Friday, December 31, 2010

Let Love Carry You

New Year’s Eve. 1996
Three different guys called me: 
Harry, Billy, Sam.
But I didn’t want any of them.
I stayed home alone, sat on the couch, 
drank a beer, maybe two?
Right before the ball dropped, 
my phone rang,
and his sweet tenor sax 
came swinging my way,  
across the wire, 
all the way, 
from LA to PA.
From point B to point A, 
he would later say.
I thought, I could marry a man who plays the horn like that
and I did.

Let love carry you into the New Year...

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Softer, Mossier Side

Often when I begin something new, I find myself swinging between self-confidence and self-doubt. 

It's a tiring dance, this hop-skipping across a rushing stream (or river), and then back again. Back and forth.

I start with a sturdy confidence, a vision, a sense of knowing. But for some reason I don't stay. Something pulls me to the gnawing doubt side until that becomes so uncomfortable, I leap back to the confident, softer mossier side and hang there for a while.

Why don't I just stay on the soft, green moss side?

Things to think about as we head into the New Year...

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Sit Still

Sit still every day.

Our lives are in motion, both mental and physical. Right now is the best moment to sit still and be. Sit still whenever you can today, even if only for a few minutes.

- from A Year Of Living Your Yoga

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Winter Bloom

Michael's birthday and Christmas came (and went) in a flash. Somehow in the midst of it all, This Being Alive hit 300 posts. I'm a tad breathless. 

And grateful. 

May you bloom; straight into the heart of winter.

xo b

Monday, December 27, 2010

Sufficient For Today

Be not heedful of the morrow,
but rather gaze upon today,
for sufficient for today
is the miracle thereof.

- Annie Besant (Some Difficulties of the Inner Life)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Love Is What's In The Room

Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen. 

- Bobby (age 7)

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Gold Coins

Today is my husband, Michael's birthday. And it's also the night my beloved Aunt Nip died. All this coming and going always leaves me feeling tender about this being alive. 

I'm "lifting" yet another email from Michael because it's Christmas Eve and I'm full of words and empty at the same time. And also because it's a reminder how special we all were to our mothers on the day we were born. There's nothing quite like it, actually.

I caught mom at a good time. She was writing me a birthday letter, sharing recollections of the day I was born.  She always recalls the pain – two weeks late with a big head. She said it helped during delivery to connect my birth to the birth of Christ, as at the time she was, in her own words, a “devout catholic.” It was a precious time but I don’t recollect.

Johnie’s words fell on me like gold coins. 

She said she remembered the nurses at the hospital being particularly kind and solicitous in light that she was not at home with her family, but instead, in the hospital. 

Johnie recalled all the girls born that day were presented with red ribbons in their hair (glued on); while I was presented with a red bow tie. I didn’t know that until now.

She told me how much I meant to her; how much I had been “present” for her (my mind keeps saying “What? it was she who was there for me!).

Here's to heart-to-hearts with our mothers, be they living, or with us in spirit. 

Here's to a gentle Christmas Eve. 

Happy Birthday, Michael. 

Peace be with you, Aunt Nip.

And with you, dear readers.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Living With Plato

I woke this morning feeling like I'd caught Claire's stomach bug or been sucker punched by low-grade depression. Both? I had a brief cry on Michael's lap at the kitchen table. Then, he went to the office. 

Later, I wrote him an email apologizing for my sudden waterworks. Not sure what I was sorry for, crying?... but that's fodder for another day. I got this email back. Still feeling queasy, but my heart is much lighter. Living with Plato is a huge blessing during these dark days of winter...

Think of it this way; we are current on our bills; we have work; we are in good health; we have a warm, clean house; and food.

We have wonderful, loving daughters and we love each other; we have our health; we have a good dog; cool siblings; and we each have at least one parent still alive.

Thinking this way, it would seem our cup runneth over.

But we want more out of life. That's great, but the wanting more should not hide from us what it is we have.

- Plato

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Monday, December 20, 2010

Drop It & Fly

This is my new gauge for everything. I ask myself, Would I give this one moment of thought if I had only three weeks to live? Most of the time the answer is a clear and resounding nope.

Drop things 
Drop things
Drop more things

Spread your arms out wide, like wings. Imagine you are holding something in each hand, something you'd really like to drop. It can be anything; money worries, grief, an old hurt, 10 lbs - 

inhale, make a fist 
exhale, open your hands wide

drop it & fly

Sunday, December 19, 2010

In Memory

In memory of my mother.

Dorothy Southam Jackson

July 7, 1926 - December 19, 2001

...I am incapable of conceiving infinity, and yet I do not accept finity. I want this adventure that is the context of my life to go on without end."

- Simone de Beauvoir

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The People Around Me

I must find unity with others if I am to have the strength to withstand whatever befalls me. The people around me can be trusted with knowledge of my inner self. I'll reach out today.

- Mom's meditation book (The Promise of a New Day)

Here's a Saturday shout-out to the newest members of This Being Alive!! My heart goes pitter~patter whenever a shiny new person joins the tribe. Can you hear it? thank you.

So, how about a 100 shiny faces by New Year's Eve? 

Go ahead. Share this being alive with your sister, cousin, neighbor, landlord, dog? All are welcome. We are an eclectic tribe with arms wide open...

As Nan would say, consider yourselves hugged. 

xo b

Friday, December 17, 2010

Joseph Of Rockaway

The phone rang at 7:58 this morning.
"Sears here. I'm just pulling up to your house."
I stepped outside to greet our garage door-fixer.
"Ah! A man after my own heart," I said, "coming before the stroke of eight like this. You're an angel."
"Well, at least somebody thinks so,"he said.
"Well, good morning!" I said, "I'm Betsy."
"I'm Joseph,"he said, cracking a smile.

"It's your drive gear,"Joseph said, after listening to the gears stall. 
"Hmmm, can it be fixed?" I asked.
"Sure,"he said.
"Are you from Cape Cod?"I asked.
"Nope, Rockaway,"Joseph said, "but everyone thinks I'm from New England.

Joseph has three girls, triplets, five and a half years old.
"Heather, Hope, and Courtney," he said, sliding a photo out from the visor in his truck. He moved back to the Poconos four years ago to be closer to his parents. 
"It's better this way,"he said, "the drive was getting too much, you know."
"I know, my Dad lives with us now,"I said.
"Hey, we need to lend a hand, right. My grandmother moved in with my parents, well, she passed. But now, my folks are getting older and, you know. It's fine being here. I like to ski,"he said.

Tonight the triplets are in a Christmas pageant at school.
"They're sweet girls,"he said,"the pageant will be sweet." 

"Here's my card if you need more help,"Joseph said, reaching out to shake my hand.
"Merry Christmas,"I said.
"Merry Christmas to you too," he said.

It was another fine day of This Being Alive; sharing tiny stories & a warm handshake with Joseph of Rockaway. 

Let's keep passing the peace.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Help Me To Remember

A Thanksgiving Prayer
Oh, God, when I have food,
help me to remember the hungry;
When I have work, help me
to remember the jobless;
When I have a warm home,
help me to remember the homelesss;
When I am without pain,
help me to remember those who suffer;
And remembering, help me
to destroy my complacency
and bestir my compassion.
Make me concerned enough
to help, by word and deed,
those who cry out
for what we take for granted.
- Samuel F. Pugh

I asked a young woman waiting in the long line of cars on Washington Street, What's happening this morning?
She said, "We're in line for Christmas food from the Salvation Army food pantry."
"Christmas food?" I said.
"Yeah," she said.
There must've been fifty cars.
"Okay, well, take care and Merry Christmas!" I said.
"You too!" she said.

I still have a lump in my throat.

How about this?

For every sweater, gadget, or I-tunes card we gift to someone this season, let's gift a can (or two) of food to a local food pantry. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Fully Lived

Start each new day with 60 seconds of self-appreciation. Stand before a well-lit mirror. Examine every wrinkle, smile lines, dot and spot on your face. See them as marks of wisdom and a rich life, fully lived.

Let's try it for a week and report back/

(photo by Susie Forrester)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

What's Happened To You, Mom?

This morning the thermometer read eleven degrees. Give or take. The little black lines were blurry; it was too damn cold to put my glasses on. 

Add wind and it was colder than a witch's tit.

What the hell does that mean anyway? I've heard it for years, especially when I lived in Vermont. How about colder than a wizard's fat ass? 

I'm so sorry. Seems something broke loose inside me after the Christmas tree *episode on Saturday. I feel reborn, washed clean. I'm chanting a new mantra: Say what's on your mind and don't feel bad about it. Om shanti, om shanti...

It's a fucking miracle.

Hey, guess what, people! Chewy is the FAMILY DOG. Someone else can go out and play ball with him and get whipped around by a wind chill of three at seven in the morning!

Honey, are you going to jog the dog around the neighborhood as part of the work-out program you've been saying you were going to do for the past two years? Sorry, ten years. Here. I got you new running shoes. Put the newspaper down, slowly. Now. Run!

Excuse me, Dad? You want to move back to the mountain house, again? In the dead of winter, without a car? You don't care if you get snowed in? Okay. Don't let the door hit your skinny ass on the way out.

Oh swell! Another school holiday celebration. Sure, Claire, Mommy will bring a craft for the kids. How about going out to pick up litter? We'll wear Santa hats. That's festive.

I know. Dreadful, right? 

Not according to my family...

This morning, as my newly-birthed, Bad Mom/Bad Wife/ Bad Daughter self was holding court in the kitchen, Michael and Claire were busting a gut. The badder I got, the more they laughed. At one point, Claire was doubled over, tears streaming down her face. 

"What's happened to you, Mom?" Claire said, "You're happy."

read: Turn It Into Firewood/ Dec. 12, 2010

Monday, December 13, 2010

Not Odd Like Me

Dear Elizabeth,

Happy Birthday! I just can't believe you're 4 years old. 

Here are 4 great reasons to be 4.

1. 4 is an even number. Thank God you're not odd like me. (Claire is 11)

2. When you're 4 you're considered a big girl. yah!

3. You're 4 times super speedier than when you were 3!

4. Your birthday cake has not 1, not 2, not 3, but 4 candles on it.


Guess what? I'm putting a *goat in your name! Ain't it great!

*Auntie Claire is sharing the cost of a goat through the Heifer Foundation, in celebration of Elizabeth's!!! Here's to less stuff and more hope.

Gift of a goat: $120 
Share of a goat: $10

With all the money donated to help fight famine around the world, with all the grandiose plans conceived to conquer poverty, sometimes all it takes to save a child is a goat. 

- 60 Minutes, CBS News Magazine Program

ps. Couldn't have said it any better than Claire today. 

Happy Birthday, sweet Elizabeth!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Turn It Into Firewood

You never can tell which way a tree will fall; one way or the other, right? Like yesterday, when what was supposed to be a bucolic family outing to get a Christmas tree turned briefly, into an odd clash of wills between me and my husband. 

This flash of a clash circled around to let the dog off the leash or not to let the dog off the leash. Important stuff, right? As you can see, the dog was let off the leash. But only after Michael and I had a voices-raised moment about it, while Claire hovered behind a stand of trees with Chewy on the leash. This blast came out of the blue, like a gust of wind. It was not our shiniest moment. 

I've dubbed it, Horrible Parenting 101.

I can count on one hand the times Michael and I have raised our voices to each other over the years. Our MO is to retreat to our corners until the storm clouds of disagreement pass. We're not yellers. But yesterday we were kinda yelling in the middle of a stand of trees, while other families, a few rows over, searched for their special tree. 

It felt (as much of my life does) like a movie, or a play. There was Michael's face in front of me and Claire behind a tree (stage left) holding the dog's leash. I knew it was not the right place or time to be going over the merits of leashing one's dog. But, here's the odd thing; I didn't care. I didn't care that other people could hear us, or that the picture-perfect family outing was being smudged. 

Wait! Of course, I cared. But being one who often shuts down in an attempt to avoid conflict, this shouting was a bit of a breakthrough. I needed to voice my opinion and apparently, so did Michael. 

I think I heard violins in the background. 

It was over as quick as it started. The dark moment had passed. Claire came out from behind the tree. Chewy raced ahead of us with another dog, Abby. We found our tree. Michael cut it down. We sang the first verse of Oh Christmas Tree. We went home.

I'm pretty sure Claire survived this moment of discord between her parents. If not, I chalk it up to good material for her one-woman show or an expensive heart-to-heart with a future therapist.

Maybe you grew up in a house where people burst forth with shouts, then sat down to eat and be merry together. I could use a little of that. When I was a girl, I took a raised voice to mean the end of the world, or worse, divorce. Now I see that it sometimes comes with expressing yourself, maybe sometimes louder than you normally would. Even, GASPnot in the privacy of your own home. I can hear my mother clicking her tongue as I type this. 

(Sorry, Mom.)

Gusts will arise, trees will fall...

turn it into firewood.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Call It Perfection

If you could call it perfection, what would it look like? How would you know it? Would you feel it? Wherever you are, call it perfection and know in this moment it really is enough.
-Leza Lowitz/ Lines to Unfold By

Friday, December 10, 2010

Explanation Of Clocks

I clicked on my car radio just in time to catch The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor (on NPR.) He was sharing some tidbits about Emily Dickinson since today is her birthday. 

Emily Dickinson didn't learn to tell time until she was fifteen years old because she was afraid to tell her father that she never understood his explanation of clocks.

If only she'd said, "Dad, can you explain that again?"

It made me think of Claire and how she won't *ask her math teacher to review something that feels unclear.
I said, "Honey, don't be afraid to go up and ask Mrs. Hegarty if you don't understand something. That's why they're called teachers."
"Mom! I can't go up in front of everybody and ask. Then everyone will know that I need help. We're doing stuff with percentages and everyone around me seems to get it."
"I must've been absent that day."Claire said.

I get it. Seems the more I open myself up to new things, the more I don't know. So what. I'm letting go of those old worries. How's this for a bumper sticker?

I have no idea. Can you help me?

In honor of The Belle of Amherst's birthday, I've decided to embrace my learning curves as opportunities to raise my hand and ask for help. I may have mastered the art of clock reading, but oh, there's so much I don't know.

Excuse me? Would you mind going over that again?

Read: If You Have A Need/ Dec. 9, 2010

Thursday, December 9, 2010

If You Have A Need

Do you have trouble asking for help? Do you walk around muttering under your breath that everyone in your family is a no-good, do-nothing bum because they're all taking care of their own needs just fine but don't notice yours? Do you feel like things don't get done unless you take the bull by the horns...?

I do.

When this woe is me thing has me looking like the frozen rhodadendron out my window, shoulders all scrunched up around my ears, I'm in trouble. It's not my job to carry the weight of the world (or my family). So why do it? If you have no idea what I'm talking about, drop me a line. But if this has a familiar ring, you know how painful it can be.

I can hear Dr. Phil now:

Do you think people are mind-readers?

Well, duh. Yes!

(Imagine loud buzzer noise.)

The answer is no. People are not mind-readers. Most often we must tell them what we need. 

Honey, would you mind watching the dog (= new baby) while I go to a yoga class? 

No problem.


Dad, will you take care of the dishes in the sink?



Seems like a simple equation, don't you think? (So what if it's taken me decades to figure this out.) 

If you have a need, speak up. 


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Waiting For?

Claire said, "Hey Pop! Do you want to watch the movie, Waiting for Guffman?"

Dad said, "Waiting for the government?"


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Like A Hitchhiker

Che (rhymes with Ray) was ninety-eight in people years when he died. Near the end, he'd just topple over; legs spreading out like he was on an icy pond. 
Claire said, "More rugs might help."
Jesse said, "Che could wear those no-skid socks, Mom."

I found Che at a Budget Motel on a December morning many years ago. It was a Saturday. I was on my way to a funeral. My friend, Donna was working the front desk, moonlighting to pay off student loans. I stopped by, just for a minute, to tell her about Dawn, my seventeen year old student. Dawn and two other girls were racing a guy in another car. They hit a telephone pole. All three girls died.

Dawn was a loud, gum-chewing girl with big hair. She'd come into my remedial math class, throw her arms around my shoulders and say,"How ya doing today, Ms. J?" 
I wasn't the best fit for teaching a high school math class, remedial or otherwise. But the kids and I, we got along. I like to think I was put in that class for other reasons besides algebra.

I saw Che sitting in the corner, behind the front desk. He was a skinny, overgrown puppy, velvety black fur, chocolate eyes.
"He doesn't belong to anyone. They call him Buck."Donna said.
"He's a stray. I think some construction guy is going to take him back to Georgia when he's done with the job he's on."
"But if you want him..." she said, nodding to the dog.

I slipped my red scarf through his collar and walked out into the cold air. Thin snowflakes were falling. The dog jumped up front and we rode in silence, crossing the river into New Jersey. He was like a hitchhiker, all quiet and looking out the window.

At the church, I left him in the car. The pews were crowded with students and teachers from school. I could see Dawn, down in front, laid out in her casket like Sleeping Beauty. Her blonde hair spread out over the red satin. Pink cheeks, ruby lips. I kept thinking about the dog in the car. I walked up to Dawn's mother and told her how sorry I was, how much fun Dawn had been, how awful this must be. 
She took my hand, looked me in the eye and said," Dawn is home with Jesus."
Her eyes were shining. 

Che was in the front seat when I came out. It was snowing harder now. The sky, a plum purple. I opened the door to let him out. He licked my hand. We walked behind the church. He peed three times and then we drove home. 

Monday, December 6, 2010

We Have Frida

On my way to the bank this morning, I saw a bumper sticker that read:

I want to be Barbie.
The Bitch has everything.


Sure, the girl's had every career under the sun;
Dr. Barbie, Pilot Barbie, Cheerleading Barbie, CEO Barbie, and of course, Malibu Barbie. She can put her legs over her head like nobody's business. Is there a Yogi Barbie?

Two times I had an inkling of what it was like to have boobs like Barbie. Okay, so I had to get pregnant and nurse my babies to keep up the facade. It was a temporary thrill. Barbie's boobs, on the other hand, are built to withstand gravity. Sure, she has all those cars, mansions, Ken. But does that make her a bitch? 

It hadn't crossed my mind until I saw the bumper sticker, but do you think she's been happy all these years? So many career changes, so many new looks? The same boyfriend like forever. Seems like a lot of pressure. With that smile it's hard to tell how she's really feeling.

Our band of Barbies moved out years ago. These days, we have Frida; artist, light and dark, flamboyant dresser, truth-teller. Yes, I mean that Frida. Frida Kahlo of the famous uni-brow.  

Frida's life was difficult in many ways. She could never do the thing with her legs like Barbie, especially after her terrible accident. She often lived her artist life confined to her bed. Still, Frida thrived. 

Frida painted her life for us; 

eyes wide open
bleeding hearts