Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Letter to our nephew, Evan, in SC from Flat Stanley

Dear Evan,
Thank you so much for sending me to visit Aunt Kathy and Uncle Larry in Rhode Island. I had such a great time. Their house is beautiful and it’s right on the beach! Their beach is rocky, not sandy like Myrtle Beach. I had fun with their two dogs, Jackson and Mattie Grace. I chased them around the yard, but once I tripped on the outdoor Christmas tree rope. I loved their light-up deer in the yard. The Christmas lights were so beautiful. We saw lots of festive Christmas lights, and I sat in a lot of Christmas trees. I felt like a Christmas angel!

First, we visited Newport. On the way, we stopped to see the sea marsh lands across from the Sakonnet River, which is the name of the part of the ocean that Aunt Kathy and Uncle Larry live on. It is in Narragansett Bay. Everywhere we go in Rhode Island means crossing bridges because it is surrounded by water.

Newport was founded in 1639. The settlement soon grew to be the largest of the four original towns of Rhode Island. Many of the first colonists in Newport quickly became Baptists, and in 1640 the second Baptist congregation in Rhode Island was formed under the leadership of John Clarke.”  It was cold the day we visited, so I needed a warm coat. I learned that Newport was a popular port for pirates in the late 17th and 18th centuries. We didn’t see any though. I was a little disappointed. “During the Colonial period, Newport was also the center of the slave trade in New England. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, wealthy southern planters seeking to escape the heat began to build summer cottages on Bellevue Avenue.”  We went to see “The Breakers” built by the Vanderbilt family. I think you went there too, didn’t you? Isn’t it huge? We also stopped at Salve Regina University on the way to The Breakers. It was way too cold to walk on the famous “Cliff Walk”, and Hurricane Sandy destroyed a big part of it anyway. This is a mostly paved path along the shoreline with a view of back yards of all the mansions. I wish we could have walked it. Maybe next visit.

Next, we went to Fort Adams in Newport. It “was established on July 4, 1799 as a First System coastal fortification. Its first commander was Captain John Henry who was later instrumental in starting the War of 1812. When the United States gained independence in 1783, the seacoast defense fortifications were in poor condition. Concerned by the outbreak of war in Europe in 1793, the Congress created a combined unit of artillerymen and engineers in 1794, appointed a committee to study coastal defense needs, and appropriated money to construct a number of fortifications that would become known as the First System”  I climbed up on one of the cannons, but I slipped and fell into the turret. Uncle Larry had to find something in the car to pull me out. It was dark down there with trash and I thought I saw something move in the corner. I was so afraid, but he saved me.  I was wet and cold after that adventure, so we went into town and got a hot chocolate at the Starbucks on America’s Cup Avenue.

Newport is one of the sites of the big America’s Cup sailing race. The race came back to Newport in July. “The America’s Cup is a trophy awarded to the winner of the America's Cup match races between two sailing yachts. It is the oldest active trophy in international sport.”  There were sailboats on the ocean that we could see in a couple of different places along the way. I thought how fun it would be to learn to sail. I like the idea of the wind in my hair and the salt air on my face. I could be a sailor, right?

Uncle Larry let me share his hot chocolate with whipped cream and his “bear claw”. They were delicious! I also got to warm up next to the wood stove. I love New England. It’s so cozy.   We went across the street to look at the marina and a giant sculpture of dolphins playing. It was beautiful. After we warmed up a bit, we drove down Ocean Drive to see more damage Hurricane Sandy caused. Waves broke parts of the sea wall and the road. It flooded all the way across the street. Work is still going on to repair the damage. I thought about the power of water and what God made. It made me feel humble. I sat on the sandbags that still line the road.

Next we went to Bristol. Along the way we found a topiary museum that was closed, but Uncle Larry let me ride on the reindeer while Aunt Kathy took a picture. Then we walked down to the beach where we saw Prudence Island across the water and I collected a scallop shell. We drove by Roger Williams University on the way to Bristol. That’s where Cousin Chris went to school.

When we got to Bristol, we found out they were going to have their tree lighting ceremony, so we went to a restaurant for dinner and to watch the sunset. We met Liz, our waitress. She was very nice. Once it was dark, we wandered up to Main Street where the giant tree was and people were starting to gather. Someone was playing Christmas music on a loud speaker. Next kids from different schools in town played drums and xylophones with the high school chorus singing Christmas caroles. Soon, Mother and Father Christmas came to light up the giant tree, but not before beautiful dancers from a local school performed a number just like the Rockettes in New York City. We all clapped and laughed. It was so magical. Aunt Kathy noticed that the beautiful woman playing piano for the chorus was the same person who plays for her chorus. We went to St. Michael’s Episcopal Church on Main Street on the way to the ceremony because that is where Aunt Kathy’s first Celtic Christmas concert with her chorus was sung. She took pictures of me with the luminarias on the church steps. And, we found flyers for her concert in festively decorated store windows. We don’t see window designs like this in South Carolina. A nice policeman was standing with workers who decorated the town Christmas tree, and agreed to take his picture with me. I had such fun!

Uncle Larry had a date with his old boss, Dr. John Kohl, and a friend and colleague, Professor Bill Parkinson, for their annual Christmas lunch at Legal Sea Foods in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Uncle Larry took me along and I got to have lunch with famous scientists! Yes, they really are “rocket scientists”! Wow. I couldn’t understand a lot of what they talked about, but it was very interesting all the same.

Next, Uncle Larry took me to Fenway Park! You went there too, right? Along the way, he passed the Boston Symphony building. It was really beautiful. He told me about the concerts he attended there. He and Aunt Kathy saw an Irish music group called “The Chieftains” there a couple of times. The accoustics are supposed to be wonderful. I wish I could hear a concert there sometime. After we left Boston, Uncle Larry noticed a red pickup truck in front of us with a license plate that read, “Evan1” on it. He took a picture, but I don’t think you can see it very well. Last but not least, he took me to Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots. It was a huge stadium and we saw it at sunset. It was great. Then, he took a picture of me in front the jerseys of Tom Brady, the famous quarterback, and Wes Welker, the wide receiver. It was very exciting.
Last Friday night, we all drove to Providence. It was a sad day because that day a young, mentally disturbed man shot and killed a lot of little children, his mother and himself at an elementary school in Connecticut. We were all very sad that day and saw that the American Flag was flying at half mast at the State House. Providence is the capital of Rhode Island. The building is beautiful, and a nice guard let us inside so I could see the decorated tree. Uncle Larry said he could have lost his job because he didn’t make us go through the metal detector. I thanked him very much for his kindness and wished him a Merry Christmas. Governor Lincoln Chafee got in a lot of “hot water” recently because last Christmas he insisted on calling the state tree a “Holiday Tree” instead of a “Christmas Tree”. He got in so much trouble, he didn’t do the usual tree lighting ceremony for television this year to avoid more protests, so he lit it in secret instead. Some other people put up their own Christmas Tree for the state. I think grownups are silly sometimes.

We drove around the city and visited Rhode Island School of Design and Brown University. Did you know that Brown’s mascot is a huge brown bear? And, I found it interesting that they had a solar-powered  trash compactor outside right on campus grounds! I never saw that before. Aunt Kathy and I sat under a very cool sculpture of dancing people. They looked like they were made from aluminum foil! If they were, that would be a lot of foil. There was a huge tower on the Brown campus with a motto that read, “Love As Strong As Death”. I thought it was very powerful, so I asked Aunt Kathy to take a picture of it.
Lastly, we parked our car in the biggest shopping mall I’ve ever seen, Providence Place, and ate supper at P.F. Chang’s Restaurant before we went to “Waterfire”. Aunt Kathy fed me some delicious sushi made of tuna with vegetables on a very crisp chip. I loved it. And, the waitress recognized me! I felt famous. There were giant Chinese statues in the restaurant, so I wanted to have my picture taken next to one. It was very cool.

Waterfire”  is an arts project organized by a non-profit group for the City of Providence. The organizers light up over eighty braziers on the water that runs from Providence Place Mall, under several bridges along Waterplace Park to Memorial/South Main Street Park. The shores of the little river are lined with lit Christmas trees with colorfully lit boats shuttling revelers around all the fires. There is festive Christmas music playing on loud speakers, and we also saw gondoliers singing caroles under torch-holding people. It was very cool. One of the singers let me sing along! There was a place under one bridge where children painted tiles of peace and love that were cemented to the bridge walls and pillars. There were hundreds of tiles. They were really beautiful, and made me smile. People also sold their art work under this bridge and a nice woman gave me a signed metal ornament she made about the state Christmas Tree, which made fun of the governnor, but I’m bringing it home for you, Evan, just the same. It’s pretty nice, and she took a picture with me to show you. We also saw carolers dressed up in old Victorian clothes like they wore in England for that movie we like to watch, “A Christmas Carol”. Bah humbug! Not really. I sang with them too. I love singing. Did you know that?

Oh, I almost forgot to tell you. At “Waterfire”, I sat on Santa’s lap! Instead of asking him for a present this Christmas, I thanked him for my gift of this trip to Rhode Island, and for all my blessings. I also thanked him for the good work he does for all the children. He liked that.
See you soon,
Your Friend, Flat Stanley                                                                                                                                                                      

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Realizing A Dream

St. John The Baptist Church, Westport, MA
I can't sleep. Celtic Christmas music is playing in my head. Actually, I'm still singing it in my head. I just completed singing in a three-day concert series with the Greater Tiverton Community Chorus in the Celtic Christmas Concert. I sang a little two-measure duet in the beautiful Welsh lullaby, Suo-Gan. As our music director, Beth, explained, this song was highlighted in the movie, Empire of The Sun. Each time I walked to the microphone, my throat was dry. Swallow, just find saliva and swallow, I thought. It came on demand, and I hit that first note. Once I accomplished that, the rest came easy. It was a very small part, but the positive and reassuring feedback I received from so many people, friends and strangers alike, felt incredible.

The weekend began with a full rehearsal on Thursday night. I sang so hard I strained my voice. I couldn't help myself. The music was so beautiful, I just had to belt it out! The next day, I had to stop talking, make ginger root tea with honey, and nurse my dry, scratchy throat for the first performance. I reviewed notes of the songs I was having the most trouble with silently.

The first performance in Bristol at St. Michael's Church was magical. I had never sung in this church before, as this was my first Christmas concert with the chorus. My husband came to all three performances, but two of my sisters with their significant others and a few friends from the gym came Friday night.

Trainers at my gym asked if I knew Phil from the chorus. There are almost eighty people in the group, so I am just beginning to meet them. I did not know Phil. But, as fate would have it, as we rehearsed in St. Michael's two of the taller male members stood in front of me and had changed position, so I and a woman behind me could not see Beth, our music director. I asked them to swap places with me and the woman to my right, and low and behold, I ended up standing next to Phil. He and I laughed when I told him the story of our trainers asking if I knew him, and his trainer sat in the front row at St. Michael's, thereby seeing for himself that we had indeed finally met. The high I got after this performance from positive feedback I received about my singing was marvelous.

The next night in Westport, MA at St. John the Baptist Church, my sister, Jeanne, and friend, Barbara (also my daughter-in-law's mother) attended. I was so excited to see them enter the church. They arrived early enough to hear my duet rehearsal and clapped happily, giving me a "thumbs up".  When, at the end of the performance, Beth invited attendees to come on stage to sing the "Hallelujah Chorus", Jeanne made her way through the crowd and joined me on my riser to sing. I was so happy to have her beside me. What a wonderful moment.

The last performance in Tiverton at St. Theresa's Church, was as packed as the previous two. Beth told us attendance at all three concerts far exceeded the history of the chorus. We were all thrilled to have such big and lively audiences. Friends from work and neighbors attended this last performance, and I was especially happy to see Lois, our wheelchair-bound friend sitting behind her daughter, Debi. I so wanted Lois to come. She doesn't get out much anymore and I knew the music would lift her spirits. She told me it absolutely did.

After we said our goodbye's, Larry and I headed to a choral member's house on the way to ours for the first-ever "after" party. We ate dinner with Beth and her husband, Stewart, and in so doing, were able to get to know them both a little better. We talked with a few people at the party, and it was nice to feel like we were making more new friends. This experience has allowed us both to meet people in the neighborhood, and set our respective roots down just a little deeper in this small Rhode Island town. Feeling a part of this community makes me happy to finally be ending our "gypsy" lifestyle.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy New Year! Do something to make you happy this season, and take at least one baby step toward realizing whatever your dream is. Mine has always been singing. "Here I am!"

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Slow and Steady Wins The Race

I have never been more proud to be an American. So many citizens stepped up and voted that we all have reason to be hopeful. The point is; they stepped up. They cast their vote, and they exercised their right to have a voice. If you didn't vote or didn't care enough to register to vote, I hope you change your mind over the next four years and get to your town or city clerk's office and register. So many people died in this country to give us all the right to vote. So many in the world still do not have that same right to speak out. They cannot have a discussion or an argument about how to make changes; to share ideas. Our shores continue to be flooded by immigrants seeking those rights: to free speech and to free expression, among others. I believe in those rights.

As citizens of the United States, we are blessed. But many of us take those blessings for granted. In his victory speech last night, President Obama said, " It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you’re willing to try." If you are willing to try. Trying means doing the work, not just talking the talk. Actions always speak louder than words.

The President's speech was filled with inspiring words. Those who were inspired, and those who were not, must hold him and the rest of our government responsible for taking action. For too long our governmental leaders have remained gridlocked by talk. We need more action. We need cooperation and compromise. We need those leaders to represent US, not just continue to secure their jobs. Don't forget that our leaders do not just reside in Washington, D.C., they also reside in your city or town. Grassroots government is where it all begins. A lot happens in your city or town hall. If you are a property tax payer, you know what happens full well if you pay attention. At the local level, the squeaky wheel gets greased. At the federal level, those wheels are just larger. But, it's the wheels that make change happen, or make things stay the same. It's just a matter of who has the power and the louder squeak.

 Mr. Romney gave a gracious concession speech. I hope he will meet with the President and provide valuable advice on how to balance the road forward to a more prosperous America for us all. Our country requires balance, but maintaining balance is where the work lies. Massachusetts just elected its first woman senator. History continues to be made in this country, but there really is no free ride. Nothing free is truly free. There is a price to be paid for everything. It's just a matter of recognizing what that price is, and deciding if we are willing to pay it.

Rhode Island voters decided to go deeper into debt last night by passing a number of large bond issues. This state is living on the edge of financial collapse, and has the highest unemployment rate in the country. We heard time and time again in this election about getting our country out of debt; that we are drowning in debt. Yet, RI voters chose to go deeper down that hole. I don't understand that. I voted against all the bond issues because I believe the state's economy must be fixed before its debt is allowed to grow. As an individual, I got in trouble with debt three times in my life. In all three events, I was just able to skirt bankruptcy and find my way back to the "black". What will it take for our state and our country to take responsibility for reversing its financial direction deeper into the "red"?

Just like losing weight on Weight Watchers: big gains cannot be made over night. Slow and steady wins the race. I believe this country will move "forward". I do have "hope". Let's try to sustain some optimism and stop the fighting. Fighting wastes precious energy that is needed to fix what needs fixing.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

"Argo "f..." yourself!

I read that Argo is getting lots of Oscar buzz, so when Larry and I had a day to ourselves yesterday, we took in an afternoon show. Paying $9 for two tickets is certainly the way to go if you can do it. This incredibly suspenseful movie sped by in two hours. Larry remembered the six hostages being released back in the early 1980's, but I didn't remember any of it. Even though we knew, because history bore it out, that the hostages were freed unharmed, I was still glued to my seat while watching all the events leading up to their release being played out.

Ben Affleck directs this movie and plays Tony Mendez: the CIA's top "exfiltration" specialist to devise a plan to rescue six Americans who escaped the storming of the American Embassy during the Iran hostage crisis in 1979. This six found sanctuary in the home of the Canadian Ambassador, Ken Taylor, played by Victor Garber. Everyone knew it was just a matter of time that soon these six would be discovered, and it became imperative to accelerate their escape.

Tony comes up with the idea of creating a ficticious science fiction movie after a telephone call with his young son, not living with him. He and his son love to watch movies together, and Star Wars is his son's favorite science fiction movie. Tony presents his plan to the CIA, and eventually convinces them it is the best of the worst possible choices available for the rescue attempt. He solicits the help of a makeup artist, John Chambers, played by John Goodman to get advice on how to create this movie. Chambers suggests the movie must have a big name in Hollywood associated with it to make it believable. They convince famed producer, Lester Siegel, winner of many movie awards and played by Alan Arkin, to help them. Then,"we're off"! The funniest line of the movie that became its "mantra" was one coined by Siegel at a splashy cocktail party to launch the film at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in response to a reporter's hounding questions, "Argo fuck yourself!"

The movie's premise is that Tony is the movie's producer and with Chambers' and Siegel's help, they create production roles for each of the six hostages along with Canadian identities. The Canadian film crew are considering Iran as a possible location for their film, after finding a previously discarded script, call "Argo". The partnership formed by Canada and the United States during this time of crisis was hailed in synopses cited at the end of the movie as unprecedented in history. The final scenes were nail-biters for sure. Don't miss it.

I feel like pineapple sage in bloom.

The favorite thing about my herb garden at this time of year is the color of the pineapple sage blooms. That vibrant red touches my heart and makes me feel alive. The color is a beautiful shade of red unmatched, in my opinion, by any Crayola crayon or colored pencil humankind can manufacture.

I am on a new path in life. A little over two weeks ago, I looked in the mirror and saw the fat woman I had become and denied existed. I never saw her in the mirror. This day, I did. During my sojourn to New York City, I saw her every time I looked in a mirror. I cannot relate to her. She is not who I am. I decided to join Weight Watchers (WW) as a result of my introduction to her, and after only two short plus weeks, I already see her melting like the Wicked Witch of the West.

I bought all the WW toys, and my newest motivator is The Activelink. This is a USB card that is house is a clip that I wear attached to my bra and my pajama top. I put it on when I get up and take it off when I go to bed. It monitors my activity all day. I just completed my first activity assessment and learned that I am adding one to two activity points to my plan each day. Activity in the "Points Plus" WW plan allows me to exchange them for food points each day if I want. It plugs those activity points directly into my eTools WW account and the program keeps a tally of my daily points while producing reports that track my progress. The Activelink challenged me this morning to a twelve-week program to increase my activity points to three per day. Bring it on!

I feel so motivated by this program for the first time. I tried the WW Points Program many years ago through work, but just could not wrap my mind around counting points. I find now that the toys I bought really make it fun to track points and motivate me to stay on track. I log everything I put in my mouth and check my progress each day. In just a short time, that thing changing my stomach so severely has disappeared. I've lots over seven pounds and I like the changes I see. I have more energy and I am highly motivated to meet the "other" me trapped inside this body. I haven't seen her in too many years. She is like that beautiful red bloom; bursting at the seems to come out.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

My New York City Adventure

In my seat at Wicked with my new friend, Ariana.
After bidding my husband and puppies goodbye at 11:30 a.m. on October 12th, I sat behind the wheel of my Toyota Solara and said a prayer, "Please keep me safe on this drive and in the city. Please protect me from anything or anyone who would harm me. Please help me to keep my heart and mind open to whatever lessons I am meant to learn on this trip, and please let me have fun. Amen" Then, I let go of all the fear and apprehension I had been feeling leading up to driving to New York City alone for a long weekend, and turned the ignition.

I started Weight Watchers (WW) the Tuesday before I left, so I packed some WW snacks, fruit, baby carrots and several bottles of water in an insulated bag I bought from "Thirty One". I had my pocket point calculator in my purse as well as my paper tracker to log all the food I ate, as well as my walking activity in the city. And, I finally broke the seal on a new pedometer I had for years and never opened to log how far I walked over the weekend. My laptop got included with the latest version of my book on a thumb-drive to do some writing at night in my hotel room because I was attending a writing seminar after all. And lastly, I packed my wool coat, light gloves, a scarf and a hat with some warm clothes because NOAA told me it may be a bit chilly over the weekend. I would do the "New England layer thing", and I was so ready for an adventure.

My life has become a little complacent; a little too routine. I am happy and grateful for all my blessings, but I felt in my core that I needed a "shake up". So when I got the email about the writing conference in NYC, I knew I had to go. I invited my cousin to join me, and when she declined, I was not surprised. I wasn't sure she was ready for something like this, and I was afraid to go alone. I had been to "the Big Apple" several times, but never by myself. No, I would do this alone. It'll be good for me, I thought.

With traffic delays, I arrived at the entrance to the New York Inn on 8th and 46th Street at 4:45 p.m. I decided to drive because the train would have cost me almost $300. With the conference being about $600 and hotels as expensive as they are in this city, I wanted to save a little money and have flexibility on Sunday night after the conference ended to enjoy dinner with any new friend(s) I would meet. The Pennsylvania Hotel where the conference was held was about $300 per night, so I did some web research and found this Inn for $194 per night, including taxes. Everyone I met said it was cheap, and got a worried look on their faces. The hotel was a couple of blocks' walk from Times Square and only a fifteen minute walk to the Pennsylvania Hotel, across from Madison Square Garden.

I pulled up out front and laughed a little to myself. It was kind of "seedy" looking and was next door to a Subway. The narrow steps up to the entrance led to an equally narrow fourier with a handsome (India) Indian man behind the desk with a lovely smile who greeted me warmly. I instantly relaxed. I had called ahead several weeks before to ask about parking and storing my bags on the final day of the conference. I was told they had valet parking for $45 per day and a luggage room where I could leave my bags for $4 per bag. I thought this acceptable, and when I asked the nice man about the valet parking, he looked at me quizzically. "We don't have valet parking," he said. I said, "Oh, I was told over the phone that you did. Where do I park my car then?" He told me that the Central Parking garage was three blocks up and on the left.. I found it easily and the cost was $25 per day with a hotel discount as long as I got them to stamp my ticket. There was no elevator, and that first climb up five flights of steep, narrow stairs to my third-floor room was exhilarating to say the least. I thought my heart would pound out of m chest and I broke a sweat.

After I closed the door and thanked the man (I didn't tip him), I looked around and burst out laughing to myself. The room was the smallest hotel room I had ever stayed in. It had to be eight-foot square. The bathroom was made for "little people". I honestly did not believe I could even fit in the 12" x 13" shower stall. I'm not exaggerating! An air conditioner was still in the window and there were metal gym lockers for my clothes. But I had as big a flat-screen TV as we have at home! I called Larry and laughed my ass of with him over the phone. I thought it was hilarious, and felt like it was Jane Fonda's new apartment in New York City with Robert Redford in the movie, "Barefoot In The Park". I decided I would be getting a real "grassroots" New York experience, and was ready for anything. I put my suitcase on the luggage rack and walked to Times Square in search of a discount ticket to Wicked.

I found the kiosk, but Wicked was not listed. There was a young man outside helping people find what they wanted, and told me Wicked did not discount with them. "Do you think I could get one ticket from the theater then?", I asked. He told me to walk up to 50th and turn left, so I did. Along the way there were a group of hip-hop artists dancing to great music, so I stopped to wiggle along and snap some pictures.

They attracted a nice crowd and it made me smile. I found theater and there were hundreds of people standing outside in a perfectly straight line across from the front entrance. I asked some young people closest to me if this was the ticket line or if they already had tickets. A young woman said, "Oh no. This is the lottery line." I asked what that was and she told me I should go up to a window she pointed to and leave my name for the drawing to win a discounted ticket. I said thanks and headed to the window. "I don't know how this works," I told the nice man at the window. He told me to put my name on the 3x5" card he placed in front of me with the number of tickets I wanted. I could have two or three. I did as I was bid and put "1" in a circle under my name. "You can have two," he said. I told him I was alone and only needed one. He said, "Oh, ok," and took my card. "I'll be drawing in sixty seconds," he told me. I said, "Awesome!" in my head, "Just in time." I backed away to join the crowd.

Very shortly afterwards, that same man came outside to address the crowd with all the cards he had drawn in his hand. He began to read names. People crowded around me, pushing me further back. The fourth name drawn was, "Kathy Gardner". I yelled, "Oh my God!", and rushed forward to take my place in the winner's line to huge applause from the crowd. "I never win anything!" I gushed. I immediately turned five years old. I was so excited, I couldn't stop talking. Everyone around me was excited for me too. After the crowd of "losers" was disbursed, I was handed my card to collect the front-row-seat ticket for $30 cash, and a lime-green, metal button to wear on my coat that read, "I won the Wicked Lottery." I knew this was a very good omen for the rest of my weekend. I had no fears at all, and was already having a blast by myself in New York City. I am so happy I went and so thrilled I did it alone. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Getting Un-Stuck

Writing is hard work. Reliving choices I'm not so proud of in my past by writing a memoir is much harder. Walking down memory lane is like climbing this tree. Once I get to the first branch, the climbing is easy. But as I reach the top-most branches, my climb becomes precarious at best. I am stuck there, high above my Self; looking down. In looking down, I become afraid of falling. Falling into the dark places I am too afraid to venture. They are gone. Why go there again?

My past contributed to making me who I am today. I am a product of my choices: Some were healthy, and some were not. But the unhealthy ones offered lessons I could not have learned otherwise. Those lessons were useful and provided knowledge to maneuver through the maze of Life.

A Sage I met in the mid-1970's said that "knowledge is the key to understanding". I have made a Life's journey out of acquiring knowledge. But the knowing I seek is of my inner-most Self. The journey to Self is life-long, and well worth the effort. But, like climbing the tree, it does not come without some scratches, cuts  and bruises. Bandaids and antibiotics were made for healing those wounds.

Love is the healer. If a cut leaves a scar, the scar becomes a reminder of "the good fight". It is a symbol of reaching an even higher limb; a greater level of knowledge. Learning to love my Self; even my dark side, is healing and is required to achieve happiness. Happiness is floating down a lazy river in the sunshine while birds sing and fish make splashes around me. Learning to go with the flow of life by turning "upstream thoughts" into "downstream thoughts" is challenging, but very doable with practice. Practicing every moment of every day is my Life process.

I will find my prize at the end of this double rainbow when I reach the other side of this Life. But as I travel on my journey, I continue to notice every-day prizes like that tree, the river and the rainbow; the bird song and the fish jumps.

Making time to quiet my mind, especially "the squirrels in my head", as my sister would say, is one of my greatest challenges. Those critters keep me stuck. But they are smaller than me, and cannot keep me down. They are in the past, and the past is over. I am here in the Now. I take a deep breath and blow out the pain. I realize my past cannot hurt me, it enriches me. I become like the rainbow: full of beautiful color and light.

Writing this blog post is my first step back to that memoir and those memories. They are now in perspective and I can move forward once more.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Honoring a life form.

On the last day of our wonderful vacation on North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, my sister-in-law and I took our last hour-long beach walk after eating a 6:30 a.m. breakfast with our husbands and sending them off to their last day of golf in the heat and high humidity. We love these walks. With Hurricane Leslie far out in the Atlantic Ocean, dark clouds hung over the horizon keeping us cool, and the early morning temperature today was cooler than it has been over the last three days. We were more tired this morning than usual, but as we walked, watching the little terns and sandpipers pecking their long bills into the sand hunting for snails and who knows what else while playing tag with the waves (they seem to hate to get their little feet wet), we picked up the pace and chatted. The roaring waves were as loud today as they have been, so I had trouble hearing her soft voice next to me. I always feel a little badly having to say a little too often, "What?"

About half-way down on the first leg of our walk we saw a surf-caster with his rod bent a little too far. "He has something," I said. "We have to stay and watch what he caught," Karan echoed my thoughts. "The only thing I've seen anybody catch, " I said, "is a little brim-size fish about the side of a sunfish." We stopped with several men on the beach, some who seemed to be friends or comrades of the fisherman and watched his technique. He held his rod straight up as the tip bent far forward and walked backwards on the beach. He kept walking and we side-stepped as he went to give him plenty of room and to get out of the way of his taught line. He walked pretty far back, slowly and steadily, giving the line plenty of rest in between not to rush whatever was on his hook, and allow it to get away or to break the line. Then he reeled the line in quickly walking toward the shore again before stopping and repeating his walk backwards.

An older woman with her plastic rain hood tied around her chin and her head down marched along the beach straight towards the taught fishing line. It was clear to all of us that she didn't even see the line, the fisherman or the rest of us all standing around. One of the men yelled, "Ma'am! Watch out, Ma'am!" But she didn't even react to his voice, and the poor fisherman had to lift up his taught rod to avoid cutting into her neck or forehead. We thought he had lost the fish, but sure enough, the line was still taught and he still had something on it. I wondered if that woman went though life that way: walking towards who knows what with her head down instead of looking where she was going or at what was around her: one of the walking unconscious, as I like to refer to them.

We kept looking at the line and tried to follow its trajectory into the surf looking for a splash or some sign of what he had caught. "I hope it's not a clump of seaweed working against the surf," I said. I kept looking back and forth, and soon, all the men rushed towards the surf's edge. There was something flapping on the shore. It was a stingray. It's wingspan had to be at least two feet wide. It's tail was about as long or maybe just a bit longer. An older man, not the fisherman, grabbed the stingray like a bowling ball with his thumbs in its eye sockets to carry it up the beach. The hook was caught in its wing close to the edge. I was very surprised the hook didn't tear out. That tissue had to be really tough. The fisherman couldn't even pull his hook out. He had to cut it out, notching the wing leaving a hook-like tear in its edge.

"Flip it over", the fisherman yelled over the roar of the surf, "it's easier to deal with it that way". So the old guy flipped it over after a couple of tries, again using the eye sockets for leverage. Once flipped, we could see its gaping mouth open gasping for air. Its chest heaved up and down and I walked around toward the top of its overturned head to see in its wide mouth. There were sharp, pointy teeth in there! We were all fascinated.

"Cut the tail off," the fisherman said. "Step on the top of it to hold it down," the old guy told one of the male bystanders. While his foot held down the fish, the old guy used his pocket knife to cut the tail off a couple of inches from the fish's body. "Why are you cutting his tail off," I asked. "To get rid of the stinger,"the old man said. He picked up the detached tail to put his knife blade into the socket where the stinger met the tail. The stinger was farther up the tail and located under it, close to the body. We all expected the tip to be the stinger. It was not like that at all.The stinger was hard and very pointy. The old man tossed the cut-off tail with stinger into the surf. Karan took note that it would probably wash back to shore or lay on the bottom where some unsuspecting swimmer could step on it. She wondered if someone did step on that stinger, if it would poison them as well as hurt them.

"What will you do with it (the fish)," I asked, "Will you eat it?" A young man standing with the group with a Spanish-sounding accent said, "Yes". He was not the fisherman. "What do you eat?" I asked again. "The wings," he said. "How do you cook it?" I asked again. I was fascinated now. He ran his fingers along the contour of the stingray's body to indicate the wings would be cut off along this line. "You don't eat the body?" I continued. "No," he said. "The wings have a lot of meat and no bone." "Is the texture like swordfish or tough?" I continued. "No, it's different." "Does it have its own flavor?" I asked again. "No," he obliged.

"Well, congratulations," I said both to him and the fisherman, "I'm glad you're going to eat it." My heart melted in that moment as I watched the struggling fish trying to breath with is bleeding cut off tail. It must have been in pain and not killing it outright, but letting it suffer in this manner seemed cruel to me. I appreciate killing for food. I do not like killing just for sport. But, I also respect life enough to not let the creature suffer. These men didn't care about that part at all. In my mind's eye, I put my finger tips between the stingray's eyes on its "third eye" and blessed it. I thanked it for it's sacrifice and it's life. I asked it to provide a tasty meal for this young man, and then I had to walk away. I thought I would cry, but I didn't. It's food, I thought again.

Witnessing this catch was very exciting. I learned lots of knew things about catching, eating and cooking stingray. A woman and her friend walking by expressed her revulsion at eating such a thing. She would never even consider it. "Where's your sense of adventure," I posed to her. She just laughed me off and kept walking. Once again, I missed the opportunity to capture this event on digital film. I have not once remembered to bring my camera on our walks. But I am still praying for the life of that stingray, hoping God will kill it quickly and not let it suffer too much

As we walked back by to finish our walk, we saw the young man had not taken the fish away. I didn't see him anywhere. The old man left it on the wet sand and had pulled his cart over it. Was he hiding it or protecting it from dogs being walked on the beach. I heard the fisherman tell him the law was to catch and release it right away. The stingray was the same color as the wet sand, so I imagined if the beach police rode by, they would not see anything obvious. We also noticed that they were present while the fisherman was reeling in his catch, but left the scene before seeing what he had caught. Maybe they don't monitor licenses or catches on beaches that survive through tourism. I really don't know. It just upsets me that those men had no respect for that poor fish and let it die slowly instead of finishing the job on the spot. When we walked back by, the stingray was not moving. Again, I had to tell myself, "It's food," and try to let it go.