Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Christmas Was Her Holiday

Christmas was her holiday.

She reveled in the true spirit of giving. She did not give to receive. She gave because she truly loved searching for the perfect color, the perfect texture, the perfect shape, the things that would make our eyes sparkle. Not once did I ever hear her complain about the commercial rush of the holidays. She weaved around the chaos and stayed grounded in love and generosity.

Some years she would arrive heavy suitcases in tow, treasures for all tucked inside along with the ribbons and extra tape. Then she would spend hours hiding in the guest bedroom, folding and wrapping and stacking and sorting. She was our Santa.

Other times, the packages would preempt her arrival. Or we would go to her. When we all made the trek to her, those were the ones I remember most. This new geography that she made her home was the backdrop of every perfect Christmas card. Towering evergreens, snow on the ground, regal homes tucked in hillsides and Norman Rockwell villages.

There were no idyllic nights singing Christmas carols or baking cookies. She didn’t try to set up the perfect holiday for us. She provided the warmth, the peace, the love and the laughter. If there was drama…and there usually was…she listened and encouraged us to talk it through. Always the peacemaker and the caregiver.

So when I wonder how to make this holiday special for my own children, I learn from her. Offer some love wrapped in pretty paper, carve a wide path in the snow, light the way with laughter and help when the walk becomes slippery.

Warmth, love, laughter and light to you and yours.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Transformations, Zen and Impermanence

In 2003, I drove with my Dad and two kids to Montana. I was going to a family reunion to meet a branch of my family tree that at the age of 40, I had never met before. These were my Dad's cousins, who he had been out of touch with since he was in college. He had recently rediscovered them and knew that I would love them. That was an understatement.

The reunion was held in a church camp site in southern Montana. As the crow flies, we were just miles from Yellowstone, but with a tricky mountain range separating us. There were no TV's, no access to cell phones. It was pure heaven. We spent the days hiking and getting to know each other. We spent the nights around a raging campfire, laughing and telling stories.

One afternoon, my 'uncle' Paul and my cousin Karl were planning to obtain a topographical map of the peak in view of our camp and spend the following day climbing it. Paul was a Biologist. Going on a walk in the woods with him was like a biology lesson in itself. Karl, in his 30's had just finished his PhD in chemical engineering. While the rest of us slept in cabins, Karl opted for a one-man tent deeper into the woods. Tales of bears didn't bother him. He is an experienced climber and outdoorsman. Not only are these two men wildly intelligent, but they are the warmest, friendliest, most open men you could ever meet.  When I asked them if I could join them on their climb, they didn't hesitate to welcome me. 

The next day we set out before dawn. I'll never forget Madi getting up to give me a hug and see me off on my adventure. We would be back before nightfall. 

There were no trails on this mountain. Mostly we traversed what we called 'boulder fields'. Massive boulders of granite that had fallen off the mountain in centuries past. They call for deliberate steps. Each boulder is at a different angle than the next. Some are solid on the ground. Others are wobbly and I imagined critters underneath. As we alternated between boulder traversing and trailblazing, Paul would point out bear scat or rare plants and tell us stories.

As we continued hiking up the mountain, the boulder fields grew wider and my legs began to tire. The three of us walked quietly, concentrating on every step. It was then that I reached the Zen moment that I'd been reading about. All the other thoughts that normally crowded my brain faded away and I was clearly in the moment. I could feel the muscles in my body straining and hear my breath. The scents, the sounds of the mountain were completely clear to me.

It was a moment and a day I'll never forget.


I can be all these things every minute of every day, but some days all I want is for the right person to say...

“It will be ok. I’ll take care of it. Let’s go for a ride.”

Monday, July 12, 2010

Ripe But Not Rotten

I’ve been reading The Season’s on Henry’s Farm by Terra Brockman. Terra is the sister of Henry Brockman, who supplies me with the majority of my vegetables, and Teresa who supplies me with the majority of my fruits. The Brockman’s have an organic, sustainable farm twenty miles from my home. Each week throughout the summer and fall, they come into town and supply lots of families with shares of beautiful produce. I love the format of Terra’s book because she chose to write each chapter as a chronological week on the farm. The first chapter is a week in November when the garlic crop is planted. When I realized her format, I decided to read a chapter a week, so each time I read a chapter I learn about a process on the farm that is happening right now.

This week’s chapter is entitled Ripe and Rotten. It’s about the fruits and vegetables that aren’t beautiful enough to be sold to the public. Because their produce isn’t genetically modified or treated with chemicals they have a fair amount that are split, bruised, too small or too large. Terra goes into detailed description about an imperfect peach that has a few moldy spots and wormholes. Yet she simply cleans off those spots, splits it in half with her fingers to make sure there aren’t any worms inside and then “I bring it to my nose and read its spicy-sweet promise…the juice runs down my chin as I slurp away, wanting to bury my whole face in the utter bliss of it.” She then goes on to talk about our intolerance for imperfections. We don’t choose our friends by the way they look, she says. We choose them for their personality, intelligence, wit, etc.

I smiled when I read this. I had just had this conversation with a dear friend of mine when we were driving home from a visitation of an old friend of ours. We knew Mark and his brother, Keith, back in high school. Their family had lived in that area for a long time. Like most people in the small community, they were farmers and everyone knew them. Mark and Keith were stars on the winning basketball and football teams. They were not typically ‘model’ good-looking, but as soon as you met them, you got a sense of who they were and immediately loved them. They were funny, open, friendly and genuinely kind to everyone and, well, they were a little bit wild, so very fun to be around.

Going back for the visitation of Mark and his son, while extremely sad because of the tragic circumstances, was therapeutic because we were able to visit with the people we grew up with. After thirty years, some had changed dramatically, but most had physically changed very little. Maybe we had grown a bit wider with wrinkles or sunspots to give us character. I actually love looking for those ‘imperfections’ in people as they age. I find them much more interesting and beautiful than the faces that have been surgically altered to appear youthful. Perhaps it’s because by the time we’re in our 40s and 50s, we have (hopefully) become comfortable in our own skin and can fully reveal what is inside.

At the start of the visitation line was Keith, and although he was deeply mourning the loss of his big brother and nephew, he gave us a wide smile and a huge hug. He spoke eloquently about his feelings about the accident and what this outpouring of community meant to him. He was still as beautiful and warm as I remembered. Our bruised and wrinkled exteriors didn’t matter. We were there to comfort each other in friendship and love.

When I approached the open caskets of Mark and his young son, I chose not to look. I knew the accident had not been gentle to their bodies. Their shells were empty and I wanted to remember their lively smiles and their fragrant, juicy souls instead.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Birthday Week

Birthday Week

This week is very special to me. And it's not for the reason you think. Yes, it's my birthday. But it's also the birthday week for the women in this picture with me:

I've known three out of four of these women since 1968. That was the year we entered Kindergarten together.

The fourth moved into town later-fifth grade, I think. Michele (2nd from right) is the one who remembers everything so she should really be the one writing this. When we're all together and telling stories, Michele remembers the name of every random friend and teacher and neighbor. Diane and I look at each other and shake our heads. We never remember anything. Michele is The Archaeologist. Her skills are put to good use when it comes time for the reunions. She is always first in line to volunteer her time and energy. Her birthday is July 16.

Karen1 is The Badass (far left). She knows how to have a good time and she doesn't pull any punches. Karen1 is one tough broad with a sexy raspy voice to go with it. But she knows how to party AND be responsible. She is the sole provider for a pair of feisty twins and you'd better know she is one protective Mama. Karen1's birthday is also July 16.

Diane (2nd from left) was actually born in December, but we gave her an honorary birthday in July just because we could. Diane is Chief Administrator of Fun. I've never seen someone with so many balls in the air, juggling them like an expert circus performer. She's always got something big in the works: a new business idea, a new vacation plan, a new women's support group. When something doesn't work out the way she planned, she just changes her plans and keeps going, all the while making us laugh out loud with the latest trendy drink in hand. Diane's honorary birthday is July 15.

Karen2 (far left) is The Calm One. Until you get her drunk. Then you can't shut her up. Karen2 rarely gets flustered. She seems to always take things in stride, listening intently to our stories, our dramas until we decide the focus needs to be on her (which she hates). When she starts revealing what's going on in that pretty head of hers, though….still waters run deep. Karen2's birthday is July 18.

And then there's me. My birthday is July 17.

The five of us used to get together for a marathon sleep-over-birthday-party every year. I'll never forget when we were in sixth grade and BOYS showed up! We snuck out into my backyard and *gasp* held hands! We were one boy short, so Karen2 and I even shared a boy.

Between the five of us we have:

8 marriages plus 1 pending.
5 ex-husbands.
9 children.

We don't always share the same viewpoint on everything but we share something very important: History. Out of that history comes respect, connection and love. I know that we will be there for each other if we ever need it and that their love is unconditional.

A few years ago, Michele sent us all the download for a song from the 70's. I hadn't heard it in forever. This corny verse caught my ear.

And when we both get older
With walking canes and hair of gray
Have no fear, even though it's hard to hear
I will stand real close and say,
Thank you for being a friend

I laughed. And then I cried. Among other things, they would call me The Softy.

Happy Birthday Week, Friends.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Passion Ruby

What's Your Passion?

I used to hate when people would ask me that question. I never had an answer and always felt inferior because of it. My father had music. My mother and sister had gardening. Sports, Art, seemed like everyone I knew had something. There are plenty of things I enjoy doing, but a passion? Something was missing.

Then last year when I was training for a 50 mile walk, I mentioned to a friend that when the walk was over, I wanted to try something else...maybe cycling. She suggested I come to one of Friday night "Ladies Rides" organized by a local bike shop. I imagined a group of hard-core spandex wearing tri-athletes, but I went.

I met lots of different women that night. I've lived here for 27 years and all of a sudden there were all these really great women that I'd never met before! They were a mixture of cyclists, runners, tri-athletes, non-athletes, mothers, mothers with their teenage daughters. Many others were new that night also. We rode about 6 miles, stopped, asked around...."Who wants to go farther?" Some did, some turned around for the ride back to the bike shop. No one rode alone. Back at the bike shop, the women brought out wine, chips, dip, etc. Oh! A party! Every Friday is like this? I'm in!

Since then I've ridden many miles and spent many a Friday evening at the bike shop. I moved past the Friday night ride and have ridden up to 35 miles. I haven't ridden alone yet. From this group there is always someone willing to ride. We encourage each other. We laugh a lot. We connect in a meaningful way...which has always been another passion of recognize yourself in someone else.

I am in love. With cycling. Even without the support of my fellow riders, cycling makes me feel strong. It is reliable like an old friend. It is the psychotherapist that clears out my brain. I spend a lot of time (too much maybe) thinking about the relationships in my life. Cycling is where I can forget about all of that. Cycling is about me. It's about being out in the middle of this landscape appreciating the beauty of the cornfields where you can see for miles.

A few weeks ago, I bought a new bike. It's the first real 'toy' I've ever splurged on for myself. It should last me many decades to come. When you break it down into 'smiles per mile' it won't cost much at all.

I have a passion. And her name is Dr. Ruby.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Travel Under the Tree

Back in 2005 I decided I wanted to do something different for the holidays. The kids were older and didn't have their eye on any treasures to put under the tree. My mom, who really loved Christmas, had passed three years before. The holidays had lost that special something when we lost her.

So I decided we should travel. We decided on somewhere warm. Initially it was Cancun. Hurricane Emily rerouted us to Riviera Maya. The boyfriend and his daughter wanted to go. So did my dad and his wife.

I announced the trip to the kids and they were elated. I warned them "No presents!". "Who cares about presents? We're going to Mexico!!!!", they said. I let them each choose an excursion. Jake chose the ruins of Tulum. Madison chose to swim with the dolphins. Everyone para-sailed too, except Dad.

We engaged in all the usual activities that a beach vacation requires of you: eating too much, walking the beach, snorkeling, swimming, etc. It was glorious.

We arrived home on Christmas Eve and I asked the kids if they would have preferred gifts. They laughed and said "No Mom! Can we do this every year?"

Every year? No.

But this year I surprised them with a trip to San Francisco. It's a city that I had never visited. Jake had spoken of its draw for a few years now. Madison is interested in marine biology, so it seemed a good fit for her.

In early December I told them we were going on a trip, but I told him they had to guess where. They could ask one yes or no question each day until they figured it out.

Their questions were:

Will it be warmer than Illinois? (Typically, yes)
Is it in the U.S.? (At first I said nothing, then opened up my laptop and pretended to do some quick research. Then I answered "Yes." Evil mother.)
Is it within 100 miles of a city? (Pretty much)
Is it east of the Mississippi? (depends on how far east you go....)
Is it north or south of the Mason/Dixie line? Uhhhhh.
Is it in California?
Does it start with San or Santa?
Is it San Diego?
Is it San Francisco? YES!

I forgot my camera. These are all from my kids' cameras. Enjoy.