It’s always something….

gildaThe new year really came in like a steam roller for my family. From the loss of my father-in-law in late December to some issues with my teens to my mom’s back surgery which came just before a blizzard which drove me from being able to stay to manage her care post-op to getting home to deal with two and half feet of snow that hit our area and kept my kids out of school for a week – it has been an eventful new year thus far.

What a difference a week makes. Here we are post blizzard and the roads are cleared, the snow is melting and the kids are back in school (thank God).  My mom has been moved to a rehab hospital in Lancaster, PA where she is making good progress towards regaining strength and mobility. It is a slow process but she is in a very nice facility and seems to be comfortable there. The next road for us is to find a place for her to live in Maryland near us as we would like to have her down here before June. So that means a lot of research and visiting places. Not to mention the packing up and decluttering of her home in PA so we can get that sold as quickly as possible.

I am again reminded by my friend Donna – “It’s always something” – a quote she sent me recently from the beloved Gilda Radner playing Roseanne Rosannadanna.

It is always something.

I remember when I saw the slogan “Shit Happens” years ago on a bumper sticker on some car someplace. I remember thinking how funny that was. But I don’t think I realized how true that was at the time. Shit had happened in my life but up until then the crap hadn’t really hit the fan. As we age shit really does happen and some of us get a lot of shit and some of us are luckier and we get less. But it Happens. What a wise quote – it grows with you – and we aren’t alone because everyone has shit happen! It is comforting in a way – yes?

It really comes down to how we handle it all – right? Some days we want to put our heads under a pillow and not face the day, sometimes we long for a bottle or ten of vodka so we can drink ourselves into oblivion and forget the shit that surrounds us. Other times we stand with mighty fists trying to face down our shit and other times we plod through just trying to get to the other side.

It is always something – it is always going to be something. And that really stinks when you think about it. But it is what makes life life. We are just always trying to deal with – or duck – the shit. Sometimes there are things to be learned from these events and sometimes they are just things to get through- maybe in the end we are wiser,stronger, more grateful, more loving, or we have an epiphany and sometimes maybe we are in shell shock for a while. I was in shell shock after my cancer battle- it took a while to make my way back to feeling like I was living life not just getting through the day. Maybe sometimes we get through but we are left with questions. I know I sometimes just have endless questions and I drive myself crazy with the asking because sometimes there are no explanations.

For me what gets me through the hard times is faith. Orange slushies and wine are a help but my faith in the fact the someone wiser and greater than I has my back is what I cling to when crap hits the fan. (I know some are reading this and wondering how I can write about my faith and crap in the same sentence- well it kind of feels good. And both are part of my life).

Faith may seem cliche’ to many and maybe it isn’t the go to for all of us. Faith is an important tool in my “dealing with life” toolbox. Sometimes when I am drowning in crap I forget to rely on my faith- it is when I am feeling so lost and like nothing will give that some little niggle comes into my head that reminds me that I have a wonderful God watching my back. I may not like the circumstances I am in and I may not get the outcome I pray for but faith is what calms my waters. We all should have some type of go to.

Whats gets us from one end to the other of this life- where it will always be something- takes a good amount of strength and hopefully a sense of humor (and hopefully a go to) because it is so much more fun to laugh than to cry. Have you ever had a good cry and then it pivots into a laugh – maybe bc someone said something silly to try to cheer you up or you are in the midst of a good cry and your dog farts and you have to laugh or urn to another room? It really is so weird – this life. That we can ball our heads off one minute and then snicker like a ten year old in the next.

This life – it can be ugly and depressing and scary and sad and it can be so joyful and gorgeous and silly and light- there is crying and there is laughing – sometimes life is faith and crap in the same sentence. Life is amazing…

and I am grateful for it….well maybe not the crap part…but the rest is pretty cool…

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Forget Fido!

 

If you read my blog you know I am a crazy animal lover. I am especially partial or partially nuts about dogs. Dogs have been an important part of my existence ever since my childhood– they loved me unconditionally when I needed it. Dogs were and still are my solace.

I had a friend that I once used as a rescue referral that told the rescue “ If I was a dog, I would want to be a dog who lived with the Sweeney’s”. I considered that a compliment. When you are a dog at my house you are part of the family.

My pets are spoiled- pets in America today have it good. I know from the ads on TV that the pet supply industry is big business. Americans spent $56 billion on their pets last year (info on that here) and I helped build that number. I should be proud! Does everyone get gifts for their pets? Probably not, but I know many who do. I have my limits on my spoiling but I am definitely among those that love to indulge their pets from time to time with toys and other sundries.

When it came to holidays and pets I haven’t always bought them gifts for Christmas. I figured they got special treats and gifts all year long and, really, they have no idea it’s Christmas anyway. They just act excited on that day because they pick up the kid’s vibes- and mine -but it is so cute!

I know they don’t need these things. I just like to think they need these things but that’s my own issue – but I say -who cares! – they seem to like getting gifts and it makes me happy to give them stuff.

For the last two years we began to do Secret Santa for the humans in our home. I am not sure who it was (probably me) that decided it might be nice to add the dogs to the Secret Santa game. We each pick a pet name – we keep it a secret- and go and shop for something for the dog and they get it on Christmas day – they might even get a wrapped gift if their “Santa” wants to wrap it.

I can picture their faces when they get their gift. They may not know what Christmas is but they know a dog toy when they see one!

This year we almost didn’t do the Secret Santa thing for the dogs. I almost nixed it (I know – scrooge) because we each already picked a person in the family to buy a special gift for – with a $30 limit. I guess I didn’t want to stick anyone with having to buy another gift.

It turns out that my son, Luke, really wanted to do the Secret Santa – The Dog Version and he’s as cute as my dogs and has those eyes that melt my heart so we put the dog’s names in a bowl and picked the dogs names. We had quite a laugh that we were keeping this a secret from each other! Would we spill the beans to the dogs if we knew whom we each had?!

Ok so what was the limit going to be? I asked.

Luke said $30.

Really? $30 – per dog?

I felt that to be a bit excessive especially since I would essentially be the one buying the gift my son’s would be giving their dog. It’s easy to set a limit when you aren’t ponying up the cash!

The limit was set at $10.

I chose bandannas for my pick – Ridley – our newest dog. I have become big into dog embellishing. Not dressing up per se but I like a dog in a nice bandana or fun collar.

Ridley is one big giant fur ball(I just saw Star Wars and am thinking of renaming him Chewy) of an Old English Sheepdog and he is quite pleased wearing bandanas. The other dogs (excluding my perfect dog Rudy) think bandanas suck and they try to rip them off the dog wearing them. Rudy is also a bandana wearer and many of his have been found in the yard in shreds. Hate is ugly.

So I asked the humans in my family for purposes of this very important blog to tell me who they chose for their Secret Santa – The Dog Version – and what they got there dogs and why. I promised not to tell their chosen dog.

Luke had Lemon our witchy and super smart yellow lab – and he bought her that new yellow Frisbee. They are very close –those two—“she would have asked for that if she could speak” He said (I am so glad she can’t speak to be honest- she would not ever shut up). Lemon is quite the Frisbee dog. But she will eat the Frisbee if you leave her alone with it. I give it a week until its in shreds.

Kamilla chose Pierce our collie/shepherd mix. She got him treats because she thought, “he would enjoy them”. Yes you had him at T-R-E-A-T. He can spell. Those treats will be gone in 30 , 15, 10, 5 seconds.

Anyway – where was I? Suki – my mom’s Corgi mix. She is a little fiery spark plug and she already has a mountain -and I kid you not a mountain- of stuffed toys. When we visit my mom’s home there are always new stuffed animals – around but she has her favorites – her birthday cake, and her banana, and she has a kangaroo that has a baby in the mom’s pouch. I don’t understand that one at all – and I am wondering if my mom didn’t get that off of the Discovery Channel website and is trying to pass it off as a dog toy.

Suki isn’t a stuffy destroyer – which my dogs are – and my dog, Rudy, often goes with me to visit my mom and he has tried to de-stuff Suki’s stuffy’s many times but for such a small dog she packs a wicked snarl and Rudy has only managed to steal and gut one toy from her.

Kevin drew Suki’s name. I asked him today what he chose and why. He chose…a stuffy(another one?)… it’s an elephant. So why did Kevin choose the elephant I asked…”It was cheap- it was in the $3.99 bin” he said. Well I burst out laughing at that one. I don’t know why I was expecting a much deeper answer. It’s a dog toy- he wasn’t going to put much thought into it.

My son has Rudy our Golden and he bought Rudy a Bandana. Why I asked- “because you told me to get him that.” Well he is right I did give him that gift idea. I am excited to see what he chose for him. Rudy looks so good in bandanas!

Have I gone through all six dogs yet? Nope — I missed Reese our pit mix. Well he’s one lucky guy because my mom chose him, and Kevin also bought him a new Washington Redskins collar yesterday. Hey we are contenders this year- in a terrible division but we are in the mix so a new collar showing our support was perfect. And Reese just likes anything – well except for getting his nails clipped.

My mom- who officially chose Reese – had already gotten all the dogs gifts well before we picked names and I forgot to ask her what she got them. It didn’t occur to me until now that the gifts she bought for them would have been enough and we could have saved the money and not bought them anything else- but what fun would that be? Zero fun. I vote for fun.

Yesterday, I went out shopping for some last minute human gifts but don’t you know when I was in Home Goods. They have grown a once very small pet section into a small pet store inside their store. Wouldn’t you know that I found a huge deal on a huge orthopedic pet bed. It was way over the $10 budget we set but I had to get it for Ridley who is old and would appreciate (at least I thought he should appreciate) such a bed and maybe he wouldn’t need to sleep on the couch all the time. If it doesn’t work out for him – and it might not because he really loves couches – I think it could be a decent guest bed.

I got caught up in the fun of it and my pets deserve it because they make me happy. Giving to them makes me happy. I like happy. Lately I have needed some extra happy. They don’t have be able to pick a name to give a human a gift -they give their gift of love everyday. Well the dogs do – and the cats do sometimes when they feel like it – and my horses give some love on Mondays and Fridays only because horses are like that -and the Chickens and ducks never give us love but they give us eggs so all in all it is win/win with our little group of critters here in our farm.

PostScript: Ridley got his new bed. He looked at it, stood on it, circled around on it, sat on it, got up and went over to the couch got on it and went to sleep. I had a good giggle over that. I laughed harder when Pierce ate all his treats in a nano-second and Rudy attempted to eat the package the treats came in. Every single dollar spent was worth it- these guys make me smile everyday!

Merry Christmas to you and yours….

 

  

    
    
  

Goodbyes and love  – Ball of sad

On Sunday, we took two of our three teens –my daughter and one of my sons- to Casey Hospice House in Rockville, MD to say goodbye to their grandfather -my father-in-law. We pulled up to a well-manicured building that looked pretty new. I could see in the summer the grounds would be quite beautiful.

I had given my three children – my boys, age 15, and my daughter, age 17, the choice of going to see him or to stay home. It’s a personal choice and I told them it was ok whatever they chose. Two of them felt like they wanted to say goodbye. One of my sons didn’t feel like he could handle seeing his grandfather. I could tell that he was anxious about it and I told him it was ok that whatever he decided was the right choice for him and there was no pressure for him to go.

It’s one of those things you don’t want your kids to have to face but I also know death is as much a part of life as living is. If they felt ready to see it then I was ok with that.

I don’t do well with death. I have lost a number of people in my life and it has never gotten easier but I have learned that the more I open myself to feeling the sadness and grief instead of running from it the more I am able to face it.

We had been losing Dad for a number of years to Alzheimer’s.  His condition has gotten much worse over the last 6 months. He is now in what is called late-stage Alzheimer’s. Last week he lost the ability to walk, eat on his own, and communicate clearly. He didn’t know his home anymore and became agitated and would try to ask if someone could take him home.

Dad and my mother-in-law have been being cared for at home by my brother-in -law who made their care his full time job 3 years ago. He gets relief from 2 other brothers regularly and the rest of us try to pitch in when we can. It has been a blessing that he has been able to be home for so long. Recently in home hospice care had also started at their primary doctors recommendation so they had a number of nurses, aides, and social workers coming in as well.

With six sons it has been possible for Dad to have home care until this past week when he took the big turn downward and the social worker that visited them a couple times a week recommended he go to a hospice house to be evaluated to see if he should be moved to a nursing facility or if he could go back home with 24 hour nursing care. Sadly, in hospice he began declining and it looks like he will be leaving us soon.

This was my first time in a hospice house and I was nervous wondering what it might be like.  Would my kids be freaked out? Would I? But I found the place comforting and warm. There was a big fireplace and sitting area. There were quite a few people sitting on comfortable looking couches by the fire. The staff was very nice and before we went into the room they updated Kevin on his fathers condition. She said he was declining but couldn’t give a timeframe of when he might pass.

We walked into a nice private room with a lounge chair and a window bench. My eyes went to the bed where the man I’ve know as Dad for 18 years lay sleeping soundly. He looked peaceful but that’s when reality hit me that he was really going to leave us soon and the tears began.

Though we had been saying goodbye to him for so long as his memory slipped away we still had his body- now we were really going to lose all of him. It is so final.  I wanted to hide my tears from my kids. But I couldn’t and I realized it was ok. Kevin and I could show our grief because that is part of life too.

I think in some ways I am relieved that he will be released from the clutches of Alzheimer’s that has taken away much of his quality of life. But the other part of me wants to keep him here because I love him so much and I am crushed by the reality that he will be physically gone. I also am so sad for my mother-in-law because she is losing the man she has been married to for 68 years.

My father-in-law was resting peacefully thanks to medication. Gone was the agitated and confused man from a few days before when he didn’t know his home was home anymore. I was glad my kids saw him like this – peaceful. I think seeing him upset would have been harder.

I leaned over and rubbed his warm shoulder and prayed for a bit and then I began talking out loud to him. I wanted my kids to feel free to speak to him if they felt like it- but they didn’t have to do anything. This was the first time they had ever been to a care facility such as this. I was worried they would be afraid. I wanted to somehow put them at ease but they were handling it ok.

We left my husband to be alone with his dad for a while. My kids and I sat together on old rocking chairs in the hallway- we cried and we talked.  I kept asking if they were ok. My son said he was shaken because he “hadn’t done anything like this before”- (saying goodbye to someone he knew that was going to die). He and my daughter both said they were glad they came to say their goodbyes but that it was very hard.

When Kevin came out of the room to get us I asked the kids if they wanted to go back in and they both said yes. I’m glad they wanted to – I think they’ll always know they got to say goodbye. I think it is closure for them.

I leaned over the man that has loved me like a daughter and whispered a few things in his ear – then I kissed his head.

I thanked him for loving me like his own child. I thanked him for raising the most wonderful son. I told him I would take care of Kevin, and I asked Dad to visit me in my dreams to let me know he is ok.

My son hugged him – tears flowing. He is my sensitive kid and I worried he would hold it all in. I’ll try to talk with him often over the next week. My heart hurts for my kid’s pain.

My daughter stood crying in the doorway – I can tell she was scared but didn’t want to be. She was faced looking into the hall and she would turn and look at Dad and then turn away and try not to cry but it wasn’t working. She’s pretty tough and I think this tug at her emotions threw her off a bit. She doesn’t like to cry but she let the tears come and I think this was good for her. It hurt me to see her so saddened but for her to let that out is a big deal.

We went to leave and my heart dropped. This may be the final goodbye. I could hardly step from the room. I kissed him again and I walked out – my heart breaking and my eyes zooming in on the exit door. I needed to get out before the dam broke.

I pushed out of the door and the sobs came. I turned around and looked at the rest of my family and realized we were all crying too. When we got back to the car we sat there for a little while trying to get it together. We were one ball of sad – but we were sad together.

I didn’t feel like going home right away and I felt like doing something happy. So we drove to see a big Christmas light display in a park not far away.

I think it lightened my kids’ mood and it did lighten mine. Kevin seemed glad for the distraction.

Sometimes the blend of sadness and happy and grief and joy that can exist in one day astounds me. They all exist at each second of the day. When we are sad and grieving we want life to stop and wait because we are so consumed with it but the world still throws some happiness and joy in there. Sometimes we experience them all in one day – it’s quite amazing.

I think Dad would have liked those lights. I remember when we all went to walk through a Christmas light display when we had just one small baby boy.  Dad picked our little son up and walked through the light displays reliving the wonder through a little boy’s eyes.

I’ll miss that man.

I told my kids that this is one of the hard parts of life – the part that we often want to avoid. But really this sadness is also a gift. This sadness comes because we loved someone so much. Love is a true blessing and when we feel grief it’s because we opened ourselves to connection and love.  The grief is hard  -but how great was that love. The pain is worth it.

 

  
  

On loss and friendship

Recently my friend, Debbie, lost her 21-year-old son, Roma, from a fall off a ladder. It was a shocking thing to the many people who knew him and his family. It is one of those things that is hard to wrap your mind around when it happens. A young person who seemed to have a long life ahead of them doesn’t get the chance.

It is more than sad. It is devastating.

My heart broke for Debbie and her family. It is a parent’s worst nightmare to bury a child. I wept for their loss and for a life that won’t get to be lived. I wept when I thought what if that had been me. I wept because imagining the loss of my own child upset me.

How does one survive that? —I am not sure.

I have always been inspired by Debbie’s very loving spirit and strength and her deep faith in God. She has helped me during our friendship more than she may even know. In her time of grief I want to be a comfort to her. I have been thinking about how best I can do that.

Words of sympathy, anecdotes, and many pictures have been pouring onto her Facebook page. She told me they were comforting for her. But I imagine as the days after the funeral creep on and other people get back to their lives these things might quiet down some. This is the time that I hope to be helpful.

Sometimes when a tragedy happens such as this we may find it hard to know what to do. Some people may distance themselves because even talking about the loss of a child is too painful even for the one who might be trying to provide comfort.

I can see that. But I knew her son…not well but I knew him – and I knew him better because of how she shared him with others. Her son was adopted and she wrote a book about her journey to adopt him. She also had a blog where she often wrote about him and then recently she wrote an amazing story of how they found his birth family in Russia.

But the best sharing we did was together in our conversations. I also have a son who is adopted and who was having some problems. She not only helped get support for me and help for my son she listened to me talk (vent!) about my fears and worries for my son.

When she spoke of her son -who had also had some challenges during his teen years and had just seemed to turn a corner before he lost his life- she spoke of him always with love. She never lost hope for him. She had such compassion and care for him despite the frustrations and fear she also had for him. She is an inspiration to me.

So from all of these conversations I had with her, I learned about him and I learned a bit about compassion (and I have tried to emulate that in my relationship with my own son and others).

Things with my son had become difficult. It stressed the entire family. Kevin and I tried to get help for him and tried to let him learn through natural consequences. It was really taking its toll on me. I wanted to make him right. I saw his potential even if he couldn’t see it.

What I learned from Debbie is that we can guide with love and though we hurt terribly to see them falter or have to learn the hard way that we can just love them.

Debbie has written in her own blog that things got better for her when she realized God didn’t intend on her to fix Roma- only to love him. Reading her words was a changing point for me. I still have my moments of anger and sheer frustration but I am better able manage that and I try to see my son through the eyes that Jesus would have seen him through.

If anything comes of Roma’s death for me is that it puts so much of life with my own kids into perspective. I realized after I heard about Roma’s death how so many things I got upset about with my kids really didn’t matter. That what really matters is to love them.

And these are the things I can talk to her about. What she gave me and what her son gave me through her. Perhaps this will be a comfort.

Sometimes words aren’t needed though. When I got cancer I know that some people really didn’t know what to say. And that is ok. Some of the nicest things I got from people were simple cards. I loved the Bible quotes and sometimes little pictures. Sometimes just a few words of encouragement – “good luck today” or “I prayed for you today” were just the thing I needed at that moment. It doesn’t have to be a dialogue.

When my friend died last year of thyroid cancer I had no words except “I am so sorry” and how many times was I going to say this? So I stopped saying it. Instead I posted pictures on her face book page of my photographs. In fact, I did this in her last weeks of life. I had no words then so I would take a photo for her and attach an encouraging quote to it and post it on her page. I wanted her to know I was thinking of her and I hope in some way it was comforting. Posting on her page after her death was perhaps more of a comfort to me but maybe it made someone else feel good that saw it.

With Debbie, I hope to provide some comfort in these ways. The other night my family was out to dinner at a local Italian restaurant and I looked up at the décor on the walls and I noticed a wall clock and under the clock was the word “Roma” – her son’s name. I had my daughter snap a picture and I posted it on her Facebook just to let her know I was thinking of her and of Roma.

I hope to get together with Debbie after the holidays. I told her I wanted to come over and chat about Roma and maybe have a glass of wine. I want her to tell me more about him if she feels like it. I want her to cry if she feels like it. I just want to be there for her. I want to do what I am not always great at- just listen.

I think having had cancer was a huge turning point in my life.  One of the most important things I learned was what a gift it is to just have someone listen to you. My husband who is a great listener became a sounding board for all my fears and angst and anger and depression. He listened with love.

I had a few friends who had been through breast cancer and they were the ones I went to when I had a question or just needed to vent. It was just good know they were there. I didn’t always need words – I just needed ears.

And then there was the touch. During some really bad days hugs really helped. Kevin hugged me fierce. He caught my tears. I have not always been comfortable hugging on people. I didn’t grow up in a huggy family but over the years I have grown to be more of a hugger. So sometimes when I am in doubt of my words I hug. It brings connection and human touch is one of the most comforting things.

When I was in the hospital I was rolled into rooms prior to my surgery for icky procedures – my husband was often banned. He was my resident hand-holder and when he wasn’t there I just grabbed on a nurses hand for comfort and I told them it was a comfort. They were more than happy to lend a hand – pun intended.

So when in doubt of consoling words I hug or I hold a hand. I watched my friend the other day get hundreds of hugs. I bet she was tired but she told me that day that she and her husband really “felt all the love” from everyone…not just the days of the funeral and visitations but the days just following his death.

We all struggle with these things I think sometimes. We are lost for words. But it is ok. Any gesture that is from the heart is ok. It comes out of love. And that is a gift.

The loss of a child has got to bring unimaginable pain and sorrow. I can only imagine and I don’t like to – the imagining hurts. I feel such sadness over the loss of Debbie’s son Roma and such sorrow for her pain. I want to be present in my friend’s life- I don’t want to back away because I just don’t have the words or out of fear that I will make her cry because I do or say the wrong thing. I just want to her to know I care. I know I can’t make her grief go away but I hope to give support during it. It is all I have but I give it with love.

Debbie said it took a village to raise Roma. I know the village will be there for her and her entire family in their grief.

 

Debbie’s Author page here.

Photos courtesy of Debbie Michael

 

Rest In Peace Roma- though your mom says Rest and Roma don’t go together!

 

 

 

The sad under the happy 

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We checked into the Marriott on a balmy December Saturday. It was unseasonably warm for a Christmas celebration weekend in Baltimore, MD. My husband Kevin and I were there to see the Christmas Parade in the harbor. We splurged on the hotel – we were celebrating my 52nd birthday a little early as my birthday falls three days before Christmas and it is often very busy around that week that any getaway would not work.

There was a beautiful Christmas tree in the lobby and the hotel bustled with visitors. There was a doorman and valet parking and a bellman. The room with a view of Baltimore Harbor did not disappoint. It felt a little decadent- a little too much- but it felt really good to be able to splurge like this. The last two years had been really, really hard. Serious illness and then debt from the medical bills, another home that we had been renting out but losing money on was on the market but wouldn’t sell, and loss of income for various reasons from our jobs left us in bad financial shape.

We had tried various ways to dig out but it just seemed like things were getting worse. Finally for many reasons we decided to file bankruptcy. It was tough but in light of having faced cancer it wasn’t as scary as it may have been otherwise. Then just when we thought things were looking up – our other house had a contract for sale on it – the bank decided to foreclose. It really was a stressful time.

So here we were five months later in a hotel in Baltimore celebrating and splurging a bit. Kevin began a new job in October with better pay. Things are going better. We have a little room to breath.

We had a nice time tooling around the harbor and Fells point each time we go I see something new. Each time I get a better feel for the city and its charms.

This time there was quite a celebration going on in Fells Point. There were bands and vendors in the square. Some vendors had hot libations like spiked eggnog and cider, and some had clothing, others jewelry. I had to stop and photograph the dogs – there were so many dogs. The Fells Point area is very dog friendly. A fun looking band was taking a break promising to start up again soon.

Kevin and I hustled and bustled our way through some bars and some appetizers. We felt the holiday buzz. We watched the boats in the harbor from our room – not the fanfare I thought it would be but the boats that participated were done up nicely. I can hear people cheering for them from our room with the harbor view.

It was fun and one could get caught up in this great place and how perfect it all is. And it is wonderful. I love it there but each time I go I also see the other side. The sad side. The sad under the happy.

I see the homeless person on the corner asking for a dollar or two. I see the hustlers in the crowd doing their thing angling for money.  I read the warnings in flyer that said to watch out for people dressed in character suits asking for money as they aren’t part of this event or that. The flyer warns that they are just trying to get your cash. In the evening I see a man alone on a set of dark building steps head in his hands. We quicken our steps but I don’t think we need to fear for ourselves. Part of me wants to see what’s wrong.

Some social workers and even non-professionals say it is unhealthy to give money to the homeless because they may use it to buy drugs and alcohol. I decided long ago that this may be true but I don’t really care. I feel good giving them money and it is not my job to judge. It is my job to love and to show compassion.

I feel badly that I can’t help them all. I feel badly saying no – but sometimes you have to. Sometimes it’s as simple as having run out of cash in your own pocket.

I think my guilt over splurging on the weekend and having to say no to the needy sometimes comes from way back.

When I was young I grew up in Potomac, MD an affluent area outside of Washington, DC. I didn’t realize it was affluent until I was maybe 10 or 11. Perhaps that is the age that differences dawn on you in your awareness. I remember going to the Redskins games on Sundays. We always had season tickets and sometimes we would park outside the stadium on someone’s lawn for a small fee. We had done it for years but at some point I realized these city kids in their worn clothes in front of their worn homes lived very differently than I did. I was kind of embarrassed by that.

Later when I started college my best friend and I were attending the same school. When we went to orientation some other freshman asked us where we lived. When we said Potomac, MD they gave us a hard time. They joked that we were rich kids and I really didn’t like it. So I began to say I was from Rockville, MD (affluent now but then more regular middle class).

I was never comfortable with the label. I was never comfortable with wealth for that matter. I am sure it is because it represented more negative things to me than positive. I grew up where money was over- valued and I spent much of my life not valuing it enough. I was not a saver and I spent and spent – rejecting what had been drilled in me from youth. I think there was a happy medium and maybe I am just beginning to understand it.

I still carry the guilt of being some “rich” kid (though we weren’t rich by todays standards). In my world money did not bring happiness – for me giving away money or spending it did. I feel badly sometimes when I indulge on myself and if I can’t give to everyone I meet on the street. I need to let go of that and I am working on it. I deserve to splurge sometimes and celebrate.

After the boat parade, we head to Mustang Alley’s a bar and bowling Alley (cool right?) for a little bite to eat. In a bar there are two holiday parties going on and people are exchanging gifts – doing that elephant exchange thing- all laughing at the silly gifts. I watch as one woman takes the gift from her officemate. Though I can’t see what the gift is I know it was something everyone wanted just by the groans. The place is full of cheer. We head back to the hotel for dessert in the hotel restaurant. I just want to eat there because it feels good to sit in the pretty restaurant and sip coffee and have dessert.

I am so drawn to Baltimore – the happy and the sad. My connection runs so deep that sometimes I dream about buying a small studio for weekend getaways. Kevin and talk about how great that would be to have a little place in the city.

There has been unrest in Baltimore lately. The news of the riots saddened me. But it doesn’t take away from my love of the place. It is the reality of a city. There are problems – just like anywhere but more magnified because you have more people in a city thus more diversity – and thus more differences and some of those differences lead to anger and unhappiness. Maybe if I lived there I would feel differently about it all. Maybe the charm would leave me. But right now it is a place I love to visit.

I am not a city person by nature. I grew up in the burbs and now I live in the country. I love the country and have been drawn to nature and the outdoors my entire life. The city is such the opposite of where I live. The energy and the pace are so awakening.

When I was 22 I lived for a year in Boston. I was fresh out of college and moved there on a whim (ok I followed a boy) and I was taken by the juxtaposition of the wealth and the poverty. I remember one morning leaving my apartment and a homeless man was asleep in the entry of the building. The stench of liquor was pretty fierce. My boyfriend was disgusted that this man was in the vestibule. I felt happy he was able to find a semi-warm place to sleep.

I rode the subway to work and had a bit of a walk to my building everyday and I had “my” homeless person that I took care of each day. A number of my coworkers did the same. A few cigarettes here and a few dollars there- a muffin or a coffee some mornings- it was the best we could do I suppose. By the time we left for the day our homeless charges had moved on and were replaced by others. But we knew ours would be back in the morning.

It became part of the scenery. We would see guys in the common hustling the tourists with their card games or the ball and cup game. We would watch. It wasn’t the haves and the have-nots anymore when you lived there it was just all part of the city.

On the way out of Baltimore, I see the stadiums that sit next to a neighborhood where children who grow under their shadows. They hear the games but may never be able to go BC their parents can’t afford it.

As we drive onto the freeway, I see a small wooden fort next to the a creek – there are some plastic chairs sitting out front right – it is next to the fancy new Horseshoe casino. Does anyone know who lives there? Does anyone check? I wonder. It’s gone as fast as I see it. But I can still see it in my mind.

I’m actually grateful to notice these things. This is reality. This is what makes life bittersweet. Poverty is everywhere- it is just magnified in the backdrop of the city. I want to fix it but I realize I can’t – I can only do what I can do. The guilt may be something I am always working on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  
  
  
  

Ends and Beginnings…

On Sunday as I walked down the drive way of Bedlam Farm to my car I began to cry…

But that was the last day of the Bedlam Farm Open House in Upstate new York hosted by Author Jon Katz – that was the end. So much happened in between – and to think up until the minute I left home on my trek I thought I might not go. I do that. Its my opt out mechanism. The opt out comes from a long dance with an anxiety disorder. As an event approaches – an event like the Open House that I was looking so forward to  going to – I will become increasingly anxious and I will think of reasons not to go…or I will feel so bad physically I will cancel. But as much as those thoughts came into my head the more I willed myself to push them out. I was going to Bedlam.

I have had enough of my dance with anxiety and the fact that it has limited me. It still wins sometimes. There is still part of me trained by the beast but I am getting better at ignoring it. After I had cancer last year I realized that life is now. None of us have the promise of tomorrow and decided that I better get living. For me that sometimes comes harder than it needs to be – but it is my reality. Over the years I have learned a a lot about dealing with anxiety and much was from the man I hoped to meet on my journey to Bedlam Farm – Author Jon Katz.  Jon has dealt with his own fears and I learned from Jon that fear is a space to cross – a chasm to jump over. Get through it and there is love and accomplishment on the other side. I had to jump that chasm to get to meet the person who has inspired me so much over the last few years. I wanted to meet the people in the Facebook group he created (The Creative Group At Bedlam Farm)and I joined a few years ago. A group of incredible creative people that i am lucky to have come to know online- I wanted to meet them in person. (read the bloggers posts here).

I had cancelled the trip to the other Open Houses two times prior.  I was pretty tired for a while after radiation and I had nerve damage and then I got frozen shoulder and traveling in the car was a bear. It seemed like I might never feel good enough to trek to upstate New York to attend and Open House. Of course anxiety played a roll in canceling the trips and finally I realized maybe I wont ever feel 100%.  I realized that though my mindset was to get busy living i was still limiting myself waiting to feel a certain way.  I might be waiting for a long time and i might be missing out on a lot of life. So this past winter I decided to get on with it. I began doing more things and I realized the more I got out the better I felt. So I booked a Yurt at Grist Mill Campground and decided to head to Bedlam in June. And even know that demon anxiety tried to thwart my trip – I faced it -and off we went – my entire family on my journey to my Mecca.

The car trip on Friday was a little rough but entering Upstate New York and its beauty made it so worth it. We checked into our Yurt -which I will write more about later- and headed out for a bite to eat. I hardly slept that night and was thankful for the sounds of the stream that ran just behind the yurt.

I am not going to lie–heading down south from our campground to Bedlam Farm I felt the anxiety build as the GPS counted down the miles to our destination. Kevin pulled into a restaurant just up the road from the farm to get some bottled water. I sat in the car praying that the Holy Spirit would calm me down..and I alternated between the prayer and  rationalization that we could drive right on by. There was no pressure…I did not have to go. Kevin came out and joked that he tried to score me a little wine but they didn’t sell it to go. Actually I think he really wasn’t kidding. But I told him that I was going into this head on and I was going to enjoy myself. I knew that the big fear cloud in front of me was thin and I could just step right through it. And I did.

When I saw the farm for the first time it was like a dream but also there was so much comfort in it. I barely recall walking up the driveway to the house (except I told Kevin I knew the boy in the ATV was Tyler- a young man who has been a huge help to Jon and Maria- he has become quite the celebrity). I looked up the driveway hoping to recognize someone. I laughed to myself bc I had never met anyone (except Janell Tomas that morning at our campground- and I thought they hadn’t arrived yet)- so who was I really looking for? I know anyone from the Creative Group reading this will know who I might have been looking for- a beacon in the forest – a light that always shines…Lisa Dingle. (No it wasn’t Jon Katz bc I would be too nervous to just run up to him and hug him- which I wanted to do!) Lisa is an Admin for the creative groups Facebook world but she is also everyones friend.  She is an incredible writer and a warm person..How did I know this having never met her? Her writing exudes it..her encouragement to others in our group shines of caring and love. And lo and behold there she was there to greet me! A big hug and introductions the first 30 minutes are a blur. I got that hug with Jon and was touched by his attention on a busy day with many people coming and going. Ok I was a little starstruck– it might be Brad Pitt for you but for me it was Jon Katz.

I was engulfed in love from all the farmies (members of the Creative Group)that were there. So many hugs and smiles. I knew right away that I was meant to come – it was something that had been waiting for me – this visit. The first 30 minutes were surreal- I was in a dream bc I was on Bedlam Farm- the farm I had seen in pictures thousands of times. I am not sure why – maybe it was the fact I had seen the photos of the farm so often- but I felt so at home in the space. But more oddly I felt like I had known many of these people already -and perhaps I did- you can create connections online.

I listened to poetry, visited with the animals, watched herding – all incredible. But I wanted to meet the matriarch (I had to use that word lol) of Bedlam..Maria Wulf , Jon’s wife. Maria has been an inspiration to me. I have seen her grow creatively over the years and I have always admired her quiet strength.  Kevin didn’t get to chat with Maria as I did and wondered if she was shy. I told him I didn’t find her shy at all…she was easy to talk with. She may not have realized that I was a bit starstruck with her too – and when I get nervous I talk a lot (sorry Maria if I blabbed). Most people don’t realize I have anxiety bc I compensate by talking! Meeting Maria was sure a highlight for me.

I wanted to take in the weekend and I really tried to focus on absorbing it all. I tried to talk less-hard for me- and listen and observe more. I didn’t take a ton of pictures the first day. I left that up to my daughter Kamilla. I just tried to soak it all in. It was overwhelming for the first hour – meeting so many new people. I wanted to embed their faces and names in my brain – but don’t test me.

I was enamored with the animals and Red is amazing! I can see that Fate is going to be some dog- I look forward to watching her grow. The great things about the end of Saturdays Open House is that there is another one on Sunday. So it really isn’t over.  On Saturday we decided to follow others to the Bog (nickname for Foggy Notions Restaurant in Cambridge Mass.). How unlike me to just meet strangers out for a bite…but not strange bc these people weren’t strangers. I had met them all before just not in the flesh. It was familiar and comfortable and good. I sat near the Deborah’s (Glessner and Rahalski) I chatted with Doug Anderson. During the meal, I never felt weird or tongue tied (maybe that was the wine spritzers). My husband was right there and as always he was chatting away and enjoying himself. His support is really what helps me face my fears. He is truly the partner I was meant to have on this life’s journey.

On Saturday night the rain began. So no campfire and I was worried what that might do for the open house the next day. In the morning we all headed down to the Roundhouse Cafe and enjoyed a meal and fellowship with other farmies and Jon and Maria and some other folks from Blue Star Equiculture a draft horse rescue in Mass. The food was great and it was really cool to spend time in a place that Jon has shared on his blog for many years. The town of Cambridge, NY is very nice and I can see why one would be drawn to this community. I hope to explore the town more when we head back in October for the next Open House.

After we packed our car we headed back to Cambridge to see if the Open House was going to happen and sure enough it was. I was glad bc I was not ready for it to end. The rain held off and it was a great day. There were fewer people and that was nice as we could spend a bit more time chatting with Jon. I was able to buy some more wonderful things from Maria’s shop. I love Maria’s fiber arts and had to have another potholder.  I was taken by the batik work of Carol Law Conklin.  Rachel Barlow’s cartoons on magnets were a hit as was her Hoga necklaces (i bought two)I loved all of the artists showcased – there was so much talent there.

For me the weekend was about many things. Overcoming fear…living in the moment and connecting with people. Meeting all of the farmies was just wonderful and I want them to know that I so appreciate the way they welcomed me. I want to thank each of you by name but if I left anyone out I would feel bad…you know who you are and I send you a cyber hug of thanks and love. I look forward to meeting more farmies on my future trips to the Open Houses. I am not sure I can really ever put into words what the weekend meant to me. I know those that have made the journey for the fist time know the feeling.

Jon and Maria thank you for opening your home for this event. Jon I probably will never be able to really tell you how you have inspired me and made me think about things. Your open writing has helped me (and many others a lot). See I don’t have the proper words so I will just leave it there.

I will see you all in October – I will probably have to fight the anxiety demon some but he won’t win….

On Sunday as I walked down the drive way of Bedlam Farm to my car I began to cry….

These weren’t tears of sadness – they were tears of gratitude. It was the end….but it was also the beginning of something new and special. Making friends is not easy for me…but I feel like I made some new friendships and connections and I think this is just the beginning of more joys to come…

Thanks for reading…

 

Amongst the pack – Lemon…psychic or bully (part 1)

Do not mistake this cute face as belonging to a wonderful, perfect dog. No! While Lemon has her moments of sweetness she can be quite bad. So bad that one of her nicknames is Badness (dogs get a lot of nicknames around here – come to think of it most living beings get nicknamed around here). Lemon is badness personified.

Lemon’s badness began when she was a mere mite of a puppy. She learned early on to climb up on our patio table and bark her head off until she could get what she wanted. Sometimes it was the desire to come inside and other times it was to play with another of her dogs friends or get their attention. At that time we were living in a neighborhood and we tried to hide five dogs on 1/3 of an acre. Until Lemon joined us we had been quite successful. But when her barking rampages began we were outed. My neighbors behind us told me they actually went out and yelled at her one day to shut up. Uh Oh- not good. I did not need the question “How many dogs do you have?” There was an HOA limit of three. There were a few of us crazies with more but we tried to stay underground.  We tried a collar on Lemon that emits a low pitched beep when the barking begins. Didn’t work. I had her in a bark collar- that jus made it worse. I just got trained so that when I did let her out in the yard I would coax her In at the first sign of barking. We moved soon after that complaint. It was time for more space!

When we got to our small farm we still had neighbors not far away. Our dog yard was much bigger than the old one and she loves to romp and play out there. But it comes with barking. If we toss the frisbee to her she barks as soon as she returns it to you. I ignore her until she stops and only when it is silent do I toss it. You would think she’d learn to just shut her yap. But no! She isn’t dumb -she’s bossy.  Our neighbor complained once but thankfully she is older and told me she has become quite hard of hearing.  I’m rather glad for her hearing impediment because I don’t want my dogs to be a bother to anyone. My neighbor on the other side has five dogs and we just co-exist amongst the barks from both camps. Her only complaint has been my chickens and ducks which we quickly enclosed in a big area. No more hens picking on her hostas.

Lemon’s terror doesn’t begin and end with barking she also steals.  Kind of like Marley of the famous “Marley and Me”. She will take something and run away with it. She learned early on if she steals something you will give her a treat for its safe return. She trained us well. She steals stuff just to get a treat. She steals all the dogs bowls in the house and collects them in the family room. She steals toys of the kids (when they were little) and she still steals all dog toys so no other dog can play with them. We have resorted to private toy time -where each dog gets private time with a toy. This ensures that no fights will begin.

When we first moved here we put up a dog fence. I thought four feet high would be fine. At that point I had older dogs here and our fence had been the same height at our old home with no breakouts.  We lived here for about 6 weeks before the fence was installed and we had to walk each dog outside on a leash 4-5 times a day to do their business while we waited for the fence company to get started. So you can imagine the pent up energy of five dogs who haven’t run much in weeks! So when that fence was up we released the hounds! Within thirty seconds Lemon was up and over that fence chasing our barn cat she had spotted. The next day my husband had to add a wireless fence around the wood fence and Lemon was given a collar to correct her if she got too close to the fence.  I wondered if it would even work but she is smart and decided getting buzzed wasn’t that great so she stayed back.

Lemon is very loving and maybe a tad over-exuberant to humans. As she has aged she has gotten sweeter and she steals less. It is sweetness on her terms but still sweet. She won’t let you pet her unless she allows it and she doesn’t follow you around much unless you have food. But she loves my son Luke and she sleeps in his room almost nightly. She finally has graduated from having to be crated when we are out to being allowed to lay in the house. She graduated to this at age five (her age now). Rudy graduated to this at age one. There is a big difference in personality. Lemon will still try to open the garbage drawer we had specially made to keep her out. She learned how to open it in a day so we had to put a baby lock on it. She can open our pantry if it’s left ajar just a bit. I’ve come home to remnants of cookie packaging and cracker boxes strewn all about. We rubber band the pantry closed (until we fix the pantry so it closes properly.).

But we have a problem in Lemon land. She loves her fellow dogs generally- she is bossy to them but will exhibit proper playing with them for the most part but then there are the times she doesn’t – she can turn on a dime into a fierce bit*h! And thats when the problems begin … (to be continued..)

Thanks for reading.

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