2014 Reading List

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There are so many websites that post discussion ideas, blog post ideas, article ideas, photo challenges and the like during the week between Christmas and the new year that it’s sometimes overwhelming and hard to distinguish what is actually worthwhile.

One list in particular, however, caught my eye, so I’ve decided to pick up the gauntlet thrown and run with it for the month of January.  Read more

December: Boot Camp Perfect

Well, we’ve finally reached the beginning of the end.  The end of my year of new resolutions, that is.  According the my roadmap for this past year, December is the time to engage in “Boot Camp Perfect.”  By that, apparently Ms. Rubin means that I should follow all my resolutions and determinations all the time. 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 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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Have Ambition, Will Quilt

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I still can’t figure out what I was smoking the day I agreed to be one of the class parents for my son’s kindergarten class and the co-leader of the baked goods section for his school’s annual fair and marketplace. One would be fine, but doing both is going to drive me crazy through the end of the day on October 19, the day of the fair. The Boy is excited; I’m dreading it.

As a class parent, I had to attend an orientation meeting last week. At that meeting, we were instructed on how we should communicate with the other parents in our children’s classes and what information we should disseminate to them. Each class has two class parents, and as the class designees, my co-parent and I were informed that not only we were in charge of keeping up communications with the other kindergarten parents, but that we also had to dream up an idea for a class gift to be auctioned at THE school fundraiser in the spring. And did they forget to mention that we were also tasked with creating said gift? Oops, sorry, but yes. Dreamer and creator. That’s what the job description should have said.

My brain works in funny ways. As I was listening to the class parent overseer describing the responsibilities regarding the class gift, my stomach was simultaneously dropping to the floor and doing back flips at the idea of doing something creative. I love the idea of being creative, and I get thoroughly excited at the prospect of crafting, sewing, scrapbooking … generally anything that involves the creation of original and pretty things. I just never seem to find enough time to execute my grand schemes. An idea popped into my head, and when I shared it with my co-class parent, she loved it. The teachers loved it when I told them. So now I’m committed.

To making a quilt. With all of the little urchins’ handprints and handwriting on individual muslin squares. To dragging out my long dormant sewing machine and figuring out how to use it again. To pulling out all my scrap fabric and cutting the border pieces. To designing the borders with all of that scrap fabric so that it doesn’t look like a paint box threw up on the quilt top. To layering the quilt and batting on the wood floor of my mostly empty living room. In short, I’m committed to driving myself crazy making a quilt that will be auctioned off to the highest bidder among the kindergarten parents.

Regardless of how many hours I actually have or may be able to find, my quilt must be not only good, but great. But not too incredible, lest I end up with a job on the auction committee moving forward. Apparently, in the history of this annual auction, no other class parent has dreamed up an idea quite so early. What I didn’t have the heart to say is that I only came up with the idea so early so that I wouldn’t be stuck playing catch up over the holidays and the school break. I have plans for those school breaks, and I’ve no intention of changing those plans to sit around on my duff and sew.

I used to quilt, actually make gifts for people in my life. One memorable holiday season, I made a king-sized quilt for an old boyfriend. At the time I made it, we had been together for a year and a half; we broke up after three and a half years. Every once in a while when I open my “crafting closet” and see my cutting mat and fabric cutter, I wonder if he kept the quilt, and if he did, whether another girlfriend ever asked where it came from. It’s unlikely that he kept it, but I do hope he at least gave it to his mother, sister, or someone else who might appreciate it. Thinking otherwise might make me crazy to think about all the time I put into that quilt, all the time I took away from other parts of my life. Then again, I did it willingly and happily.

My son’s teachers are excited about helping the kids make their individual squares. I’ve purchased the requisite washable acrylic paints and fabric markers. I’ve designed the quilt, figuring out the best layout for 17 one-of-a-kind squares. This week I will go and get the twelve inch square muslin pieces. I’m excited, too, but I wonder if I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. Of course, regardless whether the quilt fetches $500 or $5,000 at auction (hey, I can dream!), the important thing is the memories my son will retain of my involvement in his life and his education. I can only hope that when he is a parent, he will look back and remember his mother’s reign as a classroom parent with fondness and humor instead of cringing.

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The Right Decisions

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“Can I invite Jill on Saturday?”

This question came from  my son in the back seat as we drove home this afternoon.  Our town is having a fair on Saturday, a festival of entertainment that celebrates our community by providing fundraising opportunities for town youth groups and non-profits, and highlights the work of our town’s service organizations.  The town center is closed to all traffic, and the streets come alive with pedestrians swarming and darting where there are normally only cars.

The fire and police stations are open to the attendees, and the kids get to climb up into a fire truck and sit in a police car, complete with the opportunity to sound the sirens.  There are bouncy houses, miniature golf, electronic race car courses, food stands, and all sorts of demonstrations and vendors.  It’s kind of like a parent approved free-for-all for the kids.  There are police everywhere, and kids don’t stray too far from their parents, as one or both hold the key to a successful day:  the money.

For the past two years, my son has invited his friend, Jack, from nursery school, whose mother became a good friend once the boys began begging us for playdates.  Although our boys attend different schools and we live about 25 miles apart, we try to get together every couple of months, more if time and scheduling permits.  Jack and his mother will come again this year, and we plan to ride our bikes down to the town center from my house.  Both boys enjoy riding, as long as the riding involves their tandem bikes.

And then today my little guy tossed out his request to invite Jill.

Jill is an eighth grader at his school and the daughter of a school administrator.  She is a lovely young woman and I enjoy watching them interact.  It is sweet that The Boy has such a great relationship with her.  He often talks to me about playing with Jill on the playground during recess, and how he really likes that she pushes him and his friends on the swings.  One day toward the end of the summer, when The Boy was getting a little nervous about going back to school in general, and in particular about starting kindergarten and having full days, I opened the mailbox and there was a letter for him.

It was from Jill.  She wrote that she missed him and was looking forward to seeing him back at school and hanging out and playing with him at recess.  My heart melted as I read the letter to my son and I saw his eyes light up.

Upon the kids’ return to school, I told Jill’s mother what a sweet gesture I thought her letter was.  Her mother relayed that Jill had asked if she could write to my son because she missed him and wanted to make sure he was having a good summer.  A few days after school began, The Boy and I arrived at drop-off at the same time as Jill and her mother.  Jill bounded out of the car and yelled a hello to my son, then scampered over to walk in with him.  He let got of my hand and took hers, then happily skipped away with her.

When Ernie and I were looking at schools for The Boy, one of the things I loved most about his now-school was that they allow children to be children and encourage the older kids to interact with the younger ones.  I wasn’t entirely sure how it would work out in practice.  Seeing his smile when I drop him off and pick him up, hearing the excitement in his voice when he tells me about something new he’s learning, and watching the relationship develop between my son and his eighth grade friend, I’m thrilled with the decision we made.

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Making It Count

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I was sitting at my desk 27 floors up with my back turned toward my office door, sipping my coffee and gazing out at the mind-numbingly blue sky, when my phone rang. I see it in my mind, over and over as if on a slow motion playback reel. I glanced at the number; it was my then-husband.

Without a word of greeting, he told me that a friend from New York had called and said a plane hit the World Trade Center.

Shock. Horror. “What? You mean a commuter plane? A little one?”

“He’s not sure, but it must have been someone who didn’t know what they were doing. It’s not like you could miss those buildings.”

Relief “But he’s okay? And Annie and the kids? Were there any casualties besides the pilot?”

“Yeah. I don’t know.”

“Call me when you find out more.” The paging system in my office crackled to life, and I could hear people moving in the hallway behind me.

“Okay. Talk to ya.”

Click.

“Love you.” My endearment flew into the abyss.

I was wearing a royal blue silk shift that morning, with a seascape pattern. I loved that dress. I never wore it again.

I was fortunate. Although I lived and worked in Boston, and I regularly traveled the Boston-Los Angeles route at that time in my life, I was in my office, safe and distant on that fateful morning. All of my family members, friends, or colleagues were safe.

I knew people who knew people who’d lost loved ones. There were law firms in the Trade Center buildings where attorneys I had known tangentially worked, and I never heard again from one young associate with whom I had been negotiating a settlement.  I still don’t know what happened to  him, as the entire deal was rendered moot in the horrible aftermath.  That was as close as I got to the tragedy, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

Like the rest of the country, the world, I was shell-shocked. And like everyone else, I struggled with the philosophical, the whys, and the question of if there is a God, how could he or she allow this evil to happen. I knew I had to make my life count for something, and that I couldn’t let pass this opportunity to change my life for the better.

September 11 for me is more than the anniversary of the deadliest terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. It is also the anniversary of the day I began to know, truly and well that my first marriage was over. It was reinforced for me in the days immediately following the attacks, but that phone call began the unraveling.

In the days following, my office, like so many others, was closed, and I was at home catching up on all of the administrative duties that so often go undone when billable hours are the be all and end all. My ex was frustrated that I was home; he felt that people were scaredy-cats (a euphemism for the term he used), and everyone should just go back to work.

On the Sunday after the attacks, we watched the “60 Minutes” episode during which Ed Bradlee interviewed a woman whose husband had left for work on September 11 and simply vanished. She had three young boys, and as I watched her disintegrate on national television, I thought that is how I would be if anything happened to my husband.

My then husband’s reaction? That she should stop crying and suck it up. He used much more colorful language, but I will not be as disrespectful as he was by repeating his exact words.

As I sat staring at him, my jaw hanging open, I knew that he lacked a sensitivity chip and that he was simply not someone with whom I wanted to spend the rest of my life or have children. We had been having difficulty in our marriage, and to that point, I had held out hope that we might be able to work through it and come out stronger on the other side. That moment crystallized for me I was simply on the wrong path with the wrong person, and I knew instantly I had to jump ship.

When I asked him for a divorce, he told me that I belonged to him and that he would never let me go.  Two and a half months later, after much screaming and crying and throwing and breaking of things, I moved out of my house with my belongings and my cats while he was at work.  Thirteen months after that, on Christmas Day of 2002, the judgment was final, and the nightmare of divorcing him was over.

I will never forget.  To honor all those that lost their lives, it is my duty to make mine count and not waste a single moment.

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Gratitutde

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As I’ve been going through August, I’ve been diligent about publicly stating each day one thing for which I am thankful. At first I thought that my Facebook friends and Twitter followers might find my devotion to the exercise quirky or even a tad annoying. Really, who wants to read the status updates of somebody when all she does is focus on how wonderful a life she leads? What’s so interesting about that? Nevertheless, I persevered with my effort, and I have been pleasantly surprised.

I’ve received encouragement, praise and even commentary from a couple of people who said they like the idea so much they’ve decided to do it themselves. One particularly amusing comment from a woman with whom I attended high school a million years ago queried “Are you taking happy pills? If you are, sell me some!”

Of course, I can’t take the credit for the idea; I must defer to Gretchen Rubin and her book The Happiness Project, from whence I borrowed the idea. What I can do, however, is take credit for my implementation and follow through, as well as for the changes it’s generated in my life during a brief period of time.

The three weeks that I’ve been posting my daily thankfulness tidbit, and ruminating on the people and things in my life for which I’m grateful have brought much joy into my life. For the last few years, more often than I’d like to admit I’ve felt sad and downtrodden by life and my place in the world, but the last few weeks it is as if a cloud has lifted and the sun is shining brightly, illuminating all the dark spaces and chasing away the shadows. I made a conscious decision to be happy, and I haven’t let anything stand as an obstacle. I looked around at the happiest people I know and made a deliberate intention to be more like them, to stop battering myself.

Since I stopped incorporating negativity into my life, I find myself turning into an optimist, and that positive attitude is bringing positive energy to my life. My little gratitude experiment has made me happy. That one small shift in attitude has made me realize just how truly blessed I am to have the life I do, the family and friends I do, the husband and child I do. Because I love and cherish my people, and their meaning in my life, for the first time in a long time I feel and know that I am loved and cherished, that I am important.

Determining that I will be happy has given me to freedom to open my heart to all that I have in my life, and I’ve discovered how good giving of myself and letting people see the real me can feel. I’ve stopped hiding myself, stopped trying to protect myself from something I was sure was waiting around every corner, stopped presuming the bottom was going to drop out and instead started assuming that the best is yet to come.

I’ve ripped the tarp off of long buried family secrets and discovered that the dysfunction doesn’t define me, but instead makes me human, makes me approachable and real. I’ve stopped being ashamed of what I’ve survived, and intend to share it, to illuminate it, to confront it at last so that I can be free of it. No longer will I hide the secrets, keeping them in the dark to grow like so much fungus, afraid that if the world sees, it will pass judgment on me for the sins of others.

From the earth to the heavens, thank you. You make me smile.

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It feels the same in any language

Happiness is a Pint of Ben & Jerry’s Bonnaroo Buzz

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Anyone for ice-cream?

My familiar happiness muse tells me that July is a month for buying myself some happiness. Without further ado, here’s how I plan to acquire happiness during the month of July.

a) Indulge in a modest splurge. I need a new pair of eyeglasses this month, and rather than head straight for the sale rack at For Eyes, I plan to stop by the fancy-schmancy eyewear store in the next town and pick up the beautiful pair of Tiffany brand glass frames that I’ve had my eye on for a couple of years.

b) Buy needful things. I’m an under-buyer married to an over-buyer. I guess on some level we balance out one another’s purchasing insanity, but rather than accepting that logic, I’m aiming to bring both of us towards the center.

c) Spend out. Over the past few years, I’ve gotten quite good at this. I get rid of worn out or no longer useful items in my household. What I cannot do is apply the same guidelines to my writing. If I’ve written something, even if I know it’s lousy and will never develop into anything other than what first comes out of my pen or keyboard, I am simply unable to get rid of it. I must learn that the delete key can be my friend.

d) Give up something. I’ve given up my bad habits over the years: too many margaritas or glasses of wine, too much partying, driving overly fast, the occasional social cigarette, eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Bonnaroo Buzz in one sitting when I’ve had a bad day.  I’ve eliminated all of those bad habits as I’ve aged.  To be fair, I still do crave that ice cream on really bad days.

One thing I haven’t given up, however, is my worst habit ever. I yell. I have an explosive temper, most especially when I feel defensive. So that’s what I’ll be giving up for the month of July, and I hope for good. I don’t want to yell at my child or my husband anymore, even when I’m seeing red.

I recently discovered the blog The Orange Rhino, written by a mom who decided she was fed up with yelling so much at her kids and decided to stop.  Her commitment was 365 days without yelling; I will commit to 30 days and when I fulfill that obligation to myself and my family, I will recommit to the next 30 days.

On Being Brave

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Lately I’ve been reading some squirmingly honest blog posts and articles by some incredibly brave women.  Posts and articles about drug addiction, weight issues, regret at having become a mother, past love affairs, and any number of other cringe-inducing “god, I wish I could erase that from my experience” moments.  I’ve had my fair share of those moments, but not many of them are nearly interesting enough to provide me with enough material for a blog post or an article.  For example, the time that I told my good friend I would never consider purchasing a particular house that had been for sale for some time because it was on a main cut-through street.  A street on which she and her husband had just purchased a house.  Ugh.

What reading those pieces has done for me, however, is given me the courage to look at my own life with honesty and try to discriminate between those little moments that are not worth obsessing over and the things that truly deserve my examination and analysis, the moments that have defined me.  While most of them have been good moments, I’d be lying if I said that all of them have been.

There is the gut-wrenching divorce from my first husband that shattered my soul.

There is the relationship (or lack thereof) that I have with the man who provided half of my DNA (otherwise known as Sperm Donor) that reverberates through my being, affecting everything from my self-confidence to my willingness to be vulnerable in a relationship.  I’d like to be blithe and say that Sperm Donor and how things went down between him and my mother, and between him and me, doesn’t affect me, that he doesn’t have that much power over me, but I’d be lying.  The truth is that he was my father for the first five or so years of my life, and his abandonment has caused problems for me, lots of therapy notwithstanding.

There is the ending of my career, the career that I pursued for most of my life with a single-minded drive bordering on obsession.

There is my marriage and learning how to navigate a long term intimate relationship with another human being not related to me by blood.

There is the birth of my son, the most amazing and awe-inspiring gift I’ve ever received, that turned my world upside down and challenged my opinion of myself and my world view.

There is the decision I made to start this blog, to put myself out there for the world to see, flaws included.  Although I didn’t realize it at the time, that decision set me up for my most recent defining moment.

Last week I received a mass e-mail from Danielle LaPorte, a lifestyle/career guru.  She is starting a new magazine in September, and she’s seeking submissions for the inaugural issue.  My heart leapt when I read through the submission guidelines, and instantly decided to submit something in each of the categories.  Over the last week or so I’ve been revising and shaping up various pieces, and for most of that process I’ve been doubting myself, wondering if I’ve really got any business doing what I intend, wondering if the reviewers will be laughing their asses off reading the materials I’ve submitted.  But still I’m going ahead.  Heart pounding, mouth dry, hands shaking, I will be pushing the submit button and sending my babies out into the publishing world.  I may get my head slapped, but at least I’m moving forward, taking chances, and building the life I want.

With any luck, someday soon I’ll be including a link to my published work.  Wish me godspeed and good fortune.