Some Love on Mama’s Day

A Love Letter to my Children and Women Everywhere

Since losing my mama 4 years ago, the ensuing Mother’s Days have been difficult.  This Mother’s Day, it hurts much less, and that’s because of each of you, and the love and light that you’ve emitted in my life.

Peyton – the way you laugh from your belly through your eyes will always make me do the same.  While you have many God-given and self-driven talents, your humility about it all (unless you’re competing with your Dad) is refreshing and profound.  Since you were young, you’ve always been the voice of reason, ingesting the evidence, exercising your own thought process, running your results through a logic machine, and exerting your final opinion.  You are the quintessential, stead-fast, reliable big sister and first-born, and I couldn’t be more proud to be your Bonus Mama.

Paige – you absolutely sparkle from the curiosity in your eyes to the creativity of your mind through the snaggle of your toenails.  Your quick wit and “tell-it-like-it-is” disposition summon numerous glances between your Dad and me, before it brings us to stitches.  You make the earth feel loved as you massage it with barefeet, catch, name and release its frogs, love on its cats and baby bunnies, climb its trees, picnic on its waters, read suspended above it in a hammock, and breathe it into your smile.  You are as sweet, and discreet, as the candy stashes you hide, always lending support to your siblings when they need it, but never wanting anyone to notice it.  You are a force, and I couldn’t be more proud to be your Bonus Mama.

Connor – you are the archetypal family man and love in walk; from the way you love your sisters, to your parents, to your grandparents, to your aunts and uncles, to your cousins, to the hounds and the cats and all of the critters who are lucky enough to inhabit this existence with you.  Connor, “Lover of Hounds,” a prophecy you’ve proven out.  I’m so thankful that you laugh at the little things, take tradition as seriously as Special K Chocolately Delight, dance when you wanna and reteach me Chess every time we play, without ever losing patience.  One of these days, I still won’t beat you.  For all of my days, I’ll love you with all that I am and be so proud to be your Bonus Mama.

My crew  – I promise to forever defend you against the spiders, nightmares, and basement monsters; to apologize when I’m wrong; to always lose in Clue; to balance your vegetable intake with sparkling grape juice; to tell Alexa to turn the song up “notches” and practice all other outdated vocabulary; to tuck you in for as long as you would like me to; to protect Boxer from your Dad; to love you as if you were my own because to me, you are, but to always honor the fact that your birth mama is your first mama; to be a sounding board, life coach, present listener, ally, safe place, and one of your biggest, proudest fans.  I love you with all that I have to love with.  Thank you for making me a Mama.

To Mama Earth –

I love you more than anything in this world, next to the humans that you generously and selflessly host, and the art and inventions that you inspire them to create, especially my dishwasher, especially now.  Thank you for your hospitality, and I’m sorry that some of us still don’t recycle.

To All Women and All Mama;s –

I think that motherhood presents itself in a multitude of ways and that a mother, at the most elemental state, is one who takes care; a mother by heart and by practice. Offspring or not, these are the nurturers, the caretakers, the selfless, the oracles, the friends who eat Chinese take-out and binge watch Netflix with you for a series of weeks when you’re having a hard time.  They’re the ones who text to check in and recommend podcasts and books that they believe will make you laugh and/or think.  They are the teachers, coaches, medical professionals, mental health providers, leaders, foster caregivers, orphanage personnel, animal rescuers, assistants, songwriters, verse writers, law enforcement, aunts, sisters, friends of your mother, and my very favorite, massage therapists.  They challenge you, grow you, listen with open hearts, and carry backpacks full of burdens. They’re the ones who have been trying to give birth without avail, and who have given birth and lost – they’re the grieving, the tired, the determined, the scared, the courageous, the ones who’ve lost their mothers and the ones who’ve lost their babies. They’re the ones who call you for your shit and celebrate you for your weirdness. They’re the social workers, humanitarians, activists.  The ones extending life beneath the ground and worshipping in the wind.  The ones who are still toying around with the “should I or shouldn’t I and am I missing out and am I enough if I don’t and what about my legacy and what will people think” conundrum, and still mothering through it all. They’re the ones who birth life literally and/or figuratively, in heartbeats and otherwise.  They are present, patient, aware, compassionate, empathetic, open, and often, none of that at all.

To my Mama –

You are all of the above, and you are all of me. Most of the time, I wish you were here; that you could see it all and feel it all with me, and then most days, I’m reminded that you are; by the conviction of the thunder, meditation of the rain, and return of the sunlight.

A Little Bit of Love Goes a Long, Long Way…

…when it begins with the self.

Some of you may have seen this message socializing on the media; perhaps even shared it as it might have spoken to you and your reaction to this pandemic.

While I appreciate the author’s personal drive, I disagree with his judgement of others for not sharing the same response, and I have concern with the anxiety, panic, self-doubt, and guilt that it can induce, for all of the reasons spelled out in this thoughtful essay by writer Annie Reneau, called A trauma psychologist weighs in on the risks of ‘motivational’ pressure during quarantine.  Some resonating quotes she cites:

“We are going through a collective trauma, that is bringing up profound grief, loss, panic over livelihoods, panic over loss of lives of loved ones. People’s nervous systems are barely coping with the sense of threat and vigilance for safety, or alternating with feeling numb and frozen and shutting down in response to it all.

People are trying to survive poverty, fear, retriggering of trauma, retriggering of other mental health difficulties.

This cultural obsession with [capitalistic] ‘productivity’ and always spending time in a ‘productive,’ ‘fruitful’ way is absolutely maddening.

What we need is more self-compassion, more gentle acceptance of all the difficult emotions coming up for us now, more focus on gentle ways to soothe ourselves and our pain and the pain of loved ones around us…”

My hope is that you all are doing whatever it takes to breathe easy right now, be it learning new skill-sets or counting your toes again.  If you’re feeling like me, that you could be catching up on your favorite books and the ones you’ve had your eye on, creating, listening to a podcast, watching a documentary, developing your work acumen, becoming a master chef, learning more about the wines that you’re generously consuming, sharpening your political awareness, starting the garden you’ve been researching and becoming overwhelmed by, cleaning out your cupboards, filing away the loose paperwork that you’ll likely never need again but are too lazy to read the whole document to come to that conclusion, practicing piano, or matching all of the household socks, but, you just don’t wanna right now, these poems are for you, from the gentle gaze of a few of my favorite poets and humans…

This is the time to be slow,
Lie low to the wall
Until the bitter weather passes.

Try, as best you can, not to let
The wire brush of doubt
Scrape from your heart
All sense of yourself
And your hesitant light.

If you remain generous,
Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning.

– John O’ Donohue

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

– Mary Oliver

Whether you’re lying low to the wall or shining away, you’re right.  Here is how I’m meeting the “motivational” message challenge.

  1. New [or improved, rather] skills: Professional Cat Cuddler, Pet Motivator, Flower Admirer and Moon Chaser
  2. Starting what you’ve been putting off like a new business: Hammock Testers of NE OH, LLC (minimal competition)
  3. More knowledge:
    • that a little bit of love goes a long, long way, and must begin with the self;
    • that right now, nothing is as important as giving myself and my family grace;
    • that the gaze that I cast both inwardly and outwardly has a profound impact on everyone around me;
    • that now is the time to gaze gently.

Love, moonlight, grace and daffodils to you and yours.  The socks will be there tomorrow and beyond.

<3 Jo

#alittlebitoflove

 

Where the Light Comes In

Where the Light Comes In…

… is where I try to be.  When we moved into our current home a few years back, I quickly discovered when and where the light comes in.  When the sun rises, it illuminates the sunroom, purifying the nearby lake in gentle, bright-eyed diamonds.  Throughout the afternoon, it wraps its warmth around the art room, greeting us window by window.  By the evening, at full charge, it generously and unabashedly lights the room on fire.  I situate myself accordingly, a groupie of the show.

Last night was a hard night for me in a white girl problem kind of way, especially under current worldly circumstances, so after dusk, I social distanced myself to a timeout/walk around our property.  As the sun wrapped its warmth around our other half, I perched myself on our firepit, admiring the black silhouettes of the trees against the gray of the sky. Pondering what exists between the shades, how far away the sky is, how much wildlife I was looking at without being able to see it, how convenient it would be if my wine glass would refill itself, and other existential questions, I noticed a little glimmer in the distance, like a star, but on my plane.  At the slightest shift of my gaze, it hid behind a tree.  I adjusted back, and it peeked out again.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has unfolded, I’ve felt helpless and hopeless, and unworthily fortunate.  In addition to the dying, the sick, the elderly, the vulnerable, and their families, I’ve had the front-lines on my heart – our healthcare professionals, first responders, grocery associates, couriers, truck drivers, distribution center staff, servers, airline personnel, garbage collectors, etc., and all of their families who share the same risks they do by association and selflessness.  Out of respect for those impacted (and to be a better human), I’m working on counting my rays and nothing else.

  • All of the heroes mentioned above (and the ones I’ve overlooked).
  • Bored, healthy children.
  • Fat, comedic pets to snap countless low-quality pictures of.
  • Work for a company who is doing all of the right things.
  • Customers who are showing up in really big ways.
  • A refrigerator full of vibrancy.
  • A body to do yoga.
  • A home to sanitize.
  • A property to walk.
  • Trees for wind to race through.
  • Toilet paper to…
  • The creek babbling to its next adventure.
  • A belly laugh with my husband over a ridiculously unfunny joke.
  • A husband who’s becoming a Jedi Master of patience and a carpenter of character.
  • My sister singing and playing guitar on one hand, and petting my pot-bellied cat on the other.
  • My sister cackling in the sunroom, meditating on the front porch, and unintentionally levitating on the back deck, courtesy of today’s windstorm.
  • My sister following me around with snacks and wine, a perpetual nomadic hostess.
  • My sister running into the screen door again.
  • My sister.
  • Poetry, philosophy, music, candles, Netflix.
  • The porch my husband built our cat. You read it right the first time.
  • Thunderstorms to pay reverence to and protect the dogs from.
  • Memes you wouldn’t show your children or Grandma (but definitely, your Grandpa).
  • Wine. Friends. Virtual wine nights with friends.
  • Confirmations from my loved ones that they are well and safe.
  • Hungrier awareness.
  • Thirstier dialogue.
  • Breath to attend to.
  • Grace.

In the gray of the sky, amidst the dark of the trees, when I altered my position, the light came back to me; it was always there, just waiting to be seen.  By sunlight, moonlight, starlight and love, we are all in this together, in a bone-deep way.

So hang on to your light, as small as it may be, and when you have the strength, light the room on fire.

White Sails, the Thoughts

As I watch the white snow quietly coat the landscape outside the kitchen window on one of the last days of 2017, I’m reminded of a quote from an artist I met on the streets of Athens during my trip to Greece this past summer.  Because he picked to pop-up his portable studio outside of the Theatre of Dionysus, and because he looked like a sun-kissed Santa Claus, I automatically trusted him.  Impressed by the stories he painted to life and the life etched on his face, I purchased three of his works for others, and one for myself.  Grateful for the business or attention or both, he insisted I take another for free.  It was unfinished, he said, which felt right.  White sails atop colorful boats, floating on a sea of varying shades of blue. “I have a message for you,” he said as he inscribed something in Greek on the back of the painting.  “White sails, the thoughts. Colorful trip will be,” he interpreted for me. “It’s about life,” he went on.  Easier said than done, I thought.  After hugs and kisses, we sailed on.

Ironic this challenge seemed, to simplify thought in the place that promoted it’s depth.  What would Socrates think?  On we traversed the land of the origins of so much, where the Golden Age glittered, the thinkers riddled, democracy took form, the skeletons of ruins still commanded.  We paid homage to the Agora, Acropolis, and Parthenon, flexed at the Temple of Zeus, and got lost every third street and 2nd glass of ouzo.   We saw a car take out a motorcycle, but thankfully, not the motorcyclist, witnessed a troubled economy and struggling people wake up and do it all anyway, and danced in the streets because why not … and wine.  After a full, fulfilling day, we sat backward on the train to the airport because it was pleasantly dizzying and belly flopping, watching the past recede into the distance and the day recede into my memory’s “favorites” file.

Athens, Santorini, Rome, Orvietto, Tuscany, Cinque Terre, and Venice make a shortlist of 2017’s gifts to me, beneath newfound friends, oldfound love, sweet reunions, family, healing, a promotion, and a home, and above a car break in and some unexpected veterinary bills.  Blessed has never been a comfortable term to me.  Along with miracles, it seems to infer a selection, election, a Calvinistic chosen-ness, manifest destiny, a me over the other guy type of deal either because I prayed more or swore less or turn signaled usually.  Blessed, I’m not, but lucky, especially within the context of a year like this, I’m very.  Thankful, I’m pouring.  Gratefully obligated, I stand.

Thanks to a dear family friend and former college advisor, I’m currently enjoying Art and Resistance Amid Turmoil, the Winter 2017 edition of ZYZZYVA, a San Francisco Journal of Arts and Letters, where I read poet, philosopher, and literary critic Troy Jollimore’s essay, “Shawn’s Late Night.” While reflecting on my gratitude and luck, I remembered a passage that caught me:

And what of the unlucky?  Human beings can get used to almost anything, and one of the many things we have gotten used to is the existence of a great many people who have not been nearly as lucky as we have; people who are, in fact, in many cases, doing very poorly indeed.  There are surprisingly many such people, given how much stuff there is to go around, given the extraordinary technological advances we have made in the past century or so, and given that our basic ethical and political systems claim to be grounded in ideas about human equality, about the inherent dignity of all persons, and about the value of empathy and compassion.

It struck me so simply and poignantly, regardless of my opinions.  It felt so child-like and obvious beneath it’s maturity and decadence.  Equality, dignity, empathy and compassion aren’t red or blue, black or white, Christian or Muslim, oil or water, Tom or Jerry; they’re concepts and efforts that most of us agree on.  If we could live by our claims we would win by our claims and some of us, myself included, are luckier, better equipped and thus more responsible than others to lead that effort, to pursue these concepts, financially or otherwise.  Yes, I’ve worked hard to “create my luck,” but I’m informed enough to know that I’ve been armed with the tools and the workshop and the love and the “you can do it’s” to do so.

While contemplating all of this, a little voice next to me says, “Dad, I’ve been wondering lately.  Why were we created, and when and how?”  My boyfriend’s very bright, curious ten year old daughter inquires over morning coffee and hot chocolate.  After an unbiased explanation of the varying creation theories, purposes of life, how differing religions and philosophies perceive it all, how there’s evidence to support every view and how people tend to settle on one, she resolved, “Well, I was thinking I’d like to get all of the evidence,” and my heart and faith in humanity swelled a little.  Amen, Āmīn, तथास्तु, אָמֵן, little one.  A good question and a white sail.  That’s what it takes.  The voyage toward clarity and truth, encouraged by the great philosophers of past and the great youth of present, is the ship I’ll sail this year.

Cheers to 2018, to people over politics, pulses over parties, to the artists in the streets and at our kitchen tables, to the colors of our convictions and the purity of our sails.  Good luck.

My daily obligation … was, first and foremost, to learn how to make correct and careful study of the world … [I]f I didn’t know what the world was like, how could I know what action to take? – Wallace Shawn, Playwright and Actor, afterword from Aunt Dan and Lemon

Curious J’s go to Santorini

Because my recent travels were as rich and layered as their generous servings of tiramisu, I’m going to slice them into pieces, beginning with the first taste-bud bursting bite.

Last November, I was fortunate enough to make a dear new friend named Jacquie. With so much in common, our careers in technology sales, and love for philosophy, travel, people, adventure and the outdoors, we became fast friends, kindred spirits, consummated by patio hangs, summer brunches turned into dinners turned into midnight snacks, and Friday night Ann of Green Gables and Avonlea marathons.

Last January, having heard of an organization called Trip Tribe which allows strangers to travel the world together according to their interests, Jacquie proposed we indulge in their Santorini, Greece yoga retreat. Immediately the feelers on my travel bug and tail on my down dog perked, but I’d seen this before, the we should all’s, and suspected this too might fade into the deep abyss of dreamt dreams lost. What I didn’t know and quickly learned is that Jacquie is a doer, a happen maker, a human dynamo.  Once she has your commitment, you can expect your registration confirmation within 24 hours.  So half a year later, as the sun set on Friday, July 14th, we were propelling toward it, tails in full wag.

 

After sixteen hours of wide-eyed travel, excitement overriding sleeping pills, we landed on the island of the snow white buildings that wear blue beanies, and sunsets that make your mouth water.  Bright eyed and bushy tailed, we all but somersaulted off the plane and cartwheeled into the shuttle-bus, tripping over our acorns, annoying any and all bystanders.

Up and down the mountain we wove, faces frozen in obnoxious smiles of glee, the clear blue Aegean Sea indifferent yet faithful beside us.  Thirty minutes later, we arrived at Pelagos, a villa resort off the beaten path kind enough to be a home, where we met strangers kind enough to become friends.  Twenty five yogi heartbeats, temporarily diverging from our independent paths to beat down one together.

That night, the handful of us who made it in on time acquainted poolside over dinner and drinks, under sun and stars, and I felt so proud of everyone without even knowing them.  To come across the world is no small feat.  To come across alone is no more comfortable.  Here we all were. And for six days we would be.  Practicing together, eating together, drinking together, wandering together, wondering together, and occasionally hanging over together.

Day one was a therapist and a comic. After our first of many satisfying practices, with a belly full of fresh Greek yogurt, I walked past the curious donkey with inquisitive eyes to the wild beach behind him.  Traversing and appreciating it’s dichotomy of silks and sharps, I passed only an old man, his back to the sea, throwing rock after rock at a cliff side.  With my dad’s words in the back of my head, I resisted the urge to squeeze him, finding my own cliff instead, to ponder who and how he was, and who and how I was, for “the unexamined life is not worth living,” after all.

There I perched for hours, writing so hard I thought my hand might fall off and crying so hard I thought my brow might stick.  Waves gave and took, so steadfast and predictable, and roaring, drew me in. After battling beyond the rage, the water calmed and held me, salt licking salt licking salt, before delivering me back to land and life.

Returning from my treaty with the sea, I spent the afternoon by the pool with many of the others, massaging the furrows from my brow with laughter and wine.  We did flips and cannon balls and said silly things that would only ever be funny to us, 8th grade inside jokes. In the evening we indulged in a delicious, restorative yoga practice followed by a deliciously restorative dinner, proudly picked, prepared, and served by the generous Greek family who runs Pelagos.  After a few more nightcaps and conversations, Jacquie and I retired to our villa for our first of many starlit patio hangs, where our conversations commenced with, “I wonder…” and concluded with more laughter than profound revelations, before we retreated to our villa bunkbeds, settling into the crunchy embrace of hotel sheets on sunburns.

Day two was the high school boyfriend with no helmet and a lead foot.  A new, very sweet, very intuitive friend named Michelle, Jacquie, and I taxi’d it to Amoudi Bay for some diva danger.  There, we negotiated our way around a mountain, swam against a current, climbed up a cliff, and jumped.  Three times.  Because losing your belly just once into that bay of child-like exuberance isn’t enough.  After realizing our high-fives were intimidating the adolescents, and with adrenaline fueling our appetites, we negotiated back and found a lunch spot so close to the water that if you tipped our chairs, to the water we’d return.

The sea continued to give, as fresh, sun-dried octopus and calamari (drying right above us) melted down our throats, encouraged by a sangria as flamboyant in fruit and flavor as an apple tree by dusk on a Savannah, summer day.  After our sustenance, we ascended the 300 stairs to Oia, barely resisting the urge to free the donkeys and imprison their master. At the top, we loved our friends and families in necklaces, crystals, artwork, postcards and books, and shared a bottle of wine and a 1/2 liter of secrets while overlooking the blue of the bay, before descending back to it.  Hot from the trek, we jumped in where we soon learned we weren’t supposed to, courtesy of the not so courteous ship captain trying to dock in our pool.

Sealing in the day with lobster pasta, a sunset, and some eye-lash batting exchanges with waiters who don’t blink, we left the high school sweetheart(s) at the bay, graduating to the philosophers and artists…

…who we met on day three. While it’s uncharacteristic to fly into and out of Athens for only one day, it felt blasphemous to not. However, this is one of those bites more decadent than a mouthful, so to it, I’ll return in my next post.

Day four was a faithful yoga instructor and teacher.  While Sara laid the foundation for and infused intention into every Santorini day, it was the day she orchestrated a field trip to trump those of elementary school.  The day of the catamaran where we bobbed up and down within clumsy waves, swam in crystal clear lagoons and not so hot springs, snorkeled by apathetic mountain goats, delighted in the fact that we could see our toenail polish as clearly underwater as above water, french braided each others’ and strangers’ hair, broke bread on a boat, broke ouzo limits on a boat, and basked in sunlight and companionship. It was the day I learned more about a husband and wife who I’d grown to admire, the unfair hardships they were overcoming, and was so encouraged by their unconditional love, courage, and perseverance, and touched by their healing process through yoga and Sara. It was the day we anchored far enough out on the water to watch the sun, as Katy would say, melt into the sea like butter.

 

Day five was a Greek god or three. While my other yogis ran off for more exploring, in prep for our next-day flight to Rome and ensuing week of Italy, Jacquie and I opted to restore poolside, and I opted to spend most of my poolside barside. Day five began with an hour massage from a tall, light-eyed, dark-haired man named Marios who had strong hands and a gentle spirit, trained only by his own experiences with pain; as formal as it gets. Following my massage, the bartender Marcos, who could be Marios’s brother but isn’t, fashioned me a mojito, mint still breathing. Marios joined, the manager Antonis began his shift, and for the next few hours, they patiently answered my myriad questions, seemingly grateful for them.

While I’m not a historian, I’ve learned that I appreciate travel and new experience best when I understand it’s context; when I understand the history, origins, culture, current state, etc., so I had done my due diligence.  But what I learned on this trip is that there is little a book can give you that an experienced person can’t, and much a person can give you that a book can’t.

Through our conversation I learned more about their economic adversities, how so many have suffered, their political positions on the refugee situation, how they make ends meet, how many can’t anymore, their seasonal setups between Athens and Santorini, that most carry off-season jobs, that family matters more than anything, that they’ll even live together forever, that religion is less important than spirituality, that every question, in Socratic compliance, demands a series of more questions, that they’d like to travel but don’t have the means to, but how despite feeling poor monetarily, they feel rich in beauty and in heritage, proud, and how to them, those are the more important metrics of wealth.

Upon asking how they felt about Americans, braced for their replies, I was pleasantly surprised.  They explained that twenty five years ago, they despised us.  We were obnoxious, impolite and entitled.  But that’s changed and they believe it’s because the younger generations became aware and now overcompensate as a corrective measure – which shocked me, because I’ve grown accustomed to the belief that we, the younger generation, have dismissed all conducts in comparison with our elders.

Yet they described us, among all nationalities, to be the most warm, honest, appreciative, and inclusive, sharing that during other yoga retreats held at their villas, individuals are excluded, but when the Americans come, we immediately congregate as if we’re lifelong friends. In fact, they thought we were. Their only complaint was our obnoxious laughs and terrible accents, which they demonstrated through a poor NY accent, “Aaaaye man! get me a beeeaa!”

For six days, we were. Practicing together, eating together, drinking together, wandering together, wondering together, and occasionally hanging over together.  We shared what we could and protected what we couldn’t.  Fell in love with each other’s laughs, and in silent recognition and reverence of each other’s tears. Squeezed each other’s hearts with the stories that we shared, and squeezed each other’s hands when we couldn’t find the words.

If you want to travel but don’t have a companion, converge.  Find courage in that convergence.  Let your days take on personas.  Tell a couple secrets. Pray for the man on the beach.

 

 

 

Belly Buttons

They’re kind of funny, right?  Some go in, some go out, and like the rest of our body composition, we had no say in how it would all turn out.  They’re just this retired little hole in the middle of our torso, once at the mercy of the doctor’s bunny ears.

When I was a little girl, I wondered if I untied my belly button knot, would I immediately float away, tumbling over the waves of the wind like a birthday party in escape?  It made me giggle.  A fun visual in the racing imagination of a child; deflating, somersaulting, high up into the freedom of the open sky.

Before she passed, I often still gazed at my belly button, fascinated that not only did she grow me, but literally connected to me, gardening me from her very body.  After she passed, I started looking at it daily, aware of a phantom pain, desperately longing to reconnect.

Around the age of 5, new neighbors moved in to a dazzling, earthy, red/brown home that our Uncle Dave had built behind ours.  Parents to a darling, blue eyed baby girl named Alexandria, Gene was a handsome Hungarian pilot, and Pam was what I interpreted to be a beautiful Hawaiian princess, but in truth was a beautiful German/Native American artist, and a very talented one at that.  I quickly grew fond of them both, learned when Gene got home from work, and daily, met him in his driveway to give him the daisy I had just plucked from his yard, as he grinned from ear to ear; one of my earliest, sweetest memories.

This was short lived.  Just as their lives were unfolding, Gene’s was tragically lost, and young Pam and baby Ali’s were unfairly altered.  A plane crash, a life crash, and no choice but to wade through the debris. Later in life, Pam went on to lose a sister, nephew, and best friends, all within the pitiless strangulation of unexpected tragedy, all while singularly raising a sweet baby girl into a refined young woman, and keeping her advertising business afloat through the waters of loss.

Amidst it all, their family of two and our family of five became seven. Luke mowed her lawn, plowed her driveway and fixed the broken stuff.  Dad read consumer reports to help her make the purchases you need to make as a single woman in the country, and tried to fix the broken stuff.  Mom and Pam, both survivors, developed the deep country, neighbor lady friendship.  Katy and I babysat Ali. Pam listened to me rattle on.  We found reasons to laugh and be thankful.  A grace softly settled.

Summer breaks were especially memorable during which I came to watch Ali while Pam, suited up and striking, went to the office.  I would wake up in the mornings around 7, ride my bike back to their house, let their manic border collie Ginger out, lay in bed with Ali, watch an episode of Rugrats, and breathe in the sweetness of Pam’s lingering perfume. Then I’d roll myself and Ali out of bed, get her dressed, pour us Lucky Charms, and help her (make her) do her chores, before we dashed off into the adventure of the country summer. At night sometimes, when a man was lucky enough to secure a date with Pam, Ali and I would eat popcorn and watch movies until she got home, the scent of boredom on her breath.

Life felt as easy and warm as the country breeze.  The summers were filled with cookouts, camp fires, pool parties, tree climbing, four-wheeling, trampolining, swinging from sets, ropes, and tires, fireworks, bike rides to New Baltimore for it’s ice cream and Hartville for it’s chocolate, barn tag, flashlight tag, acres of summer time’s perfume freshly cut, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and pink lemonade.

The winters were full of sled riding, snowmobiling, ice skating, three months of Christmas, movies, Stromboli, grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup, and hot chocolate.  We attended each other’s holiday events, and swung on porch swings together after long days.  Pam has recollected to me so much about my childhood that I don’t recall, like how I’d show up uninvited, walk into the house without announcement, dig into her cupboards without permission, and chat her ear off.  It was as much home to me as my own was.

While in the hospital last year, realization setting in that we would soon need to make a decision that children shouldn’t have to, I called Pam. She arrived in what felt like the click of Dorothy’s heels, and I somehow caught my breath.  She looked into my eyes, panic in her own, aware that this was my first great loss and no stranger to it herself. She kissed my cheeks and forehead all over as if she was trying to suck the pain out of my tears, and then drew me into her embrace holding me so tight I thought my belly button might pop, but it didn’t, as much as I wanted to float away from that hospital room to wherever my Mom probably already was, but thankful to be in the arms of the next best thing.

Recently, Pam suffered another loss, as she said goodbye to her own very dear mother. And while I can’t suck or drain the pain away, I can stand with her in the waters, daughter by hurting daughter, belly button by aching belly button.  To the toughest woman I know today, a modern day Job, Happy Mother’s Day, Pam.  Cheers to you, for all that you’ve given both voluntarily and not.  For giving so much life, and forgiving so much loss. See you soon for tears, beers and belly laughs.

Attention Please

Lately, my span has been pretty short; maybe the product of an overflowing plate, perhaps the consumption of too many interests.  Regardless of the cause, this piano piece has stared at me with those sneaky sharps and flats for weeks now, begging my attention while I turn the other cheek, resentful of the guilt its existence keys up.  As I wonder why this song, after a few years of piano lessons, is causing me such dissonance, I realize this: because it’s not coming easy to me so I’m not paying it attention.

After always following my piano instructor’s recommendations on the sequence of progressions I should learn to methodically advance my skill-set, I requested a hike off the beat and measure, as I had fallen in love with an album from an independent film called “The Piano.” Moved by British composer Michael Nyman’s haunting minors and expressionism, I wanted to give it a try myself.  Deceived by his minimalist style and propulsive repetition, I might have underestimated its difficulty.

Enter “La canduer,” a 19th century composition by Johann Friedrich Franz Burgmüller, whose name pronunciation came to me as easily as his music did. “Artless mind” – my piano teacher felt this would be step one of a logical bridge from where I’m currently at to where I’ll need to be for Nyman, yet the title disagreed and told the truth, all at once.

While walking past it this evening without any intention for attention, I made myself anyway.  I sat down, read my teacher’s instructions on how to systematically digest it, and measure by measure I referred the repetition to retention.  Within a focused hour, I could hang with the rest of her seven year old students, and the addictive and satisfying sensation of accomplishment sank in.

Even without my piano lesson this week, I learned a few others.  If you ask for it, be willing to invest in it. If you’re not, reassess whether it really matters to you.  If it does, remind yourself why and build it in.  And remember that before you were good, you weren’t.  Before you were great, you were good.  And before the end of the day, it might be worth your attention.

I did Iowaska

Kidding, but I did do Iowa.  Thanks to my job, I get to travel often.  My company holds and attends meetings and conventions in New York City, Denver, Lake Tahoe, Vegas, Boston, Orlando, Phoenix, Pebble Beach, Dallas, etc., most of which I get to join.  My actual territories however, where my clients and prospects reside, fall within the binds of the “don’t judge a book by the cover” rule with the “fly-over state” chapters of North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana.

My team mates, mostly on the West Coast, post pictures of beach sunsets and mountain views, while I capture pictures from boat and truck museums.  When talking about my upcoming travel, I hear things like, “remember to talk slow…how many teeth will be at your meeting?” and I chuckle, because fun making can be funny, they can’t hear us, and hillbilly jokes always work for me, because I am one.  And then I tell them what I’ve learned.

At 99%, Iowa has the highest literacy rate in the country, at 90%, they have the highest graduation rate, and they consistently rank top in the nation for SAT and ACT test scores.

They carry a 3.8% unemployment rate against the U.S. average of 5.4%.

With the second lowest murder rate and a low overall crime rate, it’s the 6th safest place to live in the country.

Des Moines was named the “Wealthiest City” by the Today Show in 2014, and is regarded as a fast growing hub infused with a unique culture.

When it comes to Women’s Rights, Iowa has always been way ahead of the curve.  In 1851, married women received property rights, and in 1869, we were allowed to practice law, with Iowan Arabella Mansfield serving as the first U.S. female lawyer.

Besides miles and miles of cornfields, Iowa also substances rolling hills, woods, lakes, rivers, the famous Loess Hills (dunes created by windblown soil during the ice age), and in Burlington slithers the windiest road in the entire world, “Snake Alley.”

With more pigs than people, it’s no surprise (and no disappointment, unless you’re a pig) that they host a bacon festival.  Le Mars is recognized as the ice cream capital of the world.  And Iowa is also known for it’s fresh fruit food markets.

It’s full of art, theater, and poetry, hosting the best writers program in the country in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, which has graduated revered writers such as Kurt Vonnegut, Louise Gluck, and Robert Lowell.

It’s the home of John Wayne, the field of dreams, and the place the music died.  They’re pretty smart, mostly employed, relatively safe, economically healthy, culturally intuitive, progressive thinking, and sweet tooth (teeth!) sensitive. Beyond all of that, this hillbilly has enjoyed few experiences more than turning on cruise control, Johnny Cash, and driving forward down Iowa’s honest, quiet, ruler straight roads into the setting sun.  It’s a chapter well worth the read.


 

Grab it by the Lapels

Because it’s International Women’s Day, and just because it’s Wednesday, I’d like to toast some of my favorite creations.  Cheers to:

My Peruvian gals nestled in the Andean Village of Chinchero sharing Chicha and each other during a very happy hour.

Betty White, for her ageless wit, tongue-in-cheek orneriness, compassion for animals, and refusal to die. “Why do people say “grow some balls”? Balls are weak and sensitive! If you really wanna get tough, grow a vagina! Those things take a pounding!”

Harriet Beecher Stow for penning Uncle Tom’s Cabin, exposing the reality and ugliness of slavery, fueling the abolition cause across the nation, and even worldwide. “Any mind that is capable of real sorrow is capable of real good.” And then Lincoln, upon meeting her, “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.”

Mother Teresa, for her boundless love, bottomless sacrifice, commitment to everyone but herself, and reminder that we belong to each other. “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

Ayn Rand, for her indifference toward acceptance, thought-provoking books, commitment to individualism, love for tidly wink music, enormous, inquisitive eyes, and for making me reread her insights three times before understanding them. “If you tell a woman that she is beautiful, you offer her the great homage of corrupting the concept of beauty.” “Freedom (n.): to ask nothing.  To expect nothing. To depend on nothing.”

Margaret Fuller for publishing the manifesto that may have inspired the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, the first conference in America devoted to the issue of women’s rights, during which a “Declaration of Rights and Sentiments” based on the “Declaration of Independence” was agreed to. “If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it.”

Philosopher Simone de Beauvoir for graduating as one of the first women from the Sorbonne, inspiring people toward personal freedom, and encouraging women to fight for equality and purpose. “Be loved, be admired, be necessary; be somebody.”

Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the rest of the “Suzy B’s” for organizing the convention, which has continued annually through today.

The “beasts of burden” who cooked, cleaned, sewed, mended uniforms, tended to the ill and injured, herded animals, milked cows and foraged for food for their men at the war camps during the American Revolution.

Meryl Streep for her talent as an actress and for setting her recognition of it aside for more important matters. “That instinct to humiliate when it’s modeled by someone in a public platform, it filters down into everyone’s life because it gives permission for others to do the same. … Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others we all lose.”

Emily Dickinson, for challenging the conventionality around the expression of poetry and for sharing with us her light through her days of dark.  “To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else.”

Mary Oliver for her simple and eloquent love letters to the world.  “I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day. Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” 

Anne LaMott for her strong faith, and ability to share rather than impose it. “I do not at all understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.” “You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

Belle, for recognizing the beauty in the beast, and the beast within adventure. “I want adventure in the great wide somewhere! I want it more than I can tell!”

Helen Keller for breathing real life and hope into the sentiment that anything is possible, and deepening the hue of the meaning of adversity. “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.” “Life is either a great adventure or nothing.” “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.”

Mama Maria of Peru, for feeding and housing all of us volunteer babies, and being patient with our “Spanish.” “Buenas dias Seniorita Joanna.”

Rosa Parks for conjuring the fear-diminishing conviction necessary to fight for her place in the world. “I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.”

Cheryl Strayed for wearing her raw and bloody heart on her raw and bloody sleeve and arming others with the courage to do the same.  “What if I forgave myself? I thought. What if I forgave myself even though I’d done something I shouldn’t have? What if I was sorry, but if I could go back in time I wouldn’t do anything differently than I had done? What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn’t have done was what also had got me here? What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was?”

Julie Andrews, for enlivening the hills with the sound of music and making black chimneys and umbrellas on blue night skies feel like a Vincent Van Gough painting infused with romance.  “I would be a fool to deny my own abilities.”

Bea Arthur for not smiling much, but making others do so. “No fruit. No veggie.”

Harriet Tubman for taking a much appreciated, life saving risk. “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” “I had reasoned this out in my mind, there was one of two things I had a right to, liberty or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other.”

Megan Follows for bringing us the innocence of Anne of Green Gables and Avonlea, the oyster of imagination, and the beauty of kindred spirits. “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”

Amy Schumer for building my abs and laughing box, then fishing this random out of the deep end. “I want to quit. Not performing, but being a woman altogether. I want to throw my hands in the air, after reading a mean Twitter comment, and say, ‘All right! You got it. You figured me out. I’m not pretty. I’m not thin. I do not deserve to use my voice. I’ll start wearing a burqa and start waiting tables at a pancake house. All my self-worth is based on what you can see.’ But then I think, F*** that … I am a woman with thoughts and questions and s*** to say. I say if I’m beautiful. I say if I’m strong. You will not determine my story – I will.” Then this. “I made out with a homeless guy by accident. I had no idea — he was really tan, he had no shoes on. I just thought it was, like, his thang, you know? I was like, ‘He’s probably in a band.”

Irene Ryan for giving us the feisty Granny Clampett of the Beverly Hillbillies. “Elly May done popped the buttons off her shirt again…It ain’t her shoulders that have been poppin’ these buttons.” 

Michelle Obama for her quiet strength and dignity, place alone and place beside. “I am an example of what is possible when girls from the very beginning of their lives are loved and nurtured by people around them. I was surrounded by extraordinary women in my life who taught me about quiet strength and dignity.” 

Elena Brower for making me feel like a human when I don’t feel like a human, within 30 minutes and a yoga mat. “Use your beauty to serve others to find their beauty.”

Marie Curie for being the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize in physics and for making me crave Indian food. “Have no fear of perfection; you’ll never reach it.”

Nora Ephron for her brilliant mind, castle of talent, and priceless contributions. “Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. And I also hope that you will choose to make some of that trouble on behalf of women.”

Whoopy Goldberg for putting the f in nun. “I don’t have pet peeves, I have whole kennels of irritation.”

Malala Yousafzai for responding to hate with courage beyond her years. “My mother always told me, ‘hide your face-people are looking at you.’ I would reply, ‘It does not matter; I am also looking at them.’”

Joan of Arc for being a total badass warrior before she even had her temps. “I am not afraid… I was born to do this.”

Anne Frank for transcending bravery, empathy, wisdom, and undeserving forgiveness. “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

Tinkerbell for being so small in stature, yet big in heart. “All you need is faith, trust and a little bit of pixie dust.”

Ellen DeGeneras because she’s true to the base of her name, evoking as many tears from the heart as tears from the laugh. “You have to stay in shape. My grandmother, she started walking five miles a day when she was 60. She’s 97 today and we don’t know where the hell she is.” Okay, maybe more tears from the laugh.

Annie Dillard for writing an earthy, caloric book full of attention and examination and worms. “The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.”

Edna St. Vincent Millay for her pioneering and poetry and for making me feel like I should always be smoking a cigarette out of an opera length cigarette holder, even though I have no reason to believe she did.  “I am glad that I paid so little attention to good advice; had I abided by it I might have been saved from some of my most valuable mistakes.”

Mae West for her denial of censorship and ability to make being arrested sound fun. “When choosing between two evils, I always like to try the one I’ve never tried before.” She also makes me feel like smoking.

Agatha Christie for the excitement of Miss Marple and because she talks about dogs. “Dogs are wise. They crawl away into a quiet corner and lick their wounds and do not rejoin the world until they are whole once more.”

Annie Oakley for her urgency and aim. “I ain’t afraid to love a man. I ain’t afraid to shoot him either.”

Virginia Woolf for being progressive and right. “My belief is that if we live another century or so – I am talking of the common life which is the real life and not of the little separate lives which we live as individuals – and have five hundred a year each of us and rooms of our own; if we have the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think…” “Lock up your libraries if you like, but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.”

Ariel for sacrificing being able to breath under water for love. “Who says that my dreams have to just stay dreams?”

Elizabeth Gilbert for leveraging the aesthetic of Javier Bardem and challenging us to replace fear with creativity. “So this, I believe, is the central question upon which all creative living hinges: Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?”

Sojourner Truth for speaking it, and being the first black woman to win a court case against a white man, courageously getting her son back and challenging, “And how came Jesus into the world? Through God who created him and the woman who bore him. Man, where was your part?’ 

Maya Angelou for writing so simply that we can start understanding poetry young, and so profoundly that we want to know more. And, for introducing and concluding this post. “I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.”  

On The Pulse of Morning

Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes,
Into your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning. 

— Maya Angelou

10 Tips for All My Single Ladies…

…and not so single ladies.  I interrupt this blog forum to bring you your fussy, protective, Italian Grandma, sans taste-bud shattering spaghetti sauce.  There have unfortunately been a recent series of violent assaults on women in my neighborhood, and one in a very safe and popular neighboring hood, during which a young, beautiful, vibrant 21 year old girl with a whole lot of loved ones and a whole lot of life ahead of her, was so sadly and senselessly robbed of it.

I know we know to be careful and that even if we are, it possibly doesn’t matter.  We’ve taken classes on it in school, received lectures from Mama’s and Grandmama’s, learned awkward and questionably ineffective take down moves from fathers, brothers and uncles, and fought with friends over whether we were the yellow power ranger or the pink one.  But I also know we now have Facebook demands, tweet responsibilities, Instagrams to heart, time sensitive emails alerting us of Express’s midnight madness sale, and texts that will self-destruct should we not respond within 30 seconds.  These things can often feel but never are more important than our surroundings, and this advent has fashioned a whole new pool of potential victims for predators.  So today I’m writing about some simple, basic measures we can take to potentially save our lives, and here is why.  The research says:

  1. Physically, women tend to be weaker and smaller. You can be Joan of Arc or Annie Oakley but on average, we have 40% less upper body strength than men, and none of us have moves like Tombraider, not even Angelina.
  2. 18.3% of women in the United States have survived a completed or attempted rape.
  3. The police force does their best, but they can’t arrive at the speed of light. Studies show the average response time for an emergency call is 10 minutes, and the average interaction time between a criminal and his victim is 90 seconds.
  4. Most violent crimes happen between 8 and 9 PM, which is when many of us are returning from work, class, kids’ activities, running errands, shopping, happy hour, or in the summers, possibly a cool jog.

At the risk of sounding patronizing, here are some reminders on what we can do about it.

  1. Look around. Before you leave your house, before you leave your car, essentially any time you open and close a door, and every moment in between.  Be perpetually aware of your surroundings and wear it on your sleeve – make eye contact as firmly and confidently as you’d shake the hand of your dream job interviewer.
  2. Play “what if?” What if I get out of my car and someone is behind it?  What if someone walks into the school with a gun?  What if Taco Bell starts delivering?  Identify where you can take cover should you need to, and classify escape routes.
  3. Return a phone call later. Or never depending on the caller, I suppose.
  4. Give them everything they want (purse, wallet, phone), except you…or your dog.
  5. Don’t leave a safe haven until you’re prepared to make it to the next safe haven. For example, before I park my car, all contents accompanying me into the house are ready for transport.  I try not to fidget around collecting my belongings.  My housekey is between my thumb and pointer finger arranged for immediate entry, and my mace in my other hand, finger on the trigger, should someone interrupt.
  6. Avoid parking or walking next to vans, unless they have the stick figure bumper sticker family holding hands and baseball mitts.   Avoid those one’s especially. 😉
  7. “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” I love Emerson and this quote so much I tattooed it on my wall, but I treat it as metaphorically as it was written. Avoid walking alone post-dusk or pre-dawn.  But if you can’t, even if longer, take the well-lit path over the dimly-lit path.
  8. If it becomes clear that their motives go beyond robbing you, fight back. You may be at a disadvantage to overpower, but you can use simple, primal moves, like striking the eyes, throat or the groin.
  9. If budget and time permit, take a self-defense class. The Best Martial Arts for Women’s Self Defense compares Tae Kwon Do, Krav Maga, Jiu Jitsu, and Jeet Kune Do.  For my Northeast, Ohio gals, Akron-Canton’s Martial Arts – Best of 2016 Hot List provides some options.  For my Columbus ladies, Yelp’s  The Best 10 Martial Arts in Columbus, OH  If it’s a reasonable option, and you have children, consider starting them young.  I’m not a huge fan of forcing a child into any kind of activity they don’t enjoy, but if I was a mother, this would be the exception to that rule.
  10. Arm yourself with as toxic a weapon as you’re comfortable with.

If that’s mace and you don’t already have it, just buy it already. It takes less than a minute, can arrive in 2 days,  and you don’t even have to put underwear on.  After asking some friends repeatedly if they’d bought theirs yet and not appreciating their answers, I bought it for them. $7.73 Police Strength SABRE Red Pepper Spray on amazon.com  Buy it for yourself, your friends, your daughters, and your Napoleons.

Another easy to carry and effective option is a stun gun: $19.58 Tactical Stun Gun with LED Flashlight – Extremely Strong Pain-Inducing Stun Gun for Self-Defense

And last, if your policy position on the 2nd amendment will allow it, bear arms. My lifestyle/policy position demands/allows it, so I do.  Because I know we’re more hesitant to act on what we don’t know how to do, if you have been interested in this form of protection but didn’t know where to start, here are the steps I took.

  1. Sit down with your brother, do some research on the Best Handguns for Women (this is only one of many articles), pick out a few that you like and call around to the local gun stores to see if they carry them (you can also skip this step, walk in a gun store and find a well-versed associate to guide you).
  2. Buy a gun: Northeast Ohio Gun Stores, Columbus, Ohio Gun Stores – I went to Fin, Feather, Fur in Ashland, as it was on my way between home and home and highly recommended, and was very satisfied with my experience. The associate had me “try on” 10 guns, and thoroughly explained the pros/cons/differences before we settled on the best fit for me.  There may even be finance options if that’s a concern.
  3. Sign up for a concealed handgun license course. Many of the stores offer these, and there are other venues, as well.  My experience with Vance’s Outdoors in Columbus was great; the trainers were extremely credible and quite literally disarming, before the shooting range at least.  The total course is $150 and 10 hours and can be broken up over a few evenings or taken in a day on the weekend.   After passing the course, you’ll receive your Concealed Handgun License (CHL) Certificate.
  4. Secure an application appointment with the sheriff’s office of the county within which you reside or an adjoining county. I did this online through Franklin County Ohio Sheriff website, but it’ll be different per respective county (and I did this before completing CHL class, to expedite the process).
  5. Complete and bring with you the Concealed Carry License Application from the Attorney General’s website, your CHL certificate, and call ahead to see what else you might need to bring. For me it was a 2×2 passport sized photo that has to be taken within the past 30 days, driver’s license, and $67 in cash, no more, no less.  You’ll submit the application, go through background check, fingerprinting, etc. and once cleared (usually within a day, unless you are a villain) pick up your license.
  6. Practice a lot.

It’s a bummer that we have to think about it all, but important that we do, because you’re precious.  Your children need you, your parents would never be the same, and your great grandparents aren’t ready to see you again just yet.