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A New York State of Mind

October 26, 2013

It is all about expectation, whether it is a medical procedure, a holiday dinner, or a family visit. As much as I know this to be true, I was still not prepared for the deluge of thoughts, memories and feelings that flash flooded on my last trip to New Paltz, New York to visit my mom.

 

My friend Jo, who had not been to the area, was coming with me, and my mom and I wanted to show her the spectacular Mohonk Mountain House and also the home outside of town which my parents had built and lived in for 25 years following my graduation from high school. I had only lived in this open, light filled haven in the woods for two summers, and it had been 15 years since my mom had lived there.

 

 

As we drove slowly down the bumpy uneven lane I recalled the Christmas Eve we slid down the last portion on foot because the snow had fallen so quickly during dinner with our friends that our small car could not make it up the hill in the driveway. As the 80 foot cliffs of the Shawangunks came into view I breathed deeply, aware of the tremendous calm that accompanied the sense of well being this place engendered.

 

There was the small pond directly beneath the dramatic cliffs. Each of our daughters had caught her first fish here and my mother swore that the snappers who inhabited the pond wouldn’t bite while in the water. Easy for her to state so confidently from the safety of the deck. We declined to try out her theory.

 

It was a crisp fall day with the temp in the mid 60’s, just as our wedding day had been, here, 26 years ago. The hawks had circled protectively overhead, and we pointed out the route my husband, his parents, each of our siblings and my parents and I had walked up to the porch where we took our vows. I recalled the rows of people sitting on what is actually the septic field before moving to the back where a large tent had been set up.

 

The couple who live there now showed us the interior. They had installed dark, almost black stained bamboo flooring which was a striking contrast against the white walls. Where my parents had covered the walls in artwork from around the world, they had created a more Zen like, minimalist beauty.

 

The tree we had planted over my dad’s ashes had been replaced by decorative grass which had grown to an astonishing eight feet in height. They had placed Adirondack chairs on an extension of the deck to enjoy the scene. It was bittersweet to be here, wishing this sanctuary were still a more regular part of our lives.

 

On to Mohonk Mountain House where we spent our wedding night. We had arrived in our wedding garb after first visiting the DIY car wash to rid my husband’s truck of the paint eating shaving cream which decorated it. They took us to our room, opened the door, and we were greeted by two lovely twin beds with a stunning carved nightstand in between. They looked at us, regarded the set up and declared that “this will not do” and promised to return with bedding for a king size bed which the twins became when turned sideways and put together.

 

Outdoors was the glacial lake with surrounding cliffs and color coded gardens and trails which make this the captivating destination that it is. As we walked around the lake I recalled spending time there as a child as well, swimming in the clear aquamarine water and running around the maze of walkways by the beach area. We had stayed in this hide-n-seek heaven when my dad played in musical performances in the evening.

The deep sense of home the area exudes was undeniable. The connection to my roots, my family, and my tie with nature were palpable, almost overwhelming. I wondered why we have not returned more frequently, apart from the expense of spending a night there. Perhaps it was the idea of bringing someone new to enjoy it with, to show off its special character that brought fresh appreciation. Having it be 70 degrees, sunny and dry didn’t hurt either.

 

Next time I will be in a better position to be ready for the onslaught this combination would render. It will make going home that much sweeter.

 

To Grin and Bear It

August 23, 2013

IMG_0015I arrived home from work at 3:30, and knew that I had a half hour to be ready to head out to western Mass for the night, a tall order to include feeding the animals, walking the dog, getting the rest of the picnic together and making sure my bag was packed. As I took the dog for a spin in the yard I noticed that one bird feeder was knocked over and completely bent (one surly squirrel, eh what?), and also that the metal trash can which I had just filled with bird seed was also knocked over and partially emptied out. (very clever and nimble woodchuck to get the chain off the top of it..) I refilled it as much as I could in 2 minutes and headed inside to prepare for take off.

 

We were just about to enter the Shed at Tanglewood where we were set to see the Goat Rodeo Sessions when I decided to check my messages to make sure that everything was ok at home with our animals and our friend, Kate who was taking care of them.

There on my phone was a photo of our driveway, and in the center of it was a BEAR!

What?! Another message revealed the bear hard at work cleaning up the bird seed that had been knocked over earlier.

 

I was seriously annoyed that I was not there to see it, and would have been even more miffed had we not been about to see one of my favorite musical groups. For those who don’t know, The Goats are comprised of Yo yo Ma (my musical hero, being as kind as he is talented, as adventurous as he is generous), Chris Theile, MacArthur winner mandolinist, and world class bassist and violinist respectively, Edgar Meyer and Stuart Duncan. My husband suggested that if I dump a box of Dunkin Donuts out there that I could expect a return visit. As long as it was willing to leave me the cruller, I thought this was a reliable (if crazy) plan.

 

The concert completely absorbed me and I did not think too much about this missed opportunity. When we returned home the following day, Mr. Dog made clear that he needed a jaunt up the street. We were on our way to the back door when our neighbor next door spotted us and said, “You know there’s a bear at your house.” “Yeah, last night, right?” (Her mom had sent some great photos.) “No, right now!” she exclaimed. I looked up and there at the bird feeder was The Bear. I ushered Mr. Dog around to the front of the house, and called my husband. “It’s back!!” I said. “What?” he wanted to know. “Look out the window!” I hollered.

 

For the next nearly an hour we photographed, videoed, messaged and did everything but have the bear in for tea. I was on the back porch, separated from the bear by about 6 feet and a plate of glass, and it seemed completely unbothered. I even went out to the deck, behind the chain link fence to get a better view, and again Stella (as our daughter Gale suggested we call it) seemed unperturbed. Something caught its attention, and it stood up and stamped its feet. I couldn’t imagine that there were still any squirrels or birds in the vicinity. It was only a bit later that I learned that my husband had snuck around from the front to get a better view. The bear caught sight of him and obviously made a statement which sent my husband high tailing it back into the house.

 

The police were kind and I was relieved that their only suggestions were to stay away from it and not feed it. They assumed it would go back into the woods, which it eventually did. I realized that it was heading toward the neighbors on the other side, and called them immediately. Their five year old loves to ride her bike around the yard. Dan answered and informed me that the bear had been by their place the night before and knocked over their bee hives. The bees! I had forgotten the delectable honey that had come from them last year. So the bear was doing a neighborhood crawl with stops at all the right places. I wondered who was providing the drink. This was clearly a very healthy, well fed bear.

 

I was sad that we needed to do the responsible thing and clean up the bird seed as a way to disinvite this lovely creature back into the area, but I’m thrilled that we had a close encounter of the bearest nature. A case of be careful what you wish for had turned into my dream come true with Stella. Though our dog seemed completely oblivious and the cats showed about as much intrigue as they do for the Finches and Woodpeckers which usually populate the feeder I could not have been more appreciative of this visitation. I’m looking up the meaning of this animal totem lest I miss the message that has been sent to delight my day.

 

Here’s to the transition of graduation!!

June 2, 2013

I love transitions. I find them fascinating: it is a time in people’s lives when one period may be ending and another beginning. It is at this time when we are perhaps our most open, and I find that to be a very compelling state of being. True, it is not easy; and it is really fun to watch others in their own transitions from the safety of not being involved in one personally. And I want to add that I am thinking in this particular moment of positive transitions. The news has been all too full of people who are forced into them through natural disasters and violent acts of others, and although there may ultimately be some learning and something positive to pull from it, I am not at this time thinking of those opportunities encased in crises.

 

I am referring to graduations. Having attended two in the last eight days, I am struck by what is constant, what is different, and what this time means to so many people. Last week we were shivering in a tent which kept out much of the 48 degree wind whipping through. Yesterday we were sweltering in the shade on a humid, muggy 90 degree roaster. However, the words of encouragement rang true on both occasions. The stories about perseverance and overcoming adversity were inspiring. It was moving to see graduates clutching their diplomas to their chest, or raising them triumphantly overhead as they strutted back to their seats. The grins on their faces were broad and sparkly, the hugs long and heartfelt as one person and then another congratulated those who wore robes, caps or both, and those who decided to just go in nice clothing.

 

The acknowledgement of the goal that they had set brings upon the celebration that it deserves. Clearly there have been long hours, days of consternation and frustration and moments of jubilation as projects complete, grades are received and requirements filled.

The graduates have each other, their instructors, and many unseen who have supported them, challenged them, and witnessed their individual truths. And now like balloons they have entered the ceremony tethered to a single pole and then released, with all of them rising and following different winds.

 

One of the greatest challenges during this time is to remain open to new things, to try out the chosen path but remain open to the possibility that it may not be the right or best thing. However difficult it is to admit that all the work moving toward a certain destination may have ultimately been in the wrong direction takes courage to acknowledge and act upon. But that is just as important as having chosen it in the first places. In both cases it is necessary to listen, really listen to the voice that is trying to speak to our heart. This cannot be done when one is hurried, or being bombarded with ideas from others. It comes from the still times when we can really read the fine print of our own thoughts.

 

When we make decisions, I believe that we do so with as much information as we have at any given time. With more learning and more experiences, and different priorities, we make different choices. So it is ever a balancing act of honoring what we have chosen, and having the fortitude to follow it through, and becoming aware when there has been a shift which really requires a change, a new decision. This is something that I struggle with because I am someone who feels that it is important to persevere with something that I have elected. It is much more difficult for me to consider that the time, effort and expense I have poured into one direction may no longer be my most passionate or driving need. But ultimately, we save all our resources if we can listen to the voice that speaks from the place of honestly and devotion to what is true.

 

I wish the class of 2013 the ability to stay with what they love, to work their lives to support and flame those passions, and to know when to change course. It is not always easy, quick or simple, but it is just as important, and takes as much courage to decide not to pursue something that previously felt monumental.

 

I wish the class of 2013 the wisdom to perceive these changes, and the support of people around them to always guide them back to their own voices. To transitions, may they be fruitful, dramatic and full of love and learning.

Reflections on Relay for Life

May 19, 2013

I have become accustomed to the enthusiasm that surrounds and buoys the Relay for Life event in Littleton. There is a pattern that can be anticipated, a schedule of events with speakers, music both live and by DJ. There are tents lining the track and the aroma from grills as people prepare picnics. People mill about and there is the air of excitement about the event, as well there should be. Months of preparation, collaboration and organization have preceded the actual day (and night) and there is much to admire in the way it unfolds.

 

What continues to take my breath away is the generosity of participation in so many ways. The laughter and shouts diminish to an attentive quiet as the first speakers tell their story. They are direct and unsentimental, and an example of people living their lives after the jolting curve that cancer threw at them over ten years ago.

 

The most difficult moment for me personally is taking that survivor lap. It is an honor, but I am shy to receive applause as I walk around, feeling I have done nothing more than I could, or that anyone would in my position. It is at once a bittersweet reminder of the demands of my 18 months of treatment six years ago, and the easier waves I now ride. It is not something one forgets, and certainly my body sports the scars that bear this out. Mostly I choose not to pay attention to that, and focus instead on the delights of my life now –in my family, my friends, in riding my bike or seeing the world.

 

But even with the impact of that first lap, it is the power of the Luminaria lap that sees the tears rolling down my cheeks. Again, kicked off by an honest clear account of a challenge met with courage and grit, we take our places on this silent walk. Whether we are walking for parents, grandparents, friends or neighbors, it is clear that we are all touched by this disease, and we are all choosing life. Though we walk singly or in pairs, hand in hand or arms swinging, we are walking as a group. We are a huge unit working together on that night, combining efforts with groups across the nation and the world. What I take away most from the evening is the jubilance in the Relay for Life.

 

 

You go, Angelina!

May 15, 2013

I am appreciating the bold move by Angelina Jolie to go public with her medical testing and consequent surgery. It is not an easy decision for any one to make, and certainly not for someone who is in the public eye as much as she is. I heard someone say that she will do more for breast cancer and BRCA testing awareness in one day than the medical field has been able to do in 10 years. I believe that, and I believe that Angelina also sees this and is taking advantage of her position to help others.

Her conviction in her ongoing femininity is important as well, giving confirmation to the notion that one’s sense of what is feminine is driven as much by what is inside as what is observed from without.  That she was able to put her health and the stability of her family above the external demands of her business is laudable and remarkable. She chose to stack the odds in her favor, and by electing to have surgery now, she also spares herself the wondering and the fears that she may have felt she would live with had she not taken this route. She not only removed the element of surprise and shock, but this also meant that she could plan her work, her home life, and how she decided to share her news with the world and when.

I will be interested to see what role she decides to take from here on out, but regardless of what that is I want to send a BIG shout out to Angelina for taking this decisive step and letting us know about it! The more information we are afforded, the less scary something is. Overt discussion can take the air out of the balloon of fear and that is always a good thing.  Thank you, Angelina for opening this discussion in such a dramatic and powerful way. May we all be able to be as courageous!

The evolution of Thanksgiving traditions

December 2, 2012

By the time this hits print, Thanksgiving will seem like a distant tide, swept out by Christmas lights and trees, leaving a print of mashed potatoes and turkey soup in our refrigerators.

 

It has long been my favorite holiday – a time to enjoy a leisurely, colorful meal with family and friends. It is not hurried, as preparation for the bird and its flock of accompanying vegetables takes time. People do not expect to eat and run (although they sometimes now run and then eat!). What I find interesting is the way that tradition intersects with evolution, and how that is expressed differently by each family, each year.

 

I am puzzled when someone says, “it’s always done that way in my family; of course we will continue,” whether they are referring to the meal taking place at a certain person’s house, or who will go, or what time the meal will  happen or even which particular sides will be present and how they will be prepared.

 

Yet we count on some of these things as a way to mark the occasion. (Dad always makes

mashed potatoes, or Aunt MaryAnn always makes a huge apple pie).  We take offense when someone wants to make a change, although some change is inevitable. People move a big distance, or get married and have another family to involve, babies are born or people die. All of these create shifts.

 

As I was considering our Thanksgiving menu, it started to sound like a meal for the very very young or very very old. If the potatoes are mashed, and the rutabaga (my husband’s tradition) and we mash squash and sweet potato, we could put it in jars and slap a Gerber label on it all. Okay not really, but it did inspire some alternative roasting of vegetables so we could identify what they are, and the use of some fancy balsamic vinegar and cranberries to dress them up. My husband cooked a bird in the oven, and also split and grilled one, his favorite experiment to date.

 

This year, our guest list included my brother-in-law’s fiancée’s family, which was a great way to meet and get to know them. Although my sister was not able to make it, we were able to achieve some balance of the traditional (including Macy’s parade and football on the television in the other room), and a surplus of treats, with the new (more family members, different pies and salads, eating in the middle of the afternoon). My brother-in-law’s new mother-in-law-to-be remarked how nice it was to have all us “young people” doing all the work.

 

So, although there will inevitably be shifts and changes in personnel, timing and the exact menu, we know that we can maintain the spirit of breaking bread, telling stories, and being together for this space and time. It is a time to listen, to pause, and to notice our particular bounty. I just hope that as time goes on and I lose the ability to make some of the choices, that I can be graceful about accepting the evolution in all these areas. If I can focus on what is most important, perhaps I can remain grateful for what is, and not worry too much about what can no longer be.

 

BEEP BEEP!!

May 15, 2012

That would be the sound of me tooting my horn about my latest book shenanigans. It recently won Nautilus Silver in the category of Women’s Issues.  I have received my beautiful silver foil Nautilus sticker to adorn my book, which looks quite snazzy by the Reader View sticker.  AND I am one of three finalists in Ben Franklin’s Bill Fisher Award for Best First Book (non-fiction).  I have decided that I cannot resist going to the the Awards Ceremony in NYC on June 4, just as Book Expo America begins.  It should be fascinating to be there, regardless of what happens. I already feel that they have given the book some lovely recognition.  I’m figuring out if this is a suit kind of ceremony or fancy pants dress kind of ceremony. Guess I’ll have to ask someone.

Nautilus will showcase my book in the entry to Book Expo, and I will sign books on Tuesday morning for an hour (providing there are people attending with this request!!) It should be a HOOT! (rhymes with TOOT!) Will keep you posted. …or am I keeping myself posted?!!  Pretty exciting stuff!!

What IS in a Name?

October 26, 2011

What IS in a name?

It’s an oft asked question. We have long stopped believing that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” Words can cut right to the bone, leaving scars that are not available on sight, but which sear and take even longer to heal exactly because of their invisibility.  Likewise, words have the power to melt the thickest of icecaps that cover the still waters lying vigilantly below.

 

Not only do words matter, but the way in which they are delivered means the difference between receiving them like a gift or dodging them as they are ejected from a cannon.

“How are you doing?” can be an inquisitive phrase or a snide threat, depending on how it comes across.

 

In this month of pink awareness the word survivor gets bandied about, celebrated and slapped onto labels of all kinds. While I understand that there needs to be a term for people who have been treated, this is not one that feels comfortable to me. I have tried to understand this for some time, and have realized with the help of others that part of it is the passivity that seems to be implied. Although in many ways it is a terrificly active process, and one in which it is imperative to be present and aware, the term survivor somehow misses this aspect.

 

There is also the association of the word “victim” with natural disasters and the Holocaust, both of which bring a whole other aspect to survivorship. As with treatment for cancer, in all cases people have not chosen the precipitating event which one has survived. However, in the treatment of cancer there are many more choices along the way, and many pieces that represent the dedicated work of thousands to make it go away.

 

I have coined a new term that I am taking for a spin. Those of us who are Riders of the Wave (of the Big C), or Riders can decide if that feels right. I like its more active stance, the way it implies the balance of staying upright (and sometimes not), and acknowledgment of the fact that some waves are small, others are large, and some tidal; whatever the size, it is up to us to ride the waves as we can. One woman said that she appreciated that it sounds more participatory. It also allows room for a process, with unknown and varying amounts of time in between the more challenging ones. And it makes room for the varied and splendid styles in which we ride. For me, it strikes the right blend of active, vital, even colorful, without being either aggressive or unrealistic.

One must be in the moment, paying attention, living, in order to be Riding.

 

Although it is not everything, my hope is that a new name gives people a place to start, to feel what power is already there. It is important to know that there is no right way to go about Riding the Waves, and no need to wait to start riding. After all, we are all riding waves of some form from the moment we are born. When a big one comes our way, we may need to adjust our stance, or shore up our skills for a longer ride, but as long as we’re Riding, we’re in it to win it, every time.

Column about summer

September 5, 2011

 

 

Many summers we spend a week in Acadia National Park in platform tents, hiking every morning, and swimming in the lake in the afternoons (or before breakfast), taking in the

breathtaking vistas from the porch of the dining hall or from the top of the cliff across the

way. Part of the beauty is in the predictability of the mountains, the majesty of the lake,

and the cry of the Loon as we fall asleep.  This year was no exception, and having skipped last year, it feels particularly sweet to be here amongst the trees, the chipmunks, and our friends who come at this same time year after year.

 

As we pull into the driveway of camp, I feel my shoulders relax as I fill my lungs with fresh clean air. We are greeted with hugs from Mary, who we have known for over 12 years, as we get help lugging our gear to our tents. We breathe deeply, knowing we can

count on the relaxation that comes from physical exertion, eating food someone else has prepared, and sleeping outside. We are conditioned to relax here, and we each prepare for

our unwinding activities. My husband is already prone on the cot, with his book folded across his chest, glasses slightly askew. The girls are changing into swimsuits, and I am walking around, taking in the perimeter, looking for postcards and friends from past years.

 

The traditions of camp continue, as we find out who has come from the farthest away (6,000 miles!) and who has been the most number of times (upwards of 40). This reassuring persistence of the tide of years is calming, reminding us of the steadfast landscape, and how we can count on the rock and root of the area.

 

It takes a couple of days before I realize that we have met even more of the families, but I did not at first recognize the changes in their children who were 6 and 8 years old, and are now 16 and 18. Memories of that year surface of taking the boat to the island where the troll houses mysteriously appear. I also realize that some people are missing, and learn of the untimely death of a devoted friend and Scrabble aficionado. It is striking, this combination of familiar and difference. There are small changes and improvements in policy and bathroom soap, but the feeling of being there is the same. The camaraderie and interest that people take in one another, the willingness to look out for one another’s children, and the competitive spirit at the volleyball net generate the feeling of peace, enhanced by the natural beauty.

 

As the week closes I begin to daydream about the geometric difference that two weeks here would make over a single week, knowing that we will never run out of hikes, popovers or swimming holes to explore. Even hikes we have done before feel different in

sun instead of clouds, or by ourselves instead of with the group. The magic of summer is in all these things, as mercurial as the rainbow that glimmers briefly over the edge of the trees. The rainy mist on the last morning makes it easier to depart, and we lean wistfully out the window, waving and blowing kisses to our friends, to the mountains, and to the

lightness of summer that dances on the sail of the sunfish.

Kindle, Baby!

March 28, 2011

Book available on Kindle as of today. Will be available on Nook any minute now!!!

Hope to be able to post the radio interview from today, too!

More to follow…

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