Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Who's on First?

I thought I would share one of the crazy scenarios of my daily life that occurred yesterday.
I was in a department store of sorts. I say "of sorts," because it was a TJ Maxx store. (I am not ashamed to be labeled a 'Maxxanista.') Anyhow, I was perusing the handbags, and a woman passed me in the aisle. We looked at each other and smiled.

Several minutes later, we met up again in the housewares/gourmet food section (surprise!) and the conversation that ensued I will try to reconstruct as close as my brain will allow. Bear in mind I can remember details of having my tonsils out when I was under two years old, so my long term memory is pretty good):

Her: "Do I know you?"
Me: "I don't know. Do I know you?"
Her: "I think I do.....but where.....?"
Me:  "Me too you. Hmmm....."
Her: "You think you know me?"
Me:  "Well, I wouldn't go that far......I mean, not KNOW-know, just, you know...(laughing at the verbiage)"
Her:  "Yeah. Me too. I mean (laughs) I guess I know me. I should by now, being as old as I am!
Me:  "So we're talking about you knowing you, then?"
Her:   "Well, I probably don't really know YOU. I mean, you know. KNOW-know. But still......."
Me:  "Who's on first?"
Her:  "First? On what?"
Me:  "It's an old Abbott and Costello bit......."
Her:  (Looks very confused)
We both stand in awkward silence for 30 seconds)
Me:  "So, are you ready for Christmas?"
Her:  "I'm Jewish but we have a Christmas tree every year. I call it a large, pointy Channukah bush."
Me:  "Oh, that's funny. My ex-husband was Jewish and he always had a tree and presents hidden under the bed on Christmas morning as a child."
Her:  "Where's he from?"
Me:  "Brooklyn. Lived on Ocean Parkway."
Her:  "I know Ocean Parkway. My father lived there as a kid. "
Me:  "Maybe your father was my husband. (laughs)"
Her:  "Wow- now that's something to think about......"
Me:  "No, no, no- I was just kidding, of course! (laughs) Because then you'd be my daughter, and I'm not that old, and we wouldn't be wondering if we knew each other. Or if we knew ourselves."
Her:  "Oh yes. That. I feel I do know you. Maybe I've just seen you around....."
Me:  "Well, that's a distinct possibility, because I get around (smiles)."
Her:  "You just look so familiar to me....."
Me:  "I can also get familiar. In the right circumstances, of course."
Her:  (Totally not "getting" my witty banter) "Maybe...... do you ever go to California?"
Me:  "Every summer. And used to live there. Do you think........?"
Her:  "Yes. Yes. I'm sure that's it. It was in Long Beach."
Me:  "No, that's not where I go. In fact I've only been there once, when I took a cruise to Mexico. That was in 2002."
Her:  "Celebrity?"
Me:  "Me? Nooooooo......"
Her: (laughing) "I mean Celebrity Cruise line..."
Me:  "I knew that. (I didn't) I was joking. Yes, Celebrity."
Her: "No. That's wrong."
Me:  "No, that's right. Celebrity."
Her:  "I mean that's not where I saw you. It was more recently. Are you sure you don't go to the Long Beach area?"
Me:  "I kind of know that about myself. I mean, you know, as far as I know me. Which is pretty well."
Her: (sigh) "This is driving me crazy."
Me:  "It's probably that we've just seen each other around town. Do you live here?"
Her:  "No. (offering nothing further)"
Me:  "Where do you live?"
Her:  "Me? (duh) I live in Scottsdale."
Me:  "Um. I thought you said you don't live in Scottsdale....just now....?"
Her:  "Oh! (laughing) Of course..."
Me:  "'Cause I doubt you live in this store...."
Her:  "I have it. It was last year at this time at the Friedman's holiday party in Paradise Valley!"
Me:  "What was?"
Her:  "That's where I met you!!! You were with........."
Me: (interrupting) "No. I don't know them and I wasn't at their party."
Her:  "Are you sure? Because I'm almost positive that's where.."
Me:  "I make it a policy to never drink so much that I forget where I am. Or where I've been."
Her:  "Dammit. That was a great party, by the way. You would love Dodie."
Me:  "Dodie?"
Her:  "Friedman.  She is so like you! Very witty and lots of fun. And I have a feeling you're a fun gal."
Me:  "I'm nothing if not fun. Personified. (laughs)"
Her:  "They're on a cruise this year, but when they come back, we have to get together. I mean, you and Dodie and me. Lunch, or something."
Me:  "Well, I love meeting new people. Sure, let's do that."
We exchange names/numbers.
Me:  "Well, nice talking to you. I have to run..."
Her: "Me too. Can I give you a hug?"
Me:  "I'm a hugger, and 'tis the season, so, sure."
We head off in opposite directions as she says:
"I'm so glad I ran into you again!"

"Again?" I thought.

Who's on first?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Has it been a year already? The holidays are quickly approaching, and though they conjure up joy, peace, and good will among men, the reality is that for millions of people, the holidays are welcomed with as much enthusiasm as a root canal. There are ways, however, to make it all far less painful, and possibly rewarding!

First, identify the underlying cause. There is one, and usually they are rooted in loneliness or anxiousness. "Alone" doesn’t have to mean “lonely,” and worrying about the future wastes your present.

Here are some suggestions that have worked for me on those "off" holidays:
  1. Force yourself to go out into the world, and look for someone to help. This can be volunteering at homeless, children’s, women’s or animal shelters, nursing homes and house-bound seniors, Food kitchens, and more. Or start small; all around you there are people that can be helped in small ways that will make their days brighter. I am quite tall, for example. When I go to the market, I always offer to help reach an item for a more “vertically-challenged” person who appears to be looking upward on any aisle. They love it, and you will feel great. Remember, the more love you give, the more you get.
A link to find where to volunteer:
  1. Get moving! If you have a piece of exercise equipment at home, use it relentlessly. It will promote endorphins, so you’ll feel better, and while everyone is piling on pounds, you’ll be whittling them off and looking great. If you have no equipment, climbing stairs or even jogging in place will work wonders.
  1. Get busy! What have you been putting off that needs to be done around your house? We all have those "projects" that we put off. No time like the present!
  1. Pamper yourself. Indulge in long hot bubble baths while listening to your favorite music. Keep hydrated, and not by hitting the bottle, unless it’s water! Get plenty of sleep, but as a reward, not an escape. After all that exercise, it shouldn’t be difficult.
  1. Avoid listening to music on the radio and watching television. Oddly, the joyous Christmas music is mostly sad. Avoid cable television from at least Thanksgiving to New Year’s. The shows on every channel will be holiday-themed. Rent your favorite upbeat DVD’s and watch them for entertainment, or find an instructional channel and learn something new.

  2. If none of the above appeal to you: Ignore them altogether. If you are alone and you hate that fact, sometimes it’s just best to make Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s “just another day.” It’s a challenge if you leave your home, but I recommend at least going out to a movie. Pick one that’s not holiday-themed, preferably an action movie. They help to get the adrenaline flowing. No sappy romances!

    As a last resort, have some chuckles or a smile listening to my "Helpful Holiday Tips" at Laughter always was, and ever will be, the best medicine.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Spiritual Upgrades

These days, it seems, we are inundated with reminders to "update," "upgrade," "renew," "revise," "replace" everything. You can't sell a house that isn't "updated" anymore. When I was a kid, updating meant we got our tattered old sofa reupholstered. Today it means we've simply changed our taste as easily as we breathe, and we want a "new look." So, not only does the sofa go altogether, so does the whole living room! Every single corner of the room is made sparkly new again from flooring to window coverings to paint to furniture. And then, after an unknown period of time, we change our minds once again, and spend money we don't need to spend, and probably really can't afford, to make the room all "new" again.

(This was posted online, not my home)

This is done with every room in the house, top to bottom, inside and out, mostly on whim, not born of any real need, but stemming from boredom with the choices we may not have made that long ago.

But what about our souls? Where, in all of this need to redo, revise and make new again, do we work our spirit into the equation?

Looking externally for a shot of adrenaline is like eating a chocolate bar for energy when you are tired, and your body simply needs sleep. 

I have been on a never-ending spiritual growth quest for a long time, but never so much as the past few years. Last year was hard on me. I lost people I loved through death; I had bizarre falling outs with close friends. My daughter and I became estranged for nearly 9 months. None of it made sense to me. I mean, of course, people will pass from their earthly bodies; it's inevitable for us all. And it was hard, as it always is, to lose ones you love from being in your life as they have been. There were times I was so completely depleted, that the old me of 20 years ago would have looked for band aids in the form of purchases I couldn't afford and didn't need to give me that instant, albeit quickly fleeting, lift. Let's face it, to buy a new outfit, jewelry, - whatever ones particular weakness is, makes you feel happy again.

But like that chocolate bar for energy, it gives you an instant high, but a quick lower than low. And you've slapped a band aid on the real cancer of your life. 

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003, I raged and cried. "Why me?" I asked over and over again. "I'm the least complacent and most grateful person I know!" I remember the morning I was awakened at 7:30 am from a pleasant dream by a phone call with a voice that had the power to change my life saying simply, "I'm so sorry. It's cancer," from the doctor who had biopsied my breast 2 days earlier. 

It was a Saturday. She had called me the night before and said, "Have a glass of wine and relax. I'm sure it's not cancer," promising to phone me the next day as soon as the radiologist got back to her. I had questioned, "On a Saturday?" She had assured me, that yes, it was actually a good sign that he wanted to do a "second smear." It portended good things. 

I cried so hard that day, all day, that by the time I went to bed, my face was puffed and my eyes red and swollen to allow mere slits to see through. I looked into the mirror that night and said aloud, "Why can't it be yesterday? Everything was perfect yesterday. Everything was fine. Why me, God?"

After a very fitful night of dozing off and awakening with a racing heartbeat and a stuffed up nose, I shot up in bed early the next morning with a start, apologizing to God. I realized that nothing was perfect the day before. Nothing was fine. The doctor has said it was Stage 1, and it that it was 8-10 years old. That I found out at stage 1 after eight to ten years of it growing in my body was a blessing, not a curse. I didn't find out I had cancer, which was always there anyhow, to die. I found out because it was time for me to do something about it so I wouldn't die. It was, again, a blessing. And I got on my knees and gave thanks to God for allowing me to live. 

Along the way, I had continued blessings throughout the process. When I was informed that they would have to remove the "sentinel" lymph nodes- or the nodes closest to the cancer which are draining the cancer, identified by a radioactive marker, and biopsy them, I was scared to death. There can be dozens of sentinels, and if any showed suspicious cells, it would mean the removal of all lymph nodes under my arm, and a myriad of resulting problems and ongoing potential discomfort and swelling the rest of my life.

I had but one sentinel. It was clear. 

Then, my surgeon told me that when she "got in there, there was a nasty 3-inch ball" that she didn't know if it was all cancer, or what, so she had taken the whole wad with margins, and in the center, was a small grape-sized cancer, with "fingers" that reached within mere centimeters to escaping the mass of tissue, which, she said, was scar tissue. 

My body had been encasing my cancer with scar tissue all that time, to prevent it from spreading. 

After what seemed an interminably long wait for the report (due to having my surgery 3 days before Christmas), I got the call that they had gotten it all. I would need radiation, but no chemo.

Before I had my surgery, I had conferred with different doctors I would be seeing along the path, including a radiation oncologist, who had, to my taste, a very dismissive and unsympathetic manner, so when I called the group to make an appointment to consult about my radiation in several weeks, I requested another doctor.

In the meantime, I did research online about radiation choices and decided I would like, if possible, to get the mammosite implant, or brachytherapy, an application that was relatively new and involved implanting a balloon into the vacated tumor site, pumping it up with saline solution, and then going in twice a day for five days for high-dosage radiation to be administered to the specific site of the tumor and its surrounding area, as opposed to the tried and true external beam radiation. It did have a lot of criteria to meet to qualify for that procedure, however, so I wasn't sure I could get it. I kept reading the name of the doctor who rejuvenated an idea of a Dr. Geoffrey Keynes of 1920's London,  fifty years later in New Orleans, a Dr. Kuske, who currently resided in Chicago. (History of Brachytherapy LinkI printed up a list of questions and references, and headed for my consultation, six weeks following surgery.

A man with a kindly face in doctor's jacket, walked into the examining room, hand outstretched. "I want to thank you for choosing me for your radiation oncologist," he said. "Dr. Walker told me you are one of the funniest people she ever met, that you had the whole O.R. laughing until you went under. I can't tell you how vital that is to the healing process!"

I shook his hand, and said, "Thank you.....but you have me at a disadvantage here! I don't know your name yet!" He laughed and apologized, "Oh, I'm sorry. I'm Dr. Kuske." I looked down at my papers and said, "Are you related to the guy who invented the mammosite implant?"  He smiled, "That's me. I just moved here 2 months ago."  Were he still in Chicago practicing, I would have had to wait six months for a consultation, negating any chance of getting the treatment, as I needed to start immediately. He warned me in advance that he didn't think I would be able to qualify, since the tumor was close to the skin and the radiation would burn my skin from the inside-out. So he did the ultrasound to see.  As he was looking at the screen, he exclaimed to the attending nurse, "My goodness, have you ever seen anything like this?" (I love how they forget the patient is there!) She responded that it was amazing. I said then, "Patient here! Worried patient present and listening!" Dr. Kuske apologized, saying, "I'm sorry, do you notice anything about this area?" I was looking at a huge black egg-shaped cavern, and responded, "Other than it's the size of Cleveland?" He laughed and said, "No. That it is smooth and with perfect edges. Dr. Walker must be the best surgeon ever. It looks as though there is already an implant inside!" 

It was, he said, "Textbook picture-perfect for a mammosite implant." 

There were countless happenings following, but you get the idea..

I tell you all of this because every single person has some sort of struggle they are going through at any given time. Physical, emotional, financial, mental, spiritual. And if I can help just one person to feel better or see their lives in a new perspective, lighten their burden in any small way, I will be happy.

"A great king summoned his wise men. He ordered them, 'Create for me a saying that will stabilize my inner state. When I am unhappy it will bring me joy, and when I am happy, it will remind me of sadness. It cannot be too long as I want to keep it with me always.'

The wise men consulted and contemplated deeply the king's command. Finally, they returned to the king, bearing a small box. In it, there was a ring. And inside the ring was inscribed the following words:

"This, too, shall pass."

(A Sufi tale, in "Essential Sufiism")

What does all of this have to do with our collective need to forever update, upgrade, renew, our home environs? I could have followed the path I historically followed when faced with unpleasantness, discomfort, fear: Buy something, do something, eat something that will take the hurt and fear away, even for awhile. Fortunately, I have not been cursed, if you will, with a propensity for drug, alcohol, gambling, etc., addiction. But I did formerly stuff my emotional well with food during my unhappy marriage, and it took me a long time following my divorce to recover from those implications. Buying things used to be my personal addiction. To excess. Things I didn't need or necessarily even want. Things that made me happy for various fleeting amounts of time, until I needed another band aid. 

Rather like upgrading, updating, replacing, modernizing, our living spaces. What about our true homes: our souls? 

Instead of looking for an instant "high" to cope with my cancer, just as coping with the end of a 25+ year marriage earlier, I turned inward. I sat with myself, looked inward, and as a surgeon would with a scalpel, carefully dissected all of my emotions, fears, failings, faults,- and forgave myself all of them, one by one. After my divorce a few years before the cancer, I had started that painful process. It wasn't easy; worthwhile things seldom are.  But I had already started the work in earnest then, learning to forgive, accept, and (yikes!) actually love myself,  and now it was time to continue my education. 

And work I have, beginning with my A, B, C's:

Acknowledging that flawed though I may be, it is perfectly all right, as long as I am willing to not only accept my failings, but forgive them, and learn and grow from them.
Bowing, or surrendering my ego and letting my spirit lead the way. We can manipulate almost anything to make it happen in our lives, but it's so true, "Be careful what you wish for," for in most cases, you won't be happy with what you get. 
Continuous expression of gratitude for the abundant blessings in every minute of my life. If you are reading this, you are blessed in this moment. You're alive. You have your eyesight. You are not in terrible pain or need (or you'd not be reading this!) and you have material things many don't have- such as the computer or phone or tablet to read this on. The list goes on and on, but I'm sure you follow me.
Fast-forward to a year ago at this time. I had lost 3 friends to death. A few others from bizarre falling outs, and my only daughter and I were completely estranged. I was not happy.  I realized that the holidays were just around the corner, and as I always spend my Thanksgiving and Christmas at my daughter and son-in-law's home, I was going to be alone. And miserable. Again, I realized that this was a time for more "higher education," and I looked inward, then outward to know what to do. The first thing I realized was that I needed to get out of my ego, my own "poor me" syndrome, (which I call the real PMS!) and help someone else who needed help more than I did, and I volunteered to serve Thanksgiving dinner at St. Vincent de Paul's charity dining room, for working poor families. It's almost as far as Tucson (yes, I'm exaggerating) and in a bad area, but I felt good to have that to look forward to.

Right after I had signed on for that, literally, perhaps even the next day, I was leaving my house at 3:15 in the afternoon with four errands to do. It was late, and I got into my car with my mind full of a million things, and thinking and planning what and where I would go first, and in what order. 

A bolt- that's the only way I can describe this- came into my brain, penetrating through all of my jumbled thinking, telling me to "check Fandango for a movie" at a nearby theater. It was so forceful, so bizarre, that I said aloud, "Whaaattt???" and proceeded to go back to ordering my errands. The thought blazed through once again. "Fandango. Movie. Check." 

I literally turned off my engine, and talking to myself all the way, went back upstairs to get on my computer and look at the offerings at this particular theater. As I scanned the list, I was frustrated and annoyed at myself for doing this, but I kept on. "Saw that." "Not interested in that."  and thinking also that I had seen two movies in the past week already! Then I saw it: "The Way"- at the bottom of the list. I'd never heard of it, so I quickly went to see the synopsis, noting that it started at 3:50 pm. "Man learns of his son's death in France...blah blah blah" I quickly dismissed it as probably a war film, which I don't like. And, as I said, it was starting at 3:50 and now it was 3:30. I could make it, but I'd have to hurry. 

I got back into my car, and reordered my list of errands I needed to do, chiding myself for wasting yet more time. I had determined that I would head to Trader Joe's first, and started down the straight shot street to go there, when I suddenly realized that I was on the 101 North, which is the way I take to go to that theater! It was like an out-of-body experience. I had no recollection of turning onto the highway, yet there I was, headed to the theater, and out of the way of my first planned destination!

Scolding myself all the way into the lobby and to the ticket machine, I still did not want to see that damned movie! So, after purchasing the ticket and being told "last screen to the left," I immediately headed to the right. It was now 3:45 pm, and I was mad at myself. First of all, I had no time or interest in seeing a movie that day, never mind that one, but now I had probably missed half the previews. And I never do that. I finally decided to see "Ides of March" (again), which was starting at 4 pm. I went into the auditorium and there was not one living soul there. It was a big screen and dark, and well, just plain creepy. Resigned and disgusted, I headed to the last one on the left, to see my ticketed film.

When I got there, I was shocked to see quite a number of people there - and for a 3:50 pm movie that I'd never heard of on a Wednesday! I settled into my seat in the back row and watched what was, for me, the best film I saw last year. It moved me so, I sat for a few minutes after the end titles and credits to just absorb it all. (See a clip for this fabulous movie, below).
 I realized then and there that I needed to go on a spiritual retreat. 

(As an aside, I did an interview on my podcast with the wonderful Yorick van Wageningen, who played Joost in the movie, and we became fast friends. Hear that interview here:( Yorick Interview, 12/11)

I went directly home following the movie, knowing that I simply must go on a spiritual retreat, and it had to meet several criteria. First, it had to be in an older-than-the-United States country, and it had to be spiritually driven, not disguised as spiritual, when it was more about money. Then, it had to be reasonably (read: cheap) priced, happening over Christmas, AND I had to be able to use my Delta Skymiles for the airfare. All seemed pretty insurmountable, but on the long list of spiritual retreats, one popped out, no big ad, not even bold type, simply stating: :"Silent Stay in Assisi." 

Geographically challenged, I wasn't even sure exactly where Assisi was, but I thought maybe Spain or Portugal, and it sure as hell was old, so I clicked on it and read further. (Of course it is, in fact, Italy.) Before this truly ends up being a novel rivaling "War and Peace" in length, I will tell you now that it was reasonably priced, there were 2 spots left for the next one, which was over Christmas, and I could get a ticket to Rome and back using my Skymiles, albeit of the highest tier of miles there was - 175,000 air miles. Still, I felt it was meant to be, and made a plan to go, all by myself.

I was second-guessing myself right up until the 21st of December, when I left, because not only was it a spiritual retreat thousands of miles away from Arizona, but it was a silent stay. No TV, computer, phone, or even much talking! And the travel- it ended up being a nightmare trip- over 30 hours to get there when my plane was changed to going through Salt Lake City to Paris, then on Alitalia to Rome, then another 5 hours of train rides to Assisi. But I got there, and it was absolutely magical, serene,
(Door to my room in the 300 year old restored farmhouse)

(Assisi street at Christmas)

During my 8 days there, I learned so much about myself and peace and gratitude in, and for my life. I learned how to center myself in each moment, to exist there, nowhere else, through assimilating our daily silent meditations and spiritual yoga. (I will tell you about this at the end). I was relentless in baring myself to the core level and letting my spirit come through, overriding my ego. I met wonderful people. Ate wonderful food. And, no, I did not - to my surprise and shock- miss my phone, computer, TV or constant communication. I found a quiet confidence, serenity, and wholeness that I didn't realize I had been missing.

When we are constantly seeking extraneous measures to fulfill our emotional needs, we are stifling our very souls, which are being muted by our living in our egos (brains).

Each and every precious moment is our life, past, present, and future. Everything is in the now, the moment. And if you realize that and allow yourself to experience each moment fully present, you truly live, not simply exist. In most moments of ones' life, there is nothing truly needed. 
To follow your spirit, not be a slave to your ego, you live your life exuberantly, out loud. But it all starts with learning how to be alone. To ruthlessly look at what you would like to change about yourself, and change it. Not by looking outward toward things to ease and cover the pain and fear, to be emotional band aids on the cancer of our lives. 

Here are some suggestions for making that happen:
1. When you feel anxious, frightened, lost, angry, - any negative emotions,- find a quiet place and open yourself to spirit. What I do is that I lift my hands as high as I can over my head, forming a pyramid or triangle with my thumbs, forefingers, and other fingers touching, feet slightly apart and center myself in the moment by breathing in through my nose, 3-5 long, deep breaths, and slowly exhaling through pursed lips, only through my mouth. I then say the following:
I am present.
I am listening.
I am grateful.
Then I simply listen. 
You will hear nothing and everything. But you will be intent on doing nothing but listening. Nothing. And no other random thoughts can come in. If you find that they are, you aren't intent. Imagine that you were told that you were going to die if you didn't hear a pin drop at an unscheduled interval. Believe me, you wouldn't be thinking or worrying about anything else but listening for that pin to drop. Make it that serious. In a few days or a week of doing this exercise at least twice a day for five to 10 or more minutes, you won't have to scare yourself into listening anymore. But what you will find is that you will have more "gut feelings," "premonitions," and hunches coming through that all work to your advantage. That is your higher self, your spirit. When we get so busy in our busy-ness, our spirit or higher self often can't make it through all of the jumbled cross-currents. Doing this one thing alone will help you find immensely more peace and reduce stress in your life. If you are out in your car or somewhere and you find yourself getting stressed, say it and do it there, (without the hand/pyramid thing!)  right where you are. 

Next, start your day off before you ever get out of bed with what I call gratitudenals. First thank you should be for allowing you to wake up another day. It can go from there, thank you for my good health, thank you for my eyesight, that I can breathe clearly, that I am awakening in this nice bed, in a home or apartment with a roof over my head. Thank you for the birds singing, the sunshine, the beautiful blue sky, the rain that the earth needs to grow, etc., etc., continue in the shower. Thank you for this water that cleanses me, the source that delivers it. Thank you for this nice hot coffee to wake me up, thank you get the idea. Don't stop till you have said at least 50 nonstop gratitudenals. Or for at least 10 consecutive minutes. Continue giving thanks throughout your day and evening. Thank you for an easy commute. Thank you for this beautiful sunset. Thank you for the nice person I met at the store- whatever. And do it often. End your day with more gratitudenals in the form of prayer, but don't ask for things, just give thanks for what you have and what you want to have as though you already do.  God/the Universe is limitless. Nothing is too much or impossible.

Be humble and look to serve others every day, even in some small way. Let that person ahead of you in traffic. Surrender your place in a checkout line to the person behind you who has 3 items to your 25. Look for ways to help brighten someone's day, even with just a smile and a greeting. Strive to be more selfless and less selfish. And that extends to all living things, and to the earth itself.

Forgive your offenders. Easy to say, sure. But even easier to do. We are all human, let's face it, and sometimes someone will hurt or offend us in some way. Some forgiveness is more challenging than others. Those are the ones that count the most. Show the character and spirit you have by being the bigger person and letting it go. We are not here to judge nor punish. We are simply here to learn and practice unconditional love. Forgiveness is the first step to that end. I say to myself, "He's (she's, they're) just doing the best they can." And I let it go. Bygones!

When you forgive others, make sure you have also forgiven yourself. Love yourself as much as you love others, even more. You will no longer have the desire to compete with newer, bigger, better, "things." You will have serene self-confidence and approval from your spirit essence for being true to yourself. 

Each night when I go to bed, before I say my gratitudenals and prayers, I go over the day and try to pick out 3 things I learned about myself, others, or life that day. They can be profound or just kind of logical. If I can't come up with three, I've wasted precious time on this earth. 

We all have a shelf life on this earth, and we all have the choice of how we want to live, what we choose to make a priority and what can take a back seat. 

For me, I love my funky decorating style. No one comes into my house that doesn't feel like they could fall asleep in any chair; they are that comfortable. I am years behind in many "updates" and "upgrades" in my decorating, but it's home, and I'm serene and confident enough to let that be enough.

At the end of my life, please let me look into a loving pair of eyes, not be surrounded by things with no soul that will "outlive" us all, but who can't love me back. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Life is a canvas we paint on each day, starting off with the brilliant sunrise of dawn, as we grow toward the nocturne of our lives, with the purple dusky serenade of night to come. We can paint our days as colorful as we wish; or we can end up with a muddy composition written entirely in the minor key. I miss my parents. Of course, one always does, when they have passed from this earth. Certain times of the year, or smells, sounds,- evoke an emptiness that can become palpable, if we don't get busy with our paintbrushes and make the memories bright and exuberant on our canvases, which I mostly always do. As Mother's Day approaches, I am missing my mom more than ever. I was very close to my dad, had a tumultuous relationship growing up with my domineering mother, yet as I have blogged before, became best of friends with her before she passed in 2002, a month short of her 90th birthday. I wrote the following persona poem nineteen years ago, and it was subsequently published in an anthology.

In a recurring dream, my father had died. I wrote this poem imagining my mother's voice, of what might come to pass when he did eventually die, out of empathy for the elderly condition. Several months later, my dad died suddenly, while on vacation.        


Another one gone, just like that, taken
as though stealing a gem,
no need for sirens anymore. 

We'd only played Gin two nights ago; 
I'd complained my arthritis was kicking up. 
She laughed at my excuses, then said, 
"I feel lucky." 

This photograph in black and white 
gives a flat, unreal image of 
the colors, the textures, of taffeta, 
chiffon, velvet and satin, 
we girls in our formals, with minks 
draped around us, the men in tuxedos 
with fresh boutonnieres. 

Martinis, Manhattans, Revlon's "Love That Red" 
lips, and matting the shine of callow skin 
before we took off in assorted pumpkins for 
The Nocturne Club

Saturday nights spent under a mirrored moon-ball 
that sprayed diamonds around the darkened room, 
as we danced to Glen Miller's 
String of Pearls...

Did I preen longer in the women's lounge 
because so many husbands flirted with me? 
They said that I looked like Loretta Young; I coyly 
blushed, under well-rouged cheeks. 

Now I look in the mirror, and only see Death, 
crooking his gnarled finger at me. 
In this time-worn photo, my eyes are as bright 
as my taffeta gown, of emerald green. 

"Four o'clock," I whisper, to the man in the picture, 
with his hand on my shoulder, and a smile 
that held promise. I pour the cocktails: 
A Manhattan for me, a Martini for him. The Big Bands play 
soft, in a minor key. 

"What a shame about Helen, so suddenly," he'd say. 
I stare ahead, nodding, 
and not toasting anything, wait 
for the liquor, like Novocaine.

(Copyright © 1993, and may not be reproduced in any manner.) 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Room For Rent - Great Location

It's been a sad couple of weeks for me. Two friends died within ten days of each other.

They were very different people, and, in fact, didn't much like each other. I, however, cared a lot about both of them - would even try to "promote" each to the other behind the scene, - to no avail. They were, if not oil and water, at least an annoying chafe upon the other's skin.

I'd known Patti for three years, finding a room for rent in her Pebble Beach home, where I'd first gone the summer of 2007 to escape the Scottsdale heat. We hit it off immediately, though I am sure, Leo that I am, and very loquacious, I talked far too much for her more quiet demeanor. And I was in a state of semi-angst over my now-ex "boy toy," as I called him. That in itself is funny, since although he is ten years younger than I am, he is no more a "boy" than I am a "teenager." However, we had this weird love/hate dramatic relationship that would drive us individually and jointly crazy, but both being fire signs (him, an Aries) there was that pull, and the thrill of each making the other feel ALIVE. Even if at times it was but a mere tumultuous existence.

I bent Patti's ear a lot that summer, and though patient and kind, I was aware that many times she would rather be filing her nails or pulling weeds in the yard than to be listening to a repeat of something she'd undoubtedly heard before. But we forged a friendship based on similarities and differences, which, after all, is what relationships consist of, right?

She had been divorced from a husband who for all intents and purposes had traits that could have been my ex-husband. Patti, however, had found her true love early-on following her divorce, and they had shared the last thirty-something years together. I, on the other hand, gave up a few years back. Partially due to the ex-boy toy's drama and immaturity and partially due to meeting several men who, although they may have had paunches, shiny heads, and steamer trunk-sized baggage, felt that because they may (or may not- it remained to be learned) have had a couple nickels to rub together, they really deserved a juvenile Barbie doll arm-ornament. Much hot air + little substance = not for me.

But Patti and I had art in common, as well. She, having painted and owned an art gallery locally, and I, a painter. We talked art, recipes, life, and histories, other housemates (she rented 3 rooms out) and by the next year, when I returned for the second summer to her home, we had communicated by phone and emails several times over the eight months in between, and were genuine friends. I loved her, as I love all my friends, - for all that they are and all that they are not. They are perfectly perfect for my diverse circle, and valued equally.

This summer of 2008, the "boy toy" was in the past except for a lingering on-again, off-again friendship, so she was spared the angst, and thus, the earbending therapy sessions. It was a wonderful summer.

In 2009 I decided to rent up in Santa Cruz on the north end of Monterey Bay- my old stomping grounds, where I'd lived nearby for several years. But I visited Patti and stayed in touch frequently that summer, in spite of the 46 mile drive.

Having had several unexpected huge house expenses early this year, I was going to grit my teeth and stick out the triple-digit summer here, feeling I couldn't justify the money to go to California. It was to be the first of the past five summers, and I was not looking forward to it. As it turned out, I didn't have to. Due to an odd series of events, by the end of April, it was decided I would go after all, and stay at Patti's house again. It was cinched when she emailed me right before a trip to the "Drink Local Wine Conference" in Virginia, in late April, saying, "It's been a very mysterious year. Your room is empty! It seems to be waiting for you..."

Now let me explain the living situation at that house. Patti designed and had the house built in the 70's. She claimed she didn't anticipate or even give a thought to the perfect set-up for future rentals of having one wing to the right separate from the rest, and with 3 bedrooms, two of which had their own outside doors, and a separate common entrance as well. It was to keep her three young kids in their own wing. Worked out perfectly, and the funky house of mixed colors and eclectic style in serious need of some updating sits in a neighborhood of multi-million dollar houses and mansions, within eyesight of the famous 17 Mile Drive, and the Bird Rock scenic viewpoint. Even in this bad economy, it, too, is well over two million dollars in value. As is.

So three rooms are always rented out, and often to not the most harmonious of housemates. The first year, Vince, a beer-guzzling, Dinty Moore Beef Stew out-of-the-can eating creep flushed a can top (Dinty Moore?) down the toilet and caused major plumbing bills. Much to the disgust of the young Jehovah's Witness housekeeper, Emily, he would have loud drunken sex in the other housemate's room. Gratefully, I was never present in the house at the time, finding out the following summer. I only agreed to come back the next year on the firm assurance that they were both gone, not even having been privy to this newly-divulged information.

The next year one room was occupied by a man who was never there, and the other by a former "Four Freshmen" singer (a group from the 60's). He was a little odd, but nothing I couldn't handle. It wasn't too bad, and a far cry better than the previous year.

This past summer, there were two new roomers: Sue, a Taiwanese-American who teaches Mandarin Chinese at the DLI (Defense Language Institute, Monterey), and Richard, a fellow-Leo, colorful large personality (understandably, being a male Leo!) former opera singer/stage performer, married (several times) divorced older man. His constant humming and singing - Patti had warned me ahead of time - will "drive you (me) crazy!" But it didn't at all. He was sand rubbing skin to Patti, and he didn't really like her, either. Richard was a talker, which, as mentioned earlier, Leos have a penchant for. The first time he caught me upstairs in the kitchen and started telling me about his life story, making me his captive audience for an hour, Patti had come up and interrupted him in a lightly chastising manner to give me, she later confided, an "out."

But I was captivated by his stories, his colorful past as an opera singer, stage performer, and so much more, and welcomed the opportunities to hear more. We fell into an unplanned friendship, though I'm sure he would argue that it was not a "friendship," as he shunned them. My entire birthday week he sent me a new email card every single day, and when that week was over, I missed the daily notices terribly. He would go to this little bakery he found with a Russian woman who baked fabulous chewy cookies with raisins and nuts and cinnamon and spices and bring some for me. Reluctantly, - let's face it - it was a struggle - he would accept little offerings from me once in awhile. Food, afternoon coffee, and so forth.

He took me out for crab cakes and mojitos on my birthday at my favorite place for crab cakes, The Fish Wife. We went to hear a 95 year old pianist (amazing) play, to an "Arias in August" performance in Monterey, where I met a new friend, to hear a wonderful guitar player he'd known for years. Sometimes he'd slide a New Yorker magazine cartoon under my door. His presence was so felt, so immense, that when he went away for a couple days, the house seemed cavernous.

Patti was ill. She went for tests and found out she had stage 4 brain and lung cancer on July 28th. On August 15th, her mate took her to the hospital in the middle of the night, where I visited her often. Some days she was smiling and chatting, joking about her balding head, only to be at death's door the next visit. The prognosis was not good. I prayed and cried often, but I feared in my heart, as Richard had told me, that it wouldn't be long.

I last saw her at the hospital on September 10th. When I'd rounded the corner into her room, there was a man in a suit, sitting up close to her, next to her bed, handing her a tissue. Unseen, I'd gone to the nurse's station, to learn it was the chaplain. After waiting for nearly 40 minutes, he came out and I asked him if it would be better I not go in. He said, "She's very quiet today, but she had some things on her mind. I think she would be happy to know you'd come by." I went in to find her sitting up with a tray of horrible-looking food in front of her, staring into space. "I know you're very tired," I said, "but I just wanted to let you know I'm thinking of you."

She insisted I sit down. It was the only time Roc was not there; she was alone. I told her that it was no wonder she wasn't eating that awful looking food, the macaroni was more orange than any pumpkin I'd seen. She laughed, perked up, and we talked and laughed for another fifteen minutes, until her son came in. "I'll be back," I said, "I love you," kissing her forehead as I'd always done before I left. Two days later she was moved to a "rehab" (as she was told) - hospice, where she died on September 20th.

Richard was not at the house when I left to drive back to Arizona on September 17th, having been gone the entire week to visit his brother-in-law. Sue was not there, either, as she would get home late, go to work early, and leave Friday after work to drive to LA every single weekend, where her family was, coming back late on Sunday night. Patti's mate, Roc, was never home, living by her side since she went into the hospital. The house was as empty and sad as my heart felt, leaving for what was probably the last time, checking the tomato plant once more, bagging up food for Richard, sticking my shiny birthday bow and candle he'd attached to my door a month earlier on his.

The day before I'd left, I was upstairs watering Patti's indoor "topsy turvy" huge tomato plant - something she'd always asked about every hospital visit, worrying that it would die in her absence (I assured her, it would not. I was taking good care of it), and I picked off some notes on the old piano, not knowing why the melody had been running through my mind. Uncertain, although I had taken eight years of piano, but tentatively striking the E, D-Sharp, E, D-Sharp, C-Sharp.....I found the melody on nearly the first try, even with the three-plus decades since my lessons. The words running through my mind
Common sense may tell you
That the ending will be sad,
And now's the time to break and run away.
But what's the use of wond'ring
If the ending will be sad.................?

What, indeed. I knew that the ending would be sad, is always sad, because it's an ending. I've always had trouble letting go, and since my marriage ended, I'd become the "Queen of Letting Go," having had many losses in my life. But still, it wasn't easy. It never is.

I had said to Richard that I wanted his number- that we needed to stay in touch. He told me no, that I would never hear from him again. Since he had quite the sardonic and often sarcastic sense of humor (which Patti neither "got" nor appreciated) I only half-believed him. We were friends, for godssake. We shared our stories, histories, sat down to eat together, visited each other's rooms, amused and sometimes annoyed each other (me him mostly; it was his nature). Surely he couldn't mean such a thing. I knew he liked me in spite of his curmudgeonly ways. He'd shared his typed book of letters to and from whom I believe to be the love of his life, in Australia. I'd listened to his CD's and tapes with him singing. He had carved a place in my heart. Surely I had done the same. You don't simply shun friends. Do you?

After I came home, Patti died within two days. Richard emailed me a few times to tell me of it and catch me up on the news or lack of at the house. He planned on staying till the end of the year, then heading on to another place up in the Bay area, ever leading the nomadic lifestyle. He once told me, "I do as I please," and he truly does.

He was due to have retinal surgery soon, and I sent him well wishes. I didn't hear back, so after a few days, I wrote him again, telling him that his "JM" as he named me (Jewish Mother) needed to know all was well. Still nothing.

Several days ago I got a notification from Hallmark that an e-card had been sent, and one that he opened it the next day. (Before I came home, I'd sent a couple spaced cards for fun and forgotten about them.) Still no word.

On Wednesday of this past week, I sent out a notice to several of my email contacts of my upcoming radio shows and guests for this week, something I haven't done for awhile, though I had in the past. Richard had said he liked my shows, that I was a good interviewer. I felt proud at the time, and realized that his opinion carried weight I'd not considered before. He was on the list of names I'd sent the notice to, and I received an email on my Blackberry as I was leaving my chiropractor's office late that day saying simply, " previously indicated. No more emails." It was from Richard.

I felt crushed, but it wasn't until I got to my mailbox several minutes later and found a letter from him that the harsh reality of it all started sinking in. I put the letter next to me on my bed, and turned on TV, got on my laptop and started answering email. I couldn't even open it for a long time, but when I did, the immediacy of tears rolling down my face shocked me all the same. It started off: "Dearest, darling, delightful, intelligent, Queen Hostess of the Blog Radios Shows and all around superior human being - of endless facets of human accomplishment- those facts being clearly established - I am writing to say that you do not need another friend...."

The utter arrogance, to tell me how many friends I "need!" Richard has cut off friends, business associates, even his children and grandchildren. I should have expected nothing more. It seemed the only precious few who remain in his life were former lovers, so I would not be kept. I was hurt and angry all at once. Mostly hurt, as the realization that I'd lost not one, but two friends in the space of ten days set in. Both had died. One who wanted to live and fought death all the way, and the other who pulled the trigger himself. In the end, it matters little how. Both are dead.

In 1964, it took but thirty minutes of collaboration between Jules Styne and Bob Merrill to write the song that became Barbra Streisand's first Top 40 song:
People who need people
are the luckiest people in the world....

I am unashamed to say: I need people. I love people. My heart has been beat up many times, sliced open, dashed to the ground, and yet it remains open, and so it can be filled again. That which is sewn up and sealed shut, can never be full, can never be healed. And that is a sad waste of life and love.

Two people dear to me have died, - one by inches, and the other by design, and I am sad. Very, very sad.

Yet I can say, and mean it: "I am," as the song goes, "the luckiest person in the world!" I will never have "enough" friends that I can add no more. And, like my late dear friend, Patti, I will always have a room for rent. In my heart.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


I guess I'm in some weird nostalgia place right now, because the past couple of days things keep popping into my brain that I miss, and I started a list.

Maybe it's the position of the planets, moon phase, or some other cosmic occurrence that is causing these random thoughts; two friends curiously report the same.

Please feel free to add comments with your own things you miss, too!

  • Cashmere Bouquet and Dier Kiss talcum powders
  • Baskin Robbins English Toffee ice cream (not an ice cream fan, but loved this one!)
  • Prescriptives cosmetics 'Magic' line
  • Reaching a real English speaking person on any phone service call
  • Frito Lay 'Bistro Gourmet' Potato Chips (Best ever)
  • Carnations that actually had that spicy carnation fragrance
  • A long handwritten letter from a friend
  • Woolworth (and other drugstores) Soda Fountains (always the best burgers & fries)
  • The Door County (Wisconsin) of my youth, including: Peninsula State Park camping & Friday night bonfires with whole skinned pine trees in a 'teepee shape; Gill's Rock smoked whitefish; Bailey's drugstore & do-it-yourself sundaes; Cornell's Riding Stable, & 'Uncle Thad," who let us wash dishes for free horseback rides; "Pebble Beach," and skipping pebbles into the water; Hansen's shetland ponies and the Nickelodean collection in the barn; the village of Ephraim
  • Elizabeth Arden's 'Cabriole' perfume, my favorite, ever.
  • Square - and better yet- crinkle-cut french fries when ordering out.
  • $9.95 Oil Change specials
  • Neighborhoods with sidewalks, streetlights, and no fences between neighbors
  • Block parties & potlucks
  • Being in a movie, restaurant, rest room, fitting room, etc., withOUT cell phones ringing & having to endure loud conversations
  • 4th of July firework extravaganzas at almost every park
  • Drive In's: Movies AND restaurants
  • Airline travel that was actually fun! (i.e., no security restrictions, up to 2 free bags (no weight limit) and (hard to believe!) free hot meals!
  • Shiny chrome bumpers and grilles on cars
  • My grandmother's fried chicken
  • TV Series: Dirty Sexy Money; The Gilmore Girls; Once And Again; Reunion; Invasion; Providence
  • Worrying that gas might someday reach (shudder) $2.00!
  • Anticipating the photos you were waiting to be developed
  • Record stores (and listening booths!) And records!
  • Julia Child's live cooking shows
  • The "brrrrrrrrrrring" sound of old phones
  • White soda (a midwest thing)
  • Four distinct seasons
  • "hard roll," butter, and liver sausage sandwiches from my childhood
  • Real butter on movie popcorn (though some small indie theatres still have it)
  • Walking in the woods at Menomonee River Parkway and gathering abundant buttercups and violets to make necklaces and crowns (Where I lived & Parkway location)
  • Actually finding 4-leafed clovers in my own yard
  • The sound of my little girl (now grown) giggling uncontrollably when we had tickle contests
  • Flying homemade kites with my Aunt Sylvia
  • Station wagons with a back-facing third seat.
  • Old friends I have lost track of, but still think of all the time.
  • The Steak n' Shake drive-in (They took your order at your car, served you, & hung a tray on your door)
What can you add? The only rule is you can't add people who have passed that you miss. I would love to hear some of yours!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Grateful Attitude, Bountiful Life

"The Secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, not to worry about the future, nor to anticipate troubles, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly." - Buddha

I love going to the farmer's market. The Wednesday afternoon market in Santa Cruz is like a flashback to the 70's - a plethora of tie-dyes, dreadlocks, Birkenstocks on dusty-footed hippie types, mixed with the thinkers, the artists and poets. There are homeless or just plain hungry who stand in front of the offered "samples" plates at each booth, spearing one after another cut piece with the same toothpick, though the signs clearly state the practice is unacceptable. The age range is as wide as the social class, but everyone is there to partake of the bounty.

Saturday's market, in Aptos, is a different crowd, a more "white bread" type - or at least few to none are vagrant in appearance. Saturday morning shoppers are generally of a more established social status, with families, children in tow, couples, and many silver-haired, but exceptionally spry, heading down or climbing the hill where the canopied stands cover three full tiers on the fairly steep grade.
There is a wide variety of offerings: fruits, nuts, vegetables, fresh local eggs, orchids, herbs, cut flowers and outdoor plants. Welcomed hot coffee stands, oysters and fish, fresh roasted corn on the cob, local applewood smoked ham and bacon are favorites, as are baked goods from two friendly competitors. Pottery, hemp bags and motley assorted other goods one wouldn't expect at a farmer's market are found. A van that says "The Peace Mobile," with a woman holding a sign that reads "Hands of friendship to Cuba" is parked next to "The Farmer's Market String Band," playing very non-Latin, but rousing Cajun Zydeco. One can always find at least one petition to be reviewed, local mountain honey, and the mushroom man, with an array of the ordinary to extraordinary fungi. It is, simply put, an aphrodisiac to all one's senses.

Today I have parked at the top of the hill, and walked down, instead of my usual opposite routine. I realize the error of my judgment, as I climb the path with heavy tomatoes, melons, sweet corn, and my weekly purchase of individual quiches Normandy, from Sweet Elena's Bakery. A bag seems about to lose it's flimsy plastic handles, so I stop and sit briefly on a rough log bench on the top of the hill under a stately old conifer, where two very loud and very angry squirrels are in the midst of a disagreement.

As I attempt to adjust and reallocate my purchases, I notice a very elderly woman making her way up the long inclined path in my direction. She is carrying cellophane bags with 3 orchid plants in one hand, and a large overflowing basket in the other. The hand grasping the orchid plants is also resting on a gnarled walking stick that she is using to help pull her up the grade.

I am contemplating offering help, alternating with a little voice that tells me no, she does this every week. She wants to do it herself. As my inward debate continues, a Santa Claus bearded man with a bald head on top, save thin side and back-of-the-head hair coaxed into a very skinny four-inch ponytail overtakes her, momentarily exchanging pleasantries, a laugh, and a quick pat on her shoulder. He is bent at the waist, in at least a thirty degree angle. He has a backpack full of his purchases, about three huge bunches of cut sunflowers in one arm, and a large arthritic dog as old as he is on a leash. A lady going down the hill in front of him drops her keys, and he immediately stoops the rest of the way to pick them up, handing them over with a smile and a, "Here you go! Beautiful day!" greeting.

It is, in fact, cold and gray with drizzly fog.

The woman with the walking stick arrives at my bench and I quickly scoot over, imagining she will rest for a bit . She doesn't. Instead, she smiles brightly and cheerfully calls over, "No thanks, honey. If I sit down I might never get up again!" and continues to the parking lot.

As I arise from the bench behind her, two teenagers are passing abreast of each other, and one bumps into me, offering no apology, but rather continuing a rant about too much work around the house and being tired, while his companion, apparently not listening, is saying, "Dude. They didn't even play a twenty minute set last night. Shit, man, that's seriously top of my diss list..."

A pine cone falls, hitting my head, and I look up to see my squirrel friends. They have apparently called a truce and they are close to each other on the same branch. As one squirrel scurries up the branch, the other, which I now see has only 3 legs, ambles gingerly behind him.

I turned another year older the day before yesterday. Though I'm not thrilled to see the years now passing at warp speed, I am grateful that I am aware that they do. Whenever I need a gratitude check, God and the universe speak to me, and to us all. One only needs to listen. The voice is loud and clear, and never wrong. It says one word: "attitude." It is up to each of us to turn that word into "gratitude" by remembering every single day how very much we have to be grateful for.

I like to remember it as once being just an "attitude," fused with "great" and "grateful" (GR)

GRateful +Attitude = Gratitude

It is a beautiful day, as the bent man called out a few moments earlier. A perfect day.