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Best Year Ever!

Best Year Ever!
Nancy Deming-May
November 2012

As I was drying my hair the other morning, (this is when my mind feels free to ramble and think about whatever it wants), I thought about taking my mom with us when we go up to our lake house in upstate New York. We were looking forward to taking down the four different types of wallpaper in the kitchen and dining room as well as bringing in the New Year. I pictured the nine hour drive up where she’ll keep asking the same questions, and respond to our comments meant for each other with the same audio recording – an “Uh huh” followed by a completely rote laugh. We could get a good audio book though, and that might help minimize the repeat questions, but probably not the rote laughter track.

Then I moved on to the New Year’s Eve celebration.  We would probably be at our house up on the hill, watching the Dick Clark’s (or whoever his replacement is) New Year’s TV special, all the while wondering who all the entertainers were – in between our in-front-of-the-TV cat-naps.  And when it came time to toast in the New Year, we would clink our glasses together and wish each other a Happy New Year and my mom would say something like, “Here’s to our BEST YEAR EVER!”

I don’t know why that annoys me, but it does. It takes me back to my childhood, my whole life really, of her over-the-top encouragement and visions. When I got my first and only toe shoes for ballet and she cheered and said I could become like Maria Tallchief, and then she told me how Maria would dance and dance until her toes bled.  Yuck.  I danced a little bit and my toes hurt like hell, and I did a cartwheel and quickly moved on to cheerleading.  Fortunately, my mother didn’t know any self-flagellating cheerleaders she could hold out to me for a goal and I contentedly jumped, yelled, and clapped, and herkied (however you spell that jump we used to love to do) my way through high school.

When I was a senior in college and they read letters from our mothers at our last sorority meeting, besides the usually embarrassing stuff about the boys I had dated, along with the horrible photos from high school of me in my vinyl laced-up boots, my mom had to include her prediction of my being in the White House (as president no less) and how I would still be serving strawberry daiquiris (my signature drink).  The White House?  Really?  Puleeeeese.

As my hair dried and I meandered about my mother, I thought, she does indeed live in hyperbole. Everything has to be “the best” and any little achievement is surely a clear indicator of future world renowned acknowledgement and riches. After I walked across the stage to receive my diploma for my Masters of Science degree at the Air Force Institute of Technology, she giddily told me, “You were the prettiest one up there!” This one was odd because her superlative kind of missed the point of the whole ceremony.

Her hyperbolic enthusiasm continues on to her grandchildren.  When my youngest started showing significant improvement in his cross-country course times (up from one of the slowest on the team), she mused about his future in the Olympics – an absurd thought that almost diminishes his own personal achievement – which is where I prefer to focus.  What’s good for HIM – for ME – for OTHERS – NOT how do we compare to the BEST in the world!

She used to listen to a church TV program on Sunday mornings where their mantra was “The best is yet to be!”  (This was one of those outrageous church shows that were hilariously lampooned on Saturday Night Live years ago.)  I always kind of puzzled about this.  Why “to be”?  That means you never get there.  What’s wrong with right now?  Why do we always want to put this off?  And why does it always need to be “the best”?  As I have gained in maturity I have discovered that I’m okay with “okay” – and right now.

Does every wish need to be a superlative?  The ultimate?  It’s truly cultural – think of “Have a great day!”  I missed hearing that when I lived in Holland for a number of years and I couldn’t understand why they made fun of us with those little sayings.  The Dutch are notoriously matter-of-fact and perhaps I’m becoming more that way as I mature (though I still like to hear “Have a nice day!).  I value accuracy over delusion – no prejudice there right?  Too many Maria Tallchief and Olympic nudges in my life I suspect.

My preference is for accuracy and I don’t mind a positive spin – just don’t overdo it.  I realize that many of my friends have the opposite problem – a mother who is Eeyore incarnate – “WOE is me.  My life is TERRIBLE.  Nothing EVER goes my way.”  We all know the archetype and most of us avoid them if at all possible – family just makes it a bit tougher.

So, okay, I’ll take my over-the-top mother.  Better to be compared to Maria Tallchief than be told I couldn’t dance.  And that’s HUGE (if I can be a bit hyperbolic!)  Thank you mom, for always encouraging me and envisioning the “BEST-ever” for my future.  But this New Year’s Eve, it doesn’t have to be the BEST Year EVER!  I think it’s okay to just be happy and content with another GOOD year.

Clink!

My Autumnal Cleanse

Recently I received a near-giddy posting from my fun cousin in Southern California excited about beginning her Autumnal Libra New Moon cleanse. She shared a beautiful Garry Liddell photo of a huge, craggled, old Japanese maple, in full fall regalia, highlighted by the slanted autumnal sunlight. She was excited about her cleansing trek, but a little anxious; “Days 2 & 3 are the hardest.” And she shared her plans to lay low and practice chakra meditation to get through it.

I smiled to myself and slightly, momentarily, envied her current path in life – she’s a happily married empty-nester with three beautiful and thriving daughters; a kind and successful husband; the flexibility to pursue her own interests, a gorgeous home with views of the Pacific ocean; good friends and of course, wonderful family (mostly) around her. I recalled our recent celebration of her 50th birthday on Martha’s Vineyard where we had our Tarot cards read by a good family friend. As I recall, hers was full of delight and mystical adventure – priestess kinds of things – and mine was full of challenges and a really yucky card of a guy lying on the ground with ten swords in his back. I pondered that a bit at the time, and just accepted that some of us have tougher journeys than others. Not that I can complain. Indeed, I’m sure many would gladly take MY journey (and swords, such as they are) over their own, so we learn to appreciate the paths we have chosen. My mantra of many years has been, “Good for her/him/them; good for me.” No envy – just happiness for others’ success, along with contentment with my own.

Well, day 2 or 3 of the cleanse came, along with, I suspect, the natural euphoria brought about by the body’s state of ketosis, and another email emerged from the mystical cousin in southern California. This one came with a gorgeous photo of a fading blue sky over the Pacific Ocean, highlighted with multiple drifting contrails and complex cloud formations. The photo was accompanied with a sound recording of Danny Boy in New Age format, as it had started playing on her home stereo system right as she was taking the picture; surely a subtle Universal homage to her Irish heritage.

She forwarded the photo and the New Age Danny Boy to a blind list of friends, generously sharing her blissful experience as well as the many images she saw in the cloud formations (God, Poseidon, Neptune, you choose), along with a Rorschach challenge to identify our own visions in the clouds.

As I toyed with the photograph, I was struck by the irony of our situations. Here I was, on the east coast, working from home on a technical report about missile defense systems and airspace exchange, while our annual carpet cleaners were upstairs, doing their damndest to clean the twelve months of crystallized cat urine remnants and dog feces residue out of our floor coverings so we could enjoy perhaps a few weeks (at most) of pristine rugs – before the next bout of Jack Russell IBS, or new foster-dog leg lifting, or mystery cat markings – and the countdown begins – until the next fall carpet cleaning.

Though my cousin certainly has plenty of animals of her own and probably her own carpet cleaning schedule, our current “autumn cleansings” couldn’t be much different on this day.

Next fall, after I make my annual call to my favorite carpet cleaners, I think I will contact my West Coast cousin for her Libra New Moon Cleanse recipe and join her in her quest. That way, I’ll not only have clean rugs, but I’ll have a renewed system, and just maybe, get my own song from the Universe while I’m enjoying the cloud formations. And who knows, I might even pull a priestess card.

Yes, here’s to autumnal cleansings – in whatever form they take in your life. May they give you renewed energy and hope, along with a positive vision of another year, full to the brim of whatever you value most.

Mother Enlightenment

Mother Enlightenment

Nancy Deming-May

September 2012

I gained some enlightenment today – at least that’s what I think it was.  I love how it sneaks up on you – like the silky soft pads of kitten’s feet – and suddenly it’s in your lap enveloping you with a contented purr.  But this enlightenment had nothing to do with kittens; no, this was an “ah” moment about my mother – one I feel very little “ah” about these days.  Lately, it’s much more “ugh” and “sigh” (and NOT the contented kind).

I was surprised recently when I Googled my mother’s name for her as I was showing her (again) how to use the internet, and was taken aback when my master’s thesis showed up – first, that it was on there at all – we were still using 5 1/4 inch floppy discs when I wrote that thing – and second, that HER name was in there.  I of course clicked on the link and was then further surprised to read the dedication I had written to my mother in the front pages of the thesis – thanking her for her endless support and encouragement throughout the process.  My jaw still drops as I recall the words and I’m dumbstruck with the thought that I would no more thank her for that now than I would Rush Limbaugh.

Wow.  Has she changed that much in just over 20 years?  Have I?

It’s been multiple strokes for my mother and several years leading to the subsequent loss of any vestige of that all-important frontal lobe “governor” and “filter” of hers.   You know, that little hesitation we have that keeps most of us from saying exactly what we think; that executive function that keeps us from leading a tap dancing class because we haven’t done it in over 60 years and we know we weren’t that good to begin with; that chief of manners that keeps us from rudely shaking our wine glass and saying, “I’m empty here, where’s the refill?”;  that boss of reason that stops us from picking up the phone and ordering a new computer because we already have one that we can’t remember how to use; that inkling of self-control that keeps us from following a 20-something grandchild’s boyfriend around like a puppy and remarking that we “wouldn’t kick him outta bed for eating crackers!”; that honcho of experience that thinks signing up for match.com at age 83 might not be such a good idea when we can’t even remember one of the grandkids is married even though we were at the wedding, (“Oh yeah, that’s right.”)

As I lament about these embarrassments and worries to my friends, I’ve grown used to the laughter that her behavior tales inevitably spawn.  Though I’m usually thrilled when I can tell a story that brings about a chuckle, I find my worries about the consequences of her actions keep me from being able to enjoy them and I’m a bit horrified by these flippant responses to her scary behavior.  I even found myself saying, “Yeah, I wish she was someone else’s mom so I could laugh at her antics!”

It was then that my teacher replied, “Yeah, kinda like Bessie.”

Whoa.  This took me back.  Back well over 20, maybe 30 years to this teacher/dear friend’s mother, Bessie.  The one I loved telling stories about because she was such a character.  Oh, she made me laugh!  She had this energy that just about busted out of every pore on her flawless skin – I can still see her eyes twinkle as she proudly looked at herself in the mirror after I showed her the latest cheek blushing techniques. I don’t remember exactly where we were going, but Bessie told her tales and we laughed and laughed as she cruised us around in her fancy, fully loaded, four-door Town Car as we sipped plastic cups of Gallo wine from our gallon jug tucked down on the floor board.  I do recall feeling a bit anxious as the wine was decreasing and the turns grew increasingly wider.  Oh, but the stories later were well worth the anxiety!

On one occasion (my teacher/dear friend’s wedding) I recall being in the throes of an animated story – wine-induced I’m sure as I seem to recall holding court in front of the head table as I pantomimed a tale about Bessie.  As I was leading up to the dramatic punch line and the groom’s parents were really starting to wonder who the heck I was talking about – it had to do with Bessie pumping Butterball turkeys full of broth and her enthusiastic method of “movin’ those turkeys on down the line!”, when my dear friend, the bride, gently (but firmly) summoned me over toward her table and whispered, “That’s enough.”  I smiled appreciatively and apologetically at my audience and made my way back to my table until the dancing began.

I got it then but not as much as I get it now.

Slightly embarrassing or even worrisome stories are much funnier when they are about someone else’s mom.

Here my dear friend, whom I call Sis, who tolerated my retelling of her mother’s antics over the years only because she HAS such an effective frontal lobe “governor” that kept her from telling me, “Shut the heck up about my mom – it’s not funny!”, can finally laugh some in my direction.  And it’s well deserved.

Thank you my friend and teacher for sharing your mother and tolerating my retelling of her stories while you cringed ever so slightly.  Thank you for pointing me toward my moment of enlightenment where I could see another mother from another angle and appreciate the humor and perhaps the concern from both sides of the room.  Thank you for helping me see many things, but most of all, my mother, through a different lens.

Black Rapper Diagnosis

I have been hesitant to post this article, but after being unsuccessful at sharing it with Common, I thought I would at least share it on my blog.  🙂  Enjoy (I hope) and let me hear your feedback.  Thank you!  Namaste.

Black Rapper Diagnosis

Nancy Deming-May

December 2011

My mother-in-law is in her mid-eighties, with very little body fat, a keen interest in fashion and a passion for so called “news” and politics – the more sensational, the better.  She is also an avid cross-word puzzler with a healthy distrust of others, bordering on paranoia.  This distrust includes the medical profession.  She has maintained her robust health over the years through a sine wave of doctor visits and prescriptions balanced by a complete ignoring of the diagnoses and recommendations.  She also places complete trust and faith in her son, my husband, the former fighter pilot and current business executive, and his diagnostic prowess.  (She calls me first, before the vet, for cat problems so I don’t feel left out.)  She recently went to the doctor for an annoying group of spots on her leg that she was convinced were spider bites.  The doctor wasn’t quite sure what it was but assured her they weren’t spider bites.  She called us that night and gave a detailed description of her skin malady, maligned the doctor’s opinion, and anxiously awaited her son’s blind and remote, and dare I say uneducated, interpretation.  He expertly suggested poison ivy and she reveled in the anticipation of the probable steroidal prescription which always seems to boost her energy and spirits.  I’m not quite sure of the true origin or cure, but those annoying bumps eventually faded.

This past summer however, brought about more concerning symptoms of lethargy and shortness of breath.  These types of symptoms have historically been explained away by her as allergies, but this time had gotten so prevalent, that even a walk through a department store was cause to sit and rest.  For the matriarch who is known for her farewell jumping jacks as we back out of her driveway at the conclusion of our visits, this new symptom was quite troubling.  When we picked up her granddaughter, a medical doctor, at the airport, I quickly “tattled” as to her symptoms thinking perhaps she could help talk Grandma into going back to the doctor to get this latest malady diagnosed and treated.  In addition to these recent shortness of breath issues, there has long been a “phlegm problem”.  It starts in the mornings with the first cup of coffee, and often coats her voice to such an extent that we are all loudly clearing our throats in an attempt to help her find her voice. It seems to usually fade over the day, but causes no end of frustration for Grandma, as well as her conversation partners.   Well, reliable granddaughter and doctor that she is, our family doctor ended up sacrificing her first full day at the lake in order to accompany Grandma to the clinic and ensure she got a proper diagnosis.  Many hours and aggravations later, they both arrived home with the diagnosis of COPD and a handful of prescriptions.  We were all relieved to finally have a proper diagnosis, and though there is no real cure, there was hope for improvement in Grandma’s condition and just perhaps, an “end” to the “phlegm problem”.

Several months later when the sense of urgency lifted, Rosemary began her lower sine wave trend into disbelief in doctors, diagnoses and drugs, and reverted to her normal “drug-free” state.  Though disappointed, we could hardly complain as her shortness of breath seemed a thing of the past.  Her “phlegm problem” however, continued to plague us all with no relief in sight.  Little did I know that our “cure” was just a short interview and a book away.

Weekday mornings I set my alarm early like most working adults, and get up to walk the dogs and make my high schooler a hot breakfast and whole grain lunch that he assures me he eats.  We have a set routine where he helps me by emptying the dishwasher or doing other chores and sometimes I sit with him for a few minutes while he watches his latest DVR recordings.  Not prone to deep conversations at this hour, we bond through mutual amusement at his “shows”.  One we both enjoy is Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show and one morning I happened to catch a ten minute interview with a tall good looking black man who had just written a book called, “Someday It’ll All Make Sense.”  I was REALLY struck by this man’s openness, sincerity and warmth, and was so impressed with the gratitude he expressed to Jon Stewart and intrigued by this book about his life, that I decided I HAD to read it.  I had no idea who this was but I jotted down the title and ordered it later that day with my go-to on-line book source.  At my writers’ group meeting later that week, I showed off my new book and explained my sudden infatuation with this charismatic stranger who went by the name of “Common” of all things.  One of our members immediately thrilled at the mention of this man and confessed that she’d even told her husband that he was the one man she would leave him for.  In addition, she said, her husband would often do surgery while listening to this artist’s hip hop music.  I later mentioned the book to another friend and he informed me that this was the rapper who had attended a White House function several years ago and that some in the conservative media had tried to blow his lyrics out of proportion in order to reflect poorly on the President’s company by accusing Common of writing songs that advocated killing policemen.  I vaguely remembered that media debacle and chuckled at the irony of me, a more-than middle-aged white woman, reading a book by a black rapper whose music I’d never even heard.

Nevertheless, I read on, enjoying Common’s style of introducing each chapter with a letter to someone he loves.  I was also amazed how his mother, a PhD and educator, wrote her perspective throughout the book, and I laughed at the parts Jon Stewart had mentioned where Common was uncomfortably candid about some of his experiences with women – especially, shhhh, with Common’s mother on the next page!  I finished the book with a little better insight into the rap community and a new-found respect for Common’s dedication to his art.  I did not, however, recommend the book to my mother-in-law.

We took her with us recently to the west coast to visit our oldest son and his family and to greet our new granddaughter/great-granddaughter.  We had a wonderful visit and everyone got along fabulously – even at four in the morning when we east-coasters would meet in the kitchen and try to figure out the complicated coffee maker.  We were, however, still plagued with the “phlegm problem.”  It would sneak up unexpectedly and wrap itself around Grandma’s latest story or joke and completely ruin the flow, besides making us all wish we could clear our own throats for her.  At one point I recalled how Common mentioned that he stopped eating dairy in an attempt to keep his voice at its best.  This was, I assume, due to dairy products’ tendency to produce phlegm and plague an otherwise clear voice during singing performances.  Could this be the same for her?  I mentioned this avoidance of dairy to my mother-in-law and found some almond milk in the frig that she could use instead.  Never sure if she’ll trust my suggestions on anything other than cats, I watched, amazed, as she poured almond milk into her coffee cup, and proceeded with her morning routine.  She seemed a bit better that morning but we weren’t sure whether it was our imagination or a truly successfully diagnosis and treatment.

Our visit ended too soon, reluctantly prying the grandbaby out of our arms and taking us back to our home routines while dreaming of our next reunion.  Grandma made it all the way back to her comfortable upstate New York home of 53 years, complete with a 20 pound cat and an attic full of memories.  She transitions seamlessly from exercise classes to bridge games to church volunteering and political party support activities, keeping us breathless with her packed agenda.  Our last phone call with her was typical, save one tidbit of news.  Her days are full, her bridge game is mediocre, her bone builders is more social than strength building and most exciting of all, her almond milk solution to her morning coffee seems to have led to a cessation in the “phlegm problem.” 

My husband and I continue to marvel at the miracle we call her Black Rapper Diagnosis.

One day, I will listen to Common’s music.

Without Regard

Okay, when I started this blog I thought it was going to be primarily musings and sharings about life with my parents with dementia.  But I have found that I have been resisting postings about that subject for the most part.  Well, recently I felt compelled to write a poem, something I haven’t done in years – it used to be a wonderful teenage-angst outlet when I was in high school.  Now I suppose it’s a more-than-middle-aged-angst outlet.  It’s a little darker than I find I’m wanting to post on here, but I want this post to be all about sharing – the experiences, the joys, the burdens.  I’ve been struggling with my mom’s dementia and wondering some of these things I captured below.   Hopefully, those of you who identify can share back and we can all feel more empowered or at least know someone else has “been there”or “is there”.   The amazing thing about when I write something – dark or otherwise – I feel cleansed, released, uplifted.

Please read my poem and let me know your thoughts/reactions.

I believe my answer to every question is yes, and that’s perfectly okay.

Without Regard

By

Nancy Deming-May

Will I feel regret

For not seeing your humor,

For not enjoying your company,

For not getting past the piles,

And reacting to the untrue?

Will I remember the anger and the sadness

In response to your political barbs,

Your invasive questions,

Your accusations

That MY memory has failed?

Will I miss the phone calls

And the demands?

Will I feel bad that I learned to lie to you

because you asked questions

without regard?

Will I set a good example

of patience

For my own children?

Will I plan better

So I am more prepared?

Will I make better choices

So my children aren’t forced

To make the harder ones?

Will I feel I made

The right ones?

Will I long for more time

And opportunities?

Will I remember the good

And tell my children

Funny stories of you

that make us all smile?

Will I learn more compassion

And more empathy

As you lose more of yours?

The Tanzanian Adventure

Tanzanian Safari Adventure

Click on the hotlink above and be patient – it’s a large file and will take a while to come up depending on how big your comm pipe is.

This is the beginning of a short travel book about my family’s recent Safari trip to Tanzania.  It has many, many photos, a few videos and many fun stories about our trip.  Please give me feedback if you think this would be interesting to others and any suggestions on how I might make it better.  Thank you!

I wrote this in February of 2003 but I received an email today with a similar theme (young teenage daughters) and I remembered it.  Seeing as we are about one month out from my daughter’s graduation from college, I thought it might be a good time to share this.  For those of you with girls this age, hang in there, it gets much BETTER!  Namaste.

The Future Woman in My Daughter

Nancy Deming-May

February 2003

I had an epiphany yesterday.

I guess like most epiphanies, it didn’t come in a zen-like setting surrounded by still waters and rustling leaves.  It was in a bowling alley, at a formica table, with styrofoam cups of soda and baskets of french-fries.  I was sitting with my 13 year old daughter and her two friends, Maria and Joanna—in their hip hugging jeans and snug tee shirts—each girl wearing the other’s clothes—braces, hair clips and make-up.  One of the girl’s was reminded of something funny that her grandmother always did and then Lauren started telling stories about her Grammy—my mother.  How Grammy never hears you the first time and is always saying, “What’s that?” How she will stare at your food and say, “Are you going to give me a bite of that?”  After every meal, she’ll sit back and hold her belly and say, “I am sooooo full” and then she’ll lean forward and want to try whatever you have on your plate or ask “Are you going to eat that?”

We started going back and forth imitating her many funny nuances.  Lauren had her friends and me in stitches.  I thought at one point of correcting her imitation because she didn’t have it quite right—the imitation of my mother, but I caught myself and thought, this is HER story and she’s doing fine.

I suddenly had a glimpse, not just into the future but into now, of the woman she is becoming.  Of the funny, independent person she is.  Every mother knows the worries about the attitudes, the slammed doors, the secrecy, the defiance, but most of all the distance.

Somehow, surrounded by crashing ten pins, we connected through laughter and I knew, at least for a moment, that everything would be okay.  And one day, our connection will be much more complete and our laughter much more frequent.

Koko and the Baltics

My brother once told me that our continent was slowing sinking into the sea thanks to the many people that never threw away their National Geographic Magazines.  I remember laughing at the time, but it did make me think about my own hoarding.  These magazines are such keepsakes with such pertinent articles and sublime photos; I could never bear to toss them in the trash.  Eventually though, with the frequent moves of an Air Force career, my practicality won out over my sentimentality, and I triumphantly tossed my growing collection into the local dumpster.  Inevitably of course, I remembered two issues in particular with a wistful tinge of regret as I occasionally told their story and found myself longing for the evidence and clarity of their words and photos.

One of the articles was a cover story that ran in January of 1985 about Koko the gorilla and her pet kitten All Ball.  Koko was the product of a foundation at Woodside, CA near Stanford University in the 70’s where researchers taught gorillas American Sign Language.  Koko used about 600 signs taught to her by Penny Patterson, beginning when she was a graduate student at Stanford and continuing with the creation of the non-profit Gorilla Foundation.  This foundation allowed Dr Patterson to continue her work with Koko in addition to educating others about gorillas in general.  Koko was obsessed with cats and kittens (her favorite picture book stories were “The Three Little Kittens” and “Puss ‘n’ Boots”) and was eventually presented with a kitten as a birthday gift.  Koko cherished this kitten-gently playing, holding and trying to nurse her despite their nearly 225 pound weight difference.  She would often sign “Soft, Good, Cat,” in American Sign Language while holding her.  Tragically, after about six months together, All Ball wandered onto a nearby highway and was struck and killed by a car.  When told about All Ball, Koko didn’t react for about ten minutes, until she began a distinct whimpering, hooting sound that gorillas make when they are sad.  It brought everyone present to tears.

It was this cover photo of Koko gently cradling All Ball as well as the subsequent touching story of grief in a primate that often made me wistful for this magazine issue I had purged from my life.

The other issue was less emotional but no less meaningful to me as it dealt with the Baltic nations-Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, and as I recall, with a special focus on the devastating pollution that had been allowed to thrive there under the Soviet Union.  I am not normally drawn to these types of articles, but somehow this one drew me in.  I took away a greater appreciation for what I used to consider some of the more obnoxious environmental groups in our midst and their important role in a free society of bringing us to the middle.  The Soviet Union didn’t allow this expression of outrage and their silence was filled with the toxic results of polluting industrial practices left unchecked.  I recalled the horrific pictures of landscapes coated with deadly dust from nearby smokestacks and found myself thanking the extremists who go out of their way to bring these kinds of damaging practices to our attention.  I took away an important lesson that everyone, even the obnoxious and the extremists, have an important role in our society, as they help move us to the “middle” and avoid the poisonous fate of a dictatorship.

Two very different articles, but both with poignant lessons for me as well as a sense of loss when I realized what I had “released” in my magazine cleanse. Yet time passes on; different jobs, several moves, different schools, new friends, phases, challenges, and lessons in life.  Our passing regrets fade to the subtle narrative of our everyday lives as we get on with the business of living.

It was maybe ten years later, while stationed in Holland, when my young daughter announced while emptying out her heavier than usual book bag, that her 4th grade teacher had some extra magazines that she had allowed the children to choose from and take home.  Imagine my interest when I saw the familiar yellow borders as she slid them out of her sack, and then my delighted surprise as she carefully placed in front of me each of the magazines she had been allowed to claim as her own:  the first issue leading with the words “The Baltic” on its cover, and of course, the January ’85 issue with Koko cuddling All Ball.

Several times a day I enter or walk through my master bathroom in my house.  It’s a pleasant room, with pale lavender walls, a Barbara Pappendick signed print of a woman in her bathing suit (not a Sports Illustrated model), reading while relaxing at the Jersey Shore, a Monet Boats at Argenteuil print (not signed) from my college days, the not-too-ornate white cabinetry, a Jacuzzi tub, and a very comfortable and functional shower.  There is a lot of tile in the bathroom – of various colors and sizes – mostly hues of brown and tan – earth tones – very neutral.  I’ve moved far too many times in my life, such that I can’t decorate with anything too provocative – especially if it’s permanent or costly to change.  I consider tile to be one of these more permanent items.

It was less than a year that we’d been in our house when we started noticing cracks on the floor tiles.  These are large 16 inch Italian-kilned square tiles, and the separations that started out as quite mediocre fissures, gradually blossomed into bellowing crevices that would not be ignored.  Since the house was still under its one year warranty, we contacted the builder who blamed it on the tile guy, though both agreed to quick repairs.  We had spare tiles in our attic and the replacement went smoothly.  And then it got cold and we noticed our heated tile floor was no longer getting warm – it fact, it was REALLY cold since our bathroom is over the garage.  We again called the builder, who called the floor heater fellow, who blamed it on the tile guy.  Not to worry, as he could remove the few tiles he needed in order to repair the break in the floor heater circuit, and we still had some spare tiles in the attic.  Just not enough.  Thus began our saga with the tile store.  The tile was no longer in production, plus you really need to get the same dye lot as what’s already on the floor, or it won’t exactly match.  We tried several other tile stores, plus the internet, with no luck, and eventually found some left over tiles by the same name, that would have to do.  There’s just one problem – they don’t exactly match all the other tiles in the floor.  Thus begins my mismatched-tile metaphor of life.

I used to find, as I passed through this pleasant room, despite the lavender rugs I placed about, that my eyes were drawn to the nonmatching neutral toned tiles scattered throughout the floor.  I would register a mild annoyance at this incongruity and go on about my various missions in life. But one day I was struck by the irony of my behavior.  Here I had a beautiful, pleasant and darn-near perfect space, yet I kept focusing on the flaws.  Shouldn’t I spend more time noticing the things that I liked, that made me feel good and warm at the memory, than allowing my eyes to be drawn to the small little bit that annoyed me?  Isn’t this just like life?  We usually have so much good around us, so much to be grateful for, yet we often obsess about the teensy parts we don’t like.  (We can make them big or we can relegate them to “teensy”; it’s up to us.)  What if we trained ourselves to focus on the NICE parts of our “space” so that every time we pass through that place, wherever it is, we see the beloved Monet, or the special perfume that reminds us of a loved one, the crystal flower that stirs a warm memory, or the print that matches a gift given to an old friend that always makes me smile. 

So here’s to the mismatched tiles in life.  May they help us focus on the many beautiful gifts by which we are indeed surrounded.  May we train ourselves to let them redirect us to the warm, loving and balanced space in which we prefer to abide. 

Thank you, mismatched tiles.  Thank you.

Zen on the Highway

This morning I was driving in to work and the exit I normally take off of the interstate was blocked because of an accident, so I continued on to the next outlet which was a west exit and I needed to head east.  Thank goodness for legal U turns.  As I merged onto the two lane road, I moseyed over to the left and suddenly realized I was going to have to cross a solid white line to get in that turn lane I needed.  Out of reasonable options, I put on my turn signal and started to move over, all the while going at the stated speed limit.  Just as I was about to make my move, I spied a flash of silver and a “bat out of hell” SUV flying up that left turn lane with no intention (or capability) of slowing down.  Feeling that flashpoint of irritation at the rudeness of my fellow-commuter, I laid on the horn and then slid carefully in behind her as we approached the stop light.  I subsequently spied a well-tanned, bejeweled hand out the driver’s window, sporting that universally insulting hand gesture highlighting her middle finger.  Horrified at her progressively negative attitude, I started imagining all the things I could do to respond.  Suddenly, I spied her license plate, “ZEN”, followed by three numbers that no doubt had sacred meaning for her.  I chuckled as I wondered if she could read MY license plate with its special ZEN message framed by wildflowers.