Monday, July 31, 2006

One Deep Breath - Garden

One of my favorite gardens is the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. We visited San Franciso in 2001, and were city weary and slightly stressed after several days of sightseeing downtown. We took the long bus ride out to the Park and spent a lovely afternoon wandering the quiet, cool gardens. It was an oasis of peace in our holiday.

In Japanese culture, a garden is considered one of the highest art forms, expressing in a limited space the essence of nature through the use of specially selected plants and stones. Japanese legend attests that stones are actual beings with spirits that need to be treated with reverence.

Tranquility brews
like steeping green leaves-
Japanese tea garden

Stone pathways
disguise living spirits
leading to higher ground

Pagoda rises
beckoning amidst greenery
paying homage to Buddha

Serene pathways
guide travelers toward peace
our souls breathe deeply

For more garden haiku, go here

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Bringing Good Things To Life

photo courtesy of stock exchange

"Anything that does not bring you alive is too small for you."
Sweet Darkness
David Whyte

Once again, I've been "lightning bolted" by bloggers. First, it was Alexandra, who quoted this line and posed the question, "What brings you alive?" So all day, I've been going about my usual Sunday business, and silently rating everything I've done. Did sitting in my favorite chair, bathed in sunlight, with hot coffee and the New York Times bring me alive? Did making brunch and watching Magic and Molly lick their lips on tiny bites of cheese omelets and croissants bring me alive? Did shopping for accessories to match the new carpet and furniture in my family room bring me alive?

The answer - in small ways, yes. Of course, the question really refers to much larger elements of life than the homely little things I was thinking about today. Things like relationships, spirituality, careers, lifestyles. So I began reflecting on those things and marking a mental report card on what in my life might be too small. The things that really make me alive - being with my family and friends, playing music and interacting with other musicians young and old, sharing ideas with interesting people, especially through writing and reading, and seeing new things through traveling. Things that are definitely too small - shuffling papers at the office, spending too much time doing shopping and household tasks, and living so far away from my son and daughter in law.

And then I read Susannah's post, and she wrote so beautifully about living life to it's fullest every day. She too posed a fascinating question - if this were your last day on earth, what would you do? As I began to think about that, I realized that the answers were the same ones I'd given for things that bring me to life, which makes perfect sense, doesn't it? I'd spend the day with my family and friends, make some wonderful music, read and write some wonderful words. I'd probably choose to do it all sitting on top of a mountain, overlooking the ocean, and sipping a glass of very good champagne.
So on the whole, I guess I feel pretty good about my life at the moment. At least I realize that the potential is there for most of my life to be filled with things that contribute to enliven me mentally and spiritually. These are also obviously the things that mean the most to me, since they would be the way I'd choose to spend my last day on earth. In my "alive time," I could probably appreciate a larger helping of traveling, and it would be nice if my portion of paper shuffling would decrease. And even though I don't like spending most of my time living far away from my son, at least I'm able to have another home near him and visit there often.
So this was a good, enlightening exercise for me today, and made me feel better about my life as a whole. Thanks, Alexandra and Susannah, for the inspiration, which I'm now passing along to all of you. How would you spend your last day on earth? What brings you AliVe???

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Sunday Scribblings-Two Cents Worth

I've never been one to spout my opinions on any subject, generally preferring to keep them to myself on the theory that no one really cares what I think anyway so why waste my breath. But since Meg and Laini have invited us to step onto the soapbox, I'll take this opportunity to pass along my two cents on a few subjects:

  1. People just really need to learn to get along better, be more respectful of other's needs and differences, and learn to (occasionally at least) turn the other cheek. This goes for foreign governments and religious leaders all the way to the cashier in the grocery store and the mechanic who changes your oil;
  2. People also need to take more responsibility for their own actions. Is it really McDonald's fault that you spill hot coffee in your lap when you're driving? Is it really Walt Disney World's fault that your child was "traumatized" when he accidentally saw a Donald Duck character taking off his head? Let's stop trying to blame someone else for everything that goes wrong;
  3. I've probably mentioned this before, because this is something that I will voice an opinion about. Life is too complicated these days. There are too many choices in everything from radio stations to cereal to feminine protection. I end up standing in the grocery aisle searching up and down for the version of each product that I like. Sometimes, I get so overwhelmed that I just give up, my desire for the darn thing completely gone! I mean, besides regular Oreo cookies, there are Double Stuff, Vanilla, Uh-Oh's, mint, peanut butter, fudge, and let's not forget low fat and low carb! And all these products and services that were supposed to make life easier sometimes just make it more difficult. A particular case in point is the automated prescription re-order service at my pharmacy. The other day it took me seven minutes standing on the phone following robotic voice commands just to order one measly prescription;
  4. As a result of life's complicated-ness, we're a society that's always in a hurry, always rushing to the next appointment, activity, shopping center, or playdate. I've heard they make personal planners and PDA's geared to the elementary age child - now that's just wrong!
  5. Which brings me to my last, but not least, item - the "adult-izing" of children. I don't like seeing little girl's dressed like Brittany Spears, and wearing makeup at the age of 10. I worry about too many little boys who are zoned out for hours in front of violent TV shows and computer games. I pity children who are scheduled in organized activities every minute of their day, so they don't have time to just play. It's hard for parents to buck this system - if every one else's kid really is doing it, how can you say no without making a misfit of your own child?

There, that's my pennies worth for today! To read what other's have to say, go here.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Checking In

For the past couple of weeks, Greenish Lady has been treating us to lovely posts she calls her weekly check in, a technique that she began as part of The Artist's Way, a course in "discovering your creative self." In this program, you use the Check In to monitor your progress toward achieving creative goals. I've actually just started working my way through The Artist's Way book, and I wish I could say this has been a productive week for me creatively, but alas, I cannot. In fact, I feel less creative this week than I have in quite some time, and I'm wondering why.

A major requirement of this course is "The Morning Pages," three pages of free writing, preferably done first thing every morning. These pages are meant to be a cathartic, stream of consciousness "brain drain," which will free your minds of the things blocking your creativity. I latched on to this exercise quite happily, and have completed it nearly effortlessly for 13 of the past 14 mornings. I'm actually amazed at the way words flow out of my pen onto the page of the brand new spiral notebook - it's almost as if there is a direct feed from my brain to the paper, and I'm not consciously even thinking about what's coming out on the page. According to the rules of the practice, you aren't supposed to re-read what you've written (and it's a good thing, because I'm writing so fast my handwriting is virtually illegible). So I was hopeful that the clogged drain of my creative plumbing was getting nicely cleared out.

Not so. I'm beginning to think that I'm using up all my ideas in the morning pages! The words and images that usually flood my mind when I'm driving, or walking, or sitting on the porch, making me grab for my Moleskine (or a napkin or the back of a grocery receipt) have been nowhere to be found. My mind feels like an empty, foggy Tupperware container, one whose really good contents have been consumed, so it's been tossed in the sink.

No, that isn't quite true. My mind doesn't feel empty at all, and perhaps that's the problem. For the past week, my mind has been consumed with minutiae of all kinds - catching up on lots of boring office work, preparing for some home improvement projects, involving several trips to places like Home Depot, dealing with repairmen for my mom's central air conditioning which is on the fritz (and our weather is in the 90's), trying to schedule appointments for my annual medical check up and tests, and last, but certainly not least, worried about finding a home for a little dog one of my friend's told me about.

I feel really frustrated with my life lately. I had hoped that I would feel less pressured during the summer. But it seems that life is just as harried and rushed as it was from September to June.

In a sidebar quote in The Artist's Way, Brenda Uland writes: "Imagination needs moodling - long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling, and puttering." Maybe it's a cop-out to say that my creativity is suffering because I don't have enought "moodling" time. But if I'm being honest in my Check In this week, I feel like my creativity has "checked out."

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Poetry Thursday-The Traveling Onion

I first became acquainted with Naomi Shihab Nye's work some years ago when she was featured on Bill Moyers' PBS special on poetry. l love the way her poems honor the minute, homely details of life, celebrating the "small forgotten miracles" that make up daily living in the world. Born in 1952 of Palestinian-American heritage, she has lived in the Middle East as well as in the US, and she brings a unique and timely perspective to the experiences of a world citizen.
The Traveling Onion
Naomi Shihab Nye
"It is believed that the onion originally came from India. In Egypt it was an object of worship - why I haven't been able to find out. From Egypt the onion entered Greece and on to Italy, thence into all of Europe." Better Living Cookbook
When I think how far the onion has traveled
just to enter my stew today, I could kneel and praise
all small forgotten miracles,
crackly paper peeling on the drainboard,
pearly layers in smooth agreement,
the way knife enters onion
and onion falls apart on the chopping block,
a history revealed.
And I would never scold the onion
for causing tears.
It is right that tears fall
for something small and forgotten.
How at meal, we sit to eat,
commenting on texture of meat or herbal aroma
but never on the translucence of onion,
now limp, now divided,
or its traditionally honorable career:
For the sake of others,
For more poems that are good enough to eat, go here

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Goings On

This has been a Monday (on a Tuesday) kind of day. Having spent the past few days (including yesterday, the real Monday) at our home in Florida, there's always kind of a frantic catching up to do in order to re-enter normal life here in Michigan. I feel the need to clear my head, and this seems like the place to do it. So here what's been "going on":

  • First of all, I'm on borrowed time here because I left my laptop's power cord is on the floor under my desk in Florida! So I was forced to make an emergency call to my son, admit that I was stupid, and beg him to go to my house and mail it to me tomorrow - overnight pony express as fast as they can get it here no matter what it costs- mail!
  • In addition to that call, I had a long phone message on my answer machine from a co-worker who was bitterly complaining about a report she was working on and telling me that I (as "head of the department") was going to have to do something about it as soon as possible. GADS!! I hate it when I have to be the "in charge" person and actually talk to someone about something they've done wrong. I can hardly wait to go to work tomorrow!
  • I also had to run out and do emergency shopping because I had another message on my answer machine inviting me to a suprise birthday party tomorrow night for a good friend. The shopping was a little frantic, but the party will be a good time;
  • And as my mind veers toward the positive, I will note (happily!) that when I went to the gym just before I left for Florida last week, I got weighed and measured and had lost one of the several pesky inches I've been determined to ditch before the end of summer. I think I have blogging to thank for part of that, because all the time I spend reading and writing here has distracted me from snacking! Another benefit to being a blogger!
  • And speaking of blogs, if you're a regular visitor here, you may notice my masthead has been spiffed up quite nicely. That is thanks to my son, who is a professional webmaster, so sprucing up my little banner was an elementary exercise for him. However, this particular banner is meaningful to me for several reasons. When I was a very small girl, about 3 or 4 years old, I learned to type on a manual typewriter just like the one in the photo. We had an upstairs attic with an old desk right by a tiny window, and I can clearly remember sitting up there pounding away on those stiff little keys, typing up my own newspaper stories. For a long time (until I got distracted by music) being a journalist was my big dream, and throughout my youth I created lots of my own "newspapers", as well as writing for my school papers. So, this blog is just the latest edition in a long line of Becca's Bylines. Special thanks to my very creative son, who is also a mighty fine writer, for capturing just what I was looking for :)
  • Well, that's what's been happening. I'm behind on lots of thing here at home - laundry, mail, bills, practising, exercising, not to mention this week's haiku for One Deep Breath...oh my. Un oh - I think my battery is about to run out. Maybe I'll just go have a snack...

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Sunday Scribblings-Thief!

"Those are the sweetest puppies!" my mother in law exclaimed, patting our Molly's tiny head. "What are their names?"

"Magic and Molly," I replied patiently. It was the third time she had asked that question in the 20 minutes that we'd been at her apartment. And undoubtedly she would ask me several more times before the visit was over. My mother in law, along with a very large percentage of other elderly people, was robbed a few years ago. Actually, the thief is still living somewhere in her brain, robbing her of her memory every minute of every day.

And who or what is this terrible felon - is it the aging process, a lack of anti-oxidant's or an excess of cholesterol? Is it because her arteries have clogged or her brain has shrunk? Is it just terrible bad luck or a genetic tendency?

Medical science will trot out all of these explanations, never able to provide definitive answers.
My mother in law has not been formally diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease - her doctor calls it senile dementia, which has many of the same devastating practical effects. She is no longer able to drive, or live alone, or pay her bills, or be responsible for her own medications or daily schedule. She needs to be reminded to eat, bathe, and get dressed. When we go to visit, she seems to recognize us, but we're always too afraid to ask her if she knows our names, fearful that her blank look and panicked attempt to remember them would be too painful for her and for us to bear.

It's as if this dastardly thief entered her head while she was sleeping and keeps poking holes in her brain, allowing her logical thought processes and memories to slowly seep out like sand through the mesh of a fine sieve. By the time we realized he was there, it was too late to apprehend him with the usual weapons of medication and therapy. He has taken up permanent residence and will not be ousted.

Early on in this process, my mother in law was aware that something was wrong. "My head feels funny," she would say repeatedly. When pressed to be more specific, all she could say was that "it felt like something was missing." And something was-her memories of her past life as a wife and mother, a professional woman, a person who played pinochle several times a week, and went to church with her friend every Sunday.

This disease frightens me beyond all others, probably because my mind is so important to me. The thought of losing my memories of my parents and children, my past accomplishments, my skills, my awareness of words and what they mean, or music and how to play it - it's like the worst horror movie imaginable. I would take any precaution I could to keep this horrendous thief away from my door. But this one requires more than a good deadbolt lock, and I don't think anyone really knows what the best deterrent is.

Oddly enough, this disease has had one positive effect on my mother in law. Always a rather worried and pessimistic person, she has become very relaxed and seems perpetually content. She seems to have no worries or concerns, and is perfectly satisfied with the simplest of entertainments. Like our visits with Magic and Molly.

"Those are just the sweetest dogs!" she exclaims over and over. "What did you say their names were?"

Friday, July 21, 2006

My Life Path (according to!)

Your Life Path Number is 6
Your purpose in life is to help others
You are very compassionate, and you offer comfort to those around you.It pains you to see other people hurting, and you do all in your power to help them.You take on responsibility, and don't mind personal sacrifice. You are the ultimate giver.
In love, you offer warmth and protection to your partner.
You often give too much of yourself, and you rarely put your own needs first.Emotions tend to rule your decisions too much, especially when it comes to love.And while taking care of people is great, make sure to give them room to grow on their own.
What Is Your Life Path Number?

I'm not a superstitious person. I don't avoid black cats or 13th floors, and have no compunction about walking under ladders. I laugh off Tarot card readings and tea leaves, and smile indulgently at fortune cookies. But lately I've been doing some of these mindless little internet quizzes, like "What city do you belong in?" and "Who's your perfect lover?" And it's been a bit spooky just how close to home some of them have been. Like this one, for instance. One of my blog buddies just did this, and I thought her "life path" description was very appropos in some areas. So just for giggles, I gave it a try. As soon as that first line popped up - "Your purpose in life is to help others"- well, I knew it had me. As I read each succeeding description, I was squirming in my chair, and by the end, when I was warned that, while taking care of people was great, I should be sure to give them room to grow on their own, I just about jumped up and ran screaming from the room.

I am indeed a caretaker, a fixer, even a martyr. I will give up my time, my money, my talents - whoever needs a piece of me always gets it and more besides. Now this may sound noble and laudable, but it's actually a little pathetic. Because in the long run all that obsessive caretaking can make me feel used up and taken for granted. And sometimes it does smother the people it's aiming to help. My husband and son could likely attest to the fact that sometimes (to paraphrase a popular song) "love is more than enough."
But the world is so full of needy people - and I don't just mean the homeless man who apparently lives behind the dumpster at the gas station on the corner. There's the elderly lady next door who is so unsteady on her feet that it's dangerous for her to shuffle to the curb with garbage bags. And the really talented girl at school who can't afford college since her mother lost her job due to complications from congestive heart failure. There are all kinds of people who need me, including and most especially, members of my family.
The big question is where does the giving stop? It's a perennial problem for women, since we are so often raised to be nurturing and compliant. In the long run, if we give unto others until there is nothing left for ourselves, what good have we done? We are nothing more than an empty, often angry, vessel.
My 90 year old aunt, a very vital, involved, and outgoing woman, told me she had recently stopped serving on one of the committee's at her church. She said that she often ended up doing all the work herself and was going home from meetings feeling angry and bitter. She said "I just figured if I wasn't getting a blessing from what I was doing, than nobody else was either."
I think that pretty much sums it up.

Poetry Thursday (on Friday!)

In preparation for traveling yesterday, I had very little time to prepare or peruse poetry for this week's prompt, tempting though it was! Today, we were out and about here in the tropics of South Florida and sought shelter from the regular afternoon thunderstorm by spending some time browsing in a local bookstore. I headed straight for the poetry section (which was quite extensive, oddly enough)and came across this gem of a poem that captures the very sensusal nature of a couple dancing. The poet, Kathleen Norris, is the author of Dakota, a very fine book about her spiritual journey.

The Dancers

We are curious about one another's bodies
but courtly now,
assume the prescribed position:
your hand on my body,
our fingers meeting, holding in air

We move where instinct moves us
on the stage-lit dance floor,
the strong farmer's son
and preacher's daughter
holding each other gingerly,
keeping distance like possibility
between us. I would like to feel your blonde head
between my legs, hear
animals breath
in the fields around us
as we get up, shivering,
and the moon steps down still hungry
in the pale grass.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

One Deep Breath-Urban Haiku

This week's prompt at One Deep Breath was Urban Haiku. I'm not a huge fan of big cities, and as a matter of fact, the older I get the more I wish I could live in a place like Mayberry! I admit there is an excitement about the idea of living and working in a cosmopolitan city like New York or San Franciso, or Paris. Somehow, Detroit (which is my nearest big city) just doesn't have the same appeal. At any rate, here are some haiku based on impressions of urban life.

street corner cafe
favorite brew and the Times
my morning pleasure

bumper to bumper
impatient engines grumble
freeway gridlock

skyscrapers spread like wildfire
from cities to my backyard
urban sprawl

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Sunday Scribblings-With Baggage

I'm a real bag lady. No, thankfully, not that kind. I mean bags as in tote bags, carryalls, satchels- the kind made to stuff all kinds of "baggage" in. Here are a few of the most vital pieces in my collection:

My Music Bag: This one is packed and ready with all the black binders full of music I'm currently using in my job as an accompanist, as well as an itty bitty book light, because you never know when you'll be playing the piano and the lights will go out (yes, it's happened to me several times!) This bag also contains a small mini cassette recorder with a couple of blank tapes, lots and lots of pencils, and a tiny pocket size metronome (that will sometimes start beeping mysteriously all by itself). There are some packages of raisins and nuts, plus a granola bar or two for emergency rations when rehearsals run overtime;

My Work Bag: This is one of several actual bags, depending on the quantity of work I'm toting back and forth. I have a lovely black bag with our company logo on it which will carry my laptop, and has all those nifty little zippered compartments for pens, cell phones, business cards (of which I have none since I'm not important enough), even water bottles. The problem with this one is that I end up unclasping, unzipping, and unsnapping six different sections before I find what I'm looking for. So, if I don't have huge folders of medical records to review, I'll just slide my thinner folders into one of several smaller tote bags - I have a lime green vinyl one, lined with dark pink (pretty wild for a little office girl, huh?), and one of plain black cloth, and oh! - a pretty dark colored tapestry bag I use in the fall;

My Dog Bag: A small denim tote trimmed in pink with dog bisucits, empty plastic bags for you-know-what, a few small toys, extra leashes, and copies of their vaccination records;

My Library Bag: An oversized black canvas bag with "Libraries Change Lives" emblazoned on the front, it's usally chock full of my latest finds in hardcover, paperback, and audio books;

The Grocery Bags: I finally bought some of those wonderful environmentally friendly canvas bags to take to the grocery store. Unfortunately, when I'm at the grocery, they're usually still in my kitchen were I left them;

Into any of these bags I can plop a small zippered pouch that has just enough room to hold my cell phone, some cash, and my mini wallet with vital ID and information;

Of course, there are any number of various and sundry other bags, which I can grab to stuff in whatever needs to be carried - laundry to the cleaners, dishes to return to my mom's,
books I'm loaning to a friend, etc. My favorite one of these right now is a medium sized cloth bag embroidered with a cheery bouquet of Texas wildflowers. I keep it hanging on the kitchen door, ready to fill with, well, whatever...

As you can see, my life is consumed with all sorts of baggage. I don't know if all these bags make me more or less organized, but, as the comedian George Carlin used to say in one of his famous old routines, "You've gotta have somewhere to keep your stuff!"

Thursday, July 13, 2006

A World in Conflict

I'm feeling an unfortunately familiar nagging agitation in the pit of my stomach, a worrisome doubt in the back of my mind, the kind of concern that buries itself in your subconscious while you're eating dinner with friends, or working at your job, or cleaning your house. Then you happen by a TV set, turn on the car radio, or pull up your home page on the computer, and you're reminded that there is evil afoot in the world, and it could be cataclysmic.

Today's "fresh hell," as Dorothy Parker used to say, is of course the situation in the middle east. Let me clarify that by saying, the "escalating" situation in the Middle East, because for as long as I can remember, there has been some sort of situation there. I don't pretend to have an understanding of the historical or political basis for what's happening right now between Israel and Lebanon. I do know that once again we are being inundated with pictures of refugee families being forced from their homes, and soldiers being kidnapped and tortured. Here at home, our stock market is "tanking" and our gasoline prices are "soaring."

For most average US citizens, it was 9/11 that brought the impact of the middle east conflict right to our doorstep. While I did not personally know anyone directly affected by that tragedy, as an American, I was of course deeply affected in my heart. My husband and I were on an airplane ourselves that morning. We were heading to Florida to help our son and daughter in law move into their first home. We made an "unscheduled landing" in Greensboro, North Carolina, where we were billeted in a lovely hotel for three days until flight restrictions were lifted. It was a minor inconvenience at worst. But the feeling of being "trapped" halfway between our home and our child, with no way of getting to either one, was just enough of a wake up call to make us realize that this was very serious stuff going on. It was the first time in my experience that world events had so directly affected my everyday life, and it was an extremely frightening feeling.

Ordinary citizens in Middle Eastern countries live with far, far worse situations every day. It is unimaginable to me that you could raise children, tend to the elderly, go to school and work, just go through the motions of an everyday life when the ever present threat of death and destruction is right outside your door.

This volatile world situation makes everything we do here in our lives seem so superfluous. What difference does it make whether I get new carpet in my family room? Who cares whether I get offered that new job in the school district? So what if I don't have time to write a new post for my blog today?

Sometimes I feel like an irate preschool teacher, and I just want to shout to the world "Why can't you all get along? If you can't settle your differences peaceably, then it's time out for all of you!"

The conflicts between nations and ideologies seem as old as time itself. They are senseless, illogical, devastating, and evil. They are everpresent. Meanwhile, I continue to pursue the insignificant drama that comprises my daily life, and be ever thankful that my physical pain consists of nothing more than "a nagging agitation in the pit of my stomach." Oh, there's one more thing I can do. Pray - for peace.

Poetry Thursday-Humor

Humor in poetry can sometimes seem like an oxymoron, and I'm as guilty as any amateur poet of using verse as an outlet for whatever angst I'm experiencing on a given day. So I enjoyed reading some "light verse" in search of a suitable offering. I was interested to realize that it never occurred to me to try and write a humorous poem, and I feel sort of inspired now to give it a try.
This poem of Judith Viorst's, although a little outdated in it's references (Keoghs?? I think they're some sort of retirement investment that were popular in the 80's), has a cute message about the way happiness changes as we grow older.
Happiness (Reconsidered)
Is a clean bill of health from the doctor,
And the kids shouldn't move back home for more than a year,
And not being audited, overdrawn, in Wilkes-Barre,
in a lawsuit or in traction.
Is falling asleep without Valium,
And having two breasts to put in my brassiere,
And not (yet) needing to get my blood pressure lowered,
my eyelids raised or a second opinion.
And on Saturday nights
When my husband and I have rented
Something with Fred Astaire for the VCR,
And we're sitting around in our robes discussing
The state of the world, back exercises, our Keoghs,
And whether to fix the transmission or buy a new car,
And we're eating a pint of rum-raisin ice cream
on the grounds that
Tomorrow we're starting a diet of fish, fruit and grain,
And my dad's in Miami dating a very nice widow,
And no one we love is in serious trouble or pain,
And our bringing-up-baby-days are far behind us,
But our senior citizen days have not begun,
It's not what I called happiness
When I was twenty-one,
But it's turning out to be
What happiness is.
Judith Viorst
For more humorous poetry, go here

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Counting Down From 10

I feel like writing, but don't feel like thinking too hard, so I'll give this meme a try - it's been making the rounds of some of my favorite blogs lately. Here's my version:

10 Favourites

Favorite season: Spring, with fall a very close second
Favorite colour: Turquoise, like a cloudless spring sky
Favorite time: Sunrise
Favorite food: Pasta with a rich sauce
Favorite drink: Dark roast coffee in the morning; cold, buttery chardonnay at night
Favorite ice cream: Not much for ice cream, but mint chocolate chip is my usual pick
Favorite place: In the US (so far), San Francisco; abroad (so far), the Southeast coast of England
Favorite sport: I'm horrible at sports. I love to walk and bike, if those count
Favorite actor: It's a tie between Jimmy Smits and Hugh Grant
Favorite actress: Julianne Moore and Sally Field

9 Currents

Current feeling: Wired
Current drink: The above mentioned chardonnay
Current time: 11:20 p.m.
Current show on TV: I'm not watching it; but my husband is watching something really noisy!
Current mobile used: Motorola
Current windows open: Blogger, and MSN
Current underwear: The usual "old lady pants" as Bridget Jones would say
Current clothes: Super comfy knit gaucho pants and cotton T
Current thought: Is it that late already?

8 Firsts

First nickname: Sunshine
First kiss: Dave, 8th grade
First crush: Chris, the older man (I was 7, he was 9)
First best friend(s): Lisa and Jill
First vehicle I drove: 1972 turquoise chevy Nova
First job: Teaching piano lessons
First date: First real date- Jim, the guy I married three years later
First pet: Our cocker spaniel, Ginger

7 Lasts

Last drink: Water, before the chardonnay
Last kiss: From Kana, my friend Leigh's baby daughter; last "real" kiss was my husband, this morning
Last meal: Dinner - minestrone soup, warm bread with olive oil to dip, eaten with my friend and her 20 month old daugther;
Last web site visited: Paris Parfait
Last film watched: I can't even remember; I watched an old episode of West Wing last night
Last phone call: My mother
Last TV show watched: Rescue Me

6 Have you evers

Have you ever broken the law: Does speeding count?
Have you ever been drunk: Only slightly
Have you ever kissed someone you didn't know: Don't think so
Have you ever been in the middle/close to gunfire: No, thank goodness
Have you ever skinny dipped: No
Have you ever broken anyone's heart: Not to my knowledge

5 Things

Things you can hear right now: TV from the other room, a distant leaf blower
Things on your bed: One sleeping shih tzu, my work clothes which I haven't put away
Things you ate today: Salad, soup, bread, watermelon, and a package of animal crackers when I was restless at work
Things you wouldn't want to live without: If we're talking inanimate objects, then my piano, computer, books, car and cell phone
Things you do when you are bored: I can't remember when I last felt bored

4 Places you have been today

My mother's house, work, a restaurant, my friends house,

3 Things on your desk right now

Books, picture of my son (aged 2), my notebook

2 Choices

Black or white: Black

Hot or cold: Cold

1 Place you want to visit

Picking only one is a very tall order. I'd really love to go to Greece someday.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Busy Day

I'm quoting my son's blog, when I say that "it's 2:20 am, and I'm sitting at my computer. What a dumbass." I'm also quoting my son when I say that, "for reasons unknown to me, I'm really wired."

I have been relentlessly running my little engine since about 6:43 am yesterday, when Magic awoke me by doing the "fwap fwap" (that means shaking his head really fast) right in front of my sleeping face. Needless to say, that aroused me right away. Luckily, my beautfiul Cuisinart programmable coffee grinder/maker was ready, set, and on its mark, so coffee was pouring into the carafe by the time I found my slippers and shuffled to the kitchen.

I finished the first cup in relative peace, sitting on my back porch and enjoying the sounds of summer waking up to another beautiful day (I love Michigan this year!) But by the time my eyes had finally opened all the way, my brain had shifted into overdrive, and I was itching to get the day underway. Since school is out, Monday is a "day off" for me. So, here's what I did on my day off:

  • Made my husband some breakfast and made a quick sweep of email and blog friends while he ate;
  • After he left for work (finally!), swept and washed the kitchen floor and scrubbed the bathroom;
  • Stripped the sheets off the bed and threw them in the washer;
  • Started thinking about haiku for this week's prompt at One Deep Breath (ODB);
  • Hung the sheets on the line in the backyard;
  • Drove to FitZone for Women and exercised for one hour;
  • (Took One Deep Breath);
  • Made lunch at home and took my (healthy) tuna on lettuce with tomatoes and a hard boiled egg to the patio and read three chapters of Poemcrazy while I ate;
  • Had a piece of my mom's homemade apple pie for dessert (so long healthy lunch and exercise);
  • Hoovered ( I like this so much better than saying "vaccumed," and I do use a Hoover) the whole house;
  • (Took One Deep Breath);
  • Drove my mom and I to the market where I shopped for fresh fruit, veggies, and some treats for my work lunch tomorrow;
  • Finished three of my haiku for aforementioned ODB;
  • Tossed in one more load of laundry;
  • Transcribed a tape of dictation from my boss;
  • (Took One Deep Breath);
  • Finished up three more haiku for ODB; responded to emails from blog friends;
  • Prepared dinner (homemade pizza, one half with the works, the other half veggies only);
  • Finished one last haiku for ODB;
  • Took all laundry off the line; dressed the bed with sweet smelling sheets;
  • (Took One Deep Breath);
  • Husband's home - eat dinner with him and feed dogs;
  • Try in vain to get a picture to post on blog; finally give up and post all haiku (pictureless) on ODB;
  • (Took...)
  • Clean up the kitchen, water all the flowers, and finally get the mail;
  • At last, sit on the backporch with a cold chardonnay, watch the fireflies come out, and get some really great thoughts about a poem...

So here I am, several deep breaths later, still typing away. And, it's only four more hours until that Cuisinart coffee maker goes "click" and a new day begins...

Monday, July 10, 2006

One Deep Breath-Ceremony and Ritual

When I was a child, my mother and grandmother had a weekly ritual for completing all their domestic tasks. My mother used to recite a little poem that explained the basis for much of their work pattern: Wash on Monday, Iron on Tuesday, Bake on Wednesday, Shop on Thursday, Sweep on Friday, Mend on Saturday, Rest on Sunday, and on Monday, start all over again!

There is actual historical basis for this rhyme, which goes like this:
Apparently the women of the Mayflower came ashore on Monday, November 13, 1620 (two days after the men). The first thing they did was wash clothing made filthy from sixty-eight days at sea (yech!). This established an orderly ritual reflected by the following rhyme:
Wash on Monday,Iron on Tuesday,Bake on Wednesday,Brew on Thursday,Churn on Friday,Mend on Saturday,Go to meeting on Sunday. Weren't those Puritan's organized?
I notice that my family's version was a little different, probably because we didn't brew, churn, or "go to meeting!" But, I'm surprised at how much of this ritual I've retained in my housekeeping practices (which are definitely not up to my mother's standards, let alone the Puritans)! So today when I was loading my washing machine, I started composing some haiku around these homemaking rituals.

Monday's wash
line dries in the sun -
wind whipped freshness

Crisp white linen
button-down collars,cuffs linked with gold
elegant man

Sweet fragrant aroma
spices the air with love -
appetites aroused!

Market day riches
fruits, veggies galore
shopping cart brimful of bounty

Stiff whiskered broom
dusty corners swept clean
secret cobwebs disappear

Clothes torn and tattered
beg stitches to mend
nimble fingers deftly fly

Rocking chair waits
Drowsy sleeper lulled gently
into her day of rest

For more haiku, go here

Sunday, July 9, 2006

Birthday Surprises

My dad just celebrated his 80th birthday, and on Saturday, I attended a surprise party given by his wife, his stepchildren, his stepgrandchildren, and a whole group of his friends that I had never met. If you had asked me 10 years ago whether I could have gone to a party like this, I would undoubtedly have answered "No *#$(@&* way!" But, age has a way of changing a person, and I guess we've both mellowed quite a bit in those intervening 10 years. So, I put on my game face, and showed up. He was well and truly surprised, and genuinely pleased at my presence.

Twenty years ago, 0n my dad's 60th birthday, my mother and I gave him a surprise birthday party. It was a little different than this one, but not a whole lot. About 25-30 members of his family, friends and business associates were there that day too. It was held in the dining room of the country club he had recently joined, instead of the lake front home of an old friend. He was totally and honestly surprised then as well. However, there were some notable differences in the two parties. At his 60th birthday party, my mother was the woman holding his hand during the toasts. When he opened gifts and cards, I was the one who jotted notes about who had given him what. And when he cut the cake, it was my 10 year old son, his only grandchild, who proudly helped him serve.

A lot has happened in the twenty years between those two parties. An affair that was meant to be kept secret was discovered. A 40 year marriage dissolved bitterly and acrimoniously. A young woman lost a lot of respect for her father, and a little boy lost the company of a grandfather he idolized.

For a long time, I guarded my pain and anger toward my father like a dog guards a bone. It was my power, my vindication, my strength. But about two years ago, I was gifted with the grace of forgiveness (which I wrote about here). So I was able to attend this surprise party, albeit with some moments of very bittersweet sadness, but also with some moments of genuine pleasure. No one was more surprised about that than I.

Friday, July 7, 2006

The Riddle of Home

"When I finish my travels I will solve the riddle of home.
When I finish my travels, I will know the answer."
A Year In The World, Frances Mayes
I love Frances Mayes' writing. I just closed the cover on her latest, A Year In The World, and I feel as if I've traveled along with her from Istanbul to Lochleaven and everywhere in between.
It isn't just the picturesque travelogue she brings us in her books, it's her evocative writing style, rife with homey personal details about each day on the road, what she and her traveling companions eat and do, the history of the places they visit, and what it all means to her. I copied huge chunks of her writing into my own notebook, just for the pleasure of having her words flow vicariously from my own pen.
In this book, Mayes often alludes to her relationship with "home." She writes that her "profound desire for home, for the profoundly beautiful nest, the kitchen garden, the friends gathered at my table, for the candlelit baths, and the objects arranged and the books in order, and most of all the sense of this is my place - all that has been at the mercy of an equal force, the desire to shut the door, turn the key, and go. Go."
I have been wrestling with the idea of "home" for the past few days myself, as I am extremely drawn to "GO" - to France, to Florida, to England, to California, to all the places that I already know I love as well as those that are enticing me because they hold the promise of new vistas and exciting adventures. But, in equal measure, I am held back by the safety and familiarity of my own "beautiful nest," and the sense that "this is my place." It is, as Mayes puts it, an "oxymoronic desire, for the domestic and the opposite."
For me, my struggle with leaving home is deeply rooted in my upbringing, which Mayes also acknowledges is true for all of us. "The first events in your life slap you into the shape you take," she writes. When I was a child, my family never traveled- there was something mysteriously fearful about leaving home, some bad thing that would or could happen, and it just wasn't worth taking the chance. I think I still harbor the fear that, if I leave home, something "bad" will happen not to me, but to the ones I leave behind, almost as "punishment" for my wanderlust.
In spite of the fears, the wanderlust is still there. So I devour books like Mayes', filled with the images and impressions of a life so different from my own. I eagerly gobble up friends descriptions of their trips, and gaze hungrily at the photos they post on the internet. I think there is magic in traveling, in the wisdom you gain from it, the sense of personal satisfaction, the possibilities it opens in your mind. Mayes concludes her narrative by saying that her travels are like the gift of a "transforming angel: you go out, far out, and when you return, you have the power to transform your life." As much as I love my backyard these days, I also have a huge appetite for life transformation. I just need the courage to get up from the table and partake of the feast.

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

A Day of Emminent Beauty

This morning's view from my back porch

There was really nothing special about today - it was just an ordinary Wednesday (which actually felt like a Monday because of the extra long holiday weekend). But there was something so perfectly summerlike about it - the sky a glorious azure, nicely dotted with puffy white clouds, the breeze soft and refreshingly cool, the steam from the coffee cup I took onto the porch swirling exotically in front of my nose- that it seemed to have a mystical aura. As soon as I got to the office, I opened the window nearest my desk, and was treated to a riotous concert of birds all a-twitter, drowning out the monotonous sound of my tap-tapping fingers on the keyboard. We've had just enough rain this summer that our little avian friends can enjoy puddle baths on a daily basis, and their musical abilities have improved greatly because of it!

Over the past few years, there has been some discussion in our house about moving to Florida full time. After all, our only child has made his life there, and we already have a lovely, brand new home waiting for us. I admit that the winters here in the midwest can be brutally cold, gray, and interminaby long. I'm all for Florida in the winter, where most of the days feel a lot like today. But Florida in the summer - oh, it's really unpleasant. Hot heavy air, deluges of rain when you least expect it, and of course, the ever present threat of devastion from hurricanes.

So, sitting on my back porch enjoying the sunset on the waning hours of this astoundingly beautiful day in Michigan, I had a bit of an epiphany. I don't want to give up summers like these. I guess part of me will always be a "Michigander"- it's more home to me than I thought.

Tuesday, July 4, 2006

One Deep Breath-Journey

'Cross the pond
verdant hills, ancient stones
remarkable experience
In May 2005, I traveled to England for the first time. I fell in love with the green hills and valleys, and was moved by the ancient villages, churches, and stone circles. Although we celebrate America's 230th birthday today, this journey reminded me that, historically speaking, our country is still just a toddler!

Monday, July 3, 2006

To France or Not to France

That doesn't really sound like an existential question, does it? However, for us, this decision involves thought about some of our basic life values and goals. Here's the story:

Two of our very best friends are inveterate travelers. They've been on annual European and Asian treks since 1969, some lasting as long as eight weeks. Of course, they've traversed the US many times over. In other words, they have the traveling thing down pat.

We, on the other hand, are fairly new at the travel game, at least the international part. In May 2005, we traveled with them to the UK, where we spent two weeks doing what I call "England 101." It was your basic survey course of the country, that took us through six cities from Brighton to York. We drove 2000 miles (most of it much too fast, since my husband was at the wheel of our nice Saab Turbo), and I sat in the back seat soaking up the most beautiful green vistas I have ever seen. It was a dream come true for me, and I look back on it now with great longing to be meandering through those valleys and strolling through those little villages once again.

Well, this year our friends took two (yes, two!) trips to France, each one for about 16 days. They invited us along, but we reluctantly declined, since we hadn't yet paid off all the bills from our last sojurn abroad! Last weekend, we had dinner with them and they announced they had booked tickets in May 2007 for a two week trip to Provence, and wouldn't we like to join them.

Of course we want to join them - the prospect of spending two weeks in Provence (with a side trip to Paris) makes my heart beat faster and itch with longing. But here is the dilemma - do we want to incur another round of debt for this trip, or shouldn't we be really serious about saving for that mid-life career and lifestyle change that we hope to embark on in another three or four years? And, should we plan a trip that far in advance, considering the health conditions of both our mother's?

Part of me (the part that has hungrily devoured every Peter Mayle and Frances Mayes book)says, you should just GO - who knows if you'll have another opportunity like this, and why put off dreams in the hope of an uncertain tomorrow, yada yada. The other part (the part who never left home until she was 21, and who was trained to be practical and responsible) says, you have no business spending all that money or leaving your mother to fend for herself for two weeks.

So, what do you think? To France or not to France? That is the question....

Saturday, July 1, 2006

Sunday Scribblings-Two Peas In A Pod

Molly and Magic-Two Peas In A Pod

If you've read my last two posts, you'll know I've been in a bit of a black funk. But there's nothing that can cheer me up like these two peas in a pod.

Magic is the quintessential older brother - he's sometims bossy and mean, but hugely protective. If he hears Molly barking, he drops everything and takes off in a flash in full outraged mode, ready to fight to the death to save her if need be. Molly, well, she's the epitome of the pesky little sister. She begs mercilessly for whatever toy he's playing with, rolling over on her back right in front of his face and whimpering piteously until he drops it and walks away defeatedly. They are usually never farther than a stone's throw from each other, and often sleep curled up side by side-Molly likes to use Magic's back as a pillow.

For this pair, every day is a happy new adventure. They wake up bright eyed and beautifully bushy tailed, urging us out of bed with the promise of a walk or a game with their favorite squeaky ball. They're perfectly happy with a couple of meals, a bedtime biscuit, and every once in a while a mini scoop of vanilla from the Dairy Queen. They have the best attitude of anyone I know, and luckily for me, it's infectious. A healthy dose of fun with these two peas in a pod has quite completely banished my doldrums!

To read more Sunday Scribblings, go here.