Hearts, balloons and flowers

The birth of my daughter and the rebirth of my mother is less than 12 hours old on February 13 as I awaken in a room with a view and my daughter breathing quietly on my chest. Four children later, I’ve learned to send my husband home to get a real night sleep and wait patiently for him to arrive with the real coffee the morning after I’ve delivered. Today was no exception. What a wild ride it has been and on this morning, I found myself sleeping better than I had in months. For this moment in time my daughter has arrived and is healthy and my mother is conscious and being moved later today to a local nursing home for more recovery time. At this point we have no idea if she will be coming home, but I am so thankful that she will get to meet Abigail. I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss her and her cookies and coffee moments after the birth of my precious baby girl, but I am learning to take the good with the bad and accept where we all are in our journeys right now. I am not expecting what is to come next. 

With all of my boys, my labors were less than an hour and I was home in less than 24. I expected Ms. Abigail to be the same. Her birth was quick and simple so now I am ready to pack up and get out of dodge – that is, until my pediatrician entered the room looking glum. She started with the pleasantries and then moved in to the real reason she had come in again (apparently she had come in a few times overnight and I had managed to sleep through her visits) and it wasn’t good news. She sat on the edge of my bed and looked at me sullenly – now my brain is beginning to kick in that she must have news, and not likely good news. I prepared myself to hear that mom had passed away overnight. Instead, I heard that Abby had a heart murmur that concerned her and she wanted to run some tests and keep us for another 24 hours in the hospital to make sure everything was okay. Normally, I would have taken this with a grain of salt and been thankful for the caution. Today, it rocked my world. I suddenly couldn’t breath and was thoroughly convinced that my mom’s life had been traded for my daughter’s. I knew this was a selfish thought and I felt like a terrible person, but suddenly I wanted my daughter to be okay more than I wanted mom to be okay. It still pains me to type that sentence, but I did not believe I could have both of them based on the last several months. And then I looked at the calendar. Tomorrow was Valentine’s Day. Maybe, just maybe, if I prayed for a miracle….and I promised to never get flowers or chocolate again on this day of hearts and flowers I could have both of them for a few months at least. My brain was not well – and my heart was broken. Thankfully, Abby’s was not.

The morning of February 14, 2001 was a gorgeous winter day. The sky was a stunning blue and it was warmer than average in these parts. I had been awake for hours when they pediatrician walked in just enjoying the peace of the morning and the comfort of having my daughter on my chest. The pediatricians entrance stunned me as I had managed to sneak off into my own mind and believe in miracles for a while so it was a jolt of reality to see her white coat and the stethoscope that would determine where my life was headed. She approached quietly fearful of interrupting my reverie and my daughter’s slumber. As she approached and realized I was awake she handed me a candied heart and a smile. “Happy Valentine’s Day,” she said. “But I hear your Valentine’s miracle came early,” referencing both Abby and my mom in her unspoken mannerisms. 

“It sure did,” I agreed while handing her my sweet bundle to listen to her heart.

I think I then held my breath for the next few seconds until Abby was handed back to me with a clean bill of health and discharge papers. 

“We’ll check again in a month just to make sure,” the doctor said. “But for now, I think she is a healthy, loved little girl.”

Thirty minutes later my husband arrived with balloons, a mother daughter pendant, coffee and kisses and we were off. Our first stop was predetermined. We were going to see my mother in the nursing home. We had gotten permission from both my mom’s doctors and Abby’s and there was no way these two souls weren’t meeting. We entered on stealth feet unaware of what we would find. As we stepped off the elevator with breath held and tears freely streaming, I was met by a lovely young nurse, a bouquet of balloons and several residents dying to have a look at the new young lady. It took us a quarter of an hour to finally navigate our way to mom’s room where she and my dad were deep in conversation. My mom’s bed was adorned with a bouquet of red balloons and the two of them were quietly conversing. Slowly, my mom acknowledged dad’s shift in gaze and turned to meet our eyes. To say we were all happy would be the understatement of this lifetime. She reached out to touch Abby fearful of holding her, but dying to see her. When their eyes met it was like looking in a mirror for both of them. If I was more mystical I would say I saw their souls touch, but because I know the truth, I know they were simply acknowledging the shift in their realities – one with life waning, the other with life just beginning, but first they had some sharing to do and it looked like today was to be the beginning – or perhaps the long sought after continuation – of their souls connection. 

To say my mother died so my daughter, and in many ways I, could learn to live would be an understatement. But on this Valentine’s Day in 2001 they were happily curled together on a nursing home bed with heart balloons flying over both of them as their heads bent towards each other in love.

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Chicken Little

“The sky is falling, the sky is falling !” Or maybe, it is just a brand spankin’ new farmer with a water jug.

It started as an innocent bedding change for the dozen chickens who have recently come into my life, and nearly ended with jail time.

Tonight, while changing the chickens bedding, water and food, I, unknowingly,  made the sky fall on one of my feathered friends.

 My newly acquired chickens, six of whom are yellow, are nearly identical in color to the bedding. I carefully counted all twelve chicks from one box to the other, added fresh food, and then at the last minute, their water container.

Here is the problem, chicken little forgot to get out of the way. Full, the water jug likely weighs 5 pounds. The chicken might be .5 pounds by now, maybe less. Are you beginning to see the problem?

Having continued on with my daily chores I was oblivious to my murderess ways until I heard a plaintive cry from the other room, “Mom, there are only five yellow chicks in the cage! I think you might have thrown one out!”

“Thrown one out?? Impossible!! I counted each finely feathered friend as it was placed ever so carefully back into the now cleaned cage.”

“Well, mom, I’m telling you there are only five yellow chicks in the cage.”

Thus began a frantic search of the dogs digestive system via their mouths, the vents behind the dryer, assorted closets, even the cat was inspected. Clearly, a chick could not have simply disappeared after having been counted, but yet, it had.

Suddenly, the light went on – I flew, literally, across the room, yanked the water jug out of the cage, and there, hyperventilating, was a squashed chicken. 

I was horrified.  Thoroughly convinced I had killed an innocent bird in my own stupidity. Fearing the wrath of the chicken protectors and the validity of my newly minted farmers card, I did what came naturally. I yanked it out from under the jug, picked it up and snuggled it against my chest praying the whole time that I had not, in mere minutes, become a chicken murderess in my first days on the job. Slowly, the chickens Imagebreathing returned to normal. He started to peck at me. He looked at me with fascinated chicken eyes. He even sat up in my hand and cocked his head. 

Thank Gawd (in the language of Dingle) I had not killed the innocent fur covered beast. 

Ever so gently I placed him back in the cage with his friends and prayed for the best. At first, he sat stunned. Then slowly, he got one leg under him, convincing me the other was squashed beyond recognition until he gingerly placed that leg down as well. Within minutes, he was pecking the cage and visiting with his friends telling them of his trauma.

Amazingly, I still carry my farmer’s card and “Little” is safely cuddled with his buddies basking in the ambient light of the brooder.

There is, perhaps, hope for me as a farmer yet.



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The Soup Pot

For years my children’s friends thought we were witches. Why? Because we collected chicken bones by the gallon size ziploc and strung herbs over the kitchen sink to dry. What they didn’t know, at the time, was that these were the makings of magic.

I must confess that I do not cook. I was raised in a family that only cooked from mixes. I never know banana bread had real bananas in it until I was married. I know that’s a terrible confession to make, but it’s the truth. My husband, on the other hand, was raised by a southern woman with a great passion for the palette and her mother before her. The first few years of our marriage, they all attempted to change me. My dear mother-in-law, whom I love with all my heart, would bring me starter bags of sweet breads and other mouthewatering delicacies that would regularly end up swirling in the ceiling fan when my swedish temper got the better of me, and I would throw said starter bag in frustration because nothing, and I do mean NOTHING, ever turned out the way it was supposed to. Admittedly, it was frustrating for all involved, and I was too stubborn for my own good, but we made it through the first ten years of marriage, with four kids under seven, and no one starved to death. And then a glorious day came.

My husband’s job came home, and mine went out into the world. Suddenly, he had the freedom to work from home two to three days a week, and I was offered a part time writing gig that allowed me to travel outside of our home where I had been a stay at home mom for the previous ten years.

This was blissful for both of us. My husband got to spend more time with the kids, I had a chance to find myself again, and the kids had a new taste of parenting and raising a family in today’s world. The best part of the new arrangement ? My husband decided, I’m convinced out of sheer self preservation, to start to cook our evening meals. At first they were simple, and then he began to experiment. As the kids got older and food needed to come in Army sized quantities, he discovered the soup pot. Ah, the bliss.

You see, in his world, chicken soup soothed the soul, but only if it was made with every ounce of love your body could hold, real dried herbs, and the bones of a chicken. I loved chicken soup, but never more than when I was sick. One fateful winter, we all came down with a stomach bug, and nothing could soothe out bellies until the soup pot appeared.

The smell of bones simmering mixed with glorious home-grown spices did something to each of us. It touched our hearts and made our mouths water. The broth – the savory, homemade, delictable broth that came from that pot connected us to each other in a way nothing else could. And we ate it. And we drank it. And we savored it, and we were healed.

Our kids friends still think we are witches, but now they know what that glorious pot means and they react from a mile away when they smell the pot simmering. It would be an exaggeration to say they line up at our door, but not so much that they turn up in cars with bowls in hand, asking if the bones are simmering.

These young men, virile and strong, regularly ate store-bought rottesserie chickens and learned the value of bringing my husband a bag of bones. A pound of pasta, a few stray carrots and scraps of chicken from last night’s meal were welcomed too. They know what these would become.

Generations from now, I’d like to think that these young men will remember the soup pot that overflowed with love and the bones of all their store bought chickens waiting in my freezer.

And I promise you, each and every one of them, knows that there are real bananas in banana bread; and you can get day old bananas at the corner store for pennies. Amazing what our stomachs can teach us!

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Manifesting Llamas

I recently read a great book entitled E2 by Pam Grout. In the book, she talks about creating the life of our dreams by believing the universe is a giving place, and all it takes is connecting to the source and being aware.

One of the exercises is called the Volkswagon Jetta. The idea in this exercise is to think about something you want – you choose the something, and then believing that you will see whatever the something is consistently over the next 48 hours.

For my first go at this,I decided on hummingbirds because I have been trying to draw hummingbirds to my feeders for over a year now to no avail.

As of today, 72 hours later, I still haven’t seen a hummingbird at my feeder, but I’ve seen thousands on various Facebook pages and around the web. I’m told the universe has a sense of humor, and clearly she does as hummingbirds began to appear. They appeared as my sister in law’s new profile picture on Tuesday, they were a highly popular photo subject on the Open Group for Bedlam Farm – this amazing group started by Jon Katz, and my husband unexpectedly came home with a statue of one for me the other night hoping to ease the pain of none at the feeders.

Okay, so, admittedly, now I was hooked on this whole idea of making things appear. It’s the same idea as seeing pregnant women everywhere when you are expecting or green cars in droves once you’ve acknowledged to your son that there are very few green cars in town.

Anyway, this time I decided I was gonna go big. As many of you know, I am wildly in love with alpacas and llamas. I have recently come to own two alpacas and met a farmer who shares his farm with me on a daily basis. He has 37 alpacas, and more on the way. I manifested him, too, but that’s another story. Anyway, I digress…what I really, really, really want is a guard llama named Buster. He’s brown, he wears a red halter, and he is on his way to my tiny town to live with me via a trailer. He has been trained at the guard llama training society in Brattleboro, VT and he is mine – he just doesn’t know he exists yet. But in my mind, this was what I was manifesting next. What the heck. Go big or go home. Right?

Monday night at dinner I made the big announcement. “Kids, I feel it’s only fair to warn you that there is a guard llama named Buster walking towards our house as we speak. He’s brown and wearing a red halter. When you find him, please tell him where we live and help him fine his way home.”

Needless to say, they thought perhaps I had been in the heat too long and simply nodded stunned. My husband? Well, after 31 years, nothing surprises him anymore.

Fast forward to today, July 4. Our tiny town, population around 5000, does July 4 BIG. It is a four day event complete with a massive fireworks display and a parade down Main Street. The parade is normally an hour in length and features all of the surrounding town’s fire trucks, lots of fun floats and of course, local businesses promoting their products. My daughter and I had decided next year, we were going to have a float for our alpacas ; four alpacas with painted red lips, and we were going to call it the ride of the alpaca lips LOL! As she and I were discussing this, my two older sons , both adults now, come barreling down the hill towards our lawn chairs clearly excited beyond words.

“Mom, you are truly not going to believe this,” they huffed,” but there is a float coming down the street now from the Heifer project and guess what??”

“What,” I screeched over the sound of the sirens.

“There is a brown llama with a red harness riding in the back of a float.”

To say my jaw hit the ground is an understatement. I thought they were kidding around, giving their old ma a tough time.  I truly didn’t believe them.

Seconds later, heading down Main Street in small town nowhere,Image is a brown llama with a red harness riding on a float.

Funny universe. Very, very funny!

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Reflections on Life – Ten Thanksgivings Later

Ten years ago this week, my mother lost her battle with a malignant brain tumor just seven short days before her 58th birthday. In some ways, she died so that I could live. I know for many of you, that may seem a harsh statement, but I believe it was part of her master plan to allow her daughters freedom that, perhaps, she never had.

Since my mother’s death, I have climbed mountains, written poetry, scaled rock faces, fallen in love (again) and learned a new way of life. I’ve learned to live in gratitude each and every day, to be thankful for the little things, to see life through a camera lens and the prism of my written words expressed in many forms and across many mediums. I feel a sense of wholeness and peace, and I know that I am loved.

I have been blessed with true friendship – a rare and wonderful thing. Something elusive to me in the pride filled world of my past. I have learned that nothing really matters but the truth and that the choice of my words reflects who I am and who I am becoming.

This may all seem miniscule to many, and perhaps you’re hearing that my mom prevented me from living this way. That is far from the truth. My mom was from another generation, another world. She was a housewive extraordinaire and her best work was done as a mother – I can attest that she and I didn’t always get along, and I believe, in many ways I posed a threat to her “stillness,” but I also believe we grew up together -she and I, and she stretched who she was to accomodate who I was becoming. I find myself doing the same with my daughter today.

In the end, ten years later, I understand what matters, and that there is life after death. I feel my mom’s presence with me often, and in the still of the sunset at the peak of a mountain surrounded by my amazing friends, loving husband and incredible children, I can hear her whisper in the trees. I hear her voice in the crashing of the waves at the beach, but that’s different as she was afraid of water and worried about us swimming.

I hope she can forgive me for all I wasn’t when she was alive as a witness, and I hope she is excited about who I have become. I believe broken links make chains stronger – I see it in my children and I hear it in the echoes of the granchildren yet to be.

Today, I am peaceful, I am blessed, and I am thankful for all that I have in my life.

Tomorrow, we will eat turkey with an empty chair, and Saturday we will deliver balloons to mom’s grave and sing. She always loved a birthday party, and I can still feel her presence everytime my Abby lights up a room with her dances, or Adam remembers Christmas in her home, or Erik and Ian reflect on their times with grandma. She will never be forgotten, and her memory will be eternal.

Happy Thanksgiving, and Happy Birthday Mom – and thanks for making me, me!

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What is a Memory?

The past several days my mind has been busy remembering things. It all started with a bottle of soap, yup, soap labeled Paris by Bath and Body Works. For some reason the word Paris immediately brought me back to high school French. As part of our class, I had this little, white translation dictionary that allowed me to translate from English to French or vice versa. I can still feel its’ weight in my hands, see the colors on the cover and smell the freshly printed pages. It was purchased as part of my schooling, but it also had a greater purpose. It was going to teach me to speak fluently enough that I could travel with my classmates to Paris in April. A small town girl who’d flown once at that point in my life, the thought of traveling to Paris was overwhelming and more exciting than I can even describe. I dreamt regularly about the sites and sounds, the smells, the food I would enjoy and what it would be like to be so far away from my friends and family. That little dictionary represented a whole world of possiblities. I savored it, and I loved it. I hadn’t thought about that little book in years – and then the soap.

I have a dear friend who has a memory like a steel trap. Ask her what she was wearing in the third grade when a teacher called her name and she can tell you. Ask her to describe the sites, sounds and smells as though watching a movie from any time in her life and she can. Me, I was never so lucky (or unlucky) to have much of a memory. I am constantly fighting to find words as I get older, and I often forget events of little significance. I don’t dream or remember in pictures but in words. I hear and see the story unfolding before me; a less than ideal way to remember the vividness that took place in time’s past. That all changed with the soap. Now my memory is regularly ablaze with the sites and smells of the Paris from my dreams (I never actually got there as the times were not right for foregin travel) and of many other things as well.  I sprinkled baby powder the other day, and immediately I was a new mom diapering my baby for the first time. I walked into my office and the smell of fresh paper sent my mind zooming back in time to my first typewriter. The smell of a new book makes me giddy with joy.

A dear friend’s mom and my father-in-law are both struggling with Alzheimer’s Disease. The loss of a memory is such a hard thing to explain as both of these beautiful people, like me, are often transported back by a smell a site or a sound. Pictures allow them to reconnect and remember each detail of times past, but take the pictures away and ask what was talked about five minutes earlier, and you’ll be met with blank stares. Begs the question, “what is a memory?”

I, for one, don’t know as I’m never sure that what we remember is true or simply the way our warped humanness chooses to remember the good and bad times. Certainly the loss of memory is devastating, but does it define who we are?

I regularly promote holistic products that slow aging, aid in the battle against disease and improve memory. I think they matter, but at the end of the day I’m still left with this question – what is a memory, and what is the trigger for my overwhelmed mind to be digging these memories from the depth of space and time? What purpose to remember Paris today other than for the great joy and the opportunity to once again feel connected to the past and the people that populated it.

Perhaps, as I go forward with my many new beginnings, I will find myself heading to Paris and then it will all make sense.

In the meantime, I need to ask a simple question…does anyone remember why foreign travel was deemed unsafe in 1984 ?

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Will You Tell Me Your Story?

So here’s what I know for sure…everyone has a story to tell, and most of them define who we are. The question is, are you brave enough to tell your real story? You know, the one that makes you tick and sing and breath heavy when you think about it. That’s the story I’m talking about.

As a writer, I hear stories all of the time, and I am always claiming that everyone has a story to tell. If I had my way I’d hang out in nursing homes and hear stories all day. I’m not talking about the lifetime stories, but the soul stories. I want you to start with, “hi, my name is _______ and I was born _______ and then I want you to let go of all preconceived notions about what is appropriate for you to tell and I want to hear your story.

I want to know why you are fearful of heights, what happened? I want to hear about the day you sat in the third row wearing a bright red shirt and the teacher came right up to your face and told you you’d never amount to anything. What did that do to you? How did it make you feel? Who are you today because of that experience? I want to know you SOUL first. I want you to believe that I can be trusted. This is an experiment of sorts, a human friendship test if you will. I want to know what it will take for us all to let go of pretenses and tell our stories.

I have a brilliantly close dear best friend who allowed me this opportuity and it is because she took the time to truly know me that I am who I am today. How many of us open up our souls to the world and share our stories. I believe everyone has a story to tell and I want to hear yours.

Now, you are likely thinking to yourself, that this crazy woman is a nut job, a voyeur wanting to expose you, but I promise you that is not the case. As I lay in bed thinking about this last night ( I awoke with a start hearing the words tell me your stories over and over again), I realized how like Christ this is – after all, he knows our stories. The true ones, the ones that make us who we are and he loves us anyway. I want to be that person. I want to love you anyway.

I have started with my family as I’m not sure I know their stories completely, even though I was here for much if not all of their lives. I want to know the inner workings. The truth because I believe the truth will set you free.

And now with the risk of you all believing I’m insane, I’m going to post this blog and see what happens. Will you tell me your story?

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