Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Year's resolutions for politicians

A friend asked what resolutions I'd like pols to make for 2011. Here's what I sent to him:

1) Make this country the free and equal place it was meant to be.
2) Stop hate crimes.
3) Feed the hungry and house the homeless.
4) Find a cure for all cancers.
5) Stop thinking about yourselves.
6) Start giving breaks to citizens who live in the margins and forget about cutting deals to the big businesses that funded your campaigns.
7) Talk to each other as caring and committed public servants and spare us the drama.
8) If you need to make budget cuts, stay away from social services. These people make almost no money and do the work that the suits in DC would never be caught dead doing.
9) Stop wasting taxpayer money investigating MLB practices. It's a freakin' game.
10) Make those who kill and torture animals pay the same price as those who do the same with people.
That's my top 10. I'm sure I could go on all night.
Thanks for asking the question.
Happy New Year, everyone! May the force be with us.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Farewell to a sweet friend

A week ago today, Ron and I kissed our little cocker spaniel Shawna for the last time. She had an aggressive case of Cushing's Disease that we couldn't get under control without introducing major side effects. She was 14 years old yet we only had her for 2 1/2 years.

Shawna came into our lives when my friend Mark passed away. I met Mark at my church and we became instant friends. I think the fact that we were about the same age and had both done dog rescue for years (he, cocker spaniels; me, springer spaniels) helped our friendship along. When Mark passed away, Shawna was taken in by Mark's friend and dogwalker. His three other dogs were taken in by his family members. I was the backup plan if anything didn't work out. When Mary's dog didn't get along with Shawna, Mark's brother called me.

Although Shawna was never completely house-trained and was very food obsessive, we happily took her into our pack. We had both Alex and Brit at the time and although we never really wanted (or could afford) a third dog, we were committed to giving her the best care and the most amount of love possible. I was happy that Ron agreed to take her in since I felt that this was the greatest gift I could give Mark and his family. Besides, when I was visiting Mark before he died, Shawna was the dog that always jumped into my lap without any encouragement. I hated to see her go back into rescue instead of into a home with someone she already knew and trusted.

Shawna bonded easily with Alex after letting him know in no uncertain terms that she wasn't going to be the pushover that Brit was. Shawna (who was half Alex's size) quickly became the alpha dog. That does not mean, however, that she was not affectionate with Alex and Brit. When we had to send Alex to the bridge, Shawna grieved as much as Brit, which kind of surprised us since Alex and Brit were the ones with the long-standing love affair.

This past year with Shawna has been difficult because of the Cushing's disease. The meds and tests were costly, though our vet was so kind and gave us discounts when she could. But more than the money was the heavy emotional toll the treatment took on her and on me.

When our vet said the words "She's gone" last week, I sobbed and sobbed. I didn't do that when Alex died. I don't know where the gushing well of emotion came from but I think it had a lot to do with other things besides being completely heartbroken to lose Shawna after trying so hard to help her.

This has been the year from hell for me. It started by losing Alex and ended by losing Shawna. Sandwiched in between was my mom's incurable pancreatic cancer diagnosis. I've been quite stoic through all of it but I think I've finally reached my limit.

I discovered too, that I was never completely done grieving the loss of my friend Mark. I always felt that since I had Shawna I still had a little piece of Mark. He was taken too soon and I miss him still.

Shawna's ashes will go back to Mark's family. He requested before he died that her ashes be buried at his gravesite. Mark will be reunited with Shawna as he should be. After we left the vet's office last week, I just kept envisioning Shawna running into Mark's open arms at the bridge and it did help me let go of some of the pain.

Mark gets her ashes but we still have her little coat that kept her warm as the Cushing's took her fur. We also have her 2" thick folder filled with vet bills and instructions. Her bowl, collar and leash, and a lock of fur from her wavy little ears are all tucked away in a box next to the one we have for Alex.

I learned many things about myself in those 2 1/2 years. I learned that I have more patience than I ever thought I could muster. I learned that the 1000-dollar custom made wool rug is not as important as the little dog who had no control over staining it. I learned that my vet is one of the kindest and most generous people I know.

And I learned again that love doesn't come in human and animal versions. A heart is capable of enduring heartbreaking sadness without ever breaking. It can't. There are too many other loves for it to hold.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Youth group joys

One of my greatest joys in my volunteer work is the high school group I co-lead at my church. We meet most Sunday mornings while the younger kids are in Sunday school and the adults are attending the service in the Sanctuary. Leading the high school group is actually a ton of work for me. My friend Carlene and I write all the curriculum, organize and coordinate service trips, and generally obsess over details.
Coming of Age group 2009

It might sound simple but the biggest part of my "job" there is to keep the group not only engaged, but also safe. That means that everyone feels respected and heard.

I've always been better with older kids than younger kids. I have a hard time relating to anyone under 14 because I don't feel like I can have a meaningful conversation with them. I stumble over what is appropriate to say. Luckily, I don't have kids of my own so there will be no expensive psychotherapy bills later.

There are challenges with the high schoolers also. Finding boundaries as far as what is shared and how it is processed is difficult for me. I want to be their friend and mentor, but more importantly be their guardian.

We talk about some serious issues in our group. Suicide, bullying, civil rights, politics, and much more. Our discussions often lead to some soul-searching. I have never been anything but blown away by the thoughtfulness of these kids. They just get it.

Being their leader, though a huge stretch for me, is also very satisfying. They make me proud and also hopeful for the future of this country. But I struggle often with my role as a group leader there. I still think I'm better with teens in a one-on-one relationship.

When I was in my 20s, I said I wanted to be a Big Sister. There are opportunities everywhere for those sorts of relationships and I hope to do that once my life settles down a bit. 

Until then, I will do the best I can to help the high school group at my church learn more about their faith, themselves, and the world they are heading out into -- one Sunday at a time.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What's your bumper sticker say about you?

My dad said once that bumper stickers are for people who don't have the guts to speak their mind in person. So, when I've added the occasional sticker to my car over the years, I think about that. Because of my dad's great point, I only put something on my car that I'm already vocal about.

I did Springer Spaniel Rescue years ago and on one of the household cars are two rescue-related stickers: "Rescue Mom" (with a paw print), and an anti-pet store/puppy mill sticker. We also have a sticker of the logo for the Westford Conservation Trust where Ron and I were directors a few years ago.

Our other car has a couple of Unitarian stickers. The only one that has any real verbiage says "Deeds are more important than creeds. - Ralph Waldo Emerson".

I figure since all those stickers represent causes I've put my time, talent, treasure, and voice into, my dad's philosophy on bumper stickers doesn't apply to me. So I'm good.

Yesterday I was driving home from a lovely lunch with a Unitarian friend where we discussed, among other things, the hypocrisy of religious extremism. I got behind a minivan that was plastered with extreme Christian stickers. One read, "No Jesus; No Peace". The others were quite militant and had pictures of flaming crosses and verbiage like "Assimilation inevitable."

I thought immediately of my dad and wondered if the driver was one of those people who let their bumpers speak for them. Or if he/she was more like me. Either way, I was struck by the hypocrisy of the slogans. And the driver was obviously unaware of it.

As a Unitarian, I am often questioned about my religion's lack of a creed. I can very easily explain that we are more focused on how we live in the larger world than repeating a creed written for us by a hierarchy we don't know.

Lots of Unitarians will balk when others inside the church want to talk about Jesus. I know that a lot of that comes from some really negative experiences in their pasts, often at the hands of the Catholic Church.

Even though I've suffered that same sort of religious turnoff, I've always felt that I am very Christian. I try to live my life the way Jesus did -- Jesus the man; not Jesus the "God".

So when I see bumper stickers like those on that minivan, I wonder how those extreme Christians reconcile their exclusive, angry words with the words of Jesus. Jesus the man in the New Testament that they can't possibly have read; not Jesus the Christian Rights' reinvented poster boy.

I've had to deal with some religious-right scorn and disapproval because of my Unitarianism. I've been shut out by a family member because I believe in the human and civil right for two consenting adults to marry.

But I've always been able to rise above it and view the hypocrisy for what it is. And I do ask myself at times like these, "WWJD?"

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The origin of the blog url

My dad
 It dawned on me last night that my blog has a name in the url that probably makes people wonder. Suzy Sassafras is just one of many nicknames I have. My dad is really into nicknames for his kids (Lisa was Half Pint; Joe was Chucker). My emails to him always end with, "Love you. SS".

Not sure why (maybe because I was such a goofy kid) but I've ended up with quite a few. My personal favorite is Suzy Sassafras. Some of these names have stories, some do not. Here are the other names my dad has made up for me over the years:
  • Kunkanookles (Your guess is as good as mine.)
  • Knees Nolan (I always had a band aid on my knee because I was a klutz.)
  • Smash Kath (see Knees Nolan.)
  • Dirty Diver (I invented a dive where I slathered mud on my bathing suit then dove into the water and came out all clean.)
  • U Knock Ferry (My dad used to swim with me on his back and he'd say "Here comes the New York Ferry!" which I of course couldn't repeat correctly.)
My other nicknames come from friends who perpetually feel the need to either invent new names for me or shorten my name (Kath, Kat, KD, K). The one thing I've noticed is that everyone calls me "Kathy D" even when there are no other Kathys in the group (like at church). No one else gets a last letter, but for some reason I do. Other nicknames and their origin:

  • Snapper (From friend Patty. No clue where this came from. She also often adds "-doodle" to the end of it.)
  • Nolan (My maiden name that some high school friends call me.)
  • Killer (My friend Carol calls me this for some reason and it's pronounced in the MA style - Killah.)
  • Loser (Carol again. Also pronounced in the MA style. I do not take offense.)
  • Sally (Because of my love of the song Mustang Sally. I think I'd prefer to be called Mustang instead. Definitely cooler.)
  • Neolani (Friend Gretchen has been calling me this since 8th grade. This was a guest character on Star Trek and it sounded so much like Nolan that she adopted it as my nickname.)
Everytime someone calls me by a nickname, I think back to the joyfulness of its creation. Nicknames are, I think, signs of affection. Shortening names is a way to show that you are fond enough of that person that you want to call them something less formal.

That's probably why my dogs have always had a ton of nicknames. It's my little gift to them.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Food as legacy

One half of my kitchen area
I just spent the evening baking. One of my absolute favorite things to do. Tonight, in preparation for Thanksgiving, I baked my traditional apple muffins from a recipe I have in my 8th grade Home Ec class cookbook. That's where I learned to bake.

My mom is a good cook and my dad is a wiz at pie crusts, but I think I got my baking gene from my paternal grandmother. I've been told by quite a few people that I am the spittin' image of my Nana. A wonderful legacy that I tap into quite a bit. She had the same brown eyes, body shape, love for baking and quilting, and general wise-ass sense of humor that I seemed to have inherited.

My folks love(d) to entertain. I think I learned that from them. There's nothing more joyful to me than having a house full of people eating whatever I baked/cooked and drinking whatever is in the liquor cabinet. I love a party where I can hardly move in the kitchen.

I was reminded today that one of the big appeals I recognized when we bought this house was the huge kitchen. I have TONS of counter space. For someone who loves to "create" with food, I was instantly lured to the expansive counters and island. And the amazing cabinet space that could hold my beloved Kitchen Aid mixer, serving dishes, and china.

As I was starting my third "creation" for the night tonight, I thought about how happy I am that I have a niece due on my side of the family. There are wonderful Nolan recipes from my Nana that I fear would have ended with me. My sister has a son but boys tend not to carry on the traditions like girls do. I am so happy that I'll have a girl in the family to pass all the traditions down to.

So much of family history is entwined in the recipes we use. My Nana's turkey soup, stuffing, and pies. My mother's amazing pumpkin bread. My scones and squash souffle. This is how we honor our family tree and keep our treasured traditions alive.

I know that some day I will be gone but my recipes will live on. Maybe some day my niece will say, "And I got this recipe from my Aunt Kathy." In that one sentence I will come alive again and live through future generations.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Same old same old

There is a big to-do in the state of MA this week about corruption uncovered by an independent study of the state probation department. It uncovered systemic abuse and patronage at very high levels. I am actually more surprised at the surprise generated by the Ware report than anything else. This state runs on who-knows-who and always has. Let me tell you my little story.
About 25 years ago, I was trying to get out of a dead-end corporate job. I applied at the University of Lowell (MA) in some sort of research department. It was my alma mater and the job looked interesting.
They called me in for an interview and I talked with the supervisor and then the director of the department. The director looked me in the eye and told me that in order for me to get the job he had to get a phone call from a senator. He made no attempt to explain why. I just had to do it.
So, my dad laughed and then called his close friend who was pals with the Kennedys. George happened to have an upcoming gig with Ted. So when they were in the back of the limo together, George slipped Ted a note with the director's name and number and my name also. Ted said, "I'll take care of it."
I got a call from the director the next day. I assumed he was calling to offer me a job. Nope. He said that Ted had called him and that he was surprised I had that connection. Then, he said that this wasn't the senator he had in mind and gave me the name of some state senator.
Dad called back George who called Ted who called the state senator. The next day, lo and behold, I'm promoted out of my dead-end job (think they knew I was looking to get out?). Then I got a call from the ULowell director offering me the job. The pay was not as good as my new promotion so I declined.
I called George and thanked him for his efforts and then I started to think about what it would have been like to work in that state job where nothing got done unless you had political connections. Or that connections were tested - which I now believe was a bigger part of that story.
My story is one of many that takes place every single day in this state. I don't know what it's like in other states but I grew up with the understanding that you pull strings to get things done here.
I'm all about networking but this goes beyond that. I was more than qualified for that state job but still had to prove my worth. I often wondered who got that job and how many hoops they had to jump through first. Or if the hoop-jumping is what made them qualified.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Signs from the universe

A Celtic knot:
Symbol of interconnectedness
It's been a real roller-coaster week. We met with the oncologist last Thursday to find out the results of mom's CAT scan for her pancreatic cancer. The doctor told us that the chemo she was on (the #1 chemo agent for her type of cancer) was not slowing the cancer down. So we are trying the #2 drug and are hoping - again.

This sad news came with the happy news that my sister is expecting her second child in May after multiple failed attempts. This time it's a girl. The baby was conceived the week my mom was diagnosed.

My interest in the theories/philosophies of Carl Jung led me to the concept of synchronicity. Though largely a theory of parapsychology, I've always thought of it as a way to understand the interconnectedness of seemingly unconnected events. In other words, not all events can be written off to coincidence.

I belong to a discussion group of people who are slowly getting used to my belief that a higher power (I use the term "universe" while others may choose the word "God") is at work. That doesn't mean they believe it, but I think they've begun to understand that it's my sincere belief - mystical though it might be.

When Lisa announced that she was pregnant, my first thought was "It's a girl." Not a replacement for mom because she cannot be replaced, but a reminder nonetheless that the cycle of life continues.

I spend a fair amount of time at night when I cannot sleep thinking about these connections. Within grief there is joy; within death there is life. To me, a belief that all events are random slams the door on life's lessons. If we can't or won't open ourselves up to the possibility that there is a greater truth, I wonder if we can we ever obtain a deeper understanding.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Do what you can do

The mumsie

Helen Keller said, “I’m only one person and I can’t do everything. But I can do something. I will not let the fact that I can’t do everything prevent me from doing what I can.” At my town's Board of Selectman's meeting last month (fast forward to the 20-minute mark), I asked that they proclaim November Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month in Westford. It's a national movement driven by the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and is designed to raise awareness and funds for a cancer that is the 4th deadliest cancer yet only receives 2% of the National Cancer Institute's funding for research.

My mom is a fighter and has a great attitude. However, the odds are obviously stacked against her. In this week's local paper, I asked that my editor publish a short article on the BoS proclamation and noted a few of the facts about the cancer. In that article is a link to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network where you can donate toward reasearch funding and/or contact your reps and senators to encourage them to push for more funding.

I know that my mom has a huge battle ahead of her but I've always felt that you can't just wring your hands and watch when something unfair happens in life. That's just being a victim to me and not my style.

When Ron and I adopted Brit through Springer Spaniel Rescue, I started to volunteer there and continued on to major leadership roles in the organization. I couldn't save all of them, but I could save the ones I could.

I can't save my mom. But I'd like to feel somewhat empowered and fight in a way that I can for her. She's worth the effort and so are all the other cancer patients out there. Won't you help?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A foreboding

I just talked to my folks who said they had to make two attempts to vote today because there was absolutely no place to park. My mom said, "Well, a high voter turnout usually means Democrat." To which I responded, "Not in this political climate."

It was like this when Brown was elected. The people want change. I'm not sure they even know what they want, they just know what they don't want.

My prediction for the MA gubernatorial race has always been that Patrick doesn't really want to be governor any longer. He will fight hard enough to say he tried, but ultimately, he just wants to go to DC and work for Obama.

Given the high turnout when the race is so close, I'm inclined to believe that Patrick will get his wish.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Just vote

I try really really hard to not get too political on this blog. Mainly because I strive to understand both sides of an argument (as long as there's some intelligence behind it). And such is the case with a grassroots movement in MA - and probably elsewhere in the country - to change the voting laws to require the voter to show an ID before taking a ballot.

Now, on paper, that makes perfect sense. No one wants voter fraud. I'm sure it has happened in the past and we do need to find a way to ensure the validity of each vote.

I work as a precinct clerk in my town. I started out as a checker (the person who checks off your name and hands you a ballot) but moved up about a year ago. It's really a fascinating little job. The money is minuscule but no one who works the polls ever does it for the money.

The clerk and the warden in a precinct are the troubleshooters who handle the voters who somehow have fallen through the paperwork cracks but still feel they are eligible to vote in the precinct. So, we handle the detective work and get the proper paperwork filled out so that, if they truly are eligible, they can vote that day.

Our job is not just to ensure the voters' rights are upheld, but to also be the managers and champions of the checkers who face the front lines continually during the day.

Next week's gubernatorial election will be insanely busy as all big elections are. But even the not-so-big elections have their challenges too. Which brings me to my stance on the grassroots "Show ID" movement in MA.

At the primaries almost two months ago, a Show-IDer came to the checker's table. He immediately started with this bombastic, grandstanding rant telling the checker that he wanted his ID checked and why. This ranter happened also to be running for office (thankfully, he didn't get elected).

The checker who is in his late 70s and hard of hearing was very flustered. Before the warden could get over to the table, a voter behind this blowhard turned around and was starting to leave. He thought that he needed his ID to vote and didn't have it on him. The warden immediately diffused the situation telling the candidate that there is no law that dictates an ID be shown and then corralled the fleeing voter behind him and told him he was okay to vote.

So, what did that prove? And who really was influenced? No one. All it did was disrupt a polling place, confuse an eligible voter, and upset an elderly man who is just trying to be a good citizen.

Strangely enough, I was at a company reunion last weekend and bumped into an old coworker who was wearing a Show ID button. I pointed out that going to the polls and causing a scene to unempowered poll workers, was probably not going to help his cause. Nor will it change the law.

I told him that, if he wanted to effect change, he was wasting his time grandstanding at his local precinct. This movement will only work from the state level. I told him he needed to take up his case with Secretary of State, Bill Galvin, and let the poor poll workers do their jobs.

At a clerk/warden meeting yesterday to prepare for next week's election, we discussed this issue with the town clerk. She is going to contact Galvin's office and find out what we should say when this happens so that we convey a consistent message across all of Westford's polls.

Given that this will be a high-turnout election and the warden and I will be very busy helping voters, I am very concerned that voters like the man who thought he needed his ID will turn away before we or the checkers are able to tell them that they are okay to vote.

I hope the Show IDers will think about how their cause, even though it is a valid one, will disrupt the democratic process if not done correctly. After what I saw at the primaries, however, I don't hold out any hope that election day will not be used as a bully pulpit for this group. Let's hope I'm wrong.

Monday, October 11, 2010

All seasons under heaven

Me and Ron at our Vow Renewal service 10/4/2008

When Ron and I were married 22 years ago, we chose Ecclesiastes 3:1 as a reading. It wasn't a typical wedding reading yet it spoke to us. There is a time to be born, a time to die, a time to reap, and a time to sow. I also want this read at my memorial service when the day comes.

I've been thinking about this reading a lot lately. At first because of my mom's illness but now because of the change of seasons here in New England.

Today I started uprooting what's left of my summer annuals to make room for mums - autumn's flowers. I dusted off the fall decorations for the house and hung my decorative flag with its pumpkins and autumn leaves.

I love this time of year. Some look at it as the end of summer and the beginning of a long winter. But to me it's the beauty that is nature. The cycle of life. If I moved to California (never happening), I would miss this time of year. I'd also miss the spring.

Many times I've wondered if the reason California celebrities have such a hard time with the aging process is because they never see it in nature around them. What reminders are there in Hollywood's ecosystem that birth and death are all a part of life? And where's the joy in spring when you see signs of new life peeping through the melting snow?

Maybe that's why we New Englanders are as tough as we are. And also as accepting of the cycle of life that is in us and around us.

I love being able to snuggle on the sofa with a cup of tea at night, all curled up under my afghan. I guess I could do that in Hollywood too if I chose to blast the central air. I love to watch the snow pile up and listen to the nor'easter winds at night knowing that it won't last forever and that I'll be thinking about those moments in sweltering hot August.

When I look in the mirror these days, there are more wrinkles and more gray hairs. Lately I feel like the maple tree outside my window whose leaves are turning. But there is great beauty in those leaves. A beauty that comes from accepting the seasons and the circle of life.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Self reliance

It has been over a month since I've posted anything and I actually feel terrible about that. I've been doing some freelance work and also building up a sole-proprietorship business. It's called A Fine Line and the website is coming soon.

My mom told me once that as soon as I was old enough to talk I always responded to offers for help with the following proclamation: I'll do it myself! It's been a theme in my life, I guess. Until I gave in to the inevitable exhaustion of CFS, I wasn't a good delegator. Some of it was about trust, but most of it was about my own need to figure things out myself.

I think that working through frustration with a task is the best way to learn it. I often say that I write technical documents but never read them. It is rare for me to call tech support because I'd rather use my own analytical and problem-solving skills to reach a solution. And about 95% of the time, I do.

Now maybe some of that is my dad's personality in me. Joe always pushed himself (and still does) past the point of frustration. But he became a successful engineer and manager from that personality trait without ever getting a college degree.

We don't spend enough time digging into our complex minds and intuitive nature. Yes, we can't know everything and experts are there for a reason. But I never want to give into the need to ask for help before I've exhausted all of my brain power.

Maybe that's why my path to having my own freelance business was inevitable. I want to be in control of my own work, my own career, and my own time. But I also want to be able to figure it out for myself. I'm learning so much by taking this risky step, and it's not just about finances, and building websites and client relationships. I'm learning a lot about myself and my need for a challenge.

I've always bored easily in jobs. Once I master them, I start to lose interest. Every ten years, I reinvent my career. I started out in customer service when I graduated (1980). Did that for ten years, then I moved on to business systems analysis (1990). Did that for ten years, then on to technical writing and editing (2000). Now I'm starting my own business (2010). Every decade sees a new challenge and an opportunity for growth. Isn't that the way it's supposed to be?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

You just never know

I'm just home from a local farmer's market where I met up with my new friend. She sells home-baked pastries and original artwork from a table she has set up at the market. Ron came along too and met her for the first time.

Funny thing is, this is only the second time I've been in her company. The editor for the Westford Eagle asked me to do a column on Gail a month ago. Gail and I exchanged a couple of quick emails and I was to meet her at her home to do the interview while she baked for the farmer's market.

The day I was to interview her was the day after my mom went into the hospital in great pain. This is when the cancer journey started for us and I had to be at the hospital when the interview was to have taken place. I informed my editor and she found a replacement.

I emailed Gail and told her I was sorry that I had to bail on her but that someone would cover for me. From there, this email friendship grew quickly. She was supportive and kind. She was also funny and shared my love for Julia Child's chocolate mousse. She suggested we meet for tea.

Two weeks ago we did meet. Gail had sent me a picture of herself so I'd recognize her. She confessed that her son asked her what she was doing meeting a complete stranger for tea and how did she know this would "work"? Gail responded, "She's a people person. I can tell. It will be fine."

And so it was. We spent 2 1/2 hours (which seemed like about 5 minutes) chatting over tea and coffee at a local coffee house. It was like we'd been friends forever.

These moments have happened in my life fairly frequently and I am always amazed at how two complete strangers can connect in such a short amount of time. And sometimes the bonding happens over email or telephone.

It really makes me want to kiss the sun that shines on me. It's one of the things I love most about life. You just never know where your next friend is coming from. People who fill your heart with joy, and respect your thoughts are always just around the corner.

I think the key is to be open to it. To not be afraid to share some of your spirit with a stranger. To let your guard down a bit and feel comfortable enough in who you are that people will like you when you are yourself.

The gift of connecting with another human being whose random presence sparks your own happiness is proof to me that the world is always turning towards hope.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Right-hand people

Me, mom, and our Thanksgiving teamwork in 2006

I kept waiting for things to "settle down" before I wrote this post. But, another lesson in life: Every moment is an opportunity for change.

Mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a couple of weeks ago during surgery. She is now facing chemo with hopes that she can get one more year with us. We'll see how she does with chemo and then she can decide.

She's been her usual amazing self through all of this. Realistic but still positive. Enjoying each day she has like it's her last. But she's always lived that way.

Through all of this anxiety and worry and grief, I've discovered many things about myself. First and foremost, that I can be there for my folks when I need to be. It's not pretty and I need to rest when I can, but I can do it. Whew.

I am the oldest daughter in my family. I have an older brother, Joe, and a much younger sister, Lisa. When I was about 9 years old, I gave up going out on Halloween. I found it to be a bother. Trying to walk in the dark with a mask on and not trip on curbs was a hassle. Though I love(d) candy, it wasn't worth the aggravation. I wanted to be home - with my mother - handing out candy to the younger kids. So, my brother continued to do trick-or-treating, and I stayed home.

It was around this time that my sister was born. I had always prayed for a sister and, when she arrived, I devoted myself to her. I did it, not just for me, but for my mom. I was her helper. Taking Lisa for walks, helping with diapers (this was pre-Pampers), feeding her, and keeping her occupied.

Whenever my mom was going through a tough time, like when she lost her mother and then her father (after an 8-month nightmare in a Boston hospital), I stepped up. Barely a teenager myself, I would take over making meals for the family, clean the house, and take care of Lisa - without ever being asked.

The look of relief on my mother's face and the complete trust she had in me were my only and greatest rewards. Nothing's changed since then.

Joe and Lisa love mom as much as I do. They support, help, and care for her every day - even if they can't be there for doctor's appointments and hospital emergencies. We are a team and I'm proud of how we've come together to support our folks and each other.

This is a heartbreaking, stressful time in my life yet I feel some sense of relief that mom and I spent our time together building this relationship of mutual trust. She calls me her "right-hand man" and always has.

When I lie awake at night, thinking about how my life experiences have led me to this moment in time, I'm seeing how my 51-year relationship with my mom has prepared me. And I find myself wondering if the universe always had a master plan.

When the time comes for me to say goodbye to her, I will know that I have always done everything I could for her. There will be no regrets.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Hands and hearts

I just finished packing. I'm not going very far away but will be spending a ton of time in the OR family waiting room tomorrow morning as my mom undergoes surgery for cancer. It's been a crazy couple of weeks. Mom came home and has been feeling better since the stent was implanted. All that and more comes out tomorrow as the surgeons perform what they are calling a radical approach to the cancer.

Original biopsy results that were expected to confirm colon cancer came back inconclusive, we found out at the pre-op appointments on Monday. There is now a possibility that it could be pancreatic cancer that moved to the colon. So, that's incredibly scary.

Mom is her usual strong, positive self. The family is worried but we are all keeping our spirits up and hers too.

When I was packing my "busy bag" to bring to the hospital tomorrow I grabbed my current book and my journal.

But I had this nagging thought that the written word would not be enough to keep me calm and distracted. That's when I grabbed my quilting bag. I haven't quilted in a while. I've made several quilts (sewn and quilted all by hand) and had started one in February. I haven't done much on it since my writing seems to have taken over my spare time.

Most quilters I know think those of us who do all of the work by hand are insane or incredibly patient. Maybe we are a little bit of both. When anyone asks me why I do all this by hand (the full-sized quilt I made to the left took me 1 year and 9 months to complete, and then I gave it away!), I tell them that there is a certain peace that comes with doing handwork. It's becoming a lost art. With the exception of our cellphones and keyboards/mouse, we do very little with our hands these days.

I find that piecing and then quilting by hand to create a quilt is one of the most personal things I do. And also the most contemplative. When I have the needle and thread in one hand, and the fabric in the other, my blood pressure immediately drops. My mind loses all the crazy junk that runs around in it all day. And all I think about is "Put the needle in; pull the needle out." I call it Zen Quilting.

And that's just what the doctor (me) ordered for (me) tomorrow. Since I have no control over the outcome of the surgery or the full biopsy, I can at least feel that I have control over something. As I sew the pieces together tomorrow I will reflect on how lucky I am. Lucky that I have a mother that I love so much, lucky that I can be there for her and my dad, and lucky that I have hands to do the needlework. Hands that my mother and father gave me. I will use them well.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Shoulders, parents, and timing

Taking a few moments to update the blog with the latest. Normally I write more introspective pieces but this is mostly news.

About two hours after a PT appointment last week, I got a call from my dad that he was at the hospital with my mom. She was very sick and was being admitted. I raced over there and stayed very late into the night.

Long story short, she was diagnosed with colon cancer. The day after she was admitted, I picked up my dad and we spent another long day at the hospital while the docs confirmed the diagnosis and inserted a stent. She is home for a couple of weeks while her colon settles down and then will go back in for surgery to remove the cancer.

The surgeons have been wonderful. She is getting great care. They feel the cancer is contained and surgery will cure this.

At almost-80, this is a lot on her but my dad is of even greater concern. He is exhausted and stressed beyond belief. They've been married for 57 years and are very close.

One of my first thoughts as I was driving home that first night at 11:15pm, was that I was SO glad I didn't opt for surgery on my shoulder. If I had, I would not have been able to be there for them.

My sister lives up in Maine and can't be there in a flash like me. She is so great about making calls, and coming down to help. It's a huge relief for me. But I'm the go-to person for my folks and, although it's exhausting and stressful, I am honored that they trust me with their care.

The shoulder is getting stronger with the PT. I feel that, if I continue with four more sessions and my home exercises, I will be okay for a while. The CFS, well, that's never going to get better and I have to rest in between each crisis.

But as long as I am available to help them, it is actually easier on me. I can take an Advil for the shoulder if needed, but I can't give them a pill to help them when they need me.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Caretaker wear and tear

I went for my first appointment for physical therapy yesterday. I blew out my shoulder last October from a fall. I was attempting to help my ole pal Alex down the front steps as he was recovering from a seizure. He got down the steps just fine; I, however, slipped and fell, hearing an actual "rrrrrrrrip" when I landed on my left shoulder.

Xrays were negative but the pain was quite bad. Did some home therapy, ice, rest, you know the routine. It still bothers me so I went for an MRI a month ago and it revealed a labrum tear along with a misplaced bicep tendon. Great.

Surgery is likely but the surgeon was open to trying PT first to see if I could get some strength back and minimize the pain.

The therapist I've got is a woman who looks to be about my age. In great shape, of course. She asked many questions but one of them got us looking into each others eyes with a great sense of knowing.

When she asked what my goal was for PT, I answered "To avoid surgery for as long as I can. I have too many people and dogs who need me right now."

Without saying a word, she understood. I said, "You know. You're a woman." She smiled and nodded.

When the surgeon told me that surgery was the only way to repair the damage for good, my first thought was not of myself. It was of my elderly dogs. How will I get them in and out of the car for appointments if I can't use both arms? Then I thought of my parents.

I have chronic fatigue syndrome which is at its worst during times of physical and emotional stress. This means my recovery from surgery will likely be more involved and take longer. My folks are at the point in their lives where they sometimes have to rely on their "kids". What if they end up needing me and I can't be there for them?

It's all crazy, I know. Others would help where I couldn't. But most women I know would have the same reaction as me. It's our job (and our purpose in life) to be there for others. We're last in line on our own list of priorities.

I think back to my childhood in trying to understand why I subvert my own care for others. My mom, like most moms of that era, didn't work outside the home. Their jobs were to be mothers. They were the ones who raised the children (dads did what they could on nights and weekends), took care of the family pet, helped neighbors in need, and shuttled elderly relatives to and from doctors appointments. In a nutshell, they handled all the emotional and physical caretaking.

It is that example that still has power over my generation. I don't think it's a bad thing to "suck it up" when someone else has a greater need. I actually view that type of inner strength as a badge of honor. But it has its price. In the PT waiting room was one man - and six women. 

I wonder if those women answered the therapist's questions the same as me. And received a knowing look in return.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


I read this article in today's Boston Globe with much interest. It's been my theory that once people establish an opinion, no amount of facts could change it. Or so it seemed to me after spending some amount of time on local blogs having my IQ challenged when I dare interrupt someone's rant with facts.

From the book "A Nation of Victims: The Decay of the American Character", by Charles J. Sykes, comes one of my favorite quotes: "You can't reason someone out of something they didn't reason themselves into."

I use that line often when discussing/arguing things like politics and religion. (I know they're supposed to be taboo subjects but I hate boring conversations as much as I hate the Yankees.)

The article in the Globe makes the point that offering challenging facts to someone who has a pre-set opinion usually gets that person MORE entrenched in their opinion. You would think that it would be the opposite but here's where human nature comes into play.

People don't like to be wrong and they consider an inconsistency of opinion to be a character flaw. R.W. Emerson said: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." When I read that in college, it changed how I argued.

We all hold certain beliefs as a sort of personal truth - and don't confuse "truth" with "fact". One of my truths is that I believe that the death penalty is justified in some instances. I can't imagine anyone ever giving me enough information to change my opinion, and so it stays.  

However, I try to not hold those 'hobgoblins' in my mind and am at least aware of times when I do. Changing an opinion given more information and especially experience is a sign to me that the person is smart and strong. This is what always pains me during political campaigns. That a politician cannot change his mind - ever. Once (s)he says something on the stump, it has to be etched in stone for all time.

I fear that we are a country that is becoming too black and white. And that somehow, personal growth and introspection have become signs of weakness.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Blue moon dog

I love every dog that's come through my house. Foster or otherwise. But anyone who's had dogs knows there are one or two that somehow manage to be more amazing than the rest. And that's the case with my Springer Spaniel, Brittany.

We don't call her Brittany much anymore, in fact, we never really did. She-of-a-thousand-nicknames has always been way too silly to be called such a prissy name. Her names run the gamut from Snuggles to Psycho. Poopyhead to Wigglebottom.

We adopted Brit when she was 2 (or so the vet guessed) and had come into Springer Spaniel Rescue after being hit by a car. Her family didn't want her back and didn't care that she was a) in pain, and b) would likely be euthanized.

Luckily a local vet in CT where she was found did some major surgery pro-bono because she was so special. The ACO that brought her into the vet called Springer Spaniel Rescue who then called us (the recently approved adopters). We were so taken by her personality that her inability to walk after surgery did not scare us away.

Brit was our first dog together. Ron had cats when he was a kid, but never dogs. I had dogs but my mom was always the main caretaker. Adopting Brit - especially given her issues - was a huge leap of faith that has changed my life.

She was a lot of work when we got her. Traumatized both physically and emotionally, we struggled to get her well. She rebounded from her hip surgery quicker than she did from the terrible anxiety that overwhelmed her at times. Even today she doesn't do well with change and seems to still fear, 10 years later, that she will be ditched again.

At heart, she is a fun, silly, happy, affectionate, and intuitive dog. The only "trouble" we've had with her is her love for chasing (and sometimes even catching) little furry creatures outside. An invisible fence kept her contained but two years ago, her hip started to act up again. It was then we found that her knees were an issue also and surgery isn't an option.

Most of her days are spent inside now. A retired racehorse of sorts. We take her on walks when her joint issues aren't too bad. We control the pain with meds and she is on a regimen of holistic treatments to attempt to keep her comfortable and rebuild some strength in her hind quarters.

However, lately some of the positive effects from treatments are being lost and we are faced with the reality that her mobility and pain may result in a life-ending decision. We thought that since our unhealthy Springer Alex made it to 15, surely Brit would too.

It's been hard for me to come to terms with this reality. Brit is my best friend, my constant companion, and "my little girl". Lots of emotions are tied up with her and I'm dreading the day when a decision has to be made. I also wonder if I will be capable of making one since letting go of her will be the hardest thing I've ever done in my life.

Last night, when she was dawdling with her dinner, I thought it was due mostly to her not being able to stand for long to eat. So I indulged her by sitting with her and feeding her by hand until she was tempted to start eating on her own again.

As always, she was as interested in me as anything else in front of her. She'd take one bite of food for herself, then lick my face. Another bite, then lick my fingers holding the bowl. She seemed to figure out early on that I love her as much as she loves me. And that will never change between us.

I've decided that I will continue to let her know just how much she means to me until I have to let her go. Don't say dogs aren't tuned in to how you feel. They know you better than you know yourself because they're not fooled by the words that come out of your mouth.

They read your heart and judge you by your actions. At least my Brit does.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

One that didn't make it

I shopped this column around and no one was interested. It took me a while to write so I thought I'd share it here so ya'll can read it. Enjoy!

The movie Julie and Julia seems to be spawning a new generation of kitchen dwellers. I’ve always loved recipe wrestling. It all started in my 8th grade home economics class with Miss Wagner. We made a tomato rarebit once and some apple muffins. I still make the muffins today.

Once Miss Wagner got me interested in white sauces and the importance of filling the water glasses three-quarter’s full, I started watching and studying The French Chef. After all, there wasn’t any other way to learn my way around a gourmet kitchen. My mom is a great cook and entertainer, but she wasn’t exactly making souffl├ęs. And, after spending an hour a week in my home ec class, I had become a food snob. I would have none of her beef stew, or something I affectionately called “Irish spaghetti”.

To this day, I love to experiment with food and make things my husband, Ron, and I love to eat. But these experiments often drive the taste-free eaters who frequent our home to ask for something “normal” – food that is topped with things like French’s yellow mustard and a half-shaker of iodized table salt.

After seeing Julie and Julia, I cracked open “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” by Julia herself. Ron gave it to me as a gift before the movie even came out but I hadn’t done anything more than read it. Yes, you need to read it before you cook from it. Trust me. Not only does it read better than most novels, you also need to understand Julia’s reasons for following the directions to the letter.

Since I had a good four hours in my kitchen while I prepared a main course, side vegetable, and dessert, I really got the feel for Julia’s love of being in the kitchen. And I reflected on how she has helped women and men rediscover the delight of cooking from scratch. It’s sad but it took a movie to make butter the new margarine. Finally, food has a place in the kitchen again. And although we can’t discount all the other foodies that came after Julia, and the Michael Pollans who made us see that there’s nothing scary about real food, it did take a chick flick to get us to embrace kitchenhood.

What other movie has had that sort of effect on us? Sure, there are plenty of movies that have memorable kitchen scenes, but did any of them get us off our couches and inspire us to make, for example, Chicken Divan? I often wondered about that recipe. Does Chicken Divan translate to “chicken served on a couch”?

Stripes changed how I looked at spatulas and invented the term “Aunt Jemima treatment”. But, other than that, I struggled to remember kitchen movies or even kitchen scenes. 9 ½ weeks? The kitchen scene happened, in, y’know, a kitchen, but it wasn’t about food, per se. It did probably get some moviegoers to rediscover the wonders in their refrigerators, but they weren’t using the contents to do any cooking. Well, not any, y’know, real cooking.

The lobster scene from Julie and Julia was a ripoff from the lobster scene in Annie Hall, except Woody Allen and Diane Keaton made the art of boiling crustaceans alive a lot funnier. And that takes some talent. Looking back, I believe that may have contributed to my vegetarianism.

Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life: Not a food scene so much as an incentive to start that diet or at least take the first step by passing on the after dinner mints. Not so with the dinner-sharing scene from Lady and the Tramp. I always wanted to try that single-strand-o’-spaghetti thing with my husband. I’m just afraid it would turn into a 9 ½ Weeks kind of moment, and, at our age, watching 9 ½ innings of the Red Sox is exhausting enough.

Rocky’s pre-workout breakfast in his little kitchen did make me want to cook when I left the theater. Strangely enough, though, only eggs. That was the pre-cholesterol days and consuming raw eggs wasn’t looked at as unhealthy so much as just plain gross.

A Christmas Story’s kitchen scenes were mostly funny. I think the mashed potato thing was overdone – or maybe it just reminded me too much of the mashed potato mountain on Richard Dreyfus’s plate in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I do like the turkey-stealing dogs and the “Fa-ra-ra-ra-ra” food scenes in A Christmas Story, but not enough to make me a carnivore again. Maybe if some mai tais went with the Chinese meal, or a mashed potato mountain.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

I'm back, sort of

To my faithful followers (hopefully), it's been TWO weeks since I posted anything here. I know that. Had a lovely week's vacation to the MD/DC area for my cousin's wedding and things have been busy with work.

There are lots and lots of things running around my brain that I will share shortly. Hope everyone is enjoying the summer so far...

Friday, June 4, 2010

The write stuff

I created this blog to get/keep me writing something besides technical documents. I'm not doing much tech writing lately (though I am doing some technical editing) but I am doing a fair amount of creative writing.

If you don't see me post here, it's because I'm chasing down opportunities. Two months ago I started contributing to my local paper, The Westford Eagle, as a correspondent. The money isn't great but the experience is priceless. And, although I am still writing and pitching columns to bigger news outlets, this job has been more challenging.

All the creative writing I've done so far is in first person - like this blog. Writing as a journalist is a very different skill. You walk a fine line between injecting your own opinions into a story, and not making it personal enough for people to care about the subject.

With help from my editor, I've been learning the ropes. I prefer to write human interest stories because I feel that all news events have people at their roots. Think the BP oil spill is about oil? Nope. It's about people - people who created the problem, struggle to correct it, or are affected by it.

I'd love to do a Person of the Month spotlight for the Eagle and need to pitch that to my editor. I've met so many amazing people in town since I started my correspondent gig. Even though I'm interviewing someone for a particular story, I always feel that I'm just scratching the surface. There is so much unspoken because of the framework of my questions.

Joyce, if you're reading this, I'll be in touch...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A touchy subject

I read once that women experience the world through our sense of touch. When we're clothes shopping, we tend to touch the fabric before we look at the price. I've noticed that I walk through clothing stores with my hands touching everything as I wind through racks. When I see a little kid, my first impulse is to run my fingers through their hair (I try not to do that with complete strangers).

Today was my day to get all my annuals in their summer homes. I bought $175 worth of plants and sweated (is that a word?) my way through the trays until they were all done. There's a lot of time to think while you're planting but mostly I thought about how I love to work with my hands.

I never wear gardening gloves, though I have tried them. I like to be able to feel the dirt in my hands. Connecting to the earth isn't something we do much anymore and I revel in those moments. Plus I like to know when the soil "feels right" for the plant. I'm its caretaker for a few months, after all.

When I wanted to learn how to quilt (something I wanted to do for many years), I decided to make them all by hand -- hand-sewn and hand-quilted. Yeah, it's a long process, but I love the feeling of the fabric in my hands and the needle and thread between my fingers. It makes the final product just that more personal - especially when it's being given as a gift.

I'm not sure how chefs and food preparers can stand having to use sterile gloves. I've worn them when serving food at our church fundraisers and they are so uncomfortable. Plus, it disconnects you from the product. When I cook and bake, all my senses are used to get it right. I can't imagine not being able to feel a garlic clove as I chop it, or test the temperature by sticking the tip of my little finger in (there's still no better way to test temp than that, in my book).

I use my hands all day by typing on the keyboard but I don't really feel anything. Not the way nature intended me to. I'm very conscious of not replacing touch with electronics. Virtual hugs on Facebook are nice and all, but they'll never be as magical as the real thing.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

How long to sing this song

It was almost 25 years ago that U2 sang Bad at Live Aid but it still seems like yesterday. That's probably something everyone my age says - "seems like yesterday".

Live Aid was an amazing moment in musical and social history. It was to be my generation's Woodstock, only better. Better security and a better cause - money into the hands of the starving instead of money into the hands of concert promoters. All the acts played for free and there was a feeling of change and empowerment among  those of us who saw it on television, listened to it on radio, or experienced it live. I think I still have the t-shirt somewhere. Too sentimental to throw it out.

I probably still have my U2 concert t-shirt from months before that, too. My little sister, Lisa, and I went to see U2 at what was the Worcester Centrum in I believe the spring of 1985 (pre-Live Aid). I was 26 years old and working as a customer service clerk in a rather large company. I would meet my future husband a month after Live Aid.

Lisa and I were huge MTVers back then and became hooked on bands like U2 and the Police (to name a few). My sister was in her teens and I used to take her and her friend Sara to concerts when the parents allowed. Because I was working, I couldn't get to the ticket office (this was pre-internet days, remember) and stand in line the day tickets went on sale for the 1985 gig. So my mother went for us.

That's how cool my mother was and is. I can just see her standing in line with all the leather jackets and high-heeled boots wearing her white sneakers and windbreaker. She got great seats for us and Lisa and I were ready to rock.

U2's album "The Unforgettable Fire" was released in the fall of 1984 and the Worcester gig was about 6 months later. It was and is still one of my favorite albums. It was a break from the previous "War" album that produced some hard-hitting, banner-waving songs like "Sunday Bloody Sunday". Unforgettable Fire covered many more emotions and did so beautifully - both lyrically and instrumentally.

Lisa and I had seats at the stage-right corner and about halfway up the stands of what isn't a huge venue by today's standards. We were surrounded by teens and twenty-somethings like ourselves and we all seemed to know that we were going to experience a once-in-a-lifetime event.

When people asked me then and even now what that concert was like I say it was "a spiritual experience". I've never been to a concert like it since. Ron and I saw U2 in 2005 and, although it was an unbelievable show, we saw it from private box seats and never really felt part of the whole vibe. The seats were great and we were blessed to have a good friend offer them to us but it didn't compare to the 1984 experience.

If you watch the 1985 video I've embedded, ignore the fashion and the hair. Just focus on the performance. Bono doesn't perform so much as he welcomes the audience into a very personal space. There is no way you can stand in the middle of a U2 audience and not feel like you're high. And that has nothing to do with the waves of pot smoke floating around. This was uncommon back in the 1980s when there were a lot of "hair" bands and overly produced video bands (remember Flock of Seagulls?).

U2 was a breath of fresh air and seemed almost too good to be true. We know now that they really are who they say they are, but back then, they were ground-breaking.

The concert Lisa and I saw was amazing and I remember so much of it in great detail, but it was the ending that really stuck with me.

Bono and the boys ended the concert with the song "40". Bono leaves after he gets the crowd chanting the line "How long to sing this song?". Then each musician left one by one leaving the crowd still chanting. 40 is a song that is both sad and hopeful at the same time and I've always loved that dichotomy. Sort of reminds me of the Book of Psalms.

There was no applause at the end of the concert. The house lights came up and our section, along with others, filed out almost-silently singing "How long to sing this song?". None of us wanted the concert or the feeling to be over. We chanted until we were out of the arena.

There aren't many bands who can affect an audience like that. I'm glad that U2 decided to stay together and continue to produce such amazing music. It was music that we all needed to hear after the me-generation of the 70s when we thought we'd lost our sense of community and connection to a greater purpose.

25 years is a long time to remember the details of a concert especially when I had been to so many before and after that. I hope that current and future generations find the kind of uplifting and personal connection in music that Lisa and I did. And that U2 doesn't retire until I'm gone - or at least until I can get lost in the live experience with them again.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Music hath charms

I belong to a small singing group made up of fellow church members that sings (hopefully, well) at local nursing homes and assisted living facilities. We call ourselves the Voices of Light Chorale.

Everytime we perform, I get a lump in my throat. It's hard to stand in front of a room full of people for whom this event is a big deal. We sing songs they know so they can sing along. We sing songs of the spirit. Sad songs and foot-tapping songs. All of it appreciated.

On the way home from today's performance I found myself wondering about my future. I have no kids and a husband who is five years older than me. I always swear that I will "check out" before I get to a point where I need to be institutionalized. But, if I don't get that timing right, I may be part of that audience some day.

My thoughts changed from sadness and fear to downright laughter when I tried to picture what a chorale would sing in a nursing home for my peer group. Now, we sing a lot of old Broadway show tunes to mirror our audience's younger days.

If that trend continues, then 30 years from now, chorales will be performing some very different music in nursing homes. Personally, I don't want to hear Michael Bolton songs when I'm being held captive in a home. That's akin to torture to me. But can you picture a chorale belting out Nirvana and Pearl Jam songs? How do you harmonize to Cobain's screaming?

I'd give my right arm to hear a church chorale sing Prince's "Sexy M.F.", wouldn't you? Now that's a nursing home I could live in.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Less is more

I've never understood why products that have less of something end up costing more. For example, why is decaf coffee more expensive than caffeinated coffee? If there's less caffeine in it, shouldn't it cost less?

And diesel fuel. Supposedly, diesel is the closest thing to pure petroleum. Yet, it'll cost you more to fill your tank with diesel than regular gasoline with all its additives.

Ron watches his sugar intake and buys sugar-free products. They are all more expensive than products that contain sugar. How can not adding a main ingredient add to the price? It makes no sense.

Fat-free and gluten-free foods, and fragrance-free detergents are also more expensive.

If companies can charge more for doing less work, why can't I?

Monday, May 10, 2010

No regrets

I've got this philosophy about life -- I don't want any regrets. I know that's hard to do. We all make mistakes and we all miss opportunities. But I try.

My hero R.W. Emerson said "An opportunity missed is an opportunity lost." I don't completely agree with him. If you miss an opportunity and do nothing to rectify it then, yes, it's lost.

I don't know how much time is too much time to address a regret. It may depend on the incident. But I think that as soon as your conscience or gut tell you that someone may have been hurt by your actions, that's when it should be addressed. The longer you wait, the harder it is.

Some people can move on and put lost relationships in the past. I'm not one of those people. I want to hang onto everyone I've ever loved or shared my heart with.

My biggest fear in life is that I'll be sitting in the nursing home in my 80s and thinking back on my life. I'll be struck by things I either didn't say to someone who was important to me, or things I said or did that were hurtful. And then I'll be filled with sadness that I didn't change things when I had the chance.

I had a couple of friends who died young. Friends who I was very close to in my youth but had had a falling out with. One lost friendship was all my fault, the other was a mystery to me. Both of these friends died not knowing that I loved them. Why? Well, partly because I was stubborn, but mainly because I thought I had time. We were young, after all, and mortality was something generations away from us.

I'd picture myself bumping into them while out shopping or out at a local restaurant. We'd hug and laugh about our stupidity and everything would be back to normal.

That didn't happen and I live with that regret. So, now, when I feel a friendship is reaching a critical point, I go into communication mode.

Not everyone wants or knows how to communicate in the brutally honest, soul-baring way that is my style. To me, it's always better to speak what's difficult to say than to not say it at all. As long as the message comes from a place of love and healing, and not of anger and self righteousness, it's all good as far as I'm concerned.

So, when I'm faced with a moment when I could do what's "easy" and let a friendship die, I become that 80-something woman in the nursing home, thinking back on her life.

And then I make that phone call.