29 January, 2012

Good old days

Ever hopeful, full of dreams of grand adventures we celebrate our birthdays with drunken joy. How can we even begin to imagine the actual experiences we will live as we walk our paths? How can we anticipate the pain, the disappointment, the betrayal and possible reconciliation The parents of my friends continue to disappear, while mine wake up each morning wondering what to have for breakfast. And actually they are both pretty set on their ways, knowing their own preferences after these 80+ years. Divorced, they each fend for themselves. My Sauk Rapids mother, who is not a morning person, places instant oatmeal in the microwave of her senior apartment while still in her nightgown.  After dressing, my Mesa, Arizona Dad eases himself behind the wheel of his vintage Cadillac and heads to the Red Mountain Cafe to order his ham and eggs, hash browns with crispy onions, wheat toast and a side of sausage gravy.

I remind myself how blessed I am to have my parents a phone call away. After singing at the funeral of my friends mother I called my own mother to go for pancakes at Perkins in the Pines. No answer. Called that evening with the same results. I sent her an e-mail. followed by text. There is some degree of dementia in play, very mild, but enough that she doesn't track information like she has in the past. I have to remind myself that this isn't the woman I knew when I was 28, celebrating with my friends, cursing my ill fortune to have this woman as my main caregiver. I resented her demands to assist her in raising my siblings. She had me feeding my younger sister as soon as I could manage to hold the bottle at the proper angle. Now I realize she was drowning and couldn't have managed my 5 siblings without my help. When something went right, she got the glory. When shit hit the fan, and it frequently did, I got the blame. So why wasn't she picking up the phone? There had been a few years when she wasn't speaking to me, however I didn't realize it and thought I just kept missing her. Finally one of my sisters clued me in. I had offended her and she had cut off communication without any confrontation or explanation. No wonder I have so few negotiating skills. I was taught it was all or nothing and expected to read minds, at least my mother's mind, and to anticipate her movements, desires. With unpleasant consequences when I failed. Once your identity is warped, can it be fixed? Full of conflicting emotions and beliefs how do you even begin to sort them out. Perhaps the secret still lives in not trying to sort and make sense of the craziness. Just live one day at a time, one moment, one conversation, one appointment and let all the rest fall as it may. And remember that it all has value, especially the painful parts, the parts we call failures and mistakes. My biggest mistake appears to be taking my life personally. I sometimes forget how big I am and get lost in the details, feeling small and vulnerable, helpless and isolated. In truth the ocean is smaller than we human beings. We extend far beyond the surface of our skins, yet we forget and limit our identities in ways we will one day remember is silly. When to quit? When I want something different to manifest in my life. Something more joyous, more satisfying, more authentic. 

24 January, 2012


In a jet-lag fog this elegant sculpture caught my sleep deprived eyes. I stopped under it to examine the structure closer. It  reminded of the snakes holding their tails in a well known dream which revealed the nature of the benzene molecule. Dragons have fascinated me for as long as I can remember and there was a  time in my son's earliest years when he insisted I pretend to be the dragon from Mozart's Magic Flute. He, obviously, wanted to be Prince Tamino, with the cape and sword. We repeated the opening chase scene through the dance studio, dining room kitchen and out the back door into the garden. He continued this game day after day, perfecting his sword work and his fainting at the end of the scene before the hand maidens of the Queen of the Night slayed the fire breathing beast.

23 January, 2012

The Beach House

On the other side of this house is the Sonoma Coast. The current owner has a kayak to paddle around the Russian River which opens out into the Pacific ocean. The house is just a little more fancy than a cardboard box., but it has amazing views from the floor to ceiling windows. And it was bathed in sunshine the day I looked at it. Half a million dollars and it's yours, or mine, or whoever gets there first. Yes, I want to live at the ocean. Yes I want to take my grandkids and their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches down to the beach and build sand castles and make a little bonfire for toasting marshmallows and eating s'mores while Georgia, the dog, runs after the seagulls. I want set up my laptop and write amazing stories about growing up poor in Sibley county. And eating pastries from the local bakery. Crispies and peanut rolls, doughnuts that melt in your mouth, and my Grandma's caramel pecan rolls. She made them from the water left after she boiled the potatoes. Leave it to the Irish to use everything in the kitchen. No waste. I'm reluctant to take on the financial burden of something like this property, my heart is already there with the sand and sun, but my brain keeps shouting "do the math sister!" So no one way plane ticket for me yet. My kids are still unstable enough that I want to hang around a little closer, just in case they need something. I can always say no, but the truth is that I want to help them when I can. Its tough out there and it isn't getting any easier yet. Which brings me to the subject of "butt-dialing", you know what I mean: you shove your phone in your back pocket with out locking the number pad, slide into your car, you are behind the steering wheel, sort of sitting leaning on your phone and you accidentally dial whoever is up on your favorites list. And you don't even realize it has happened until the person calls you back and says, "Hey, you called me!" And even though you didn't consciously call her, you had been thinking about her, and you are very happy to hear her voice because you find inspiration in her work, her perspective. That's the ideal butt-dial experience: sitting in a Minnesota snowstorm, waiting for the car engine to warm up enough to put it in gear without damage. And your whole day is ever so much better as you pull away from the frozen curb into the tire troughs of the cars that have passed before you on their way to work.  I wonder if we would live on the same California coast one day. Except she would be in Southern California while I would be on the Sonoma shore. Maybe we would meet somewhere south of Monterey, Steinbeck country, for tea and almond croissants.

15 January, 2012

Arboretum Sunday

All we have is today, assuming one is fortunate enough to wake up in the morning. Which also means you were lucky enough to fall asleep last night. In the past, I worked 7 days a week, without a break, unless I got a migraine or a really bad cold.  Eventually I cut back to 6 days a week, a decadent feeling of ease. To have just that one day  each and every week, without fail, to catch up on all those little maintenance chores that pile up like the dirty laundry in the basement, even just to change the burned out light bulbs was a blessing. Suddenly my life felt manageable. I could catch my breath and recharge, go to a movie or take a nap. And now,  at this time in my busy life, I have actual weekends: two days back to back. That gives me one day to catch up and one day to simply be, breathing, and smiling, observing, listening. To have an opportunity to day dream, walk around the arboretum, smell the flowers, look for the wild turkeys, feel the sunshine on my face, and to lounge around in front of the fire is something I always dreamed about, always imagined, I simply hoped I would be doing it with a lover, the father of my children, rather than on my own.
Life is surprising in that way. You plan one thing and you get something else, not that this is an unpleasant thing, but I believed he was the love of my life. No, wait. I believed I was the love of his life, after all he told me that often enough, and I based on that belief I assumed he was the love of my life. After all he was the father of my children, that had to count for something, or so I thought. And now I realize that I lived in a relationship built on assumptions and fantasy. Until I woke up one day and realized I didn't want to live with the denial and violence.
What was the deal breaker for me? After all I stayed in the relationship for over 22 years even when our children got old enough to plead with me to file for divorce. Even after he left our 2 year old outside in the winter in a locked car, for an indefinite length of time. Even after he beat me up in front of them. When his rage got out of control, he shoved them into walls and stairs, I still stayed and believed he would change. When he made inappropriate sexual remarks to them, touched them in ways that made them uncomfortable, I asked him to stop, and I still stayed. When we separated with the understanding he would attend domestic violence training, I heard him agree.
I heard him say he would do anything and everything necessary to heal our relationship. I didn't make a "plan b" because I believed him. I trusted him, not just with my life, but the lives of our children. And it turns out that I was wrong! And now I look ahead and sit with myself and I can hear my own voice again. There is a kind of blanket permission hanging in the air. I notice my feelings, and do not have to do anything more with them, but watch them like the clouds passing over a sunny hill. The full range of my emotions are there and I don't have to hide from any of them. I don't have to give anyone my attention on demand or organize any one's life and then try to fit my life around theirs. I have a relatively free existence only limited by my revenue stream. And my imagination. My life is no longer a crisis requiring my constant vigilance the main drama in my life is the sunrise, and everything unfolds from there.... 

11 January, 2012

sometimes it's a gutter ball

But sometimes it's a strike. So, do you stop and beat yourself up? Take off your shoes and walk away? Well, maybe, and then maybe you just don't. Maybe you stop, and breathe, and wait for your ball to come back to you, and try again. Or you get a different ball. One more suited to your strengths. 
I recently crossed paths with an acquaintance who has a passion for hockey which I can only imagine in my wildest dreams. I am passionate about ice skating, hockey?  Skating backwards? Dodging a hard, flying-at-your head? Thank you very much, but probably not in this lifetime. While we waited for the elevator I smiled at him. He said hi, began to fiddle with his equipment and appeared to be reluctant to make eye contact. Finally, I asked if he was a finesse player. He looked at me blankly, and there was a long pause similar to the one as I am waiting for something to load on my laptop. 
"What do you mean?" he finally asked with a puzzled expression. 
"As opposed to a power player," I explained, as my elevator door opened to carry me up to the fifth floor. 
He said, "I'm all about slapping it in the net, as hard and fast as possible, so definitely, I'm a strength and speed skater." His elevator opened to take him down to the basement garage. We turned in unison, and wished each other a great evening. 
It's important to identify your skills, goals and areas for improvement. Start young, have realistic expectations, and learn not to beat yourself up when you realize how far you can go and how growing changes your skill set. I wonder when "growing" with it's implication that you have so much more time left to develop, turns into "aging" with the suggestion that you are going downhill, with only a few more chances left. "Aging," with your opportunities diminishing like the returns on your investments. All the negative connotations: washed up, over the hill, swan song. 
What could we do if we lived like someone left the gate open and the whole world was open to us for this one precious moment, this one precious day?

08 January, 2012


Sometimes justice isn't blind: her eyes are wild open and her ears are hearing lies without believing them.  I had the privilege of attending a recent meeting in a judge's chamber after two attorneys objected to my presence. It is an understatement to say that they had agenda. I had lain awake for many nights agonizing over the details of this particular case and second guessed myself numerous times through out the investigation. I felt like I was carrying the biological Mom, and her children, on my back for the past 21 months. The mother was a slippery character with undiagnosed mental health issue. Munchausen syndrome by proxy came to mind frequently as I observed her interactions with the other players in her story, especially as she talked with doctor's working on her son's case. She had fought to maintain her custody of her so in spite of his drastic weight loss. She had avoided all contact with me, repeatedly canceling appointments and refusing to pick up her phone or return my calls. When I left a message that I would visit her daughter at school if she did not return my call, she kept her home from school claiming that the bus driver had molested her daughter. She decided to change schools or simply keep her home until it was mandatory.  30 days after the testimony on her case was closed her parental rights were terminated. I was relieved, thinking everything was over and that I would not be required to have anymore contact with her.  The next week I was informed that she had filed a motion for a retrial. Eventually denied, she filed an appeal. This was a woman who had no intention of letting voluntarily surrendering custody of her child. And following the child's death she insisted on having his embalmed body returned to her for burial. The craziness of sitting in a room with lawyers wanting to change the involuntary TPR to voluntary was a gross misrepresentation of justice. They were essentially asking the original judge to say she was wrong, and had made a mistake in her original TPR order. 

05 January, 2012

English tea at the Biltmore

Last year at this time snow was all we talked about, all we thought about. It was in every one's face and you could not avoid it without just closing the curtains and staying indoors. Actually that would be an expensive mistake as a homeowner. The city would clear your walks and send you the bill, every time they provided the service at greatly inflated rates. Last year I escaped to Phoenix and like it's name I felt myself resurrected from the ashes of the desert landscape. I motivated myself with the idea of High tea at the Biltmore, and I was not disappointed. The question now is: encore? Each day the plane tickets go up in price, each day I awake and the temperature is a little more temperate. There is no snow to speak of and it is a pleasure to be in Minnesota....

03 January, 2012

New Year's Eve Peach Margarita

The last time I saw my friend D we spent a lovely evening at the St. Paul Hotel assessing our milestones for 2011 and listing our goals for 2012. We sail different ships but, occasionally,on a blessed day such as the last one, we end up in the same harbor, drawing inspiration from each other's fantasies and dreams. She talks about living in a RV and then the next day I walk by the perfect Vanagon with a for sale sign in the window. Immediately, I am drawn into the fantasy of traveling up and down the Sonoma coast with my laptop and a lapdog, writing and camping, drinking peach margaritas in front of a crackling fire on the beach. Or spending the day walking in the redwoods of Armstrong woods. We compare notes on the health of our aging mothers. Hers still has a daily gin martini. Mine has been sober for almost 30 years. It is a blessing that her daughter has settled, at least for the moment, in St. Paul and that is the motivation for her frequent trips to the Metro area. For myself, I avoid St. Paul like a doctor's waiting room during the flu season. My immune system is strong and I tend to not get sick easily. None the less, I do not seek out opportunities to expose myself to risk. Not to imply that St. Paul is contagious in any way. It simply isn't on my list of places I go without strong motivation, such as meeting a like-minded friend. And while I may not ask for her opinion straight up, I am always interested in her creative and frequently inspiring opinions. And I love the dreams of field trips to visit a newly married K in the summer.  And I plan to drink plenty of Peach Margaritas before, during and after...