Yoga is My Friend

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I love yoga. It is my go-to workout for everything from simply feeling good about my body’s physicality to needing the hour or more of meditation and silence. I am a serious practitioner. By serious I don’t mean that I practice every day or that I have mastered all of the advanced asanas, just that I take my practice seriously and use it for the intended purpose: silence and concentration on the self and the moment. Read more

Love Letter to Ernie Hemingway

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My husband, the man whom I call Ernie Hemingway on this blog, is the love of my life, my rock and my soft landing. So on this Valentine’s Day, I wanted to write him a love letter. Read more

Saturation Point

I always enjoy getting the mail around this time of the year because of all the catalogues that arrive showcasing the pretty decorations, the glittery clothes designed for that oh-so-special holiday party, and the fabulous foodstuffs.  It makes me want to buy one of everything.  Usually. Read more

The Majesty of Thanks

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True Majesty: American bald eagle in flight, July 2013

As I begin the great Thanksgiving cook-fest, with the feast looming less than twenty-four hours in my future, I thought I’d wipe off my hands on the dish towel and turn from the stove for a few moments to give thanks. Read more

The Rainbow Bridge

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After nearly twelve years together, my little kitty with the bunny soft fur took her walk over the Rainbow Bridge this morning. She was dying of cancer; she was in liver failure, and she was in pain, so I did the humane thing and helped her cross the bridge to relieve that pain. I held her in my arms while the young veterinarian administered the sedative. While we waited for the drugs to do their job, I told her that I loved her and stroked her head and told her that soon she would be with all of her kitty pals who had already taken their journey over the Rainbow Bridge.

I adopted Meadow in January 2003. She was a stray living in my mother’s backyard, and as I had a few months earlier lost one of my other fur babies, my mother thought Meadow would be a good addition to my family. My family consisting of me and one cat. So Meadow joined our household.

When I first integrated her, she was affectionate, albeit a bit hesitant. After all, I had taken her from a life of freedom and the boy kitties to the inside of a 6 room apartment with an overweight and somewhat irritable tabby feline. I gave her space, figuring she’d come around sooner or later. My other cat, however, did not give her space, and the two of them became fast buddies, snuggling together in the sunshine patches on the couch and my bed, curling up together around my feet at night.

Towards me, however, Meadow remained aloof, refusing even to allow me to touch her. I got a few pats in quite by accident over the years by stroking her back as she streaked past me. I was frustrated; I’d never owned a cat that didn’t want snuggles or to be on me when I sat down. I made it my mission in life to win over this cat’s trust, and to that end, I spoiled her rotten.

After four years, I was finally able to touch her with the help of Greenies cat treats. I would lay out a few while I sat stone still a few feet away. Once she ate the first few, I would put out a few more a bit closer to me, and so on and so forth. Eventually, she allowed me to touch her head, but only while she was eating. Our relationship developed at the same glacial pace until about four years ago.

From the first apartment home, I moved her a total of four times, ending in the home where I now live. We landed here four years ago, and almost immediately she became different. She was still aloof and avoided me, but she would twirl around my ankles when I fed her. She would allow me to touch her and pet her while she ate. I made it a point to do that every day.

I found a house-call vet so that I would never have to terrorize her with a car ride again. Dr. Jeremy is a wonderful vet, but he is an even nicer human, and Meadow and I both came to know and trust him. She certainly didn’t like his exams, but she remained mostly calm through them, and I was able to hold her during them! She didn’t seem to hate me for days after each exam, which I took as a positive.

About a year ago, Meadow allowed me to hold her for a few moments while she was eating. I took to giving her snuggles and hugs while she ate, or while she sat in front of the screen door to our back porch watching the birds and chipmunks. As long as I didn’t lift her off the floor, she tolerated my affection, even purring most times. Each morning as we descended from the bedroom, Meadow would greet me or my husband with a chorus of meowing. It sounded as if there were multiple Siamese cats rather than one eight-pound tortoiseshell. My husband even took to talking to her, which was a testament to her sweetness, as he is not someone I’d call a pet person. He likes the cats, but he’s just not attached to them the way I am.

I wish I could pinpoint when I started to notice things were off with her, but the truth is I have been distracted over the past several months with human life, and over the past few weeks with the loss of my husband’s father and my son’s grandfather. She had her annual physical in March, and all her blood work came back normal. She was a tad underweight, so I took to feeding her canned food, and her weight jumped right back up. We figured she just needed different nutrients as she aged.

A couple of weeks ago, as we finished sitting shiva for my father-in-law, I noticed that she had become thin and gaunt. I tried to tempt her with her favorite foods, including roast chicken (much to my husband’s chagrin as she often jumped up on the counter to steal the chicken out of the pan), but aside from a few bits, she wasn’t too interested. On Saturday, my family was here for dinner, and my sister and mother commented that she didn’t look good, so I knew it wasn’t just me being paranoid.

I called Dr. Jeremy on Sunday morning, and he came by to see her. He was equally worried, so he took some blood and other samples. When he called me last night, I knew instantly that it was bad. Meadow had been laying on the couch in our basement since he left on Sunday, so I had my own suspicions, but he confirmed the worst of them. Meadow’s liver was in advanced stages of failure and based on the blood work results, she likely had some sort of massive cancer that was just eating her up. Unless I was willing to take aggressive action, such as a blood transfusion and other invasive treatments, she was going to die soon; even taking the aggressive treatment route wouldn’t guarantee positive results.

When I told him that based on those results, I would in all likelihood be euthanizing her and that I wanted him to be the one to do it so that I didn’t have to take her in the car, he apologized that he was going to be out of town until Thursday; based on her blood work, he said he would be surprised if she lasted that long. He gave me the name of a local emergency veterinary hospital, and said that if I made the decision to go ahead before Thursday, I should take her there.

I spent a lot of time with Meadow yesterday. I tried to tempt her with her favorite foods, but she had no interest. She didn’t even want water. She was weak. Her legs buckled under her when she jumped off the couch to get away from my son. I held her, wrapped up in a fleece blanket so she wouldn’t get cold, and I made her a little nest so she could be comfortable overnight. I wasn’t sure that she would make it through the night.

When I checked on her this morning, she opened her eyes but didn’t move. She tried to move away from my hand when I stroked her, which told me she was in pain. She only wanted me to stroke her head and her ears. I gathered her up in her blanket and held her, talking to her about what she wanted me to do. She looked at me with her big green eyes, so trusting and sweet and meowed. It may sound corny, but I knew she could understand me and I knew that the time had come.

I brought her to the veterinary hospital, and they put Meadow and me into what they call a bereavement room. I held her and told her how much I loved her. She seemed to know that it was time as she just lay on my lap and closed her eyes. She looked up at the young woman who came to give her the injections, but she wasn’t afraid and she didn’t try to run, and for that I was glad. I think she was just tired, and she was looking forward to everything I was telling her about being able to run and play and eat as much tuna as she wanted once she was over the Rainbow Bridge.

Meadow’s death was quiet and dignified, and I cradled her with love until she was gone. I know I did the right thing for her, but my heart is still broken a little bit. I will miss her and her sweetness, her chatter throughout the day, her constant presence hovering just out of reach like my own personal satellite.

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Flashbacks

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Back when we were beautiful…

I had to go to the mall today to buy a birthday present for my friend’s daughter, who is turning 8. Walking into the mall with a five year-old boy is always an adventure, and I usually sneak all such errands under the radar while he’s at school or camp. I couldn’t do that today as I had to be a grown-up and have a mammogram during his last hours of camp, so I was stuck.

We entered through J.C. Penney as I wanted to go the store Justice for the birthday gift. I was told that the birthday girl is into fashion, so I decided clothes were my best option, and from my limited wanderings around the mall, Justice seemed like as good a place as any to get some cute little girl clothes. In we went, my stride long and determined, The Boy skipping to keep up with my pace.

Then we hit the women’s clothing section, and I saw the cute little red blazer with the rolled up sleeves and the cuffed, faded blue jeans with the rose embroidery. I stopped and touched the blazer, the soft silk of the lining showing on the outside of the sleeves where the were rolled. For a moment I was back in college, circa 1989, finishing getting dressed to head out on a Thursday night with my roommate and best friend, our hair curly and pulled up off our faces, cascading down our backs, unruly and sexy and wild.

How beautiful we were, how completely unaware of our own power and the luxury of our lives as undergraduates at a private women’s college in Boston. Our tuition was paid, and our part-time jobs provided enough pocket money to ensure we could pay the cover charge to get into any bar we wanted, where we then would drink for free all night courtesy of the handsome and buff young men who clamored around us. We never felt it, of course, but we held all the cards. We had what they wanted. All we felt, however, was the fleeting loneliness at the end of the night when we would walk away from the bar, arms wrapped around one another to keep ourselves from falling down, laughing at something one of the hapless young men had said or done. We wanted them to love us, and they did. We just never knew, and in our own way, we were as clueless as they.

I came out of my reverie to the sound of The Boy’s whining and tugging at my hand. “Let’s go, Mama! I want to go to the Lego store!”

I released my hold on the blazer and allowed myself to be pulled forward through time to the present, to the exquisiteness of my real life, by the beautiful boy who now owns my heart. As he dragged me along, I mused that fifteen years from now he will be one of the handsome and buff young men in another bar, in another town. He will wait for one of the young women in that bar, so beautiful and powerful, to notice him, never dreaming that was his mother forty-odd years before.  With much bigger hair, of course.

Contemplating the Heavens

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Another month has passed, and here I am back to add another brick to my happiness home. According to The Happiness Project, August is the month I’m supposed to spend contemplating the heavens. The “to-do” list includes the following:

a) Read memoirs of catastrophe.

I’ve always loved a good catastrophe memoir or story, even movies. Maybe loved is too strong a word; I’ve always been drawn to them. I’ve read The Buffalo Creek Mining Disaster by Gerald M. Stern, Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson, The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough, Columbine by Dave Cullen, and most recently, Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala. I’ve seen Titanic, The Impossible. I force myself to watch 9/11 every time it is re-broadcast so that I never, ever forget.  I own a copy so that when my son is old enough we can watch it together and he will know what I cannot explain.

I cannot articulate why I am so drawn to these stories. Perhaps it is a curiosity to see how the survivors made it out of the horror that engulfed them. Perhaps it is a hope that by reading about the details, I can somehow avoid ever being in such a horrific situation. Intellectually, I know that I can never be so careful to avoid every bad thing that could befall me, but the control freak in me screams differently.

My gut tells me that the real reason is the human connection I feel when I read and watch, the vicarious fear, grief, pride and exultation that emanates from these survivors as heat radiates out from a fire. I never want to lose that connection, so I read and watch, and for a few moments I suspend reality to be in the shoes of the storyteller. Then, when it’s over, I am grateful for everyone and everything in my life anew.

Which brings me to my next assigned task for August….

b) Keep a gratitude notebook.

This is actually a really good idea, one which I plan to implement for at least thirty days beginning tomorrow. Even if I only do it for the month of August, I think it will be a great exercise to make me truly consider my life and things and people that have been meaningful to me, things and people for which I’m thankful. Now, if only I could find the right notebook in my pile to make into the gratitude notebook … Orange? Purple? Pink? Red? Green? Hmmmm……

Can you tell I have a bit of an obsession with Moleskine notebooks?

c) Imitate a spiritual master.

A spiritual master? I’m not even sure what that’s supposed to mean! Is it someone like Gabrielle Bernstein, motivational speaker and life coach? Or is it someone more like the wonderful rabbi at the temple where my family and I are members?

I’ve always subscribed to the journal of “I’m not really religious; I’m just spiritual.” The trouble is that I’ve never quite known just what that meant. I think I’ll tweak this third of Gretchen‘s tasks for August a bit. Instead of imitating a spiritual master, I’ll try to find my own spirituality and be my own spiritual master by incorporating into my daily life the teachings that most appeal to me and that have the most relevance to me.

When I was pregnant, I approached my rabbi with the question as to how I should deal with Yom Kippur. I had always refrained from taking in any food or liquid for the 24 hour period of atonement, but being pregnant I didn’t think that was a particularly prudent course of action. My rabbi told me that one of the most wonderful things about the Jewish faith was that it was forgiving, and fluid, meaning that I could observe the holy day to the best of my ability within the limits of my physical condition, and, in fact, I was not to endanger myself or my unborn child by refraining from food or water. The following year, I sought her counsel again as a nursing mother. I received the same advice peppered with even stronger language. Since my child’s only source of nutrition was breast milk, I could not partake in the fast because to do so would be to endanger his life.

I enjoy my religion. I enjoy the camaraderie of Sabbath and holiday services. Mostly, however, I enjoy knowing that I can interpret my relationship with my God, and I am not told how I must conduct that relationship.

With that in mind, I will research spiritual masters, and incorporate what I like best into my existing relationship with my God. Perhaps God will be my spiritual master. After all, God loves all humans equally and allows for many different expressions of appreciation and interaction, so there is no reason I cannot incorporate different expressions and interaction into my daily spirituality.

August is for contemplating the heavens. I wonder if that includes watching storm clouds approaching and holding my face up to the cool winds that roll in just before a soaking summer storm.

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On Being a Junkie

It is said by many that the first step in recovery is admitting you have a problem.

I am an addict.  A beauty product addict, to be precise.  That’s right, I am a product junkie.  And this is my year to get the monkey off my back, to ignore the insatiable urges, to fight the irresistible force that forces me to buy all manner of beauty products: makeup, hair, face treatments, appliances, treatments…you name it; I’ve either bought it, tried it, or quite possibly, still have it stashed under my sink or in my linen closet.

The state of my under sink bathroom cabinet that tipped me over the edge:

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Notice the plethora of hair products, a particular weakness of mine. I have naturally curly hair, but neither curly like Bernadette Peters nor classically waved like Sarah Jessica Parker; no, my hair is somewhere in between, and accordingly frustrating as I try to force it to commit to one camp or another.  Unsuccessfully.  Thirty plus years of trying ended with me choosing chemical straightening over everyday rounds with the blow dryer and either a flat iron or curling iron. Since I would allow a professional wrestler to break my arm rather than let my hair go naturally curly, I felt quite safe in throwing out all the products targeted to making curls more prominent.

Notice also all the skin lotions.  I have exceptionally dry skin.  Like the old alligator in the Lubriderm ad campaign.  In preparation for the culling, I pulled out all the bottles and consolidated all the part-used bottles and tubs into other mostly empty bottles and tubs.  There are still a lot of them, but instead of twenty-five bottles and tubs, I’ve now only got about twelve.  Seriously, I don’t have to buy body lotion for about two years.  That’s if I use the stuff every day.  Which I’m trying to do since I hate the tight, itchy sensation of super dry skin.

The state of my bathroom counter that further contributed to sending me over the edge (not even taking into account Ernie Hemingway’s side of the two sink vanity):

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Again, notice all the hair products.  Is anyone sensing a theme?

And last, but certainly not least, the pile of old makeup that I finally threw out:

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I have resisted throwing out the stuff for years, mostly because every time I consider it, I see all the labels and cringe to think of all the money it represents:  Chanel, Dior, Estee Lauder, as well as the occasional Cover Girl, L’Oreal Paris  and mongrel brand tossed in for good measure.  With it  all in the trash, that seems like a silly rationalization, especially when I consider that ninety percent of it predates the birth of my child, some of it ringing up the decade mark.

At age 44, it’s time for me to give up the fantasy that I will one day be one of those chic, lipstick wearing sophisticates portrayed in the advertisements of the aforementioned companies.  If I looked like Kiera Knightly, Jennifer Lopez, January Jones, Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron, Kate Hudson, or any of the various ethereally beautiful models who peddle the products on their airbrushed and photoshopped faces, perhaps I’d feel differently.

However, my reality is that if I have a tube of lipstick in my pocket, it’s more liable to fall out and roll under my car seat, melting into a waxy puddle that can never be removed from my car mat than be whipped out at a moment’s notice when I have an impending business encounter. If I have a tube of lipstick in the inside pocket of my purse, it’s likely to be used as a pen or a crayon, not swiped across my lips to give my pale complexion a bit of color before I meet my husband for an unplanned assignation.

Lip gloss with a hint of color – I’m all about that. Those lovely little tubes that smell delightful but hold no interest for my child and are easy to put on without a mirror as I’m dashing around during the day?  Yeah, baby!  Stock me up.  But true color that could bleed or will make me look like a clown if not applied properly?  No way.

At least for the foreseeable future, those days are behind me.  Perhaps someday in the future, but even if I get there, my lipstick tubes will likely be ready for dissection by an archeologist by then.  Better to give up the fight now and simply admit defeat.  I can always buy new ones … when I don’t have mortgages and car payments to make, a rapidly growing child needing clothes every few months as he shoots up and out of them.

I wish I could say that I bought all these various products over the years because I’m a reformed shopaholic, and although that it a tiny piece, that’s not all of it.  The sad truth is that I purchased all the products because of an inability to accept myself for who and what I was.  I wanted curlier hair, straighter hair, glossier hair, tighter skin, brighter skin, less cellulite, longer and stronger fingernails, silky smooth feet, tanner skin without going out in the sun (although that’s actually a good thing).  I wanted to be the glamorous woman behind the products, the fantasy offered by those advertising geniuses.  I wanted to be noticed, to be envied, to be cherished as all of those women appeared to be.  I wanted to be a better me, a different me.

Since 2013 is my year to discover and embrace my bliss, it is about time to get rid of all the evidence and baggage I’ve accumulated over the years that allows me to put off facing the reality in the mirror.  I am … me. Just me.  No better than that, no worse than that.  I’ve got my strengths, my weaknesses, my admirable qualities and my traits that make me and others cringe.  I can try to change, but the only real change can come from within.  I can’t change my cynicism by wearing red lipstick, but I can change it by stopping myself from imagining that having those perfect pillow red lips will make me less of a doubter.

I can be happy with myself and find my happiness in the wonders of life all around me.  Trying.  Now THAT makes me happy.

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Hair Nirvana

Something else that makes me happy.  I have found hair nirvana.  I don’t mean a place, but an elixir that far surpasses any hair treatment I have ever used.  And I have used lots over the last 30 plus years that I’ve been doing my own hair.  I have found the kind of hair treatment that allows me to leave the shower, comb my hair and walk out of the house with wet hair.  When my hair dries, it does so without making me look as though I either fell into a vat of olive oil or stuck my finger into a socket.

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Argan oil.  Specifically, Arganics by NuMe.

This stuff is precious.  It feels great to handle, smells wonderful, and doesn’t leave my hair greasy feeling or looking.  It tames the ends, smoothes the roots, and even when my hair air dries, leaves it looking smooth and shiny as if it’s just been blown dry.  If I do use a blow dryer, the drying time is about 5 minutes.  And I have long hair, well past my shoulders.

It’s pricey, I admit, but a bottle lasts about a year, even with my hair length.  When you consider that an average bottle of hair treatment costs $6-$8 and lasts about a month, it’s actually less expensive than a lot of other things you can buy to put in your hair.

For a woman who has spent many hundreds of hours drying her hair with a blow dryer over the course of a lifetime, this product is a life and time saver.

I love it.  Just sayin’.