In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Song of the Revolution
by Langston Hughes

mlk-marching-selma
Sing me a song of the Revolution
Marching like fire over the world,
Weaving from the earth its bright red banner
For the hands of the masses to unfurl.

Sing me a song of the Revolution
Drowning the past with a thunderous shout:
Filled with the strength of youth and laughter,
And never the echo of a doubt.

O mighty roll of the Revolution,
Ending the centuries of bloody strife,
Ending the tricks of kings and liars,
Big with the laughter of a new life.

Breaking the bonds of the darker races,
Breaking the chains that have held for years,
Breaking the barriers dividing the people,
Smashing the gods of terror and tears,

Cutting, O flame of the Revolution,
Fear from the world like a surgeon’s knife,
So that the children of all creation
Waken, at last, to the joy of life.

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A Fitter Attitude

health-quoteI enjoyed attending group fitness classes when we lived in Connecticut. We joined a gym after moving to California, but I was too busy to go. I was writing my masters thesis, searching for a job, and driving the kids everywhere. Pretty soon I was only wearing yoga pants to accommodate my expanding middle. And to justify my limited wardrobe, I told myself that I was no different than many moms who gained ten pounds of pregnancy weight. The problem with that was, ten pounds turned into twenty after baby number two. And you know it’s time to do something when your oldest is starting college!

Christmas came and I received a Fitbit; I began tracking my steps and eating more sensibly: smoothies for breakfast, salads for lunch, and a balanced dinner. I started going to the gym, but when a month went by with no results, I bought a few training sessions. It was during one of those training sessions when a badly formed burpee landed me in the emergency room. My plan was sabotaged; the sprain made me gym-shy and I fell back into my old routine of no routine…and snacking on peanut M&M’s.

Once I healed, it was time to make a fitness plan. Our puppy was 10 months old and pretty well trained when I decided to employ her to help me get fit. So I put the Fitbit back in action and started walking Sammie. There are some pretty good hills in our neighborhood, so our weekday walks are pretty demanding. On Saturdays I committed to a 90 minute yoga class, and on Sundays I do a stability ball DVD with weights. With a routine in place, I finally began getting the Fitbit to light up and vibrate…it’s celebratory action when you’ve achieved a certain amount of steps.

On the nutrition front, I tracked my food using the Weight Watchers app, and gave myself a weight goal. But it wasn’t about the number. I truly just wanted to feel good; I wanted to lose the saggy middle along with the achy back that went with it. I also wanted to fit into the cuter clothes in my closet. I realized I needed to change my mindset. I needed to get rid of the old habits, like snacking on cookies and candy, and create healthy ones. I made sure I filled my 24 ounce water bottle three times a day, and ate fruits like mandarin oranges and peaches between meals. And I kept to my exercise routine. I tracked my meals pretty religiously, but didn’t fret if I went over my points here or there.

Today, I can happily say that the combination of all of these efforts helped me succeed. I’m keeping to my exercise regimen, my low back no longer hurts, and I’m wearing my nice summer clothes. “I feel good at this weight,” I told the Weight Watchers leader when she asked about my goal. Its not about the number! #fitattitude #weightwatchers #fitspiration

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Grieving and Loss – Honoring Your Parents

DadMomGradThe theme on the suicide prevention line over the past couple of Sundays has been grief over the loss of a parent. I keep the Kübler-Ross model in mind, as I convey that everyone grieves differently, and with time, each loss becomes easier to bear. One woman I spoke to was despondent over the tragic loss of her Dad, whom she thought was mistreated at a veteran’s hospital. She had spent all 39 years of her life living with him, and was having a hard time moving through her pain.

I spoke to her from a personal perspective. I too never expected to lose my Dad so suddenly. He was supposed to be there to share in my next milestone, the marriage to my beloved. However, in time I moved beyond the anger and hurt, and became thankful that Augie got to know and love my husband before he passed on.

Losing my mother was a slower, more difficult process, as I watched and cared for Ellie during her final months and days with cancer. We had become quite close as we switched roles; I struggled with her loss for a long time. After the breakup of her marriage and 20 years as a nurse, Mom had gone back to school to pursue a career in counseling. She transformed many lives with her light, first as a mentor for young gang members with Youth at Risk, and then as a sexual assault advocate for numerous women being treated for rape.

MomBeachMy mother exemplified compassion. And I have lit numerous candles in her memory – like today, on what would have been her 82nd birthday. But what has helped me cope most, is to endeavor to bring my mother’s light into the world…and my Dad’s smile, a big-hearted soul who filled a room with his presence. When I received my master’s degree last year, a photo of me fist bumping the air was taken at the very moment I was celebrating them; “This is for you Mom and Dad…this is me honoring your memory.” And I try to evoke my mother every day in my work, helping people in crisis. My parents brought me into this world and it’s on their wings that I continue to sail.

DadnMeAs our conversation progressed, I asked the woman on the crisis line how she might honor her Dad. She began to tell me how she had just been approved for a school loan and she was looking forward to getting her Bachelors in Nursing, and then a Masters degree. As we talked, I could hear her grief evolve, as she realized how proud her father would be. Her sadness began to turn into what I eventually heard as a smile in her voice. She was moving through the stages of grief and ready to shine her light in her Dad’s honor.

Authors Note: Top photo: Celebrating my Associates Degree from Norwalk Community with Mom and Dad, Middle: A happy Mom at Seaside Park, Bottom photo: Bachelors Degree celebration with Dad at Penfield Pavillion.

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Gilmour Gleams with “So long Sin, au revoir Chaos”

GilmourGuitarIt’s kind of cool when something becomes relevant for the second time around, infusing new energy and a positive light in this lifetime, replacing negative associations of old. David Gilmour accomplished this transformation at his March 24th Hollywood Bowl concert, with the combination of new music from Rattle that Lock and classics like Wish You Were Here and Shine on You Crazy Diamond.

Like many of my contemporaries back in the 70’s and 80’s, I listened to a lot of Pink Floyd music with words like “Your lips move but I can’t hear what you say”. The songs reflected a teenage rebellion and helped me escape from the throngs of a difficult family situation. The music was a coping mechanism.

Fast forward to the present, and I’m watching my husband and son jamming on their Fenders, taking turns soloing on Comfortably Numb. I am delighted to be part of this multi-generational experience, as much as I was at Thursday’s concert, complete with David Crosby as the menacing doc singing, “There is no pain, you are receding.”

lazerWhile I enjoyed the softer melodies such as 5am, Faces of Stone, and A Boat Lies Waiting from Rattle that Lock−all masterfully performed by Gilmour, with Crosby harmonizing on a couple, I was equally captivated by the assimilation of the venue into the show. For example, a colossal flow of coins was projected onto three giant columns to accompany the thunderous ca-ching sounds in the Money intro. And then there was the mesmerizing laser show á la The Wall during Run Like Hell. The song came to an astounding climax with an eruption of fireworks from the back of the stage; a total surprise that provoked oohs and ahs en masse.

I am especially thankful that my life partner was with me during this magical, musical adventure. Our concert experience began much earlier in the day when, after our six-hour drive from the Bay Area to Los Angeles, we decided to fill gas. A chance meeting resulted in an 80% off tee shirt deal…souvenirs of an amazing show.

lock

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Embracing the Rain

IMG_5261 (1)I’ve always been a firm believer in meditation as a destresser, and took up the practice while I was writing my masters thesis. After a walk in the park, I would sit on one of the benches and set my timer for 15 minutes; I used meditation as a way to download my thoughts in an effort to make room for the flow of creativity. Post college, I found myself training to become a suicide prevention counselor. The trainers preached “Self Care” often, and so I signed up for a couple of Deepak Chopra’s 21-day meditations…. I like his guided programs, with titles like “Manifesting Grace through Gratitude” that use Sanskrit mantras to help distract one from intrusive thoughts.

When I began working at Tri-Valley Haven, I found myself in training again. This time as a domestic violence/sexual assault advocate. What with the difficult subject matter, the work can be emotionally taxing. “Checking in” with our trainer and practicing self care is strongly suggested here as well. As it happens, meditation came back into my life via my husband; he found a like-minded group that meditates once a week for an hour. With him, I began to appreciate the long sit, and the added  impromptu dinner date after.

I had learned about Spirit Rocks Meditation Center from my sister who lives nearby, so I put myself on their email list. An “Intro to Insight” day-long meditation course came up that worked for me and I signed up for the March 5th event. I was excited to go and practice “Vipassana” or “mindfulness” meditation at the beautiful 412 acre property in Marin, but then considered canceling. The “worst storm of the season” was predicted for that day and I wasn’t thrilled about driving 63 miles in pelting rain. As it happened, there was barely a drizzle when I woke early Saturday so I decided to embark on the journey. It turned into a steady rain in the middle of the drive, so I planned a sleepover with my sister.

I am so happy I made it to Spirit Rocks. The place exudes peacefulness and I felt extremely grateful to be there. While sitting in the chair amidst 150 or so meditation enthusiasts, I learned that “Insight” meditation is slightly different from the standard meditation I was used to. Instead of trying to ignore your thoughts, the idea of Insight is to observe and sit with them, as if you’re an investigator. But my back was bothering me, so I moved from the chair down to the front of the room using my new comfy backjack.

I appreciated being in the direct line of the breeze from a window they opened. And as I went into meditation, the pitter patter of the steady rain on the vents was prominent. The tinkling sound brought me back to 1992 where, in my mother’s bedroom, I sat feeling helpless as she struggled with the pain of cancer. She must have sensed my anxiety because she told me that the sound of the raindrops was peaceful, almost like a symphony. And in the midst of my first meditation sit, I had to swallow a tear.

Then it dawned on me that I could do the same thing that Ellie did, use the rain as a tool to create a sense of peace in my meditation. And later on, in the final sit, a tear of joy quietly fell as I realized I had received a wonderful insight…not only did Ellie ease my own anxiety by calming herself, her empathy shone through…23 years after my mother’s passing, her spirit rocked. She gave me insight on my practice, reminding me to use nature as an aid…the rain as a symphony of peace. ###

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Semi-Colon Moments

At the end of my shift from taking calls at the National Suicide Prevention/Crisis Support Services hotline, I am always torn between keeping the notes I have jotted down to document my calls, or putting them in the shredder. I don’t really need to hold on to the papers, it’s just that I don’t want to forget these semi-colon moments.

semicolon

The Semicolon Project was begun for people who have attempted suicide and/or overcome a difficult struggle in their lives. Many have tattooed themselves with a semi-colon, the grammatical stop and start signifying the strength it took for them to overcome their pain and move on with their lives. It symbolizes the continuation of their story.

On every call I accept, I sympathize with each person and let them know how strong they are for calling the hotline. This allows he or she to feel empowered; that person is reminded that they took control of their lives. And so, in the end, I shred my notes; I am hopeful that a new story has begun in the life of each person with whom I spoke. #suicideprevention #semicolon #endsuicide

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On Compassion: In Honor of my Mom

A couple of years ago I attended an author’s discussion and book signing; it was a high tea held in a lovely garden. The author began by asking her attendees to write down one word that described their mother. My word was compassion. Like Katie Hafner, in her book Mother Daughter Me, my relationship with my mother had gone through some difficult times. As a child, Mom was tender and attentive, but as a teen, our relationship was contentious; I certainly wouldn’t have described her as compassionate.

It wasn’t until I matured and began to understand how our separate selves affected our relationship, would I begin to describe my mother as a compassionate person. While our familial synergy was practical, it was at times dysfunctional. As my own life evolved however, I began to realize the strength of my mother’s virtue. I watched her work valiantly as a nurse, and volunteer many hours mentoring troubled youth. I was awed by how my mother opened her heart to young gang members. Following Ellie’s passing in 1992, a benefit was held in her honor by the Youth at Risk organization. I was amazed at all of the young people who spoke and credited my mother with their transformation.

My own foray in to the non-profit world was cathartic. I had been Mom’s caregiver until her death from colon cancer. Working at the American Cancer Society to advocate for research, education and healing for those enduring the disease and suffering from its ravages, was both humbling and rewarding. I was honoring Mom’s compassionate spirit while serving the greater good.

I continued my work in communications, advocating for women, men and families who had become homeless due to domestic violence, HIV/AIDS, addiction, and/or economic factors. I helped them heal by sharing their stories, or by teaching them how to tell their own stories through poetry and testament. For me it has always been about connecting and validating. Every single person needs to know that they are worthy of life. Which brings me to my next journey.

I spent a year, from June of 2014 to May of 2015 writing a memoir for my master’s degree. During the course of the eleven chapters, I reflected about the daily upbringing of my then 16-year-old daughter, and how my own adolescence affected my parenting. One of the books I read that inspired my writing was Daring Greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. Dr. Brené Brown’s work was transformative and put me on a path toward living whole-heartedly.

During the course of my work, two events occurred that fueled me in to action; the passing of Robin Williams by suicide, and an Oscar acceptance speech by Graham Moore that went viral; the Imitation Game screenwriter reflected on his younger self and the triumph of overcoming a difficult adolescence. It was the affect of this passing and revelation that moved me toward a new direction; a commercial aired for the National Suicide Prevention hotline and I was driven to change course.

I am so very grateful that I was given 31 years with my mother and for the many blessings I have in my life now. I honor my Mom and hope to channel her compassion to those in despair in my next journey as a Crisis Counselor. And with that, I leave you with Theodore Roosevelt’s famous quote:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

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Bittersweet Milestone

With senior year looming, my daughter secured her license just one week before school started. As parents, we weren’t keen on letting her drive that first week, especially knowing the traffic craziness that happens during drop-off and pick-up on those initial days. So I rode shotgun the first few days and monitored her comfort level. Attentive and confident, I thought she did fine. And truth be told, I knew she would fare better if Mom wasn’t in the car, my foot on the imaginary brake and body leaning away from the curb. So on Thursday, after we arrived home from picking up her brother at middle school, our daughter made a case to her Dad and I that she should drive herself on Friday.

“I have to go to work, and Mom has to pick up brother and take the dog to the vet.” She made a good argument, but I had already planned for the school/work/vet shuffle. Eventually, my husband and I acquiesced to her plea.

The next morning, with backpack, work clothes and keys in hand, I followed daughter out to the car. She opened the car door and handed me the newspaper that I had left on the seat; I considered the completed crossword and how it would be the last we wordsmithed together while waiting for my son to emerge from middle school. Only one of us would need to pick him up now. I went around to the back of the car and opened the hatch, retrieving a bottle of suntan spray that could roll around and distract her from the drive.

“You’ll unhook the wallet from the lanyard right?” I asked, foreseeing another possible distraction on her five-mile drive.

“I’ll configure it,” she assured me.

I was certain I heard her thinking just go away Mom, so I made my way toward the front door and loitered there, I even opened the mailbox knowing full well that it was empty. Listening for the sounds…I heard the engine, the car being shifted into drive, and then the brake suppressed to stop it from rolling. Finally, my daughter maneuvered the car out of the driveway and on to the court.

I didn’t expect her to look, but was given a nice surprise when my daughter turned and waved. I watched then, as she turned back to face the road. And my eyes followed the car until it moved out of sight. I took a deep breath and a strong sense of pride enveloped me. Back inside, a text message came through from one of the Moms in our kids’ original playgroup, with a photo of the five 4 year olds. ‘Good luck to all as they begin their senior year! May their test scores be high, the college applications easy, and their new adventure amazing!’ I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Caronhill

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Throwback to Big Bird

Bigbirdsbusyday

When I finally got to shower this afternoon, I kept thinking about the tiny Golden book I enjoyed reading to the kids when they were little. It was called Big Bird’s Busy Day and it went through a day in the life of one of Sesame Street’s main characters, depicting Big Bird’s important activities.

With all of the activities today, I felt like Big Bird myself. After getting the kids off to school, I went grocery shopping and then came home and made both a homemade dessert-baked chocolate zucchini bread and dinner-my favorite Alton Brown’s Mac n’ Cheese recipe. I ironed a shirt in preparation for Child #2’s honor roll ceremony and hoped he would get time to do his homework between guitar and orthodontist appointments. I was thankful that Child #1 got a ride home from her track meet.

Akin to Big Bird’s “Quiet Time,” I am so very grateful I was able to get a walk and meditation in this morning. My centering activities fuel me so that I can be fully engaged and stay calm throughout the hustle and bustle of the day. More importantly, I am thankful and so very proud of my children for being able to juggle all of their activities with accomplished gusto, especially when an unexpected event gets added to the mix.

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Searchin’ My Soul

dancingbabyI saw the notorious dancing baby in a social media feed this week and was reminded of the legal dramedy Ally McBeal, that ran on t.v. from 1997 through 2002. I always got a kick out of the main character when she boogied around to theme songs along with the baby dancing in the wings, highlighting the tick tock of her biological clock.

As I mentioned in my last blog, there are many tunes that soothe my soul. Penning my memoir can get pretty intense; it’s an emotional roller coaster fraught with extreme peaks and valleys. Sometimes I want to give up, but then I get encouraged when I listen to the lyrics of a tune, like these words written by Sara Bareilles: “And since your history of silence won’t do you any good, did you think it would?/Let your words be anything but empty/Why don’t you tell them the truth?”

The words of “Brave” resonate with me because the essence of my project is to reconcile with my past through my written words, to accept the adolescent experiences full of thorns and scrapes, as part of my life’s journey. Living those events brought me to the place of gratitude where I am today; a life filled with love, enriched by my husband and children, extended family, and friends.

Many songs were danced to throughout the course of the Ally McBeal series, but the show’s main song was called “Searchin’ My Soul” by Vonda Shepard, a theme that has taken precedence this past semester while I’ve worked on my masters project. “One by one, the chains around me unwind/Every day now I feel that I can leave those years behind.”

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