Saturday, May 30, 2009

Observations on a Grey Day

Today has been a grey day, both internally and externally, so I chose to take a quiet look at the world around me.  The inner dialogue of my mind has been somewhat quieter than usual, giving me the opportunity to just be.  As I rested quietly, not really becoming absorbed in any particular activity, I took some time to notice things that might sometimes just pass me by.
A fishing vessel swaying on the active ocean waves.  Back and forth...back and forth...I certainly hope that they brought along some 7Up and ginger snaps!
The waves lapping up against the shoreline, braking erratically and keeping the surfers away.
The details of nature seemed even more vibrant against the pale grey sky.
Deep purple pansies could not be eclipsed by the dullness of the day.
The sweet basil and cherry tomato plants which we potted last week, leaned into the brightest breaks in the clouds.
Bougainvillea vines blanketed the damp earth while swaying gently in the ocean breeze.
And tiny birds came to feast upon the seeds that I put out in our bird feeder.
While a solitary seagull floated home on the breeze.

And through it all, I realized that I could either give into the greyness, allowing myself to be carried off to a sad and lonely place, or I could observe the more subdued vignettes of the day with a gentler eye.  

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Truth About Puppy Love and Destiny

Several months ago, my family began the quest of finding another dog to bring into our family.  It was a decision that we made after one of our cats, Harley, suddenly became very ill with an aggressive form of cancer and very sadly, passed away within weeks.  It was another lesson in the absolute fragility of life, which has become an all too familiar theme in our lives over the past year.  

It is not as if we do not have a home that is filled with furry and feathery family members.  With four cats, one dog and two birds, our home is constantly brimming with life even when we are not in it.  To me, the soul of a home can be felt through the animals which reside there.  And our home certainly has lots and lots of soul.  Lots of Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder earth-moving soul, but after hearing about so many unwanted and abandoned animals that were filling the animal shelters because of the down-turn in the economy, my heart just ached.  It ached for the owners who legitimately had to give their beloved pets up because of extreme hardship, but more so, it ached for the animals who might never have a chance to love.  A chance to be loved.  A chance to be the soul of a home.  We looked through hundreds of websites, trying to find the right dog.  We spoke to so many wonderful volunteers who desperately wanted to find homes for the animals who were in their care.  Mark and our girls met a number of beautiful, very worthy dogs but for some reason, we were having difficulty finding a match.  One of the reasons our search was more difficult was that we needed to find a dog who was not only person and dog-friendly, but one which was cat-friendly, as well.  We wanted to take in an older dog and we really, really tried to find one, but the cat-friendly criteria was a hard one to guarantee.  Another one of the issues that we kept running up against is that we didn't feel that our home would be the right kind of home for a Pit-Bull.  Mixed, possibly, but definitely not a pure-bred.  Sadly, the shelters are filled with Pit-Bulls and Pit-Bull mixes and although I know that they are just as worthy of loving homes, I could not justify taking the chance of bringing an older dog with an unknown history into our home if the genetics included Pit-Bull.  

When Mark came across a picture of Micah on a rescue website, something in his soulful eyes radiated straight from the photograph right into our hearts.  His name was Marley and he was definitely Rottweiler on his mother's side, but his father's side was unknown.  He was the runt of the litter and much smaller and less aggressive than his siblings, but he was playful and adorable.  After Mark and our youngest Angel went to visit him in his foster home, they came home in love.  A couple of weeks later, without my even meeting him, we went from older dog to puppy, and after the opinion of the vet, the trainer and various other people, we went from NO Pit-Bull to "Boy, Micah sure does look like he has some Pit-Bull in him."

Yesterday afternoon, we received the results of the DNA test that we had done in order to determine what kind of dog Micah really is.  Of course there is no way that someone could even rip this pup out of our arms at this point, but we felt that it was important to know exactly what we might be dealing with in the future.  
But after watching this five month old puppy resting calmly behind a buffet table FULL of food and under little supervision, this past weekend, I realized something very life-affirming.  This very zen puppy was not only here to be a companion, but to teach us a thing or two in the process.  I realized that when you find the right one, it doesn't really matter what the make-up of the genetics might be.  It only matters that you found each other and that when you stared into each other's eyes, you could see your future staring right back at you.  

Oh yes, when I spoke to the Veterinarian's receptionist yesterday, she laughed when she told me that they had received the results for Micah's DNA test.  She laughed because everyone in the office adores Micah.  His clownish nature and cuddly personality are intoxicating and contagious.  The receptionist told me that she was laughing because after reviewing Micah's DNA results, the vet referred to him as a "drug lord's dream dog".  I suppose that after hearing that Micah is a cross between a Rottweiler, and an American Staffordshire Terrier(Pit Bull)/Doberman Pinscher mix, I could appreciate the reference as well as the lesson in irony.  And I could swear that the quiet chuckle which I heard in my other ear, sounded an awful lot like the laughter of God.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Graduating into Life

Only four wonderful years filled with dedication, hard work, friendship, frustration and sometimes tears, could culminate in a bear-hug like this one.  Between teacher and student, between mentor and grasshopper, and now finally, between friends.  So much growth.  So many changes.  So many memories...
Angel Daughter Number One, my first baby, my sweet pea, my child, and now and forever, my dear friend, graduated with a Bachelors Degree in Fine Arts with honors, this very morning.  Somewhere in this sea of black caps and gowns is my little girl.  The one who taught me how to be a mother.
It was her day to shine and along with her gorgeous roommates, shine she did!
First on the stage was my Angel Daughter from Oregon who belongs to another lovely family, but for whom I stand in as a surrogate momma when she crosses state lines into California.
And then my girl.  There she was, beaming her wonderful smile as she received her well-deserved, well-earned diploma.
Normally, I scream like a wild banchee when one of my Angel Daughters is being recognized for something, but today, all I could do was watch.  And snap a few blurry-eyed photos.(Not sure if it was the tears or the 5:30 am wake-up that caused that reaction.  You guess.)
And as always, my Angel Family snuggled in tight to celebrate one of our own.
Nothing could have made the day more complete...
Except for these two little angels.  My brother's Angels, who carried my beloved brother's spirit with them into this very special day.  And somehow I know that my Angel Daughter's very special uncle was there with us all today.  Smiling and cheering and absolutely beaming at what his first niece has come to accomplish in her relatively short twenty-one years on this earth.  

Congratulations, baby.  As I watch you become more and more of who you are, you teach me more and more about who I am.  The teacher becomes the student, as the student becomes the teacher.

I love you with all of my heart.  Oh yes, and that commencement speech that never really happened but should have, about always wearing sunscreen... Very, very good advice.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

After the Earthquake Hits

                                   *Photo of a sign that stands at the end of our street.

As in any unexpected jolt that might occur within the semblance of our daily routines, an earthquake is a very sudden shock of reality which can make you feel as if your mind and body are temporarily in a momentary state of disconnect.  It takes several seconds before the mind realizes that the body could be in a potentially disastrous situation at which point the adrenaline kicks into maximum gear and a quick decision must be made in order to minimize the risks.  Living in Southern California, for the past nearly twenty-five years, has given me the opportunity to experience many, many earthquakes.  I must admit that after the first few, it was much easier to become somewhat desensitized to the possibility of severe damage.  I mean how many times can we sit through immeasurably long newscasts in which pictures of convenience stores with a few items that have fallen to the floor are flashed across the screen over and over and over again.  It becomes a bit of a farce when something so potentially disastrous is used as filler for a nine PM newscast.  And yet, we are all told that "The Big One" is going to hit us, sometime, someplace and without a warning or a doubt.

Life is like this.  In many ways, we all live in Tsunami hazard zones just waiting for the big one to hit.  One moment, our life is as we expect it to be.  Our days fairly predictable, with very few diversions along the way.  And then, something happens in the matter of a split second, which can absolutely shake us to the core of our being.  This happened to me fourteen months ago when my only sibling, my forty-one year old brother died suddenly.  One moment, we were getting ready to meet him and his family for dinner and the next thing I knew, I was standing next to his body laying on a gurney in the hospital ER.  An earthquake of inordinate proportions, followed by a life-shattering Tsunami.  And yet, what I have learned from my own personal Tsunami is that even after the absolute worst has hit, life can feel somewhat safe again.  There is something insurmountable about the human spirit that can guide it back to center, even after experiencing something that initially seems impossible to recover from.  Maybe it has to do with the smaller situations that tend to shake up our worlds on a frequent basis which truly do prepare us for the enormous, life-altering jolts.  Maybe it has to do with the ability to stand back a little bit more each time something happens, allowing ourselves the time that we need in order to react safely.  For me, I know that it has little to do with fear and a lot to do with the calmness that immediately comes over me when I find myself in a fearful situation.  For me, it is not only the smaller situations which help me to better deal with the larger, more ominous ones, but the Hand that I feel upon my shoulder willing me to respond and not react when an extra large dose of adrenaline is sent coursing through my veins.

Tonight, as a 4.7 sized earthquake struck Southern California, I felt that initial jolt of adrenaline as it made its way to my heart.  But as the floor beneath my feet began to steady itself, once again, I felt my soul return from nervousness to calm.  In life, as well as in difficult situations, panic is only a waste of precious energy.  I have learned that living in earthquake country means that there will inevitably be earthquakes.  And living the human experience means that there will inevitably be sudden jolts to our own lives.  The key is how we respond to the aftermath once the shaking has ceased.

Be safe, dear ones.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Puppy Feet and Baby Shoes

                                   *Angel Daughter Number Three and Micah sharing the love.

I am watching him grow.  At four and a half months and nearly forty pounds, each day, our sweet puppy Micah, causes me to pause and take in the subtle changes which occur almost invisibly and without notice.  His rapid rate of growth startles me as I check his collar to make sure that it is fitting comfortably, only to find out that the adjustment that Mark made yesterday, is no longer sufficient today.
It is like when my Angels were little, tiny people and I would go to place their perfect little shoes on their feet only to find out that after several weeks of owning them, the shoes no longer fit.  And yet, I never witnessed the changes happening.  They occurred right before my eyes, while I somehow blindly watched.
Micah is the fourth dog that Mark and I have had.  The third of which we have adopted from puppyhood.  And yet, as the younger years of my life zipped by at rapid speed, I don't remember how quickly all of the changes happened.  The growth, the transformation, the awkward process of growing into one's own feet and finally...
The Wings.

As my family surrounded me, yesterday, I thought about how far we all have come in such a relatively short period of time.  I thought about pregnancies and flutter-kicks.  I thought about babies at my breast and baby's first wobbly steps.  I recalled first words, first days of school, first dances and first heartbreaks.  And I thought about little feet growing out of their shoes.

At forty-six years old, the fast-moving pace of life is something that I wish I could grab hold of in order to slow it down.  I wish that I could freeze slices of time.  Watching Micah grow right before my eyes, heralds in the feeling that although I cannot slow down the tempo of life, I can slow down my own perception of  it.  I can take the time to notice the little shifts and transformations which occur slowly, but constantly.

I can remind myself to not only watch for growing feet, but growing wings, as well.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Where the Rubber Meets the Side of my Car or As the Full Moon Rises

I knew it was a full moon.  Not only did I have that feeling settling deep within my soul, but I also keep a steady eye on the lunar phases as they affect the ebbs and flows of the tides.  Also, people tend to act more erratically when the moon is full.  More crimes are committed, more babies are born and the hair which is normally quite abundant all over my father's body tends to sprout at an even more alarming rate.  He also seems to have this innate need to go outside and howl at the moon, but that is a bit of a family secret that we don't usually discuss in public.  And as I was driving down to our beach home this afternoon I discovered, personally, as to how erratic the behavior of others can be when affected by the changing lunar cycle.  

See the photo above?  That is the passenger side of my car.  See that tire mark on the passenger side of my poor car?  That was not there when I serenely left to drive down to the beach today.  Nope, that was something that was added to my car as I was driving 70 miles an hour down the California freeway, minding my own business, while admiring the lovely yellow 1928 Ford antique vehicle that I was passing.  The beautiful, pristine antique vehicle which somehow swerved into my lane enough to have its tire tread make contact with my car causing a loud, jarring, scraping sound that scared the living heck out of me as I was only moments earlier, driving serenely down the freeway.  Of course, the immediate impact jarred me quickly out of my happy little world nearly sending my pounding heart jumping out onto the hood of my car, where I could easily observe it beating wildly.  But I quickly recovered, and after taking a quick physical inventory of both my own physical body, as well as Becca's(my ten year old dog), I told myself to handle things calmly as I flagged the gentleman who was driving the other car over to the side of the road.
I calmly asked him for his vehicle info and then gave him mine.  After evaluating the damage to my car(his was still pristine), we spoke a bit about his history.  A war veteran who was paralyzed on half of his body forty years ago.  A person who is unable to hear out of one ear.  A man on the way to a car show to display his 1928 Ford car which he has owned since he was a teenager.
I let him know that I would try to have my car detailed so that he wouldn't have to claim this on his insurance.  I took his information and then decided that since I had my camera in my car that I should take some photos, just in case.  The funny thing that I realized after showing these photos to Mark is that the gentleman is actually posing alongside his vehicle.  On the side of the freeway!  As other cars are whizzing by!  At 70-80 miles per hour!  After playing bumper cars with my poor, unsuspecting vehicle!  Does life really ever get more bizarre than this?  Truly.  
After arriving down at the beach, I decided that I needed to go to my happy place,
Where it is mostly safe and serene...
To watch the waves splash and retreat.  To stare at the infinite numbers of salt-water droplets colliding with the rocks.
Om.  Om.  Om...
But then I remembered that it is a 100% full moon tonight.  And the thought of my father with his out-of-control hair growth problem popped back into my mind.  And I thought about that incessant howling that I can hear even two hours away from him WITH ear-plugs in my ears.

So much for my happy place...

I hope you have a less interesting beginning to your weekend than I have!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Knowing Where Home is

As the day begins its slow descent into dusk, I step outside to breathe in the scents of a place which feels more like home to me than any other place I have ever lived.  I am beginning to know these beaches by heart.  I can walk along the shoreline, almost knowing when to beware of a sudden rogue wave coming in to soak my feet, just by listening to the pulse of the ocean.  I recognize the enormous rocks that are only exposed to the open air during the two lowest tides of the day.  My breathing becomes one with the rhythm of the waves as they roll in and out reminding me how spiritually connected we are to the earth.  I am learning to live more in terms of how nature tends to cycle through the seasons; how the days grow longer in the springtime, how different birds and sea animals predictably return, knowing precisely from where they came and where they will reside for the next several months.  Like older New Yorkers scurrying down to Florida during the winter months of the year, these animals posses a homing device which will never lead them astray.

For the past couple of weeks, I have watched the slow but steady return of the California Brown Pelicans as they have worked their way back up the coast from Mexico.  These impressive birds can be up to four feet in length with a wingspan of about seven feet.  To observe them as they almost float effortlessly through the sky is such an incredible sight.  They are the only birds which are plunge feeders, meaning that they will spot their prey and then dive, straight down into the ocean from heights of sometimes one hundred feet.
Stepping outside tonight, to take in the final vignettes of the day, I looked down across the coastline to see a cool layer of mist rolling in off  the water.
I watched as the surfers began their daily ritual of taking to the ocean.  From what I have been told, many surfers view the sea as their place of worship.  They have a relationship with the ocean that is much like the ebb and flow of life.  
But mostly, what stopped me in my tracks were the pelicans sleekly soaring overhead.  Fringe-trimmed wings outstretched majestically in a show of strength and beauty.  
Skimming across the spans of the ocean surface, in search of their evening meal they are sleek, confident and determined.  Every now and again, I observe them taking to even greater heights, only to dive, straight down, piercing the glassy surface of the ocean.  An enormous splash breaks through the water and droplets erupt in a spectacular display.  The pelican disappears momentarily and then, resurfaces once again, catch safely ensconced within it's large beak.  The bird floats along on the waves for a while and then takes back to air in a graceful departure.  They are home, and they are as familiar with the seascape here in Southern California as they have been anywhere else throughout their travels.  Considering the fact that they can live up to thirty years, that means a possibility of thirty pilgrimages to different coastlines, different seascapes and even, different countries.  Yet, to me, these awesome birds seem to love it here on the coast of San Clemente, California.  To them, it is home.
As nightfall takes over the skies, I watch as the final Pelican makes its way back to wherever it nests for the evening.  Tomorrow morning as it flies overhead, I will do what I often do when I spot one of these majestic creatures.  I will take in a deep breath of salt-filled air, I will shield my eyes from the sun as I look skyward and then, in kinship with another being who seems to feel as lucky as I do to consider this place its nest, I will welcome it home.
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