I Need a Ride; A Last Minute Chance Encounter

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It was about a week prior to leaving for our fulltime RV life and I was still far from imagining what wonderful Chance Encounters might lay waiting for us on the journey ahead. Usually by this time I am getting exicited about leaving and eagerly anticipating the trip before us. But this year, I was engrossed in the details of packing up our home for the impending closing sale date and getting the camper outfitted and arranged for maximum efficiency. This year has involved a more hectic preparation since we were selling our home, putting household goods in storage and heading out to live fulltime in the RV for the foreseeable future. In this last week, the closets were emptied, the furniture sold and the refridgerator shut off. We were rotating a couple of changes of outfits, one set of sheets and eating out of a cooler to use everything up. Meals were what I picked up at Publix on a daily basis.

Now this is a switch for us because I seldom if ever take food shortcuts, not even when we are on the road. We eat as locally and as vegetarian as possible, but I have to admit that we just jumped right off that wagon to anything that was quick and easy during the latter days of this move. So healthy eating committments went into  the wind and daily trips to Publix have been the norm now for a couple of weeks. The last minute details and demands of such a major life transition pre-empted my usual careful planning.

I should have know from past experience that Chance Encounters do not care how busy you are or what obligations call out for your time. They just pop up and demand that you pay attention to them. Chance Encounters see you rushing about and plot to stop you in your tracks and remind you of what is really important. Chance Encounters lie in wait in the most unlikely of places ready to pounce at the most unlikely of times.

And so it was on a sunny afternoon a week or so ago, when I jumped into the truck and took a speeding trip to Publix to grab a quick dinner of Whatever. We had been working all day shuffling loads of “stuff” to the storage unit. Arnie stayed back to tidy up the garage and I went to pick up dinner fixings. I scored rock star parking in the front of the usually clogged lot at Publix on Sand Mine Road, my least favorite Publix but the one nearest home. I grabbed my purse, jumped out and headed in, secretly hoping I didn’t run into anyone I knew from my community. I had no time to explain one more time to an about-to-be former neighbor that we were not leaving out of disatisfaction, but rather to pursue dreams. I didn’t have any more time to patiently commiserate about rising lot fees or the fact that the spa is down again. This close to leaving, I didn’t really give a care if there was loud music again at the pool on Sunday. I only wanted to pick up dinner, get home fast and crawl into bed, the air mattress.  

The best strategy for not running into neighbors in the grocery store is to walk fast and look down. A baseball cap pulled down low helps too.  I jumped swiftly out of the truck and headed into the store with intention. I was on a mission and had a plan. And then a Chance Encounter popped up and stopped me dead in my tracks.  I heard a feeble voice call out, “I need ride. You give me ride.”

Looking up, right in front of me was a tiny little Asian lady who had clearly graced this earth the better part of ninety years. She was clutching a cart with two shopping bags in it to steady herself. She was standing in the middle of the lane of traffic and looking very confused. I saw my Mother in her. All thoughts of dinner gone in an instant, I approached her and asked her if she was alright. “No”, she said quietly, “ I need ride. You give me ride.” It was more of a command than a question. I looked around thinking that this must be some kind of set up. Could it be a parking lot robbery and she’s the bait? Could it be a reality show and some host is going to pop out to see if I do the right thing? I didn’t think so. She looked too helpless to be stickup bait and too real to be an actress. No, I thought, she really needs help. She’s frail, shaky and overheated on a sunny Florida late afternoon in the middle of the hot bustling asphalt parking lot.

Here is where I admit that every selfish impulse crossed my mind. My mind raced with ways to avoid this situation that I had no time for right now. I thought, I could just simply say no  and walk away? Or, I could tell her to stay right there and I’ll call Uber? Or, I could go complain to management that little old ladies are soliciting rides in their parking lot and leave it to them to solve the problem? The truth was, I really didn’t have time for this inconvenient interuption of my flow. I was also concerned about the liability of assisting her. But ultimately, she was still standing there blocking traffic and repeating, “I need ride.” And ultimately, I am the one hearing it. On some level, that makes me responsible like or not. On some level, I cannot walk away, convenient or not.

I directed her to the bench outside of the store, asked her to sit down and told her that I would be right back out to get her and drive her home. I flew through the store gathering a few necessities and then came back out glancing over to the bench to locate her. Praise the lord, she wasn’t there! Probably someone else had fallen prey to her pleas and already scooped her up and taken her home taking me off the hook. I turned the cart towards my truck and started down the lane in relief. Then I spotted her. She was still standing in the same spot near my truck where I had initially seen her, I was now even more concerned that she would be overtaken by heat or exhaustion or both. That’s if someone doesn’t just run her down first. Evidently, despite nodding her head up and down, she had not understood a word about sitting down and waiting on the bench. She had stayed planted where I left her in order to not miss her ride home.

So against my better judgement, we somehow managed to heft all ninety pounds of her up and into the front seat of the truck. That was no small feat because it is a very high step and she is a very short lady. We sat for a minute while she drank a bottle of water I had picked up in the store. In very broken English, she shared that she lived nearby in a golf course community, her husband had recently died and she did not drive. A friend had dropped her off hours ago but she could not reach her friend by phone now. Her name was Linda. She had walked all over the parking lot, gone into the bank and the Applebee’s, but no one would give her a ride. She was shaken and embarrassed to have to rely on strangers for such a necessity. She said simply, “People should help people.” But it is not really that simple.

On the way to her home, I talked to her about how unsafe it is to ask for rides and suggested that she could always call 911 if she ever has a problem in the future. I talked to her about how unsafe it is to get into a car with a someone she does not know. She pointed me right and left in the direction of her home and when we arrived, she wanted me to come in. I declined, hoping to reinforce the point I was trying to make about strangers.  I talked with her about how inviting anyone into her home is asking for trouble. “Not safe!”, I repeated over and over. She smiled and nodded and thanked me with a big hug. I went home and called Elderly protective services knowint that little I had said was understood. A nice young social worker called back and said she would be going out the next day to assess the situation, but I still do not know the outcome.

Four days, later I made another hurried run to Publix for a loaf of bread, eggs and milk. In the bakery aisle, I froze when  I heard a familiar voice from behind me call, “ I need ride! You give me ride!” This could not possibly be happening again. But it was. LInda, stood there beaming from ear to ear, threw her arms in the air and grabbed me in an embrace that clearly indicated that I was her favorite cab driver. Obviously she had not heeded a word I said about safety. She instructed me to wait up front for her which, of course, I did for the next twenty minutes. That’s twenty minutes after I went to the car to tell Arnie that he might as well take a short nap because he would be driving Miss Daisy home. As you can imagine, he thought I must be kidding.

I went back into the store to wait. When Linda finally finished her shopping and went to pay for her groceries, I could see from a distance that there seemed to be some confusion. A supervisor approached the register and was trying to help, but LInda’s English is not good and she does not seem to hear very well either. Apparently, her EBT debit card had only three dollars left on it and she only had $18.00 in cash in a crumpled envelope. That left her $6.00 short of the total she needed. She turned to me and commanded, “ You help me. You pay. I pay you back.”

A line behind her was beginning to form. Next in line behind Linda was a large British woman who was making no secret of her annoyance, turning to her husband and exclaiming loudly,

“Can you believe this? She then spun around to me and boomed, “Is she with you?” In my best impression of Judas, I quickly denied it by saying an unequivicable, “Not exactly. It’s a bit of a long story.”  I would have gladly bought my way out of this situation but I had just left my purse with Arnie in the car when I came back in to wait for Linda, so I had no money with me at the moment and stated that. Exasperated, the annoyed Queen Mother blared out for all to hear, “Nevermind, I will pay for your Grandmother!”  My Grandmother? Did I tie my ponytail too tight this morning pulling my eyes back into an Asian countenance? Does she seriously think we look alike?

Restraining my sarcasm, I thanked the nice lady who has enough money for a second vacation home in the states near Disney for helping out the struggling elderly woman who couldn’t pay for her groceries. My Grandmother? Really?

As a result of that first Chance Encounter in the parking lot, I now had a tearful embarrassed Asian Grandmother, an angry impatient British woman and a befuddled Publix supervisor trying to move the line along on my hands. Not to mention hungry Arnie in the car. Sort out those priorities!

We drove Linda home that day, got her groceries in and gave her the safety talk one more time, knowing that we would never experience another Chance Encounter with her again. We were leaving very soon and would have to trust that there would be a safe person to take her home the next time from Publix. It’s hard to take comfort in the fact that we did what we could in the moment we had and it is hard not to worry about her fate.

Meanwhile, we go forward with compassion for those we will Encounter by Chance during our travels. We hope in small ways to do some good in this funny hurting world. Namaste and if you are shopping at the Publix at Sand Mine Road in Davenport, Florida, watch out for Linda!

 

Naming the New Dog

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Afer losing our sweet Hana just a year ago, we are finally ready for a new puppy. She’s currently still with her Mommy waiting for us to go North and pick her up. We are very excited to meet her and have decided that her name will be Journey. I think it’s a pretty word, full of hope and promise and adventure. It signifies a passage or progress from one stage to another and surely Arnie and I are between life stages right now as we sell our home and prepare to RV full-time. Journey will join us in May when we travel to Maine to meet the little girl puppy who will join us along with Wicca and Cracker on our own journey.

At first, Cracker and Wicca may be less than thrilled to make room for her, but they are generous souls at heart and will make space. Eventually, Cracker, the African Grey will call her name and direct her through her day. He will ask her as he does our other dog, “You wanna go out?” He’ll praise her by telling her she’s a “Good Girl!” , and correct her with a sharp, “NO!” when she barks. He will boss her little four-legged self all the way to Sunday like he has all of our dogs. I wonder if Cracker wonders where they went after their relatively short lives came to conclusion? The lifespan of an African Grey far outpaces a dog’s and over the years he has said good-bye to Chance, Levi , Leo and Hana since he came to live with us. When Hana passed away a year ago, Cracker never said her name for months despite having talked with her daily. for 14 years. “Hana, come here. Hana, Hana. You’re a good girl.”, he would coo to her. When we arrived at camp last Spring where he associated Hana running about the yard, he whistled for her and called her name loudly,  bringing me to tears.

Names are important. When we name our children we intuitively understand that a name can influence self-esteem and identity. For children, it can influence how they are seen and treated. When I added children to my own growing family many years ago I felt strongly that choosing their names was a great responsibility. There was such permanence to the decision. And my adopted children came with names that fit neither their new family or community situation. I searched for names that would give them the dignity of integration into a whole new world and lineage while still honoring who and where they had come from. Naming a beloved child is no easy task. In our spiritual practice, naming is a ritual that is not taken lightly whether the being that is being bestowed with a name is a child or any other sentient being. Thought must be given to the meaning and spirit of the name. Each time it is said out loud, a given name should be a whispered prayer that speaks to the heart of the relationship with that being. It can be a reminder that by naming, we are accepting responsibility for another’s well-being. When we speak a beloved’s name out loud with kindness and compassion, we affirm the bond between us. It matters not that we are speaking to a person or any other sentient being.

In the case of naming a pet, the name that we choose can be a constant reminder of what we value. In my case, I value the spiritual journey and those who are on it with me. A working definition to use could be that a spiritual journey is a process of reconciliation and education through and towards enlightenment. Each person’s journey is as unique and individual as that person. We make our journeys in our own unique way and time. By naming our new dog Journey, we hope to remind ourselves on a daily basis that this short life is just that. It is a journey towards enlightenment. Each time we speak her name we will enter into sacred relationship with her and she with us. We will affirm that we travel the road together holding on tight over the bumps and leaning on one another into the corners to stay steady and upright.

It’s good to have a friend for the journey and it will be good to have Journey for a friend.

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A Puppy is Born and the Fairies Smile

 

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It is an old Irish tradition to think that the fairies observe all that transpires in our mundane lives. They are erratic in their oversight of our existence, of course, because, by their very nature, they are easily distracted little beings and often off in the forest cavorting with fireflies and butterflies and such. But there is one thing tha causes them to pause and take notice. Fairies know each and every time when a new puppy is born.

Fairies are great lovers of dogs, probably because in addition to being easy to distract, fairies are often a bit lazy too. They are known to hitch a ride on the backs of dogs whenever their wings need a rest. You can’t always see them, but you know they are along for the ride when the dog sits down and lifts a hind leg to scratch. you might think he has picked up a flea, but that’s not it at all. He really  has a fairy rider on his neck and it tickles where she is holding on.

When a new puppy is born and takes  its first breath of air, a fairy breathes deeply too and smiles a smile of welcome at the new life. And this is how it begins. The fairies will watch this puppy grow. In fact, each dog has his own special fairy rider who acts as his companion all through his  life. The fairy riders choose a puppy that they like and with some reverence climb up on his neck to ride along with him through whatever life may bring. It is a relationship of deep affection and great respect.

The fairy rider will be there when the puppy is ten days old and its eyes open on the world for the first time. Fairies sigh and get all tearful when a puppy looses its first tooth. Like tooth fairies, fairy riders know this means that someone they love is growing up.

At about a month old, puppies begin to stand up and play with their brothers and sisters. They wobble about with one another and sometimes fall right down and roll over on their backs. Fairies giggle when puppies learn to play. It is like riding a clumsy elephant that keeps falling down and getting up again. At this stage, fairies spend a good deal of time hovering above their puppy waiting for him to get upright again.

When puppies are two months old, the fairies watch over them very carefully. It is the time when a new family comes to take the puppy home. The fairy riders wonder what is in store for the mas they leave  their mother and venture off  to become pets and protectors for their humans. When the puppy finds just the right human and goes home to a happy home, the fairies clap their hands and laugh right out loud with glee for they know that it will be a long and adventuresome ride.

The fairy riders go along on all sorts of activities with their dogs. Riding along with dogs and holding on tight, the fairies search for lost people, they guide the blind, they pull sleds, and protect  homes. They go for walks with us, accompany us to work, ride in the cars and sit in our laps; all riding on the neck of our dogs. They are there, even when we cannot see the, sleeping nestled in the ruff of your Collie, the hair of your Poodle and the fur of your Shepherd. Have you ever seen your dog’s coat glisten with good healthy in the sun? That sparkle is really a glimpse of his fairy rider that you are seeing. Through all of the adventures a dog can have, his fairy is right there with him holding  on for dear life during romps in the fields or swims in the creek.

One day, the fairy waits for her dog to lie down for a nap. Just as he is falling asleep, she climbs up close to his soft ear and whispers something. If you get very quiet  yourself, you can hear the fairy rider give her dog a very special and final gift of friendship. You can hear her say:

“Good and gentle creature, you and I have spent many an adventures together. You have been my companion through many a rising sun and a falling moon. You have kept me warm with your presence and your companionship. Your loyalty and devotion has been   a treasured enrichment to my days. It has been an honor to be your rider and guardian, but I sense now that you are tired and can carry me no more in this life. I sense that  you must go. I bid you  quiet passage and thank  you for allowing me to ride along for all this time and especially at the time of your leavetaking. Now do not stay for me, but go as you must.”

The old dog’s ear flicks ever so slightly as his fairy rider  breaths gently  whispers her final blessing to him “Go now in peace.” And he does.

She wipes a brief tear, turns and flits away following the sound of a new puppy’s cry in the distance. She is off to meet him and begin a new unison with this fresh new life. A puppy is born and the fairies smile.

Good-Bye little Buddy, this is for you and your Mamas who loved you very much.

 

Forgive Me Father for I Have Coughed

 

Cough and cold-like symptoms

Arnie and I are  in Florida for the winter and one of the tasks we needed to accomplish while we are here  is changing healthcare plans and getting set up with a new primary care physician that will accept that plan. With those two biggies behind us, we then needed to take care of the details. Flu shots, blood work, eye exams, dentist, etc. Metaphorically, we get our tune up in the winter in Florida so that we are running efficiently while we are on the road.

This week the task before us was going to the Lab for fasting blood work. With all the proper paperwork in hand, we headed off to the nearest LabCorp location early in the morning to beat the crowd. I booked an early morning appointment because I freely admit to being a bit of a germaphobe. Actually due to all of the recent press about the severity of this years flu season, I am a very big germaphobe. Worse than normal.  I did not want to put us in contact with a room full of sick people unecessarily. The early bird may get the worm, but not the germ……….I hoped.

We arrived promptly at 7:30 am, and headed in to the Lab to take care of business and get back home in time to a nice cup of coffee and breakfast for our empty tummies.

 The minute I opened the door I knew my plan was for  naught. From the center of the waiting area, a loud wet sneeze announced our arrival. “Breathe shallow”, I counseled my husband, envisioning him inhaling the swirling cocktail of viruses flying around the room searching for a host. There’s no logic to that advice, but desperate times call for desperate measures and I was in every germaphobe’s worst nightmare. Labcorp during flu season is a snake pit and that welcoming sneeze was a warning hiss.

Mothers of small toddlers who had risen screaming at dawn that morning had hatched the same plot as mine. Get there early and avoid the cattle car of people who were subsisting on liquids and Tylenol. But alas, here we all were crowded together in the tiny petri  dish waiting room. To walk across the room to the reception counter, I would have to navigate a collection of cranky seniors filling the chairs and lined the  room’s perimeter. A couple of rough characters, apparently court ordered to LabCorp by their probation officers, rounded out the cast. We were all here early by design, in the same place, for the same reason: to avoid each other’s germs.

” Thank God I made an appointment”, I muttered under my breath. Arnie took a seat while I marched up to the sign-in desk to register us. I pulled out a pen, my own of course, since I planned ahead so I would not have to touch the infected  common writing instrument that I knew would be waiting at the registration desk. Again, there is little to no logic to my line of thinking. Breathing shallow and using your own pen was no protection whatsoever from being immersed in contamination like this! But crazy people don’t think logically and I am borderline nuts during flu season. Only my false pride and the certain knowledge that doing a blood draw through heavy material had made me leave the bio-hazard jumpsuit at home.

After taking enough information to induct us into the military, Brunhilda, the receptionist told me to take a seat.   Her flat affect indicated that she had recently been lobotomized. Fearing I had nothing to lose by asking a simple question (silly me),  I inquired as to whether or not they were running on time. Channeling my best Buddha nature and mustering a weak smile, I followed up by saying that we had an 8:00 appointment. What was I thinking?

Brunhilda paused. Brunhilda rolled her twenty something eyes. Now, maybe she was only showing off her gothic eyeliner but I strongly suspect she was reacting to a question she’d been asked before that morning. Without looking up, this charm school graduate sighed deeply and stated, ” Welllllll………….as much as possible”.

I  was able to channel the voice of the Buddhist teacher that I have recently been listening to in a workshop. I named the emotion. Irritation, irritation, irritation. I reminded myself what to do with it. Let it flow, let it go. Let it flow, let it go. I looked at Brunhilda and tried to muster up some compassion for what her morning must have been like already. Kind thoughts to you, Brunhilda despite your dripping sarcasm. Kind thoughts. Kind thoughts. I reminded myself that she was a sentient creature. That one was hard.

And then I heard it.

From behind me in the room someone started to cough. It started as a tickle and then quickly erupted into a full-blown cough. The kind of cough that comes over you in the morning to clear out the cobwebs of the night. It was deep and masculine. “In the name of all that is good and holy, couldn’t you do that home?”, I thought irrationally. Did you save that until you got here? Do you have anything else you’d like to share with the class?”  My thoughts raced, but still, I kept my tongue.

Since looking Brunhilda in the eye was not possible because she  apparently does  not make eye contact, I spoke to the top of her head. “Excuse me, due to the coughing, my husband and I are going to step outside the door and wait our turn. Could you please call us from there?  “I’ll have someone get you.” , she sort of responded.  “Thank you. I appreciate that.”, I replied to the part in her hair.

I took another shallow breath, turned and strode across the room to where Arnie was seated waiting patiently. “Come on. We are getting out of this room. ” I snarled discreetly. He looked puzzled and asked where we were going. “Just get up.”, I ordered with none of the civility I had shown Brunhilda. He probably thought he had fasted and arose at dawn for nothing since I was now dragging him from the waiting room. But he’s lived with me for a long time and didn’t question my righteous exit from the room. He got up and followed me out the door and into the  40 degree with a brisk breeze morning air without a scene.

When we got outside, my ever-patient husband asked, “What was that about?” I quickly and vehemently explained myself. “We are not going to make ourselves sitting ducks in that room waiting for some virus with our name on it to decide we look like nice people to take up residence with.  It’s a flu factory in there. Did you hear that man coughing?

A look of  amusement washed over his face.  “Yes I did. Honey, it was me coughing.” That’s about when we dissolved in laughter. I think that laughing is good in situations like this. It expels germs from your lungs.

 

 

 

Basketball at Fenway Park?

10 Great Open House Tips!

Our house is on the market and we have been doing DAILY Open Houses. It is a short snow bird season for selling real estate here in Florida, so we want to take full advantage of attracting every potential buyer. It’s generally fun talking with all of the nice people who visit and who are contemplating a move. They are excited and it is easy to get excited for them when they see our home and imagine themselves living in this space that we are so very fond of.

But, we have had a few  weird situations along the way that have contributed to my growing sense of “I’m nearly over this”.  One situation is going to be something we laugh about for a long time.

We were visited the other afternoon by a couple that I now refer to as Tetter and Totter. Tete and Tot for short. I have no idea what their real names are or if they were at all serious about buying a house. They did say that they had been visiting Open Houses since morning and this was their last one for the day.

Fifteen minutes before they arrived, Arnie had just headed out to take down the Open House signs for the day when neighbor Phil distracted him with an invitation to come over for a beer. Evidently, Arnie  just switched direction in the middle of  removing the signs and beat a path across the street to Phil’s house for a cold one.  On his way, he took down only the sign in front of our house, leaving me with the impression that I was off the clock for Open House. Little did I know, the signs along the road  were still in place with our address on them, a lure for late in the day lookers.

Thinking I was off duty now and quite alone, I started to change into something more comfortable, threw some broccoli in the steamer and poured a much-needed gin and tonic. It was a sticky Florida day, so I was enjoying the cooling effect of my semi-nude state and a cold drink. I love steamed brocoli and the house was pungent now as it finished up in the steamer. What a relaxing end to a long day of being on-point with potential buyers! I couldn’t wait to sit down, put my feet up and relax.

That’s when Tete and Tot drove in. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I knew Arnie had picked up the signs, so where did these two come from? Now the scramble was on! I grabbed the bottle of gin and the tonic and stashed it quickly in the dishwasher, ran to the laundry and then rescued my shirt to get decent again. Just like magic I made the brocoli disappear in the lower cabinet while spraying the air with Lysol Vanilla room spray. The can assured me that it kills 99% of  germs and odors. Please, God, let that be true I pleaded.

As I took a deep breath and adjusted my shirt into a place of decorum, Tete and Tot reached the front door. I noticed right away that they were clutching each other’s hands and giggling about something together. What a cute couple they made with that little display of affection.  I greeted them and noticed also that they even talked alike.  What is that accent I wondered? Now mind you, I was still rattled from being caught with a messy kitchen and in a half-dressed state, so it is understandable that I didn’t notice right away that Tete and Tot were holding one another upright and that accent was actually an inebriated slur.

We started the house tour on the lanai where Tete promptly stuck her finely manicured nail into the parrot cage and annoyed the bird by chanting, “Coochie, coochie, coo” over and over. “He’ll bite you.”, I cautioned. “Watch out…….he’s a biter.”, I said.  “He’s not safe to pet, he will bite.”, I repeated tensely. She responded, “Will he bite?”  Yes, Tete, he will remove your finger. Kindly get it out of the birdcage before that happens I thought. Oh, this is going to be a long house tour.

We moved on to the kitchen. “It shhmells good in here.”, she slurred, rocking slowing back in forth until she came to a unsteady resting place against Tot. I muttered, “Thank you Lysol. You’ve triumphed over brocoli.”

For the next very long half an hour they slowly toured the rest of the house, shuffling from room to room still holding hands like lovers. Tete commented that she liked  the colors on the walls and asked where I got them. I told her that I had Sherwin Williams mix up custom colors to match some of the artwork we have. Tete gushed, “I love Sherman Willums. Much better than Benaman More.”

I finally managed to shepherd them out the door still clutching tight for stability. The last space left to see was the garage. We have  most everything packed up in boxes, but Arnie still has a few of his decorative signs hanging on his man cave wall. Tete took a long unsteady look, slowly focused her gaze and exclaimed, “Oh! Fenway Park! I love basketball!” I smiled with satisfaction. For once in my long life I knew more about a sports topic than the person standing in front of me. It doesn’t count that she was three sheets to the wind. It was a bright and shining moment for me because it has literally never happened. I am always the most ignorant in the room when the conversation turns to sports, but even I know that they don’t play much basketball in Fenway Park.

“Are you a fan?”, I queried. “Yes, I sure am!”, Tete responded with enthusiasm.  “And I love your husband.” What? Arnie escapes next door for a beer, I entertain Tete and Tot and he gets the love? Just for being a fan of basketball at Fenway Park? Is that fair?

I thanked the tipsy two for stopping by as Totter folded and nudged Tete into the little red sports car to head off to see the Clubhouse. I breathed a sigh of relief that I had dodged a lawsuit if the two of them had tipped over together in a heap on the living room floor. As they left, she leaned out the window , waved and yelled, “I just love your husband!” Yup, me too. Hope he’s enjoying that beer with Phil.

That was the last showing we had before we left for two days to go to our friends home for Christmas.  It was a welcome break from the daily grind of keeping the house neat and clean all day. On the drive back home,  I commented to Arnie that I was pretty proud of us that we left the house in a pristine state so that the next morning, all we had to do was put out the signs and open the front door to welcome visitors. There wouldn’t be anything to do! Or so I thought.

When we walked through the door, we were greeted by an overwelming stench. It smelled like something had died under the house. Here in Florida, that’s not uncommon. We have lots of critters that like to make their final resting place in the sand under the houses. This is not going to be good at all for tomorrows showings. The Pest Control companies make a living of fishing out possums, armadillos, snakes, etc from the dark recesses.  It could be almost anything but it sure did smell bad!

We had to locate the body. Like a couple of bloodhounds, we sniffed around trying to pinpoint the origin of the problem. It didn’t take too long to narrow it down to the general area of the outside kitchen wall. Maybe it wasn’t under the house? We tore out everything in the cabinets, under the sink and Arnie even gutted the dishwasher and bleached it. No luck. As we were putting things back into the cabinets, Arnie discovered the culprit. You may have guessed by now that a full head of rotting steamed brocoli left stuffed in a cabinet  for the better part of three days can create quite a stench. Lysol came to the rescue once again. I really need to write a thank you note to that company.

Tete and Totter’s visit did create some havoc, but here we are again this morning with the front door open and ready to greet the next set of weird and wonderful people who want to move to Florida! Hi folks, watch your step and come on in!

 

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Sun City Jam: A Little Bit of Afternoon Delight

A little bitty lady with a great big guitar!
This week, we are house and pup sitting for dear friends Deb and Bert. They live in Sun City Center, a large 55+ Florida community with lots of activities and every Wed afternoon there is a community music jam that gathers about 30 musicians and singers of traditional music at the on-site theatre space. Since the events are only open to residents of Sun City Center, we decided to clip on our friends name badges, turn them upside down and pretend to be them. Our plan was to sneak into the jam and hope no one noticed that I don’t have short red hair and Arnie is not a woman. I’m not sure how to interpret this, but nobody noticed.
We snuck in like a couple of guilty teenagers at the afternoon matinée and settled into our seats while the musicians tuned up. We noticed right away that the average age of participants in this jam is likely around 70-80, representing years and years of playing music. Unlike some of the jams that we have frequented along The Crooked Road in Virgina, this one has the pickers sitting up on a stage instead of in a playing circle. It is held in the on-site Rollins Theatre that has comfortable seating for the enthusiastic audience in attendance this day. The jam session drew an nice crowd of about fifty people to enjoy the collective talents of their neighbors. It was Afternoon Delight for Arnie and I!
Here in this community space, pickers and listeners come together with warmth and humor to enjoy the beloved songs. There are a variety of  levels of expertise in the group, but all share a common enthusiasm for gathering to play and sing. Some songs are better executed than others but it is genuine and heartfelt music performed amongst friends. One diminutive lady weighing all of 100 lbs approached the mic including the hefty acoustic guitar she played. She sang her own composition in an ethereal, wavering voice that made her seem frail. All of the other musicians respectfully slowed and quieted their volume so that her sweet voice could rise above the crowd.  The emphasis is on the traditional picking instruments with banjos, mandolin, guitars, bass, harmonica, and fiddles represented. And we must not miss the guy slapping his sneaker who provided a smattering of percussion.

There’s no performance anxiety here. As in most such music jams, there is an aura of acceptance, tolerance and appreciation  for each persons contribution without regard to anyone’s level of expertise. All are welcome to play and all contributions are valued. Everyone gets their turn in the spotlight as they step to the mic to feature their particular song or instrument. And the audience gets in on the fun too as they sing-along to “A Big Bowl of Chile (with a stack of crackers on the side).” That  was an audience favorite this day!  At the end of this rousing rendition, the lead singer challenged the audience to “Put that in your pipe and smoke it!”

 As the musicians tuned up, they bantered back and forth with one another and members of the audience, two of whom came equipped with hand fans to wave that had a picture of Elvis taped on the backside. They waved their fans with the unrestrained abandon of a couple of teenage groupies and at the conclusion of an Elvis ballad, they blew red kazoos. It is friendly and fun and, for the less experienced pickers, the banter keeps the nerves at bay. “Jam banter” is one of the most engaging aspects of these events. In addition to corny jokes, we found out that Gary’s at the doctor today and he’ll play  when he gets here. Caroline is out with a hip replacement and we will miss her. Sean dropped his fiddle and the funeral for this beloved instrument will be on Sat at the local Irish Pub. One of the ladies in the jam today could not get her mike to turn on, so she shrugged and said, “Oh well, on this song, all I do is OHH, OHH, OHH, anyway.” And then she added with a twinkle in her eye, “Wait for it!”
In  honor of the season, today’s jam led off with Turkey in the Straw followed by Back to the Old Home. Our favorite genre is old-time mountain music, the unique blend of Americana, folk, bluegrass and a sprinkle of gospel that gets the toes tapping and the hands clapping. Wherever we travel throughout the South, we seek out the local pickers and the jammers who come together to play the traditional old songs. The jam at Sun City made for a delightful afternoon for these two gate-crashers with its sincerity and sense of community.
Towards the end of the two hours, a woman in a plaid shirt stood up to take her turn at the mike. Something looked different about her. Her arms hung loosely at her sides and she came down to the stage with a shuffle.  Her husband slowly helped her down the steps to the microphone. As she stepped to the mic, her husband softly sang beside her, giving her gentle cues on the lyrics and melody.  I imagine that these two folks have sung songs together for many years. Today, they sang, an old familiar country chorus, “ Today I started loving you again.” And my heart broke with the tenderness of it.

For Erik and Katie: A Meditation on Change

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Erik, Katie and Griz      Nov 2017

This post is for our Nephew Eric and his girlfriend Katie who are embarking on a lifetime adventure in a little blue tiny  house. We wish them godspeed on their unique and creative journey as they travel about living life with awareness, compassion and enthusiasm for all the natural world.

I awoke this morning washed by a wave of ambiguity about our decision to sell our home and RV full-time.  We are coming off  a long three days weekend of Open Houses where we welcomed a parade of strangers through the front door.  The stream  of potential buyers wandered through these rooms where we have lived, laughed and cried and accepted life’s ups and downs, all the while nestled into a loving community of friends and neighbors. We were married in the little front garden. We said good-bye to two beloved pets in this house. We celebrated holidays and birthdays with friends and family gathered in love and acceptance in this place. This house is filled with the echo of love and laughter. The house is quiet now, comfortable clutter put away for staging and family photos packed for storage. With the dawn of Monday morning, I have mixed emotions about leaving this safe haven. It is not at all doubt about our decision to sell the house, but it is definitely mixed feelings. 

It’s been nearly twenty years since I re-homed myself to Florida and I don’t regret a single day. What a wonderful State Florida is with its exotic plants and wildlife all around us not to mention clear turquoise waters within any days drive. And what a pleasant place my lanai is to be on a day like this with the cool breeze and the aroma of Meyer’s lemons drifting in the window. 

 

It is in the quiet hours of the morning that I wonder how I could choose to move into the next season of life and leave behind the comfort of people and places here that are dear to me. It brings up questions that are good to ask. Why do some of us spend our whole lives trying to discern where we belong? Which fork in the road makes sense to us? If we take the other fork, would we discover where we end and the rest of the world starts? Choices at our stage of life can elicit a strange  mix of emotions.  As soon to be full-time RV’ers, we will be carrying our fragile selves about on wheels on a pilgrimage without a designated end date. Where will we belong? I am not often one to fret about the future, but I do admit to a few sleepless nights lately.

I’ve had these doubts before at critical junctures in life. During these times of anxious transition,  the remedy for me  is to quietly remember that there is goodness everywhere we have ever  lived or traveled. We encounter folks everywhere, who, by their very willingness to accept change and follow their heart down the road serve as an example that we really need not walk alone. Chance Encounters that bloom into friendships await at every bend.

Life is, after all, a meditation on loneliness. It causes us to explore the meaning of solidarity with whatever community we come into contact with and to seek and find that one special community with a capacity for love. The potential to be lonely as we leave our comfort zone community compels us to put out feelers  for little expressions that might indicate the potential for building new connections and friendships. As we travel and look for a future place to settle again, we will be on the lookout for those signs that an armature is in place where we can sculpt a new life rich with friendship and community. A new life where we can meditate  on life’s inevitable  lonely  periods within a caring circle.

During life transitions such as this, we are at risk of actualizing our all too human tendency to project onto the unknown our innermost fears. Will this challenge be too big? Are we too old? Are we foolish to give up a business that we enjoyed? Are we wise to be leaving behind  the security of a house that is paid for, a community that is familiar and secure, medical care that is reliable? Will we mourn the routes, routines, habits, and rituals that are unconsciously embedded into our daily lives?

Yes, change and transition sparks a questioning within our souls. But I have forever been burdened (or blessed) by an unrelenting  curiosity that translates easily into Wanderlust; a compelling desire to move about and experience the world from many perspectives. So, despite my habitual and human resistance to shedding comfort for the unknown, I am going to remember why I chose the fork in the road that leads to the potential for self-transcendence because it demands that I stretch and grow. I resolve this morning, as the sun comes up and the coffee enters my bloodstream to get a grip on it and embrace this new habit of heart that is mobile and exciting and soul opening.

I am about to put my sweater on backwards, or more likely since we will be camping, my sweatshirt on inside out. I will welcome the gift of opportunity to change it up and make life new again. I resolve to think and talk about what is to shortly to come with a novel vocabulary of being.  I will use a vocabulary that defines house and home differently. I will think about community more as the sweetness of meeting and not the sorrow of separation. I will welcome the walk somewhere new and experience fully and with gratitude all of the joy or bitterness as may come to be.

And so, we will continue to pack the boxes and do Open Houses as we work towards the inevitably time when we pull the camper out to depart for other places where we can listen to the heartbeat of stones and feel the forest beating its wings and see the color of the wind against a painted sky. Here we go turning the world upside down and inside out and backwards forward! And it is going to be good, Erik and Katie.

 

I Wonder

As we travel along and see people, places and things, we often find ourselves saying, “I wonder….” I thought it might be insightful or maybe just fun to track the things that we wonder about in the course of one day’s drive through multiple states. Sometimes we goggle questions and get unexpected answers but for this one day, we decided to be content with the mystery and the wonder of it all without the need for an instant answer. It was like “before internet”. Here’s the short list of things we wondered about on this one day of traveling along listening to the soundtrack from Forest Gump. It’s a great soundtrack by the way.

Several oversized tractor trailer bed trucks carrying some sort of giant metal connectors passed us on the highway. The contraptions looked like submarines; huge tanks of some sort with hatches. What could they be? We wondered aloud about how much of the infrastructure that powers our lives is hidden from us. There is a whole world of engineering that makes life smooth and easy that we are not even aware of. We wondered how many people are involved from design to building and transporting and installing such monster lego pieces. We wondered what those contraptions will do when they reach their destination. 

Why do toilet plungers have yellow handles? I wonder.

Isha’s Market in PA advertises Food, Fuel and Fun. Across the street is an establishment advertising Live Dancers. Is one a day job and one a night job for the same people? We wondered who wouldn’t want Live Dancers? Dead ones would be boring.

We saw caravans of electric company vehicles and wondered at the sheer enormity of the response to Hurrican Irma and the plight of the people affected. There were endless streams of utility company truckers driving north towards their home states after providing mutual aid assistance to the folks in Florida. They gave up time with their own families to respond to the need of fellow citizens who desperately needed their help and it was much appreciated. These guys are the true pole dancers!

Another caravan that we witnessed was a long line of brown vans marked  Law Enforcement. Possibly they were  transporting prisoners who had been evacuated ahead of the storm. We wondered about who they might be and what the losses in their lives might have been that put them in this place at this time.

We wondered if those trees were waving at us as we passed by? They seemed  to be. Their leaves fluttered like thousands of hands at the passing parade of cars whizzing by. The horse trailer that passed by us had two brown tails sticking straight out of the slats on one side blowing in the breeze. They also seemed to be waving to us as we all headed home south.

“Where does that pond go?”, we wondered. “Where do you think that road goes ?”, we wondered. “Where does life go? It seems to be flying by like the highway.” 

We wondered who thought of the camping sign that we have been seeing in camper windows that says, “I love it here!” What a great message! Wherever you go, there you are and you can just love it there. This short statement  communicates  contentment with our  present situation. It always amazes me that just one positive thought can lead to the insight that can transform how we feel about where we find ourselves. Saying it aloud, helps it to be so. I love it here.

I really do. I love it here.

 

For Everything There is a Season: Saying Good-Bye

It is time to prepare the New England garden for the coming winter. It is a ritual that we go through to lay to rest all of the growing things that have enriched our summer here at camp. In the flower beds, some of the annuals will continue to serve  next year as compost, but the perennials will greet the spring again after their winter rest, so we are careful to prepare them a comfortable winter place with a nice blanket of straw to protect their roots.

This chilly morning, as I step down the camper steps, I’m greeted by the Morning Glories. They are only buds at this early hour, curled up like a cozy cat, but in a couple of hours they will open with their arms flung back wide to greet the rising sun. Morning Glories know when to just be still, quietly waiting for the sun to warm them enough to open. They remain in their morning meditation, saving energy for the right time to stretch and rise and preen until it is time again to fold inward and relax for a bit. Sleeping in the dawn’s mist for now, they will be content blue smiles against a blue sky later in the day.

Morning Glories have always been one of my very favorites flowers. In the little mill town in NH where I grew up, they climbed up beside the porch screen door. The sight of Morning Glories is forever linked in my mind with the sound of that slamming door as we kids ran in and out of the house over summer vacation for Kool-Aid and snacks. They came back every year, newly planted from the seeds randomly dropped by the fading flowers of the year before. There is an old Buddhist saying that I am very fond of,  “All that is the flower is contained in the seed.”

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This morning, I am pulling out squash plants that have been dressed up in cheery yellow blossoms all summer. I whisper a thank you as I bury them under cover in the compost pile; that living repository of energy that welcomes generations of plants to blend their fading life-force together to feed the new generation next year. Squash plants are prolific marvels of the garden. Bending but not breaking, they sway gently in a rain shower or breeze attesting to the wisdom of being flexible. They appear to be nothing but water wrapped in fragile, hollow green casings and yet, they produced big families of sturdy fast growing vegetables that we could share with friends all summer. They are hard working sensible New Englanders during this short growing season. It is hard to tug their roots loose and retire them to the compost pile, but as they finish their work, they remind me that everything is a process of renewal and that we are all a part of it.

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The Rudbeckia plant has been our Evensong, glorious during the day and glowing against the moon at night. Usually they are tall, reaching around five feet in height, but this is a monster. We don’t know why, but it has stretched skyward to nearly nine feet this season and it bobs large yellow mum-like flowers on the breeze. At this height, they have to be deep and steady, determined and resilient, a lesson in how to set ourselves on a firm foundation as we tower up to our potential. I cannot imagine the roots this plant must have sent down to support nine feet of stalk with heavy flowers on its crown! The Rudbeckia has great Karma: the more flowers I harvested and gave away, the more they came back. It is seemingly eager to leave the nest garden and go sit in a vase to cheer the kitchen of a friend.

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The sedums are an exercise in patience and faith. They do not blossom before we leave for the season. They take all summer long to form tiny buds and I can see the tint and tone of red deepening and developing, waiting to burst forth when full fall arrives. I look at them every morning, sometimes wishing that they would hurry just a bit this year so that we could catch a glimpse of how beautiful they will be. Ah, but they are not on our timetable, they are on their own. The time of every life’s full blossoming is not for us to determine; we come and we go not as we wish, but as it is. We will be gone before they shout color but I am grateful for the promise they make and the reminder that every life is a work in progress.

After a bit of garden work, I went on a walking meditation with our little Wicca. She, like the garden perennials, seems to continue to blossom even though she turned seventeen in August. I wonder how many more walks we will share? She still likes to go down through the grasslands  here at West Hill Park scouting out creatures. She walks out ahead of me, tail high and wagging back and forth, full of the joy of movement and whatever is on the wind that is making her nose twitch. We sit on the bench for a few moments and watch dragonflies and bees on the wildflowers that grow there. They too will soon rest for the winter.

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I talked to her this morning about how precious it is to be with the living things that we love here at camp, including her. I talked to her also about the impermanence of all things. I think she seems to understand that this very moment is what we have together and that life will unfold and change with mystery. The garden will practice surrender and acceptance, reminding us that we are perennial too. Just as the flowers will come again and again, there are no limits on the beauty, courage and generosity that emerges from each of us in our short time together.

 

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It has taken me all summer to write about a deep loss in Arnie’s side of our family that happened this summer here in Mass. This morning, as we close another season and move on to the mystery of what is next, I turn my face to the sun and thank the Universe for the life of Suzy Muzzey Seminara and comfort for those who loved her.

Zen Laundry

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It’s our second summer of camping in the woods of Massachusetts with pared down amenities. Rather than moaning about how much I miss fast and reliable wi-fi, the dishwasher, cable TV and most of all, my own washer and dryer, I think I could choose to think about all of these non-existent Mother’s Helpers a bit differently. I could just think about my technology challenged summer as being one more whopping personal growth experience that life seems to enjoy placing square in the middle of the Barb Turnpike of Life. There’s been more than a few.

 

I can manage the absence of wi-fi because the Uxbridge Public LIbrary is such a friendly and welcoming place. Zach, the librarian sees me coming and turns the AC down and the fan off so that I will be comfortable. He offers a bottle of water if I am working there for a few hours. I love this spot and really appreciate  spending time there using their wi-fi. The dishwasher really isn’t much of an issue with just the two of us and cable TV is hardly missed at all. We get some local air TV channels and our wonderful neighbor, Phil, loaded a stick drive for us with movies before we left. So in the few hours that we actually have to sit down and vegetate, in front of a TV, we are adequately entertained. But then there is the laundry.

Camping by its very nature generates laundry. Jeans that are covered with Deepwoods OFF bug spray, damp towels and summer sneaker socks are all tossed in the laundry basket to breed into a witches brew that demands a weekly trip into town to the laundromat. Loading up sheets, blankets and baskets into the truck and then huffing them into the busy laundromat is not my idea of fun. It is a constant timeline of Tide, Snuggle and quarters to feed the machines. And the funny thing about laundry is that no matter how often you do, it, it’s never done.  There is no end and apparently no beginning to the process of laundering clothes. Laundry is a constant mundane flow.

It is helpful to me to keep in mind that the majority of the circumstances and events in our lives are just that: a constant and mundane flow. Our lives too are a process of sorting tasks and events into manageable loads. This white sock goes here and that navy towel goes there. The small decisions made while processing laundry are not much different that the large decisions that impact our lives in greater ways. How will we take the soiled aspects of our lives, sort them out and clean things up so that we have a new and fresh  opportunity to express the highest version of who we are or are evolving to be.

I try also to remember that there is a Zen aspect to the performance of every simple repetitive task like laundry. I sweep out the change house here at the Park each morning. It is probably the same grains of sand brought in on the feet of different swimmers that I move from the inside to the outside, day after day. But I love the sound of the old straw broom. I love that this is a tool of such elegant simplicity. I love making that floor all clean and shining and ready for the bare feet of dozens of children donning their bathing suits to go for a swim in the river. Elevating a seemingly pointless task to the level of something Zen, reintroduces purpose into the whole process. Sweeping the floor is something calming and meditative when you take the time to imagine the recipients of your efforts. Thinking of sweeping with that broom as a kindness that you do in preparation  for a small child’s  play or a compassionate act that enables an elderly person to sit and enjoy nature in a clean place transforms a mundane task into a purposeful act.

When the repetitiveness of  life seems pointless or like the never ending pile of laundry waiting to be done, there is a way to re-frame how we are feeling and move forward.  We can use our imagination and creativity to rewrite the script for our current circumstances.  It’s our own story and if we chose to make a movie out of it, we get to write and film it as we want to live it. We get to write the ending and the events leading up to that ending.

While not everything is within our control, we can practice conscious recognition of what works for us  and what doesn’t.  By recognizing what works for us we gather information and then create new insights that assist us composing our story lines. By doing this you can experience a new perspective on an old situation by imaginatively connecting the new characters and plot lines.  When we write our own stories, we then get to choose if and when we want to move forward or make changes.  Perhaps, most importantly, we get the gift of as many rewrites as we need to get it right.

Einstein said “Imagination is more important than knowledge.  Knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”  I try to use my imagination to envision a different way to think about those areas of life that I find mundane or even troubling. Some of the insights gained by using this technique allow me to think about life in a different and more positive light.

Image result for bing image of budda doing laundryClean underwear and fresh towels straight from this week’s laundry doesn’t seem like a bad place to start!