The Read

Jan. 2, 2016

Our story picks up pretty much where we left off, (one of these days I’ll get back to writing about topics, there are so many juicy items to chose from, but not just yet,) the Christmas nomads found a home.  Talk about gifts, we had several offers of deliciously desirable places, and from some treasured people.  Thoroughly humbled by all the generosity.

Fittingly, we ended up at an angel’s house.  How perfectly apropos for Christmas.  Ann, the guardian who gives me shelter when I wonder back to the old hood, (wondering has a schedule, pretty much once a week,) gave me the metaphoric keys to her cottage kingdom, (got my own key a long time ago,) for an entire week, while she’s been in Colorado with her precious family.  (Tapping this installment out on her computer.)  So, the complete cohort, the enigmatic eight, descended on her house.  We had a home, (my second,) beds, a fireplace, and a practically-perfect-in-every-way Christmas tree.  Our family holiday was rescued.   Beyond the children all gathering from hither and yon, this charming abode was my favorite Christmas gift.  Thanks Ann.

In case the title didn’t give it away, this episode is about gifts. 

Things have improved since we last talked.  Not so much situations, more the mindset.  The house still isn’t done, but it’s getting closer.  What?  I’ve said that before?  Yeah, well, this time I think it’s possible.  If I had to put a target up, (dare I?) I’d shoot for mid-January.   After a year, the long-awaited gift, our delightful digs will finally change hands.  No more excuses and delays and disappointments.  Man, what a gift it will be.  Hopefully, by the next installment, we’ll have a move-in date.  I’ll keep you posted. 

Been holding onto a present I got the weekend before Thanksgiving.  Actually, I got this gift some fifteen plus years ago, his name is Jake.  He was an adorable toddler, youngest of five and the only boy in his family.  When he was eighteen months old, his adventuresome spirit took him one step too far; he fell into their pool.   He’s now a young man who has lived the majority of his life incapacitated and profoundly handicapped from a brain injury. When he was three, I signed on to be one of a number of people who offered to help with a special therapy, BRAINnet.  His Mom, Donna, (one of the people I admire most in the world,) exhausted every tool available to help Jake rehab and allow him as much comfort as possible.   It takes three sets of hands to carry out BRAINnet; for years, was on the schedule once a week.  When we moved, all that came to an end.  A huge loss.  Theirs is a family that had become mine.  I’ve been with them through some major expansions.  Three weddings and three babies.  Tiny sisters, three of the smartest little toe-headed girls you’d ever want to meet.  And hysterically funny.  As they flourished, they worked their special brand of therapy on our hearts while we worked on Jake.  Truly, these people, all of them, were a gift in my life.  And after not seeing them since last January, the Saturday before Thanksgiving we all gathered for a special occasion.  

Every two years Jake’s family organizes a pig roast and silent auction to help with the cost of his care.  It’s always the perfect kick-off to the holidays; approximately 400 people from the community gather to celebrate and support this beautiful young man and his extraordinary family.  This year’s festivities came with news, another wedding on the horizon, their youngest daughter; and a new baby for the most recent newlyweds, this time a boy.  Pure joy.  Absolutely stellar people.  At one point during the evening, the middle munchkin, Nadia, a fascinating four-year-old, grabbed my hand and danced me around the entire perimeter of the hall, (there were over 300 auction items, it covered some serious landscape,) a little moment of magic I won’t soon forget.  Walked out with an auction item, some of their famous fried chicken, and a priceless reminder; happiness is always there, even around the most difficult of circumstances.  Donna, Doug and their beautiful children know, life is what we make of it.  And they have created a masterpiece. 

As you can imagine, and probably experienced yourselves, there were some gifts exchanged for the holidays.  (Note, photo above.)  Our children came up with some standouts in the gift-giving department.  They have the perfect recipe of excellent taste, blended with admirable generosity; they regularly cook up some meaningful presents.  But, as delightful as their gifts are, the true bounty is the givers themselves.  Without question, BK and I agree, they are the ultimate gifts.  Priceless.  Always feel a little bad about spilling their lives across my web page.  They’re quietly supportive but I can imagine it’s somewhat bothersome.  I can’t help it.  They are extraordinary.  Doesn’t every parent feel that way?  Well, it’s true.  The mere thought of them thrills me.  Their creativity and capacity, their compassion and concern, each of them is drawn to the underdog, reaching out to people who need help the most.  Gifts; to all the lives they touch.  Certainly to mine.    

Happy New Year.  Here’s to a healthy, happy and fruitful year for us all.  May your lives be filled with the priceless gift of love.  The greatest of all.  

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Dec. 14, 2015

Been trying to build this blog for the last two weeks, but every time I put the pieces together, it wasn’t such an attractive structure.  You’ve seen them, buildings with no visible means of light.  Windowless.  They look like a prison.  Too dark to be considered inhabitable.

Much like the infamous house we’re building, lately, I’ve been feeling like a stalled construction project.  I’m the nail in the knotty part of the wood; no matter how many times the hammer comes down, can’t get to a point of being secure.  Whack, after whack, I’m still precariously waiting for some stability.  A grip.  The hits feel like they’re coming one right after another but nothing’s coming together, instead it just feels like it’s all falling apart.  

Have had several titles for this installment of my on-going biography; In Search of Joy, In Search of Relief, Epic Fail, Whack, and finally, The Build.  It’s been a painful process; I’m hoping for suitable shelter soon.

(That unstable foundation was poured last week, but what followed just got ugly, not worth posting.  Fortunately, we’re another week in and things have shifted; what follows is much more sturdy.  Stick with me, this one has been brewing for so long, I think it’s progressed to being potent.) 

Have heard it said a lot lately, (and it’s true,) few people have it easy; everyone has difficulty in their lives.  We are no strangers.  I’m questioning though, how long do you wallow before shaking your head at your own stinkin thinkin?  You know, the thoughts that settle on all things negative instead of resting in reason.  (Resting in reason, now there’s an idea.)  Unfortunately, I’ve been putting on a clinic in wallowing lately.  Try my hardest not to inflict it on others, believe I do a serviceable job of hiding my pain, the battle is primarily in my own head.  Not a fun place to be.  So much anxiety, I’ve been stymied as to what to do with it all. 

We’ve had a few more blows; they ignited an unhealthy inventory.  An injurious reel of misfortunes over the last few years that kept playing in my head: losing my job, Rory’s suicide, Mom’s death, Ric’s death, moving after twenty years in the same town, living in a sea of boxes for nine months, the house that couldn’t, vandalism, health stolen by a drug reaction, the house that still couldn’t, moving to the basement, Jeter’s death, a depression (beyond my own,) within the Fab Five that took us to the emergency room twice over Thanksgiving week, (most important,) the health my children, and finally, the house that may not.  Like a vortex, I was sucked in. 

Pesky depression.

No matter how many times I rolled out reason, despair muscled its way to the front.  It’s a persistent beast, demanding and insidious.  A purveyor of darkness; brutal in it’s folly.  And the worst part, my problems are child’s play compared to several people I know, feel like my lapse has been an insult to their struggles.  But it is, what it is; baffling at best and beyond me.  And being the product of a dysfunctional family has only fed the beast.  It hungers for hopelessness. 

Until yesterday, I thought it was going to eat me out of house and home.  Gluttonously sucking up the light, delighting in the gloom.  But, low and behold, I have windows; a couple hundred people opened them wide.  The 11th was my birthday and, even though I thought I wanted everyone to forget about it, some serious love came my way.  Songs, cards, gifts, phone calls, text messages, an Instagram hug, and Facebook posts galore.  Kindness by the truckload.  The George Bailey effect.  Reminders of what really matters.  People.  Love.  My family and friends made it an absolutely magical day.  It suddenly got much brighter.    

Per the climate lately though, the beast came knocking the next day; (insert shaking head) happiness, happiness, what were you thinking.  Found out there would be no house by Christmas.  It was already too late and I knew it, the movers need several weeks notice.  But hearing it was a blow all the same.  Our most recent completion target was Dec. 16th.  (Anyone got a house they would rent to eight nomads over Christmas?  Fitting our entire family in the basement, {one double bed and a college fridg,} isn’t going to work,) I contemplated letting the beast in, but instead I sent him away and raked leaves.  For hours.  Spent some valuable time with my organic metaphor.  Ever see the movie, Being There?  Chauncy Gardener is my hero.  He would understand, this yard is sad and broken.  It’s been sorely neglected for years.  Leaves have overtaken the grass and foliage, burying the beauty and choking the life out of it.  Can’t bear to leave a yard, that could be enchanting, to wither away.  I also love the person who's selling the house and want to help, so I’ve been on a mission to restore it to health before we leave.     

It’s therapy.  A way to work off anxiety; with the bonus of being the perfect ambiance for prayer.  I’ve done a lot of both.  For weeks, the combination of the two have kept me on my feet.  But this session was different.  For the first time, yesterday I saw the fruits of my labor.  The leaves have finally stopped falling in this forest fortress and I’ve cleared enough of the beds and grass to see life again.  It’s going to be beautiful.  Hundreds of pounds of composted leaves and dirt have been cleared away and I could finally see the difference.  What was smothered, is breathing and lifted.  The parallel has not escaped me.   

When I realized what had been accomplished a new reel, (fresh off the birthday love,) started in my head.  Not showing the film of how broken I am, but how capable.  At that moment, the yard and my life felt like a great test, or maybe a certification.  Complete this daunting task and you can move on to the next level.  Clear out the things that block the Son, and amazing growth will happen.  Concentrate on what’s possible instead of what’s gone.  Roll up your sleeves, it’s time to start building. 

I know where I’m going to start.  Shay and I have been cautiously laying groundwork for a new company; the heart of it employs her considerable gifts for marketing and social media.  But my vision includes an expanded reach.  More of an alliance of our dreams.  The artistic skills of my family astound me.  A perfectionist to a fault, I wouldn’t tout their talents unless they were legit.  With Shay at the helm, their combined abilities present the potential of a media powerhouse.  And beyond my own, there are a number of insanely talented people I want to promote.  Especially musicians.  And to be fully forthcoming, where dreams are concerned, I want to include filmmaking too.  That’s mine.  Always has been.  Recently got an unexpected shot in the arm when I heard someone talking about my ability as a director.  After hearing her talk, I can admit it, got some mad skills.  Need to start using them.  There’s a stunning actress I want to introduce in a short film I’ve been dying to make.  A music video; absolutely penetrating song, Heroin, by name.  You can imagine.  Powerful.  I need to find a way to do it.  

Yup, time to start building.  The yard is growing.  Depression and heartache are great debilitators.  They rob us of our essence, our ability to dream and create.  I’m claiming it again.   And even if the vision is pie-in-the-sky, it’s possible.  All things are possible to those who believe.  Thoreau knew the deal, “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” 

That’s it, the foundation.  The materials are gathered and they're the best money can buy, time to start the build. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ywhD9ePntKs

This is a link to a short I made a few years back.  I was curious if I could make a film entirely by myself.  Never again.  There are mistakes that wouldn’t be there if I could’ve stayed behind the camera.  It’s about a dear friend and my interpretation of what bolstered her the day of her husband’s funeral, after his sudden death.  Her heart was dragging beneath her, but somehow she found a way to carry on.  The best part of the film?  The music.  Sean let me cut up a piece he had written for a documentary.  It’s worth sticking with all seven minutes just to hear his work.  It’s inspired.

I’m ready to pour the concrete.  

 

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Nov. 23, 2015

Where would we be without a good idiom or two?  We all know, it takes two to tango, and you can’t always judge a book by it’s cover; a penny for your thoughts on that one, might just be a blessing in disguise, unless, of course, you think I’m barking up the wrong tree.  Dogs get a bad rap in the idiom department.  I mean, when a dog barks up a tree, he’s got a good reason, there’s no mistake about it.  And, let sleeping dogs lie?  My pooch never cared if I gave him a stroke or two when he was sleeping.   As for a dog’s life, well, let’s not beat around the bush, it’s a piece of cake.  At least mine was. 

Sadly, I’m talking in the past tense about Jeter, my beautiful beagle, because we had to help him out of a jam this past week.  Cancer had stolen his thunder.  

Last Saturday, out of the blue, Jeter couldn’t get out of bed.  And when he finally did get up, somewhere around the noon hour, he wanted nothing to do with food.  This is a beagle we’re talking about, food was his life.  We called the vet’s office, they were closed.  He was definitely off his game, but he perked up a bit, so we figured an appointment first thing Monday morning was in order.  By Sunday morning, the game had changed; it was an emergency, he was in bad shape.   

Beyond hearing it straight from the horse’s mouth, a picture painted a thousand words, the x-ray showed a massive tumor on his spleen.  It was advanced.  His organs had been crushed to one side; decisions needed to be made.  In the heat of the moment, BK and I didn’t see eye to eye.  I felt his suffering, but he wanted him to have more time.  (Or maybe that time was for us, in any case, thank goodness he won.)  The doc worked a little magic; helped him with some borrowed time.  Jeter would get one more trip to Brooklyn to see the kids.  He was back in the drivers seat, at least for a few days.  Shay even flew up from Miami to say goodbye.  He went out in grand fashion.  

To make a long, idiom-filled story short, Elvis has left the building.   

All drollness aside, it’s been a heartbreaking week.  Jeter was the coolest dog, couldn’t have asked for a better companion.  After BK started travelling for his job, the empty nest would have been my undoing without my beagle buddy.  He was always with me, right by my side; guarding the lady of the house.  My great defender had experience too, for years, while we were all at work and school, he kept my Mom company.  She always said he was her saving grace. 

His only downfall was food.  He could never get enough.  Can’t tell you how many pieces of pizza, cookies and the occasional bowl of cereal got pilfered.  His lightening speed was never more on point than when he was stealing food.  He was legendary, even had a rep in the hood.  We were the first people to move into our neighborhood; it was a construction site for years.  With new construction, comes workman; with workman, comes lunch breaks.  He would regularly scour the empty basements for McDonalds bags, had a beacon for errant French fries.  

I’ll never forget the day we visited the builder and a couple workman getting ready to settle down to a much-deserved lunch break.  The house next door was being built and I had taken Jeets out for a pee break.  We walked over to talk to them just as they were pulling out brown bags.  No sooner had one of the men set his sandwich on a small wood trailer than Jeter jumped up with the speed of Superman, grabbed the bologna masterpiece, and took off.  Houdini would have been proud, now you see it, now you don't.  I was embarrassed, the workman was pissed, and the other two were laughing hysterically.  From that day forward he was know as, The Little Thief.  Not exactly the rep we were hoping for, but I’ll give him this, at least he made amends with a Chick-fil-A gift card. 

When it came to getting food, Jeter was a genius, down to figuring out how to open the refrigerator.  He had a discerning palate, only the best for the Jeets.  One night we came home to find a Chinese food container sitting up-right, in the middle of the family room floor; flaps up, licked clean.  I always had a picture of him standing there perusing the fridge contents, tapping his lip until he landed on Chinese left-overs.  Figured he lit a candle and tied a little napkin around his neck before he delicately opened the container and devoured the contents.  There it stood, as if one of us had eaten it, not a rip or hole anywhere.  We had to laugh.  He always made us laugh. 

Until the end, he made us cry.  Hearts broken beyond words.  Deciding to put him down was one of the hardest things we’ve ever done.  My Auntie K, who has a connection to animals like no other person I’ve ever know, told us he wanted to be let go; he was ready to soar.  She was right.  By the time we finally went back to the vet, he was bloated and bleeding internally.  My sweet boy, who showered us with love every time we walked in the door, needed relief.  It was time to say goodbye.

We were so blessed to have Jeter in our lives.  His was an unconditional love, constant and enriching.  Medicine for the hardest of times.  When we lost both Rory and Mom, he knew; he tended our shattered hearts.  Bolstered a house of broken spirits.  It’s what dogs do best, they love without expecting anything in return.  It’s admirable.  The idiom has it wrong, it’s not hard and unpleasant; it’s a dog’s life and it’s a gift. 

 

 

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Nov. 16, 2015

This week, Brooklyn for me, Boston for BK; the basement is barren.  It’s a rainy day in the land of concrete and asphalt and Jeter, my tail-wagging weather weenie, refuses to go outside.  City living with dogs, ain’t so easy.   I feel his pain, it’s wet and cold.   (Perfectly happy to be hunkered down on the couch with Sarah’s laptop, a blanket, and a cup of tea.  Nirvana.)   Kinda feel like I’m playing hooky when I’m in NY.  Indulge in guilty pleasures, like binge-watching TV.  At home, I rarely turn the tube on, unless it’s an old movie with BK, there’s always too much to do.  But here, I’m not exactly taking meetings.  Have a tad bit of free time on my hands. 

This morning Jeter and I mainlined the show, Twice Born.   An absolutely gripping PBS mini-series that follows the Special Delivery Unit at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; their specialty, fetal surgery while the infant is still in the mother’s womb.  A miraculous thing to behold.  They repair a range of fetal maladies that, if left to address after birth, would cause profound handicaps or even loss of life.  As are all PBS productions, the show is masterfully done.  It handles the most delicate of situations with respect for the families going through the ordeals.  Not everything goes well.  After all, it’s real life.  Not normally a fan of reality TV, (can stomach very little of it,) but this is a different story.  An education on so many levels, including the tenacity of the human spirit.   All sizes.   The doctors who run the center, get it.  Babies are the most valuable thing we have.  The surgeon-in-chief, Director and founder of the Center for Fetal Diagnosis & Treatment, Dr. N. Scott Adzick, said it all, “It’s a miracle and a privilege to take care of patients, particularly babies.  Babies are the future.   What could be more compelling than a baby?”

Couldn’t agree more. 

I’ve had babies on my mind; in particular, baby boys.  It was precipitated by last weekend’s festivities.  I attended a baptism back in the old hood, the cherubic little fellow in the pic.  Cohen.  (I am totally in the bag for this boy.)  He’s made an appearance in the blog before, congratulated his Dad on his arrival, in the Father’s Day column.  His Pop has been a recurring character.  You might remember Sully, he’s my son from a different mother.  Watched him grow up, maybe helped a little along the way.  Just as his mom, Sue, helped our three.  We’re all family.  It would have been worth the drive if it had been ten hours.   

I love watching Sully with his son, he’s absolutely devoted.  Cohen’s parents are both smitten.  And why wouldn’t they be, he’s adorable.  A beautiful little boy with a calm and pleasant demeanor.  He rarely cries, too interested in watching what’s going on around him to waste time crying.  He’s a dream.  Or maybe I’m just partial.  (Me!?!)  After all, I’ve prayed for this boy since he was just a little bean.  As you know, I have a particular interest in praying for babies.  Hoping they’ll save the world from itself.  A monumental task. 

Being at Cohen’s baptism reminded me of my Godsons, I have three; they’re all young men now.  They came into my life long before I landed on the idea of praying for infants.  But, agreeing to be a Godparent kind of builds that task in; from the day of their dousings, I was on a mission.  I’ve always found the concept of raising men intriguing, felt like a little behind the scenes spiritual assistance couldn’t hurt.  There’s no denying it, men rule the world.  (Women are warming up in the bullpen, but for the time being, XYs dominate the mound.)   But as powerful as they might be, they all begin the same way, helpless.  In every way.  No question, they arrive innately who they are, but teaching them to value education, humor, kindness, and self-control produces a man worth giving to the world.  Throw in a healthy dose of love and you crack the code.  That’s my Godsons.  They’re all three stellar young men; people who make the world a better place.  I applaud their parents, they spent time on those valuable lessons.

We probably all agree, the world could use more like them.  Men who value human life and understand that judgment belongs solely to God.  Men who want to preserve life, not destroy it.  Including their own.  Young men who are not deceived into thinking it’s a righteous act to spray a room with gunfire, then obliterate themselves and everyone around them in the name of a God who must be disgusted by their misguided actions.  Yes, the world needs more good men.  Men like Dr. Adzick, the one who saves babies.  In one of his interviews, he admitted to that competitive streak that seems innate to most men; when going into battle, he wants to win.  Thank goodness he’s leading the right war, protecting the helpless.  The new souls who can grow up to be love.  That mission seems more important than ever; a little behind the scenes spiritual assist can’t hurt.  Oh baby, isn't that the truth.

 

 

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Nov. 6, 2015

This is my first blog from the basement.  Not the first since we moved here, but the first composed in our actual subterranean accommodations.  We didn’t end up taking a road trip this week, there was too much to do on the home front.  Been finishing the landscaping at the new house for the better part of the week.   Getting down to the wire; fall will soon be in the rearview mirror, I can see winter up ahead.  Need to make sure all my leafy friends are tucked into the soil and comfortably rooting before it gets frigid.  A lot of work now, but next spring and summer will be the payoff.  Worth the aching back.  

This is my fourth yard from scratch.  I’ve got chops.  (Especially around the bargain table, if a plant is on its last legs, it comes home with me.)  You see, I have this thing about bringing broken down back to life.  The first tree I ever planted was from a discard pile.  They practically paid me to take it off their hands.  Charlie Brown tree if ever there was one.  But to me, it was a beauty of a Red Maple; just like Chuck, I was in the bag for the scrawny little guy.  I pampered and pruned that pup for years, by the time we left that house, it was a grand, towering specimen.  Someone at one of our gatherings said it was the most perfect tree she had ever seen.  Always knew he had it in him.  Trees are a lot like people, all they want is a chance.  Give them decent nourishment and some love and they thrive. 

Along with tending my new gardens, I’ve been working here, in the basement yard too.  This one is a doozy; there are, literally, hundreds of trees in this yard.  Big, mature monsters.  No exaggeration.  And with a forest comes, leaves.  A sea of them.  Seriously, we are inundated with leaves.  They’re  e v e r y w h e r e.  I rake the long driveway and surrounding beds clean and two days later, they’re completely covered again.  Not sure, but I think the rake is now an appendage. 

Today was devoted to the forest.  Other than dragging my ten, gallon jugs over to the house to water, I spent the entire day working here.  I make it sound like a chore, it’s not.  I mean, yes, by the nature of it, (pun intended,) yard work is a chore; but it falls in the same category as shoveling snow, I enjoy it.  And today was dreamlike; I felt like a kid.   Had to stop several times and just be in the moment.  Imagine being surrounded by hundreds of wise, old behemoths sprinkling brilliance all round you.  It was warm and the sun was shining between the giants.  And the leaves were fluttering down like a gentle rain of twirling magic.  I took video until my phone was dead.  It was just so enchanting. 

Brought to mind one of my favorite poems.  Years ago, I committed two poems to memory.  The first was a college assignment, a Shakespeare sonnet that fits me to a T.  (I think ole Will and I are kindred spirits.)  And the second I learned after I got out of school, simply because I loved it.  Joyce Kilmer’s poem, Trees.  His striking verses speak to how very much like people they are, “…A tree whose hungry mouth is pressed, against the earth’s sweet flowing breast…”  Nurturing, that’s the ticket.  We’re hungry to be cultivated.  All of us.  There are no lost causes, trust me, it’s never too late.  Give up on something too soon and you may never see its brilliance. 

I’m going to keep planting.  The payoff is priceless.

 

 

(Huge thanks to Ann, for giving me an internet connection!) 

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