Living as if there is always a tomorrow…

Today was a 9.9 day. I saw the blue sky from my bed as I awoke and I knew it would be stellar!

Arriving in my seat at the dining room table after brewing the perfect cup of tea, I awoke my computer to look on a Facebook page for a picture of my 14 year old who had surely survived her first night at YEA Camp (Youth Empowered Action) in Charlton, MA. I was hopeful that she would experience a week of passion-building, consciousness-raising excitement. I was feeling good!

The phone rang next to me and I saw my sister Cyn’s familiar name on the screen. Family, she is but since she’s not too frequent in her calls, I had a flash of warning before I said hello. “Have you been on Facebook yet?” she asked.

“Not yet, why?”

“I think our cousin David died.” “I don’t know for sure, but it looks like it by his son Jake’s posts.” she said.

It was not for almost 3 more hours that I knew for sure what had happened. No one was returning her calls and Google searches pulled up nothing.

I was already dressed for a morning bike ride, having been granted a “do whatever you want day” by my lovely wife. It was her way of sharing the “burden” of having been gone almost 2 full days of every week for the past 2 years to care for her ailing dad. We are always trying to keep a balance, it seems, of energy, patience, and time. Time, I believe, is the most valuable and also the most elusive…

“I’m going to go for a ride,” I said. “There’s nothing else I can do right now.”

“Please be careful!” she said, as she does and has, for 18+ years.

“I always am.” I responded, as I always do.

When I head out on a ride, or plane trip, or anytime I feel like I might be in danger (for as far back as I can remember), I have surrounded myself in my mind with white light. I can visualize it swirling around me and protecting me. I ask my spirit guides to keep me safe, and today, I added, “It’s not my day. It’s not my time!”

This morning as I repeated that ritual, I felt uneasy. I thought of the speed at which we can go from alive to dead, one minute our flame burning brightly, the next, extinguished. It isn’t fair and it causes pain, mostly felt by those left behind. And then I think about the fact that I strongly believe that everything happens for a reason, yet there are many more questions than I have answers.

No one knows for certain what becomes of us when we die; I believe we’re all mostly just afraid of the unknown. Certainly, we must get a better understanding as we age? I fear we just amass more questions.

All I know is that time is moving at a speed that I cannot fathom and control and that unless I can find a way to slow it down, my flame will be blown out in what seems like an instant!

When I was young, I planned to live until I was 100, but by the time I was 40, I’d revised that to “90 or above would be fine.” Now, I’ve lowered it again and I’m aiming at 85. That gives my kids plenty of time to have kids so I can meet them all, which is something that I never got with my own parents.

My 2 youngest, “the babies, the twins, the little ones,” have just gotten back from a week of overnight camp. They have somehow grown into teenagers at only 11.5 years old, look a foot taller, and seem almost ready to venture out of the nest on their own. Not really, but they do seem much more grown up this week!

“Can we go for 3 weeks next year?” they pleaded

“Really? How would I be able to live without you for 3 weeks? Wouldn’t you get homesick?” I said.

“Well, maybe a little, but it would be fun! Please, Please, Mommy & Mama?!” they chimed.

I thought to myself, “No, that would be impossible. That’s like being one of those parents who just want to get rid of their kids and send their kids to boarding school. Out of the question! Two weeks, maybe, but it’s expensive!”

“We’ll see”, I said, as I mumbled ever so quietly… “never going to happen!”

They keep growing, even when you’re not around. At camp they do things for camp staff that they don’t do at home. Like brush their teeth on the first request as they herd their way towards the makeshift outdoor sinks. They go to sleep on schedule, get up early for extra activities, and try new foods. They bring their dishes on their trays to the dishwasher area! They clean up after themselves…And they make friends with kids who may grow up to be lifelong friends, tethered to each other through distance over the years, and reunited in old-age. These are memories that last a lifetime.

My cousin David died almost instantly from an aneurysm on his brain stem. I doubt that he felt any pain, nor had time to realize how dire it was. One moment he was there and the next he was gone. He had just turned 50 a day before, and left his parents, 2 siblings, 3 grown boys, a lovely girlfriend, 2 ex-wives, and the rest of us relatives reeling with the suddenness, the sadness, and the questions. I still see him as a young boy like it was yesterday, with taped up broken glasses and all of my sisters and his sisters teasing him because he was the only boy and we could.

A few nights ago, before our daughter went to YEA camp, she came to our bedroom where I lay, alone (on a night when the wife was at Dad’s), armed with her computer to show me a hair straightener that she wanted to buy.

“It’s only $79.00” she said. “Can I get it?”

“$79.00! Your hair is gorgeous. You don’t need a hair straightener! And that’s a lot of money!” I said

“It’s not $150.00, like some of the others! Please? I really want it and need it!” she whined.

It went downhill from there. I wasn’t going to buy something that cost that much when we had just dropped a good chunk of money on new school clothes. She continued to whine and I stood my ground. She didn’t even want to consider looking on ebay for a better price on a used one. I finally just told her I wasn’t going to argue about it anymore and to go to bed!

10 minutes later, I called her back in…

“You know,” I said, if you had come in here saying “Mommy, there’s something that I really want to buy, but I don’t have enough money for it. Is there any way I can work it off?” I would have listened with much more open ears. Instead, you came in here like a spoiled teenager expecting that you would just get what you want! We talked more, and she quickly realized her mistake and apologized. The next morning, she was up and dressed and had eaten breakfast and was ready to tackle the jobs I’d given her. I told her she’d be sore the next day, tired of stooping over to cut saplings on our back hill but would be pleased with herself when she accomplished her goal. 3 hours later, she texted me pictures at work to say she was done!

What was most enlightening about our talk that night, was that in appealing to her to think about being more of a go-getter and to work harder and to find a passion in life, she said to me, “You just want me to be a politician! You want me to be political!”

“Whoa, what?” “Hell, no I don’t! Politicians have to lie a lot, and they don’t do a lot of what they say they’ll do. The good ones are few and far between. I’d never want you to be a politician!”

“I just want you to be passionate about something!” I said. “I gave you life. I gave you a flame that burns inside you, but it’s up to you to fuel that flame!”

“Finding a passion is as easy as setting up a lemonade stand at a busy intersection on the bike path to raise money for your friend whose sister is dying of leukemia!” “You make signs and posters with her picture on it and you raise thousands of dollars, not because people care about the lemonade, but because they see your passion and want to donate!”

“Passion is getting your school to stop selling water in plastic bottles, but instead to encourage kids to bring refillable bottles in and have filtered water dispensers in hallways!”

“Passion is going out once a week with your siblings to pick up trash along the bike path!” It’s your future and your kids’ future that needs to be saved, and I’m just trying to get you to care about that. It’s getting tougher and tougher for people to live in this world and kids need to see that their choices now can make a difference. You need to help be that difference!

We’ll see what Saturday brings when she comes out of camp “empowered” in some way. I’m hoping that she’ll have learned some skills that she will use to fire herself up about some cause and to energize others to do the same. It’s not like she hasn’t had examples!

Life starts and life ends. What we do here in the time that we remain, matters. Instead of living each day as if it were my last, I want to treasure my time and live as if there is always a tomorrow!

R.I.P.

R.I.P. David Cassinelli

Thanks for reading!

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Little Eyes and Ears

It’s April 16th, the day after Patriot’s Day, and I’ve been in a funk since yesterday when I learned of the horrific news of the “Boston Marathon bombings” as it will be forever known.

Six days ago, as my wife and I entered into our 4 night, 5 day trip away from home and after hastily assembling an awesome team of adults to care-take our 3 kids, our biggest threat was North Korea, so we thought. We even discussed it, over sips of wine while enjoying the ocean view, seated at our favorite bar in Provincetown, that if something did happen and missiles were fired, we would want to be home with our kids. Having  arrived home at 2:45 yesterday with no international incident, it did not take long for the news of the bombings to have our full attention and deepest sadness.

As I’ve watched the reports, seen video footage, still shots, first-hand accounts, blog posts, news stories, and have seen the outpouring of emotions on Facebook, twitter, and through my friends, I can’t stop thinking about the children. And I don’t just mean mine. I mean all of the children who keep hearing, seeing, and knowing about the increasing violence and evil in the world that seems to be getting closer every year, every month, and sometimes every day.

I know my own kids and how I deal with news and violence and how it affects them, but I still worry about the cumulative  effect that each tragedy brings.

My 11-year-old twins are in a play this week and were at rehearsal from before the time the news broke until 9pm last night. We didn’t talk about it, nor did I have the news on, yet even after putting them to bed, my daughter came into my room and as I muted the TV, she asked about some bombing that her friend had told her about on Instagram. OK, well, technically she was supposed to be going to sleep, but I did explain to her that “yes, there were some bombs that went off at the Boston Marathon and people were hurt. Three were dead and many were seriously injured. No, I didn’t know who did it. OK, goodnight!”

When I was a kid, I lived for my bike and the world that opened up when I was flying through the wind! No helmet was required, only occasional hand signals were used, and the few close calls crossing the street just made me a faster biker! I grew up to be a safe and savvy road biker not only because I loved it, but because it was required. At the same time, the worst thing I could imagine was losing my parents. I would lie awake at night worrying and tearing up over the possibilities and wondering how I would go on. My dad had Multiple Sclerosis and I was not immune to the progression of the disease, and seeing it firsthand and knowing the relentlessness of the form of the disease that he had, made me even more stressed. I don’t recall my parents talking about it in terms of his future,  but I sensed that it was a bleak one for my dad and it just kept getting worse. Before long, he was bedridden, totally dependent on others to serve him and even to speak for him if he couldn’t articulate well or fast enough. It was not a life that I would have ever wanted or would wish on anyone.

And here I am now, with three  not yet fully formed kids whose biggest challenge in life to this point has been nothing harder than to grow up in a 2-mom family, bring their dishes to the sink after each meal, and put their stuff away when asked. Sure, growing up is tough, but without any serious impediments or complications, their lives have been pretty easy!

One of my personal goals for raising  my kids to be strong  and persevering adults is to not totally shelter them from the wrongs in the world, the bad people and bad things that can happen, and the consequences of ones actions that can cause irreparable harm. They may be sick of my cautions, but they can be guaranteed to hear an endless loop when they go out biking:

“Always wear your helmet!”

“Don’t just blindly follow someone across the street on your bike-look both ways every time!”

“Don’t stop for anyone, including a car who stops to ask you directions, about his lost dog, offers you a ride-nothing!”

“Stay with your buddy!”

“Don’t just do something stupid because _________ tells you to! Think!”

And the list goes on…

As parents, my wife and I try to instill common sense, reasoning, know-how, but we can’t prepare for everything. Luckily, I’ve lived through 2 big girls reaching adulthood and I know it’s possible, but I can’t help but to worry  about the unknown dangers that still lurk in the shadows.

It’s the unknown person, people, or group that wants to cause pain unto random people. How to explain that to young minds without tainting their perception that any stranger, any person that they don’t know may want to hurt them. How long can kids even have any innocence?

I don’t want to be afraid to take my kids to a concert, or sporting event, or festival. I don’t want them to miss out on what brings our family together and strengthens our bonds to friends and community because of fear of congregating and getting killed. And, I don’t want them to worry that every time one of us leaves the house that we might not come back, or that next time something happens, it may hit closer to home and hurt someone we know and love. I don’t want to have to even talk about all of this with them, yet I do have to, and I will.

They are the future, growing up tougher and stronger than we may have had to be, but that is what’s needed to promote resilience instead of succumbing to the terror. They’re smart kids, and I trust that they will heed the cautions and stay as safe as they can, and,  as kids, they ultimately want to play, and laugh, and sing, and no one can take that spirit away from them!

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The Unraveling of an Obsessive Housewife!

magnifyingWhen I was in fifth grade I failed the eye test at school and had to get glasses. My mother attributed it to “ruining my eyes” from reading at night by the hallway light when I was supposed to be sleeping. I remember the book I was reading,  it was A Wrinkle in Time! I thought that having glasses was kind of cool, and even wore my glasses in my school picture that year, although now I wish that I hadn’t. It was the same year that full length “maxi dresses” were in style too; some trends were just not meant to be!  Soon after that, I stopped wearing the glasses only to have to start again when I was in my 40’s, this time for good. My wife has glasses now too, but for whatever reason doesn’t like the heavy prescription ones that cost her a pretty penny so she wears cheaters that accumulate all in one location and are NEVER where she thinks they are when she needs them. I tell her, constantly, that she is missing out on a lot. I know. She doesn’t see half of what I see, especially what’s wrong.

My kids have been home all week during this cold February school vacation. One has been on crutches for a month awaiting results of an MRI which may possibly require surgery, while our son just broke his wrist playing indoor soccer  this past Monday. That night, after a trip to the ER, we “family-hobbled” into our older daughter’s basketball game and all I could think of was “please, if there is a spirit protecting us, don’t let her get hurt too!”

The kids could use some fresh air, but they can’t play outside with those injuries and it’s biting cold anyway, so as much as I’d like to shove them out just for the peace and quiet and lock the door, that’s kind of not a real option!

During this vacation it’s been impossible to have a moment of quiet with 3, and sometimes 4 kids (counting the neighbor friend as well), playing, singing, and generally horsing around! Don’t get me wrong, I love the house filled with laughter and music, but when I’ve just cleaned up from 2 different rounds of breakfast to have to start the lunch routine, I get a bit tired of it being ALL ABOUT THEM!

What I’ve learned about myself in the 13 months since I had a “real” job is that I’ve become a nightmare obsessive mother. I do the breakfast routines, pack their lunches and clean up from all of it before I start my day. I clean the grease off the stove, drips off of the drawers and cupboards and I’m the ONLY one who ever cleans the counters and the floors. Sometimes, when the sunlight is coming in perfectly through my dining room, it hits off of the stainless steel fridge and stove and I can’t help myself- I need to clean that too! It sounds perfectly dreadful when I write it, but it’s true…I’ve become an obsessive housewife!

It all started when I was a kid and watched Gilligan’s Island every day. I was a huge fan, and when a crate of radioactive vegetable seeds washed ashore which had some sort of magic powers, Mrs. Howell started moving around in super-fast motion. My sister, Rachael and I used to make plans and get up out of bed after our parents thought we were sleeping and clean our room  just as “super-fast”. We’d say “OK, let’s do Mrs. Howell!” and go at it. I became obsessed with my room being organized and clean and then we’d celebrate the next day with a trip to the store and buy a bag of dinner mints and eat them all! It is still on of my favorite memories with her.

The counters in our home are made of a mottled mixture of browns, grays, and black spotted granite. After my last job working at a granite/marble counter top company, I could have told you the name of it, but I no longer care. Where I sit working on my computer from my dining room table most days, I have a view of our counters that allows me to see every crumb and smear of food that one can’t see even if standing next to the counter. It’s impossible to see anything on it unless you get eye-level to it and look at the reflection across the surface. My wife gets very irritated when I’ll ask her from my perch at my computer to please wipe up the crumbs on the counter in front of the toaster oven, because I just know they’re going to get swiped on the floor any minute and, well, I’m even more of a bear about “my floors!” It’s the crunching of crumbs that drive me nuts and the spills of juice that no one ever sees or admits to, never mind wipes up! But don’t get me started…

Again back to my childhood…my mother used to say that I always knew where everything was. It was true-I did! She’d call me up at college and ask me where things were. I always knew where things were because I saw things and stored that information even if I didn’t need it. I also was a very curious child which got me into some trouble and probably will continue to until I die, but I’d rather be a curious sort than complacent, any day!

So, here I was last night, sitting next to my wife enjoying a TV show together, when she moves her hand across my face and then backtracks to my chin again, flipping her finger over a spot where a chin-hair is obviously poking out. Well, that got me started on having to find and remove that damn hair. If you’re a woman under 35, you probably have no idea what’s in store for you as you age. No, no one ever tells you that you have these whiskers, and if you have impaired eyesight already, it’s unlikely that you would ever notice them on others. Hence, my own wife, (who is my first defense(after me) against publicly humiliating myself as one of those old women with chin hairs) can’t see anything!

Staring at the elusive “hair on my chin”  in the mirror…I realized that the light on “my side” of the bathroom where my sink is only illuminates the left side of my face. For about 6 years, since we’ve been in this particular house, I’ve been at a disadvantage! No wonder I have chin hairs that are growing on the right side of my face! So, now that I can see them, they do exist, but before, they didn’t bother me at all nor did anyone ever let me know!

As I viewed my face in the mirror, tweezers at the ready, I pondered many aspects of obsession. If I was blind, and I couldn’t be so bothered by the drips of ice cream on the cupboards and the floor, or the food splattered in the microwave, or the multitude of other dirty things that bother me, would I actually be a less stressed-out person? I’m sure I’d complain less, which brings me back to my last blog entry, my experiment with trying to go a week without complaining. I failed. I can’t do it. I admit that it is near-impossible for me to not have issues with something everyday. And, the other thing I realized is that even though I’ve asked for my family to help gently point out  my complaining to me, they don’t notice, which says something else which I’m not planning to delve into at this time. I’ve concluded that if I can’t even recognize that I’m doing it, I can’t really improve on something that I don’t know that I’m doing.

What I have tried to do instead is just try to be more positive. Thinking more positive thoughts daily is an improvement and what I can commit to. Taking time to be still and quiet and clear my mind… yes, I can commit to that. I’m trying to let things go more…to see but to not obsess as much. Hopefully soon, I can work on not looking so deeply at things and so much that I only see what I need to see. It’s extremely hard to unlearn something that has served me well as a multi-tasking, over-achieving business person and a mom. These days, everything seems hard.

Three days until school starts! Yea!

Snow is coming? Tomorrow?  Shit! I really need to get a job!

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Seeking Flowers and Rainbows!

Photo Jan 28, 7 00 42 AMI used to make New Year’s resolutions, but now I’m resolved to the fact that they don’t work for me. Since I don’t like failure, it would just be a downer to attempt to stop eating chocolate anyway, and besides, it is good for women (potassium and anti-depressant, and good for your heart too), so I’ve heard!

I recently started a new book called SUPERCOACH: 10 Secrets to Transform Anyone’s Life, by Michael Neill, a renowned success coach.

I was somehow seduced by Amazon’s description of the book which promised that in a “fun and easy-to-read way,” I would learn:

“secrets of transforming your life and the lives of the people you care about most—your family, friends, colleagues, and clients.

Inside, you will learn:

· How to stop thinking like a victim

· The secret to financial security in any economy

· Proven techniques to produce dramatic changes in yourself and others

· Simple ways to create lasting relationships

· The key to lifelong happiness

· Strategies for increasing productivity, energy, well-being . . . and more!”

I haven’t read that much of the book yet, so I decided that I would chronicle some of my lessons learned here for your amusement, but as my NY’s resolutions have historically gone astray, so may this adventure…

In the first of the 10 Chapters, entitled The Art and Science of Make-Believe, I was introduced to the radical idea that:

“The world is what you think it is!”

One of the exercises that he had us do was to look around our surroundings and make note of everything that is green. After I did that, he wanted us to close our eyes and then make note of everything we remember that was brown in the room. Of course, I wasn’t looking at the brown things.

Translated to my life right now, I see mainly the things that I’m looking for. I see the cold of this harsh winter and the isolation that it makes me feel. I see the difficulty I’ve had landing a job and the wagon-full of bitterness and disappointments that have come from not being chosen each time. I see the accumulation of stress from maintaining three kids and their busy schedules while juggling the responsibilities of our home and my resulting short temper. I see the relationship I have with my wife and the challenges and strains we face with her weekly absence as her ever-increasing responsibilities for an aging parent take their toll. I rarely see the other things because so many negative things fill my screen.

Since my big girls were young, we’ve exposed all of the kids to poetry by Shel Silverstein. One of my favorite poems in his book, Falling Up! is called “Complainin’ Jack”, and it goes like this:

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“This morning my old jack-in-the-box
Popped out– – and wouldn’t get back-in-the-box.
He cried, “Hey, there’s a tack-in-the-box,
And it’s cutting me through and through.“There also is a crack-in-the-box,
And I never find a snack-in-the-box,
And sometimes I hear a quack-in-the-box,
‘Cause a duck lives in here too.”Complain, complain is all he did– –
I finally had to close the lid.”

Last night, around the dinner table, I told my family about the book I’m reading, and about an exercise in it that I was going to start trying to do the next day, today. I let them know that I’d need their help.

“My exercise will be hard, I know, but it is something that I’d like to try to do. I am going to try to stop complaining for a week,” I said.

“If I complain about something and go on and on about it, I want you to just say, ‘complaining!’  I  don’t want to have a discussion about it. I just want you to call it to my attention.”

I explained that every time I became aware that I was complaining, I’d have to start over again.The author of the book said it took him a better part of a year to go a week! I’m guessing it might take me that long, as well, but if I can ever accomplish it for real, I’m thinking that it will help me drastically improve my outlook on life, right?! Because instead of seeing piles of shit everywhere, I should be seeing flowers and rainbows, right?! We’ll see.

My 11-year old daughter asked, “What if you complain when you’re alone?”

“Like what? In my head?” I asked “No, I don’t count that.”

“No, like if you’re alone and you are talking to yourself out loud,” she said.

“Well, luckily, I don’t do that, but if I did, and no one was there to hear it, I wouldn’t count it.”

I’m still stuck on that one, though, because negative thinking is still negative. I just know that I can’t count everything or I’ll never even get to a day without complaining! For crying out loud, I probably complain in my dreams too!

So, ends day one. I have to start over again. I’m in bed typing this and my back is killing me from shoveling and sanding almost my entire 300 yard driveway because my car wouldn’t get up it and the plow guy didn’t come until 5 minutes ago! I’m going to start again tomorrow. One day at a time!

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Snowballs From Heaven!

snow angelI don’t like mysteries. I mean, I absolutely love mysteries in movies and books, but that’s because I like figuring them out, deciphering clues, and out-smarting any author or director that thinks they can trip me up. I take pride in my observational skills, rising to the challenge of any unknown that can be known. I do not, however, enjoy anything that’s left hanging, like an odd noise in the night that can’t be sourced or an item that appears in my home that has no known origin-such things will leave me feeling incomplete.

As I enter the second week of 2013 (13 being my personal number, FYI), I have not mourned 2012 one iota. In fact, I could kick 2012 back into the mid to late 1990’s and stamp it as one of  the most useless, degrading, and unsatisfying years of my life to date.  I have categorized groups of years as such before, but never one lone year, until now!

What makes it so forgettable isn’t really important because it would require remembering it, which I don’t want to give the energy to, but suffice it to say that it was not good. It is time to move on to sunnier days, like the one we had out there today.

I decided to exercise outside today even though it was in the low 30’s and with the windchill, I’m guessing it barely hit 25 degrees in the sun, but the sky was bright blue with only a few clouds in sight. As I basked in the warm sun hitting my face, I entered my “blissful zone” enjoying the beauty of the snow-covered expanse of rolling fields along the almost-deserted road. I was energized by the cold air, mesmerized by the dots of light reflected by the sun on the gurgling stream, and all was good in that moment…

And then “SPLAT!”

A foot ahead of me to my right, was a large plop of snow that had come directly down and smacked the ground with the thud of a well-placed snowball. I was passing a large pine tree, so that would have seemed logical that it fell from there, and once I regained my normal heartbeat, I looked up, as anyone would, to see if more was to come.

What I saw, and what I should have known, was that after the last day of 40-something degree weather, there was not one single tree with one ounce of snow on it as far as I could see. Now, I know what you’re thinking because I was thinking the same thing…I must have been wrong. There must have been an icy spot between some limbs, or a nest, or something that could have held a hunk of snow. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t find any proof of that. When I say the trees were bare of snow, I mean that EVERY tree was clear of snow! There was no way in hell that the snow came from that tree or any tree around me and that’s what I believe!

The next logical option was that someone threw it at me, except for the fact that there was no one out there and unless they could throw it straight up, navigate between the limbs of the tree, it would be unlikely, almost impossible, to land it where it did. I walked on, as there was nothing else to do, and pondered how I’d explain this weird happening to myself.  I knew that for whatever reason, this was a sign, but for what, I didn’t know.

Taking a quick trip back in time about 10 years or so, I am reminded of another event in my life that caught my attention, literally. I was driving along a busy 2-lane highway in a neighboring town, deep in thought on auto-pilot when my “check engine” light suddenly caught my eye. I looked down at it quickly and then looked back at the road, only to see a deer quickly darting in my path. I believe that the light, which then turned immediately off, saved my car and possibly my life. I could have easily hit that deer had I still been locked in thought.

I believe in angels. For me, they don’t fall into a mysterious category at all because I know that energy can not be created or destroyed, but it can be changed. I believe that the energy surrounding me daily is made up of whispers of loving and protective souls who have passed, other incarnations of myself, and reflections of my future self. These molecules of energy are always surrounding me but I know that I need to be in an “open” space/place in my life to be able to hear them. Some people call it intuition but I believe it’s more than that. It’s the “knowing” that guides me to seek out places or people or experiences and choices in my life, and when I feel it strongly, I know that I’m listening and following the right path.

I know that many people may think that social media is a waste of time and that too often people can let themselves be sucked into a time-devouring hole of uselessness, which is very often possible if we succumb to that on a daily basis, but I like to think that some good can also come from my time, especially on Facebook.  I don’t really care what people are eating and where they go for dinner or vacations, but I do care about the causes that they invest their time and energy promoting. I have learned about exciting technologies, been inspired by amazing work that people are doing all over the world, been encouraged by the humanitarian organizations and the energy that people have to spread good deeds daily. It is truly inspiring to be tapped into such a wealth of amazing and caring networks of people and it adds value to my life.

On  December 20th, the day before the supposed “end-of- the-world-as-we-know-it”,  a good friend of mine forwarded me a friend of hers’ “explanation of what it all meant.” If you take the time to read this explanation, you may come away with much more hope, as I did, that good things are to come. I do believe that we have the power to shape our future and our lives and that we need to keep reminding each other of ways we can be those better selves. I am choosing to surround myself with more positive energy in 2013 and not wallow in the deficits of 2012!

Many of my Fb friends have  posted this guide that I have made my credo as well. It’s easy to remember, is concise, and its wisdom and clarity will endure for all ages:

credo2

Happy 2013! May your year be as fine or better than mine!

Driving “One Direction” to Music Hell!

I was 28 years old when my first child was born. I always thought of myself s a pretty “youthful”  parent when they were growing, up and hopefully my big girls will concur now that they’re 21 and 23, but who knows. They may all think I’m old and out of touch even as I try to stay current on things that matter to them. Music is a big part of all of our lives evidenced by the cacophony of sounds in our home coming from the three youngest kids who play violin, cello, trombone, saxophone, and trumpet. They all love to sing, hence music fills our house from canned sources and their creations constantly! Due to their influence and exposure, I do know and enjoy many of the current top artists, and join them in singing/harmonizing to songs that please me!

I drive my 13-yr. old daughter to school most mornings, and on that 20 minute drive, barely awake myself, I’ve given up on the control of the sound waves and let her surf the stations for the songs she likes the best. I like to please my kids, but there are definitely limits that I hit when it comes to music.

For some brief background, I need to go back to my own childhood, riding in the car with my mother. My mom, as I may have mentioned in a previous post, was a musician who not only directed instrumental groups, musical theater and various choirs since she was a teenager, but played piano and sang soprano with esteemed groups like the Tanglewood Chorus and the Boston Pop’s Chorus. She taught piano out of our home most days and directed the adult and children’s choirs at our church. She was what I’d call a “pitch snob” as well, contorting her face and discretely (sometimes not so much), plugging her ears when sounds did not resonate well with her, and, she discriminated against (translation=shut it off!) most music that wasn’t musically pleasant to her ears.

When I rode in the car with her, we mainly listened to classical music, or opera. As one of her 4 children, I rarely had the opportunity to switch the radio station and if there were even pre-set buttons in our car, I never had the opportunity to learn how to use them. The airwaves were hers and we just had to learn to deal with it! Luckily, since I was a musician as well, I could deal with it most of the time, but I NEVER learned to like opera no matter how much I heard it!

As a young child, we had a reel-to-reel tape recorder that my dad used to tape every single church service or concert that my mom was ever in. We 4 kids each had our own small tape that we could record on, which we did, ad nauseam. We recorded songs, acted out plays and musical performances on a multitude of instruments as well as every conceivable conversation or fight that we found interesting. I distinctly remember at around the age of 10, playing my Sears “light-up drum set” while singing The Partridge Family’s “I Think I love You” with my younger sister Rachael while I banged away! Music was a giant part of our lives as it is for my own kids. (This is a real picture of my drum set from the Sears Catalog of 1969!)

As a teenager, I did my best to sway her to music that was at least of the same century, and had some limited success when she took up folk guitar in the 1970’s. Simon and Garfunkel, Joni Mitchell,The Mama’s and the Papa’s, and James Taylor made the cut, but she had a distinct dislike for bands like The Who, The Doors, and Iron Butterfly (In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida was one of my older sister’s favorite albums!). She tolerated some of the quieter Beatles songs probably because they had good harmonies, but with most of the other music she would wrinkle up her nose in disgust.

I’m not going to generalize like my mother did and say that all pop music is crap. I like lots of musicians, like Bruno Mars, Adele, Carrie Underwood, lady GaGa, Maroon 5, Coldplay, The Black-eyed Peas, Train, Rhianna, and have been known to listen to some Eminem and other rap music. I like singable, non-offensive, and music that I can harmonize to. If it has a good message, even better. If it has no message, but a nice tune and instrumentals, that’s fine with me too.

Back to my conversation in the car with my own child and my now tortured life…it’s all about One Direction these days. I can deal with the 32 One Direction posters taped to the walls of her room (only because we still need to paint the walls a new color), and I really don’t care what she listens to on her headphones or in her room, but I-can-not-tolerate-their-music! I think the clincher for me was when I saw them perform on Saturday Night Live last season and their lack of musicality mixed with their really poor dancing made dislike turn to intolerance.

After plugging her mp3/phone into my car stereo connection, she turned on a new song I’d never heard before. I gave it an excruciating 2 miles before I just couldn’t take it any longer. I don’t know if my mother’s spirit was lurking in my car or what, but the words that came out were definitely channeled through me from her!

“I just don’t know how you can listen to that stuff? There’s no musicality to it at all! Don’t they sing about anything else besides how beautiful she is, what he wants to do to her, how he needs her, wants her, loves the flip of her hair! Why is all of the music these days about living for the moment? Like there isn’t a future or something? Isn’t there any music that you like which doesn’t rage adolescent hormones ? I didn’t have to go through this with your two older sisters-at least they had good taste in music!”

In an instant I realized that I had turned into my mother!!!

Sorry mom. Now I understand.

While I’m at it mom, thanks for tolerating my Partridge Family music playing incessantly and my loud drumming on my cheap drum set. I really appreciate that now!

And remember that tiny microphone I found in Dad’s workroom and hooked up to my violin to make it electronic? Thanks for letting me make so much noise!

Oh yeah, and in sixth grade when I was learning to play the french horn, I know it was pretty loud and obnoxious in the beginning, but thanks for sticking it out with me. I haven’t exactly found that patience yet for your granddaughter’s trombone, but I’m sure she’ll get better soon!

My bass guitar? Well, that was just cool and fun, but in all fairness, I left that at school for the most part.

Until I had my own gaggle of noisemakers, I just had no idea how excruciating it could be! And yes, I do know that when they’re gone, I’ll be complaining that it’s too quiet!

Three Kids and the Wife in a Hotel Room with a Lone Wolf…

I’m at Cape Cod now, and have been for the last 2 days enjoying a hastily planned 3-night “beach” vacation with my wife and 3 youngest children. The trip came about after repeated protesting from the youngins’ about why we never take them with us when we go to Provincetown. So, here we are, (in S. Yarmouth, not P-Town), all camped out in a hotel room with raindrops and temps in the 70’s. It hasn’t been bad, nor chilly the whole time, but we thought we’d have a last day to spend at the beach today since we elected to hang at the hotel pool yesterday on our first full day. That was not a reality after all, so instead we proceeded to spend a fortune on mini-golf, batting cages, go-carts, and ice cream!

One thing that I have learned about myself since early in this relationship that I began more than 17 years ago, is that I need my alone time. I need time that no one is calling my name, asking anything of me, and needing me to do something for them. I need time to read things that interest me, write emails, catch up on news, exercise, write down my thoughts as they come to me, return phone calls, and be able to think about things without interruption.  The fact that I’m writing this now is an almost impossibility, and as I write, I’m listening to the news of the Denver theater massacre while my kids are huddled in the adjacent bed watching “The Suite Life on Deck,” on a laptop, and my wife is reading next to me. An air mattress for the boy is on the floor at the end of the girls’ bed narrowing that passageway, and clothes are everywhere in various drawers and bags surrounded by ice chests and beach towels.

It’s a slim half-hour break time between the pool swim and dinner. I’m lucky I even get this time, and I’m grateful for any scraps I can get. Can I survive more than three nights in a single room with four other people? I don’t know, but I’d rather not find out. Would I rather not go on vacation than do this again? No, but I desperately hope that next year, if we consider such a plan, that I finally have a job and we can afford two rooms so that all of us are more comfortable!

One of the perks of vacation is getting some reading time in. My read on this trip has been Jodi Picoults new book “Lone Wolf”. I wasn’t sure I’d like it at first since it is predominantly filled with the life of wolves interspersed with a personal family drama. I’ve learned quite a bit about the pecking order of wolves and their pack system, which in many ways has similarities among members of large families without all of the growling and non-verbal communications. Wolves have an amazing sense of smell that can detect the minutest changes in their surroundings and is vital for their survival. As I got deeper into the novel, I felt like I could identify with the different roles that wolves play in their system, yet as a parent, I think that I have to juggle these roles daily depending on the situation.

Today, I feel like a lone wolf. I’m at the end of my tolerance for doing things “together” and I need some space. I don’t mean to harp on the age thing, since it’s a running theme in my posts, but I need to just say that the parallels of getting older and being more set in my ways is a reality that I’ve come to accept. The only problem with that, is that my wife is the opposite- she likes constant company, and my company is often not pleasant if I don’t get my alone time!

I guess that I had hoped that my kids would enjoy playing with each other more like I did with my sisters when I was a kid. I don’t remember begging my parents as constantly as they beg me to play with them. Maybe my parents gave me the message early on in my childhood that we needed to find things to do with each other and we accepted that more readily than my kids do. I remember playing outside all day long on weekends and in the summer, building forts, climbing trees, playing softball, riding on our space trolley, playing in our tree house, and when it was bad weather, acting out theater productions, dances, playing cards, building card houses, playing instruments, recording tracks on our reel-to-reel tape player, and playing records on our record player until being called for dinner. I never remember feeling bored, and if I ever did hang around looking for something to do, all my mother ever had to do was find me a new ball. I don’t know if she kept a supply of them or what, but I always had to have a ball or a pair of drumsticks handy!

I know I’m not a spring chicken for a parent. I’m aware that when my youngest kids graduate from high school, I’ll be 59 years old. I don’t think, though, that that’s the issue. I’m still pretty agile and energetic, and I am always willing to get out and ride my bike with them, throw a ball around, or shoot hoops if they want, but I also want them to be able to entertain themselves. I won’t always be there to motivate them. I want them to be self-motivated like I was as a kid. My mother encouraged me to play an instrument, which I did for many years, but she didn’t have to hound me to practice it. I wanted to be good at it so I was motivated to follow-through on my lessons. No one watched the Celtics games with me when I was a kid, cheering on Larry Bird and John Havlecek to win 2 NBA championships when I was in high school. I taught myself how to play basketball by watching their moves, and practiced in my driveway every day I could, honing my shots. I guess it’s a passion that my kids seem to be missing, and I don’t know what to do about it. I believe that we can only hold our kids hands for so long before they need to either learn to fly or learn to fall gracefully.

We’re all home now, having survived the 6 hour drive, 3 hours in bumper to bumper traffic trying to get off the Cape on a  Saturday. We do know better than to leave when everyone else is leaving, but we were eager to get home.

The summer has flown by so fast, and while there’s a good number of days left of it, I find myself vacillating between wanting school to start NOW, and wanting more days to create special memories with my kids. On the one hand, their being home is driving me crazy. They have little desire to be outside when it’s sweltering heat, they get on each other’s nerves and fight a lot, and getting them to want to do anything besides watch TV and play computer games is exhausting! I don’t remember it being so hot when I was a kid, and if it was, we had a pool to cool off in. I dream of having a pool again and hope that I can make that a reality for my kids so that they will go outside again.

Soon, we’re leaving for New Hampshire, where we rent a week at a lake that was my wife’s family vacation spot as a child. We have gone there since 1999 and enjoyed many wonderful times. What was once our family vacation plus special friends, with occasional visits from her relatives, has turned into their family vacation with 3 surrounding rental houses converging on a shared beach. It’s fun, but also overwhelming for me. Luckily, I have “lone wolf” rights now that I’ve got to share my space with so many others, and my absence is tolerated when I need a break, and also it’s less than an hour from home so I can elect to spend a night recuperating with clean water showers as well if I want!

I’ll leave you with this slice of lightness from my Cape visit:

Watermelon. It’s my new favorite food. It’s sweet, and juicy, and when eaten at the perfect time of day, when you’re hot, and thirsty, and craving something sweet, it’s the most wonderful burst of nectar and juiciness that it’s heaven on earth- the most delicious experience that your taste buds could ever imagine! I just had to throw that in because I toted a whole giant watermelon all the way to the Cape with us and I’m enjoying it fully right now!

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