Sunday, November 28, 2010

My Life is An Oprah Episode - Grand Child

"Katey's here."  That is what I said as I contacted family and friends to let them know that my granddaughter was born.  It was August 20, 2000, and about ten (10) years earlier than I had anticipated becoming a grandparent.  She weighed in at 9lbs 3oz, and I called her Bruno.  We were all surprised that Katey was so BIG, as my daughter, Heather, looked as though she had a large lunch the day before.  For me, it was love at first sight.

I had heard from many friends, that although you love your children, when you have a grandchild, it is like no other love.  Having my daughter taught me about what love really was; unconditional.  Meeting Katey filled me with emotion that was a little foreign to me.  Some of that came from the fact that my daughter was so young, and I was concerned about her parenting skills.  In time that would take care of itself.  I formed a very strong bond with Katey, named after me (my middle name - Katherine) before she even left the hospital.

When Katey was one week old,  I was walking with Heather as she was taking Katey back to her car. Katey began to smile and as I snapped a photo with my camera, she raised her middle finger.  It was so funny, but, I knew that very moment that Katey was giving us a sign that she was going to live her life on her own terms and not be concerned what anyone would think of her.

Katey has ADHD and with that comes a set of challenging situations.  Blessed with a very high IQ, Katey is very creative and expressive and says exactly what she thinks.  She knows how to figure things out -- it is sometimes intimidating to witness a child that can articulate the way an adult would.  Yet, emotionally, she is probably a few years behind her peer group.  It's hard to recognize that, often because, there is such a high expectation of her, given her intellect.  Inasmuch as her behavior can make me want to pull my hair out, her endearing qualities will overshadow my frustration with her.  She is delicious.  Katey sees the world in technicolor; she is interested in everything around her, and she is one of the most interesting people I know. And, I can hardly wait to see how she makes her mark on the world.

Granchild.  It's love.  On steroids.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

My Life is An Oprah Episode - On Favorite Things and Opinions

I'm opinionated...ask anyone who knows me.  Shouldn't we all be opinionated?  But, no matter how I feel about something, like or dislike it,  I believe everyone has the right to "own" their opinions as well.

One of the things about living in a different location than many of my family and friends, is that when we are in touch, conversations often revolve around how we feel about this or that,  often retreating far into the past to remind each other of what makes us tick.  While watching Oprah's Favorite Things show, I thought about my favorites -- not necessarily things I want to run out and buy -- but, rather things that bring a smile to my face, and information I want to share.

Cities.  I love cities and have favorites.  Since I was born and raised in New York City, it's a natural fit to be my favorite.  No matter how many times I am there, I discover something new.... a new restaurant, or shop, or a street with charm and character.  I love Central Park and consider it to be a second home to me; there's a couple of spots there that hold some of my secrets.  And, I think I channel some of my ancestors whenever I have been in London...I've always felt at home there as well.  When my sister Marge was living there, it was a dream to go visit and wander around for days, free to discover nooks and crannies around cobble stoned streets and alleys.  Rome.  I've been there three or four times and it has held my heart captive on more than one occasion.  Hmmmm....I had, what I refer to as "a lost weekend"there once,  where I fell in love, well, more like in lust....more on that another time.  Paris...Yummy, one of the greatest places to stay up all night!  Chicago energizes me like New York; I love the shopping and the neighborhoods, the ambiance and the great Jazz clubs -- in which one of them I had the greatest make out session with a boyfriend -- you know, dark and secluded, listening  to the sexiest music ever.  Does anyone ever do that anymore?  Definitely, one of my favorite things. :)  Cities. That's where I go to recharge my batteries.

Food.  I love good food and love to cook.  While I'm not the Barefoot Contessa or Rachel Ray, I can hold my own.  For me, I try not to put anything into my body that is not natural.  It's almost impossible to do that 100% of the time, but I try.  That means I read every label, and stay away from foods with preservatives or food dyes, buy meat/chicken/fish, without antibiotics or hormones in it.  It amazes me how people are so willing to put chemicals into their bodies, every day.  It takes longer for me to shop than most people, because of the reading thing, but, to me it is worth it.  And, like I said, it's not always 100%, but, pretty close.  So, if you come to my home for a meal, know that everything will be freshly prepared with love.

Clothes...oh, yeah, love clothes.  I love a well-dressed man.  Okay, it may be shallow, but, I love a man who cares about how they look.  And, how they smell.  There is something very alluring about someone wearing cologne that is subtle and soft.  One time, I was on the subway in NY,  standing next to a guy who smelled so good I wanted to bury my face in his neck!  Most men look great in a tuxedo, and a well-fitting suit, but, sometimes it is ruined by the wrong shirt color.  Not all men can wear certain shades of blue.  Jeans.  Oh, boy, here is where men screw it up.  Guys,  please stay away from relaxed fit Wranglers...not flattering.  Jeans should be fitted -- there are so many choices out there.  For me, one of the sexiest looks ever is a pair of jeans, long and lean, with a white, long-sleeved t-shirt. Or, a with a crisp, white button-down.  Uh, huh.

Music...love all kinds, but, I must admit, I love Motown from the 60s.  Dancing in the Street.  The Supremes. I really do listen to all different kinds of music -- from Classical/Opera to rap (well, very little rap) .  I think the greatest music to make love to is Chris Botti - playing the trumpet.  If you haven't listened to him yet, give a try. Mood.  I'm not sure that is was Justin Timberlake who brought Sexy Back....I think it was Chris Botti!

I love thoughtfulness and sincerity.  A friend of mine has been battling Breast Cancer, and about a year ago, or so, she posted an on line journal of her experience.  When I was reading remarks posted by her husband, I was so moved by the thoughtfulness of his words as he expressed how much he loved and supported her.  It reminded me of what is really important in a partner and I knew immediately that his words were not only sincere, but, a reflection of what their life was about.  I strive to be thoughtful as I go about my days; I do a good job of remembering birthdays and still send cards through the mail, whenever I can.  I do my best not to say anything I don't mean...and mean what I say.  Once words are said, they can not be taken back....that's a basic lesson for young kids to learn early on.

There's a lot more to dish out, and much more will be exposed in future blogs.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

My Life is an Oprah Episode - On Loss and Grief

Loss is an inevitable part of life.  The greatest of losses, I believe, is when someone we love dearly, dies.
Grief is a reaction to such loss.  Nothing really prepares us for it, even though we seem to be in training for it all our lives.  We learn in the early years, that everyone dies....everyone reaches the end, and that we must accept this human condition and move on .  Whenever I hear of someone's passing, I have been struck with how the grief expected, becomes a contest.  .....well, he/she was old and led a good life (less grief?), how sad it is to lose a child (greatest of grief?), the suffering has ended, they're in a better place....etc.   There is only grief, and the degree to which we feel the sorrow and pain becomes personal to us as our fingerprint.  And, during times of holidays, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas, our grief magnifies, partly because I think we feel guilty if we somehow feel happy without our loved ones near.

My father died seven weeks before my daughter was born, which robbed me of a certain amount of happiness I wanted to feel in preparing for her birth.  I was grieving and angry at the same time. To quote Dickens, "it was the best of times, it was the worst of times."  Was the fact that because he was a heavy drinker and smoker hastened his death made me feel so angry?  Probably so.  But, I was so very sad that he would not meet my daughter, because I know he would have been crazy about the charming toddler who possesses some of his qualities....the sense of adventure and fun, and the smiling blue eyes.   I think our children are sometimes a "dumping" ground of our parents' spirit -- recognizable only after our parents' are gone.

For me the greatest grief I have experienced was with the passing of my sister Ann.  Annie lost her battle some years ago to a rare disease, Wegener's Granulomatosis, which is an autoimmune disease causing inflammation of blood vessels.  She had it for about seven years.  When we would talk about her having this disease, and search for any causes, she would simply say, it was having bad luck.  We always talked about her living with the disease, rather than succumbing to it, and when it seemed like she would lose her battle,  I wasn't prepared.

I was in Paris, and as was always the case when I traveled, had an agreement with my sister Marge, to always advise each other where we were, and if we needed to tell each other anything would leave messages on our work voice mail.  This trip was no different.  I checked my messages, and found one from Marge, advising that Ann had been hospitalized, in California, where she lived.  Ann's situation was stable, and when I returned home in a few days, was able to speak with her while she was in the hospital.  It was this time of year -- Thanksgiving, and she was out of the hospital and spending the day with family.  Because the disease had affected her gastric system, she wasn't able to eat much.  I spoke with her a few times, mostly about her recovery and the length of time it would take.  A few weeks later, she took a turn for the worse, and lost her battle.  My fondest memory of Annie is that of a sparkling, charming person, very artistic...was a fantastic dress maker and crafts woman, a Rolling Stones groupie,  Woodstock participant, in every sense, hippie, and later became the quintessential homemaker, ala Martha Stewart.  Her son Sean, was only ten (10) and that alone is cause for great heartache, and as her husband, Pete (Mr.Mom),  slowly put the pieces of their lives together, we were all left to grieve.  There is hardly a day that goes by when I do not think of Annie, and I want to pick up the phone so badly to speak with her, that I find myself not breathing for a few moments.

My mother had Alzheimer's and died having been spared the knowledge that Ann had passed.  And, because of the Alzheimer's, the grieving of losing my mother took place for the five years she had this dignity - robbing illness.  When she died,  it came with both relief and profound sadness.  Mothers are our connection to the world; the magic glue that binds our spirits and our souls.  A mother's love is instinctual, unconditional and forever.

I know there are several of you reading this blog that have suffered loss, and I want you all to know that my heart reaches out to you today, and everyday, as we all search for  the peace which comes beyond the grief.

                    Perhaps they are not stars,
                    but openings in the Heaven
                    where the love of our lost ones
                      pour through
                    and shines upon us
                    to let us know
                   they are happy.
                                                     - anonymous

Finally, know that there is no time limit on grieving.  Each of us finds the right moment when we place our loved one securely  into a pocket in our heart, and imprinted onto our souls, drawing strength from the love they gave us.

Monday, November 8, 2010

My Life is an Oprah Episode - On Love, Dating and Fear

Love.  We all want it and we all need it.  Is there a better feeling than being in love?  In feeling loved in return?
Songs, movies, and books perpetually throw love in our faces.  And, in our hearts. And, in our daily thoughts and prayers.  There's different types of  love, but, the most prolific type of  love is the romantic variety.

We all know people who seem to meet the "right" person, fall in love, get married and stay married for life.
With the divorce rate at an all time high, I know the number of people this is happening to, is dwindling.
Are we meant to be with one person, to love only once?  Yes, if we 're penquins.

I've been in love more than once.  Pure, unabashed, raw emotion I have felt for another human being.  With the delight of middle of the day and middle of the night calls, long conversations, serious lovemaking, wild crazy sex,  fun times, future planning and simply living in the moment, I had love.   Then it ended.  And, I found someone else, or they found me.  If  I  believed there was only one person destined to be with me, I would have driven my car off of a cliff a long time ago, having thought there is only one chance at love.  Only one soul mate?.  No, I don't think so.  I am a seeker. A searcher. An explorer.  Love is out there.  There are many reasons why relationships don't always work out....I'll speak of some of that in future blogging.

I have recently thought about the dating scene.  Not just for myself, but, I've thought about many friends and acquaintances I have, some of them in their twenties and early thirties.  Imagine, if you will, trying to date today.  You head out on the weekend, looking and feeling great, you hang with the Glenwood South cowboys (for those not in Raleigh -- Glenwood South is where the bars/restaurants/nightlife is), hoping for a connection.  So, you meet someone.  Okay. And, with the technology today, you expect to hear from them via text, email, or cell phone, before you make it home.  I think the nurturing of a relationship is missing..  It all has become very disposable.  Look, I will not say that I have never had a one-night stand; I have.  But, that was a long time ago, and I don't even think it is wrong -- as long as both parties feel the same way.  If you are looking for a special connection, I do not think hooking up is the right avenue. Not for women, and not for men.  Love will remain elusive...because, like any project, it requires a beginning, a middle and an end.  Romance is not an exact science but, hooking up is merely the end.

I used to believe that having a love affair was dishonest.  Society is governed by codes and rules and our desires don't fit into those rules.  A love affair can and should be a beautiful thing.  Because, prior to having settled into our future, with a mate, isn't the love affair the beginning of that future? Or not. Recently, I flirted with the idea of having an affair with someone much younger than I,  and those thoughts made me smile.  This person is a friend and someone I've known for some years,  who on a couple of occasions said some things, and I in return said some things, where the demarcation line between friendship and something else, was crossed.  Full disclosure -- alcohol was involved.  Did that make the feelings less real?  Aren't drunken words sober thoughts?  Nothing happened, but, I had been willing to explore the opportunity, because I have come to know how short life is and we should all grab onto the possibility of sharing happiness.  And, I am glad we are still friends -- I would not want to lose that.

Finally, fear.  Fear is like wearing cement shoes.  It keeps us stuck from pursuing our dreams.  Especially when it comes to love.  We are all so afraid of being hurt, at failing, that we simply forget to be.  There is a much higher price we pay for doing nothing, than if we make a mistake.  Whenever my granddaughter, Katey, makes a mistake, I remind her the reason why erasers are on pencils.  We get to start over.  Every day, if we need to.   No matter how many times I have fallen down,  I know it only counts that I get up.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

My Life is an Oprah Episode - Bankruptcy

There are hundreds of thousands of Americans who are struggling financially, due to the state of the economy and job markets, and as a result of this, bankruptcy filings are at an all time high.  I can tell you, quite openly, that even with those numbers out there, when it happens to you -- you feel very alone.

When I lost my job with American Express after September 11, I was devastated.  But, I had a 401K and a pension, and thought I would be employed again, within months.  That did not happen.  So, after about six (6) months, I decided to open my own business, and by the first anniversary of my job loss, I was up and running.
The business was successful and I was once again making a good living.  Mind you, I was without a good salary for about two (2) years, and did go through the 401K and pension as needed to get the business up and running, and maintain my personal financial obligations.  When I sold the business after four (4) years, I was able to recoup the money that I had used from those retirement funds. That was 2006.  Because I had agreed to finance the new owner of the business, I was earning a monthly income and looking forward to a lump sum balloon payment in 2009.  I even took a job in 2008 to supplement my income and to provide me health coverage with a much lower cost than I was spending on my own. Things were great. The problem was that in August of 2008, the person who bought my business defaulted on her payments to me.  Fast forward to late 2009, what would have been a celebratory month -- having received a huge balloon payment -- was a disaster.  I had successfully sued her -- however, collecting any money is another story.  Her holdings were solidly protected, and I walked away with a small settlement.  I had to find a way to forgive her.  It has tested me in ways I never thought possible.
In January 2010, I had declared bankruptcy. I had no choice.  If you have ever been through this, you know the feeling.  For me, as I stood in the courtroom with about sixty (60) or so fellow citizens, I started to cry.  I just could not believe this was happening  to me.  It screams " loser".  I worked so hard for so many years, and yet here I was.  I never thought I would ever be in this position.  Reality sets in early on when you are faced, on a daily basis, with the knowledge that you can lose your home; reality stares in the face every day as I now live my financial life, pretty much hour by hour.  It's tough for me to wrap my mind around the fact that by Thursday or Friday of each and every week, I have about $25 left in my bank account to last until my unemployment check is deposited on Monday morning. There is no other money.  That hasn't happened to me since I was in my early 20's and spent each paycheck mostly on partying.  I feel as though I am living in some parallel universe and I will be beamed back to earth at any moment.  The truth is I am heartbroken.
What I miss about not having any money, is a knowing that I can take a trip whenever I want, or buy an expensive outfit, treat my daughter to a shopping spree,  go to great restaurants, theater outings, and attend sporting events, pay for my granddaughter's extra curricular activities. But, mostly I miss the easiness one has in feeling secure.  I do not like this uneasy feeling that pervades my life every day.  I am especially sad that I have no money for Christmas presents, and even though the spirit of Christmas is not about that, and my family and friends understand that, it's still devastating to me.
However, with all the doom and gloom let me just say that what I have always known, rings true.  That the true measure of success is not in what we acquire, not rooted in material worth, but, rather knowing that you always have a choice in how you react to dire circumstances.  I choose to get up every day and feel optimistic and blessed to have what I do have.  That is my health, my family and my friends.  I still have my home and will do whatever necessary to keep it.  And, when I feel sad, I let myself have those moments.  Because, they pass.  Because, I know on a spiritual level, I am going to be alright.

Monday, November 1, 2010

My Life is an Oprah Episode - On Friendship

There's one thing I know how to do really well - be a friend.  I've heard it said many times that if you end up having only one good, true friend, you're doing really well and have a good life.  Well, truth be told, I feel blessed and fortunate to have many friends that I consider to have a very close, good, true relationships with.

Beginning in childhood, I've maintained friendships with several girls, now women, that I have grown up with; friendships that have endured more than fifty years.  As with many friendships, especially that have roots in childhood,  there are and were many common bonds that brought us together.  The neighborhood -- in this case, a housing project in NYC where we grew up;  our particular group all went to Catholic school together, and,  we're from mostly English/Scottish/Irish heritage. Our fathers all hung out in the bar together, our mothers were, for the most part, tough enough to deal with their husbands drinking, and at times, pretending none of it existed.  I mentioned in an earlier blog about social masks....no doubt, our mothers wore them as a way to cope with having to face the daily challenge of holding a family together.  As I look back and think about my friends -- Edie and Marguerite, and my sister, Marge,  mainly, we leaned on each other daily having been faced with the daily drama of having a family member -- in this case a parent -- have a drinking problem.
We all had a certain amount of chaos in our homes,  yet, we formed a bond, and had so much fun....every day.  Because we did not have the technology we have today, and all the trappings that go with that, we managed to creatively spend our days.  Wow, we did some crazy things.  Especially as teenagers....dare we forget the times we tried to get into the Beatles hotel  room?.....picking up sailors (harmless fun!), bringing home some British rock groups home to Edie's house, only to get thrown out by her sister.....at 3 am.....we were no more than 15.  And, laugh we did.  I know most people have fond memories of their youth and teen years;  my friends and I talk about these times whenever we get together.

We sustained times of great tragedy, also.  Edie's father died when she was only twelve.  That was very tough.  I remember being so afraid to go into the room at the funeral home -- not knowing what to expect.
But, the thing that strikes me even today, is how the four of us -- Edie, Marguerite, Marge and myself, stuck together.  There was also Carol and Patrice and others in our "crowd"  but, mainly the four of us were always together.

These paragraphs highlight the early friendships that still exist.  Throughout many other years, I've collected a diverse circle of good friends.  People I know I can call on no matter what is going on with me, who will not judge or criticize my choices; friends who just allowed me to be.  And, I think the common denominator for maintaining these friendships, is that I know how to be a really good friend.  My friends will tell you that they never question my loyalty or that I will be there for them --  no matter what.  Unconditional love.

I will write more about friendship in future blogs....more about who some of them are, and how they have impacted my life.  A friend is a present you give yourself.