Monday, April 30, 2012

ZEBRA (A-Z April Blog Challenge)

I never see a zebra that I don’t view as a “horse in striped pajamas”.  This song was part of my childhood and sung by my family all the time.  “Look there daddy, do you see? There’s a horse in striped pajamas…”

And NO ONE else knew it.  None of our friends. Either then, or now.  I’m embarrassed at the number of times I’ve subjected friends and coworkers to my “singing voice” in the attempt to find SOMEONE who knows the song besides us.  Then the other day, I Googled it.  Just the words “horse in striped pajamas”.  And there it was!   

I found a version by Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Green Jeans and another by Eddie Arnold and his daughter.  So even if I haven’t found them, I KNOW there are people out there who’ve heard the song.  I won’t admit to how many times I’ve played it over the past few days, but will say it’s been such a joy!

Probably ten years or so at Christmas, when the family was all together, someone brought up the song.  Someone started it and then all five of us kids were singing as were dad and mom.  It was off key, and some mumbled through areas of forgotten words.  It was loud and filled with laughter.  Looking back, it was one of the most connected moments I’ve ever felt to my family. We reminisce in my family – a lot.  We tell stories and kid around, and it’s a good close time.  But there was something so singular and spontaneous about us all singing that simple song.  At that moment, we weren’t married, we didn’t have kids, we hadn’t all grown up and gone on with our lives, separate from mom, dad and each other.  We were just the Wood clan.  Mom, Dad, Craig, Keith, Brooke, Darcey and Amy.  It was nice. 

There was one other song that my family sang.  Well, I honesty, my mom sang it mostly.  Standing by your bedside in the morning, she would sing “Birdie with a yellow bill, hopped upon my window sill.  Cocked a shiny eye and said, aren’t you awake you sleepy head’? We moaned.  We groaned.  And yet we loved it. Or grew to love it.  How could you not love it you’re your always chipper and happy mom wakes you up with a little song in your ear? 

And again, upon Googling, I find it’s actually a poem, titled Time to Rise, by Robert Louise Stevenson.  A poem.  That my mother put to music.  Not surprising, and a revelation to me to find I fell in love with my first poem long before I thought I did.  

And we all sang Birdie with a yellow bill. We sang it in mocking fun to each other over the years.  And when we started having children, we sang it to them.  They moaned and groaned just like we did and it is my fervent hope that they will sing it to their children as well.  If they don’t, well that’s a shame. 

I know Abram grew up hearing both songs, and if the blessing of having children enters his life, I feel confident he will. And if he doesn’t, I’ll be waiting in the wings with my “singing voice” ready.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

YESTERDAYS (A-Z April Blog Challenge)

There’s a certain safety to “yesterdays”.  See, I’m a worrier and a pessimist by nature; and yes, a bit of a control freak as well.  So, “todays”…well they are something that I always feel the need to be on top of.  In control of.  It’s often hard for me to keep up to the speed of today – to stay abreast of the minute to minute happenings.  And today, well that rolls easily into the “tomorrows” with the constant  worry of what’s to come, what choices will have to be made or the stumbling blocks that lay yet unseen.    
Yesterdays are done.  They are out of my control.  They are someplace I go to give my heart, my mind, my thoughts and emotions the luxury of time to absorb.  Without a doubt, I spend way too much time in my yesterdays. 
I made it a personal mission to visit some point of my “yesterdays” with each blog post for the A-Z challenge.  Each post needed to carry some thread from my younger years my present.  And overall I’m satisfied with the outcome.  I can see the finish line and am confident that April 30th will end with a completed challenge. 
The plan I had for completing the posts flew out the window from Day 1.  Each letter seemed to take on a mind of its own until I came up with just the right ONE WORD to write. Many, many drafts were tossed because I felt I wasn’t being honest to the mission I gave myself.  Yes, I could write about a topic, and hey, I’m a writer, I could weave a tale or two and work something in.  But that wasn’t what I needed.  Part of the mission, was to see if I could write about myself. Honestly.  My history.  My yesterdays.  And I did.
And in full disclosure, was View-Master a big sharing of myself?  Hardly.  It was a fun and light piece.  At the other end of the spectrum, writing Once … well that was like cutting into my soul.  The rest fell somewhere in-between.    
The final part of my mission was to gauge my comfort level in sharing my writing.  It took a lot for me to reach out before the challenge started and invite people in an email explaining what I was going to do. I like to write, but it’s very hard for me to get past the self-deprecating editor on my shoulder, much less throw my writing out there in front of moving traffic.  But I did.  And some completely ignored it.  And some visited every now and then.  Some were faithful and supportive.  And then some went above and beyond.  They commented.  They followed my blog.  They wrote funny or upbeat remarks.  They wrote remarks that were incredibly insightful, kind and empathetic.  The support and encouragement from the GBE2: Blog On group has been humbling.
Many of the yesterdays I visited surprised me.  There were things that held much greater significance than I ever realized.  And possibly the greatest surprise was the prevalence of the presence of my mom.  Never before this month have I felt so shaped by her hands as I do now. It’s both a pleasant and not an altogether comfortable feeling, but certainly one to mull over as I visit more of my yesterdays. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Xenodocheionology (A-Z April Blog Challenge)

Yes, really, this word describes me.  And I didn’t even KNOW it until I researched “X” for the A-Z blog challenge.  And then, there it was, in black and white: 

Xenodocheionology (noun) zenadə,kīə´nalajē – a love of inns & hotels.
The glass window at the end of
the bed looks into the jacuzzi in the bathroom.
The shade was remote control operated. So cool!

Ah, I feel the rush of adrenaline just thinking about them.  I love hotels.  Have since I was young, although I don’t ever remember actually going to one until I was in my teens.  I’ve stayed from budget to four star.  And of course, the “love of” part really comes with the four star variety.  The budget ones serve their purpose either by necessity or finance from time to time, but I’m fortunate to have stayed at some pretty sweet places.

It starts when I make the booking. I spend hours searching out the right location in regards to the reason we are traveling.  I click through all the pictures of the rooms and the list of amenities.  I know the place inside and out by the time we arrive.  So it’s no wonder that, oddly enough, I often feel a sense of coming home when we get there. 

The moment we pull up, my excitement starts.  Waiting to check in, I peruse the layout and décor of the lobby.  This is the time I plan out my people (read writing ideas) watching space. Someplace where I know I’ll generally end up for a short while and let my imagination run wild with characters and plot lines as hotel guests mill around me. 

I love the anticipation of traveling up to our room, swipe card in hand. The door opens and there it is.  Foreign, yet home for the next few days.  I often take pictures of the room when we arrive.  It’s crisp and tidy.  Even the most spacious ones, with separate seating areas are a marvel in their compactness to me. 

After entering, it’s to the window next to check out the view.  Sometimes lush gardens or a beautiful desert view.  Maybe a park or a parking lot.  Possibly the road we arrived on with the strip mall in view.  And although I love a good view, it’s the placement of us in our surroundings that I am looking for.  It settles me in.  
Double vanity at the M Resort.
They had that wonderful citrus scent!

And having saved the best for last, I head to the bathroom.  To check out if there are double sinks (score!), the vanity lighting, whether the towels are rolled or folded.  The placement of the tissue box, the extra toilet paper roll, and the hair dryer.  Last, I check out the small toiletries.  Evaluate how they’re displayed (in a wicker basket, a glass tray or a shelf).  Each one gets opened in turn, the shampoo, the conditioner and the body lotion.  My favorite having been a light citrus scent I’ve yet to find anywhere else. 

Over the next few days, we travel through the hallways, the elevators and escalators, through the lobby and shops, the restaurants and bars.  It’s a dream world.  Maybe we’re on vacation, or traveling for business.  Either way, we’ve stepped out of our everyday lives for a short time.  We can be ourselves, or we can be whoever we want to be.  We can even search for someone else we only dreamed of being.  It’s all fantasy – all temporary. 

And when it’s all said and done, I am itching to leave to get back to our wonderful home.  Where our everyday life waits for us, all solid and rooted in reality.  Because hotels and inn, although I love them, are a great place to visit…I just wouldn’t want to live there. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

WHISPERS (A-Z April Blog Challenge)

I love whispers.  I love the hopeful whisper spoken across the top of a newborn’s head as he lies sleeping on your chest. I love the delicious whispers of a promise on my lover’s heated skin.  I love the painful whisper of shared fears and doubts as they fall on trusted ears.  I love the death bed whisper that carries a thank you and final goodbye.

At ten, my mom still came into my room to tuck me in for the night.  She’d find me curled on my side, and would reach across me, tucking the sheet and blanket in around my form and around my feet.  Then she would sit on the edge of the bed as we said goodnight.  After we talked for a moment or two, she would sweep her hand over my hair as she stood.  Leaning down to kiss my cheek, I’d hear her softly whispered “I love you, Amy Elizabeth”. The last words of the day as I drifted to my dreams.     

For too many years to count, I tucked my son in the same way.  Always wanting my words, in a whisper, to be a peaceful end to his day and safe bridge to his nighttime dreams.  And for almost thirty years now, my husband has heard my whispers as I curl up to his back.  He’s slept through many of them as I (unknown to him) spoke to him through long, dark nights.  I didn’t need to wake him, it was enough to know he was there to absorb them.

Whispers carry an intimacy.  People don’t accidentally whisper.  It’s a conscious decision to share on a primitive level.  Whispers aren’t secrets, they’re just private.  And oddly enough (although maybe not so odd if you know me well) I admit I hear whispers all the time.  Whispers drift through my heart and my mind; tendrils of stories, poems, or sometimes just a group of words.  I hear the hushed tones of loved ones or snippets of conversations we’ve had – sometimes things I said or meant to say.  I hear the whisper of change as the wind carries fallen leaves down the street and the cry of the water as it rushes by the riverbank. There’s always, something, whispering to me. Intimately.  Consciously.  Privately.

I don’t pay mind to the whispers of gossip, innuendo or suspicion.  They sap the energy from me and drown out the beauty of the others.  I’d like to say I didn’t pay heed to those types as a child, but of course I can’t.  Then, those types of whispers hurt.  Alot.  They hurt enough to teach me the lesson to move beyond them.  They made me focus instead on the beauty of whispers, the protective cloak of a softly spoken word, the joy in a shared intimacy. 

It’s a loud and busy world we live in today.  I often have to remind myself to slow down and remember that words take on a different meaning when they’re whispered. And when we share them in an intimate, conscious and private way, there’s often the joy of whispered reply.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

VIEW-MASTER (A-Z April Blog Challenge)

Picture credit:
Age doesn’t matter when it comes to a View-Master.   Anyone between the ages of five and 95 know about these little beauties.  One viewer, one disk with fourteen film slides mounted on a paper disc that produced seven magical 3-D images.  The discs are limitless and although View-Masters are now used primarily by children, they were originally used mostly by adults to view not only tourism discs, but educational ones as well.

I had all sorts of incredible discs for my View-Master.  Some were cartoons or Disney characters, but it was the animals, wildlife and landscapes that were my favorites.  Far off places like Peru and Switzerland were suddenly RIGHT THERE in front of me.  And yes, more than once or twice, I reached my hand out as I was looking through the viewer, sure that I’d be able to feel something. 

They were just a couple dollars in my youth, and now run for a little under ten.  The ORIGINALS, I mean.  Not the ones that “talk” and not the ones that automatically turn the slide for you.  (Isn’t that a slide view projector? ) At any rate, they operate the same as they always did and more than once I remember getting my finger caught by the lever on the right as I advanced to the next slide.  That would end up in a mixed picture of two of the images and made for some great viewing!

For as much as my husband and I loved ours, our son never owned one.  He got lots of the other classic toys we  had growing up – the Legos, Lincoln Logs, Pick Up Sticks, Card Games, Candy Land, wooden blocks, dominoes…but never his own View-Master.  The 3-D aspect would have been the coolest thing ever to him.

And it’s not going away anytime soon.  Yes, you can still buy the original from Fisher Price, but as I was being nostalgic and looking around on the web at this little marvel of a toy, I found you can MAKE YOUR OWN disks now as well as personalize the View-Master.  There are numerous facebook pages devoted to View-Master.  You can buy vintage reels and any number of accessories to store your reels.  And for those who have realized they just can’t leave home without it, you can now buy an app from the Apple iTunes app store.  Amazing…………..

It’s nice to know even with adding automation, technology and who knows who knows what else, the love of the old classic is what’s fueling the fire and remains the foundation for the love of all things View-Master.   We need more things with that kind of staying power today. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

UNCLE TOM (A-Z April Blog Challenge)

Uncle Tom wasn’t actually an uncle at all.  He was my godfather.  And he was a part of my life until I was around 5 or 6 years old.  And then he wasn’t but that’s not what this post is about.  It’s about the time that he was there and how cool it was that he was in my life.  And it’s also written and remembered from the perspective of a five year old, so please forgive the self-absorbed indulgent tone….

My father had been an only child, so there was no aunt or uncle for us kids on his side.  My mom had a brother, but they weren’t close (at least not by the time I came a long), so there wasn’t any aunt or uncle there either.  So, it was just Uncle Tom.  And although all my brothers and sisters called him uncle, I knew that he was really there for me, because he was my godfather. And all the special things he did, well, that was because of me too.  And I always felt like a princess around him and for me that was unusual. 

I had three very favorite times with Uncle Tom.  I’m sure it was because they were repeats that I’m able to evoke the memory of them over a single incident or two.  First off, every Christmas morning, miraculously, Santa Claus always had to stop back at the house to drop off just one more present for each of us.  Surely, it was Uncle Tom behind that beard.  But when I believed in Santa Clause, as I did at 5, well, he was the real deal.

It was with Uncle Tom’s family that we vacationed for the two weeks in Alleghany in the summer.  There was not another vacation that I ever took with my family or my parents until I was an adult and planned it myself.  So those times sitting on his lap outside the cabin, or wading down in the stream to look at salamanders, well, they were magical times. And they provided me with the only vacation memories I have as a child with my whole family as well.   

The only pin that remains
And finally, were my birthdays.  Every year, he took me to the Ice Capades.  Just me.  I’d get dressed up and he would pick me up.  We’d travel the 15 minutes into Buffalo – the BIG CITY. It was a magical night at the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium – the place was enormous!   The shows were always magnificent, the skaters so incredibly graceful.  Every evening ended with him buying me a skater pin.  In mid turn, her skirt ruffled up around her.  The pin was the same every year, just a different color outfit on the skater, but always in the same pose, white skates and thin metal blades gleaming.  What I wouldn’t give today to have all those pins back.  But those nights, it was the company and the occasion, the feeling of being so special.  That is what I remember the most.  At those times, I was the center of the universe.   He always made me feel that way. 

And for that, I loved him and always will.

Monday, April 23, 2012

TREES (A-Z April Blog Challenge)

The first poem I fell in love with hung on the wall in my Nana’s house.  It hung there all my life, so I most likely fell in love with it soon after learning to read, around the age of 7 or so.  It hung on the stairway wall on the left hand side, six verses separated into three frames so you read the poem in stages going up the stairs.   
I have loved poetry ever since and the power in the brevity of words (although I recognize that some poems can be quite long).  I don’t mind admitting that I am a total poetry novice.  I like what I like, have written very little of it, and had one poem published in a poetry challenge by Rosebud Magazine.
Each day begins for me with a poem delivered to my inbox from Writers Almanac.  It’s a way for me to start my day with thoughts outside of myself, a glimpse into a moment for someone else, and sometimes, that magical connection that happens when reading it is like looking into a mirror.   
I only knew one of my grandparents and I didn’t have a very strong connection to the one I knew.  But I never think of my love for poetry and this poem in particular, that I don’t think of Nana with love and appreciate the gift she gave me.
by: Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918)
I THINK that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

STORMS (A-Z April Blog Challenge)

It’s been a long winter and I welcome the storms of spring with more anticipation than usual.  Winter storms are all right, but there’s nothing like the intensity and show of a good thunderstorm.  Everyone views storms in a different light.  Some are afraid of them, some grit their teeth and wait them out, and others embrace them.  I’ve even known a few who try to ignore them as if they weren’t happening.
My passion for thunderstorms stems from watching them as a kid curled up next to my Mom.  She’d gather us kids onto the couch to watch the storm out the large living room window.  We’d ohh and ahh at the lightning streaks and flashing clouds, counts the seconds until the thunderous clap of thunder would rattle the windows, and marvel at the wind whipping the rain down sideways.  Nighttime shows with the lights off were always the most exciting.  She never vocalized why she watched or encouraged us to watch with her.  In a practical sense, storms must have been easier to handle with five children if they were viewed as an adventure and not something to be afraid of.   
Mom was a very optimistic woman. Storms came and things got dark, but inevitably, the sunshine always followed.   Based on her outlook on life, I’ve made my own assumptions about the lessons she wanted me to get from storm watching.   Storms of all types, natural and otherwise, are an inevitable part of my life. I should recognize the beauty in their power, and not be afraid.  There are steps I can take to create a safe haven to wait them out, and I should be prepared to take care of any damage they leave behind.  Most important, they are a part of life I cannot control.  Control, even when I was small, was something I understood. 
I’m not the optimist my mother was.  I tend to be more pragmatic, more controlling, and more often than not look for what might go wrong rather than what is going right.  Storms come into my life just like everyone else’s.  Storms of Mother Nature, but more often, the storms of everyday life.  Marriage, a child, job stress, financial issues, hectic schedules…the list is different for everyone, but we all have them.  And just as different is how we handle them.  Some are afraid, some grit their teeth and wait them out, some ignore them, and others embrace them.
I try to handle my life storms like thunderstorms.  Although some make me tremble, when I sit back and view them separate from myself, I’m often able to recognize something positive in their power, accept the parts I can’t control, and wait for the rest to pass in a safe haven that I’m responsible for creating.  The storm comes, the calm follows, and I make it through.  It’s up to me to find appreciation in it and to deal with whatever it leaves behind. 
When my son was little, and a storm woke him, we’d curl up on the couch and watch it together.  Later, with the deep slumber that comes to teenagers, he slept through them.  Sometimes though, I still woke him.  We watched together.  I wasn’t looking for him to learn anything; we just enjoyed each other’s company and the spectacular show. 
I don’t think mom intended for storm watching to be a mechanism for me to work through the ebb and flow of my life. However, it is one of the many lessons she taught, intentionally or not, that I often rely on.  We don’t get the opportunity to watch storms together now, yet she’s with me with each one that I face nevertheless.   

Friday, April 20, 2012

RICE CHRISTIANS (A-Z April Blog Challenge)

It's a little over eleven years old now, our little rectangle of faded red construction paper.  No bigger than an index card, and only nine grains of rice still cling to a curved line of dried glue that runs across it.  Small, but powerful, it symbolizes the choice we made at the time, as a family, to connect with God on a daily basis. 
December 27, 1998, our Pastor gave a sermon titled “Rice Christians”.  In short, he explained that centuries ago, when missionaries went to foreign lands to spread the message of Jesus Christ, they found the people could not concentrate because they were so hungry.  They began to offer food along with their message.  However, it wasn’t always clear whether the people were coming for the food or for the message, hence the term Rice Christian:  people who are Christians not because of their love for God through Jesus Christ, but because they’ve found they can get something by being Christian. 

We were challenged that day to change the meaning of Rice Christians for ourselves.  We glued some rice onto red index cards to use as a visual reminder to incorporate one small act into our lives to strengthen our relationship with God.  The symbolism of the rice made sense with its enduring shelf life and fulfilling capability.  

Making the card was easy.  Even deciding on our one small act was easy.  We chose to say grace EVERY night with dinner, not on an occasional basis that we did and on holidays.  Grace in my family, growing up, had been the same prayer all my life and still is to this day when we get together: “Come Lord Jesus, be our guest, and may our food be blessed. And God bless our family wherever they may be. Amen.” And it’s a good prayer and has served our family well.

But, Steve and I wanted something different than our families prayers, so to keep it fresh and meaningful, we decided to make it different each night.  Sometimes, it was short and simple.  Sometimes we’d say it in a round, each of us saying a line or two.  Often, it was only one of us, either expressing our gratitude of the blessings in our life or showing a glimpse of the troubles of the day, sharing the things that weigh heavy on our hearts and minds.  Often we prayed for those in need or others we know to be in search of guidance.   The only similarity to it every time is the ending.  “Bless this food to our use and us to thy service”. 

This picture was in my mother's
dining room  our whole lives.
As a small family of three, it was easy to fall into the trap of solely focusing just on ourselves.  Our open grace at mealtime encouraged us to focus on the broader picture and to remind us of the greatness of God and that all his children need guidance and thoughtful prayer.

Time has passed, and the three of us don’t sit down to meals regularly now that Abe’s grown up and moved out.  Each of us has shifted our faith somewhat (I would interject here that Abram may identify as an agnostic now, but still holds value in his time in the church and in our prayers).  However, the Rice Christian change that we made still holds for us when we get together.  There is always a mealtime gathering where we say a prayer and connect in a spiritual way. 

What has this small act done for us as a family?  It gave us a daily communication and connection with Christ and allowed us to lift up our troubles as well as our blessings with ease.  It gave us the opportunity to share of ourselves with each other and reminded us to remember others as well.  It took a small moment in our lives each day and filled it with meaning and spiritual thought instead of rote memorization before we broke bread together.  And I trust the connection placed blessings on each of us individually in ways I cannot imagine. 

At first, we kept the card at the table to provide a daily reminder.  Soon it went to the refrigerator and now it is pinned to the bulletin board in my writing area among the pictures, quotes and other keepsakes of daily life.  A small reminder of how one simple act, of being a Rice Christian, can have such a large impact on your life. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

QUILTS (A-Z April Blog Challenge)

The wedding quilt '83
My mother was a quilt maker.  And somehow, she always surprised you.  Most remarkable were the wedding quilts.  Sometime during our wedding receptions, each one of her five children opened up a box to find their velvet quilt inside.  Small 4 x 4 squares of velvet, rich, deep colors of blues, greens, reds and browns.  All hand stitched, large enough to cover a queen bed.  And, amazingly enough, you never saw it coming.  Never saw her place one stitch on the quilt, which had to have taken hundreds of hours to do amongst all the wedding preparations.  Secret time, squirreled away at home, or on breaks at work. 
Quick recall and mathematics (neither my strong point) puts her at a minimum of 25 quilts throughout my lifetime, which most likely really puts the number closer to 35 – 40.  And almost all of them done by hand, not machine.    
The embroidered quilt - circa 1990
And although the velvet ones were beautiful and luxurious, it was the personalized embroidered ones that were the most incredible.  Again, all done in secret, individually embroidered squares, depicting holidays, seasons, and a myriad of details of you and your spouse’s lives, including hobbies, pets, occupations, homes, etc.  These were the quilts that told the story of your lives before you came together as man and wife and the first few years of your marriage. 
Five grandchildren all got smaller versions on the personalized embroidered ones and light throw quilts for their twin beds as they grew up.   
My lap quilt to mom
Following her lead, I have made three quilts, all by hand.  Two of them were large ones, one for my in-laws and one for my parents.  Though I liked them both and they meant a lot to me, my favorite was the third, smaller lap throw that I made for my mom.  In an old hope chest I was storing for my parents, were some articles of clothing.  A favorite party dress of my mom’s from her early 20’s, and outfits from her five children.  I stuck my courage to the sticking post that I wasn’t going to break her heart by cutting them up and made a lap quilt for her.  Fortunately, all went well and it was well received.  She kept it on her chair and many of her letters talked about her placing it over her legs on a cool evening and giving herself over to the memories that came with each square of material she slid her hand over. 
I often lament that I didn’t get my mom’s creativity of her art or music.  However I found through the years that we both shared a love of writing (although no fiction for her) and feel that I connected with the joy she felt in quilt making.  I didn’t realize until I’d made one of my own that you are stitching a part of yourself into the quilt.  I think of the hundreds of thousands of stitches in her quilts; that’s a lot of mom that we all share. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

PASS (due to the PFLU...) (A-Z April Blog Challenge)

Had to take a PASS on reading all the daily blogs I look forward to, both those that are a part of the A-Z Challenge and others that I follow. Tuesday was an awful day that I was down with the PFLU like I can' ever remember being.  And yes, I know that FLU isn't spelled with a "P" but I just didn't think "PASS" could stand alone as the single "P" word.

I didn't sleep much after I crawled into bed Monday evening.  Tuesday morning I lingered in my nightgown as long as I could, finally got dressed for work.  And promptly got undressed, called in to work and spent the morning in the bathroom. 

The day is a blur of being ill, body aches, no fever, but cold sweats and feeling like an ice cube under my nightgown, heavy robe and thick lap throw. 

But I'm probably rambling.  I feel like one of those rubber gloves you clean in and then when you take off the only way to be free of them is to pull them inside out.  Maybe all the ginger from the ginger ale I've sipped today has gone to my brain instead of settling my stomach.

So, for barely Passable Phlu, I thank you for your Patience (now that's a good P word!) and will be back tomorrow for "Q".  Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

ONCE (A-Z April Blog Challenge)

Once upon a time there was a girl of nine.  She was shy, and kind and innocent.  And then one day she wasn’t anymore.  Innocent that is. 

Once and again it happened.  And then once and again, over and over. For three years her innocence chipped away at.  And she buried it in a place deep within herself.   In an absence of light, where nothing grows.  And she forgot.  And she didn’t tell anyone.  She became extra shy and extra kind.  Because she wasn’t innocent and didn’t want anyone to know.

Once is all it takes to make a secret.  She’s still an excellent secret keeper.  A habit she cannot break. 

Once, or twice at least he, this man in her neighborhood, told her she was special.  Those were not the times he threatened to kill her if she told.   

Once in a while, he touched her differently.  These times it didn’t hurt, maybe even felt good.  She didn’t understand.  Was that all right?  Was that why she went back? Was she too afraid to not go back? Because he said she had to come back.  Did their secret make her feel special? A girl of nine?  Well, just a little bit, yes.

Once a happy girl, she became withdrawn.  And although she didn’t tell, it showed in pictures didn’t it?  Her school pictures, her eyes growing  distant, her young face, older now.  She buried it, in that place deep within. In her thoughts. In her heart. All this, for a girl of nine.

Once he shared their secret, and her, with his friend.  Then it was a secret of three, not two. And still, she didn’t tell.  She was a good secret keeper.

Once, after turning twelve, she didn’t feel well – had cramps.  Her first “woman” time, for this girl no longer nine, and a when he realized, he ended their time, but not their secret.  The earlier threat became very strong then. 

Once it was over, she went on.  What else would a girl of twelve do?  She was shy, she was kind and she could bury a secret in a place deep within herself.  An absence of light, where nothing grows.

Once she began to remember, as an adult, it nearly broke her.  How had she buried it in that dark place?  One day at a time?  One meeting at a time?  All at once when it was done?

Once known, things are always there, her therapist told her.  She hadn’t “forgotten”.  She’d repressed the memories.  Buried them, to protect herself, the best way a child knew how.  Why remember now, she asked?  Twenty years later?  Touches, feelings, sights and smells, long better left buried?  You’re strong enough to handle it now, he’d said.  To grow past the girl stuck at nine.

Once upon a time there was a girl of nine.  And she was shy, and she was kind, and she protected herself the best way she knew how.  

Monday, April 16, 2012

NIGHT-TIME (A-Z April Blog Challenge)

There’s raw quality to night-time that I find both equally compelling and fearful.  As a child it was the time that followed “bedtime”.  Alone, in bed, I felt safe and surrounded by a family who loved me.  And then gradually, somewhere during that night-time, a sliver of solitude formed.  An internal night-time – my darkness – an absence of light.
It didn’t happen overnight.  It grew over time as I developed into an introvert.  A loner.   A writer.  For in my night-time, that seed of finding places for my mind to go was born.  Places other than where I was.  Places that were “Once upon a time…”
I didn’t formally recognize it until the first time I saw Phantom of the Opera and heard Music of the Night.  The Phantom's voice, deep and rhythmic pulled me along with Christine into his darkness, one that I found unnervingly familiar.  He implored us to understand what happens when we look inside ourselves. "Night-time sharpens, heightens each sensation…Darkness stirs and wakes imagination…" My eyes closed and I involuntarily leaned towards the stage. "Silently the senses abandon their defenses…" I felt confused, vulnerable, inexplicably wanted more.
Abandoning our defenses is not something easily done. Self-preservation is an inherent trait that we practice every day whether we realize it or not. I, like Christine, often turn from what I feel or what I find myself drawn to. One of my greatest fears and the root of my insecurity is how others perceive me.
In my darkness dwells my reality and a writer. In my mind and my heart, are stories I long to share, both fictitious and of my life.  Human nature and the depths it can sink to as well as the heights it can achieve. To explore my own darkness would be to share them.
Then the questions start. What if no one understands what I write? Where it comes from? Therein lies the fear. The fear that each word represents a piece of me for anyone to see. It's a steady battle between the need to express myself and being vulnerable to people's judgments toward me and what I write once my thoughts, emotions, perceptions, and yes, even my prejudices, are revealed.
Christine sang of being torn between her fear and her unwilling draw toward the Phantom, "But his voice filled my spirit with a strange, sweet sound…In that night there was music in my mind…And through music my soul began to soar! And I heard as I'd never heard before…" Had she not entered the darkness, she would not have soared. Her musical talent undiscovered. Her capacity to love a man like the Phantom never realized. She needed to be willing to expose herself to the night-time. To trust. To share.
How great, I realized the rewards can be by taking such a risk.  I realized as I struggled with that feeling of wanting more, that it was the desire to free my words from my self imposed darkness.
And I have made progress.  I’ve taken risks.  I’ve written a few pieces.  I’ve shared some of what I’ve written.  I’m working toward doing as the Phantom’s instructed:  "Close your eyes; let your spirit start to soar! And you'll live as you've never lived before…"
So I go, armed to my nighttime – my absence of light.  To write myself out of the darkness.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

MUSIC (A-Z April Blog Challenge)

Love seeing mom with both her instruments!
Coming home from elementary school, the sounds of her accordion would reach me at the end of the driveway.  I knew when I got inside, I would find mom sitting on the edge of the kitchen table, foot propped on one of the chairs, her dust rag forgotten on the kitchen counter.  The full accordion would be strapped to her thin frame and her body would sway with the movement of her arms as she pulled the bellows back and forth, moving air through the chambers to produce this beautiful sound as her fingertips worked the keys and buttons, sight unseen by feel and memory.  I’ll never understand how she looked so graceful while she played. 

She took accordion lessons as a child, learning the intricate classics before anything else.  She never learned to read music very well and instead learned and played every piece by ear; she was flawless, never missing a note or chord.  No matter the song, once she heard it, she could play it on the accordion.  She would blend one song into the next, humming along with each one, a smile, always, on her face.  Music was the center of her and she could never resist that call to stop what she was doing to play a little. 

Looking back, I feel fortunate that it never became common place to listen to her.  It always felt like a privilege.  Sometimes I wouldn’t go inside, but sit outside on the steps to listen.  She never minded you coming upon her playing, but there was an intimate quality to when you listened and knew she was just playing for herself.  A shared moment of her self fulfillment.   

Those hands played magic!
Besides the accordion, she also played the organ.  Her mom played piano in a group that performed at local neighborhood pubs, so my mom grew up with piano music in the house.  One day my dad and her were shopping and walked past the Yamaha Organ store.  She fell in love and even though they didn’t have two extra dimes to rub together, somehow he found a way to get her that organ. 

She took a few lessons, but again reverted to playing by ear and it was magical.  She didn’t play the classics, instead playing the pieces that her mom had played and popular music from her time.  Mostly music from the 40 and 50’s – romantic pieces. 

By far my favorite time to listen was in the evening, after I’d gone upstairs to bed.  I’d lie in bed and listen to her adjust the volume and then the music would start.  I’d picture her, fingers softly flowing over the upper and lower rows of black and white keys as her upper body swayed back and forth on the bench.  Her left foot would glide across the pedals at the floor, her right foot controlling the volume pedal.  To this day I marvel that her arms legs all worked in unison, each one having its own role to play in the music, conducted by her to perfection.  What I wouldn’t give some days to drift into sleep listening to her play Edelweiss or Stardust.

She loved sharing her music...
Shortly after my parents moved back to Grand Island in 1999, I asked my mom if she’d let me videotape her playing.  I went down to their house, set up the camcorder on a tripod and sat for a few hours. I worked my way through a couple pots of tea and she played the accordion and organ.  We talked and joked throughout and it was a lovely afternoon that captured the joyful essence she found in her music.

She passed away in 2009 and not often, but enough, I put the tape in and relive the afternoon with her as I putter around the house.  And still, after three years of her being gone, when I hear her call out myname, I head back into the room to see what she has to say.

Friday, April 13, 2012

LETTERS (A-Z April Blog Challenge)

I love to write letters.  Long hand, cursive, lengthy letters.  And I love receiving them.  Only a delivery of flowers gets my heart racing more than finding a letter in the mailbox.  (The letters are rare, and the flowers rarer still which makes them all the more special!)

In elementary school I had a few teachers who started pen-pal programs, and although they all eventually petered out, I never lost the love of writing to someone and waiting for their reply.  In high school, I became good friends with an exchange student from Australia.  We were basically inseparable for the year she was here and I envisioned a lifelong pen-pal at last.  However, she moved a few times after returning to Australia and I lost the address chain.  Thirty years later, I still feel a measure of sadness of losing that tie with her. 

Just a couple of my letter binders.
My parents lived in Florida for ten years, and mom and I had a remarkable letter writing run.  They moved back to Grand Island, our letter writing stopped, but I saved all her letters in a binder.  When she and my dad passed in 2009, and I went through their things, I found all my letters to her.  They are now in the binder together, our chronological communication over ten years right there in black and white for me to read whenever I want.  There’s an intimacy to letters, sometimes even more than a conversation and I hear her voice as I reread them.  A lasting gift she never knew she was giving me.

Along with all of the letters I’d written her, I found a draft of every single letter that she wrote me.  Then I found drafts to other people and realized that she wrote drafts for basically everything she wrote – whether a letter to the editor, a note card to a friend or a full length letter.  When I compared her drafts to my letters, I found they were basically word for word to the ;etter I’d received.  Very rarely did she change anything, but it showed me how much each word meant to her and she wanted to be sure her words properly expressed what she was trying to convey. 

A few of my dad's letters.
Another binder holds 19 letters over a six week time span that my dad wrote to my mom while he was at trade school two months before they got married.  He missed her terribly and over the six weeks, poured out his heart and a young man’s desire for his beloved.  They are a tender reflection of the love and yes, passion that a child doesn’t often get to glimpse of their parents.  When I found the letters in an old hope chest I was storing for mom I sent them to her unread.  She sent them back and said she wanted me to have them and that maybe someday; they would be useful to craft into a story.  I still blush when I read my father’s writing, but am honored to be trusted with them and someday will do them justice. 

Years ago when Abram started college, I started writing him.  It’s nice to sit down and just chat away with pen and paper about how my day has been, what’s happening on the home front or share an idea I have for my writing.  So every few weeks, he gets a few pages of my thoughts and other odds and ends. And now that he’s out of college, the letters continue and probably will until I can’t write anymore.

I know the list of ways to communicate today - the internet and email and instant messaging and blogging and a handful of ways I don’t even know about I’m sure – is growing rapidly.  But for me, nothing counters the relaxation, intimacy and connection I derive from putting pen to paper. It’s basic. It’s black and white. And it’s lasting.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

KITCHENS (A-Z April Blog Challenge)

I wrote this poem 18 years ago.  I'm glad I shared it with my mom before she passed in 2009.

“The Kitchen”

I’m in the kitchen. Again.
This room with it’s
endless capacity.
To Create. To Comfort.
Provide Solace and Laughter.
Sustenance and Memories.

Is everyone’s life so
centered in their kitchen?
So deeply connected with the food
made here, the memories, so
much a part of their self?

In my mother’s kitchen,
I sat on a phone book, mesmerized
And the Paas continued in my kitchen!
by the Paas liquid rainbow
before me in the assortment of
jelly jars and glasses.
Thin metal holders barely balanced
the eggs as they were dipped and
laid on cooling racks to dry.

In December, Anise cut outs announced
the holiday season. They were rolled,
cut and decorated on the third-generation
cutting board that took up half
the kitchen table. Flour dusted the board,
covering wood darkened
with age and use. In my kitchen, I follow
the same recipe, yet they’re not quite the same.
my mother, the keeper of the board.

For years the kitchen was a place for late
night talks with mom over a bowl of
cereal before bed. Then we stopped.
I don’t know why.
Rarely now, but often enough, I find myself
alone, in the kitchen, having a bowl of cereal.
I wonder, does she ever do the same,
all these years later,
alone, in her kitchen?

I clean as I go in my kitchen. When four
steps by two take you the full perimeter,
it’s a necessity.
It’s calming to go from the mess
to the organized clean.
I wash the dishes, sponge fully lathered,
rinsing with steaming water so
hot it burns my fingertips. I was never the
washer in my mother’s kitchen. Older
sisters go the jobs of washing and putting away.
Today I leave my dishes in the
drainer to dry.

I show my son how to make one of my
childhood favorites, Filled Noodles.
Basic pasta dough from scratch,
rolled and cut into squares that accommodate
a handful of turkey stuffing.  Boiled in salted
water and served with piping cream of chicken soup.
He closes his eyes with the first bite,
quietly says, “a bit of heaven”.
My hear swells.

At age five he watches the
Frugal Gourmet with me. Father’s
Day is coming and he decides to
make the Bowtie Pasta dish
being made. I supervise the cutting
And the stove, but he
makes the recipe himself. He smiles
with pride as he calls Dad to the dinner table.
This is “his’recipe now and
a family tradition is born.
Some days, bagels double their size
on the countertop.
Boiled in sugar water, then baked
to produce a soft inside, surrounded
by a crunchy golden crust.

In fall and winter, breads rise in pans
and fill the house with an intoxicating

yeast aroma. The best ones resulting
when I knead out a worry on the dough.

Every few days baked goods of all kinds
find their way to the countertop. To friends.
To work. To a neighbors house. I care about you,
they whisper.

My husband, long accustomed to, but still
appreciative of meals of marinated balsamic
filet mignon, herb rice pilaf and crisp
garden salads.  He enjoys just as much,
a dinner of pancakes or tomato soup. 
A selection of
hundreds of recipes wait, cut and taped
onto notebook paper and sorted in a
three ring binder by sections.
Desserts warrant a binder all to themselves.
Both books wait, nestled between the
Cookbooks on the shelf.

So, I’m in the kitchen. Again.
Where to begin?

Yes, these are my scratch raisin bagels - YUM!