Welcome! I have started this online journal in the hopes of satisfying 2 goals; One, an outlet for creative expression, whatever may come of it. And two, an online freelance writing portfolio. I have promised myself to put down as much as I can - and here it will be.

I might have a poem or story to share, I might need to vent away on a particular subject or I may have just discovered the meaning of life. Who knows? Some will be serious, some light, some pointless and silly. Some will be writing just to write. But, hopefully each day I can be inspired by something going on. Most entries will be a little of this, a little of that. And most likely, they will not be continuous from day to day, unless I am working on a longer story that I want to break up into daily snibbles.

Like I said, anything and everything in this mind of mine, for good or for bad. It will all end up on here sooner or later!

I would honor your opinions of my endeavor and the pieces that arrive here. Feedback is crucial to my success! If you have any constructive criticism, just want to say you like/don't like, or that it affected you in some way...that would be fine. Quite nice, in fact.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Loss

Looking up, she sees the tree, the lights and now her eyelids blinking, one bringing on and the other holding back the tears that are threatening to spill over.  She brushes one escapee away from her cheek and continues to glare at the memory jogger.  The grief is finally hitting her full force.  So much loss; the people, the memories, the past, the parts of her family that will never be again.   

She is seated at the foot of the ridiculously wide Christmas decoration, sitting cross-legged on the floor.  Her hands hold a picture of a beloved dog, his fur so much like a lion’s mane.  The picture was there only because he could not be, and she missed him terribly.  At times like these, when nostalgia and bitterness got the best of her, he was her only refuge, his calm nature washing over her as she teetered over the emotional abyss.  But he was not here this year, having left them a few months prior to play in the fields of Heaven.  His absence was an acute presence in her life, she could never have known how greatly she would long for his large frame to be resting against her hip, his comforting warmth radiating to her very core, touching her soul. 

She thinks of the people in her life that she would eventually lose, one by one, falling away from this world; their radiance extinguished and stolen by God as if they became merely a burnt out bulb in a string of twinkling lights.  These were people she was not sure she could ever live without – her parents, her siblings, her aunts and uncles, her friends…her spouse.  Overcoming past grievances, feeling as though she were emotionally solid, solid enough, she was dismayed to discover another side of herself in waiting. 

Losing her first dog was a blow to the core of what she was made of, and she was ashamed to admit that she had changed, and it was not for the better.  He was a family member, almost as a son would have been to her, and no less of a loss than a human would be, but it was expected, in time, that he would leave her.  His loss was a thought she never dared ponder, and in denial of that natural order came a response so bitter, so overwhelming, that she feared what would happen the day she lost more. 

Until this day, she worried, agonized over his absence at the holiday.  Yet, Christmas was surprisingly easy to ignore, more than she would have ever thought possible, loving it as she did – the glitter, the glamour, the gloss of the commercialization effort; all of it so easy to disregard, to go through the motions, to not really feel it, it was saddening.  Even the music and family company that used to get her in the mood for the season were painless to keep out, never really sinking in, just let it pass her by. She vowed not to let it all in, keep it at arm’s length and not enjoy the holiday because she felt so angry over the world continuing its journey without her baby.  Despite even knowing, how could they? 

She wonders; How do others who have lost their sons, daughters, husbands, wives - their parents - truly enjoy the season without the bitter aftertaste? 

How does it become the innocent celebration once again, pure and without regret?  

Most of her suspects that it never does, only changes, settling into something more complex – and right now she wanted no part of it.  She missed blissfully enjoying Christmas…she missed him. 

Sitting in the quiet glow of the tree, dark in the house but for her glistening tears, her sensitive nature got the best of her, the spill coming faster, her slow hands unable to keep time.  She was wrong to be sitting here. 

This part of her Christmas routine usually rewarded her need to grasp the basic meaning of the season, letting the heady, optimistic mix of feelings - love, peace, joy and happiness – as cliché as that sounds, wash over her.  It served as the seal on the bottle, the top-off that made her feel complete; breathe in quiet, exhale peace.   The alone time needed to signal the end of hectic efforts, instead delighting in the enjoyment of her labors.  Time to let it all sink in and have peace settle over, soothing and caressing, creating a clean slate on which to eat, drink and be merry.  This was her mistake this year, she should have opted to skip this part, knowing how she would be, for it is now the chink in her armor that let it all in.  This first season without him that heralded all the future seasons without them. 

Feeling more like an adult than she ever has, she sobs over her losses; past, present and future.  

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Check Me Out!

Lucy, an up-and-coming online women's magazine for us "real" women has published my story of how we found out about the triplets.  Check out my article here!  And be sure to peruse the rest - it's a huge issue!  It's a great new take on women's magazines and I am proud to be a tiny part of it.

Yay for me!  ;)  (Can you tell I am excited today?)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

My Favorite Place

Etched so well into my memory that even the recollection brings me to peace, the imprint is a powerful tranquilizer. It is only summoned in great need of that effect; otherwise it appears solely in my random cerebral slide show, delighting me every time with the recall. This evocation of my favorite place is always a welcome event. Asked to describe it and all I can say is that it is merely a plain room, an old room and nothing more…at first glance. This room is not mine, only borrowed, and I have been there no more than a handful of times. Yet it is as home to me as my own bedroom.

I believe that it possesses magical powers; step inside and you are instantly relaxed. All tension ebbs away with the lapping waves at the shore below, tugged down into the depths, the lake assuming your burden for the week. Imagine a lake that could do all that; submerge the stress of visitors below the calm surface, letting each one become at ease with life again, every ripple a reminder of the troubled currents it holds temporarily contained in its depths.

This place…it is just a room, a plain one in fact; a box of a room really. Old and distressed, the top half dressed in screens with only bare boards for skivvies, it leaves much to be desired in décor. Scattered remains of a few ill-fated creepy-crawlies litter the corners and sand crunches underfoot. Three pieces of old furniture you would not want in your own home occupy the space. Thankfully, it’s not the inside of the room I am here to see. It is merely a placeholder, a vessel of sorts, in which to experience the magnificent.

Cold description aside, even with the obvious brusque nature of the room, an ambiance exists. It is cozy, yet pleasantly airy, with an expanse of beautiful lake set out before you as a feast for the eyes to gorge upon. Inside, mystery and depth perfume the air with their intense aroma, signifying the presence of so many that have come before you to savor the comfort this portal has to offer. Just as a kiss is not just merely the pressing of lips to lips, this room holds the meaning and promise of so much more.

Standing at the threshold of this gateway, I breathe, and deeply, savoring the pleasantly astringent air. I have heard that one inhalation of this superior cocktail has the effect of a dozen massages; and I am feeling that now. I rest my hands against the timber door frame, feeling the rough hewn wood beneath my fingers and palms. It is a pleasant textural sensation that only adds more character to the rustic room. Another sensation, though this one strange; I feel as though I can sense the two worlds juxtaposed beyond both sides of this threshold. Behind me exists all the stress, anxiety and worry of the world, pulsing as if it had a heartbeat of its own, trying to pull me back in with every palpitation. Before me, the soothing bliss of a world where time stands still or maybe just moves slower than life can detect. The promise of troubles abated, apprehension quieted and broken souls mended; and me as the bridge between both powerfully drawing dimensions, the opportunity to choose which way to go.

Surveying the familiar, I look to the right. Swaying slowly and reverently, in tempo with the sonorous chimes, at times lilting and then deep, the modest bed swing allows for either quiet contemplation or a lulling dream state. It beckons with each arc toward my place at the door. Suspended from four slender chains, so as to not obstruct the gorgeous panorama, it is covered by a thin bedspread which is in turn covered in a smothering Victorian pattern. No matter, it takes nothing away. The curious formula of this screen porch is; that which is added only adds to the ambiance and character. Everything here works in pleasing visual harmony.

The breeze flows as freely through the room as the water down below, smoothing and contouring my state of mind into something beautiful and worthy of collecting.

Turning my gaze to the center of the room, a sturdy pine table hunkers in my vision. On it rests an unfinished puzzle of yet another gorgeous, though anonymous, vista. I am tempted to finish where the last occupant left off, but my psyche craves the current scene available to me, just beyond the framed screen. I need to concentrate on savoring this short-term sedative because its effects will vanish all too soon.

Scanning left, the answer to my need lies in the form of a humble rocking chair, its unintended shabby chic expression the perfect fit for my weary frame. It is in perfect position to accept the best angle of view to the viewer. At once crossing over the invisible line between worlds, I surge into its arms and it welcomes me as an old friend might after several years. Instantly comforted, I rest my gaze to the line of sight before me, letting in the sight of the golden sun glimmering on the rolling and rippling waves. The rocking and the lapping and the viewing all in chorus, I issue a sigh of contentment. The convergence of stress and relaxation in this place always concludes with the latter victorious.

My day is now set; rock, puzzle, sleep… in no particular order.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

As Political As I Get...

Politics are beyond me.

I may lose a few friends with this post, but it has to be said. Considering that it is Election Day, one of the closest and most important in history, I thought it was appropriate to post my First Ever Political Essay. This is as political as I get, people. Please save the scathing comments, I don’t want this to turn into a debate. I will tuck tail and run, just to warn you.

I think I am registered as a Democrat, but I am ashamed and yet somehow relieved to admit that I am truly part of the "Blissfully Ignorant" Party. When one is trying to live a simple and uncomplicated life, as I am, there is simply no room for politics, for it is possibly one of the most complex social games known to man. I never get close to that fire, no thank you, until the Presidential elections roll around and there is simply no way to escape the propaganda, the campaigning and the SNL skits chock full of presidential hopefuls. I jump on the bandwagon; I am a fair weather fan, only every 4 years. I am otherwise a "do no harm" voter (ie, one who does not vote so that there is no harm in swaying the vote to the worse of the two candidates). I would love to change that, but it all starts with the system producing the candidates.

We are consistently presented with the choice between the "lesser of two evils", and for what did our patriots fight, lose their lives and their sons to get us to this point? The corruption, greed and vanity, the waste that is filling up our Political Metropolis is something to be ashamed of, if ever our original founders knew what the system has dissolved into.

I’m not sure why, but people are passionate about politics these days. So not me. I can be passionate, and I think passion is great if you have it, so long as it is not imposed upon your neighbor. That is, unless your neighbor wants it that way. ;)

Take religion. Religion is in the same vein of thought in my book. “Believe what you want to believe, but don’t force me to believe what you believe.” People will believe and follow only if they agree wholeheartedly that this is the way to go, and that is usually by emulating a desired path of action. Make sense? Most people would be alienated from that religion if it is forced upon them instead of being able to make up their own mind and follow on their own. See this as a note to those who would love to see others voting...don't be scathing, overzealous or condescending of those who would not "practice" your same opinion. In other words, treat it as you would a religion. Do not force your opinions on others, for it will further distance them, proving their point that staying out of the "game", as I see it right now, is easier than dealing with “people like you.”

Use politics, then, not as a platform to display only your beliefs or to put down others you may deem as naive or ignorant, but as an objective, knowledge furthering opportunity, a discussion, for those who seek impartial bias and sentient leadership to lead the way to a better tomorrow. Let the lesson be heard in the calm display of knowledge you have collected, not by forcing the "right way" down people's throats. I believe that you are entitled to your own opinion, as opinions are never wrong, even though this one will help to shape the next 4 years of our country's history; there is a lot at stake.

I’ve never had the energy, or searched for the knowledge necessary for a political fight. I am usually in awe and disgust of a heated political fight between us regular joes; awe of the knowledge necessary for the fight, disgust in what they were actually fighting over. What was the point? I want no part of it, to get into a tangle with a venom spitting, passionate political activist - No Thanks. The people I have come into contact with have been way too pushy and ultimately scathing. I believe that we own our opinions, and we should not be chastised or reprimanded for holding them, especially not for letting them out into the open. If we do our research and believe what we have come to believe, we own those opinions.

Aggressive politically-minded people were never a part of my friend roster, and if you found me at a party where the subject came up, you could also find me quietly sneaking out of the room, not wanting to be caught and then reprimanded for my lack of knowledge, and inevitably my lack of patriotism, lack of support for constitutional rights, as if I am betraying those who would fight for that right, slapping them in the face, disloyal to our country.

I get it. I understand what is at stake and what has been sacrificed to get here…but the system those men and women died for is now defunct and corrupt. Put someone in the office that isn’t compromised, slick, favor-trading and narcissistic. Let’s face it, if you have gotten all the way up the D.C. food chain, you have got to be a good politician…and that’s not a compliment. Most are there for their own political agenda, and the perks that come with it. The fake smiles and handshakes, the phone calls to secure your name and place in the favor closet, the banquets to work on your schmoozing skills – how far have we come since the first of their kind? Previously a hardship, taken on by the most righteous of citizens, traveling to Washington with the town’s sacred votes in tow; the representation a necessity in that time of vast space and primitive communication. I can imagine the eagerness and passion back then, all knowing they were there to shape the country for the better, they believed in the system. Honor and sincerity, a personal stake in the changes made. It is all so different today…for example, don’t even get me started on Diplomatic Immunity…But with the technology of the 21st century, are politicians truly needed anymore? With the internet, and therefore information and communication at most everyone’s fingertips, what exactly is the purpose of a “voice for the people” these days? We can now all have our voice heard without representation. The money spent greasing hands can be used to fund an internet connection for all interested, the opportunity always present to participate.

If I sound bitter, it’s because I am. The job has changed, become so far removed from what it was intended to be, the thought actually sickens me. The career politicians enjoy the benefits and keep networking, selling themselves to save their asses. No paycheck or reelection should ever come between what is good for our country and our people, now so far below on the food chain, it's a wonder they ever think of us at all. It's now a high rollers game, them sitting at their exclusive “millions-in” poker game in the back room, laughing while they trade their fortunes back and forth, smoking cigars, while us mortals plink our last nickel in the slots, crossing our fingers and hoping for a miracle so that we can pay our heating bills or maybe even send our kids to school.

Idealists will scream at my defacing of their saviors, but get real, people. They are there because they want the fame, the white teeth, the mistress and the Ermenegildo Zegna suit. They want the snazzy power package; they want it all.

Who sounds scathing now? ;) I'm sure there are some out there that are in it for the right reasons. It can't all be corrupt, I hope. But eventually the system may choke out these do-gooders and send them packing or else join the boy's club; the “Can't beat ‘em, join ‘em” mentality. It's become accepted, this new job description, and I for one, am disgusted. If those people truly wanted to be public servants, their campaigns would go quite differently. They are there for themselves, not us. And even if they start for us; gung-ho, with energy to rival a toddler, they will be eventually beaten down by the system, the other career politicians, hell-bent on keeping their positions and prolonging the country's agony.

Career politicians should not exist for they are the ultimate oxymoron; they should never be allowed to put their own success in front of the office/town/state/country they are running "for" because it creates conflicting end goals. How can you put the country first if you are basing your decisions on what would be “popular” enough to get you reelected? That kind of politician garners disgust from me, as do the people behind them who are so passionate, being used to lobby for them, to sell them, and the contempt and condescension in which they view the citizens that want no part of it. Put someone in office that is not a career politician and I will vote; I will do my homework, and I will have passion that matches their own sincerity. I say, stop paying politicians. Make it again a true public servant's job, just the basic necessities, such as a Catholic priest might enjoy (no laughing), and see how many people jump at the chance to represent their people. Only the truly sincere and hopeful will apply.

Now, it's all a salesmanship show, a “performance”. At the last debate, the commenters kept referring to the candidates’ performance and that infuriated me. This simply should not be. We should not be voting based on a performance in a debate or a campaign, there shouldn’t even be a performance…we should be voting on their performance record.

They play the “he said, she said” game, hoping that the busy Average Joe (aka, Joe the plumber, Joe Six pack) will never investigate the claims in true depth. They prey on American's ignorance to the senate voting process, the black and white bill voting packages; making it almost impossible for them to find the truth under the lies they throw around, hoping the current technology (gossip, phone calls, email, etc...) will spread the damage, you know the lies well; the ones that irrationally scare us to our very core, the ones the most ignorant and lazy of voters will base their decisions on. The same voters that will cast their ballot based on the mere name of the candidate, the supposed religion, or the fact that he may look robotic and jerky, even though it was suffered through years of torture.

We see the facade, the performance, and some of us judge as such, good or bad. We see an American Hero, who is also the most emotional, hot button candidate I have ever seen. Do we want that as President? We see a polished black man, an historical sight, but the deep down details of his plan and agenda, some hard to swallow, may be too hard to distinguish through the gleaming polish. Same old, same old.

Yet this election has brought out in me what I have never felt before…excitement. I shiver to think why or how, but it’s there and palpable. I’ve come to realize that it’s because both candidates truly seem to care about our country and us, the little joe. They both have the basic end goals in mind, which is rescuing our country from certain death. I like them both, for very different reasons, and I like their running mates as well. Not one candidacy is perfect, but hey…whose ever are? I have taken the time to research and for the first time in my life, I have held political discussions to learn more. When I look in the mirror, I think “Who is this person?” Yes, this may all be another great performance, destined to fizzle out in the fire hose that is bureaucracy, but I am holding on to my hope, that this time, something is different.

Think of those original fighting patriots and the original representatives of our newborn country….try to imagine the excitement, wonder and hope they felt to have this privilege to help change our lives for the better. Use those feelings and drive to your nearest booth, feeling the awe that comes with this kind of responsibility.

There is no right or wrong in an election, just a better path toward a better tomorrow. And it is our right and responsibility to research the means to that end, even if it is just the lesser evil path, for that is all we can do right now, until the system is bettered. This election is huge, and staring down another Great Depression scares the hell out of me. Our country, our world, is spiraling out of control and we need help. Our vote determines what happens next, to us and our children…so please use it; no matter what “party” you belong to, real or imagined.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Random Memory

Giving Her Away

The white of her dress flows down past her smooth ankles, covering most of her feet but for the tips of her fancy ballet shoes; a hint of sparkle and shine peek out from the hem, leading you to believe they would dazzle in the sunlight. She taps a toe of one of these magnificent shoes on the carpeted floor, fast and rhythmic.

She is nervous, and she wonders why.

This is her big day! She should be full of elation and excitement, yet it all feels...wrong. She is somehow melancholy and nostalgic, sad for what she is leaving behind. Homesickness, she realizes, comes close to what she feels, and what an odd emotion for the day. Covered in sequins and tulle, organza and beads, this ought to be a cause for celebration, for one does not don a fifty pound dress for just any old day.

The driver turns into the church parking lot and pulls to the door of the vestibule. This is it. The bustle of the bridesmaids is hurried and chattery. They are all late and there will be a hustle to organize from this moment on. There is an air of rushed expectancy.

Yet she feels glued to her seat. Her well-dressed father is perched next to her, a large grin on his face. He is looking intently at her, ready to go, yet she can’t get up. She wants this day, she loves this man, but she knows that once she leaves the shelter of this vehicle, she will become another person, her heritage lost…she will have in essence entered the witness protection program, changing her name, her address, her complete identity. What she is now, she will never be again…and the thought overwhelms her. Her past transforms to present and future here today, and her tears are barely contained over the revelation of all that will be over. Her family is changing.

Her father, recognizing that she will not stand up, covers her hand with his. He gently squeezes it for reassurance, for he knows that this is a penultimate moment in her life, being one in his, too. He is giving up his “baby”, his first-born, entrusting her to another caretaker. He will be giving her away in minutes, in a simple ceremonial gesture, symbolically handing her over to her love, to her new family.

Her beautiful veil flows down around her left shoulder, and flowers sit idle, gracing her lap. The light twinkles off her every bead and sequin, shining so bright, that there appears an aura around her frame. She is a vision in white, and he has never been more proud of her than today. She has found a steady, smart and truly good man to share her life with and that is every father’s wish come true.

Time has been stealing his family away, year after year, taking it one phase at a time, though always handing him a new one in return. This would be his new reward, watching her take her place in life, watching her bloom ever further into the woman she is becoming, and it all starts here, today.

Her mind is also on what she is losing, but also what she has done that she can no longer take back.

Her family could be called dysfunctional, but most could fit that description. Dysfunctional is the new Normal. She admits to matching the terrorizing description of “terrible teenager,” ungrateful and lazy. She has never really known how good she had it, until this moment. Her parents gave her everything, and she gave back nothing in return. She was a dreadful daughter to them, and now she was moving on past them, never to have the opportunity to redeem her actions.

She was torn, knowing she had a tentative relationship with her father, whom she was more like than she would ever admit. Toward one another, they remained emotionally closed off and hard-headed, stubborn and stoic, angry and cold. Better apart, they enjoyed a more mature relationship with others. Though, her and her mother had problems as well, anger welling up consistently and hurt feelings abound. The household was usually a screaming, emotional and grudge-holding mess. Yet, leaving it all behind, the comfort and the safety net of their home and love felt so difficult today. She enjoyed their company, being part of the family and sharing in their experiences, however disjoined. Tomorrow morning she would wake up in the company of her husband…and no one else.

She had no idea why this saddened her so, and why it was all hitting her now…moments before she was to walk down the aisle. She was barely holding on to her composure, staring down at the flowers in her lap, seeking control in the arrangement of peach colored roses. This was baffling! More than anything, she wanted to leave, to start on her own, to have her own space to organize and enjoy. She was chasing down real freedom! And she was afraid to let it capture her.

The car was empty, except for the two of them. He watched her studying the bouquet, trying to understand her melancholy mood. This was not usually a pose you would ever find them in, mostly concerned about their own selves. But he stayed quiet and looked at her until he realized she was not going to glance up.

He then took her face in both hands, and she looked up at him staring at her so directly she thought she would burst from the intensity, and before she could look away or feel awkward from the attention, he said, “This is the last time I can ever call you Cheryle Collins.” He faltered toward the end of his declaration, tears slowly rolling down his face. He looked as sad as she felt. Him using their family name, her soon to be maiden name, was far too much for her fragile state and she dissolved into tears, her lower lip trembling. In his last act as direct father, he kissed her on the forehead and pulled her up to stand with him. She was moved in his endeavor to make this moment so special. He couldn’t have known it would have this effect on her, and it seemed to make him even more emotional. Overcome, he started to lead her out to the waiting ceremony, but she grabbed at his hand, at that moment wishing she could take back all the grief, all the difficulty and hurt feelings she had ever caused him, caused them all, and said, “I love you, Daddy.”

She cried all the way down the aisle, most people assuming her demeanor as the usual tears of happiness and overwhelming emotion. In truth, it was for those reasons, but also nostalgia, love, and the sorrow of loss…the loss of her childhood, fading with every step closer to her love.

Her father quietly crying in tune beside her, walking his daughter home, every person they walked by succumbed to their own level of emotion, as if a magical spell settled over the crowd with their passage. By the time they reached the altar, the whole church was sniffling, brushing away tears – even the stoic priest.

He took his daughter’s hand and faced her, for the last time as her provider and guardian, and kissed her cheek. He squeezed her hand, full of emotion and told her he loved her. Her response was renewed sobbing, and a choked iteration of the same sentiment as he physically placed her hand in her fiancé’s own.

Transfer complete, this moment slipped away so quickly. She was now part of another immediate family, and it all happened with the simple passage of her hand. The ceremony underway, she glanced over her shoulder at her father, taking solace in her mother’s embrace and smiled at him. She was filling up with love and warmth, beside her soul mate, surrounded by her extended family and friends, feeling as if this was where she truly belonged. It all began to feel so right. Trading one phase for another, this was the beginning of a new relationship, a new emotional bond; a friendship, with her parents, and it all starts here, today.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Random Memory

The Jump

I look down. Fear overtakes my every nerve, prickling and bristling them, cascading down from my neck to the small of my back, crawling down my calves, settling in my toes.

The water looks surprisingly gorgeous from up here. Clear and blue, with a hint of green. So clear that even from here, I can see a fish swim through my field of view.

How deep is it? The clarity of the water muddles my instinct. Because I can see the bottom, it feels too shallow. It looks to be about 20 feet deep. But knowledge of this river supersedes my basic instinct, and I know it must be safe. Knowing and feeling are two very different things.

My senses previously focused on the water below, I become aware of a far away sound; a loud, pulsating, unrelenting sound. It echoes and bends, wobbles and distorts. It’s as if a warning bell has sounded in the distance, but the intended recipient has left their hearing aid on the bedside table. It becomes a distant, distorted version of the original; curious, yet no longer urgent. As haze distorts vision, so this sound feels; blurry. An eerie and peculiar property has attached itself to the noise and I find myself wondering what it is. A distraction to my plight, nevertheless haunting. I tip my head to the side, the better to receive this intriguing signal. I close my eyes to blot out the glaring sunlight and it all feels so familiar. Like waking from a dream, the source and meaning float before me, waiting to be grasped.

I stand there on the sharp rocks, letting the edges poke into my bare feet. It helps me to surface from the state I am currently swimming in. No water surrounds me as yet, but my awareness is as such.

Breathing in the clean air and turning my head around, I open my eyes to the sound of many people behind me, in both the literal and figurative sense, egging me on; needed encouragement for the task at hand. My focus swiftly returns to the beautiful blue-green current beneath me.

I ask myself: Why am I doing this?

For money? No.

For fun? No.

For glory? Yesssss.

I am wondering if my silence belies my fear. Though, in reality, my wide eyes, pinched breaths and shaking hands betray the truth.

I am afraid of jumping.
“Friends” taking residence behind me, threatening to push me off that rock if need be, I start the mental countdown. My hands are clammy and sweat beads off my forehead.

Typical signs of fear.

And I am acting oh so typical.

This is me – the fearful girl who shies away from any adrenaline pumping good time – irrationally afraid of the anticipation of pain. Not the pain itself, but the anticipation, mind you. Silly, really…parking on the bench for a reason so dull. Still, I do worry about my poor neck breaking and ending up in a wheelchair for the rest of my life. Then, I might have something substantial to worry about.

Incessant and irrational thoughts whirl through my head, making me swim in a sort of panicky state. Some part of me tries to counter the barrage of flooding cowardice. It tells me to “just jump! Get this over with already; you are making it worse than it has to be.” So calm, this scolding part of me that I would realize later was my subconscious mind, the only rational part of me. I want to listen, but the prickling nerves in my feet seem to have somehow fused with the rock below. I feel paralyzed and surmise that this is yet another part of me, the irrational part, displaying to me in a wheedling voice just how life would be if my poor, precious neck did, in fact, snap. “See? See how this would be? This is crazy! Don’t go! I won’t let you!

All of this drama in mere seconds, yet it feels like I am drowning in time, wishing I could be stronger and just make a rash decision for once. “Jump! Jump! Jump!” An old-school rap song commandeers my visceral sound system, ringing in my brain to overload.

The mild breeze flows around my quaking body and ebbs me closer to the edge. I feel the warm sun and imagine the cool water surrounding me, and it is encouraging. I feel a rush of audacity overcome me and…

I jump.
Hands in the air to propel me away from the mass of quartz, I push off with my last effort and soar through the sky. I see in my front facing view, the beautiful vista laid out before me, moving higher and higher with each passing second, in my slow motion descent. Now, all I can do is worry, and feel...and hope.

I have already traveled thirty feet and at this moment, I worry if my push off was adequate. The rocks slope down and out toward my entry point, so if I did not give it enough, landing on them would be inevitable...not to mention, terribly painful!

Another ten feet finds me close to my destination. Looking down, the surface of the river is approaching and I point my toes to enter the water gracefully. My arms directed to the sky in an effort to become as thin as a knife, I pray my skinny profile will aid in escaping the jagged shelf. Holding my breath, I let the water envelop me, hoping to feel nothing but that, and I am now fully underwater, surprisingly unscathed.

The water is cold, but I am prepared for that. I strive not to gasp with the shock, taking on gallons of fresh water in the process. Successfully holding my composure, the reflex passes.

Happy to be alive, I take in the familiar scene; for this is my favorite part of the jump. Plunging downward to the bottom of the clear river, my fingers pinched to my nose, I am surrounded by a flurry of tiny blue-green bubbles, so delightfully bright from the sun; swirling and effervescent. I look upward to see the aqueous blur of the sky and the dark, hulking mass of rock directly to my right. I am intimidated by its unyielding presence and ask myself why we always choose this mountain to hurtle off, year after year. It has become a rite of passage in our disordered family.

Time feels suspended here in the depths and it is so quiet, after the muffled rushing of my plunge and passage through the water subsides. I wonder if I have enough air to make it back up. My outstretched toe has finally found the bottom, a flat table rock more than thirty feet down, and as more of my body collides with it, I push off with satisfying relief and bolstered courage, all thrusting me upward to retrieve said glory.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Arachnophobic Girl, Part 2

So, we all know by now that I have a fear of spiders. Big Deal. I can get over it, right? It's just a silly mind over matter exercise.

Exercise #1: Repeat after me...
They will not hurt me.
They are smaller than me.
There are no spiders in the Northeast that can kill me.

When not confronted with the cause of my fear, I can be tough. I can will away the fact that I need therapy for the sight of an eight legged creature that weighs less than an ounce. Then, I go and do some research on particular spiders to find out if, say, they really weigh closer to an ounce, and the merest glance at an arachnid sketch makes my scalp tingle. Mind over matter?

Then I find one like this in my house, a wolf spider. Ok, again, big deal. We all have to deal with that unpleasantry quite often. Some kill the little beasties, others, like myself, play capture and release. For, while I do find spiders terrifying, I also find them fascinating creatures. If you look really close at one, preferably behind glass, you will see all sorts of interesting features. Their eyes, all 8 of them, are different sizes. The hairs all over their bodies, the "fangs" they have ("the better to EAT you with, my dearie...") and the structure of their legs. The up close view is neat, but quite intimidating.

We have a collection of these Wolf Spiders somewhere on the grounds, and as all spiders like to do, they try to find a warm place in winter. I believe they hibernate most of the season, but if the temperature exceeds 50 degrees, they are back on the prowl.

Our house providing the warm place to lounge, every fall and spring we can expect these beauties to jump out and scare us at any moment. Usually the moment you have started to think they might be gone for the time being. Halloween is a hoot! They pull out all the stops on their very own holiday, leaving us in stitches at their hijinks.

And they are fast! Wolf spiders are so named because of the similarity in hunting styles to it's namesake. It's fast, stealthy and it's eyesight is fantastic, for a spider. Needless to say, it makes them incredibly hard to catch. Especially with a small glass jar and a shaky hand.

I gleaned this fancy tidbit just today:

"Wolf spiders can be found at night by using a headlamp to see their eyeshine. Relatively few spiders have eyeshine."

That is utterly disgusting to me. Blech. Eyes flashing in the night? *shivering in disgust*

And, who does that, anyway? Yuck. Nice hobby.

I do appreciate their beauty, but you'd be hard-pressed to find me gleefully digging in the dirt at night, headlamp on, with the express purpose of excavating a very fast and predatory spider. Not even for Fear Factor...sorry, Joe. I'll sit this one out. Oh, the nightmares I would have!

I think I handle the normal, everyday capture of these wolf spiders pretty well, considering. Though they always shock the heck out of me. I had a hard time last fall because the babies were on the floor constantly, just learning how to roll over. I had to swoop in and extract a few quick and large monsters before they overcame and ate my children.

Well, at least I thought they were large at the time....

In the spring of this year, we had a good season...only a few spiders so far to relocate. If they are past a certain size, I make Mike walk out to the yard or garden and release there. Hopefully, they might smell dinner at someone else's house from there and not return to Casa Ertel.

The spider we did find, the reason behind this whole long-winded article...I made Mike take all the way to the end of the driveway, which required the quad and some shaky nerves on his part. That should tell you something!

We were knee deep in our baby clean-up routine that night, clean 9 bottles, 4 sippy cups, 3 highchairs, dinner dishes, dinner table, living room...I don't really need to give you the whole run down. It was alot! I was washing dishes for about an hour and we were just finishing up. We were standing in the kitchen, talking about the day...and I heard him choke. I looked up at him. My back was to the sink I was just at for hours, and his eyes were riveted to the spot directly behind me. They were almost as big as dinner plates! I knew something was bad since he rarely reacts.

I jumped away from the sink, turning around in midair (what it felt like!) and scanned the drying dishes for the source of his immediate fear.

Then I saw it.

Pictures could do no justice to the hulking form poised on the back of the sink edge. We recognized it immediately as a familiar wolf spider...but it was, by far, the largest one we have ever seen, or since...thank God. It just sat there. Waiting. Projecting menace. It was about to pounce on the cat, I just knew it.

We just stood there, in shock, not believing a spider this big could exist, let alone be in our house and crawling over our freshly washed dishes and bottles. Oh, the emotions I felt...Disgust, fear, shock, disgust - did I mention that one already? Wondering how long it had been in the house? How were we going to catch that sucker? And if we didn't catch it, would it be crawling all over the kids and us overnight while we dreamt of sugarplums and excessively large and hairy tarantulas? Oh, the horror!

We did capture it, after much drama, between restrained squeals and screams...from the both of us. True to its family, this big one was a Speedy Gonzales...and proved tough to catch unharmed. A small jar is usually used to house the many specimens until their transport outdoors...this spider did not fit into it! Unbelievably, we had to use a large mouth Mason jar for its home and Mike drilled holes into the lid so he could stay with us awhile.

He sat on the counter while I made dinner and breakfast and lunch...though not for him. I considered throwing in a mouse, if I could find one...but thought better.

I stared and stared and stared...being so large, his every detail was easy to see...and I am surprised to say, he was beautiful.

As Serendipity would have it, my niece's birthday was the next day. Surprisingly, she likes snakes and spiders and other creepy crawlies...the bigger, the better. Her party was to include a man who works with these types of creatures and he was bringing all of these things into my sister's house! She was so excited. She happened to come over the day we were lodging our new friend. She went wild! She wanted to let him out so we could play with it. Oh, she can't be MY niece!

Jinx sizing him up - she looks somewhat afraid!

Disclaimer here...I know that by any-other-part-of-the-world standards, this would be a baby, but for our neck of the woods, in OUR house, it was a gargantuan. It was big enough for me!

While researching, I found this out a few months ago too: ""Arachnophobia" is derived from the Greek "arachne" (spider) and "phobos" (fear). The Greek word was derived from the name "Arachne," a maiden in Greek mythology whom the goddess Athena turned into a spider after the girl, a skilled weaver, challenged Athena to a weaving contest." Mythology is pretty cool.

Not that it helps me much.

Knowledge isn't always power - it just gives my imagination more material to work with. When I can conjure up even more scenarios about what's under my bed while I am laying in bed, it's never a good thing. Why else would they say "Ignorance is Bliss"?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

I won! Kind of....

So, I may get into trouble here...of what kind, I have no idea.

I chose to "double blog" this one, meaning on both of my sites, since it is so important to me.

I have a favorite author...his name is Dean Koontz. You may have read some of his books, or maybe not. He's not for everyone, as my mother tells me every time I try to get her to read one, but I adore his writing style. The way he can create atmosphere, provoke philosophical thought and restore the faith and the profound beauty of the human race - he's a mesmerizing story-teller. You forget where you are for hours. He's got some skills, and a mansion in California to prove it! Point is, the guy's amazing.

Recommendation: Two newer ones of his called "The Darkest Evening of the Year" or "The Good Guy"....or two older ones called "Lightning" or "Watchers". I can go on and on...but if you like these and come back for more, I can talk more then. ;)

I guess part of the reason I am shamelessly plugging is for the props; in fear of reprimand, I'm hoping this makes the blow a little softer.

Anyhoo, I entered a contest on his web site titled "Trixie's Super Dog Contest". See, Trixie was Dean's beloved "Doggie Daughter", and they lost her to cancer last summer. I agonized with them and their loss, until Ruger passed...and his website is part of the reason I have made it this far through the grieving process. He keeps her memory alive by writing books and newsletters as her...it's super cute and if you ever get a chance to check it out, Trixie's part of his website is here. (Yes, that's me, sucking up again, hoping to shave off time in the slammer for the forthcoming criminal atrocity.) Trixie was an awesome Golden Retriever who was trained and served as a Companion Dog for a disabled person (working through CCI or Canine Companions for Independence). After a few months in service, her joints started to act up with the increased effort and she was retired to live with the Koontz family for the rest of her life. Trixie has three books out now, with more to come...but her newest just arrived, titled "Bliss To You: Trixie's Guide to a Happy Life". Adorably written and is a great lesson in living a more simple, "dog-like" life.

Dean frequently writes about Goldens in his books since the arrival of Trixie and I think that is what sealed the deal for him as my favorite author. He is a genuine dog lover, a dog "person", I have called them, and without meeting him, I like the guy already. So, knowing how he feels about Trixie, and knowing it matched my feelings for Ruger, it seemed inevitable that I would enter this contest, telling him about our baby.

The contest asked you to write about a heroic virtue of your dog, in 75 words or less. That is a serious challenge. I had so much to say, it was hard to condense all I felt about him, everything I wanted to convey in a mere 75 words. I took it as a writing challenge to tell the world about Ruger. So, I condensed a previously written poem, written the week after his death, to the minimum requirement. I included a picture and sent it along to be judged. Prizes were offered to the top 3 winners and then also to 7 runners-up. My only hope was to have the poem published on his site. That way, the legacy of Ruger would have another venue.

After fretting for 2 weeks, I learned that there were almost 500 entries to the contest. I thought..."well, that means I have no shot in the world!" I figured my poem would get lost in the pile and not make it's way back out. Today, I found out who the winners were...and....

It wasn't me.

BUT! I was a runner-up!

Since there were so many entries, so many good ones, Dean himself chose to increase the amount of winners to 5 Top winners and 12 runners-up. And I became one of them! Yay! Go Ruger!

I'm actually surprised that I did win, because after reading the top 5, all of the dogs were of the kind that had overcome serious adversity. It wasn't a writing contest, it was a "super dog" contest - what makes your dog a super dog - all about the dog, not the writing skills (my bad) and the winners were quite deserving. It makes me happy to see so many devoted pet parents out there. I'm happy to be in such good company!

I think the most exciting part is that Dean himself read my poem, actually sat down and read something I wrote, and then chose it to be one of the winners. That gave me goosebumps. My writing Idol read and accepted my "submission"; Wow. I think that just made my year. I'm not proud of myself very often, but I have to say that this made the short list.

Second, and most importantly, it means he connected with the feelings I expressed about Ruger, that he understood what we were going through. I wanted so badly for the poem to be posted, but only the Top winners were given that honor.

SO....and here's where I go to jail...I'd like to post it here. Let me say that I believe this poem now belongs to Dean Koontz and his sponsors (I wasn't sure what the rules would be for the runners-up, if I still lose the rights), and I am posting it here, giving them full credit for owning it. *crossing fingers* ...and I hope that's enough for the legal mumbo jumbo types... I wrote it, but it belongs to them, but it was never posted, so hopefully they will go easy on me for that very reason. We'll see! If I stop blogging for months, you'll know what happened...

After much ado, here it is - my tribute to Ruger...in 75 words or less.

Our Gentle Shepherd

Reminiscent of a great maned lion
Our Gentle shepherd traversed his life with quiet pride.
Obedient and strong, strong-willed and gentle,
Regal to the very end
He showed us how to live
More than ever in the way he died.

Silently suffering, never betraying his demanding illness
Those last sweet kisses we were privileged to enjoy
Imparting lessons in passion, innocence and play
The purest form of instruction one could ever hope to receive.

In honor of Ruger, our sweet baby boy
We miss our child more than words can describe.


Monday, September 29, 2008

Picking Out Ruger

I wanted to share the story of how we came upon adding Ruger to our family. It's one of many stories I have been writing since he left us...and it makes me super happy to remember that day. What a great dog!

Ruger was my wedding present to Mike, as Cody was his to me. Ruger was first, though, since we both always wanted a purebred shepherd. Finding an ad in the paper, we drove out to a town called East Otto, exactly in the middle of nowhere…to see a German Shepherd breeder and his new litter. This breeder - Joe - was quite an eccentric, really belonging in the town we drove to - in every way a good thing. A country boy, but really not very good at the "social skills", I liked him very much, because he was great and loving to the dogs. They were his life and his passion. He truly cared about every one of those dogs…I knew in my heart that he loved them all, like you would a large amount of your own children and that it broke his heart every time he let one go.

That is a genuine quality that is hard to find in a dog breeder. Most are in it for the money, and some will even tell you that. The others will try to sell you their false love, making you think they love their dogs, but for the most part it is a charade, part of the salesmanship needed to sell as many dogs as they can, to fund their big-screen TV and BMW and House on the Hill. It’s sickening, and all too common. Even among “good” people. They just don’t respect the dogs enough to treat them as the sentient, gentle beings they are. So trusting and dependent on the breeders, they are given exactly, or even sometimes less than what they need to make the biggest profit. It makes me cringe to think about those people. It makes me want to go out to every one of those “loving” breeders and have a heart to heart with them, or steal their dogs away in the night - their cash cows - to give them to a real, genuinely happy home, where they will be treated as they deserve to be.

But, I digress…What I mean to say, is that he was the real deal. He was passionate and caring and devoted. I loved that about him. It was obvious, maybe to just a dog lover who cares about these things, but nonetheless, I was impressed and moved by his devotion.

He was telling us about the dogs he had…they were already 10 weeks old, I think…already much older than the age when they are technically ready to be taken home. But we still weren’t ready for him yet. We had just gotten married, and we were about to depart on our first married family vacation with Mike’s family. We didn’t want to bring him home, only to leave him with someone else for a week – what a confusing transition! Not to mention what it would do to have that gap in his training. We asked if we could pick him up a month from that point…which would make him about 14 weeks old. That’s old to pick up a puppy and start from scratch! Many behaviors would have to be purged and re"written”. But it worked out well – he was incredibly smart and obedient!

We walked over to the pen to see 6 or 7 puppies frolicking together. We watched them for some time, silently enjoying the show and sizing them up. After a while, we started to notice that one of the puppies was stirring up the whole mess, every time. He would sidle up to a pup, nip at his back end, and then run for his life, being chased the whole time, the whole lot barking and yipping and wrestling. He would usually end up on top of the dog house in the middle of the pen, knowing that no one would/could follow him up there since it was too small to fit more than one dog. He was so smart!

I knew he would be the one, though I thought for a moment, “Whoa. What are we getting ourselves into with that spitfire?! Do we really want this crazy, trouble-making dog at our house? Will we even be able to train him? Or is he going to prove to be more of a handful than we can handle?”

But I fell in love with his spunky attitude, right there behind the wire fence. Staring at his beautiful coat, his huge floppy ears and his tongue lolling to the side of his mouth, panting in the aftermath of so much play. I loved him for that! He kept instigating, and we kept laughing. I glanced at Mike and he nodded. Without a word, we had picked out our baby. Love is instinctual and it is instant, in this case anyway.

We sensed he would bring so much joy into our lives, and we hit the jackpot that day. My finger hooked over an opening in the wire wall of the pen, silently willing him to come over and lick my hand, to say hello.

We got a chance to enter their den, to introduce ourselves. We snuck in, careful to not leave an opening behind us for a slithering puppy to escape through. Walking up to soon-to-be-Ruger, he performed his signature play bow, ears askew, eyes flashing and tongue lolling, he bounded away, eluding us. He wanted to play! We laughed and chased him about, infatuation stealing over us. I remember giggling unabashedly, wanting to take him home that very day. But, the preparations had to be made, and we wanted it to be perfect.

We returned a month later, ready to parent this little crazy pup, determined to make him love us as much as we already did him. We loved him enough to shower him with copious amounts of love and lavish comfort and room to roam. But we also loved him enough to be committed to giving him needed discipline and healthy food and necessary obedience lessons. All that and more...and we were so excited about our new family.

We scooped him up into the truck, onto my lap in the passenger seat of the car. I vividly remember that comforting and wholly satisfying journey back to our house. My first job as Ruger’s mommy was to cradle his 40 pound body in my arms for the whole hour and a half drive back to Alden. Some would writhe in agony…I was in heaven.

Becoming acquainted with his scent that I would be so familiar with and end up missing so much was a job I was privileged to experience. His heavy, lanky limbs and flank were a pleasure to hold. He was surprisingly calm and docile the whole way home, only squirming a few times, packed in as he was. I think he slept much of the way, as a baby does in the beginning of its precious life. He was adorable, and I adored him for that 90 minute journey, never once feeling uncomfortable or spiteful of my current position. I didn't want it to end! A beautiful imprint on my memory that will never leave me, and I thank God for that.

Friday, September 19, 2008

10 Things I Miss About Ruger

He loved being outside

The Boys

His favorite pose

Cody sticking his tongue out at Ruger...

This list is by no means comprehensive, nor is it in any particular order...but just a random off-the-top-of-my-head list of my favorite things about him that I ache to experience again.

10. His rare snuggly kisses in the morning. Since he was the height of the bed, he would walk up and rub his muzzle right into my sides, snuggling back and forth. Almost scratching his snout on me, the way an animal would against a tree, nudging his muzzle under the covers. Eyes closed, lazily rubbing back and forth, against my side, under my arm, up into the crook of my neck, making that sound a dog makes when you get that really good spot behind his ears, then kissing me sheepishly a few times before doing it all over again, almost ashamed that I am witness to this guilty doggie pleasure of his. It was rare, and it was lovely.

9. The play bow he performed so well, inviting Cody or even us, to play, wrestle, or tussle.

8. His spunky attitude, the cornerstone of his appeal; the funny, playful personality that was uniquely him.

7. His inquisitive, deep eyes…fathomless, yet invitingly warm and gentle.

6. His burps…gulping down dinner, his appetite was amazing…and the ensuing, hilarious dog belch that followed….Tail swishing the air because I was laughing so hard….”What did I do?”

5. Seeing him run to the door when arriving home, his excited face and whole body exclaiming just how happy he was for us to be home. What a spectacular feeling.

4. How he followed me from room to room, sitting on my feet or just nearby – it made me feel incredibly loved, needed and even liked…as a mom, no greater satisfaction. Who was protecting who? ;)

3. His friendship and brotherhood with Cody…I loved having the two of them occupy, love, and need each other. They were puzzle pieces that fit together perfectly - exact opposites and complementary to each other. They were brothers, keeping one another company, keeping each other in check, offering to the other just what was needed at the moment; a traveling companion, a wrestling partner, a hierarchy, someone to play with, lounge with, swim with. They were the perfect pair…Cody and Ruger.

2. His emanating, perpetual protection. I loved the feeling that he was there always; alert, aware, protective, strong and instinctual. The hair standing up on the back of his neck was enough to get mine to follow suit. The low, menacing growl, threatening whoever heard it to stay back, or else. I was glad I was on his team.

1. His presence. I loved having him around always, to be able to cuddle, or hold him, or ruffle his fur, to play or wrestle with, goof around, do tricks, take walks, even just around the yard, tell him I love him, how good of a boy he was, hear the jingle of his collar, clip his nails, give him treats, see him chase the cats, see him wrestle with Cody, give Cody strength, someone to follow, see him play with or steal food from the kids, feeding him canned food as a treat, how he always knew that the sound of the can opener meant business, to ask him if he wants to go for a walk or ride and see those great big ears perk up, and his head cock to the side, asking “Really? Sweet! I’m In!” To see his thick, richly colored fur; the reddish glow seeming to radiate from his very insides, the hair glossy and smooth. The tan fur on his whole body dappled with light and spotted with dark, red and brown and black, and his distinguished muzzle speckled with a perfect smattering of gray.

Did you know him? Please share your favorite memory of Ruger if you will - I would love to hear it!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Arachnophobic Girl

Yep, that's me. I suffer from this dotty phobia, one of the most common fears in the world. That it is common is only of little help to my pride, considering that I do not know anyone else that would pull over to the side of the road to remove an insect from their car. Especially since I was on a highway going about 65, the second car in a caravan of four vehicles, and the spider was only about a 1/4 inch long. BUT, he was a jumping spider and right above me on the ceiling. It was him or me! I was having a hard time driving, thinking about that little guy jumping down into my hair and crawling all over the back of my neck, down my shirt....ugh. You can take it from there.

From phobiascured.com: "Arachnophobia is defined as an inordinate fear of spiders. This phobia can often be triggered by the thought of or sometimes even a picture of a spider. A serious case of arachnophobia is much different than someone who doesn't like spiders. Many people who are afraid of spiders have feelings of panic entering into a situation where spiders may be present.

"This fear of spiders can dictate where someone chooses to live, go on vacation, work or what sports or hobbies are enjoyed. Symptoms may include excessive sweating or clamminess, rapid breathing, rapid heartbeat, nausea and dizziness.

"Often this fear is caused by an incident earlier in life which was frightening. People sometimes have the misconception that such a frightening event would have to be a long-lasting or memorable ordeal. Many people don't even remember the events which led to their phobia. The mind can create a phobia based on an instant of panic."

Interesting. That is so me. And bees have me even more paralyzed! What a life.

So, now that you have the general feeling for someone like me, here's my environment. We live in the country, in a nice forested setting. Our house sits right on the edge of the woods. So, one would reasonably expect that spiders and other various insects would be frequent housemates. We live in the North, thankfully, so there are no problems with venomous creatures or even unreasonably large ones. I don't think I could handle living in the South. I am literally shuddering at the thought of checking my slippers for scorpions and my bed for who-knows-what every night. Our house is pretty old, turning 150 last summer, and that means we have drafty conditions in the winter and easy access in the summer for just about anything.

We have ants, bees, spiders, potato bugs, centipedes, earwigs, beetles, mosquitoes...oh, need I go on? It's a constant battle to eradicate on a daily basis. I just had to check out my bare feet under the desk, swearing that a very large something was crawling up to say hello. I believe the term they give to that is the "heebie-jeebies". Just in writing about the little bugs, I have already given myself a case.

I am a grown-up tom-boy, so I am not squeamish about everything. Just bugs, really. Surprisingly, I do like snakes. They are not disgusting insects. I used to pick them up when I was a young girl, snaring one right behind its head just to run and show Mom and Dad, and of course, to scare sister. I actually think these reptiles are quite cool and still seek them out, even though I am now in my thirties. Not that I spend all my time in the forest looking for snakes...I'm not that kind of girl! But, given the opportunity, I will follow them for a bit, to watch their fluid and graceful slither, to appreciate their patterns and colors and to find out what they do. We have found a few large ones in our house as well, and their presence actually makes me feel a little better, since they eat bugs and mice. I consider them our partners in crime, the ones that help us keep the balance of man vs nature inside our own house. They have never been in the living areas, so, we all live in harmony. Please don't tell my Mother-in-law, though. She hates snakes!

When we tore out the ancient in ground pool that we acquired in the sale of our house, there must have been tens of snake dens under the concrete. Hubby used a backhoe to lift and crack the pieces away from the pool form, and as he was doing so, I watched nearby. Pulling up on the first piece, he brought up much of the dirt beneath with it and the earth just poured snakes. I don't think it fully registered at once what was happening, I wondered what was wriggling and falling, wriggling and falling, all different colors and sizes...and then I thought...oh my God, they're snakes! From where he was, he couldn't see what I was seeing and I yelled at him to "STOP! You have to come see this!" If you have ever watched Raiders of the Lost Ark, the scene where Indy and Marion are trapped beneath the desert floor, entombed with hundreds of snakes dripping from the walls...that is what it reminded me of. Snakes falling from the backhoe, scoop after scoop. Most people would have been terrified, disgusted even. I was instantly transformed into that little girl again - "WOW!" "That is so cool!" Moving my head all around to get the best view, bouncing from side to side of the backhoe scoop to better my vantage point, all to see the slithering masses. I was so excited and thrilled to get such a close up look at their home.

Oh, home! I then realized we were destroying their home...their private nests. And we were probably killing many of them in the process. You can't exactly be delicate with a huge piece of machinery like that. Being the bleeding heart animal lovers we are, yet still needing to take out the pool, we decided to work carefully and relocate any snakes we could see. So, I set out to pick up all the snakes I could find, working quickly, sometimes taking two or three at a time, running them over to the forest floor, releasing them. They all slithered away quickly, and we hoped they could make a new home somewhere out there. It felt a little like I was on a Crocodile Hunter episode, striving to save the poor little misplaced reptiles before they were obliterated by Man. So, even though we evicted them, even though we were "Man", we felt a little better that we could at least usher them away from the destruction.

Point is, I am not a city girl by any means. I like to get dirty, I love hikes and camping and roughing it. I love living in the country. But for some reason, I am uncomfortable around bugs - and the bigger they are, the more uncomfortable I get.

All this back story, for what? *Yawn* I'll tell you tomorrow. Being diagnosed with mild pneumonia over the holiday weekend, I am going back to bed for now...

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Well-Known Lovers, The Conclusion

Pulling back from her embrace, he says gently, “Lest we both succumb to frigid fate from chill of winter, hostile to every fragment of my being, I fear we should part.”

“Anon, winter’s chill draws near. Yet, it is only upon arrival home it will befall; separate wintry chambers await us, destined to imprison.” With mocking tongue, she bitterly pronounces home as a wretched irony.

With quiet resign, Romeo gently touches her face. “Home lies within us, doth remember.”

She nods tearfully, holding back a flood of emotion that rises to drown her. They embrace one last time and then start the journey back through the snow together, holding hands for a brief time before they must part. Drenched and sodden, they reach the jaws of the city at the end of the secluded forest. They pause to let their lips impart a final goodbye; a sweet innocent pleasure tainted by the bitter finality of the moment. With one last longing glance, turning away from one another, their fingertips and then their gaze the last to break, each turns to head down the separate path they need to walk alone. The impenetrable snowfall serves as a screen, precluding the temptation for a look back. Though they have been in the forest for hours, at that moment, they both begin to sense the everlasting cold that has been stealing over them.

What they do not know is that their journey together has not yet ended. The violent declaration would eventually prove to be a weaker deterrent in their love for one another than the author might have hoped. Though they have chosen to end their illicit romance here on this day to appease the violence brewing between their own relatives, their love a casualty in the protection of those very same people, it will not last long. The magnetism of their connection is far too strong. This “end” has become only an interlude in the tragic production of sorrow and sacrifice they will lead on the road to eventual forgiveness, laced with deep regret, between two tormented families.

Encrusted in ice, a pale pink bloom succumbs to its new found weight and falls to the ground.


Deeply in love, these children of Montagues and Capulets, resembling an early spring, succumb to a new, but forbidden union. This romance is new and virtuous, a promissory note of future absolution for all who are graced by it. Bright and bold, they herald a new age, engendering a feasible treaty between embattled families. But, as is the custom of Mother Nature, this blush of spring will be extinguished by a late winter’s wrath. It is too trusting; too vulnerable and delicate to survive through the impossible frigidity of this last winter storm. Their parents, who hold an icy grudge against the opposing family, will never allow this "spring" to come. The seasons clash, but the rime of cold prejudice and arctic judgment strike swiftly, crushing the new blossoms.

They believe they are assassinating an idea, never to be reborn, but their children themselves will suffer the effect of their fateful chill, they will be the blossoms to fall. Winter’s last arrogant and crushing act will be to destroy these hopeful, yet defenseless blooms; their own family, and in the process, unknowingly obliterate their own future.

Tragically beautiful in every sense, this delicate pink bloom in ice, the metaphor parallels a misguided parent protecting a child. While masked as its guardian, the pristine ice engulfs the opening flower bud, freezing it in time, never to grow old and wilt. Though the weight causes it to fall from the life sustaining tree, the ice functions as armor, protecting it from the fall and then envelops it; an insulator from the cold. The bloom is petrified, suspended in beauty and time in its glass cage. The tragedy befalls as the ice starts to melt. The flower has fallen away from its life-giver, its caretaker, and is exposed to the elements. It will quickly wilt and die; fatally wounded by the shock of the cold, taken a great deal before its time.

Oh, but what a beautiful sight to behold.

What was my task?
Describe Romeo and Juliet breaking up in a snowstorm…

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Well-Known Lovers, Part II

Photobucket No sound but the muffled sobs of each half of the broken heart that is Romeo and Juliet.

Craving an alternative conclusion to their storybook romance, yet knowing no such happy ending, they stare into each other’s eyes, seeking a resolution. The regrettable possibility of causing a war between families had not muted their passion or resolve; defiance coursed through them as their very blood. This is simply the way it was going to be, no matter the cost! They would elope, run away if necessary; nothing was going to vanquish their dream of togetherness.

That is, until the letter came.

Delivered through the good friar they held tight in hopeful secrecy; the promise of bloodshed penned ever so politely. They, themselves were not afraid to die. Addressed to them, the murderous vow would be laughed off as a comic tale written to those pages, at the very least ignored. If death was to offer the lone path to a blissful union, they would walk that road together with unwavering devotion. But the pledge was not for them. They were being blackmailed, and the claims were hard to ignore.

Anger welling, her whimpers quickly morph into howls. She weeps her frustration and sorrow, as if in some way she could purge these feelings through her tears, and in doing so, clarify their shared suffering. He hugs her fiercely and yearns to assume her pain. So much emotion on display in this detached landscape, a backdrop lacking emotion or pity, snow falling incessantly devoid of compassion.

White flakes have settled in a thick layer on Juliet’s hair, making her appear ever more stunning; as a winter angel, innocent and pure; brilliant white, the halo around her, so bright and promising. She was so beautiful and alive in this sedated, cold forest; so warm and yielding, so sorrowful and intense, so angry and passionate; yet implausibly defeated and alone. Their resign sealed by an impending avalanche impossible to discount. She has quieted, resigned for the moment. The silence ensues, profound and grave, itself a significant presence. The surrounding gloom and subdued hush permeates them to their cores.

A brusque wind gathers its strength, throwing daggers of ice at the pair; an acrimonious reminder of the time. Snow pelting her sorrowful face, he tries to protect her cheeks from the storm.

Throwing her head back boldly into the barrage, she passionately proclaimed, “I would but be assailed by stone and rations to remain in you, my love. Your sweet, robust potion courses through my veins, engendering valor at every occasion. Neither fervent weather nor relations could ever be victorious in dampening love’s smoldering embrace, the effects of your devotion; I wear as though a shield.”

As the gust weakened, he countered, “Though rosy lips and cheeks betray otherwise, it is vital to be in accord with your mate.” He smiled warmly as he stroked her wet countenance. “Let me not, then, protect my lover from wrath of winter, only admire and caress love’s true reflection.” He enclosed her tender face in helpless hands and kissed her. The storm had now taken full effect, both in the forest and in Juliet’s heart. She grasps at Romeo, struggling to imprint his essence forever.

They have spent too much of their precious time pretending not to be in love. Though the sentient presence of their feeling for each other has been there, hidden under layers of social and familial pressure, they have squandered their bliss; lovers forever conscious of each other’s presence, devotion and affection, yet frozen in fear, unable to act. It was as if the very cosmos aligned against them, conspiring forces that would keep them apart. At least here, they were safe and free; the forest an envelope guarding its precious contents from the threatening universe.

Large snowflakes were now steadily falling. Becoming aware of the magnitude of the storm, Romeo realizes they have been here for quite some time. Looking up at the pregnant sky, head tilted back, staring at its lazily falling children, he blinks back flakes and tears. Turning down, he surveys the forest; the blizzard has delivered a thick and heavy slush, weighing the old growth forest down all around them. The delicate snaps and pops of limbs straining to hold the weight of the frozen water were barely audible, yet a defeated bough could abruptly crack and splinter. He did not want the mesmeric quality of this moment to end; he was drunk with love and sorrow. But, worry for his Juliet mounted, he was loathe to have her suffer ill effects from the cold or the increasingly treacherous forest.

The conclusion to come...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Well-Known Lovers, Part I

frozen rose

Encrusted in ice, a pale pink bloom succumbs to its new found weight and falls to the ground.

Heavy with the weight of so much sorrow, they kneel together in the deepening snow, saying nothing. Brows touching, facing their foe, their enemy and their beloved - holding hands to ward off a chill that has little to do with the weather. Deep in the forest, where secrets lay hidden, protected by frost and frond, two tragically beautiful figures subsist; aware only of each other’s breathing and of their shared pitiful longing.

The snow falls thicker and faster than before; the first arrangement in Winter’s Last Opus. Pluming clouds of breath’s last kiss may well betray their arrangement, but here in the shelter of the empathetic trees, the snowstorm blankets them in thick, heavy flakes; a protective coverlet shielding them from inevitable wickedness and foul intention.

It has the effect of deadening the sounds of their soft I love yous, their sweet, soft kisses on wet cheeks, impossibly warm and cold at once. Snowflakes falling on their cheeks, their lashes and hair; the muffling fall concealing their passionate tearful goodbyes. More importantly, subduing the consciousness of the force that would endeavor to keep them apart, if only for the moment. These are the last sweet moments they will ever be together.

They are now painfully aware that it is, in fact, still winter. An early spring has been deceived by a late winter storm not ready to release its icy grip on the forest. A blossoming spring will never come for them now, as they had hoped, and they must part for the greater good of their families.

In the midst of a heavy snowfall, appropriate and mocking, they find themselves unable to leave the side of their lover. Ironically beautiful, the storm holds them here, suspended in time. For what they are fighting now is time. Time is the enemy that would see them part, that would leave them each alone, forever longing. They have but a few moments together...and that will be all.

Poignant and momentous, they will never forget this last taste they enjoy together. All bitterness and rage deferred as they steep in the forbidden tea they have prepared for themselves; drinking it all in, savoring every last swallow.

Holding hands, steadily squeezing, gently pumping palms as if to keep alive the dying heart of their forbidden romance. A love to be executed at light’s first dawn by the very people who gave them life; no likely pardon offered of their frigid kin.

The blanketing snow does nothing but imbue seclusion. All was quiet in the frozen forest, aside from the padding layer encircling the lovers; these corpulent flakes that profoundly insulated them from cold and bitter consciousness.

Sound familiar? More to come...

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Eulogy of Granny

I wrote this a few years ago, after the passing of my beloved Granny. I dug it out of the archives to share with you here. If you didn't know her, she was something to behold! I only hoped to capture the essence of her strong spirit. Here it is; a little long, but all for her.

PhotobucketWe’re here to remember the woman who was Patricia Zakowski… Pat Zak to some, Granny to others, G.G. to a few... and as I look around, I see so many sad faces. This is a sad occasion, losing someone you love – but we shouldn’t think of it that way – we shouldn’t be sad, we should be celebrating. Celebrating a life! To remember how she lived and what she was like, honoring that which was good in her. Because although the woman may be gone from us, her memory and charm stay with us always.

It’s hard for me to capture all of what she meant to everyone in this church. All I can offer is my perspective as a granddaughter. So, here’s my attempt to capture 70 years of a life in a mere 5 minutes – only 30 of which I ever knew. I’m sure if we all took a moment to think about Granny right now, we could conjure at least one funny story to tell… she knew how to make you laugh!

She held a child-like wonder about life that was contagious and inspiring. She was vivacious, alive. She had to be the center of attention, wherever she went – I’m sure she must have been the class clown in her school years. She had a mischievous sense of humor (even slightly wicked at times!), always pulling little pranks and silly performances out in public for us. She was most definitely what you’d call an extrovert! She got so much enjoyment out of life – she was vibrant, talkative …making easy friends wherever she would go.

She loved so many things; grandpa has even said…“everything was her favorite!” She loved animals, the beach, the water, seashells and the sun! Clothes and shoes (Imelda Marcos didn’t even hold a candle to Granny), the stars, the moon – anything unique – just like her. Teddy bears, wizards, butterflies and macaroons, jewelry, decorations, the mystical and the magical - she loved so many things… if you weren’t careful, you’d lose your favorite sweater or a pair of shoes when you went to visit if she liked them! She had a way of sweet-talking it from you, incredibly sometimes even making it seem like your own idea! She certainly had a way with words; she was a fantastic negotiator – she would have been a great saleswoman, or con artist, that’s for sure! The queen of getting free stuff – even if it was a little shady at times! I remember hearing of the time when I was only 2 years old, she got us all into Disney World with an expired hand stamp, pinching my bottom so I’d cry…to cause just enough commotion to let us in to shut me up – she knew they would! God only knows how she pulled some of the stunts she did, but she was good at it! She was relentless about prices – she never worried about what people thought of her when she was “making a deal”. But as much as she won from you, she was just as generous… anything you wanted – it was yours. She was very sentimental and thoughtful – always sending you things that reminded her of you or something she thought you would like, enjoy or get something out of.

She appreciated beautiful things… not only material things, but experiences too… like sunsets and the warm wind, the sun on your face. She appreciated art and poetry, literature – Hemingway was one of her favorite authors. And people, too. No matter what your faults were… if drugs or alcohol or past experiences had broken your spirit, she always recognized the good in you, the beautiful part of you…. And she made sure that you knew about it too. It sure seemed as if she was drawn to people who fit this description, perhaps feeling she was meant to help them in some way. She always said what she was thinking…good or bad; she never let the opportunity go by. She told it how it is – always…even if you didn’t want to hear it but, more than likely, you found yourself a better person for it.

She was a tough cookie – I don’t even know of all the things that happened to her during her life here on Earth, but I know enough to know that many times were rough. But she responded to all that life dealt to her with class. And with an attitude that she would not back down, would not go quietly. She was fiercely protective of her family. She was a fighter – she could have been an army drill sergeant, but was cuddly as a teddy bear. She held an intense love for her family and friends. She lived her life how she wanted to born out of many hardships and sacrifices. Even if people didn’t agree with many of the things she chose to do. She lived her life with pride and dignity, no matter what was happening. Some would even recall how stubborn she was… good or bad, that was one of my favorite qualities about her. She would get this little “pucker” on her face when she would dig her heels in, the signal for when you knew it was no use fighting her anymore! She was never afraid to stand up for anything – she had an affecting courage about her and many beliefs and values she stuck firmly to, especially in the face of adversity.

I mentioned that she loved butterflies, and appropriately, I think – because she kind of reminded me of a beautiful one, the way she had so many friends everywhere you went – a social butterfly, daintily flitting from person to person. She kept all of her friends close to her heart; once she let them into her life, she always let them know how much she cherished their friendship.

Everyone knows she was a sun goddess! Frequently brown and bronzed and slick with tanning oil – to this day I can’t smell that coconut-scented oil without thinking of her. The beach was one of her favorite places to be – she and Grandpa went frequently – I’m sure she enjoyed the people watching too. She could spend a whole day doing just that, contentedly.

She taught you how to have fun just by living her life – carpe diem is the anthem by which she lived – seize the day, live for the moment. It’s what she would always say to me – she was so full of life and an energy I will always remember and of course, emulate. She loved life for the adventure, and loved the adventure for the ride. She loved mystery and drama…she was the original drama queen! She could be immature in the most sophisticated of places – just for the fun of it – she got a kick out of the reactions she captured from people. She had a crazy, creative vivid imagination – she loved to tell tall tales and stories – she could have easily written children’s books. They may have been a little twisted but definitely engaging!

Granny was a big kid! Someone who showed you that it was ok to have dessert before dinner if you wanted… that life didn’t have to be boring! You could bend or even break the rules sometimes. I know that this latest observation comes from a spoiled first grandchild, loving her childhood memories of her grandmother – but I know the message was received by others just the same, if only in a different vehicle. I know that I was lucky. I guess I was spoiled, though I didn’t think of it that way at the time – I just felt incredibly loved and happy. I had a granny who was the center of my world – she meant everything to me. I frequently wrote her letters after she moved to Florida informing her that I was going to run away just to come down and see her. I hated being without her.

She always made you feel special - for example, birthdays… it was her “rule” that it was your day to be a princess (or prince!) – to be extra spoiled… She loved to be spoiled, but she knew how to spoil you too – and she did it regularly. And speaking of princesses… she’d always pout if she didn’t get her way – everyone knows the face she used to make! I should say until she got her way, because she always did. You couldn’t say no to her – especially with that look!

Kleptomaniac is a term that would describe her to a tee. I don’t know how many restaurants lost their salt and pepper shakers, steak knives and cloth napkins…even complete strangers weren’t safe from her charms… I once watched a total stranger give Granny his sunglasses – somehow she had coerced him into giving them up happily. And the infamous Donny Osmond story… he finally gave her the picture she wanted and an autograph on the condition that she left him alone to enjoy the Orlando Science Center in peace with his family… she had perfected badgering into an art!!

She was never afraid to look foolish to have a good time or to put a smile on your face. It’s like she knew she was meant to be put on this earth just to make you smile. But this was just my perception - I only knew her as a grandmother; my granny. My recollection of the way she lived. But she had many different roles – a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter. A friend. So many people would have countless stories about her life from their perspective – we’d be here for days with all of the no doubt hilarious stories told! So, I can only give my point of view – peppered with my own feelings of her life as I knew it…one tiny piece of a life that encompassed so much passion, adventure, appreciation and love. She had so much of an impact on all of our lives and behavior that will be remembered and passed on to our children…we will have that forever.

She loved so many things… but most of all her friends and her family. I imagine she might have thought we all defined her somehow, but I believe it was just the other way around… it think it was her life that shapes us for the better, even now; always looking for something more, never settling for less – carpe diem. It’s good to see so many people here – in her own, familiar, twisted way, Granny would have liked to see this… Thank you all for coming.