One Deep Breath-Color

Long before my CD alarm had the opportunity to wake me with something lovely from Chopin or Debussy, the chirping of my cell phone sent me roaring from my warm nest of blankets and puppies. An unusual phone call in the wee hours of the morning always induces panic – especially when one’s only child is on the other side of the world. Happily though, this call was nothing more than a bleary eyed teenager in search of someone named Devin.

Nonetheless, there would be no more sleep for me. Wrapping my flannel robe securely against the dampness of the winter morning, I pushed the start button on the coffeemaker and pulled open the blinds to greet the day.

stark winter white
unrelieved by color
crimson sun breaks through

We are in the midst of winter now, my entire world like a set from a vintage movie. Oddly enough, even the book I’m reading (Paint it Black, by Janet Finch) has a black and white cover. But thanks to that early phone call, I was up in time to see the only spot of color in the sky, a momentary blush as the sun passed through the thick cloud cover on its journey heavenward.

Determined to add some brightness to the dreary landscape, I filled two bright red mugs with coffee, laid them on a tray dressed in a colorful napkin, and carried them to the bedroom.

statement in stoneware
cheerful and warm
brightens the morning

Sipping my fragrant (black!) coffee, I surveyed the closet with a critical eye. My wardrobe definitely reflects my occupation – a performing musician wears a lot of black and white. Today, I was determined to add some color to my body – a bright turquoise sweater should do the trick nicely. And yes, there are earrings, a watch, and even a tiny turquoise bag to match.

reflecting desire
color of sky adorns me
my landscape brightens

So, armed with these touches of color, I’m ready to face the monochrome of my environment, sprinkling a bit of bright excitement into the greyness of the day.

I hope your day has its own CoLorFul moments…

The Greatest Thief of All

“Hi, this is Dee from Homestead Health Care, and I’m calling about Chris…”

Much like the dreaded call from the principal at your child’s school, a call from the attendant care supervisor at my mother- in- laws assisted living facility strikes fear in our hearts. We’ve been getting several of these calls lately, and they’re never good news.

“Chris is not coming to meals on her own, so we need to institute a meal reminder service…”

“Chris has been sick for the past couple of days, and we think she needs to go to the ER…”

and yesterday’s call…

“Chris is becoming increasingly aggressive, and is hitting other residents, so you need to contact her physician and discuss sedatives…”

Oh my.

For the past six years, Alzheimer’s disease has been stealing my mother-in-laws mental capacity, and with it her ability to drive, handle her finances, and care for her personal needs.
Now, all the processes that govern behavior and speech appear to be deserting her as well, for she’s acting completely without inhibitions in her relationships with the other residents and aides. She hits them if she thinks they have more food on their plate than she does, she calls them vulgar names when they beat her at Bingo, and yells at them if they don’t include her in their conversation.

My mother-in-law has never been an easy person to deal with. A true pessimist, she was never satisfied with anything, and seemed to have no idea how to enjoy any of life’s pleasures, small or large. My husband’s favorite description of her attitude is that “it’s all about me.” Although I’m sure she felt affection and warmth for him, she never knew how to show it, in word or deed. Now, she doesn’t recognize him as her son, asking “Is that my brother?” or “Are you my husband?” My heart aches for him, watching him take on this responsibility for her welfare, knowing that there will never be an opportunity to improve the relationship between them, and sadly having very few good memories of his own.

I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the people I know who are struggling with this situation – parents, spouses, siblings, lost to this disease. And when I visit “Chestnut Village,” the very nice euphemism for the “locked ward” at the assisted living facility, I’m struck by the proliferation of places like this, warehousing for elderly people who have lost their senses and can no longer live in “normal” society. Day in and day out, they sit in the “family room” staring blankly as old movies play on the big screen TV, perhaps moving into the game room to play an occasional round of bingo. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad there are safe, caring alternatives for the multitudes of people suffering from this disease. My mother in law has a nice studio apartment, with her familiar furniture from home. She has three meals a day, someone to do her hair and nails every week, and laundry services. She just doesn’t have any mind.

So, where does all this end? Many thousands of dollars later, and after countless hours of care and attention, there is no stopping the steady progress of decline. Alzheimer’s continues to rob its victims of their dignity along with their memory and physcial function. To me, that’s the greatest loss of all – for everyone concerned.

Sunday Scribblings-Puzzles

My work life has been a bit of a merry-go-round lately and I’m rather puzzled about it. I’ve been juggling two part-time jobs for three years now, and it’s getting more and more difficult to keep the balls in the air. My first conundrum involves whether to give up the part time position as choral accompanist at the high school in favor of working more hours at my office job, where there is an opportunity to take on more reponsbility. However, this in itself brings up another quandry ~ because these new responsibilities would require more time working in the office, while a lot of my current job can be completed from home, giving me the flexibility to travel to Florida on a semi-regular basis.

As I ponder this current life puzzle, I realize that weighing the pro’s and con’s of one situation or another is a bit like looking at a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle scattered on a table. Each aspect of a situation is like a diffently shaped piece, each potential choice we make an opportunity to put the puzzle together correctly~or not.

I love working with the high school students, but the pay is abysmal. Unfortunately, this job totally disproves the theory that “if you do what you love, the money will follow.” Nope. Not this time. Of course there have been plenty of other rewards ~but, let’s face it, personal and creative satisfaction don’t pay the property tax on three houses. My office job is not terribly challenging, and it certainly doesn’t get the creative juices flowing. I enjoy the people I work with, and it’s a pleasant working environment most of the time. But the salary, while certainly not a fortune, is worlds better than my school job.

So, here I am, trying to fit these pieces into the puzzle that’s my life right now, feeling a bit as if I’m forcing a piece with a round edge into a square opening. I’m really wishing that someone will come by and discover that a perfectly fitting piece has actually been hiding in the corner all along!

Poetry Thursday-The Body Knows

The body knows
in love’s first flush
where to cling
how to trust
the fiery pull
of limb to limb
the eager search
of groping hands
tracing patterns of delight
along its length and breadth
is all the body knows
The heart knows
on love’s long road
how to cleve
where to hold
each moment burned
in memory deep
of struggles shared
and joys to keep
reminders as we travel on
join two lives into one
is all the heart can know
The spirit knows
in heaven’s bower
where to seek
how to power
lovers lost to earth’s embrace
toward soul’s eternal wedded place
journey in this world unknown
seeking union deeply sewn
completing life’s eternal spire
joined body, heart, spirit, one
is all that love can know

Write On Wednesday-Rewards

About 25 years ago, when I was a young mother at home with a toddler, I felt the urge to sharpen my pencils and start writing -essays about parenthood, articles about childcare, stories and poems for children, writing that emerged from the core of my life at that time. Inevitably, I found myself entertaining the idea of publishing, and I started devouring magazines like Writer’s Digest, and studying Writer’s Market. I stocked up on manila enevelopes and stamps, bought good quality typing paper (this was back in the olden days before computers, remember?) and created little charts to track the progress of my submissions. I actually published quite a few little pieces, here and there, and I proudly filed my complimentary copies in a special file box, where they’re growing yellowed and moldy somewhere in the bowels of my basement.

I don’t remember why I stopped, but stop I did. Perhaps I became exhausted with the whole merry-go-round of trying to tailor your pieces to fit the market. My son grew older and was no longer interested in being the guinea pig audience for my efforts. Parenthood and childcare became less the center of my life, and I began branching out into other creative efforts that didn’t lend themselves to writing.

Last year the urge to write came back to me, a small, insistent voice whispering in my ear, nudging me toward the page, putting words into my head that were begging to be used somewhere, words like redolent, serendiptious, undulating, mesmerizing. The world started to appear differently, as if someone had drawn bold accenting lines around it, calling attention to even the most homely of objects and events. There were things I felt the need to say about my perception of life and my place in the world.

So I started writing here, and in morning pages, and it’s been an amazing process of discovery. “Writing, the creative effort, the use of the imagination, should come first – at least for some part of every day of your life,” writes Brenda Ueland in If You Want to Write. “It is a wonderful blessing if you will use it. You will become happier, more enlightened, alive, impassioned, light-hearted and generous to everybody else.” I have reaped all these benefits, and more, as I’ve become highly attuned to the ever changing beauty of nature, finely observant of the precious uniqueness of the people I know and those I simply observe, surprised and delighted at my own inner life and the ability to expand my creative horizons at this stage in my journey.

But this time, I’ve felt no impulse toward “publishing,” at least not in the conventional sense. Maybe this little corner of cyberspace is enough, a place to lay my small offerings about life in general for the gentle perusal of anyone who cares to accept them. The reward is in the process, in searching my heart for feelings I need to share, in probing my mind for the oh-so-perfect way to express them, in offering this truth within me as a gift to myself and to you.

So, how about you? How does writing reward you?

One Deep Breath-Spices

Our daughter in law is from Thailand, a country well known for the spiciness of its cuisine. When the four of us dine at a Thai restaurant here in the states, Jim and I always order our food “mildly” spiced. Brian has “graduated” to “medium,” but the server usually takes one look at Nantana and asks, “Very hot?” She simply nods her head in reply.

craves spice
hotter is better
pungent reminder of her home
my palate is mild mannered
cool flavors are best
at heart
Brian and Nantana are in Thailand now, where they celebrated Chinese New Year with some authentic Thai cuisine. Read more about their activities here.


“Reading is an escape, an education, a delving into the brain of another human being on such an intimate level that every nuance of thought, every snapping of synapse, every slippery desire of the author is laid open before you like~well, a book.” ~Cynthia Heimel

It’s been a good book year so far. I’ve been “delving into the brains” of some very fine authors, and their words have been like~well, Natural Opium, if I may borrow the title of my most current selection, a book of travel essays by Diane Johnson that reads more like a witty memoir or eclectic collection of short stories than a travelogue.

My literary travels have taken me to the court of Henry VIII via Phillipa Gregory’s The Constant Princess. Gregory’s portrait of the young Catherine of Aragon, Henry’s first wife, and her fiery determination to be the Queen of England, puts a new spin on this often told tale. “I shall not give myself to heartbreak,” Catherine writes after the death of her beloved first husband, Henry’s brother Arthur. “I shall give myself to England. I shall keep my promise. I shall be constant to my husband and to my destiny. I shall plot, and plan, and consider how I shall conquer this misfortune and be what I was born to be. How I shall be the pretender who becomse the Queen.” Lush with drama, atmosphere, intrique, and sensuality worthy of the finest of romance writers, this entry in Gregory’s series of historical novels was both informative and enchanting.
From the courts of medieval England, I was carried to the far east where Lisa See immersed me in a fascinating novel set in 19th century China. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, is a story two small girls who are committed to each other as laotang, or lifelong friends, and their struggle to survive in 19th century China. They communicate in nu shu, a secret “women’s writing” developed by Chinese women to convey their deepest thoughts and feelings. See’s writing is absolutely luminous, and her depiction of a woman’s place in Chinese society is heartbreaking. “We women are expected to love our children as soon as they leave our bodies,” writes Lily, the narrator of the tale. “We may love our daughters with all our hearts, but we must train them through pain. We love our sons most of all, but we can never be part of their world, the outer realm of men. So we love our families, but we understand that this love will end in the sadness of departure. All types of love come out of duty, respect, and gratitude. Most of them, as the women in my county know, are sources of sadness, rupture, and brutality.”
After these travels through history, Patry Francis’ first novel, The Liar’s Diary, catapulted me right back to the 21st century. Liar’s abound in this chilling suspense novel, and their web of deception results in devastation and death. Jeanne Cross, a school secretary married to a hotshot doctor, has spent her life portraying the part of the perfect wife and mother, ignoring the way her husband’s behavior is destryoing the life of their 16 year old son, Jamie. Enter 46 year old Ali Mather, a free sprited, seductive musician, whose own secret past allows her valuable insight into the evil that lurks in Jeanne’s family. Her struggle to help Jeanne and Jamie face the hard truth about their lives results in chilling psychological suspense and violent death. Francis’ characters had me hooked from page one, and I eagerly followed this thrilling roller coaster ride to it’s surprising and satisfying conclusion.
I’ve also been working my way through Reading Like A Writer, Francine Prose’s “Guide for People Who Love Books and For Those Who Want to Write Them.” Prose offers the idea that one should “learn to write by writing, and by example, by reading.” Her book is a look into the method she uses for carefully studying great writing, for “putting every word on trial for its life,” for absorbing, “almost by osmosis” what works and what doesn’t in the realm of literature.

Yes, it’s been a very good book year so far. And more to come…two of my favorite authors have new releases this month. Jodi Picoult, and Chris Bohjalian. Good thing my birthday’s coming up…

Outside the Comfort Zone

I’ve been thinking a lot about a lovely comment I received from my friend Star just the other day. Her comment was in reference to this post, and my son and daughter-in-law’s trip to Thailand to spend six weeks visiting my daughter-in-law’s family. Star wrote that she wished me “peace of mind while they were out my comfort zone.” So comfort zones have been on my mind today, as I drove them to the airport, watching them set off on their journey.

When I first became a parent, almost 27 years ago, I had a very tiny comfort zone when it came to Brian. For many years he was rarely out of my sight. His only caregivers, other than Jim and I, were my parents. When he started school, I drove him there and picked him up every day. Occasionally, he slept over at a friend’s house, and once or twice as a teenager he actually went away for the weekend with a couple of his buddies. He seemed quite content to remain within this circumspect sphere -until the day he met Nantana. Suddenly, he decided to break out of “the zone” in a big way, traveling on his own to meet her in Australia, becoming engaged at 19, then traveling to Thailand to meet her parents. Huge risks for a very shy and relatively sheltered young man. But he was determined, and brave, and it all worked out wonderfully well.

As you might imagine, all this activity outside the comfort zone was more than a little disconcerting for me. I was raised within a very restricted comfort zone. My parents, as much as I love them, had an extremely limited tolerance for any activity that might be unusual, possibly uncomfortable, or, god forbid, carry any aspect of danger. My marriage at the age of
20 was the first step outside the safe little box I had spent my life in so far. Even then, I married a young man I had known since the age of 13, and we moved into a house less than a mile away from my parents. Not much of a leap into danger, was it?

The narrowness of my comfort zone had a lot to do with my need to control life. I admit it, I’m a control freak of the highest order. Deep down I truly believe that nothing will be done correctly if I’m not the one doing it…that goes for child rearing, music making, cooking, cleaning, you name it. And of course, the perfectionism that accompanies the need to control means that I have to do everything or nothing will be perfect, and that is unacceptable.

My friend Pat first encouraged me to step outside the safe perimeters I built around my life. As I began following in her wake, traveling, performing, watching the way our students were following their dreams, I became more and more comfortable with taking those small risks that make life so exciting. I began traveling more, auditioned for musical groups, went out looking for a “real job” in the business world, and about a year ago started writing again. I learned that the process is sometimes more important (and enjoyable) than a perfect outcome.

My emotional comfort zones have changed as well during the past years. I am much less fearful of life in general, much less apt to become paralyzed with anxiety, much more likely to speak my mind if I disagree with someone. Because of the positive experiences I’ve had outside my comfort zone, confidence in my own abilites has increased, as has my satisfaction with myself as a person.

While my comfort zones are certainly wider than they were 15 years ago, they remain relatively circumspect. I would probably never sky dive, or bungee jump, or go on safari in Africa. I would, if given the opportunity, go ballroom dancing, spend a season in Paris, or take a race car driving course. However, I’ve learned to enjoy stepping outside of the areas in life that I know are safe for me, places where I know I can easily succeed, and foray into activities and attachments where I’m not so sure the outcome will be perfect.

I did wake up occasionally last night, thinking about my son and daughter-in-law flying somewhere over the China Sea on their 17 hour journey from Las Angeles to Bangkok. But rather than the fear and anxiety I might once have felt, my emotions were more reflective of this saying:

The teacher said to the students, “Come to the edge.”
They replied, “We might fall.”
The teacher said again, “Come to the edge.”
And they responded, “It’s too high.”
“Come to the edge” the teacher demanded.
And they came, and the teacher pushed them, and they flew.
~Apollinaire Guillaume~