my day, it was an art form. I loved it. The more prepositional phrases, direct objects or compound verbs the better. I think one of my academic achievement was the time I correctly broke down this big ass sentence that Miss Bates put as a bonus question on our final exam. By doing so I won a bet Miss Bates had with another teacher, thereby pocketing a dollar for my efforts. Oh how precious that moment was for me.

What I should have learned from those women who saw through my need to be accepted crust to the insecure little girl who lives inside me was to believe in my own abilities, to trust in myself. Alas, I put more stock in what other people said (teased). Something I've spent the second half of my life trying to remedy.
There's just one more woman I'd like to mention in my prequel to the IWD Blog Party. Her name is Mildred Lisette Norman, but is known to the world as Peace Pilgrim. In 1953 this silver-haired woman began a self-imposed pilgrimage to promote world peace. Alone and penniless, Peace Pilgrim vowed to keep walking until, "mankind had learned the way of peace." In over 28 years she logged more than 25,000 miles.
I'm totally enamored of this woman's belief in and determination to bring about world peace
with little regard for personal hardship. She is, indeed, a woman to be praised. The reason I write about her today, however, is sort of self-serving.
Over the years, when I started thinking it was possible that I AM smart and capable, I let my fear of the unknown stop me. One day I faced that particular fear and walked into a college classroom. I started college a little late. I have re-started several times and as yet never finished. My bad.
After taking a few basic classes in writing and math, I broke out of my comfort zone and took a class in world religions. I almost walked out the evening the professor handed out the syllabus with the requirement to write three papers. My stomach churned. Being able to write and write a formal research paper are way different things. I was learning to be comfortable in my ability to put words together to tell a story, but to do research, and use footnotes? Panic set in.
My first paper was entitled, "Blessed are the Peacemakers." It compared the lives of two rather dis-similar people - Mattie Stepanek and Peace Pilgrim. I nervously turned the paper in (ahead of schedule - yeh, I'm a nerd) and waited to be dissed. (What was I thinking about being able to do college? Who was I kidding. I'm hopeless. I know it so now what?) Surprise! Here's what the professor said,
"Excellent paper.
Well thought out, developed and presented.
You have a wonderful writing style. "
and that's all it took to make me feel a little - a lot - like Sally Field at the Academy Awards. At that moment, I also felt something inside me shift. Instead of listening to the voice of the demon whose mantra is "I can't" I began to embrace the possibility of I can.
That's not to say I don't fall back into old patterns. I do. We all do. But when I think of the power of the combined strength of all the women I've written about and all the ones we'll hear about tomorrow, and the ones that silently do their job but never get singled out, I've got to think if women ran the world we'd have a much better chance at peace. Peace in the world begins with peace inside each and every one of us.
Signing off to get ready for the party. Hope to hear from you and your friends, and your friends' friends,
Merry ME

Friday, March 6, 2009

Three Women I Love

REMINDER!!
INTERNATIONAL WOMAN'S DAY BLOG PARTY
SUNDAY, MARCH 8, 2009
"Family faces are magic mirrors.
Looking at people who belong to us,
we see the past, present, and future."
Gail Lumet Buckley
I specifically tried not to put any rules on the IWD Blog Party. Picking a woman who has influenced your life is a personal decision, made with your own criteria, not mine. I have heard from others that picking just one woman is just about impossible. I'm finding this to be true as I look back and forth over my own life.

In my last post I looked back at some of the women who helped shape my life, if only through their DNA. To my surprise all that hindsight stirred up some powerful emotions and dark dreams. I guess that is what archeology is all about. When digging through the dirt one is bound to find some skeletons. Without the ladies I wrote about being here to set me straight, I think that on the flip side of character traits I mentioned, anger and depression might lead the pack.

I'm pretty sure my Grammy's life was hard enough that a glass or two of bourbon was an easier way to get through the day than face down some of the demons. I can still hear the kitchen cabinets slamming as my mother vented her vexations. I have some suppositions as to why these bright, courageous, strong, adventuresome women were quick to anger but this isn't the place to air the dirty laundry.

If looking back is helpful, I think it is also good to look to take note of the positive attributes of women with whom I share my life today. I'm kind of surrounded by women as there are many more X chromosomes in our gene pool than Y. But 3 ladies in particular immediately come to mind when I think of the ones who have had a major impact on me - who, by word and deed, inspire me to reach beyond myself and be all that I can be.


First, there is my sister Linda. She is 8 years older than me and those years made a big difference when we were growing up. We lived in the same house, experienced the same dramas but we weren't particularly close. She was in high school when I was still playing with baby dolls.

I think we became friends around the time I was in high school and needed a safe place to hang out. I spent a few summers with Linda and her husband. She must have still considered me a kid sister but she readily shared her home with me. Over the years our lives ran on parallel tracks. We raised our kids together, spent holidays together, went on vacations together, cried together and found lots of reasons to laugh.

When it comes to sisters Linda is about the best there is. As for friends, they don't get any better. I don't mean to make her sound like a Labrador retriever, but to me Linda is loyal, trustworthy, willing to go the distance - whatever the distance is - friendly, smart and determined. When I've needed a shoulder to lean on, an ear to listen or a hand to hold, Linda has always been there for me. When I've needed a person to emulate, Linda is the one I most want to be like.

Another woman who has had a major impact on my life would be my daughter, Weneki. I'm not sure she likes me using her real name for all the world to see, so I've used her Hawaiian name.

From the very instant that the nurse put that chubby cheeked, bald-headed baby in my arms my life was filled to the brim with abundance - light, joy, drama, spirit, wisdom and fun. From the get-go Weneki was an "I'll-do-it-myself" kind of girl. Her in-born stubborn streak has served Weneki well over the years. Whether it's standing her ground with her brother, writing a term paper, climbing 67 flights of stairs for a fundraiser, addressing Christmas cards or speaking her mind even when her anxiety level meter is going full tilt, once her mind is made up, Weneki takes action then doggedly follows through to the end of whatever she started. Like her grandmother before her you can pretty much tell what Weneki is feeling by the way her brown eyes sparkle or stare through you.

I don't think I exaggerate when I say Weneki's single most important character trait would be her steadfast devotion to her husband. She married him without knowing if she'd be a widow before the ink on the marriage license was dry. She met every challenge his health presented. Sure she did her share of fussing, but Weneki never looked back; she kept her face to the sun and took life (and death) as it came at her. I've never been more proud of her than when she stood at the podium at Zubin's memorial service and said the "F" word. In essence she was being true to herself. I hope I can follow that example with as much grace.

When my son became a father, I became a grandmother. Not the kind of grandmother I thought I'd be. I have always lived much too far away to be hands on the way I'd like to be. This teeny tiny girl child was the start of another generation. She has all the spirit, strength and beauty of the women that came before her. But the wild streak that defines her dad is the light in her eye that can be seen a mile away. Part girlly girl and part get down and dirty Ashley is a power to be reckoned with and she's only 14. Look out world, here she comes!

Having lived through the trials of raising a teenager, I sometimes want to wrap this child (and let's face it, half-grown or not, she'll always be a child to Grammy) in bubble wrap to protect her from the bumps and bruises that come with living a full life. But then I guess that's her father's job. All I have to do is love her which isn't too hard to do.

It's not easy to describe why being a grandmother is way different from being a mother. (Should I tell that to all the sandwich generation women out there who are raising their children's children?) But for me, the difficult part of being a parent was all that responsibility for how the child was going to turn out. As if I had all the power and control and the child had nothing to say about it. As a grandparent my job is to be a cheerleader, to encourage Ashley to be all she can be, to tell the stories of the women that came before her, to set an example that she might want follow.

All these great women and I've not even gotten to my #1 IWD choice yet. Does that make me really lucky or just an over-achiever?
Merry ME

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Celebrating Ancestors

REMINDER!!
INTERNATIONAL WOMAN'S DAY BLOG PARTY
SUNDAY, MARCH 8, 2009
"If you look deeply into the palm of your hand
you will see your parents and all generations of your ancestors.
All of them are alive in this moment.
Each is present in your body.
You are the continuation of each of these people."
Thich Nhat Hanh

One day when I don't have anything else to do but sit around and eat bon bons, I would like to work on my genealogy. I dug out a folder yesterday that contains a lot of stories, pictures and a few versions of my mother's family tree. It's not quite as messed up as the cookbook I poured over looking for one recipe that I KNEW was there, but close. What would my life be like if I ever got it organized?

In honor of IWD I'd like to take a moment to acknowledge some of the women who have come before me. Their DNA might be watered down by several generations but I'd like to think their good qualities still runs through my veins.

First there was the woman, Experience Bozarth, from the North Carolina colony, who was married to John Reynolds, a grandfather several times removed. Experience Bozarth. Don't you love that name?

Experience's fame as someone not to mess with has trickled down through centuries of family lore. As the story goes, "during an attack on the Block house and Indian pried up the door and was climbing in. Experience seized the broad ax and struck him such a terrific blow that she severed his head completely from his body."

Let me say here that I believe the Native Americans got a bum deal. I hate to think that some of my ancestors were messing up the natives' homeland. But ME feeling bad about it isn't going to change anything. Mostly I think any woman who has the presence of mind to pick up an ax then throw it hard enough to whack off someone's head has to have been both brave and strong.

My dad's mother, Berlie, married one of the descendants of John and Experience. Grandmother, as I affectionately called her even if it does sound a little stuffy, was a school teacher. She was widowed in 1928 after 17 years of marriage. At a time when it wasn't customary for a woman to be on her own, she opted to devote her life to her two sons and teaching. What I remember most about this gentle lady was her joy. Maybe that wasn't always true, but what did I know? I was just a kid. When I think of Grandmother I think of her smiling.

My mother's side of the family settled in New England after sailing across the Atlantic on the Mayflower. My sister has a tea set that supposedly also made that sea voyage. Oh, if those china cups could talk!

The Aldrich clan was severe, tight-lipped, with Puritan work ethics. Maybe you get that way from living through harsh winters. Most of the Aldrich women I knew - my great grandmother, my grandmother and my mom - were what I would call stoic, the strong silent type. They took what life handed them and made the best out of it with few complaints. Yet each of these ladies had an independent streak a mile wide that took them on a few adventures before settling down into the mundane tasks of making a home for their family.

Against all good advice Mercedes Combs followed her Sweetie to Nebraska so he could try his hand at being a cowboy. Gertrude Aldrich followed her Naval officer husband to Koblenz, Germany in the 1920's where my mom was born in an Army field hospital. And then there Patricia, my mom. Before she met and married my dad, she defied her father (no easy task) and accepted the marriage proposal of a man many years older than she - not to mention the fact that he was stationed in Europe and to get there she was going to have to sail, by herself, across the ocean. She was only a teenager still she made this monumental decision and trip. Talk about gutsy.

Here's the kicker. On that trip across the Atlantic she had time on her hands. She thought long and hard about marrying a guy she barely knew. I can picture her on the sun deck, with a book laid on her chest, one of those plaid blankets across her legs to keep off the chill, her mind jumping from the romantic fairy tale to the reality of getting herself into something way beyond her imagination. Somewhere between New York and Rotterdam she changed her mind.

Here's what the man had to say about it in a book he wrote, in 1991.
"Soon the bulk of the passengers had come ashore but there was no sign of Patricia. Something must have delayed Patty and I wanted to go aboard and find out what it could be.
Finally Patty appeared walking, all by herself, slowly down the long bridge from ship to shore. She wasn't looking for anybody, just kept looking down toward her feet. As she stepped onto the solid pavement I saw she was crying. I knew instinctively what the situation was. My pipe dream of marrying Patty was up in smoke. There would be no wedding."*

It's hard for me to think about my mom who deferred all decision making to my father striking out on her own. My mom spent a week in Germany waiting for the next ship to sail. Hitler was in power. Because she had a German passport and mom was almost not allowed out of the country. Yikes! I get a knot in my stomach just thinking about it. But she got on that ship, sailed back to America, and re-joined her family in Hawaii where her father was stationed. If walking down that gangplank in Rotterdam was hard, I can't imagine what it must have been like facing my grandfather again.

My mom lived the 1950's life-style portrayed in books and movies. She drank martinis and danced to big band tunes. She never left the house without a hat and gloves. She wore a ruffled apron and high heels when she cooked Thanksgiving dinner, and before my dad came home from work she made sure her hair was neatly combed and her lips neatly painted red. She didn't rock any boats. She followed where my dad led. But somewhere deep inside there was a spark of courage and independence that I hope still burns in me.

There was one more lady whose story I love to hear. It has probably been embellished way past any recognition of truth. Still I find it fascinating. My great Aunt Letty (or maybe it's Lizzy) had a passel of kids - I don't know how many. It was enough, however, for this woman to finally say she'd had enough. As if to make her point, she went to bed and never got up again. To my knowledge, the only picture we have of her is as an old lady, lying under a flowered spread propped up by several pillows. I'm not sure how she got away with this but I think you might be able to tell where my stubborn streak comes from!

Courage. Strength. Independence. Joy. Adventure. Romance. Traits I've come by honestly and hope I've passed on to the generations that follow. I'm reminded of the day my daughter was getting married under rather difficult circumstances with a very small window of availability. Her dad called from Texas to chat and she said, "Dad, I've got to go, I'm getting married." That was the first he'd heard about it. Yup! The women in my family have guts!

Smiling at the memories,
Merry ME

*No Excuses Allowed, by Art Wilson, Dead Reckoning Press, Cambria, CA. pg. 242.