Carpe Diem

david-for-paperWell I suppose I should rename my blog to a quarterly newsletter as the past few months might reflect that change in pace. But with fall in the air and grandchildren back in school, I find myself sitting at my computer. Hoping to return to at least a monthly entry.

The past year has been a bit of a blur to be honest. Both my mother and my brother died over the last twelve or so months, my brother six weeks ago. Losing your mother at 92 is life changing but a bit expected. Losing a sibling is another thing altogether. Especially this sibling.

David was a true individual.  True to himself and his own set of values. He spent everyday of his life with a lust for learning, living and taking it all in at his own pace. He didn’t waste a second of his life being bored. Carl Jung said, “The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” It was as though David was born with that understanding and enjoyed the freedom to be who he was meant to be, at birth, by the stars, every day he lived.

Nothing he loved more than bantering with friends and family. He was witty with an uncanny ability to tell a story and laugh at himself as easily as the situation. He was entertaining and easily entertained by a broad spectrum of interests. A gifted English literature scholar, he was often voted Professor of the Year.

He was a romantic who saw the world in soft focus as well as full of truths and ironies. He could be a crusty curmudgeon who covered a soft and sentimental heart.  Never simple, often complicated, being around my brother was an adventure. Whether telling a story or living it, he pulled you in for the ride.

And ride we did over the past year.  My husband called it his farewell tour. David loved water. So we traveled to oceans and lakes for holidays and getaways.  We always had something on the calendar to look forward to.

David approached death as he did most other things. Head on.  Early in his diagnosis, when we all had this faint but persistent hope that the doctors were mistaken, we sat on my sister’s front porch and planned his funeral. Actually, he planned his funeral and I wrote his obituary.  I even read what I wrote and he listened and smiled. And added a line.

His memorial service was as individual as my brother including his love of literature as well as Doo-Wop music. A secular gathering, we had five songs and five poems. Starting with A. E. Housman’s  Loveliest of Trees followed by Maurice Williams’s 50’s single, Stay, profound simply in its title, we ended with the Ronettes singing Be My Baby. With Pavarotti and Shakespeare thrown in the middle for good measure. There was some dancing, some clapping, some tears and laugher. The event celebrated the life and personality of my one-of-a-kind brother.

David had an unflinching distain for any sort of authority.

He fought traffic cops, dress codes, deans, job interviewers, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, anyone who told him “no.” But death was an authority he could not defy.  But damn if he didn’t do an incredible job of trying.  When they gave him six months to live, he lived fourteen.  When they warned of dramatic side effects of treatment, he would have none of it.

He took his prognosis with a grace and dignity I am not sure I possess, but he certainly showed me how it is done. Part of his stoicism, resignation was that he knew, from the first test, that 50 years of smoking his Vantage Blues had brought him to this moment. But far beyond that, he dove in, took what was prescribed and with every fiber in his being, lived every second he had left. And lived it fully.

No self pity. No complaining. No “what ifs.”  Only “what nows.”

And he “nowed” the hell out of every breath he took until his last. Bald and too thin, he never lost his sass.  His sly grin, his sense of humor, his love of the moment always shone through.

Every nurse who cared for him was a little in love with him. He never lost “it.”

That intangible, beautiful, sometimes frustrating, always intriguing thing that was David.

I only heard him utter one sentence of sadness about his plight. We were sitting on the beach in Florida, a cloudless cerulean sky on the horizon and sweet, sea breezes rustling the palms. He said, looking outward not at me, “It’s much easier to think of dying in the bleakness of winter than it is at a moment like this.”

I miss him.  I miss him every day.  But he gave me something.  Something huge. He reminded me that life is to be lived, not worried about, over-analyzed and most importantly, it is not to be lived on someone else’s terms.

You only get this one chance.  One try at this living thing. And I am working on a shift.

A carpe diem shift.  More salt water in my hair.  No guilt for staying up too late to watch Dirty Dancing one more time on Bravo. Pushing on when fear holds me back.

Living as the authentic person I was born to be, the one I was meant to be.

I want to find her.  And live her unafraid so that when I come to my last breath, I can close my eyes and see all that I did, loved, dreamed of and hoped for. I want a parade of beautiful memories. Opportunities embraced. Failures accepted.

A life of carpe diem.


Holding tight and letting go

baby stauntonIt’s a funny thing, this life.  Full of ups and downs and twists and turns.  And the older I get, the more I feel I have little to say in which direction it takes.

As a kid, I thought it would be the opposite.  If I got good grades, went to church, brushed my teeth, came home on time, I had this illusion that I had some say in what would happen to me.

If I was good, life would be good.

And for awhile, actually, it worked for me.  I got my A’s, my teeth didn’t fall out and I was rarely, if ever, grounded. I was surrounded by good friends, my home was a safe haven. I had much more than food and shelter.  I had love and security.

Now forty some years later, I am fortunate to say I still have most of that. My teeth included, give or take an implant or two. But there has been a major shift in my thinking.

This world we live in is both fragile and solid, turbulent yet predictable. And I have come to understand it is all more out of my control than within it. Much to my surprise, that realization has been more liberating than frightening. Accepting that fate or God or something much larger than my little finite mind can imagine is at the helm, has started me on a journey of letting go.

I am trying to stay in the moment, with the joy or pain and just live it as it happens. Appreciating the present which is after all, the only thing we can really be sure of.

Since my last post I have been busy living plenty of beautiful moments.  My eldest had her third baby, her third boy, who melts my heart and lightens my days.  My son, who fourteen years ago I worried would not live to be married much less have a child, just had a son who shares his name and gentle disposition. This expanding brood is a gift.  And brings me peace and solace amidst the storm of the daily news.

My brother who was given months to live a year ago, just celebrated another birthday. He surprised his doctor and himself. We know he won’t beat this thing but he is showing me how to fight it with grace and dignity.

Moments. Savored moments in between the stuff we think is so daunting but in our hearts know is not. Too many days of rain or parking lot scratches on our car or Murphy’s Law lines at the grocery store.  Just stuff.

My son and his son and I had a spontaneous, quiet afternoon yesterday.  It was a rare day for Chicago summers. Clear and crisp. Little humidity for mid-July. Breezy verging on windy per the city’s reputation. We took a long walk in his neighborhood. Places we have never walked, just he and I, since he moved in three years ago. I knew it was a moment.  I relished it.  Every step.

And after a couple hours of walking and talking and stopping and cooing over his beautiful boy, a half block from his house, out of nowhere, without a snap or a crack or a bit of warning, a healthy huge tree limb crashed to the sidewalk fifteen feet in front of us. We were both taken aback. Startled out our placid little stroll.

We stopped and almost in unison we asked what was it that we did in those couple hours that put us twenty seconds behind that limb, not under it?  Was it the second pair of jeans I tried on at the 75% off sale, or when he insisted I step onto his knee to hoist me up to see over the picket fence of his favorite house in the neighborhood?

I looked to the heavens and said, ” Thank you, Mama!”  My agnostic son did not laugh or chide.

We walk through this world thinking we have some control and out of nowhere we can be stopped in our tracks. Or spared.

The now.  That’s what we have.  I’m trying to live there.

Staying there is my challenge. Unfortunately, it takes something within my feeble reach but something I often cannot muster up.

Self control.









robinI have been  thinking about a post on spring.  And the problem is, it’s hard to muse on spring without sounding trite. The mounds of crusty, black snow have melted. The air feels a bit fresher. The sound of birds chirping wafts in morning breezes. (Insert visions of the bluebirds tying ribbons in Cinderella’s hair here. Darting in and out of her open window.  Sheer white curtains dancing in the wind.)

Daffodils and crocuses are popping though damp, brown earth. The hope of grass and the smell of green and summer is in the air.

I saw my first robin a few weeks ago.  I asked her if she was my mother. No kidding.  I did.  I have been looking for mom in nature. She loved it so and I have had the hardest time finding or feeling her since her death.  My dad was much easier.  I could smell the scent of his Old Spice, the comfort of his hand on my knee on a turbulent plane flight.  I could hear his words of counsel when I was confused or longing or lonely.  He’s been with me these past ten years.

But mom just looked out that nursing home window and closed her eyes and poof!  She was gone. It’s the strangest thing. But not really.  Mom always was more ethereal. Whimsical and unpredictable. Almost childlike in her ability to conjure up magic in a moment. Dreamy. And a bit elusive.  Dad on the other hand was solid. Given to rituals. Clocklike in his predictability.

With the anniversary of her death a couple weeks away, I have a feeling this spring she will appear.  Unexpected, I will feel or see her. In something she loved or felt or shared.  A cup of tea.  A moss-covered rock. I remember once, as a child, we had a field mouse in our house and instead of setting a mouse trap, she drew a picture of a tiny door on the baseboard of my room and told me bedtime stories of the adventures of Mr. Mouse and his family and their secret life inside the walls of our home.  Dad would have had a broom or a shovel after that rodent faster than mom could have said “Once upon a time,” but for weeks, it seemed, our little friend lived under my closet door.

And my imagination soared higher with each new tale of his adventures.

So perhaps mom has been busy whispering her angel magic into the ears of little ones everywhere. Telling them they will be OK after a tumble.  Loving them after a bully calls them “stupid” or just holding them close when they are afraid.

That was her strength.  That is what made her special.  Her ability to love openly and unashamed in a fearless, endearing way. And I’m thinking, that is who she has been busy with as she finds her way to whatever world her spirit will settle in.

Or more like mom, she will stay in the wind. In rebirth. In joy. In unguarded laughter and chance meetings, coincidences that aren’t really. Things that happen that we are too busy to stop and notice.

Things we miss if we are not listening to the rustle in the grass. The whispers in the wind.

But I am going to try to stop.  Or at least slow down.  And notice.

And to be as sappy as a Hallmark card writer on Mother’s Day, I’ll remember the words to the Cinderella’s song she sang to her birds as they chirped and fawned and made her bed and tied her bows:

“A dream is a wish your heart makes.  When it’s fast asleep…No matter how your heart is grieving if you keep on believing, the dream that you wish for comes true.”

Politically Correcting the Holidays

PC cartoonSo I have been thinking about my older grandson’s “Winter Sing.” I missed the younger’s “Winter Gathering” but the name alone was enough to keep me away. Felt like just another euphemism for tip toeing around the holidays in the schools.

The “Winter Sing” was definitely politically correct, perfectly bland, weirdly instructive but pretty much as they had billed it. We were there to celebrate winter.

Well, sort of.


Themes for each K-4 performance, to avoid stepping on any religious toes, were things like winter safety, the woeful demise of Native American homeland and immigration and entry at Ellis Island during the early 1900’s. Very cheery stuff to sing about, right? The songs were preceded by a short video produced by the classroom depicting their subject matter.

The first video included local firemen cautioning the children about falling through thin ice on ponds and lakes. A pediatrician’s nurse giving great detail concerning prevention of and proper care for frostbite. The school superintendent spoke about the necessity of school closings in inclement weather to keep the little ones safe inside, away from sub-zero temperatures and dangerous windchills.

I know.  I wouldn’t believe it either if I hadn’t watched with my own wondering eyes.

Next up was an uplifting series of old black and white photos of sad, hungry Native Americans ravaged by aggressive, selfish western settlers.  Dead buffalo.  Empty mud huts. And just when you thought is was safe to come out of those bleak and dreary woods, the third graders enlightened us about the horrors of the long boat ride for European emigrants to come to the United States. They spoke of disease and food shortages on the vessels. First class accommodations vs. lower class steerage. And ended with the saddest pictures of doctors turning twelve-year-olds away at Ellis Island if they were too sick to enter the country.  Sent back to their native land alone after mom and dad had passed the test and stayed.

At this point, my five-year-old was sucking his fingers and looking like he had seen a ghost and the three-year-old was cuddled into my underarm holding on for dear life.

Seriously, I’m not exaggerating here. You can’t make up shit better than this.

Somewhere between the slideshows there were some songs thrown in. I recall a version of the Pow Wow the Indian Boy theme song replete with tom toms sans headdresses. There might have been “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” God knows how his light bulb nose and Santa paws slipped into this thing. I know for sure we sang “Dreidel Dreidel.” To which an anonymous donor behind me whispered, ” It’s a folk song, not a Hanukkah song.” A fact I cross-referenced with my dear friend, an Orthodox Hispanic Guatemalan Jew. Yes, she really is. She without hesitation said “Dreidel Dreidel” is indeed a Hanukkah song. Guess that spun by the critics with old Rudolph.

The last performance was the fourth grade chorus in tie-dyed T-shirts singing “Don’t Worry Be Happy.”  Probably the only program choice in the entire sing that was appropriate. Because that was the one thing they did get across very well.  Worry.

So all in all, it was a mishmash of all things cold and woeful in winter and nothing vaguely cheery or bright or holiday.

As I left holding my grandsons’ hands and musing over what we had really just witnessed, a mother beside me turned and said, “I heard it was heavy.”  I nodded and pondered which direction had the closest ice cream sundaes with whipped cream Santa hats.

As chance would have it, I passed the director and said something subtle like, “You certainly covered some serious subjects in there.” To which he responded, “It’s important to be relevant in our teaching moments.”

Well on that one I have to disagree, Mr. Director.  What does a “Winter Sing” have to do with teaching or relevance much less Native Americans and Ellis Island? Can’t we just jump in that old one horse open sleigh and sing some happy songs? Dash through the snow and not worry about sinking into an icy pond or the tips of our fingers turning blue?  All of us in it together, bundled up and rosy-cheeked. With our Santa hats, yamakas and burkas blowing in the wind singing all of our beloved songs.

Celebrating our diversity rather than avoiding it.

Instead we celebrated nothing at all.

I’m pretty sure my grandsons can’t hum a thing they heard that day but I feel confident they remember the hot cocoa and candy cane cupcakes we had after.

Nothing like a good sugar rush to erase all evils.

I think for next year’s sing, I’ll stay home and watch paint dry. Or maybe the Kardashian’s. Vacuous as they are, at least they say anything they feel and think. About anyone or anything they think about.

I mean, of course, in between trips to the bank and reinflating their fish lips.



Getting it right

mom and dadI know I have been rather reflective lately. I hope in the New Year, my mind and thoughts will drift to higher ground.  Not less meaningful, but lighter and less laden with the world and the weight it can put on our shoulders at times.

I had a great holiday. It was full of family and fun and laughter and children who “believe.” Oh, that was the best.  The believing. And the wonder. “Go to bed, Santa is coming!”  “Oh, no, not yet. He won’t come if I’m AWAKE!”

Even stood in line for two hours for the best Santa I have ever seen. Gentle and patient; a real beard, a kind smile.

Then in the midst of hanging the boughs and decorating the tree and monkey bread and cheese grit souffle, I came across this photo of my mom and dad.  Oh man.  That set me back. I have been missing my mom especially this year.  It’s my first Christmas without either of them.

I have made it to 40 years of marriage but she made it to 64?  His dimples? I don’t remember he even had them. The suits. The pocket scarf. Their hair. Looking at the sepia image of my parents I realize, not for the first time, my mom did something right that I do not.

My dad thought he was the boss, but we all knew who really was.  Not sure he did, though.  They seldom argued. Except about money. He was quiet. She was chatty. He was a whistler. She loved to laugh. She was scattered, disorganized.  He was solid.  She was always late and dad was at the door jingling his keys.

She was the sun and he was our true north. It worked for them.

I look at the ease with which she touches his arm and think I do little with ease. I am worried or hurried or trying so hard to be “in the moment” that I make it so important, I am not there.

It’s hard to be a spouse.  Especially a good one. We fall in love and the clouds open, the stars shine through and no one or anything has ever seemed as special or amazing as the object of our affection. Days blur and our hearts pound at the sound of their voice. The touch of their hand and we are carried away to a land that we didn’t know existed.

Pure and simple and unadulterated young love.

We slip on our blinders and all we can see is this person, our mate we will choose to spend the rest of our life with.

And then we marry.  And start careers. And have babies. Build households. Build homes. Buy cars. And move. And our feelings of young love get buried in our daily lives, the bills, the ice on the driveway, the crying babies, the leaves in the yard.

We settle into marriage.  That crazy thing that seemed so simple when we said “I do.” Sweet and innocent we were to all that life would, and could, throw at us.

And in retrospect, that is why it works, this marriage thing.  We walk into it hopeful and starry-eyed, ready to conquer the world together.  And then we do.  We do the real “I do.”

We conquer it.  With all the bumps and curve balls and hiccups and doubts and messy stuff.  We do it.  Some of us fall away. Some of us don’t.  But any of us who try it and give it our best, should be proud.  It is not easy.  Not as easy as my mama made it look.  Or June Cleaver. Or Carol Brady.  Or Claire Dunphy.

It’s work.  Every single day.  To be a good spouse. A true partner.

Success or not, I work hard at being a good mother. But the wife thing, I am not always so diligent. Too much myself and not enough the person I’d like to be.

So on this beginning of 2016, I want to be a better spouse.  Not perfect.  Not award winning.  Just better.  In some way.  Go for the love, honor and cherish with a little more gusto.

And maybe, just maybe, I will throw in a little ease.

Even a smidge would be a start.


Fall’s fading riot of color

riot 3I recently returned from a two week visit to the South Carolina coast with my brother and sister and bits and pieces of friends and family.  Children, husbands, grandchildren came and went but for the entire fourteen days it was my brother and sister and me.  Just the three that we are, now that mom and dad are gone. That simple fact, and the fact that we had returned to the ocean we had visited many times as kids and later year after year with our own children, was special.

Spending time at the beach brought back memories of our own youth as well as the childhoods of our now grown kids. The smell of the salt air, the warmth of the miles of sandy beach, the sway of the sea oats against startling blue skies, day after day was mesmerizing and restorative with a hint of magic. Our days seemed suspended in time and our worries and realities were blurred by the beauty of each day, each minute.

We were fortunate to arrive post-hurricane; the crispness and calm it left in the air and the sea was rare and fine.

The morning we left was as exquisite as the day before and the day before and the day before that. As we packed up towels and linens, emptied the refrigerator and washed off sandy beach toys, the real world loomed closer and closer. Packing his bags into the car, my brother commented that we were on our way “back to fall with it’s heartbreaking riot of color. A short and poignant season.”

Being an English professor, I asked him who he was quoting.  And he replied, ” Not a quote. I said that.”

I have reflected on that thought over and over in the month since we left the beach. I enjoyed fall’s riot of color. I enjoyed it through every state, on every country road and interstate as I drove from South Carolina through West Virginia to Illinois on my way home.  It was breathtaking.

We had our first snow yesterday.  Snow on top of fall’s last hoorah.  Not as much of a mess as one might anticipate but an early storm always brings a bit of that. A messy mix of the hanger-on leaves combined with wet snow that turns quickly to ice. And the riot was over.

Fall is like that.  A wild and beautiful display of nature at its best and then with the first frost or an early snow, it’s vibrant show is suddenly over.  And bleak winter is upon us.  Wet and heavy and bothersome.  Snow boots and down coats and shovels. Ice and frozen windshield wiper blades.

So I didn’t really understand the heartbreaking part of fall’s riot completely until the cold hard facts of winter came looming.

Winter here so soon caused me to pause and ask myself  why time and the days pass so much more quickly as we get older. And the seasons seem to blur. At first, my answer was that as a child our lives are filled with few responsibilities and little to clutter our minds about time. The days are long. Sunrise to sunset seems to take forever. Our proverbial mental video tapes are spare and slim.  Wide open and just starting to turn and accumulate bulk.

But as we age, our minds become full and heavy with memories and moments and thoughts.  Sorrows and pain, happiness and joy.  We acquire so many recorded moments that our minds cannot hold them all at once, and our videos seem to move in fast forward.

But then my husband had another thought.  He said it has less to do with long days and a childlike feeling of forever but more to do with fewer days and limited time.  Our time in this life gets shorter as we get older.  So days and seasons do as well.

I stopped and thought and admitted he was right. And the poignance of the present became all the more precious.

So on this Thanksgiving, I am hoping to do what the holiday implies. Amidst all the menu discussions and centerpiece planning and napkin folding and silverware counting, I hope to actually stop and give thanks.  For all the days I have left on this beautiful, volatile, crazy mixed-up earth. Oh, how I do love it. This earth.

Happy Thanksgiving.

And happy rioting, leaves or no leaves.

Happy 100th!



This week’s post was my 100th!  Thank you, readers, for your support and encouragement.  You keep me writing and thinking.  I couldn’t do it without you. Stay tuned for 100 more…

Moons and dew-covered mums

new-moon_unknownSo among my friends or acquaintances or family or pretty much anyone who has ever met or seen me longer than a five minute conversation, I am known as a night person. And in the reverse, I am definitely not considered a morning person. I mean never.  Not even Christmas morning, Easter egg hunting and including the child who has the nerve to deliver a grandchild before dawn.

And then I might not appear until mom and babe are nestled safely in their assigned room.  At least until after seven a.m.

I am a firm believer that we are inherently night or morning people.  My mom was a night person.  My dad a morning kind of guy.  My husband definitely nods off after nine p.m. while I am up long past midnight.

But lately, my world has taken a sudden and irreversible shift. It all started with a conversation my brother and I had about mums as we pulled into a farmer’s market last month.

A hot day in late August, the stands were chock full of partially opened mounds of mums of all colors and sizes. We turned to one another and both admitted we did not like them. We agreed we don’t like the smell of a mum, the meaning of a mum–that summer is over and fall is upon us.  We also mused they represented that school would soon start, both of us former teachers, a potted symbol that the lazy days of summer are ending.

Beyond that though, those mums took on a broader meaning for me.  They bloom fast and die young , often with the first frost. So all around they are loser flowers for me.

Especially this year. That same brother, my only brother, was given a pretty tough cancer diagnosis not long before our farmer’s market visit and blooming fast and dying young just doesn’t  appeal to me in the sexy James Dean sort of way it might have at eighteen.

Similarly, my thoughts have changed about moons.  I used to love nothing better than a full moon and we have had some pretty fancy ones lately. Blue moons, red moons, harvest moons. Even tonight’s super blood moon being eclipsed not to be seen again until 2033.

But now the sliver of a new moon looks just like a slice of heaven to me.  All fresh and slender and hopeful. Peeking out from behind the earth with a silver white thumbnail of hope and future. Time and growth.

Watching someone you love fight a life threatening illness does that to a person, I think. It stops you in your tracks and each day looks a little different.  Feels a little off. Lacks a little luster. Or conversely, everything appears in technicolor as though you will never see this day, this time, this moment again.  The thought of the next moment minus an integral part of your being, your blood, your nuclear brood is disarming. And sad. And makes time and the present all the more precious.

So this night owl, has been inspired to get up earlier a few mornings. Seize the day. Carpe Diem and what not. I have a new friend “dew.”  Before, it was just something that was evaporating as I sat on my chair on my patio or had left a few sparkles on the hood of my car as the sun was approaching a midday sky. But now I leave footprints in the soft dew-soaked grass as I walk to get the morning paper. It feels good. Morning-like. And a symbol of beginnings.

Grocery stores are a brave new world in the morning.  Full of employees stocking shelves, chatting amongst themselves, smiling and looking unhurried. Aisles are wide open, mopped clean and quiet. Not mobbed by mothers with hungry, dirt-smudged children dashing through at five, grabbing food and looking frazzled.

I have been walking more on these crisp early fall days.  Sunny with a hint of coolness in the air. I pass house after house of young families; dads mowing lawns, children playing hopscotch on the sidewalk, moms standing chatting, nonchalantly bouncing babies in carriages or chasing toddlers headed for the street.

And my thoughts drift to the passage of time.  And how fast my life has moved from theirs–full of hope, long days and plans for the future.  They seem completely unaware of all that life can throw at them, unexpectedly, out of the blue.

Come at you as suddenly as an eighteen wheeler turning sharply into your lane.

My brother and I talked about that, too.  We wondered if any of us stop and appreciate the simple sweet moments of our youth. The unadorned ones that looking back can rip your heart out in their precious simplicity. Kids building sandcastles by the shore. A child reaching up to take your hand for reassurance. An unexpected hug just for no reason but love.

We admitted we both had stopped a time or two, but not often enough.  We were too busy living it.  And maybe that is good. Knowing how quickly it all passes means nothing when you are just out of the gate, the finish line a distant blur of unknowns and barely visible.

So this fall I’m thinking about beginnings and endings, life and death; the harsh reality that it is all temporal, our time here.

And I am trying to relish the moments. Lean into the good and forgive the bad, especially the old grudges I refuse to let go.

Because none of us knows when the grim reaper will appear. But I can assure you for me, he will be carrying a smelly pot of brown-tinged mums.



Travelling as a tribe

whale taleMy children gave me a gift.  They agreed to join my husband and me on a ten day journey to the westernmost islands of Vancouver Island in Vernon Bay, BC and on to a family reunion in Tulelake, CA near Oregon’s border.  That in itself was exhausting just to type.  So you can imagine the months of planning and logistics and the sacrifice it took for them to share their company and undivided attention in Canada with no cell service and spotty WiFi.

Between them and their spouses, they had five jobs to work ahead for and leave to coworkers. Two sleep-deprived but still angelic (mostly) children under five to maneuver through airports, on two float planes, aboard five cross-country jets and two long car rides to and from locations.

That said, I think it was a dream vacation for all of us. As much as it took to get us to O’Hare on time and prepared for our adventure, we moved as a clan, a family, a tribe because in most situations, it was  us and the elements. Which, as beautiful as they were, presented some challenges. Well, at least for me.

The rainforest hike described as sloping, but in reality involved ropes and ladders and repelling-like maneuvers on slippery moss, was a surprise. As was the rain downpour. And, lest I forget, the necessity of carrying a “bear bell.” At one point I stopped and said, “OK.  Where are the hidden cameras? Should I strip down? I am definitely feeling Naked and Afraid. ”

We sea kayaked on a day long trip that was billed as gentle rowing through uninhabited islands but involved some definite white caps and one tipped kayak.  And yes, it was mine. Lucky for me, my copilot was my strapping young son so the only negative outcome was wet clothes and a bruised ego (mine, of course, not his.)

As we navigated our way through our new daily routines in unfamiliar surroundings, I was impressed with how well we joined forces to help each other out of toppled watercraft and fog and through busy airports and delays and surprises and piles of laundry and “grab his hand” or “watch him for a second” and “I forgot a coat” or “do you have any sunscreen?”

We had one striped tee that became the “sisterhood of the travelling top” and other gear was traded and worn and shared.

We were a team and as little privacy as anyone had, or alone moments to take a breath, we made it through without a major hiccup.  No sulking, underlying angers, jealousy, sibling rivalry, hurt feelings emerged to cloud our sunny days and adventuresome spirits.  We rolled with it, rain or shine.  And relished the treasure of our shared time together.

I think my kids, and we, are all old enough to know time is precious.  And moments as a family can be fleeting. And that all we are assured of is the present.

And that is where we tried to stay.

In both locations, we were surrounded by extraordinary natural surroundings. We witnessed animals in nature doing what they do best, existing in their natural habitat– undisturbed and working together for survival. And I thought how our family was trying to do the same. I also wondered what all the groups of animals called their crowd or clans.

This is what I discovered.

In Canada, we saw convocations of soaring bald eagles swooping down from six foot wide nests atop 40 foot pine trees. Sieges of herons dodged float plane take offs. We kayaked by blooms of jellyfish, made wishes on swarms of butterflies, watched the boys play with armies of frogs, swatted scourges of mosquitoes and boated beside romps of sea otters.

Luckily we didn’t encounter any shivers of sharks or sleuths of black bears. But the highlight for me, and the rest of the crew I think, was a rogue humpback whale apart from her herd or pod, performing in the sea as though she knew we were clapping. Pulling that mammoth body completely out of the water, nimble as a minnow, and doing a full twist (breach) before disappearing  into the misty ocean with a finale wave from her wide mustache of a tail.

Wondrous stuff in a magical location.

My daughter and her husband play a game with their children before bedtime each night called “Roses and Thorns.”  They ask their three and five year old sons what the “rose” was of their day and what was the “thorn.” And mom and dad share theirs.

For this trip, I am hard pressed to decide on a rose.  It would have to be a bouquet of inside jokes and laughter and shared meals and held hands and hugs and awe and accommodating and encouragement and love.

And the thorn?  That’s easy. It all had to come to an end.






Rainy days and Mondays…

oh-crap-was-that-todayIt has been raining in Chicago for at least forty days and forty nights. Rainiest May, and I’m sure soon to be June, in Chicago’s recorded history. I have thought often of the Bible verse in Genesis I remember from my childhood, ” I will cause it to rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living substance that I have made I will destroy from off the face of the earth.”

And there have been days I have believed this will happen. Dark and dreary days that bring on dark and dreary thoughts.  Too much time to think and not do.  Too much time to dwell on the inside and not the outside. Of me and the world.

So if Noah does come, which looking out my once more rain-speckled window I believe he can, I will stand on my street corner and wait to be picked up as he floats by. Assuming I will be one of the chosen two to make it on the ark. Which is a pipe dream that a crumbling old broad as myself would be chosen over some young thing full of possibilities, ready to make new generations.

But why not hope?  It’s either that or buy a new umbrella to replace the seven that have turned inside out over the last month, full of broken spines and drenched spirit.

Which brings me to something my brother recently said about my blog.  He noticed, and I give you the CliffsNotes version of his comment, that sometimes my blog is a reflection of a more optimistic me than the one I project in my daily life.

That stopped me for a moment. I pondered. I gave him that. This blog is at times  a version of me, and the world, as I’d like them both to be.

But then again, why not?

If I slosh in the back door, one more time soaked in rain water to my very core, mud sliding under my flip flops I insist on wearing because it is summer, for God’s sake, and I shake myself off and think a little sunshine in my head. Well, so be it. Because behind the false bravado of tough and grown up and realistic and accepting, that is who I am.

Hopeful. That’s in my heart, whatever words or thoughts or judgments I present to the world day to day, person to person, at the gas station, in the grocery store. I am always looking to be something more than I was yesterday; a bit better tomorrow.

I think we all want to be the best versions of ourselves in this life.  And that is a good thing.  Because it would be the very messy place if we all walked around being our unguarded, least pleasing selves.

No, that unpleasant person, I save for my family, my husband and my kids.  And I thank them.

For accepting me on the muddled, cloudy days as well as the ones full of sunshine.

Although I’m not sure I would let Noah interview them before he stops.