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MIRACLE OF LIGHT

MIRACLE OF LIGHT

With Hanukkah fast approaching this Sunday eve, there is a welcome pause that occurs in my world before the mayhem of December. My aunt and I joke about the holiday being “early” this year as many people compare the holiday, all Jewish holidays as a matter of fact, to the Christian ones close by. I can hear my former mother in law asking me, “When is your Christmas? When is your Easter?” Patience. Breathe. Don’t react. Jewish holidays are never “early or late;” they are perfectly on time because they are based on the cycle of the sun and moon, the Hebrew Calendar, not the Gregorian calendar we have been born and raised with. The holiday falls on the twenty-fifth day in the Hebrew month of Kislev, the darkest day both solar and lunar. Hanukkah falls during the waning moon into the new moon. If you are eager to learn about the moon cycles and Jewish Holidays this article is excellent-

http://telshemesh.org/water/jewish_cycles_of_the_moon_jill_hammer.html

There is no accident that the Festival of Light would fall on a waning moon and take eight nights to move towards the new moon. We are lighting a symbolic candle each night adding one to complete the holiday, reminding me at least that we have the power to bring our own light slowly and steadily to the proverbial table. We celebrate the miracle of light because the famous story goes that after the temple was destroyed around 165 BCE and the rebuilding was about to happen, there was not enough oil to keep the light burning- then a miracle happened and the oil burned for eight days. This has been the story we have taught our children for generations, but there is so much more to the story. This minor holiday is filled with symbolism of miracles and divine intervention, of resilience and resistance, but it is a minor holiday. In fact the whole gift giving is really not historical, but likely more of a tradition that happened because of its regular proximity to Christmas. I am not here, though to discuss physical ‘presents’ but rather the magic of reflection and the symbolism of light in its darkness.

What is light anyway? Why is it so important? As aging human beings, it is likely that we will experience areas of darkness in our lives, death, loss, tragedy, sadness are all part of the fabric of our lives. Darkness is part of the day, but so is light and the light is the wake up call. In Darkness, we go deep within, in Light, we open our hearts and broaden our view. In lightness we can see further on the horizon. Every Jewish holiday requires candle lighting. It is welcoming the light in the beginning of each holiday and it is the moment of reflection and meditation as we say hello to the moment. Thank you God for reminding us to light these candles by your commandments. It is a commandment to literally stop and smell the roses. Not just on Jewish holidays, but on every single Friday night, the Jewish Sabbath, Shabbat, the most important ‘holiday’ in Judaism actually.

I did not grow up in a religious family; I grew up in a cultural one. This is the luxury in some ways of Judaism; there are so many options within the scope of its history to participate. This is also the potential downfall as it is not nearly as easy to “keep the faith,” when everywhere you turn there is the white bearded Santa Ho Ho Ho-ing and the Easter bunny hop hop hopping. So in some instances especially with no Jewish family around except for my son and me, I must make my own traditions. What I treasure about the Jewish Holidays is the lack of obvious predictability in their schedules; precisely their lack of consistency each time they roll around. Shabbat, though, is predictable. Every Friday night, every Saturday until the first three stars show up in the sky, Shabbat never lets me down. It is always there for the taking and most often I let it pass by with barely a glimmer except when I am visiting my grandfather, then it is full throttle Shabbat. Synagogue and all. Shabbat is the glorious reminder, if you are a believer in the divine, that God knew the days of the week would fly by and would come with excessive work. That life comes at you and despite it all, you need a day off to rest and recover and reconnect with a higher purpose. I take great comfort in this knowing that I can take a gigantic step back into the call to rest on a Friday night whenever I need to. I am usually surprised that I don’t because I feel so good when I do.

Last year Hanukkah landed on Christmas, this year it is December 2nd, a Sunday night. With the world accelerating each year passing me by, the Jewish Holidays are a welcome respite to bring light back in, to pause, to invite friends to replace my absent family, to see my son in the middle of a school week, to end the year with connection and spirituality. Hanukkah, this year, “early” in the month, gives me a chance to slow down and cook for people I love and to share my own light. This time around it also reminds me of my spirituality that in the busy-ness of my life has left the building. Judasim, my faith, my interpretation of its symbolic presence in my life kind of like an Alanon meeting is always there and I am guilty of taking it for granted thinking that because it is always there, it will always be there. This is a mistake that needs correction.

This year, after the horrors of what seems like a mass shooting a day, I must attend to my spirituality with more consciousness. Not doing so allows assimilation to move in and claim what my great grandparents escaped from when they left the Russian pogroms in the early twentieth century. Ambivalence and taking my faith for granted does not honor the prevalence of hate crimes increasing daily, it does not recognize the tragic loss of life at The Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg or honor any other group of citizens practicing and worshipping at their own churches and congregations. Whatever I decide to do, however it unfolds, there will be more of a conscious purpose to get back to something that I love. Judaism’s traditions and rich history of survival and resilience feeds my soul in a way like no other. This upcoming Hanukkah, like most of the Jewish Holidays gives me that gift. The gift to stop, think, act, participate, love, connect with my own light and with the people in my life who feel the same. This is a true miracle. May you have much light on any dark days and when there seems to be an absence of light, may the pause and connection remind you that the sun does indeed come up every day.

Hanukkah 101

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SURROUNDED BY BOOKS

SURROUNDED BY BOOKS

Everywhere I look at my grandparent’s house, there are books. Not as many as there used to be as my grandfather realized long before his stroke, long before my grandmother died that they should start to move some of them somewhere. I was an all too welcome recipient as I love not only books, but anything and everything that comes from their house. I realized this last trip their familiar presence has been a staple in my world since I was born and how much I take that presence for granted. Books have been a part of the fabric of my upbringing, their importance the foundation of my life just by their lives on the shelves everywhere I look. On this trip I notice the empty spots knowing that my grandfather kindly sent many of them to me over ten years ago when I gave him my book grocery list. He was all too happy to find a new home for his collection and I was too happy to invite them as a next generation who appreciates the stories they tell.

Most of the books from my grandparents’ home have Jewish themes, Israeli themes, WWII history and one could likely tell from the titles that my grandparents were really invested in their faith. When I say faith, I do not refer to the religious aspect of it, but the cultural element. My grandparents were not religious Jews, but definitely cultural ones and their belief about what is right and wrong and how to live a life that demonstrated this was most definitively led by their Judaism. Many religions can say this, thou shall not…. The familiar Ten Commandments has been a good set of human values for the most part and we were raised mostly with this as our examples.

I have many friends who did not grow up with shelves and shelves of books and in my past life when I was married as I made my way to their homes, this was a unique difference in my observations. Books on the shelves along with art on the walls seemed to go hand in hand. Along with the books, my grandparents have art everywhere and this too has made its way to my home over the years. Again a lot of Jewish themed art along with art from their many trips to places people simply weren’t going to in the sixties and the seventies, China in the late seventies when they finally opened their borders to tourism, Israel starting in 1966, New Zealand, Ghana and Timbuktu and many other out of comfort zone places that shaped their world views. In turn they passed them on to their grandchildren by their examples along with the stories and endless slide shows we had the fortune to witness. At the time though, watching a slide show of a safari made us kids groan, but it instilled a love of travel and adventure in all of us grandchildren that we wholeheartedly appreciate.

As I look around at the dwindling and many out of date collection of books, The Encyclopedia of Jewish Religion, Jewish Civilization to name a few I wonder what on earth we are going to do with all of these books when the time comes for my 101 year old grandfather to move on to his next adventure, hopefully with my grandmother and father and brother. Each time I have visited him for the past ten years, I have looked at all of the “stuff” and thought to myself what the hell are we going to do with all of this? For him as I have asked him repeatedly, he replies with the simple answer, it’s not my problem, it will be yours and Bobby’s. Haha, touche, I think. While it seems like his typical pragmatic approach to all things end of life would apply here, all of this goes out the window because there seems to be in that six foot body of his a small shred of sentimentality after all.

“You are an emotional girl,” he has been fond of saying to me over the years like it was some wart to try to remove from my nose or something. Ironically it turns out that he too has a touch of emotion as well. Even though the pragmatic approach would be to start doling out the art and the trinkets, this I have decided would be admitting that death was at the door waiting. It also takes out of the house my grandmother’s essence, their travels and adventures, and for this, I concede, it makes complete sense to hold on as long as he chooses. He deserves this. It is his stuff and his life. I am sure that when the time comes for him to move on, we will be all too happy to be reminded of his presence in the stories each of these items we will lay claim to tell. The books are just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many beautiful items that will find their way into our homes for the next generations. For me it is not the value of the item, the great news for our family is that none of us need any of it, it is the sentimental that I will cherish, the kitchen gadgets of my grandmother, her incredible Corning Ware collection, useful, well cared for and endless reminders of briskets and salads and Jewish Holidays. I am in no rush for any of it because that just means that this world as I have known and loved has come to an end. I have nothing to cry about after all I have had my grandfather way beyond my wildest dreams. The books are just the metaphor for the words and actions he has instilled in me and all of his grandchildren and as long as they are there, this means that he is. This is just fine with me.

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FORGIVENESS AND GRATITUDE

FORGIVENESS AND GRATITUDE

During Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, two of the more prominent and important Jewish Holidays, there is a call to action that is directly related to forgiveness. You are supposed to make amends with anyone you may have harmed and ask for forgiveness, face to face, eye to eye. If the person does not grant you forgiveness, there is a catchall that I love. You are supposed to ask two more times and if you are still not granted forgiveness, you are forgiven because if you sincerely mean what you ask, God apparently thinks that this is the point. Intention. Courage. Humility. Like all religion, there are various interpretations. These can be symbolic gestures too, maybe you need to forgive someone else and you just simply begin the process in your own heart without even having a conversation. Maybe the person you harmed or have been harmed by has passed away or the relationship is beyond a face to face — meditating, breathing, sending that person light and surrounding their aura with love may be the start of forgiveness. I look at the directive as an opportunity to pay attention and make a motion, even if it is just a baby step, to move towards love.

I have never been violently abused, I don’t know how the possibility of forgiveness is possible in these situations. I have never been harmed in such a way where forgiveness does not even seem like it is place to even walk towards. I cannot speak to this, but I do know that when I move towards forgiveness even if it is just in my mind, I am the person who feels better. It is not about the other person, it is about my own heart. Forgiveness is not meant to change the person on the receiving end, it is the person looking back in the mirror.

If I have hurt someone unintentionally, how is that I would even know to ask for forgiveness? This is where a kind meditation can be helpful. A deep breath surrounded by some conscious quiet saying to myself, I ask for forgiveness for any harm or hurt I may have caused to anyone intentionally or unintentionally. I open my heart to forgive and be forgiven and I ask for only goodness and love to move between us. Another one that is even easier is to say I FORGIVE YOU and see the person in your minds eye. If it is you that needs the forgiveness, I FORGIVE MYSELF. I have even read that it is helpful to look at yourself directly in the mirror and say, I FORGIVE YOU. And then really sit for a moment and feel the feeling, then do it again. I have tried this and it is powerful to notice the self talk that comes up by staring at yourself in a mirror contemplating.

Sometimes this small movement of consciousness and awareness can lead to an opening. Openings are good, much better than closures. Closures of the heart are anger and resentment and this eats away at your soul. No matter what the harm, soul eating is not good for my health, for sure. Resentment as it relates to health may as well be like eating Big Macs and French fries every day three times a day for life, a heart doctor’s worst nightmare. Stress from resentment has far reaching consequences on blood pressure, headaches, immune systems, and emotional weariness that does not induce well being.

What does FORGIVENESS have to do with GRATITUDE? I mean it is Thanksgiving, not Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah, not New Years where I make my list of goals that include action items for personal improvement. This isn’t an Alanon meeting day where I am on Step 5, “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” (https://www.aa.org/assets/en_US/en_step5.pdf)

This is not confession day at church behind a screen where a priest is listening to the Forgive me Father for I have sinned. In my opinion, gratitude goes hand in hand with forgiveness. Sometimes the first step of forgiveness is to simply train your mind to consider what you are thankful for. An interesting exercise is to sit quietly and take a few deep breaths. After you have done this, think about something you are angry or resentful about and place it in your mind for just a moment. Notice how that thought makes you feel. Does your face get scrunched up, are you frowning, feeling revved up, heart racing? Now try to allow that thought to leave you, put it in a box and place it in a river and watch it float down and away. Then simply take a few breaths again, quiet your mind and think of a few things you are thankful for, grateful for. Shelter, your children, food on the table, your health, whatever comes to your heart. Hold those thoughts and notice the feelings in your body now. Relaxed, calmer, more peaceful? Do you realize that both feelings were choices you just made? Powerful.

I believe that gratitude is like exercise or learning how to play an instrument, you have to practice it daily or else you simply will not improve, and neither will your health and way you see the world. Gratitude can lead to forgiveness, but the first step is all about taking it. And it is free. This is the gem of gratitude and forgiveness. They are both free. You just have to show up.

Holidays are loaded with layers of stuff. Family dynamics, expectations, guilt, and these holidays can push buttons that trigger behavior in sometimes out of the blue surprising ways. Often not planned, not anticipated, but they can come at you with a force of strength and set you on a course that is anything but thank-full. But I have learned and really believe that behavior and my response to it is a choice I make. It takes two to make conflict. I have a choice to engage or disengage. I don’t have to read the email that is going to make me feel bad, I can just delete it. I don’t have to go on social media and allow myself to be exposed to discussions that don’t make me feel energized and happy. These are all choices that I make often. I want to feel good. This is a choice. Gratitude and Forgiveness make me feel good, great actually.

Today I am grateful for anyone who reads anything I write. Writing is my personal forgiveness and I am so thankful for its presence in my life. May your day be filled with the choice of kindness and humility so that your being is calmer and more peaceful as you make your way, “Over the river and thru the woods to grandmother’s house you go,” where sometimes the big bad wolf awaits, but you don’t have to be eaten by him.

Happiest of Thanksgivings to you.


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NOVEMBER 20, 2018


NOVEMBER 20, 2018

My brother, Michael Andrew Horowitz would have been 48 this year as I remember his life on this exact day he died 23 years ago. In two more years he will be gone the same amount of time he lived for. This is the strange thing about death and anniversaries, you start doing all kinds of weird math. Like the times when a client comes into my business and when asked their birthday, they give me the day along with the year. 1970, they say. I look up expecting to see a familiar face, but realize quickly that their face is someone who has had the luxury of aging. My brother’s face is still 25. I don’t know what he would have looked like if he was standing before me at 48.

The day my brother died 23 years ago today, my father had called me to let me know. It was early in the morning and I sobbed all day deciding a good use of tears would be to put together a photo album. Creation is a perfect task for grief. Writing, art, being in nature, all of this helps the grief come out of those dark crevices releasing it to move through and out. Out is relative, out is small drips from the kitchen faucet because you forgot to turn the handle off completely. Initially grief pours out uncontrollably like a tsunami, chaotic, screaming, disbelieving even though you knew it was coming. The pain is intense and in your face that first day, that first week, that first of all firsts. Birthdays, holidays, watching college graduations and marriages and births of babies. Knowing that life goes on, but just not for Michael. Not this lifetime anyway.

I occasionally see his friends and this is always a mixed bag of happiness and sadness. I love knowing people who knew him, who remembered him, it is a connection I both cherish and grieve. Often when I see a friend of his, a tear comes to my eye unexpectedly. I have learned to allow its presence in my eye, and its movement down my cheek with no worry that I am causing feelings of worry in the person staring back at me. After all, my brother died so many years ago. Enough with the crying already, I can hear my stoic grandmother saying to me a few months after he died. I will never stop crying for his loss in my life. This I know. This is what makes me human. This is what makes me remember his life so that my son knows of him, so that my little cousins know they had another cousin who is not here. Loss of someone who has aged in the normal progression of life is sad enough. I miss my father who despite the fact that he died too young, he died a life he loved living. Not everyone can say this. I miss my grandmother every day and she lived a full rich life dying at almost 93. Look at my grandfather who just turned 101. I will cry like a little baby when he finally goes. Sometimes a rich full life means a boatload of memories and this can make grief even more intense.

There is no time limit on grief. This I know for sure. Maybe it gets less intense over time, maybe the sobs turn into whimpers and the whimpers turn into sniffles, but they are always there. Frankly, I welcome them. I like their reminders because it connects my soul to my brother’s soul even for just a brief moment. I like to feel his presence around me and my tender heart. I know he can feel mine. Till we meet again, my dear brother. I miss you every day.




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MY LAST VISIT

MY LAST VISIT

For at least the last ten years every time I close the door behind me at my Grandfather’s house in Sarasota, Florida to say good bye again, I think to myself, Will this be my last time, my last visit? The last time I get to be in the company of my proud patriarch, my grandfather, Herb Horowitz. This may make people who are afraid of the word Death, cringe, but in my family anyway, after saying goodbye to my brother, my father and my grandmother, we are used to the topic of END. My grandfather has been instrumental in involving me in the pragmatic discussions about end of life that goes back to when my grandmother was alive well over fifteen years prior to her sudden departure five years ago. My grandparents had a family meeting to discuss with their children the ways of their wills, what to expect, what was supposed to happen, and the general hierarchy of the plan. They had seen much of what could go wrong in families and wanted to be sure that everyone knew the road map when they finally left us. This has been one of those magic memories shaping my view of dying and what trails we leave behind that has left an indelible blueprint in my own life.

Herbie Horowitz has been a planner preparing for the inevitable future and has been consistently most responsible when it came to money. As a matter of fact, it took me a long time to identify my sense of financial success in my own business and life because he set, whether intentional or not, a high bar for what success was supposed to be about. We each have defined success differently. I often live on the edge, I enjoy life with a sense of urgent vigor. This has been a piece of who I am well before I had breast cancer, but it has been my grandparents who have taught me how to plan for later always assuming that there will indeed be a later. This I have not veered from since I have been twenty five contributing to my first 401K. I have also taught this to my son and my young team in my endless discussions about wills, trusts, the importance of good insurance, IRA contributions and bringing up the what ifs with their own families and spouses.

Herb always thought he was going to go before my grandmother and her death before his threw a serious wrench in both of their best laid plans. He goes on though in a way that is indescribable unless you have the pleasure of being in his inner circle of company like I have for the past fifty-three years. I have watched this WWII vet rise to the occasion of life despite the physical problems that have come his way since my grandmother’s death. Because of his proactive planning, he has had enough money to live at home and have 24/7 care so that he can keep his life his own as best as possible. This has been a welcomed gift to his grandchildren especially me since visiting him still goes on the same as it always has, barely uninterrupted and relatively normal. My uncle has taken on the primary role of responsible adult making sure that everything keeps ticking the way it is supposed to and we are all the better for this, surely.

Herb is an extraordinary human offering words of wisdom, advice whether requested or not, usually advice you don’t yet know you need or advice you hadn’t even considered. For him, he has the credibility of a life well lived and the years to prove his sage guidance. We all celebrated his 100th year last year at a lively celebration and I think even he is surprised that he would be around for his 101st birthday yesterday. People around him are hungry and eager for his commentary and his company. The fact that he still has his wits about him and can still multiply numbers without a calculator not to mention his regular conversations with his friends, children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and yes his older sister who just turned 103 makes for desired company rather than the forgotten. He brings a lot to the table and the people eager to show up to the plate are all the better for it.

I had the pleasure of bringing him to temple this past Friday night for his birthday and the yahrzeit of my brother’s death. It was an odd juxtaposition of being there to celebrate a man turning 101 on November 17th, born in 1917,coupled with remembering his grandson, my brother who died at 25 on November 20, 1995. Herb walked in on his walker, Missy, his caregiver close by, sporting his navy blue go to blazer looking for a seat close to the aisle. Everyone was seated already and he was the last one standing anxious to sit down when the Rabbi spotted him across a very crowded synagogue. The Rabbi called out to him, welcomed him and the entire congregation turned to sing him a celebratory Shehechiyanu prayer and a joyful round of Happy Birthday in Hebrew. Children looked at him with awe and curiosity, and I could see them calculating the notion of 101 years compared to their young lives and their own parents and grandparents. He beamed with light and welcomed the oohhs and ahhs. He was revered as he should be and I almost wish he was invited to stand up and speak to them to give his wisdom of retrospect on a life well lived. But he would likely say, Nahhhh, what do people want from me, I am an old man. This makes him even more desired company as it is his intelligence coupled with his humility that make for a lovely human being.

I shed tears each time I leave him and every time the phone rings with my Uncle Bobby as the caller id, I hold my breath because the odds are simply against the possibilities of our time together. He is sharp as a tack and shows no signs of early departure, but clearly he has less time ahead rather than more. This is just simple math and reality. He has raised me and my free spirit self with a practicality that surprises me as I get older. I have him and my grandmother etched deep inside me even more so than my own parents who were too young to give the type of advice I didn’t know I needed as they faltered and floundered trying to figure themselves out. All the better for it ultimately since I got the best of my grandparents’ sound stable beautiful contributions to my life.

I do know that each time I shed the tears of grief that just come on at the most random moments each time that door closes when I head back north after a visit, if it is in fact the last visit, I have been a recipient of a life well lived. In a way that will be with me until my grandchildren get to hear my own advice and close their doors after their frequent visits. He is “slowing down” sleeping more, catnaps throughout the day during breakfast, lunch, dinner, television bingewatching, but this is all part of the process of dying. Back to the beginning, needing care and attention in the ways of an infant on some levels. I do know that the visits from all of us wake him up and this causes him the same joy and happiness he has blessed us with. If this was my last visit, I know like all the others before, it was a very good one. A very good one indeed.

alayne and herb with michael in the background snapping the pic #luckyindeed
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THE BATHING SUIT MIRROR

THE BATHING SUIT MIRROR

There is a bathing suit store I have visited in Sarasota every single year since I was in my twenties. My grandmother would take me there to buy a suit and I would traipse off to Siesta Key for sun and tan during my visits with my grandparents. My grandmother would plead with me to buy a bathing suit that would cover my “tuchas,” (Yiddish slang word for derriere) and I would roll my eyes with disdain and impatience. At twenty four, there was no way I was going to prance around on the white sands of Siesta Key with some old lady skirt. Rumps are for displaying, especially the twenty four year old kind. My grandmother would of course concede and I would get the bathing suit I wanted, usually skimpy as most twenty something girls were wearing at the time. As I reflect back, especially these days when thongs are the new normal, my bathing suit choices were relatively conservative. To my grandmother, though, who was all about outward appearances when it came to modesty, my choices were horrifying and we had lots of body talk or more like body commentary creating a self consciousness that I still struggle with to this day.

Bathing suits and self talk go hand in hand for me and I am guessing most women. I can see why, since suits are more or less like prancing around in a pair of underpants and a bra for the world to see. All shapes and sizes in a multitude of dressing rooms trying on bathing suits after a winter of hibernation and head to toe cover does not usually make for a good recipe in the changing room. But for some reason, we go back year after year because for the most part either our suits are too ragged from over use the year or two before or we are gluttons for punishment. For me actually, I am hopeful that this year will be the year that I look in the bathing suit mirror and see a reflection back that says, Wow, alayne you look amazing. All that working out and clean eating has actually paid off. You go girl.

Before I head there, though, let me describe the bathing suit dressing room just in case the reader hasn’t indulged recently or perhaps the changing rooms in other places that women try on bathing suits is not the same. I shall set the stage. I walk in to my go to store like I have done every single year since 1989 when they opened. I would have been twenty four; I am now almost fifty four so this is thirty years of bathing suit changes. The store hasn’t changed much except they have Pergo floors instead of carpeting and have added a men’s section. There are a few mannequins in the window sporting the latest in trends, usually on about a size four model and always bikinis. I always love those suits the most and head towards the wall that has them. Size 8 if I am really lucky, though usually more like a ten, but more on this shortly. The large wall immediately on my right above all of the sundresses is the wall I have usually made my way to, but a few years ago, I learned that this wall was now juniors. This would explain why not even a size 12 would cover the ass my grandmother was always nagging me about. Instead of saying juniors, they should say teens, this way there would be no pretense that I should even be close to that wall. But for some reason every year, I still think that these suits are not going to let me down. On the other wall, across from the juniors toward the back of the store are the clearly non juniors. Now why some bathing suit company has not realized that there doesn’t have to be Juniors OR Missus with nothing in between is beyond me. I am not a one piece girl, never have been because one thing I do know for sure is that I have a good stomach, always have. No one pieces and no tankinis either. But in this section that I fondly call the old lady section, my choices were slim. Like J. Jill, the assumption is that every older woman is trying to camouflage their mid section. This is not my problem. I don’t want a two piece that is like wall to wall carpeting, I also don’t want a two piece that had layers of fabric that is supposed to do some fake illusion thing to your hips.

A year before my mastectomy, I discovered the company Jag. Jag made a bottom that was like a hip skirt, kind of Athleta type and because I must always have back up, I promptly purchased four of them. The store still carries them and I am guessing that this must be a go to brand for the in between type of woman like myself. My grandmother was right apparently, skirts were the way to go and I was finally free at the beach to not fret and poke and pull constantly at my bottoms that no matter what the size always landed promptly between my cheeks. Skirts changed all of this for me. And now that I have a set of some very upright fake mastectomied boobs, a sporty Lulu top finally gave me peace with my body at the beach.

Until I went to Sao Miguel this past summer and made my way to the beach where there was not one woman with a skirt. I am talking the largest to the smallest, no one was sporting my sporty skirt and I actually stood out oddly making me feel self conscious. I am clearly fucked up when it comes to body image and this is for another piece at a later time, but I decided then and there that enough with the skirts. I have a healthy body and I am alive and happy. I am wearing a pair of bathing suit bottoms and ditching the skirt. I have an ass, I have always had an ass, I have strong hardy thighs and I have always had strong hardy thighs, I am woman hear me roar. I walked into the familiar and strangely comforting store yesterday this time with my partner rather than my grandmother. He needed a pair of swim suit shorts too and had offered to buy me a bathing suit. I was relieved to find a grown up sales woman (often there are college kids working there and they do not yet understand my plight) and told her my dilemma. I relayed the above information to her and let her know that since my reconstruction surgery, I have struggled to find a top as well. I finally conceded that if I were going to make my way back to a standard bikini I would have to aim for a full coverage pair of bottoms.

Yes it has happened. I have crossed the line into the suits for mature women. She was so kind and understanding and quickly found me a few suits that she placed in the dressing room. The dressing room is very large hosting at least eight separate changing rooms. Each with their own mirror and if you are feeling brave, you can walk into the main very spacious part of the changing area amongst the tribe and use the three way. There is even a convenient hand held that you can torture yourself with to see your full back side. And to top off this torture chamber, lets add the brightest fluorescent lights accentuating every spot of cellulite you never knew you had. For all of this, I am willing to pay $150 for two pieces of spandex I could bunch up and place in my pocket while my partner doesn’t even have to try on his $28 pair of swim shorts that could easily make three full sets of bathing suits for me. This time though, because I had an experienced sales woman, the two suits she brought me fit like a glove. I pranced out into the main area, then decided to walk into the actual store to find my man and ask him what he thought. Affirmative. Though I am fully aware that the ask is a loaded question to begin with, I did feel that he would honestly let me know if what I was wearing looked good. Enough. Good enough. This is the part of the story that I really like. Despite the never ending cycle of jibber jabber body self talk craziness that has gone on in my head for as long as I can remember, yesterday’s bathing suit try on was actually pretty satisfying. I liked the way I looked. I finally found a top that actually fit these weird porn star silicone attachments that have found their way to my upper self and I realized that I am ok with the woman’s section. A medium is fine. For that matter, a large is even fine. Size 8 is bullshit in a bathing suit, numbers should be illegal when it comes to bathing suits now that I think of it, I AM a woman. The woman’s section is just fine. I have earned the status and proud of it.

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OPEN AND RECEPTIVE

OPEN AND RECEPTIVE

I am open and receptive to all good. These are the words I have used to replace any other words that occasionally find their way into my brain. These eight words, especially when 3 am rolls around and the dark chocolate has kicked in I ate before I went to bed, have been my go to phrase since almost 1989 when I discovered Louise Hay.

Louise Hay was one of the founders of the self help movement and when I first read her book, You Can Heal Your Life, I was only twenty four. Her theories about thinking and the meaning of the thoughts we think changed the way I thought about thinking. I had never heard this thought process before, that I actually had control over that frisky brain of mine that until then had led me very much astray. Louise Hay was a game changer for me and at twenty four, I never realized how important the simple notion of belief systems were.

Thirty years later, when my brain takes over my intuition, I know that deliberately shifting my words, rearranging them like a puzzle, changes how I feel. This is an outstanding notion and I wish we could teach this to our middle schoolers with much more priority. The movie, The Secret, where the intention was to teach that our unique powers are within us by changing the way we think about ourselves left out one important component, Action. I can lay in my bed all day saying positive phrases, but I must get out of bed to see how the experiment works. This is not to say that we always have control. Louise Hay and many of her believers also believed that every single ailment was caused by belief systems. I once heard this young man on THE MOTH telling his story about being born with cerebral palsy. He was hilarious in his story and one of the lines he used was, Fuck Louise Hay. He was not responsible for being born with that condition, but she could be interpreted that way. When my brother was diagnosed with lung cancer at 24, I too found myself thinking he had some control over his fatal outcome. No such luck and I shutter to think about some of the language I used with him at the beginning.

The thoughts we think are powerful. This I know for sure. Now that I have many moons of life experience and traumatic events to add to the mix, what I have figured out for myself is when I feel good, positive, grounded, happy, the energy in my body feels different. Those rare times when my brain heads south, my body feels depleted, negative, low energy and it seems that this is when the Life Coming at Me kicks in to high gear. It is more a feeling, but I think that many of us understand the basic concept of seeing the bright side rather than the dark side. When I look at life with my rose colored glasses, life brings me pleasure even in my dark times. This is brain training because our minds seem to be hard wired for fear and doubt. After all our ancestors were in a constant state of fight or flight trying to outrun the enemy. The good of this is self protection, survival, pretty useful when you had to fight off lions and tigers and bears. These days, the enemy, at least in my neat little protected world, is my mind and what I allow it to believe. I am not running away from wild beasts to save myself from extinction, but anytime I have a trigger or an arrow coming towards me, my body reverts to fight or flight sending my cortisol hormones into overdrive. Cortisol in overdrive is a death sentence, and my body should not have the same type of adrenaline rush when I am struggling to find a parking spot as it does if I was trying to outrun a grizzly. But it does. Isn’t that fascinating?

When my brain has taken me hostage filling me with all kinds of terrible thoughts about myself, wasteful thoughts that don’t serve me like, I feel fat, I am a slacker, I am a procrastinator, holy shit, where did that bulge around my middle show up, not good enough thoughts that blah blah blah and blast away like those sparklers on the forth of July, I have a low energy from them. This is just a sampler, but there is not a woman I know who can’t relate. I am guessing there are men out there, too, who have this experience. We are all humans each with our own brains that go rogue at the drop of a hat. I have learned that a simple often deliberate shift always makes me feel better and when I feel better I see the world better and when I see the world better, life has a way of working itself out. Always. Even in my darkest times, I see the world with a speck of light. I like light. I appreciate kindness, random smiles and a hardy strong hug that lingers just a little longer. And in this volatile time with so many darts at every turn, as we duck and hide and run for cover from the technology that now seems to be the grizzly bear in the woods, a smile, a hug and old fashioned connection may be just the interrupters we humans need.


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UP, UP AND AWAY

UP, UP AND AWAY

There they were, the trio of family making their way through security together headed for sunny Florida. Perhaps to see the grandparents like I was for a precious visit not knowing if this would be the last time they may have the opportunity. Or maybe they were trying to get that Disney family trip in before their only son became too old to want to go with them. I don’t really know, but the airport is one of those places where I can make up stories about every person I watch while I wait for the plane’s boarding call.

I am the person at the airport two hours ahead of time, much to my friend, Ken’s chagrin who is an expert traveler like George Clooney in that movie whose name escapes me, Up? I don’t remember, but I marveled at his character’s pride in packing, his superiority complex in his expertise narrating each step as he made his way to the airport for one of his many business trips. My friend Ken is like this. He travels almost monthly for business, Germany, Hawaii, Denmark, Australia, and his experience leads him to arrive almost minutes before the flight takes off. I have anxiety even writing this. This behavior drives his wife, my dear friend, Ro absolutely bonkers and each time they go into battle over this, I am reminded of how happy I am solo in my ability to decide the whens of travel time. Though I am a seasoned traveler, I feel calmer waiting at the gate two hours ahead of time rather than waiting at home to leave, distracted enough so I can’t get anything accomplished because I am thinking about getting to the airport. I have traveled with Ken and it is a whirlwind, but also invigorating knowing that if shit happens, his experience will get us to the proverbial church on time.

I was not traveling with Ken, however, on this early Saturday morning, but my partner, instead, who is equally as happy to join my time zone party and make our way to the airport, relaxing, using the restroom, getting our tea and reading our books inches from the gate. Today though, we really got there early, like two and half hours, which gave me plenty of time to people watch and make my tales come to life as I watched the dynamics and interactions between the vast majority of people traveling at the same time as we were. I try not to stare, but they are likely thinking the same thing, hopefully their curiosity has been peaked too and they are staring back while I am not looking making up their own stories.

I was intrigued by the family in front of me. First of all, the parents were only about five feet give or take a couple of inches and they looked so much alike. Their very sweet son, who seemed to be about seven or eight was tracking to follow their footsteps in the height department. The entire family looked alike, plump, sandy brownish hair, sweatpants, t shirts, sneakers, ready for travel with their freshly purchased brown bags filled with Dunkin Donuts lore. Leaving the house as early as one needs to get to the airport requires planning if you don’t want to eat the slop that is served in the wee hours. The healthy options are limited so many families just decide well this is vacation so we’ll just start our party time with our first meal once we get there. I of course am a food snob so I pack a nice blend, (yes eye roll here, I know)

I am watching them respectfully to see what snacks will be flying out of the magic bags, they were overweight and their son was too, making me cringe at the first sight of the green bottle that suddenly appeared. It was 7:30 am. I am thinking as I am watching them that the three of them couldn’t be more than late thirties and they were headed for the diabetes and heart disease path faster than a dozen chocolate munchkins heads down their digestive tracts. The boy passed his mother the bottle to open it and to my judgmental horror, my worst fears were confirmed, Sprite. For breakfast. For a chunky eight year old, and the parents who each were each about to drink their own bottle demonstrating the poor and obvious example of bad nutrition. Bottles of soda don’t come in small containers either. I was willing to bet that the bottles they were about to guzzle were at least twenty four ounces. I couldn’t believe that these seemingly nice parents had not received the soda memo that in my world of reading seems to be at every turn. I feel the same way about soda that I do about cigarettes. Super bad. But what does this innocent boy know about bad nutrition choices as his own example of his plump parents set the tone. Soda shouldn’t even be a special treat, it has sugar, caffeine and all kinds of dyes that are hard to pronounce, it doesn’t quench thirst, it is addictive and shoots up insulin levels to the point where children are being diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes like a common cold. I know as I write this, I am offending the soda drinking households out there, but if weight is a struggle, just simply switching from soda or juice to water could make a difference from an unhealthy road ahead to a healthy one. At least the start of one.

Parents need to take some ownership of the food examples they set, soda, sugared cereal for breakfast, processed foods before school all lead to lots of distracted kids and wired up energy making it hard for these same kids to learn or stay focused when they get off the bus and into the classrooms. I have seen this myself as I used to volunteer in the middle school lunch room and the crap not only that the kids were eating, but the food they were being served by our own institutions gave me a birds eye view into some of the troubles. Often these same kids get misdiagnosed with ADD and all of the other three letter diagnosis we have placed on our kids along with a pill to fix them. If we could just make a shift in their nutrition, many of the issues can be solved, but our medical system seems to ignore this in any consultation. Sure nutrition can’t solve all of the problems, obviously I know this as someone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer twice and I can’t remember the last time I have brought a soda to my lips or a bowl of apple jacks for that matter. As I watched this young family though, I wondered how long it would be before each of them made their way to the doctor for their own medical futures.

I was feeling a bit smug with my assessment of them, but I just know that they were all going down an alarming path and I felt like I was watching the beginning of a train wreck knowing it was completely out of my hands. But I guess this is life anyway, no matter how much we think we are in control or think we are controlling our destinies; none of us really know the answers. So maybe drinking the soda and eating the donuts is a happier place than the worries looming overhead. Kind of like a plane ride. We all make our way jam packed into a tube of metal thinking that we are going to land where and when the airline says we are, but we really have not a clue as we make our way up up and away. Look at my grandfather, here he is and here we are getting ready to celebrate his 101st birthday. Wine every day at five, crackers and cheesesticks for appetizers along with the wine, apple cinnamon lego waffles for breakfast and here he is. Still strong. But he never drank soda either, Just saying.

my friend ken, travel expert extraordinaire.
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QUIET BEAUTY

QUIET BEAUTY

She walked into the voting poll, with a quiet elegance , but not the wealthy kind typical of old money and blue blood. More of the kind who was simply raised well with good standards and taught the difference from right and wrong. Her age was probably around the mid eighties, with kind eyes, the ones that smile without a the necessary matching grin. She was the type of woman who seemed to have had a nice long life, probably had children who enjoyed her as much as she enjoyed them. She had on the sweetest of sweaters, fleece, cream colored, tucked under a raincoat because it had in fact been raining buckets. She seemed to be the pragmatic type, covered in the gear necessary to keep her dry, but with the old school practicality of needing to be warm too. Probably left her umbrella by the door to be more considerate so the rain droppings weren’t left in the voting booth for the next voter. The slight glimpse of the sweater confirmed it was very clean and cared for just like her house probably is or was. This woman likely came from the generation of stoic salty ladies who got their hair done snow sleet or hurricane every Friday. She was likely the type of woman who changed her curtains and bedding with the seasons, stripped to bare bones, cleaning walls using a ladder while their husbands were off to the factory or the post office job. Her children were raised with good manners, and were taught from the early days that chores were the simple part of being a child in their house, taking the trash out, washing and drying the dishes, no dishwasher in this house, raking leaves, and helping out on Saturdays with the dusting to get the house ready for Sunday dinners. After church of course. She never missed church, one imagined. She was likely at least a third generation in this small town and had seen her town inflate with each passing year with outsiders, carpetbaggers and people she no longer recognized as she made her way on the errands of the week, the post office to buy stamps and mail her monthly bills, the local drug store to pick up her prescriptions and the market for the few items she would need for the small meals she found herself making these days.

Greeting her with a happy smile, then showing her where to put the ballot, I noticed all of her layers, but it was the red splash of color peaking out beneath the raincoat that drew me to her. That made me assess all of these assumptions about her quiet life, because my eyes were simply drawn to the redness that found itself on her fleece sweater. I didn’t want to seem like I was invading her privacy. I didn’t know her until that moment, but the familiarity of the emblazoned cardinals on the lapel of her fleece sweater caught my eye.

“I LOVE YOUR SWEATER.” I said to her with an enthusiastic brightness that required a reply. She immediately placed her right hand to her lapel, like she was getting ready to cover her heart for the pledge of allegiance. Her eyes lit up, her smile extended into a big grin, but a humbled one, like the observation from a total stranger peaked into her heart in a way she hadn’t anticipated on a rainy evening on the eve of a mid term election.

“I have a story about the cardinal, “ she said in almost embarrassed way in a way that made me think she doubted I might believe her. She hesitated for a brief moment. I could feel it. It was very busy at that time, but I have my own stories about cardinals and I couldn’t pass up a chance to hear hers. I also had a feeling that her story was an opportunity for connection. I managed to find the clerk and ask him to man the machine so I could take a break and listen. She began the story quietly.

“ A cardinal flew into my open car window and wouldn’t leave, even when I walked over to the car and opened the doors. He stood on the dashboard and watched me for a moment. I left the doors open and decided to walk away. I watched him from my porch and he finally flew out and landed on the porch staring, like he knew me. I always loved cardinals, so I stood there and we watched each other. Then he flew away. The next day, I was in the kitchen and there he was again, in the same spot on my back porch. I gingerly walked towards the door, this time with some bread and placed a few pieces down slowly moving back as to not startle him, he approached the bread with confidence as if were old friends and ate it hungrily. I watched him and he looked up at me almost nodding with gratitude and flew away. The same thing happened the next day and the next and this went on for almost a full week. Then I didn’t see him again, but it was such an interesting experience. This sweater makes me remember him.” She smiled at me hoping that I would believe her.

I smiled broadly, knowingly, and found myself with barely a hesitation saying, “That is a magical story, has anyone important in your life died recently? “ She paused, surprised by my question for a split second and said, “Yes. As a matter of fact my husband had just died, he has been gone now for three years.”

Without hesitation, I said, “Cardinals are known for showing up after someone dies, perhaps your husband was there to say hello and one last goodbye, letting you know that everything was going to be alright. They are miracles for sure.”

I have known this magic about cardinals since my own father died and since others have moved on showing up in the oddest of times, singing on a quiet morning, landing on a tree at an arms length. Every single time, I have seen the bright red beauty, I am reminded that yes, everything is going to be alright. This has been happening since I separated from my husband almost eight years ago. They give me comfort and gratitude in the briefest of moments. I was all too happy to share this with her, somehow knowing she would understand immediately.

She did. I could tell by the immediate tear that welled up in her eye.She smiled with so much love, and longing. “I never heard that before, thank you for saying that. “

I wished I could have asked her for her phone number so we could hang out. I haven’t stopped thinking about her since Tuesday. We were meant to meet, I was meant to be her cardinal conduit. The notion of feeling vulnerable and taking the risk to communicate something to a complete stranger and be rewarded with the reception of the message in such a caring way reminded me how many layers underneath the surface of a first glance there are when you just take the time to say hello.


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TO BE HEALTHY

TO BE HEALTHY

“Pick up the weight and swing it between your legs in a squat, then up over your head and straight up, Arms straight! Lean Back!” Kathy exclaimed with the sound of a woman enjoying this (or a sound somewhat close to the familiar shrill of Aunt Lydia from The Handmaids Tale depending on your mood in the morning). Was anyone else in the class today finding her commands amusing?

I am almost fifty four years old standing in a class filled with women, some my age, some far younger and was struck by how fast time had flown. It was just yesterday it seemed that I was the twenty two year old head to toe in Jane Fonda aerobic tights, thongs and goodness knows what else was the eighties workout fashion of the moment watching a woman in her fifties teaching the class thinking , “Wow, she looks good for her age.” Hard to believe that this was almost thirty years ago and now I am that woman. I felt like we should all have pictures of ourselves on the wall with our age and life experience next to it to explain why I was finding it necessary to use some of the time to just hang out in child’s pose instead of one more over achieving push up.Why wasn’t anyone else resting, sweating, stretching in between change overs?

Yes I signed up for this, yes I paid for this, continue to pay for it, and actually as much fun as I make of it, love it. Can’t really live without the wackiness of the almost daily routine of the grind, pound, move, and an accelerated heart rate that astounds me all these years later. Who actually enjoys this? I do. I love the camaraderie of mostly women thinking that we are in some sort of control of our health, our lives and this in itself makes me smile. I smile a lot in these classes because I so often am in utter disbelief that I am one of the insiders, one of the regulars, not a stranger showing up quivering filled with potential embarrassment that I may have to give up. Nope. Not me. There is no giving up as I jump and twist and burpee and mountain climb my way through an hour of my life. “If your shoulders can’t take any more spider man twists, then there is no shame in lying on your back and doing bicycle crunches,” Kathy yells. I peek out the corners of my eyes to see if I am the only one too happy to take her suggestion, tired shoulders or not. Any excuse to be on my back for even a brief moment I relish in.

I will never be one of those workout chicks who have the discipline of an army general. When I am on, there is no stopping me. Deliberate, consistent, clear headed gym girl. Then I feel really good, really fast, like in a week, and then I start to go down the path of least resistance, but I have learned to semi enjoy this despite the fact that I know I will have what I refer to as spinney head. Or as I have heard in countless Alanon meetings, washing machine head. It is okay to take a break from myself and for myself, it is okay to rest once in awhile. I don’t know how often I try to convince myself of this. I know there is a distinct rhythm to habits. Wake up, check the clock, make sure it is at least 5 am, brush my teeth, wash my face, put moisturizer on, walk into the kitchen and make coffee. This is definitive every morning, never breaking from the routine. Once this all happens though, there are lots of am choices for me. Workout? Write? Type? Watch the news? Read the paper? Read a few pages of my latest book? They are all vying for a segment and this is all before the start of my day at around nine am. Waking up at five am gives me four full glorious hours, and each one of these choices feeds me and in a unique and stimulating way and this is where my discipline usually goes out the window. Lately I haven’t been writing as much because the morning gym takes so much time. I have to fit work in there too, paperwork takes a lot of time, and I forgot to mention that I have signed up and been taking three different writing classes each week. I love working out so this has been my morning priority lately. And as a result my morning writing has taken a hit.

Here’s what I know though. I am off kilter when I am not healthy. My mind starts to spin and takeover in a way that doesn’t serve. My partner has a sign hanging in the house that says, Don’t believe everything you think. When I am not writing or moving or eating healthy, my mind takes me hostage and I have been known to go into a tailspin. This may not be obvious to the people who are not in my inner circle, the ones who really know my insides, because there is the outside alayne and the inside one. As much as I try to speak the truth 24/7 sometimes I need a nap from the incessant mindspeak that is my brain (likely my closest friends do too). Health, meditation, creativity, movement, eating well are the cures for a calmer head. I know this is part of who I am.

The entrepreneurial spirit I have been blessed with is sometimes a hindrance, but most often it is a welcome creative force to be reckoned with. The question I often ask myself with the wisdom of hindsight is what is the spark that ignites the tailspin? When I take a deep diaphragmatic breath, you know that breath that cleanses you from top to bottom, that delicious calming and soothing free meditative sigh, I know. I know it has to do with the pain of loss, grief that still lies within like that little shard of glass you know you missed when the dish dropped on the floor and shattered. There is always one fragment left to be found by a bare foot some time in the future when you have forgotten all about the broken dish. Grief will never be something I can check off my to do list and it is an absurd notion to even consider this as a possibility. What I always know is that working out and writing and being in nature are the trifecta of calm and better energy for me. Though wine and sugar feel so fucking helpful at the time going down, they are smothering band aids staving off the air necessary for healing. But it is so much easier and fun to wake up, stay in my pjs, buy typewriters (or cars), make chocolate babka and drink wine in the afternoon. My perpetual cross to bear isn’t so bad when I say it like that.


a small rainbow that still takes my breath away. Nature is always a salvation.