Friday, January 30, 2015

In good hands

           It's National Left-Handed People's Day, so let's celebrate all those right-brained folks among us who keep life so interesting.  In my experience they're the ones who think outside the box...or disregard the box altogether.  They're the artists, the musicians, the creative muses, and the ones who show us how to approach life with a slightly different perspective.
          When I taught first grade, I spent an entire summer practicing how to write with my non-dominant hand so I could better instruct my lefties.  It wasn't easy, but I found that over time I got the knack.  To help my left-handed kids feel more at home, I brought in a chimpanzee puppet that had long arms and a goofy smile.  When I introduced  "Kristan," I told the kids he only spoke German as that was the only language I had learned semi-fluently in high school.  He was left-handed, too, so he needed slightly different instruction with his writing skills.  Everyone loved him, especially when he made mistakes, flipping the letters or turning them upside-down.   
          "Oh, we all goof up now and again," I'd tell the kids.  Then I'd smile at Kristan and say, "Nur noch einmal versuchen."  (Just try it again.)
          Since my days in the classroom, I'm still teaching kids and adults of all ages, but now we're all barefoot and hang out on the floor.  No handwriting is necessary, but I still notice my left-handed students often need a little more gentle guidance with new flowing pose routines.  No worries...I teach what I also need to learn.
          You see, I've recently discovered that I'm a latent lefty.
          At first I thought I was simply ambidextrous, as I've been consciously using my left hand for more activities these days.  Mild carpal tunnel in my right often dictates that my left take the lead.  I often tell my students, "The non-dominant side may be stronger because the dominant gets more mileage."
          But last weekend I ran into a friend whose husband studies hand dominance.
          "I'm sure you're mixed-handed," Lori commented brightly.  "No doubt about it."
          I nodded.  "Yeah, I use my right brain a lot these days."
          Interested in learning more, I came home and took an online test to see where I fall on the sliding scale and was surprised by the results.  According to that particular survey, I'm left hand dominant, but also strongly mixed.  That was a head scratcher...and I noticed I used my left hand to do just that.
          All this week I've been paying attention to which hand does which job.  Brushing my teeth?  The right hand.  Turning keys into locks?  The left.  Eating?  Both.  Unscrewing lids?  Left.  Vacuuming?  Both.  Carrying groceries?  Both.  Shoveling snow?  Both.  Scrubbing dishes?  Both.  Holding a book?  Left.  Starting a knitting project?  Left.
          You can see where I'm going with this.

          I owe it all to the eclectic choices I've been making for the past fifteen years.  My yoga practice keeps me balanced as I alternate which leg leads in a sun or moon salutation and I'm mindful to work both sides of my body as equally as possible.  I pay attention to my left-handed students and watch how they creatively change whatever I'm teaching into something unique and more integrated...then try it their way.
          In shifting the focus of my writing during the past year, I've come to rely on both sides of my brain more fully.  I use the right brain to create.  The left to edit.  The right side to allow words and images to flow through my imagination and onto the page or screen.  Then the left side hones it so the prose is clearer and more articulate.  The right side finds fabulous ways to make things more artistically expressive.  The left side maneuvers the technology needed to launch my work into the world.  All in all it's been a wonderful way to find an inner balance that's often reflected on the outside. 
          More importantly, it's given me the awareness of my strengths and challenges.

          Tomorrow I officially complete a year of research for The Lace Makers.  Last winter when I began watching documentaries and films about slavery and the Holocaust, I had no idea what I was doing.  I simply allowed the right side of my brain to guide me toward resources that I would have avoided in the past because of the painful emotions they might invoke.  When summer arrived, I unexpectedly heard the voices of two characters whispering in my imagination during a yoga class.  One of them, an eight-year-old girl living as a slave on a plantation in 1865 gave me a lovely, yet haunting opening paragraph:

          The sun be peepin' over the old barn where I hear the cows be moanin' to get milked.  The air sharp like little pins and needles where my arms be peakin' out from under my shawl.  The sky turnin' the color of the egg yolks my mama like to break just to watch 'em get runny.  She do that sometimes.  Break them egg yolks for Massa and keep on fryin' 'em til they be hard as shoe leather.  He don't say nothin.'  Just gobble 'em up like they the best thing he ever et.

          Since then I've followed my intuition wherever it has led me.  I've taken notes from countless sources, outlined most of the novel, and prepared the cover image.  I didn't realize until just recently that this year is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the camps and the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War.  I don't think that's a coincidence at all.
          Still, in the midst of all the research I tried to take mental holidays.  A few months ago I wondered, What television show would be the farthest thing away from this subject matter?   Then I thought, Why not watch "The Twilight Zone?"  But of course, the very first episode on the DVD depicted a former Nazi returning to the camps years later only to discover the ghost of a prisoner whom he had once tortured.  When the story unfolded, it was like being in the middle of my own personal Twilight Zone.
          Then a couple of weeks ago, I decided to watch Jimmy Stewart in "The Glenn Miller Story."  Little did I know that Miller died in a plane crash during World War II.  And later that night when I googled, "Japanese internment camps, United States," up popped a link to an interview with a man who had been interred for three years as a child.  Once again, it was no coincidence that the man is the father of a very significant person in my life.
          Day after day, no matter where I turn, stories of slavery and the Holocaust spontaneously surface in television programs, news stories, and the like.  It's as if I'm a magnet for as much information as the universe wants to send my way.  But right now I'm beginning to feel nearly super-saturated. 
          Last night I was watching the HBO documentary "Night Will Fall" and for the first time in my life thought, I honestly don't know if I can write this book. In the past there have been many times when I didn't want to finish the novel or book I was writing, but I've never felt as though I couldn't do it.  I imagine that's my left brain talking...the side that likes things neat and orderly.  Logical and exact.  It doesn't like to get messy and isn't all that comfortable with letting things unfold over time.
          Yet even though The Lace Makers isn't a novel I would have thought to write on my own, because I was led to it by a steady and urgent inspiration, I'm going to try.   As the ideas keep effortlessly coming to me in thoughts and dreams and through talking with people, I know I'm in good hands as I journey forward into a manuscript that has been a long time coming.  
          Perhaps it's the courage I find on the other side of my consciousness that lets me know I'm ready to see what will unfurl as the story unfolds.  For the next ten weeks I'll be leaning a little more heavily on the left hand to guide the right as we walk down this undiscovered road together...knowing that whatever grows along the way will be a blessing.
          And whatever seeds are left behind...will be just right.

Friday, January 23, 2015

All in a day's work

          It's just now a little after ten PM and I'm finally grabbing a little bite to eat after a kids' yoga class and a quick run on the treadmill to warm up on this cold winter's night.  Don't get me wrong...I'm not complaining at all.  It's been a good day.  More than that - it's been a great one. 
          I was up early to set up the yoga room for tonight's group, then went over to my friend's where I'm pet sitting to spend one more morning with her charming trio of cats.  After a few errands, I got home, grabbed some lunch, then enjoyed some time with my friend (and fabulous editor), Joyce.  She arrived at one o'clock and before we knew it, it was nearly five -- time to teach my darling group of yoga girls!
          I love my vocation...but more than that, I love what it brings to my life.  Since the new year began, I've been running full throttle with a variety of activities, a full plate of wonderful work that allows me to feel fulfilled in ways I never have before.  I said to Joyce, "I haven't been this busy in years...and I love every single minute."
          When I taught first grade, I always wrote an agenda of the day's activities on the board in the morning, and the calendar keeper was in charge of erasing each task when it was completed.  This eliminated the chance of twenty-five six-year-olds repeatedly asking, "What's next, Miss Ingersoll?"  All I had to do was nod toward the board and say, "You tell me."  It was a great way to encourage them to read and keep track of our progress on their own.  Many of them eventually wrote the agenda in their journals so they could check off the items if they happened to finish faster or needed a bit more time to edit their papers. 
          But some days don't need an agenda, just a willingness to simply take each moment as it arrives.  Take yesterday for instance.  In the midst of each task, each class or errand, I marveled in how enjoyable it was to drive around town.  Wait in line.  Ask for help.  And more than once, retrace my steps and do something again.  (Mercury is retrograde after all.)
          So here's a list of what's typical for a work day in an atypical life like mine:

1.     The day began with an advanced yoga class in which my students are beginning preparatory poses for headstand.  It's not a pose I teach as a group, and to be honest, I don't do it very often myself, preferring to practice keeping my feet on the ground.  Yet it's been a real pleasure to watch the slow and steady progress my students have made this year. Many of them are surprised by how plank and updog are not as challenging as they once were...and they owe it all to all the core work we've been doing for the past three years.  Still, a couple of students realized that their bodies just don't need to practice dolphin pose and I can completely understand.  "Your body is your best teacher," I tell them.  "And it always tells the truth."  That's an ongoing, never-ending lesson I'm still learning.  

2.     Next a friend stopped by to pick up a copy of my memoir and we got to chatting about the Hearts of Space program on WGTE radio.  Kim turned me on to the Paul Winter's Winter Solstice Celebration last year and since then, I've tried to tune in as often as possible.  This past week's Hearts of Space featured ambient music including a piece by one of my favorite artists, Chuck Wild.  I went looking for a stack of my CD's so Kim could sample his work, and while I didn't find what I was looking for, she went home with several selections from Loreena McKennitt and Nicholas Gunn.  If you've not heard their music, by all means, google them now.

3.     On to pet sitting where Gus, the wonder cat, left me a surprise in the middle of the hardwood floor.  At first I thought, Oh, how cute...he got out a toy to play with.  Upon closer inspection, I said out loud, "Oh crap!  That ain't no toy!"  After a speedy funeral I disposed of the dead mouse and spent a quiet hour in the sun room doing some research while Stella, Gus' darling sister, joined me for some quiet time.

4.     Then it was off to Target to return what I had thought was a pedestal heater which turned out to be a pedestal fan.  (I had already returned a smaller space heater to Home Depot twice this week due to reasons I won't go into here.)  The nice guy behind the customer service desk laughed when I explained my error.  "Well, it was in the same display as the heaters," he smiled.  "So it was an honest mistake."  Ten minutes later while I was standing in a long line during a rush of business, the same guy walked over and said, "I can help you at my desk."  I was in and out in less than a minute.

5.     That was a good thing because I was driving around on fumes.  The next stop was the gas station where I had to go into the service center not once, but twice to make sure I could use the bonus fuel points I've been saving since Thanksgiving. (Did I mention Mercury is retrograde?)  The lady behind the counter was clear, concise, and three favorite attributes when conversing with sales clerks.  In no time I was back at the pump and when my receipt popped out of the machine, imagine my surprise at seeing I was able to fill up my Civic for only $1.07! 

6.     With my car ready and raring to go, I drove to Meijer where I ordered cover prints to put on the books that arrived naked last month.  I'm making lemonade out of those lemons and while they don't look like the real deal, they'll do.  While waiting for my photos, I browsed around and chatted with some really nice people (I swear the best time to shop is between 10 and 2).  On the way out I spotted a jasmine plant in the floral department.  Inhaling its delicate fragrance was like a shot in the arm while I wait for spring planting.

7.     On to the Indian food store where the owner knows me not by name, but as the Patra Lady.  I stop in every month or so to stock up on this tasty meal as it's a staple these days when I don't feel like cooking, but want a healthy choice that's filling and nutritious.  Toledoans, check out Reddy Foods at Central and McCord.  You can find a heap of patra in the freezer section.  Well, to be honest after my purchase, there's only a small pile left, so get it while you can.

8.     Next I headed home where I balanced my checkbook and wrapped some of my books that customers are giving as gifts.  The phone rang and to my surprise it was someone who was able to connect me with a female Holocaust survivor in the area.  We chatted about the research I'm doing and plans for my novel, then scheduled an interview for next month.  It's no coincidence that her story parallels the one I've been outlining for almost a year and I feel very blessed to be able to meet her soon.

9.     Then it was off to the library to pick up more research books and drop off a box of ice cream that has been lurking in my freezer since last summer.  The expiration date isn't for a long while so I donated it to a good cause...'cause all the library folks at Sanger are incredibly wonderful.  (And wouldn't you know, while I was there, another Chuck Wild CD found it's way into my hands!)

10.  Back to home base where I headed upstairs to warm up the studio and light some candles.  Man I need some yoga right now, I thought.  What a joy to teach what  I need to learn and practice.  Four lovely ladies arrived a while later and we all enjoyed our session together, particularly a peaceful relaxation time at the end.

11.   After they left, I took a long, hot shower, slipped into some fleece pajamas, brewed a pot of tea, and knit a handwarmer for my pal, Doris.  I'm so thankful to be able to pick up my needles again, as knitting is my favorite way to unwind and close the circle of a very busy, but productive day.  It's even better when making something warm and wooly for someone I dearly love.

          Looking at my calendar for the next month or so, I know I'm in for more of the same and that's just fine with me.  Kahlil Gibran wrote, Work is love made visible.  Now more than ever, I understand what that truly means.  For I'm never happier than when I can move through the day and know that I've touched the lives of others...and have allowed them to touch my own. 
          To be able to make manifest that which I love in every moment, in every task is creating a wonderful life indeed.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

My father's son

          Recently a friend shared a thought-provoking ad, "Like a girl," directed by Lauren Greenfield.  It's a very moving social experiment which focuses on how girls in our culture are belittled by being told, "You run (hit, throw, fight) like a girl!"  While I watched girls on the playground at Glendale-Feilbach Elementary being taunted with this shaming statement many, many times, I was never the recipient.  In response to the video, I wrote my friend yesterday, In the seventies, I had the opposite experience by being told I was my father's "son" because I did everything "like a boy."  
          From the time I was little, I worked hard cutting the grass and washing the cars.  Washing the windows and sweeping out the garage.  I cleaned the basement and hauled the garbage to the curb.  I shoveled snow and raked leaves and did it all with a raw determination to get the job done -- and do it well so I wouldn't have to do it again.  My sisters worked, too, but they were more inclined to do the dishes and clean the house.  Neither of them liked to get dirty while mowing the lawn, so that job was given to me.  It helped that I earned $3.00 each week and an extra dollar if I trimmed nicely.  In this way, I learned the value of hard work and was often obsessive about it, tackling each job with a focused intention. 
          But back in the day, that wasn't very ladylike.

          When I was in first or second grade, my mother sent my older sister and me to a white glove course.  I was supposed to learn how to answer the phone properly.  How to sit with my legs crossed at the ankle.  How to walk with a book on my head to encourage good posture. How to set a nice table with the knife facing toward the plate.  Each week Mom drove us to a downtown department store where I sat with a bunch of other girls and learned how to eat like a girl.  How to talk like a girl.  How to walk like a girl. 
          Not that it did much good.
          A few years later, one of the neighborhood parents laughed at me and said, "You sure are your father's son, Katie."
          I felt both complimented and confused.  At the time I was wearing a tank top and cotton shorts.  My shins were banged and bruised from climbing on the jungle gym and hanging from the monkey bars.  My hair was cut into a short pixie and dirt covered my cheeks and chin.  I was proud to be tough like a boy, but I wasn't a boy.
          I was a girl.
         A few weeks later my family was visiting an elderly relative in a nursing home.  She was in her late eighties and barely remembered my sisters and me from visit to visit, although she never forgot my parents.  As I stood shivering next to my mother in the overly-air conditioned room, the woman squinted at me, then cocked her head.
          She called my mother by her name adding, "I didn't know you had a son."
          Tears beaded in my eyes, but I said nothing until we were on our way to the parking lot.  "Will you perm my hair before I go back to school?" I asked Mom.
          "Of course," she replied, taking my hand.
          From then on I paid more attention to what I wore, how I spoke, how I behaved.  At home I was still rough and tumble, but in school I tried to figure out how to be a girl in a confusing swirl of pre-teen anxiety and self-loathing.
          All through junior high and high school I wore make-up.  Curled my hair.  Tried to behave like the popular girls who had boys following them everywhere.  I always had friends who were boys, but no boyfriends.  The guys I hung around with often told me, "You're really not a girly girl."
          At the time I figured that was code for "you're undesirable."
          It wasn't until just recently that I discovered they were acknowledging the real me beneath my veneer of lip gloss and mousse.  I realize how lucky I was to have such great fellas in my life back then - and even more so right now.

          Yet for most of my life I've been told that I'm too something:  too independent, too articulate, too intimidating, too self-possessed, or too honest.  All of these sound like masculine traits to me, and while I'm not ashamed to embody any of them, I'm still learning how to dial down the volume and breathe life into the woman I am becoming.  Not an easy task.
          When I lived in Big Sur, I worked hard to tap into my femininity, donning dresses to work in the garden, painting my fingernails and wearing a little make-up, just for myself and no one else.  This year I'm letting my hair grow and wearing a lot of pinks and purples and nurturing my softer side.  It's been a long journey to find the passageway through trying to prove myself in this world and simply allowing my work to stand for itself...all the while learning how to go with the flow of life. 
          Even now, I'm only just beginning to experience my femininity as something strong, sensitive, and whole.

          So here's to all the women out there who've had to prove themselves beyond their limits.  To women who are moving past being teased and taunted and made to believe they are shadows of their authentic selves.  Here's to the young girls who are embarking on the often-painful journey of adolescence.  May you all be blessed with loving and courageous support so that you, too, can know the joy of being whole.
          I'm not my father's son, but I'm very proud to say I was a girl who tried her best.  Who didn't always do it well.  Who yelled and screamed and fought to be heard.  Who fell again and again and again, but always got up to try once more.  I was a girl who spent decades trying to figure out how to be a strong woman in a world that is only just beginning to value them. 
          As I was back then, I'm still beautiful the way I am...and so are all of you.

Click here to watch "Like a girl" on youtube

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Living legacy

          This week I'm taking care of a vacationing friend's house.  Her trio of lovely cats are staying home, so I visit a couple of times a day to make sure they have enough food, water, and love.  My friend is also tray seeding a host of greens in her basement greenhouse and every morning I turn on the grow lamps and mist the soil.  Every evening I return to turn off the lamps and make sure the tender sprouts are still moist.
          Last night when I arrived for my first visit, I was surprised by how the rich, humid scent of organic soil instantly took me back to my days in the greenhouse at Esalen Institute where I was in charge of thousands of "babies," little seedlings just making their way above the soil and into the light.  It was one of my favorite tasks and one I often did on my day off, just to spend some time in an environment of new beginnings.  When I left Esalen in the fall of 2008, my boss lovingly said to me, "Everyone here will be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor all winter long because of your dedication to the greenhouse."   In truth, it was an honor and a privilege to be responsible for giving those seeds the best start possible.  A privilege I'm happy to accept from my friend as I nurture her little greenhouse in the Heartland.
          Early in my career I gravitated toward teaching first grade and continue to enjoy working with preschoolers.  In fact, little ones often gravitate toward me while I'm out and about running errands. They stop and chat, especially if I'm wearing my purple coat.  (Click here to read "The empress' new clothes." ) They'll ask questions about what I'm buying.  Do you have a cat?  Is that for your kids?  It's a delight to watch a new generation grow and learn about the world around them.  To play a small part in their evolution and awareness.  To listen and learn from their simple wisdom that notices the tiniest of details I often overlook.
          Children have always been my favorite teachers, so I wonder what the kids of today will see when they look back on the legacy my generation will someday leave behind.

          This month I returned to Washington Local Schools to teach an afternoon yoga class at Hiawatha Elementary.  The other day while waiting for someone to open the locked door near the parking lot, I saw three signs taped to the glass wall.  "Gun free zone!" one of them announced with a circle/slash photograph of a handgun.  The other two were identical stickers that announced the penal code violation for bringing a weapon (even a registered one) into the building.  It hurt to know that every single day, each student entering or exiting the school would pass by these signs -- daily reminders that our world has drastically changed since I was a child.
          When I first taught at Greenwood Elementary in the nineties, we were able to leave all of the doors unlocked, but the shootings at Columbine High School changed everything.  In fact, when I leave Hiawatha every week, I drive past the exact place where I had been sitting in my car at a stoplight in April of 1999 when the lives of so many in Colorado were lost.  It's a sobering reality to listen to the news where shootings occur at malls, in restaurants, and in all kinds of neighborhoods.  Where anger and retaliation trump a willingness to work through issues in a diplomatic way.
          If I've learned anything in my years as a teacher, it's that every single one of my students was a mirror of their environment, if not completely, then in components.  They were all living legacies of their neighborhoods, their friends, and their families.  The same is true for me.  Through time and awareness, I've come to assimilate those parts that are healing and helpful while unwinding those that may have served a purpose in the past but have long outgrown their usefulness.  It's not been easy and I'm never done, but it's been worth the work to come to a place where I can see things from a very different perspective and not just an unconscious reaction from the culture in which I was raised.
          I'm thankful to be near the finish line of the research for a novel I'll soon be writing.  In the past year I've gone from reading about the Holocaust to watching countless films and documentaries to recently visiting the Holocaust Memorial Center in Michigan.  In a week or so, I'll be interviewing a survivor of the camps.  Each step has taken me closer to the harrowing experience.  Each book or film or artifact more deeply affecting me than the last. 
          While walking through the museum last Friday, the part that instantly brought tears was the hallway which led to a floor to ceiling photograph of Adolf Hitler.  On either side of the passage were a host of Nazi artifacts, an original version of Mein Kampf, a timeline of the rise of the Gestapo.  Knowing in great detail the horrors wrought by Hitler's regime, it was terrifying to stand in the presence of what had one time destroyed the lives of millions around the world.  As we made our way toward another display, I caught a glimpse of some childlike drawings that were dated in the 1940's.  They were advertisements for the Hitler Youth, created by children to order other children to join the movement or risk punishment or death. 
          It has never been so clear to me that all war, all conflict begins with the belief that in some way a certain group is better than another.  That we are separated by an ethnic group, religion, social class, and the color of our skin.  What we teach our children when they are so young and impressionable becomes their reality.  How we water the seedlings of their psyches becomes their behavior.  How we embody our lives becomes a template of expectations for them to follow. 
          However, not all children are easy prey to the shadows of their past.  There are countless stories of Germans who helped hide Jews and others who were certain to be sent to concentration camps.  Many sons and daughters defied their families and worked for the Resistance during World War II.  Even now I see new generations break free from the mores of a culture that is unsustainable. 
          Their living legacy is a hope for all generations.

          As we celebrate Martin Luther King Day tomorrow, I'm reminded of a conversation I had with my little friend, Satish, when he was in kindergarten.  I was sharing why we celebrated the life of Dr. King by explaining the realities of segregation in America.  His mother reminded Satish that Dr. King's message was an echo of what Ghandi was trying to teach, that peaceful protests can move mountains.  That stubborn, but non-violent action reveals the truth -- always. 
          Without hesitation, Satish looked at me and said, "If we were kids in the sixties, we couldn't sit next to each other on the bus."
          I nodded.  "That's right...and how sad that would be to keep us separate just because our skin is a different color.  I would have missed out on so much not knowing you...not being your friend."
          It lightens my spirit to know that the little ones we are raising now have little context to the devastation of the past.  But it was also a blessing to walk through the Holocaust Museum tour with a mother and her three young girls.  One is in first grade, another in fourth and the oldest is a seventh grader.  At one point I whispered to their mother, "I really give you credit for bringing your daughters's so important to learn from the past."
          She nodded, explaining that she had prepared them for what we would see.  "It's important to bring them here," she said.  "I want them to know as much about our history as possible."
          Years ago I was studying the vibrational power of words, the healing properties that certain prayers or mantras contain.  I discovered that, in any language on the planet, "peace" has the highest vibration, "love" is second, and "joy" is third.  It was for this reason that when I first got online, my land-line email address was "peacetoyou@_________."  With every message sent, I wanted the vibration of peace to go out into the ether and into the home of the person to whom I was writing.
          Upon moving to Big Sur, I left the land-line behind.  When I moved back from Esalen the address had been taken in my absence, so I had to choose a different one, but even now, I almost always end every email with the word "peace."  What a serendipity to read a review from a wonderful woman who has read all four of my novels.  She wrote in part:  Reading Katie's books is like taking a long hot bubble bath, a walk alone in the woods, or sitting quietly in meditation -- whatever brings  peace to you. Thank you, Katie! The experience of " being there" is amazing! 
          Anne Frank wrote about a chestnut tree that gave her hope during World War II.  It stood outside the window of the home in which she was hiding and thrived there for decades after her death.  The tree succumbed to disease in 2010, but eleven saplings grown from its remains were donated to places in the United States, one being the Holocaust Museum in Michigan.  In witnessing this small but powerful reminder of faith, I'm reminded that peace grows in the most surprising of places...and thrives where there are people who know how to honor and nurture it.
          Now I know that this is my living bring peace to the world through a blog or a book.  Through misting my friend's seedlings and taking good care of her pets.  Through tending a garden and teaching yoga.  Through any act that invites healthy connection and heals separation, within my community...or simply within my own self.
          For what I create deep within will be mirrored in who I become.

To see this living legacy in person, visit the
Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, MI 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Man of the house

          My mom has been really busy with all kinds of stuff today, so she asked me if I wanted to write her blog.  I figure if Aditi and Jhoti can post on Open Road, I can, too.  (Read "Jhoti's pennance" here.)  Plus I've perched on the desk and watched Mom use the computer enough to know what's what.  She said she'd come in later and proofread my work, but I think I'll be alright on my own.  After all, I'm the man of the house and should be able to handle this just fine. 
          It's not that I'm all that macho.  I was the runt of my litter and almost didn't make it a couple of times.  I've been hospitalized on a few occasions and  my mom nearly went nuts the last time when I got sick from grooming Aditi before she was fully wormed.  Mom needn't have worried.  I recuperated quickly enough.  During the night I even figured out how to unlock my cage at the vet's, pull out my IV, and escape from the exam room so I could go exploring.  I had had enough of that sitting around business and knew there were better things to do with my time.  
         Like bird watching.  
        And (plastic) snake charming.  
        And playing with my sisters. 
         When I was a kid, my littermates took good care of me.  They nudged me to the bottom of the scrum pile so I could stay warm while we napped near our mama's belly.  My sisters knew I tired easily and didn't jump on me when I sat down to watch them frolic and play.  And my brother often joined me, grooming my ears for good measure.  After my human mom adopted me, I soon learned I was the smallest kid in her trio of cats.  Jhoti and I bonded quickly, but I'm still working on Sophia...and it's been over five years, so you'd think she'd get a grip and realize I'm not going anywhere.  
          I've been spoiled rotten, let me tell you, but I hear I'm also a cute little booger, so it all evens out in the end.  When I was a baby, Mom would carry me inside her sweatshirts wrapped in fleece to keep me warm and gave me extra treats to help me gain weight.  As I grew, she nurtured my love of birds by hanging a suet cage outside the window near a sunny spot where I like to snooze.  Along with my Aunt Doris and a few other folks, my mom has bought me enough toy mice and snakes to last more than nine lifetimes.
          But I'm not a Mama's Boy. 
          Like I said, I'm the man of the house.

          But you know, I didn't really understand what that meant until my kid sister, Aditi, came along.  She's a tough little squirt, let me tell you.  And when Mom squirts her with the water gun when she's being bad, Aditi holds her ground.  I even saw her slap Mom once...or twice.  Well, okay, nearly every time. 
          As the man of the house I've tried to set a good example.  I use good manners when I eat my meals and use the litterbox like a gentleman.  Grooming is one of my favorite hobbies and I keep myself neat and clean.  (Mom even calls me Dapper Dan, except my name is Forest, so I don't know who she means.)  Best of all, if it's nighttime and I want to sleep on Mom's bed (she has a thing called an electric blanket, but I call it Paradise), I very gently jump up, slowly and carefully making my way to cozy spot so I don't wake up my mother...unlike two other black cats I know who don't give a hoot and step on her head, her hair, even her face!
          I'm rewarded with lots of love.  With cat nip and paper grocery bags.  With lots of kisses and chin rubs.  But that's not why I do all of those things.  It's in my nature to be a good boy.  Mom says I'm her pride and joy.  And why not?
          I'm the man of the house.
          But you know, I've been watching Mom a lot these days.  She has a lot of papers on her desk and I heard her telling her friend there's a lot to do running her yoga business and writing books and marketing them (whatever that means...I thought the market was where she got our food) and paying bills and making sure the house is in order.  She cuts the grass in the summer and takes the trash out year 'round.  I wish I could scoop our litterbox myself because that's a job no one or woman. 
          From what I've seen lately, Mom does the work of both a man and a woman, but if she doesn't do it all, who will?  I'd like to help, but I'm hobbled by being a quadruped.  I can't reach the sink to wash dishes (although I will admit to jumping up on the counters now and again when she's not looking).  I can't make business calls or drive a car.  I'd like to go to work and help earn my keep, but I figure keeping Aditi out of trouble most of the day is a full-time job.  But at night I bring Mom my snakes and mice.  I drop them in her slippers, hoping she'll know how much I love her.  How much I appreciate living in this peaceful place full of windows and warm beds and wonderful women who come in for yoga classes. 
          Maybe being the man of the house isn't what I've heard it's supposed to be.  Maybe being the only boy doesn't mean I have to be tough and courageous.  That's it's okay to run away from the sweeper and get startled every time the doorbell rings.  I don't have to be strong and steady when Mom's sad or not feeling well.  I can curl up on her shoulder and purr in her ear...and maybe even feel a little low myself just because she's feeling blue. 
          Mom says she loves me just as I am.  And I'm not a big Tom cat or a Bossy Boots.  I'm not rough and rugged and ready to rumble.  She says that if she marries a man who is half as sweet as me, she'll be the luckiest woman in the world.  I guess it's a good thing that I'm a sweet little fella who knows how lucky I am to live with a bunch of lively ladies.
          That's man enough for me...and for my sweet little momma, too.


Sunday, January 4, 2015

The empress' new clothes

          Well, we're a few days into the new year and it finally looks like wintertime outside my window.  Thick snowflakes are falling, dusting the ground in a silent swirl of white.  The wind is blowing colder as an artic blast is well on the way.  I've been bundling up a little more and am thankful for all the woolies I've knitted over the years that keep my hands and ears and neck warm.  Even more so, I'm delighted to have a new-to-me coat to wear while hiking at the park.
          Last fall while donating at Savers, I decided to peruse the outerwear to see if they had anything new.  What a surprise to find an almost knee length purple fleece coat that was just my size.  With the coupon I had received for passing on some gently used clothing, I bought the coat for a song and have loved wearing it all season long.  It's funny, but I often forget how bright and beautiful it is until I'm in public and someone does a double take, smiling at me and saying something like, "What a great color," or "I love your coat!"  I've accessorized it with multi-colored scarves and handwarmers and even a hat or two, and it's been one of the best treasures I've discovered at our local thrift store.
          Still, I've just recently rediscovered the joys of owning something brand new.

          When my friend, Tracy, was cleaning out her closets last summer, she offered me first choice of the many wonderful skirts, tops, and sweaters she no longer wanted.  Tracy is an impeccable dresser and I lamented that a lot of the items weren't good colors for me as they were stylish and well cared for.  But there were a few pairs of shorts and a couple of turtlenecks that fit perfectly.  As Thanksgiving approached, I pulled out one of the sweaters on a cold, blustery day and loved how wonderfully warm it was.  How detailed and elegant.  How I could wear it from teaching a yoga class to meeting a friend for tea and still look put together.
          On a whim I googled the designer's name and found that the sweater could be found in a plethora of colors at Macy's.  So, on Black Friday when they were half off, I ordered one in black and one in dark blue.  That afternoon a friend came over to visit with her daughters.  While the girls were busy making cookies, I told Michele how excited I was to be able to buy brand new clothing in a classic style that looked good on me.
          "I've been wondering what to get you for Christmas," she smiled.  "Would you let me gift you with those sweaters?"     
          Now I didn't expect that at all, but after a little prodding, I thanked Michele for her generosity and eagerly awaited the arrival of my new sweaters.  And the very next day, Michele was surprisingly gifted with the exact amount of money she had given me!  Don't you love how karma works?
          A week later a small package arrived from Macy's.  You would have thought Publisher's Clearinghouse had arrived at my door by my response!  Each sweater was carefully wrapped in tissue, with a sheet of cardboard keeping it neatly folded.  There was even a little plastic bag with a spare button and thread, too!  And when I slipped the black sweater over my head, I was in heaven.   It fit like a dream and I marveled at how wearing something new could feel so wonderful.
          You see, I haven't bought clothing from a department store since the late nineties.  When I quit teaching my finances wouldn't allow it.  And when I went back into the classroom to teach preschool, I didn't want to invest a lot of money into clothes that would be soon be exposed to paint, crayons, Play-Doh, and sticky fingers.  Over the years I've been able to afford a nicer wardrobe, thanks to learning how to peruse the aisles at Savers for ideal finds.  In fact, except for shoes and a few select items, all of my clothes are second hand.  I don't mind at all.  It's a great way to reduce waste, reuse perfectly good items, and enjoy colorful attire that would otherwise be out of my price range.
          But I have to admit I got a real charge out of being the first owner of those lovely sweaters. 

          I'll still be a regular at Savers -- in fact I've recently found some gorgeous tops to wear in yoga classes this winter.  And my friends have learned that if they love something I'm wearing, it has always come from the thrift least until this past Christmas.  Now I wear the sweaters with my purple coat and enjoy the blend of something old and something new...something borrowed for a little while and something blue.
          This afternoon as the snow started to fly, I wore my purple coat to walk with a friend at the park and then to run errands.  It turned a few heads and made a woman smile.  "That's a gorgeous coat!" she beamed.  "You look so nice in it...and I love purple!"
          "Me, too," I nodded, thanking her for the compliment.
          As I walked on, I realized that it's not necessarily the clothing I wear on the outside, but the attitude I carry on the inside that adorns me best.  I've found that, old or new, the inner reflects the outer...always.