life lessons, NATURE

WAITING FOR AN ANT

I have an unstoppable amount of energy that propels me, daily, into a whirlwind of activity. This energy is a force  I have always had, one that when I lasso it, I can have such joy from the satisfaction it brings me. At times it can also cause an intense feeling of failure and fragmentation in my soul.

Today I woke up after a week of incredible accomplishment, finishing a to do list of cleaning and organizing that would make Marie Kando smile. I finally straightened up a basement filled with enough frames and glassware that I could probably open my own IKEA. This cleaning of the basement was nagging at me for months as I had done this already once before when I began my love affair with J’s Junk. This time, though, these things I had accumulated were from another basement, my Providence business location, that I had cleaned out over two years ago.

Rather than throw perfectly good reusable items away, I had decided to bring them to my basement and reorganize them for a yard sale or reuse some other time. Two years later, there they sat, gnawing at  me like an old scab on a wound that would never heal until I left it alone. Not a pretty sight, but kind of the last hurrah of many years of over purchasing along with disarray from having two businesses and everything that happens between them over time.

I love the feeling of saying to myself, “Let me just move this one thing.” And before I knew it, like Samantha twitching her nose on an episode of Bewitched, the entire basement was pulled apart and reorganized. I am not finished yet, but it is almost there. This caused me to redo a spare room in my business that had become a catch all for anything needing to be out of sight from clients. This led  me to clean a shelf removing my Wonder Woman collection from my living room and placing it neatly away in a storage bin.

Checking things off of my list, cleaning, organizing, moving and shifting energy, learning, reading, writing, growing, changing, this is who I have always been and I seldom tire from it, except when I do. Then it is that time. To stop. To stare. To sit.

So this is where I found myself today when I woke up. No plans, no to do lists, just me, my garden and my book and laptop. In the garden, under the umbrella, a plentiful array of birds at the feeder, butterflies and hummingbirds, cardinals and bunnies. A virtual gorgeous symphony of sound and a simply lovely environment to do nothing.

I watch an ant carry a dead ant on its back. As I get up to inspect this, I accidentally sweep them with a honeysuckle branch and split their funeral walk interrupting what may have very well been some type of ant ceremony. I scold myself and apologize to them knowing that I have disrupted a simple but likely complex natural life cycle of two little ants. I watch for the alive ant, who rushed off from the disruption, to return to pick up the dead one who was left behind from my insensitive curiosity to no avail. And I think, this is life too. I think, “When was the last time I watched ants?”

When my son was about four and I was opening my first business, I was moving things in and out of the space. He was sitting outside the stairwell using a stick to playing with dirt and an anthill. He was ensconced in the present moment  as only little ones can offer to us busy moms when we actually  just stop and notice. There was an annoying fly buzzing around his eye and he kept swatting it away. Frustrated and taking big sigh, he yelled out to the fly, “Fly! What do you think, my eye is your home?!” Truth serum out of the mouths of babes. I will never forget that tender moment all these years later. It was the reminder of the moment. To be in the moment for that actual moment that has stuck with me and one that I sometimes forget even when I am in my relaxed zen state.

There is always something to do. But sometimes it is important to listen to my brain and not do something. The not doing is doing and doing it is difficult. I am sure this is something that Winnie The Pooh must have said at some point. I watch nature, I wait for the ant to return and I check my phone. This causes me to lose sight of my intention to be in the moment and wait for the ant to return.  Instead I talk to my aunt on the phone for a bit and wander as I speak.

When we hang up, about twenty minutes later, I look down and notice that the dead ant is no longer there. I missed its departure and will never be sure if it was a fly that picked it up, or if the ant came back to continue its walk with it humbly on its back.

I sigh, thankful that I even noticed this and remember that I must slow down sometimes to notice. This is not something that comes easily, but rather than berate myself, I find myself just simply noticing the simple act of noticing. And the in between of not. Maybe the ant today needed to grieve the loss of its comrade privately without the prying eyes of a human giant. Perhaps this is nature at its truest core.

Meanwhile I work on my time alone with myself and nothing to do, trying to stay here in the nothing and not make my beautiful nothing into a busy something. Only time will tell.

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Health, self improvement

PHONES DOWN, EYES UP

After a ridiculously fun night out on the town with live music, lots of dancing and three gigantic scoops of ice cream to top it off, the morning followed. And it wasn’t as fun as the night before because the night before also included wine. Needless to say, “Not Drinking Today,” is taking a brief hiatus. Only for a few weeks, though, as the town I call home is July fourth festive almost 24/7 and wine is once again part of my nightly party.

Part of the morning after of the night before, is the morning bathroom. Without getting too detailed, (even I have my standards), I headed in for a much needed bodily function. On the way, I passed by my phone that I had made a conscious effort to leave face down since I woke up, and unconsciously grabbed it to take in with me. I’m guessing here- for the purpose of multi tasking. I can’t even believe I am saying this aloud. Multi tasking in the bathroom? Have I lost my fucking mind? Part of the routine of a night before is to load up on fat and carbs with a fervor. I hopped on my bike to get to the bagel shop at the speed of light and as I was waiting for my order found myself standing next to a woman also waiting for her order. She had her phone on the counter and was scrolling through messages missing the order taker’s repeat question of “What size did you want your coffee?” I finally answered for her, “Medium,” I stated because my waitressing skills from thirty years ago never seem to disappear.

My answering, “Medium,” caused the distracted woman to actually look up and quickly apologize confirming her request for a medium sized coffee. The young girl getting the coffee for this lady barely looked concerned as I am sure this is a regular occurrence at the counter in the morning with all of the sleepy customers ordering bagels coffee with barely a glance up from their phones for eye contact. Have we all lost our minds?

I recently heard a statistic that people are spending more time on their smartphones than television and this number is supposed to keep rising. Besides phones being phones, phones are now our cameras, video recorders, computers, radios, education, movies and television all wrapped in one small little, carry with us all the time even to the bathroom, package of convenience.

People are looking down at a rate that frightens me. From a physical perspective, our heads are perpetually down without moving our heads up and back for the counter balance of our poor necks, and from an emotional perspective, the lack of eye contact and smiling at one another. We are capturing every waking moment of every waking thing as part of our daily routines that is unprecedented in any human experience we have seen in our lifetimes.

What I notice about my own use is how sidetracked I can become in a nanosecond. I am a typically sidetracked person anyway, so clicking and moving around a screen is probably not helpful to my very sensitive brain. I wonder how much all of this bluescreen is negatively affecting my body. When I pay attention to the way I feel, it is usually a bit fragmented and staticky after a run with the screen for too long. Physically, mentally, spiritually, these elements of who I am, are hyper challenged when I am on the screen too much, not to mention the disconnect I feel in this false sense of connection.

I was at the beach yesterday and watched, between the parade of non stop thong wearing booty, hundreds of young people from middle school to college, looking down at their phones as they walked together. It used to be that we just walked the beach with a Dels Lemonade in one hand and the other hand free. Now every single hand has a phone, mostly iPhones, easily each one a minimum of a thousand dollars.

As I left the beach, I walked by adults on this packed hot pre July 4th weekday also on their phones, reading, texting, scrolling, trolling and some outright personal phone conversations like their beach spot was their own private phone booth. It is not. Everyone can hear the one sided conversations. Everyone can hear the bings, the swirls, the dings, tings, pings and every other distracting and inconsiderate noise polluting sound these tiny three by six inch lifelines make. Without so much of a deeply considered thought, we seem to have adopted these machines as an additional member of our families. Phones have taken the place of our time away to be with our thoughts alone.

Daydreaming used to be this pause in our busy lives. Now I find that when I do give myself over to daydreaming, as a thought enters my mind, instead of allowing it to move around the way day dreaming does so magically, I often interrupt its flow with the need to Google an idea.

Here is an example. I was sitting looking at my garden and watching the birds and bunnies forage for food, peaceful and quiet as I nursed my subtle hangover waiting for the bagel carbs to kick in. A question popped into my head. “If I could make a radical change in my life, what would it be?” The desire to sell everything and have a minimal life is always nagging at me. I like the extremity of this thinking. As I begin to consider the small rv I would need to get, I think about my friend’s little van she just reconstructed with a bed and some shelves and how handy she is. This thought leads me to thinking about if I could possibly figure out how to set up my own little space in a van and that lead me to thinking about where I might find someone who could do this for me. My brain immediately thinks, “Google it, Alayne.” And I have to fight the temptation. But like a pint of ice cream in my freezer, the call to Google beckons and I have to work at resisting. This would have never happened ten years ago. I would have just thought about the idea and let it flow the way ideas are supposed to. Then later, when I made my way to my office, maybe if I remembered, I would look up the how’s on the computer somewhere.

Phones have changed our human condition. Humanity has changed and simple day dreaming has become melded with technology where every click, snap, and search feeds the illustrious algorithms of big tech information about us so they can make our lives “easier.”

“Easier” seems to be the go to tagline to get humans to perform like circus animals. I remember when I was a little girl and TV dinners came out right along the time where kids were getting mini black and white televisions for their rooms and their own phones. Getting my gourmet cooking mother to buy a TV dinner for my brother and me took a lot of convincing. She had her standards, thank goodness, in retrospect. I also remember begging my parents for my own phone. It was a big deal when I got one and my father limited the amount of time I could spend talking on it because back then there was no call waiting in the seventies. If my father tried to call, there would be a busy signal and he would not be able to get through. This would not make my father very happy causing the threat of complete disconnection from my new phone. Leverage was what he had and most times I obliged the rules.

As I watch more and more people, especially our young people, with their heads down in their phones rather than a book, as I think about the future of actual television sets and going to the movies as a possible relic in the future, I feel worried about humanity. Will people actually stop trying to capture every moment when they realize they are actually missing every moment?

Humanity and technology is an awkward dance. Like the invention of the washing machine and dryer to make the washing of clothes much easier, we cannot imagine living without them. We have become dependent on their convenience and the thought of going back to using a washboard and a tub to clean our clothing seems ludicrous to our modern American way of life. This is the same with technology now; there seems to be no going back. Our entire lives are on our phones and I am afraid because of this, we must figure out how to co exist and still have human connection beyond a text.

Human connection feeds my sense of well being. I love a good deep hug, a serious sensual kiss, dinner in the garden, a dance on the front porch, spontaneity. I enjoy a beautiful book from the library trying to give my busy mind over to it on a breezy afternoon without looking at my phone for at least an hour. I am finding more and more that this break from technology must be a new habit I have to work on.

I know I do not need a phone by my side at every waking minute. I have to sometimes force myself to remember this as Apple would not want us to ever be away from our phones. I need to remember to look up, put my head all the way back in the opposite direction that it has has evolved into, downward like the pictures of the evolution of humans over time- head bent forward looking for food.

This time though, instead of feeding us for survival, we are looking for the human connection, but what we seem to have forgotten is that it is right in front of us if we would just remember to look up at the person standing right next to us.

AGING, Women

MAN-O-PAUSE

“You definitely need to workout in nature outside, often,” my dear and beloved fitness trainer, Kathy M., said to me after we finished an ass kicking workout yesterday.

We were speaking of menopause. Again. This is the hot, (pun totally intended), topic these days. It seems like every woman I know is talking about menopause. Maybe this is such a hot button issue because we are seeing the benefits of women entering the medical profession over the last twenty years. Finally, we are seeing the results of their influence.

Women are talking about menopause like it is, in fact, something. No kidding. Something indeed. We are actually saying the words, vaginal dryness, out-fucking-loud in daily conversations with other women. Hallelujah!

Nature is my solace for my post menopausal brain. No matter what is happening in my spinning washing machine cycle head, as soon as I go outside and smell the air, I am better. Going through menopause is one thing, but like a mastectomy and reconstruction, it is what happens after the dust settles where the real psycho body and mind shit starts kicking in. This is when we need to be talking and walking. Now.

I don’t mean to keep repeating the obvious, but since my grandmother never said the word, vagina aloud ever, I do so for any woman who lived before me in hot and dry silence. Vaginal dryness, belly bloat, weird crepey, saggy skin that is starting to creep in, cellulite and flab, no matter how many protein shakes and push ups. Seriously, when I smile now, my upper lip seems to stay back before it bounces back. My hair is on speed dial causing a full time date with the morning light and the magnifying mirror I previously vowed complete celibacy to, never mind looking in the rear view car mirror. Wouldn’t matter anyway since I can’t see anymore. I envy when women say, “hair barely grows on my legs anymore.” In my dreams.

Since I now need a magnifying mirror, this comes with its own set of warnings, like the magnification of every brown spot and line that seemed to appear out of nowhere. I just noticed the other day in that unfortunate light that my eye lid is starting to head south, like over my eyeball. Thankfully I have stopped wearing makeup so at least the mascara won’t land on my cheek. My mother taught me good skin care early on, and I actually listened, since moisturizing regularly has certainly paid off. I have pretty good skin, but since this has been my profession, I suppose it better be good.

Then there is the sitting in my beach chair and looking down at my stomach that belongs to some other woman. Where did the rolls come from? And I am not talking rolls because I am overweight. I am just speaking of my skin that now just rolls. How and when did they arrive? I swear, five minutes ago I was strutting around in a bikini, a real bikini, not a tankini, not a skirt, and now I am here at the beach thinking maybe my two piece life is actually really over for good.

I wake up in the middle of the night sometimes with a foot or a leg cramp that jolts me out of bed reminding me that I need to be more regular with the magnesium. Then there are the conversations about all of this happening like we chicks are the first ones to ever experience any of this, (of course writing about all of this doesn’t warrant talk about flowers and shopping, I get that). Well, we are surely not the first, but we may just be the first to actually say it loud and proud, like it is some badge of honor instead of some hysterical Freudian hallucination.

I look at the young mamas with their babies and fifteen hundred dollar strollers prancing around with their latte in the cup holders that now come with said strollers. They walk with their phone in one hand adorned with their athletic wear like having a baby these days is some type of fashion show. I am so happy I am past that point of no return. Way too much technology these days distracting these parents from the present moment. My friends and I can’t help but live in the present moment of hot flashes and night sweats that came without warning taking over our bodies. And our minds.

Sometimes I don’t even know how my brain works each day. I am thankful for nature, meditation, working out, and connection. Connection is what keeps me sane these days. Connection with myself, my body’s new reality, and my friends and family. (And wine, but more on this later.) This is all we have. And we, in our circle of fifty something chicks, seem to be realizing this wholeheartedly.

This is the good part of menopause, it reminds me with each and every flash to wake up, pay attention, that time is moving along and I might want to start that bucket list or project I have on my endless to do list. (To do lists becoming more necessary because of the memory lapsing that I will add here as another end result of menopause.) Better yet, as Arianna Huffington said in a great interview, “You can also just simply take the to do off of the to do list and call it a day.” Amen. Just saying that feels liberating.

Instead of calling it menopause, maybe we should call it, Man, do I pause. Because if menopause has taught me anything, it is to pause. It is to take notice and realize that these hot flashes, that have finally slowed down, are to remind me that I am ready for the next phase. No more babies, no more adolescents, college graduation looms large this upcoming year for my only child and I am realizing that have my whole life ahead of me.

Man, do I pause, because the only person left standing is me. I get to choose the next part. I have my man, sure, but I am solo by choice in the sense of decision making, life ahead and wonder and creativity abounds. This is a great time to pause. I am done here, but not there. The there is next. Let’s just hope for a little moisture in the there, is that too much to ask?

Lines, greying hair, white hair in my eyebrows, man-do- I-PAUSE.
AGING, NATURE

THE MAGIC HOUR

“No, I will not look at my phone. I will not look at Facebook,” I said to myself on this early morning. I use my phone to listen to podcasts before I go to bed and for the clock when I arise. It seems as if everywhere I look these days word is out that keeping a phone charging by the bed or anywhere in the bedroom should be off limits as it impedes sleep.

My sleep is seldom impeded unless there is a full moon or I have a crazy dream. The phone is always turned over so there is no blinking blue light getting into my pattern. I also never have my phone on for sound, so consequently, I never hear a ring, a bing, or a swish or any other cell phone sound that is part of what seems to be a fully accepted surround sound wherever we are.

Today, though, I woke up with a circling brain- scattered thoughts, hard time concentrating. Maybe the phone by my bed is causing this and I should buy an old school clock. Maybe I don’t even need a clock anymore since I wake up with a, no pun intended, alarming regularity. Five, five thirty, sometimes four, occasionally six, seldom seven. For my whole life, since I was in ninth grade, I have never been a late sleeper.

The morning is my magic hour.

Without my morning time, I lose my balance. As a matter of fact, now that I think about this, I have unconsciously designed my entire life around keeping my mornings sacred. I am fortunate- lucky, some people would say, that I have this glorious option when I wake up.

Should I work out, go for a bike ride, write, tinker in the garden, sit, or listen and stare at the world? This is not luck, this is choice. I have built a business to support my life and my lifestyle. Owning my own company for almost twenty years has given me this ability to control my own way I spend my time.

This is ironic in some ways because being a business owner usually means that work is 24/7. No question. I am always working. At least my brain is- there is no luxury of locking up at the end of a day, walking away and not thinking about the job. But even when I had “a job” I thought about work. I always had owner brain which is why I likely turned into a business owner.

But this writing today is not about work; it is about the morning, that magic hour of five — seven am. When sounds are just nature, not traffic, only car doors opening and the truck engine of my neighbor starting so he can leave for work. The morning is the routine of my day which is about the only stable routine I follow. Wake up, take some slow deep breaths, open the curtains to take a peek at the weather, head to the bathroom for some teeth brushing, face splashing and moisturizing, throw on my old lady clothes consisting of a gardening dress, a Life is Good tee shirt, socks and Ugg clogs, no fashion show here, but pure fifty four year old, live alone comfort. I then make my way to the kitchen to start the coffee. Most mornings these days I make myself sit on the pillow and meditate while the coffee perks, but today, the sounds of my yard were calling me.

I poured my coffee in my new favorite mug given to me by a new favorite friend and made my way to my garden to greet the new blooms with a big happy “Welcome!” I talk to my entire garden. “Hello!” I joyfully exclaim to each of the plants that are my old friends. “Good Morning!” to any plant that decided to bloom for my personal pleasure. I walk around the garden noting what is in need of some assistance. Some of the lavender and thyme I planted last year is struggling. “I must trim the dead wood,” I say to myself, always having a checklist popping like rice crispies. Owning a magic kingdom from 1865 commands a perpetual checklist. Worth every bother most days, though, when I am able to allow patience to prevail, a constant source of work and pleasure.

The fragrance of the morning blossoming honeysuckle puts me in a trance. The rose bush each year that, according to my eight four year old neighbor, was planted over sixty years ago, is blooming like it is coming of age and just discovered its own beauty. My forty packets of zinnias and cosmos I threw cares to the wind and sprinkled like fairy dust are popping up everywhere. No systemic gardening design now, just wild color everywhere is my hope for August if all goes as planned.

All goes as planned…. What does that even mean? Planning is all I have ever done. I never tire of planning and crafting ideas and parties in my head. But nature is the counter balance for this busy spirit. Without it, I would be way off the rails instead of just partially a little wacky.

I stand in my gravel driveway after inspecting my pots of zinnia sprouting like magic. I look up to find the song sparrow singing to me again as she does every single day like clockwork, happy to have her serenading me. I listen for my familiar cardinals and as I look up, I see five or six seagulls headed towards the sound of a motor boat on the bay likely a quahoger out on the water at his job, hoping for some free breakfast. (Not the quahog, the seagulls). I look towards my bright fiery pink roses starting to wind down, wishing I had planted more, and notice out of the corner of my eye, one of the two baby bunnies that now reside on my property.

I stand as still as a mannequin. I watch, thinking for a brief moment that if anyone saw me at this moment, they may think I have lost my marbles in the get up I have the balls to stand outside in. I notice the petals of the roses that have fallen to the ground and watch the bunny sniffing them. She then takes one in her mouth where I am sure she will realize it is not the food she was looking for and spit it out, but to my luscious surprise, she eats the entire petal. Then another and another. My thoughts are this. “She likes the taste of rose as much as I do!” followed by, “I am so happy I didn’t let Mike, my landscaper to spray round up in my driveway.”

This is what i call self confidence.

I watched for a few more minutes appreciating the stillness of this magic moment and thought how happy I am that the honeysuckle’s aroma this morning traveled like the swirl of a magic Genie coming out of her bottle the way Barbara Eden used to in I Dream of Jeannie back in what seemed like a simpler time in life.

Nature in the morning is gift that so many pass by and take for granted. Just a brief stop to smell a rose blooming or taste the smallest drop of the sweet honeysuckle on the way to the car to work can be a day changer. We are running and running. Nature is our excuse to stop and smell the roses. Let’s do this. #Timetolookupindeed.

6am. yep.
NATURE, WOMEN'S HEALTH

IF I DIDN’T

I decided to head out for a walk on Friday morning instead of the gym because I was reminded while reading information by a new practitioner I just met. She wrote about the equal importance of outdoor fitness- connecting with nature and your body- along with gym workouts. I know this to be true because there is nothing like nature to settle my overactive brain. Working out at the gym does this too, but in a much harder way. The vigorous pounding and accelerated heart rate, literally, beats it out of me.

Nature is the opposite; it is settling, calming and acts more like a slow, steady paddle on a calm morning. It is the yin to my souped up yang. Souped up yang as my heart lately has been racing, my brain has been in overdrive and all of this leaves me with feelings of inadequacies and not good enough thinking that makes me feel super shitty.

Is it the full moon? (yes), the approaching intensity of the glorious summer solstice? (yes), is it the fast approaching seventeen year anniversary of being in business? (I hadn’t thought about that, but YES). Yes to all because I can feel a big, bad ass shift happening, but I haven’t figured the ‘it’ out yet. Me and not figuring ‘it’ out is an awkward dance that creates undo stress. I don’t like not knowing. Which is exactly why I am here. Not knowing is where I am supposed to be and this is something I definitely know.

Ironic. My grandmother would say, “Alayne, sometimes no decision is the best decision.” I don’t know why this gives me an immediate sense of comfort, but it does. I bring the need to make decisions on in a way that causes pressure on this overachieving mind of mine. This is the challenge of a creative soul, for sure. Always moving and shaking and if things are not moving and shaking, well, then I must move and shake them.

So the counter balance is to cease and desist, not completely, but to use nature as my guiding light as the opposing force to settle my ass down in a chair and stare. To walk on a path by the water with no phone and no companion except my beating heart and my Serena strong legs to propel me along the beauty I get to call my place on this earth.

The first step is usually the one that causes me procrastination for no apparent reason other than the call of my house. Writing, cooking, typing, organizing, working, are all little parts of the why I may not always make time to go for that casual stroll alone, but I did anyway.

If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have seen an elegant shimmery white egret fly over me, full spread wings, headed for his landing pad of the harbor. The sound of his movement was what caused me to look up and stop in awe to watch. While I was looking up, I heard the familiar sound of the Osprey who has the prime real estate address of Poppasquash Rd. in Bristol, Rhode Island with his family and saw him carrying a fish. What a sight! Like the sounds of cardinals, I can always recognize the Osprey’s high pitched whistling sound. This is a rewarding lesson that keeps giving as their majestic wing span soaring over my house is a sight to behold.

If I didn’t take that walk, I wouldn’t have noticed the baby bunnies foraging for food, looking so vulnerable as they learn the ropes of finding nourishment. I wouldn’t have had the conversations with my friend, Greg down at the harbormaster’s office as I passed by on my way towards the path along the water about the new ferry service from Bristol to Newport to Providence. I wouldn’t have picked up the schedule to learn the times that it runs and subsequently made plans yesterday to head into Providence on the new ferry service. This led me to be part of the all inclusive and heart warming welcoming to all who come in peace, Pride Fest. I found my way to a brand new vegan, but you would never know it, restaurant called Plant City.

On my walk, I saw people out doing the same, business owners getting their storefronts ready for business. I enjoyed the rich aromas of the glorious seaside town I get to call home and feel and hear my heart beating because of my pace. I felt the bay air and wind through my hair and on my skin as I got a nice sweat going from the speed in which I am privileged to keep my legs moving forward with. My olfactory system would have not smelled the beginnings of the summer roses opening, coupled with the aromas of flowers, herbs and freshly cut grass as the good people of Bristol are in their happy place, getting their homes ready for July 4th.

I wouldn’t have noticed the bird with the bright red breast and the grey head on the top of the pillar on my front porch after my walk was complete as I took the time to sit there with a nice cup of coffee. I had never seen a bird like this and though it pained me to break from my trance of just simply admiring without having to take a picture, I went in to my house and got my phone to capture him or her. It wasn’t for posterity as much as curiosity and being able to remember the description so I could find out what bird this was. She let me take a picture almost posing and we had a lovely connection before she flew away.

This brief encounter caused me to open up an Audubon bird book collecting dust on my shelf that some dear friends of my grandmother had sent as a gift to my son. I spent a half hour looking for a picture of this bird to no avail. a few days later, I walked next door to ask my bird loving friend, Dottie, and she didn’t know either. This caused me to head yesterday on my quest to find out the name of this bird to a new favorite spot, The Redwood Library in Newport, RI to look for some bird books and see if I could get to the bottom of this little sweet bird’s name. I couldn’t find a picture that fit the exact description, but while perusing the shelves, I come across a paper thin book of poetry by Audrey Silcox, a poet who lived from 1890–1944, she died at the age I am now. This was next to another book by Ruth Whitman called The Testing of Hannah Senesh. Hannah Senesh was a famous heroine of WWII who was captured after parachuting into Yugoslavia because an informant turned her in. She was executed after spending nine months in a concentration camp at 23 for trying to save her Hungarian Jewish friends and family.

This book of poetry captured my attention and I became so ensconced in the writing that I ended up sitting there for two hours to finish it. Yesterday at the library was like a live version of internet surfing except I was sitting in the sunlight at my back in a comfy old dark green leather chair with the only sounds being the crinkling of the opening and closing of library books instead of the tapping of the keys and the bings of text messages at every second.

I know that the actual reading of a real book of poetry, a real walk in the rain on the way home with my umbrella that my partner reminded me to take and the time it gave me to be myself was significant for my health. I don’t know the science of why, I am sure there is science, but I don’t really need this because I go with the feeling. Surfing the internet vs being in nature gives me two completely different feelings, the latter always soothes, awakens me from my slumber and calms that nothing else can compete or compare with.

If I didn’t go outside for that forty minute or so walk a few days ago, I wouldn’t have known what I might have missed, but I didn’t miss anything because I said yes to me. I walked and glided along and kept the promise to myself to get outside and enjoy the day. All of this nature took me on a weekend journey I hadn’t anticipated, but I allowed its guidance.

Nature never disappoints and it always rewards me. I don’t know why I would even procrastinate ever again. Though I didn’t find out the name of the bird until I texted the picture to my friend, Julie, who knows all things birds. I realize the irony of this and what humbles me is that, perhaps, I can allow room for both. Nature and technology. There are some time saving aspects to the brilliance of the Google search, for sure. I just have to make sure that I am in the drivers seat instead of letting it take me for the ride of incredible time wasting- looking down, missing what’s up.

The cardinals were with me on almost the entire walk this past Friday, egging me on, telling me that this is always the best remedy for a busy mind. My life and my brain is calmed, my world feels better and I am ready for my day. All because I did instead of didn’t. And by the way, the bird according to Julie is a house finch. “Yep, that’s a lovely little house finch,” she texted back. “They’re beautiful color and have the best song. They’re common, but really special.” #luckyindeed.

Breast cancer, life lessons, Women

DECONSTRUCTION OF RECONSTRUCTION

I look in the mirror and I am unsure of the image staring back at me. It has happened; my body is shifting in a way that despite the workouts there is a reorganization of sorts happening. I did not see this coming when I was in the decision phase of replacement parts for the breast tissue that would be removed. I say breast tissue because I have learned that this is really what a mastectomy is. It is a scooping out of all of the stuff that makes your breasts stare back at you and in need of a bra. If it were anything other than this, the skin would not be there and the breast surgeon keeps this so the plastic surgeon has the shell to work their magic on. This is why saying, take them off is incorrect. Scoop them out is more like it. But that sounds disgusting compared to take them off, so take them off seems to be the go to phrase.

This is what they did with me. Worked their magic so that when I woke up from my surgery two years ago, I would get the joy of having something similar to what was there before. It seemed like a great idea at the time. So much so that I never considered the alternatives as I wrote endlessly during that time how much I liked my breasts. And I did. And I do.

Sort of.

The reason, (that seemed obvious at the time), I chose reconstruction was that I didn’t want nothing. I never even imagined this as a possibility because I just couldn’t see myself with no boobs. I had a definite identity with them; they defined my shape, my femininity, my sexuality, my sensuality. When the doctor was reviewing all of the bells and whistles that make up a successful reconstruction surgery, listening to the details of this was not my priority. This is shocking to me in retrospect, since I am the annoying woman at the grocery store analyzing every label, driving endlessly to all of the specialty stores to buy bio dynamic wine, but I can understand why. At the time there was so much going on in learning how to remove the cancer, that the removal and replacement distinct details of post surgery were almost insignificant.

Getting diagnosed with early stage breast cancer twice in a two year span ensured my mental focus on removal of all things cancer. I didn’t ask the detailed questions about the silicone that would soon be replacing the real live breast tissue or the long term effects of having fat liposuctioned from the lower part of my abdomen so the breasts would have a more natural shape. I didn’t ask why this would even be important down the road and what it would ultimately do to my very flat stomach. Because honestly, life vs keeping my flat stomach was really not in my radar as a priority. Seems silly to even write it, frankly.

Let me preface the remainder of this piece today with the full realization that I am talking cosmetic surgery. I am aware that I am alive, that a simple mammogram saved my life twice and two years later I am a happy chick. I am humbled and am deeply grateful for the experience and the survival. I am not supposed to complain about these weird post observations. I am supposed to be happy I am alive and it feels selfish that I speak out about this. But this is typical of women’s issues. There is this unwritten law to not complain, to not speak up and out, to instead smile and be grateful. This is why this is a struggle to write about the reconstruction experience two years later. I don’t want to complain and sound like I am anything other than thankful for being alive. At the same time, I am starting to see the post surgery for what it really is and the impact that it has on my body.

I hesitate in even writing this because of all of the friends of people who were just diagnosed reading this and thinking immediately, “I have to forward this to my (insert female name here) right now since she is just getting ready to go into her surgery tomorrow and she needs to read this.”

Please don’t forward. This won’t be helpful. It will just create stress and confusion for an already stressed and confused time. Elective cosmetic surgery is already loaded with guilt ridden thoughts. It is saying aloud that I care a lot about how I look to the world and to myself and whether you choose to do reconstruction like I did, or you didn’t (like sometimes I wish I had) the choice is one you get to literally live with. My plastic surgeon doctor said on more than one occasion, “Alayne, remember, this is elective surgery.” This always cracked me up because it wasn’t him sitting opposite of me deciding whether or not he wanted his penis cut off and not replaced or replaced. Easy for him to say.

right after reconstruction hard to believe this was two years ago. holy time travel.

The getting used to part of reconstruction is that weird paragraph left out of the conversations in the intensity of planning a mastectomy. In reflection this part would likely not be helpful at the time, but now seems, in hind site seems like it would have. That is the learning curve of hind site, isn’t it? This is all a fantasy world that I live in though, because no matter how much anyone tried to explain the part about living with silicone implants as a new tenant in my body, nothing anyone could have said would have prepared me for the feeling of them. No conversations, no analogies, no sharing of stories from other women who have them. Implants from reconstruction have to be experienced to really appreciate what I am talking about.

They are not bad, they are not good, they are just there. Living in my body reminding me that I am here and this is good. They are also reminding me that there is always a chance I won’t be and I suppose this is good too. The possibilities of not being here create a sense of urgency in my soul though that can often debilitate me into freezing on decisions instead of moving at the speed necessary to get the plans of action done in a time before the next thing comes at me.

The post time of reconstruction surgery is when the conversations need to be happening. This is when the dust has settled and there are no more frequency of doctor’s appointments to feel like someone cares about the trauma your body just went through. We are numbers in the world of reconstruction unless there is a problem or another diagnosis, we are on our own to figure out what all of this emotional roller coaster of feelings is about.

I am lucky. I have many resources. I know how to talk, to write, to take care of myself and my needs and I have the means to do this. There are thousands of women who don’t. Who are struggling with these rocky and uneven paths they have found themselves on and don’t realize they are not alone. GloriaGemma.org, in Rhode Island is a worthwhile and deeply authentic source. My new friend, Kristen Carbone, has just started a website for this very dialogue, brilliantly.co, because she chose to have preventative surgery and, she, too, realizes the need for conversation.


What I do know is that we need to talk about this. Often. Problems or no problems. Choosing reconstruction or not choosing it. Boobs are getting scooped out left and right, silicone is getting placed inside our bodies with a vengeance and as more and more women say yes or no to this, we need to stick together and TALK. Just to be sure that what we are all experiencing is moving up and out and not going down and under. Down and under creates stress. Stress creates cancer and we all know we don’t want any more of that.

AGING, Breast cancer, Women

THE AGING PROCESS

“Never get old,” the lovely woman with the kindest eyes and smile announced to me as we both found ourselves in the bra section of Target this past week. I was not really in the bra section, but the pajama bottoms I was looking for happened to be neighbors with the bras and underwear. A double mastectomy and reconstruction removes the need for the bra section.
The woman was one of those older women who was sprite and active, but as I watched her stand in front of the rows and rows of bras looking overwhelmed, she gave me pause.

“I’m ninety-five.” She said this as so many aging people do, stating their age to get the desired reply of, Wow, you look amazing. This woman did look incredible; in fact any woman out shopping alone at the age of ninety-five, as spry and together as she was, deserved the compliment. 
“Too bad you don’t live in Florida,” I said jokingly, “I could fix you up with my 102 year old grandfather.” She didn’t hear me and had already moved on to the sales girl who was trying to help her with the utmost patience and kindness. Go target sales girl, go.

I was reminded of the old time place my grandmother used to go to called Jean Belson in Boston back in the day when women actually got fitted for bras as a normal part of their lives. Before pushups and wireless took hold of our breasts and rib cages. This lovely lady looked like the type of woman who would have used stores like that, but now realized that this was a thing of the past for the most part and found herself in Target. Why she would even be buying a bra from my hippie chick perspective as I watched her astonished me. Ninety-five should be a free pass to go bra-less always, but this woman wasn’t that type of woman who would even consider this, I imagined. I was guessing she had outlived her husband as so many women her age have and was just trying to keep herself active and busy. Buying bras on a random day was another thing to do to occupy her time and have a purpose for her day. She looked like she was there solo, so I am also guessing that she is still driving.

The aging process comes out of nowhere. One minute you can’t imagine ever talking about aches and pains and the next minute you find yourself talking about your next doctor’s visit for some test they want you to have because of indigestion. These kind of discussions used to drive both of my grandmothers crazy. I can still hear my grandmother Isabelle telling her brother Eddie, “When someone asks you, Eddie, ‘How are you,’ you just say, ‘Fine;’ people don’t want to hear your belly aching.” Isabelle could not tolerate going out with her peers if they only spoke of their next doctor’s visit. She used to say that there were so many world events to discuss, why would people want to complain about their health issues all the time?

Aging sneaks up on you. One health scare, one surgery, and you are catapulted into the world of mortality. Life becomes shorter, more urgent, and you find yourself thinking Life is short with a vengeance. It starts with your eyesight. You need reading glasses all of a sudden. Next thing you are at the doctor’s office for a routine exam and your blood pressure is a little higher than normal or your blood tests came back with your cholesterol or sugar a little peaked. “We’ll keep an eye on this,” you hear your doctor say in the follow up phone call. This, of course, is code word for if you don’t get your shit together, it’s pharmaceutical time. There seems to be a pill for everything these days and many of the people I know are taking them with barely a question about the long term effects.

To each their own, though. Diet and exercise are barely talked about as a remedy for anything these days and even if one finds themselves in a doctor’s office where the doctor is recommending this, the patient would have to listen and take action where a pill seems so much more convenient. I get the temptation and another great part of aging is I have removed myself from the high horse I used to ride in lecturing people about the alternatives. Who the hell am I anyway? I was diagnosed with breast cancer twice in four years, so I surely have no credibility when it comes to preaching health and wellness equaling health and wellness.

The aging that is happening to me, as this fifty-four year old chick, is more subtle. I can hear my sixty-nine year old friends saying, “54? You are just a babe in the woods, just wait.” But the subtleties are making their way, inviting themselves to my body without being asked and the process is an interesting one. Frankly, this all started with my surgeries. Surgical menopause at fifty to remove my ovaries and fallopian tubes as preventative measures created symptoms of rapid fire hot flashes. I got through those, but now four years later they have turned into accelerated hair growth, not on my head, and bloating that is no joke. Everyone said it would happen, but I never thought it would. Besides the physical (and, I realize, completely cosmetic and superficial), there is the psychological whirlwind that has made me reconsider my life going forward.

What do I want? What do I need? What do I care about? What is important? And toggling between blowing all cares to the wind thinking that maybe my life is shorter than most and the what if I do live as long as my grandfather? When I meditate which has become almost a daily occurrence these days, the still small voice is getting louder with all kinds of messages about my future plans. Louder and louder giving me ideas about minimizing all my accumulations, like do I really need two shelves filled with Wonder Woman paraphernalia? Marie Kondo would have a field day with me as recently she seems to be the go to gal for all things declutter. I know what I need to do and it is extreme. This is how I roll though, all or nothing. I fantasize about not only removing half of my crap, but more so lately all social and technology. I was going to make a list of all of the technological distractions both mentally and financially, but part of me simply doesn’t want to know how much money and time I am wasting my life away on.

My precious life. My iPhone recently has gotten in the habit of letting me know at weeks end how much time I spent on all things phone and it is pretty frightening especially if I add it up over a life time. Time wasting used to be television time, but these days the world has their heads down and there doesn’t seem to be any going back to the ‘good old days.’

Aging is part uphill, part downhill and for the most part it is thrilling. The days, recently, that it hasn’t been is when I look down and see a bloating stomach and can’t attribute it to anything, or the rush to the bathroom because holding it isn’t what it used to be. Damn I wish I had listened to the Kegel advice from the old Cosmopolitan magazines when I was in my twenties before babies. The hairs sprouting, the wrinkles appearing, the interesting things happening to my neck all make for the best part. Looking at the young girls and knowing that that lovely ass and smooth wrinkle free skin is a fleeting moment in time for everyone. No one gets out alive, no one doesn’t age unless they don’t get out alive. I enjoy watching youth as much as I enjoy watching aging. Both give great gifts of reminders of the past and the time travel to the future.

For the most part, I am great. These new boobs have been mostly smooth sailing as I haven’t had the challenges so many women who decided to reconstruct have had. The horror stories are abundant, but in my case I had a perfect experience. The downside is that they are here with me and I know they are not part of my organic makeup. This makes them constant reminders of the past keeping that inner voice talking to me about plans of action for what and who I want to be when I grow up. This time though, growing up isn’t as far away as it used to be.

business, life lessons

A FRESH PERSPECTIVE


I walked into my first training with an extra bounce in my step. I was excited to start my new alternate career path of becoming a certified business coach for a company I had been born and raised with called Strategies. Because I have been a recipient of their wisdom, business strategies and philosophy since I opened my business over seventeen years ago, I considered myself already a member of the team. This is the luxury of knowing a company’s culture before your first day on the job, believing in it so much that the training in its culture is almost redundant.

some of the newbies I had the privilege of training with

This business company, the first of its kind in the beauty industry, strives to change the archaic model of pay and team found in its most often female centric businesses and was about to become part of my life. For the first time in over twenty years, I was about to become a sort of ‘employee,’ not in the sense of a real employee, but someone who would be working more as a per diem so that I could still run my own company.

The beauty industry, salons especially, are notorious for wacky compensation. I don’t know if it is because when we take a look at their history in the world, they were often wonderful entrepreneurial opportunities for women to have their own careers with less than one year of schooling and still manage to be there for their children. Business training wasn’t much more than how to ring out a client and order business cards. I am guessing that these single operating salons evolved for many over time into successful operations with no basic understanding of business and payroll. Like so many of us who have had the starry eyed notion of opening our own businesses on a scrap piece of paper, we are often technically savvy, but lack the business acumen to operate and grow it successfully. We wing it. A lot.

What fascinates me is how we succeed with barely a math course in our tool belts, but we chicks are resilient and as many men who have found their way into the beauty industry, we all need help in the way we run our companies. In fact, most small businesses could use more than a consultation with an SBA Score volunteer. Just like we had to learn our craft, whether, hairdressing, facials, nails or other industry like pizza making, donut making, gift shop running, law practicing, personal training, we learn quickly that this is only one component of running a successful operation. This is what I have learned in my business life and this is what I am excited to teach others because without the important skill of business I wouldn’t be where I am today.

What has given me the most thrill in this experience thus far in addition to the intense learning and presenting, has been the birds’ eye view of a fresh perspective on another person’s company. This has led me to consider how valuable new employees are to my own company if I can manage to get them to feel safe enough to share their first impressions. For me, this is easy because I believe in this company like it is my own and I know the owner and the president well. This translates into feeling safe enough to offer my insights into my first impressions and know I will be listened to and considered, genuinely. This is not something I take for granted and it speaks volumes of their leadership style.

When I consider sharing my voice, it is with the layer of interest and care for this company’s success. I know my intent and if I don’t share it, I am leaving valuable information in the closet that surely serves no one. It is risky opening your mouth and giving an opinion on someone else’s story, but as Strategies teaches, there are a lot of brains to be accessed in the employees who show up to work every day. We just have to access them.

As single operating business owners, it is common to leave new employee thoughts and ideas out because we get so wrapped up in our own day to day. We forget to simply ask, or even encourage their valuable opinions. My way or the highway serves no one and it surely does not make for a happy team and a strong growing culture that someone can believe in. Here are some of my thoughts and observations that I have brought back to my own company.
When someone walks into a company for the first time, they see everything with fresh eyes. How does the company clean their space, how do people participate, where do they eat, do they eat together or apart? Is the environment encouraging and supportive using simple and sincere language like, Thank you and Great Job on a regular basis? Do they ask for help and are they open to yours?

New employees watch for how hierarchy demonstrates itself. Does the leadership team show up and act as if they will roll up their sleeves to assist or do they stay away? Is the leadership team gender centric or is it diverse enough where a new employee feels like they not only could be a part of the tribe but want to be? How does leadership communicate with the new employees? Do they say hello with a cheery smile and do they make it a point to say good bye first when they are leaving the building? Or do they lack consciousness? Are systems in place for leadership development right out of the gate, does this seem possible or is it not mentioned anywhere and one can only rise up by happenstance? Is the top tier of the company a part of the bottom rung; do they have a true open door policy or is that just jargon?

Then there is the dynamic that is like a vapor. How does everyone communicate with each other, with customers, how do they discuss each other when that very each other is not in the room? All of these play an integral part in the binoculars of a new employee and it is all happening with barely a conscious thought. The vapor is both subtle, and tremendously powerful because this is the time when these belief systems are formed. Then there is the mirroring that goes on. Do the behaviors of the team and the essence of the company mirror what the new employee just learned in the employee manual on the company’s culture and philosophy?

some of the leadership team and coaches enjoying dinner together after a long day of presenting

The most revealing aspect of watching the dynamics of a company from this perspective is how much I learned about my own company and the way its very personality shows up not only to new employees, but the veterans as well. Is there a clear path that encourages movement and change for their own careers and do they feel like they have options within the company’s future? Is it career development or just a job? If a new employee is asked or made to feel welcomed in sharing their perceptions, magic can happen.

I came back to my business after my final training with a book load of actual information and also an entire new outlook on the way I welcome and honor my own team every day. I am proud to say that in this company I am about to embark on as one of these coaches, most of the observations matched their philosophy. This affirms my choice to be part of the party because as much as they said YES, Alayne, you passed the training and we welcome you to our family, I too was able to answer with a clear yes that I want to continue with them as much as they want me. This is an important lesson here. How often have we worked for companies that don’t match our own visions or that the companies don’’t even have their own vision for one to match?

Leadership in a company has a huge responsibility out of the gate. They need a deep consciousness on their welcome committee. What they say, how they say it, their tones, their assistance, the way they answer questions all speak. This is where the new person on the job forms feelings good and bad. I paid close attention to what came up for me in my training. Was the best brought out in me or did I feel dismissed and diminished by my questions? All of these feelings are so important to grow new people and as important as new clients are to our own businesses, new employees and employee retention is even more so. Employees are the messengers of our culture. They are the reason clients come to a business or don’t. Where do we compromise? Are we aware of these times and do we make corrections promptly?

Owning and operating a successful company is more than numbers. The numbers are the end result of the behaviors we encourage- the good ones and the bad ones. This new journey of mine is opening up the floodgates of possibilities. Like a great movie or a interesting eye opening book that I want to tell everyone about, this chance to teach business owners the business of their business is something I am super excited about. All because a man named Neil decided that he wanted to hire people like me. #Luckyindeed. #Becarefulwhatyouwishfor.

my new fearless leader, neil and me celebrating after completing phase 1 of the training.

life lessons, motherhood

TO MOTHERS DAY

I was raised with lots of expectations leading me to a lifetime of feelings of not good enough over my lifetime. Expectations are a double edged sword. We set them and expect. We expect certain behaviors, we expect performance, we even expect people to show up and act like they should act based on our own set of standards and values. In a work environment, this is standard practice and is a necessary piece of the puzzle we call careers. In our families, though, at times, expectations can also have layers of guilt attached and this is when they can turn into something other than what was originally intended.

In my family, when I was a kid, there was always an expectation of being good. What does this even mean? We use this one liner well into our adult lives when we say things like, “I’ve been good,” as it relates to avoiding the enjoyment of a nice big bowl of ice cream when we rationalize the stop on a warm summer day. “I’ve been good,” we say when we have decided to stop doing something that could interrupt us mentally or physically like going to the gym, abstaining from the nightly routine of a big glass of red after a long hard day at the office or making a big purchase when trying to say on a strict budget.

I’ve been good is a phrase so easily tossed around when our brains need to change some behavior that may have otherwise been helpful to our beings and we need a rationale for the change. At least this is me and my patterns. It is all too easy to blame this belief system on how I was raised, but the truth of the matter is, expectations are set so we have something to reach. At times they may seem unobtainable but we keep trying to climb anyway. We fall off the horse and we either walk away or we get back on and try again. Sometimes the very expectations that are set are subtle. In my memory much of our experiences are subjective when we look back. Two siblings can live under the same roof and have two completely opposing memories of one experience. I linked an interesting podcast below on the subject of memory from Malcolm Gladwell that will surely question your own memories.

When it came to birthdays and Mother’s Day, I was expected, as many of us were, to give at least a card and as I got older send one in a timely manner. This seems reasonable on paper, but for me, because there was an unwritten code that this was something I was supposed to do, often I would forget or be late in getting the card in the mail. This would cause hurt feelings, causing me to feel like a failure as a daughter, guilty as charged for missing the boat, lacking thoughtfulness and consideration for the person who gave birth to me.

I could never seem to get it right. Mother’s Day is always on a Sunday and if I mailed the card on a Monday, it would surely arrive in time. But Monday seemed to early, so Tuesday or Wednesday would be my target date so the card would arrive in perfect timing for Sunday. But I wanted the card to arrive on Saturday because for some reason earlier than that seemed contrived. At least in my monkey brain of aiming for perfection and then finding myself forgetting to mail the card completely until it was too late thus arriving after Mother’s Day defeating the whole holiday all together.

Clearly there was more to the simple act of sending a card here, years of expectations all fully present in all of this thinking. As easy as it sounds to get birthdays and Mother’s Day right, one slip up and you get it wrong and two people end up feeling bad defeating the purpose. Perhaps if my relationship with my mother hadn’t been so tumultuous over the years, these issues would be non existent. I never forget my son’s birthday or anyone I am deeply connected with. Ironically, this entire problem was solved when my mother stopped talking to me and in some ways it was freedom from the pressure of not getting it right.

The true irony though is not sending my mother a Mother’s Day card when she wasn’t speaking to me became almost painful. So at year two, I sent her a blank one that I had hand written simply, “You are still my mother,” and sent it on its way. In all of the years of those silent thunderous expectations, this card was probably the best Mother’s Day card I had sent. Because it was my own thoughts and heart that sent it, not Hallmark’s, and not my mother’s. Mine. My decision, my kindness.

When I had my own child, I made a decision to not set the barre for any of this nonsense. If my son made me a card, sent me a card, wrote a few lines with a stubby pencil on a piece of scrap paper, simply said Happy Mother’s Day or none of the above, this one day did not summarize his lack of love and adoration for me. I would not allow one day of the year to dictate the other three hundred and sixty four. The feelings of guilt in not getting it right and my own mother’s hurt expressions over the years would not be something I would put on my son. Ever. And I think because of this deliberate act, I have been the recipient of lovely handwritten stubby penciled notes over the years that have more meaning than any five dollar sappy card. As a result I have had lots of lovely Mother’s Days and I enjoy them so much because I know that when if time comes when my son could get married and have children, these Mother’s Days will have a shift for sure. So they are precious and appreciated.

I write this today so that we can remember that days like Mother’s Days are not about professing a years worth of maternal adorations for all of our hard work. If your child forgets to do something special, or not as special as you would have liked, could it be possible to just allow this and use the day to remember how lucky we are that we actually have children? Maybe we could choose to not say anything, not show hurt or disappointment but to just show gratitude for the day.

Every single day is special and as my own son gets older, I am more in tune with the privilege of having a healthy child who is still alive and well, who has made it this far so far. This is the best Mother’s Day gift I could ask for. Keeping this in perspective is the lesson from my mother over the years that I have learned the hard way, but my son gets to reap the rewards from.

one of the many lovely Mother’s Days out for a walk with my boy.

Happiest of Mother’s Day to all of you who get to wake up to your child tomorrow. There are so many moms who don’t. Lets try to remember this as we lie hoping for the breakfast in bed or the call that may not come at exactly the time you wanted or at all. As my grandmother used to quote frequently, “Those who hath no expectations shan’t be disappointed.” Easier said than done, but perhaps just relishing in the day and using it as an excuse for breaking your own rules, going out for your own ice cream sundae or a walk alone in the park listening to the birds and celebrating your own goodness as a mother. Enjoy the glorious day and cherish the little people we have raised. This is something to celebrate for sure.

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/free-brian-williams/id1119389968?i=1000413184954
family, life lessons, Uncategorized

THIS IS YOUR LIFE

“Grandpa, didn’t Grandma have a shortened version of a Seder that she wrote?’ I asked him a few days ago. Passover is by far my most favorite Jewish holiday. Jewish families all over the world share the story of Moses (and Miriam for those of us who like to add some female power to the night) leading the Jews out of Egypt into The Promised Land. We eat the symbolic foods and have conversations about freedoms, slavery, privilege, humanity and so much more over a delicious feast all under the full moon.

Passover is one of those transformative holidays that usually gives me some type of spiritual ahha moment and I always wake up with a more grounded sense of myself the next day. What I enjoy about Passover is that is it more than just Let’s Eat, it is a ritual, a tradition and a retelling of the story of a liberation.

The Seder is community and pausing with family and friends. It is celebratory and hopeful and it goes on worldwide with each family adding their own twists and turns. This is how I remembered that my grandmother had made her own service to condense it for the many friends my grandparents have had over the years to make it more personal, more meaningful. And shorter. Because traditional Seders can be many hours long before dinner and this is a recipe in this short attention span life we lead for invitation turn downs at some point. Being in the Reformed Judaism category, I take some bold liberties in making sure that the Seder is both interesting and concise so when my Grandfather suggested that I take a look in my grandmother’s computer, I bolted into her old office.

My grandmother passed away almost six years ago, but yet her computer is still going strong. As I made my way into her office I noticed some vestiges of her still lingering, like the abundance of scratch paper and address labels, you know those free ones you get as a bait to make a donation to whatever charity thinks sending free address labels will get you to do this. But it is her Mac that most reminds me of her presence. Isabelle had a Mac before people were really buying Macs. She was always on the hip side.

I opened up her computer and went to her file labeled “Isabelle” thinking that so much of ourselves, who we are, how we think show up in what is stored and how it is filed. I was also struck by the notion that all may have been lost if I hadn’t been lucky enough to remember to ask about the Seder, too.

As I went through the treasure trove of files, I saw all of the writings I had sent her in my earlier years of writing that she had saved. She too was an avid writer, albeit a closet one, and I quickly discovered every trip she had gone on with the date, her itinerary and even the tour guide’s name. My grandmother not only recorded the sights and sounds of their trips, but she did it all in rhyme and I was quickly transported to China shortly after the cultural revolution. I time traveled to Africa, Tibuktu among some of the points they traveled to in the seventies. There were her trips to Israel right along with the one they took me on in 1977, too.

While their friends were headed to the Carribean and The Grand Canyon for pleasure, my grandparents were off on wild adventures to learn about the world. Because I was the oldest grandchild and lived nearby, their influence on my ability to look at the world differently was significant. I was able to read about her joys in traveling with the love of her life and was reminded of how hip she was. Then like magic, like she had directed me to this very moment herself, I found her Seder outline and printed it, happy to have found her words to share.

Since my grandfather’s stroke almost five years ago, he hasn’t gone out much and certainly hasn’t had any Passover celebrations at his house. I had decided to come down to Florida this year to have a Passover Seder with my grandfather instead of the usual Seder with my lovely son and our circle of friends back home. so that he could participate in one at his 101st year. As I have mentioned in many writings, we never know if this one will be his last one, the odds shorten each year and my pragmatism abounds.

I set up the formal dining room instead of the usual breakfast area in the kitchen and took out the good china, all of the candlesticks, and the cloth napkins. This is the joy of a holiday. The excuse to make something a little more special than just another day. Flowers on the table, special wine glasses, the old china serving dishes that I will never know their origins of. I just know they are old and were saved for special occasions. I used as many as I had food to fill them. And I printed all of her itineraries right down to her memories of her marriage to my grandfather in August 1942. It was here I got to spend some time with her in her recollections of their beginnings, the draft, the bombing of Pearl Harbor and her young life. So right before dessert, I pulled out the story and announced, Herb, this is your life and began reading it as the story it was.

Passover is the story of Exodus, the Jewish plight, the enslavement of people, but also of our own prisons we put ourselves in by our thinking. My grandmother’s writings reminded me that she did not take her own personal freedoms lightly. She lived her life to the fullest, and after re-reading her own writings, I was clearly reminded of why I live the life I do. Even though many of the people I adore were not physically at this year’s Seder either because of proximity or because they have left us, having this Passover with my Grandfather felt like everyone was there at our table. Liberation in our own way, connecting generations on this one special holiday I got to celebrate my fifty fourth year with a most cherished father figure, Herb Horowitz, my shining example that life is what you make of it.