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MOVING AND SHAKING


MOVING AND SHAKING

“Does anybody really know what time it is?” The tune of that fabulous and very danceable Chicago song started randomly playing in my head today as my morning began. Why do our brains do this? Why do they just start coming up with songs out of nowhere? I didn’t hear a Chicago song, but now I want to get up and change my Pandora from Chet Baker to Chicago and start tapping my feet and swaying my hips. Maybe it is the line itself and not the actual song. In our lives, what is time anyway? We have a short time span relatively speaking to the life on earth never mind the universe. Whether we get to live a long life or a short one, ultimately, it is up to each of us to make it a full one. Time is irrelevant actually. What I know about time in my personal observations of human behavior is we like to use it a lot as excuses for not doing versus doing. “I am so busy.” “I don’t have time.” “I don’t have my schedule with me.” I hear these lines all day every day, but what does it actually mean when we wake up each and every morning breathing- all we really have is time.

This is the conundrum I see especially with the vast amounts of women I have the privilege of meeting in my life. Running around from place to place, driving children, running errands and checking out our phones endlessly to see what the latest Facebook post is. I get it because I have subscribed to this meme allowing it in my past to be my guide rather than realizing ultimately each and every decision we make is a choice. Once I realized this and the late and great Wayne Dyer got me thinking about choice as a unique and personal decision, I understood that where we are and what we do with where we are is a choice. Like it or not. We who live in this free place have endless choices about how and what we do with our time. Our good fortune is often taken for granted. Surely.

So when there is music playing just about anywhere, I dance. On my front porch, in my backyard, walking by Gillarys on a Sunday afternoon after a few IPA’s at Judge Roy Bean and at our beloved July 4th concert series basically a hop skip and a jump from my front door. It is helpful that I share my life with someone who likes to dance as much as I do and has no inhibitions about being the only one dancing in a sea of sitters, and dance we do. Often. We move and shake, we sweat and glide and the world disappears each and every time a song comes on that speaks to our souls. And there are a lot of them. Last night it was Hey Nineteen, a band that sounded so much like Steeley Dan, I had to remind myself it wasn’t. The concert had a bummer turnout because it had been raining buckets and thundering all day, I am sure people just wanted to stay home in their dry houses, but they missed out. I have the luxury of a walk rather than a drive to the concerts so we reaped the benefits of this concert last night. Like a hula hoop or a roller coaster ride or a bike ride down a hill, dancing, impromptu, frees my soul from the ties I have allowed it to be bound by. Dancing reminds me that I am alive and happy and lucky. Dancing is a wake up to the world and BE HERE NOW. I am never quite sure how people can’t get up and move and shake when a rhythm or a beat starts pounding, sometimes I feel it is more Ego screaming, You can’t do that, no one else is dancing. You’ll look foolish, it is daylight. What will people think? And the hundreds of others beliefs that are imbedded in our brains by that dangerous EGO of ours.

The crazy and complicated miracle of caught it early breast cancer is the excuse to move and shake, to rip that protective cape off and literally bare my chest because it was necessary for life. Isn’t that so ironic and weird? That breast cancer coupled with turning fifty got me out of my never ending mind blither and got me into my LET’S ENJOY WHAT I GOT thinking. I’d like to think I had that before breast cancer, but in retrospect, I didn’t give myself permission to live in the freedom I now find myself in. Breast cancer forced a shift I didn’t know I needed. It was not a gift, fuck that. I refuse to say it was a gift or a journey, that language is irritating. More like an old fashioned alarm clock that rings loud because you wound it up the night before and forgot to push the metal lever in from the day before. It is surprising and alarming to your system of your deep slumber and though you want to shut it off sometimes you can’t find the clock fast enough.

One of my favorite and feistier superchicks I know and love, Nancy J. came up to me last night because she saw me dancing and wanted to give me a happy hug. She gets me and I have always felt a connection with her. Maybe it is our similar self proclaimed #lovelybadass selves. I could feel her love and her joy for me and my aliveness. This is the thing about cancer in all forms, whatever stage you have been at, there is a one size fits all visual people expect you to look like when they hear you have or had it. I never had “the look” because I never had chemo so the added bonus is that people see me and my sassy self and it is magnified because of the expectation that I looked a certain way before. This always makes me gratefully and humbly laugh.

Because I go out with a 71 year old man I am blessed to call my partner, I will always be young in his eyes because of our eighteen year age difference. Surviving cancer is kind of the same thing, it was caught so early that I was never sick, so here I am. Though now that I think about it, maybe it is the new boobs too that bring on the complimentary commentary, maybe it is the electric pink lipstick I now adorn myself with because why the hell not? Being the only one on the dance floor, wearing shocking pink lipstick or hula hooping in the garden are all little tiny ways that symbolically celebrate life, my life. When the final days come because let’s face it, no one gets out alive, I hope I am remembered as the one that danced in the daytime. Moving and shaking, smiling, laughing with bright pink lipstick, red head wrap around my silver hair, dressed head to toe in red white and blue on July 4th because I could.





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CARES TO THE WIND

CARES TO THE WIND

It was an average Monday, my standard paperwork day. Wake up, go to the gym, do some gardening and then sit at the computer for about four hours to catch up from the previous week, deposits, bills, mail, return calls and check emails I had put aside. I had a 2:00 meeting with the power house men of the Explore Bristol team, so I had a little less time to finish up the work I had ahead of me. Once the latter part of the afternoon rolls around, my brain starts to turn to jello and I just can’t sit anymore staring at a computer screen and numbers.

I had taken a great workout class in the morning and vowed that there would be no wine drinking for at least the day. This is not an easy task to overcome the weeks leading up to July 4th in a town that celebrates the oldest July 4th celebration in America. It is party central here in Bristol, RI and it is so much fun from June 21st to July 4th. I am sure all my AA friends are rolling their eyes at my perpetual rationalization for nightly wine consumption, but we’ll save this for another essay at a later date.

So the three compadres of Explore Bristol, a small grassroots volunteer tourist organization, gather at the Lobster Pot on the back deck outside on a picture perfect early summer day. We were there to talk about the latest news on an upcoming building project, the past events and all things small town, leaning into the comfort of each other’s company as we have been working together for over eight years. We are friends and colleagues and though we have completely different political views, we have a strong connection and this was a chance to just simply relax and hang out. Shrimp cocktail, oysters and smoked salmon came out in trays as did the crisp white wine. Mmm. Didn’t I just say there would be at least one day before the fourth that would be wine free? Always breaking my own self imposed rules, what the hell, one glass on a hot summer day among friends to celebrate our successes? One glass. Well clearly, Jeff had other plans because then the second glass came out. Ok. No more driving possibilities, I’ll walk home. Our conversation became livelier and it is amazing how quickly two glasses of delicious white wine on a random Monday afternoon with no responsibilities can give the freedom of blowing all cares to the wind. Fuck, as much as I have the perpetual chatter of do I drink or not drink, (block your ears my AA friends here) there is nothing like a couple glasses of wine to ease the burdens of grief albeit short lived. I was fully aware that this jovial feeling that was rapidly taking over my otherwise sad heart from hearing about yet another woman’s breast cancer advancing, and it is bad, would be short lived. Like tomorrow when I would wake up wondering why I had to have the fourth glass, more on that later. I have known this superchick for over twenty eight years; she used to be married to my former brother in law and we both got breast cancer around the same time unbeknownst to each other until after.

So as the three of us enjoyed the third glass of wine, trying to stop the train called Jeff from deliberately trying to get us intoxicated, we released for a few hours the burdens of cancer that two out of three us had been dealing with for the past three years. We laughed, planned, ate, talked over each other, and tried to figure out how we would be getting home. In the case of Mike, he had dinner plans and had to answer to his surprised wife when she called and could clearly hear that something was amiss in the sounds of her otherwise pragmatic and responsible husband’s voice. I had already made the call to my twenty year old son to come and save me by driving me home, bribed with the promise of a dinner at the Pot.. Mike stumbled out to be picked up by his wife as they had dinner plans in Providence with friends. Don’t know how he got out of that one and Jeff and I checked in with him the next day to find out if we were both in the doghouse along with him. We haven’t heard back. Not good. I managed to wolf down fried clams, grapenut pudding with icecream and thankfully a glass of water rather than a fifth glass of wine knowing that the regrets of all of this would be plentiful at three am.

There is something to be said about living in the proverbial moment, a challenge I have been working on. I am finding it easier to do this, leaning into the fun, dancing when no one else is and hooting it up whenever a chance presents itself. Impromptu day drinking is one of those rarities that can’t be planned, but when it shows up, the fun and release of all stresses and worries is really a treasure in the moment. As I realized that I definitely had one too many glasses of wine on a rare Monday, I also realized that life is a blast on so many levels, it blasts by too and I for one vow after this past Monday to have more parties. We need more celebrations, more dancing, and whether you drink or not, definitely more letting go however it presents itself. We need to celebrate life while we have it and not wait till we don’t. Trust me on this one, parties are in my future and likely yours too. And because I am old school, you may have to actually take a walk to your mailbox to find out when, because my inbox is full and I need some fresh air. And as fate would have it, just as I finished up this essay today, a song just came on called, Here’s To Now. Divine.


let the partying begin!
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COULD NOT RESIST

COULD NOT RESIST

As soon as my eyes landed on the worn glass counter top at one of my favorite shopping joints, Second Time Around, a feeling from the bottom of my gut came over me that I couldn’t explain. Warmth, familiarity, depth. I instinctively brought my left index finger up to the round black key and tapped firmly. Click. A virtual symphony of the past reminding me of something I couldn’t, no pun intended, put my finger on.

“Grandma had the same exact one,” my Aunt Kiley said, and like the perfect fit of Cinderella’s glass slipper, I was transported to my grandmother’s desk in her bedroom realizing of course, this was the typewriter she used to type her letters, her recipes and her school work for the classes she taught special ed reading to for her entire career.

No spell check, no backspace erase, no wires, no wifi, no printer hookups, this black beautiful beast weighing enough to cause me to have to get a cart to wheel it out to my car because I just had to have it. I know. I have made many proclamations of reducing my crap, not shopping and creating an almost zen minimalist fantasy in my homelife, but I just could not resist this blast from the past. The sound of the keys, the winding of the paper and the clicking of the clips to hold it in its place. The zing of the carriage going from right to left and left to right and back again, the glory of watching the key embed a letter onto the white paper like an episode of Murder She Wrote or Rose Marie and Morey Amsterdam in the Dick Van Dyke Show creating episodes and comedy skits.

As I directed my son to put the typewriter on the kitchen table he sat down and took a good look at it, pushing the levers, moving the cartridge, analyzing its mechanisms, he said, “This is so mechanical.” A machine with no electric. A work of ingenuity yet simple in its form when we really looked at each part making up its entirety. I couldn’t figure out how to open to the front to change the ribbon. I didn’t want to force anything, breaking it right out of the gate, so I just left it on the table like a museum artifact and ordered ribbon from Amazon.

I had heard an interview on Jim Braude and Marjorie Egan about some people writing instant poetry for people walking by. Then as “coincidence” would have it, I ran into this very concept in Providence one day as I came across a young hipster type guy sitting at a real typewriter like the one I bought. For a small donation you gave him a word or phrase and he wrote a quick poem to give to you. I gave him the word “beach” and he crafted a beautiful poem in less than five minutes a virtual lifetime these days for the short attention span Google generation, I am sure I have it somewhere in my piles because it was eloquent and captured my sentiment without us ever crossing paths prior. I really enjoyed the creativity and spontaneity of the experience.

As I affectionately stared at the typewriter in my kitchen I had the idea that rather than poetry, I could sit outside on my sidewalk and do the same with a super short story. How fun it would be to raise money for a literacy program or something and a grown up alternative to a lemonade stand. If I practice enough so that the entire piece does not need whiteout, (do they still even make that?) I know this could be a blast. It would certainly be a great exercise in fast thinking, faster typing and better writing. If a typewriter, old school, brings that out, then the forty four dollars I spent yesterday was worth every penny.


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CONTEMPLATION AND ICE CREAM

CONTEMPLATION AND ICE CREAM

This should be the name of a new treatment, I thought as I decided yesterday that I couldn’t live without ice cream because I went to my second funeral in a week yesterday of another young woman. Ice cream was soon to be some much needed therapy that only ice cream can be. I found myself with the day off and no plans and a bag of freshly bought edibles from the compassion center in Portsmouth where I am a proud and loud carrying card member. Rather than day drink after the funeral, surely not a solution to anything, especially since the young woman who died was sober for a good part of her life, I cut a very small piece of the caramel square, placed it on my tongue and decided that today would be a day to relax. Medical marijuana has been a savior for the band of tightness that has become like a Siamese twin on my upper body and though I don’t need it as much as I used to, it is definitely helpful for stress and anxiety and taking the edge off an otherwise weepiest of weeks. Yes I know we must go through the pain, not around it, delve into the grief, but sometimes just taking the edge off moves me there a little faster. Like ice cream. And a bike ride and a caramel edible.

Gretchen, the superchick who died, whose funeral I attended had six nieces and one nephew, many who spoke. The service was sad, but beautiful and I could tell the priest really knew her. I don’t often feel moved at Catholic funerals, sometimes they feel a little rote and sometimes I feel an ironic lack of spirituality. Not this one. I was so moved by the Good Father’s words I actually felt like I could be a member of this church for a brief moment. His language about our grief was spectacular, encouraging us to stay in the present moment, to free ourselves from the what if’s what could have been and in Gretchen’s honor, live in the now, with zest and joy and spirit. If there had been a gospel choir singing along with this message, the service would have made me want to stand up and wave my arms in the air singing I BELIEVE!

Funerals like weddings bring up a lot of matter, matter from the past, seeing old faces, not seeing some faces. Funerals like weddings have a way of bringing you up close and personal to your own life choices, love lost, aging, sadness, happiness, a virtual mecca of emotion. I found myself at Gretchen’s funeral yesterday starting to plan my own funeral in my mind which I know is bat shit crazy, but I couldn’t stop the train. Funerals do this, they make you think of your own mortality and how you may want your own exit to be if you had the ability to make the plan. Trying to control my funeral even, clearly I need more therapy (or more edibles or more ice cream). One of the nieces made some references to overeating Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream so much that their stomachs were beyond full at sleepover with their Aunt Gretchen, how Gretchen loved bouquets of wild flowers and many other delightful antidotes about a life well lived albeit shorter than it should have been. Their personal words were touching and heartwarming and when I got home to figure out my remaining day, I just knew ice cream would be part of its recipe.

With dinner already in the works on slow cook, I got on my bike and rode like the wind, just me, no friends along for the ride, just the wind in my hair, water in my basket and a freedom like no other. Bluebirds and yellow finches flew fast and furious in my vision, cardinal sounds warmed my ears with hope and the notion that everything is alright. Ospreys communicated in a way that took me off my bike just to stare. It was refreshing to see so many kids on the bike path without their parents for a change. Kids actually outside, moving their legs with no cell phones in their hands. The sky was bluer, the trees were greener and the air was that perfect breeze that made the bike ride comfortable for either a slow or fast pedal depending on my mood and energy level. I pedaled and glided and freed myself with a much needed second week day in two weeks off, though this one was not playing hooky. I actually had this day off and forgot that a funeral doesn’t take all day and there was no way I was going to do paperwork after.

Before I left for the bike ride, I noticed that one of my employees had a two hour opening, but I didn’t want to take the appointment in case it could be filled last minute, always the possibility. On my way home from the bike ride, when I stopped to look at the ospreys, I texted the front desk to find out if the appointment was still open and when the answer was yes, I took it. But first I had to fulfill my ice cream obligation. Stopping by the ice cream parlor to discover it wasn’t open for another 2 hours, I made my way home and walked the short distance across the street to Pick and Pay praying they would have mint oreo cookie. They did proving that there indeed is a God and that Gretchen was indeed with me in the Pick and Pay.

I still had a full half hour before my appointment so I made it home cranked open the ice cream and stuck my spoon in the creamy cool delight knowing that I still had my treatment ahead. This treatment would end my afternoon with perfection, a spassage, an hour and half warm oil rubdown like nothing else by Katelyn, a long term employee who has a smile and an innocent happiness like I seldom see in people. Katelyn usually freaks out when she sees my name, her boss’ name, in her schedule for anything other than waxing, but she greeted me with her sincerest warmth. I told her I was there purely for relaxation, that I didn’t want to talk, I just needed to chill out. As soon as her hands touched my back, I felt her care, her maturity, her strength and I understood immediately why women would want to go to her for their appointments. She had beautiful light and I was immediately taken into her arms for an hour and a half of meditative peace.

As I lay there in a dreamy state going in and out of REM slumber, I couldn’t help my creative brain from going into full gear coming up with new treatments and new business ideas. This is a sign that my brain is clearing from the cobwebs and fogginess of grief, that I am very much alive and in Gretchen’s and Lesa’s honor will seize whatever is remaining and march forth. As I finished my treatment, joined Michael C outside in the garden for an afternoon glass of wine, headed back inside for dinner and the news, I was looking forward to finishing my day. First off though, I would finish the pint, something I have actually never done before, I know, hard to believe for those of you who know me, in Gretchen’s honor and in honor of a life that was finished too soon. I cut some flowers for her, finished off the ice cream and reflected on my day. Satisfied and belly full.


for gretchen
recipes

BURN THE BUTTER

BURN THE BUTTER

Burn the butter along with the many other little lessons my grandmother taught me without trying to teach me is some of the best cooking and life advice from a woman who was born and raised in the Midwest and found her way to Boston in her post college years. For those cooks out there scratching their heads at the notion that burning the butter is actually a good piece of cooking advice, march forth. When it comes to scrambled eggs, burn the butter is the secret ingredient to the tastiest scrambled eggs bringing me back to my childhood, a childhood layered with butter and cream and coats upon coats of rich dairy staples. Burn the butter should be more like brown the butter, not really burning it, but getting it to the point when the butter is melting and it gets that rich caramel like smell. If you added a teaspoon of sugar, it could almost be dessert itself. But you don’t, you add two scrambled eggs and mix well until they are ladened with the butter, just soft enough to feel creamy, but not wet enough to be slimy. The perfect scrambled egg was one of the many morning routines from my grandmother, put on sliced thin Pepperidge Farm white toast (do they still even make this?) also with just a hint of butter as her morning staple. And a small carafe of black coffee.

My grandmother, Kitsie, my mother’s mother had lots of one liners and sometimes my Aunt and I try to remember them. “There’s enough blue in the sky to make a dutchman’s pants.” would mean that the sky would be clearing and it wouldn’t rain if the sky had the clouds in it that otherwise would make you think it was about to. “She was a colorless girl,” to describe someone who was bland and nondescript. “He who hath no expectations, shan’t be disappointed,” was another frequent phrase, spoken from a woman who had to work on this for a good part of her life. Like recipes, the pearls of wisdom from long gone family members instilled in our hearts and souls is often the words they left us with that we find ourselves reflecting upon in our daily lives especially now that I am getting older.

My neighbor Dottie, has lots of these one liners, too that are already embedded in my heart. One of my favorites is, “You can’t see it from Fall River,” meaning don’t worry about it. Just forge ahead. Like a recipe from our childhood, the words that are said often innocently are the ones that stick around in our daily mantras without really thinking about them that much; they just appear out of nowhere almost letting us know that these important people in our lives are very much still with us. I like the comfort of that.

Like this morning when I decided to make my eggs in my grandmother’s style almost burning the butter, having toast for a change also with butter and a little strawberry jam. I went out on my front porch to eat my breakfast. Rather than try to balance the plate, the tea and my laptop, its own recipe for a spill, I did it the civilized way, placed it on my favorite tray and made my way to the fresh air in the early morning light. My grandmother did this almost every time I slept at her house except she ate breakfast in bed reading one of her library books. For her morning ritual she would wake up, get breakfast ready and place it on a tray and bring it into her bedroom. I always remember her eating breakfast in bed. I can’t remember the last time I did that and actually it doesn’t really speak to me like breakfast outside on the front porch the morning after a rain and thunderstorm in one of my many sitting areas I have created.

Rituals of sitting and resting, like rituals of language are an important part of my life. I love to exercise and write, but creating spaces in my space is something that really speaks to me. When I freed myself from the boundaries of social norms like having a dining room, a living room, a tv area, my house opened up like Pandora’s box. I created multiple sitting areas in my house, in my business and outside so that at any given point in time, I could have a place to read or write or contemplate. When I say multiple, I’m not kidding, I counted and came up with eleven! Just by giving myself permission to not have a traditional dining room and living room, the world of my home became my oyster and my dining room became the perfect nook for writing on a cold winter day or a bird singing spring morning. The kitchen became a great place for a rocker to look at my garden and write in my garden journal all the plans that if I get to even a quarter of them will be success. Maybe it was my grandmother’s influence all these years later of watching her draw her evening bath before bed or make her breakfast and have her own party in her bed that stuck with me in the importance of self love, self care and .

Every time I smell butter or put a plate on a tray, she is with me. These simple root filled memories are the ones that stick. As I make my way today to the second funeral I am attending of another much too young woman who died this past week, it is those little nuggets in our lives that are the literal bread and butter of our daily grind. These are the joys and memories I keep close to my heart as I once again realize how precious and fragile life is. Short for sure. This is why the butter tasted so good today.

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A NEW SPOT

A NEW SPOT

Change is good. I say this phrase often and for the most part I am an earnest believer of change being a good thing. I like to move furniture, change places I hang my art, sometimes my dishes and pans and my closets, certainly. I enjoy the notion that energy shifts created by change are great and healing for the soul. I love the feeling after everything is moved and put back into a new place, the zest in my physique after gathering the adrenaline to singularly move bookcases and couches. The calm and satisfaction of the final sit after a hot shower with a cold glass of white wine or a steamy cup of earl gray tea depending on my place in the I am not drinking or I am drinking life I lead. I am a happy soul as I look around at my work and feel the shift that happens as I sit in my newly created space surrounded by the peace it gives me from both my creative side and my get shit done side.

The change I have realized I don’t like is when a routine changes that I have come to depend on for most of my life especially since I have been a grownup buying my own groceries and paying my own mortgage. A routine forced upon me because well just because. A routine like buying my beach pass, getting in my beach accouterment packed car on a Sunday morning and driving to the beach lot I am accustomed to and walking to the spot I have been going to for most of my adult life. Do not fuck with my happy place- the beach and everything that goes with the beach. From the first packing of the bag, everything sand-less and clean, new cans of sunscreen, new tubes of the better one for my face and décolleté (yes I know- roll your eyes here), my new books and stacks of magazines I have been saving even if they are from March. Clean fresh towels, my big cotton blanket I got in Menorca seven years ago, a new tube of lipstick, a new hat, all of these rituals are part of my tradition. Like the same dinner I make for Passover every year, there is a predictability I have come to rely on in an unpredictable world.

Last year the entire beach situation was upheaved, a rug pulled out from under my neat little perfect beach world when the Middletown Town Council decided on July 5th to change the parking lot to a residents only. Imagine. Now please dear reader, bear with me, this new “problem” is not at all anything to be fretting about. I know this. I really know this. As I passed the woman with the I NEED A MIRACLE sign standing in the baking sun by the Mount Hope Bridge today, a woman many of us have passed daily for at least a year I realize these are what should be considered problems. Not being able to park my sparkly new car with my one hundred and forty dollar pass at the parking lot I want is not a problem. I shouldn’t even be complaining or making commentary or writing an entire piece about it, I realize this but there is an end to this discourse, I promise.

Today I decided to just get over it. I am never going to be able to park in the lot I have always parked in again and whining about it is not going to change anything except my beach experience for the entire summer. Today I decided to get to the beach at 8:30 am to see if I could stake out a new spot for the summer. In the spirit of total detachment, I chose to leave my phone at home so I could just focus on what the best part of what the beach brings out in me, napping, reading, writing, eating, swimming and meditating, staying present. I found a new space in the new parking lot and walked a very short distance (one positive already) to a spot that shall remain nameless as to not open up its whereabouts. I was almost the first one there, a personal best for me, and plopped my things down. The water was calm, the air was clear, very slight cool breeze; the day was a definitive ten. People started to come around ten but mostly families with little ones, no blaring music, no one yapping in annoying one way phone conversations and mostly there was generally great beach behavior.

I woke up from my nap to one of the dads standing strangely close to me and I realized he was staring at a hawk who had taken up residence about ten feet from me eying some prey below. We all had some quick conversation about whether it was an eagle or a hawk (come on, there was no fucking way it was an eagle), but regardless it was a big bird. I have witnessed a lot of red tail hawks and it definitely looked like this to me. I watched him (or her, not sure, but it seemed very male like, I don’t know why) I stood there with no camera just watching, then a red winged blackbird made its way over to the tree about six feet away from the hawk screaming like she was warning whatever was beneath his gaze. She was not happy and she sounded like a lioness protecting her nest. Watching this for about fifteen minutes was a spectacular moment in my new spot at the beach that wouldn’t have happened if I had been at my other spot. The reward for surrendering. As a matter of fact I had earlier floated on my back eagle spread in the crisp Atlantic water breathing deeply to the words I SURRENDER, I SURRENDER, trying to LET GO AND LET GOD take some of my troubled and sad self into the heart of the universe for a fresh wash in the spin cycle. These words help in times of crisis for me and as my old go to guy Wayne Dyer said, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” This change in my new view finder today was rewarded with the beauty of a simple witness to nature today. And I feel better already.



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ANOTHER CHICK GONE

ANOTHER CHICK GONE

Suicide, heroin overdoses, cancer. This year so far seems to be the year of exits. Is it just because I am getting older and life is just happening at a more expedited pace? Or is everyone just getting sicker and sadder needing to depart from this place sooner than planned? I have no idea, but what I do know is that it is wicked sad. I am wicked sad. I am tired of grief. Weary of grieving and feeling teary eyed. I am drained from worrying about whether cancer will return in my own body because I just want to drink wine and eat ice cream and stop the madness of concern that every non organic, non clean food item that enters into my mouth and down my throat is an irresponsible decision that will affect my life later down the road.

Gretchen died. A vibrant and disciplined woman I had the pleasure of working out behind for well over four years died after an almost year long battle with serious cancer that started in her breast and had a party on her bones and everywhere else. She was given not more than a few months and said a loud and bad ass Fuck You All making it to her niece’s graduation, I’m guessing her personal carrot, a place to get to, a goal to make it past. Strong heart from all of that working out and eating clean kept her heart alive and strong while the rest of her faded away around her.

Gretchen was young and healthy and I loved working out around her as she had the most incredible hair, wore the coolest workout clothes and looked great in them. She was one of my role models for increasing weights as she was always using the heaviest weights and while I was recovering from my surgeries I squatted and chest pressed in awe of her ability. She was a pint sized powerhouse, had the kindest of smiles and a loving warmth in her eyes. Some may even call her a gentle spirit. She was the type of person who you would describe as someone who wouldn’t hurt a fly.

When she first got her diagnosis I offered her some of my stash of medical marijuana stash. She was in a lot of pain and I recognized her descriptions from when my brother was first diagnosed. This is when she likely thought that all of the poison and protocols that would be offered as the doctor version of Hope in a Jar had the magic outcome the drugs claimed. She looked me square in the eye and told me she had been sober for years and didn’t do drugs. This was before. Before the pain got so bad that years of sobriety likely went out the door because all of that sobriety didn’t really help her health in the end. I hope she had a nice big glass of Brunello before she was too sick to drink it, I hope she had a triple scoop banana split from Newport Creamery and a big fat medically prescribed joint as she faced her very uncertain future.

All of her yoga, her weight training, her kindness, her clean eating, her light- though it mattered to the people who were lucky to know her, it mattered greatly to her many siblings and nieces who loved her, it didn’t matter to Gretchen because in the end, she died. Another superchick gone. I don’t know about you but I am fucking sick and tired of trying to see the bright side of things. After my workout today with my fellow chicks who all knew her and worked out with her too, I am guessing the majority of us are having a big glass of red tonight and probably a hot fudge sundae because all of this is out of our control. For those of us who think we have some control over the simple fact that not one of us gets out alive, we are kidding ourselves surely. So tonight if you see me out and about, I’m the one with the sassy chip on my Proseco glass. I am honoring the chicks we have lost this week by doing what I want. A glass of bubbly, a kickass pizza and a hot fudge sundae. To Gretchen. May your bright light be as lovely bad ass wherever you have landed and may we continue to feel your presence all the days of our lives.

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DISHES IN THE SINK

DISHES IN THE SINK

After spending over a week writing a eulogy for an old family friend, then reading the eulogy at her very sad funeral filled with my past life like the movie, The Big Chill, I woke up yesterday feeling like I was hit by a mack truck. The part about eulogy writing is that it is a great distraction from the loss itself. I write and rewrite and add and subtract and read and reread. Then I do it all over again and read it aloud so I can be sure to know the piece enough to look up and look at the important people sitting in front of me with their grief in their laps. Eulogy writing is something that channels itself through me so much so that its calling usually wakes me up out of bed at three am to begin its unraveling down the winding writing path.

When I woke up yesterday, I just knew that I couldn’t work; I was drained, sad, emotional and exhausted. As my business is like a living breathing organism always there when I need it, it turned out to be an unusually slow day. So I asked my illustrious team of superchick employees if I could play hookie and they could take the helm. Because they are who they are, they said a resounding yes without a blink of an eye and I made my way back to my house to gather some beach items so I could spend a quiet day in mourning in my private sanctuary and alter called The Beach.

When I got to my house at seven am after spending the evening in Newport with Michael C after the funeral, I was surprised to see Quality Roofing in my driveway. I have been trying to get Kevin, roof Master with a capital M, to fix my roof since I first spotted the three leaks in my ceiling a few months ago. I was surely not going to send him away so after we bantered back and forth for a few moments, the literal roof started to come off, almost a cliché to the way I felt.

There are no coincidences, at least in my neat little world and sense of order of things, not that I necessarily believe the tagline so freely thrown around to solve everyone else’s problems, Everything Happens For A Reason. Fuck that. I can’t stand when people say these things to other people. I mean Fine. If you choose to believe this for yourself and the rambling road you find yourself on, believe away. My personal belief for me and my own personal life experience is that Everything Happens in the Divine Right Order. For some reason, this mantra always grounds and centers me in the worst of times and the best of times giving me prayer like peace and humility. However, I try not to smear and whitewash this personal belief system on others now that I sit in the seat on the other side of two close cancer calls. I am sure I was in the boxing ring of throwing out these one liners BC (before cancer) and I almost cringe at the comments and stupid cards I sent out not having a clue of what to say. Now, though, that I am the winner of the boxing match, I know better. As a matter of fact, I know better about a lot of reflections and life coming at me moments and this is the beautiful side of the aging process.

The other beautiful magical side of the aging process is the freedom of leaving dishes in the sink. I was as pretty much every woman I know programmed from an early age right along with making your bed in the morning not to leave dirty dishes in the sink. I am a bit of a rule breaker so I am not from the school of intense rule following that I never leave dishes in the sink. I actually do this, but my own neat little rule is not to leave so many that they can be seen when I walk into my kitchen. Thanks to the previous homeowners, I have one of those fabulous deep farmhouse stainless steel sinks so hiding the dishes is an easy feat for this busy chick. I don’t do it often, but when I do it usually means one of two things, I am just too chock filled with over booking myself and I literally don’t have the extra time, which is not too often but it does happen. The other reason is because I am in emotional overload and the permission I give myself to just leave the dishes in the sink, piled up like some college age kid is pure freedom. At least temporarily because the fact of the matter is that the dishes at some point need to get done and the longer they sit, the worse they get. Kind of like negative thoughts and sadness. There is the resting period, the need to sit on the couch and wallow, the need to blow off an otherwise planned day and grieve the loss and just feel sad, the soaking period, but at some point, the rolling up your sleeves and getting the scrub brush out has to take place. If it doesn’t the caked on, stuck on greasy mess you left is worse then it was the day before surely. For us women who are the resilient types, the get shit done women, we get this and we eventually sooner than later get off the couch and grab the SOS pads and start scrubbing. Sometimes we do this sooner than we should. Sometimes we need to allow the soaking for just one more day, just giving ourselves the freedom to walk away from the sink and take a breath of fresh air to buy our own bouquet of roses for our table.

The dishes do get done and for this the symbolism of the metaphor as it relates to grief and sadness is the lesson that always propels me to just get them done. Now. Not later. Later and sadness are not a good marriage. Grief cannot be put off, it has to be dealt with or it deals with you. For today when I woke up after leaving the dishes in the sink for two days along with pans and their covers on the counter around the sink, I knew it was time to just move on. People die. It is sad. Life is short and shorter for some, getting those dishes washed this morning reminds me that I am lucky to be alive to wash the dishes for another day. So I did. Mostly.


I love this plaque hanging in front of me when I wash the dishes. Given to me by my mother, there is a certain irony in it, but it makes me happy as I scrub away at the caked on pile.
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Eulogy for Lesa Turillo (read last night at her funeral)


Eulogy for Lesa Turillo (read last night at her funeral)

NATURE VS. NURTURE

When someone dies from our childhood whom we haven’t seen for many years, but who was a significant part of our young life, there is great pause. And like the movie The Big Chill, all of our past and present connections gather today in a room filled with old friends, family and love for Lesa Turillo, a magnanimous young woman who touched all of our lives both happily and sorrowfully.

We all know the elephant in the room that has become the norm of our country these days, the elephant of addiction. As Scott wrote so eloquently, addiction knows no races, no classes, no boundaries and it has taken hold of our communities in a way we all never saw coming. Many of us from the early days of Jamestown life knew each other from the partying we did because in Jamestown back in the seventies and eighties if you didn’t have parents watching your every move, and we who hung together fell into that world, we had lots of freedoms on an island where there was nothing to do except party. The one area we nutty kids never crossed though, was the heroine area. Heroine was the taboo drug none of us went near. The hold it had on Lesa is what took her young life and we all hope her death has set her free from the inner demons she dealt with for the addicted part of her days.

Lesa and I crossed paths in a unique way. She was three I was newly sixteen. We both had moms we walked on eggshells around and I had just started dating her dad. This was thirty-eight years ago. And standing here today with the privilege of retrospect, it feels like it was just yesterday.

Lesa was to become a major part of my life for the next eight years, the supposed formative years, though in all reality the formative part likely happened from birth to three making me really think about nature vs nurture. Clearly we nurtured, but perhaps the genetics of her illness started from the womb. We will never know this and contemplating it and hitting the rewind button does none of us any good.

My own mother and I had become estranged for a brief period and as I dated Scott and ultimately lived with him, Lesa was a major part of my life in our very young lives. I’d like to say I had a good maternal influence on her, but let’s be real, I was in my later teens suffering from my own family traumas. The only way I knew to act as a mother was what my mother did, which was to bake cheesecake, make sure she was bathed and clean, shop for nice clothes for her, teach her table manners, host sleepovers with her friends like Jessica and Eden and make sure she went to school and did her homework.

As I write this, I can hear her and see her running towards me after not seeing her for some time as I made my way to the funeral of Stephanie Cook who Lesa was very close to. Lesa was about middle school or high school age, arms spread eagle wide, yelling my name with the brightness and happiness of a child as she ran towards me to fondly greet me with her big smiley and joyful personality. The first thing she said to me as we quickly reconnected was, “Alayne, do you know that I still put my napkin on my lap every where I go out to eat? You taught me that and when I do I always think of you.” Then she asked me if I still made cheesecake and I realized that these simple gestures in a childhood have impact. I am sure her comments that day helped me along as I found my way to have my own son many years later. I often pictured her in the times she found herself in prison putting her napkin on her lap alongside of her other inmates and it always gave me an odd smile. For those of who knew Lesa’s sense of humor, I am sure you get that.

The picture, my personal favorite of Lesa standing with Robert Plant is a story that must be told in case you all haven’t heard it five hundred times already. Back then Led Zepelin was Scott’s favorite band of all time and Robert Plant was his rock and roll idol. Scott and Lesa were in Bowens Wharf for some reason and somehow Scott managed to find himself looking directly at Rober Plant. Imagine the odds of this. Then imagine the odds of this. Scott actually had to run home with Lesa in tow after the slim chance that he just met his idol to get a camera. Because for those of us over thirty there was a time when we all lived without a phone attached to our bodies let alone a camera. The odds of driving home running into the apartment to get a camera that would even have film in it and then driving back down Van Zandt, down Farewell, down America’s Cup Ave to find parking for the second time and then actually finding Robert Plant again and getting him to pose a picture and sign an autograph must prove to even the most of disbelievers that there is in fact a higher power. The best photo ever of Lesa and Robert Plant and Scott Lesa and Robert Plant is one of those tender and rarest of moments that are ingrained in my memory all of these years later. Way beyond luck. Happiness beyond measure for sure.

When Lesa turned ten, Scott and I decided to have a surprise party for her. Somehow I managed to get about seven or eight Jametown mothers to allow me to pick all of their girls up in some big Lincoln or Buick Scott had at the time and drive them from Jamestown to our Newport apartment for a sleepover. Imagine, I am about twenty one with the responsibility of seven ten year olds sleeping over the apartment. Likely this would never happen today in the helipcopter world of parenting we now live in, probably a good thing as this story will tell. I got the insane idea to have them watch a scary movie because Lesa’s birthday was shortly after Halloween. I think Courtney and maybe even Lesa’s cousin Alethea was part of this absurd escapade. The scary movie was a preview to the evening we had planned for the girls which was an enactment of a live horror movie that would be taking place behind the door of the kitchen involving ketchup and a knife. Needless to say this whole idea was a very bad one and I am sure the traumatized girls have had a lasting memory of this for the rest of their years. Funny though, as I write this I have a distinct memory of years later a few of these girls saying what a blast the night was and asking Lesa when we would be having another one? Hard to believe, though as my friends and I found ourselves bribing their shivering bodies and tears giving them their morning parting gifts at night instead to help them sleep and prevent us from having to drive them all home and explain to their mothers what foolishness we had come up with.

Lesa landed in my life at a time where I had no business trying to help raise a little girl who was living with a mother battling her own traumas and sadness. But Scott was an integral part of my teens to my early twenties, a great man, a great dad who did the best he could at the tender age of twenty one finding himself in the unique position of being divorced, and sharing custody of a three year old.

Life always presents forks in the road. Do we go right or left? Do we go north or south? Up or down? The lure of the quick fix to drown painful moments begs us to take the easier flat road that lies left because the uphill climb looming large and tiring is the one on the right. It just seems so much easier to go left. Lesa had lots of forks in the road. She had enormous amounts of friends and family cheering her to take the hill and telling her we would help her climb. Teachers, friends, family, Domenic, Scottie, Peter, her many siblings, Christine and the many many others who tried to influence her to take the fork that would enable her to be the intense beam of light all of us recognized in her except for her.

Lesa was a gentle spirit, a kind spirit and a creative one with a big wide open heart that no matter how much love we all tried to pour into it, there was always a hole for her that leaked and she needed more than we could give her. There is great sadness, feelings of guilt and deep personal responsibility that occurs when we can feel someone special in our lives fall away from our grasp, our help, someone who turns away from the love we offer because the hole for some reason just can’t be filled. I am totally confident that everyone who knew Lesa offered her the care and support she needed, but ultimately Lesa was the one who needed to make the decision to accept or deny. Everyone here can put their head on their pillow knowing they did the best they could. Hopefully Lesa knew this on the deepest of cellular levels before she died- that she was loved despite the distance that becomes necessary when addiction to heroine is part of the unwelcomed guest in the familial tribe.

As Scott said when we spoke, the Lesa we all knew died many years ago and it is the memories of her as a little girl we hold in our hearts as we leave here today. Her smile, her infectious little laughter after she drank a Dels lemonade in the back of Scott’s green halfback VW as the sugar took hold, the memories of her holding all of the little animals, both live and the stuffed ones she couldn’t part with, like her mom loved and taught Lesa to love. Her love of dressing up in a funky style that was a mix of her hippie like mom, Robin and eighties Madonna. We all had our small and big glass shards of influence in her little spirit as we too were all young kids surrounding her with our wackiness, our youth. I hope that when she parted as her spirit released itself she took a little of us with her. I know we all have her with us.

The ancients say that when a person dies a piece of their soul becomes a part of the people they loved. I think we can safely say that we can all feel her in our own souls and I know she felt ours.

Good Bye for now, Lesa with an E instead of an I. until we meet again, dear one. May your soul be free at last and may you finally feel the love that was always available to you and always will be.

Love Sorrow

Love sorrow. She is yours now, and you must
 take care of what has been
 given. Brush her hair, help her
 into her little coat, hold her hand, 
 especially when crossing a street. For, think,

what if you should lose her? Then you would be
 sorrow yourself; her drawn face, her sleeplessness
 would be yours. Take care, touch
 her forehead that she feel herself not so

utterly alone. And smile, that she does not
 altogether forget the world before the lesson. 
 Have patience in abundance. And do not
 ever lie or ever leave her even for a moment

by herself, which is to say, possibly, again, 
 abandoned. She is strange, mute, difficult, 
 sometimes unmanageable but, remember, she is a child. 
 And amazing things can happen. And you may see,

as the two of you go
 walking together in the morning light, how
 little by little she relaxes; she looks about her; 
 she begins to grow.

Mary Oliver

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WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES

Big plans this morning as usual. I have a lot to get into my schedule because I have to work at 9 today. Gardening, writing and a bike ride are in the forefront of my plans. Waking up at 6am, a little late for this early bird, coffee already brewing thanks to Michael C. and I am off and running. Well not really running, moving. Brush my teeth, wash my face and oil it up, throw on my gardening dress and those trusty red plastic gardening Birkenstocks and grab my compost bucket to get my ass outside where glory awaits. If I don’t start watering and weeding at the early am, the computer calls to me and so does my writing. I love that part of my morning ritual, but my garden does not and life and the plants that are its bounty deserve my first awakening once gardening season is upon me.

I manage to balance my turquoise metal compost bucket on one wrist, my Life is Good black coffee filled mug in the other and make my way from my second floor habitat to the fragrant beauty that lies before me. I bring my bucket to the back compost area created in memory of my dear friend and compost expert, Ros and add to the pile, opening the homemade bin that works just fine now that I have some compost wisdom under my gardening belt. Buying a compost bin is almost laughable now that I have taken a gigantic trash bin, drilled holes everywhere for the air and water and for less than fifty dollars, I have a golden pile of joy steaming and working like nature simply does when you stop trying to control it.

But these are the lessons of nature and gardening. And life, actually. Leaning in, accepting, allowing and most importantly cutting back. I have noticed that the more I cut my plants, the more they come back with a vengeance as if to say, thanks for the haircut, I am stronger and more vivacious with the energy you have bestowed upon me. So I march forth to the hose and turn on the water while Michael sits on the back deck reading the NYT. The cardinals are quiet today as I begin my almost daily routine of watering my immense beds and pots. I am filled with peace as the shoots have tripled since yesterday, the soon to be bright red hibiscus is growing at a pace that I can’t comprehend. Where does their energy come from? Yes I know science 101, sun, soil, worms, light, water, oxygen = growth, but what makes this all work? I contemplate the workings of life and nature as I water happily, taking sips of my coffee that follows my path placing my cup on the various resting places when it is not in my hand. I bend to notice why some of my basil and tarragon is not doing so well when the oregano and bay leaf plant is growing at a rate that gardeners dream about. I am at peace, completely and utterly present to myself and I think back to last year at this time when I couldn’t really even bend to garden because I was recovering from a double mastectomy. Last year at this time, gardening was a chore, something that overwhelmed me and I had to allow it to just be what it was going to be along with the help I had to ask for. I reflected back on how I had made the commitment to be part of a garden tour for the Bristol Art Museum and somehow managed to pull this off. Was that only last year?

Each gardening season reminds me of last gardening season and the season that is ahead as I make note of what will be cut and moved for the fall. Divide and conquer more like it. Purple iris’ need to be shared in the back left where I could swear last year had a full bed. This year lots of empty space. My lambs ears, usually a super easy plant that makes me so happy decided not to return this year. To do, to do, to do. The lists are endless as I contemplate my day realizing that the porch and my writing will usurp my bike ride today as there is only so much time in the early morning to fit in all I desire.

Today I am reading a eulogy that I wrote for a young woman’s funeral who died from an overdose. Heroin. Another great spirit taken by addiction. I had known her since she was three and I dated her dad when we were both far too young to be doing anything other than dating. She was thirty nine when she died and I hadn’t seen her for well over twenty five years since her addiction became her best friend.

As I gardened this morning, I am filled with moments of poignant memories of a time in my life many people who know me now would not recognize. But these are the formative years that build the character of these later ones. The whys and the whats are all part of who I have become today. I sit here this morning rereading the eulogy for the tenth time to practice the momentum of its pace and its pauses so I can try to contain the emotion that it will likely bring as I look into the eyes of my past life. The unique view I have the privilege of being part of today is that I get to be a bookend for her life. I was there at the early days, like a new planting and I am here today at the end like a plant that can’t be saved even though you want it to come back next year. Sometimes nature has just run its course and it is time to go. Funerals are like bookends. They bring together the past and the present with the old faces from my childhood that were once young and breathless and are now filled with lines and etchings of the past thirty five years. Sadness coupled with the joy of seeing old friends are the only part of the funeral experience that make it bearable. I sit here today as I finish my writing with the bittersweet feelings of looking forward to going and also the intense sadness of the loss mixed up like the compost in my backyard. Just as I finish, the waft of the first smell of the blooming honeysuckle that reminds me always of my young life in Jamestown, makes its way into my nose and my heart. Besides this, there is silence. The cardinals and the birds are not singing to me today because it is like they know that a life has been taken too young to sing about.

Lesa with an E instead of an I in her earliest days way before her addiction. Yes that is Robert Plant she got to meet him in Newport as he was visiting and she and her Dad just happened to be there at the same time.