Saturday, January 31, 2015

Yes!

"there are times when a woman needs to walk an walk alone. She needs to walk from the world she knows into one that is foreign an strange and scary. She needs to let in the wind, rain, sun, and to feel the blisters on her feet harden. She needs to let her body lead her sometimes and to trust it no matter her age."
Elizabeth Marro  


January 31st, and just like that the first month of a new year is over. The January days took my enthusiasm with them. My turquoise door still makes me smile, but none of the trim is done. The matching shutters have not been rehung. The paint cans sit on the shelf waiting as if the last one picked on the playground.

While I have continued to walk every day with Bella, I find it harder and harder to pull myself out from under the covers to walk the neighborhood when I'm not at work. I am amazed at the number of excuses I can tell myself! The same goes for my writing.  I remember that tingling feeling I had at the beginning of the month. The way the words in my head jumped through my fingers onto the screen. Like the scientists said, I did find that walking gave me a chance to think about things I'd like to write about. When I got home and kicked my shoes off, I found it easier to watch Family Feud than write. Thus some of the spaces between posts.

I have a friend, Diane, who says she can't find a 4 leaf clover if she's looking for one, but almost always finds one when she's not looking. As if to prove her point, when we were in the mountains, one of our assignments was to spend some time outside and bring back 3 things to put in a basket on the counter. Diane came home with a 4 leaf clover. Surrounded by trees, red, yellow and orange leaves, pine cones, various shaped and colored rocks, moss-covered sticks, bottle tops and mushrooms, Diane stepped outside the door, took a few steps, looked down and there it sat. Waiting to be discovered. 

I did the same thing once when I was a kid. On my way to the bus stop, I looked down into the bushes and found a wallet. If I'd known who Sherlock Holmes was, I would have thought my middle name was Sherlock. It's exciting to find surprises in unexpected places. Maybe that's why they are called surprises. When I found a little money in the wallet, the find was all the sweeter. I had no intention of keeping the wallet. I took it home to my father who found the young sailor it belonged to.  We lived on a naval base.  It was a pretty good bet that the guy had not only lost wallet, but his ID card too. In 1960, the money he lost  undoubtedly represented a small fortune. Every time I walked past that line of bushes, I kept my eyes peeled for another pot of gold. 

I've never found another wallet, but I have continue the search for all these years. Ihen I walk, I keep my eyes down. I imagine finding a large bag of money - piles of bills banded together. Stimulated by extra blood flow to the brain, several stories work their way through the gray matter. Maybe a bank robber threw the bag out the window during a high speed chase. Maybe it's stolen drug money. I give the money to the police and receive a sizeable reward which I promptly spend on a Caribbean vacation. Unbeknownst to me my tropical hideaway is the exact location gun-smuggling pirates use as home base. Depending on how far I have to walk, the story either stops there, or continues until a category 5 hurricane barrels down on the island and Sweetie and I narrowly escape off the island and the pirates are swept away in a tsunami. 

Mother Nature Valentines
Moss filled hole in my driveway
Paint stain on road
Pecan
Keeping my eyes pointed downward may not be the best way to walk.  Especially if one is practicing shinrin-yoku. The whole point of being outside is to listen to bird songs, inhale the scent of freshly mown grass, wave to neighbors, and notice Mother Nature's valentines. I have to admit, however, that I'm a tad clumsy. I can trip over my own feet. So it's probably best if I find a happy medium between down and up.

As I made my way around the neighborhood last week I caught sight of pink plastic bags in most of the driveways. The kind that contain newspaper ads. What caused me to stop was the word "YES!" in big black letters on the bag. Yes what? After the third sighting, I started taking pictures. I decided they were messages from the Universe. I continued walking, wondering what the message might be. Like those people in the "start here" commercial, I follow.  Instead of ending up at a Car Max dealership, I lead myself home. Is that the message? Could home be the answer to the question? 

Yes, I told myself. Yes.
Like Bella after a successful trip to the potty, I fist-bumped the air in front of me. Yes, is a way of acknowledging the changes I've made so far in 2015. Instead of saying "yeh or maybe" saying yes to new ideas is about commitment. It's about stepping across a new threshold. 

My top ten list of things I've said "YES!" to this month: 
  1. painting my front door a tranquil shade of turquoise that invites people to enter
  2. sending a love note to my daughter every day for 365 days
  3. speaking my truth even if it's not heard or understood
  4. walking on a regular basis
  5. signing up for a pilates class (which I missed cause I wrote the date down wrong, but the commitment was there)
  6. making a memory bear 
  7. submitting a piece to my writing group
  8. opening myself up to new blog friends
  9. taking a closer look at a lifelong fear
  10.  letting my body lead me.

What have you said yes to lately?
Merry ME

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Goodbye, Again


 "Aunts are special people. 
Aunts have a comfy way about them- 
Aunts love to chat. Aunts make you feel important.
Aunts advise a little and listen a lot. 
Aunts are kind of like a friend and a second Mom, all in one.
Aunts splurge for little extras.
 Aunts tell the most amusing long-ago stories.
 Aunts are part of your fondest memories of growing up and of good times." 
From an American Greetings card


 Friday was the 4th anniversary of my father's death. I've been composing a letter to him in my head on my morning walks. I figured I'd have time on Friday to write out my thoughts. Life intervened and I never got anything written. Then I thought I'd get to it on Sat. But when I checked my phone early Sat. morning I had a message that my Aunt Letty had passed away.

My earliest memory of Letty is when I was maybe 9-ish. We were at my grandparent's camp in Vermont. Think On Golden Pond. Letty suggested we go skinny dipping. When she explained  skinny dipping, I felt both shocked and fascinated. Really? Swim naked? I don't know that it ever happened, but from that day on Letty was my brave, adventurous, ideal woman.  She lived in New York City. Wore high heels to work. She walked everywhere, didn't drive. She took me to the New York World's fair (which strangely I have no memory of - how can you not remember a world's fair?) and Radio City Music Hall where we watched the Rockettes dance. She was perhaps the first to call me Merry Mary. She encouraged my writing. She always made me feel important.

Instead of feeling like I'd crossed a new threshold of life without my dad and come to the know the truth that grief doesn't last forever,  I felt sad all day yesterday. Sad for me. Sad for my sister who had  missed an opportunity to visit Aunt Letty. Sad for Uncle David, the last remaining Aldrich of that generation. Mostly I feel sad for Aunt Letty's husband, son and daughter. All of whom I've only met once.  I can't know how others will feel or react to such a sudden death (Letty had been very ill, but the hope was that some treatments were going to keep her alive and feeling better for a long period of time). Because Letty's death was eerily similar to my mom's I have an idea of the shock they are in right now.

My mom had suffered some brain damage from a stroke like illness. She was frail, tired, ready to go. I guess everyone either lived in a cloud of denial or didn't expect her passing to be as blessedly fast as it was. We were not prepared for an aneurysm. Like my cousins, I sent my father home and stayed with mom through the night as she slowly stopped breathing. It still feels a bit surreal. I'd like to have a do over so I could take better notes, say more meaningful things, hold her hand for a longer period of time.  I'm glad Aunt Letty's kids were with her when she crossed over. I'm very sad for their loss. I have a feeling her husband will take it pretty hard.

Back when Mel first told me about her mom's cancer, she asked how she was going to deal with it. She has a 5 year old son, a 2 month old daughter, a husband, job and lives across the country from where her mom lived. Having lived through caring for my parents the only advice I could give was, you will know what to do when you have to do it.  From what I've heard, she did everything right. By that I mean,  if what you do at a time like that is put love above all else, then it's right no matter what the outcome.

I figure in the days ahead, I'll find the time and words to write that letter to my father. To myself.  Right now, I'm reminded that grief is an ongoing experience. The searing pain one feels in the beginning, softens to a dull, manageable reminder of loss, like that phantom pain some people get when a limb has been amputated. Like it's still there, only it isn't. That's how my heart feels every time someone I love dies. Like another piece of it has been amputated.

Today I'm trying to figure out how to live in a world without my Aunt Letty in it. I rarely saw her. In the last year or so she hasn't felt well enough to write. But I knew she read my blog. I knew she loved me. Awful as it might sound, I'm glad she's not in any more pain. I like to think my mom was at the gates of heaven to welcome Letty home. I can see them now sitting at a table, talking into the wee hours of the morning.  The way I hope someday my sisters and I will do again, on this side of the grave.



This blog's for you, Aunt Letty. Thank you for all you did to make my world a better place.

If there's someone you haven't seen or heard from in awhile. Pick up the phone, or write them a letter, or send them a text. Tell them how much they mean to you. None  of us knows when we'll be called home. Make sure you say I love you at least once a day. 
Merry Mary

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

To Walk or Not to Walk, Part II Shinrin-yoku

(Sorry about the size of the font. I keep trying to make it bigger, but it doesn't change. Grrr. me)

"It is not so much for its beauty 

that the forest makes a claim upon men's hearts, 
as for that subtle something, 
that quality of air that emanation from old trees,
 that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit."
Robert Louis Stevenson


Unlike me, the child I care for is a creature of habit. If she does something once and likes it, she makes it a part of her day. If she doesn't like it, she puts an end to it lickety-split with a simple yet firm "no no."  We watched some squirrels one afternoon scurrying up, down and around some trees. Our afternoons now include a daily walk to "see squirrels." Every time we're together we have the same conversation.


M: What would you like to do today?

B: Outside
M: Where do you want to go?
B: See squirrels.
M: What do we have to do first?
B: Clean up. Get key.
M: Is that all?
B: Jacket. Raisins. Cat water. Mimi's water.
M: Let's put our shoes on.
B: Bella do it.
M about to push the elevator call button.
B: Bella do it.
(I tell myself that there is a diffence in being a stubborn, willful child and learning how to be a strong, independent woman. Sometimes they sound a lot alike.)

Once outside, we determine the weather conditions. Actually, it doesn't matter what the temperature is, Queen Bella makes sure the royal robe is in the seat with her. Finally, we're off to see squirrels. If the squirrels are going "lala" we keep walking to pay our respects to the big tree.


Big is kind of an understatement. This behemoth Live Oak has been standing in the same spot since before our city was founded.  Officially, though I doubt there's a measuring tape that will fit around the massive trunk, the tree stands 70 feet high, has a circumference of 25 feet, spreads over 145 feet and shades an area about 190 feet in diameter. Its bent and twisted branches make me think of an octopus ballet. Many of the tree's acorns have been collected as part of a preservation program that produces baby trees to be replanted elsewhere in the city.  


The Japanese have a practice they call shinrin-yoku. It literally means, "forest bathing." Doesn't that conjure up a lush green setting where birds sing to a tune the wind whistles through the trees? Doesn't it sound like the perfect antidote for hectic, stress-filled days? In fact scientists say a short 15 minutes spent in a forest or park can lower one's blood pressure, improve one's mental clarity, decrease one's stress level, and increase cancer-fighting white blood cells.*



The Queen doesn't need science to understand the health benefits of a forest bath. Like a woodland fairy She dances through the low lying branches in silver shoes.  She watches the others who come to the tree for photographs, or to relax in the tree's peaceful embrace.  Mostly Bella likes to sit on the steps eating raisins, drinking water and soaking it all in, as if in sumptuous, royal bath chamber. This is when I notice how the Queen covers her head with her blankie, wraps it around her arms, then leans her cheek down onto her shoulder. For the moment it lasts I could swear that Bella is in silent communion with the tree itself. Can a toddler be aware of such grandeur? Can she possibly know she's sitting in the Divine One's lap? I've come to the conclusion it is not important whether she knows or not. What's important is that she is developing a habit of daily shinrin-yoku. As her world grows more challenging and stressful, I pray the seeds of self-care have been planted. Like the great, great, great, great, grandbaby acorns of the giant tree that sits amid downtown highrises, I pray Bella will stand tall (or short as the case may be) and ground herself with daily doses of fresh air and sunshine. 

Wanna try taking a forest bath? For more about shinrin-yoku check out this website. It tells you how.
Lacing up my walking shoes,
Merry ME

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

To Walk or Not to Walk

 “Methinks, that at the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.”
Henry David Thoreau, 1849

Sweetie has been sick for a week. Coughing, sneezing, achy, lose-your-voice-and-sleep-in-the-guest-room kind of sick.  Except for a few cups of tea and a chocolate milkshake he has resisted all my ministrations, refused to go to the doctor.

Last Saturday morning, I started feeling sick too. I was awake at 8:30 am. Eyes wide open awake, not get up to pee and go back to sleep awake. When the thought of getting out of my warm bed and going for a walk entered my head, I touched my forehead to check for fever. I didn't feel warm, sweaty or clammy. I was sure, however, that the onset of such spurious thinking must have dire physical origins. A loss of brain cells that control the control the urge to exercise, perhaps? Or a worm that crawled in my ear and took up residence in my brain devouring the things I like to do (sleep) leaving the things I don't like to do (exercising).

Exercise is not my default setting. I'd much rather sit at the computer with a Coke and chips than move in a way that might work up a sweat.  I'm pretty sure that Elizabeth Marro was the gardener who planted the walking seed.  Elizabeth wrote on a recent blog: "… a woman sometimes “needs to let in the wind, rain, sun, and to feel the blisters on her feet harden. She needs to let her body lead her sometimes and to trust it no matter her age.” Like the amaryllis bulbs peeking out of the dirt in my front yard, my soul must have decided the time for some sun had come.

Drastic symptoms call for drastic measures. I threw back the covers, donned some sweat pants, and went in search of unused walking shoes. I found them in the farthest, darkest corner of my closet. Making sure I didn't disturb Sweetie or the animals I tiptoed out of the house.  Without any stretching I   headed down the street, moving forward at a slow yet steady pace. Once outside in the fresh air, I decided that I did not have a brain-eating parasite or the flu. It was just my soul whispering for me to cross yet another threshold. 

Although my legs began to quiver, in reality I didn't walk far.  Far is relative, right? One half  mile or five miles, my journey had begun. Here's the curious thing. Instead of falling back into bed when I got home, I pulled on some gloves and went to town whacking down frozen elephant ears. There is something freeing about giving something a big whack with a giant machete. 

I figured all this exercise would be a simple reminder of why I don't go in for strenuous, heart-healthy cardio programs even though I know it's good for me.  At 63 years old, I figure I don't have to do what I don't like doing.  This is an okay excuse when  it's 99 degrees with 100% humidity in the summer; a whiny justification on a pretty day. 
 I did not expect to awake the next morning with the exact same desire. Oh Lord, I prayed, please don't make this a regular thing. Even with the pillow over my head, a small voice urged me up and out. 

Damn if it wasn't there again this morning. I tried writing. The words refused to come. I put the computer down and I went for one more stroll, not power walk, through the neighborhood. When I got home, I found a blog waiting for me. Divine intervention? Like that show on TV where the family talks a loved one hooked on drugs into going to rehab? The difference being it's my voice, the one I haven't listened to in decades, encouraging me to change.


Leave it to scientists, who probably spend more time in their labs than out of doors, to find new evidence "that walking is important for both health and the creative process."


"I told you so," said my creative muse in her nanny, nanny boo boo voice. 
"Get out of that bed. Step away from that desk,"  exorted her muscle-bound, previously published cohorts.


According to Ellen Cassedy:
"Walking is a great way to boost “divergent thinking”—that is, to increase our ability to come up with lots of alternative ideas, lots of solutions to a problem, lots of different ways of looking at something. Walking is good for thinking outside the box—coming up with ideas other people might not think of. 
It didn’t matter whether the walkers were treadmilling in front of a blank wall or strolling through a beautiful green landscape. To the researchers’ surprise, it was walking itself, not the surrounding environment, that made the difference. And the effect persisted—for a while—even after the walkers sat down." ( i.e., the normally sedentary walker feels like doing yard work.)
I have no idea how this ongoing saga will turn out. I don't know if the whole walking thing is a phase I'm going through like wanting to paint my front door turquoise or the tips of my gray hair purple. I've been sitting here for a few hours.  My butt hurts. My back is screaming for the heating pad. My walking shoes sit outside the back door.  While I grab for some ice cream, they wait for whatever tomorrow may bring. 

Please don't hold me to any promises I may make while under the influence of the my soul's longing,
Merry ME

Friday, January 16, 2015

Shame on ME

I went to a public school in Waukegan, IL, for grades two through four.  From classroom photos of the time, I can see that white kids outnumbered black. Too young to know how the world worked,  the disparities in color and class didn't mean a whole lot to me.  After we moved to Florida, when I was 11 or 12 years old, I began to realize that differences between whites and colored made a lot of people uncomfortable. Back then my friends and I were allowed to go to the local strip mall (unchaperoned, on a bike, without wearing a helmet.) We carried enough money with us for a plate of french fries and a cherry coke at the Pic 'n Save lunch counter. Walking down the dark hallway to use the restroom, I had my first sighting of racial prejudice. The bathroom and water fountain were clearly marked "No Colored."  A place in the vicinity of my heart began to ache. 

In the years that followed I watched the Civil Rights marches on television.  To ease the pain in my heart I wrote letters to the President, the Mayor, my preacher and my doctor (I have no idea why I included Dr. Clarke) asking for help in changing things. I never received any answers. I'm pretty sure my mom or dad confiscated the letters before they hit the mailbox. Like other subjects left untouched, we never discussed the letters or the subject of racial prejudice. 


When I was a senior in high school I had a rather disheveled psychology teacher who, as we might say today, thought outside the box. Or maybe I was so ensconced in the box, any other expressed ideas appeared radical. Granted it was a long time ago, but here's the one thing I took from that class: at least two boys in the class would be killed in Vietnam attempting to stamp out communism. I looked around the room and tried to guess who it might be. I couldn't imagine that something happening a half a continent away could come so close to home.   Even after I was married to a U.S. Naval officer, I  never thought about my husband's west coast counterparts flying helicopters into steamy jungles to rescue boys like the ones I went to school with.  


Fast forward several years. The war was over. The Berlin Wall had been torn down, detente had silenced the communists. I attended a beach party with my husband's joint military school classmates in Norfolk, VA. One man, an Army guy, bore the scars of Vietnam on his back. I didn't ask questions, or speak out, but my eyes were quite literally opened. My heart hurt.

My heart continues to hurt. Ferguson, MO. "I can't breathe." Afghanistan school children murdered.

 # Charlie Hebdo. Nigerians massacred. Homeless people sleeping under the 200 year old tree where I take Bella. My friend's son so messed up on drugs that he could be sleeping under that same tree. Humane Society ads that show shivering, abused cats and dogs. High rate of suicide in veterans and teens. Domestic violence. Families that live with autism, juvenile diabetes, and cancer. Sandwich generation caregivers that work their fingers to the bone. Etc. Etc. Etc. 

In her blog, A Design So Vast, Lindsey Mead wrote this today: 
"It’s all connected, the way I observe the world in sometimes-excruciating detail, the untrammeled rushes of joy I can feel at the most unexpected times, the heart-wrenching pain my life delivers at others.  This is all a part of being an exceptionally porous person.  Is it any wonder that I’ve had to develop coping mechanisms, be they an aversion to true vulnerability or a tendency towards distraction, in order to mitigate the power of constantly living in such an exposed way?  I’m easily overwhelmed by the grandeur and terror of this life, and I have over 36 years built up a variety of ways of managing the pain that that inundation can bring with it.  It’s a package deal, the wound and the wonder.  I don’t know how to have one without the other.  Even the most swollen, shiny rapture is striated with sadness."

I, too, am "easily overwhelmed by the grandeur and terror of this life." I cry when I hear Bella sing Twinkle Twinkle Litle Star, all by herself. I grieve for people I don't even know. I've been told that I'm too sensitive. I'm learning my sensitivity is not a bad thing.  Now I have a name for it. I'm an "exceptionally porous person," and that's ok. What might the world look like if there were more sensitive people in it?

Today I've struggled with the disparity between the news coverage of the terrorist attacks in Paris and the lack of coverage in Nigeria. When I first read about the Boko Harem attacks in Nigeria, I cried. I didn't want to keep silent. I wanted to let loose a lifetime's worth of pent up scream  What the fuck. Instead, overwhelmed by the sadness, I closed my computer and tried to forget. Ever the ostrich, if I don't see it, it didn't happen. To be honest, I didn't even know where Nigeria is. Do you?  Shame on ME. That's what I feel today shame for always be silent. A big fat foot long sandwich loaded with shame, sadness, bewilderment and a side of where is God in all this?


"No words can condemn sufficiently such atrocious deeds 
and I call on the Nigerian government and its allies to step in and stop this atrocity." 
Archbishop Desmond Tutu


My first questions are never what can I do? Why, is always my gut reaction to atrocities. Sweetie dislikes the question.  Because all other questions pale, I ask it anyway. Then there's the question of faith. If, as I believe, we are all made in the image of a loving God, and that God blew his life-giving breath into us, how can some people be so evil as to strap bombs on 10 year old girls and send them into a crowded marketplace? Or lead others into a gas chamber? Or? Or? Or? Where is God? 

Eventually, I get to a place where I have to ask, where is Merry ME? What can I do? Why don't I do it?


"One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these – to be fierce and to show mercy toward others; both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity."                 Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes
I'm pretty clear that there is nothing I can do to make a difference in Nigeria, Paris, Afghanistan, New York or Missouri. I must  find a way to make a difference, here in my little corner of Jacksonville. I have to hope that the butterfly effect really does exist and the ripples of my kindnesses will make a difference. I want the lantern my soul to shine in these shadowy times.

I'll end with this quote by Chaz Ebert about her husband, Roger:
" it is not divisions or fear that push us forward, but love. Love in the face of all the unforeseen challenges is the binding force that brings people together, and helps us develop empathy and compassion for each other. On his deathbed, Roger spoke of visiting this beautiful place where the past, present and future exist simultaneously and where there is a divine oneness that binds us all together, more vastly beautiful than we could ever comprehend. I think he has all the trophies he will ever need. "

Tonight I will squeeze out my filled-to-overflowing soul and pray to the "divine oneness that binds us all together," for a world where love rules.
May it be so.
Merry ME

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

More on Thresholds

"A threshold is a place where you move into more critical and challenging and worthy fullness."
 John O'Donohue

This whole idea of thresholds has me thinking and that has me almost quivering inside to write. I'm a little embarrassed to say that. Writing? Quivering? Seriously? I've been reading some new blogs lately and one of the authors, who I can't remember at this moment, spoke of the very same thing - about being excited about writing again.

I suspect most artists get the same way. Writers, painters, musicians. There's the every day kind of creating. There's also the kind of creating that happens when you see a blank piece of paper, a sterile canvas, or sheets of music without notes. The same blankness you have faced many times before, yet the stars have aligned just so, and your creative fire is re-kindled by the Divine Muse and you know, in your knowing place, that this open invitation is for you alone, that you are being called to stretch your creative muscles.  Admittedly, this does not happen to me very often. I'm learning to pay attention to a certain tickle that happens when I go into a fabric store,  Reddi Arts (the local art supply store), or  my writing group. I think it is being aware of all that possibility that gets my juices flowing

I began the new year by literally wiping away the old to make clean the path for something new.  I swept away old wasp nests, dust, dirt and dried leaves from my front stoop. I remember a friend saying how much she liked to sweep her driveway. I didn't go that crazy, but the broom and the sweeping motion felt healing in a way I hadn't expected. Painting the door was, to me, an obvious next step.

I've talked about a turquoise door for a long time. Even though Sweetie's fall back position is "works for me," I could tell turquoise might not be the first color he'd choose.  I kept a color swatch of "tropical oasis" on my refrigerator for months. For no reason that I can think of other than Divine GPS, Johnson went out and bought a quart which then sat in his storage locker (the stairwell leading to his man cave) for a few more months. Waiting.

When you live in Florida, it's not uncommon to buy things you don't use every day and squirrel them away for a rainy day. Or in the case of hurricane season, rainy days. You never know when a storm may come blowing through town and knock down trees and electrical lines. After a few days of living in hot, humid conditions and reading by candlelight, and all the snacks are gone because you never figured the storm would last that long so you ate them first,  you think you're going to starve to death. So you rummage through the pantry until you spy a can of white meat chicken that was never opened because your dad preferred dark meat. It is hidden behind some okra (okra? who bought okra?) and sardines. About the time you manage to open the can with a hammer and screwdriver, the electricity comes on. You make a mental note to restock the pantry.  You could use the same scenario about the things stacked on Johnson's stairs.

Okay, so paint and canned chicken are not exactly the best comparison. The point is that can of Tropical Oasis was there when my hungry soul cried out for nourishment. I'm learning that the nurturing of my soul is as much a threshold as the turquoise door.

"A threshold is a place where you move into more critical and challenging and worthy fullness."
 John O'Donohue

A few years before my father died, he decided to have the house painted. Even though he had promised  to leave the house to me after he died, while he was alive every inch of it belonged to him. Sweetie and I lived here, called it home on occasion, but there was never one minute when we didn't know it was Dad's house. Dad granted us permission to sit in on discussions that concerned the house, but did not require or pay attention to our opinions.  This was painfully pointed out when we sat down with Sweetie's son and daughter-n-law who were offering a bid to do the paint job. The conversation was all business with a false facade of friendliness.

Surrounded by a plethora of paint store brochures and color chips, I wondered aloud if we could consider a new color scheme. A nice blue, maybe. Dad had no intention of changing the paint color. I knew that.  I also knew, but let my guard down,  that even though he was 90 years old, walked with a cane, and drove his scooter into the walls, his mind and tongue were quick and sharp as any rattlesnake you'd ever come across. With no regard to others in the room, his icy blue eyes glared at me as he spit out the words, "over my dead body." Just like that any semblance of adulthood left me, along with any words I might have uttered. Dad's been gone almost 4 years. Yeh, it still hurts.

So I've got all these thoughts about thresholds swirling around in my head at the same time I'm trying to deflect the knowledge that the anniversary of my father's death is approaching. The deep, searing pain of loss has softened. I feel on the threshold of a new kind of grief - more longing than sadness.

Over the weekend I listened to an OnBeing interview that Krista Tippet had with Irish poet and philosopher, John O'Donohue. My ears picked up when half-way through I heard this:
"A threshold between the given world that we think is there and the solid ground we're on is so tentative. A threshold is a line which separates two territories of spirit and very often how we cross is the key thing. 
Beauty is a more rounded, substantial becoming. When we cross a new threshold if we cross worthily what we do is we heal the patterns of repetition in us that had us caught somewhere.  We cross onto new ground where we just don't repeat what we've been through in the last place we were. 
Beauty is an emerging fullness, a greater sense of grace and elegance, a deeper sense of depth and also a kind of  homecoming for enriched memory of your unfolding life.

As I listened to O'Donohue's soothing Irish lilt, I came to the understanding that painting my door is about way more than just sprucing up the entrance to my home. Unbeknownst to me, before the sun set on the first day of 2015, I'd begun a journey back to me. Brushing on that first coat of Tropical Oasis may have started out as an unexpected act of delayed defiance. In truth, I believe it is my re-emerging soul seeking beauty. Beauty that belongs to me, no one else.

I wonder, has anyone else had this kind of experience with their New Year's word?
Merry ME

P.S. As much as I like the unfolding process, I also find it a little nerve wracking. I'm not used to saying "this is what I like/feel/think." I'm more comfortable asking what you like/feel/think, then deferring to your choice.  It drives Sweetie crazy. In my defense,  I'm not usually so set on doing things my way that it's worth the ensuing argument. It's easier to be in the world by simply going along.  Is it possible that I've crossed over yet another threshold? Have I walked through a turquoise door into a place where  what I like/feel/think is really matters?

Only time will tell. Time and lots of trips to the Home Depot. Apparently when one paints a door, one then needs to paint the shutters, house trim and garage door. Who knew?

Friday, January 9, 2015

Balance

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I can remember as a girl racing down a big hill on my bike, my feet balanced on the handlebars (something like Rosalind Russell in this photo), braids flying in the breeze, no helmet, no knee pads, The only protection I had in those days was a belief that I was invincable. I should have been concentrating. Instead, my only thoughts were on the show I would perform for my neighbors. Thunderous applause rang in my ears. I'd start out slow then build to a dazzling cresendo akin to the wild west shows where the girls rode around a ring flipping back and forth across the horses back, turning circles, and standing up on the saddle with outstretched arms. When I was 9, I did more than just aspire to greatness. I was great.

I was also something I haven't been in ages - fearless. I ran down hills, snuck into movie theaters, investigated off limit places on the Navy bases, and sat with an older boy sat in the woods behind our house. I was gutsy enough to run away when he proved his intent was more about kissing than exploring.  Kissing? Fearless, maybe. Naive, maybe. But not so dumb that I thought spending time in a lip lock was in my best interest.  [Even years later, when I should have been more worldy, I thought Jeff Reynolds (no relation) trying to stick his tongue down my throat was perfectly gross. Note to younger self: Not making out with the coolest guy in the 7th grade gets you nowhere with the "in" crowd.  When I was 9 I didn't know an in crowd even existed. I'd like to think I wouldn't have cared.]

I never went through with my plans for a one-woman-dare-devil bike-a-rama.  I never posted flyers on neighbors' doors, or sold tickets. For reasons I can't recall my illusions of grandeur faded like puffs of smoke from Annie Oakley's six shooter. Little by little, fear creeped into my consciousness. One of five children I learned that parents can only handle so much greatness. It has to be spread around. When one child is on top, the others need to be knocked down a few pegs. At best, it's Darwinian - a way for both parents and children to survive. At worst it is reality TVwithout the TV.

The tentacles of fear tightened their grip after we moved to Florida where I discovered certain public bathrooms and water fountains in the South were labeled "colored." At 12, I became aware of the ins and the outs, the haves and the have nots.  I learned that clothes from Rosenblums with a "Villager" label were more "in" than dresses my mom made on our dining room table. In junior high I caught on that knowing the right answer in English class and not being afraid to raise my hand put me smack dab in the middle of the "nerd" camp. A place the Villager set I wanted to like me avoided, or, worse, made fun of.

And there's no denying that, even though I don't know the year it happened, I became fearful in my own home. I was afraid of mom's anger, of words used like weapons, of looking foolish, of speaking my mind or trying out new ideas, of rocking a boat on waters that looked smooth yet roiled underneath, of feeling emotions that made others uncomfortable, of speaking about the elephant in the living room.

Oddly, when I felt the most fearful I became the most reckless. In order to fit in, I either kept silent or I ran with a beer-drinking crowd. In gym class I worried that my skinny thighs didn't touch (a belief in those days that one was not a virgin), but in the back seat of a Ford mustang skinny thighs were the last thing on my mind. I was too afraid to date boys my own age, but carried off an "adult" persona to woo and be wooed by a man 8 years my senior. A man I would love, marry, have children with and divorce while I tried to find my soul's desire that had been silent for so long. In the years since, like a kid on a see-saw, I've been up and down, fearful and brave, reckless and timid.

"When we have a good balance between thinking and feeling …
our actions and lives are always the richer for it."
YoYo Ma


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Where oh where do I find the balance I crave? How do I throw off the mantle of fear, and learn to trust my own voice? How do I convince myself that   I'm okay just the way I am? Does balance mean one way or the other, i.e. the point at which both sides are equal? Or can it be a blending of the two, as in just enough pink and just enough blue make a perfect shade of purple?

I sit here today on a threshold of new ways of thinking, acting and loving ME.

We Look with Uncertainty
by Anne Hillman

We look with uncertainty
beyond the old choices for
clear-cut answers
to a softer, more permeable aliveness
which is every moment
at the brink of death;
for something new is being born in us
if we but let it.
We stand at a new doorway,
awaiting that which comes…
daring to be human creatures,
vulnerable to the beauty of existence.

Learning to love.

How does balance look to you?
Merry ME

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Wise Women, Part II

"I have decided to start by wearing hats. I’ve always loved them but feared they didn’t look right on me or that other people would think I look weird. I hereby declare that I don’t care if I look weird." 
Carol Folsom, New Year's Resolution

In an effort to support our fellow Chat, Carol, in keeping her new year's resolution, the first Chat Noir Writers Circle meeting of 2015 was deemed "Hat Night." With an exception, or two, because we are nothing if not a band of rebels, each of us donned special hats. Let me just say as an aside, Panera Bread where we meet has rarely seen such joie de vivre.  



To start the night and new season of writing we began with our own version of the Japanese ceremony known as Hari Kuyo. The 400 year old ritual involves sticking old needles into chunks of tofu as a way of showing thanks for their hard work. Although most of use computers to write we offered our old pens to the Divine Scribe and prayed that new pens and old friends would accompany us our upcoming writing journeys. It just so happens that my Sweetie had the perfect altar on which to place our pens - a log from one of the oak trees that used to stand guard over our house. He drilled holes in it to keep his favorite pens always at the ready. Not to mention neatly arranged in equidistant order.

For some reason I have not quite figured out yet, the Universe is sending me snippets of ideas to ponder and/or use in my writing. Like the article on Hari Kuyo, this perfect blessing from Mary Oliver appeared in one of my favorite blogs.

Bless the notebook that I always carry in my pocket.
And the pen.
Bless the words with which I try to say what I see, think, or feel.
With gratitude for the grace of the earth.
The expected and the exception, both.
For all the hours I have been given to be in this world.
– Mary Oliver, Good Morning

As soon as the altar was put away, our wise, wonderful, sage and leader presented us with chalkboard picture frames and our choice of pastel chalk. The beauty of a chalk board is that you can write and erase whenever you want. To christen them, however, we each wrote our word(s) for 2015.


Hats, prayers, chalk and words all before we even got down to the real business of our meeting. I don't know how to describe how it feels to sit in a circle of women brave enough to share their heart stories. (One might think a story would come from the brain, but I believe every story starts and ends in the heart of a writer.) All suggestions for improvement are made with love, except for some grammar corrections that are pointed out as if the reader has found the secret to finding a publisher instead of a split infinitive. For commas, semi-colons, and even the rare split infinitive all heads turn to Diane. There's no denying she is the grammar guru in a txt msg world.

(Cliche Alert:) 


A picture is worth 1000 words ... or more. But who's counting?




















A word of warning: Watch out world the Chat Noir Writers Circle is geared up and ready to go.

My prayer for you would be to have a group of friends as dear and smart and funny as the one I'm blessed to be a part of.
Merry ME

P.S. While I love hats, I rarely buy them. After lamenting my lack, Louise came to my rescue. "I've got the perfect hat for you," she said. Perfect, indeed. Maybe I've been wrong all these years. Maybe my head was made to wear hats. Not small, dainty hats that let you sneak in a room unnoticed, but large, stand on their own merit hats that say, "I'm here, so let's get this party started." Thanks Louise for showing me the error of my ways.

Who knew I looked so much like Queen Elizabeth.
I might have to borrow Bella's blanket cape.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Wise Women's Christmas

"Did you know in some parts of the world, Epiphany (January 6, which brings the Christmas season to a close) is celebrated as Women's Christmas? Originating in Ireland, where it is known as Nollaig na mBan, Women's Christmas began as a day when the women, who often carried the domestic responsibilities all year, took Epiphany as an occasion to enjoy a break and celebrate together at the end of the holidays." Jan Richardson

It's been over 10 years now, since I had the crazy idea dream to host a Baby Shower for the Blessed Mother. It would be held on. or close, to epiphany, when, as the story goes, Wise Men followed a star in the East to bow down before the humble king born in a cow barn. Back then I couldn't get the idea of a teenage girl giving birth to a baby - not just any baby but one announced by an angel as the son of God - far from home with no women around to help her labor. Poor Joseph had his own issues to deal with, so I doubt he was helping his young wife focus and breathe into the pains.

In the years that have come and gone, the Baby Shower grew, gifts were donated to local hospitals and charities and, as dreams often do, faded into a dusty, unused room at the church. Every year, on this day, I think those same crazy ideas and yearn for the energy to give new birth to the dream.

When I opened Jan Richardson's Sanctuary of Women blog a few days ago, I  was happy to see that others have had the same idea - that "wise women also came." This blog also introduced me to my word for 2015  - threshold - so it was a double blessing.

The glory of the Christmas story is enhanced, don't you think, when women are added to the manger scene? Imagine it. The floor swept clean, a kettle of hearty soup warming on a nearby fire. Mary's hair washed and combed. Her skin rubbed with lavender oil. Dressed in a clean robe, no longer covered in dust and donkey hair, she reclines on soft, handmade quilt, a gift, perhaps, from the innkeeper's wife.  Joseph off to one side shakes hands with shepherds. Kings pat his shoulder. They shuffle their feet and laugh in the way men do when they are uncomfortable. The Eastern Kings brought gold, frankincense and myrrh. The women shared their gifts of silent knowing, comfort, and tender care.

I've written before about Bella and her holy trinity - pink striped blanket, brown dog, and red purse. There for awhile she considered wrapping herself in the blanket a version of peekaboo I'd never played before. Thanks to the movie "Frozen" Bella now knows about queens. Well, she knows queens wrap themselves in soft, flowing capes. Now, when she throws the blanket around her shoulders, she's more apt to say "queen" than peekaboo. Part of our afternoon ritual has become taking a walk to "see squirrels." We don't always see squirrels, but we never fail to spend some time being "queen."

With these pictures in mind, I can't help but wonder what gifts a Hindu queen, from the east coast of Florida, educated at a Hebrew school, and tended by a Christian nanny might bring to a newborn king.

A soft, brown dog, for sure, and some of her favorite books. Stickers, ABC cards and a box of raisins. She might offer a sip of "cat water" ( water from a Hello Kitty cup), "baki" made in her own kitchen, served with a grey plastic spoon, or tea from her new tea set. Queen Bella might dance the Hokey Pokey for the baby, but the greatest gift, more valuable than gold or myrrh would be her laugh. The one that comes from her belly. The one that sounds very much like the angels singing. The one that brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it, for the joy it carries with it.

Putting her finger on her lips, Queen Bella would quiet the visitor crammed in the stable. "Shhhh," she'd whisper. "Baby's la la."

I wasn't there, so I can't say for sure. But I'm guessing Baby Jesus would have slept soundly that night. Resting in the glow of wise women.

What gifts would you offer to yourself or others on this "Nollaig na mBan"?
Merry ME

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Outside





While other places are experiencing winter's full blast, here in Florida the azaleas are already blooming. The camellia bush is loaded with buds that once opened will weigh down every branch. The temperature is 70 degrees.  Indeed it is the kind of weather that calls me outside...

… where the children play across the street
… where the dog digs holes and chases lizards
… where the flag waves in the breeze
… where the clover overtakes the flowerbeds
… where the neighbor's cat lazily naps in the sun
… where green stems peek through the dirt 
… where I sit in the grass and feel alive. 


“If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it.” 


What does treasures does await outside your door?
Merry ME

Friday, January 2, 2015

My Word for 2015


Threshhold: a point of entry or beginning.  Synonyms: start, beginning, commencement, brink, verge, cusp, dawn, inception, day one, opening, debut
In ancient times, wise men and women fled out into the desert to find a place where they could be fully present to God and to their own inner struggles at work within them. The desert became a place to enter into the refiner's fire and be stripped down to one's holy essence. The desert was a threshold place where you emerged different than when you entered.
Many people followed these ammas and abbas, seeking their wisdom and guidance for a meaningful life. One tradition was to ask for a word –  this word or phrase would be something on which to ponder for many days, weeks, months, sometimes a whole lifetime. This practice is connected to lectio divina, where we approach the sacred texts with the same request – "give me a word" we ask – something to nourish me, challenge me, a word I can wrestle with and grow into.  The word which chooses us has the potential to transform us.  Christine Valters Paintner, Phd, REACE 
A week or so ago, Weneki wrote that she had already picked her word for 2015. To say I felt way behind the curve would be an understatement. I still had presents to buy and cards to mail. Pondering anything, let alone one word, seemed like a luxury I couldn't afford.

Soon after at our writing group dinner each of us was asked to quickly pick a word. For a gaggle of writers words came fast and furious. Write. Publish. Courage. Risk.  My word was peace. A word that has little to do with writing, unless you are a child living in a war-torn area and all you want to do is go to school. I carried the word peace around in my heart until yesterday. Of course I long for peace in every nook and cranny of this great big crazy world, but it didn't feel quite right - not me-enough.


Maybe the Divine Vocabularist has nothing better to do than hand out words to those of us who are seeking guidance. Still, I was pleasantly surprised when the word "threshold" jumped out at me yesterday from Jan Richardson's blog. She spoke of "those betwixt and between places that emerge when we have left what is familiar but have not arrived at what lies ahead." She invited her readers to a retreat which would provide an opportunity "to engage your own thresholds and do some reflecting and dreaming there." 

As I read on, I realized that what I had been trying to say in my previous post (see below) about being in the that space between holding on and letting go was really about being on a threshold of something new. I was kind of standing on a threshold and not really knowing it. Like that Chinese saying about a journey of 1000 miles beginning with just one step, it's the same with a threshold. Be it a small, timid baby step, or a big, brave, determined leap, it's still just a beginning, a start, and who knows where that start might lead.


Threshold isn't a word I use every day. In fact, I'm not sure the last time I even gave thought to a threshold. Call it coincidence or call it validation, I've been reminded of the word several times in the past 24 hours. I feel excited. I feel like I'm on the verge (threshold) of a new way of thinking. Maybe even a new way of being. Could it be that by embracing thresholds instead of shying away from them, I'll stop being afraid of things that are new and different? So in the days ahead, I'm going to be exploring thresholds. A good way to start a new year, don't you think?



Blessing the Threshold
This blessing
has been waiting for you
for a long time.
While you have been
making your way here
this blessing has been
gathering itself
making ready
biding its time
praying.
This blessing has been
polishing the door
oiling the hinges
sweeping the steps
lighting candles
in the windows.
This blessing has been
setting the table
as it hums a tune
from an old song
it knows,
something about
a spiraling road
and bread
and grace.
All this time
it has kept an eye
on the horizon,
watching,
keeping vigil,
hardly aware of how
it was leaning itself
in your direction.
And now that
you are here
this blessing
can hardly believe
its good fortune
that you have finally arrived,
that it can drop everything
at last
to fling its arms wide
to you, crying
welcome
welcome
welcome.
- Jan Richardson
(Used with permission)
What thresholds might you cross this year?
Merry ME