Thursday, December 31, 2009

Kissing 2009 Goodbye

2009 was not my ordinary adult year.  The family trip to Hawaii back in April proved to be pivotal.  It somehow set loneliness and uncertainty in motion and with that came major cracks in the surface of my life.  The cracks were deepened by my trip to NYC - adventure and independence reminded me that I wanted out of the rut. The laughter and camaraderie of the Washington DC school trip made me lonely for such things on a daily basis.  And then the cracks became dangerously close to breaking my life entirely. Scary.  I hung on, and somehow held the bowl of my life together, dropping tiny pieces here and there.  Was it a bowl that was broken?  No, nothing as predictable and round as a bowl.  Maybe a clay mask?  Fits in some ways but not exactly.  What is the best analogy? What cracked?  Me.  I cracked. I broke and with me, I took my life and shattered it.
Funny thing is, it played out entirely when I crashed my bike.  That's it.  When I crashed the bike, I broke. Broke my bones but also broke my patterns, broke the walls that I depended on to hold me together.  And in reassembling myself, I am thinking I have created some new structure to hold me together.  Not a wall. Something much lighter, much more porous.  Maybe even something flexible yet strong, something shimmery and shiny. Something delicate and open.  A spider web? or a dream catcher?  and what will I catch in that web? I imagine I will catch whatever 2010 chooses to offer me.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Embracing the Unexpected

I stumbled across a quote today that knocked me over:  "Nearly all the best things that came to me in life have been unexpected" (Carl Sandburg).   That could be the title of my next book.  When I was way younger (college age) I didn't plan things.  I just did things.  I went to classes, I worked at whatever waitressing or retail job I could get, I loved and lost boyfriends, I took advantage of whatever adventure came my way.  I distinctly remember wanting not to collect things but rather wanting to collect experiences.  And collect experiences I did.
and then I got real about life .... that means a job, a husband, two kids and a house in the suburbs ...
and life became so very predictable, very planned.  No surprises expected and very few received.
and I got more and more serious and the brow got more and more furrowed.
Something happened though.
Now I hope for and plan for surprises!
How do you plan for surprises?  You plan for surprises by staying out of ruts, being willing to try new things, and talking to strangers!  more later....


I don't know how my life got so good.  Specifically, how did I end up with a loving, responsible, and all around good person for a husband?  Why did I end up with two compassionate, smart, focused young adults as my children?  And what universal powers led me to challenging and engaging work that also gives me a decent paycheck, sick leave, and time off during the year?  And , again, what universal powers brought me to Sebby - a close community that envelops me with friendship and fantastic neighborhood walks? Or granted me excellent health?  So I have been amply gifted but why?  Why me?  I know the theory about my life being the result of choices I made but, hey, that doesn't fit -- my health? really? okay, yes I do my part with nutrition and exercise and moderation in all things alcoholic but that is nothing really. And I made choices about education and choosing a partner and raising kids but other things conspired to make those choices happen.  The one thing that I acknowledge control over is my attitude.  For years, attitude has been about focus and determination -- all good.  Now attitude also encompasses being alive, noticing the goodness everywhere, embracing surprises and uncertainty, capturing the world in a web of happiness.  Can it last?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Christmas Letter That Didn't Get Sent

December, 2009

Merry Christmas!

I am delighted to write Christmas greetings to all of you.  Christmas letters get a bad rap but they are the perfect way to catch family and friends up on life here in Sebastopol .  It was a year packed with adventure, learning, and accomplishment and it’s fun to share that with you.

Alex graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo in June!  Because he changed his major and because it is difficult to get into classes these days in CA state universities, he had to focus for six years.  In the end , he earned a degree in Social Sciences with a concentration in Environmental Planning.  Additionally, he used those six years judiciously and was able to supplement the degree with four minors:  psychology, anthropology/geography, city and regional planning, and sustainable environments.  He is now working as an independent contractor creating disaster management plans for CalFire and continues to work part time as a firefigher/EMT for the County Fire Department.  He is also in the process of applying to grad school for next fall, in the field of Geography or Environmental Studies.  We are looking forward to having him home for a few days later this week.

Meg continues to knock our socks off with her determination and perseverance.  She is majoring in psychology at Sonoma State University and is running into many of the same issues that Alex ran into at Cal Poly.  She cannot get the classes she needs to graduate but she too is putting the time to good use.  She is earning a minor in Criminal Justice and, although she is still a year or so away from graduating, she is investigating graduate programs as well.  She works several part time jobs and is highly involved with an intern program that serves families transitioning out of homelessness.  She shares an apartment near campus with her friend Priscilla and her cat George as well as Priscilla's cat Dancer.  Meg is quite the busy college student but she does find time to visit with us often.

Michael continues his work at Sonoma State University and the County Office of Education.  He recruits math and science teachers as well as assists teachers and districts in implementing science and environmental education programs.  Additionally, he has been writing grant proposals to fund another writing project.  This time his focus is on producing a guide for teachers whose curriculum includes coniferous forests.  He continues to enjoy gardening and playing with his fruit trees on the property.  Last summer, our tomato plants took over the front yard (the sunniest spot on the property) and we had a bumper crop!

I had a great year!  First, I still love my work as a guidance counselor at the local middle school.  I expanded things a bit this year by taking on the creation and production of the school yearbook - a great opportunity to broaden my photography skills as well as my layout and production abilities.  I had fun and learned so much from that work and I am doing it again this year.   I also got to travel quite a bit and was able to document all my travels with my camera.  In April, I went to Hawaii with my siblings and many of their family members.  We enjoyed a wonderful week playing and visiting together on Oahu.  In May, I visited NYC for the first time.  I went  with my brother Brian and had an awesome adventure!  I LOVE NYC and can’t wait to go back.  So energetic there!  So much to see and do! In June, I once again accompanied about 40 eighth graders to Washington DC (my fifth trip - I LOVE that city too!).  And in August, Meg and I went to Boston and stayed with our niece/cousin Myra.  Our days were packed with touring, laughing, a little shopping, and lots of visiting.  

My travels came to a screeching halt (literally) in late August. I was letting off steam from a tense day at work by taking a bicycle ride when I was right hooked by a truck pulling into a parking lot.  Yikes!  Nine fractures and one surgery later, I am on the road to recovery.  I learned a great deal through this experience and, as painful and frightening as the whole thing was, and as odd as this sounds, I would never trade it away.  I now have a 4” plate and 12 screws holding my clavicle together and know more than I ever thought I would know about bone grafts.  I also discovered the value of sleep and realized that the treadmill that life had become really could stop.  Quite a lesson, actually.  Most poignantly, I discovered how many people care about me and how the love of family and friends can really sustain a person.  For all of these lessons, I am deeply grateful.  My right arm still has very limited movement but I get to start physical therapy next week and hope to be back on the bicycle by March.  Wish me luck!

Although I believe 2009 was my friend, I can’t wait to see the surprises in store for 2010.  I hope to travel more (Michael and I are going to Santa Fe after Christmas and plan a spring trip to Yosemite), take lots of photos, do some more painting and write up a storm.  AND, continue to appreciate a slower pace of life, my renewed health, and the love of family and friends.  Merry Christmas and Happy 2010!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Screeching Brakes

It's what everybody says:  The months are just tripping by!  Where does the time go?  As always, I question my use of the precious days that I have.  So often, like most people, I find myself running through  the workdays while hanging on for the weekends.  And the weekends fly by in tornado of errands, chores, reading, and a little catching up with friends or maybe a movie or an outing with Michael.  And then back to work.  And I think that is why the months just fly past....
To slow things down, I have to slow down.  I have to be more aware and not operate on automatic pilot - so much easier said than done.  I operate on automatic pilot because it feels as if there is so much that MUST be done.  I can multi-task with the best of them and I can be so damn efficient and productive - but am I really seeing what I am doing? and how do you get everything done that has to be done if you don't multi-task?
How do you take things off the list?  Where would you start?

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Furrowed Brow Is Not Pretty

      The older I get the more I know that humor, playfulness, and laugher are keys to a happy life.  As a kid, there was a lot of laughter in our house, for sure, and a sense of humor was valued.  There was also, however, the Catholic Church.  I can't speak for today but in the 50's and 60's the Catholic Church was not a playful place to be.  I attended a rigorous Catholic elementary school where silence was king and laughter was generally met with reprimand.  Mass and other devotions stressed (in my childlike mind) suffering, sadness, sacrifice, and solemnity and were often just plain scary.  Since life in our house was shaped by the Church, I suspect that those characteristics were part of the fabric, even if laughter was also a strong part of the fabric.  And life was serious.  You needed to do well in school you needed to have the right answer at the dinner table, you needed to "hold your tongue" when told to do so.  You were an O'Neill and O'Neills did not fail.  One thing that O'Neills had in common though?  A furrowed brow and a serious and responsible outlook on life.

      That seriousness did serve me well, no doubt.  Because I took education seriously, I was a successful student.  Because I paid attention and studied how to make it in the job world, I secured valuable and responsible employment.  When my children were born, I felt to the core of my being how important their early years were and took my responsibility as parent to the extreme. My focus in all was on how to do well in the world and doing well seemed to be about work.  And work is serious business.
So then I started getting up there in the decades and I stepped back from all this serious stuff and I discovered that it was all bullshit.  The furrowed brow is not pretty, is not playful, is not relaxing, is not fun.  The furrowed brow doesn't make me smile.  It doesn't make anyone smile.  Sure, there is a time and a place for seriousness but not all day, every day.  Playfulness, levity and laughter lighten the days.  Silliness and an ability to be a bit of a kid provide balance to the tragic headlines that weigh down the life of an adult.  I have decided that laugher and play are healthy behaviors that need to infuse each and every one of my days.  In fact, to be happily alive, I must laugh. I  must play.  I must be affectionate and warm and that joyfulness must be contagious.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Dear Meg

Dear Meg,
When they told me in the delivery room, that we had a daughter, I was taken aback.  Frankly, I guess I assumed you were a boy child.  After all, I knew how to "do" boys - I grew up with all those brothers and then there was your almost two year old brother .  I had experience with boys and just figured that was my destiny.  Surprise!  After I got over the shock of a baby girl, I began to consider this situation.  I remember laying upstairs on the bed with you on a warm, sunny day when you were just two or three days old.  I remember being flooded with that wonderful maternal emotion - the one that is in love with baby and with life, the one that knows that my life will never be the same now that this baby has entered it.  I remember tracing my finger over your delicate hands and toes and looking into your soul through your eyes.  Your eyes were beautiful and portended the incredible physical beauty you would carry  always.  There was an intimate connection that I sensed that I would never have with your brother.  You were a girl child.  You would need something different from me than he needed.  You would see the world a little differently and I would need to show you how to be a strong woman in a world that can be difficult for strong women.
Now you are 22 years old.  The work of raising you is over and  I step back  and observe the results.  You were a bright (in every way) little girl.  You made heads turn with your physical attractiveness and your sweet disposition.  In the primary grades, you created wonderful art,  listened intently to stories and wrote more than a few of your own.  Middle school was the beginning of the tough years - the years when other girls were not always nice (and maybe you weren't nice too, I can't say).  You always did your school work,  though I wondered from time to time if the social world was more your world than the academic world.  In this sense, your high school years were painful ones to watch.  You seemed angry at teachers, at kids, at the world and you rarely left your room (or so it seemed).  We worried about you.  You said everything was okay. That summer after graduation was such a blender of emotions.  You were scared and not ready to leave but you were also determined to go.  Oh my!  And that semester at Chico?  Must have been agony and yet you stayed.  You found strength and forced yourself to tough it out but when you came home in December, you were crushed.  The spirit that had been so alive in your as a 5 year old was buried under fear, self blame, anger, confusion, disappointment and self disgust.  No matter that we loved you and that we knew you would find your way again.... you could not be happy that spring.
But, in the way that life unfolds, you unfolded.  Over the last three years, you have grown in every dimension.  You have found a path at SSU.  You have supported yourself via jobs and loans and you have assumed apartment or house rentals. You even bought yourself a truck.  You have loved and lost men, and learned a ton about true friendships.  Through it all, you have discovered more and more talents and you have continued to be a source of great pride for Michael and me.
I think back now on my apprehension about raising a daughter.  I wanted a daughter who could be compassionate but not a push over.  I wanted a daughter who would be open to learning and who could teach when the opportunity presented itself (which it does all the time).  I wanted a daughter who would develop a mind of her own and who could articulate her thoughts.  I wanted a daughter who could appreciate the beauty in herself and in the people and the world around her.  I wanted you.  And now I step back and admire the young woman you have become and I am so grateful to have you in my life.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Run, Girl, Run!

I remember being in kindergarten and running races daily at lunchtime.  I had decided that I was the fastest runner in the class and I wanted to demonstrate my speed.  In first grade, I was chased daily at lunchtime by Chuckie and I loved my speed and power.  I remember being on the small side compared to other kids but feeling as if my speed made up for any deficiencies in height.  As a ten year old, I climbed trees, rode bikes, played baseball and generally took my physicality for granted.  I saw the strength in my leg and arm muscles and used my body as a tool to enjoy being alive in the world.
When I was a college student I took a PE class in which I became acquainted with weight machines and the power of aerobic exercise.  That one class started a lifelong trend for me and I returned to those ten year old girl days.  I found the strength in my arms and legs again and loved the feeling of running, sweating, and breathing hard.  For years I ran daily, not competitively, but just for fun. I enjoyed the active and I enjoyed feeling healthy and strong.  Somewhere along the way, my knees forced me to slow down.  Running became history but still daily walks and/or bike rides felt good and healthy.  Now I wait for bones to heal and remember what "good and healthy" felt like.  Can't wait to be there again!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Scars Happen

I just peeled off the last steri strip from the four inch long incision on my right hip.  This incision allowed the orthopedic surgeon to take bone from the hip and use that to reconstruct my right clavicle.  The incision is healing well but I was actually surprised at how insignificant the scar seemed - just a very straight pink line.  My clavicle scar is still secured with steri strips and that is a bit more scary.  About 4 to 5 inches, it is not neat and straight.  At the moment, it is still shades of red and brown and very Frankensteinish.  These are my two "real" physical scars because I have been remarkably lucky.  Except for a few little dings from childhood, my body has seen very little trauma.  That really is the story of my life.  I have been remarkably lucky. Strong beginnings in life segued into responsible choices for post high school.  Bumpy relationships with men set the stage for a strong marriage that has supported me in many ways.  Family and friends have been my refuge and brought much laughter and love into my life. I have work that is rewarding and enough financial resources to go out to dinner occasionally or take a 6 day vacation in NYC from time to time.  Just a word of warning:  I'm not looking to break the lucky streak but I do have the scars to prove that stuff happens.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Go Figure

Who would think that two over 50 year old types could laugh hysterically in bed at 5:30 on  Monday morning in November?  First, okay, little kids do goofy things like that all the time but we're talking about serious,  responsible, gotta go to work adults.  And then it's Monday morning - start of the work week after relaxing weekend - no reason to laugh there.  And, for God's sake, it's NOVEMBER - where's the humor in that?  It's not like being on vacation, laid back silly like you might find in a tent in July.   And what brought about this incredible fit of belly laughter?  This deep throat CANNOT stop laughing fit?  This laugh til the snot runs out of your nose fit?  Wanna know?  Really?  Okay - the realization that we are the quintessential artsy-fartsy couple.  I am the artsy one.  He is the fartsy one.  Go figure.  That was worth the best in bed laugh of the year!  What the heck?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Summer Is Gone (For Now)

November 1st.  Halloween is a memory.  I guess that means that summertime is really over.  Why does that  bum me out so much?  I love the summertime and live for it all the rest of the year.  It's only been gone (practically speaking) for two months but until very recently I could sort of fool myself into thinking that summer was still hanging around.  But no more.  The clocks have been turned back and it is dark at 5:45.  The trees and flowers are either dressed to kill or dressed in death.  All this is depressing.  Summertime is time to be alive.  Wide, long days with uncluttered schedules make for an easy mind.  Balmy evenings, shorts, tank tops, and flip flops give rise to bike rides, walks with the dogs and excursions out to the beach. How can life get any better than life in the summertime?  And so I miss it already and there is a corner of my mind waiting, waiting waiting for those lazy, crazy wild days of summer.  I'm ready now.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

I Am Alive

I am alive.  That's a theme I return to over and over.  It started less than a year ago, this wanting to KNOW I was alive.  A trip to Hawaii in April was the first visible manifestation of this need for proof that I was, in fact, alive. Fun somehow entered my consciousness bigtime and I saw examples all around me of life with and without fun.  A month or so later, my long anticipated first trip to New York City made me KNOW I was alive,  My eyes were wide open and everything was unbelievable.  People watching was incredible, walking in the places I have read about for years, fantastic -- in short, I resonated with the energy that is NYC and I knew I was alive.  A few weeks later, I traveled once again to Washington DC with 40 8th graders and four fantastic adult chaperones.  Like NYC, Washington DC feeds my desire for excitement and adventure - people watching, stepping in world known places, laughing and singing and getting such a kick out of other people -- ALIVE!  I spent a week alone in the lovely and lonely Ft Bragg.  I had a simple and clean room on the beach and was given unheard of summer weather for FB - sunny, warm, Hawaii style weather.  I had time to feel myself alone and alive,  Actually, it was the first time in more than 25 years that I had the chance to be alive alone. A few weeks after that, I got to visit Boston!  Wow!  What an experience!  Famous places, interesting people, fantastic hostess, good time, ALIVE times. Throughout the summer, I took long and fast bike rides.  Intense moments of exhausting climbs uphill followed by soaring flights downhill -ipod music filling my head,  incredibly alive. I drank wine with friends and laughed, loved, hurt, cried, played out philosophic points, and lived the days.   In late August, I found out for sure that I was alive when that fast bike was moving relatively slowly through Sebtown traffic and I was slammed by a truck.  In the moments, hours, weeks, and yes, months that followed I knew I was physically and emotionally alive. That proof I needed had been provided for me and the test came in that bike accident.  The first serious medical issue of my life, the accident was an intense experience, the whole thing.   ALIVE in every bone, broken or not.  ALIVE in every relationship and in every experience.   Released from old patterns and open in every moment.  Discovering that physical life is too short for the serious and  negative.  Too short to be lived without love and laugher, speed and stillness. I know I am alive now.  How can I not forget?

Friday, October 30, 2009


Alexander, the 24 year old son, is home for the weekend.  Odd reason:  he wants to take the GRE next week and he needed a place for focused study and review so he comes back to the 'rents house for a few days.  As he sat across from us in the living room this afternoon, I was flooded with memories of Alexander the little boy.  As a baby he smiled all the time.  There was only one time in his first year when he cried and we could not figure out what the issue was and , even that time, he stopped his howling in less than an hour.  As an exuberant yet calm toddler, he remained sunny and engaging.  His first day of kindergarten, he was excited. He just walked right in to Room 1, sat right down, and got down to the business of school - all happy and sure of himself.  Elementary school brought some rough patches, middle school was, from where we sat, a success and high school was, again from our perspective, a period of growth and engagement for Alex.  Off to college he went - full of confidence, happy about his choice and jazzed to be stepping out on his own.  His college path was not direct - six years of traveling a bit of a maze but we were privileged to watch a compassionate, thoughtful, fun, healthy man emerge from that puzzle.  And now that man is thinking about pursuing a life of balance - intellectual, physical, family, fun - wrapped in a bit more education.  How interesting to watch him unfold!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Missing Me

Back to gifts.... so I am tired and hurting much of the time yet I am grateful for this condition-- what???  Does that make sense?  If you would have asked me this three months ago, I would have emphatically said "NO way!"  but yes way, actually.   Explain.
So that truck hit me and, in that moment, things changed for me.  Initially, it was all about pain and anger and what the heck am I going to do about work and obligations?  But two months later, I have realized that I am not indispensable at work -- life goes on with or without me - and limited mobility requires that I redefine myself.  No longer the biker, kickboxer, walker, weight lifter, go go go person (at least temporarily), I have remembered the observer, the artist, the writer, the reader, the thinker, the lover,  the philosopher.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that it is heavenly to lay on the couch, watch out the front window,and  let the blues, greens and golds of fall be my blanket.  With ear phones plugged in and the music of Jack Johnson or Mark Knopfler sinking into my bones, I rest and recovery happens.
But the gift is in the memory, I hope.  I want to remember what it was like to just be.  I want to remember what it was like to not be on the treadmill.  I found a side of me that I have missed and she doesn't want to be lost again.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Thank You For Accidents

Accidents - yeah - happen.  Frankly, stuff happens, yes?
It never ceases to amaze me how accidents or just plain stuff can actually become incredible gifts.  In the first days/weeks/maybe even months following an accident or some "stuff", it seems like this is going to be a terrible thing.  That bike accident in August - HUGE pain, bad timing (first week of school), greatly limited mobility, did I mention big pain? For two or three weeks I was angry at myself and at the universe for putting this in my path.  No good could come out of this.  Whoa!  Was I ever wrong about that!  For one thing, people enveloped me in love and concern.  I didn't realize how much I mattered.  What a gift that was!  On the same wavelength, I rediscovered what an incredible man Michael is.  Although we have been married for over 26 years (or maybe because we have been married so long) , he became the quintessential caregiver, anticipating every need or desire I might have.  He took everything off his calendar so he could be available to help me, to drive me to numerous appointments, to pick up prescriptions, to deal with insurance matters, to hold my hand and tell me that he loved me no matter what. Again, what  a gift that was!
Oddly enough, not being able to get up and exercise daily has been a gift!  I have learned how much I value exercise but I have also discovered a willingness to explore other options.  For 35 years I have gotten up early (often as early as 4:30) in order to compulsively exercise.  Now I am excited about some other avenues, some other options.  I want to be able to spend more morning time with Michael and I want to include him in my exercise time.  I used to be so damn independent, inflexible, and rigorous in that routine.  I want that to change.
In the big picture, I believe I have changed for the positive as a consequence of this accident.  I take things less seriously, I say I love you more, I indulge myself more in resting and sleep, I want to reach out more to people, I have learned concrete ways of helping someone who has experienced an accident or bout of poor health.
And, so, to the universe, I say thank you for accidents!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Accidents Happen

It was the end of a hard week's work.  Friday afternoon 4:00 - sunny and blue sky pleasant....a 45 minute bike ride in the country west of town would be the perfect punctuation for the long sentence.  Shorts, tank top, and, yes, flip flops and helmet ...Sam the Bike and I headed down Healdsburg Ave to catch High School Road but then that green truck decided to make a right turn into the Safeway parking lot --- SSTTTOOOOOOOOOOOOOOP - wow!  seriously THUMP - emphasis on the UMP part - and again UMP -- two thoughts:  1) that is the sound of your body hitting the truck and 2)  Damn!  there goes your bike  --  $1,200 -- cha ching!  I hit the ground hard - WAY hard and could do nothing but remain curled up and deep throating OOOOOOOWWWWWWWW  OOOOOOOWWWWWWWW.  I was operating so in the moment and from someplace deep at the core.  No attention to anything but the intense and deep pain - vaguely aware of voices, vaguely aware that I was not seriously broken because I could think, I knew where I was, I knew what was happening.  Feeling the hard ground under me, hearing voices meant to soothe, feeling grateful for strangers. wrapped in to the core pain.
Accidents happen.

Monday, October 26, 2009

One Day At a Time.....

.......So that's what they always say and I am finally learning - or, at least, I am getting closer to learning.
One day at a time means don't bother getting stressed about tomorrow or next month or next year.  Be here now.
One day at a time means breathe and see the moment.  Appreciate the sunshine or the rain.  Feel the warm or the wet on your face.
One day at a time means that everything changes.  Don't get stuck in the moment because it won't last more than the instant that it is.  Embrace change because, really, you have no other choice.  Yes, you could fight it but guess what?  You can't win.  Out of your control.  So embrace it and let change protect you.  It comes in handy sometimes.
One day at a time means look for little things - don't count on the big moments or the major revelations.  Revelations are in the moment and take only an instant.  They can, however,  impact you for weeks, or months to follow (if you allow them to).