Friends Are Family, Too

The great thing about being friends for a long time is that they become family. The bad thing about being friends for a long time is that they become family. And families, as we all know, aren’t always harmonious.

I have great friends. Over the years, we’ve learned about each other, shared our dreams and fears, our highs and our lows, our highest joy and our deepest despair. We have suffered through relationships that went bad, and rejoiced for the ones that stayed healthy. We may or may not have had children, and we may have suffered injuries or disease or loss. Some of us have lost parents and siblings, or are in the process of losing them.

We have seen each others’ warts and frailties, our strengths and triumphs, and cried with each other and laughed with each other. Some habits we have drive each other nuts, but we learn to accept them as part and parcel of the friendship. We have seen each other through childhood, young adulthood, adults on our own, and now, as we stand on the very edge of “olderness” in our mid-sixties, we wonder together how we got here—but are glad we all got here together.

We have at one time or other bitched about each other, our marriages and relationships, discovered differences between us that we respectfully (for the most part) accept about each other. We have decided that some things are just not worth agitating about, nor does it matter in the general scheme of things. The friendship itself is what matters.

I am grateful to my family and friends for helping me smooth out my many rough edges.

I just received my Reiki Master Practitioner certificate this past weekend, and am blown away by the difference between this and my first two Reiki practitioner classes. It opened both my mind and heart, and made me realize why I am here and embrace the work I need to do. On the other hand, I am still the same cranky, irritable and crabby person I always have been. Getting to Master level certainly did not mean I would be instantly a better person. It, like everything else in life, changes us slowly over time, just as our friends do.

Living our lives is a process. Growing into our potential is another, and managing life events that come to all us humans is another. I thank God for my family and friends, who have become stars in the firmament of my own night sky. Their light directs and guides me, comforts and lifts me up.

The Hawaiians have a word in their language, “ohana,” which means family (in an extended sense of the term, including blood-related, adoptive or intentional). Ohana emphasizes that families are bound together and members must cooperate and remember one another.

I thank God for my own ohana, which helps me be so much more than I could have been without them.



Cat Teachings

Doesn’t it sometimes seem that we are busy ALL the time? That we keep on stacking up things we feel we must get to until we are fairly tottering under a load of SIFIMD (Stuff I Feel I Must Do)? When a stray five minutes happens, do we take the time to breathe and say, ‘wow–five minutes all to myself!’ I know I don’t do it enough.

However, our three cats have ways of reminding me to keep things simple. For example, my boy Pookie, loves to stretch himself out on my desk right between the computer and the keyboard. When I reach for the mouse, he rubs his head on my fingers, knowing that I’ll feel better if I pat him. How does he know these things? No matter how busy I think I am, this always makes me laugh–and slow down.

When I think that I just have to do this, that or the other thing, Nala, our girl kitty, will inevitably wind herself winsomely around my ankles to butter me up for a few treats. (It works every time, BTW!) This, too, makes me slow down.

I feel I must change the sheets every two weeks, and I swear the cats know the schedule. Should I try to do it sooner, Plumpy-Nut, our indoor/outdoor male, will have chosen that time to stretch his considerable bulk sideways across the bed. He looks at me with those piercing green eyes and seems to say, ‘now, you’re not going to upset my after-breakfast nap, are you?’ So I put it off for another day.

When the Crankee Yankee and I are in the living room in our respective chairs, all three of them usually are in there with us. If something happens that they don’t like; such as the Crankee Yankee’s penchant for loud, noisy and argumentative news anchors on TV, or me reading a book instead of paying attention to them–at least one of them will do something to distract us. Plumpy has no shame; he hops up on the Crankee Yankee’s chair, spreads himself out on his lap, and drapes his big fluffy tail over the remote. Cute and clever. Or Nala and Pookie will have one of their ‘pay attention to me’ play-fights (what we call ‘whappity-whappity fights’ because all they do make fake slaps at each other).

As we know, cats are crepuscular (meaning that they are active at twilight and often beyond). So just because we, the humans, have gone to bed doesn’t mean that the cats are ready to bed down yet (seeing that they usually sleep all day anyway). So often as I am settling into sleep, I’ll hear Pookie meowing his ‘come see what I’ve got’ cry–which, by the way, gets louder and more repetitive until I get up. There he’ll be, holding one of his toy mice in his mouth, looking for praise for saving us from such an evil creature. I pat him and exclaim, “good boy, Pooks! Did you catch that mouse all by yourself?” I swear he winks a “yup” at me before he trots off, satisfied that he has once again saved his family from disaster.

Nala likes to sleep right next to the Crankee Yankee at night, and cuddles up to his back, neck or her favorite–curled up around his head. Our bed butts up against a window looking out at the back yard, and since I love a cool breeze at night, it’s always open. The Crankee Yankee says that his head gets cold at night because of this, but not to worry–Nala’s got that covered–she’s a night-time night cap for him.

So, does this mean that cats actually are smarter than we are? Absolutely. In fact, if an alien to this world watched our daily lives with our cats, he would say, “Wow–those furry creatures must be gods! See how the humans feed and tend to them, and how tenderly they treat them? Why, they even clean up their waste for them! They MUST be gods!”

You think the cats don’t know this? Of course they do–in their very DNA, they know that the Egyptians once revered them as gods, and they have never forgotten this. In fact, all our  three show the appropriate haughtiness and attitudes of the gods and goddesses that they are.

Sigh….more evidence to show that cats have always felt that we are merely staff.



The Stars at Night

Oh, those stars at night

They sure shine bright–

They flirt and wink and shimmer and shine,

They lighten up and brighten up this heart of mine.

Against a twilight sky they peer out,

Wondering what we humans fear about

The night, the moon, the aurora borealis–

That waves to all, even the most callous.

They don’t all come out at once, though–

Look up and see one, look again and Orion’s bow

Blazes bright in his place in the sky!

I’ve looked and loved and said, ‘oh, my’

To sunrise, sunset and star-studded sky–

Each vista we see is different

And for that pleasure, we pay not a cent–

The night sky is busy

With so many stars I am dizzy–

The light show of stars goes on all night

Til morning chases them home and turns on the light

Of sun that warms and wakes us to the brand new day

With all its wonders and joys as the stars tuck away

Their light and mystery for this day’s coming night

Where they will twinkle and shine to all our hearts’ delight!





Birthdays–Love Them or Hate Them?

Remember how much you looked forward to your birthday when you were a kid? It was such a big day, such a big milestone in our life that you couldn’t imagine anything greater than that day (well, maybe Christmas). Each new year meant that you were older, smarter, taller, and knew more stuff. If you were lucky, you got something on that special day that you really, really wanted. Then you had cake and ice cream, friends came over, and it was just the best day ever.

Then as you got older, the birthdays were less about cake and presents and more about what you did with this particular year; graduate from high school, go to college, travel abroad, make new friends, get your own apartment, and so on.

You find you don’t need (or want) to tell everyone how old you are; it doesn’t seem to matter much anymore. Most of the people around you are about your age anyway. You really don’t think that much about it.

More milestones pass: new jobs, new relationships, new places to live, more travel, and maybe you get married. Maybe you have children. Maybe you get a graduate degree. Maybe you realize your dream of opening your own restaurant, or writing a book, or becoming an inspiring teacher, or travel more.

Time goes by, and you think, ‘oh my–how in the world did I get to be THIS old?!’ You begin reconnecting with old friends, and you all laugh together at your ages. You go to a high school reunion, look around at your old classmates and think, ‘boy, have they aged!’ And everyone else is thinking the same thing about you and everyone else! If you’re lucky, there are grandchildren, and oh–how much fun they are! (Best of all, when they are tired out and sugared up, back they go to their parents!)

Then you get to an age where you are actually pretty happy to BE that age. In fact, you spend a lot of time telling everyone you know (or don’t know) how old you are. It becomes fun to be that age, and it also becomes a great excuse not to do anything you don’t want to do. Also, it’s really fun to say things you couldn’t get away with when you were younger! Who cares? Let all those young people cluck about the awful things you say now–because you CAN.

Whether you love birthdays or hate them; there they are, every year without fail. They show up like bad relations wanting to borrow money. Or if you like birthdays (I do, I do!), they are the yearly fairy godmother visit you look forward to each year. Really, though—it’s not like we can do anything about them; the years go by, and sooner or later, it’s your birthday AGAIN.

So, if you must, roll your eyes on your birthday and tell everyone it’s no big deal. Or, if you are a birthday idiot like me, you will wake up on that day, jump up and yell, “OH, yeah–it’s my birthday! Woooo-hooooo!”



Sideways Conversations

Is it just me, or do most men have “sideways” conversations? Here’s an example–the other day I asked the Crankee Yankee when he thought he could take a break (he’s been working on the second bathroom) so that he could mail a few packages and letters for me. Here’s what he said in reply:

“Well, I have to go pick up some more planks for the floor, then see about the shower pan so we’ll know how much room we need for the toilet and vanity. Oh, and there’s a delivery of concrete coming for me this afternoon. Also, I need to go get more concrete blocks to finish off the garden border.”

I just looked at him and said, “O-kay–that’s interesting and I’m glad you’re getting so much done up there; and how does all that answer my question about the post office?”

He looked at me as though I had rabbits jumping out of my ears, then said, “Oh! Sorry, right–I’ll go in a few minutes.”

Most men I know seem to have *great focus on what they’re doing, so trying to have a conversation at that time just doesn’t seem to fit in with what’s in their heads….and just for the record, I finally gave up and took the stuff to the post office myself.

Same kind of thing goes for putting things back where they belong. We were getting ready to take two of our cats to the vet. We always spritz their carriers with a calming spray so that they feel a bit better while in the carriers. So I went to the cabinet where all the cattery items are; wet and dry foods, medications, ointments, flea and tick collars, etc. No calming spray to be found. I went downstairs and sure enough, there was the spray, right next to the cat carriers. He had used it for the third cat’s carrier, whose vet visit was a few days ago.

This is Crankee Yankee logic, not mine. It seems a whole lot easier to me to just put things back where you find them so that the other person in the house (me) does not lose her mind looking for it. But he feels that the last place he used it is where it should be. Sigh.

One of the biggest differences between men and women is that we think on different levels (well, that’s a big old ‘DUHH,’ isn’t it?). Women tend to think in layers, like a cake; everything is neatly stacked in our heads and we do each layer, one at a time. Men tend to think in great big messy pools, like spilled ink: all the information is jumbled and tumbled and spread out in big dribs and drabs so that they can pick and choose what they want to address in no particular order.

And finally, I believe that the reason that men have sideways conversations is that their brains actually might be sideways. Wouldn’t THAT explain a lot?

*Meaning don’t talk to them, don’t ask them any questions, and don’t expect them to talk. They are FOCUSED and literally will not hear you.

Crazy Is As Crazy Does

I think that we all have seen or known of at least one certifiably crazy person in our lives. If we are lucky (or unlucky, depending on your point of view), there may be more of them. So what defines “crazy?”

I’ll tell you this–if you have a ton of money, your kind of crazy is re-labeled as “eccentric.” Eccentric people may do things like leave 2 trillion dollars to their cat, Ponce de Leon Fluffington the First. Eccentric people may fill their 20 million dollar outside pool with raspberry jello just for the fun of it. They may also invite 2,000 total strangers to a mystery boat cruise, and end the evening by setting the ship on fire, forcing all to jump over the side, where several rescue boats have quietly gathered. That’s the fun of being eccentric.

But if you’re poor and do crazy things, you’re just, well–crazy. You may not be able to afford the kind of big show the eccentric can put on, but you can still do stuff that’s bat crap crazy. Some examples I’ve heard about are these:

  • A man fell in love with a woman who was already engaged. He showed up at their apartment (yup, she and her fiance were already living together), ring in hand, begging her to leave her intended and marry him instead. She listened politely (the fiance even left the room to let them have their moment), thanked him for his offer and kindly turned him down. Big surprise.
  • Just this past weekend, two tourists walked downtown in the little (and quite conservative) town in which I grew up on Lake Winnipesaukee. Which would have been just fine if they hadn’t been wearing thong bathing suits. Yep, I mean jiggling bum cheeks hanging right out there out in the wind. While this would not be a big deal on the Riviera or Malibu, it would brand you forever as a social pariah in NH. (But if you’re a tourist, it doesn’t count; you can just take your bum cheeks back home.)
  • I used to work with a woman in TX who had a few “out there” friends. One of them was, to put it kindly, nuttier than squirrel poo. She had a cat who had had a gum disease, causing it to have to have a number of teeth removed by the vet. The cat managed quite well with its remaining teeth, but the owner (Squirrel Poo) felt that the cat would look better with–wait for it–false teeth. I wish I were kidding about this. The good news is that the vet flatly refused to do it. The bad news is that the owner couldn’t see a thing wrong with asking.
  • When I was in college in the early ’70s, the hippie movement was still alive and well. Although I majored in English, I sang in several choirs, so I was friends with a lot of music majors. A few people I knew got married and had children. It being the “summer of love,” some couples really got into the movement and came up with some unusual names for their offspring. The one that still sticks in my mind is “Wolf Starblanket,” I kid you not. I have to wonder how that child made it through grade school, never mind LIFE, with a handle like that.

So there you have it, and call it what you will. You can be “nutty” or “crazy” or “loony” or “barking mad,” as the Brits say. But in my way of thinking, as long as someone else’s crazy doesn’t spill over on me, and they’re not armed, just walk away. Let them go on the Crazy Train without me. Heaven knows there’s plenty of company for them!


The Best Exotic Marigold Open House

This past weekend, my mom hosted her last Open House. She has been a jewelry designer for the past 15 years, and every year she has held an Open House by invitation only.  Generally, she puts out 100 necklace and earring sets, as well as bracelets and Christmas earrings. This year it was just the necklace and earring sets, all beautiful, unique and gorgeous. Usually she does this in November, but this year it was in August. She has always told me how much she hated to charge dear friends for her work, but if she gave everything away, she wouldn’t have a business.

But this past weekend was a dream come true for her, and she said she felt as if it was Christmas Day. She let her friends pick out what they wanted, and as they checked out, she would total everything up, and say that the last one was a gift from her. Of course, there were the usual protests of “Oh, I couldn’t let you do that,” and “Oh, no–that’s too much!” and tears, hugs and kisses.

Just about everyone knows Mom’s situation by now. She has metastatic breast cancer, and there is no cure. She had breast cancer resulting in a *mastectomy in 1985, and ten years laser, lost the other breast as well. A few years back, she was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.

Her amazing and wonderful PA, Paula, of course went through all the options with her, including chemo. The last option was to ‘let nature take its course’ (with appropriate drugs for pain, sleep, etc.) She said that she preferred letting nature take its course, for her quality of life is far more important than quantity of life, and I couldn’t agree more. Her cancer is in her spine (which accounts for her rib, shoulder and back pain) and is heading for her liver. Her attitude is good and Dad and I support her fully. Right now, my soon-to-be 91 year old dad (in excellent health, BTW) is doing everything for her. She is going to have Hospice care soon, though, which will be a huge help and a great assist for Dad.

The steroid she is taking is greatly helping her energy and appetite; in fact, her appetite is back with a vengeance, and she is enjoying her meals and snacks, which she refers to as her “hourly feedings.” Friends and neighbors bring wonderful meals over during the week, and ever other week I bring homemade meals up with me, plus any fresh vegetables from our gardens. She says that each night before she goes to sleep she thinks, “ooh, what can I EAT tomorrow?”

For years she and Dad have followed the Cancer Diet, which is basically fresh organic fruits and vegetables, lean protein (and not much of that), multigrains, and NO sugar, preservatives or most animal protein. When they did have it, it was organic local farm-raised chicken, or fresh wild fish. But these days, she enjoys “eating whatever the hell I want to.” I have been turning out **chocolate pudding as fast as I can to supply Mom with her chocoholic addiction, and I am more than happy to do so.

Best of all is Mom’s attitude toward her eventual “sell by” date. She announced how glad she was that she didn’t need to schedule her cataract surgery now, or go to the dentist, or this, that and the other thing.

Despite the prognosis, there can be humor in a situation like this. In fact, we have all been enjoying absolutely horrible “gallows humor” these days. You simply would not believe how many funny things there are to joke about. Talk about being between laughter and tears! Do you remember the movie starring Robin Williams, “Patch Adams?” There was a scene in it where Patch was working with possibly the most negative, nasty and awful patient ever. They finally had a contest of metaphors for death, that still cracks me up:

“Death: to expire. To pass on. To perish. To peg out. To push up daisies. To push up posies. To become extinct. Curtains, deceased, demised, departed and defunct. Dead as a doornail. Dead as a herring. The last breath. Paying a debt to nature. The big sleep. God’s way of saying, “slow down.”  To check out. To shuffle off this mortal coil. To head for the happy hunting ground. To blink for an exceptionally long period of time.  To find oneself without breath. To take the big dirt nap. Kick the bucket. Buy the farm. Cash in your chips.”

..and the best one of all from Patch Adams: “..when you die, I’m going to bury you ass-up so I’ll have a place to park my bike!”

Love is a strange and amazing thing: it has no form or size, yet there is always room for it. It has no shape, but we all feel it in our hearts. It has an infinite ability to stretch and include many people in it, and it can focus laser-like on just one person. Love softens you and yet shapes you, and you find yourself doing things that could be a chore, but aren’t. You find yourself thinking, ‘now what else can I do to make her comfortable, happy, etc.?’ You also find that you just can’t help helping–that it is a pure pleasure to do all you can for this wonderful, amazing, incredible, beautiful and so-much-loved person.

My best friend and also my sister-in-law, Jan, and her husband (the Crankee Yankee’s younger brother), are caring for Jan’s 97-year old mother in their home. Jan was a nurse for many years, and is her mom’s main caretaker. Her love, courage, strength, intelligence and compassion are a huge example for me, and she has helped me more than she knows. Although our mothers’ circumstances are different, I benefit so greatly from what she teaches me, and the example she sets.

This time of daughters tending to mothers is a mix of emotions, and I am extremely lucky to be able to hash over issues with Jan. She teaches me daily what love, comfort and care does to ease physical, mental and spiritual pain. We are all teachers in our way, and the gifts we give and receive enrich us all.

Will I miss my mother when she is gone? Absolutely and deeply. Do I know who I will be afterward? Yes–I am and will always be my mother’s daughter. Death does not stop love, nor does it stop relationships. I am who I am because of my mother and father. I have become more than I thought I would ever be because of these two people, my parents. And having shown me the way and all the tools I will ever need, I know I can go on afterwards. Best of all, I have a mental and emotional storehouse of memories to keep with me, and friends and family who love Mom nearly as dearly as I do.

It isn’t given to us to know absolutely what happens once we take our last breath on Earth. But here’s what I have always believed: ***everyone (including pets) is there on the other side, welcoming you with open arms, hugs and kisses. We will know instantly that this is our real home and that our earth life was our school time. There is love so constant, so strong and so everlasting that no one will ever feel anything but pure love for all eternity.

My main message today is this: Love. Act. Do. Speak your love again and again and again and again. Don’t have regrets. Say what you need to now; don’t wait. Laugh often and cry when you need to. Let the person who is dying speak; they have things they need to say, and you need to listen. If ever there was a time to listen, this is it. Remember this as long as you live: although a person dies, their spirit and their love NEVER do. They are gifts that lodge themselves so firmly in your heart that you will have them with you forever. Don’t hold grudges–they hurt no one but you, and you don’t need that. Forgive, forget (because forgiving without forgetting is like cake without the ice cream) and most of all, LOVE.

*It amused the very hell out of my mom when she was in the hospital with the last mastectomy. She said, “Jeez, I’ve gotten 17 flower arrangements for this! Breasts aren’t all that important. It’s not like you walk on them or see out of them!”

**Try this out: on the highest shelf in the peanut butter aisle, some stores carry peanut butter powder (think it’s called “PB2). It can be mixed with water to create peanut butter, OR you can add a few heaping tablespoons to chocolate pudding and viola–you now have peanut butter chocolate pudding! This is Mom’s current favorite.

***Read Dr. Kubler Ross’s books on death and dying. It will change your life and actually cheer you up!