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Archive for February, 2012



(Here is a copy of  the letter that I enclosed with the March/April 2012  Joy Center mailing.)


When you leave your perch of security and fly with freedom, that is when your dreams will come true.  Unknown


We were sitting in the old lounge chairs in my mother’s cottage living room when I began to interview her.  It was several years ago and I was enamored with Bravo’s show, The Actor’s Studio, loved the ten questions that James Lipton asked the visiting artists at the conclusion of each episode.  “What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?” I asked my eighty-something year old mother.  She closed her eyes, thought a moment, then lit up.  “I wished I could have been a dancer, a ballerina.  I’d like to leap across the stage.”

I was surprised.  I never knew my mother as a dancer until that moment.  And now, reflecting back, I’m struck by all the ways that she, indeed, did leap across the stage.  She leaped in her professional life as she opened to the world of pre-schoolers on a daily basis.  She leaped as she sang in notes so high that none of the rest of us could reach her.  She leaped in her cooking – sometimes to her kids’ chagrin.  Chocolate chicken, and raw sea urchin, and bread so healthy that it crumbled in our hands.  She leaped as she swished that brush across the paper, painting the light and the sea and the frothy waves.  She leaped as she sat on the deck and soaked in the day’s sparkle.  She leaped, time and again, as she found a way to live within a body that was quietly giving up its outer leap.  And, two weeks ago, at age ninety-three, with a dancer’s quiet grace and ease, she slipped right out of that body and leaped into some new adventure.

And here I am contemplating leaping.  I’ve done my share of leaps as well.  Sometimes, I’ve leaped with gusto, off the rocks in Maine and into the chill of the North Atlantic, off the Tarzan swing and into the clear fresh water of Teal Lake in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, off the thirty foot high platform and into the wild blue yonder at trapeze school.  I’ve leaped and I’ve whooped my way into one adventure and then another.  I love these grand glorious leaps into the unknown.  And I love the quiet leaps that may seem like a limp or a whisper or nothing at all to the outside world.  I love leaping my way into a broader perspective.  I love feeling my mind leap from idea to idea.  I love leaping into a more joyous buoyant way of thinking and being.

And now, I’m leaping into something new with my mother.  It’s like that when someone you love has left their body; you can’t stay perched on the solid ground of old patterns.  My mother no longer answers her phone.  And she is nowhere to be found in her earthly dwellings.  But I’ve sensed that she is present, known for a while that we would stay connected after her transition.  And so, while skate-skiing two days ago, pushing and gliding and thinking about leaping, I spoke to my mother in this new silent kind of call. “Mom,” I said into my mind’s phone, “Mom, help me see the expansive ways that we can leap across this stage.”  And, as I skated up hill with these words in my head, as my heart pumped and my breath quickened, something told me to look at the ground in front of me.  At first I thought it was a leaf or a twig or needles from a pine nestled in the snow.  But it wasn’t.  As I skied closer, I saw it clearly.  It was some kind of a little box or sign and on its surface were printed in bold red letters the words, “I love you!”  I skated on by, happy in this new leap.

There are so many ways that we leap across this stage!  On Wednesday, February 29, Leap Year Day, at 7:00 PM, I will be leaping onto center stage, in a performance at Joy Center.  I invite you to come and join in the party.  Perhaps you will experience some leaps of your own.  And you are always welcome at Joy Center.  The next two months of offerings provide a multitude of opportunities for leaping, quiet inner leaps and exuberant outer ones, in yoga and energy and art workshops, in dance and movement sessions, with poetry, writing your own, and listening to the poems of others, at Out Loud where we share our stories, our songs, our poems, our Selves.  There are so many ways to leap across the stage and we are always leaping, leaping into the next moment, the next opportunity, the next grand adventure.

Happy leaping!
































Soul to Soul

Let go of relating role to role, and open to connecting soul to soul.  Sonia Choquette

My initial reaction to the phone call from Boulder, the call on a sunny Sunday in mid-October from our son, Pete, and daughter-in-law, Shelly, the call to both Cam and I on our home phone, was exhilaration.  Who wouldn’t be excited?!?  Who wouldn’t be thrilled with the news?!?  And, so what if it was a secret, one that we were sworn to keep until the December holidays rolled around?!?  We could cheer.  We could jump up and down.  We could start preparing.  Shelly and Pete were going to have a baby!  And Cam and I were going to be grandparents!  A little one was entering our lives, someone to pour our love into unconditionally.

My busy mind began to work overtime.  In the middle of the next night, I woke up with my head filled with ideas.  We could create a playroom in the basement, put up book shelves for all those wonderful children’s stories we’ve saved; we could buy a tumbling mat and a set of wooden blocks and a crib for the guest room.  And then my active middle-of-the-night-mind began to roam.  Grandmother!  What does that even mean?!?  Panic began to set in.  How can we be grandparents when we feel as though we’re twenty-two?!?  How can we be grandparents when we just have begun to taste the freedom of not giving a rip what other people think?!?  How can we be grandparents when we love to chase the Tour de France more than life itself and a baby, our little grandbaby who we already love unconditionally, might be born right in the middle of the action?!?

And what about my dreams?!?  That’s where my mind went next on that October night.  Is it appropriate for a grandmother to admit that she longs to play in a punk band, one that won’t care that she’s tone-deaf, one that will let her jump up and down on a stage and shriek her tone-deaf songs out into the world and head-bang her bleached-blonde hair wildly?!?  Is it appropriate for a grandmother to even have bleached-blonde hair?!?  And what about swearing?!?  I was sure that swearing was off grandmother-limits, and something inside me loves to swear!  And something inside me loves to be the center of attention, loves to be on stage, and that just can’t be grandmother material.  By now, my mind had stuffed me back into a box, a grandmother box, a caring-what-other-people-think box.  By now, I wasn’t so sure that grandmotherhood was all that it was cracked up to be.

Thank goodness for the bright light of the next morning!  Thank goodness for a mind that is easy to pull back from a not-feeling-good place.  Thank goodness for a sunny afternoon and a walk in the golden aspen woods of autumn.  As I trudged along the trail, I began to think about grandmothers, the grandmothers who have been present in my life.  I thought about Grandma Helen, my mother’s mother, who looked like a grandmother was supposed to look, with her thick ankles and sensible shoes.  When she and Grandpa came to visit us in Maine, she would let me snuggle in next to her as she knit tiny dresses for my bendable Barbie.  And, in the mornings, she would let my sister and I visit as she got herself ready for the day.  We watched as she pulled on layers of silk under-things and brushed and braided her long graying hair and puffed herself with a powder that smelled comforting and pretty to our little girl noses.  I could never be a Grandma Helen like my Grandma Helen.  She was quiet and patient and sweet like the candy she brought us from Putnam Pantry.

Nor could I be like my Grammie Emma, my father’s mother.  Grammie Emma lived in California until she became so forgetful that she couldn’t live alone and then she lived with us in Maine.  Grammie Emma was tall and regal and wore wool suits and clip-on earrings.  Wool is scratchy and clip-on earrings hurt my ears, and, by the time, that we knew Grammie Emma, she was scratchy, too, not cuddly like Grandma Helen.  But I’ve taken to heart a story that my father shared about his mother, how, when she ran the summer camp on our property on the coast, she would stand up before the campers each night as they prepared to eat their evening meal, and, in a loud, bellowy voice, would yell out, “Is everybody happy?!?”  Maybe my refined forgetful Grammie Emma had a little of the punk rocker in her after all!

And I thought about the other grandmothers in my life.  Years after Grandma Helen and Grammie Emma had died, I inherited three more grandmothers.  I was nineteen that first May when I visited Cam’s family home in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and, there they were, all three of them, present and eager and ready to take in this girl from rural Maine.  There was Grandma Remien, Cam’s father’s mother who grew up in Atlantic, Iowa and was buxom and wore brooches and created the best peach pies you’ve ever tasted, and said, over and over again, “Oh honey.”  And there was Grams, who just happened to be visiting that weekend, too, Grams, who was Cam’s mother’s mother, and was pretty and stylish and shared stories with me at night when we lay in the guest room beds.  She and Cros, Cam’s mother’s stepfather had traveled the world, had lived in Cuba and Portugal.  She was exotic, an adventurer.  And Grandma Hadley was the bonus grandmother, the stepgrandmother who Cam had known his whole life.  Grandma Hadley was tiny and bird-like and quick-witted and told off-color jokes.  I loved my new batch of grandmothers!

And I thought about our boys’ grandmothers, my mother, their Grandma Annie, and Cam’s mother, their “Regular” Grandma.  Each July, for five or six years, the boys and I would drive east to Maine and I would drop them off at Camp Chewonki for a month of summer fun in the mountains and coast of Maine, and, on either side of their camp stay, we would spend a few days at the cottage with their Grandma Annie.  She would swim with the boys in the cove and prepare lobsters for supper, and one night she let the boys eat a whole rhubarb pie.  And, before leaving one year, I requested a photo, and, as I focused in on Grandma Annie with her arms wrapped around both boys, she piped up, “Say shit!”  And the shocked and delighted boys yelled it out. “Shit!” they cried as I snapped the happiest photo of the three of them ever!   And “Regular” Grandma, who is now just Grandma to the adult boys has been an ever-present force in their lives; from the card games and fishing adventures of their youth to the movies and dinners and hikes of their grown-up years, she is their buddy.  I have heard them both say it, that Grandma is not just a grandma; she’s a good friend.  Their grandma, like my Grandma Helen, does knit sweaters but she doesn’t have swollen ankles and she certainly doesn’t wear old lady shoes and she plays tennis and dances at zumba and wears hip glasses and loves bridge and teaches English to her Sudanese friend.

Oh my goodness, all these grandmothers, all these wonderful women.  I love them all!  I’ve been loved by them all!  I thought this as I traipsed through the woods, the day after I found out that I was about to join the tribe of grandmothers.  I don’t have to be different, I thought.  I just have to be me!  What could be better than that, to live from the feeling good inside place, sometimes punk rocker, sometimes centered yogini, and, from this living-from-the-inside place to love this precious grandchild with all my might.  I’ve heard intuitive and workshop leader, Sonia Choquette, say it many times, “forget about the roles; just relate soul to soul”.   And that’s what I intend to do.

Shelly in January

And then and then and then . . .

All the great blessings of my life are present in my thoughts today.  Phoebe Cary

I was a voracious reader in third grade.  The Hardy Boys, The Eskimo Twins, Mrs. Coverlet’s Magicians.  I loved them all.  With book and flashlight in hand, I would crawl under my nighttime covers and I would devour the story of the moment, chapter by chapter, every delicious morsel of it.  And it was with enthusiasm and not an ounce of shyness that I would share these adventures with my fellow third graders at Newell School.  I didn’t want to leave an ounce of action out, and so, when it was my turn to step up in front of the group for our monthly book reports, I went for it, no holding back.  I let the whole story, detail by detail, spill out in a series of “and then and then and thens”.

Sometimes you can’t help it, spilling out the details like that, when life presents to you a good story filled with a string of delicious moments, one after another, each one worth its weight in the re-telling.  That’s what it was like for me last weekend.  A series of “and then and then and thens”.  There was never a question in my mind that, once again, I was heading back east to Maine.  My ninety-three year old mother had died late Sunday night, and, although the Memorial Service was going to be held in the summer, her favorite season, I knew that I couldn’t wait.  I wanted closure.  I wanted to tie up lose ends.  Truthfully, I didn’t know what I wanted; I just knew that I wanted to be there among family and friends in the place that I grew up, in the place that my mother grew old.  And so, that’s what I did, early Thursday morning; I flew east over Ontario and New York, over the lake country of New Hampshire, and finally to the coastline of Casco Bay.

This time as I looked down at the North Atlantic, at the rugged rocks and the lighthouse of Cape Elizabeth, as the plane turned toward Portland Harbor and prepared to land, I felt a bit lost.  I wondered where my mother was.  I knew she wasn’t sitting in her old worn out chair at the cottage in Fish House Cove – she had moved when the apple tree began to bloom last May.  I knew she wasn’t at Dionne Commons either, sitting in her wheel chair outside the door of her room waiting for me to arrive – she had left there, as well, abruptly, in the first days of the new year after a nasty fall that fractured her hip.  And I knew she wasn’t in Mid-coast hospital where she had been taken by ambulance, and, now, she wasn’t even at Winship Green, the nursing home where I had sat just days earlier, leaning against her bed rubbing her forehead.  I didn’t know where my mother was and I wondered what it would be like without her.

And that’s where the story becomes what I honestly can say is a good read, a lovely book report of a weekend filled with heart-opening deliciously wonderful vignettes, a series of “and then and then and thens . . .”  I loved my three days in Maine.  I loved the way I would turn the page and there would be yet another engrossing detail, another generous act, another person to love, another story to share.  It was like that from start to finish, from cover to cover.

What could be better than finding the perfect orchids at Whole Foods in Portland, tall and exotically lush, and buying three of them as gifts of gratitude?!?  What could be better than carrying these blooming wonders into the places where my mother had lived these past seven months and offering them with heart-felt appreciation, into Dionne Commons where I never got to say good-bye and thank you, where it did my heart good to hear that my mother was loved, that she is missed, and into Winship Green where she spent the last two weeks of her body-life, to breathe deeply and say a genuine, “I am so appreciative” to these nurses and aides who poured their attention and love into my mother’s care?!?

What could be better than the next “and then,” meeting my brother and his wife at his favorite restaurant and hearing his stories of our mother’s final days in her body-home?!?  What could be better than sitting there with this older brother, the one who had always been oil to my vinegar, sitting there and truly listening and not feeling like oil and vinegar at all, and saying, “Thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart, you, who live here in Maine, you who have been on the frontline with Mom for years, you who have been, in the final weeks, an amazing trooper.”  What could be better than that?!?  And then, there was the next, “and then”.  What could be better than shoving aside any fear that my older brother might think this is a ridiculous offering and saying that I have something for him, and handing to him the third orchid, the one with the gorgeous white blossoms, and finding out that he, my big burly brother, loves orchids?!?

And there was more.  There was the dinner with Muriel, and the blue-sky breezy hike at Popham Beach the next day.  For ten years, Muriel lived in the house perched on the rocks next to my mother’s cottage in Fish House Cove.  Muriel, a journalist, writer, musician, is a buoyant spirited friend of mine, and, it is my mother who brought us together.  She loves my mother, loved her in all her feistiness.  And our personal memorial service came easily as we ate our dinner, as we walked on the sand.  We decided that my mother wouldn’t want it any other way – share a few of her recipes, laugh at her follies, remember the way that she became such a good listener, admire her passion, breathe in the sea air; let it all be easy.  And it was easy and it was food for the soul.  And there was more food for the soul.  More, “and thens.”  There was the lunch at North Creek Farm the next day with my cousin, Diana, and the tea with my friend Rebecca who has known my mother since she was a baby – our families have been friends for generations.  There were more friends and more cards and more gift-moments in the pages of a weekend that I will never forget

And where was my mother during all of this?  I’m not sure.  I know she wasn’t in the ashes that now sit in two containers, one to be scattered in the sea next summer and one to be buried in her family’s plot in Massachusetts.  And it’s too corny to say that she was in the wind at Popham, in the eye of the sparrow that looked right in at my cousin and I at North Creek as we ate our sandwiches by the window, in the air that surrounded by brother and I.  I know she was somewhere; all weekend, I felt her presence.  Images of her unhinged by time would flash through my mind.  Young Mom with her head tilted back in a laugh; old Mom in her fleece jacket.  And somehow she was nudging me forward, cheering me on.  New possibilities began to rise for me.  New pages to turn.  Another round of “and then and then and thens . . .”





Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.  Proverb

It took me moments of climbing up out of a deep sleep to figure out what was making the strange sound.  It was 1:15 in the morning and the phone was ringing, my cell phone in the other room.  And then as I found my way into consciousness, I knew.  I knew before I reached the now silent phone.  I knew before I called my brother back.  I just knew.  Late Sunday evening, two nights ago, my mother died.  She died in her sleep, just slipped away with grace and ease into her new adventure.  Yesterday, I learned more details.  In the afternoon, George Dole, a Swedenborgian minister and a friend of hers since childhood, had visited and his words had been perfectly chosen.  “There’s a Fish House Cove waiting for you,” he had said.  And she had been awake and had seemed to soak these words in.  Later, my brother had stopped in and they had held hands for a long time, and, later still, my cousin, Diana, my mother’s niece, had brushed her hair and read her poems.  My mother was ready and I believe that we, her family and friends, were ready also.  We’ve been preparing for this.  We’ve been letting go incrementally for years.  I came upon this writing yesterday, one that I had never typed up until now, one that I wrote after one of my mother’s health scares a few years ago.  I knew at the time that it would serve as a visceral reminder to me, a gift for a future day when I really would be saying good-bye to my mother in her body-form:

How easy it is to lose your voice, how it can happen in a flash like it did three weeks ago for my mother.  “I feel funny,” she said to her helper on that Thursday morning, and later, after her nap, she couldn’t even say that.  She tried to speak.  She stumbled over her sounds.  Frustration flashed across her face.  And, once again, 911 was called, and once again the Phippsburg ambulance rushed its way down to Fish House Cove, and once again, my ninety-one year old mother found herself in Midcoast Hospital, and once again, the CAT scans, the MRI’s, the prognosis, “You’ve had a stroke.”

The next day, here in Michigan, Matt Maki led a group of us at Joy Center in e-Motion, elemental motion, an evening of free-expression music and dance.  So, I danced for my mother.  No, that’s not true.  I danced any worry I had for my mother out of my system.  I danced for the sheer joy of foot-stomping, arm-flinging, voice-whooping movement.  I danced with Rachel and Beth and Sarah and Matt.  I danced for the Kingdom of Faeries, for the Kingdom of Joy-seekers and Noise-makers.  I danced for expression and voice.  I danced loud and soft and sweaty.  I danced my heart out.  That’s what I do in e-Motion.  I know that sounds vague, non-descriptive, but it’s the truth.  My heart pumps its own amazing music and in my sweat-making, foot-stomping quiet-winding-down, I often sense my long-gone-from-his-body father somewhere up high in the Joy Center banners, in the loft, in the air.  It’s as though he’s a huge shimmering hug that wraps itself around me, but also very much himself, twinkling eyes, mischievous smile, kindness and fun.

So, this night, three weeks ago, there he was up in the rafters pouring all this shimmering love into me.  It was a great feeling, this endless pitcher of love – and there she was, too, my mother.  I’ve never sensed my mother before at dance – because my mother, I know where she is, home, in Maine, sprawled out in her easy chair.  But, sure enough, I sensed her on this night, with him, up there somewhere in the Joy Center sky.  And it felt good, my parents together, loving me – it was a salt-air, sun-kissed breath, picnic-on-the-rocks, feeling.  It was that good, and I thought, in that winding-down-dance-moment-of-love that maybe my mother had croaked, that she had lost her voice, had gone off to retrieve it and had found my father as well.  And I thought that it would be just fine if my mother had died because I was so filled with this gorgeous bounty of love, so sure of it.  And then, as I was thinking this, Bette Midler, in her huge and heartrending way, began to sing through the airwaves of Matt’s CD player, “I think it’s going to rain.”  And at that moment – I’m not kidding you, it started to rain.  The thunder cracked, the lightning flashed, and now I was pretty sure that it had happened.  My mother’s dying.

And that’s what I was expecting as I walked home after the storm, as I picked up the phone, as I listened to my brother’s message.  But that wasn’t it at all.  Thirty-six hours after losing her voice, after hearing the doctor’s instructions that she would be heading over to Portland for rehab, my mother found it again.  She looked right into his eyes and she said in a clear non-croaking voice, “No.  No I’m not.  I’m not going to rehab.  I’m going home.”





Go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows.  Rainer Maria Rilke

Nature gives unabashedly, unto life and unto death.  Stephen Farmer

Up through the dark ground, the green seed rises; nothing can stop its ascent to the sun.  Katya Sabaroff Taylor

It was always there in the air we breathed, the freshness of sea and pines mingling with the smell of fish washed into shore.  We inhaled it deeply, mudflats and salt air, ocean spray and rot.  It was a thrumming thriving life on the edge of Casco Bay in Maine, and our parents, by example, taught us to welcome it all.  When we hopped into the red boat with our father, our bare feet dipped into the briny warm water that swished side to side on the boat’s slatted bottom.  Mackerel scales stuck to our toes and we smelled of salt and fish bait and the cold clear Atlantic.  And, back on shore, after a boat-ride and a swim in the cove, we entered the world of our mother.  She loved her seaside garden.  Her world was a sensual one, organic and lush, flowering peonies and iris, green beans and pea shoots poking out of the ground.  And, like our father, she didn’t shy away from the rotting aspects of life.

Our mother knew that the sun-baked seaweed was a goldmine of nutrients for her coastal garden and she often sent us down to the beach with buckets to scoop up what the sea had left behind.  We then would watch as she carefully tilled the rotting weeds and crushed shells into the soil that would later grow our summer vegetables.  And, after we ate these vegetables, the bounty of beans and peas and chard and tomatoes and basil and carrots that grew with gusto, we dumped our scraps into the cut-off milk carton that sat on our kitchen countertop.  Our scraps were not throw-away.  Our mother taught us that.  And it was not always pleasant, to be the one in charge of carrying this milk carton of egg shells and onion skins and juicy rotting vegetables out to the heap.  The compost heap.  It was both gross and exciting to my little girl senses, to look down into this pile of garbage that really wasn’t garbage at all.  Underneath the recently dumped rot was a mound of rich dark soil, soil that my mother stirred and stirred as if this was her cauldron and she was creating magic out of what had seemed like trash.  And, this magic soil, she then shoveled it back into her garden.

Our mother has never shied away from the old, the discarded, the decayed.  And now, our mother, the composter, is wasting away, or that is how it seemed to me this past weekend when I visited her in Maine.  The broken hip has done her in; her ninety-three year old body is tired and she says that she is ready to die.  Two weeks ago, she was transferred to a nursing home and she is lying in a bed by a window that looks out at berry bushes and a field and tall trees beyond.  Except, that she is no longer wearing her glasses and she is no longer looking out the window and she is only taking tiny sips of her juice and water and her body has grown tiny and she is using it up.

I always thought that our mother would die in her old worn chair in the cottage looking out at the cove, that she would just slip away one day, in the chair or maybe in her bed asleep.  I always thought that she would die the way that her mother died and her mother’s sisters.  The three of them lived into their eighties and they all just died, easy and quick.  Our grandmother was living with us at the time and I was in the sixth grade and it was autumn and she sent us all off to church, told us that she would be fine.  And later, after her body, which our mother had found sitting peacefully on the couch, had been taken away, my father told us that Grandma had been lit up that morning, that they had spoken together of angels.  And three years later, our grandmother’s little sister, our Great Aunt Florence, who was also living with us, worked on her jewelry art while we were at school, washed out her silk slips, then just lay down on my sister’s bed and died.  Simple and easy.  I expected the same for our mother.

I’m now realizing that our mother, the sensual lover of land and sea, of food and drink, of body and breath, is indeed using it all up.  And, this past weekend, sitting in a chair, leaning against her bed and her bones and her breath, I, her daughter, also am learning to be a lover of all that is natural.  As I rub our mother’s forehead, run my fingers through her hair, as I lean in close, I am learning to not shy away from breath that is raspy, watery like the sea, and bones that are brittle, that soon will crumble into sand.  I am learning that my tears taste like salt and our mother’s eyes when they lock into mine, are as blue as the ocean on a September day.  And while our mother sleeps which is what she spends most of her time doing, I look out the window.  And I see the birds.  I see the flock of juncos that land on the fresh snow in front of the bushes.  And the purple finches on the branches, and the chickadees zipping about.  I see the shock of red as a male cardinal lands on a tree.  I see seagulls flying overhead.  I know the names of the birds because our mother has taught them to us.  And, as I breathe along with our mother’s watery breath, I feel the lift of the wind and the wings.  And although it’s winter and our mother is dying, it is she that has taught us that out of the old, the discarded, comes something new and fresh and good.

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