Friday, October 30, 2009

MISCHIEF! Tonight!!

This was a common scene in my first thirty-six years of life, every year on the morning of October 31st. We would get on the bus for school, excitedly looking at each house and tree to see who got "hit." Mischief Night,  for almost every community in Southern New Jersey, is almost as important as Halloween. I naively thought that Mischief Night took place every where in the United States! It was not until I moved to CA and then KY, and saw... nothing happening on October 30th, that I realized it was a regional custom. It was not until today, when I did a bit of research, that I learned that Michief Night, at least by that name is only  observed in South Jersey and the Philadelphia area! I could not have been more surprised.

We started getting ready for the big night weeks ahead of time. Of course, our parents did not allow us to go out carousing and doing mischief, but we had our ways.. that was part of the fun! We'd start gathering supplies, since our step-mother was very spartan about household expenses, a bit at a time: an egg here, a bit of soap there, and a spare roll of toilet paper. We lived in the country and at least a mile or two from the other kids who attended our small elementary school. But we could always count on the kids that my dad called the "Cronce boys" to come out and do some mischief in our neck of the woods. My brother and my step-brothers convinced my parents that they should go out and "patrol" our property to keep things safe.

What they really did was go out and take turns joining in on the Mischief! Naturally,my sister and I stayed a bit closer to the house, hoping to make contact with the bad boys (who were the best boys!)... and we were not above doing some bits of mischief on our own house.

Almost all of the Mischief Night pranks were benign, and no one was harmed. Throwing a lot of toilet paper was a creative feat, soaping up house and car windows was quite artistic, and knocking on doors and running away.. that was just fun. Then you have smashing pumpkins. This was a common sight the day after Mischief Night...

If you wanted a nice pumpkin to carve and light up on Halloween, you'd be sure to bring in your gourds on October 30th.

Once,  Jimmy Cronce and his  wannabe gang squatted on both sides of a road and, when a car approached, pulled a rope taut to scare the driver. I think this caused a minor accident one year, and that was pretty scandalous. Still, no  one was hurt. I should add (since it's Mischief Night) that I once made out with Jimmy Cronce on our  seventh and eight grade trip to Washington, DC...I'm not sure why. But no one was hurt!

I guess you could say that Mischief Night (by the way, it comes from England) was a sanctioned way to release your little urges to do something naughty. Very Jungian, acknowledging the dark sides of our selves as well as the good. That's very cool, I think. Wish I could hobble out and do a little mischief myself!

At least we have the wonderful annual THRILLER parade here in Lex. That's close!


I have had migraine headaches for about ten years now. I have tried everything, natural unnatural, even a bit of supernatural. I've had long spells with no headaches.

Just coming out of one that lasted almost 24 hours... very, very bad. I couldn't keep a drop of water down, so could not retain the medication. Nausea was so violent it terrified me and my husband. Finally we got nasal inhalants which also made me sick. At one point during this incredibly painful day, it occured to me that if someone were to hand me a weapon, I would use it. On myself.

I know people say that suicide is a  selfish act, but I also understand how the pain inside one person can be so excruciating that one might consider it easier not to go on. This is one of the many reasons I don't think people in general need to have guns.

I heard Hulk Hogan talking on a TV show about how, when his wife left him for a 19 year old (think of it!), and his son had a terrible accident (which paralyzed the passenger in his car) he wanted to commit suicide. He sat there for like 2 or 3 days playing with his gun. Finally, he says that Laila Ali called him. She is Muhammed Ali's daughter, with whom he was doing a TV show at the time. She was so worried and concerned for him that he came back to life. She saved him from needless self destruction.

I read this poem on the Writer's Almanac page for today:

She Dreamed of Cows

by Norah Pollard

I knew a woman who washed her hair and bathed

her body and put on the nightgown she'd worn

as a bride and lay down with a .38 in her right hand.

Before she did the thing, she went over her life.

She started at the beginning and recalled everything—

all the shame, sorrow, regret and loss.

This took her a long time into the night

and a long time crying out in rage and grief and disbelief—

until sleep captured her and bore her down.

She dreamed of a green pasture and a green oak tree.

She dreamed of cows. She dreamed she stood

under the tree and the brown and white cows

came slowly up from the pond and stood near her.

Some butted her gently and they licked her bare arms

with their great coarse drooling tongues. Their eyes, wet as

shining water, regarded her. They came closer and began to

press their warm flanks against her, and as they pressed

an almost unendurable joy came over her and

lifted her like a warm wind and she could fly.

She flew over the tree and she flew over the field and

she flew with the cows.

When the woman woke, she rose and went to the mirror.

She looked a long time at her living self.

Then she went down to the kitchen which the sun had made all

yellow, and she made tea. She drank it at the table, slowly,

all the while touching her arms where the cows had licked.

"She Dreamed of Cows" by Norah Pollard, from Death & Rapture in the Animal Kingdom. © Antrim House, 2009. Reprinted with permission.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Hungry Ghosts

I believe there is one addiction process, whether it manifests in the lethal substance dependencies of my Downtown Eastside patients, the frantic self-soothing of overeaters or shopaholics, the obsessions of gamblers, sexaholics and compulsive internet users, or in the socially acceptable and even admired behaviours of the workaholic. Drug addicts are often dismissed and discounted as unworthy of empathy and respect. In telling their stories my intent is to help their voices to be heard and to shed light on the origins and nature of their ill-fated struggle to overcome suffering through substance use. Both in their flaws and their virtues they share much in common with the society that ostracizes them. If they have chosen a path to nowhere, they still have much to teach the rest of us. In the dark mirror of their lives we can trace outlines of our own.

—from In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts  by Gabor Mate

It's all about addiction. Hungry ghosts, in Buddhist mythology (and in varying guises, in others, including Taoism) are departed souls who did not get "enough" during their lifetimes. They are consigned to a special hell of wandering the earth, trying but failing to fill their bloated, starving stomachs, which remain empty because no sustenance can pass their skinny throats. Humans actually have the task of trying to satisfy these rather unappealing creatures, that they may go on to their rest, so they supply them with food at Hungry Ghost Festivals.

Keepers of ancient wisdom, such as the Buddhists, understood  human psychology and human behavior, even if they didn't have the fancy words and diagnoses that we do. What we call addiction, the Buddhists called  tanha ~~ grasping, desire, or craving, and they saw it as a normal part of the human condition, albeit one to be overcome through the practice of meditation and the Four Noble Truths.

This understanding of addiction works well for me. Having grown up in a family of addicts and alcoholics, and then continuing to be surrounded by them for all of my adult life, I think it is fair to say that I have earned my degree in addiction. You know the degree, the one earned at the School of Hard Knocks and the University of Adversity? My life has been a laboratory for the study of addictive behavior and its many blessings and curses.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Are Scary Movies Evil??

I was having a discussion with the physical therapist's assistant today, and it led me to thinking of my Buddhist teacher Caitrionia. I love these guys at the KORT PT where I get my knees attended. I want to call them "kids," because they are only a bit older than my sons, but they are actually young men. They banter all the time I am there, about sports, travel, music, places and people, and they love to include the clients in the conversation. It makes the time pass quickly and makes you forget that they are pressing down on your newly replaced knee just a bit farther than it wants to go!

But the assistant, whose name is Shane, loves history, and so we talk a lot about that. He also seems very interested in religion, grew up Methodist, and now attends Southland Christian. I am pretty sure that he thinks that since I am a minister, we are somewhere in the same camp. And, maybe we are! Today we got onto the topic of movies. He told me that he likes horror movies, not gruesome ones, but just scary enough. Some people at his church told him he shouldn't go to horror movies (he's thirty years old). So, he asked his pastor. The pastor thought it was OK if it didn't have a negative effect on him.

Driving to work after PT, I thought about what it means that a church would dictate what kinds of movies one ought to see. But then it occurred to me that my own spiritual practice of Buddhism has precepts which state almost exactly the same thing. Refraining from ingesting things, whether food, media, or literature that are unhealthy and inhumane is ultimately destructive to the spirit.

Here is the precept as I first accepted it, as articulated by Thich Nhat Hanh:

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I vow to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I vow to ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicants, or to ingest foods or other items that contain toxins, such as certain T.V. programs, magazines, books, films and conversations. I am aware that to damage my body and my consciousness with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society, and future generations. I will work to transform violence, fear, anger, and confusion by practicing a diet for myself and for society. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation, and for the transformation of society.

This sounds pretty rigid to most of us in Western culture. Here is the same precept articulated by Caitrionia and Manzanita Village:

Aware of the contamination and desecration of the world
and of my responsibility for life as it manifests through me
I stand in the presence of the ancestors, the earth, and future generations
and vow to cultivate
discernment and care in what I take into my body and mind.

Consciente de la contaminación y la profonación del mundo,
y de mi responsabilidad por la vida, así como se manifiesta a través de mí
me paro ante la presencia de los ancestros, la Tierra,
y futuras generaciones,
y me comprometo a cultivar discernimiento
y cuidado en lo que introduzco en mi cuerpo y en mi mente.

I think the big difference is that Shane was looking to an outside source to affirm or disapprove of his choice of films. The measure of judgment was whether these films were somehow "evil," a dualistic concept. Turning inward and learning to intuit what is wholesome for body, mind and psyche is the gift of Buddhist practice.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Lords of the Gourd!

I was probably the only person in Central Kentucky who spent this glorious afternoon indoors! I still have to put my legs up after several hours, so I got a NYT, a coffee, and enjoyed the Autumn colors out the window. I did get to watch a great TV program on PBS. Called "Lords of the Gourd," it was all about people who nurture giant pumpkins for an annual competition. The giant pumpkins and the tricks of the trade were interesting, but the people were fascinating.

Some of them referred to the pumpkins as their children. One woman said, "We don't have kids, so these are our kids." Another said, "When you lose a pumpkin, its like losing a child." A few commented that they actually spent so much time on their gourds that it kept them away from their families. No vacations during growing time, and one dad even had to skip his kids' soccer games to water his.

The show was quite well done. It reminded me of some thoughts I was having in the Spring as I was planting my own garden. Feeling somewhat discouraged about the tribulations of my adult children, I decided that bringing children into the world was akin to planting gardens, especially planting gardens when you are inexperienced. You have all of these hopes and dreams, but you are aware of a multitude of complications that can befall your plants, or your children. You try to grow them organically & pests get them. You try to manage them and you discover you interfered too much. They can do beautifully right up until it is time to bloom,and then some rot, some disease, some critter, can end it all. I was very discouraged about both that day!

My garden turned out fine. We actually didn't buy any seeds but used up all the ones that had been sitting around for years.I alternated careful attention with complete negligence. I had some disappointments --tomatoes were a complete bust -- but there were some delightful surprises. We had more green beans than we could devour, a few sweet cantaloupes, pumpkins (not giant!)and green peppers?  Wow. Marjorie threw a pack of flower seeds in mid-summer, and a gorgeous flower patch blossomed. My garden did fine,and I think my kids will ultimately be fine, too.

Here's a recipe for pumpkin-coconut soup. Doesn't it sound good?


2 1/2 pounds Pumpkin (fresh)

1 medium Onion
2 cloves Garlic chopped
2 teaspoons Cumin ground
2 cups Chicken broth (or boullion)
1 cup Water
1/3 cup Coconut milk
1 tablespoon Lemon juice
Scallions optional, for garnish

1. Cut open pumpkin, discard seeds, stringy stuff and peel. Cut into approximately 1 inch pieces. Peel onion and cut into rings.

2. Put pumpkin, onion, garlic, cumin, broth and water in a large pot and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes, or until pumpkin is tender.

3. Process in batches in a blender. You may also use a hand blender, but a normal blender will result in an even smoother soup.

4. Return to pot on stove. Add coconut milk and lemon juice, heat on medium heat while stirring occasionally. Taste and add salt as desired.

5. Serve garnished with leftover coconut milk and scallions

Friday, October 23, 2009

Sugar, Spice and everything..nice?

The same day the world (OK, most of the world, only part of the United States) was sharing this newly released Obama family photograph taken by Annie Liebowitz, wars continued and tragedy struck elsewhere.

But, oh..these little girls are lovely! Just for a moment, we can pause and enjoy the smiles on their faces, the casual but confident way their arms are draped around their parents, the way Michelle's arm rests on Malia's leg and her other hand clasps little Sasha's. Even the most sophisticated photographer can't force or fake the body language of this family. These children are secure. No real injury has come their way; and we feel certain none will.

The cable news had reports about two other little girls whose ages are close to Sasha and Malia's. One lived in Florida and the other in Missouri. Both are dead, abducted and killed in the past few days, no doubt molested or raped as well. One, Somer Thompson, was seven. Her mother said she loved everybody. Never met a stranger. The other was nine. Somer was found in a landfill amidst the trash.

What is the difference between these children and the Obama girls? I can imagine that they loved the same TV shows and music, maybe even played with the same dolls and toys. Those two little girls also loved their families and were adored. Yet, because their parents worked and they walked home from school with other children, they were susceptible to the predators who destroyed their lives and their families' happiness.

I don't have an answer for this problem. I know it's not new... girls (and boys) have been victims of sexual abuse for a very long time. My own experience as a child and the many women (and men) with whom I have spoken as a minister makes me very certain that there are as many women who suffered some form of sexual abuse as there are who have not. One thing I am certain of is that maintaining silence, hiding the truth because of shame, and keeping secrets has not served us well.

I know that I was overprotective of my daughter when she was small because of my experience and the things I had heard. But I also told her the truth, at the right time, in the right way. I will never regret this; for even one incident of sexually inappropriate behavior can scar a girl well into womanhood. So I recommend vigilance and clear communication.

Societally, I am certain that the incidents of stranger abuse and violence against children has increased as opportunities have expanded. Working, busy, distracted parents, kids home alone, and the loss of extended families and close neighborhood community probably intensify the problem, too. I was so delighted when I heard that Mrs. Obama's mother was moving into the White House with the new First Family; it wasn't that I thought the girls would be safer with her there, but that I thought... what a wonderful example! Every child needs what Alice Miller calls an "enlightened witness," someone who knows them and believes them,  and grandparents can fill that role. If you are not a parent, you can be an important adult that a child can trust.

We just have to realize that all children are precious and special. Every single one should have a chance, a lot of chances, and hope, and affection, and encouragement.I don't think we have a child-centered society. We use kids to make money, feed them garbage in school lunches, and act as if they annoy us. But.. we could. Looking at the Obama family portrait, I know that what once seemed impossible can come true.

PRAYER: There is nothing more important than the spirit of a child. Let us endeavor to affirm and honor every child we meet, to acknowledge them as precious manifestations of Creation's gifts. If we see them as they really are, innocent, fragile, and unique, we will do all we can to keep them safe and to protect them from harm. May the day come when every child the world over may be blessed with enough to eat, a safe place to live, and security from the harm that cannot be healed. Amen

Thursday, October 22, 2009

HEALTH (Do they really) CARE?

At least Allen Grayson tells the truth.

He is the Congressman who is getting quite a bit of flack for his very outspoken criticism of Republicans. He has become the new darling of the left wing  Democrats. I think he is going to go a bit too far (I just heard him call a Republican on a talk show a vampire and ask whether he had turned into a bat and flown away) and that he's going to end up getting skewered. But I still find him refreshing. I love truth-telling, and I hate deception. There is way too much soft-pedaling and political double talk going on in this health care debate.

One begins to wonder whether any of the politicians we've elected really care, or whether they are just posturing.

That's why I think this website that Allen Grayson has created is very cool. He just announced it. People can go there and send in the names, statistics, and stories of loved ones who have died because they did not have health care.

Naming names is an ancient religious act, and so is prophetic witness. It's about time for more prophetic and less pathetic.

Artichoke Poem

The First Artichoke

by Diane Lockward

Though everyone said no one could grow

artichokes in New Jersey, my father

planted the seeds and they grew one magnificent

artichoke, late-season, long after the squash,

tomatoes, and zucchini.

It was the derelict in my father's garden,

little Buddha of a vegetable, pinecone gone awry.

It was as strange as a bony-plated armadillo.

My mother prepared the artichoke as if preparing

a miracle. She snipped the bronzy winter-kissed tips

mashed breadcrumbs, oregano, parmesan, garlic,

and lemon, stuffed the mush between the leaves,

baked, then placed the artichoke on the table.

This, she said, was food we could eat with our fingers.

When I hesitated, my father spoke of beautiful Cynara,

who'd loved her mother more than she'd loved Zeus.

In anger, the god transformed her

into an artichoke. And in 1949 Marilyn Monroe

had been crowned California's first Artichoke Queen.

I peeled off a leaf like my father did,

dipped it in melted butter, and with my teeth

scraped and sucked the nut-flavored slimy stuff.

We piled up the inedible parts, skeletons

of leaves and purple prickles.

Piece by piece, the artichoke came apart,

the way we would in 1959, the year the flowerbuds

of the artichokes in my father's garden bloomed

without him, their blossoms seven inches wide

and violet-blue as bruises.

But first we had that miracle on our table.

We peeled and peeled, a vegetable striptease,

and worked our way deeper and deeper,

down to the small filet of delectable heart.

I heard this poem on Writers' Almanac the other day and loved it. The poem itself was like an artichoke, peeling away words and revealing little surprises. Like the prehistoric-looking vegetable, it contained both delicious memories and "skeletons," remnants of sadness.

I was listening to Garrison Keillor read the poem, and when he got to the line, Piece by piece, the artichoke came apart, the way we would in 1959, the year the flowerbuds of the artichokes in my father's garden bloomed without him... made me think of my own father and how he held our family together just by his authoritarian presence, and the fact that even though we also resented and rebelled against him, we three children worshipped him because he was our only real parent. Like the father in the poem, he expressed his love of family with food, food that he grew in gardens and that he cooked. He shared delight through tastes and textures, and showed compassion via meticulously prepared recipes. For sure, our family, like the one in the poem, "came apart,"  even before he died, and seems to be irretrivably broken now.

I have studied Family Systems for several years now, and I understand the reasons why we have become estranged from one another. Bowen family systems teaches that this can always be mended, in fact that it must if we are to be whole, even if the individuals involved do not physically reunite. But sometimes I think the wounds are so deep and the differences have become so vast that it is best to seek reunion only in one's heart, through a prayer and a hope that the sister/brother/parent/child will thrive and blossom, and taste of life's goodness.

Goddess of the garden, help us grow as long as we live. Amen

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


When couples meet with me to plan their weddings, I always ask, "Why are you marrying one another now?" I love  to spend time getting acquainted with the couples, and this question takes them a bit by surprise but leads me right into their deepest feelings for one another. I also talk with them about their religious beliefs, their parents' marriages, their former relationships, their financial situation, and lots more.I would not refuse to marry a couple unless I heard evidence of abuse or addiction. But I want to become familiar enough to say something to them that I hope they will remember: You are going to face difficult times, and you will go through times when you can't even imagine staying married. That's when you need to get help, reach out, talk with someone, and hang in there. I tell them with passion that divorce should be the last resort, especially when children are involved. Divorce ruins kids' lives; it steals their childhood and their innocence and it takes away, at least for a time, the parents they have known and loved.

Over the 20 years since my divorce I have ruminated upon this often. For me there really was no other option. When the issue is alcoholism, physical or verbal abuse, or infidelity, it can be an insurmountable challenge to stay together unless both partners are ready to work very diligently. In my own first marriage, I was the one who asked for the divorce and it took me years to do so. I knew my sons would suffer. But twenty years later, my ex-husband is still an unrecovering alcoholic. I know I made the only choice I could. But it still brings me great sadness, for it hurt my children so much.

I don't know whether there was anything Father Shaughnessy, the Anglican priest who married my ex and me, could have said to us when he interviewed us that would have made me reconsider. I was very young, just 20 years old, and I did not understand the progressive disease of alcoholism at all....I don't really think about that anyway, because I can not imagine life without my sons.

But I never plan or perform a marriage without thinking a lot about divorce. My prayer: May we humans learn the ways of patience, of perseverance,and of care for one another, so that a day will come when fewer partnerships end in divorce and fewer children, as few as possible, will have to suffer the pain, the grief, and the deep loneliness that never goes away. Amen.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

WARNING: This Post Contains Balloon Family Reference!

I just gotta talk about honesty for a minute.

People lie all the time. "How are you?" "Great." "I had a fabulous time." "Wonderful meeting you." That sort of thing. Those little social untruths that keep us from being completely honest. They seem innocent enough.

But the Buddhist precept of honesty, sometime called "Non-lying," asks that we go deeper and deeper in our own examination of each and every thing we say, even striving to be honest in these small and seemingly inconsequential things. I don't know about you, but I think that is a lifetime worth of work right there.

Still, there is something so incredibly clear and beautiful about an honest person. In my experience, it is mostly children and very very old people who have the gift of unvarnished honesty.

So, even though I know lots of folks are sick of hearing about Balloon Boy, and that there are far more important things to talk about, I do think it is a very important and vivid example of what happens when one sets out to deceive. A "hoax" sets off lie after lie after lie. The father in this case not only sat in front of TV cameras and lied repeatedly, he coached and encouraged his children to lie! If you watch the tape carefully, you can tell that is the source of the confusion in the faces of the older children. The younger one even gets sick to his stomach! If only every liar had such visible symbol of his/her deception, like our friend Pinocchio!

Parents do this more than we'd like to admit, too. Of course, none of us are as deceptive as the Heeny family, but neither are we pure of all dishonesty. How often do parents tell their kids to say they are not home when the phone rings, to tell the school they were sick, or something of that nature? Even more insidious are parents who lie to their kids, lie in front of their kids, and tell half truths and distortions while their kids are listening. The children grow up, of course, learning to lie.

That's why there is a sense in which this is a classic morality tale that, exaggerated and odd as it seems, may just make some people consider the extent of their own honesty. It was the moment at which the small child we now call Balloon Boy blurted out the truth during an interview that the suspicions of the media and the public were aroused.

The sheriff said that that was an "Aha!" moment for law enforcement. It was for me, too.

I know that I am going to work a little bit harder on my own honesty in the coming days.

PRAYER: God, we know we are human beings with many flaws. We want to speak truth and live honestly, but we also try to please, or to impress, or to avoid conflict. In so doing, we speak half-truths or leave untruths unchallenged. Let us see the way to honesty, as hard as it may be, as narrow and hard to find as it may be, and let us see that way is the only way to a pure heart. Give us strength for the journey, so that our words do not betray, hurt, or deceive our fellow humans. Amen.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Drooling..but not over the food!

I finally saw Julie and Julia!  I know, I am WAY late. I have been sidelined for a bit over two weeks with  double knee replacements. I think the film was out for quite a while before that, but truth be told, I was just getting back to Weight Watchers, determined to lose the 20 pounds I've gained since my knees went bad. I was a bit frightened to have to sit and see all that butter and bread and luscious food!  So, today, I took myself on a movie date and drooled through the whole movie.

Turns out, however, it was not  the food I was salivating for.. it was the clothes! Sure, the food looked good, but I'm well into my WW routine and already five pounds toward my goal, and what happens when I eat WW style is that butter and sugar start to look really gross. So, I was OK there. But I have always adored clothes from the 1940s and these outfits that Meryl Streep/Julia Child wore in the film were just gorgeous! Look at this:

And this:

And, this:

It could be the fact that my mother was a beautiful and very fashionable woman of the forties. She was born in 1916, so she would have been just in her early thirties then, and she had the most astounding suits and dresses and hats and shoes. Her hair waved so perfectly, her lips were deep scarlet, and her skin was flawless. Of course, she smoked, and drank, but somehow both of those things made her look more glamorous back then! I think she knew she was stunning, because she had lots and lots of photographs made of herself. And I am so glad, because I barely remember her in my conscious mind. I was only five when she passed away. But I wish my father and step-mother had kept some of her dresses and hats for me. So my obsession with that era could be all those pics of Marjorie Patton Cain, but I also think that fashion of the forties was just the best designed, most flattering, and sexiest of any time so far!

Those waistlines! The draping! The gorgeous fabrics and small print patterns. The earthy colors. The pearls! The collars and necklines, the belts. OOOH! And they even had pants for women by then, big trousery pants with high waists, very flattering.

You know, comfort is important, but you don't need to sacrifice quality or good taste. My mother was very tall, not as tall as JC, but taller than I. She was 5'10". I know she had to watch her weight,especially after having a son at 37 and then twin girls at age 38! But even with some extra weight on, she still had a waist and she still had these great legs.

I just have one nagging concern. My mother died when she was ten years younger than I am now, so she didn't have to live through bone-on-bone knees or the weight challenges of the 50s. I just have a hard time reconciling how these two loves, delicious food and fabulous clothes. I know all about the French women not getting fat and what not! But it seems to me that if one were to cook and eat the way JC and her followers like Julie Powell did all the time,  it would be hard to keep that waistline trim!

My parents also taught me a great deal about good food, home-grown vegetables, plain and fancy cooking, and the treasure of an inviting kitchen and luscious meals. I don't plan on giving up good food, but I do want to get my waist back!

In the movie, Julie Powell says if the world were going to end in thirty days, she's eat nothing but butter! I might do that, but I'd also take all my savings out and travel... but first, I blow thousands of dollars on some awesome forties-type clothes! Bon appetit!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Luck, schmuck... she deserves it!

My daughter has such a great opportunity!

For an entire school year, she gets to live in Paradise... the Canary Islands. She lives with a family of beautiful, sophisticated women. She'll be enjoying parties in the city, weekends at the beach, Carnival, and hiking in the mountains. People usually comment.. "wow, lucky!"

But actually, there's no luck about it. I have been thinking upon how people end up where they end up, living in misery with nothing, or living with beauty, joy, and adventure. Sure, there's the accident of birth. Some people are doomed to poverty in this world. And of course some people come by their gains through deception or greed. But for most folks that most of us know, there has been a lifetime of decisions that have led them right to where they are. I've noticed that folks who seem to have had a lifetime of catastrophes and calamities invariably have a list of people they blame for their misery. But when others appear to have had inordinate amounts of success and happiness, people will say, "Damn, they're lucky."

What happened to personal responsibilty?

Marjorie is having this fabulous experience because she worked hard, stuck with it, didn't get distracted or give up, pulled herself together and came back when things didn't go her way, and because she made the right decisions about friends, sex, drugs and school. There are so many ways she could have gotten derailed! I know I did. Even with parents who do everything possible to protect her self-esteem, a girl gets bombarded with self-doubt in school and amongst her peers. It takes a lot to hold your head up as a young woman, much less try out for things you might not get.

Mar decided almost 5 years ago that she would be an exchange student in 11th grade. She followed through, on her own,  with Rotary International who provide the scholarship, kept her ducks in a row, and made her dream come true. She deserves every wonderful thing that comes her way!

People have asked me whether I miss her like crazy and how I can allow her to be so far away for so long.  I guess I just don't think the way other people do. To me, life is meant to be lived fully, opportunities are there to be taken, and if we don't live, travel, love, learn, laugh, now... when will we?

I am so happy for her and so proud of her, too. I admire her. She is her own creation. I remember that when Bill Cosby's son was tragically killed, he was quoted as saying, "He was my hero." I have felt that way about all my kids. Each one has taught me many things.

I didn't make Marjorie what she is; she made herself. Not perfect, but perfectly herself. Luck? No. Luck has almost nothing to do with it. Personal responsibility! Choices. Day in, day out, one decision at a time.

A PRAYER FOR YOUNG WOMEN... May our daughters and our sisters and our students and friends be given the fortitude to resist the voices that diminish or demean women in this world. May they be reminded daily of their strengths and their graces. May they share their good fortune and find determination to overcome their shortcomings. May they learn to claim, not to blame. May they be heros, not victims. May every young woman born find an enlightened witness who shows her the way. May we be that witness when the time is right. Amen.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Hardest Call to Make..

... for a minister is the one you make when you have learned that a loved one has died. Of those, the hardest deaths are those that happen suddenly, without a chance for good-bye, or closure. Of those, hardest, for me, anyway, are the calls to a parent whose grown child has died.

This happens all too often. Not only is it extraordinarily difficult to find the words to say to a newly bereaved parent, but, as the parent of adult children, it is also difficult to hear their grief, their shock, their horror and pain. For parents never stop worrying that something may happen to their offspring; we just learn to pretend it won't.

Today I called Andy, a long-time church member whose youngest son died suddenly at age 44. A professor in Washington State, he was walking to class when he was felled by an aneurysm that took his life. His kids are only 6, 5, and 1. Andy sounded calm and was making plans to fly west first thing in the morning. But I know from my own experiences as well as from walking through these days with many families that the initial reaction can be surprisingly rational; it takes time for such a reality to penetrate.

It sounds like Mike was a healthy, active, productive man who coached soccer and lived well. He was the same age as my mother who also died suddenly when I was 5. My grandparents were still living when she died, but she was the fourth of their children to die. They both passed within a few years. Like Andy's son Mike, my mother left three very young children, my twin and me, age 5, and my brother who was seven. We didn't handle things very well in those days, and there was a general stoicism and forging ahead that I am sure has been an impediment to my own ability to grieve well for much of my adult life. While early loss crippled me in some ways, it also gave me absolute clarity about how to spend and not squander each day. I don't waste my life.

My sister's son died a few years ago, also suddenly, when he was just 30. His stepbrother had committed suicide ten days earlier, and Jim got ahold of some medication of his father's and took an overdose. This picture is him dancing with my son Casey at a wedding when Jim was seven.

My own son came close to dying several years ago when he had a serious accident. Way too many of his friends and his brother's friends have died of drugs, accidents, and even suicide. They are only in their twenties. Each day we learn of women and men their ages who are dying senselessly in our fruitless wars. I feel as if these young people are fighting another kind of war here at home, not a very noble war, but a war still, against the lure and temptation of money and excitement and addiction. Too often, they lose, and so do their moms and dads and baby sisters and aunts...

Life is so precious! It really can be snatched away instantaneously. Losing loved ones early can make you fatalistic and cynical, or it can make you live with reverence and treasure for every smile, every hug, and every blessed day. I know why my son never hangs up without saying, "I love you."

Here is my prayer: Spirit of the Universe, hidden from us behind mystery, tragedy, and beauty, we will never know your face. We will never understand your designs. We can barely comprehend our own existence and why and how we have been dropped into this strange and wonderful world. But we can breathe today. We can smile today, and we can laugh, and love. Let us ever remember how fragile and precious each moment is. Amen.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

CLOWNS & the Evil We Never Name

I was neutral on the subject of clowns as a child.

But when my first son was about six months old, a balloon-wielding clown approached him in his stroller at the Mall. He screamed and cried. I'm not sure whether this was the genesis of his fear of clowns, but even now, 27 years later, he does not like clowns.

His father's parents were divorced before we married, and both were nasty alcoholics. He was estranged from his mother. The first time I met her, we had gone together to pick up his younger brother who lived with her. As she staggered up from the dinner table, a cigarette in her mouth and a cocktail glass in her hand, the chair she leaned on broke a rung and she slurred some curse words about how cheap his father was. Then she abruptly decided the younger boy could not go with us, and ordered us out. I was a sixteen year old girl, and although my parents drank, I had only once witnessed such frightening behavior, when as a young child, I saw my maternal aunt in very much the same condition and she proceeded to tell me how horrible my stepmother was. I can still experience the feeling I had in my stomach at those times, the feeling that I would now describe as aversion in the presence of evil.

Years went by after that incident before I saw her again. She didn't come to our marriage. She stalked us, though. She had a red sportscar, and she would drive slowly past our house at odd hours of the day, hoping, I guess, to catch a glimpse of her son. At some point there was a bit of a reconciliation, and when our son was born, she gave us a gift: a large vivid oil painting of a very scary clown. I put it in Casey's room, but he rarely slept in there. We ended up letting our boys sleep in with us most of the time as infants. Still, he told me later that he was terrified of that clown picture.

I am convinced that each human has within him the potential for good and the potential for evil. There are so many factors determining the direction our lives will ultimately go. I believe in redemption, I believe in forgiveness, and I also believe that there are people in this world who have decided to choose the evil impulse so often that there is no turning back... almost as if one were on a path and came to many crossroads or forks in the road, always choosing the darker one, until finally there was no hope of ever finding one's way back. When I encounter a person and feel in my gut that same sensation of fear, revulsion, and wariness, I have learned to trust my instincts. Invariably, it's best for me to steer wide of him/her. I am still learning.

Because my boy had such an aversion to clowns, I will never see them quite the same way. I don't really know why we think they are for kids. Clowns are symbolic of the trickster, the masquerader, the false elation of addiction and the epitome of artifice. Most people are good or have not lost the potential to do good and be good. But some people/politicians/corporate entities are just too far gone. Like the song  "Bring In the Clowns" says, "...don't bother, they're here."

What do you think about clowns?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Forgive me, but....

I am going to talk about forgiveness once again. The week that my niece came to town and unceremoniously reclaimed her son, who had lived with us (along with his grandmother, my twin sister) for almost a year, just happened to be the week of Rosh Hashanah~Yom Kippur. A good thing, for there was much forgiving to be done. We'd spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours trying to rescue my sister (a sometimes recovering addict/alcoholic) and the boy, who was then 3 years old, from what we were led to believe was his mother's neglect and addiction and abuse. We created a room for them, fed and clothed them, got her medical services, and kept him safe and warm and happy.

When he came to us, Seth could barely talk, did not make eye contact, and ran around like a banshee as soon as he got out of the house. He wrote on walls, broke things, and didn't answer when addressed. He was neither potty-trained nor could he sleep alone at night. My sister still let him drink from a bottle and his teeth were ruined. Despite all that, Seth was the light of our lives! He was full of love, smiles, hugs, and energy. He was as curious as a puppy, and as cuddly as an old cat. We all adored him. Of course we wanted to "save" him and make of his life a thing of hope and promise. Knowing only that his mother was unlikely to be able to care for him, and that my sister's health was compromised from decades of substance abuse, my husband, daughter, and I took seriously the idea that we might adopt Seth and raise him.

This was no small decision! I will be 55 years old, and was facing double knee replacements. Our daughter will graduate high school next year, and we have bought a 25 acre farm an hour out of Lexington, for which we have plans that don't include parenting a small child! You can imagine our surprise when we took Seth to church one Sunday in July, and returned to find a police officer at our door, explaining that my sister had totalled our car and was completely out of it on drugs and alcohol. I called her daughter, Seth's mom. We hadn't talked very much theretofore. I believed my sister when she described her daughter's antics and didn't want to deal with her. But, in that conversation, I learned that my sister's story of having been sober for nine years was far from true. Suddenly, things began to come together in our minds. No wonder Seth had gotten to three years old with such impaired skills and so little appropriate training. If his mother was working/partying/out, and his grandmother was impaired by alcohol and/or drugs, it all made sense.

We asked my sister to leave as per our house rules .. no drugs or alcohol. She went straight from spending 48 hours sleeping in the Emergency Room to the Salvation Army, where she has been since. She blamed us and manipulated everyone she could to get back at us. Finally, she somehow convinced Seth's mother to come here from PA, and with the help of Salvation Army and their free social and legal services, to demand
Seth from us. People were alarmed, and maybe some people thought we were "terrible," but she seems to have thrived there; at any rate, I am sure it is far cleaner than the room she had destroyed in our house!(He had been able to visit with his grandmother each week.)

By September, Seth was in school (Early Start), and was completely adjusted to life with us. He slept through the night in his own room, had excellent manners, and was thriving. We had once again begun to think about adopting him when he was taken from us with one day's notice. That was three weeks ago, and I haven't seen him since. I have cried many tears, and will likely do so for years to come. We cry not just for us, but for Seth and all that he will miss in life, all that he deserves to have and will never have. We struggled to get closer to forgiveness for our own peace of mind. I found myself furious not only at my sister, who has caused me heartache and pain through her addictions for most of my life, less so at her daughter, who has really never known anything other than chaos and deception, but also at the "system" that encourages some of these behaviors by making sure adults with kids can get benefits, legal aid, shelter and all sorts of perks.. heck, within a few weeks of living in Kentucky, my niece is getting free dental care! Most days, I feel like I am almost there.  I know forgiveness will come. I can feel it. For that, I am grateful.

I am at peace with what we did because, even though we got duped, we tried our best to help and we did so with open hearts and minds. I also know pretty well the story of my sister's life and the life of my niece. My nephew, her son and Jessi's half-brother, died of a drug overdose at age 30 four years ago. I just don't feel now that either one is capable of the kind of honesty and discipline required to make the changes that would be required for a life of integrity. Guess that sounds very unhopeful, but my experience suggests that it is sadly true. We can forgive when we understand. The key is to endeavor to understand but to stop short of analyzing and judging. My anger is giving way to sadness and grief for my darling Seth. I now understand many things about myself, not the least of which is that I can love a child not my own as passionately and deeply as my biological offspring. He will be in my heart until the day I die. If you pray, will you whisper a prayer for a boy named Seth?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sweat Lodge, Anyone??

I participated in a sweat lodge about 20 years ago. It was during my "New Age" experimental phase. I'd recently become divorced, and my very conservative ex-husband would never have approved of any of these crazy hippie things I tried. No doubt, that's why I tried them! Since I have claustrophobia, the sweat lodge was no fun.. and I crawled out before everyone else. I did not  try fire-walking, although my friends did.

But I was also looking for something I had never found in conventional religion.. a deeper connection, a more valid meaning, and some sort of happiness, or what I thought happiness was.

I tried yoga, rolfing, massage, homeopathy, chiropractic, meditation, channeling, gestalt, encounter, self-help books, recovery groups, and the Course in Miracles. It was a good thing I had some money at the time, because these things don't come cheap. One thing led to another as I became connected with lots of other people who were seekers, like me. Good people, for the most part. But wounded. I was wounded too, so I was right at home.

Two decades later, I still practice yoga and meditation, and I don't rule out chiropractic.I'm interested in good nutrition, exercise, and relaxation. The difference now is that I am not "looking" for anything. I know that these tools can help me live a healthier, more productive life. This life. But having embraced Unitarian Universalism as my primary faith identification, I accept the inevitability of death. This life -- for me-- is finite. I found that too many New Age practitioners were looking for another kind of eternal life, through money, through cheating death, or through mind tricks. I respect their right to do so, and I know that there is a great deal of wisdom and comfort in the vast array of pursuits that get lumped under the catch-all phrase "New Age."

My concern arises when a human being gets ahold of these people and uses their vulnerability to creat a cult. It happened with Jonestown, and there are real cult-like elements in the latest news story about James Arthur Ray's Spiritual Warrior retreat, where at least two people died in a sweat lodge. I didn't know a lot about him, but he appears to be one of the latest in a line of charismatic leaders of the New Age version of the Prosperity Gospel. It will be interesting to see what unfolds... he is still "not cooperating" with police.

It was a Universalist, P.T. Barnum, who said, "There's a sucker born every minute..". I am sure that our church could attract more people and more money if we were to promise something more exciting, like eternal life, or unlimited wealth, but all we offer is reason, tolerance, and freedom of belief.

Unitarian Universalism could not be farther from a cult, although people who know nothing about it often call it one. One of the primary elements in all cults and cult-like movements is the unquestioning acceptance of the authority of a charismatic leader. That's probably all I need to say for now!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Back. And Glad I'm Not a Horse.

It's been a whole season.

 I shall try resuming my blog because I miss it. Miss the discipline of organizing my thoughts and the way blogging makes me take note of little things, listen more attentively, and consider more carefully.

I didn't plan to drop off the edge of the blog-world, but a day or so after my last post in late May, I became very ill with severe abdominal pain. I ended up having surgery and in hospital for about 8 days with a rare but extremely serious intestinal condition called volvulus. Essentially, the small intestine twists up somewhat like a balloon being made into an animal by a clown. As more than a few people told me (this is Kentucky), "If you were a horse, you would have died."

What caused it? After several months of recuperation, way too many invasive tests (can you say "Barium enema"?) and way too many unhelpful speculations from well-meaning self-appointed experts, I have no clue. Indeed, I have come to believe more than ever in what has come to be called the Mind/Body connection, and find it quite sufficient to say that I had a twisted gut. Gut-wrenching, feel it in my gut, makes me sick, blocked, bilious, punch in the gut.. all of these metaphorical notions apply. Details anon.

I'm well now, and was even well enough to undergo another major surgery last week, one that had been scheduled long before the emergency illness, partial replacements of both knees. There are lots more rational explanations of why my knees wore out in my mid-50s, but I am still open to the emotional and spiritual implications. At the risk of sounding like a victim, Nancy Kerrigan comes to mind. All of this has been a gift. I know... everybody says that. But in my case, I have been handed time, insight, wisdom, perspective, and renewal. I have had the opportunity to have my priorities become absolutely clear. No word but gift will do, unless it's Grace.

I'm actually a healthy person! Other than arthritis (runs in my family), I have no ailments or chronic illnesses and all of my vital signs & systems are normal or above-normal. I have a good husband, satisfying job, and three kids who love me. Still, I have allowed myself and my life to get so out of balance, so completely skewed away from my heart's desires and ambitions that I can barely find "me" in all the clutter. It is clear that has to change.

 I intend to write my blog completely for me from now on. It will be more personal, more journal-like, and more reflective. If you don't like it, please don't read it! If you do, or if it helps you in any way.. let me know.