Year: 2017

Dogs, Grief and Loss

Dia De Los Muertos

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My altar
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Catrina draped in my grandmother’s rosary beads
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A lamp made by my brother

Dear Reader:

Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) is a misunderstood holiday celebrated in Mexico, and in my home, on November 2. Given the timing of the holiday and the macabre imagery and costumes, people assume it’s simply “Mexican Halloween.” But, the meaning of this holiday is so much greater.

In the year 2000, my 35-year-old brother was diagnosed with an incurable form of cancer and I did what I always do when presented with a major life challenge; I researched and read about the topic of death. Books have always been my saviors. During the toughest year of my life, as I watched Matt die, the accumulated wisdom of others brought me comfort. It was during this time that I learned about Day of the Dead.

The holiday takes its origins from the Aztecs and was celebrated around the end of summer like Halloween. With the arrival of Spanish conquistadors, Catholic influence led to the combination of the holiday with All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day. Dia De Los  Muertos follows the same two-day structure. In the Catholic tradition, All Saints’ Day calls us to reflect upon how we should live; All Souls’ Day is a celebration of those we’ve loved and lost. In the Mexican tradition, November 1 is the day to remember the loss of children and November 2 is the day to remember adults who have left us. The most important aspect of the holiday is the belief that the spirits of the dead join the living for the celebration.

In preparation for the party, altars are created that contain remembrances and offerings to our departed loved ones. (Sugar skulls are often included for children and alcohol for adults. You may have noticed KAH tequila in my display.) I love arranging my tribute each year and I love talking about my altar to visitors in my home. Those who are represented are gone but not forgotten; that truism is comforting to me.

I remember:

  • My grandmother, Rose Carmella Bartucci. She had a big heart and memories of her make me smile. My daughter never knew her, but her middle name and nickname (Rosebud) are in her honor.
  • My brother, Matt. I miss you so much.
  • My father-in-law Jim. My husband inherited all your best traits and my daughter adored you.
  • Bart, my faithful four-legged companion. The pink shed isn’t quite the same without you.

During the time that my brother was sick and following his death, I often felt very alone in my grief. It’s not easy or natural to speak of death and dying in our culture, but I believe very strongly that we should. What better way to start a conversation than by bringing the departed back into your living room?

I’ll end this now as it’s time to toast my loved ones.

Cheers,

Michele

Eat, Drink and Be Merry, Family, Friends and Neighbors, Quotations

The Comfort of October

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“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”

—L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Dear Reader:

There’s something so comfortable about October. It’s a month to simply enjoy. It doesn’t ask much of us, unlike November and December that bring with them expectations and responsibilities.

This month I’ve enjoyed:

  • shopping at the farmers market with my husband
  • artichokes in balsamic with sun-dried tomato aioli (bubbles on the side)
  • a visit to a pumpkin patch with three lovely Cal Poly students
  • hot cocoa with whipped cream sipped with a dachshund in my lap
  • pumpkin bread, pumpkin lattes, pumpkin everything

I  ask only a couple of things of myself every October:

  1. I begin my holiday shopping! It gives me such pleasure to find the perfect gift for everyone on my list. (My daughter’s birthday is December 20th, so I get to buy twice as much for her!)
  2. I fill up bags of food and warm clothing to donate at my local food bank and homeless shelter. It is somehow even more rewarding to help others as the holidays approach.

And every year I find myself, quite unconsciously at first, reflecting on the year that is drawing to a close and the year ahead of me. The chill in the air and my plans for the future exhilarate me in a way that the month of January does not. I love October!

Hope you’ve had a wonderful month, too.

Michele 

Creativity, Family, Friends and Neighbors, Flowers, Inspirational Women, The Color Pink

The Bouquet on my Desk

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Dear Reader:

I wore my first sweater of the season last week; it was a chilly 68 degrees. It’s fall in California, but I have a summer bouquet to enjoy every day.! It was created by my blogging friend, Tamara Jare at My Botanical Garden. It was spring when I selected the lovely watercolor and I was anticipating summertime as I always do. I framed the small piece and it sits on my desk in the pink shed. I can almost smell the peonies, roses, grasses and spirea in full bloom.

As Tamara said, “It’s a special arrangement in the same way that each summer is special.” It’s particularly meaningful to me because it’s a reminder of one of the first friends that I made after creating my blog. I have a friend in Slovenia! I never thought I’d be able to say that!

Tamara found my site just two days after I established it and became one of my first followers. I was glad, not only to have her as a reader, but also to discover the beauty on her site. We developed a connection over the past months and have continued to communicate through e-mail.It was fun to discover how much Tamara and I have in common. We are about the same age and happily married with grown children. After she read my post  about aging, she shared that Oil of Olay (tanti anni fa) was the secret to her youthful good looks, too! We agreed that they must have a good advertising company!

We are both creative women who feel happy and complete in our lives. Tamara began her blog when her mother was terminally ill and the artistic expression helped her through that very difficult time. I started my blog when my one -and -only left me to go to college. If one could bottle creative expression, it would be truthful to state that it is a potent remedy in times of loss or change.

I’m sure that I will sound my age when I say that I am amazed to find women who are so seemingly like me in all parts of the world. I’m an “old dog” who learned a “new trick” and I’m grateful to be part of a blogging community with no boundaries.

I am hopeful that someday I’ll meet my friend in Slovenia, but, until then, her art keeps me company while I pursue my creative side.

Thanks Tamara!

Love,

Michele

Politics

A Band-Aid for My Bleeding Heart

Dear Reader:

Never say never! How many times have we all heard that expression? At the ripe age of 57, I’ve learned just how true those words are. During the past week, my bleeding liberal heart has been assuaged by …Senators Jeff Flake and Bob Corker and John McCain. Surprising? Yes! But simply shocking:  I was also comforted by the thoughtful words of President George W. Bush!

I strongly disagree with the politics of all four of these men. But, they voiced what I have wanted to scream from the rooftop since POTUS entered the political arena. This is not normal! This is dangerous! This is sad! This is demoralizing! And, this is embarrassing!

Way back in the 1990’s, Mark Singer of The New Yorker wrote an in-depth profile of a real estate mogul . He concluded that the man had achieved something remarkable:  “an existence unmolested by the rumbling of a soul.” Alas, that man now resides in the White House. I do not sleep well.

Another truism…my least favorite:  life is not fair. I’ve always had trouble with this truth. I can not wrap my mind around the fact that a man with no honor has been rewarded with the highest office in the land.

Pundits are quick to point out that President Bill Clinton did not behave in an admirable way, at all times, in the Oval Office. History has chronicled the exploits of President John F. Kennedy. Ken Burns just brought a recording into our homes of President Lyndon Johnson acknowledging that the war in Vietnam could not be won many years before he sent more troops in to fight and die. We are still suffering the aftermath of President George W. Bush’s unjustifiable and unnecessary “crusade.” Politics is an ugly business and history is as imperfect as the worst of us.

And yet, we learned of the sins of past presidents after their actions. Our current president did not even attempt to hide who he is. He clearly, loudly and proudly told us all that he is …a bigot, a misogynist, an ignoramus and an egotist. Then we elected him.

I like to imagine I have a crystal ball and I can see the future. It allows me to write history. In my book, the couragous women and men save us from the lies and hate and insanity. I’ll just keep telling you, dear readers, as a way of telling myself:  Truth will be told. Democracy will survive.

Michele

 

 

Physical Fitness, Mental Health and Growing Older

Lazy Post

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I’ve had this book for years; apparently I no longer need it!

Dear Reader:

I am feeling very lazy. I can’t seem to make myself write or clean or anything. (Oh, that rhymed!) I went to the grocery store yesterday; today I’ve cleaned up after the puppy. That’s it. I’ve felt this way all week. It’s been ten days since I posted anything despite the fact that I have a half dozen drafts that I could finish.

I’m not depressed; I know how that feels. I’m not ill. I’ve got nothing to complain about.

It’s times like this that I remember a line from a very helpful counselor I saw twenty years ago. “Make friends with the feeling,” she’d say over and over again. I’d say this psychologist earned her money, as I pull that advice out of my pocket often. Here’s the reasoning: feelings can not be wished away. Feelings exist regardless of our desires to manipulate them.

Sometimes, there’s a clear reason we feel the way we do. If we’ve suffered a loss of any kind, we feel sad, alone and lost. How should we feel? Exactly as we do. But, there are times when it may be hard to determine why we feel what we do. It is these times when we must be patient with ourselves.

Perhaps, I just need a rest. Or maybe, my seasonal allergies are tiring me. It could be that the news has overwhelmed me (fires and floods and Weinstein and the POTUS). Then there’s the coastal fog that’s pushed out the sun most of the week. Whatever the reason, I have no ambition this week and I am going to make friends with the feeling.

How are you feeling, dear reader,

Michele

P.S. I’ll be back next week…I think!

Family, Friends and Neighbors, Physical Fitness, Mental Health and Growing Older

It’s Not Over Until it’s Over

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Next time we’ll have a Sangria together, as she’ll be legal!

Dear Reader:

I visited my nearly 21-year-old daughter at college this weekend and over dinner I looked at her and said: “I like who you are becoming.”

She paused and so I felt the need to explain my random, motherly comment.

“You know… you are evolving, becoming an adult,” I clarified.

“Thank you, Mom,” she said. “But aren’t we all becoming someone?”

Well, that’s just the way my daughter is….wonderful and wise and inspiring! Indeed it would be rather boring and depressing if I were not also continuing to become someone. In fact, it is our shared evolution that binds us even closer.

I talk to her about my new adventures in the blogosphere and she shares the challenges and rewards of renting her first apartment. We hold each other accountable to the fitness goals we’ve set. She shares her academic successes and I recount how proud I feel when my puppy Winnie piddles in the appropriate place. We dream of our next trip to London…she to study and me and her dad to sightsee. I can see that even our relationship has become something new and beautiful. I’ll always be her mother, first, but it’s great to feel the warmth of her understanding as a friend, too.

I love that she reminded me that the joys of evolution are not simply for the young.

Here’s to getting better and better all the time,

Michele

 

Inspirational Women

Q is for Queen

Dear Reader:

I’m an unapologetic Anglophile! What’s not to love about our mother country?! The castles are beautiful. The tea and cakes are delicious. The museums are incomparable. And, the monarchy has evolved into a family one can (almost) relate to…far more human than royal.

I’ve had the pleasure of travelling across the pond three times. Two of those visits took place in June during Royal Ascot, the horserace of the year, as well as the social occasion of the summer. The race was founded in 1711 by Queen Anne and is attended each year by the monarch and other members of the royal family. The town of Ascot is a short six miles from Windsor castle. I learned this on my first visit when much to my surprise we found ourselves outside the gift shop and in view of the entrance to the castle and its circular drive. Suddenly, we were surrounded by others and the whispers began.

“The queen…the queen will be leaving soon for Ascot!”

We pressed ourselves against a security gate and held our iPhones high hoping to get a shot of the monarch. OMG! I can not tell you how excited I was to see the queen waving at me…at the little group that had serendipitously found itself within royal view. I returned to the same spot the following year and my enthusiasm at seeing the queen had not dimmed in the least. I’ve now seen the monarch twice and I happily relate that information to everyone who will listen. She’s a rock star in my book. I admire her strength, commitment and service.

I was rather amused recently to read in Vanity Fair that the queen enjoys not one, not two…but four alcoholic drinks a day! This is a woman I can relate to. According to the former royal chef, Darren McGrady, the monarch starts her day with a gin and Dubonnet, enjoys a glass of wine and a dry gin martini at lunch and turns in for the night after a glass of champagne.

At 91 years of age, she can do/drink whatever she pleases! And, I believe at 57, I too, as queen of my domain, may enjoy whatever I please at any time of the day.

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The queen, in red, on her way to Ascot 2015!

Cheers,

Michele

Politics

Hopelessness and Heroines

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I do not usually take photos at my polling place, but this was to be a historical election.

Dear Reader:

My day started pleasantly which is not surprising. I’m retired and healthy, happily married with a successful college-aged daughter. My friends and neighbors are wonderful. I have a lovely home filled with shelves and shelves of books and bursting with dachshunds. And, yet half-way into my first cup of coffee, my husband looked at me and asked “What’s wrong, Michele?”

“I don’t know; life is good,” I answered. “I just feel so anxious and I don’t know why.”

That wasn’t the truth though. I knew why; I know why. I’ve felt anxious on a regular basis since November 8, 2016. On that morning, I rose early full of energy and ready to cast my vote for the first female president. The refrigerator held an expensive bottle of champagne and I couldn’t wait to pop the cork and toast her victory (our feminine victory)! Instead, I went to bed early after dosing myself with a couple Tylenol PM tablets.

I woke up still in shock as I know so many others did. We’ve elected an egomaniacal real estate mogul* to the highest office in the land. I was never prepared to forgive the man his former sins, but I was prepared to hope for the best. Surely, now that he’s the leader of the free world, his approach to leadership will change, I thought. And, yet, it continues. The insults, the lies, the ignorance, the incompetency and the narcissism laid bare for the world to see.

Since January, I’ve coped with the craziness of the new administration in an alternating fashion…get the news, eat too much or drink too much with friends…get the news, eat too much or drink too much without friends…laugh out loud with husband while watching SNL and Colbert…swear off the news to preserve sanity and waistline…begin watching news again…repeat. I’ve also tried to make a difference in the lives of others in small ways…donating, volunteering, listening and writing.

I watched our president today in Puerto Rico tossing out rolls of paper towels to the crowd. Tomorrow he’ll be visiting Las Vegas to offer solace to a city rocked by gun violence. I do not feel encouraged or consoled. There are people and problems that need attention. I’m worried. I’m afraid.

My husband understood. Yet, his concerns were slightly different.

“He was elected. He still has the support of most Republicans,” he said. “That’s my worry.”

We concluded our conversation in the same way it began. We are living through a difficult time in the history of this country. Divisions are deep and nothing is being accomplished. Suddenly I remembered what Michelle Obama said to Oprah shortly after the election, “This is what it feels like to have no hope.”

I can not allow myself to sustain the feeling of hopelessness, though. It comes and it goes, because I’ve always been an optimist and I’ve always felt proud to be an American. I continue to look for heroes and heroines and I find them each and every day.

Tonight I raise my glass to four courageous women:

Carmen Yulin Cruz, the San Juan mayor, who will not be cowed by our president and continues to fight for the survival of the people of Puerto Rico.

Gabby Giffords, who called upon Congress (again) to “find the courage” to address gun control in the wake of the latest tragedy in Las Vegas.

Katy Tur, the MSNBC anchor and author of Unbelievable, who devoted a segment to fact-checking POTUS’s claims about his Puerto Rico response

Senator Elizabeth Warren, who said she was “heartsick” for the victims of gun violence and called for action NOW.

The sky is vibrant with the colors of another beautiful sunset as I finish this post. I could not wish for a better life here on the California Coast, and yet I know that I will continue to struggle with the fact that while my small world is so wonderful, my country is without a moral, admirable, competent leader. I’m holding on to my belief that America is the greatest country in the world. I will not give in to hopelessness. Will you?

Michele

*I will never use our president’s name on my site

Dogs, Family, Friends and Neighbors, Physical Fitness, Mental Health and Growing Older

Puppies are Good for Empty-Nesters

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A Favorite Photo-My Husband Admiring our Baby

Dear Reader:

One of my favorite regular columns in any magazine is the Harper’s Index in Harper’s Magazine…of course. It’s a simple list of interesting factoids that makes for fun reading and sharing. Today I learned:

Percentage of U.S. pet-custody cases that involve dogs: 96%

That involve cats: 1

Apologies to the “cat people” in my life, but I was not in the least bit surprised to read this! After all, dogs have a “pack mentality” as do people. (More trivia: what is the name of a group of cats????? Got you, right?!) All three of my four-legged family members are draped across my legs as I write this. It’s a chilly morning and they are earning their keep!

My husband and I have been married for 33 years and for 25 of those years we’ve had at least one dog. We were excited the day we finally moved into a pet-friendly condominium. It didn’t take long for us to adopt our first dachshund, Carly. For eight years, our friends and family had speculated as to when we’d have a child. They had a good laugh when we purchased a small library of books in the genre of how to raise the perfect dog and consulted a baby naming book.  There were whispers that we were “practicing” for our first child. The speculation grew when we took Carly to Sears for Christmas pictures.

Alas, the next member of our pack also had four legs. Bill, another long-haired miniature dachshund, joined us the year after our first. Jeff and Karyn of Wagsmore Dachshunds named the dog after the president “before the Lewinsky scandal” they told us. We thought our new puppy looked rather “presidential” so we chose not to change his name. It would be another two years before we had our only child, Natalie, and Bill would be the first to arrive in her room when she cried.

It’s impossible to imagine our home without a dog or two or three and perfectly outrageous to ponder me and my husband embroiled in a custody fight over them. But, there is no danger of this as we are happy together and have further bonded over the arrival of our latest baby “Winnie.”

Michele

P.S. A group of cats is called a “clowder.” I looked it up.

Creativity

Thanks for Visiting…Celebrating Six Months from the pink shed!

Dear Reader:

Six months ago I launched my blog. I felt confident that I’d never run out of things to say, but I was less sure about entering the world of the internet. If I’m going to write, it must be honest. So, would I feel that I was compromising my quiet, simple, private way of life? Would I regret taking this creative leap?

From the door of the pink shed
Come on in!

Short answer:  NO! Long answer: so many lovely people have visited my pink shed and they’ve made my venture fun and rewarding!

I’m talking about YOU:

Kristin at 17 Mile Creative-I couldn’t have done it without you!

Courtney-Thanks for helping me get it together!

Beth at Bordelon Artworks-You generously volunteered your talents…taking photos, blogging, reading and commenting.

Laurie-You are the kindest, wisest reader any writer could hope for and you submitted an incredibly entertaining guest post.

Catherine, Marietta and Kimberlee-Your support means so much to me.

Mrs. Delwiche (Jean)-You were the “best principal ever” at Almaden Country Day School. My daughter raved about how much you cared about each and every student, as well as what a great witch you made every year at Halloween! You found my blog through Facebook and I feel like a star student when you compliment my writing style!

 

AND NOW…here’s to the people I “met” in the blogosphere:

Tamara at My Botanical Garden-You were one of my earliest readers and I was flattered. Now we are “pen pals.” Thank you.

Sal at Sal’s Blog and David at Fiction all Day-I’d tell my friends: “I’ve even got men visiting my shed…a handsome guy in sunglasses and a young one with dizzying energy!”

Kathryn at Busy K-You are a young, cool, New York career woman. What are you doing on my site?

Alys at Gardening Nirvana-It’s been so nice to catch up with you.

Marie at Marie McLean-We share a love of reading and writing. Thanks for your comments.

Franziska at My Tree and Me-Thanks for your support…and, of course, the always useful health, travel and beauty tips.

 

Thank you also to the young woman expecting her first child who wrote to tell me that my post No Regrets may have “changed her choice and thus (her) life.” And to the many readers who have shared their experiences of loss after reading posts about the death of my brother, Matt. Finally, thanks to my girl for being my #1 fan.

Cheers…here’s to blogging!

Michele