Sunday, December 30, 2012

Where Words Have Been, Where Words Will Go

Looking Backward, Writing Forward

Writer’s block is not the problem. What I have is better defined as writer’s pause. Visions of stories dance in my head and notes, ideas, sit etched on scraps of paper scattered on desktop and writing table and on to-write lists.
My writing soul seems to have slipped into the calendar and is suspended between the old—2012—and the approaching new—2013. At this late date in December, my pen, like my psyche, looks back, but at the same time peers forward, and hesitates.
My pen, my paper, my thoughts, and I pause and reflect, yet also project. I sense where my words have been in calendar days and moments gone by and wonder which path my words will write in the days of the year to come.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Rolling—and Rolling and Rolling and Rolling in the Deep

“Rolling in the Deep”
And Rolling and Rolling and Rolling
Dancing with Abandon
Living Without Abandonment

From 21 by Adele
“The scars of your love, remind you of us.
They keep me thinking that we almost had it all
The scars of your love, they leave me breathless
I can't help feeling
We could have had it all
Rolling in the deep
You had my heart inside your hand
And you played it
To the beat.”

I danced riotously, joyfully, without limits, having no fear of anyone watching. Rocking out. Another person was present, but enveloped in the emotion of her own dance, she wasn’t watching, and I continued my own.
“We could have had it all. . . .” At the song’s end, she added a name, a single name of the person who had her heart inside [his] hand . . . .” I, too, sang a name aloud, but didn’t stop at one, and added at least a few more, going back to ____, who “played my heart to the beat” when I was 16.
Failed love—a failed relationship—left singer Adele at age 21 rolling in the deep. Here I am at 60, looking back and seeing how I placed my heart inside too many hands, the wrong hands, and rolled in the deep far too many times.

“We could have had it all
Rolling in the deep
You had my heart inside your hand
But you played it,
You played it,
You played it
You played it to the beat.”

I stopped that roll ten years ago and said, “I’ll take my heart out of your hand, thank you very much,” and started my own roll away from that deep, dark place of another failed marriage, another heart played to the beat.
Hearing, feeling, Adele’s words awakened that anguish from years ago, and it was re-felt, re-experienced. Voicing those names also made me pause and led me to question why I gave my heart so often to those who “played it to the beat.”
In answer, I realize that it’s a mistake to give one’s heart over to another and allow it to be “played to the beat.” From this vantage point, scanning the horizon of the past, I know it’s an error to give one’s heart over. A wiser course is to open one’s heart; and rather than let someone else “play it to the beat,” the more heartfelt path is to find someone with whom one can listen to the beat, and sing together, rather than make separate songs.

Adele’s 21 CD can be found at, where you also can listen to part of “Rolling in the Deep.”

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Cold Comfort in Central Florida

Cold Comfort—
Seeking Warmth on a Rare Cold Day in Florida

Ice-crusted windshields are rare in Vero Beach, Florida, even on December 23. Winter’s icy grip holds fast in this part of the country for only a few days. Sunshine beaming from these southern skies then warms the earth, melting the frost and beckoning our return to the green outdoors.
An abundance of meteorological data means we Central and Southern Floridians are warned in advance of the cold air’s reach from northern climes. Thus advised, we prepare to warm ourselves.
As part of that preparation, I brought the down comforter from the garage and placed it on my bed yesterday. Stepping from beneath its feathered layers early this morning, the chill in the house stunned me awake. At 61, the thermostat announced that it was far too cold inside for these Florida bones. On went the heat, and I tapped the up arrow higher, to a reasonable 72.
Ice on the car was no surprise at 5:30 when I walked the dogs. I was grateful for my wool overcoat, which I buttoned up after retrieving it from its dusty closet perch.
Once back inside, cocoa-enhanced coffee accompanied me on my journey toward warmth.
As the sun rose, shooting swaths of pink against the blue skies, I had heat and warmth and light—cold comfort, indeed.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Ready for the Raptor?

Getting Ready for the Raptor

Not to Be Confused with
The Rapture

Raptor, rapture, they sound close enough, and I imagine more than a few folks would feel the rapture coming on should they face a real-life Jurassic Park experience. However, I’m neither a Biblical scholar nor a paleontologist, so I make no attempt to explore the important distinctions between the two, although meeting either probably results in the same gruesome conclusion.
So what is this raptor for which I ready my home? The raptor arrives in its splendid finery about this time each year and perches in a prominent place on my property.
It goes here, but months of Florida rain and semi-tropical growth have taken over the space.

The gardener has been busy editing and writing.

After only 45 minutes of serious trimming and cutting, the raptor’s reception area is ready and waiting.

Ah... space for growth and my raptor buddy.
I did get a little carried away, but cutting and clearing are so satisfying. And everything grows back so strong and healthy. I decided to keep the Zombie Hunting Permit in the front window. Things have calmed down in Miami over the last several months, but you never know what might head north on I-95.

I wonder if I can take out a rogue raptor if necessary.

The Raptor makes its annual appearance in a day or so. Stay tuned.

Correcting My Reading List

Closing the Book on
The Corrections
No More Turning the Page

“You will laugh, wince, groan, weep . . . ” so begins the cover blurb on The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. I’ve reached page 203, and I haven’t cracked a smile. Wincing and groaning I have done. Page 566 marks the book’s end, but all I’ll see of it is the number. I’ve closed The Corrections a final time, leaving the characters to wallow in their self-serving, self-absorbed shallow existences in fiction land.
It’s not often that I put a book aside, pages left unread, people dangling in the Limbo of plots unfurled. But I don’t like The Corrections. The players and their petty concerns fail to resonate. I wondered, “Does this book get any better?” I read the reader reviews on One critic likened the book to a movie you sit through to its end, “hoping” it gets better. But when the credits roll, you realize it didn’t and you wasted precious time in the dark, the odor of cheap buttered popcorn clogging your arteries from its sickly smell.
Reading time is precious time. At day’s end, my greatest pleasure is my chamomile tea and my book, both of which gently nudge me into dreamland.
The Corrections is no longer part of that routine. Unfinished it will stay. It’s now relegated to the books that go away, perhaps to Goodwill, perhaps to the paper recycling bin. Because my reading time is so treasured, I won’t waste another minute on those pages. It’s hard to step away from a book, but in this case, it’s the best choice—for me. I don’t like this book. I’m not compelled to finish it and obey some unwritten rule that I must “finish what I start.”

* * * * *

Have you ever stopped reading a book, putting it aside for whatever reason? Did you feel as if you had to finish it? What made you continue slogging through it? Was it worth the effort? These questions are ones I’ve asked myself in the past regarding books I've stopped reading. I’ve learned it’s much more satisfying to walk away rather than continue to “The End.”

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Santa's Elves Roar Their Approval

The First Gift of Christmas Is a Cactus?

Traditions aren’t a huge part of my family’s Christmas celebration. When the kids had to share family traditions during school holiday celebrations, I was at a loss. Um . . . is wrapping gifts until 4 a.m. a Christmas tradition? I’m not one for elaborate decorations or hiding elves or giving gifts on certain days leading up to Christmas. Getting everything together before everyone woke Christmas Day was about all I could handle. Until I started baking what we call Lucia Bread every year, I pretty much made things up as we went along. Kept them guessing, I suppose.
One tradition that evolved was reading The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg every Christmas Eve. We still read it over iChat, sharing the book’s pictures, and we each hear the bell at the story’s end. My favorite part of the book is when the first gift of Christmas is chosen, and “the elves roared their approval.” Shortly thereafter, Santa leaves the North Pole and Christmas officially begins.
Is it July, August, September . . . when the Christmas season officially begins in America? Retailers eager to squeeze every cent from consumers start the marathon earlier and earlier. Although I’m not running the consumption race, I do take note of when the season starts for me. As in The Polar Express when Santa holds the bell high and announces “The first gift of Christmas,” I note nature’s gift when my Christmas Cactus presents its first bloom. Christmas starts for me on that day—in fact, this day—when the pink blossom unfurls and I see the petals shimmer like pink satin ribbons. A splendid gift, indeed. I can hear the elves roar their approval.

You can check out The Polar Express at your local library, or purchase it here: Reading it Christmas Eve is a splendid tradition:

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

True Grit

The Grit of Life

On a day I wanted to focus on dirt, touch it, move it, press it into shape around seedlings, and separate it from weeds, I’m not.
Life and work have kept me occupied and out of the dirt for months. I’ve missed it so much that I’ve gardened in my dreams.
Flexibility, however, is my watchword today because it’s a free day. No work is scheduled and my visiting daughter flies away home to Massachusetts this evening, so the precious remaining hours of her trip will be spent with her.
Life is so much richer when having shared loves. She and I have the love of the ocean, the sand, and the sun to extend and further cement our bond. Today’s treasure is that we’re a few short feet away from waves breaking and leaving wisps of foam on the shore.
Cooling breezes brush my bare shoulders, tempering the heat of the sun. Blue skies hold only the smallest hint of clouds on the western horizon. Soft baritone echoes of waves calm and soothe our psyches. The warmth, the salt scent, the sea—my son and daughter resting on the sands beside me—it’s not the grit of dirt I craved earlier this day; instead I’m rewarded with the grit of life and love.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Say Goodbye, Say Hello

Say Goodbye, Say Hello

Rainbows are a bridge from rain to sun.
Can you be a "bridge" today?

“Say Goodbye, Say Hello.” It’s been a week of final goodbyes for people I love. My sister said her final goodbye to her dearest friend Mary last Friday. My daughter’s fiancé said a final goodbye to his mom’s significant other. Both deaths were expected, not that that makes either any easier to witness and bear, but loved ones were granted the blessed opportunity to express their love and say thank you and say goodbye to Mary and Wade.
It’s an odd perspective—this one of mine… watching and hearing the grief of those close to me, those dear to me. Having known her, I grieve Mary, but I don’t grieve her as my sisters grieve her passing. I hold a heavy heart for my daughter’s fiancé and his mom because I know the feelings of loss and emptiness they hold now in these days and in the days to come. I know this because loss and grief are equal opportunity experiences in each life of any length.
So when these losses come, I know to hold out my hand, to offer my shoulder, to open my ears, and to open my heart.
Goodbyes are tough and I don’t like them. I would much rather say hello.
Perhaps God in infinite wisdom and caring has given us a salve for the grief of goodbyes—that salve is the gift of being able to say hello. This week, for the first time, I felt my granddaughter kick as she signals to the world that soon, soon, she will be here to say hello in person. This juxtaposition of death and new life is one I cannot figure out… I don’t get it, any of it. All I know is that a bridge exists to help us move from one to the other… we say goodbye, and then, what a gift, oh, what a gift… we are given the opportunity to say hello… not just to a newborn, but to anyone with whom we connect—this day and any day.
So, in remembrance of Mary and in remembrance of Wade, say hello to those you love today. Say hello to those you don’t love today. Say hello and cross the bridge that separates us from each other. Welcome everyone as we will welcome Emma in a few short months.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Making the Next Move

Game’s Up…

You think you’ve got some sort of Monopoly on pain? Let me tell you something: Every one of us owns a little bit of Boardwalk and Park Place. Only you can use that “Get Out of Jail Free” card and break the bars of separation.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Gratitude in the Face of Loss

Saying Thank You to a Friend

It’s hard to be grateful sometimes. Brat-like, I often want to stomp my feet, spit, and rage at the very unfairness of life. I often want to say, “No thank you. I’ll walk this easier path, the sunlit one with bird song and flowers and butterflies à la Disney before the wicked stepmother or evil fairy shows up. Show up she will, though, in spite of my insistence that the path remain rose-petal-strewn, cloud-free, and scented with every blessing I could ever imagine.
When those dark clouds and evil fairies show up, I want to turn and run in the opposite direction. But it’s blocked—such is life, and I must grit my teeth, steady my nerves, and push forward.
During that push forward, gratitude isn’t often apparent. Some experiences simply demand one foot in front of the other until the journey ends. Other experiences, however, are a chance to transcend whatever life has presented and we’re given a chance to say thank you and walk with gratitude—and more important, love.
My dear sister walks that journey this season of gratitude as she attends to her best friend whose life is ebbing away. It’s heart-wrenching to hear her pain. It breaks me to listen as she steps toward loss. She spends every moment she can with her friend and watches that precious life move toward its end. She does this because of enduring love. She does this because every moment she spends with her friend is a chance to say thank you, to express her deepest gratitude for all her friend has been and continues to be for her.
As my sister looks this loss square in the face day after day, she prays, she comforts, she loves. And all the time, she is whispering, “Thank you, thank you, thank you for this greatest of gifts I have received in being Mary’s friend.”

Thanksgiving, 2011 -- Mary is wearing the orange blouse and my sister is wearing red.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Bittersweet November Surprise

Nothing More to Pick

A Conscious Choice to Let Politics and Flowers Be

November is in its early days, but nonetheless has been full of surprises—not all of them sweet. Central Florida folks welcome the relief of a cold front this morning. This resident hopes the air will cool the flames of too-passionate, often misguided debate and commentary (including my own) springing forth from all sides regarding the election. I intend to step away from all things political and focus on the best possible life for myself and those around me. That best life brings me to the dirt, the grit of what sustains everyone, regardless of their preferred color on Electoral College maps.
My personal dirt, like my politics, is a mix, so I’m often surprised at what greets me in the garden. Gardenia blooming season is long past, the scent of the buds and blooms only a faint memory in November. Those memories were stirred awake when I noted a gardenia pressing its bud into bloom this morning. No spring and summer gardenia, this one, it’s cramped in its bud, struggling to open. The petals are tinged brown after the bite of the cooler air. The scent struggles as well, and pressing my face to it, only a trace of sweetness touches my senses. But bloom it does, in spite of its struggle, in spite of the tug of war between hot and cold days in this season. I, too, find myself hot and cold, and wanting to settle into an even temperature.
I am tempted to snip the bud and bring it inside, but like so many other aspects of November, I think it’s best to just let it be.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Less Bayonets and Horses? Fact Check!

Grammar Woman Watching (the Debate)
Less Bayonets and Horses?
Fact Check: Wrong!

A Conscious Choice of the Correct Word

Does the United States Navy have more ships than it did in 1917 or less ships? Does the United States military have more bayonets and horses or less bayonets and horses? If you win the Battleship game, is it because you have more ships or less ships?
Board games (and debates) aside, Grammar Woman’s fact check rates you wrong, wrong, and wrong if you answer less ships, less horses, and less bayonets. (You're also wrong if you ask the question using the word less.)
Grammar Woman, however, gives President Obama an A+ for his debate comment. He is correct: We do, indeed, have fewer bayonets and horses. It’s an important distinction to note: Few is used when counting, for example, the U.S. Navy could give us an accurate count of how many ships we had in 1917 and how many we have today, and advise whether we have more or fewer. To measure things in other ways, use less. The United States Navy was less powerful in 1917 than it is today, even though we had more, not fewer, ships.
Continuing the distinction, which is important in any fact-checking exercise, the United States Military indeed does have fewer “bayonets and horses,” and rather than being less powerful, our military is the strongest in the world. Few international leaders would dare to say any differently.
Debate or not, incorrect grammar or slang, horses or bayonets, I imagine most folks more or less (not few) have decided for whom they will vote this year. And on Election Day, Tuesday, November 6, at the end of the day, the loser of the presidential contest will not have less votes; he will have fewer votes.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Show-Off-y Self Versus Conscious Self

Diamonds Sparkling in the Pre-Dawn Sky
Tiffany’s Bracelet Sparkling on My Wrist

A Conscious Choice Regarding Value

Tiffany's Bracelet (and others) on Battenburg Lace...
What Really Has Value? Nothing Here...

Tiffany’s—Breakfast or Jewelry? The name conjures images of glamour—wearing, doing, being several cuts above the mundane. So it was easy on Saturday to be rather show-off-y when my sisters-in-law admired my Tiffany’s bracelet. It’s a splendid piece of jewelry with its thick gold links and heavy single charm dangling in a classic pose from the bracelet’s edge. Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt, moon, and birthing, is pictured on the front, and the words “Courage” and “Ree” (my childhood nickname) are etched on the back, along with the signature Tiffany’s brand name.
It’s easy to tack my ego to this hunk of gold and puff myself up like I have valuable—that is, rich—friends who gift me with such treasures. Sphinx-like, I wanted to create a riddle regarding the gifter because along with my sisters-in-law, my ex also was at the table eyeing the bracelet they admired. I wanted that aura of mystery; I wanted him to wonder, “So who gave her that?” when I said “a friend.” My sister gave it to me, and we’re friends, so that’s not too far from the truth, right? Okay, not right, but at least I’m fessing up here.
In most areas of my life, I’m pretty transparent, so I felt guilty about attaching my sense of self to all that glitters. I carried the guilt for several hours and then forgot it, certain that like all the guilt I carry it would resurface soon.
Resurface it did, fewer than 24 hours later. I woke Sunday in the pre-dawn hours and half-asleep stumbled outside to walk the dogs. I noted that although it was still dark, it wasn’t black-dark. I looked up and the sky was filled with stars more brilliant than I’ve seen since September 2001, when I was on a dark island an hour’s ferry from the mainland. I was stunned awake by the spectacle of the starlit sky. I remembered the meteor shower I had read about and realized I slept through it, but what remained was a gift for my first waking moments.
Later, I spied the Tiffany’s bracelet on the blue-and-white ceramic tray in my bathroom. I remembered the morning sky and my show-off-y actions the previous day. I recalled the gift of the sky and asked myself what mattered more—the stars or the bracelet? If a balding, gold-hoop-earring-wearing genie popped out of the mist and said to me, “You know that starlit sky you saw 6 a.m., Sunday, October 21, 2012? You can either keep this bracelet or continue seeing those diamonds in the sky.”
Which would I choose? I’d not hesitate a second. Right hand over to left wrist, I’d unclasp the bracelet, hand it over to Mr. Genie, and never look back, because in this case, it’s more valuable to look up.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Zen and the Art of Cleaning the Litter Box

(With apologies to Robert Pirsig)

Seeking a Better Approach—A Conscious Choice
P.S. It Didn’t Help a Whit

Try Zen. He struggled to find the perfect toaster setting. The toasting choices of the words Pastry and Frozen were stacked on top of each other. Finally, he achieved toasty toast by arranging the levers until try and zen were arranged so:
Trying zen and a positive focus is appealing, especially when faced with a daunting task. Wash the dish, paint the fence, wax on, wax off. And the zen approach works most of the time. However, it does not work with all noxious tasks. In fact, the words zen and litter box don’t belong in the same neighborhood, much less the same sentence.

This cat-bathing outfit would have worked well for my dreaded chore.
Faced with the clumps, the lumps, and the overwhelming odor, scooping and refilling were no longer an option. The plastic case of crud cried out to be scrubbed. A dreaded task, a loathsome task. Could I seek a different approach? Could I find the joy in cleaning the litter box? No, I could not, because that kind of joy simply does not exist.
The positive approach demands that we meet challenges with a smile, and a grin, and an eye toward some cosmic lesson learned. That approach is valuable in much of life. But some things need to be tackled head-on, eyes squinted, nose plugged, hands gloved. The joy of doing is not present in some situations. The muck, mud, guts, grease, and gore of life happen. In those cases, finding the peace, finding the joy, happen only when the experience ends.
In this case, a different approach did not work, did not help. The zen came only when the job was done . . . and a sense of accomplishment silenced the yelling yuck. Now, on to wax on, wax off, paint the fence, wash the dish . . .