Low Country High

Bonaire Sunset

I’m back.

Mostly.

Part of me lies at 40 feet where moments of awe and joy are with me still even after returning home late Sunday. I’ve got a raging head cold which fortunately began on the  day of our return –literally mid-air–from our “low-country” island paradise.  No worries though; honestly, my pounding head has not dampened my spirits one bit.

So….we are back from six days of scuba diving in the Caribbean;  the lovely island of Bonaire to be specific. The last time I visited this pearl was seventeen years ago.  Discovered around 1499, this tiny gem lies 50 miles off the coast of Venezuela and is neighbor to nearby Aruba and Curacao (together, the three of them form what are called the ABC Islands which are the western Lesser Antilles).    Boniare is roughly 24 miles long and between three and seven miles wide.  It is said that the name Bonaire is derived from the Caquetio word Bonay, which means low country.  The Caquetio, a branch of now extinct Arawak natives (indigenous peoples of South America and the Caribbean) who lived in northwestern Venezuela along the shores of Lake Maracaibo are believed to be the earliest inhabitants of  Bonaire (as well as Aruba and Curacao), arriving in dug-out canoes around 1000 A.D.   Archeological evidence of the Caquetio culture has been found in Kralendijk (Bonaire’s capital) and near the shallow, glass-like Lac Bay.   Alas, we were too consumed with scuba diving to visit the caves where rock paintings and petroglyphs from this ancient civilization are still evident.  Perhaps a third visit?

The diving, though not without challenges (namely equipment failures), was simply amazing.  However, I’ll have to admit to an irritation that nearly made me come un-done.   I completely bombed on my first day the one skill that I thought I had mastered during my pool refresher class.

Yep.  I could not clear my mask!

And yes…full disclosure….I had a panic attack.

I didn’t see that coming…..

Fortunately for me (or rather, my ego) no one witnessed the frantic, flailing red-head just of off the pier in scarcely twelve feet of water.  I couldn’t see a blasted thing through my flooded mask, so I panicked because not only is mask-clearing a necessary skill, it was one that I had thought I had pretty much mastered.  Now, moments before we are set to embark on our first boat dive to about 60-70 feet, I clearly was not prepared.

My mind was clear enough in my panic to inflate my BCD (Buoyancy Compensator Device) full throttle (filling it with air) so that I could float on my back and chill myself out.  It took a moment or two of floating in the turquoise blue water before I got my head back on straight and tried again….and again, and again.    It wasn’t until day three of our trip that I found out my mask was–in a word–defective: Rocket-man, a skilled mask clearer, could never get it to de-fog (clear) either!  Turns out it was a brand that made the company that developed it to go belly up some seventeen years ago because, well, the mask didn’t work for folks! How I was discovering the problem now after using it all those years ago perplexes me to no end.

The issue was finally remedied by Marcos, one of the dive guides.  Heavily inked and with zero body fat, this quiet soul left his home in Venezuela some twenty years ago to live in Bonaire.  “Hugo Chavez ruined my country,” he said.   He would be correct as it certainly paved the way for the state of affairs in Venezuela today.  Marcos aches for what is happening in his home country but acknowledges that life has been infinitely better for him since leaving it.   Anyhow, he heard me complaining to Rocket-man and came to my rescue (as it pertains to me, it would be the first of two damsel-in-distress moments, but that’s for another time).   He kindly let me use another mask for the rest of the week without charging me a rental fee.  We certainly appreciated the small break as we had already racked up rental fees since we had to ditch some of our own gear which, for the record, had been serviced just before our trip and worked in the pool session but strangely malfunctioned on day one of our scuba adventure.  Go figure!

Anyhow, I practically did  somersaults of joy at sixty feet as I was finally able to see clearly all the spectacular underwater sights.  For instance, there was the vibrant orange seahorse like this fellow:

Image courtesy of DesiBucket.com

….and, there were Moray eels and Flamingo Tongues (brightly colored sea snails).  There were also pretty Parrot Fish, schools of Sergeant Majors, and beautiful Butterfly Fish as well as Angel Fish, menacing-looking Barracuda, Flounder, enormous Tarpons, Trumpet fish, and even a turtle sighting. And that’s just fish.   The dizzying variety of underwater landscape from different types of coral to sea fans, etc. …In all, simply too many spectacular beauties to recount.

For all the sea life to love there is one fish however, that while strikingly cool in appearance, is cause for a certain loathing.  It’s a fish that is causing a great deal of harm to the reef system –not to mention the pain that can be inflicted from their venomous spines.   That would be Lionfish.  These fish are not native to the lovely Caribbean waters.  They are threatening  the ecosystem in the Caribbean as well as the Gulf of Mexico and the southeast coast of the U.S.   Unfortunately, we saw lots of these fish which are actually natives of the Indo-Pacific.  In fact, every time we saw a Lionfish, fellow diver, Karen–who was positively amazing at maintaining neutral buoyancy I might add–would flip the bird at it.   I’ll confess to laughing in my mask the first time she did it because… well…it’s not everyday you see someone flipping the bird underwater.

Cool but dangerous

Certainly striking in appearance, Lionfish have no natural enemies.  One of the most aggressively invasive species on the planet they are carnivores, feeding on small crustaceans and fish, including red snapper and grouper which obviously affects commercial fishing.  While it’s not entirely known how these fish wound up so far from their natural habitat it is speculated that people have been dumping these fish from home aquariums.  Now there is sanctioned hunting of Lionfish (permit required) and in 2010 the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association) even initiated a campaign, “The Lionfish as Food,” to get people to eat the fish.  Apparently, though the fish as some eighteen venomous spines when properly filleted, the naturally venomous fish is safe to eat.

I’ll stick to Salmon, Tuna, and snapper thank you very much.

My words in this blog-space simply cannot capture the magnificence of what I saw….what I felt.  But when I close my eyes I can still see in surprising vividness, the sun subtly filtering through the water some forty feet above me… and there I am in a moment of quiet stillness, not affected one bit by sensory overload of a million things to see, but rather taken completely out of my head, stripped of past and future…in the now… and my soul is bursting with bliss and wonder as my body is surrounded by a school of stunningly brilliant  Blue Tang  (image from: By Tewy – Own work, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1382534).

Blue Tang

Parrot Fish

There’s more to recount of my island week to be sure.  In fact, I’m holding tight to every experience, even those moments of high anxiety.  As I sit here at my desk staring out the window bracing for another cold-front set to come our way, I’m certain dear reader that you’ll understand…. I’m in no hurry whatsoever to let go of my low-country high.

Island time bliss

 

Wintry Mix

 

Twenty-one days into the new year and what pops into my head on this frigidly cold winter day is: Wintry Mix. That seems to best define the past few weeks….a mix of snow, wind, and rain…and good and well, not so good.

Winter berry bliss

The good includes sleeping in (rare for me) and days of delicious soups and stews, homemade bread and chicken pot pie….popcorn and Netflix movie afternoons and even a movie theater outing where we…gulp…received senior citizen discounts.   And then, there were romps in the snow.

Yes, we had a lovely snow accumulation a week ago. In fact, my back still aches from shoveling a good six inches of accumulation of the beautiful white stuff from the long, long driveway that constitutes our “pipe-stem” of four homes. Rocket-man shoveled the most as I was somewhat preoccupied with The Poodle.  I had let him out, off-leash, wearing his smart coat of course, to frolic in the snow.  And what fun he had….he was a maniac, running to and fro with unbridled joy stopping only on occasion to  stick his snout into the cold snow for lord knows what….

Cannot imagine what he’s hoping to find…..

 

I also spent a lovely afternoon playing in the snow with my nephew.   Within walking distance from the house is a substantial hill that is mighty popular with the kids…and adults too.  However, it’s just on the backside of a small dam to a man-made lake which means lots of large rocks at the base of the hill.  Images of broken limbs, or worse, popped into my head as I watched kids sled down the hill  some barely missing the rocks that could literally break their momentum as well as their noggin.  To decrease the chances of injury some parents parked themselves well in front of the rocks to catch their kids.  Sis and I did this as well while marveling over the magnificent blue sky and the unexpected sighting of a bald eagle flying from his lofty perch a stones’ throw away from all the energetic play in the snow.

“Come on Zia CC. Try just one ride down with me!” my nephew pleaded more than once.

My favorite little man on the planet.

“Are you kidding me?  Our combined weight will surely send us crashing into those rocks; your mama cannot possibly stop our momentum,” I told him.  “Plus, your Zia isn’t a spring chicken anymore.”  I’m certain the latter was lost on my nephew.

“Please CC!   It’ll be fun. Just dig your heels in to slow the sled down.  You won’t get hurt.”

I chewed on his request for a good five more rounds of him sledding down the hill and trudging back up.  Live in the moment, a little voice said.  And this is a moment that will create a memory not just for you but  for your favorite little man.   So, I surprised him by accepting his request.

“Just once….for you,” I said as I climbed on the sled behind him, doing my best not to show the terror in my eyes as I stared down the long slope of the mountain….I mean, hill.

And so,  before I had a chance to chicken out away we went…. down the length of the hill careening perfectly to the right off the sled before reaching my waiting sis.  Naturally, it was a blast.  For two nanoseconds I was a ten year-old kid!  And yes, it was thrilling enough for me to practically crawl back up the steep slope and sled down again.   Later we toasted to our snow day fun (and the fact that no bones were broken in the process) at a packed Starbucks.

So what possibly could be not so good?

For starters. the partial government shut down still drags on affecting thousands of folks to include my sister’s family.  It’s well past ridiculous.  I wish the two sides would quit the political game-playing, and simply come to the table and start seriously doing their jobs.

And, though quite the first world problem …I am still lamenting the loss of a diamond ear stud the day before Christmas.  Alas, I’ve retraced my steps over half of Northern Virginia without luck.  What a sight I must have appeared to those who witnessed a crazy woman, red hair all askew, at World Market…searching on hands and knees (yep…that was me!).  Anything that even faintly gleamed made my heart stop in hope.  Note to you kind readers: their floors are beyond filthy!

And last but not least…perhaps even more tragic than a lost diamond earring….

I broke my mouth guard.

The Earth stopped on its axis, I am sure of it, for a good long minute as the horror of the moment unfolded.

Laugh not folks.

It accidentally got knocked off the nightstand and fell to the wood floor and broke into several pieces.

I have a love/hate relationship with that piece of plastic in my mouth at night.  But after breaking teeth (which required two dental implants) it’s a vital “partner” in my night-time ritual.   Not to mention the fact that it’s $400 to replace it.

Not to worry.  Tropical bliss happens, next week.  Stay tuned.

Stretching the Gray Matter…

A ray of sunlight streams through the window in the small space that is my study. Dust particles in the air seem to dance in that stream of light as if in appreciation of the sun finally making a grand appearance after many dreary winter days. It may only be for a few moments, or with any hope, hours but still, all shines happy in this moment in my room…which clearly needs tidying and a good swipe of the dust cloth.

Sigh.

Alas, I don’t have the energy even for a vacuum cleaner.  I’m still tired from an out-of-the-usual experience just the other day.  The fact that I’m not a spring chicken anymore is ever clearer to me, even as I acknowledge that part of my tiredness (and feeling older than I really should) is due to a marked change in my fitness regimen.  I’m not sure what label to give it because any word I would use would be negative and counter-productive to living in a more bliss-full state… (e.g. lazy comes to mind).

My out-of-the-usual experience involved three hours in the swimming pool.

And heavens no…I did not swim for three hours (those days are long past!).  I would most likely still be in bed if that were the case!

So, it’s not news that last year was spent dealing–or trying to deal with–getting through to my wayward adult son.  Ten months of trying to help him help himself left me depleted both emotionally and physically. Add to that house projects and other family issues, and a robust work schedule for Rocket-man (nothing to complain about there for sure, but still….)  all of which made Rocket-man emphatically proclaim:  It’s time for a little fun in 2019!”

His first action for the new year was to book a scuba-diving vacation.  It’s been over ten years since I last donned a wet-suit.  That was for an impromptu afternoon scuba adventure in Hawaii where Rocket-man was attending a work-related conference.  Prior to that it had been seven years since we had been on an actual scuba diving vacation.  Naturally, I was game for my husband’s plan however not without a healthy amount of reservation mixed with a sprinkling of fear.

“It’s been over ten years since we’ve been scuba diving.  “My wet-suit probably won’t even fit now,” I said.  “….and besides, we’ll need a refresher course of some sort before we go.”

“Nah….it will all come back to you on day one of our dive vacation….sort of like riding a bicycle,” said the Ph.D. dude who has many more dives under his belt than moi.

So, we are in the basement rifling through our scuba equipment that has been stored in boxes through two moves.  “Clearly we need to get our gear serviced before our trip,” says Rocket-man as he carefully inspects his regulator.   Meanwhile, I look at my wet-suit noting the size tag: medium.  Hmm.  Yeah, right I think to myself as I steal upstairs to try it on as Rocket-man continues going through the gear.  With some struggle, common with wet-suits, I try it on and am amazed that I can still zip it up.  Standing in front of the large floor mirror I regard the image before me.

“It is what it is.  It’s not my best post-menopausal look but it could be worse,” I whisper with a rueful grin.

Back downstairs, Rocket-man has gathered the equipment that needs to be serviced.  I hold up my BCD vest.  It’s black and purple and looks no worse for the wear after being stored away for so long.  “I don’t even remember what BCD stands for,” I say to my husband.

“Buoyancy Control Device,” he answered.

Ah…yes.

“So what does this do? I asked pointing to a long, rigid hose on the left shoulder of the BCD vest.

Rocket-man does not give me a “you’re a dolt” look but I can see for a moment he is perplexed that I don’t remember something so…well… basic.  “That’s the BC inflator hose.  You know, to inflate the BC for…

“…yes, duh….buoyancy,”  I reply.   “Okay….still, as you can see, I would feel more comfortable if we spent some time reacquainting ourselves with all of this.  Maybe you don’t need it, but I certainly do.  I won’t feel one bit comfortable in the water without a refresher class.  And, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that it’s not particularly safe to go open water diving without knowing what the hell you’re doing.”

“Okay,” said Rocket-man.  I’ll schedule a class through the dive shop.  I’ll do it with you so you don’t have to go it alone.  You are, after all, my beautiful dive buddy.”

Swoon.

Then, for a few minutes he patiently goes over the five basic parts and functions of the diving regulator, that critical piece of equipment which enables one to breathe from a scuba tank.  Inquiring minds can check out this useful link: https://www.thoughtco.com/parts-of-a-scuba-diving-regulator-4123025

As you may have surmised by now, the three-hour pool session was our scuba refresher class.  I was excited to be at the pool with gear in hand, that is…until I learned that  a pop-quiz would be the start of our session!   Real test anxiety called for calming breaths.  A voice in my head said go with the flow; don’t resist.   Still, when I got to the section on Dive Tables and determining surface intervals and bottom time, I choked.  Literally.  I mean, look at the table for yourself and tell me if your eyes don’t glaze over!  I missed more than I am happy to admit.  Even my Ph.D. dude missed a couple of questions.

PADI: Recreational Dive Table

Crushed, I thought that surely it would be further downhill from there but luckily going over the tables with the dive instructor helped to slowly stretch the good old gray matter and things started to make sense once again; with weeks to practice with the dive table over various scenarios before my trip I’ll feel more than prepared.  In addition, I passed most of the underwater skills on the first try!  Even one that I struggled with years ago during my open water scuba certification, Mask Clearing.

We both had some trouble with maintaining neutral buoyancy during our three hours but even the instructor admitted that one pool session wasn’t going to help us achieve that certain drag-less grace in the water (e.g. no flailing around with hands and legs potentially kicking up sand and/or bumping into other divers).   It is one of the harder skills to master and needs, first and foremost correct “weighting” of the body combined with particular attention to breathing through inhales and exhales.  Our instructor assured us that by day two in the water during our scuba vacation we’d be hovering practically motionless horizontally and streamlining our bodies effortlessly and efficiently with the style and grace of an elegant sea creature.

After class, as I showered and then rinsed the chlorine off my wet-suit, I thought about how important it is, as we age, to keep stepping out of the box, even for an afternoon.  Body and brain were stretched and tired but there was a beautiful satisfaction in knowing that I did not resist…I just did…and that buoyed my spirits for the rest of the day.

After class, as we hauled our gear and tired bodies to the car, Rocket-man, without provocation from yours truly, admitted:

“You were right Cristina.”

“What’s that you say my dearest? ”

“You were right to insist on a refresher class.”

How blissful to mine ears!

Golden Rule Moments…

It’s never an easy thing to spend time visiting someone in a continuing care facility, though I have to admit the place in Arizona where my mom spent the last year and a half of her life was pretty close to a five-star resort–and therefore, actually a lovely place to visit.  For example, the spacious marble-floored halls on the main level were adorned with works of art fit for fine museums.  Holiday brunch was a dress-to-the-nines affair and the food was fantastic.  On one visit I got to swim in one of two large saltwater pools.  At this “convent” as my mother would inexplicably call it, there was even a beautiful, fully stocked bar –resort-worthy–where residents could enjoy evening–or, more accurately,  early afternoon, libations.  In a grand ball-room, monthly entertainment featured chorale and quartet performances as well as guest speakers, solo musicians, dancers, poets, authors…basically, all sorts of talented, top-notch performers.

Alas, five-star living is not in the cards for Rocket-man’s mother who is now in a memory care unit for dementia.  The facility is in a small country community outside of Pittsburgh.  I won’t name names, but apparently the company boasts the following on their website:  “Proud recipient of the 2018 Best of Senior Living Award from SeniorAdvisor.com the largest ratings and reviews site for senior care and services in North America. To qualify for this award, you must be the best of the best in senior care, based on online reviews written by seniors and their families.”

Without going into details, let’s just say I disagree. 

Okay…I will admit that is not altogether fair to compare the two care facilities; it’s an apples and oranges kind of thing.  But I also base my Opine on the fact that I worked as a marketing assistant in a continuing care facility some years ago and while it wasn’t five-star resort worthy it was, hands down, a far better place than the halls I walked through just days ago.

Sigh…How I wish money wasn’t an issue; it would have been lovely to give this woman brighter surroundings.  The place where she is spending her final years is exceedingly depressing, nowhere near the grandeur that my mother was fortunate to have lived in even for a short time. The fact that  my mother constantly griped about “her circumstances” made my head spin at the time, and this…my third visit to see my mother-in-law in such dismal place, makes it spin once again…

I know, I know. I must let it go….

So….The plan was to spend an overnight in a nearby hotel so that we could have as much holiday time with mom as possible.    Unfortunately weather would throw a monkey wrench into our plans as snow was indicated for our drive into the Allegheny mountains.  We’d been tracking the weather reports for Pennsylvania for a week and things were looking pretty certain for a  lovely white Christmas in hubby’s home town.   Given that the weather guys often miss the mark my sis–who would watch The Poodle for the night– seemed puzzled that we were adjusting our visiting plans due to possible inclement weather.   I understood where she was coming from; she, like me, didn’t want a family member in a nursing home to be forgotten about during the holidays.

“We’re not spring chickens anymore,” I told her.  “We don’t think it’s safe for us to make the five-hour drive (one way) navigating through freezing rain and snow in the mountains and on the forever-being-worked-on Pennsylvania Turnpike.” So the original plan was scrapped and instead we made it an up and back trip–all in one day, in order to beat snow that was forecasted for the following day.  We didn’t quite succeed in beating freezing rain and yes…we got to see a bit of the white stuff while traveling through the mountains which actually made us feel festive through the heaviness of our purpose.

Although quantity of time was an issue, quality was not.   Ever mindful of how invisible  most senior folks often feel, I was determined to make an effort to connect with every resident I encountered during our brief visit.  In the dining room where some folks sat slouched in their chairs (or wheelchairs) over a lunch that looked thoroughly unappetizing,  I mingled with as many folks as I could.  I sat with Naomi, whose lips were painted a bright cheerful red, and her table-mate Tiki, who spoke in barely a mumble, listening to their stories.  I shook hands with “George” who sported a Korean War baseball cap and I thanked him for his service.  He talked about a boy (his son?), rambling on quite a bit but there was such a delightful twinkle in his eyes that I happily stayed at his table for a spell.  I mingled with other residents too as Rocket-man continued sitting with his mother…he struggling to have a good conversation and she, unaware, confused… but poignantly resigned that there was nothing remotely to be excited about on this day, or any day for that matter.  And though I took issue with certain things I saw during my visit–like a resident slouched in sleep in her wheelchair that was parked in the middle of the hallway for much too long–my heart swelled at the sight of one staff member sitting on the edge of a single bed reading a letter from a family member to a resident whose deeply wrinkled face was peaceful and his frame withered to a feather-light whisper…

We will all be there…

So kind readers, I will admit that I’ve never been able to feel a close connection with my mother-in-law.  It’s just the way it has always been.  But her sad resignation during a moment of her crystal-clear thinking made my heart immensely sad for her.   I know too that Rocket-man felt enormously guilty about such a short visit just two days before Christmas. 

How blunt are all the arrows of thy quiver in comparison with those of guilt.
– Robert Blair

We did our very best to spread cheer.  I spent time rearranging items in her room after she unwrapped gifts.  I had to grit my teeth over all the layers of dust on furniture and the general disarray and clutter that we encountered in her room.   I gave Rocket-man “the look”…as in, nearly $4k a month and this!?  I knew from the set of his jaw that he’d be talking, once again, to the facility director.

And, yes, I simply could not hold back my unsolicited opinion about Rocket-man’s younger sister who lives less than three miles away from where her mother now resides.  Honestly, I tried to zip my lip with Rocket-man but I couldn’t help the anger that escaped as I fussed over setting things better in the small room. 

“Without hesitation, you’ve done all the hard stuff,” I said in a hushed whisper while his mother was in the bathroom.   “…and from hundreds of miles away.  Your sister has the easy part now–it could be as simple as short visits a couple of times a week to check in on mom and make sure things are being properly taken care of here in her room.  Yet she cannot seem to put her ego aside long enough to manage that,” I seethed. 

Let it go….let it goI breathed.  Of course, my anger will not help my husband’s head.

Suffice it so say said sister is a grand disappointment though that doesn’t sufficiently convey my feelings.  Family dynamics can be awfully messy to be sure, but when the chips fall,  elderly parents in their declining years should not have to be subjected to neglect and abandonment.  Kick family baggage to the closet, I say!  In the end we must take the higher road.   Follow the Golden Rule:  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

As the year draws to a close and a new one begins with hope and promise, consider a resolution to add to the list:  If you have a friend or relative in a nursing home set aside even an hour once or twice a month to visit them.   Understandably, that might not be feasible due to distance or the mess of life, so send flowers or small care packages.  Write a letter and ask that a staff member read it out aloud.  I can tell you that witnessing that simple act of kindness was a huge relief to me; somehow, it gave me a sense of peace and hope for my future.

No….it is not fun to visit anyone in a nursing home, particularly as it forces one to face mortality.  And no, it is not easy especially if family histories were fraught with difficulty and conflict …

But simply think about that Golden Rule.  How do you want to be treated during your final years?  Whether you are fortunate enough to be in your own home or must call a care facility your final home, I’d posit that you–like me–would want to be treated with loving kindness and the simple act of attention.

Through thick and thin and everything in between, wishing you and yours Bliss in the new year.

Mother and son



Comfort and Joy…

Peace on Earth

May your walls know joy, may every room hold laughter, and every window open to great possibility
— Mary Anne Radmacher

Perhaps it’s the age thing…or maybe that I’ve been faithful with Andy and Headspace for 63 days straight, and counting, but since Thanksgiving weekend I’ve been playing Christmas music…non-stop…even when working out.

Oh come on, you can say it: That is weird!

“Silent Night” and a myriad of variations of “Jingle Bells”…while lifting weights?  Yes…weird.

Oh, but how magical these past weeks have been!  I feel like the kid I should have been allowed to be all those years ago.  

Better late than never, wouldn’t you agree?!

So, Thanksgiving weekend had us in the scenic Blue Ridge mountains attending a blast of a wedding.  Specifically, Asheville, NC., an off-beat college town nestled in the mountains between the confluence of the French Broad and Swannanoa rivers.  On the heels of a weekend full of wedding festivities our spirits were high during our long drive home.  Though the skies were winter-weary gray and the chill in the air was enough to warrant bun-warmers on full blast in the car, the seven hour drive had me singing to the sounds of the seasons nearly the entire way home.  Curiously, all these weeks later I still am not jingle-belled out.  Even through all the rather silly insanely stupid controversy over “Baby It’s Cold Outside” I sing (and dance myself silly) whenever, wherever I can.

The year is quickly drawing to a close and as some folks have noted, it’s been not altogether blissful, but more of a Topsy-turvy, roller-coaster kind of a ride.  I’ve no idea what 2019 will bring and honestly, I’m not even thinking of it… much.  A marked departure from my usual process.

I’m simply enjoying the here and now..the comfort and joy and, yes, even tear-filled moments…

…like holding my children’s first Christmas ornaments close to my heart before gingerly hanging them on the tree…

…or handing a $20 bill to a homeless guy in a wheelchair: “God bless you,” he said.  “No…God bless you,” I replied.

There has been Pizzelle making with my nephew as well as our first Christmas shopping experience together–sans his parents….

…and watching Rocket-man string up lights outside and marveling together, his hand warming mine, how beautiful and festive everything looks in our neighborhood.

…And, like this morning, impromptu coffee dates with my sister.  Even beaver sightings during daily walks in the woods with The Poodle– hands freezing and cheeks too…I’m treasuring every moment, uncharacteristically full of hope and wonder for the season, and all the seasons to come… willing my spirits high even when a less than blissful memory threatens to break the spell of it all.

Though we have yet to bake sheets of cookies (it’s on the list this week) perhaps best of all has been Hallmark Christmas Movies with my Poodle-Love snoozing on my lap.  Judge not peeps;  I’ll happily admit to this indulgence.  Though formulaic and fantastical, it’s a wholesome escape from the insanity of headline news.

So, before the rest of the week gets away from me…and I trust that it will…let me take this moment to wish you and yours days upon days filled with comfort and endless joy.

Oh, and one more thing….spread your bliss whenever and wherever you can! 

 

This ornament is 32 years old.
Merry Christmas 

Two Peeved Peeps

Me and my shadow

 

 

He’s getting mighty cantankerous in his senior years….stubborn too. I’ve called him some ten times already; still he refuses to budge. It’s not his hearing that is the problem. I could whisper one word…cheese…and he’d shoot down the stairs like a missile.

No, it’s not hubby that I speak of though his stubborn streak is long and deep.  I’m talking of The Poodle, of course.

With leash in hand I stomp up the stairs miffed that I even must. 

The Poodle, comfy in hismy…study chair is aware that I am none too pleased.  I stand before him with the look. 

“Come on old man…let’s go.  I’ve got things to do and places to go.”

He complies but ever so reluctantly.  He’s almost sloth-like as we make our way down the stairs.   But then, as I reach for his smart winter coat that is in a pretty wicker basket by the front door his energy picks up—he practically runs in the opposite direction.

Rocket-man howls with laughter.  Me?  I’m peeved.

“You think this is funny?” I say in exasperation as I go in search of The Poodle.  “I really don’t have time for this.”

“Yo…Brando….get over here,” I all but bellow.  Clearly, I am not in the mood for games this morning.  I suppose it’s the stress of the season.  My house looks like a bomb went off.  I’ve got boxes of Christmas decor all over the living room.  I’m behind in everything–from laundry to Italian, and a list a mile long of stuff to do…. which makes no sense at all since I’m not a working gal.   How is it I got more stuff accomplished when I worked full-time, took care of kids, went to school and trained for marathons?

Sigh.

Finally The Poodle inches his way back to the front door. 

I sit on the floor and coax him into my lap.  Looking into his eyes I whisper, I love you as I caress his head and torso.   Then I begin putting on his coat.  With his tail down between his legs he looks awfully pathetic….like he is being punished for some far-flung reason.

I’m practically gushing with “good boy” praises as he lets me arrange his coat on properly. 

“Good boy….you’re such a good boy!   I know you are not fond of this coat but you do look so very handsome in it.”

His look tells me he is not at all convinced by my words….of course he isn’t!  “Look…It’s 27 degrees outside–and it’s very windy–so it’s gonna feel like it’s 19.  Besides, you’ve got a hitch in your giddy-up with arthritis….and well….it’s a Pendleton coat for goodness sake.  How can you not like it?”

If he could talk I’m sure he say:  I much prefer my own coat, thank you very much.

We make our way out the door and into the woods.  It’s a beautiful day–just freaking cold.  Round this bend and that our walk in the woods is quiet and lovely….until I see a woman walking her two Scottish terriers coming towards us.  Her pups are dressed in Argyle sweaters, one pink and one blue.  Both dogs are all snarls and snaps. It is their usual demeanor every single morning as we pass them during our walk.  The Poodle always ignores them as if to say “What atrocious manners you two have.”

Except for this morning.  My boy snarls right back.  If fact he’s barking and pulling as if he wants a piece of them!  Whoa! What gives?!

“Leave it!” I say as I pull him close to my side.  “Easy boy….easy.”

Not five minutes later he does the same thing with another dog–a chocolate lab.  Normally my boy is as easy-going as a Sunday morning. 

When we are out of ear shot range I stop and order my boy to sit.  He complies immediately.

“What’s with you this morning?” I ask gently as I rub his snout.  It’s not like you to be in such a pissy mood.”

If he could talk he’d probably say: You weren’t too chipper this morning either mom….like you humans, we have our bad days too.  Now take off this damn coat….

As we head back home I take in, once more, the delicious quiet of the morning.  Yes, my Poodle-love…we were two peeved peeps this morning.  And really, there was no good reason for mine! There are far more pressing matters happening all over the world to get one’s tinsel in a tangle over.   Let’s go home and make things right: it’s off with the coat and a treat for you and Christmas singing whilst trimming the tree for me.

There is bliss in that.

I’d much prefer my own, stylin’ black coat, thank you very much!

How Do The Birds Still Sing?

I had been procrastinating on this visit for, well…years. It was Miss Cookie, my friend of eons and more, who came for a short visit that prompted me to rip off the band-aid so to speak. There was never going to be a good time. There was never going to be a time where my head would be in the “right” place to receive the horror without profound effect on my heart.  Of course there wouldn’t be…

Oddly enough, even the weather knew.  It was almost bone-chilling cold.  The skies above our nation’s capital were a somber gray, not a hint of blue to be seen.  In fact, spits of rain threatened to turn into sloppy snowflakes later in the day.

As we waited on the metro platform Miss Cookie posed the question yet again:  “Are you sure you want to go there?  After all, I’m just here to see you…no need to do any touristy stuff.”

“I lived here for more than fourteen years and never went and now that I am back in the area I cannot put it off any longer,” was my reply.  “I don’t know why…I just feel It’s necessary, especially with what just happened.”

Miss Cookie nods in silent understanding.  The attack and murder of Jewish worshipers at The Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh had happened just a few weeks before.

After a small hiccup on our metro journey into downtown we disembarked at The Smithsonian metro. It took a moment to get our bearings before we headed in the direction of our purpose.  Bundled cozily enough against the cold it would only be a short walk…eight minutes or so.  Our pace was quick though in hindsight I should have slowed to a stroll ….taken my time…but that meant delaying the inevitable.  I cannot procrastinate any longer on this.  I was not about to turn around no matter how tempting it would be.

And then, there we were.  Standing in front on the one museum that I’d avoided for years…

The Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, Nobel Peace Prize recipient, and author of some 57 books, including Night which describes his experience as a prisoner in both the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps said:

“Better than one heart be broken a thousand times in the retelling, if it means  that a thousand other hearts need not be broken at all.”

This museum, and many others like it…as well as countless books and movies about the Holocaust…all are an integral part in this constant, necessary retelling.  The reason is painfully obvious…

“A destruction, an annihilation that only man can provoke, only man can prevent.” ~ Elie Wiesel

And so, our self-guided visit began with a docent whose parents were survivors of the calculated annihilation that would take more than six million souls.  She told us her brief story while a group of us queued-up in the elevator that would take us to the fourth floor (in keeping with the chronological timeline, it’s recommended to start at the top floor and work down).  Just before getting on the elevator folks were directed to pick up an “identification card” from a large bookshelf containing hundreds upon hundreds of cards.  Each card told the story of a real person who lived during the Holocaust.  My card told the story of Monique, who thankfully survived the Holocaust.  She and her parents were among the lucky ones; they emigrated to the U.S. in 1950.  I will admit to breathing a heavy sigh of relief that the card I held told of a “happy” ending.

Miss Cookie and I would spend over three hours in the museum.  At first, I was peeved that what seemed like hoards of school kids were at the museum.  I’ve been to countless museums where groups of school kids behaved less than desirably.  In most cases they would be loud, obnoxious and, well….generally rude.  But this time I was truly moved by the hush of every young soul that toured the memorial.  There were times as we moved from one brutal image to another…or one exhibit on to the next…that you could hear a feather drop. The air was thick with a sobering reverence to be sure.

As we wound our way through each floor my heart, of course, grew heavier and heavier.  The exhibit of thousands of pairs of shoes worn by those souls who were exterminated made my stomach turn.  Though only a moment, it seemed like hours that I leaned against the wall staring at those shoes.  Every fiber in my being struggled to process what was left of the unimaginable horror some seven decades ago in the deliberately staged, and undeniably veritable scene of personal effects just inches away from me…

Shoes.  Shoes survived the horror. 

There are loonies (yes, absurdly idiotic folks) who firmly believe that the Holocaust did NOT happen.  Their minds are firm: There was no coordinated, systematic genocide of more than two thirds of European Jews, or their sympathizers, nor political activists, homosexuals, people of other races, the disabled,or, in effect, anyone whose looks and beliefs were in opposition with the Nazi regime during World War II.  They disregard, for example,  that entire towns were wiped off the map….more than SIX MILLION PEOPLE, murdered.  Such people claim that the six million count was wildly exaggerated…..that there are no credible records…no real “paper trail” to support the “claim”….no gas chambers….etc. etc.

Yeah. Right.

The black and white images in this memorial, and similar ones all over the world, tell a far different, incontrovertible story.  One need only Google “Holocaust” and in an instant hundreds upon hundreds of images from as many credible sources are to be found.  You’ve seen them, to be sure, dear reader…but though we must tell and retell until the end of time I still cannot post even one gruesome image.

Standing in front of a wall of names of those who rescued Jews, a memory surfaces from some thirty years ago when I first arrived in Stuttgart Germany as a young military wife.  As clear as yesterday I am sitting on a city bus with my toddler son sleeping on my lap.  I’d only been in country for a couple of weeks and was taking my first trip downtown for shopping.  Across from me an old man sits, his arm resting on an elaborately carved handle on a cane made of dark wood.  His body language seems sad beyond measure.  Our eyes met…it was barely a fleeting moment.  Was I imagining the weight of that evil not so long ago in his eyes?   I still remember being startled by the question in my heart…

Which were you…friend or foe?

I’m almost too ashamed to admit that I would spend three years in Germany without a visit to the concentration camps.  I did visit the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, an almost featherweight view in comparison, I know.  But the actual camps...

I simply could not do it.

Here I am today:  Miss Cookie has made her way home, grateful (as I am) that we shared this memorial visit together.  Though we were subdued for the remainder of that day we managed to finish the weekend visit with a fun-filled day of shopping for dinner fixings and then chopping those fixings to music and girlfriend talk.  How lucky am I for a friend like Miss Cookie; she filled my home with her unique wit, love, laughter, and the still-lingering scent of her fabulous Hungarian Goulash.

As I walked with The Poodle this morning,  I opt for no music…just silence.  I am still thinking about the memorial visit.  Perhaps it’s the approach of bitter cold weather that makes me think of the Holocaust or the few pages I’ve read of the historical fiction book I picked up just yesterday,  “The Tattooist of Auschwitz” by Heather Morris.  A wave of cold grips me though I’m bundled up quite nicely in a down coat. Dry, crisp autumn leaves swirl about us as the wind picks up.   “Let’s go home Poodle-love and sit together for awhile.”

The nightmare of those years makes me ask a hundred questions in my mind.  And now, uppermost in my thoughts in this moment, as I sit here struggling for the right words for this post with images swirling in my head of unspeakable things that I did not personally endure (and, failing miserably, to articulate anything coherent) is:

How is it that birds still sing?

How is it that the sun still shines? 

…And how can I feel so content with my poodle-love in my lap….when….

well, you get it….right?

Gas Chamber, Dachau