Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Life with Jack and Jane: Prelude to a Story

“I have dreamt in my life, dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas; they have gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the color of my mind. And this is one: I’m going to tell it – but take care not to smile at any part of it.” Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights

I was alone and scared, and desperate, living beneath the eaves of a great home, filled with young children and a loving couple, who gave me refuge within their castle. Cast away in the basement, I hid from shame, I covered my mind from fear, cowering at my present situation. I was homeless and penniless when it seemed just yesterday I was a princess in my own castle, with a family filled with love and warmth. But that time passed and I was alone and cold.

I would hear noises in the basement. They sounded like voices of demons and ghosts and they frightened me, but I knew it was just the air conditioner preparing to exhale. The basement was so dark I saw visions floating past me, but I realized my eyes were just closed and my imagination was catching me.

I couldn’t sleep for when I did, I was haunted. I would dream of her but she was unreachable. I dreamt we were at a large arena filled with familiar faces of everyday life. Sitting in the stands I was at the bottom of the bleachers searching for her and I spotted her way up top. I called out to her “Mom!” but she did not hear me. She was too busy talking to others. I reached out to her for one last embrace, to cherish her being, but the dream ended and she was gone. I dreamt this dream over and over, waking to tears flooding from me, dripping onto my already cold skin.

As much as I wished, and wrenched my heart wishing it so, those were days long gone. Instead I found myself alone, shunned from all I knew, knowing I must leave. "This is not my home. I am not a guest. I am a bum who has graciously been given temporary shelter. I don’t belong here and my welcome is a burden."

My wound still had not even begun to heal, and it was fresh, raw and hurting. The healing process had not even started. I wished I were a little girl again when my mom was there to hold me and make it all better. She would always say to me that the pain means, “It’s getting better, getting better” as she'd sing a little tune. And I believed it. But she was gone and the pain was getting worse.

My wound couldn't be seen, but my anger spoke of it, “Till it happens to you, you won’t know how I feel.” I needed to pull myself together, and I’d be fine. Hold my head up and be strong, I needed to get up and move on. But what the hell did I know?

Tears still poured from me. My fear of the ghosts and demons paralyzed me. My eyes clenched shut I prayed for reprieve, for an answer. And then my prayer was answered. I saw my grandmother, with her bright red hair, glowing skin, eyes filled with rays, her full and portly figure. I loved and missed her very much. She always had a smile on her face and gave when she had nothing to give.

She spoke to me, “Call your Uncle Jack.”

The next morning, light filtered in from the basement window well, reminding me the day was new. I called my Uncle Jack. I had a job offer in the big city but the pay was too little for me to afford rent. But it was a job. If I could find a way to make it work things would work out. Maybe if Uncle Jack would let me live with he and my Aunt Jane, things would be ok?

I dialed his number. The phone rang. My Aunt Jane picked up. Before I could even get the words out to ask, she said, in her Minnie Mouse voice with thick New York accent, “You come live with us.”

I asked him how they knew why I was calling. My Uncle Jack told me that he was at church one Sunday and this lady was in front of him. She had bright red hair, glowing skin, eyes filled with rays, and a full and portly figure. “For a moment, I thought it was my mother,” he said. “And when you called, we just knew.”

And just like that, I moved on.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Allman Brothers

“Lord, I was born a rambling’ man, Trying’ to make a livin’ and doin’ the best I can. And when it’s time for leavin’, I hope you’ll understand, That I was born a ramblin’ man.”

The Allman Brothers Band “Ramblin' Man”

The other night Magnum* and I had a lovely dinner at a local pub. We hopped in our car and headed home. We randomly popped in the first CD we grabbed (I know, who uses CD’s anymore?!). The Allman Brother’s Band began to play.

Instead of heading home we decided to go for a drive on a long, country road with nothing but the evening stars above us, farm fields beside us, and the open road in front of us. Traveling with the top down, cruising at 60 mph, the glorious sounds of the Brothers emanating throughout.

The guitar, the piano, the voices became intoxicating and hypnotic. Amazed at the talent of the band, we jokingly mimicked a fictitious account of their parent’s discovery in their children. Good Lord, their parents must have been proud. Their mama sure popped out some talented boys. Can you imagine, giving birth to these boys, washing dishes and all of a sudden you hear this talent coming from the garage? The conversation must have gone something like this:

“Mama, what’s that sound?”

“Papa I done don’t know but it sure sounds real good.”

“Mama, that’s them our boys. Well shoot, who knew they could play? I think we got ourselves something here.”

“Darn Papa, we sure do have some good genes. Let’s go make us some more.”

Well I did a little research and their mama was indeed referred to as Mama, Mama A to be exact, but their Papa died when they boys were very young. He was murdered. Then Duane Allman died in a motorcycle crash at the age of 25. Drug addiction, trials, stereotypical popular band tribulations…Boy I’m sure glad I didn’t know about this tragic history when we were cruising on the country road. That’s just darn near depressing!

Instead we immersed ourselves on an adventure, sheer joy from the Allman Brother’s Band guided us. My favorite Allman Brother’s song is Jessica. It’s strictly an instrumental song. Nothing but pure Southern Rock, interspersed with blues and jazz played out on an epic, musical journey.

Starting with the guitar, piano joining in, electric guitar, just riding along, happy go lucky, bouncing, little drum, then a little depth and soul climaxing back to the happy go lucky tune. Like climbing a mountain, or running a marathon, the instruments single out then slowly build, joining, teasing the listener, and then POW, the piano breaks out and WOW! It’ an adrenaline pumper for sure and it goes on and on for over seven minutes. It’s such a happy, confident, carefree, revolutionary tune. It’s genius. The antithesis of every wandering instinct inbred in man.

I remember the song Jessica playing in the movie “Field of Dreams” when James Earl Jones and Kevin Costner were cruising in their VW van to go find the ghosts of baseball past. There they were, two grown men, acting like kids, out on a country road, pursuing a crazy scavenger hunt to find The Babe.

Then my mind wandered to a more personal memory, back when I was a young teen, oh maybe 14 years of age. Summertime on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Hot, humid, salty, sailing and heaven. I was sailing on the Chesapeake Bay as part of a summer camp my grandmother had given as a gift. My cousin Jimmy would pick me up at the end of each day in his little, blue MG. And we would cruise back to our grandmother’s house on a long, 10 mile open road from Oxford to Easton with farm fields beside us, the bay beyond the fields, the blue sky with scorching sun above us, and nothing but youth in front of us.

Jimmy must have gotten that little blue car up to 100 mph. And Jimmy wasn’t and isn’t a reckless boy. Highly intelligent, calculated, cautious, play by the rules sort of guy. I don’t know if he was just showing off to his little cousin but we were flying and it was awesome! And Jessica came blasting on the radio.

Such freedom with carelessness abandoned, with the wind and the sun and the salt air, I was giddy as I felt my independence on the horizon, clueless to the impending finality of my childhood. We were young and the song sang out to our youth and rebellion. Such a fond memory immortalized by a song.

Magnum and I continued to cruise down the long, country road, living freely in the moment, with no destination, just enjoying the ride and the legends. Two crazy kids on the open road.

*Magnum is my husband’s character name. Any likeness to a similar character is strictly coincidental.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Good Fella

“You mean, let me understand this…cuz I…maybe it’s me, maybe I’m a little f---‘d up maybe. I’m funny how? I mean funny, like I’m a clown? I amuse you? I make you laugh? I’m here to f----in’ amuse you? Whattya you mean funny? Funny how? How am I funny?” Tommy DeVito, Goodfellas

A horse walks into a bar. The bartender says, “Why the long face?” I tell this joke all the time. It’s the only one I remember, it’s usually not offensive, no cussing or crudeness involved, and I like horses. And quite frankly, it makes me laugh. Not because it’s so funny, though I think it is, but the person whom first delivered it to me was a very funny man, and pretty much any joke or story he told was funny no matter how bad the joke. So when I tell it, because it’s the only joke I know, I always think of him and chuckle because I picture him telling it, with everyone laughing because he’s funny.

Mr. T was a funny man. He was also a good fella. I didn’t know him all that well but I knew him well enough. He was a good family friend and all us kids grew up together, the adults led the way. Now we are all grown with our own families and kids.

Mr. T built a sandwich shop franchise and, while he may not have realized it, was a local celebrity. Everyone from the area knew of him and his sandwiches. He even had a United States president stop in for a sandwich!

He worked all hours, day and night, every day of the week. And with all his hard work and earnings, he was very generous and humble man who always made everyone feel welcome. A quiet man but the headliner of the show. He always had a funny story to tell, such a natural in his delivery, yet so humble he never seemed to want to take credit for being such a great story teller.

The adults spent many nights around the kitchen island countertop of the T's home snacking and sipping cocktails. Heading into the wee hours of the morning, jokes and stories were told with Mr. T the headliner of the show. The room filled with comraderies of families forged throughout the decades, laughter the enduring fabric.

The old saying goes "the show must go on" but it also says "all good things come to an end." Mr. T was diagnosed with cancer. Hard to put a funny spin on that story. This was a very unfunny diagnosis for a man whose life blood seemed to infuse humor into the veins of everyone around him. Fortunately, he was told, his diagnosis was not an immediate death sentence. Medicine would prolong the inevitable for years. So while this horrible black cloud hung over him and his family and all who loved him, there was time enough for plenty of acts. 

Until after only a year of treatment an emergency trip to the ER proved otherwise. The medicine was failing him. After a week or two in the hospital he was stabilized enough to go home. He was acutely aware though that his trip home would be just a visit and a final goodbye. He was terminal. There would be no second act.

He would not go silently into that good night. He had one more punch line for the crowd. On the final leg of his tour, he shared a room with another terminal patient. The roommate, surrounded by family, brought in a reiki therapist. The reiki therapist proceeded to perform reiki therapy as perhaps a last rite sort of ritual. Incense burning, music droning, the therapist proceeded to utter sentences of abstraction and unsoundness, “I release you, continue on your journey, your soul is free like a bird, you are releasing like a butterfly from your cocoon, fly, fly, fly. Lift yourself up. Hum, hum, hum.” Incense burning, smoke drifting. “Your darkest hours upon you, your mind and body but a vehicle, free your soul, free yourself, rise above, feel my energy as I touch you and lift you, release, release, release…”

Mr. T lay in the bed next to his roommate listening to this bizarre affair. With a puzzled glance, he listened and watched this strange performance. When it was over, the reiki therapist grabbed her incense and exited the room. There was silence. Then in true Mr. T fashion, with his wife at his bedside who later recounted the story, he turned to her, paused for a moment, and in a calm and serious voice, a hint of annoyance and expression of confusion, a grimace under his breath, steady and with perfect delivery said, “What the fuck was that all about?”

In a time of immense sorrow and finality, Mr. T put on a brave face and told the crowd that the show must still go on. During even the hardest and saddest of times, he made us laugh and continues to make me laugh. He was a good soul. He was funny.

Mr. T left me, just a little family friend, with a joke about a horse and a story that I would tell to another great headliner, my mother in law. Less than a day after Mr. T passed, she too would pass unexpectedly from cancer.

They say the last of our senses to go before we leave this earth is our hearing. As my mother in law lay in hospice, body swollen, breathing labored, I told her Mr. T's story. I chuckled as I delivered Mr. T's punch line, and I know she did too. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Up on the Roof

“I don’t know if we have a destiny, or if we’re all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I, I think maybe it’s both. Maybe both is happening at the same time.” Forest Gump

I used to ride the New York subway. I believe it was the blue “E” or the orange “F” train if memory and color recollection serve me. My route was from Forest Hills, Queens to Rockefeller Center, NYC. Sounds like swanky real estate for those familiar with the city. And in many ways if I had to be a city girl, unable to afford city rent, which I couldn’t, it was as swank as I was going to get.

However, I really don't think there's anything swanky about the subway. And for a young twenty something, naïve girl from the burbs moving to the big city, uneducated and inexperienced at the time to political correctness and city hustling and crowds, homesickness for my boring, small commuter town grew all the more. But there I was.

Most people start their day off with a good cup of Joe. Subway riders wake up their senses to urine aromatherapy mixed with the distinct scent of oily soot, followed by a game of “Don’t Step on the Mother Roach” and “I Spy a Giant Rat!” played in a dark, dank cave deep underground where sunlight was an anomaly.

After spotting the rat it was time to enter the race, fighting for an inch on the train. Then a little role play of acting like a sardine in a can of stinky olive oil, just to claim an ounce of territory for the commute. Cussing from strangers for space invasion or happy nappy time on the shoulders of a stuck passenger pigeon holed into another were common occurrences. I often chuckled and cringed at those who played their Walkman cassettes or CD’s, either air singing and dancing, or flat out shouting the tune because the music blared so loudly in their ears. They looked so silly.

I often witnessed courteous acts of train sacrifice which reminded me on the bleak ride that humanity wasn’t extinct; those who’d give up their rare seat to the pregnant or elderly. People watching was pretty good. My eyes wandered around the car analyzing each individual, creating stories in my head about their history or being. Sometimes a rider would give the dark lord stare like they wanted to kill for reasons unbeknownst to me. Perhaps they didn't want to be included in my people watching game.

Acclimation took hold and I was soon part of the daily subway grind. I became oblivious to those around me even though our bodies were pressed up against one another other. I honed my Walkman CD and spent the summer closing myself out from those around me. I too became the silly fool that sang out loud.

I learned to ride the subway and I even learned to like it. It became a comforting cocoon in my daily ritual of a world I wasn’t sure how I had arrived, if I even had arrived or perhaps I was just a passenger on the train waiting for my stop.

Overnight I became a city girl living in a cock roach infested apartment, stone’s throw from the incessant noise of JFK airport, no air conditioning on a humid city's summer’s day, away from home with a new set of characters. And I rode the subway.

One day, on my usual route home, I hopped on my usual train line. The car was empty, which was so unusual but welcome. I had the whole car to myself. I had whatever seat I wanted. Just the sounds of the ball bearings screeching as the car jumbled over tracks and turns. Then suddenly an interruption to my peace and blissful serenity, as a homeless man that reminded me of Mr. Bo Jangles, straggly, scrawny and disheveled came passing my way.

My new city instincts took over as I did not let my glance meet his. I kept to myself, my guard at high, bracing myself until he’d move onto the next car. Did he want money, was he a drunk or druggie, a lunatic, a rapist? I didn’t know of his purpose or direction but I was alone with this strange man.

He swung from pole to pole like Jimmy Stewart in "Singing in the Rain" and began to sing to me. He serenaded me with The Drifter’s tune “Up on the Roof." I lifted my head and gave him my full attention, released my tensed brace and embraced his fluid and melodic voice, immersing myself in the lyrics:

When this old world starts getting me down
And people are just too much for me to face
I climb way up to the top of the stairs
And all my cares just drift right into space
On the roof, it’s peaceful as can be
And there the world below can’t bother me

Let me tell you now

When I come home feelin’ tired and beat
I go up where the air is fresh and sweet (up on the roof)
I get away from the hustling crowd
And all that rat-race noise down in the street (up on the roof)
On the roof, the only place I know
Where you just have to wish to make it so
Let’s go up the roof (up on the roof)

At night the stars put on a show for free
And, darling, you can share it all with me

I keep a-tellin’ you

Right smack dab in the middle of town
I’ve found a paradise that’s trouble proof (up on the roof)
And if this world starts getting you down
There’s room enough for two

Up on the roof…Everything is all right (up on the roof)

He was a stranger who seemed to appear out of nowhere. He appeared to have nothing but a song. He put an unexpected smile on my face that awakened my spirit to the everyday drudgery of a lone subway ride. I thought to myself that no matter our lot or place in time we can shut out all the ugliness and escape in our minds until we are ready to move to the next car. We are free; the rest is just a distraction. We may not know our destiny and we may be drifting along like a feather in a breeze floating aimlessly in a strange land but we have purpose and a destiny. Until then, there’s room enough up on the roof.

It was an odd encounter.
How could a stranger, a drifter, a wandering figure, etch such a memory in my mind and heart decades later? He sang for me as he floated along. He asked for nothing, no money, nothing. Maybe he was crazy, mentally ill, maybe he was lost? Maybe he just felt like riding the subway and signing a song to any who would listen. And I did listen. To this day whenever I hear the song either on the radio or in my head, I think of that moment, am thankful for it, and I smile.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Reflecting on this Snowy Day

“The Snow Man” by Wallace Stevens

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

I remember the hill today, in particular. And I feel a small pit in my heart for I’m not there, the moment has passed.

Today I sit under a warm roof, watching the snowflakes fall delicately on the bare branches. The sky gray, the earth silent. I sit in remembrance of days like this on the hill.

The evening before great anticipation swelled in the house, ready to burst with excitement for a day off and a day of play. Childhood memories are built upon such nights. Procrastinating bedtime in preparation for school the next day but overtly hoping to wake up to mom saying, “No school today!” then back to a warm bed to finish a dream then rise with great vivre.

Maybe pancakes would be made or a steaming bowl of oats but as soon as the energy was gobbled down the time came for the great bundle.

Ah, the great bundle. I dreaded these times. The toil and sweat to prepare three kids for the cold, dressing them in bulky, obstructive snow suits, squeezing their little piggies into rubbery, fleece lined boots while shoving mittens on their little kittens, placing the cherry of a pom-pom hat on their head, remnants of baby hair making one last stance before the strands of time fade to extinction.

The fussing and whining at such an effort. Boy, I was frustrated. Shame I couldn’t savor such fleeting tears.

Then out the door, a wave of arctic air flushing through, waking up whatever senses still lay sleeping. Sleds and saucers gathered and off they went. At this point I was typically still in my pajamas and robe, skating through the snowy, icy driveway in slippers, long enough to get the kiddies set up for some fun on the hill before I returned inside for a grasp at silence.

We lived on quite the hill. Not great topography for a family with three young kids, but when a winter storm hit, our house was the place all the neighbors, young and old, flocked. Life and limb was risked tearing down that hill, sometimes fast and far enough to skirt across the road and down the wooded ditch. Those were fun times, filled with reckless abandonment, liberatingly wild and carefree.

At first I would watch through the frosty window and laugh and giggle from a distance. I’d watch as the kids would fly down the hill, getting smaller and smaller from my line of vision until they’d crash to a stop laughing all the way, then trek back up for another adventure. It looked like such a joy ride and it was! I’d break out the camera and take some shots, then I would drag myself to partake in the fun, reminding myself that such activity would invigorate my aging soul.

It was cold outside but the smiles and excitement from the kids at their mom showing up to be a kid motivated me to brave the elements. And we rode down that hill, dodging trees and gullies. Gathering branches and stones, carrots, old scarves and hats, we built snowmen and named them. Stepping back into my childhood, I became one with my own kids, for that moment and that day, investing in a memory that I didn’t realize would become so etched in my mind.

Time to come in from the storm and have some hot chocolate and bake some cookies. Sipping coco by the fire, cheeks defrosting and pink, mittens hung to dry until a second wind blew by ready to start the winter dance all over again.

Today I sit in my warm, new home on a flat lot perfect for a young family, except when there is snow on the ground and no hill to ride down. And as happy and at peace as I am, I reflect with a dull ache in my heart on those days and times on the hill. All is quiet here.

I longed for today, a day to savor silence, not having to deal with the great dance of a winter bundle and attendance to three dependent, young heartbeats. Today is that day. There are no suits to stuff mittens in kittens and cherries on tops. Visions of hot coco and cookies are saved for another snow fall. This storm is calmer. Yet as calm and as peaceful and as blessed as today is, I have a small ache as I remember the hill and those days. And the memory pleads to ride them once again. If just for a moment.

Today, on this quiet, kid free day, in the warmth of a new life, I pause, close my eyes, take a sip from a phantom vision, knowing and grateful that life is good, then swallow the nostalgia triggered by a gentle flake falling on a tree under a gray, wintery sky.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Christmas Card 2015

“You can tell a lot about a person by the way they handle three things: a rainy day, lost luggage and tangled Christmas tree lights.” Maya Angelou

I know sending out Christmas cards, or “holiday” cards as is the more politically correct terminology, is becoming a dying fashion. However, I am old fashioned and feel strongly about keeping on my massive sized holiday “to-do” list. Yes, I could cut out the practice and save a couple of hundred dollars between stamps and custom ordered picture cards, but I take joy and spirit in creating, chronicling and reminiscing on the past year. I know those I send it to give it a warm glance then toss in the trash, maybe keeping until the season’s end,  but I keep my keepsake card and every year pull out to display and reflect on Christmas’s past.

In the really old days I’d send generic, store bought cards with pictures of sleighs, snow, and Santa. I’ve gone all out with expensive, customized, photo, fold cards that allow more room to write personalized, hand written notes. In the more recent years I’ve settled on the standard, 5 x 7 contemporary photo printed card which is a compromise between the two. I’ve included Christmas letters a few years and write them brimming with pride only to review months later and realize they sound stupid and braggadocio. I always add photos of the kids and sometime I myself am featured, and every now and then the pets make an appearance.

Sometimes I get the cards out on time, sometimes they become a New Year’s greeting. I always get them out and they always have pictures, those are two constants a recipient can always expect.

Last year’s card served to announce to my annual greeting card circle that I married and now have a blended family. We used a wonderful picture taken at our wedding celebration (we eloped!) of our big, happy blended family: seven total, two adults and five kids, at the time ages 6 through 16, three of mine, two teenage daughters of his. One big, happy blended family and a gorgeous card with me in my ivory gown, Kentucky derby party theme dressed crew with a big bouquet of red roses in my hand, fresh spring greenery in the background and all of us looking happily blended.

In response to the card I received many congratulations, and we framed the card in all its beauty and glory. This year I brought out the nicely framed card and displayed it on our foyer entry table next to the nativity scene. Time to create our Christmas card 2015.

Problem with this year was we didn’t have a group photo or photos of all the kids or any pictures of his teenage girls. Our big, happy blended family, in all truthfulness was not happy for everyone. Put it this way, I am a step mom to two teenage step daughters. Teenage, step, and girls. Read between the lines. There was no happy, blended family picture to be taken. I asked Magnum, “What should we do?” The brilliant man that he is suggested we just use a picture of our new home and have that also serve as a moving announcement. Wonderful!

I waited until I decorated the entire exterior to take the perfect shot of our new, festive home. I got a few good shots, along with our two dogs in the foreground lovingly chewing on some of the displayed, holiday arrangements in the urns.

Then I got carried away. I had done such a nice job decorating the interior of the house that I thought it wouldn’t hurt to add a couple of collage photos as well. I added a couple photos of us decorating the tree, (the figures of the younger three kids barely distinguishable), one of the piano with three nutcrackers and a Merry Christmas sign, and another of the foyer table with our card from last year. These were thumb print sized photos but I was satisfied as it represented not just our new home but of the joy taking place inside. In the process I managed to sneak an annual photo of my three kids which I have been doing since their birth while also getting the girls’ photo into the card, albeit a symbolic gesture in the thumb print sized photo of last years’ card next to the nativity scene. I felt like I had created a Christmas miracle.

I ordered 75 cards which totaled $165. I spend a moment reminiscing, proud that I completed Christmas card 2015 and quickly shared my genius with my mother. Her response was lack luster when I described the photo. “Well, don’t you think Magnum would be hurt that his girls aren’t in the card but your kids are?” I said, “What do you mean? They are in the card, in last year’s photo that I took a picture of and included.” To which my mom continued to harp that it wasn’t the same and wasn’t worth hurting feelings. To which I agreed and realized my genius creation was not genius but perhaps thoughtless and insensitive and selfish. Maybe I was a wicked step monster!

So I began to panic. I already ordered the cards. I didn’t think I could cancel the online order. My mother told me to forget about the money and make a new card. I made a last ditch effort to win her over for support by sending her a picture of the card so she could see it wasn’t that bad, so she could see the genius of my creation!

A little side note, I recently sent one of my teenage step daughters a friendly text message.

Technology being what it is, I sent my mom the photo of the card then, somehow when I followed up with my mother to ask her what she thought of the card, my follow up was sent to my step daughter. The text message read something like this: “So what do you think? If you zoom in you can better tell the pics. Is this offensive or hurtful cause girls are missing from photo?”

To which my step daughter responded, “What?” or also interpreted in texting slang, “WTF?”

Holy Christmas, I just created Armageddon! I was just about to pick Magnum up from the airport when I realized this guffaw. I started to panic. As a former special ops, you don’t get much past Magnum. He can read me like a book. I was in a Christmas pickle. First I had to respond to my step daughter before she reached out to her dad for an explanation. It was an honest mistake with sincere intentions but if I couldn’t explain myself then this situation could get out of control fast. Though before I was able to attempt damage control, Magnum was at the car door, tired from an overseas trip. We lovingly greeted one another then he immediately sensed something was wrong which didn’t take a human lie detector to distinguish. My face was beat red, my heart rate was elevated and I blurted out, “I did something very bad!” After an anxiety attack or two I told him about the Christmas card predicament.

Without going into too much detail, it wasn’t as big a deal as I envisioned. Call me a drama queen, I earned it. Magnum was cool and fine but did request I do a more generic card. I took the approach of honesty when explaining my bizarre text to my step daughter. I explained to her that I was just trying to create the perfect blended family Christmas card but didn’t have a recent group shot, and she responded, “Oh, lol.” I was able to cancel my first Christmas card order so that was a relief and, in the end, I created a “nice” moving announcement in the form of a festive, red and green themed Christmas card, wreaths and all. Our dogs Buddy and Daisy were featured and captured destroying my exterior Christmas décor which added an element of humor to such a behind the scenes drama laden card. And believe it or not I got it out BEFORE Christmas! In the end this really was a Christmas miracle.

So if you were one of the lucky ones to receive a lovely holiday greeting from us, there was a lot that went into this year’s card. You never know what goes on behind some people’s closed doors! My hope and wish for 2016’s Christmas card is to display one nice, happily blended family group shot.

Happy New Year! 

Original Card
Final Draft
Dogs destroying décor

Friday, October 23, 2015

Marathon Woman

A couple of years ago I ran my first marathon. It almost killed me. In the end, it saved my soul.

I had never been much of a runner. I was a tennis player. Tennis involves very quick foot action, moving side to side with quick sprints. Distance running involves a forward movement, with a steady, enduring pace; two very opposing actions. Therefore, any forward movement presented a challenge for me.

Being a mom of three, with little care for myself, my fitness level was at an all-time low. I needed activity. I joined the YMCA and began with the stair master. Boy could I climb stairs! I was then inspired by my good friend and neighbor, an avid cyclist, to kick it up a notch. She encouraged me to try “spinning” classes. They were hard but I was hooked, and I began to see results.

The Y had a weekly class that incorporated running a mile in-between spinning. My competitive nature got the best of me and, when I couldn’t run as fast or as far as some of the other spinners, I got fired up to try harder. But how? I could barely run a mile.

I posed this question to a fellow spinner and future fitness trainer named Deb. She said, “Every time you run, run a little extra each time.” Sounded simple enough so I tried it and before I realized her small piece of advice was working. I was up to three miles. Three miles became five miles and suddenly I was a runner.

I trained and ran in my first half marathon. My family was waiting for me at the finish line, beaming with pride. My sights were set higher though. The buzz around town was of this mom or that mom training for marathons and I said “Why not me?” So I signed up for the Outerbanks Marathon in North Carolina, scheduled for the fall.

I trained in all conditions, any hour of the day. I ran in the winter, running along a country, hillside road in ice and snow, in 16 degree weather. I’d run in 100 degree temperatures. I’d run before the sun came up. I ran with migraines. I’d fit runs in-between drop offs and kid pick-ups. A few times I ran 11 plus miles on the treadmill. I was an animal! I’d run thirteen miles, come home and do three hours of hard, manual yard work. I did what it took to get my miles.

I ran to music. Every song gave me unique inspiration and drive. The music helped me work out all sorts of thoughts swimming around. They helped me run harder.

Billy Joel’s “Angry Young Man”  I believe I've passed the age of consciousness and righteous rage, I've found that just surviving was a noble fight. I once believed in causes too, had my pointless point of view. Life went on no matter who was right or wrong.

The Rolling Stones “Sympathy for the Devil” Pleased to meet you Hope you guess my name What's puzzling you Is the nature of my game

Phil Collins “I Don’t Care Anymore”  'Cause I remember all the times I tried so hard And you laughed in my face 'cause you held all the cards. I don't care anymore. And I really ain't bothered what you think of me 'Cause all I want of you is just a let me be. I don't care anymore d'you hear? I don't care no more

Running wasn’t an addiction, it was my lifeline. My anxiety level was so high I almost couldn’t function. I didn’t know why I had such high anxiety. I was living such a charmed life, the American dream. I had a loyal family, a coveted house, a secure home, and an ornery dog. But I had horrible anxiety, so badly that I thought I was losing my mind. Running helped work out some of this noose around my neck that was suffocating me. I had such obsessive thoughts that would not leave me alone. Something had to give.

One night I woke up from a fitful sleep with more nagging, obsessive thoughts. In a very conscious yet trance like state I walked downstairs to the cell phone, typed in a password that randomly appeared in my head. There before me was the reason for my intense anxiety.

My heart froze and I lost the ability to breathe. I started hyperventilating. All the anxiety of the past two years melted and morphed into a paralyzing and crushing fear. So I ran and I ran and I ran. Music was my companion, my confident. I became stronger with every mile. My confidence grew. I was a champion and could conquer all.

The time had come: Marathon day! I had spent a year training for this moment. The sun was just rising, dew was in the air and on the ground. The crowd of runners were eerily quiet. Perhaps the anticipation of the miles ahead was a deafening thought. I was by myself, no friend or partner to share in the moment, but that did not deter my excitement. The cool, fall sea air was invigorating with the scent of salt and marsh wafting about.

And they’re off! I began at a steady pace staying to the middle of the pack. Stocked with a good supply of mini Snicker bars and watered down Coca Cola per my brother’s advice, I was sure to have enough carbs, energy and hydration to keep me fueled.

While I don’t remember the exact route, I do remember running along the sound then entering the shade of the wooded sand dunes. There were many hills along these dunes which was unexpected for a run along the coast. Entering upon mile 13 I became melancholy realizing the race was half over. I wanted it to go on forever. I felt strong, I felt invincible as I soared.

Then, after a few shots of candy and coke, my digestive system rebelled! Once I answered nature’s call I was back on the road but my legs were left behind me. The pain and exhaustion hit. I could barely walk. My IT band in my hip tensed up shooting pain into my knee and down my calf. My legs were on fire, burning and numb. An inner voice said “Don’t stop. Walk then run, walk then run but don’t stop.”

Edging up to mile 18 I didn’t know if I could go any further. All along the mile marks were icy hot lotion? but I resisted. Now I was desperate and I dove into the jar, plunging my sore, achy muscles into the miraculous goo. It took the edge off and I began to run once again. Mile 19, 20, 21 and then the bridge that looked out onto the sea. I turned and looked at the horizon, gone from sight “I stand and watch her until at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other. Then, someone at my side says; “There, she is gone!” leaving my load of living freight to my destined port, gone from my sight.” (Henry Van Dyke) I said goodbye, turned away and moved forward.

I turned away from the horizon and ran the final 6.4 miles towards the finish line with Rage Against the Machine “Guerilla Warfare” playing over and over again…

It has to start somewhere, it has to start sometime
What better place than here, what better time than now?

All hell can't stop us now
All hell can't stop us now
All hell can't stop us now
All hell can't stop us now
All hell can't stop us now
All hell can't stop us now


People, strangers were cheering for me, other finishers were receiving hugs from their loved ones, having water poured over their heads as if baptized, jackets trapping warmth.

I did it! I’m liberated and free. This moment is mine to share. Yet there were no hugs from loved ones, no blankets of warmth. I was utterly alone. I was liberated but alone.

I found some random chair in an alley and sat down and began to cry. I cried hard. I cried from exhaustion and I cried from sadness. I was by myself and it was a sad feeling. I was no longer afraid though. I had just finished the race of my life.

My dad reminded me before the race, when I was complaining about my slow pace, that sometimes it’s not about winning or how fast you are. No one ever remembers who wins what marathon. To finish is accomplishment enough.

My dad also reminded me that the first man to run a marathon died after he crossed the finish line.

The next morning I woke up, stood up, threw up and, while collapsing, reached for the phone to dial 911. I was passing out and white lights flickered in my eyes and my body felt like it was drifting away from my soul, I thought, “Gee, the marathon really did kill. Well that was stupid.” I passed out.

After a few seconds of unconsciousness I awoke and swore I’d never do that again. I was a one marathon runner and done. Grateful to have my life, I echoed that cliché verse of “That which does not kill us can only makes us stronger.”

 I am stronger indeed. I am Marathon Woman, hear me roar!