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Archive for January, 2013

Sing your song

My advice for life: dance and sing your song while the party is still on.  Rasheed Ogunlaru

You could tell he was getting tired when his baby feet weren’t finding their bouncy-seat-dancing-rhythm, when his blueberry-blue eyes were beginning to become foggy and hazed, when his glee-shrieks were sounding a little bit jagged and kind of crazed.  However, he didn’t surrender to his sleepiness with ease, this six-month old grandson of ours, during those evenings that Grandpa Cam and I babysat over the three and a half weeks of the holiday’s Camp Haskell Remien.  It took a diaper change and fifteen or so minutes of rolling around on our bed’s down comforter, nestled between his grandparents; it took a warm bottle of breast milk and a set of welcoming arms and a cuddle to the heart and the constant motion of a walk around the house by yours- truly to soothe this active guy into sleep.  And it took my singing.  I’m not kidding; it took my singing!

On those evenings that we babysat, I’d pick up this beloved bundle of baby, and I’d transport him, cradled in the crook of my arms, from room to room, and he would look up at me, lock his eyes into mine, and I would sing.  I’ve been singing to him every chance I get since he was a newborn, the one song that keeps bubbling up from my non-musical center.  “Hush little baby, don’t you cry, Grandma’s going to sing you a lullaby.”  I sing it over and over, the same words, the same tune.  And Baby Viren, I feel him relaxing as I repeat my one song, settling in a little closer to his Grandma’s heart, relaxing his grip on his to-do list for the day, letting out a sigh and allowing those lids to sink down over those wide blue eyes.  So it was always the one song that lulled him off to sleep – always the same song, until one night, that is, near the end of Camp Haskell Remien’s holiday session.  It wasn’t like I was bored with my “Hush little baby . . .” song.  I loved singing it to my appreciative audience.  And that’s what I began to do on this particular night in early January.  And then something happened, something new and unexpected.

I remember where I was standing, in the living room, with my back to the French Doors leading out to our deck, Viren in my arms, and my usual “Hush little baby . . .” song swaying through me.  That’s when I looked down at the wide-mouthed basket filled with baby books, looked down at the one book that drew me in, the Book House book that belonged to my mother when she was a girl.  And I’m not sure if that’s what did it, the worn cover with its painting of two little children sitting on a rock reading to each other, with the fox and the mouse and the squirrel and the rabbit listening in, and the memories of my mother reading to me from the magical stories that sprang from this book’s pages.  I’m not sure if that’s what ignited this new something that bubbled up from inside of me, the girl who has never been able to carry a tune.  Maybe it came from my mother who used to read to me this poem over and over and over again, my mother who could carry a tune to the far corners of the earth and back again.  All I can tell you is that my swaying shifted and, as I began to walk again, with babe in arms, a new song was flowing out of me.  “Wynken, Blynken and Nod one night sailed off in a wooden shoe . . .”  I felt it as I walked around the downstairs of our house, the magical sea that the three fishermen sailed off into.  The house was a shimmer with a million sparkling fish, with a million sparkling stars as I sang to Viren.  And I sort of remembered the words to this poem, and reciting poems is not that big a deal to me.  I’m good at that.  It was the tune that surprised me, a melody that flowed up and out of me on a sea breeze, a melody that was haunting and beautiful and evoked the magic of this poem’s nighttime journey.  I sang and I sang to my beloved grandson, this new song.  I sang and I sang as he drifted off to sleep.

And then Camp Haskell Remien was over and we all moved on to the next chapters in our lives.  And I let it go, this new song of mine.  I let it go until I remembered it again.  It was a few weeks ago now, at Joy Center’s Out Loud, and I was sitting on the stairs, soaking in everyone’s sharing, soaking in this particular sharing, three vibrant buddies of mine up there in front of us all, bringing us a rough draft performance of a song/art piece that they are fine-tuning. There was something brave and raw and fun in their courage to share with us something still “in process”, something that wasn’t smooth around the edges.  And that’s when I remembered it, that I have a song, too, a melody that flows through me.  In that moment, sitting on the stairs, the tune came back to me, and the deliciousness of the whole experience, the way I was holding a baby who I adore and we were sailing together on a magical sea and we were linked by the words that my mother used to read to me and by this melody that arose from somewhere deep and mysterious.  And now I sing it.  I sing it to the woods as I skate-ski through winding trails.  I sing it to the walls of my house as I fold the clothes.  I sing it out into the ethers.  I sing it to my mother and I sing it to my grandson.  I sing it, my own raw and unpolished song.

Pete and Viren back at home, January 26, 2013

Pete and Viren back at home, January 26, 2013

Quite an Appetite

Oh certainly.  All this unbridled joy has given me quite an appetite.  Violet on Downton Abbey

I thought it would be a freshness in the ocean air, a winter light dancing across mosaic-tiled walls.  I thought it would be Columbus, standing high on his perch in the harbor pointing his way to something new.  I thought it would be Picasso and Dali and Miro, old friends from other trips to this city of surreal out-of-the-box buildings and art that splashes itself across your psyche in surprising ways.  I thought it would be Gaudi, who grabbed me by the arm and nudged me forward into this new year.  And it’s true, that the artists, both living and dead, sang to me on this recent five-day trip that Cam and I took across the sea to Barcelona.  Who doesn’t feel more alive when the sea is splashing the shore and the Catalan sun is shining down on you, when you are winding your way through gothic-aged alleys, and markets piled high with spices and olives and the most perfect clementines you’ve ever seen?  Who doesn’t feel more alive when your aimless wanderings lead you to treasure upon treasure upon treasure, lead you stumbling right into a shop that you recognize from an earlier visit, and there she is, your friend who makes the zipper skirts that you bought three years ago?  Who doesn’t feel more alive when you’ve re-connected with a soul-sister in a city half-way around the world?

And yes, there is Gaudi.  Who doesn’t feel more alive when you’re in the presence of Gaudi?  He lives and he breathes in the buildings that he has created throughout the city.  You can feel him in the walls. You can feel him in the light that dances across those walls. And it was at Parc Guell, the magnificent park that he created over a century ago, that I sat on one of his walls in the sun over-looking one of his fairy-tale towered buildings; I sat there next to my guy and I listened to a young man who was also sitting on a wall and playing a song that didn’t seem possible to be played on a guitar.  And a moment like that is healing balm for the spirit, is a Catalan catalyst of forward motion into the new year.  I’m not minimizing its affects.  This trip to Barcelona was the perfect palate-cleansing nudge into what’s next on the platter of possibilities.  I’m just telling you that I was surprised, that I didn’t expect it, that something new and delightful would show up in the darnedest of places, that the after-party could be as fun and forward-focused as the Barcelona trip itself.

And who expects to find an after-party or anything of inspiration for that matter in that dark dungy world between worlds, in the purgatorial holding tank before you step back into the land you are now re-entering?  But that’s what happened.  It was after getting our passports stamped, in the underworld of the Detroit Airport, and while waiting for our suitcases to come around the conveyer belt that I met him, my role model and mentor, the guy who held the passport to moving my energy forward into 2013.  I first noticed him as he approached a man who had just arrived from India.  And he wasn’t as dignified and calm-faced as the man he encountered.  In fact, he wasn’t dignified at all.  He was all ears and squirming body and a wild swishing tail.  He was a buzzing wiggling ball of enthusiasm and poor manners as he jumped up on this man’s well-loaded backpack.  My mentor was on a mission, seeking out food and other contra-band that we all might have snuck back into this country.  Now this might have been a somber assignment for someone with a more serious disposition, but not for my mentor, floppily flitting from suitcase to backpack, eagerly sucking in the treats handed to him by the woman on the other side of his leash.

My mentor was a beagle!  A small close-to-the-ground beagle doing such serious work in such a joy-filled manner, a beagle bringing light and delight to us all.  It was an honor to have your backpack sniffed by such a fellow, and when he sniffed Cam’s backpack, and the woman on the other side of the leash asked Cam in quite a serious tone to put it on the ground for a second sniff, we chuckled.  How could we not?!?  We loved this guy, this guy who loved to sniff and loved the treats that came his way.  Jet-lag goes out the window when you’re in the presence of such enthusiasm.  We flew through customs on the floppy ears of a tail-wagging beagle, laughing and light-hearted.  And I’m still holding on, holding on to this beagle’s sincerity, to his eagerness, to the genuine appreciation that swept through him when treats came his way.

So yes, the gifts from Barcelona have taken hold inside of me.  As I sat there on the wall that Gaudi had tiled into something that resembled an ocean wave, as I listened to the guitar music and peeked out at the quirky surreal tower on Gaudi’s fairytale building, I thought of my own love for creating things into being, how I have a fairyhouse, maybe a fairy bunkhouse, that’s in me waiting to be built. And the buzz of creativity that I felt in Barcelona as I meandered down streets and alleys is now buzzing in my very own cells.  But there’s also something so sweet and wonderful about a beagle who loves his job and loves his treats and lets his nose lead the way into the next adventure and the next, tail-wagging the whole time!


I Return To Myself

Now in the stillness . . . the light returns to the water, the shadow to the boulder, and I return to myself.  Elizabeth Coatsworth, from the poem, Now in the Stillness

I had the best of intentions.  The holidays, the extended twenty-three days of Camp Haskell Remien, had come to a close and our kids and our grandbaby and the two grand-dogs had returned to their homes, and Cam and I, we had returned back home also from a palate-cleansing post-Camp Haskell Remien five-day trip across the Atlantic to Barcelona.  And now, it was mid-January, the week of my birthday, and I was officially starting the new year, my new year.  My birthday was on the fifteenth, but my beloved women’s group wasn’t celebrating it until the twenty-fifth, so that gave me ten days of birthday mindfulness, ten days to release whatever I needed to release to come into alignment with my deepest values and desires for this new year, ten days to discover what was lighting my fire as I looked forward into 2013.

So with a Capricorn’s willful focus, I set up a plan for myself – practices that I would do every day for the next ten days to nourish my body, my mind, my spirit, practices that would bring me clarity and groundedness and a sense of excitement and renewal.  It was a manageable list, nothing daunting about it at all; in fact, most of the practices on the list are ones that I do on a regular basis anyway.  There was something for my body — every day I would juice my greens and lemons and ginger into an invigorating concoction powerful enough to make my hair stand on end just the way I like my hair to stand on end.  And there were the to-dos for my mind and my spirit as well.  I would read one poem each day, any poem that struck my fancy, and I would read it slowly and I would savor its every word.  And I would go through my house and release ten things – daily, I would do this — bag up the old, the worn-out, the no-longer exciting and let it all go.  It was that easy, just a few practices and the intention that these would lead to a clarity as I move forward.  And I was doing a banner job, a Capricorn banner job.  I was forging ahead.  Day One, Day Two, Day Three – I was juicing up a green-ginger storm in my kitchen, I was tossing into a bag the bright red sweater that was too big for me and the winter hat that does nothing to flatter my little pin of a head and the kitchen gadget that I had never figured out how to use.  And I was feeling good about myself.  Vibrant and curious as to what this ten-day parade of practices would bring into focus.

And it was subtle at first, the way this Capricorn-girl’s New Year-Birthday Plan began to unravel: the sandy feeling behind my eyes, the slight pull in my chest as I skate-skied up Forestville’s first big hill, a chill that lingered a little too long after I had made my way back into the warmth of my house.  And, for a time, with a goat-girl’s determination, I was able to ignore it.  Grind up those cucumbers and kale and ginger, shove in an apple, and loads of lemon.  You’ll be fine.  You’ll be fine; that’s true.  You’ll be fine!  But, right now, you have the flu!  And all of a sudden the practices were no longer on my priority list.  The green juice that usually sets my hair on end and my spirit flying tasted like murky spicy horrible mud to me on Day Four.  And who cares about releasing ten items from around your house when your nose is releasing mountain-loads of snot?!?  I was bed-ridden on Day Five, lying there with a head that felt as though it might really explode.

But, something interesting began to happen as I lay there with this exploding head.  I began to feel on fire.  And it wasn’t just a fever that was talking to me.  I could sense it, the clarity that I was asking for – it was beginning to bubble up – and it wasn’t coming to me through a series of made-up practices.  It was rising to the surface on a winter-virus as this Capricorn-girl gave in to something stronger than her Capricorn will.  First, it was a glimmer.  A remembering that she’s writing a book, that I’m writing a book.  I’d put it aside for the weeks of Camp Haskell Remien, hadn’t given it a thought since a mid-December trip to Maine when my friend, Muriel, helped with some editing.  A book!!!!!!  It hadn’t been on my radar as I sang to Baby Viren or skate-skied with my boys or watched episode after episode of Downton Abbey.

And now, in the midst of the lowest-energy weekend, I remembered that I was on fire.  I felt on fire.  On Day Six, I brought the book to bed with me, and, fortified with Kleenexes and sticky notes and a purple pen, read through, from cover to cover, with fresh eyes, and an enthusiastic spirit.  In fact, I could hardly contain my enthusiasm.  And I hadn’t had my green juice in two days!  Who needs juice when you’re writing a book!  Of course, that is what is lighting my fire!  Of course, it is at top of my priority list for this new year!  And on Day Seven, with my energy nowhere near 100%, when I bundled up and headed out into the frigid cold for a short ski, the fire continued.  I was warm inside as I slogged along half-sick.  I could see it, how this book, that doesn’t lend itself to traditional readings, is going to make a banner of a one-woman show. So there you have it.  It’s Day Eight.  My practices are in shambles – and who cares!  I certainly don’t.  I’m remembering what lights my fire and what could be better than that?!?

Camp Haskell Remien

(Written longhand on Thursday, January 10th)

When you are at peace, everything is at peace.  What seemed like cacophony becomes the music of the spheres.  A suite for unaccompanied mind.  Stephen Mitchell

It’s over.   The suitcases have been stuffed to the brim, the overflow of gifts and souvenirs have been packed in boxes to mail at a later date, the floors have been vacuumed  and scrubbed and polished clean again, the toys and cardboard-stiff baby books have been thrown into a wide-mouthed basket, and the last of the good-byes, the hugs and the squeezes and the “I’ll miss you’s”, have taken place.  Twenty-three days of Camp Haskell Remien officially came to a close last evening as the January sun was setting over our neighborhood’s rooftops.  We did it!  We managed to live together, guests, who are not really guests, but grown-up boys who once were kids in this very house, and their partners, and their dogs, and a baby, we did it, hosts and company alike — not only did we live together, but, in the midst of the chaos and the cacophony of barking dogs and baby glee-screeches and a million different agendas, we managed, miracle of miracles, to have fun.

Sure there were moments.  There were temper tantrums over sink-loads of dirty dishes; there were sore throats and runny noses; there were occasional tears and a grandma who was beginning to feel like an old hag on Day Three with no time for a shower; there were clogged toilets and cars running on empty; there were frayed fingernails and frayed nerves.  But these were just moments.  And this grandma, who doesn’t usually feel like an old hag at all, had done her prep work for this three and a half weeks of Camp Haskell Remien.  Not only had she listened to her young friends who advised her to buy diapers and a full-sized crib, to set up a changing table for the baby and a rest-area for the dogs, but she’d also done her own research into running a three-ring-circus-of-a-camp.  And sometimes the greatest research of all emerges from simply sitting down and watching a good movie.  What started out as a one-night stand back in November with the movie,  Dan  in Real Life, became a month-long research project that required many many watchings of this story of a multi-generational family coming together for their own version of holiday camp.  I soaked in the quirky and the chaotic, the sometimes inflammatory, often funny world that this family inhabited, memorized the words that Steve Carrell’s character’s mother shared with him as he metaphorically beat himself up for falling short of his ideals.  “Please!” she said, “Love is messy.”   As I plunged heart-first into the world of Camp Haskell Remien, I pushed the save button, remembering not only these words, but also the love in which the mother in the movie shared them.

Yes, love is messy, and indeed, there were plenty of messes at Camp Haskell Remien — there were snow-covered floors and hallways piled high with winter coats and boots.  There were messy diapers and barking dogs.  And sometimes, there were moments of messy emotions, too.  How could there not be?!?  And isn’t that a part of real life?!?  I was prepared for the messes, both physical and emotional; what I wasn’t prepared for was how little the messes would bother me, a gal who likes her world tidied up.  And how wonderful the three-ring-circus of a holiday camp could feel to this camp-counselor grandma.  Beforehand, I had been so focused on the troubleshooting, the defensive measures to prevent major mishaps — like the guest dogs eating the host cat — that I had forgotten that there would be gifts, a multitude of gifts, tucked within the hustle and the bustle, within the turned-upside-down schedule of a holiday camp .

It was the ski on the afternoon of Christmas Eve as soft snow floated from the sky, the pushing off on a groomed trail with the two guest dogs and the two grown sons and the girlfriend who was new to the sport and catching on quickly; it was the motion and the stride and the witnessing of these sons skiing in synchrony that I cherish when I think about Camp H.R..  And it was the yoga class at Joy Center, eight days later, on the first morning in January, with the young women, daughter-in-law and girlfriend, guiding us in one hundred and eight Sun Salutations to welcome in the new year, that fills me to the brim, the way that these women who I adore are comfortable in their own skin, comfortable with their own yoga teaching styles.  It was the evenings of Downton Abbey and the midnight chats and the afternoons of errands and the seven pies and the turkey and the countless meals and the game of Balderdash.  And it was the baby!  In the midst of everything, it was Baby Viren!   What could be better than rolling around on the floor with a rolling giggling six month old bundle of squirming joy, or holding him on a hip while setting a table or singing him to sleep in your arms, or witnessing the changes that occur in an infant during a three and a half week of holiday camp?!?  On New Year’s Eve, we all — except the guest dogs and the host cat — shared a meal at Sweetwater Cafe, and we passed the baby from father to mother to grandma to grandpa to aunt to uncle; again and again we passed the baby around.  I’m sure we spilled something during that meal — we spilled something during just about every meal.  After all, love is messy.  But it sure tastes good!

Chritmas book

Viren and Grandma reading the snowman book

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