Friday, December 27, 2013

Low Key Christmas



I'm dreaming of a low-key Christmas.
Just like the ones I never had.

I've been overwhelmed by the holidays for years. Call me Scrooge, but a white Christmas only means one thing - shoveling the driveway. I started looking at Christmas from a different point of view, when my children were young. At first, it's fun to be the adult at Christmas.  Like a magician who can change a silk scarf into dove, transforming my living room into a winter wonderland strewn with lights and filled with presents made me feel all powerful. But as the children grew and expected more, my super powers lagged. Erma Bombeck once wrote "There's nothing sadder in this world than to awake Christmas morning and not be a child." Being an adult at Christmas is hard work. Hard work makes it difficult to see the magic and feel the wonder.

One Christmas when my children were young and my then-husband had worked them into a let's-see-who-has-the-most-presents-under-the-tree-frenzy I committed what I still think of as a parenting mortal sin. I looked them straight in the eye and broke the news that Santa would not be coming. He'd had a heart attack and wasn't expected to live.  I didn't say the elves had gone on strike, or Mrs. Clause wanted a tropical vacation. Nope, I said with more than a bit of glee, "Santa's heart has stopped working."  In my defense, that was the Christmas I'd hosted two holiday parties, attended two others, helped first graders make gingerbread houses, and tried to keep the number of beautifully wrapped gifts even steven. I didn't have the time or energy to help Santa too. If ever I needed a low-key Christmas that was the year.

For all my talk about down-sizing Christmas, I have yet to make it happen. Instead I complain a lot, which is about as unmerry as one can get. This year, like so many years before, I announced over the Thanksgiving turkey, things were going to be different.

"Yeh, Yeh," nodded my family as they inhaled gravy smothered potatoes.

Even I was a little surprised when my annual prophecy came true. But not because of anything I did. This year, I got sick. Some killer virus knocked me to the ground. Even when I stopped coughing and sneezing, my energy level could be measured just below the red line on one of those strong man meters at a carnival. You know the one where you hit a board with an oversized sledge hammer and it sends some kind of indicator up to ring a bell. For a few days, I was sick enough to think I'd been hit with a sledge hammer.

Suddenly low key Christmas took on new meaning. Early on I realized I was going to have to tell my inner Martha Stewart to get lost. If I survived until Christmas it would be due to antibiotics, sleep and following the advice given in magazine articles and blog posts on how to have a stress free holiday - do what you can and let the rest go. I had no choice. I didn't have enough energy to feel stressed. Instead of shopping and baking and sending cards, I sat in my grandmother's recliner and watched Christmas movies on the Lifetime channel. No matter the problem at the beginning of the show everything turned out all right by the end. By all right, I mean the house was decorated from top to bottom with twinkling lights, packages were wrapped and neatly placed put under the tree, the kitchen smelled of cinnamon and nutmeg and glistened like the Bethlehem star, costumes for the school play did not look homemade. In just two hours (minus the repeated commercials for Charmin toilet paper and Dance Moms) misbehaving hooligans became Christmas angels, while love was kindled, or rekindled, between a man and a woman who didn't look at all harried when they kissed under the mistletoe. Part delirium, part fantasy, I convinced myself the same would take place in my home, with no intervention on my part. As December 25th approached, however, and no miracles were in sight, I realized if Christmas was going to happen, it would need to be quick, easy, and low-key.

A low-key Christmas starts with the idea. Like the chorus from Whoville  the Grinch thought he'd silenced, it takes awhile for the idea to pierce through the standards of Christmas past. Then I had to  accept the fact that only so much could possibly be accomplished. I knew I couldn't manage all the things I'd done before. If someone else didn't do it, it flat out wasn't going to get done. My Sweetie was a willing partner. He'd do what I asked or forgo the traditional fare, my call. That meant I had let go of any guilt feelings, and words like, "my way." By Christmas eve, as we sang Silent Night in a candlelit sanctuary, I could feel the miracle that Christmas is meant to be.  A newborn baby, lying in a cattle trough. No tree wrapped in tinsel, no gingerbread cookies, no XBox or remote control car. Just weary parents looking at their baby the way all new parents do, with hopes and dreams for a peaceful world. Talk about low-key. Okay, the angels and magi jazzed it up a bit, but what's a miracle without a little jazz?

At home, by the twinkling lights on my $10.00 tree, I read a note from my daughter tucked inside her Christmas care. "We did it, Mamacita, we had a low key Christmas." I think we may be on to something, preferrably without the virus to ensure it happens.

Here's what my low-key Christmas looked like:
  • Seeing the look of wonder on children's faces as they sit on Santa's, aka Sweetie, lap. 
  • Sharing blessings with strangers on the street, and a child's drawing of the peace symbol.


  • The smile on Bella's face when she saw me for the first time in two weeks, and dancing to Christmas carols with Sweet Caroline.
  • Seeing 25 foster kids get a home for Christmas
  • Letting Sweetie vacuum to his heart's content and not saying anything about the new living room arrangement.
  • Giving up deadlines.
  • Laughing and crying and laughing some more with my Chat Noir buds, aka "belly-dancing, wine-drinking, writer chicks."
  • A picture and story of "My Dog Pop" by Eden Rewa
  • Gift cards could be stuffed in stockings eliminating the need for ribbons and bows. 
  • Buying Pepperidge Farm ginger cookies eliminating the work of home baked and decorated gingerbread men. 
  • Cranberry and cinnamon candles make the house smell good. 
  • Buying the roast and letting your sister cook it.  
  • Passing up the Christmas tree lots advertising six-foot trees for $39.99 all month, then, in a burst of holiday spirit picking up a four-foot beauty for only ten dollars. 
  • Leaving all the pine needles in the car to give it a woodsy smell you can't get out of a Glade room freshener. 
  • Driving through a light-filled neighborhood (and feeling grateful that it wasn't mine)
  • A simple garland of photo greeting cards
  • Decorating the tree with two strands of lights, glass ornaments that have lost their their luster but sparkle with memories, and figuring out how to make the angel sit atop a tree without the benefit of a branch. 
  • Being okay with the cat knocking low-hanging ornaments off tree faster than I put them on, and an antlered dogs chasing the cat. 
  • Leaving a $20 tip on a $20 bill.
  • A feeling of peaceful surrender
  • Sweetie, aka Santa, who normally doesn't like to be photographed smile again and again so moms and grandmoms can get the perfect picture
  • Not freaking out when my computer appeared to have a power cord malfunction and taking a full week to finish this blog post.
  • The ulitmate low-key Christmas gift - movie tickets
  • Listening to Sweetie record "The Night Before Christmas" for Amy
  • Being a part of someone else's surprise
  • A man and his dog
  • Sitting with my own personal Santa, aka Sweetie, looking at the tree and feeling like we belong in a Lifetime movie.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Christmas Miracle(s)

I've watched a lot of Lifetime and Hallmark channel movies recently. In almost everyone, a miracle takes place and everyone lives happily ever after.  Christmas time is the season of miracles from the  baby born in  Bethlehem to a fat man that drops down chimneys, a singing snowman that become real, or a red-nosed reindeer flying through the night sky dragging a present filled sleigh.

I believe each of us needs to have a something to believe in.  Life can get pretty darn hard without hope. And that's what miracles are - the manifestation of hope. We hear more about miracles in December because, let's face it, that's what sells Hallmark cards and wrapping paper. But what about the everyday miracles that happen right under our noses and we hardly notice anymore. Like the sound of a baby laughing, or babies in general. Like rainbows, and singing birds, and tulips. Like new hearts in old bodies, stroke victims recovering beyond all odds and then writing a book about the experience, and cancer patients who are restored to health.

The news I got today was proof enough that miracles happen to ordinary people. And, like my favorite quote from Sue Bender, miracles happen after a lot of hard work. Earlier this year my friend, Laura, was diagnosed with lymphoma. She had large a large mass in her lungs and another behind her heart. Scary stuff. She endured several courses of chemotherapy that made her feel like crap and her hair fall out. But through it all, she believed she'd get well. She had people all over the country praying for her and lighting candles. Today, she got the news we'd all been waiting for. The cancer is gone. G-O-N-E. How's that for a miracle?

A bunch of my Internet friends and blog buddies helped me string together a chain of positive affirmations and quotes. Laura and her mom turned reading 3 a day into their daily meditation time. I'd like to thank all of you who helped with this project, who prayed and believed. What I'd like to ask you now is to keep that positive energy going. You're sure to know someone who can use a helping hand, a  kind gesture, a loving thought. You just might be the medium the Great Miracle Worker in the Sky uses to change that person's life.

Blessings abound,
Merry ME



Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Innocence


Sweetie asked me this morning about the ghost of Christmas(s) past that has me longing to be a child again. Before I could form an answer, my eyes started leaking. I could feel that little girl inside me longing for those days.

There are only a few gifts that stand out in my memory - a baby doll and a cradle, my first pair of real stockings (with a garter belt - ooh lala), and a cedar lined hope chest. It's the feelings I recall most, that I long for. The anticipation. The excitement  of waking up on Christmas morning wearing pajamas we'd been allowed to open the night before. The self absorbed delight wrapped in pretty paper, oblivious to the tired red-rimmed eyes of my parents who had only gotten a few hours sleep. The sense of family (think Norman Rockwell here even though we were far from it) that hovered in the room where our stockings were hung. An afternoon spent playing with new toys, or feeling more grown up. My grandparents coming for dinner. Again, oblivious to my mom spending most of her day in the kitchen.  To be honest, I do remember a Christmas meltdown or two, so it wasn't all perfect. It's hard to know which memories are real, and which I've magnified over the years.

I've have played and replayed Mary Chapin Carpenter's Christmas Album for about a month now. You'd think I would know every song by heart, but I don't. I throw in a lot of la la's between the words I  do know.  Part of what I'm feeling floated into my consciousness last night as I drove home from work. As if hearing it for the first time, I heard this stanza of Christmas Carol*

Because Christmas is for children's joy
For every single girl and boy
That's the truth we come to understand
But the memories that don't let go
Like Beatles songs and falling snow
Can make us feel innocent again.

Innocent. That's what I want. I want to see the season's magic again through an innocent child's eyes.

Sweetie has transformed himself over the past 6 months into Santa's twin brother. It's hard to live with Santa when it's August in Florida and the temperature hovers around 100 degrees. It kind of made me hot just looking at all that hair and made me ask on several occasions if he was ever going to shave again. But when a cold front moves in, and Black Friday has come and gone, being with my own personal Santa is kind of neat. Sweetie went to church with me last Sunday. A first in a long time. Maybe he was trying to shoot his name to the top of his own Naughty/Nice list. At fellowship hour, a young girl approached, kind of tentatively. She wanted to get close. She wanted to believe, but you could see the trepidation in her eyes.
"Are you Santa?" she asked.
"Why yes, I am," replied Sweetie. "Have you been good?"
"A little," she said, holding her thumb and pointer finger close together to indicate she had some work to do.
"Well, that's good," Santa reassured her. I think she breathed a sigh of relief.
I watched and listened as the man I love more than hot chocolate with little marshmallows, topped off with a mound of whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles, comforted a questioning child and kept her beliefs in tact. I'm a not so sure I like hinging good or bad behavior on a lie, but this child needed some reassurance.

 It was not lost on me that this conversation took place in a church setting. When grownups sit in pews, offering up prayers of contrition and prayers of hope as they struggle to believe in the holy magic that took place on a starlit night in Bethlehem.  It's that time of year when we all need to be reminded that being a little good is good enough. It's a time when world weary adults need to be reassured that love and hope do exist. A time ....

When peace will shine in me and you
from Bethlehem to Timbuktu
Even if the forecast is for rain.

Thanks for listening while I try to sort out my feelings. 
Merry ME

*Track #11, Christmas Carol, by Mary Chapin Carpenter, 2008, Why Walk Music (ASCAP)





Monday, December 2, 2013

Christmas Decorations

Johnson and I walk around the block every night with two of the slowest, nosiest, untrained walking dogs on the planet. Forget that the American Fox Hound just won top prize at a big dog show. Whatever fox hound DNA  Suzi has in her bloodline means only that she has to sniff every blade of grass she passes.

Christmas decorations are already up. Inflatable Santas and twinkling lights. I was kind of considering not putting up any decorations. The idea of bringing down all the boxes, then going through them, and taking them back upstairs, only to reverse the process in a few weeks makes me tired just thinking about it. Yesterday Sweetie and I came home from visiting some old people and lo and behold there was not one but two wreaths all lit up and hanging on the front of the house. And Johnson had brought down all the boxes. I never even got a chance to declare this a No Decoration holiday.

Johnson is an enigma to me. He swears like a sailor, has a shorter fuse than me, is very opinionated and has never met a job he cannot do better than anyone else. But on the other hand he is sweet as can be to babies and animals. He can strike up a conversation with anyone. And when it comes to Christmas, I can still see the little boy he once was. Try as I might I could never dissuade the rest of my family when it came to holiday decorating. The Ellington family creed when it came to Christmas was "Sooner not later. The bigger the better. When in doubt, add more." Don't get me wrong, I like Christmas decorations. I just wish I had a few elves around to do the work. Maybe if I lay low and wait it out, elves will appear just like the wreathes.

I think in my heart I don't want to be a grown up this Christmas. I yearn to be the little girl who has trouble falling asleep on Christmas Eve,  then wakes up aglow with anticipation of what Santa left under the tree. I didn't realize it til just now, how much I wish my mom and dad were here to make this Christmas like the ones of my childhood. Funny how missing my parents sneaks up on me.

Wishing for you a child's vision of Christmas,
Merry ME

Sunday, December 1, 2013

How did it get to be the 1st of December already?

I seriously thought I was back in the blogging mood when I got on the subject of light. I see now the last time I actually posted something - as opposed to thinking about posting something - was Nov. 13th. So here I sit at the end of the first day in December, look at how packed full the days ahead are and wonder where blogging kind of writing will occur.  It's clear that my writing muse packed her bags for an extended vacation on a tropical island. I think she is taking long strolls on deserted beaches, swimming in crystal blue seas, sleeping with her windows open, the better to hear the waves as they lap against the shore. She's probably drinking rum drinks with little umbrellas, learning how to sway her hips to the beat of native drums, wearing flowers in her hair, and bright colored muu muus. I hope she comes back rested and full of stories.

In the mean time I'm sewing bears. I love how sometimes the things I do just feel right. That's the way I feel about making bears for people who have lost someone close to them, from the loved one's clothes. When I first started sewing these bears for my friend Diane, my only goal was to do something to help ease her pain. I had no idea that the bears would also help ease mine. Even though I don't know the people I've memorialized in t-shirts, dress shirts, clerical shirts, sweat shirts, work pants, woolen snow suits, and an old quilt, I've somehow discovered a sense of who they were. I don't think a person's spirit  resides in their clothes. But I do think that because the clothes that are given to me are obviously special to the one(s) left behind, I feel the love that remains there.

I like hearing the stories of the people the bears represent. In a strange way, I feel like I get to know them.  Each bear is a recycled memory for others and creative piece of art for me. I call it "soul work." I feel honored to be given the opportunity to use my handiwork as a way to make someone who is grieving  smile for awhile. Yes, tears are always a part of the process, but that just comes with the territory.

As I put the finishing touches on each bear, (s)he becomes my favorite. The one I completed tonight is in honor of Rev. Johnson H. Pace. A priest and friend for many years. Back in the days when I was working hard in the church, he gave me an honorary degree. DD. Devoted daughter, rather than Doctor of Divinity. Fr. Jack could recite a person's lineage back to the Mayflower, knew the scientific names for all kinds of plants and trees, never failed to remember birthdays, enjoyed working in God's gardens, even if it meant pulling weeds in the hot Florida sun, and called my father the Commodore. He was small in stature but big in heart. A tad eccentric, but really, who isn't?

Thanksgiving came and went and I failed to write all the things I'm grateful for. Doesn't mean I'm not grateful.  If you've followed my blog and still come back to check on whether I've written anything or not, I thank you. As the holidays approach, I hope you'll slow down, rather than rush from place to place. I hope you'll say God bless you, instead of Bah Humbug. I hope you'll share simple kindnesses with those you love and strangers alike - don't forget to be kind to yourself. I hope you'll put some tiny marshmallows in a cup of hot chocolate, and read a favorite Christmas story. I hope the light in your heart will sparkle as bright as lights on your tree. I hope there peace will surround you.

Merry ME

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

More on Light



“So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth.”

Unity
-- Baha'u'llah


Stolen Borrowed from my friend Po's FB page.
Merry ME

Thursday, November 7, 2013

More on Light

If it's always darkest before the dawn, let me just ask when is the goddam sun going to come out?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

More on Light

I suppose it goes without saying that the magic of light would be ho-hum without the reality of darkness.
Without light, darkness would be everlasting
Like winter and spring.
War and peace.
Death and life.
Love and loss.

Today I've had some of each.
My writing group met. As always, the friendship can't help fill our section of Panera with laughter and light.
But even the laughter couldn't hide the pain in Diane's eyes. You can reach out touch her grief.
I want my old life back, her mother told her.
Well, I want mine back too, Diane responded. Knowing there was no going back.
She's yet to find her new life.
She will. The light will shine in her world again. Maybe not as brightly as with her beloved Wally. Maybe not as soon as she'd like. This is her winter. Her time to hunker down, fight against the cold on days that grow dark at 5 pm.

Marilyn is facing some real physical and financial hardships right now. Never a good mix. Yesterday a beam of light brought hope that she's found a doctor who will address her problems.

Bella and I got ready for a walk this afternoon. When we walked outside I noticed the sky on one side of the building was blue, and dark grey on the other. The wind blew the rain in our direction so we turned right around and back inside. A couple hours later, we walked along the river, no rain in sight. White clouds hovered overhead.

I recently watched the movie A Perfect Storm. I'd seen it before so I  knew what was going to happen. What I didn't remember was the way dark ocean tossed the the fishing boat around. I'm sure it was all computer generated stuff, and the waves were probably bigger for effect. On any given day that's the way I feel. I'm the boat, my home the ocean. Some days it's smooth sailing. Other days, like my afternoon with Bella, the dark waters build into a surprise tempest. I can't judge when the storm will come or from what direction. I try to keep my balance, but find, often times without a life jacket, all I can do is hold onto the nearest buoy and pray for peace and look to the beam of light I know is there somewhere.

A couple of weeks ago as the tempest at home was building itself into hurricane strength, Bella fell off a counter and landed on a tile floor, on her head. Yeh, I know .... ouch.  There is much to be grateful for. First, she checked out just fine. Second, I wasn't at work.  For days afterward, I thought about how easily things could have been different. I told myself, "Bella could have died today." How's that for putting life into perspective? In the big scheme of things, does it make sense to stay so wound up over too much testosterone and not enough gumption?

I came across this gem from Martha Beck daily inspiration. 
"I respectfully do not care." 
Problem is I do.

Turning off the light and tucking myself in,
Merry Me


Monday, November 4, 2013

More on Lightt

 I saw on FB today that Wholly Jeanne and her mother were in a Christmas store. While her mom looked at decorations, Jeanne danced to Christmas songs.
Hmmm, I thought to myself, maybe I'm not rushing the season after all.
I'm embarrassed to admit I've committed what some true blue (or green as the case may be) Grinches might consider a Christmas sin.
I've been listening to Christmas music, before Thanksgiving or Black Friday when the Christmas hype is ramped up over night.
Well, technically Christmas stuff has been up in the stores since Halloween, July if you count Joann Fabric, but I'm still way ahead of my normal Christmas music calendar.
I know, you're thinking "what's up with that?"
Christmas is the time of year that turns Merry ME decidedly un-merry.

Sometimes you get a tune in your head and can't stop hearing it. I've got a whole CD in my head. It all started when I was browsing Amazon for some kid's music. Not sure how I made the the jump, but I found myself on a page with all kinds of Mary Chapin Carpenter cds.  The Mary Chapin Carpenter I used to sing along to, with the volume turned up high.
Passionate Kisses.
He Thinks He'll Keep Her.
I'll Take My Chances.
Sometimes You're the Windshield, Sometimes You're the Bug.
Whatever happened to this woman who wrote the soundtrack to my post divorce life.

Apparently she's hidden away writing Christmas songs.  Not the typical carols, that every other music star has recorded. The only recognizable songs on this cd (Come Darkness Come Light) are church songs. I had no intention of getting hooked on the songs before Christmas. It was blatant impulse buying. But the first time I listened, I knew I'd have to hear the songs again. And again. And again.

Maybe this is why the Light theme is still on my mind.

From twinkling lights,
to a bright star in the night sky,
From candles
to sparkling snow,
From tinseled trees
to the wonder in a child's eyes,
From the darkness of a world gone mad,
to the hope that is reborn every year,
Christmas is light.

Yeh, I might be early. But it's worth singing about, don't you think?

Be the light you want to see in the world,
Merry ME

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Thinking about Light

[Ed. Note: The fact that I have written what could be broken down to 4 shorts posts instead of one long one is not lost on me. I considered changing it all around, but due to operator error I've already had to type this more times that I wanted to.  If you don't want to read it all at once, feel free to break it up into segments. And you'll think to yourself, wow, Merry Me is really on a roll after taking so much time off. me]


I haven't blogged in awhile. Guess I just haven't had much to say.   I thought signing up for NaBloPoMo. Then I realized the first 2 days of November were already behind me. Oh well. Here I am. I'm thinking about Light.

Today I sat under a big ol' Sycamore tree, at a "Church without Walls. Most of the people were what some might called the marginalized - the kind of people, I imagine, that came to hear what Jesus had to say.  The service was held in a parking lot near the part of town where the  homeless hang out before the shelters open up for the evening. There were also teenaged volunteers there to serve sandwiches and bottled water. (Interesting combo, don't you think?) And I suspect there were a few, like Sweetie and I and those who followed Jesus 2000 years ago, who wanted to see what this church without walls was all about.

Today's Gospel was from Matthew 5:1-12. The passage known as the Beatitudes. Blessed are the .....
The passages that follow, however, are what spoke to me.
"You're here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world." (Matt. 5:14-16) 
Don't you love that? We are meant to be prisms that refract and reflect God-colors.

A brisk wind blew causing leaves to dance from the tree to the grass, as if the Holy Spirit were making it's presence known to Richard, who was about to be baptized. I have a thing for Sycamore trees. The story of the short, tax collector, Zacchaeus, climbing a Sycamore in order to see Jesus (Luke 19:1-10) was the gospel reading at the closing of my Cursillo weekend. I admit that I don't remember much about that weekend, or what was preached, but I remember the Sycamore. It's become a symbol for me, of the lengths (sycamores are really tall trees) some will go when they seek the Light. Call it God, if you choose.


In the past few weeks I've been privileged to watch as people of other religions summon the Light into their lives. Pardon me if this sounds blasphemous, but I believe that while there are lots of religions, there is only one Light.  To me, Light is what all of us, not just Christians, seek in a world full of so much darkness. I'm finding the differences in our searching are not as important as the similarities.

First I attended a "naming" ceremony for Caroline, one of the babies I take care of. I've attended a few Jewish services, and found the prayers and message always profoundly moving.

For this ceremony, Caroline was laid on her father's tallit. Each of the four corners was held by chosen participants (what Episcopalians would call Godparents). As each corner is folded around the baby, Scriptural passages are recited in Hebrew and English. At the end, the baby is literally wrapped in God's  light protection and love.

It didn't take long for little Caroline to realize this was going to take a little longer than she'd bargained for. By the 2nd fold when this passage from Psalms was read, she was getting a little fidgety.

"Let my being praise Adonai, who is clothed in spendor and majesty. Wrapped in light like a garment. You unfold the heavens like a curtain. You send forth Your Spirit and there is creation; You renew the face of the earth."  (Psalm 104: 1-2,30)

As her father and mother recited blessings over bread and wine, the Rabbi bestowed upon Caroline a Hebrew name which links her to the generations of her Jewish heritage. I have to say, it was not so different from the Christian baptisms I've attended. The only thing missing was the water. I provided that with my tears.  Caroline wrapped up like a cocoon in her father's prayer shawl and her mother's arms, looked across the room, wondering, no doubt, what was going on. Her eyes met mine and she smiled. That was the moment I saw God's light sparkle in her pretty blue eyes.


On Friday I watched as Bella and her grandmother prepared candles for their Dawali ceremony. I can only share with you what I was told about Dawali - it is a Hindu "festival of lights."Wikipedia says the most significant spiritual meaning behind it is the "awareness of the inner light," a celebration of "victory of good over evil."


Of course Bella is too young to actually help. Eating the uncooked, colored lentils her Grandmother used to decorate the candled tray, proved much more interesting. But I loved watching three generations of women, lighting candles, and placing them by the front door to welcome in the light. Again I felt privileged to be a part of something so sacred.

It would be hard for me to talk about light without mentioning my friend Terri St. Cloud. I think in another life, Terri could have been one of those big round spotlights that are set up in mall parking lots. You know the ones that go around in circles and look like they are signaling incoming airplanes. Terri shines a lot of light in other peoples' lives. To see her most recent offering is a reminder that even though it sometimes feels like we are all alone, we walk through this world together. Sometimes we are the candle that lights another's path, sometimes it is another's light that leads us home.  If you haven't checked out bonesigharts you really should.  Trust me, you'll be glad you did.



To paraphrase Gandhi:
Be the light you want to see in the world.
Merry ME

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Home again, Home Again, Jiggedy Jog

As weekends go, this one was whirlwind. I've discovered it's hard to relax in just a couple of days. One  has to unwind, and unhook (something I thought I'd never have to do) and get comfortable to relax. Maybe it can be done in 2 weeks instead of 2 days.

I was constantly aware of my "rich" surroundings. More so than the ambiance. I'm not used to an affluent lifestyle. I found people watching almost as much fun as at an airport.

I noticed

  • lots more children than I expected. Only one appeared to be particularly out of sorts. 
  •  a wedding procession take place, which always conjures up thoughts of hope and promise. I was impressed that the bride and her maids were able to walk down a short flight of steps, and across a swath of grass in high heels, carrying flowers, looking ahead and not down. 
  • a lone bagpiper on the manicured green lawn behind the "Lodge." I guess he was entertaining the porch sitters - the kind you'd expect to see on a southern porch in the early evening. Ladies wearing hats, a goblet of something mildly alcoholic resting on the table near a bowl of dried hydrangeas and calla lilies; men in tan linen jackets gathered in threes looking over the golf course; a young girl in an ankle-length smocked dress, lace anklets and Mary Jane shoes; her older brother, in a plaid Polo shirt, khaki pants, and loafers - a miniature of his dad; silver buckets filled with ice, champagne flutes filled just close enough to the top of the glass that the bubbles don't overflow
  • how the noise level of a bar picks up as dusk rolls into evening, when drinkers switch from cool drinks to glasses of malted Scotch or shaken martinis
  • one must acquire a taste for cold gazpacho, pimento cheese, and heated Brie
And I noticed that even while carrying a phone with a GPS I managed to get lost while walking straight out from our cottage, taking one right turn, heading down the beach, then returning the same way I came. If you are scratching your head and wondering how this is possible, I am too. Seriously, am I that directionally challenged. My first mistake was not wearing any shoes. The no man's land between the grassy lawn and the sandy beach is a minefield of dried sea oat branches, cracked shells, and stickers. 

My second mistake, or actually the first, was not checking which cottage I would be walking back to. From the beach view, they all looked alike.  Yes, it would have been wise to carry my key with me as well as my phone. It would also be wise to figure out how to use the phone so that when I'm calling my Sweetie to come rescue me, it dials his regular number, not SOS.  Now we all know that it actually was an SOS but I was not ready to admit that to the beach patrol.  After wandering through an underground garage with no exit other than the way I'd entered, across a couple of unfamiliar looking lawns, and stopping to pick stickers out of my feet I got back home. Only to find myself locked out, and the phone still dialing SOS every time I plugged in Sweetie's number. I was hot. I was sweaty. I was sandy. I wanted in, in the worst way, so I did what any girl would do, right? I decided to climb over the patio railing (never thinking for a moment that I might not be able to hoist one leg over and not get stuck, or that the back door might also be locked). Yes, it was highly possible the police had already been summoned by my repeated phone calls. Just as likely that anyone seeing me climb over the patio might think I had unlawful intentions (think about it, if you were going to break into a place, it would be much easier to try to explain your way out of being caught in the light of day, instead of the dark of night, right?) I breathed a loud sigh of relief when the door opened and I stepped into the cool living room with no Swat team in sight. Once my breathing returned to normal, I went through the front door to retrieve my things. Out walks Sweetie, wondering where I've been. He'd gotten my message(s) and believed me to be lost! Ha!

Even though, Sweetie did not witness me climbing over the railing, he told me this morning the thought of it is high on his Best of Sea Island list. I think at the top of mine would be the way one of the hotel greeters talked to Sweetie as if he really is Santa. Others look - children either turn their eyes away then peek back over their shoulder, smile or just stare - Shamika wanted her picture taken and told us this  sweet story about how excited her 2 year old daughter (who had just undergone her 3rd open heart surgery) was going to be about seeing her mama with Santa. About the only thing that could top that would be Bella, spying me from across the room, smiling and making a beeline for my arms. Good Golly, I love that baby. 

I thought a lot about the differences between the haves and the have nots on this trip. How some people were draped in a monied style/attitude/appearance like the moss on trees. I wondered about the how the old South plantation owners and house servants have evolved into a different/yet similar hierarchy. How some made it work, and others didn't let the name-tagged uniform hide generations of being less than. I thought about how out of my economical league I am with the people I work for, yet the only thing that seems to matter to either of us is their precious daughter. I looked at three tired mom, this morning. Dads were playing golf, babies down for a morning nap. I thought about being able to spend time with them and be trusted with their children. In the end, I decided, it's not the money that counts, its the love. And that comes in all shapes, sizes, socio-economic levels, colors, religions, sexes. Some may think it's money that makes the world go around (especially now that the government is shut down) but I still believe it's the love. 

Here's to being love in every situation you find yourself in.
 Love is where you find it. 
Merry ME




Saturday, October 12, 2013

Not In Kansas Anymore. (or Florida, as the case may be.)

Little did I imagine that being a nanny could to lead to perks that didn't involve baby smiles, lullabies, deep belly laughs, laundry basket rides, and snugly bottle feedings.

Sweetie and I have come along on a weekend getaway to Sea Island, GA.

Think:

  • Causeway from the mainland - the kind you'd be stuck on if you tried to evacuate in a storm
  • Blue skies and pink sunsets
  • Palm trees, weathered oaks dripping in Spanish moss, nature trails, bike paths, 
  • Gentle rolling waves kissing the beach under a crescent moon, sea oats, and dragon flies
  • Hotel the size of Buckingham palace,  "cottage" the size of Tara
  • A pool that winds around rock outcroppings, 
  • Golf carts to take you where you want to go, uniformed room service attendants, complimentary cheese tray and bottle of wine
  • Patio dining (accompanied by biting sea gnats or carrier flies as Sweetie calls them - the kind that might carry you off if you're not careful), buttermilk coated fried shrimp, Vidalia Onion dip, creamed corn hushpuppies, enough wait staff hanging around that you needn't worry about dropping your napkin, and some of the best iced tea I've ever had (not sure if it's the tea, or being served in a mason jar). 
  • Babies, toddlers, and enough paraphernalia to go with them to outfit a day care center.
  • Mamas advising each other
  • Daddys multi-tasking a) phoned in doctor visits, b)listening to sports on TV c) watching babies d) texting e) eating f) drinking
  • Nanny's quarters - a separate cottage, king sized bed not made for old people with bad backs, 7 pillows on the bed, TV, WiFi, ceiling fans
  • Work: 3 hours of listening for babies to awake while parents dine 
Needless to say, we're a bit out of our element. 

Love is where you find it.
What Santa does on vacation
The shrimp boats are a'comin
A room with a view
A girl could get used to this kind of living.
Merry ME


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Ick Schmick

I had kind of a rough morning. Feeling now like a nap to sleep away the ick. Hmmm, I wonder what I've done with the ick cream Tina sent me.

First of all, I noticed a little tiny frog right next to Suzi's food bowl. I've notice a couple other frogs who have dried up and gone on to the great frog pond in the sky. I didn't want the same thing to happen to this one.  I tried to cup my hand over him, but this guy had obviously been training to win the Jumping Frog of Calavaras County gold medal. He hopped across the kitchen in two blinks of a frog's eye, with me following on all fours, trying to catch him.  He got himself under a shelf, through a crack and behind the trash can faster than I could crawl to to the same can. Aha! I figured he was cornered and I'd be able to rescue him and win his life long gratitude.  To my great dismay, the little green guy had vanished. He was nowhere to be seen. I'm hoping he ran around me while I was moving the  trash can. If he got himself back to the middle of the kitchen while the cats were still asleep, he had a 50/50 chance of making it to the back door.  I really didn't want to think of him in the roach trap or dishwasher. I felt defeated by the tiniest of amphibians. (Unlike the way I felt last night when doing the same chase. Only then I was doing a dosey doe with a cockroach with a shoe in my hand. Every time I swatted, I missed and the roach gained on me.)Who knew bugs could be so darn fast?

After I calmed down from losing the frog,  I watched this perfectly wonderful video posted by my friend Po on our mutual friend Ter's FB page. Check it out, cause really, if you're in the need for some rain, but there is none in your forecast, it gives you everything a storm can give you without the wet.

Then I noticed a privacy issue. As often happens I assumed it was meant for me. I was pretty sure it stemmed from something I'd posted. Except it really wasn't an assumption. I'd posted a picture (a really cute) picture without permission. There would have been no problem receiving the permission. The problem was that I didn't ask. It flummoxed me (Sweetie suggests I use this phrase instead of calling myself stupid) that I didn't ask. I'm used to my life being an open book. I forget that doesn't mean everybody wants the same thing.

Let me say I felt horrible. Mainly embarrassed. It feels like standing in the middle of Times Square naked with a big spotlight shining on you. Maybe Heidi Klum or any of the other actresses on the cover of Redbook Magazine who are over 40 and lost a ton of weight and toned up and now look covergirl amazing wouldn't mind the limelight. I do. I especially hate it when the light comes from my own dumb actions.

Feeling embarrassed makes me cry. It makes me want to hide. It makes me want to run to my mom and have her tell me everyone makes mistakes and everything will be alright. (I don't think that ever happened, but doesn't mean I don't still think it might.) It makes me want to bake, then eat, a whole batch of chocolate chip cookies. The last thing it makes me want to do is want to fess up and apologize. Not that I don't feel sorry, I just don't want to be seen as flummoxed.

I suppose this would be where my mom might also tell me, that being a big girl is doing hard things, especially when we are wrong. That saying I'm sorry, please forgive me is an important step in growing up.  The little girl inside me hated this advice, but the big girl I am (and now, sadly, my mother stand-in) knew this is what I had to do. And when I did it, tears I tried to hide inched down my cheeks but the heaviness on my shoulders eased. Turns out my assumption was a bit off the mark, which also helped. Still, I have to be careful how I use FB.

It begs the question, why do I even mess with FB? What would it be like to shut the thing off. Maybe the time I spend there could be better used writing snail mail, or doing back exercises. I'd miss pictures of Gracie, and some interesting Huffington Post articles, and updates from my children, nieces and other friends. Is that enough to keep me hooked? Yeh, I think it is.

Back to my morning ... following the FB debacle, I read something posted to bring about awareness of Domestic Violence. The words broke my heart wide open. Sadness + embarrassment = the start of a poopy day.  Then I realized I'd left my wallet in my other work bag, so I was at the mercy of my friend Tasha at Subway. She let me use my debit card for a $3 purchase. Maybe this should have added to my embarrassment but lots of people don't carry cash, so no big deal, right?

On the plus side of my morning, I noticed the way the sun glistened on spider webs lining the concrete bridge supports. I cross that bridge almost every day, I've never noticed even one spiderweb before. Maybe it was the angle of the sun, or the spiders were having a bridge convention, or the traffic was so slow I could take in the view. Whatever the reason, it was pretty cool.

Then I noticed how good it felt to let a van from the lane next to me squeeze in front of me for a right hand turn. As random acts of kindness go, this may not have been high on the list, but it made me smile. Then I got to work, I was greeted by Caroline's sweet, sweet smile. A baby smile can sure take away the blues.

Since my day really didn't have any place to go but up, I'm glad to say it got better. I think it had something to do with being in the company of people I really like. Even though I wasn't naked, girl talk took the limelight off my inward chastising. Lesson(s) learned.

How was your day?
Merry ME


Friday, October 4, 2013

Looking for Answers

Ed. Note: I thought I posted this a few days ago. Wonder why it didn't happen?


Your mind will answer most questions
if you learn to relax and wait for the answer.
William S. Burroughs

Yesterday while waiting for the rest of my writing group to gather for our 9:30 meeting, I listened while a tutor helped a student. She explained to him the difference between a question and a statement. He caught on pretty quickly that a question needs an answer. Questions like "Where's your coat?" or "Are you hungry?" are fairly easy to answer. It's the hard life questions I have trouble with.

Then along comes Carol with a writing assignment. We are supposed to make a list of 100 questions. Anything from why does Sweetie move things around in the kitchen to why don't we furlough Congress to what does God do when he's on vacation. 100 is a rather daunting number of questions, but given 2 weeks I figured I could do it. As it turns out it is better to do it all in one sitting. I missed most of her explanation so I don't the whole point of the assignment.

I believe it is like the vision boards I wrote about the ladies making in the mountains. Somehow, through the power of the Universe, the pictures told a story that sometimes even the visionary didn't expect. BY asking the questions in one sitting, you give your brain/muse ample time to get the everyday questions about things that are bothering you, like when am I going to get the oil changed in my car? Maybe that takes up the first 30 or 40 questions. As you keep at it, says Carol, the deeper the questions will get. In the end, you might see a pattern or have a creative response to them.  When we come back together, we'll have part 2 of the assignment, so that's all I can tell you now.

Scratch all that. I got distracted by a crying baby and Barney - an ear-splitting combo - and didn't get this published. In the interim, Carol O'Dell wrote a post HERE. You may want to read it straight from her.

My first question will be when am I going to find enough time in one sitting to ask 100 questions?

Fast forward through the day to the time when Sweetie and I were eating dinner. He told me about a conversation he had with a social worker about talking to kids and getting them to talk back. I can't quote him, so I may not have it exactly right. She said kids as old as 10 or 12 cannot answer why questions. For example, ask a troubled kid why they just knocked the socks off the kid next to him and he won't be able to tell you. He/she will probably give the universal sign for  I don't know ... shrugged shoulders.  But say to that same kid, I can tell you're angry, let's talk about it, and you're likely to get a conversation going.

I found the whole thing interesting. I couldn't help but wonder why three times in one day, the topic of questions came up for me. It felt kind of woo woo. Naturally I asked Sweetie about it. He seemed to think I must be looking for a lot of answers in my life. I wouldn't have said that before the Universe brought it up, but I think maybe Sweetie may be right. I wonder what it is I'm wondering about.

Maybe finding the answers is as easy as asking the questions.
What's on your list of questions?
Merry ME

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Progress?

I thought I'd come home from the mountains all rested and ready to write, write, write. If not the great American novel, at least a daily blog post. I spent most of Sat. trying to fit back in and reclaim my space. I sat in my chair all afternoon working on my final recap of the trip. Here it Tuesday afternoon and I haven't come near the keyboard.

I had a heart-breaking, come to Jesus conversation last night, that left both parties feeling kind of raw. The kind where my sadness and anger get all topsy-turvy and I get all dizzy trying to listen, talk, and feel at the same time. Have you ever been swimming in the ocean and been blindsided by a gigantic wave you weren't expecting. Before you know it you're caught up in the roiling see, praying for a foothold so you can get your head above water and take a breath. That's kind of how I was feeling last night.

I realized that somewhere in the conversation I started to shut down. That's what I've always done when conflict comes knocking.  Turn everything off and retreat. The difference this time, is I watched myself. From somewhere in the back of my head came some words I'd heard several times during the week. This isn't your problem. It's belongs to someone else.

Then I had another realization. For as long as I can remember, a difference of opinion meant only one thing. The other person was right. IN order to keep the peace (avoid conflict) I had to acquiesce acquiesced. Giving up and giving in was always easier. (Not counting the years of depression it caused.) So while I wanted to runaway, and/or say something along the lines of "you're right. I'll do it your way" those behaviors didn't work for me.

While it didn't feel great at the time, after some down time, I figured out I didn't feel as bad as I thought I might. Oh sure, there's a part of me that waits for the other shoe to fall. That's another thing I want to work on. Living in the moment instead of waiting and worrying.

It's all new behavior for me. I hope when I go home tonight and walk in the back door, I'll feel the same peace. Not scared. Not worried. Not anxious about a confrontation.

Awareness is the first step to change.
Merry ME

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Chats Retreat - The End

[Note: I'm writing this from home, but want to keep things in order)

It's hard to imagine that things could have gotten better.
They did.

After dinner we gathered in front of the small, but warm, fire. I slouched in a leather chair. Amy beside me in her chair, Carol F, backed up to the ottoman in front of me. Laura sat near Amy, Leeanne and Louise shared the couch. Carol O. sat center stage on the hearth.  As the founder and facilitator of Chat Noir Writers Circle, she could have shone like the sun, while we, her planets circled around her. Instead, she sat among us, an equal and leader at the same time.  Her brightness enhanced by the light of her friends. Hard to pull off, but not for Carol.

Our last night together began with Leeanne, Laura, Amy and both Carol's sharing their vision boards. It  was amazing to see how board reflected its maker's beauty. We noticed how Leeanne's favorite color turquoise, stood out among the pictures and words she chose. A surprise even to Carol F, was how instead of travel, her board spoke of her love of dance. Laura's board identified her desire to be more courageous and bold. I couldn't miss the quotes were soft and gentle, yet powerful, like the woman who chose them. " joy is 1 part inner pece 1 part giddy delight and 100% attainable" or "the soul is here for our own joy" (rumi). Carol O's board pictured a layering of doors. Each opening as if to call her in to a new place. I didn't have a board to share. I read some of this blog about how the experience had opened me up when I didn't even know I'd been so tightly shut down.

If this week had been a movie, the final scene would be each of the women reading their favorite piece of work. The words were awesome. Powerful. Touching. Hearing them read by the artist who wrote them incomparable. It's been a long time since I sat in a circle being read to. I think it was nursery school in Philadelphia. I can remember lying next to my mother for an afternoon nap, dozing off as she read me a story. The child in me was comforted by this firelit circle of women and stories. The writer in me wanted more, and more, and more.

Like all good things, the evening had to come to an end.
Well, almost.

____

"Will you go in the hot tub with us?" Laura whispered in my ear.
Still aglow from the evening's readings and warmth of the fire, I said, "sure." It would be a perfect end to a perfect week. Simmering in hot water with Amy, Laura and Carol brought out even more flavor from the week, like cooking a beef bone makes a meatier broth than opening up a can before adding it to the soup. The end product is so much better than the individual ingredients. The conversation(s) were raw but honest. One of us has a brother who could best be described as an #%AA#, one has a few mother issues, one is in a constant battle with her son. Yet each of us believes in the power of forgiveness and moving on, in finding a place of serenity that includes troublesome loved ones. Although painful family dynamics can make for a good story, staying stuck in them zaps writers of their creative edge.

Disabled Amy (I don't think she'd mind me saying that) maneuvered in and out of the roiling water better than I did. Bubbles filled my bathing suit so that I felt like one of those channel buoys ships use as a guide.  I had trouble sitting still.  It's been 20 years or more since I've been in a hot tub.  Without estrogen flowing through my body helping me maintain a constant livable temperature, I've grown into a woman that can't stand much heat (literally and metaphorically). I must say, however, my back screamed an orgasmic, "oh God" as my muscles began to relax.

The clock's hands passed midnight, then one, then two. Knowing we'd have to get up in just a few hours, we stood up on wobbly legs and made our way to our separate bedrooms. (Amy, of course, didn't stand. But she did hoist herself out of the hot tub, with way more strength than I did.) Before falling asleep, my down time consisted of re-counting sweet memories rather than sheep.

____

And just like that, as if Cinderella's coach had turned back into a pumpkin, the magic faded. Pollen-laden worker bees we turned our thoughts toward home. Saturated with the glories of the week's experiences, our casual laid-back personas morphed easily into those of the job-focused women we are in the "real" world. Our pace quickened as the time for departure neared. The hustle and bustle of packing, cleaning, loading cars and getting Amy down the steep ramp over-shadowed the mountain's stillness. We paused only once, for a final photo shoot. We let Cherish Rose, the youngest of the group, yet every bit as wise and witty as her mother, position us for the best light.

"Say Chats!" instructed Carol.
"Chats!" we chimed in unison. Knowing that one picture could not capture the spirit of the whole week, we smiled over and over again, as cameras clicked.
Standing on that balcony, with the mountains as a backdrop evergreen trees moving on the tiniest of currents appeared to be waving goodbye. The bird songs bid us a fond farewell.

As must happen when the final goodbyes are said, the solemnity of the moment breaks. Louise began singing, "Memories" from her favorite musical Cats.


Memory
All alone in the moonlight
I can dream of the old days
Life was beautiful then
I remember
The time I knew what happiness was
Let the memory live again.


Not to be outdone, Cherish, Laura, Carol and Amy marched down the hallway singing "Do You Hear the People Singing"from Les Miserable. A perfect end to a perfect week. 

____

Heading Home

I thought it might be easier to pack the car for the trip home. Let's face it, a wheelchair in the back of a Ford Focus is going to be hard to pack around no matter what. It's the stuff of a Mike Rowe commercial. Our first stop (requiring an unpacking to get the wheelchair out, and repacking to get it back in) was Mercier Orchards. On top of the chair went 5 bags of apples, a few jars of preserves and apple butter and a bottle of sparkling apple cider. 


While at the orchard store, Amy and I watched how apples are handled from the time they are picked til the time they are packed and shipped.  First they go in a dunking tank, and roll out on a conveyor belt. They are sprayed to look pretty, then the bad ones (remember the one bad apple adage) are culled by women sitting on either side of the belt. Then the best of the best are packaged for grocery stores, the others bagged for sale there at the orchard.  Although it was a mechanized belt that moved things along, I was surprised to see human beings doing the work, not robots. The work did not look stimulating. I'm glad I'm not an apple picker-outer. But I will appreciate the apples in Publix a lot more knowing they were touched by people who do a job that's been around since Johnny Appleseed. What if those women sent a blessing, like a prayer with each apple? Maybe that's what makes those September Wonders taste so good. 

Or could it be the bees? Jim Mercier explained to me that even when something says it's organic, some pesticides have to be used or there would be no pollination - no fruit. A local bee keeper brings his bees into the orchard at the right time of the year for population. He only has a 3 day window, and the temperature has to be below 60 degrees. I had no idea Mother Nature had such an exact schedule. The bees arrive at night, feeling angry and out of sorts. I wouldn't like my home being smoked, put on a truck and carted away either. They need to settle down some. They stay in the hive while it's dark.  In the morning, they circle the area 3 times to get their bearings. Then, like fraternity brothers at a keg party, they fly into the orchard dipping their heads and feet into the heady, goodness apple blossoms provide. At the end of the three days they return to their hive, where the work of making honey begins. Interesting.

Our second stop, the De Kalb Farmer's Market in Decatur, Georgia. Think a couple football fields full of every kind of food imaginable. Seriously, I'm talking anything and everything. Sustenance for the job ahead required a trip through the buffet line. Then it was down to business. Carol bought for herself and her daughter back home. Amy had cheese, bread and wine on her mind. I felt overwhelmed. I didn't know where to start but knew if I did, stopping would be a problem. I strolled behind Amy. I tried not to drool over the pastries, chocolates, fresh strawberries, chocolate croissants ........ This proved to be a good thing. After all the grocery bags were stuffed in the few open spots left, my back seat felt mighty cramped. 

From Decatur/Atlanta we only stopped once. Amy insists that people are friendlier in Georgia. I cannot disprove that theory as everyone I met all week, spoke and smiled and displayed good ol' southern hospitality. We chose to stop at McDonald's over the few gas stations we saw. Good choice. New, clean, friendly, helpful personnel. Sometimes the Mickey D's experience can be less than desirable. This was not. Sustained by caffeine, chocolate and french fries, we faced the rest of the drive home contented. 

I've got to say God bless Carol O'Dell. I'm not kidding folks, she is one amazing woman. She can write. She can cook. She could read a road map and keep you on the edge of your seat. Although big hairy psider removal requires an extra set of hands, she does not blink before sticking her hand into a toilet's plumbing apparatus. She hugs like a mama, encourages stretching your muscles (physical, spiritual, emotional) like a coach, cooks like an Iron Chef, and drives like a multi-tasking trucker on a long haul.  She is a great listener and wonderful to listen to.  I called her Wonder Woman more than once on this trip.

Sweetie and Suzi Q picked me up at Amy's house around 10pm -twelve hours and a world away from where I'd been. A balmy sea breeze replaced the mountain air.  Within minutes of walking in the back door, i had slipped back into my every-day skin. I wandered around the house looking for the changes Sweetie had made. Give that man a few hours by himself, and you can expect something to be rearranged.  Not big differences. Subtle changes that you can live with but startle you when first encountered. Like moving the bread box from the counter by the refrigerator (where it has been for as long as I can remember) to the counter by the toaster.  I'm happy to say the house had been well tended to - always a nice to come home to.

_____
I felt a wee bit off kilter this morning. The dog barking woke me up, not women laughing. I looked for my peeps and they weren't here. I looked for a place of solitude, a hideaway for writing, it's not here. I decided not to rush right back into things. I gave myself time for the transition. Sweetie has turned off the air and opened all windows and doors. I believe the birds are louder here than in Georgia. Boy Cat sits at the door, watching. Hoping a squirrel or lizard may get close. In the same way, the outdoor sounds quiet me. Like Grandmother's chair that I'm sitting in, my old routine is not a bad thing, it's just a little worn. On the other hand, its comfort reminds me how lucky I am to have a place to call home. 

I feel like a bee who has gone from one flower to another collecting succulant bits of life. I've traveled in a group and I've soared to a place I, alone, needed to be. Now it's time to pollinate the thing I love. To write. You know the sound of a 1000 bees humming? Imagine the stories they tell.

I am the woman who felt so anxious, nervous,  scared she almost backed out of going on this retreat. Now I'm the woman who can't wait for next October so I can go again. It won't be the same, but I don't  want a do-over. Instead, I look forward to something new, like a person who has been baptized in the jacuzzi of life. I hope I won't soon forget the pleasure of opening up to the "yes." 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Chats Retreat - Day 2 - The Morning After

What do writers do after an evening of visioning, a few cocktails, a satisfying meal and a hour long critique of a member's novel revisions? A few go to bed. The others stay up sipping on hot cocoa laced with peppermint schnapps, talking about fortune telling, movies, favorite actors and musicals while roasting marshmallows in the moose-enhanced fireplace until 3 in the morning. (I know that's a run-on sentence, of which I have an affinity for, but not as long as one written about a chicken by Robert Olin.)

I should have been taking notes. But I was having a hard time keeping up. It became clear to me that my life is devoid of entertainment that can't be found on HGTV. Netflix is a world unto itself where I rarely venture. I can see I've been wasting my time at work watching back seasons of the Tudors. While interesting, it does not provide the same amount of variety the others in the group take for granted.  I had few answers for a) name three men you'd like to be stranded in an elevator with or b) name your three top three movies or c) my favorite line from a movie is ...

So basically I listened, interjecting a name or a title on occasion. But here's what I learned. When you are with fun, witty, intelligent women who find meaning and inspiration in just about everything in their lives, listening is okay. The beautiful community of women can be as much about listening as joining in. Of course I don't remember the really poignant moments when Carol had me sitting on the edge of my seat soaking up her wisdom as if sitting at the foot of the Dali Lama. It would be nice if I could, but just being part of the group was where the magic resided.

I've heard of women's groups that dance naked under a full moon. I've seen pictures of women holding hands at sunset walking into the ocean for a communal baptism. I've attended women's prayer circles. I've been to Cursillo. I grew up in a house full of women, for God's sake. But even standing on the outside looking in, I've never felt more a part of any group.

Yesterday afternoon (after Donnie left and I'd recovered from being lost in plain sight) most of the gang searched through magazines for words and pictures to use on a vision board. The first step in this process is choosing a word for yourself. A word that you want to focus on, or want more of, or want to incorporate into your life. It could be an emotional word - strong, courageous, bold. It could be a desire - relationship, travel, learn to cook, whatever. Then you go about choosing pictures that speak to you. Carol said they don't have to be about your word (printed on the top of the poster board). Just pick and cut and move on. Next, you glue the pictures on the board, collage style. In the end your word will become a visual reminder of what your goal is.

I can't say why, but I wasn't feeling it. I'm sure I've got words I need to hold on to - goals, self-esteem, confidence. Not of them spoke to my heart so I chose not to participate. I scanned a few magazines. Tore out a few pictures that spoke to me. Mostly I watched the others. And listened as they encouraged each other and laughed and told stories about themselves. It didn't feel like eavesdropping, in the typical doctor's office way, where you can learn anothers whole medical history by pretending to read an out of date Newsweek magazine. This felt more like i was absorbing the scene, like the towels soaking up spilled wine. I haven't tried to analyze the why of my actions. I'm okay with doing what's comfortable in the moment.

It is now almost 2pm on day three. Our last day here. There is a subtle finishing up of this place and gearing up for the next taking place. As I expected, as anxious as I was about coming, now I don't want to leave. I want more time here. I want more time with my peeps. I want to be surrounded by mountains and trees and laughter and wisdom.  I'd be the first to admit I'd be lost without the finer things in life. This computer,  for instance, the indoor plumbing, cold Cokes, good food I didn't have to shoot and skin myself, and even my smart phone. I wonder, however, if what I'm feeling - this whole woman community thing -  is buried deep in my cells. Could it be DNA left over from a time when women sat around a fire sharing stories of their past and visions of their tomorrows, painting ochre pictures of prehistoric moose on cave walls, complaining about how hairy their Sweeties are, and basking in the warmth of friendship?


I'm reminded of the song my Internet friend, muse, and grief counselor, Dani Sutliff first shared with me. It fits how I'm feeling this week.


In a Circle of Women 
(words & music by Sydney Salt)

In a circle of women, I am born again * In a circle of women, I am home
Heal me now, together we heal each other In a circle of woman, I am whole!

* you are born again, we are born again

I wish for you like-minded, big-hearted friends,
Merry ME


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Later that Same Day

"I'm ready to take a nap or go for a walk,"said Carol F.
My eye lids were resting at half-staff. I really wanted a short snooze. But I wanted to walk outside more. So I grabbed my sneakers and sweatshirt and headed out.

Down the hill we went. Two women in their 60's who are not quite as athletic as the rest of the group. A walk after dinner is about all we manage at home. Perhaps mountain climbing should not have been our first choice. I took note of the Beware of Dog sign, but after that kept focused on walking at a downwards slant without going head over heels. The weeds, Carol pointed out, are the only green things changing color. I  admired the Queen Anne's lace and rock cairns on the side of the road as we talked. It was not long before we came to the realization that a) going downhill means an uphill walk home which could prove problematic, and b)nothing looked familiar. Note to self: most gravel driveways and log cabins look alike on the outside. Dropping bread crumbs might have been prudent.

But I really didn't worry because I knew we were only one driveway away from the Beware of Dog sign. All we had to do was spy it and we would be home free. I soon discsovered the sign wasn't where I thought it would be. As we pondered the proverbial fork in the road, the AAA truck which was coming to our cabin to fix a flat tire that Leeanne had luckily spotted before headed home came rumbling up the hill.

"Is this where I turn?" asked Donnie in a thick Georgia accent, hopping down from his truck like it wasn't three feet off the ground. If he thought the sight of us wondering like lost dogs, he didn't say so. Yes, Amy, people are friendlier in Georgia.

"Well yes," Carol and I answered in unison sounding much more sure of our surroundings than we felt. "Well, maybe."

"The directions say turn at Sky Something Road, so this must be it," said Donnie. "The lady on the phone gave my dispatcher these directions."

"Yes we're with that lady, so you can just follow us. Let's turn here."

 With Carol on one side of the road and me on the other (still looking for the only landmark  I'd recognize) the Red AAA truck moved slowly up the gravel road.  We didn't go far before we reached another fork in the road. Each driveway leading to a dead end. Each going uphill. I did not have the sense that we had not ventured this faraway from our home away from home, but was no longer able to say from which direction we had come.

"I'll call Laura," I said.
Donnie used Carol's phone to call Leeanne, who was standing on the porch watching for the truck, like a 17th century whaler's wife. Laura's line was busy, so I left an "we're lost" SOS and headed back to the first fork. Part of me wanted to cry like a little girl. Another part wanted laugh like a crazy woman. Because really, it's kind of ludicrous that we were so lost.

In the meantime Donnie was having a conversation with Laura, our own GPS Siri.
"These ladies are really lost," he told her. I can bring 'em back with me, if that's okay.
Laura assured him that we were location-challenged but quite harmless otherwise. It would be fine to let us in his truck.  So Donnie backed down to a turn in the road (where he should have gone straight before) then stopped to let us in.

"Y'all be careful of that step," he warned.

Good God, I thought to myself, when I saw how high it was.

Up a little ways, and around a bend, the Beware of Dog sign appeared. And then, up ahead, there it was. Home. Like Dorothy finding herself back at Aunty Em's house after her trip to Oz, I felt relieved and wondered if the trip really happened.
The thing about being a writer is every adventure can be turned into a story.
I mean, what are the chances of getting lost after 2 turns and being rescued by clean-cut, polite, slow talking Donnie in a Duck Dynasty T-shirt. That kind of stuff is hard to make up.

Wishing for you adventures that make you smile,
Merry ME

Chats Retreat - Day 2

The day almost started tragically. If I tell you there are 14 stairs between my bed and the bathroom can you guess that it is a rather risky walk at 5:30 in the morning. I did fine until I missed the last step. Had I not been holding on, I would have landed face down on the wooden floor, looking like one of those bear rugs - or moose - or person as the case may be.  The good news is I did my business and made it back upstairs without incident. More awake than I wanted to be at that hour, I kept running stair-falling scenarios through my head. I have a vivid imagination when left alone to think my own thoughts.

At the more civilized hour of 9:30 I awoke to Louise saying, "Oh look!" I sat straight up, thinking there may actually be a moose on the porch or something else as incredible.

"What?" I yelled over the banister.
"It's raining," she exclaimed. "I love the rain."
Thinking about it, the sight and sound of the rain was pretty incredible. I could see no sign of the mountains, just gray mist. For most of the morning, the mountaintops played peek-a-boo in and out of the cloud cover. I think I've seen too many western movies. Right now it looks as if there are smoke signals rising between the ridges.

After a good night's sleep, most of the Chats were up and working on their computers when I mosied downstairs. Well, working may be stretching it a bit. Computers were on, books open.  The kitchen counters full of various breakfast foods, from Quinoa to leftover lasagna provided ample foraging opportunities.  While this is a writing retreat, I've noticed that there is a lot of talk about spirituality. I think the mountains and trees and fresh air and unpaved roads must bring that out. For me being surrounded by nature is a form of spiritual revitalization.

Dictionary.com defines retreat as:  The act or process of withdrawing, especially from something hazardous, formidable, or unpleasant. Withdrawing from the world's busy-ness (yes, I know we're still technically connected) and settling into a more natural rhythm of life is what this time away is to me. It may take longer than 3 days to completely unwind, but it's a start.

The conversation turned to the advantages of "letting go" (not an uncommon theme for me). Whether its decluttering your house, your relationships, or thoughts that no longer serve you, you are making room for something new. Letting go, every action is a prayer. With that thought in mind, I opened up my daily word from Gratefulness, here's what it said. Synchronicity? Coincidence? Or the Divine giving a nod to the journey we've embarked on?

We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
Joseph Campbell

When was the last time you turned away from your computer and cell phone, and relaxed into some quiet moments of gratitude? What part of your life do you want to let go of? Why not try it. 
Merry ME


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Later that same day - Good Night Chats

Part of Caroline's nap routine includes down time. Ten or 15 minutes before she goes to bed I start getting her used to the idea of going to sleep. I hold her close and read a story or two, then hum a few verses of "Hush Little Baby ..."One of the books I read is Goodnight Moon.

The hum of the ceiling fan is like a hypnotist's voice. "You are getting very sleepy." I notice that the house has a kind of "down time" of it's own. The lights have been turned off. The wood creaks a little. Everyone is tucked in. I feel like saying good night.

Good night Chats.
Good night mooses.
Good night rocking chairs.
Good night hot tub.
Good night smart phone.
Good night trees.
Good night mountains.
Good night stars.
Good night moon.
Good night computer.

May angels watch over you as you sleep,
Merry ME

P.S. Good night Sweetie. I love you more than all the wood and moose stuff in this cabin.

P.S.S. It's just started raining. Rain pouring down. What a glorious sound when I'm tucked in all comfy and snug.

Later that same Day

I couldn't keep my eyes open one minute longer, so I hauled myself up a flight of plank stairs, and fell into that marvelous bed. This time I awoke to the smell of caramelized onions simmering in hearty beef stock. Like one of those zombie-like cartoon characters following a wafting scent of something delicious, I hauled myself down the stairs, remembering this time to duck under the slant of the roof.

If this morning was filled with bustling kitchen sounds, the afternoon is filled with quiet. I can hear talking and giggling coming from the loft. Louise is asleep in the west wing. The rest of us sit with books and/or computers on our laps. A phone vibrates, but no ring penetrates the serenity.

There is a place in Jacksonville, called Moosehaven. It's where members of the Loyal Order of Moose go to retire. I don't know what retired Moose do, but maybe they spend their days weaving moose rugs, carving moose heads out of logs and painting ceramic moose statues. I've been looking around and decided that the interior designer of this woodsy abode must have had a tragic moose-experience in his/her past. There are moose silhouettes everywhere I turn - rugs, blankets, knick knacks, even the shower curtain. Not that there is anything wrong with moose decor, its just that I've never seen so much in one place before.  I could be wrong, but I'm doubt there has never been a moose in the Peach state's Blue Ridge mountains.

Speaking of the Peach State.  Who knew so many apples were grown in Georgia.  "It appears the forest-covered county in North Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains is Georgia’s Apple Capital, which provides our nation with more than 600,000 bushels of apples each year. You can’t go wrong with any variety of apple you pick."  Actually, my parents did. When they traveled through Georgia on their way to and from their Smokey Mountain hideaway they always stopped in Elijay (down the road apiece) and bought apples and apple cider.  Dad liked to eat an apple fritter, hot from grease, sprinkled with powdered sugar.

In the  afternoon stillness,  I checked my e-mail. (Don't judge me!) Here's the gratefulness word of the day:
Memories of loved ones are like songs in our soul.
Margaret Wakeley

Memories of ka-thumping around a mountain on unpaved, bumpy roads, buying apples, porch rocking,  and woodsy night lullabies float just outside my heart's vision. I feel tears welling up. Then the music started. Zumba dancers begin shaking all their shakable parts. Freshly made French onion soup and homemade lasagna take my mind of being in the mountains with my parents.  It's time to make new memories. And I think this is the right place, the right time, and the right people.

Chat Noir Retreat - Day 1

Maybe I should call it Day 2.

Just getting here, to Blue Ridge, GA, was an adventure in and of itself.
3 women, a wheelchair, enough food to keep us going for weeks, if caught in some kind of natural disaster, water, coke, tea, Red Bull, art supplies, blankets, pillows, clothes, computers and 2 bottles of Absinthe at my feet. It was touch and go whether we'd even leave Jacksonville. But 8 hours, 3 stops - which included unpacking the car in order to get the wheelchair in and out of the Ford Focus - we pulled into the steep driveway of a wooden cabin hidden in north Georgia mountains.

My writers group, Chat Noir, is on retreat for three days. Retreat, I'm learning, means different things to each of us. There is writing to be done, for sure. But mostly we're here to unwind, to soak up the serenity provided by the cabin's seclusion, to refuel our creative tanks. I'm pretty sure drinking and laughing are at the top of the to-do list.

When I say cabin in the woods, you are probably thinking small, rustic, creaky, perhaps a little smokey or stale. Well, think again. This place is the largest cabin I've ever seen. Think castle in the woods. Three floors with bedrooms galore. Enough bathrooms for 8 women, kitchen counters laden with food stuffs for vegans to meat eaters and everything in between, an espresso machine, a crock pot, and a plethora of potent potables.

I'm staying in a loft, sleeping in a bed that could be exactly what the doctor ordered what the doctor should have ordered for my back.  I awoke this morning to the sound of women laughing. When I opened my eyes, I looked across the room, through A-framed windows. Through the trees I could see the mist rising over the mountains.  Torn between more sleep and curiosity, I crept downstairs to see what was going on. Leeanne and Carol F. huddled around Amy's bed recounting their drive through small Georgia towns yesterday.  Remember, these are writers I'm with. Southern writers whose genteel  conversations, peppered with unexpected curse words,  flow like sweet, iced tea on at a garden party.  These are the ladies I think of when I hear the term steel magnolias. I've known them long enough to know their tales are born of hard times and heartache, yet humor resounds in every narrative.

The last retreat, (as if there are many) I took was back in January of 2007, when I began writing this blog. I needed a break from the rigors of caring for my Dad.  I may have become a hermit in the intervening years. I had way too much difficulty saying yes to an opportunity to spend time with some of my favorite people, doing one of my favorite things.

"Do you have a sense of foreboding," Sweetie asked when he saw my hands shake.  I couldn't define my anxiety. Just knew it was there, in the pit of my stomach. Every jangled nerve relaxed as I settled into my tiny space in the back seat and the journey began.

So I'm here to relax. To spend time in a place where bird songs and a slight breeze sends autumn colored leaves dancing to the ground. To retreat from the busy-ness and weary-ness of the world. To submit to the silence. And when I feel myself on the brink of going stir crazy, I only have to walk from one wood paneled room to delight in the community of women.

Wishing for you time to slow down.
Merry ME

PS My camera is broken and I don't know how to get pictures from my "smart" phone to my computer.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Abundance



You simply will not be the same person 
two months from now after consciously giving thanks 
each day for the abundance that exists in your life. 
And you will have set in motion an ancient spiritual law: 
the more you have and are grateful for, the more will be given you.
Sarah Ban Breathnach
Simple Abundance


It wasn't that long ago that I was bemoaning the fact that I had too much time on my hands. I needed some routine and structure in my life or I would slowly turn into a giant slug. (Okay, maybe I never voiced the part about the slug, but my body was giving me the high sign to get off the couch and get moving, as in work, not exercise. I don't pay that much attention to my body!)

After reading an email that touched my heart this morning, I began to feel overwhelmed with all the things I have on my plate. Not the kind of things I want to ignore, like dusting and weeding. Things That make me feel all atwitter inside. Things that make me weep tears of joy for me and tears of sadness for others.  

I did not "consciously giving thanks each day for the abundance in my life," but Sweetie did. Every night before dinner, he says this grace over our often blah repast." 
Well, thanks God for our many blessings. Be with us in all we do. Guide us in all we undertake. 
I'm happy to say God responded to the "us" in that prayer and has covered me in abundance.

  I've got stories to write. Bears to make. Babies to care for.  I couldn't ask for more. And it took a full eight minutes of rejoicing in my abundance before the the doubts about my capability to do it all set in. In typical Merry Me fashion, I'm about to freak out with all I have to do. Believe it or not, this is improvement. 

Before I get all caught up in the can'ts I'm going to say TTFN (ta ta for now) and get to sewing.

May you be blessed in abundance,
Merry Me