A humorous, optimistic blog about Food, Family, Friends and Faith

Archive for the ‘Friends’ Category

Divine support

“When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back.” – Paul Coehlo

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When I made the decision to spend time with Dad as he transitions from this life to the next, I was not prepared for the speed at which his illness would progress. News of his diagnosis came this past Tuesday, and I felt that getting there on April 13th would be soon enough. That gave me time to put my belongings in storage and get to Albuquerque. After talking to his parish priest on Thursday, who told me how weak Dad was, I moved up my departure to Sunday (Easter). This morning I got a text from the deacon who checks on him every day. Yesterday he was hospitalized because he was unable to get out of bed. Depending on who you talk to, he was either unconscious or sleeping when the deacon arrived. So he was brought to hospital next door where he refused medication of any kind.

Stubborn Irishman…

He is on IV fluids, and will not be released until Hospice care has been arranged and there is someone in the house with him all the time. He is frustrated that he is not home, and I am frustrated that I am not there yet.

This morning I went to the bank to let them know that I was relocating temporarily to New Mexico until Dad’s illness had concluded. Silly me forgot that one of the assistant managers is a former student and Facebook friend of mine. She came out and said everything would be taken care of and I just had to let her know when I got back. Then she hugged me and told me to take care. It was all I could do not to burst into tears right there in the bank. I choked out, “It’ll be alright, right?” and she responded quietly, “Yes.”

There has been such an outpouring of support for my sister and I over the past week. My heart is full of the love and compassion that have been directed toward us. I know that, as difficult as the coming weeks may be, I am not alone; there are hundreds of hands holding me up when I feel like falling. It is in those moments, when I am at my most raw and unprotected, I know that I am catching a rare glimpse of the divine in my friends and family. Each smile, each kind word, each hug, and each look of concern are windows to the Sacred and give me untold courage and strength.

Thank you. Just thank you.

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Love

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“As if you were on fire from within. The moon lives in the lining of your skin.” ― Pablo Neruda

I love you. Three small words that are misunderstood and misused. I say them frequently to friends and family, but I know they are received through a filter, so I wanted to clarify what those three words mean to me.

  • I love you means I accept you for the person you are, as you are, where you are. I expect nothing from you except authenticity.
  • I love you means that I respect your hopes, dreams, and ambition, and will help you achieve what you want to achieve.
  • I love you means that, while I may disagree with your political or religious views, I will go to the mat for your right to hold and express them.
  • I love you means your secrets are safe with me. All of them.
  • I love you means I hope you know I will always be a safe place to land.
  • I love you means I will stop what I am doing to listen to you, because this may be the last opportunity I have to do so.
  • I love you means when you ache, I ache. When you weep, I weep. When you laugh, I laugh.
  • I love you means I embrace your flawed soul and am humbled to witness your goodness, as it inspires me to be better.
  • I love you means I will be your strength when you are weak, your sight when you are blind, and your voice when yours has fled.
  • I love you means that I honor you for bringing joy to my life, for opening my eyes to Life’s mysteries, for showing me how to be fully alive.
  • I love… You!

Namaste. Happy New Year 2015.

 

Live an Extraordinary Life

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“We must overcome the notion that we must be regular… it robs you of the chance to be extraordinary and leads you to the mediocre.” –Uta Hagen

Merriam-Webster defines ‘extraordinary’ as “going beyond what is usual, regular or customary”. The usual life of going to work, raising the kids, counting the days to retirement when one can do what one really wants, strikes me as incredibly limiting. The regular lives we live as humans in western society are soul-stunting. We need to challenge ourselves on a daily basis to go outside the box, to live over the edge of what is comfortable and customary, in order to be fully alive.

I have always thought of ‘extraordinary’ in terms of large, grand gestures like traveling to India to taste the cuisines of all 29 Indian states (a dream of mine). However, my idea is remarkably limiting. During a solo 3-week road trip this summer, it became evident that the extraordinary can be found not only in the grand, but in the minutae of daily life, in the smallest of actions. Living an extraordinary life does not necessarily mean leaving home. While for me going far outside the box, traveling and experiencing the new, is essential to my well-being, it is not so for many people. My life pales in comparison to many, making me strive to be a better person. I would like you to meet a few people. I feel a great deal of love for these four people, not just because of who they are, but who they make me want to become. There are only so many mornings left for me to greet, and it is my full intention to live an extraordinary life in the next 30 or 40 years.

virginiaVirginia is one of my oldest and dearest friends. She and I were best buds in high school back in the 1970s, and I rented my first apartment from her mother in the basement of their house in New York in the mid 1980s. The love I feel for Virginia is deep and familial. Virginia is a cancer survivor. In November of last year, she was declared officially cancer free. It is not her survival that makes her remarkable, but, rather, her attitude toward her illness. In typical Brooklyn Italian style, she grabbed cancer by the horns, looked it full in the face, said, “not on MY watch,” and fought with everything she had to rid her body of it. In addition to the traditional allopathic treatments of surgery, chemo and radiation, she researched the effects of nutrition and exercise on cancer, and changed her life accordingly. She lived with joy and hope, not stopping to feel sorry for herself, not dwelling on “Why me?” She continued to play, to laugh, to learn, to raise a remarkable daughter. Through it all, she expected her good health to return, and so it did. Virginia is an extraordinary woman. It is an absolute privilege to have her in my life.

jenniferJennifer is one of my newest friends, although she feels like a very old soul. We met through an online diet and exercise group. To say that Jennifer is extraordinary would be the understatement of the year. Jennifer has many physical challenges. She has cerebral palsy. She has fibromyalgia. She also has some other as-yet-undiagnosed illness in her body – might be MS, might be advanced Lyme’s disease. Some days she can’t leave her house because she feels so awful, but she meets her life where it is and concentrates on growing her faith, raising her kids and being the best wife she can be. She is a certified BeachBody coach, encouraging others to reach for their very best selves and attain the highest level of fitness possible. Jennifer wakes up every morning and says, “How can I make today awesome? How can I use the strength I have today to make someone else’s life better?” I am humbled to know her.

rickMy cousin Rick loves bears. He really loves bears. The wonderful thing about Rick is that the bears love him, too. They come to his house in the Appalachians and share their lives with him. They bring their cubs to meet him; they fight and play and mate and carry on their lives in his presence. They come to him when they are injured and he sits with them until they are ready to go back to the woods. His home is their home. This summer I was privileged to meet Ninny and her two cubs. She walked right up the stairs to his deck, greeting him and licking his toes. She showed no concern for the safety of her cubs, and wanted to know who I was, smelling my hand and my iPad, which was a new item to her. Her curiosity was amazing, her spirit palpable, and I felt no fear at all. He walked with her to the woods, talking to her the whole way. He’s an extraordinary man; his family knows that, I know that, and the bears know that.

markIt’s hard to find words to describe my friend Mark. One of his closest friends recently called him, “the man, the legend”. It seems to me, in light of his ability to live outside the box, that might be an understatement. Mark and I have known each other since grade school, but after his family moved at the end of 8th grade, we fell out of touch (there being no Facebook or EMail back in the mid 1970s). I was thrilled to connect with him again last year and went to visit him as soon as I could. His life reads like an adventure story. 82nd airborne, Army Ranger, persona non grata in several countries, 20 year career as a police officer, currently paramedic/fire fighter. He has scuba dived for dead bodies, lost fingers, raced motorcycles, and rebuilt cars. He has an engineering degree and just started nursing school. He deals with enough violence, blood, guts and gore to make even the strongest person blanch. Mark is also one of the most compassionate and funny men I’ve ever met. He is very involved in cat rescues and feral cat management. His friendships are deep, and his sense of loyalty inviolable. He lives with honor and integrity. The words from Shakespeare’s St. Crispin’s Day speech (Henry V) might well have been written for him, “If it be a sin to covet honor, I am the most offending soul alive.” Truly a remarkable and extraordinary man, one that I am proud to know and love.

It seems to me, after writing these brief curriculum vitae, that they are pale. They don’t describe the flesh and blood reality of these four people. They don’t describe the palpable vitality of their spirits. I could write and rewrite this post over and over for a month and would still not capture the essence of what makes them so important to me. However, I carry them in my heart, drawing inspiration from their lives every day.

It is my fervent wish that everyone who reads this post will find people who inspire you to be better, to reach farther, to be more compassionate and loving. It is my hope that you find the people who make you want to live a truly extraordinary life.

Namaste.

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Another Year Bites the Dust

The year 2011 has been full of ups and downs. My sister got married to a great guy, connecting our family with a phenomenal family. That was most definitely an up. My mom died on December 17th, leaving a big void. That was most definitely a down. I left my weekend job in June (up), but the resulting loss of income has strained my finances to the breaking point (down). I’m looking forward with anticipation to 2012. Let’s see what the Universe has in store for us this time around!

In the interest of self-betterment, I have developed a list of goals for 2012. The word “resolution” grates on my nerves, as it suggests that there was something wrong with me to begin with. Since we all are constantly learning and changing, I don’t think it’s the word to use. So here is my list of goals for 2012.

1. Spend More Time with Family and Friends

This sort of speaks for itself. 2011 hammered home the fact that family and friends are of paramount importance to me. To that end, I would like to spend more face-to-face time with the important people in my life. Not Facebook time, not texting time, real time. I would like to visit with my sister at least once a month. I would like to visit my Dad twice this year. I would like to take my daughter out for dinner once a month. I would like to have a date with my husband every month. It could be as simple as curling up on the couch, watching a movie while munching on popcorn. But we have to do SOMETHING together.

I am also in the early stages of planning a road trip this summer to visit family and friends around the country. From elementary and high school friends scattered around the country, to my Dad in New Mexico and cousins in Oklahoma, North Carolina and Ohio, I want to see them all. It will be great fun to sit down and share a meal and lively conversation. There are a lot of really interesting people in my life and they add a vibrancy that I appreciate. Life is short. What am I waiting for?

2. Create a Reasonable Budget

Money is always an issue for me. Working as a teacher’s aide, I bring home about $100 a week after taxes. That’s not a whole lot of disposable income. My husband contributes to our household account once a month, but it always seems like the money is all gone a good week before the month ends. I am going to sit down today and figure out a way to economize on groceries, which is a HUGE chunk of our monthly expenses. I know it’s all in the planning, so I’ll create weekly menus. I used to do that. Then I got all cocky and started buying $3.99 half pints of fresh raspberries. I also need to remember the phone bills, the Netflix account (which I’ve already cancelled half of), birthday presents, etc. There’s a way to do this; I just have to write it all down and stick to it.

3. Get in Better Shape

On 11/11/11, I began a weight loss journey that has me feeling GREAT. I started doing a workout from Team BeachBody, and eating healthful meals. There’s also a nutritional shake that I am drinking, although I’ve had to cancel autodelivery of that, due to finances (see #2). I’ll use my shake supply until I run out. So far, I’ve lost 12 pounds and nearly 12 inches, which is GREAT!

The challenge is now to continue on the journey while staying within a reasonable budget. I have two workout DVDs, so I’m set on exercise. I also have a yoga workout series on VHS that I use. I can always strap on my beat up old sneakers and go for a walk or stack wood or rake leaves. Lots of opportunities to stay active, which was the missing component in my life. The food part – no problem. Plus, my good friend Jolie has motivated me to stay the course. Her perseverance and enthusiasm are inspiring.

#4. Stay Ahead of the Dust

Ugh. Cleaning. I hate it. Always have. There’s something so incredibly distasteful about cleaning. The end product is WONDERFUL. I love being able to see through the windows and walk around the house in my bare feet without stepping on grit that came from unknown locations. I’ve long maintained that gravity is stronger in our house than almost anywhere on the planet. Everything winds up on the floor. Dirt, dust, pencils, papers, rubber bands, plastic bags, clothing, plant matter all mysteriously leap to their doom in this house. I bet there’s some convergence of cosmic energy right below our foundation that causes this phenomenon.

Whatever the cause, I vow to stay abreast of cleaning. That means a schedule must be created. Mondays will be floor day, Tuesdays –  laundry, Wednesdays – bathrooms, etc. I think that’s really the only way to get it done, since maid service is not in the budget.

#5. Live an Adventurous Life

I love adventure. From traveling to new places, to learning new skills and trying new foods, I love it. This year I would like to dip my toes back into adventure. My road trip – perhaps solo – will be one. Rick has an art show in Florence, Italy in March. I might go with him. That’s another. I want to develop a new income stream. Many people have said I should cater parties. That’s a possibility – I was a food vendor at one event this past year and loved the experience. That would be another adventure. I would love to sit in on a session of Congress when I’m in Washington, DC. I would like to learn to scuba dive. I want to eat poutine and fois gras in Montreal. Teach myself to make tofu and corn my own beef. Go on a kayak trip in the Adirondacks. Climb a mountain – a real one. Go zip-lining somewhere. Start writing a book. Attend sacred ceremonies in religions I have only a nodding familiarity with (Buddhist, Muslim, Pagan, Hindu, etc.). There’s so much to do and learn and experience. It’s well past time to get moving.

So, those are my five big goals for 2012. There are other, smaller goals (like trying one new recipe a week, going through the bookshelves and weeding out all those books I “had” to have, etc.), but if next year ends and I’ve accomplished these five things, it will have been a smashing success.

I wish you all a wonderfully healthy and happy 2012. Blessings and light for the new year. So mote it be.

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Time is Irrelevant

Last night I had dinner with three friends from high school. Just this year, we’ve gotten back in touch with each other, thanks to the miracle of Facebook. Last night was the first time we’ve all been together in over 30 years, and it was a night filled with delicious food, reminiscence and discovery. The years since high school ended evaporated, making me realize that time is irrelevant and the bond we created back then has transcended the three decades since graduation.

Jeannie told us about her botched neck surgery that still causes her serious pain. She is an incredibly resilient woman. Renee shared stories about her family and her pride was SO evident. Her empathy for those who are in pain puts me to shame. Eileen has an amazing sense of humor and kept us laughing with her occasional caustic observations. What a keen observer of life she is! I contributed a few tales of naughtiness in my youth. ‘Nuff said.

I love these women. There is something so grounding about reconnecting with people from my past, realizing that, through struggle and joy, we all grew through our awkward, often painful adolescence into strong women of character. We’ve all had difficult times, and have grown wiser and more interesting for having had them. We have kept our sense of humor, and even though we view the world now through somewhat jaded eyes, we all want to continue to learn and grow. We share a sense of empathy for each other’s struggles. It’s a relief to know that I have “sistas” in this world.

We talked last night about getting together every month to shoot the breeze and enjoy a meal. I hope that happens – I know there’s a lot I can learn from these three beautiful women, and I think I have some value to share with them as well.

Thomas Jefferson said, “Friendship is precious, not only in the shade, but in the sunshine of life, and thanks to a benevolent arrangement the greater part of life is sunshine.”

Last night that sunshine lit my way home. Today I awoke and it was still there. How truly blessed I am.

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