“You ask ‘What is life?’ That is the same as asking ‘What is a carrot?’ A carrot is a carrot and we know nothing more.” ~ Anton Chekhov, letter to his wife, Olga Knipper Chekhov (April 20, 1904)

"Moon Landscape" by Max Beckmann (1925)

“It is true when you are by yourself and you think about life, it is always sad. All that excitement and so on has a way of suddenly leaving you, and it’s as though, in the silence, somebody called your name, and you heard your name for the first time.” ~ Katherine Mansfield, from “At the Bay”

Tuesday, late afternoon. Sunny, hot and humid, pending thunderstorms.

So I relented and turned on the air conditioners. Hate doing that. My power bill hates me doing that, but it’s just too darned humid. Ah, the weather in Hampton Roads, formerly known as Tidewater. Old Norfolkians still refer to it as Tidewater.

Spring, spring, spring . . . SUMMER NOW . . . no wait, spring, spring . . .

I’m fairly certain that I just got a spider bite on my arm while I was outside clipping fresh Rosemary for the house. The mock orange is in bloom, and it makes a lovely spray with the Rosemary, not to mention it smells heavenly.

I’ve been wondering where Corey is, as in exactly where that ship is located in the Atlantic, as it’s been past the predicted time for him to arrive in Florida. Turns out the ship has been rerouted . . . to Norfolk. I wonder when he was going to tell me or if he was just planning to surprise me. I cannot tell you how happy this news makes me. I have a big, stupid grin on my face at the moment, and I think that my face might crack from this rare facial gesture.

Ah, well.

Oh magical text update: The ship tied up at the Norfolk yard this morning. Sneaky bugger.

Ooh, more magical text updates. He’s home until Friday!

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“The universe is in us.” ~ Neil DeGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist

In an interview with Time magazine, astrophysicist Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson was asked the following question: “What is the most astounding fact you can share with us about the Universe?” Here is his answer.

“There are two easy ways to die in the desert: thirst or drowning.” ~ Craig Childs, The Secret Knowledge of Water

Banned Books Week Banner by DML East Branch

                   

“Because we cannot fly we are condemned to do things that do not agree with us. Because we have no wings we are pushed into struggles and abominations which we did not seek, and then, after that, the years go by, the mountains are leveled, the valleys rise, the rivers are blocked by the sand and the cliffs fall into the sea.” ~ Louis de Bernières, from Birds Without Wings 

Saturday afternoon. Cool and cloudy, low 60’s. Smells like fall.

Banned Books Week (Last Week of September)

Now Corey is sick. Whatever it is, it has pretty much made the rounds in the house. Brett and Corey seem to have gotten the worse of it—the body aches, the hurting chest.

Another bad night with very strange dreams, something about being a participant in “Project Runway,” even though I don’t sew, taking care of someone else’s baby, but with not enough diapers, and a massive asthma attack in my dream that turned into a real attack and had me fumbling for my inhaler in a half-sleep state. It’s always disconcerting when something happens in a dream that carries over into real life, for me, it’s almost always a headache that starts in a dream and then wakes me because of the pain. Very rarely is it my asthma.

Even though everyone is home today except for Eamonn, the house is very quiet. Since I began this post, the clouds have passed, and the sky is blue with just a few clouds. You see, I took a break between paragraphs to go wash the dishes, so enough time has passed for the weather to change. Still lovely and cool, though.

“Every journey is played out between standstill and flight.” ~ Claudio Magris, Danube: A Sentimental Journey from the Source to the Black Sea

Etta James is singing “At Last” in the background. Such a wonderful song. Such a strong, sultry voice. Love those old torch songs.

It still slays me to think that the women of color of that era had to go in the back door and could not even frequent the nightclubs in which they performed. I suppose that it was okay to listen to them just as long as they weren’t treated like real human beings.

Supposed civilized societies . . .

Tonight is the season finale of “Doctor Who,” series 6. Supposedly, we are going to have answers to questions that were raised in “The Impossible Astronaut” episode. Right. Moffat never explains everything; something is always held back.

I’m still trying to cope with the concept that no new Who episodes, save for the Christmas special, will be aired for a year. That’s just not right, to draw in people, get their undying devotion, and then leave them hanging for a year. Who does that?

Steven Moffat, that’s who.

Yes, I know. My Whovian obsession is quirky, but it brings me pleasure, so in the grand scheme of things, it’s important, at least for now.

“We do not find our own center; it finds us. Our own mind will not be able to figure it out.” ~ Richard Rohr, from “Everything Belongs”

So I’ve been thinking about things, you know, little things. Like life.

  • Death.
  • Money.
  • Wall Street.
  • Books.
  • Writing.
  • Reading.
  • Children.
  • Parents.
  • Blogs.
  • Body image.
  • Aging.
  • Republicans.
  • Democrats.
  • Liars.
  • Alchemy.
  • Peanut butter.
  • Physicians.
  • Censorship.

Strange list, no? Bear with me as I attempt to elucidate . . .

Life, death, money: The relative from whom we borrowed the money for the mortgage is the son of someone I called uncle my whole life. This man was a very important fixture in my life, and he died one year after my father. I still dream of him, that’s what a fixture he and his family have been in my life. When I was young, I babysat his five children during the summer.  I attended almost all of his children’s weddings, and have been to baby showers for their children.

Children, parents: This week, Ann packed up her mother’s home because her father is putting it on the market. We had to pick up the crib and cradle that I’ve had in storage in her attic for years. I’ve saved the crib all of these years for Alexis. When I told her that we had to move the crib and asked her if it could go into her storage unit, she informed me quite matter-of-factly that she did not want the crib. You could have knocked me over as I was so astounded by her complete disinterest.

Wall Street, liars: I read an interesting comment directed to the protestors in New York. It suggested that they all wear polo shirts and khakis when they protest, and you know, that makes complete sense. If the protestors look like young Republicans, then the country will be horrified that they are being sprayed in the face with pepper spray. As long as these protestors look like throw-back hippies, no one cares what happens to them. Witness the complete lack of coverage by the mainstream media. Polo shirts + khakis = pseudo respectability. Unfortunately, true.

Republicans, Democrats: I also read a blip that said during one of his recent speeches, President Obama referenced the Bible story about Meshach,  Shadrach, and Abednego, the devout guys who were supposed to be burned alive but who survived because Jesus was with them in the fire. I love this particular story mostly because I love the names of the men, very cool names. But what is interesting is that Obama frequently makes biblical  references in his speeches, but he’s still referred to as a heathen, called a Muslim as if it’s a horrendous thing. He cannot win. Whatever.

“A word is not the same with one writer as with another. One tears it from his guts. The other pulls it out of his overcoat pocket.” ~ Charles Péguy

Blogs, writing: I also read an article that said that tumblr is one of the fastest-growing social mediums because of what it does: it allows users to present stream of consciousness postings, as opposed to long posts (as in WordPress), or keep track of friends (as in Facebook), or limits the number of characters (as in Twitter). Apparently, tumblr’s retention rate—that is the number of people who sign up and then actually actively use the site—is higher than any of the other sites. I can understand this, but it made me wonder if the whole idea of blogs is becoming passé, and if this is true, what does that mean for me?

Books, reading: Then there was the quote that said something along the lines that failed writers make the best publishers because they recognize good writing. It made me pause. Is that why I got a degree in publishing, because I consider myself to be a failed writer? Probably.

Peanut butter, body image, aging: I’ve been craving peanut butter a lot lately. I have no idea why. I know that the protein is good for me, but the fat is bad for me. And yesterday in the car, somehow Brett and Em started talking about plastic surgery and how it looks terrible, and I thought about how I declared years ago that I would never get plastic surgery, and I still would never get a face lift because the results are just weird, but I would have my neck and arms tightened, and I would love to melt the fat in my belly. And none of this is ever going to happen because it’s a waste of money.

“There is a pain so utter
It swallows Being up.
Then covers the abyss with trance,
So memory can step
Around, across, upon it.” ~ Emily Dickinson

Physicians, alchemy: Thursday, I received a telephone call from the neurologist’s office; it was the nurse that I’ve been going back and forth on regarding getting botox shots for my migraines. She told me this time that she’s having a hard time getting approval for the shots because there is nothing in my file about having migraines that last longer than four hours or for 15 days out of the month. I got pissed. I told her that that was the whole reason that I was seeing a neurologist as my pain management doctor for my migraines, who I had been seeing since 2003, could no longer do anything to help with my headaches, and he was the one who sent me to them. I also reminded her that during my first visit, I signed a release form for the neurologist’s office to get my files from the pain management people.

She was a real bitch and incredibly snotty. I don’t know why this woman is fighting me. I’ve never even met her. She said something along the lines of, “so you are refusing to come in and see Dr. R.” I said, no, I’m not refusing to do that, but Dr. R is the one who told me that she couldn’t do anything for me and told me to see her partner for the shots, so what is the point. Then she called me back and said that Dr. R wanted to know if I’ve ever had a migraine that has lasted longer than four hours. I said, “I’ve had a migraine that lasted for three weeks.” She said, and this is verbatim, “So that’s a yes?”

Did I have a mouthful of marbles when I was talking? If a migraine lasts for three weeks, isn’t that indicative that it lasted longer than four hours? In the middle ages, medical treatment was sometimes handled by alchemists, those people who claimed that they could change the chemical properties of things, such as lead into gold. My feeling is that at this point, I would be better served by an alchemist.

My life is  Dr. Seuss book.

“It is inner luxury, of golden figures
that breathe like mountains do

            and whose skin is made dusky by stars.” ~ Joanne Kyger, from “September”

So that’s what I’ve been thinking about, what this mind of mine has been pondering.

Of course, there are many other things, like the fact that my dogs think that peanut butter is doggie crack, or that I really, really wish that I could take a long, hot bath, but the hole in my bathtub makes that impossible.

As soon as the temperature outside dips into the 60’s,  my spirit is ready for hot baths. Ah well. At least there is running water, which is more than what a majority of the world’s population has access to, right?

Oh. One last thing.

Censorship: In honor of the last day of Banned Books Week, I’ll close with the following passage by Aldous Huxley, an author whose novel Brave New World (1932) is perpetually selected to be banned by those who cannot abide thinking that goes beyond what their tiny little minds comprehend:

“It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them . . . Lightly, lightly . . . When it comes to dying even. Nothing ponderous, or portentous, or emphatic. No rhetoric, no tremolos, no self conscious persona putting on its celebrated imitation of Christ or Little Nell. And of course, no theology, no metaphysics. Just the fact of dying and the fact of the clear light. So throw away your baggage and go forward. There are quicksands all about you, sucking at your feet, trying to suck you down into fear and self-pity and despair. That’s why you must walk so lightly. Lightly my darling, on tiptoes and no luggage, not even a sponge bag, completely unencumbered.”

~ Aldous Huxley, Island

Music by the Eagles, “Wasted Time”


                   

You Can’t Have It All

But you can have the fig tree and its fat leaves like clown hands
gloved with green. You can have the touch of a single eleven-year-old finger
on your cheek, waking you at one a.m. to say the hamster is back.
You can have the purr of the cat and the soulful look
of the black dog, the look that says, If I could I would bite
every sorrow until it fled, and when it is August,
you can have it August and abundantly so. You can have love,
though often it will be mysterious, like the white foam
that bubbles up at the top of the bean pot over the red kidneys
until you realize foam’s twin is blood.
You can have the skin at the center between a man’s legs,
so solid, so doll-like. You can have the life of the mind,
glowing occasionally in priestly vestments, never admitting pettiness,
never stooping to bribe the sullen guard who’ll tell you
all roads narrow at the border.
You can speak a foreign language, sometimes,
and it can mean something. You can visit the marker on the grave
where your father wept openly. You can’t bring back the dead,
but you can have the words forgive and forget hold hands
as if they meant to spend a lifetime together. And you can be grateful
for makeup, the way it kisses your face, half spice, half amnesia, grateful
for Mozart, his many notes racing one another towards joy, for towels
sucking up the drops on your clean skin, and for deeper thirsts,
for passion fruit, for saliva. You can have the dream,
the dream of Egypt, the horses of Egypt and you riding in the hot sand.
You can have your grandfather sitting on the side of your bed,
at least for a while, you can have clouds and letters, the leaping
of distances, and Indian food with yellow sauce like sunrise.
You can’t count on grace to pick you out of a crowd
but here is your friend to teach you how to high jump,
how to throw yourself over the bar, backwards,
until you learn about love, about sweet surrender,
and here are periwinkles, buses that kneel, farms in the mind
as real as Africa. And when adulthood fails you,
you can still summon the memory of the black swan on the pond
of your childhood, the rye bread with peanut butter and bananas
your grandmother gave you while the rest of the family slept.
There is the voice you can still summon at will, like your mother’s,
it will always whisper, you can’t have it all,
but there is this.

~ Barbara Ras

“Everything is as it is means this: We undergo all kinds of difficult and painful practices. We travel to all kinds of places and discover that we didn’t have to do a thing, that things are as they are. Everything is as it is after we’ve broken our bones trying everything.” ~ Ichitaro

Follow the Wisteria Line, by Marisa DL at pbase.com

                   

“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.” ~ Louise Erdrich

Vines on Yellow by Greg Hefner (FCC)

Tuesday afternoon. Hazy, hot, and humid. Thunderstorms predicted.

I slept fitfully last night. At first I couldn’t fall asleep (I’ve been out of my Seroquel for about a week), and then when I finally fell asleep, I woke up every few minutes scratching myself. I had broken out into some kind of rash/hives thingy. I tried everything: lotion, Benadryl, hydrocortisone cream, baby powder . . . Finally, around 8 a.m. I got up and took a shower. Thankfully, I still had a bit of Aveeno calming body scrub. After the shower, I felt marginally better, but I was still itching.

Four Benadryl later . . . I finally fell asleep for two consecutive hours around 11:30. Needless to say, I am wiped out and still a bit itchy, especially on my back (of course).

The only thing that I can think of that may have caused all of the itching is the fish stew that Corey made for dinner last night. It had clam juice in it. I have never had a reaction to shellfish before, and I love steamed and fried clams, but maybe the concentrated clam juice was just too much. I haven’t eaten anything else out of the ordinary, am not using new detergent or body wash, so that only leaves the stew, which is too bad as it was quite tasty.

So I thought that I would try to write a bit before going back to bed. Corey has gone to TCC campus to fill out more paperwork for a Pell Grant for summer classes. We’re keeping our collective fingers crossed that he can get some funds for summer. We’ve already done the FAFSA for the 2011-2012 academic year.

“Life is made up of moments, small pieces of glittering mica in a long stretch of gray cement. It would be wonderful if they came to us unsummoned, but particularly in lives as busy as the ones most of us lead now, that won’t happen. We have to teach ourselves how to make room for them, to love them, and to live, really live.” ~ Anna Quindlen, from A Short Guide to a Happy Life

Cottage with Vines in Grimaud, France, by mhodl (FCC)

I spent most of yesterday catching up on my paperwork. I needed to fill out an IRS form claiming “Injured Spouse” status to see if we can get back some of the money that the IRS took from our refund. Apparently, if the debt for which the money was taken is not a joint debt, the other person can claim this status and appeal the seizure of funds. We’ll see what happens. It would be nice to get some of that refund money back so that we can buy a new back door. Of course, we have to wait eight to twelve weeks . . .

I also wrote a very long letter to the owner/president of the local Ford dealership that has been giving us the run around on the Windstar buy-back. I thought that I would try one more avenue before contacting the local media station that has a special consumer help department. No business wants to end up featured on that spot.

Then there was all of the tuition assistance/special circumstances paperwork for the males in the family: Corey, Eamonn, and Brett. I had to fill out forms and complete worksheets to show that we qualify for more grant money if it is available. Of course, all kinds of attachments were required, and I had to do some hunting to get everything together. Being able to apply for special circumstances because I am on total disability is one of the few positive things about being disabled.

I rescheduled a doctor’s appointment that I missed last Monday and finally made an appointment to have my breasts smashed with my requisite mammogram. This Thursday, I have an appointment with the neurologist to get a lumbar puncture. I am really not looking forward to this, but she feels that it’s a necessary test to determine if I have a fungus which might be causing headaches.

I also had to process a return to Avon. The whole Avon thing is not really working out, so I’ll probably give it up soon. The only people who are ordering are me and me and me. But other than that, I must say that I felt a real sense of accomplishment by last night, which is sad really, as I would have been able to do all of those things in an hour at one point in my life.

“I could feel the day offering itself to me,
and I wanted nothing more  than
to be in the moment—but which moment?
Not that one, or that one, or that one.” ~ Billy Collins

Wisteria on Arbor

Corey and I watched a truly terrible movie last night: The Tomb. The preview looked promising, and the movie was from Australia, so I thought that it might be a good scary movie for us. Turns out, not so much. By the end of it, I was yelling at the television, which is never a good sign. You know when the characters are just so blatantly stupid, when they simply cannot get a clue? Yep. That kind of plot.

In other news . . . Corey’s garden is growing like gangbusters. We’re going to have huge sunflowers again this year, and with luck, the tomatoes and other vegetables will hang in for a good harvest. Of course, it’s getting hotter than blazes here, and even though it looks like it might rain, it usually does not.

The living room is quite stuffy as the big air conditioning unit died at the end of last year, and we have yet to replace it. The bedrooms stay fairly comfortable, though. I find that I am very much like the dogs: I either want to be in the pool (which is not yet ready for people, only Tillie), or in the cool dark of the bedrooms. Shakes, in particular, hates the heat as it exacerbates his canine dermatitis.

Oh well . . .

“Remember yourself, from the days when you were younger and rougher and wilder, more scrawl than straight line. Remember all of yourself, the flaws and faults as well as the many strengths.” ~ Anna Quindlen

Hampton Court Palace Gardens, Richmond Upon Thames, England

I have a bit of a confession: I am leaving the house less and less. Now that Brett’s school year is over, I really don’t have any reason to go out, other than doctors’ appointments. I know that being this housebound is not healthy for me, but truthfully, it doesn’t really bother me. What does bother me if going out in public in my current state, which is my highest weight ever.

For someone who doesn’t eat that much (and I really don’t), I just cannot seem to lose weight. A typical day usually includes two cups of coffee (half decaf/half caff), one glass of Pepsi (decaf), a bottle of diet green tea, a cup of herbal tea after dinner, a fiber bar or a sandwich thin (100 calories) with peanut butter, no jelly, dinner, and maybe some gummi bears or a couple of Riesen, and an orange if we have any. I use Splenda in place of sugar almost exclusively.

Does that seem like a lot? It doesn’t to me, but my metabolism is so warped that I just don’t seem to burn calories. I know—I’m not getting any exercise, but it’s that whole vicious circle thing in that I would feel better if I exercised, but I don’t feel well enough to exercise.

Being overweight preys on my mind far too much, but I simply cannot help it. I have such a warped body image, and I stand in front of the mirror and notice only flaws: flabby arms, a big belly, my double chins. I am dreading going to Chad’s wedding as I don’t want anyone to see me like this. Corey’s mom once told me that from the way I talk, I make it seem that I am huge. I’m not huge comparatively, and I know that, but I am huge for me.

Therein lies the rub.

So I stay at home and depress myself. Perhaps I’ll go cut my hair. That always seems to distract me. Thunderstorm is here, so I should probably stop so that the computer doesn’t get fried.

More later. Peace.

Music by A Fine Frenzy, “Whisper”

                   

To This May

They know so much more now about
the heart we are told but the world
still seems to come one at a time
one day one year one season and here
it is spring once more with its birds
nesting in the holes in the walls
its morning finding the first time
its light pretending not to move
always beginning as it goes

~ W. S. Merwin

                   

All quotes taken from Whiskey River

“We shall find peace. We shall hear angels. We shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds.” ~ Anton Chekhov

Marine White Gloves, Sand from Iwo Jima and a Red Rose Atop the Casket of Lt. James Cathy, image by Todd Heisler, Pulitzer Prize-winning Photographer 

“Give me love, give me peace on earth, give me light, give me life, keep me free from birth, give me hope, help me cope, with this heavy load, trying to, touch and reach you with, heart and soul” ~ George Harrison

Well, it’s been over a week since I last blogged, except for my brief Christmas message. In that time so much has happened. I’ll get to the saga of our most recent trip to Ohio in a different post, but today, I wanted to share something with you that happened this morning: 

I was on my way to the bank, and Eamonn was in the car with me. Normally, I cut through a small neighborhood to get to the bank; it’s an old neighborhood, full of smaller houses. I was driving slower as I do on neighborhood streets when I noticed a marine in full dress uniform knocking on a door. Two other marines were sitting in a car parked in front of the house. 

When I saw that young marine, my heart completely sank. I knew what was about to happen. I have seen this scene in countless movies, but never in person. I explained to Eamonn what was about to happen: The day after Christmas a family was going to be notified that someone they loved had been killed. I explained to Eamonn that notifications are always done by someone official. 

The marine on the porch paused to watch us drive past; he was young, and his face was momentarily filled with anguish, and then the façade reappeared just as quickly as it had faded. 

“The real differences around the world today are not between Jews and Arabs; Protestants and Catholics; Muslims, Croats, and Serbs.  The real differences are between those who embrace peace and those who would destroy it; between those who look to the future and those who cling to the past; between those who open their arms and those who are determined to clench their fists.” ~ William J. Clinton

I cannot tell you that I know how the family that received that notification feels because I cannot. Yes, I have known death, have watched it come, have held it, but I have never faced the death of a loved one in the military, of someone who has been killed in conflict by whatever means. Someone who was close to me has faced the horror of the knock on the door, and the pain that I felt for her was miniscule in comparison to what she felt, still feels to this day. 

But after this morning’s moment of great sadness I felt great anger, incredible indignation at what had brought this man to this family’s door. I am not naive enough to believe that we will ever truly have peace on earth. As long as human beings inhabit this planet, there will be war, conflict, evil. There is something within our species that is never content, something that always wants more—whether it be more land, more oil, more power. No matter how much millions of us clamor for it, rally for it, cry for it, there will never be lasting peace. Humanity is not capable of it. 

Don’t misunderstand. I am not saying that human beings are inherently evil or bad or malicious. I choose to believe the opposite. But I know that to erase intolerance of other religions, other races, other tribes, other beliefs, to do this is an impossibility because people with intolerance and hatred in their hearts will always exist. People with evil in their souls will always stake claims over the lives of others. This is life. This is the life that we have created over thousands of years, the life that we have accepted, will continue to accept. 

Kindness and generosity should rule, but they do not. Empathy and tolerance should be the way of the world, but it is not. And so, in spite of my great desire—a desire that is shared all over the world—not to send sons and daughters, mother and fathers, brothers and sisters to war, we will continue to do so, and families will continue to receive heart-wrenching news from someone whose unenviable duty it is to carry this message to their doorsteps. 

“The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.” ~ Black Elk

Pulitzer Prize-winning Image of CACO Major Steve Beck, 2005, by Todd Heisler of Rocky Mountain News

I must pause here to acknowledge the marine CACO (Casualty Assistance Call Officer). Notifying a military family of the death of a family member must take immeasurable strength and courage of a different kind. I know that these men and women undergo rigorous training for their jobs, which includes notification, family support and assistance, as well as escort. Being a CACO becomes the primary duty of the service man or woman, and it must be a job fraught with emotional turmoil. 

I don’t think that the memory of the marine’s face will ever completely fade from my memory. If I am to retain my humanity, I pray that it does not 

However, if I am to be completely honest, I must admit that something deep within me was incredibly thankful that Eamonn was with me; perhaps he, too, will remember that moment and understand it for what all that it was: the fragility of life, the real consequences of war, the need for compassion, the ineffable sadness of loss. 

Witness creates impression in a way that all of the words spoken cannot. A hard lesson for the holidays. 

“Namaste. I honour the place in you where the entire universe resides . . . a place of light, of love, of truth, of peace, of wisdom. I honour the place in you where when you are in that place and I am in that place there is only one of us.” ~ Mohandas K. Ghandi

 More later. Peace. 

“Happy Xmas (War is Over),” by John Lennon with incredible images. 

  

 

  

For more information about CACOs and their relationships with military families, see the excellent book Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives, by Jim Sheeler. Click here for The New York Times book review.

“There is a wonderful mythical law of nature that the three things we crave most in life—happiness, freedom, and peace of mind—are always attained by giving them to someone else.” ~ Peyton Conway March

Paul Gauguin’s “Snow Rue Carcel” (1883, oil on canvas)

 

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” ~ Winston Churchill

Corey and I have spent the afternoon cleaning, trying to get the house somewhat straightened up so that we can put up the Christmas tree. I love my dogs, as you have heard me say many times, but the dog hair . . . I think that I could make another dog out of the hair that the three of them shed.

Paul Gauguin's "Snow at Vaugirard II" (1879, oil on canvas): This painting and the one above remind me of Monet's "Magpie")

Needless to say, I am wheezing, and Corey is sneezing. One of the wonderful effects of raising any kind of dust in this house.

Eamonn came by today, only to moan about how life is so terrible because his cell phone isn’t working, and the XBox stopped working. I have come to think of Eamonn as my personal source of comic relief. Would that the only things wrong in my life were a gaming system that has gone on the fritz and having no cell phone. I love eldest son dearly, but he really has no clue as to what life is about. I know. That is largely my fault.

I will be the first to admit that Corey and I have spoiled the kids. Up until the last two years, they all got pretty much anything that they wanted (within reason). By that I mean cell phones, games, gas money. So the last two years have been culture shock for them, not that it has harmed them in any way. I do have to say that I have always held steadfast to my basic principles in that I never pay full price for anything; clothes do not have to have a designer label, and big presents are reserved for Christmas and birthdays.

We have all learned how to do without, and it has probably helped to make us more appreciative of what we do have. I just wish that Eamonn were a bit more in tune with the fact that there really isn’t a money tree in the backyard.

Anyway . . .

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” ~ Mother Theresa

Corey’s parents have come through for us again. They have agreed to pay the electric bill with the understanding that we will pay them back as soon as possible. Have I mentioned lately how absolutely wonderful they have been in supporting us? I hate that we have to ask them as there is that issue of pride and the feeling (on our part) that we should be able to take care of things on our own, but as his mother reminds me, we are family, and they are happy to help when they can.

Once Corey finally starts to get a regular paycheck we will have to make a concerted effort to start to pay them back for some of the things that they have done. No one on either side of the family is rich or even well-to-do, so it’s not as if anyone has disposable income. That’s the part that has me feeling so guilty.

One thing that his mother did for us was to order a care package from Angel Food Ministries. I had meant to write about this wonderful organization before now, but just hadn’t gotten to it yet.

Angel Food Ministries was founded in 1994 by Joe and Linda Wingo of Georgia. The Wingos formed the organization to help provide food for friends and neighbors who were struggling financially. The program currently helps almost half a million families who are unemployed, living on a fixed income, or suffering financial hardships.  Actually, there are no prequalifiers to participate in the program, and there is no purchase limit. The service provided by this organization is invaluable.

A medium-sized box, which costs $30, has a retail value of approximately $60. Participants order from a monthly selection that includes fresh, frozen, and packaged food, including meat (beef, chicken, sausages), fresh fruit and vegetables, and other staples. The food is not seconds, such as past due bread, as all food is purchased via agreements with vendors and producers. The selection changes monthly, and specialty boxes are also available. These include meat packages, for example 10 pounds of chicken cuts for $20.

Each month participants submit their orders to their host site (orders can also be placed online). Hampton Roads has 15 host sites, with four in Norfolk alone. The orders are submitted to the main office in Monroe, Georgia by the deadline. About a week later, orders are delivered to host sites, or host sites go to the main Angel Food Ministries site to pick up orders.  On a designated date, individuals pick up their orders from their host site.

It’s a very efficient system that yields so much value for the money. The program even participates in the food stamp system so as to serve better families in need. Angel Food Ministries, which is non-profit and non-denominational, currently exists in 35 states. Corey and I have decided that once we are back on our feet, we are going to support this organization. We know all too well that we would not have survived these past two years without the generosity of those who care about us. It will be wonderful to be able to give some of that back.

If you know of a family in need, or a senior citizen who may have problems making regular trips to the grocery store, or if your own family is on a fixed income and is having problems with making the food budget stretch, please consider using this very worthwhile organization. Their toll free number is 1-877-366-3646, and their e-mail address is angelfood@angelfoodministries.com. Or, click on the link above to visit their site.

“It is every man’s obligation to put back into the world at least the equivalent of what he takes out of it.” ~ Albert Einstein

I remember one time when we were driving back from Ohio when the boys were much younger: We rode through Washington, D.C. (I don’t remember the reason why). It was winter and bone-chillingly cold outside. We drove around the area of  The Smithsonian, and I remember being dismayed by the number of homeless individuals who were sleeping over the subway grates. We told the boys that these people had no homes, no warm place to lay their heads, nothing in the world but what they carried.

I remember how sad both boys were at coming face-to-face with the cruel reality of homelessness. Of course there are homeless people in Norfolk, just not in the suburbs where we live. It’s not so obvious. I wanted to boys to see that homelessness had a face, that it wasn’t some abstract concept. 

Homelessness is the veteran whose mind has been torn apart by what he or she has seen. Homelessness is the senior citizen without a family, left to live at the mercy of the elements. Homelessness is the family that is living in the car that once served as a source of transportation. Estimates are that 1 in 50 children in the U.S. are homeless. That’s the face of homelessness.

I never want my children to become so inured to the plight of others that they no longer see faces, no longer feel a pang when they encounter someone in need. I hope that I have raised them to be caring adults.

During this time, one of my biggest fears has been losing the house. It’s not grand, but it’s home. The reality is that if we lost the house, we would not be homeless, we would have some place to stay.  And in spite of my complaints, I never lose sight of the fact that someone’s child is going to go to sleep hungry and cold tonight. Man’s inhumanity to man is without a doubt the worst scourge on the face of this earth.

“If you wish to experience peace, provide peace for another.” ~ Tenzin Gyatso, The 14th Dalai Lama

I’ll close with this poem that I found on Crashingly Beautiful:

The Thing Is

The thing is
to love life
to love it even when you have no
stomach for it, when everything you’ve held
dear crumbles like burnt paper in your hands
and your throat is filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you so heavily
it’s like heat, tropical, moist
thickening the air so it’s heavy like water
more fit for gills than lungs.
When grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, and obesity of grief.
How long can a body withstand this? you think,
and yet you hold life like a face between your palms,
a plain face, with no charming smile
or twinkle in her eye,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.

~ Ellen Bassboth

More later. Peace.

Ben Folds Five, “Magic” (Corey loves this song)

“Whatever you are, be a good one.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

 The journey is more important than the inn

Photograph by L. Liwag

“What you are comes to you.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

“I am returning this otherwise good typing paper to you because someone has printed gibberish all over it and put your name at the top.” ~ Unknown English Professor, Ohio University

Well, eldest son did it. He walked up there and took his diploma, and the school Superintendent pronounced them graduates. The ceremony was a fast-paced deal that lasted only an hour and a half, as compared to my daughter’s graduation which seemed to go on and on and on. The venue was good too, open, roomy, not squooshed up against the person you are sitting against, so I had no claustrophobia problems.

Aside from immediate family, his cousin who is graduating tomorrow came, as did his friends since childhood, Gordon and Tailor. I made Eamonn stand for pictures with everyone, and he was actually pretty gracious about it.

The only downside was when I was trying to move up a row (because of course every seat in the row that I selected was being saved), and I scraped my thigh on the arm of the end seat. I have a nice, big black and blue spot on my leg, but I don’t plan to enter any hot legs contests anytime soon.

As far as people being overly rowdy and loud, it wasn’t too bad. The school’s principal had already made a few announcements prior to the start of the ceremony in which she said that if the noise became too loud, she would step back and stop handing out diplomas, and she kept her word. Twice she stopped the procession until the crowd calmed down.

It’s such a shame that she had to make the announcement in the first place, and that she had to follow through with it, in the second place.

“What is the most important thing one learns in school? Self-esteem, support, and friendship.” ~ Terry Tempest Williams

The Road Less TraveledI always like to choose a fitting quote to go into almost every card that I give, and I found a really good one on Goodreads. The quote is by writer Neil Gaiman:

“I’ve been making a list of all of the things they don’t teach you at school. They don’t teach you how to love somebody. They don’t teach you how to be famous. They don’t teach you how to be rich or how to be poor. They don’t teach you how to walk away from someone you don’t love any longer. They don’t teach you how to know what’s going on in someone else’s mind. They don’t teach you what to say to someone who is dying. They don’t teach you anything worth knowing.”

The reason that I like this quote so much is because it is essentially true. What do we take away from high school? How to conjugate a verb in French? How to find the square root of an isosceles triangle? What the Monroe Doctrine was?

If you remember this kind of information, you probably do really well at Trivial Pursuit and/or you have gone on to become a teacher. But what is my son taking away from high school?

A group of friends who have stood by him during the worst times of his life (so far) and the best times of his life (again, so far). Memories of some really great times that he would prefer his mother never finds out about, and more than a few regrets that he didn’t follow through on a few things (track, football).

He is also taking with him the following lessons:

  • Mom knows if you are lying if you giggle too much
  • It’s hard to explain why you were absent from a particular class if your mom dropped you off at school that morning.
  • The school is serious when they say they will confiscate cell phones
  • You cannot make the team if you never go to practice
  • Yes, you have a deceptively charming smile, but that smile only works with some teachers, probably females
  • Mom was right when she told you that you really would survive the second breakup with your first serious love
  • Girls do talk to each other, so it’s probably not a good idea to date friends no matter how hot they are
  • Asking your mom to type your paper that is due the next day at 9 the evening before does not put her in a good mood
  • It takes money to put gas in the Trooper, and it’s probably a good idea to check the oil sometimes
  • Your mother knows when you have been smoking in her car, even if you leave the windows down all night

“High school: Oh man. This is where boys and girls go from tweens to teens and become complicated and cruel. Girls play sick mind games; boys try to pull each other’s penises off and throw them in the bushes.” ~ Eugene Mirman

Zen leapOkay, those are the fluffy lessons, so to speak. But he also learned some really hard lessons, like how much it hurts when your first love breaks your heart. And how hard it is to keep your word if you never meant it in the first place. Or how someone who claims to be a friend can stab you in the back without breaking a sweat. And how your parents can become real hardasses over things like curfews, and grades, and conduct notices, even though you don’t really understand what the big deal is.

I think that it is profoundly unfair that you first discover love at a time when you least know yourself in life. How is a teenager supposed to cope with all of the drama and accusations and breaking up one day only to make up the next day? How are they supposed to handle all of this angst and study for calculus too?

Frankly, when I put things in perspective, it’s no wonder that 11th grade becomes the make or break year for so many people. The pressure from their teachers is incredible because they are pushing students to think about college, and they are trying to cram as much information as possible into a brain that is essentially a sponge: and while a sponge can absorb a great deal, it also lets a whole lot seep out.

The pressure from worried parents intensifies in their junior year because there is college to think about, and if not that, then how have they prepared for a trade? And aren’t they spending too much time on the phone, and shouldn’t there be limits on the computer?

And the poor teenager is thinking “God, I wish that I could talk on the phone in peace, and I really don’t think that chemistry is going to make or break my career, and I’m responsible enough to stay out until midnight on a school night.”

And then comes the summer before senior year, and everything changes. By October, your senior is already thinking about graduation and getting an apartment, and you are wondering where all of the years went and praying that nothing goes horribly wrong in the next seven months.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain

Eamonn made us tremendously proud today, but I have to admit that there were times when I wasn’t sure that he would make it. There were moments when it seemed that there was nothing more than Pooh fluff in his brain, and there were many nights when I would get anxious about his state of mind and just how much he was in control of himself when he wasn’t under guard at home.

But I really believe that the senior year is more for parents than it is for their teenagers. It’s nine months in which you can begin to accept the fact that you son or daughter isn’t 7 any more, that you are not the most important part of their world, and that they are thinking about life without you.

Starry skiesIt’s a hard reality to face, and if you are anything like me, you don’t accept it gracefully. Even as your man-child or woman-child is thinking of new paths of discovery and a brand new chapter in life, you are reconciling yourself to fate and the need to close a chapter that has ended much too soon.

I hope that Eamonn figures out what his great adventure is going to be. I hope that he never stops dreaming, and trying, and loving, and living. I wish him star-filled skies at night, and red-orange sunrises that will take his breath away. I want for him all of those things that are possible, and even some that may not seem possible. I wish him joy, and I wish him love, but most of all, I wish him a life that is filled with hope.

Hope for better tomorrows, a world more at peace, people who are more in tune with their environment, friends who will be there at 3 o’clock in the morning if he needs them, and the immutable knowledge that home is always waiting.

And in the words of the incomparable Maya Angelou:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget the way you made them feel.”

More later. Peace be with you and yours.