Sunday, December 30, 2012

My 2012 Lists


"For last year’s words belong to last year’s language 
and next year’s words await another voice." 
 T.S. Eliot


It's that time of year again, when I make a list of things that really moved me. It's Wendy's idea actually, but a good one. I'm not above stealing a good idea. I'm ready to close the door on 2012 and anxious to see what awaits me in 2013. I'm not much into make resolutions I won't keep. This time last year I chose "focus" as my word for the year. As the year draws to a close my life has definitely come into a sharper focus. What that means exactly is still up for interpretation. I haven't picked next year's word. I'm getting close, though. I keep coming back to "committed." I have to spend some more time with that and see where it leads me.  

The trouble with making lists from memory is that one is sure to leave something out. As I read down this list, however, I can say it is a good representation of a good year. I left out the "things that made me cry like a baby" on purpose. I just didn't want to go there.  

What about you? What made you say "ahh" this year? 

Things that made me say “Yikes!” 
  • My neighbor’s 100 year old oak laying across our driveway
  • Getting lost in Seattle
  • Seeing a picture of Johnson swinging from a really tall crane


Things that made me say "Ahhhh...."
  • Hearing Meditation from Thais played on the violin by Joshua Bell
  • Baby Grace being welcomed into the church wearing the family’s antique Christening gown.
  • Rocking Gracie to sleep while listening to Linda Rondstat lullabies
  • Robert’s 16th birthday
  • Happy Birthday video made by family and friends
  • Hearing people laugh at my story
  • Watching Suzi do physical therapy
  • Georges and Maha’s wedding
  • Saying goodbye on the top of Buck Bald
  • Going off the beaten path in Tennesee
  • Suzi riding in the back seat
  • Meeting Maurice Hall and feeling Divine intervention
  • Sunflower fields
  • Seeing Amy surf
  • Swimming with Gracie
  • Maizey digging holes and jumping in the pool
  • Making quilts again ... fabric, fabric, fabric
  • Wholly Jeanne’s conversion of Nancy’s drawings onto cloth
  • Skipping bride and groom
  • Crows made by Sorrow
  • Button hearts
  • Hugging Jay and Zori again
  • Linda’s lavender and roses
  • Shutterfly photo books
  • “It’s Our Mission. Period” flannel squares by the dozen
  • Pumpkin Banana Bread
  • Empty bowls
  • Tim’s recollection of the Chat Noir writers’ retreat
  • Photo of cousins on the stairs
  • Making gravy with Abby
  • Sweetie finding something after I’d torn the whole house apart looking for it
  • The first smell of Christmas trees
  • John’s Christmas lights in the front yard
  • Finishing two1000+ page books
  • Phone dates with my big sister
  • Being a Chica Peep guest blogger
  • Carrabba's Pork Chop Marsala
  • Wreaths at Jax National Cemetery
  • Seeing Sweetie in a plaid shirt
  • Blog friends
  • Chat Noir friends
Things that made me say “Thank You, God.”
  • Doctors fixing 8-day old Lucy’s heart
  • Seeing Ashley as a mom
  • Wendy’s friends
  • Having Hurricane Sandy blow through after we cut down the rotten oaks - not before
  • Reid Addison Powell 
  • MG's recovery from cancer
  • Kellie's pregnancy
  • The feeling of doing my heart’s work
  • Sweetie’s patience
  • Meeting Kurt and seeing Wendy’s smile
  • My big sister filling in for me at Wendy’s wedding
  • Laughing or crying with my Sweetie

Merry ME

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Jacksonville Ronald McDonald House, Part 2


“Be serious. 
Life hurts. 
Reflect what hurts. 
I don’t mean that you can’t also be funny, 
or have fun, but at the end of the day, 
stories are about what you love.”
John Irving


Need to make yourself feel good by helping others?


                 Begin by gathering some of your favorite people.
People who use pieces of every day life to tell a story.
People who love to write, to cook, to give back.




Ask them to help prepare a well-rounded, healthy dinner for 55 people with an Italian theme.


Cut up 15 heads of romaine, toss in some red onion, mandarin orange slices, bleu cheese and dried cranberries. 


Wear gloves to prevent the spread of germs. 


Make 6 dozen cupcakes, topped with multi-colored sprinkles.


Ask Panera Bread to donate some delicious smelling bread.



Heat the casseroles, cook the beans, warm the bread, 
prepare the salads, and arrange it all around a big island? 


Make some signs. 

Put out a teeny, tiny fire in one of the ovens. 
Share some laughs, and maybe a few tears. 
Take some pictures. 
Then thank God for miracles large and small.


Going to bed tonight with a happy heart.
Merry ME

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Jacksonville Ronald McDonald House

There is much to do - stuff that got put off.
The laundry needs to be folded.
Dishes done.
Dog toys put away.
Cards still need to be sent.
But I'm still soaking up the quietude and gratitude.
The cat sitting on my lap purring. I don't want to move.


My writing group is gearing up for our annual service project. We're making dinner for 50+ residents of Ronald McDonald House on Saturday. In Jacksonville, the RMcD House is just a short walk away from the Children's Hospital. Parents, siblings and even children getting outpatient treatment don't have far to go to get to a place that resembles home. No medical personnel, no machines beeping, no stale hospital air or vending machine food. Whoever designed this house, took pains to make it exceedingly comfortable.



I've never been inside the place so I made a dry run this morning. Oh my. It's roomy, well lit, and decorated for Christmas. It's about as relaxing as you can get when you are away from home with a sick child. I expected a motel atmosphere with an industrial kitchen. When I walked it, I immediately felt at home. It's functional, but warm and cozy too. Besides rooms that sleep four, there are computer rooms for adults and children, toy rooms, exercise rooms, laundry facilities, outside play area, and a special quiet, chapel like room.

It must be terribly scary to have a sick child. It's good to know there are places like RMcD House to help calm some of the emotions. I'm sure there is one in your city. Why not check it out, volunteer or make a donation. I think you'll be glad you did. On a personal note, I'm feeling a lot better about all those cheeseburgers and french fries I've eaten over the years. There could probably be a wing named after me.

Feeling like a small part of something big,
Merry ME


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas 2013

I'm sitting in the quiet mid-day of Christmas. I'm afraid to break the stillness by trying to think of the words to describe what I'm feeling. I'll turn off my computer, and turn on some Christmas music. I will embrace the peaceful quietude.

May you find a moment in your day to do the same.

Merry ME

Later:
The house is still quiet. Little bubbles of effervescence in my Coke sound like twinkling lights if they had a sound. I've read a few FB posts. Tears are welling up. Not sure from where. Why does a heart full love and tranquility weep? Because people I barely know who leave sweet messages for others to see. Or pictures of family members who are too far away to share the day with.  A prayer for dark places reminds me there are too many in this world. Yet without the dark, how can we appreciate the light? A green pine arrangement bursting forth from a pair of old ice skates reminds me of a time long ago when Christmas morning was made magical by my parents who aren't here.

I shall wipe the tears away and tend to the roast. We'll have yeast rolls instead of popovers. Doesn't feel right to have a family fave without the people who love them the most.

May tears of radiant joy remind you of all your blessings,
M

Saturday, December 22, 2012

What If? Part 2

Jon Katz wrote on his blog last week: "I knew it was not my place to add to all of the anguished words about it. There was nothing for me to say, always a strange place for a writer. Some things are beyond words, even though we are awash in them. Sometimes, silence is a powerful statement." 

I should probably follow his lead. I doubt I have anything new to say and words aren't really going to make a difference now. BUT (Sweetie hates it when I say add a but!), words and thoughts are swirling around my head like powdered sugar in the kitchen where I've been baking cookies.

When a tragedy hits us at home, in our neighborhoods, states and country, Americans are outraged. As well they should be. But why surprised? It's as if Americans believe we can somehow be spared the horror that happens every day somewhere else. Just a few days before the CT shootings, we paused in silence to remember the attack on Pearl Harbor. And what about 9/11? As awful as those events were, what made them even worse was the loss of our collective innocence. I've heard it said the Connecticut shootings were more horrific because innocent children were involved, but I've had a tough time accepting that notion. In my mind it was horrible because it was horrible.  Awful, scary, and senseless - period. Of all those lives lost none was more valuable than another; violence is no respecter of age, gender, race, color or religion.

 I guess that's what's been on my mind. Violence, with a capital "V." Pundits say l
imit the amount of exposure to violent movies, videos, or computer games. The impact of violence for children is cumulative. Why stop with video games? Why not add TV news and reality shows, talk radio, road rage, and moms and dads smacking each other around?

 I can't grieve for children I didn't know. But I do grieve a world that has become so innured to violence. After the media moves on to the next awful/ sensational story, what happened in CT will fade into that part of American's brains where we hide the things we want to forget. Until the next time. And the hard truth is innocent lives are lost every single day in this crazy, f!#*!ked up world. Somewhere on Google you can find statistics to back me up, but I'll just throw out some numbers. According to the World Health Organization (www.who.int) violence is the leading cause of death in people between 15-44. Children, women, senior citizens are abused every day. Worldwide, it's estimated that 1 in 4 women are raped. Add to that the women and children who fall prey to sex traffickers, slavery, exploitaion and pornography. And let's not forget armed conflicts around the world where suicide bombers, IED's and land mines kill and maim at random. What horrifies me is that children around the world, not just those in Sandy Hook, go to sleep at night knowing what gunfire sounds like. It has become as much a part of them as rustling Autumn leaves, bird songs, and water trickling over rocks.

Politicians, lobbyists, talking heads, mental health professionsals, and bloggers like me are all looking for answers.
  Personally I think if we can send a man to the moon, we can figure out how to wrap kids up in bullet-proof bubble suits, like those old fashioned snow suits we used to wear. Some of the answers may be found in Washington DC. They may be found in think tanks, churches, synogogues or mosques. They may be found on Google. I believe, for what it's worth, the first place to search is inside our own hearts. Instead of pointing fingers, what if we reach out and touch someone else's life for the good. Kindness begets kindness. Love begets love. It sounds pretty simplistic. I know love can't stop bullets, but change has to start somewhere. Love is as good a place as any.

 Here it is almost Christmas. I'm reminded that the baby born to light the darkness had to flee to Egypt to escape mass genocide. Things haven't changed so much in 2000 years. We're all running from something. Maybe the answer is to stop and look around. Maybe if you Love the one you're next to, the light from that holy star will begin to shine again. One of the songs I play at Christmastime but forget throughout the year is John Lennon's Imagine.

"Imagine
.... nothing to kill or die for
... all the people living life in peace"

Don't you think "Imagine" is just another way of saying "what if?" Here's what I've been imagining lately:


What if a kind word or a smile, could make a difference in someone's life. Then maybe that someone would swallow the ugly words about to foul the air or his a fist will be unclenched.

What if all it takes for a harried mother to stop before she smacks her kid is to have someone step in and say, "here, let me help."

What if violent video games were replaced with an unarmed game of hide and seek or chess?

What if cell phone aps were replaced with dinner time conversations that begin with "How was your day?"

What if please and thank you took the place of four-letter words?

What if bosses handed out compliments instead of pink slips.

What if stop signs had smiley faces? And yield signs said, "after you."

What if "what's best for everyone" took the place of partisan politics?

What if school days and work days started with what we call passing the peace in my church and ended with, "Have a nice night?"

What if those with more than enough shared with those without?

What if along with a tip everyone left a note that stated the thing they liked best about the service they received? I loved the way you kept my glass filled. Or you're the best bagger I've ever had.

What if instead of looking the other way, we all carried a granola bar or a pair of socks with us and handed them to the homeless person with a cardboard sign that says "Please Help?

What if every day at noon, we paused for a five minutes to take some deep breaths and be still?

What if every old person was assigned a younger person to share their life story with?

What if every young person had an old person to color with?

What if having mental illness was like wearing glasses - some do, some don't, no big deal?

What if being a member of a gang meant you had to clean up your side of the street?

What if instead of menstruation, going to school, having babies, and female wisdom were revered as the miracles they are?

What if boys and girls respected and shared each others' abilities.

What if every baby born was considered royalty?

What if instead of going into space scientists devised a way to clean up the space(s) we have right here on Earth?

And since we can't pray in schools anymore, what if this poem was recited instead.
You, you may say I'm a dreamer,
but I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will be as one 

Want to join me?

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest,
Merry ME

Thursday, December 20, 2012

What if?

I started a post the other day I never finished. Like my feelings after the Newtown tragedy, my thoughts were a jumbled mess. I wanted to write something profound that would go down in the annals of profundity, but really there was/is nothing new to say. After circling the block I said this:
"What if a kind word or a smile, could make a difference in someone's life?" 
Sweetie hates it when I ask what if. It's a habit I can't break. And really, if you ask me, it's not all that bad a question. For instance, if I asked "what if something bad was going to happen? And then you told me how to avoid that bad thing, then "what if" could be a useful tool. Right? Well before I get too side-tracked on the goods and bads of "what ifs" I better get on with today's thoughts.

"What if," I ask myself, "every day could be as good as today?"

 Seriously people, I had one of the best days ever - or one of the best days I can remember. It's like Christmas magic was in the air, everywhere I went. I think I know now what "Merry" Christmas means. And it all came from following my heart.

There's an older lady from my church who lives alone. Her son is not far away but when something happens and she can't reach him, she calls me. She's fallen 3 times in the last few months. Thankfully nothing's broken, just real sore and bruised. The last time she fell she banged up her foot real good and had to wear one of those boot things. I've taken her to the doctor, picked up a few items from the store and that sort of thing. Today, she got the boot off and, as much as a 91 year old lady can with a walker, she was raring to go. Our first stop was the nail salon to have her fingernails trimmed. Then off to Steinmart to buy her son's Christmas presents. I didn't even know there were stores where clerks helped you pick things out any more. But my friend asked and she had two ladies at her service. While they were helping her I helped another lady who couldn't reach the shirt she wanted. Lo and behold, it was the exact size she wanted. "It's a Christmas Miracle" I said and got the biggest smile and a blessing in return. 

Next we headed to Piccadilly Cafeteria for lunch. You know how when Dorothy landed in Munchkin Land she felt sort of out of place? Well that's how i felt in Piccadilly. The mean age had to have been 75. I know I've got white hair and I'm pretty forgetful but still, I felt like a teeny bopper in there with all those walkers and canes.  Mary and I had some great conversation. She is a story teller with lots of stories to tell. With a soft Southern drawl she spoke of small Georgia towns where she grew up, a dog named Dusty, a chicken named Bunny and a cat named Tom who followed a man to work every day. She talked of climbing trees and playing basketball, of life after her divorce, of Mama Mae, of almost losing her mind and the grace of God. They were the kind of stories she needs to write down. She's got a start (35000 words) but I think there's way more in her head. 

As we were leaving I noticed another older (duh) lady from church. When I told Mary she pushed her walker all the way across the dining room. When it wouldn't fit between two tables she parked it and walked up to her friend she hasn't seen in awhile - maybe years. Those two women hugged each other like long lost lovers. The other lady's companions and I just watched. I wasn't the only one tearing up. Then the two ladies made introductions and shared a few laughs. "May I have another one of those hugs before I leave?" Mary asked. And again, the friends embraced in a way that said much more than  hello or goodbye. It was a Kodak moment without a Kodak. 


On to the dentist to have Mary's dentures aligned. I waited by the front door. In walks a woman with an ankle-length skirt covered in cardinals sitting on mistletoe branches. These were not small birds. They were almost life-sized and bright Christmas red. How could I not say "wow" to that? That was about all I had to say. For 20 minutes this lady with 3 bottom teeth and a heavy Greek accent regaled me with stories of her life. Talk about needing a tape recorder. In her goodly number of years this woman has been a master tailor for Saks 5th Ave, attended 51/2 years of medical school before seeing a cadaver which made her sick, attended law school which she didn't like, and ended up in the Air Force. I couldn't help but laugh when she told me she made a skirt out of her table cloth. Nobody could make this stuff up. 


By the time I got Miss Mary home, shewas pretty worn out. Before getting settled in a chair where she could rest she showed me her Shirley Temple dolls - two dolls that I gotta say looked just like Shirley Temple, one dressed as Heidi and one dressed as the Little Princess. There was just something sweet at the end of a good day to think about about a 91 year old woman who sleeps with a doll next to her bed. 


There was a lot about the day that made it special. The laughing, the hugging, the feeling of well-being that comes from a five dollar nail trim. But I think it was the affirmation of my soul's calling, the following my heart that made the biggest impact. Being in the writer's group has taught me how to listen to other peoples' life stories. It is a gift one can give to themselves as well as the person telling the story. Finally there was the coming home to my Sweetie. "Oh Jack," I said with tears in my eyes. "I had the most incredible day." 

 "Tell me about it," he said. Then sat down in his chair ready to listen. Damn that Sweetie is a good listener. 

Back in August I had an experience that felt sad right down to my bones. Today, I could feel joy settling in. Another Christmas miracle?

What if people everywhere started noticing the miracles around them? 
What if angels heard on high are nothing more than an old woman's laugh? And the gifts wise men offer are as prescious as a smile, an ear and a thank you?

Wishing for you a simple, joy-filled miracle,
Merry ME

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Light

"We find ways to let light in, as many ways as possible. 
We love those near and far, openly and without reserve. We live every day." 
www.carryitforward.com

I was asleep when it happened. When life, as they knew it, changed for people in Newton, CT, for the state, the country. Dare I say, the world?  For what happens to one, happens to all. I wish I'd stayed asleep and never heard the news. Like others I'm horrified. Brokenhearted. Too far away to make a difference. Too connected not to try.


First I cried. 

Then I prayed.
Then I cried some more and hugged my Sweetie and my son.
Then, I do what I do, to stop the pain. I shopped. With no intent other than to block feelings I went to my favorite art supply store and wandered the aisles looking at things I don't need or want. In the midst of people I felt isolated in my own world. In an odd way, the bright colored paper, pens of all description, toys, cards, and ribbons, lit up the darkness. I held my fear at bay. (Tell that to the people at the mall in Oregon.)

The social media sites, TV and radio stations are abuzz. At first I listened, trying to make sense out of the unfathomable, then turned on a Christmas CD.  I needed a reminder of the season of light. Of bright stars in the East, of Hanukkah candles.  


 As I type this, a book lies on the table next to me.  I read it every year at this time. I'm not Jewish, but I don't think I have to be to understand how people look to the light at their darkest hour.  Nine Spoons is based on an "actual incident that occurred in a Nazi camp just before the end of WWII. One of the Holocaust survivors kept the little menorah with her. She came to America in the late 1940's and told this story in an interview." As the first winter snow began to fall, one of the inmates decided to make a menorah for the children out of spoons. Spoons were a very rare commodity and highly valued. In the dreary darkness of the camp, spoons began to appear. A woman who had been an artist before being in the camp twisted their handles into a stem, the round parts bent to hold the flames. Fat was saved from the kitchen and lit by a match from a factory worker.  The light that shone from the spoon must have burned as brightly as the Temple flame in the days of the Maccabees. The women in that camp experienced their own Hanukkah miracle.  For a moment there was light in the darkness. 




 Tonight I'm concentrating on the light instead of the darkness:
Shimmering lights on a Christmas tree
Sunlight dancing on ocean waves
Candle light at midnight mass
Birthday candles on chocolate covered cake
A bride covered in satin and lace
A baby's first tooth
Lilies of the Valley and Queen Anne's Lace
The starry sky over the Grand Canyon
The diamond ring on the finger of one who said, "yes, I'll marry you."
Snow-covered landscapes
A little girl's white furry handwarmer
Polar bears on an ice floe
Flaming baked Alaska
Mounds of whipped cream
A cold glass of milk
A summer's night bonfire on the beach
A string of pearls
A little boy's baseball pants with Scooby-doo undies showing through
Zubin's whole cloth quilt
White sheets on a clothes line flowing in the breeze
An antique Christening dress
The Patty star
The first look at teeth after the braces come off
Tears of joy
Kleenex wrapped around my mother's fingers
An old woman's laugh
Streets lined with luminaries
The Olympic flame
My clean shower door
Glass slippers
Champagne bubbles
Fresh cement waiting for a handprint
Refrigerator art covered in glitter
Mashed potatoes
Mexican wedding cookies
4th of July fireworks
Santa's beard
A big white dog 
White tiger cubs
A full moon
White sand beaches
Homemade vanilla ice cream
A clean page waiting for a story to be told
A hand that reaches down to lift another up
A hug when no words can be found
A friend you can trust
My Sweetie who can always find my keys 
A daughter whose smile brightens any room she's in
A son who fixes things
A sister who calls at the exact moment you're thinking of her
A "VACANCY" sign at a Bethlehem stable and a baby asleep in the hay

You may be the only light another sees. Shine on. 

Merry ME

* Nine Spoons, A Chanukah Story, by Marci Stillerman, Hachai Publishing, 1998

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

I'm Late! I'm Late!

Will someone please tell me how it got to be Dec. 5th already? Does global warming make the earth spin faster?

I had good intentions to get Christmas chores done in a timely fashion so I could enjoy the season and NOT surpass the Grinch on grinchiness. The tree is up and has lights. That's it. The dining room is piled high with boxes of decorations and ornaments. I grow weary just thinking about it. Johnson has been less than subtle about his desire for Christmas cookies. When am I going to fit that in?

Speaking of Johnson he has turned into a decorating fool. Last year he said, "don't ask me to hang Christmas lights, because I hate it."  In the past two days, he has not only made outdoor wreaths and decorations, he's hung them, and lit them up. He's planted poinsettias, and put lights all over the bushes. Every time I go out, I discover something new. All this from the guy who hates Christmas lights.

I'm remembering the little boy and how he loved the lights. I guess at Christmas the little kid in all of us comes out to play. We want things to be magical again. I think I could stand all day in a Christmas tree lot just smelling the fresh pine smell that is as much a part of the holiday as gingerbread and cinnamon.

I think I'm ready for John Denver and the Muppets. How about you?

Wishing you a slower pace and time to soak up the splendor of Christmas.
Merry ME