Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Hug the Dark

The title of the carol we sang at the Solsisters’ Winter Solstice celebration on December 21 is Holy Night, Longest Night (see Invocation). It's sung to the tune of Silent Night. This is a sacred time for many people and in most traditions. Above all, it’s the time when we can turn inward to see what’s really going on.

Darkness is part of a natural cycle, and when we reach the darkest day of the year on Winter Solstice; it’s time to shift to inner concerns. New Year’s resolutions are one way we do this in American culture, although we still tend to make them outer-oriented—I will lose weight, pay off debt, get a better job. People have more success with these new starts in spring, the natural new year, when our energy rises with the first shoots of plants from under the ground, and we’re more rarin’ to go.

Winter, on the other hand, is the time for reflection, reading, quiet, meditation, and taking stock. Two favorites in our Winter Solstice ceremony are something you can try at home during these last weeks of 2007. First, we do Meditation on Recognition—what do we recognize that we have accomplished and appreciate about ourselves this past year? This is a kind of self-report card, and writing down what we have gained since the last inventory can be a huge revelation. You can include both inner and outer achievements: I’ve been a better wife or mother, I have as many knee-jerk reactions to things, I like myself more. The second is a real favorite. After passing the Yule Log and infusing it with our thoughts of what we’d like to see changed in the world, such as peace in the Middle East; we focus inward. We write down all the things we’d like to release into the Yule Log Fire that are personal, whether it is 20 lbs. or an irritation with a workmate. It is a hoot to watch people line up to burn their lists. Some dump it and walk away, even with a “wash your hands of it” gesture. Others linger to be sure every fiber of paper containing the junk they want to dump has burned to a crisp. Some people have a short list and get to the fire among the first; others write long lists and need more paper.

This year, I plan to mine my journals from the past two years for insights, because it has been a very transitional time for me—from full-time work plus to full retirement from a day job. Even though I plan to go back to work part-time this year, the time off has been like an extended winter where I have finally had the time to be quiet, reflect, and let inner issues surface for resolution. That should be our true New Year’s “resolution,” the kind where we look in the dark corners of ourselves for the stuff that needs tender taking care of. In the whirlwind of most of our lives, it is amazing how many inner signals and intuitions we miss for running as fast as we can. The build-up of issues swept under the rug will ultimately make a big lump of gunk for us to cope with later, often not on our own terms. Illness, break-up, and tragedies of all sorts are often the result of the waxy build-up of untended inner content.

I describe my first year of retirement like getting off a kids’ merry-go-round in the park. You are no longer spinning physically, but it still feels like it, sometimes even with a wave of dizzy nausea. I had no idea how stressed out I was after 36 years of full-time work. I usually did other work on top of that, primarily my astrology practice and writing. My need for complete R&R for a period of time was screaming at me in raised blood pressure—highly atypical for me—crankiness, and a host of other physical and psychological signals. I am so relieved I took my body’s loud advice, even though I went kicking and screaming to rest. It took the first nine months of retirement for me to get that I needed to do nothing for at least a year—or at least as little as possible.

While this may seem like a luxury to most people, especially those of us who are not independently wealthy and have to work for a living, nature gives us opportunities every day of our lives. We just have to take them.

Winter is a time to relish the dark of night and the season of hibernation. Take time at night to meditate and reflect, even if it’s only 15-20 minutes. It can be so replenishing. Keep a dream journal, and encourage your dreams to guide you by welcoming them with intent to remember them. Part of my previous practice, Inner Growth Work, was to help people remember and work with their dreams. If there is enough interest, I’ll do some posts on this topic. Above all, give yourself light duty in the dark months. Read, relax, veg, take hot baths—know that this down time is essential to creativity and accomplishing all you want during the rest of the year. And if this all seems a little heavy to you, remember that you can do light reading in the dark and use the down time to watch funny movies and restore your sense of humor, health, and balance. One of the best articles I have ever read about the role of laughter is How Laughter Works on the How Stuff Works website—a must Favorite for anyone with a computer and a lust to learn and laugh.

Hug the darkness; it will hug you back. Spring will come sooner than you know, and if you miss the opportunity to rest and recuperate from last year’s action, you won’t be running on all cylinders in 2008.

Have a happy, healthy New Year—and a fabulous dance in the light and dark of life!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Where Are My Christmas Cards?

As a communication and connection junkie, I mourn the loss of my Christmas cards. At eight days before Santa, I have received only seven. The Ghost of Christmas Past: I used to get nearly 50. Nobody loves me; everybody hates me; think I’ll eat some worms.

Not really, but I will pout. Maybe e-mail and more constant communication makes them redundant in most modern relationships. Then there’s the eco-factor. I design my own and do a well-thought-out annual newsletter. My generic missive is more personal than most people’s one-on-ones. Still, I convert them to .pdf files and e-mail them to many people, especially those halfway ‘round the world. It’s not just the postage saved; it’s the energy for the transportation. At least I know I’ll save the equivalent of any pine branches I use to decorate. Not everyone is a creativity machine, and I’d be happy to receive store-bought cards well chosen.

There is something about the art and sentiment in these once-a-year offerings that I sorely miss, now that most of them are gone. Some people find family letters impersonal; I think they’re fabulous. No one has time to write to 20 people once a year, forget more often. The generic news and a note—even a real signature!—give me enough personal touch to gush with gratitude.

It’s really about connection. These tiny bits of cardstock, ink, or computer printout mean you want to keep me. I’m a keeper! There are relationships I truly value that are Christmas Card Companions. Even though we only connect once every 365 days, this custom honors the important place we still hold for each other in our lives. Often separated by miles and years of going down different paths, the annual card is old home week, a balm, a sense of continuity. I love them for that. They are personal history come home to give you a kiss under the mistletoe. They cause me to reflect where I’ve last been since I saw Art & Michele, Lynne, Judy—people who represent my young adulthood, college days, and Catholic grammar school era respectively.

If you want an exercise in stimulating your own hot flashbacks that can lead to cool insights, compile copies of your past holiday letters and look where you’ve been and what you’ve reported for the past 5-10 years—or however many you have kept. If you’ve got time, and if you also have the gene for packrat, my family curse, read others’ old cards and Christmas letters. You know, the ones you have saved with that wrapping paper that is so old, the store where you bought it went out of business more than a decade ago.

This reflection starts a trend in keeping with the natural cycle that begins at Winter Solstice on December 21. In one of my favorite, wacky Tom Robbins novels, Still Life with Woodpecker, the heroine is reportedly “off cycle with the Moon.” Never mind her periods that are out of sync with the lunar phases. Our entire culture is off cycle with the Moon, stars, planets, and especially the Earth. Take the dark winter, a time when other animals and vegetables are hibernating or dormant. If we had any sense at all, we would be meditating, reflecting, resting, and vegging. Instead, we are running around high on sugary cappuccino and latte drinks at malls mobbed with people, acting loony—our only claim to synchronization with the Moon.

If you can’t do it this year, make a resolution for next: Finish all your shopping by Thanksgiving and the merriest parties by Equinox Eve. Keep the peace of silent nights and reflective gatherings of spirit and family beginning with the Solstice.

This is how we were meant to be. And don’t get me started on New Years, designed to be the ultimate inner time, normally spent like we’ve got ants in our pants, no inhibitions, and a lust for alcohol that a large lake of champagne could not quench.

More on this later. Meanwhile, would someone please send me a Christmas card? Even a Merry e-mail?

Friday, December 7, 2007

Turn on the Lights!

In the beginning was Creativity.

It expressed itself as Light.

It wasn’t just any light; it was the biggest bonfire in the universe. It shone so brightly, it was eternal. It could never be put out.

But being the Light in the Dark was lonely. Shining was fun, but it would be more fun to reflect the light off others and to share it.

So Creativity divided and cast off sparks of Itself.

But Creativity also spawned Intrigue. The sparks could not know they came from the bonfire. They had amnesia. The game would be to rediscover—using their own creativity—they were part of the Original Light … and, ultimately, to return to the Light.

Along the way, these individual sparks would almost touch the truth. They’d join with other sparks and create a brushfire. It was exhilarating!

As they lived their lives, made mistakes, and righted themselves on their course through experience, the sparks would—now and then—have a get a glimmer of a bonfire. These were times when they would join lights and create the biggest fire they had ever seen so far. They were times like births, deaths, weddings—anytime love is reflected in large quantities for them to feel a part of.

Ultimately, the good players got that everyone is a spark of the Great Altogether—of Creativity Itself.

Once the light dawned, their time on Earth was nearly as bright as it would be on the day they would return to the Biggest Bonfire in the Universe—to Creativity—and Love—Itself.

Here we are in the Season of Light. I hope I have just told a Creation Story that can appeal to anyone, regardless of belief.

In one way or another, all major religions celebrate light as we approach the darkest day of the year on Winter Solstice—December 21st. Some do it out loud; others more quietly.

The earth religions honor the Sun god at the Solstice and pray for his safe return, knowing all life evolves around light.

In a play on words too good to pass up, Christianity celebrates the birth of another Son … the one who told us, “You are the light of the world.” Certainly, he was a light, but notice, he made a point of telling us we are also the light.

Jews celebrate Chanukah—a miracle of light—of lanterns that kept burning and saved the day when they should have run out, a kind of loaves and fishes story with the element fire …

Lastly, Muslims celebrate Hajj, the annual trip to Mecca all adults of sound mind must do at least once in their lifetime. The ritual promotes the bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood by showing everyone is equal in the eyes of Allah. Sounds, to me, like an affirmation of the One Light.

So, you have to wonder why so many people on the planet still don’t get it.

Don’t let that get you down—the wars over differences in religion, opinion, or other ridiculous things we fight about as human beings.

This holiday season, do the one and only thing you can really do about it. Just go out there and let your light shine. Turn on your lights! Fire spreads in a divine domino effect …

… and remember every time you see a light, to be a light …

Ultimately, the good players will get that everyone is a spark of the Great Altogether—of Creativity Itself.

Once the light dawns, your time on Earth will be nearly as bright as it will be on the day you return to the Biggest Bonfire in the Universe—to Creativity—and Love—Itself.

Author's note: Some of the basic concepts in this essay come from channeled material called The Michael Teachings. If these ideas intrigue you, please visit this link or one of the many sites devoted to this spiritual slant on the universe that has always made so much sense to me. I was introduced to these teachings by Stephen J. Cocconi, who also has a fascinating site on the Teachings.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Blog Referral CONTEST!

Now for a request for help, a challenge, and a little contest. (Did I mention fun?) The success of my book, blog, and website depend on sharing. To encourage new members of my Yahoo Group, I am sponsoring a holiday contest. The reader who refers the most new sign-ups to my Yahoo Group by midnight January 1, 2008 will win free, signed copy of the anthology soon to be published by my local Sisters in Crime Chapter. We expect it to be available in February. Capital Crimes: 15 Tales by Sacramento Area Authors includes some twisted mystery short stories and some pretty funny ones, including my own wacky "Digital," the saga of some very weird goings-on in a fictional Mexican fast food joint near Sac State University.

Here’s how you play: Every time you refer a friend or friends, e-mail me at with the e-mail addresses of those you have referred to me. You can cc me as you send links to your friends or just save the addresses all up and forward them in a single e-mail. Whatever is easiest for you. Names aren’t as important as e-mail addresses, but both are fabulous. I will keep tabs on who referred whom, as those names pop into my Yahoo Group. I will announce the winner in my first post of 2008.

Yahoo Group members get some extra perks--more behind-the-scenes info about Hot Flashbacks, the book in progress and the online community--and the opportunity to participate in contests and other special events and offers.

Good luck, and rest those weary dogs from all that holiday shopping by telling your friends we're here, ready to bust the old Old, and ready to make the rest of our lives a booming blast!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Not So Silent Night

1968: I’m home for Christmas break from the University of Wisconsin, spending another big holiday with my family. We celebrate big because we are blessed with two precious little ones—actually, one and a half. My nephew, Mikey, is a toddler. My niece, April, is nearly five months from birth—so tiny in her mom’s tummy, there’s no visible sign of her yet. This is the last time she’ll ever be subtle.

The previous year, we all survived the horrendous Chicago snowstorm of 1967. That, in and of itself, is some kind of miracle. It gave us monumental family bonding time. The entire metropolitan area was snowed in solid. We couldn’t leave the house for a week except to walk to the corner store and carry home necessities by sled. I can still hear my mother swearing about the SOBs who jacked up their prices, taking advantage of people during a crisis.

“Those jackasses! Bleeding money out of mothers that need milk for their babies…” These loud outbursts of cursing and carrying on and protectiveness of all mothers occurred at least three or four times a day—not only after my cousin Tony brought back what we needed on my classic flyer sled, but each time she heard these atrocities reported on the news.

By comparison, winter 1968 was a contrast in calm. Our family tradition is to celebrate on Christmas Eve—big dinner, presents, then Midnight Mass. Christmas Day is more of an aftermath for us—a time for the kids to play with toys and the grown-ups to veg in front of the TV, watching holiday specials. In this case, after the hoopla and snowla of ’67, we were looking forward to our first winter celebration since then and a more Norman Rockwell Silent Night.

Instead of doing Christmas at my parents’ in the suburbs, as usual, my brother Nick insisted on hosting us at his large apartment in Chicago. Nick was flamboyant. He loved anything new and different, so surely, this would not be an ordinary Christmas. He had only recently learned that he was going to be a father, and I think the gleam in his eye threw off his vision a bit.

Dinner seemed to start backwards. Nick spent an inordinate amount of time doing—and redoing—dessert.

“These ^&*^*()!! cream puffs! This is the third time I’ve done these damn things. I just can’t get ‘em right.”

Frustrated, Nick called Cousin Ginny. He had gotten the recipe from her. Lots of long pauses on his end of the conversation.

“Well, thanks a lot, Virginia,” he said, oozing sarcasm like cream in the supposed puffs that were flat as pancakes.

“What’s wrong?” Ma asked.

“She forgot to give me the magic ingredient—baking soda. That’s why they wouldn’t rise.”

Maybe his pregnant wife had him fixated on puffy things, but to his credit, Nick did not give up and whipped up one more batch of cream puffs while he roasted the chestnuts.

Since he didn’t have a fireplace, Nick, being creative, just stuck them in the oven.

Nick figured we should start eating while the nuts roasted, which were just a snack, anyway, given the built-in delays of his stubborn dessert. My mother’s Italian custom was a meatless Christmas Eve dinner, including spaghetti Aglio E Olio —pasta sautéed in garlic and olive oil. This was a side dish to baked fish and usually a green veggie like broccoli. Being an all-American meat-and-potatoes family, I can’t say any of us particularly loved this meal, but with dessert and presents to follow, we could stand once a year to have our taste buds under whelmed—except for maybe the garlic.

Mom was twisting spaghetti artfully around her fork, despite being a little tipsy from the wine at dinner. Rina, my sister-in-law, took breaks from stuffing her face due to prenatal indigestion.

The conversation was muffled, even quiet for us. It was a relief that everyone was giving “shop talk” a rest—discussing the family beauty shop business. Mom, Nick, Rina, and my sister Chris all worked there. I even worked there as a receptionist one summer vacation, till my prima donna brother with his hot temper let the F-word fly at me. Insulted, I quit on the spot. By now, this fact is hilarious, considering it was the ‘60s and every college kid, including me, found it to be the most versatile term of self-expression in the English language.

It was actually during a lull in the conversation—a rarity for the Mason family—that we were nearly blown out of our chairs by a loud explosion. It was coming from the direction of the oven.

Nick raced to the scene of the disaster, grabbing potholders en route. His version of chestnuts roasting on an open fire turned out to be chestnuts exploding in a closed oven. Smoke billowed and the inside the oven was beyond description.

“I think you’re supposed to pierce them with a knife first,” Mom said, between giggles. “It reduces the pressure.”

The rest of us had exploded into gales of laughter, leaving mirth on the walls like Oscar Madison’s linguine in The Odd Couple. It was hard to stop laughing long enough to go to Midnight Mass a couple hours later, especially lubed by the wine. I thought we’d have to have the bomb squad out. What a mess Nick had to clean up! Although he was hardly religious, he opted for Mass not mess, which he probably hoped Santa’s elves would clean up for him when they dropped by at midnight while we were at church.

Later, my sisters and I bunked out on blankets and mattresses on the floor and had a big family pajama party. Nick served Grasshoppers (he was incapable of anything simple), and I was looped by the time: the packages were torn open, we were sprinkled with holy water, and the instant replays of exploding chestnuts and flat cream puffs finally died down.

I am sure I dreamt my own unique Visions of Sugar Plums. I was on a sugar high on the sweetness of my wacky family, and how the greatest gift of all is the laughter we shared at our own human foibles.

Silent nights have their place, but so do memories with loud laughter.

Happy Holidays.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Bounty Hunters

It’s the occupation of Stephanie Plum, the wacky Janet Evanovich character in her numbers novels (One for the Money, Two for the Dough). I love her crazy antics and terminal ineptitude as she bumbles through life with a cast of equally hilarious characters trying to catch the bad guys or gals who have jumped bail.

Most of us are a different kind of bounty hunters. We seek the fruits of a life well lived: good food, good friends, a fabulous family, a comfortable lifestyle, and a sense of purpose.

One of my favorite symbols is the cornucopia, the horn of plenty. The harvest celebrates abundance, one of the main purposes of the feast, Thanksgiving.

But there is another even more important purpose—the thanks.

From the earliest age, as tiny toddlers, “please” and “thank-you” are among the first words we learn. I wonder why I bother with the child who doesn’t even let me know my gift arrived, much less says thanks. I’m much more willing to keep giving to people that acknowledge my efforts.

The universe works the same way. The more we say thank-you, the more it wants to give.

That’s why it’s important to develop your sense of gratitude all year long. Gratitude isn’t a season. It’s a way of life.

The word Christians use for communion—Eucharist—means thanksgiving. Catholics have a concept of being Eucharist to each other, which is the ultimate “being there” for someone. They can rely on each other in community to meet all those needs that the cornucopia represents. I’m sure there are many other traditions that uphold this concept of each feeding others, and in doing so, becoming the food that never stops giving—a perpetual loaves and fishes—in a divine domino effect of loving kindness.

To get that relationship with All That Is, you have to be part of the giving—starting with giving thanks.

Developing an attitude of gratitude isn’t just easy; it’s fun. Here are my two favorite bounty boosters:

• Every day, or as often as possible, write in your journal at least 10 things you’re thankful for. They can be of any size or subject—it didn’t rain today, I got a raise, my cat kissed me on the nose. Whatever it is, when you write it down, you send out waves of attraction for more good of the same kind.

• Create a gratitude box. Do the same thing as often as possible, only write them on slips of paper. They become your a self-made cornucopia. Especially on a blue day, you can dip into the box and find one, two, or fifty of your blessings. You know the old song Bing Crosby song from White Christmas, Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep. Why not? Toss the Lunesta. Visit your personal gift box instead, even if it’s just the one in your mind.

Gratitude is a simple awareness of the blessings all around us … how much good there is when we have the eyes to see it and bother to say hello to the Source.

Let this Thanksgiving kick off the next 365-day cycle of bounty hunting. To get really radical, and possibly to focus more on gratitude than gluttony, here’s one last exercise. Before dessert, draw names out of a hat of everyone present. Go around the table. Each person then expresses their gratitude to the one they have drawn. It can be for something he or she has done during the year or some ongoing quality or action.

Not only will this give your poor, overtaxed digestive system a rest before assaulting it with pumpkin pie; I have a hunch it’ll become a new tradition and the new whip cream.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Baby Angels

November 1995: He was an orange kitten whose loud meow stopped me in my tracks. He looked just like my Georgie Pie, one of the two cats I had lost within the past year. The kitty had a screeching “meeaah!” like Phineas, the one who died first. Within a year I had lost both my boys at ages 15 and 17. They had long, spoiled lives. I had been their mom for most of their time on earth, especially in Georgie’s case. He was only six weeks old when my ex-husband brought him home. He had also brought me Phineas, who strayed over to his apartment during a time when we were separated. Phinney was a year old, give or take a little, when I adopted him. I named him Phineas because it means “mouth of brass.” His meow was so loud, it sounded like a gong that shook the rafters.

After I lost my second baby, Georgie, I lost it all together. At the time, they were my only immediate family. One night, I was so bereft and bawling; I screamed out to God, “If there’s any way possible, please bring my babies back to me!” I had already believed in reincarnation for a long time. I remember sitting on my black, blue and white sofa, feeling like my spirit was the black and blue part and my heart was broken forever. I had memorial celebrations for both my beloved boys, bolstered by doting friends, but still, my grief was private and painful.

Then, a few days after my outcry on the couch, I walked by the pet store next to the market where I did most of my grocery shopping—a place I walked by all the time. A magnet pulled me through the door. The mouthy redhead had me at meow-lo, but there was this other black, gray and white ball of fluff snoozing sweetly that reminded me too much of Phineas to deny.

I told the owner I was 99% sure I wanted them both and asked if I could have till the next day to sit with it, think on it, and come back when the dark guy was active in the morning so I could see his personality and make the final decision. He agreed. It only took a split second of seeing the black and white one in action to know I had to have them both … and only as I was closing the deal did I find out they were littermates. I had tabby twins!

They could not have looked less alike except for their markings—tear drop noses, a white bandanna on their chests, and nilly (vanilla white) toes. When I got them home, I whipped out a baby book. (Writers always have lots of those to name characters.) In no time at all, I had named my little characters Duffy and Darrin.

The dark guy, Duffy, had one gray toe in the mix of white ones, and much longer hair than his redheaded brother, Darrin. Duffy’s fur often looked punked out, like he just woke up with a bed head. I learned that hard sleep, that place where he zonked when we first “met,” would be a one of his trademarks. He slept through meeting his own adoptive mother, and he’d sleep through a lot more in his day, looking adorably rumpled when he finally came to.

Darrin, though, was a screamer and a con artist who wrapped me around his little paw for the rest of his life. My friend Janet helped me pick them up that next day. They walked into the house like they owned it. They knew where everything was located, and within seconds, they were grooming each other just like their predecessors of such similar looks. When Duffy licked Darrin’s butt just like Phineas used to lick Georgie’s; I wasn’t grossed out. I was ecstatic! They were back!

I always called them my baby angels—and the babies that healed my broken heart. They were so cute; I could hardly stand it. Even today, when I look at their baby pictures, I turn to mush.

Their early childhood featured a couple of crazy episodes. When my friend Teresa, a professional animal communicator, lost her cat Katie just after I got my new little ones, I packed up the Tabby Brothers and drove them 200 miles to Katie’s memorial celebration in Monterey. They were the talk of the circle of animal lovers who attended. Getting there wasn’t half the fun. Poor Duffy was so freaked, I had to stop after the first 10 miles and give him major doses of Rescue Remedy. But by the time we were driving home from the Great Long Distance Adventure, they were snoozing sweetly, probably dreaming of all the lovely ladies they met and Duffy’s near swim in a dog food bowl that was a veritable pool to him when he was still so tiny.

Soon Mommy took her own big adventure to Greece and Turkey. I was very nervous about leaving them with a young pet sitter while I was half-way around the world. Don’t ask me why I would think this was an appropriate conversation, but I was telling a cab driver in Istanbul how I didn’t have kids and my cats were my children. I was having a hard time leaving them for the first time. He apparently thought I was nuts. “Cat is cat,” he said. I guess he was really literal and not a pet lover.

Many adventures later, I thought of that crazy cab driver during the last year I have spent losing Darrin. What did he know? Nothing about the bond a person can have with a purr person, that’s for sure.

“You were made for each other,” my husband said of Darrin and me—or the Daredevil as I used to love to call him, especially during his itty-bitty kitty days. He leapt furniture in single bounds, and while I was still trying to figure out which was which, I had a little rhyme to remind me: Duffy is fluffy and Darrin is daring.

In-between those first months twelve years ago and my loss of Darrin on October 30, 2007; there has been a lot of life and loving. As I said in my last post, Darrin was could absorb all the love I had to give and then some. We had a symbiosis so sweet, it made my face hurt from smiling. It made my head hurt from the furrows in my brow when I was worried about him: his “toots,” where he’d be gone for a day or more while I prayed and sent posters around the neighborhood if his absence went too long. I’d eventually figure out; he was never more than a stone’s throw away, often just camped out under the house.

His last year started with the toot to end all toots. A friend’s dog visited and scared him senseless. I tried to get him close to her visiting pooch, figuring he adjusted to our own dog, and he was just being melodramatic. That was one of his trademarks. He was enough to make a genuine drama queen look amateur. He jumped six feet into the air out of fright, straight up out of my arms. Only a helicopter and Darrin could fly in the vertical.

I kept food and water out, and by the eighth day of the Mega Toot, I pieced it together that he was under the house and started to talk to him through a crack in the porch. (“Baby angel! You can’t stay under the house the rest of your life.”) I finally coaxed him out and grabbed him on the tenth day, thanks to stinky fish cat food. I felt terrible that I had not honored his fear, and I allowed no dogs other than our own to set paw in the house from that day forward. During his long absence, friends helped with advice and web sites with genuinely helpful information. That’s where I learned that dogs often run off for the adventure, but cats usually run away from something.

A few months later in January 2007, Darrin was diagnosed with cystic liver disease. Dr. Elizabeth found a large mass during a routine “well baby check-up” and regularly scheduled vaccine. He had part of his liver excised—an expensive operation to which I did not hesitate for a moment to consent. He bounced back from the brink like Lazarus. I couldn’t tie him down to recover before he was leaping all over the place, against doctor’s orders.

His resurrection was short-lived. He got violently ill in August. The initial assumption was that the cystic liver disease was back with a vengeance, but further analysis revealed a fever and an acute kidney infection on top of anything underlying it. We nearly put him down, it was so bad—but I had to give him the last hope of antibiotics to see if he’d bounce back. He did, even though the vet only gave him a 20% probability of recovery. However, his kidneys were damaged.

All these ups and downs were getting tough on The Parents. We barely got him evened out and eating up a storm before we had more follow-up lab work and the dismal diagnosis--liver cancer. I prayed he’d make it through his 12th birthday on September 28th and our wedding blessing ceremony on October 20th. He was so perky during that month, I sometimes wondered if he were really dying. Like everything else he did, his last hurrah was overdone and adorable.

Every extra day I had with him this year was a gift—the meaning of the name Darrin. I know it’s no accident that leaving the vet from having him euthanized, I passed a car in the lot with the license plate THNKFUL. That said it all.

And speaking of thanks, thanks to my friend Teresa, the animal communicator, we have already “talked.” I hear he’s coming back—maybe next spring. Says he wants to be an orange boy cat again. Fine with me; that’s exactly what I was hoping for.

But meanwhile, his presence was so big, our house echoes in his absence. We’re all trying to cope, especially brother Duffy who was with him since before Day 1 in their cat mother’s womb, and our sensitive dog, Bear, who is in waning health himself.

Darrin taught me everything I could ever want to know about the last cycle of life. He dealt with fear, poor health, and a mother who made mistakes. His zest for life was contagious, even when his physical body was weak. He loved me every second of his life and especially the last leg of it--and vice-versa.

The two last things I told him were to come back, if he wanted, whenever he was ready; and a rhyme I always said to him: “I love you Baby A (for angel), I love you every single day.”

Now I just have to make it through the days I’ll never stop loving him, in-between now and his next trip to Planet Earth. It’s going to be a long winter.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Big Six-Oh: A Lot to Crone About

Dear Readers,

I’ve been on vacation from the blogosphere for some celebrations—a big milestone birthday for both my husband and me (born 10 days apart) and our recent “church wedding.” Last year I returned to the faith of my childhood, and we had our marriage blessed after nine years--the sacrament in Sacramento. This was written on my 60th birthday—September 22, 2007.

Blessings All,

I am the world’s greatest birthday enthusiast. My mom was good at remembering birthdays; we always celebrated them in a big way; and when I meet people who don’t whoop it up with joy or relief that they’ve made it through another trip around the Sun, I think they’re culturally deprived—or depressed.

After studying and practicing astrology for many years, I got even better at remembering them. Birth charts start with the exact date, time, and place of birth, forming your individual horoscope. Once I ever set eyes on that round wheel and its starting date, it was a piece of cake to memorize someone’s Sun Sign. Once I knew that, I’d have it narrowed down to the few weeks when their birthday had to occur. Nailing the exact day was easy, once I was in the neighborhood of their potential calendar squares. (How dated and boomer of me! I admit: I still prefer paper calendars with their tidy cells, even though I use electronic ones, too.)

That said, as my Big Six-Oh approached, I knew something was “off” as I did not have my usual yen for partying with my overgrown Child Within. As the daughter of a self-proclaimed culture maven, I knew it wasn’t losing my taste for the art of birthday celebrations, especially the butter cream frosting. I’d never give up my annual birthday wish while blowing out the candles. I’d feel naked in my personal new year without it, and to miss it would feel like bad juju—a superstition defied, like stepping on the sidewalk cracks. What would happen to my mother?

Only in this case, my moms—both of them (birth and adoptive) are gone. What bad luck or blues was I avoiding when, for the first time in my life, I had no spark about celebrating my birthday? The Big Six-Oh? For our 50th birthdays, my honey and I had a joint bash in a park that even our dog attended. It was great, and I had no qualms about stepping into that big number—just the dog’s Number Two.

I wasn’t too far off when I let my 60th birthday thoughts carry me to Step on the crack and you’ll break your mother’s back. What a weird, boomerlet ditty. We’d say it whether walking on the sidewalk or playing hopscotch.

The cracks I am afraid to step on are my own wrinkles, and the mom I’ve been trying to save is my own mother stage of life. Of the three classical stages of a woman’s life—maiden, mother, and crone—it was time to crone me queen of a new era in my own existence in a culture that hates aging.

I am a consummate mother, even though I have never had children, at least not the two-legged variety. (I’ve had four leggers “aglore” as my mom used to say.) Remember those old boxes at amusement parks where you grip a handle and, supposedly, it registers on a chart from cold fish to torrid how hot you are as a lover? Well, if there were one of those that measured your juice for nurturing, I’d break the glass.

In Hot Flashbacks, Cool Insights (HFCI) I talk a lot about how I had to find a place to put all that maternal love, and one place I have put it with all my might is into my pets. Two of my four are ill and probably not long for this world. My cat Darrin, in particular, is the child who holds without reservation my enormous load of love. He can’t get enough of it. When I think about losing him, I can’t breathe. I sometimes fear I will actually die. It seems cruel, on so many levels, that the one I’m most bonded to is the one I will probably lose first.

Yet, I also know this is an endbeginning. I picked up this wonderful term in an article in Yoga Journal some time ago. If I had human children, I’d be a grandmother now, maybe even a great-grandma—long past the mother stage of life. It’s time to let go of mother as my innermost source of fulfillment. It’s time to embrace being a sage and crone.

When old parts of us die, the loss is profound, especially when we have put so much energy into them. Darrin is my love teacher, and he is teaching me that I have to let go to embrace the next phase, where I give what I have learned back to the world--where being mom is not my juice.

I don’t blame myself for not being up for a big birthday celebration. This kind of transition is big. It asks me to mourn before I dance. Every atom of my being has been poured into an extended mother phase of life. Take that away, and what do I do? How do I do it? Will I ever feel completely connected again?

But soon, I will dance. My gift to myself, belatedly, will be a croning ceremony. It’s time. Here I will mark the passage from the maiden to crone phase of life (long overdue), and my close friends will do various rituals to mark the change, including wrapping me for the first time in my Sage Shawl. It is literally sage green and gold, a 60th birthday gift from another friend, and a symbol of this stage of life and its cool insights, our reward for living life fully while paying close attention to the results of actions and interactions.

The concepts in HFCI help us embrace this phase of our lives in a dazzling way. The power of so many women stepping up as teachers and mentors boggles the imagination. The things boomer women could do with their collective wisdom in service, now that we have no kids to rear and barely give a damn what others think of us.

But stuffing emotions is unhealthy, even dangerous. So give motherhood, your youth, your cute bod, and your flawless complexion its proper funeral. Stay as lively and good-looking as you can, recognizing your wow now comes mostly from the inside out—the only kind of beauty that never fades.

Then go out and dance on the grave of all those losses. Soon you’ll be singing, because truly, in the great Grand Scheme, the best was saved for last when it comes to what life has to offer.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Cool Mini-Flashes

While most of my Hot Flashbacks and Cool Insights take at least a chapter to build up a string of experiences to synthesis, here are some nuggets I call mini-flashes, single insights or moments of aha gleaned from the longer Hot Flashbacks tales with their chapter names noted. Enjoy!

"Once a Catholic, always a Catholic,” the nuns used to singsong. I
always thought this litany was pure religious propaganda. Except it turns
out to be true. I don’t even bother to say ex-Catholic anymore. Doesn’t
matter if you don’t practice it. It’s still your orientation, like
sexuality—something you can’t help. A friend recently said, “It’s in
your genes.” I believe Catholicism runs that deep. Someday, I fully
expect someone will discover a DNA marker for it.

--Apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary

When we were barely teenagers, my first boyfriend Tommy Shire and I used to meet while I walked our boxer dogs, Duchess and Lady, in the weedy vacant lot next to our suburban Chicago townhouse. We’d steal kisses between dog droppings. Little did I know at the tender age of twelve how much that scene symbolized life.

– That Doggone Hit Parade

The first time I heard the odd expression “golden handcuffs,” I could not get over how well it described my career in government. I had not considered seriously; I had been abducted by benefits and was being held hostage by my own need for comfort and security. What’s worse for my colleagues and me and anyone seduced by these goodies, whatever their job: We all suffered from Stockholm Syndrome, falling in love with our captors—ourselves and our own bullshit.

--Golden Handcuffs

The Twenty-Third Psalm has always been one of my favorite prayers, even though it’s mostly said at funerals. I used to consider this morbid till I got old enough to realize how fragile we are as humans--how much we live at death’s door at all times. That’s why I love that prayer, especially the line: Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.

As you get older, the Shadow gets thicker. It goes from partly cloudy to seriously overcast, the closer you inch to the unknown finish line of life. There are only two ways you can deal with this fact. You can be bummed out or you can do what you did when you were a kid—get your thrills off living on the edge.

--Valley Girl

I am convinced that even the horniest people on earth cannot spend more than five to ten percent of their relationship in bed over the long haul. We have to make a living, raise children, pursue our interests. Since the vast majority of a relationship happens outside the bedroom, how can we expect to form a sound one when it starts there …and we never really want to get out of bed?

--Where Are My Keys? I Need a Sex Drive!

That boom in our name: It can do more than blast through the old way of aging that gives up and gives out. It can be the blast of reality, a fiery sword of truth that mediates between these conservative (‘50s) and rebellious decades of our youth (‘60s/’70s) and these extremes within ourselves. What makes us so special is our wiring to be weavers of wholeness within—and within today’s world.

--Sixties Reprised

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Happy Autumn Equinox!

While I may not practice astrology professionally anymore, I have integrated many aspects of it into my life for good. One of them is celebrating the change of seasons at the solstices and equinoxes. It was easy for me to appreciate those turning points: I was born on the cusp of autumn. Bet you can’t guess my favorite season.

You don’t have to be into astrology to know that the quarterly shifts in weather are a crossroads and sacred time. Many people don’t realize how much the earth religions have influenced other religions—the ones that revere nature and just such changes--including Christianity. There are many parallels between them, including the recognition that outer changes mirror inner growth. Most of us know the Bible quote popularized in the early ‘60s song by Pete Seeger, Turn, Turn, Turn:

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heavens. "

--Ecclesiastes 3:1

I have always been a seeker, and I have enjoyed a rich spiritual life since Day One, thanks to my family and my own Virgo tendencies toward perfection—my desire to live life to the best and fullest. Combine that with a lot of planets in Libra, the sign that craves balance and harmony, and it’s not surprising that my spirituality has been eclectic. It’s easy for me to see the best of many different traditions. After all, I want to find what we can agree on and appreciate about each other’s perspectives.

Now you have the context for how I started a group of women in the late ‘80s that celebrates the change of seasons. Many of us attended an annual candlelighting service at our local Unity Church. We loved it but wanted more. We were still in the afterglow of the
Harmonic Convergence, that August 1987 event where people went to various sacred sites on Earth to pray for peace and harmony. It was a time of ecumenical spirituality and oneness, and celebration of the Winter Solstice seemed the most all-inclusive to us; so, that’s where we started.

Soon, our circles once a year just weren’t enough, and we expanded them to the other quarterly solstices and equinoxes. As often as possible, we celebrate at the river, the outdoor cathedral of God/Goddess/All That Is. Our members have varied beliefs with a shared faith in open-mindedness. We borrow from every tradition you can think of—Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, pagan. Our rituals are nothing if they are not creative, and various women take turns putting them together. Even though it’s a circle of women, we owe our nickname, the Solsisters, to a man. (Thanks, Evan!) He was the boyfriend of my close friend and my primary partner in creating these events out of ordinary time. I don’t know if he feels it, but I think Evan gets a blessing every time we say the word.

Over the years, a backbone of liturgy has been borne out of our group efforts. Each celebration has the same basic sections, but the content is completely original. As originator and long-time leader, my Catholic roots could not help but shine through, especially in calling the sharing section communion. There is nothing like checking in on each other’s lives quarterly and watching how we grow.

As individuals and in community, those check-ins are so vital to seeing our own milestones as works in progress. We laugh, we cry, we go to dinner together afterwards (another communion) … but the most important thing is that we have created a support system, a community of spirited women who care about each other on the physical, emotional, and spiritual levels. You can have one, too! Just find a few kindred spirits to get the ball rolling. The Internet is oozing with ideas for rituals and celebrations. The Internet is our most important, silent Solsister.

I wanted to share this history early on, because the Hot Flashbacks, Cool Insights phenomenon is more than a series of books and blog posts to me. It is an extension of what I started with the Solsisters, which would be nothing if it weren’t for the others who joined the party.

We have the power to create partnerships, circles, and to celebrate life however we want. We have tools literally at our fingertips.

My vision is to create a planetary shift where we join intentions to change outcomes, just like the original concept of the Harmonic Convergence. All the Earth is sacred. It doesn’t matter where you live. Start where you are.

The tarot deck I used to read from, the
Motherpeace, has a card that reflects my vision called The World. It shows lots of people dancing around a Pied Piper-like Earth Mom. Another image I love and recently purchased is from Shiloh Sophia McCloud, called Dancing Our Prayers. Let’s do the prayer dance of peace around the world!

Women are wired for peace as the birthers, nurturers, and ultimately, crones or wise women. Sally Field said it at the Emmys recently, whether or not she was bleeped for cursing the war.

Men, too, have these qualities—some more on the surface, some more deeply hidden. As they age, that side of men often emerges. This is true for women and qualities we regard as “masculine.” As we round out as human beings, we express the best of both complementary energies. That’s why boomers can do so much good. We have arrived at a time when our inner opposites are more in balance. We have made peace within ourselves. Now we can take on the world.

Let’s put peace on the wire, the Internet, and send it around the globe to create a circle of love, friendship, and practical problem solving.

Have a gorgeous autumn! It is, after all, the season of harvest and fulfillment. I hope you share my dream.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Boomer's Hot Flashbacks Contain Instructions for a Cool Rest of Her Life

Hot Flashbacks, Cool Insights is the title of my upcoming memoir. This blog offers regular posts that are preview hot flashbacks—and cool insights, too! I want to find and warm up my audience before I bring on this book, the first in a trio of memoirs. I hope they will keep you laughing and learning for years to come.

Hot Flashbacks—the book and the blog--has a message for boomers and younger “kids:” You don’t have to wait till you “go to the light” to let your life flash in front of you. As much inspiration as slices of my unusual life, Hot Flashbacks shows how to reinvent aging so it works for the only generation with “baby” in its name. If you learn to play the symbols hidden in plain sight –now—you can make the rest of your days on Earth the richest in your personal history. My formula?

Hot Flashbacks + Cool Insights = Seasoned Sizzle!

To wrap up the preview, Hot Flashbacks, Cool Insights has three distinct parts:

Part 1, Hormonic Convergence: I tell how I discovered passion as the theme of my life during my first hot flashes following an emergency hysterectomy.

Part 2, Hot Flashbacks: Passion is more than sex, which I explore plenty in my flashbacks. I relive figurative passions, too—who and what I care about most, especially what I can’t die without doing.

Part 3, Sexugenaria: After reliving all those earlier episodes of my life—this time with their meaning clear—I see a lesson plan for living a cool rest of my life—and facing head-on my AARP card, hearing loss, and the other nuts and bolts of aging.

Entertaining, deep, and often hilarious, Hot Flashbacks is as much inspiration as memoir. It recounts a life so full of meaningful coincidence; it could only be a divine comedy. It doubles as a handbook for keeping the flames of passion fanned all the way to the finish line.

Visit my blog often for slices of writing that are similar to my book and a few flash forward excerpts. I’ll keep you posted on progress in the publishing process.