Thursday, January 1, 2015

My Christmas Hug

I received a hug for Christmas this year.  Technically, it’s an Irish Cable Pattern Pocket Shawl from Aran Crafts – Ireland.  But I don’t call it that.  I call it my Craig hug.  Craig is my oldest brother and we bookend the five children in my family with me being the youngest.  He was 11 years old when I was born and I've never stopped looking up to him.

We’re polar opposites in a lot of ways.  He’s an athlete and I am anything but.  He’s always been a risk taker while I've walked the safe pathway.  He’s a big, universe type of thinker whereas my thoughts are generally closer to home. 

What’s bridged that gap has been our talks and the honesty that’s always been between us.  I didn't really enjoy being a kid – always wanted to be older than I was and Craig recognized that and treated me that way.  He talked to me like an adult, about adult topics.  He always answered my questions, gave me a different point of view or just listened as I chattered away.  The greatest lesson he taught me is the difference between love and respect and that you always love your family, no matter what, but that respect…well, that’s something they earn.  He opened my eyes to the world of Thomas Covenant and the Hobbit and I’m sure I fell in love with reading in no small part to mimic his love of the same and my collection of quotes, no matter how large, will never rival his for sure. 

We haven’t lived together since he left home at 20 to join the service, but over the years he’s welcomed me to visit him wherever he called home, whether in Bradford, PA., Dunkirk, N.Y., or Harrisburg, PA.  Thirty plus years of my visits there and his visits home to Grand Island have always included some portion of alone time where we catch up, share confidences, advice and a good laugh or two. 

On one of those visits home a few years ago he shared he was in end stage renal failure.  It’s been an arduous few years for him as he’s progressed through some harrowing medical situations and thrice weekly hemodialysis.  There’s not a doctor who sees him that doesn't marvel at his tenacity and acknowledges he’s a walking medical miracle. 

When I opened the shawl on Christmas Eve, he said he could picture me wrapped in its warmth as I curled up on the couch with a book.  I love his thoughtfulness and as he often is, he was absolutely right and it's been a wonderful week of doing just that.  But the warmth goes further than he anticipated.  It goes to not only being wrapped in my shawl, but wrapped in the comfort, love and warmth of a Craig hug for life.   

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Weekend Writing Warriors

Weekend Writing Warriors promotes Snippet Sunday, when you post 8 sentences from a current writing project, published or unpublished.  The 8 sentences below are from the opening of my six year novel-in-progress, Creative Destruction.  Comments are most welcome.
The September chill crept into the car as I looked across the street at the house where the group sessions would be.  

I closed my eyes and saw the blue on a paint square.  I was familiar with those squares, the ones that lulled you into a false sense of potential as you stood among the palette of colors and dreamed that this color, among the hundreds available, was the one.  This blue never stood a chance, removed from the bright light of the store, slapped onto peeling shingles; it lost its promise to transform from the first brush stroke.  Peeled layers revealed a variety of blue shades, testament to the many attempts before.

“I need to be with a group of women who can say ‘I know what you mean’” I’d said.  

And this is where he’d sent me.   It was perfect.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

My Mom’s Best Gift

My mom’s been gone just a little over five years now.  A few days ago I put a CD in my computer   She plays. “Beautiful Days”; a song she learned at the tender age of 11.  Her long gray hair is pulled back in a ponytail and as she sways back and forth on the organ bench, her arms pull the bellows in and out as fingers fly over unseen black and white keys, a look of pure joy on her face.  It’s a mesmerizing sight. 
and in a moment, on my screen, is my mother as she sits in front of her Yamaha organ, in a pair of slacks and her signature white short sleeved blouse, accordion strapped to her chest.

It was February 28th, 2001 and she indulged me in my request to videotape her while she played the accordion and then the organ.  She wasn’t very comfortable about the idea of doing it, but went along with me anyway.   I was honest with her in my reasoning in that I’d listened to her play my whole life and couldn’t imagine that one day I’d never hear her play again. The tape was my insurance policy against that happening.

The day was cold and I’d gone to their house and set up my camcorder on the tripod in their living room.  We chatted for a while and had a bite to eat and a pot of tea.  It was a delightful afternoon. Afterwards, I played the video only once, to insure all had worked and then put it away.  I didn’t think to put it on a CD and share it with family members until after her death in 2009.    

When she started playing, her instructor first taught her the classics, telling her once she mastered those, she’d be able to play anything the rest of her life.  On the screen she moves now through those classics to popular favorites like “Harvest Moon.”  I’m back in elementary school, hearing the notes when I reach the end of the driveway after walking home from school.  Entering the kitchen from the back porch, I’d find her perched on the kitchen table edge, eyes closed, swaying to the music.  Again, that look of pure joy on her face.

I never tire of watching her.   She always played this large and cumbersome instrument with a measure of grace and lightness that defied reason.   The left hand playing chords as the right hand carries the melody.  Knowing she never learned to read music and that it’s all done by ear and memory only adds to her mystique. 

She flows into a song, mentioning it was her parent’s song.  When she’s done I ask her if she remembers the title and her voice breaks…“I Never Knew I Could Love Anybody Like I'm Loving You”, and then continues softly with the main verse…

“I never knew I could love anybody,
Honey, like I'm loving you;
I couldn't realize what a pair of eyes and a baby smile could do.
I can't sleep, I can't eat,
I never knew a single soul could be so sweet,
I never knew I could love anybody,
Honey, like I'm loving you.”

And in a moment, I remember my grandmother never referring to my grandfather as anything but her ‘Honey”, and it all comes together. 

The last song she plays on the accordion is my favorite, “Twilight Time.”  In hindsight, I think it may have been one of her favorites as well.

After a short break, she switches to the organ and the music I remember her playing most, at night, as I lay upstairs in my bed before I fell asleep begins.

Her back is to the recorder now as she flows through “I Get Misty”, “I Don’t Know Why I Love You Like I Do” and “Apple Blossom Time”.  I made a collage of family pictures to scroll as she plays – her and her parents, as a young girl with her brother, through her marriage and us kids growing up and her grandchildren.  It’s bittersweet to listen to her play this lovely background music as a slideshow plays of her life.  My favorite is her standing at a ledge at the Grand Canyon, a lifelong dream of hers and as beautiful as the canyon itself. 

I didn’t know that five short years after making this tape, she would have a traumatic brain injury.  For three years following until she passed, the music was gone as all her efforts were put into rebuilding other areas of her life and maneuvering her injury on a daily basis. 

I didn’t play the tape during those three years, instead waiting until after she passed for the time it was purposed for.  And a few days ago, as every time I play it, it serves the purpose.  Some days I just watch the screen and enjoy the sight and sound of her.  Other days I’ve just put it on while I was cleaning or writing, as background music.  I’ve even found myself walking towards the living room a time or two to request a song before I remember she’s not there.

My mom gave me a lot of gifts over my lifetime, but I've come to cherish that gift of her indulgence that cold February afternoon most of all.  Her music, the memories it holds for me and the joy it gives me each and every time I hear it.  

Monday, January 13, 2014

Who Am I?

Twenty six years ago, in 1988, I wrote/compiled a book for and about my family as a gift to them titled “Heart of One”.  I was 27 at the time, around half the age I am now.  The book was a blend of family history, stories and individual profiles of my parents and their five children. 

Just before the end of the book, I devoted a single page to each person, giving myself the freedom to mix what others had written and my impressions of them as well.  I picked a poem for each person I felt best described them.

I pull “Heart of One” out every now and then and read it.  I’m warmed by the memories it evokes and always a little surprised at how my feelings about stories and events evolve over the years.  I’m struck by both the clarity and obscured vision I had of my family members, and myself.

My page started with:

Her most precious possession was a magic box
that she kept hidden in a very secret place.
And whenever she wanted, she would unlock her magic box,
and out would fly all her favorite thoughts ~
Beautiful thoughts like the colors of a sunset
or the gentle flutter of a butterfly’s wings.

For 51 years, I've tended that magic box.  It holds all the slivered pieces of “Who I Am”.  Daughter, Sister, Friend, Wife, Mother, Gatekeeper and Writer.  I’m not the blindingly faithful (or naive) person I was then.  Now, when I ever so gently lift the lid (usually to engage in a writing piece) I don’t only see those favorite thoughts that mirror sunsets and butterflies.  I see a life balanced with joy and pain.  One that holds love and sorrow and surely more blessings than I deserve. 

A magic box indeed.  A place to safely cradle the pieces of who I am, the stories that got me there and the threads of where I’m headed.


This is in response to the “Who Am I” prompt from “The Blogging Lounge”.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Cheap and Relaxing Kicks Off 2014

Steven and I have a running joke that it doesn’t take much to amuse us.  We don’t mind splurging on ourselves once in a while, but generally cheap and relaxing is what we look for in activities with the main ingredient just being each other’s company.  I’ve been off the past two weeks – a gift of time when the Catholic University I work for is closed for Christmas/New Year’s and the addition of a few vacation days. 

It took me until I turned 50 to really enjoy sleeping in and taking naps!
It’s been blessedly low-key.  With Steve’s work schedule, we got a lovely mix of days and evenings together.  We slept in and took naps (a past time I’ve only recently come to appreciate in the past year or so); worked on a couple house projects and watched a few movies and TED talks with the new Google Chromecast he got us for Christmas.

It was also a reminder of just how much I enjoy our time in the kitchen.  I wouldn’t call us foodies, but we enjoy sharing our meals and have developed a smooth flow around the kitchen when we cook together.  Steve’s often inspired to combine foods that I would never think to (with delicious results!) and I love to cook a wide range from simple to elaborate meals.  We can easily entertain ourselves with a night of conversation over a good meal. 
Ours looked just like these from the website!

Steve mentioned he’d like to make a bunch of crock pot freezer meals for when I go back to work and our schedules get tight.  And in Team Morgan fashion, it became an adventure.  Friday we looked at the website, Mommy’s Fabulous Finds, reviewed the recipes, shopping list and headed to the store.  Yesterday afternoon we laid everything out on the counter, brought over Steve’s lap top and started the prep work.  In just a few hours, we chopped peppers, onions, garlic and meats, assembled and labeled the ten meals and cleaned up.  We had a ball and are already talking about ideas for the next batch of meals.

Like I said, it really doesn't take much to amuse us.  Long live cheap and relaxing!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2014 - Make It So

“Writing is not life, but I think that sometimes it can be a way back to life.”
     -Stephen King, On Writing

I’ve been silent on this blog for 158 days.  On the two year anniversary of “My Writing Corner” I admit that’s not a good thing.  However, in being true to its tagline of it being “A place to share my writing, the process of doing so and the part of me that it comes from”, I apologize for the silence and move forward into 2014 with a renewed commitment. 

Two years ago today I started out with the dream of beginning a blog, “ready to take the plunge and open myself up to sharing my writing…to hone my skills as a writer, dedicate myself to the craft of writing more and see where this adventure takes me.”

I had 67 posts in 2012 and found myself sharing not only my fiction, but surprisingly, different parts of my life as well.  It was an unbelievably productive writing time with the frosting on the cake being a published piece in Chicken Soup for the Soul: finding my faith. 

2013 began with a blog about my “growth as an artist as well as a writer” – heady stuff.  I started the year with I Should Be Writing BootCamp with Lisa Romeo (worth every penny, educational and inspiring!) I submitted a handful of pieces to different places and yes, received a couple rejections, but also had a My View published in the Buffalo News and an essay accepted on the “this I believe” website.  I wrote the 17th blog post for the year on July 27th and stopped.

I know from past experience that I don’t just stop writing for no reason.   And although there were numerous ones, in part, depression, like it or not, is part of where my writing comes from.  Sometimes I am able to write through it and other times, like the past five months, it numbs me and nothing makes the passage from my thoughts to the paper.   I’m fortunate to have good people in my life who help me through these times and thankfully, am starting 2014 from a better place. 

I am pleased that I did manage to write one piece in the past five months about a lesson learned from my mom, and got it submitted by the November deadline to Chicken Soup for the Soul for an upcoming book on traumatic brain injuries (I have not heard anything back yet.) 

I’m not sure what direction my writing will take this year, but feel ready for the glide of the pencil of paper and the tapping of my fingertips on the keyboard. It is with thanks to my husband Steven, son Abram, sister Darcey and longtime writing friend Elaine Kehoe of the blog, Tea Leaves for the love, guidance and gentle nudges that have helped make it so. 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Magical Mystery Date

I’ve dated the same man for thirty two years.  Some would say that’s remarkable for the staying power alone, but it’s not really.  You see, we’ve been married for thirty of those years.  That is the remarkable part. 

Last week at work, an appointment for this past Thursday popped up in my Outlook calendar.  The subject line read “Mystery Date.” The invite was from my husband.  My heart skipped a beat and I hit accept.  

“Mystery date?” I asked that evening over dinner.  He smiled, nodded his head.  “Hmm,” he murmured. The only other information I got out of him was “casual clothing, launch time 9:30 am”.
Our mystery dates have become a highlight in our gallery of dates.  Why still court each other? Because we’re not the same people who were friends for seven years before we began dating.  We’re not the same as when we got married, established our home, or raised our son. 
Over the years, dates have run the gamut from a simple drive around the island when Abe was a baby, to pizza dinners by the river, to author talks, a run through the car wash followed by a trip for ice cream, to classic car shows and to full-blown formal nights out for dinner and a concert.  The constant?  It’s just the two of us.

So what was Thursday’s Mystery Date?  One of the best EVER! We hit the road at 9:30, stopped for breakfast at a local diner and were on our way.  A relaxing hour and a half drive later along the water on Route 5 took us to our destination, the Chautauqua Institution.  You could easily spend a week or more there, but we made the most of our day trip. 

Steve picked out two events I fell in love with.  First, we enjoyed two of the seven finalists in the 18th Chautauqua Piano Competition Finals.   The young woman and gentleman we saw were stellar performers.  Their 25-minute solos provided two completely different styles in the pieces they chose.  We left them to have a bite to eat before heading over to the Hall of Philosophy, a huge outdoor Greek style pavilion to hear author Margaret Atwood speak on The Handmaid’s Tale.  She talked about her writing process and influences on the plot lines.  Topics ranged from the choice of dress for characters to the setting of a totalitarian society.  The couple hundred people gathered were enthralled with her stories and personal experiences.  For this writer (and Atwood fan), it was a huge treat.  

Why bother planning these for each other?  For the simplest of reasons.  It’s wonderful to plan something for the other that caters to an interest (like writing for me or classic cars for Steve).  Dates give us time to reconnect and center attention back on each other, away from jobs, commitments, family and hobbies.   Sometimes they’re just a whole lot of fun and laughter.  

The point is in taking the time to plan, to invite, to participate and appreciate.  Something I look forward to for many dates…and years, to come.