Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Years Resolutions 2016

No. 1 :

No. 2: 

I am keeping it simple this year. I always make LONG lists and never do any of them.

And I have finally realized that I am the only one who can make me happy or change any part of my life. 

I can't blame anyone else for the disappointments, the failures, the past. 
I HAVE to learn to live in the present moment.  I want to be more Zen in that way.

So here's to 2016! May it rock!!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

In the heart of a seed

a shell cracking open
slowly at first
minute cracks invisible to the naked eye
a fine crazing 
just on the surface

then going deeper
toward the heart
the meat
of the tender





new birth

splitting asunder
that tough exterior shell
until the cracks 
cross and meet
and the pieces 
start to fall
the chinks disappearing

Then one day
it is gone
the shell 
that sheltered
the innermost

the shards of it
lay on the ground
and the heartmeat
is free
no longer encased
but wholly present
leaning toward the future
away from the past imperfect
blooming in riotous joy

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Layers upon layers, question after question...

As a child I was curious about the world. I wondered how people became the way they were, why they did the things they did, said what they said...

I had trouble wrapping my mind around hating someone different from myself because I found them fascinating.  I loved tales of travel and of different customs. I remember my favorite book was "Faraway Ports" a 3rd grade reader of my older siblings. I still own it by the way.

I was a voyeur from an early age. I loved when we drove by people's homes at night, their lights on, offering me a peek into their lives. I would glimpse people sitting down to supper, watching TV and laughing, or quietly reading. In my mind I would invent stories about them, spending hours creating various scenarios.

Even after becoming an adult, I still found glimpses of lives led to speculation and imagination.
Living in NY, I rode the F train which came above ground in Brooklyn, traveling beside rows of dwellings, again letting me see into windows and creating momentary snapshots of lives. Fascinating...

I read voraciously losing myself in the story, visualizing characters and settings that become almost real to me. I majored in theater and minored in folklore as an undergrad, only later realizing both were all story telling... which later led to my getting a degree in Social Work and becoming a therapist. Because of all the stories...

I love getting to know people, hearing their stories, learning about what makes them tick. In some ways this is a strength. In some ways it is a weakness. Because I tend to overanalyze EVERYTHING. Picking it apart, trying to understand, moving pieces around, seeing how the puzzle will come together. I do this with my life at times. Replaying incidents, trying to re-script conversations, drowning in the pool of "what if?" or the "woulda/shoulda/coulda" pond.

I question and delve and sometimes get stuck in the process. 
Other times I jump ahead and try to get to the end, attempting to bypass the process. Sort of like when I read the last page of a book first... but even that is to try to see out how the author got from the beginning to the end by going back and reading the middle. Or so I tell myself.

Learning to live with unanswered questions is probably one of the hardest things about my profession. I work in short term interventions. I don't always get to see how the story ends. Or even the middle chapters. I can't see the future, even knowing the past. I can only work in the present. 

It's been a hard task for me. To stay present in the moment. To NOT anticipate or expect or try to see the future. 

I was sent this quote by a friend. I love it very much, now I must try to live it...

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

― Rainer Maria Rilke

Christmas Eve Wonder just filled my heart!!!

Today I have the spirit of Christmas in my heart.

I awoke with 2 cats curled against me, purring.

I went to make coffee, greeted by 3 rambunctious dogs, woofing and snuffling eager to see me.

Drinking the coffee and chatting with a friend in NY got me laughing so hard I cried. That is his gift to me, sharing puns and jokes and the humor in every situation.

A quick check on Facebook to read Season Greetings and share them with far away friends.

The sun is shining and it is a weirdly temperate day.

Soon I will finish the gift wrapping and make the ubiquitous Jello Salad for tomorrow's dinner with my family.

Christmas Eve feels like HOPE today. Christmas is about REBIRTH. And this year I embrace it!

I feel so incredibly blessed right now, happier than I have been in years.

I love the Wonder of the Season and all that it brings.

Merry Christmas to one and all!

For your reading pleasure:

Wednesday, December 23, 2015


Oh Christmas! What a complicated, confusing, joyful, sorrowful time of year...

I remember my childhood Christmases with a sense of wonder and delight. It wasn't just getting new toys, although that was nice!  Rather it was more about the anticipation and excitement building over a course of weeks. It was the gathering of family and the sharing of meals. Playing with my cousins and getting hugs and kisses from my aunts and uncles.

I remember certain Christmases vividly. One year I was given an "Activity Box" filled with new coloring books, paper dolls, crayons, watercolors and a Spirograph. A perfect gift for those long cold days of Winter when it was too harsh to play outside. I spent hours with that box.

Another year I received one of the books of Lifesavers with all different flavors. It was fun to eat them one roll at a time, trying to make them last, trying (and failing) not to crunch them...

And then there was the year I got a doll with big eyes and my first "grown up gift" a decorative plague of a Cardinal from my neighbors, Ross and Daisy Norman. They told me the doll reminded them of me and they knew I loved animals. I remember their kindness to this day.

Thinking back, the cardinal print was probably a re-gift from my neighbors, but I was THRILLED with it! Growing up poor we didn't get a lot of gifts and we didn't celebrate gift giving any time other than at Christmas and on our birthday. We only got 1or 2 gifts at the most for birthdays and Christmas was very much "1 they want, 1 they need, 1 to wear, 1 to read" type of gifting. So we were especially grateful because they were a rarity and something to anticipate and cherish. Not like the overkill and influx of toys today... where every Happy Meal comes with a gift!

My most memorable Christmases were definitely those of childhood but several from my adulthood stand out.

There was the 1st Christmas after my father died. I was 15 years old and my older brother had moved out of the house that fall, leaving just my mother and me in the small home we had moved to once my father became incapacitated by the cancer that killed him. It was a sad year; we didn't even put up a tree, instead we strung some lights around the living room window and taped Christmas cards to the door. I don't remember how we spent the day. It's all just a fog actually. I just remember there was no joy that year.

In later years, my mother and I did put up a tree and put out the nativity scene adding funny animals such as plastic buffaloes after she had traveled to Texas. We also started celebrating as a family at my brother's house and drawing names to make it easier for my mother financially. She still insisted on at least making everyone cookies or candy if she wasn't allowed to purchase gifts for all of us.

Those years it became more about my nieces and nephews, seeing them grow up year to year and getting to reclaim a bit of my childhood as I played with their toys!

Then there was the Christmas after I had moved to New York. I was too poor to purchase a plane ticket or even a bus ticket. I was too proud to ask for money from the family so I made the excuse I had to work to avoid questions. I was the first one in my family to NOT come home for Christmas. It was a tearful day both in KY and NY. I spent it with my then boyfriend but even all the kisses and snuggles didn't make up for missing my family.

A few years later I celebrated Christmas in NY with a different boyfriend. It was very romantic. Going to Rockefeller Center to watch the skaters, kissing in the snow, both of us shivering and standing hugged up to share the body heat. Later going back to his apartment in Queens and eating soup from the Chinese restaurant.In the middle of the nigh I woke up, moving out from under the covers quietly so as not to wake him and watched the snow falling in the glow of streetlights... that was magical, a scene from Currier and Ives.

Then another boyfriend and another Christmas. This time I had flown home because my mother was in the hospital. When I came back, thinking Christmas was past, I walked into the apartment to find a tree decorated and topped with a homemade tinfoil star. And my heart melted. I later married that guy.

The years I was married were spent splitting time between Kentucky and Pennsylvania. Traveling by car, train, plane, in snow and even once a blizzard, between the two families. Several times we came down with the flu caught from the nephews and nieces.

But we managed to make some good memories those years. There were years of laughter and love and singing carols in church, eating too many cookies and huge family meals at the big table in Pennsylvania.

There was the year that he hid my engagement ring in a package of socks. It wasn't until I noticed the tear in the package that I got suspicious...

And the year that we decorated our tree, telling the story of every ornament, where we had collected them and the meaning behind them as we drank wine and played Christmas music. Later we sat in the light of the tree and held hands so very much in love. Lovely memories.

But toward the end of the marriage, Christmas just sucked.

2008: The hubster was out of work, severely depressed and our first dog, Molly, an olden Golden Retriever we had rescued, died a few days before Christmas. We had held out hope she would make it to the big day and get the only gift we were buying, a pig ear treat for her. We had agreed on no other presents and told the family we wouldn't be traveling. And then Molly let us know it was time. We said goodbye to our sweet girl...
That was the darkest Christmas of all.

Honestly it seemed after that there just weren't really any good Christmases.

The hubster got cancer, as did my brother, aunt, cousin and one of my best friends.
They all died, but the hubster lived.
But our marriage was broken by then. We went through the motions, we tried but we had been fighting the inevitable for too long.

The last year together we tried to make it festive. We exchanged gifts, we traveled to see family but it felt hollow to me...

The next year, we were separated. I had already gotten him a small gift and I took it to him.
It was awkward and painful for us both.

The last few years I have spent at my niece's home where the next set of kids, my "greats", are growing up and showing me once more the joy of the day. We eat and laugh and they shoot Nerf guns in the house and we take silly pictures to post on Facebook.

Somewhere along the way I lost sight of the wonder. I lost the joy of the Season. I actually lost my religion for awhile. I forgot about the magic; the improbable story of a child born to a poor couple, who had to stay in a barn because there was no room at the inn.  I forgot that Christmas was about possibility, hope and most of all about a love greater than all of us.

This year I have put up my little tree. I have shopped for those I love giving them the best I can. I have watched my favorite shows: Rudolph, The Grinch, Charlie Brown, to remind me of those long ago Christmases when I believed with the wonder of a child. When I saw things with a child's eyes. When even the smallest gift was not taken for granted.

And I have prayed that I can find the wonder again. That I remain grateful for all the gifts I have received in my life, not just at Christmas.

And I realize I am grateful for the dark years as well. Hard as they were, sad as they were, missing loved ones, accepting the losses, all have taught me that the pain is there only because I loved so deeply.

Because that is the balance.
The light and the dark.

Perhaps that is why we hang the lights, to remind us in the darkest of days, there IS hope.
There is light. There is love.

Merry Christmas. May there be peace in your heart. May there be light for your journey. May the Christ Child remind you (and me) that there is Love to be had by all...

Be thankful for all the gifts, all the memories, all the love, past and present, and yes even future.

Charlie Brown: Isn’t there anyone, who knows what Christmas is all about?!
Linus: Sure Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about. Lights please?
And there were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them! And they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not! For, behold, I bring you tidings o great joy, which shall be to all my people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ, the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the Heavenly Host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth peace, and good will toward men.
That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."

Merry Christmas to one and all.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Hello from Heaven

From Facebook Memories today:

"Martha, we care about you and the memories you share here. We thought you'd like to look back on this post from 5 years ago."

And my caption: "Christmas Miracle # 1: Maggie the Cat (Insane cat who lives upstairs because she hates all living creatures except me and Jake) is sitting on my lap downstairs AT THIS VERY MOMENT!!!"

I have been thinking of Mags because it was about this time last year she crossed the Rainbow Bridge. And more recently her original owner, Mary died. So I have been remembering her and feeling blue. She was a most beautiful girl. The last Tuxie I had adopted. And yes, Tuxedo cats are my favorite color combo. 

So today when I saw this, I felt like Maggie was sending me a hello from Heaven. Seeing her in all her beauty on her first brave day of coming downstairs made me smile. She was a funny, fussy gal. And I loved her dearly... 

So much has happened in that 5 year span. A lot of loss, a lot of growth and lot of joy too. 
Today I count my blessings for having had her and Mary in my life. 

Thanks Maggie for popping in and reminding me of signs and wonders. And of love. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

From Reddit Re: Grief

The original post simply read: “My friend just died. I don't know what to do.”
Here was redditor GSnow’s moving advice: 
Alright, here goes. I'm old. What that means is that I've survived (so far) and a lot of people I've known and loved did not. I've lost friends, best friends, acquaintances, co-workers, grandparents, mom, relatives, teachers, mentors, students, neighbors, and a host of other folks. I have no children, and I can't imagine the pain it must be to lose a child. But here's my two cents.
I wish I could say you get used to people dying. I never did. I don't want to. It tears a hole through me whenever somebody I love dies, no matter the circumstances. But I don't want it to "not matter". I don't want it to be something that just passes. My scars are a testament to the love and the relationship that I had for and with that person. And if the scar is deep, so was the love. So be it. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are a testament that I can love deeply and live deeply and be cut, or even gouged, and that I can heal and continue to live and continue to love. And the scar tissue is stronger than the original flesh ever was. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are only ugly to people who can't see.
As for grief, you'll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you're drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it's some physical thing. Maybe it's a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it's a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.
In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don't even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you'll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what's going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything...and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life.
Somewhere down the line, and it's different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O'Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you'll come out.
Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don't really want them to. But you learn that you'll survive them. And other waves will come. And you'll survive them too. If you're lucky, you'll have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Good bye Mary

Today I received the news that my old friend Mary died after years of being in a nursing home with a diagnosis of Alzheimers.

I first met Mary back in the late 1990's. She was involved the three spheres in which I lived and loved: Cats, St. Michael's Church and Theater.

Mary had a cat, Treadwell, who was a patient at the vet clinic where I worked. He was a holy terror, red stickered caution cat! He hated all of us and let us know it. But his tiny white haired human loved him. She sang to him a song she wrote: Pink nose, pink toes, who's the best cat? Treadwell knows!" and it calmed him. As he grew older, he calmed down to the point he was very sweet. We called him "an old cat trying to get into Heaven".

After Tready died, Mary longed for a cat and we found one for her. Maggie was a little black and white tuxedo and very spoiled by Mary. She would often call us and tell us Maggie had escaped. I would go over to help her hunt for her and inevitably found the little cat curled up asleep in the house. When Mary came to the clinic to get food she began to ramble on and on. She started to get confused and a bit cranky and rude. Looking back I realize now it was the Alzheimers starting to kick in.

Her husband had died a few years before I met her. She would talk about how angry she was at Bill for "dying too soon". But then she would talk about all their travels and joys. I would visit her and we would go to lunch or sometimes to the theater. She had lived in Chicago and loved to talk about all the theater she had grown up with in the 1950's. She would regale me with stories of growing up with her dashing father "Black Jack" who had wooed and won her Southern Belle mother. They were obviously head over heels in love to the point that they didn't really raise Little Mary, but left her in the care of her Grandmother.  Mary would talk about what a wonderful seamstress her grandmother had been, making her own patterns and sewing custom designed dresses.

Mary would talk with bitterness about how her mother at age 90+ "just took to her bed and never got up again". Unfortunately that was Mary's fate in the end.

She was funny and sassy and generous to a fault. I will never forget this tiny woman, maybe 4 feet 6 inches tall, dragging a huge leaf blower through the church lobby to donate, like a Santa's elf! She was a snazzy dresser too. She had a flair about her, pinning an enameled butterfly brooch on her shoulder, turning her charm bracelet into a necklace, sporting bright scarves...

She started to give things away. She gave me her china & her silverware, refusing to let me turn it down. I invited her to my house several times to dinner and used it. She told me she enjoyed those meals, using her china and silver but best of all not having to wash and dry it!

We once went to lunch at Irish Acres, a large antique store in Nonesuch KY which also had a restaurant, The Glitz. Along with Mary and me was my sister and mother in law. We got a little lost and Mary kept us laughing by calling out: "There's those damn cows again!" every time we turned around and passed a field of cattle. We enjoyed that trip so much, she was very knowledgeable about antiques and books and kept us enthralled.

I spent many a time just sitting at her house listening to her stories, watching her quilt. She was a fine needleworker too and I have a sampler she stitched. I am so honored she shared so many gifts with me. She always said she wanted someone to have them who would use them and enjoy them. She had no family remaining and never had children of her own but was close to her best friend's children with whom she shared treasures too. I often thought it was a shame she didn't have children as she was so creative and would have raised extraordinary kiddos.

I did visit Mary for awhile in the nursing home, but the last two visits she didn't recognize me and grew agitated, confused and angry. I stopped visiting her but she was in my heart so often. Every time I saw Maggie or used the dishes or even drove her car which I bought, I would think of her and remember our times together. I would often say a little prayer for her and wish peace upon her.

Over the years her friend Pat or her daughter kept me posted on Mary's condition. Pat and she had been lifelong friends and were founding families of St. Michael's Episcopal church. Getting to know the women who were among the first members, Mary, Pat and Lois Flege, was one of the seminal events of my life. They were smart, strong women, all widows who were well read, caring and nurturing of me during some difficult times in my life. They loved animals and trusted me with the care of their cats, a high honor indeed!

Mary had once asked me if anything ever happened to her would I take care of Maggie, her little tuxedo cat.  I agreed thinking that Mary would outlive Maggie! And Mary did but she was not able to keep her once the dementia hit and she had to move into an assisted living apartment, then soon after, a nursing home. Maggie came to live with me, and like Mary she was tiny and sassy and funny. I grew to love Maggie deeply and when she died last winter I felt as if another part of Mary had slipped away.

And really, I felt like Mary left quite some time ago, that she receded into a place where none of us could go along. I hope that she drifted back to rest in a fog of memories of happier times; of remembrances of Treadwell; of her beloved husband Bill, of her old English Sheepdog which she said she used to rock in a rocking chair, buried beneath the dog's fluffy coat. She was a wonderful conversationist, always with a funny story or a magical memory. She was such a dear sweet little lady taken by such an ugly, horrible, cruel disease.

I imagine her pets and Bill waiting to escort her into Heaven, which just got a sassy spirited saint today!

I am so blessed for having known her. God bless, Mary, may light perpetual shine upon you.