ANGELS AMONG US

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ANGELS AMONG US

I had a welcome guest last night.  He hadn’t visited in awhile, even though he knows my door is always open for him, and I would so love to see him more often.  I can’t predict when he will show up, but it always seems to be at the perfect time.

Be careful what you wish for.  I think I have given this admonition a few times before.

I had a dream about my dad last night.  He stopped by our house for a casual visit, as if he had never been gone.  All my dreams about Mom and Dad—and there aren’t many—are always in the context of a normal gathering, interaction or visit.  They are still on earth in my dreams, never having left.

In this dream, my dad stopped by our house just as I discovered a water leak.  It appeared to be coming from the top floor, draining two floors below to the basement.  I immediately brought it to my husband’s attention, my Mark of all trades and master of all—especially plumbing, and he was more concerned that we get going to wherever we were going at the moment.  “We’ll take care of it when we get back,” he said.

Now, if you know my husband, you know this is preposterous, he would have been on it in a cloud of dust; no hesitation.  The plumber from my hometown even showed up in my dream, and took a look at it.  He couldn’t figure it out.  My husband did take the time to check it out, but couldn’t find the leak, either.

My dad–my brilliant father, took one look and found a faulty plug on a nonexistent toilet in a nonexistent bathroom in our home.

Problem solved.

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Any essence of creativity for today’s blog didn’t show up yesterday, as I was trying to get it going.  I had several started, and several waiting in the wings, but nothing came together.  I thought perhaps I may have to crap out for this week, and try again next week.  I am at the mercy of this fickle force; if it doesn’t show up, there is nothing I can do to find the words.

At the end of the day yesterday, I prayed for some spark of inspiration, some guidance; some ideas.  I woke up with ideas swimming this morning, courtesy, I’m sure, of my dad’s visit.

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I put the Thanksgiving/autumn decorations away yesterday.  I felt a bit blue, as Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  My husband suggested we get started on the Christmas decorations, and this made me even more blue.  I wanted to enjoy the space between the holidays with a bit of nothingness; I wanted to savor the lingering Thanksgiving tidings before hauling out the Christmas ones.

I feel strongly about the meaning of Christmas, but I don’t feel so good about how our society commercializes it.  I struggle with this every year.  I languish in the element of gratitude Thanksgiving brings; enhancing the practice of giving thanks can only be a positive formula for the striving toward peace on earth that Christmas should bring.

I decided to change one thing to try to keep the spirit of Thanksgiving more alive all year.

Several weeks ago, I found a Thanksgiving angel created by Jim Shore, one of my favorite artists.  He has become a favorite because Dad used to buy his pieces for Mom, having discovered them at their local drug store/gift shop.  He had bought her several pieces which we divided among us, and I have added to them with my own.  Mom loved angels.  We decided to engrave one on her side of their tombstone.

When I found this “Joy In The Harvest” angel, I knew she needed to come home with me.  So she did.

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When I put her away yesterday with the other Thanksgiving decorations, it brought me down.  When I woke up this morning, the first thought I remember was this:  Get the angel back out and leave her up all year.  Put her by your parent’s picture.  Perhaps that was the parting message Dad left me in the dream, right after he diagnosed the water leak.  Perhaps he wanted this special piece from the special artist displayed.

So, I did.  But this presented a new problem.

I have a small, family-heirloom table that serves as an altar; a shrine for my parents.  It is crowded already, as there are pictures, multiple other angels and small keepsakes to remind me of, and honor, Mom and Dad. Mom’s favorite saint–Saint Francis, as well as his prayer, is honored there, too.

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Give away one thing of great value,” was the advice given on a favorite daily calendar.

As these words from several months ago rang in my head, I knew what I must do.  I must part with one angel to make room for this one.  “One in, one out,” is the rule I try to live by when adding new possessions.  This is hard, and just this morning over coffee, my husband reminded me that I don’t necessarily need to one in just because I one out.  We will table this discussion for another day.

Today, however, is a special day.  December 2nd is my neighbor Diana’s birthday, and she, too, loves angels.  She speaks the language of angels, understands loss and forges on, having lost a son 21 years ago, the same way I lost my parents.

This beautiful angel, a gift from a family friend, was given within a floral arrangement at my parents’ funeral.  Her beauty must be shared, so I am passing her on to my angel of a neighbor, Diana, in honor of her angel in Heaven, Mark.

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This gratitude thing can be hard.  Some days, I don’t feel very grateful.  If I didn’t sleep well, which is a hit-or-miss affair at age 52, and especially if certain joints have decided to act up again, then I lose my focus.  I find myself angry because sleep escaped me, which makes everything gray and more uncomfortable.

I take some quiet time each morning to write, especially by hand, in a journal.  One practice that I keep is this:  write down three things I am grateful for, three things I haven’t written before, as well as all the big ones I write every day.   Most days, before I do this, I wonder what on earth I will come up with.  I think I can’t possibly think of three new things again, yesterday and the day before were hard enough.

Yet, I do.  I have become skilled at taking a glass that is half-empty, and calling it half-full.  It’s all in how you look at it.

And the how you look at it is the key.

It is your choice to see the glass as half-empty or half-full.  No one gets to dictate those thoughts inside your head.  It is always your choice, and I am here to testify that I have tried it both ways, and half-full always feels better.

When I get really desperate, when I feel there is no way I can possibly find even one more thing to be thankful for that I haven’t yet written down, I get quite creative with my gratitude.  Among the things I have written down on these lowest of low days include:

*electricity:  there was a planned power outage from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. 

*French press coffee during this power outage, courtesy of my husband heating the water on the gas burner on his grill in order to press the coffee, our morning life-giving drink.

*flannel sheets

*six 25-cent CDs at a garage sale from several of my favorite artists

*no sign of bedbugs after being exposed to them (again) on a home health visit

*a beautiful, intricate spiderweb on the porch

While it has taken me a long time—years—to sense gratitude for the following, I can say, with peace,  I have arrived at a place where I am thankful for these gifts:

*my parents didn’t have to leave each other behind when they died

*they didn’t have to suffer for one moment, like so many of my patients do

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Angels are among us, within us and all around us.  If you don’t sense this, turn some thoughts around.  Look around.  I hope you find them close, within your own home, even.  If you are lucky like me, you will have one or more as your sister/sisters.

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Perhaps you may even have one next door, like I do.

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Happy Birthday Diana

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May every day be Thanksgiving Day for you.  May you take the spirit of gratitude into the Christmas season with you to find the peace that is within, so that you may do what you can to create peace on earth, just like Mom and Saint Francis asked us all to do.

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BECAUSE WE CAN

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BECAUSE WE CAN

Ask, and you shall receive.”

“Knock, and it shall be opened.”

I was lounging about this Sunday morning, drinking coffee, reading the paper and trying to drag my tired body and creaky knees out the door for my daily run. I was weighted down with what am I going to write about for tonight?

I had several ideas going, several started on my computer, but none that were coming together. So I asked for help.

I sent up a little prayer, a request for ideas and energy to make them work. I asked for the switch to be flipped.

Be careful what you wish for.

I laced up and got out the door. I put the ear buds in, turned on my iPod, and before I was even down the driveway, there it was. Like so many other times when my body is moving, my mind flows, too.

The answer to my prayer came through the words and melody of the brilliant, beautiful and musically gifted Jon Bon Jovi. “Because We Can.”

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Now, before I go on extolling the virtues of the Sister Lode sisterhood, I want to tell you about another group of sisters who make us look like amateurs. Gail and Suzanne know them, but I do not. I do, however plan to get to know them.

There are twice as many of them as us—six, and they are more geographically scattered than we are. And, they travel. All of them. To far and away places, further than we normally do. That’s six women who manage to make it work logistically, financially and harmoniously. There are only three of us who do that. I understand there is one brother, and whether or not he wants to come along, he doesn’t get to. I’m sure they include him in other ways. We plan to reach out to at least one of them with this post, and hopefully you will hear more about them in the future.

For now, you are stuck with Gail, Suzanne and me.

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We are often asked: “How do you do that?” in reference to our travels. They are usually stymied as to the aspects I mentioned above: logistics, finances and harmony.

Well, the answer is fairly simple: We want to, so we make it work. In essence, BECAUSE WE CAN.

I can hear the voices resonating inside many of my reader’s heads about now:

I couldn’t do that with my sisters.”

“I can’t get time off work.”

I don’t have the time or the money to _________(whatever it is you want to do).”
And guess what—you’re right: if you say you couldn’t/can’t/don’t, then you can’t. So start by changing what you think is possible.

Because you can.

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A profound statement from the walls of Camp Gail.

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Deep inside, we all have a more real version of ourselves clamoring to get out. We typically keep them locked up, because if we did let them free, lots of things would have to change. Things that, in the end would be better for us. But change is hard, because that involves work. And, as humans, we strive for the path of least resistance. If we have always done something one way, it’s easier to keep on doing it that way. We know how. It’s like the cattle trails you see worn deep in a pasture. That’s the path they have always walked on, so it is easy and familiar. For a cow to step out of that path and make their own would be difficult, even if it meant getting out to greener pastures.  Gail reminded me that we spent hours as kids traversing those trails, always walking within them, never stepping out to the greener pastures.  Now, as adults, we know that the best journey sometimes lies outside of those trails.

We all have those cattle trails worn deep in our brains. Worn by repetition and chosen every time for familiarity and ease of travel. But there are greener pastures in our heads too, just waiting to be explored.

Just as Jon Bon Jovi has enlightened us with his words and music, several other notable musicians have gifted us with profound lyrics, including several variations on the theme of life being a dance.

Indeed, it is.

Most dances, however, involve a partner. Every relationship we have involves at least one other person. When we step out of our cattle trail and try new things, change our patterns—change our dance, in effect, this requires change on the part of our dance partners.

And, on the Dance Floor of Life, no one wants to be humiliated by surprise dance moves by their partner.

So, be warned: when you decide that you are going to do something you have always wanted to do Because You Can, your dance partner(s) will be left wondering what their new dance step is, and they probably aren’t going to like it. And it will, in their minds, be your most grievous fault. Keep in mind, however, as I recite these lyrics for the fourth time now: “There ain’t no good guy, there ain’t no bad guy, there’s only you and me and we just disagree.”

Now, back to that person we all keep locked up inside, clamoring to get out: whatever or whoever holds the key that originally locked them up—it could be family, parents, current or former partner, friends, social circles, politics or religion–needs to be reckoned with. Because guess what: they’re no longer the boss of you. They are, of course, if you let them. But you can now silence the voice of the oppressor, you can steal the whip and chair away from the lion tamer; take possession of the key. Because you can. Trust me on this one. You start by realizing you have more power than you think you might, and go from there. Realize that the person(s) in your life whose dance moves are most likely to change with your changes, are those who may be the current oppressors. Keep in mind, too, that our greatest enemy is often our self-limiting thoughts, especially “I don’t think I can do it…”

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I found this at a garage sale yesterday. After writing this post, it now symbolizes the key I have to make my dreams come true.

Each of us do, however, have legitimate reasons for staying on our own cattle trails that keep us from realizing our dreams. Family obligations are the most important roles for many, as they should be. Financial limitations are common, but changing the way we think costs exactly nothing. Some struggle with chronic pain or limiting physical and mental illness. Recognize that which you can’t change, but also acknowledge even the smallest things that you can.

Ask for help. Pray for strength and grace. Ask for the door to be opened. And do your part. Ask what you need to do to make it happen, then show up for the work. Always, always ask for the switch to be flipped on. Ask for the energy and guidance to make it happen. It’s out there, just waiting to be accessed. Just be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it. (Happy Birthday, Suzanne: Be Careful What You Wish For, August 13th.)

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Back to the inspiration from the beginning of the post: because three is such a good number, here’s a trifecta I want to share with you: (This one’s for you, Robyn!)

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I spent one year in The City of Brotherly Love, so I like to keep up via the magazine. And, because Catholic nuns of today are typically movers and shakers who get the job done on their own terms, I loved this story. My admiration of the cover boy needs no further explanation. He started a homeless shelter in Philadelphia with Sister Mary Scullion, because they knew they needed to, so they did. Perhaps Philadelphia should also be know as The City of Sisterly Love.

I wish my aspirations were as grand and good as theirs, but, alas, they are not. They are, however, mine, and I am honoring them by remembering that if I start by thinking about things a little differently, and beginning to act by stepping out of my own cattle trail into the greener pastures that are indeed out there in my own mind, I am getting closer.

In order to ensure that my dreams are good for others as well as me, I keep yet another of Mom’s sayings in mind: “If it feels good, and doesn’t break the Ten Commandments, DO IT!”

I am only one-third of the Sister Lode trifecta, so Gail and Suzanne’s words need to be heard as well. Our adventures, our excursions and anything we do together involves their perspective as well, so I went to them to ask for just that: advice to you on how to make the Because We Can idea work for you:

In keeping with Gail’s task-oriented spirit, she offers these:

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Suzanne: “I saw this on Facebook, and it’s never left me.”

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Simple, yet so profound.

I must offer more advice from another group of wise women. In my work, I have the opportunity to get to know many women as patients and family members who appear to defy age, who are living life larger than most their age. If it is appropriate, I ask them how I can be more like them when I grow up. “What is your secret?” I want to know.

Their responses generally include one or both of these themes:

I found what I enjoyed doing and I did it.”

I kept my body moving.”

I do my best to follow these sage words of advice from women who know.

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Because I can, I am taking a summer hiatus from posting. I will return on August 12th, refreshed and renewed.

Eighteen years ago tonight, I was preparing to give birth. Tomorrow, we will celebrate this monumental day with our lastborn.

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Happy Birthday Joel. I wish you all you dream for in life. Go out there and get it, because you can.

 

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I woke up from my Sunday afternoon nap and wrapped up this post.  I turned on my Amazon music, and decided to play Jon Bon Jovi.  I tapped his icon, and the first song in the queue, of course, was Because We Can.

 

DAYJOBS AND DAYDREAMS

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DAYJOBS AND DAYDREAMS

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If you love your work, you will never work a day in your life.”

Find whatever it is that makes you lose all track of time.  This is the work you should be doing.”

That’s what they say, whoever “they” are.

I believe these to be true, but most of us are still calling it work—at least some of the time.

I have a love/hate/love relationship with my work, and love always wins.  Almost every day, I have the opportunity, the privilege to try to make a difference in someone’s life, and most days, I think I can say I have at least given them a small sliver of hope; a tiny measure of joy.

I am a speech-language pathologist, a.k.a. a speech therapist.  I work primarily with adults after a stroke, head injury, brain tumor, diagnosed with a progressive neurological disease such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, as well as multiple other diagnoses.

I love the fact that I can help them to return to a higher level of function, even if it is not where they once were.  I love that I can help them regain their ability to engage with their loved ones and the rest of the world through communication.  I get to help them improve their swallow function—an ability that is often affected by any of the diagnoses I work with.  In the happiest of endings, I help them return to eating and drinking again after being fed through a stomach tube, and re-engage them with their world.

But there are no guarantees.  Many times I can’t make a difference, and the sickness and the sadness override my love for my work.  The system I work within plays a part too.  Some days I feel defeated.

Then, someone tells me they couldn’t have made it without me, and I love my work again.

Love always wins.

I engage in my own kind of therapy.  I stumbled upon it accidentally when a friend talked me into doing a project with her.  Much like my life after loss, and my patients after illness, I take broken and random things and try to make them beautiful again, albeit in a different way than they were before.

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The above project is the largest one I have ever completed; it is in my (overachieving) husband’s garden.  Have you ever been in garden that needed to be swept?  He tiled it when he was bored, but I digress…

When I am working on projects such as this one, the handles on the clock spin, and I am totally unaware.  Much like when I am writing.  Chronological time goes out the window, and I am in the zone; in the flow.

If I could just find a way to make these pursuits pay the bills.  I do get paid for a few writing gigs, and that is sweet.   The thought of leaving my career behind, however, is bittersweet.  Twenty-three years as a speech pathologist (SLP) have wormed their way into the annals of The Loves of My Life, and while I think I could call myself a writer/artist instead of an SLP, I just might miss it a little too much.  My daydream of walking away from it all when the sickness, sadness and the system overcome my passion may not be ready to come to fruition just yet.

So, I keep doing it on the side.  I keep nourishing the need, writing and creating.  Like this project I made for Suzanne to welcome her to my small city almost a year ago:

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One of her friends she left behind saw it and loved it, so I made one for her.   Let me preface that with this picture:

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This brings me to Suzanne’s story.  While she works with money, she maintains the daydream of leaving it all behind.  In my estimation, her sense of humor is waiting to take her places, just not quite sure yet where.

Her friend has yet to see this piece, but Suzanne wanted to continue the theme.

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Time stopped for me until I was finished; hours had passed.  I delight in turning broken pieces, old jewelry, tchotchkes, bottle caps and repurposed finds into a new creation, specially tailored to the recipient.

Much like writing, it moves me to a higher plane.  And I want to stay there.  I do get paid for it, but it’s not in the currency I need to pay the bills. I get paid with a sense of satisfaction, a feeling that I have tapped into a well that will feed and nourish my heart and soul if I simply keep revisiting it, keep doing the work.

Suzanne has some unique talents—too many to list.

Her sense of humor should be apparent in the “You’re dead to me” theme, which was a standard exchange between her and her friend, carried to the extreme on going-away cakes and art projects.  She could perhaps parlay this talent onto a stage somewhere, but she has yet to find that route.

Among the others I can write about include an extremely satisfying and incredible ability to put together jigsaw puzzles.  She has been known to start one like this with 1000 pieces at the beginning of the day,

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and have it done by the end of the day.  She delights in this pursuit, and if only she could find a way to get paid in the kind of money she handles every day…

Then there is the Big Dream.  The Dream that she has recently brought to my attention, the Dream that likely cannot be fulfilled in our small city in this landlocked area.

She wants to be a mermaid.  There are such professional incarnations in large cities in tourist aquariums, but to that end, she has not exactly had a professional background that would lend itself to that, say, as an expert swimmer with extensive experience in holding her breath.

Still, her Dream persists, as evidenced by the fact that she has yet to remove the necklace she got in Florida.  And if her pursuit of this dream would allow her to lounge about on the beach in the sun and sand all day, that might just be close enough.

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Gail’s middle name is Jean, and she will easily answer to “Mean Gail Jean,” even though she is far from mean.  Which, is doubly ironic because she has a dream that would paint her as a true meanie.

Recall from Love of Labor, Labor of Love  on September 3rd, that Gail is already a workhorse.  Her primary day job is that of an office manager for a chiropractor, as well as several other side jobs.

Gail has had a long-standing pipe dream; a Big Idea:  she wants to have her own place, likely to be  called Mean Gail Jean’s.  Against her nature, she would actually be mean to the customers–all in fun, of course, insulting them in whatever way possible.  She is living out part of her dream now as a bartender/cook in an historic building, a former opera house-turned pub.  To my knowledge, she doesn’t purposely insult anyone.

Apparently, there is a restaurant chain that has pioneered the market on this idea, so the road is paved for her.  Hers, however, would likely include an obligatory hug from Mean Gail Jean as the customer leaves, just to show them she really does love them.

She loves people, and I’m not just saying that.  She loves to interact with, talk to, engage with relate to people.  Which is why she has an alternate idea.  Her other nickname, rhyming with Gail, is Whale.   “Whalin’ Gail’s” would be a bar and grill that provides all the fun and games adults once enjoyed as kids:

*Ferris wheel

*swings

*slippery slide

*slip-n-slide

*trampoline

*dance music from the 70’s and 80’s at all times, including The Bee Gees, John Mellencamp and all manner of big hair bands that she loves to listen to on satellite radio.

She would like either of these ideas to come to fruition in Colorado or Florida.  Florida, of course, would be closer to Suzanne as she lays on the beach and/or swims about in the ocean with her big tail fin.

Yesterday, Gail brought her road show in my direction.  She also has a flair for repurposing, and she traveled to Abilene, my Someplace Special (September 10th) to exhibit her work in a vintage craft fair with her sidekick, Sylvia, as well as many other women-and men–who are living their Dream.

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My home is adorned with many of these pieces that are made primarily from antique ceiling tin and second-hand wood.  She and Sylvia become treasure hunters from time to time, scavenging abandoned buildings (with permission, of course).   They, too, take something broken and random and make it into something beautiful.

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And, to add to my collection, I picked up a few more from the show yesterday:

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Working for a living is a beautiful and honorable thing.  Except when it gets in the way of living.  Most of us have been through times in our lives where we need to take stock of where we are, where we have been, and where we are going.  These times often happen during a crisis, often born out of tragedy.

“They” say you shouldn’t make major life changes in the first year after losing a loved one.  Well, losing two loved ones in one moment prompted some serious reconsideration on our parts, and they likely haven’t lost two loved ones in the same moment.

Gail, realizing life is indeed too short, closed the doors to her donut shop of seven-plus years about seven months after that day.  She doesn’t regret it.

Suzanne’s only child, at age 12, spent the after-school hours with her grandparents.  She suddenly had nowhere to go, and no one to help her through those tough few hours every day, let alone the entire day.  Suzanne took a year off from her banking job and worked in the school as a para-educator to help them both adjust to not seeing our parents every day.  She then went back to her banking position.

It took me several years, but I broke out on my own.  I serve in a contract/private capacity now, as opposed to an employee.  I am a woman of my own mind, so I love it here.

My mind, however, once played a trick on me.  A good trick, a favor; it gave me a gift.  Exactly one year before Mom and Dad died, I had a “career” position in the lone hospital in our small city.  It was a great job, and I enjoyed it.

Something, however, nagged at me.  The little voice inside begged me to move on, to find something else.  The only reasonable alternative I could see at that time was to enter the regional nursing home circuit, and that didn’t seem all that reasonable.  The pay was a bit better, but the hours weren’t guaranteed, there would be a lot of travel, and the progress, if there was much, would be significantly less than in the rehabilitation setting I was in that brought me so much fulfillment.

The voice persisted, so I finally listened.

The eleven-or-so nursing homes I covered included the one in my parents’ small town.  It was 87 miles from my home, and while I didn’t go there on a regular basis, I did perhaps log 15 visits there that year.

Every time I went there, I stopped to see Mom and Dad—at least for a short visit, sometimes lunch.

Every time.

I got to see them that many more times in their last year, and I am forever grateful that I chose to listen to that little voice.  It was the voice of wisdom, and it knew what I needed, long before I did.

Mom and Dad instilled in each one of us the power to believe in ourselves, including our dreams.

Dream on, sisters.  Keep working hard until we all find whatever it is we’re looking for.

That’s what Mom and Dad wanted for us.

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Gail, Suzanne and I believe that laughter together brings our dreams a little closer…