Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Eve of Leaving Behind

It's New Year's Eve and I can't believe how long it's been since I've shared a thought or few on this blog.

Truth be told I've been doing personal writing in order to sort through my feelings concerning the events of 2013.  I haven't re-read the diary, but the emotions described on those pages are raw and, at times, scary.   However, the pages have been therapeutic.  They've been a vehicle to self-discovery. They revealed a wounded heart that's been ignored for far too long.  It's time to begin to heal from the inside out, rather than ignoring those parts that are still bleeding.

In order to do so, I had to cull through the emotions with a critical eye in order to stitch together a better life in the New Year.  Here are the things I've leaving behind in 2013:
  • Over-whelming self-doubt:  Let's be honest here.  I'll always carry a bit in my back pocket, but there's enough in this house to sink a battleship or the Queen Mary. 
  • Hyper-self criticism:  Truly, the weeds in the garden of growth.  It'll take me over if I don't do a thorough weeding.  
  • Fear:  If I have faith, then there's no room for fear.  My life up to this point, especially the past five years, have been a testament to faith.  
There are seeds and seedlings I'm taking with me into 2014.  Whether they grow or not is anyone's guess, but here we go:
  • Determination:  No matter what these eyes are going to be trained on achieving those goals toward a better life.
  • Self-acceptance:  OK, so I'm not going to leap tall buildings in a single bound as Superman/Superwoman.  That's OK.  My luck when I reached the summit they'd be a huge chunk of Kryptonite smashing me to the ground.  There are better writers, but at the end of the day, that's what I love.  There are better knitters, but that's what I love.  Ditto gardeners.  It's what's important to me.  I truly believe I'm a throw-back to another place and time, but whose crafts apply to this crazy modern world.
  • Learning:  Push the boundaries outward learning more about those things I love and try other things to see if I love them as well.
  • Loving:  Love does make the world go around.  Loving adds fuel to the fire of achievement, production and purpose.  One thing I know about my purpose on earth (still haven't figured out the rest) is that I am here to love.
In closing, it's important to carry my heartfelt gratitude from year to year:
  • My parents:  Wherever you are, know I gave it my best shot.  It has been my honor to know, love, and care for you until the end.  You passed in a house of love that you busted your humps to hold onto to every single shingle.
  • My husband:  A dozen years ago you left this world, but I love you and miss you more than you know.
  • My friends:  Oh, how do I thank these people who walked through the fire with me?  Those folks who put their own problems aside to listen, to act, to love unconditionally?  I'll never be able to express my appreciation, except to say "thank you".  Will they ever feel the depth of gratitude behind those words?  I hope so.
  • Dickens:  Just last year I felt as if I'd complicated my life (and not in a good way) by bringing home a puppy, even for all the right reasons.  Despite all the problems, you've taught me so much.  You've turned into a real life saver and helped me to listen to my life.  Treats for you tonight, my friend.  
  • Amelia Luna Diva:  My 10 month old, jet black feral cat who arrived this past Halloween.  In two months we've made some progress.  You are facing your fears and I'm facing mine.  We are indeed strangers in a strange land.  Together we just might learn to trust each other and ourselves.  The definition of rehabilitation, I guess.
And to you all, I wish you a Happy New Year!  I hope that you achieve all you dream and your passions guide you throughout the year.  

Love.  Dream.  Act.   

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Dickens and the Church

The last two weeks have been painful.  There.  I said it.  Profoundly painful.  It's bad enough that the anniversary of my father's death stared me down, but to have my mother pass a year to the day of his funeral service slayed me.  I remind myself of thoughts of last year.  My heart knew that these two were joined at the heart.  I hoped that Mom would be with me a few more years, but heaven had other plans.

When Mom took the final turn, the Hospice nurse and I agreed that the time had come for her to be given the Last Rites.  Mom remained true to her Roman Catholic tradition while I had converted to the Episcopal Church.  So, I called her parish priest and the Parish Secretary told me to hold on he'd arrive shortly.  So, I did what I normally do - I paced.

After what seemed an eternity I heard someone turn the front door handle.  Yes!  Dickens barked.  I ran to the front door only to find the priest running down the sidewalk in the opposite direction.  (By then I had crated Dickens and rested in the knowledge the priest would not be licked into a frenzy.)  I opened the door and called out to the priest, "Father, you're going the wrong way!"  He turned around, I noticed his ashen face.  "Father, what's wrong?"

Mom really like this guy because of his height, smile, and youth.  He remarked during a hospital visit to Mom that he noticed me walking a "cute little dog".  Now I knew this man-of-the-cloth knew Dickens.  It's not like times of old when a priest made sure he visited the sick at least once a month.  Now, the parish had a "call us if you need us" policy, which I have to admit rubs me the wrong way.  I remember thinking that perhaps a phone call every now and again would have helped.

As I stood with the door open, the priest turned and said, "I'm allergic to dogs."  I responded that my dog had hair, not fur, the dog had been regularly bathed, and that he sat in a crate.  The priest stood with his hand resting on his car totally unmoved.  He then responded, "I have an aversion to dogs."  "You have a what?" I asked him to repeat what he had just said because a)  I couldn't believe what I had just heard; b) I could not wrap my head around the fact that my dying mother might be denied the sacrament because of an 18 lb. Cairn terrier.   I don't deny that some folks are afraid of dogs, but I had just told him about the crating thing.

The scenario reminded me of another deja vu moment last fall.  A nun used to do a walking meditation through our neighborhood each Sunday.  She always smiled and wore the most cherubic expression.  One day as Dickens and I came out the front door, Dickens began to bark in his frenetic, bouncy way.  The nun glanced over at my straining-at-the-leash pup-dog, adjusted her veil, raised her skirts (revealing well-worn Nike's) and took off like a Saturn 5 rocket, arms pumping by her side.  Dickens and I looked at each other with perplexed expressions.

"Wait!"  I yelled.  I closed the door, picked up the crate containing the offending animal, and shoved Dickens crate and all into the bathroom, slamming the bathroom door shut.  I returned to the front door.  "Father, now there are two doors protecting you from my dog:  the crate door and the bathroom door.  Please, come in."

As he entered the house, I leaned forward and said, "Father, fibbing to me about your allergies? Seriously?  Fibbing ain't the way to begin this home visit."  I forced myself to put my feelings aside.
In the end, my mother received the spiritual comfort she deserved, the priest received the emotional comfort he required, and, as for me, I strained my back hefting that damn crate containing Dickens.

That night I noticed a tightness not only in my back, but in my heart.  My days had been jam-packed with fear concerning Mom's care, but I did it anyway.  Why couldn't others admit their fear and move through it.  Did the sister really believe I'd serve her to Dickens for lunch?  Did the priest honestly think he'd have to be gnawed before performing the Last Rites?  I guess fear penetrates even those who are so called and profess a deeper faith.  I wish faith reminded us of who we are as strongly as fear does.  Fear grips us tightly, yet this human needs to embrace faith as Job did by never letting go; of tightening my hold with white-knuckled force to the power of faith.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Love Unconditionally

Stephanie Perl-McPhee has a huge reputation in the knitting world.  She's known for stitching like the wind, writing funny, but real books, and teaching knitting to eager students far and wide.  She hails from Toronto, Canada.  What people outside the knitting world might not be aware is that Stephanie has an enormous heart...strike "enormous," I mean ginormous.

Stephanie has been training and fundraising feverishly to participate in a bicycle ride.  Not just a ride around the park, mind you, I'm talking forming teams, raising money, and biking, along with over 300 riders, from Toronto to Montreal in support of "Friends for Life" who are living with HIV/AIDS.  Imagine clocking over 90 km [that's biking 55 miles for those not on the imperial system] per day in order to support people you don't know, but love anyway?  Not to mention investing a week of one's life, facing risk on the road, and commanding one's body to push ahead...taking it to the limit.

As I sit here dreading tomorrow, the fear churning as I face tomorrow's funeral.  There are distinct differences in Stephanie's and my circumstances.  First, she chose to ride her bike 300 miles for a cause; I did not choose to say goodbye to my parents.  Second, she's using her body to better a cause; tomorrow bids goodbye to a family.

However, the similarities are stronger, deeper, richer.  She risked butt burn and aching muscles out of love, so did I.  She doubted her ability, so did I.  Stephanie felt the fear and did it anyway and so will I.


[If you'd like to read more about Stephanie's journey, click here]     


Thursday, August 1, 2013

Peace Is At Hand

So also you have sorrow now,
 but I will see you again, 
and your hearts will rejoice, 
and no one will take your joy from you. 
                                                 John 16:22

Rest in  peace, Mom.
Rest in peace.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Peace On the Way

I'm sitting by my mother's bedside.  I await the final hour.  Waiting for the holy men and holy women to welcome my mother to heaven.  The nurse has been and gone as has the CNA.  The priest has prayed and given her the Last Rites.  We prayed.  She's already somewhat at peace.  She's comfortable.  No pain that she's expressed.  Her end could come this afternoon, tonight, tomorrow.  That's information that heaven rarely shares.  
So why am I posting a blog entry?  I do not know.  I've thanked her for the life she worked and provided for me...for the opportunities...for the gift of imagination...for working two sometimes three jobs to keep a roof over our heads...for taking care of her family and my father.  She could have walked away.  At times growing up I wouldn't have blamed her.  She's a fighter.  She believes in the power of love and her life reflects that story.  She fought for her love story.  My mother leaves this world with, I think, few regrets.

I'm telling you about one smart lady.  At 17, she received not one, but three scholarships to universities, McGill in Montreal, one on Staten Island, and a local college.  She's fluent in Latin, French, and taught herself Russian (so she could read the protesters placards during the end of the Cold War.)  Mom read voraciously and wrote beautifully.  She couldn't leave her family, so she vied for the local option.  A job that lasted 45 years in pharmacy.  A community she loved.

It's truly a miracle we're here today.  You see, my mother should have professed and entered the convent.  A dear music teacher and nun took her under her wing when my grandfather passed.  This nun cared and nurtured her when my grief-stricken grandmother couldn't.  My mother would have made a fantastic nun.

As I sit beside her I'm not balling my eyes out anymore.  I'm remembering how she fought for me when the 8th grade elementary school teacher told her she should consider a less challenging high school for me due to my learning disability.  (I was graduated near the top of my high school class. Take that Sr. Mary Grace.) Mom always sported a manicure.  That day those manicured hands sprouted imaginary claws. You see, I always knew by the hands placed squarely on the hips of her 5-foot frame that things were going bad fast. She'd draw herself up and with the quietest voice tell whomever had stepped out of line (usually me; in this case, the teacher) where they had gone astray.

Mom, even to this very moment, held fashion in high esteem, sometimes to her own peril.  This lady wore stiletto heals with every outfit.  (I think she liked being tall in them).  That all stopped as she sprained both ankles trying to catch up with my long-legged father one night after church.  Yup, both sprained.  She stayed in bed for five days.  She switched to lower pumps, but I never saw her in an unmatched outfit.

Mom won't be waked.  She drilled into my head long ago that she didn't want anyone to see her with a make-up job she'd not done herself, which brings to mind her visit to Ft. Jackson, SC for my graduation from Army Basic Training.  We had a young female lieutenant who possessed both beauty and fashion sense. Mom befriended her, asked her why she wasn't working at a cosmetics house, and got her a job at Revlon. Whatever Mom wants, Mom gets.

So, I guess I'm telling you all this because the few stories I've shared with you make me smile...deepen my gratitude...show you the love she had for life...for people...for us.  She's comfortable now.  She'll know absolute peace soon. I've told her it's OK to go.  I'll manage.  As long as she's happy, I'm happy, but damn it I'm going to miss her.
"Love isn't love 'til you give it away."  She's done her job. 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Melody of the Pines

Saturday morning.  One of the two days I strive to take Dickens out late for his walk so that he doesn't startle the neighborhood.  If we make it to 6 or 6:30 AM, I'm lucky.  Dickens has taken an immediate dislike to all things vehicular and wards them off with barking that would raise the dead.

We head off gently.  The neighbors are just beginning their days.  Some running out in their pajamas to grab the morning newspapers; others are bustling to set up yards sales or to load up the car for a jump ahead of beach traffic.  The neighborhood rises with various intentions.  

The walk leads up the street about 100 feet.  We pass a few neatly landscaped lawns.  Lawns that say I'm well cared for...I matter.  Lawns that remind me that our lawn looks neglected...overgrown...but in a strange sense wild and free.  Still that sense of the wilderness doesn't conform to the neighborhood proper, so I make a mental note to whack the crap out of it as soon as yesterday's rains evaporate.

Turning right brings us to something the municipal planner calls "a paper street".  A dead-end, but to me it's the road less traveled.  The street's more of a pathway...about70 feet of pathway, leading down a small hill.  It's forested with tall maples bending to the wind.  My tiny forest primeval hosts squirrels, birds of all kinds, rabbits and chipmunks.  A virgin ecosystem among a 21st Century, overly manicured plat.  

We move down the hill, Dickens sniffing for new scents as we descend.  He knows we'll be turning left to walk along more houses.  More houses with statuary and fences.  He stops though to confirm our route.  Moving on for another 20 ft. our destination reached.  Before us, in the middle of all this humanity, we hear the song.  First a soft hum and touch as if caressing a small child, then becoming louder, bolder to announce its greatest.  We've come upon a stand of pines.  Old pines.  Tall.  Majestic. Survivor pines worthy of attention and gratitude.

Most would say the wind produces the tone or the pitch, that settles my heart.  That same wind blows throughout the maples, but there's no song, only creaking branches.  The pines take the wind's energy to create music.  Lyrical.  Mystical.  Healing.  Nurturing.  The melody moves me to tears.  I stand there in front of a complete stranger's house under the guise of a sniffing dog in order to drink in the melody of the pines.  

My heart tells me that I need to live with pines.  I long for the day where I can tune in the melody by simply opening a window.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

....That Which Passes All Understanding

I wandered into Mom's room at 6 AM.  It's a small room...maybe 10 x 12.  She lies in a hospital bed. The bed seems enormous compared to her tiny body.  She might now be 80 lbs.  Over the weekend she developed problems swallowing.  Admittedly, I hold my breath, pray that she's still breathing...that she's still with me.  Seeing chest heaves I say a silent prayer of gratitude, but it always winds up with the phrase "Just a little more time, Lord, please just a little more time."  Mom sees me and grabs my hand.  Her hands are my hands only hers wear the test of time.  Her nails are neatly manicured with her signature blue nail polish.  

She has a little to drink, looks at me and says, "I have to go with them, you know."  I ask who she plans to travel with.  She doesn't answer me.  Her eyes are wide and fixed on something or someone known only to her.  She then says, "I don't want to go.  I don't want to leave you."  I say that I don't want her leave me as well.  I remind her that today's the day her Hospice volunteer visits.  That she might want to postpone her trip until then.  Mom's eyes light up.  I pray anticipating the volunteer's visit might entire her to postpone her trip.

As I sit for a few minutes of quiet meditation in the living room, the tears begin to flow.  These are necessary and that strangely fuel my strength.  As my meditation deepens the tiny, soft voice emerges. 

Me:  "What am I doing?  Is Mom hallucinating or are these visits real?"

The Voice:  "I know this is hard.  She's going to be leaving.  Did you ever think you might be standing in her way?"

Me:  "What?  I took care of Dad, remember?  I think I know how this works."

Voice:  "Do you?  Do you understand?  Really?  How would you describe her existence here now...at this very moment."

Me:  Isn't she comfortable?  She looks comfortable."

Voice:  "Is comfort enough?  What about something else?

Me:  "What are you talking about?"

Voice:  "What about Peace?  Right now she's conflicted.  She wants to go to the light, but she doesn't want to leave you.  What if she knows you are at peace with her passing.  What if she looks forward to that magnificent peace, just like the volunteer's visit, but feels she can't leave you? Will you deny her that?"

Me:  "Good points, but you know what tomorrow is, it's the first anniversary of Dad's passing. You know I'm thick.  Stubborn.  Yes, genuinely selfish, but I'll try.  I'll really try.  Just a little more time, Lord, please just a little more time."

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Putting It Out There and Bringing it Home

In an effort to escape the heat and humidity, I did some Internet research on saving damaged tomato plants.  Fried green tomatoes aren't supposed to be fried on the vine.  Late this spring I planted San Marzano tomatoes.  These babies are reputed to make THE best tomato sauce.  The heat's done a number on them, but some plants survived.

As I clicked and scrolled I came upon something that spoke to me - fairy gardens or miniature gardens.  Ooooooh, now there's something I can wrap my brain around.  Imagine small cabins surrounded by miniature plants to create a forest, tiny stone garden paths, and other things Lilliputian to bring my dreams to life.  I'm hooked.

I divert my search to learn more about these flights of fancy only to find that mini-gardens are to be sold at Bedlam Farm's Open House today.   What I wouldn't give to be there!  That would be the best!  "Damn it, now I feel like Cinderella.  Everyone's going to the ball."  I promised myself today of all days I would stay up in mood and motion, so that involves planning and imagination

The image forms in my mind.  How can I make that cabin-in-the-forest become a reality?  I check Amazon only to realize that their idea of pricing isn't mine.  Yikes, I want to own, not rent.  So, tomorrow I'm off to the dollar store to see what I can scrounge.  Then a quick trip to the nursery for my fields and forests.

As designs whirled in head the phone rings.  It's my dear friend who tells me she's yard sailing on my street.  She said she stopped at this house with a little dog named Bentley.  She put two and two together when someone let Bentley loose.  On this street, that's a "huge no-no".  I've told her about Dickens's and Bentley's friendship.  She told the owner she knew all about Bentley from what I'd told her.  Bentley's owner then asked if she'd call me so Dickens could apprehend Bentley. After a little game of bob and weave, I handed Dickens's leash over to Bentley's owner.  The shock on that dog's face - hysterical.  He did not like being replaced and neatly trotted over to the fenced in yard.  And I spotted a set of three dishes perfect for miniature gardens and Dickens scored a stuffed toy for a job well done.

For now if I can't have it life sized, trust me miniature's fine by me.  It's a step toward manifesting my future and that little cabin in the woods. I just have to have faith and trust in this wonderful universe!

In the meantime, I wonder if Dickens might want to set up a dog finding service?

The Man Who Loved Me

Today's a very special day.  One of celebration, gratitude, and love.  I think it's fitting that this day falls on the first day of the week because I have a new way of life, new hopes, and aspirations.

The man I'm writing to you about came from very humble beginnings.  He came into the world as the second oldest and the family grew to a family of 15, including parents.  All his brothers and sister have unique attributes and gifts, but this one, my man, could only be called "the special one."  This man and I were married, very much in love, and verily I tell you, soul mates.  The man who loved me was born today.

The day we met he sported aviator sunglasses and I wore a clavicle collar as a result of a horseback riding accident.  He looked much better in his eye wear than I did in my sling.  I gotta say entering into a relationship of any kind did not cross my mind.  He had asked me out a few times for coffee, but my school work mattered most to me.  No way.  Eventually, I said yes and that, as they say, was that.  I fell in love, continued with my education, but I didn't think we'd last.  You see Frederick was a Harley Guy and I was an Equestrian.  Never the t'wain shall meet.  He often remarked that we came from two different worlds.

I never understood our relationship.  I still don't.  I never understood why he fell in love with me. Why did he believe in me?  I believed in him wholeheartedly.  He liked risk.  Thrived on it.  When we met I didn't have a job.  He kept telling me I shot too low in my job search.  "Damnit, aim higher!"  One night he told me about a job at the local television station that he'd seen in the paper.  He wanted me to apply.  I did on a lark.  I got the job.

Our relationship traveled this course and whenever he saw something he thought I'd like, he'd prepare a nice dinner and we'd talk.  He came from a business background.  He had owned a restaurant and knew how tough people could be.  I came from a book background and, well, totally clueless.  My time in the military made adjusting to television difficult.  Sure, I had the discipline, but dealing with a bunch of creative folks who I admired turned me into a mouse.  For about a month, I'd come home dejected as I had run into yet another ego run amok.  One night he had had enough.  He said, "You have just as much talent as they do.  Get mad.  The next time XX gives you "sh(*t, get mad.  Slam those scripts down and let him have it."  I did.  It worked.

Little by little I let my inner child crept out of the closet.  I began to have fun and get noticed leading to more demanding assignments.  I loved each and every one of them. Telling him about my day became the highlight of my day.  I still remember his smile as if he'd known all along.

Back in 1989, he suffered two massive heart attacks, but survived.  Frederick insisted he'd work again and he did until he couldn't.  I believed this man could scale Everest with his drive and determination.  I told him he'd start another business.  I believed he could be whatever he wanted to be, so he went back to school.  Unfortunately, his health got in the way forcing him to withdraw.  He loved his math courses.

Life morphed from future aspirations to the daily aspirin.  Throughout his illness his love drove me to work harder and better in order to spend more time with him.  He never wanted to see me worried.  We started to take vacations, to talk about his wishes should he predecease me, and I'd chase that issue away.

Finally on March 9, 2002, Frederick passed away due to surgical complications.  Nothing's felt the same since that day until today as I realized what a special and sacred gift the heavens had sent me.  What a remarkable gift!  Frederick was my lover, husband, teacher, best friend, and protector throughout our lives together.  He taught me to stand up for myself...to believe in myself...to be myself.  I no longer feel that he has been taken away from me, rather I feel as though he completed his job and can now rest.  He needed it after dealing with me.

So with deep gratitude and infinite love, I wish you, Frederick, a Happy Birthday!  I miss you, love you and delight in the day you were born.  I'm gonna celebrate!  Hope you are, too!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Pressure (Barometric and Otherwise)

Whew, first time I sat down today.  Saturday kicked my butt.  Up at 4:30 AM to tend to Mom and pup.

Today made good on its promise for a temperature change but it took a long time coming.  In the meantime, my charges had a tough time dealing with the upcoming change.  My mother suffers from agitation due to her dementia.  Every five minutes she'd pop up in bed to address a thought or hallucination that had invaded her mind.  Medication only goes so far.  Monitoring her closely keeps her from straining her heart, or worse, deciding to chase a hallucination resulting in injury.

Dickens, who normally can be best described as a nut, decided to have a bark fest over absolutely nothing.  A neighbor asked me if the dog was mad at me or I was mad at the dog.  Dickens had been responding to another dog who lived across the street also barking.  When I explained this to her she seemed to understand, but by late in the day patience had left me.  I refrained from a snarky remark.  We were gone no more than five minutes, when Mom decided to resume the 'jack-in-the-box' routine.

About 4 PM, the recon storms arrived.  You know that renegade band of storms that come on fast and furious leaving the air twice as saturated.  Yeah, those storms.  The change in barometric pressure also resulted in a house whose agitation meter reached a red line point.  At one point, I brought Dickens in to visit Mom to work his magic.  This resulted in a licking, yet barking dog, in concert with a 89-year old woman trying to quiet the dog by yelling.  Mom continued her erratic behavior, Dickens continue his erratic behavior and my stomach growled because I hadn't had dinner.  So, I did what any other red-blooded American caregiver would do, I retreated to the bathroom.  For some reason when I announce my intention to visit the "Oval Office" they cut me some slack.

After counting to ten, I exited the 'office' and began to get everyone ready for bed.  Finishing my mother's evening care, I snapped a leash on Dickens, who by now looked like a panting, hot mess, for his evening constitution.  Just as his lifted leg hit the ground, the lightning flashed and we flew into the house.

The storm has passed, my charges are sleeping soundly, and now I'm going back to the Oval Office for some actual self-care and boy am I grateful!

Friday, July 19, 2013

"All Will Be Well In All Manner of Things All Will Be Well" - Julian of Norwich

This morning's walk with Dickens revealed something that I regarded as normal, but now I'm not so sure.  As Dickens enjoyed those peaceful hours of dawn, I saw that my mind skipped over events that occurred yesterday.

Dickens's "Scoots":  I blame and at the same time absolve myself.   It goes something like this, "What caused this?  I don't know.  Should I have done something different?  He's in an air-conditioned space.  Did he walk too much in the heat?   No, I've been careful to limit time and distance.  Did he get into something?  I don't think so.  I'll have to watch him closer.  Could I have done something different?  Why didn't I do something different? He's a youngster, I should know better.  Is he sorry he wound up with me?  Am  a good dog owner?"  

Mom:  Could I have made her more comfortable yesterday?  Is she in pain?  Can I do something to entice her to eat more?  Did I get the formula right on her medication?  Yes, yes, I did.  Does she need more fluid?  She did drink more yesterday.  Is being at home the best situation for her?  What if we had lost power yesterday?  Am I doing enough?

The House:  I've got to get on that lawn.  I'm giving urban farming a bad name.  What's wrong with those tomatoes?  They been watered twice a day, why aren't they getting bigger?  Maybe I should give up on urban farming?  And look at those weeds.  I've got to begin to get this house ready for winter.  I'll make a list when I get home  The inside doesn't look much better.  I've got to throw this junk out of here.  What happened to the interior painting project?  The window project?  Now, I'm a wreck.

My angel, pre-weeds.
We get back to the house in ten minutes.  The chatter continues about other stuff, exhausting me.  Finally something, someone in my head intervenes saying,  "Stop it.  Dickens is fine.  He's eating, drinking, playing, & right now trying to turn the fan over.  Your mom's doing well enough.  She's happy to be home.  You'll get to the lawn and the plants?  You'll get to the housekeeping.  You moved from your house to this house so fast that things haven't been unpacked.  Stop it.  Stop it. Stop it.  Listening to this free form garbage's doing you no good.  Have a cup of coffee and relax."

The intervention snaps me from the jaws of self-recrimination, blame, and self-defeat about my efforts (or lack thereof).  If anyone had told me a year ago that I'd be worried about my mother's end days (after just losing my father), a poopy puppy, and an overgrown urban farm, I would have told them they had rocks in their heads.

I don't know if the caffeine's finally kicked in, but I begin to believe that it'll be well and done well (at least to my standards).  I'm just going to let the chatter go through me without believing it. That small inner voice, (whether she be my angel or whomever) can stay.  She's keeping me sane at the moment and for that, I'm grateful.  

I think Julian of Norwich was on to something...

Thursday, July 18, 2013


OK, then, the bathing suit plan has kept me reasonably sane.  Bravo, that!

The National Weather Service (not the "henny penny cable guys) report we have (past tense, thank you, God) hit 104 degrees.  That's 104 degrees.  So far we're all still here.

Dickens can't understand why he can't go for longer walks.  I'm holding his dinner an hour later so he can walk without dropping.  He's a considerate dog as he refuses to use the lawn as a "toilette".  He prefers the street next to us.  He's a terrier.  He's stubborn.

One more day of this (well, actually a day and a half, but I'm rounding at this point) and temps should fall back to their seasonal low-80's.

Can't happen soon enough!

Thank You, Canada!

Photo from accuweather.com
Relief provided by someone much greater than us!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Madsummer or Midsummer?

I have no ambition to continue rambling about this God-forsaken heat wave.  When it ends, I'll merrily change the subject to something else less irritating and more engaging.  Blame my artistic temperament, blame global warming, whatever, as tomorrow's weather forecast has gone from "we're watching some hot weather" to "we're warning you about dangerous hot weather."  Like the Robot from the older than dirt space fantasy, "Lost in Space," weather folks are pointing to maps, waving the arm, and popping their heads up and down in front of the camera issuing dire warnings.  It irritates me.  Really irritates me.

Hmmm, as I look around this week I see a trend has developed.  Midsummer has developed a rash of irritation leading to Madsummer.  Online, in traffic, in the markets, etc., folks have  heard so much oppressive stuff that they've turned oppressive.  While I'm the first to admit I've looked to the sky this week and shaken my fist, I haven't waved it at any human beings.  That's not to say I haven't been sorely tempted.

So I'm changing Madsummer to Midsummer.  New weather report.  Thursday promises showers.  Lots of 'em jumping into the area.   In my bathroom.  I have decided to wear my bathing suit all day in order to facilitate the "jumping" part.  Heat creeps up on, I drown it immediately.  Humidity grabs me by the neck, I break the hold with a hand held shower head.  Hydration hits the skids, douse myself with an ice cold beverage.

You might ask where this epiphany rose?  Good question and I'll tell you.  My attitude shifted based on two events today.  The first, the Hospice Spiritual Chaplain called to ask if we needed a visit.  Second, the Hospice volunteer arrived with flowers on a 94 degree day!  I thanked the first telling her I had been up since 3:30 AM and I needed a nap.  She understood.  I told our volunteer to go home.  Enjoy your family and your air conditioning.  We love you both for coming, but we're good.

One could have stayed in her air conditioned office and the other could have stayed home, but they are dedicated to what they do and who they're doing it for.  It's a hard job offering comfort and support to terminal patients and their families whether one gets a paycheck or not.  Yet they do it and they never grouse about their lot in life, their online woes, or the weather.  They are wired much differently than me and my attitude toward heat waves.

Tomorrow morning, as I don my bathing suit, I'll pray for those who are on the road during 104 degree heat.  I'll add special prayers for those folks who leave their personal preferences behind to be of service and comfort to others.  I won't like enduring the heat, I won't like worrying about my mother and my dog, but with support like I've had today, the day's going to pass
This is for the Lizards.  Enjoy your day!
very quickly.

And, that's the way I like it!

Carpe Diem

This morning began at the tender hour of 3:30 AM.  That's AM.  Very AM.  Mom began shouting loudly for help.

Now normally I'd just get up and pleasantly ask her what sort of help she requires, but this weather has done a number on my head.  Most of my housework takes place after sunset in the un-air conditioned parts of the house.  The result being, I don't get to sleep until well after midnight.  So, one can only imagine my demeanor between horizontal and vertical as I rose to heed her call.  Suffice it to say think Godzilla in a nightgown.

It's always the same.  Something in my brain, or heart, or wherever nudges me that something's amiss and that I must rise from sleep.  Check that.  Truth be told, responding at half-past cat's you-know-what feels like being shot out of cannon.  Half my brain struggles to focus on the present moment, whilst the other half blasts in my head, "I WAS SLEEPING!"

Compound the yelling and the committee meeting going on in head with the ergonomic safety issues involved in said response.  Things like, "Where the hell are my slippers?" (Necessary, since I might have to lift Mom.)  "What did I do with  my glasses?"  (Note to self:  They are usually on top of my head.)  Often times as evidenced by the permanent bruise on my right leg from the running into the bed's foot board (see preceding eyeglass query) I'm a bumbling mass of humanity trying to scramble myself together.  As all this takes place, my mother continues to cry for help even though I am at this point screaming that I'm here and that I'm coming to her aid.  As much as I repeat that response, she'll keep calling me wildly until my countenance (disheveled as it may be) presents itself by her bedside.

The "emergency" turned out not to be an emergency after all, which irritates the sleep deprived side of me to no end.  Mom, at last, proclaims she's now comfortable.  Great!  Super!  Now, I can catch another hour's sleep.  I scurry back to my bed, anticipating a short, but healthy rest.

I round the corner only to be greeted by a Cairn terrier who apparently has his own call to be met since he heard Mom's pleas.  He appears to have his legs..  This requires locating suitable attire because I never know who I'll run into at 4 AM.  Right?  At 4:10 AM, we return to the house after Dickens has decided to announce "dawn's early light" to the neighborhood.

By now it's 4:15 AM.  The outside thermometer points to a saturated 78 degrees.   My body has decided to demand coffee.

Screw it, I'll sleep in October.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Play Dates in the Sun!

We all know by now how this whether messes with my mood no matter how hard I try to resist it.  Really resist it.

This morning, as soon as Mom's aide arrived, Dickens and I set off for a short play date over at my neighbor's.  Thirty minutes of talking about anything else not related to care giving felt like a cool spring washing over me.  Thirty minutes of a slowly sipped cup of coffee.  Divine.  Thirty minutes watching my boy play with my neighbor's dogs.  Happiness.

Dickens presents himself sometimes as a captive who hasn't seen the light of day in years.  He enters hyper.  The nose and ears are on high alert.  My neighbor shows such ease around him.  She reassures me that the dogs are capable of policing each other.  To leave it alone.  To enjoy a cup of coffee, relax, to talk.

Joanne has to be the canine version of the Pied Piper.  She's so natural around dogs, understands them, and has the right voice so they listen.  Dickens slobbers Joanne and her husband with kisses.  He runs back and forth between them.  Then he runs over to their dogs to see what they're up to and how he can join the fun.

All too soon the time has flown, but I'm rejuvenated by caffeine and Dickens actually seems to be tired.  He's asleep now, but I think he's smiling on the inside.

Thanks, Joanne, Ed, Junior and Bruno for everything!

The Tale of One Puppy

Who me?
As you all know, or may not know, this is my dog, Dickens.  He's a 15 month Cairn terror terrier. Cute, eh?

Let me tell you about what cute doesn't cover.  Cute doesn't excuse the fact that in a past life, he operated as a paper shredder.  He's a literary dog.  Actually, he's selective about the titles he chews.  Very selective.  He leaves the classics alone and makes short work of anything else.

During walks I keep an eye out on the road ahead.  If he spots anything white, he'll get it.  He has a serious white fixation.  White plastic bags, tissues, napkins, drinking straw covers have all fallen victim to his jaws.  "Leave it" works sometimes depending on how worked up he gets.  Ditto what folks toss out of their car windows as inedible.  The Secret Service should hire me for the sidewalk surveillance involved in walking this dog.

Dickens also has a fierce loathing of trucks no matter the model.  A friend well versed in all things canine drew herself up and said, "Of course, he's a terrier.  What did you expect?  This is typical terrier behavior.  They are very determined dogs."  Well, thanks for that news bulletin I didn't take out an ad that said "Must love trucks."  Who thinks of these things as their selecting man's best friend?

Which brings me to the subject of terrier determination .  As I attempt to write this Dickens has decided that he has other things in store for me.  He has tossed his bone into my lap.  Grabbed his rope bone and flung it at me.  Picked up his now empty food dish, only to stare at me with said dish hanging out of his mouth in an Oliver Twist expression that says "More, please."

Ditto for treats.  Neighbors are still giggling about the time Dickens hung off the back of my pants because he felt he deserved a treat.  Or the time he almost pants me in a valiant attempt to help himself to a plastic bag hanging out of my pocket.

This small bundle of cuteness doesn't stop at the word "no".  He hears that as a challenge to be met and eliminated.  "No bark" equals "bark louder" in his mind.  The bark that emanates from that small body would make a soprano at the Met envious.  This little guy shouts one note that commands respect.  As we walk by houses I wonder how many crystal glasses he's shattered.

Despite all his flaws and idiosyncrasies, we are crazy about each other in a very weird relationship way.  He knows when I need a break.  That fierce determination for a walk also serves as "taking care of my lady."  He does know.

Having him as been an introduction to the neighborhood.  Dickens draws folks to him.  The neighbors and I have struck up friendships, support, and security, barking at all.  I apologize for this dog's crazy vocalization.  Many shrug and say, "I didn't notice.  He's too cute."  I am grateful.

We've come a long way with a longer path to follow.  We take care of each other.  There are some days I believe this dog doesn't love me...that he wouldn't know if I fell off the face of the earth.  Then, there are those days as he runs around during a play date with that grin and shining eyes that I can't help but believe he loves me more.

When the tears flow his rapt attention and kisses don't make it all better, but it doesn't hurt either.  He's a compassionate dog.  He has the capability to help me fight the lows and honor the highs.  I'm starting to believe he doesn't want to see me sad.

I've always believed love would never come one's way if were based on our faults.  The love train would pass right through the station.  And, no doubt, if Dickens could right a similar post, he's probably begin with, "Why my lady doesn't understand me."  He'd be correct.  We're still working it all out.  In the meantime, we'll just let love do the heavy lifting.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Burning Question

The Hospice nurse left a few minutes ago.  He's a real peach.  His name is Andy.  Mom likes him and he certainly knows how to communicate with her.  All pluses in my book.

He examines her and we discuss comfort, medication, and little things to make her days as joyful as possible.  We discuss this blessed heat wave.  He tells me not to worry about food intake, focus on clear fluids.  The room is comfortable he tells me.  He says I'm doing a good job.

Toward the end of the visit he always asks "What's your greatest need today?"  It always sends me sideways.  My snarky side says, "Bring back my 40-year old mother."  My care giver side says, "Help me.  Help her."  My soul weighs in with the honest answer.  That one undeniable response that wells up inside me, "Give me strength."  I try to hide the tears that well up, wishing them to the back of my eyeballs.

Many folks stumble through life buying this and that telling themselves they NEED it. Gotta have it
The thought of what lies ahead in the weeks to come demands strength.  The might to put my needs aside, yet the determination to take care of myself for her.  The strength to transfer her from bed to commode without spraining my back.  The fortitude to hold patience up as Mom clatters on about subject matter unknown to me when all I want to do is run back to the safe space of my writing, or my knitting.  The restraint to say, "It's OK, you don't have to eat", rather than do battle with her in an energy sapping conflict.  And at the end, I hope I'm strong enough to say, "It's OK, Mom, you can go now.  I'll be alright" and mean it.  All that and more takes backbone.  Not the might of Hercules, but a different sacred, loving, will power.

I never understood my greatest need until today.

So, what's your greatest need

Are You Kidding Me?

Accuweather.com Forecast 

My soul wants to bask in the glow of positivism.  I really, really want to accept and embrace the day, but in light of the forecast that light's going to add more heat to my day.  So, the gloves are off.  Political correctness cast aside.

I detest the hazy, hot, and humid days of New England summer.  Truly.  Yes, I realize folks living in other parts of the country have it worse, but I'm not living in other parts of the country.  In fact, when this phase of my life passes, I'm going find a place to live free from this tropical nightmare.  The Arctic Circle?  Antarctica?  Ireland?  There, I've said it.  No apologies.  No remorse.

Today, I'm throwing economic caution to the wind and installing another air conditioner.  If I'm going to live in the moment, it had better be a cool moment so I can get things done.  At least in winter months I can bundle up, add a sweater.  There's no low cost remedy in summer.  (OK, if you count cool showers, one.)  I'm calling this purchase "medically necessary," so I don't go insane.

Yes, I'm a lightweight.  I'm positive.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Stubborn Sunflower

I'll open when I'm good and ready.  Not a moment sooner.
Nikon E-4600
f/7.4;1/50 sec
ISO-50; Aperture 3

Self-deprecation Vs. Self-Doubt

A thread on my artists' board brought up this topic yesterday and I've got to admit the question hit home as a writer and caregiver.  I have to say I view both terms equally because they torment me daily.

Self-deprecation can be, and often times, reveals itself as an counter-offensive for owning one's perceived weaknesses and deflecting others' criticisms.  "Please, ladies and gentlemen, allow me to be the first one to tell you this isn't worth the time of day.  I know my [insert whatever you're up to at the moment] is sub par, so I'll do you the favor of trashing my work now.  Where's my sword so I can fall upon it now, saving you the time of doing it yourself?"   It's that loud, ignorant voice in my head that says, "Ha!  What am I thinking?  This isn't worth the [insert whatever medium you used to create such dreaded work] my time.  There are people far better than me who could turn out a better polished product."  So, to me, intense self-deprecation defeats all hope.  All confidence.  There's a difference between branding one's work as bad vs. calling one's work humble.

Humility removes the "self" from one's work.  To present one's work absent ego in a pure and noble sense instills confidence.  Humility wears the uniform of a servant when it says, "Here, I humbly offer this work to you as my gift."  Humility says, "I've done the work to the best of my ability."   If someone pans it, oh well, I'll do better next time.  Thank them for their input and move on to live another day.  [This works well when receiving unwanted gifts, as well.]

Self-doubt is the cornerstone of the artistic temperament.  As I write this I say to myself, "Are folks going to connect with this...understand my meaning?  I don't think I can do this?  Should I delete it now?"  Doubting oneself doesn't mean the individual doesn't have the capability.  It means the individual doesn't believe in their capabilities or fails to recognize that which lies within themselves.  [Stay with me here.  It gets rocky/]

The stakes are as high when one's a caregiver.  Every caregiver tells themselves twenty times a day, "I can't do this."  Even though they've been caring for their loved one for months.  Some caregivers repeat the phrase silently; others blast it to the universe in frustration and, well, doubt.  In the days leading up to my mother's coming home, that chatterbox of doubt poured over me like a stopped up toilet.  [Oops, inserted a little self-deprecation crept in there.]   The self-doubt spilling over the sides of my confidence and, quite frankly doing my head in.

As for being a self-deprecating caregiver, I'll be the first to say since this phase of my life kicked in, the oft-employed sentence in my life has been, and continues to be, "I'm sorry."  Sorry for what I don't know, but I'm sorry anyway.  Sorry for my lack of knowledge.  Sorry for not having the house up to par.  Sorry for not having the bed pads out of the dryer in time.  Sorry for being born.  It's a preemptive strike against myself before anyone else does it.  There do I feel better now?   Was that sadistic enough for me?    Has that left jab to the cerebral chin helped me to offer better care?

Now, here's where it gets tricky.  Are both self-deprecation and self-doubt bad things?  Maybe not.  Here's why.  As with salt and pepper to enhance a dish, both doubting oneself a smidgen and evaluating a job not well done are necessary to making me a better caregiver, writer, artist, a better me.  Too much of both spoils the dish, not enough equals blandness in the form of inactivity. Believing that I suck and going forward to live into that belief sucks the life out of the me.  A small measure of honest self-deprecation drives me to do a job better building on knowledge and skill leading to confidence resulting in a less self-doubt.  Again, it needs the ego to push me forward.

Another perspective (and one I prefer) focuses on Honesty and Humility by asking the following questions:

1.)  Am I being honest when I say I can't do everything perfectly?
2.)  Am I honestly caring for my loved one with grace and humility?
3.)  Am I so humble that I admit I screwed [enter name of task] up royally and am willing to learn a better way.
4.)  Do I honestly believe what that loud, arrogant self-doubting monster says to me?
5.)  Do I humbly admit that due to my nature as a human being I'm going to feel anger, frustration, and myriad emotions and that I'm going to recognize them for what they are and not believe in them?

Questions 4 is a trick question.  If I believe I am not worthy, I set myself up to live under the cloud of unworthiness.  Is that where I want to live my life?  I doubt it.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Paper Passion Season

Yesterday brought an errand to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription.  Truth be told, I spend a great deal of my free time at the pharmacy.  The break occurs the minute the Home Health Aide enters the door.  The poor thing had to step aside one day as a night of terminal agitation had me clawing at the door.  LET.  ME.  OUT.  OF.  HERE.

Getting the prescription didn't contain any drama or humorous anecdotes.  I strolled the aisles just looking to see if my addled brain had forgotten anything.  I know this store so well I could recite the store plan by aisle number.

And then it happened.  I turned to the "seasonal" stuff.  You know, the stuff at the front of the store to get a shopper's juices flowing.  That aisle.  The incredible emotion grabbed me comprised of a mixture of joy and enthusiasm unheard of in this lifetime.  My heart swelled.  Ladies and gentlemen, it's School Supplies Season!  Yes, indeedy.  There.  I've said it.  I've exposed my paper passion.  The condition cannot be denied or pushed aside without feeling the train's left the station without me.

Since birth, this condition has plagued me.  I don't see the year as January through December.  My year runs from July to June.  My  month of preparation for those things pulp and ink, fluorescent blue to fluorescent pint and the mighty containers to hold them has been a highlight (no pun intended) of my life.  Oh the magic of getting ready for school!  It's a rush!

New notebooks send me over the moon.  Gazing at what's new in stationary makes my heart flutter.  I gently pick up a binder replete with zipper and handle.  My hands glide over it much like a mother caresses her baby's cheek.  I peek inside and smile at all those pockets.  Oh, what a haven for my research!  I remind myself to remain steady.  There's more to this land of "seasonal" goods that needs my attention.

New binder clips!   (Did you know there are 101 uses for these bad boys?)  Pens in every shape and color. Highlighters designed with ergonomics in mind!  Oh, my inner child's doing a happy dance which becomes more frenetic when her eyes spies the latest configurations of a staple.  That's right we've hit "Post-It" note land.  Good gracious every size and color one could imagine.  "Who wants to come home with me?" she says.

Thankfully, my number's called over the intercom.  This magnificent obsession needs to chill awhile before jumping in the cart.  "But, but are we going home empty handed?  Nothing?  Really? This isn't fair. (Mental foot stomping, almost grown into an all-out tantrum.)  I gather myself and head straight to the pharmacy.  Sure-footed and confident as a good parent should be.

Once in the car and out of new acquisition danger, "Remember, my child.  There's always next week."

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

What Strengthens Me

This morning brought cooler temperatures to these parts.  
The saturated air lingers, but with reduced temperatures.
I am grateful.   I can cope.  

Monday arrived with sad news.  A life ended.  Tears flow.
I am grateful.  I can cope.

Audacity dropped in to stir the pot...to test my resolve...to learn my choice.
I am grateful.  I can cope.

Anger rode in Monday's back.  I made a choice not to let ride on mine.  Anger won't defeat me.
I am grateful.  I can cope.

Mom's still with me.  Some days are tougher than others.  I try.
I am grateful.  I can cope.

Spoke with family regarding the sad news.
We shared our stories...our gratitude.  We strengthened each other to cope.

I shared the sad news with dear friends.
I shared my gratitude.  They helped me to cope.

I turn to the universe asking, always asking.  
The answer's there inside my heart.  Fear tries to block my view, but I see it anyway.  
I am grateful.  
If I can live with Love, I can and do cope.


Sunday, July 7, 2013


I've been wondering lately about animal owners.  I like to call them "stewards".  Those folks who don't feel like they own the animal; rather they have chosen to become their caregivers or however they chose to describe their human/animal relationship.

When did you know you and your charge had made a connection?  I don't mean responding to  food rewards and stuff like that.  I'm talking about that seminal moment when the animal spontaneously approached you in the spirit of relationship.

Some days I saw my dog as more connected to complete strangers, rather than give me the time of day.  He'd jump on neighbors, had kind of a weird look as he if he wanted to scream "TAKE. ME. WITH. YOU.  anytime we passed another human.

For me, that moment occurred when Dickens lobbed a big fat orange stuffed pumpkin at me with the "Let's play" expression pasted on his face.  I can't described the emotion deep within me, but I felt accepted by him.  The energy shift from that of caregiver to someone Dickens had chosen to share some joy.  That moment forever remains with me.  I can only equate it to being asked to dance by the most popular boy in school.  Who me?

Those moments are more frequent, more intense.  From hiding in back of me when nervous to lying quietly on his side as I rub his tummy.  Whether it's his maturity or karma I don't know.  What I can tell you is I kinda like it and I'm grateful for sticking out those disconnected, digestion-related, got thrown out of puppy obedience class, first days.

So, what was your moment?

Friday, July 5, 2013

Now Folks, This Day Really Hasn't Been Normal.

Perhaps its the heat.  Perhaps its the after effects of a Super Moon.  Perhaps Mercury's retrograde track has been doing its thing.  I don't know.  And, put quite bluntly I think my Dickens might be a tad off his trolley.  Not totally derailed, just listing a bit.  Let's review the evidence shall we:

Exhibit A:

Guarding the Foot-Wide Pumpkin?

Yes, that's Dickens asleep with his giant pumpkin.  Now it's nice that he adores this over-sized, over-stuffed bit of orange madness, but you'd think he'd steer clear of it on a super hot, humid day.
Not my dog, he cuddles up to the orange orb.  I perspire just looking at him and, yes, the room has a/c but not a lot.  This isn't normal.

Exhibit B:
All day long I kept a close eye on the water dish.  I had added ice cubes, checking regularly in case my sweet pup required a refill.  As the day wore on a pattern emerged.  The ice cubes disappeared quickly.  Really quickly.  I jacked up the thermostat on the A/C.  After I refilled the second tray of cubes, I began to panic.  How much did this dog drink?  I read that too much water can be bad thing.  

It wasn't until I rounded the corner after refilling the water dish that I spotted him at the water dish.  Something didn't measure up until he gave it away.  Every time I had added the ice cubes he plucked them out of his water dish, piling them into the entryway as evidenced by the puddle by the door.  Apparently he likea his water cool, straight up, shaken not stirred.

Exhibit C:
No matter what one does, the front of the house sizzles as the sun sets.  The house becomes an Easy Bake Oven.  I have so many fans going I'm afraid the roof will raise at some point, yet the house remains a hot box.  It's cooling off now, but for a couple of hours it's not good.

I didn't like the way Dickens panted, so I did what every responsible pet owner would do, I dunked him in the tub with cool water.  Now most dogs would have shaken their little tails with pleasure, not this dog.  He proceeds to rub his face along the carpet generating more heat on his little body.

Actually, he looked real cute dripping in the tub.  I think it helped.  He has a new nickname now replete with double entendre.  We now call him Damp Dickens.  It fits in so many ways.

"Ready for you freezer treat now, boy?"  (Wonder where he's going to hide that one.)

In the Wee Hours...

my mind awakes.  I don't wake up from a dream.  It's that in-between time just before dozing off that my head decides to have its say.  Some of the ramblings focus on fear, others reflective.  More often than not a combination of the two.  As the AC droned on, I waited for sleep to envelope me.  The anticipation of a good night's rest fills me with hope.

Last night's "bam, boom, pop" in celebration of the U.S.A. winning its independence made the entire exercise of "falling asleep" a tad difficult.  Dickens did well, Mom slept, but for some reason I felt like I did when serving Sentry Duty in the Army.  Making certain the perimeter was indeed secure and free from harm.

Those days in service to our country feels like a couple of lifetimes ago, but the memories are embedded in my brain.  I entered the service for two reasons:  A)  love of country, and B) I wanted to go to college, but funds proved impossible.  When I joined the population enjoyed movies such as "Saturday N:ight Fever" and "Private Benjamin".  The populace debated the Equal Rights Amendment ferociously.

Upon reflection, I think it safe to say my period in the service leaned more toward Private Benjamin, rather than disco fever.  Discipline didn't seem like a problem for me.  The drill sergeants shouted, cursed, and cajoled their trainees with wreckless abandon.  Some trainees couldn't stand these men and women.   It felt, at times, as if the drills hated us.  In fact, the undertone throughout basic training seemed like a grudge match with the other side saying, "Oh, so you're equal, eh?  OK, so you'll train WITH the men.  No more rubber rifles for you!"

Now women in the military perform the same tasks as their male counterparts.  Fly an aircraft?  No problem.  Jump out of perfectly good airplanes for no reason at all?  Piece of cake.  All these things see their genesis from one thing - choice.

We hold the freedom to choose sacred.  Our choices make us who we are.  Sometimes we restrict our freedom by giving into fear.  To allowing the "what ifs" and "oh no's" to overtake us...hold us hostage...prevent what's deep inside from emerging.  Like the military life, choice craves  (IMHO) discipline.

Living in this country grants me the liberty to be me - warts and all.  I chose to be a writer.  I have the freedom to succeed or fall on my sword.  Not many folks in other countries can say the same.  Indeed, some authors have been exiled, or worse, for their choices.

So, on this Independence Day, I pledge to honor the sacrifices and the freedom prior choices afford me by living each day to the fullest with love, authenticity and gratitude.

I think Judy Benjamin would agree.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Conquering the Fear Factor

New York Times bestselling author Jon Katz recently launched his "Open Group for Bedlam Farm" on Facebook.  He's designed the group to celebrate, nurture, and guide us to accept the artist within us.  Folks linked their blogs, shared their photos, and exhibited their paintings.  Passion rules this group and it shows in every single thing they do.  This group isn't an art for art's sake (not that there's anything wrong with that); however, it's much, much more.

As I read each blog, examined each and every photo, and stared in awe at the paintings, I saw something I've never been part of in any artists' group.  This emotion sprouted and grew with every post until, at last, the connections we all have in expressing who we are and what or who we love brought me to tears.

The site has also helped me come to terms with something I've struggled with for years.  In my professional life, I've always written and snapped a photo here or there.  Yet the notion that I AM a writer has been a constant struggle.  A company paid me to write, but I always figured I got lucky, but one day I'd be branded as a fraud and that would be that.  The one thing that always perplexed me came from the fact that I adored writing so much that something had to be wrong to get paid for doing something I loved.  

Now, through Jon's group and the lovely members who shared similar fears, I realize just how self-limiting and self-defeating that mindset has cost me.  Rather than stuffing this passion, I am allowing this authentic part of myself to break the surface.   I'm grateful, regardless of paycheck or no paycheck, this thing called writing can be exercised every day.  The boundaries and barriers are slowly falling away.  My identity's roots are starting to dig deeper, ideas forming buds, and then, perhaps, produce beautiful blossoms.  In any event, I own this creative process as does every member of this group.  Our art reveals our core.
Jon Katz has a wonderful gift of examining fear, his own included, and working through those brick walls that keep us from ourselves.  He touches people of all ages, including a 90-year woman who credits Jon with helping her "shed her daily fears" and advising us that  "its never too late to live a better way".  I couldn't agree with  her more.

Thank you Jon, Fran, and Open Group for Bedlam Farm members.  May our fellowship and our artlive on for years to come.

Finding Our Comfort Zones

For once, Monday behaved his little self.  Yesterday, Wednesday, saw more appointments for Mom.  Right now the house suffers from CHAOS (read, "Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome"), but medical stuff is medical stuff, so housework be dipped.

So far, we've met with the nurse, spiritual counselor, social worker, and dietitian to bring comfort to Mom.  Now, we have what I hope constitutes the making of a great team.  I couldn't live without our daily CNA and I have the utmost respect for these folks.  Comfort may be taking its sweet time getting here, but it's coming.  Perhaps the weather has bogged it down.

And speaking of weather last Monday arrived with the 3 H's - Hazy, Hot, & Humid.  These three hangers-on insist on staying through the holiday weekend and beyond.  Talk about uninvited guests!  If it's not raining, it feels like its going to rain.  The air soaks through me.  I'm not talking pleasant weather here.  I'm talking air one can swim through, then it rains, then the sun shines adding more heat to the simmering pot known as summer.  Weird, truly weird.

I admire folks who endure the other seasons just to get to the "stickies".  Truly, I'm always baffled by their reasoning of wanting to be in a position where sweating's regarded as a good thing.  I. AM. NOT. ONE. OF. THOSE.  PEOPLE.  During these humid spells I want to wander off to a cool cave with a good book and a bucketful of iced tea as I wait for Fall to rescue me.  My imagination wanders to those brisk October days dressed in bright scarlet, gold, and oranges.  Trying to stay in the moment while trying to forget this is the third shower I've taken today proves uncomfortable.  Very uncomfortable.  

Now peeking out at the gardens.  My gardens.  Now they are my weed-filled, overgrown, looking pretty shabby gardens.  My heart wants to get out there to set things right.  Nice clean beds.  Straightened up and looking pretty.  The head tells me I'm full of it and, if I want to hit the shower again, have at it.  I return to writing in that imaginary cave, telling myself that it'll keep until evening when the weather turns cools.

Dickens struggles in this weather as well.  He'll be groomed next week, but in the meantime he sleeps struggling to find a comfortable spot.  Compounding his discomfort, Fourth of July fireworks.  His young self slept in a cage at a pet shop last year.  The sounds of air conditioning compressors accompanying his dreams and masking the "boom boom" this holiday brings.  Last night's first pop led to a series of barks, yelps, and flipping out.  I tried to redirect his angst by playing with him until 1:30 AM.  He finally knocked off too exhausted by the rockets red glare.  For tonight's main event, a little bit of comfort in the form of calm down drops.

While this post may present itself as a long rant against summer, that is not the case.  I see grace in the seasons.  I'm in awe of summer-lovers as I've said previously.  They find their comfort zone in this season.  What I'm speaking to is the wonder of how we as humans define comfort.  Some find their comfort in corporate America, some on a farm, some helping others, others find no comfort in "the rest of us" and improving life as we know it.  This thing called "comfort" stands as tall as a redwood or as tiny as snowflake.  All we have to do, I think, is to try to find comfort in ourselves.

Oh, I almost forgot.  I found something that thrives in this weather and for which I am most grateful when the time comes...


Sunday, June 30, 2013

Stepping Aside

I'm honored and privileged to be a member of the Open Group for Bedlam Farm, hosted by New York Times Bestselling author Jon Katz.  The group has awakened those passions that drive an artist.  The miracles I see on this site uplift and support me every day.

Jon doesn't just host the group, he's an active participant.  Walking shoulder to shoulder with the artist.  He spoke today that the hallmark of good writing lies in speaking about one's truth.  Is this real to the artist?  Are we telling the truth about ourselves?  Today, Jon asked why so many folks wrote about their mothers.  Many explained that they had or were active caregivers.  Let me quote Polyface Farm owner and author Joel Salatin, when I say, "Folks, this [lifestyle] ain't normal."

The thread, and the subsequent personal caregiving accounts, brought me back to the day I had to decide my mother's (and my) next steps in her care.  My mind still reeled from the doctor's message of "Just a few months."  They needed a decision from me ASAP as the insurance covered only so many days.  The doctor also recommended Hospice, a road I've traveled just recently as my father had been supported by the agency last year.

A dark vacuum draped over me as I fought with the decision.  Mom looked so good in the rehab facility.  Periods of confusion occurred, but nothing off the charts.  I slept fitfully.  I didn't like having her fate on my shoulders.  Hospice does have guidelines and in a way I felt as if I might be assisting in her death.  Admittedly, when I received my dad's diagnosis, I didn't endure those waves of emotion slamming me around like a rowboat floating in hurricane.  His illness and his disease progression were evident.  I knew then Hospice would keep him comfortable.

My spiritual side has always been my beacon and so I consulted with my mother's priest.  After all, she grew up in and found joy in her faith  For whatever reason, I left that visit feeling OK, but the decision still loomed like an ax over my head.  "Who was I to determine one's fate?"  "I am not God."  My own tradition welled up from my soul as I kept asking Jesus to "take this cup" as he asked his Father as I asked my deceased father in prayer.  That simple phrase summed it up for me.  Jesus knew he faced death, yet he asked that that dreaded decision be made for him.  We certainly have something in common and I had entered the land of weird.  Sleep eluded me.  Eating became a necessity, but I couldn't really taste anything.

I called a friend who I had know for a number of years.  We had gone through the discernment process together.  She became a priest.  I left the program a month before my scheduled ordination due to my father's illness.  The car couldn't get me there fast enough.  As I entered the parish office, tears began to flow.  She just hugged me as the emotions poured out.  As she quietly handed me more tissues in attempt to mop up the mess in front of her, I explained Mom's situation.  How I refused to assist in Mom's death.  Get someone else.  Anyone else.  Not me.  God picked the wrong girl.

Susan listened patiently.  Finally, she said the words that I hadn't expect to hear.  She said, "JD, you are not assisting in your mother's death.  You are stepping aside and letting God take over.  You've done everything you can.  It's time."  Those two simple words, "stepping aside" made sense to me.  Her fate did not rest in my hands.  This decision wasn't what I thought it was and actually a great deal more than I'd believed.  Controlling her end of life didn't rest with me.  The only question left involved taking her home or placing her in a nursing home?

The answer to "where" became clear to my as I visited my mother that day.  She didn't understand the nurse's call button and I found her screaming from her bed to "Help me!  Help me!"  I soothed her, then walked over to the nurses' station to inform them Mom would be coming home.

I'm stepping aside now.  There's something much bigger than me in the universe to help and that's my truth.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Attention! Attention!

Dickens here.  The Lady-Upright has stuff to do.

So, what am I thinking?

The Late Shift, But Not Short On Gratitude

The Hospice nurse left a couple of hours ago.  Mom had an issue, that while I knew what needed to be done, I didn't feel qualified to actually perform the procedure.   Armed with the appropriate meds and training, I think we're OK, now.  Whether a baby, child or elder parent, nothing can breed such intense fear as not being able to discern what's wrong because the poor patient hasn't the ability to express the problem, so they become agitated and frustrated with themselves, with the body they inhabit and their caregiver.  I'm grateful to this nurse who fit my mental image of Clara Barton.  Her reassurance and support-priceless.

I'll be on the late shift tonight to ensure my mother remains comfortable.  I had a nap this afternoon, so I should be good to go.   (Although, we were up most of last night, but hopefully the nap serves double duty.

Dickens kicked up his paws tonight, so he's resting comfortably.  (See photo above.  Sorry about the lighting, but I didn't want to wake him.   )  I could walk him ten miles.  Just the two of us.  The truly amazing thing about his play dates, for me, rests in the fact that ten minutes running with friends beats a boring old walk with me.  I'm good with that.  I think that learning from him and other dog owners HAS made me a better human being.

Grateful those thunder storms passed us by.  I had enough instability to deal with.  From my mother's discomfort to Dickens's hyperactivity, I do admit enormous gratitude that I'm not bald today.  Today demanded calm from me and I did my best.

So, here's to the night shift.  A time to thank the powers that are for keeping us safe, for reminding me that positive relationships energize each other, for focusing on the good that occurred from waking to sleeping, and for the strength and courage to fight another day.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


The last couple weeks have been tough on this pup.  We changed our routine, changed our walks.  The hazy, hot, and humids returned with an "ick" and I'm not as available to Dickens as I'd like to be.  He's my buddy and he does his best to make sense of my mother's care requirements over his "let's go chase something" priorities.  He hasn't actually been deprived, but change can cause a pup's head to spin.  I get that.

Another thunderstorm moved in this evening just about the time the pup-son goes for his BIG walk of the evening, so Mr. Dickens had a little temper tantrum.  As I opened the front door, Dickens noticed the rain, backed up, and (if he could) would have thrown up his paws in disgust.

In his mind, I guess, there was only one thing to do.  THE ONE THING that would make my head turn and give chase.  That's right, my little son of a gun planned his revenge upon me by grabbing my knitting, shaking the skein of yarn like a chew toy, and then promptly becoming entangled in said wooly stuff to the point where he snapped and panicked as I attempted to liberate him (and my project).

Honestly, I should have read his body language.  Earlier he began to paw the carpet as if trying to release that pent up puppy energy.  I attempted to exhaust him by playing a game of "catch the duck".  I couldn't tire him out.

At the end of the day, the yarn's fine, the pup's fine, and we'll figure out how to manage our respective energy levels.   Now, if I could just teach him to wind a ball of yarn without eating it, we'd be in a much better place.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Letter to Monday

Dear Monday,

Your visit today proved challenging and, dare I say it, miserable.  From 5 AM forward you served up a unholy mess.  You pushed me to my limits, but, dear day of the week, you are 5 minutes away from being history and, with God's help, we'll all rise to witness what Tuesday has in store.

For once I'm not going to focus on the agony you threw at us.  No, no, you aren't the story.  Sorry your 24 hours of fame are over.

I have to say tonight I sit with keyboard in hand and gratitude in my heart.  As I recently became a member of New York Times bestselling author Jon Katz latest endeavor - The Open Group for Bedlam Farm on Facebook.  The group consists of writers, photographers, painters, etc., etc.  These are wonderful, inspirational, soulful, supportive artists.  I visit the site regularly and tonight's entries warmed by heart and I managed to avoid an epic personal pity party.

One blog that spoke to me involved Gratitude.  As I sit here reflecting, I have much to be grateful for, in spite of you, Monday.  Judy has never blogged before and it's our loss.  Her site's address is www.onbeinggrateful.wordpress.com.  Check it out, I think it just might change your attitude toward others, especially me.

I'm grateful for my mother, for the nurses who care for her, for a little dog who can frustrate, but love me, I'm grateful for friends and even enemies who challenge me to call upon the best within me. Gratitude rising for every breath I take, every plant that shows its beauty, and every member of the this artist's group who reveals their souls by the work they produce.

And as I write this, Monday, I'm grateful to you for teaching me to make better choices when the black clouds are above me.

You can return next week, Monday, but please, please be gentle.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Rocksalot Cottage: Letter from My Inner Caregiver

[I named my inner caregiver "Amelia."  She's quiet, sweet, and emerges when times get tough.  Amelia has thet unique ability to raise me when I'm down and elevate my self-esteem.  The following memorializes Amelia's visit yesterday. ]

Amelia:  You OK?
Me:  No not really.  I'm having a Black Dog Day.  Learned that's what Winston Churchill dubbed his depressed days.
Amelia:  OIC, I've been watching and waited for you to get it all out before we had a chat.
Me:  I think I'm too far gone for that.  Look at me even with five minutes to myself I've make five mistakes on this knitting project.
Amelia:  Um, do you think that maybe you're doing this to yourself?  Do you think you need to accept where you are in order to change it?  Do you think that the pressure you put on yourself might be a tad unrealistic?
Me:  Do you think I really need to hear this now?  Do you think it's easy being a caregiver?  Do you think it's easy trying to keep a person safe, train a dog, homekeeping, bill paying, and not knowing what the future holds?
Amelia (handing me a tissue): I'm not saying it's easy, but I'm saying that perhaps you can make it easier on yourself.  Let's just review yesterday, for example:

Dickens has barking fit at 5:15 AM:  You wake and take him out.
Return from walk, make the dog's breakfast, & wait for coffee
Feed dog
Make Mother's breakfast while sipping coffee
Mom listens to South Pacific during breakfast
Take Dickens out for 1st mile.
Wash bedding
Make second cup of coffee
Call a friend
Pick up prescriptions at pharmacy  (BTW, you forgot one)
Do dishes
Help your mother bathe, dress.
Make third cup of coffee
Prepare lunches (Mom's and Dickens)
Grab handful of potato chips to tide you over until ???
Help Mom to living room for more political news
Take Dickens out for 2nd mile
Prepare and cook dinner
Stop yourself from going for 4th cup of coffee 
Continue laundry
Empty trash
Help Mom to bathroom and back
Eat leftovers from last night's dinner
Serve dinner to Mom & Dickens (promise yourself to eat later.)
Serve dessert
Take Dickens for evening emptying.
Mom goes to bed at 10 PM.
Me:  Not a very productive day.  Look at this place!

Amelia:  That's my point, Lady.  It'll never get done unless you pace yourself.  If you keep going "balls to the wall," you'll be done but the house will remain the same.

Me:  OK, OK.  You're right.  We have to take care of each other which brings me to the topic of chore sharing.  Amelia, you haven't been doing your part.

Amelia:  What do you want from me?  I only an inner child!  I've gotta go and give you a craving for potato chips.  That'll teach you a lesson.  Buh Bye!