Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Dance, love, work, live

Another year sprints to a close and once more I’m reeling in ambivalence. Do we reflect on the past, mourn our losses, revel in accomplishments, ponder regrets, wonder what if, curse the speed of time?

Or do we look forward to a story yet written, marvel at the possibilities, make plans that will be forgotten, hope for a better tomorrow?

In my quest to live in the moment, I try to avoid looking back, looking ahead. One can’t be changed, the other can’t be predicted. Remembering that should set us free.

Because I can’t say it any better, I’m sharing a thought that has floated through the ages. I would name a source, but my Internet search found that several folks over the years have taken credit for it in one form or another.

Dance like no one is watching,
Love like you’ve never been hurt,
Work like you don’t need the money,
Live like it’s heaven on earth.

Happy New Year. Buon anno. Molte benedizioni per tutti noi.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Stolen quote of the week

"God bless us every one." No exceptions.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Old Man Winter

With the winter season officially beginning this weekend, many people are caught up in a bad case of the doldrums. The short days and cold winds certainly offer a bleakness that can trigger the urge to hunker down. It's the human version of hibernation, and it has a definite appeal.

I think, though, there are many aspects of this season that offer up stuff to get all warm and fuzzy about. If nothing else, the change alone provides a shift to shake up our routine and the newness adds a fresh perspective to our life. Without a blasting winter, would spring be so joyous?

I lived in San Diego for six years, and the sameness of the climate was monotonously predictable. I fiercely missed the change of seasons, and even elements of winter, like drawing faces in the frost on a window. I missed burly sweaters, the sound of footsteps on fresh snow, the smell of the first logs burning in the fireplace, and the warm sensation of rich, creamy oatmeal sitting in my stomach contrasting the blistering northern winds.

I like being able to look out the windows in my office and watch the changes unfold. While the winter landscape in my yard is not such an enthralling view, it does offer a graying canvas perfect for planning out a spring transformation.

With the apple tree baring branches, I can see the birds more clearly as they jockey for the bird feed. I have a Cardinal family that returns to my feeder every winter and their homecoming is a welcomed ritual. If I'm too late putting out the food, the bossy male squawks at me from his perch high in the tree. He's become my winter companion.

Today as I sat at my computer, a hawk swooped past the window and sat on the fence, maybe ten feet from me. I was startled, then thrilled as I sat quietly and watched his head swivel to survey the yard. He eyes eventually locked on me and after a moment's hesitation, he lifted off, leaving me with a rapidly beating heart and a lovely winter memory.

While I admit to being effected by lack of sun on dreary days, I could counter by asking is there anything more delicious than when waking to a gloomy day, simply pulling the covers up tighter and staying in a warm bed? If you don't have the luxury of doing this on a weekday, then savor the anticipation and plan for it on a weekend. Have some buttery croissants on hand to devour when you finally decide to re-enter the world. Warm bed, warm croissants - high on the guilty winter pleasure scale.

Winter gives us a chance to slow down a bit. Spring is a bustle of renewal, summer we go, go, go while the sun shines, in autumn we fill up the days because we know before too long harsh weather will drive us indoors. Now is the time to lay back, to take stock, to recharge our body, our mind, our spirit.

Like a hibernating bear, I embrace the feeling of solitude. Once the holidays pass, the opportunity to just "be" is a welcome state. No garden to tend, no family events, limited social responsibilities, just a blissfully quiet state offering time to reflect. To learn. To discover.

Grab a good book, or maybe start your journal, bundle up under grandmother's quilt, pull on the fuzzy slippers, make some hot chocolate, create a new soup, sign up for Netflix, bake bread, learn to knit, master the latest technology, design your "Treasure Map" for the new year, take an online class, practice meditation, or yoga, build a bird house, sketch out drawings of your surroundings, write a song, read poetry out loud.

And thank Old Man Winter for the offerings of the season.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The eye of the beholder

Just prior to the release of People Magazine's Sexiest Man Alive choice, my girlfriends and I were talking about the dearth of sexy men. I haven't seen that issue to critique the full scope of their choices, so I only know of Numero Uno. But as my friends and I talked, I realized attractive men hadn't necessarily gone underground, it was just my standards that had changed.

In earlier decades, I always had on hand, if not written down at least in my head, the five men I felt were at the top of the sexy list. These days I'm hard pressed to come up with three.

I haven't been able to identify a steady pattern in my choices, cause honestly I'm all over the board. Maybe the only consistent trait was dark hair - no blonde surfer types for me. But I've gone from sulking brainy types, to the boy next door quicker than a Texas tornado.

There are also two non-physical characteristics that have always remained: smart and funny. So someone with an intelligent sense of humor scored high in a formula similar to a "squared" factor.

I've been trying to remember some of my past choices. In the pre-puberty years, I was very fixated on Paul Peterson from the Donna Reed Show. That showed my early penchant for a mischievous personality. As I entered my teens, I shared with millions of young women a wholesome affection for The Monkees, rotating at random through the four depending on where my hormones took me.

I took a bit of a hiatus as my love life blossomed making less time for fantasy heart throbs, but picked up the habit again probably in my thirties. Those choices are harder to remember, maybe because I was less impressionable. Some of the diverse names I can recall are Sam Shepherd (my literary phase), Frank Langella (the dark brooding choice), and Judd Hirsch (the Taxi years).

Though they may not have been on my list, as I look back now I can name a few iconic choices for the Hall of Fame: Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Sean Connery. Their appeal went beyond good looks into a smoldering, keen sexuality that I'm just not seeing these days. Though George Clooney could be a contender. The devilish rascal factor balanced with his humanitarian work might gel into legend material.

My inner child almost always has a soft spot for the vulnerable type that I call my "Love Puppy". For years that title was held by John Cusack. If you didn't fall in love with him as Lloyd Dobler in "Say Anything" during that romantic scene where he stands outside his girlfriend's house holding up the boom box, than you have no heart. Even now I can hear Peter Gabriel singing "In Your Eyes".

These days I have a current "LP" that I normally keep under wraps because it's such an odd choice for me, but I do get a girlish flush when I see Jason Bateman. Yes, he starred in Teen Wolf Too, was put out to pasture for a decade or so, and then was resurrected in Arrested Development. I dunno, maybe it's the dimples, or the full lips, or that flippant sense of humor, the soft brown eyes, the resilience.

But I suppose that's the point. We often don't know why we're attracted to someone. We can't put into words a visceral, emotional, or sexual response we have to another person. That's the beauty of way the whole primal attraction process works. If everyone got hot and bothered by the same thing, we'd all mutate into looking like Pamela Anderson and Brad Pitt.

We're drawn to one another for a variety of reasons, many unexpected and unplanned, some unthinkable and unexplainable. Other times we're lured by very pragmatic, highly conceived notions - he'd be a great father, he makes a nice living. And never - heads up guys - never underestimate the appeal of good hygiene.

Here I am back to the originating thought: who is worthy of my sexy list? After careful consideration - remember I said funny and smart remained consistent - I must admit I swoon when Stephen Colbert looks straight into the camera and dares you not to believe that he believes what he's saying. It's convoluted, but the heat is there.

So my loyal reader(s), who do you find sexy?

Friday, December 5, 2008

Mi ricordo di nonna

Recently I found on a shelf in my office a book my nephew had given me a couple years ago. Written by a woman from "The Hill" in St. Louis, it is called, I Remember Nonna (Mi ricordo di nonna).

It may happen with other families as well, but I know from first-hand experience that Italians revere their grandmothers. In my case, it was a well-deserved respect and admiration. In many ways, our lives revolved around my Nonna, who was my father's mother. She certainly was a great influence for la mia famiglia.

Like many immigrants at the turn of the century, my Nonna left behind all of her family to come with her husband to the new world. Born Anna Lovato, she had three sisters and a brother who remained in northern Italy. Two sisters eventually came to visit, but she never saw her mother or other siblings again.

Nonna would tell us stories about her journey to America, including a sea voyage huddled in the belly of a boat with hundreds of fellow countrymen. With not much more than the clothes they wore and a few possessions in a small bag, they slept on top of their belongings to prevent them from being stolen.

I asked my Nonna why they had chosen to come to the Midwest and she said my grandfather had written on a piece of scrap paper the address of a factory in Alton, Illinois where he heard there were jobs available. Following that lead, they made their way from Ellis Island inland to a new life. I can't imagine how terrifying that must have been for a young woman who spoke no English and had only recently wed.

I never met my Nonno, Marcello, who died when my father was quite young. In his pictures he looks quite formidable. (That's him above, with Nonna, my dad, Armando, my aunt, Gloria. Later Tony and Guido came along.) For a poor immigrant family, I think they look amazingly dapper.

When my grandfather died, he left Nonna with four young kids and about three dollars in cash. Fortunately they had settled in a neighborhood filled with other Italians, and this community rallied to support my grandmother. They cared for the kids while Nonna did laundry and other housekeeping to put food on the table. The kids all went to work as soon as they were old enough. While they didn't prosper, they made a solid life for themselves. Thanks to Nonna's discipline, determination, and firm hand.

When I was growing up, Sunday's were always spent at my grandmother's home. Even if it was just a quick visit after church, it was a ritual not to be neglected. But it wasn't a hardship. Nonna's small house was a haven of warmth, and heritage, and great food.

Being from northern Italy, our meals were not the lasagna, meatballs and sausage everyone expects. Rather we devoured stewed chicken, risotto, polenta. She made delicate gnocchi that was practically airborne and could quickly slice the most fragile of noodles for homemade soup. Her roasted potatoes were slices of golden perfection.

From those meals I developed an Italian palette of exceedingly high standards. My admiration for a great meal was appropriately depicted in a scene from Seinfeld. George and his date are in a restaurant and they are both moaning over the rapture of a great risotto. Later you see George and date post coitus where she says, "Oh George, that was wonderful." When neurotic George asks, "Was it as good as the risotto?" her response is an awkward silence.

Nonna's strength guided our family for over 80 years. Then a series of small strokes left her partially paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. As she regained her speech, the English language had clogged up somewhere in her brain and she could only remember Italian. In many ways, I think that was preparation for her to return "home."

When Nonna passed away, my aunt gave me two pairs of her earrings. They were both from Italy, and one pair I'm pretty sure came with her from the old country because I've seen her wearing them in very early pictures. I guarded that jewelry fiercely, but the earrings from her picture disappeared. Poof. One day they were gone. I never wore them when I traveled. I always kept them in the same place. They didn't have a lot of dollar value to prompt a theft.

My theory is Nonna came back and retrieved them. They were a connection to her homeland. Her husband and family. Her heritage. They were a lifelong possession and she missed them in the afterworld. Wear them in peace, Nonna. I appreciate the loan.

I think of her a lot at the holidays. For the New Year she always made our favorite sweets - a thin fried pastry that was sprinkled in sugar and a thick sweet dumpling filled with raisins. Both of those recipes are too long to share, so I'm borrowing one from the book. It's a recipe for Baci - or Kisses. For this holiday season, I hope you will be thinking of your grandmother, and sharing Kisses with everyone dear to you.

Baci (by Eleanore Berra Marfisi)

2 egg whites
1 tsp. Vinegar
1/4 tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted

Beat egg whites and add vanilla, vinegar, and salt. Beat until peaks rise. Add sugar until peaks are stiff. Drop teaspoonful 3 inches apart onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 300 for 15 minutes until cream colored.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Shift happens

At this time of the year, particularly on this day, we take a moment to give thanks for what enriches our life. And in recent times, thanks to folks like Oprah, we are more in tune with our blessings. But for me, it was many years in the making before I accepted the transformational powers of gratitude. Born a Virgo, always a cynic, it came more naturally to complain than be thankful.

Growing up I suppose I was taught to say "please" and "thank you", and we said Grace before special meals or when our Baptist cousins were visiting, but I don't remember ever being taught the spirit behind those gestures.

Right out of college I lived in Atlanta, early in it's boom years, and still harboring a lot of southern charm. I remember having lunch with a co-worker and as we returned to the office she stopped and said, "Thank you. I enjoyed that." I can still take myself back in time and feel the way my brain cranked to low gear as I tried to process her comment. I was new to someone graciously displaying gratitude for such a trivial event.

Many years later I was out with a new friend after recently returning to St. Louis. Over coffee we were talking about our lives and he asked me quite pointedly something like, "Are you happy?" I'm not sure how I responded, but it must have been half-hearted, because he came back with, "Well, you know it's a choice."

There go those brain gears down shifting again. Was it really that simple? Happiness was a choice we made?

With that powerful morsel tucked away in my psyche, a few years later I was more directly introduced to gratitude. I was doing some "work" with a friend who is a dream counselor. While going through a rough patch in my life, she wisely directed me away from the stumbling blocks and taught me to focus on all the good that surrounded me. Suddenly and remarkably the concept of count your blessings established firm footing.

In making the shift, another old adage came into play...practice makes perfect. Every night before I went to bed I wrote in a journal ten reasons to be thankful. No cheating, I couldn't repeat the same things every night. And at one point, my friend gave me an exercise that substantially magnified the ten. I don't remember the details of the process, but I had pages and pages from yellow legal pads scribbled with good stuff.

That down shifting brain finally shifted up a gear. Holy cow. How did all this bounty find its way into my life? Had it always been there?

I don't want this recollection of my gratitude process to become a platitude. Nor was it a miracle to be sanctioned by the Vatican. I suppose I like to think of it as an unfolding - a simmering consciousness that finally found a joyful voice. And it was the repeated application of "counting" that gave it such girth.

I am not, nor will I ever be, a Pollyanna. But it is so much more heartening to see the rose rather than the thorn. To hear joy in the song rather than the sour note. To enjoy the playful abandon of your dog rather than worry about soil on your carpet.

It may take a while, but thankfully shift happens.

Gratitude in action.

These two young men have given physical expression to the joy of gratitude. Click on this link.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Stolen quote of the week

If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies within yourself.
- Tecumseh

Of thee I sing

Brrrrr. Thursday night was cold. I wanted to do nothing more than climb into some flannel PJs, get under the quilt, and read a good book. But. I had tickets to a play and I needed to keep that commitment.

Driving up Grand Avenue from I-64, it was thrilling to see the old Woolworth building transformed into the spectacular Kranzberg Arts Center. Washed in colored lights, it makes a bright beacon on the southern edge of the arts district.

Moving on, I passed the bloody neon at the Fox heralding Sweeny Todd and parked on a side street. Trudging thru the cold, I made my way to the Grandel Theatre. The play was good. The play was over. I headed home.

Coming out of an art event, I always have this heightened sense of awareness. So I decided to take the scenic Olive/Lindell drive home instead of going back to the highway. As I turned the corner, I slowed down to look at the shell of the stone chapel. Just a few weeks ago it was strung with glowing lamps creating one of the most interesting installations I've seen in a long time. (Pictured here.)

Then I passed Saint Louis University and couldn't help but be impressed by how much the campus has grown and beautified the neighborhood. Thanks, Monsignor. Just a bit further and on the right was a string of refurbished architectural gems: the art museum at SLU, the Coronado, and the Moolah.

Now I'm slowing down again to remind myself of the location for The Grind - which I believe is one of the first true coffee houses in St. Louis, pre-Starbuck's invasion. And looming largely ahead is the mosaic marvel, The New Cathedral. About right here is where I always feel compelled to genuflect. Or cross myself. At the very least, give an awe struck sigh.

There are a couple blocks where I can hum to the music without gawking for landmarks, and then the Chase comes in to view. When I was growing up, I thought of it as the home for wrestling. Now it's the jewel of the gentrified CWE.

Crossing over Kingshighway, I'm entering the northern alley of Forest Park. If my facts are correct, it's the largest urban green space in the US - even bigger than Central Park in NYC - and though I may be biased, it's the setting for the most spectacular collection of cultural institutions, beautiful trails, and peaceful water scapes.

The turn of the century homes along Lindell face proudly into the park and make an impressive drive for townies and visitors. Please note though: Do not enter into the confines of Portland Place and Westminster after dark. Dennis, the security guard, takes very seriously his responsibility for keeping the streets private and free of trespassing lookeeloos.

As the park ends, sitting square in front of me is Washington University. Again, I'm surely prejudiced, but arguably it's one of the loveliest campuses in the country. As I drive south on Skinker, I'm approaching one of our most venerable though commercial landmarks - the mighty Amoco sign. Now an anomaly because it sits above a BP station. But -- oh the horror -- if it were to be removed!

Continuing south I pass the Tivoli - one of the few remaining stand-alone movie theaters in this time of rowdy megaplexes. It would only be more nostalgic if it were a drive-in.

Down the hill, Skinker becomes McCausland and I'm almost home. As I drive those last few blocks the realization of how many remarkable places I passed amazes me. What was that - maybe a four or five mile corridor down the middle of the city?

Were you keeping a tally? My fingers flicked off about fourteen, fifteen attractions - and that's NOT counting all the individual landmarks of the Grand Arts district or the cultural institutions and play stations within Forest Park.

Here's where the preaching begins. Have you ever complained that there is "nothing to do in this town"? Do you confine yourself to the same ole, same ole? Maybe you make trips to Chicago or KC for culture and restaurants? Bah. I'm throwing down the dance many cities offer so much in such a small piece of geography?

When you throw in the vibrancy of the loft district. The history of Soulard. The pulse of The Loop. The charm of our neighborhoods. The plethora of shopping. The diversity of S. Grand. The variety of parks. The proximity to wine country. The mix of cultures. The expanse of the Katy Trail. Yeah, okay....I think you're getting the picture.

But are you taking advantage of it? Enjoying it? Sharing with out of town friends?

Here's my challenge: Make a list of five things you have never done in St. Louis and see if you can make it through at least three of them before the end of the year. I'm offering some thought starters.

Saratoga Lanes in Maplewood - bowling or billiards
Hiking at Castlewood
The Rock 'n' Roll art show at Third Degree Glass Factory (11/28-30)
A rock climbing class
Darts at Blueberry Hill
Concert at The Sheldon or Focal Point
Ice skating in Forest Park

Oh, St. Louis, I sing your praises.

Let me know, fellow citizens, what rocks your world and enriches your life. And please send along some of your ideas - I'd like to have a couple adventures myself before starting a new year.

Monday, November 10, 2008

My first night

Last Thursday night was filled with several "firsts" for me. After the excitement of the election (a first for the nation), I needed an energy outlet. I wanted to get out among humanity, so I set out alone to hear some music

The first "first" was attending a concert at the Duck Room - an intimate venue located in the basement of world famous Blueberry Hill. This renowned room has hosted many celebrities and even more up'n'comers. Tonight Hayes Carll was playing and my boot scootin' boogie mode kicked into high gear.

Carll is a talented young musician whose music is what I would call Country Blues with a big splash of Honky Tonk. As his star rises, opportunities to see him in a cozy setting could be dwindling.

It was a fun show. Good toe tappin' tunes, a great view of the action and close proximity to the iconic Beatle Bob. Being in the same room as Bob was my third "first" of the evening. (Carll was the second, in case you lost count.) Beatle Bob is legendary in St. Louis. To say he is an avid music fan is a vast understatement. He takes in hundreds of shows a year and has become quite a barometer for where you should be hangin' if you want to hear great bands.

The Beatle moniker stuck with him because his hair got stuck in the '60s.....still styled very similar to George Harrison from the Rubber Soul album. His dance moves haven't improved much either. But he's in the groove and that's all that matters.

I headed home after the show re-energized and turned on TV before turning in. Conan O'Brien came on and he was interviewing Elvis Costello. Yay, definitely my night for good music. I headed to the lavatory to wash up and when I returned to the TV, Elvis had been replaced by Madeleine Albright. Tres yay. With her amazing political experience, an insider take on the election would be interesting.

As the chat wound down, the camera pulled back and revealed that Elvis was still sitting on the couch next to Madam Secretary. Clever Conan said, "You know, there's something about the two of you that just screams duet". Ha, that Conan.

Well, Elvis reached behind the couch, pulled out his guitar, and before you could say "Ah 1, ah 2", they were crooning a tune. What's wrong with this picture!?! Elvis Costello and Madeleine Albright in a duet. That was my fourth "first" of the evening.

I think Ms. Albright is quite inspirational. She has multiple degrees, speaks six languages, but put her career on hold after graduation and marriage to raise three daughters. It wasn't until the late 70's that she jumped into public service, almost twenty years out of school.

Basically, she reinvented herself. She took all the knowledge that had been simmering and went from mother/wife to Secretary of State in a relatively short period of time. As I struggle to find my "passion," she impresses with her accomplishments. As a late bloomer, I see her life as an affirmation that I can still carve my niche in the world.

But then I had my fifth "first" of the night.....and it was a revelation. I realized I don't want to emulate the success of Ms. Albright, I want to be Beatle Bob.

Earlier in the evening as I watched him sway and jerk to the music, jab his finger at the musicians and groove blissfully in the moment, I found myself envious of how completely comfortable he was with himself. He has found a passion and he lives it righteously.

Visit Bob's MySpace page and you'll see that he has a wide variety of interests outside of music. You will learn that kindness and consideration are also very important to him. And you will find that he has over 2,100 registered friends! (I've got two and they are both spam.)

Where does this take me from here? Who knows. Even with a night of "firsts" and a major revelation, I may be no closer to finding my groove, but the living righteously part is a good place to start.

Household Hint #1

The lesson I learned today: do not put a marshmallow in the microwave for longer than ten seconds.


Friday, November 7, 2008

Grace and goodwill

As exciting events go, election night 2008 pretty much blew the needle off the Wow-O-Meter. While everyone's perceptions of the day emanate from a deeply personal perspective, it seemed apparent that the promise of change resonated fiercely with millions of Americans.

I could not stop looking - and marveling -- at the faces in the crowds. From the west coast to Manhattan to Grant Park in Chicago, masses of people with eyes shining brightly watched with rapt attention as the voting results were announced state by state. The silhouettes, the skin, the age, the gender changed from face to face, but the same glow of hopeful anticipation brought kinship to strangers.

Now as we bask in the radiance of that night, an opportunity has been given to us. The enormous challenges at hand for the new administration cannot be resolved solely by President-elect Obama and his staff. The ground swell of support must rise up and participate in creating a brighter America.

Not everyone can become a public servant or join the Peace Corps. Few of us will sign up with Teach for America or take a government job. But you can help your disabled neighbor rake his leaves. Or volunteer your time at a nursing home. You can mentor an inner city kid. Or cook dinner for a homeless shelter. Small acts of kindness are those first steps that create a strong community; and strong communities will mend a broken nation.

I think I speak mostly for myself when I say the first step is letting go of the anger and frustration that's been felt so deeply during the past eight years. As I lay in bed election night, I realized that the promise of a better future would not shine so brightly had the recent times not been so bleak.

Is it possible that we owe "W" a thank you? Was the darkness that arose around him the catalyst that thrust a historically reluctant country to embrace an African American leader? Was it overwhelming despair that opened our hearts allowing us to act on the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. and judge a man based on "the content of his character and not the color of his skin"?

Let's begin our practice of giving by sending grace and goodwill to the President-elect. Light a candle, say a prayer, hold a good thought, surround him in light - whatever your style or manner, put your positive energy into manifesting a future of peace and prosperity.

"Yes we can" should be our on-going mantra, a reminder of all that is possible.

"This is our moment. This is our time - to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth - that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes We Can."

- President-elect Barack Obama
November 4, 2008.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Yes we can

October 18, 2008. It was a brilliant day in St. Louis. The sky was robin’s egg blue and dotted with passing clouds. The Arch gleamed brightly in the sunshine as 100,000 good citizens filled the park grounds to enjoy their moment in history. Barack Obama was getting ready to speak.

For me, the day started with a ride on Metro to the riverfront. The train was full but not overly crowded, and there was a definite hum in the air. Some folks seemed excited and jovial. Others lost in their thoughts. Everyone, though, seemed to radiate a keen sense of anticipation. Myself included.

As Metro pulled into the Laclede’s Landing stop, you could see scores of people already filling the Arch grounds. All along the road, more people were coming down from every direction to cue up for their entrance to the park.

At the sight of so many already on site, a spontaneous roar and applause erupted in my car. A woman yelled out, “Yes we can!” I hadn’t even got off the train and already I had goosebumps and lump in my throat.

As I came out of the Metro station I was astounded to see so many people in one place behaving in such an orderly manner. There was no jostling for better positioning or cutting in line. Folks just patiently walked way past the park entrance to find a spot at the end of the procession.

Order and good manners were maintained throughout the long, snaking line. Then from the Arch grounds you could hear the first strains of the Star Spangled Banner. The crowd murmured. Now someone began talking over a loud speaker. Buzzing rose up around me and then anarchy took over.

Thinking they were missing the start of the program, people broke from line and started rushing toward the Arch. But even in this moment of rebellion, there was order and courtesy. A few volunteers simply steered the throngs in the right direction and suddenly I came over the crest where I could get a better scope of the crowd. Wow.

As local and state Democrats took their turn at the podium, people continued filling in every possible square inch of the natural amphitheatre created by the sloping terrain. As someone who suffers a strong sense of claustrophobia in crowds, I took a position near the far northern fence so I would have open space on one side. I was high enough on the slope that I was able to see down to the riverfront and all the way up to the Old Courthouse.

From my position I could observe and marvel at the diversity of the masses around me. African American, white, Asian, middle-Eastern, Hispanic. Young, old, big and little. Yuppies and aging hippies. Strong athletic types and people in wheel chairs. Grandmothers, toddlers, fashionistas, bikers and everything in between.

What everyone had in common, though, was a hope for a better America and a desire to stand close to a man who seems poised to take us there.

One thing my position did not allow was a close up view of Obama. But a large video screen gave the action more visibility. Fortunately the sound system was remarkably good and you could clearly hear first hand the now familiar voice of a great orator.

Hearing Obama speak in person was of course exciting. The crowd cheered and chanted and gained vigor with every word. But it was the pulse of the masses that was the thrill of the day. It was like being part of a great beating heart. We all vibrated to the same frequency and created an energy force strong enough to light up the city.

As the speech ended, I made a dash for the exit and wound my way through swarms of street vendors with piles of T-shirts, bumper stickers and buttons. The energy of the crowd disseminated but I knew that each of us left feeling like someone plugged us into a socket of hope and flipped the recharge switch.

The woman on the train was right. Yes we can.


My digital camera finally died so I shot black and white film on a 30 year old Pentax -- the camera I learned photography on many years ago. I was positioned into the sun and many tall people obstructed photo opportunities, but I'm including below a few shots from the rally. I've posted them separately because, honestly, I couldn't figure out how to get them sequentially into this post.

Photos from Obama rally #1

The crowd came from every direction and began snaking their way through the arch grounds park -- in, up, around, down. It took great planning to get this kind of precision to the procession and the crowds behaved admirably.

Photos from Obama rally #2

As I crested the hill I began to see the full magnitude of the crowd. This picture represents maybe 5% of the total supporters.

Phatos from Obama rally #3

I love the look on the face of the boy in the middle. I wish he had a better view.

Photos from Obama rally #4

This group of ladies was too far away to see Obama, but that didn't dampen their enthusiasm.

Photos from Obama rally #5

As the crowd became so massive that it was filling up Memorial Drive and spilling into the downtown proper, park rangers began letting people move into an area that had been roped off. I like that you can see the courthouse in the background.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A goal to call my own

Everyone has goals for their life. Small goals or significant goals. Hopes. Dreams. My aspirations are varied but one thing I’ve always fancied was to create a word or phrase that would be added to the lexicon. If the lads from Google can do it, why can’t I?

Naturally that ambition has led to a rampant curiosity about phrases and sayings that color our language indiscriminately. Where’d they come from? Who was the first to use them? And even though I understand the common usage of everyday phrases, I do pause at times and wonder, “What the heck does that mean?”

So I selected a few top-o-mind sayings, did a little research, and am sharing the information below. What better way to start than with…

“Coin a phrase.”
Meaning: To create a new phrase.
Origin: Coining, in the sense of creating, derives from the coining of money by stamping metal with a die (permanent impression). In the 16th century the ‘coining’ of words was often referred to. Though Shakespeare made reference to coining words in 1607, it wasn’t until the l9th century that ‘coin a phrase’ originated in Wisconsin. And you thought their only heritage was cheese.

“Spill the beans.”
Meaning: To divulge a secret, especially to do so inadvertently or maliciously.
Origin: Thought to have roots in ancient Greece where voting systems often consisted of using white beans or black beans and the decision had to be unanimous. If your color was shown early, then the cat was out of the bag….oops, there’s another.

“Behind the eight ball.”
Meaning: A difficult position from which it is unlikely one can escape.
Origin: From billiards, the game is forfeited if a player’s cue ball hits the eight ball first. A ‘behind the eight ball’ position leaves a player in imminent danger of losing. Earliest citation came from an Ohio newspaper in 1916. I could never remember if the eight ball is a good thing or a bad thing to be “behind.” Now I know.

“As easy as pie.”
Meaning: Very easy.
Origin: From the 19th century, pie was used to denote pleasantry and ease, i.e., nice as pie. The earliest example of the actual phrase ‘as easy as pie’ comes from a comic story in the Rhode Island newspaper in 1887. Obviously it caught on.

“Push the envelope.”
Meaning: To attempt to extend the current limits of performance; to innovate, or go beyond commonly accepted boundaries.
Origin: Originally derived from a mathematical context that refers to limiting factors; made popular by Tom Wolfe in his book, The Right Stuff. To paraphrase, “..pushing the outside of the envelope…seemed to be the great challenge of the flight test.” I feel better knowing this cause I never understood the reference.

“Dressed to the nines.”
Meaning: Dressed flamboyantly or smartly.
Origin: From the 18th century where phrases “to the nines” or “to the nine” were used to indicate perfection – the highest standards. Use of nines is thought to derive from the nine muses in mythology and the nine worthies in the bible. I think there is a bit of serendipity in that I looked this up on the day Mr. Blackwell passed away.

On a more personal note, my grandmother had a saying that she used quite frequently and it’s one I never heard anyone else say.

“Well, I’ll swan”.

I’ve always wondered about its origin. Was it something she made up (you know, like Rachael Ray says “Oh my gravy!”)? Or was it passed down through kinfolk. (If you’re going to say, “I’ll swan” then you’ve got “kinfolk”). I find it coming to my mind every now and then as a reflex when surprised or bewildered. That’s pretty much how my grandmother used it.

In doing research for this post, I popped the phrase into Google. Gosh durn. A couple references actually came up. While no one had distinctive information about it’s origin, they did agree that it had southern influences (my grandmother WAS from southern Illinois), it was used to convey mild surprise, ala “Well, I’ll be”, and it was a way to let loose a tepid curse without actually swearing.

For now a few riddles are solved. Somehow I feel more empowered knowing this. More than ever it gives fuel to my desire to coin a phrase of my own. But in my current self-altered state (Let it be…..Ommmm), I know that it will bubble up when I least expect it. And then forty, fifty, sixty years from now, someone will be plugging it into a 22nd century search engine and finding my name. How cool would that be!

What phases do you most like, or which ones give you pause?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Several years ago I participated in an Artist’s Way group. The course (and subsequent book) developed by Julia Cameron is a 12-week curriculum in discovering your creative self. Or as the book subtitles it, “A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity.”

It was a fun and enlightening study that guided me to look at the world and the quality of my life in a new and refreshing manner. Along with being inspirational, Ms. Cameron also offers a very practical approach to prodding your creative being into play. Each chapter dispenses tasks, assignments, projects, affirmations, quotes and exercises that effectively take theory into practice.

Of all the thoughtful and motivating lessons, I latched more deeply on to one and still am directed by its influence today. That was the lesson of attention. Powerfully stated by Ms. Cameron, “The quality of life is in proportion, always, to the capacity for delight. The capacity for delight is the gift of paying attention.”

Read that quote again…out loud. Now doesn’t that just resonate? Similar to “Stop and smell the roses,” but that guidance really is more about slowing down. Attention takes you to the next level….now that you’ve wound down, discover all that is delightful around you. Slowing down is physical; attention nourishes the soul.

“Develop interest in life as you see it; in people, things, literature, music – the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself.” – Henry Miller

More than anything else, Cameron teaches, attention is an act of connection. When you observe the light in a child’s eye. When you notice a delicate flower in a dusty lot. When you appreciate the fragrance of orange blossoms in the air….delight becomes a welcome companion. Joy is your co-pilot. Miraculously you are connected to a big, bright universe.

Today, at this moment, give yourself the gift of attention. Marvel at how you can expand so easily your capacity for delight. Enjoy an enriched, spectacular life

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Ode for the times

Hair that’s piled
high on her head,
a wave
a wink
strange words are said
thoughts awry
facts askew
can’t help but laugh,
how ‘bout you?
at gloomy times
a sunny ray
I yell, God bless
Ms. Tina Fey

Friday, October 3, 2008

Vocabulary 102

In an earlier posting, I talked about my respect for language and my inferior feelings about the depth of my vocabulary. That dealt primarily with knowing – or not knowing -- the definition of words. There also exists in my world the fear of mispronunciation.

There are a few words that I read rather frequently but do not use in conversation. They are not necessarily intricate, highly convoluted words but rather ones with the potential to be pronounced in different ways. Heaven forbid I should be the cretin who says them incorrectly.

The first two in this series are: banal and ribald.

In researching the correct pronunciation, I made the most interesting discovery. On the Merriam-Webster dictionary Web site, there is a function that allows you to actually hear the words. Type in the word of choice, the definition pops up, but also next to the phonetics is a little icon resembling a speaker. Click on that and a nice man or woman speaks the correct pronunciation for you.

Here’s what Mr/Ms Merriam-Webster says:

Banal – (beh-‘nal, beh-‘nahl, bay-‘nal): lacking originality, trite.

Yes, unfortunately banal has three choices for pronunciation, still leaving me vulnerable to picking the most uncommon usage.

Ribald – (‘reh-buld): bawdy, crude, offensive

And ribald is not pronounced how I’ve been hearing it in my head for years (‘rye-bald), so my comfort level using it remains low.

But at least I can have fun using them in a written sentence: The governess pulled together her ripped garments and rebuffed the Manor Lord’s crude advances thinking him ribald, then quickly retreated to the west tower and the banal existence she had come to accept as her destiny.

Next up: largesse

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Who's a sissy?

Getting old isn’t for sissies.
- Bette Davis

When did it happen? When did I merge into the realm of ma’am instead of miss? When did I cross into the official time zone of middle age? When did the sad realization hit me that Bette Davis is right? Getting old is definitely not for sissies.

When we are in our twenties we live glorious, self-centered lives. We are strong and tan and full of vitality, oblivious to a future of paying the piper. In our thirties we come full into adulthood and embrace our responsibilities, while hanging on to a sliver of youthful abandon and defiance of what is yet to come.

In our forties we settle comfortably into our lives, keeping a stalwart denial that things are changing. We laugh about how our knees pop when we get up or how we will feel less than perky the morning after too much wine. It’s still amusing. It’s still not real. Not me. Unhuh. No way.

Then we cross the threshold of fifty and after suffering the surprising damage of eating cucumbers or red peppers, we can no longer refute the possibility that our bodies are just not the same. The popping knee is no longer a joke. The vino impairment a sad awakening.

I don’t know about you, but my body continues to taunt me with the consequences of aging. I can remember with stark clarity the day I looked in the mirror and realized my butt was no longer where it belonged. The tight little touché that once audaciously perched just below my waist, now spreads itself over the top of my thighs. Time had stolen my bum.

All of us mid-lifers know too well the dread of sagging skin. The elbows, the neck, the mid-section that we’ve come to know as “muffin top”. But, alas, it also shows up in startling places. One morning, as I was doing my Child’s pose yoga stretch, with head leaning forward, I noticed my field of vision was obscured. I sat up. Vision was okay. I leaned forward. Obscured. With alarming awareness I realized that my cheeks were sliding up into my eye wells. Ahh, that’s just cruel.

But there are other remarkable qualities that come with aging. Determination. Grace. Tenacity. Wonderful characteristics that if adopted with enthusiasm, help us get past the heartburn, the hair growing in the wrong places, the gas, the aching joints and flapping skin. Reticence is replaced by joie de vivre. Uncertainty by clarity. Ego makes way for acceptance.

There’s another anonymous quote that I like:

Youth is the gift of nature,
But age is a work of art.

So as we waddle down the road of the inevitable, we have a choice: Live artfully, or whine like a sissy.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Wish I'd written that #1

My post on Oge.e.ku (September 8) got me reading some of my favorite poems again. There is one memorable verse that offers such vivid imagery you can see, hear and smell the story it tells.

I’m posting a shortened version of it here as the first in my “Wish I’d written that” series, hoping that you will savor the grit and texture of it, and appreciate how a snapshot of everyday urban life can be so dramatically reflected.

by T. S. Eliot

The winter evening settles down
With smell of steaks in passageways.
Six o’clock.
The burnt out ends of smoky days.
And now a gusty shower wraps
The grimy scraps
Of withered leaves about your feet
And newspapers from vacant lots;
The showers beat
On broken blinds and chimney pots,
And at the corner of the street
A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps.
And then the lighting of the lamps.

The morning comes to consciousness
Of faint stale smells of beer
From the sawdust-trampled street
With all its muddy feet that press
To early coffee-stands.
With the other masquerades
That time resumes,
One thinks of all the hands
That are raising dingy shades
In a thousand furnished rooms.
I am moved by fancies that are curled
Around these images, and cling:
The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering thing.

Wipe your hand across your mouth, and laugh;
The worlds revolve like ancient women
Gathering fuel in vacant lots.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Wanted: apathy free zone

When I started this blog, I promised myself I would veer away from political topics. In a season overwhelmed with pundits shouting from rooftops, I wanted to stay out of the fray. But here I am assuming the soap box position.

Not to worry. If you have already done your due diligence and have adopted an educated stance, there’s no need to keep on reading. On the other hand, if you’re boasting, “I hate politics.” Or being coy, “I probably won’t vote.” Then brace yourself for a full frontal assault.

This. Is. Not. A. Time. To. Be. Apathetic.

With the issues facing our country, apathy is a four letter word. It’s an insult to the red, white and blue. It’s a poor excuse for being lazy. It’s a sad, silly façade to hide behind.

Grow some conviction.

There is absolutely no excuse for being uninformed. Educational resources today are widely available and mostly free. Cable TV offers a multitude of news related programs. If you don’t have cable, most shows can be viewed after broadcasting on the station’s Web site.

The Internet brings the world to your fingertips offering everything you ever wanted to know about anything. Did you know that Google offers a service where you can choose a topic and they will send you an email every time a story related to that topic appears on the Web? Homework made easy.

Politicians, historians, economists, etc. will be visiting every part of the country between now and November. Go hear what the have to say. Ask questions. Heck, even demand that they substantiate their views.

If you find the myriad of issues too overwhelming, then pick one or two that really resonate with you and become immersed in knowing all that you can. There are so many to choose from: war, economy, education, environment, budget deficit, health care, global relations. What do you believe in? What do you want to believe in again?

Obviously, in my own partisan way, I’m hoping that by studying the issues, you will come around to choosing my candidate. But the bigger picture here is that you have exercised your right to choose. You have taken advantage of the freedom to be informed. To express your opinion. To cast a vote.

In the current fragile state of our country, indifference is inexcusable.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Kodak moment

Last week I had the pleasure of seeing a new production of The Music Man – that delightful musical romp through small town Iowa. The story centers on a traveling con man selling musical instruments and band uniforms to gullible citizens who have been taken by his charm. Along the way he manages to transform the repressed townsfolk and redeem himself in the process.

But for me there was a more significant message in the story.

Near the end, as Professor Hill is falling for Marian the Librarian, he says something to the effect of…”I don’t want tomorrow to come without making a memory today.”

Hmmm. For lighthearted theatre, that was a fairly profound thought. And it gave me pause. In today’s frantic, cyber-linked world, how often do any of us make time to create a memory? It’s really not about a shortage of hours in the day, but rather a lack of inclination.

Speaking for myself, I am very guilty of living an inward life. I am at ease in my own company. Which translates to: it’s easier to amuse myself than to get off my duff. I prefer to call it cocooning but what I fear is that I’m losing the thrill of spontaneity, the joy of fresh connections, the anticipation of trying something new.

I am not a hermit. I have many friends and varied interests. But you know what? I can’t remember when I last put a recent picture of a special time into a photo album. Where are my Kodak moments?

Of course that’s a metaphor. It’s impossible to take a picture of a squeal of laughter. Or to capture on film a spirited discussion. Special occasions don’t have to be holidays or vacations or birthday parties. They can be small moments of magic that won’t happen without a little effort.

Here’s my thought starter list for making memories:

- Take a tap dancing class.
- Call a friend you haven’t seen since high school.
- Plan a block party and get to know neighbors you’ve never met.
- Slip a love note into your sweetheart’s pocket/purse/backpack.
- Take a guided moonlight hike through a nature preserve.
- Flip open a cookbook and make the first recipe you see.
- Read poetry to a child or a grandparent.
- Take some friends to a grassy knoll and roll down it like you did when you were a kid.
- Leave a Saturday unplanned and see what unfolds.

Okay, those are my ideas. What are yours?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sweet surrender

For a while now, I have been working on learning how to live in the moment. For an anal retentive, organization demon, this is a tough task. Move, move, move, put it away, get it done, do it now. My mantra.

As I try to release the urge to control my life, I am bombarded by hit’n’run reminders of what I need to accomplish. Magazine articles recommend: Let it be. Talk shows preach: Go with the flow. Spiritual teachers advise: Go within.

In trying to relax into the moment, I can completely stress myself out. But this summer, Mother Nature gave me a living example of sweet surrender.

For years I struggled in vain to grow tomatoes in my small city yard. I’ve taken out rose bushes to give them a prime sunny spot, but they were invaded by some kind of boring worm. I’ve planted in the hinderlands of the forgotten south side hoping more sun would please them, but the sandy soil was too poor to produce a real crop.

I put them in a huge pot near the house where I could keep an eye out for hungry squirrels, but still I lost the battle. I tied them to the side of the porch and ensconced them in mesh; the critters ate through it.

I gave up. I surrendered. No more tomato attempts for me.

This year as I was doing yard work, I noticed in the tiniest of cracks between the sidewalk and the garage something was growing. Never quick to weed, eventually the sprout revealed itself to be a tomato plant – obviously the gift of a neighborhood bird with incredible aim. I was amazed. I waited for it to die.

It didn’t.

That plant is now six foot tall and cresting the roof line of the garage. I’ve had to tie it up four times to keep it from toppling. As of last count, there were ten tomatoes of impressive size, with another ten or so pea-sized fruit.

But the really magical part – the tenacious plant is growing in deep shade on the north side of the building that is really more suitable for the production of moss. I am confounded. Even the squirrels have been surprised into submission.

When I gave up trying so hard, I was rewarded with the fruits of no labor.

Now as I look out the window and marvel at the bounty I am about to reap,I can’t help but smile at the thought, at the irony of it all. But for me the real sweetness is in the lesson learned.

Monday, September 8, 2008


I’ve always loved poetry. In my own superficial wanna-be-a-poet way. I’m enamored by the thought of being “poetic”. By the hope that someday I might say something profoundly lyrical. Or lyrically profound.

That desire, though, is soundly based in a deep respect for the written word. Prose/poetry. Fiction/memoir. Journalism/satire. A beautifully composed thought is powerful in any format. But it’s the dramatic imagery, the romantic verse and even the silly little ditty that make poetry so beguiling.

In recent years I became fascinated with Haiku. I think part of the appeal for me is that it is so peaceful, so simple, so lovely. But more recently I’ve decided what I miss in this style is the rhyming nature of poetry.

Two of my early favorite poets were Ogden Nash and E. E. Cummings. Nash because of his surprising humor and pun like rhymes. Cummings because of his rogue elimination of the period and his frequent touch of satire.

Therefore, I announce the formation of a new form of poetry, one that makes use of the elements I admire. I’ve named it -- Oge.e.ku

Here’s the structure:

Og – for Ogden Nash. This calls for the use of irregular meter and off kilter rhyming devices with words that are sometimes deliberately misspelled.


is dandy
but liquor
is quicker.

e.e. – for E. E. Cummings. Pull in the lower case format, some idiosyncrasy of syntax with a dash of surrealism and peculiarity.


I sing of Olaf glad and big
whose warmest heart recoiled at war:
a conscientious object-or

ku – for Haiku. The short form reigns here, but its not limited to three lines or a certain number of syllables. Nature and seasons can, or cannot, be connected to the theme.


Morning light appears
The new day has awoken
Nature stirs and sighs

That’s it! The structure is so unstructured even I can do it.

Contorted, twisted, eagle spread
bewitching, twitching, lump of lead
my dog, while small in stature be,
takes up more space in bed than me


am I wise
to compromise
the gypsy in my soul?


A virgo’s lot
is always not
a Pollyanna view;
the color’s wrong
the song’s too long --
sour note, bad hue

I’m sure over time I will do some tinkling with the elements of Oge.e.ku. But for the moment I declare it born unto the high world of poetry. If someone is reading this (I think there’s one or two of you), I encourage you to partake of this liberating new format for expressing your silliest thoughts. Go forth and be free with your rhymes….and please post them to this blog.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

A special someone

I am very fortunate to have a special guy in my life. Not your ordinary Tom, Dick or Harry. A really handsome fellow whom I adore, and who adores me right back. He’s faithful, loyal and true.

Yeah, okay, I can’t take him to the movies on a Friday night, but we’ve had many great walks in the park and shared countless meals. Of course, I do all the cooking but he’s pulls his weight as a primo pot scrubber.

That’s him on the left. The big guy with the sweet face. His name is Murphy and we’ve been together for over fourteen years now. The little guy on the right is Nelson, the newest addition to the family.

The big palooka is moving a little slower these days. Arthritis and atrophy have slowed him down. He can barely hear. Cataracts dim his vision. He’s popping warts and fatty tumors all over his hobbled body. And much to my dismay, he’s has become the most gaseous creature on the planet. But his smile and spirit never fade, and I love him more than ever.

I watch him now when he sleeps, wondering if his breathing is really irregular or if it’s just my imagination. I try not too fuss over him when he has trouble getting up or show him special attention by offering one too many biscuits. He’s been my best friend and I’m preparing for the end.

I came across a little story I wrote about him a few years ago. I thought this might be a good time and place to revisit it.

Murphy Brown Dog

Almost ten years ago I decided I was responsible enough to bring a dog into my life, so I started calling rescue groups inquiring about adoption possibilities. I found a local organization that had an upcoming event.

Do you have puppies, I asked.

Oh yes, was the reply, half chortle, half sigh. We have puppies.

I eagerly headed to the adoption site and found a screened off area that had been set up for the pups. I watched as one by one they were brought out of a large van. Many furry black faces. Many. Then to my surprise, one light brown dog was presented.

My heart fluttered as I picked up the soft bundle. He lay quietly in my arms, his head on my shoulder.

What a laid back guy, I thought.

When I finally put him on the ground, he began circling in a whirlwind, like the Tasmanian devil from cartoon life, but with a happy stride. To this day when I call out “devil dog, the frenzy begins all over.

For many wonderful years, that happy, happy outlook has brightened my life. The smile has gone a bit lopsided, but the enthusiasm never wanes. From the first light of day when he places his head on my bed, to settling in for the night, all aspects of life are met buoyantly.

Over the years Murphy has been a friend to many fostered dogs whose lives were not as happy as his. He shared his cheerfulness with all who shared his home. A loving nature his gift to impart. And now he coaches a young, newly adopted brother – Nelson – through all of life’s lessons.

What joy and laughter and pleasure he has brought to my life. Every day I look him square in the eyes. Sweet, brown eyes. You’re the best puppy in the world, I say. Thanks for being my friend.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Try, try again

I am a perennial yoga drop out. I can’t recall the number of times I have enrolled for a class, eager to improve my well being, and committed to follow through. Whatever that number is, it’s the same number of times I never made it through the course.

The reasons for falling out are fairly typical: too busy, too lazy, too whatever. I took my first class about 30 years ago and that drop out can be blamed on a fashion faux pas. No, not mine. The instructor’s. She was wearing her tights over the top of her leotard -- holy jiminy -- and I was mortified. If I took yoga would I also become such an obvious fashion “don’t”?

Recurring enrollments were mostly thwarted by the fact that I have no flexibility. Really, none. I almost flunked junior high Phys Ed because I couldn’t do a forward roll – my head just would not tuck close enough to my chest to permit the forward rolling part. Repeated and aborted attempts took me high on the spaz-o-meter.

Eventually my need to spare myself from embarrassment led to the purchase of a yoga video. In the privacy of my own home I was being led to posture refinement by the lovely Raquel Welch. Please, hold the guffaws. While the craftsmanship was flawed, the premise was a winner: seven 10-minute segments offered a manageable routine for every day of the week. And, her tights were worn properly.

I used that video off and on for many years, but two years ago it proved quite invaluable. Out of the blue, I started having back pain. So I decided to try some back stretches to loosen up. Raquel got me started and the practice seemed to be working. I added in new postures I found in books, then lo and behold, something took hold and I stuck with it.

Within a couple months, the back pain had subsided but I was hooked on my morning routine of meeting the day calmly with deep breathing and relaxing stretches. I was proud that the embarrassing toe cramps had gone by the way side and that the Downward Facing Dog no longer induced the urge to barf.

It was about six months into my practice that the miracle happened. One morning as I entered into a Forward Bend, I involuntarily bent over further than I imagined possible. A little voice said, “Further, bend further”. With minimal effort – OMG – I was actually touching my toes! I wasn’t exaggerating when I said I had no flexibility. Never before in my life (I might cry here) had I been able to reach the floor without bending my knees.

I will never be a Yogini. And I’m not preaching that Yoga is the end all, be all. What is important, though, is to embrace those opportunities/challenges/tasks put before you. Even if you have rejected something many, many times (stuff comes back to you for a reason!), you just never know what reward a little fortitude might bring.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Let me count the ways

I think many people, including myself, have a fairly unshakable morning routine. I feed the animals, bring in the paper and start my own breakfast. The variation would be when I do myself the favor of yoga stretches or, depending upon the state of my elder dog’s gastro-intestinal system, take him for a potty walk.

Back at the breakfast table, I tune in to the Today Show and while it’s playing in the background, I rip through the paper. With all the respect I have for the depth of on-line news sources, you just cannot find a web replacement akin to reading the daily comic strips.

I’ve been known to tear up reading Lynn Johnston’s ForBetter or Worse. Ms. Johnston’s charm and talent centers around telling stories of everyday family issues. She captured the heartbreak of losing a parent, broke ground with her controversial scripting of a young man’s “coming out”, and ripped out our hearts with the death of Farley, the family dog. C’mon, admit it, you cried!

Now if you want to start your day with a good snort, you probably go first to Stephan Pastis’ strip, Pearls Before Swine. I’ve been known to spew Cheerios across the table as I roar over the daily antics of his animal crew. Rat can be really mean to pig.

For sweetness, I’m charmed by Pat Brady’s Rose is Rose. The alter ego to Rose, is Vicky, the Harley riding babe who favors mini-skirts and knee boots. Every woman has a little Vicky in her. Rose’s other escapes include leaning on her “Let it be” tree or ruminating on her own stubbornness while in the “Dungeon of Resentment”. We’ve all been there.

But nothing tugs at my heartstrings quite like Mutts, by Patrick McDonnell. You can’t help but love Earl, cause he’s a lovable pup, and Mooch, the curious cat, or Shtinky, who is very involved with saving endangered species. But my heart really goes out to Guard Dog, a chained dog who asks “How do you guard against loneliness?” While it’s warming your heart, I hope it also motivates you to adopt a bundle of love from a shelter near you.

So when was the last time you stopped to think about how much comics add to your life? For me, here’s the short list: warmth, charm, laughter, motivation, inspiration, complicity, friendship, compassion, balance, creativity.

Much more than just a part of your morning routine....a ritual to be savored.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Last Hurrah

As Labor Day approaches, I’m not saddened by the loss of summer, but thankful at the prospect of fall. While spring may be the most eagerly awaited season, with the puppy dog anticipation of crocus shoots and longer days, autumn brings a sigh of relief with its colorful, cool days.

Spring gets you pumped up; autumn encourages you to let go.

In February and March, I find myself looking out the window at my garden, brown and trodden. I watch for the first green sprout to show itself among the soggy leaves. One by one as the early daffodils, daylilies and iris present themselves, my heart pumps faster with each green bud. Like a bear coming out of hibernation, my spirit starts to stir.

By April I find myself circling the perimeter of my yard. Sometimes two or three times a day. What’s growing new today, I wonder. By May the peonies are emerging so quickly I would swear they leap up when my back is turned. My heart soars when I notice the first buds on the hydrangea, so you can imagine the exaltation when the apple tree glows pink with blossoms.

And then before you know it, it’s July. Hot, humid, relentless, with the steamy days, blazing sun and breezeless nights. The leaves of the peonies become crispy brown. The lawn forsakes all hope that spring promised. Slugs, beetles, thrips beat you down with their tenacity.

O fall where art thou?

Labor Day is summer’s last hurrah. Who cares if I can no longer wear white...I can see a rosy touch of pink in the sky, hear a note of reprieve in the birds’ song, and feel a kiss of coolness in the night air. While I’m so happy to fill pots with flowers as spring begins, I find myself in August longing for the day when I can store the hose away.

Until it begins all over again in a few months. To be continued…

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Stranger things have happened

In the mid to late 70's I lived in San Diego. While I was between jobs I did some baby sitting for a very sweet girl named Amelia. That's her pictured here. Lovely, isn't she?
I always wondered what became of her. Amelia would be in her 30's now. Is she married with children of her own? Or maybe she's an astronaut in training for the next shuttle launch. An archaeologist? A nurse? An athlete?

I'm posting her picture here because I believe in fate. I'm hoping someday, someone will stumble upon this blog and recognize that sweet face. Slim chance you're thinking. Well, stranger things have happened.

When I was in college I had a friend, Diane, who was a couple years older than me and who was an important influence in my life. She was an artist with an independent spirit. While I was wondering where the next party was going to be, she would balance me with discussions about politics, literature and current events. Her sense of humor was amazing. To this day I can see her throw her head back in a bout of laughter.

After school, Diane married a fellow artist and I moved to Atlanta. We stayed in touch, but in the days of no Internet or cell phones, our connection was not as close as it once was. A couple years into her marriage, Diane became pregnant with twin boys. I saw her not long after the babies were born and she was a a radiant mother.

My next visit back home I spoke with Diane's husband and received the sad news that she had cancer. The prognosis was not good. A few months later, Diane passed -- her sons were not yet two -- and over the years I lost touch with her family.

Fast forward thirty some years to about a year ago. I was attending a local theatre production and began thumbing through the program prior to the performance. Looking at the credits, I noticed a familiar name. The same name as one of Diane's sons. I contacted the head of the theatre company -- did this man have a twin brother?

My message was passed along and before the day was over I communicating by email with one of the boys. It was a heady experience telling him stories about his mother. So many wonderful memories and feelings resurfaced. He 'd lost his grandparents and his aunt, so connections to his mom were dwindling, and the stories were well received.

Don't doubt the power of fate, the presence of serendipity. At my last lunch with Diane's son, I learned that her grandson had been born on my birthday. Coincidence? Of course. But still a powerful reminder of another connection to a dear friend I thought I'd lost many years ago.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Welcome to Dakota

If you meandered down the left side of this blog and read my "profile", you saw that one of my favorite books is Dakota: A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris. Kathleen, and her husband, were young poets living in New York when a family member in Lemmon, South Dakota passed away. They offered to move to Lemmon and manage the farm interests thinking it would be a short term adventure.

That adventure turned into many years building a new life that was grounded by a growing love for the prairie landscape and the inertia of rural life. Dakota captures the wonder of the Great Plains -- the harsh and the sublime -- eloquently told through the eyes and soul of a poet.

Scattered throughout the book are "Weather Reports", reflections on how nature and the elements bring beauty and hardship in equal measure. Below is the report for March 25:

Mud and new grass push up through melting snow. Lilacs in bud by my front door, bent low by last week's ice storm, begin to rise again in today's cold rain. Then clouds scatter in a loud wind.

Suddenly, fir trees seems like tired old women stooped under winter coats. I want to be light, to cast off impediments, and push like a tulip through a muddy smear of snow. I want to take the rain to heart, let it move like possibility, the idea of change.

I thought of "Weather Reports" today because it was such a blissfully beautiful day in the flatlands. And while I sat on my porch and tilted my face into an unexpected breeze, I knew I could never begin to capture the imagery that comes so naturally to Ms. Norris. So to honor her and to honor the gift of this day, I repeat her words with the hope they drop into the open arms of a grateful reader.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

I Haiku, do you?

August branches bend
give perch to hungry starlings --
No apples for me.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Vocabulary 101

I am a great admirer of language and sadly English is the only one I know. I also regret that I do not have a more powerful vocabulary. Over the years as I would read, if I came across a word I didn't know, I would write it down so I could look up the meaning. Open any drawer in my house and those little pieces of paper with undefined words on them will float out.

There were times when I did manage to make it to the dictionary and jotted down the pronunciation and definition. But more often than not my brain didn't retain the information.

There is one exception: untoward. I came across it for the first time in a Vanity Fair article. I looked at it for a long time trying to figure it out, failed, and then looked it up. Webster offers a couple options, but in the context of the article I've always remembered it as "not favorable; adverse, improper".

To this day I am delighted when I come across it and can call up it's meaning. Untoward. It's a funny word. Look at it long enough and it takes on different connotations. Not toward? Did you know that while toward means "direction, along a course", towardly means favorable or pleasant. See, that's why I like language.

Another word I love is doyenne. Not so much for what it means, or even how it looks -- which is a bit odd, but because of the way it sounds in my head: doiyyyyyenn. With reverberation. Much like a sound effect you would hear in a Road Runner cartoon.

As a woman of a certain age my body has begun to leak estrogen. And as goes this hormone, so go a few stray brain cells skipping out on me as well. That makes learning new words, or even remembering old favorites, a challenge. A friend of mine says she can't remember nouns. My dismissal process is not so selective. Along with nouns, I'm missing the ability to recall verbs, adjectives, names and points in time.

From time to time I hope to talk about new words I've learned or ones I've finally figured out how to use in a sentence. If you have favorites, I hope you will send them my way. But please include the definition. I'm running out of scrap paper.

A blog virgin no more

My first posting and already the anxiety is proving a challenge to my new antiperspirant. It took me -- a techno-feeb-- forever to get the template set up. Now I'm seeing tabs that say "Edit Html" and "Post Options" but I'm afraid to click on anything for fear of losing what I've so far put into place.

There are also tabs for "Moderate Comments" and "Dashboard" (what?) but I'm more concerned with finding the spell check function. It would also be very cool if there were a function that bleeted "trite" or "pretentious" every time I'm compelled to write something less than literate.

Even better....when my grammar is faltering, the voice of Mrs. Berutti, my high school english teacher, would kindly ask "Do you really want to use that word?" Or when I'm tempted to portray someone in a less than kindly manner, the stern admonishment of Sister Leo Gene would ring out, "Patricia! Be nice."

But it appears I'm on my own here. Bear with me.