Communicate Happiness

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I was off and running and wanted everyone to do exactly what I said. Wait. Pause. I downshifted. I sat in my favorite chair and read the New York Times.

I have tried this gear shifting, simply letting others be, this whole week. With my son Hayden around the house only for another couple of days before college, I have thought, Screw it! Don’t pester him to load or unload the dishwasher. Let him “beach out,” as he calls it.

Beach out.

Let go.

Quit trying so hard, I tell myself. Life is not a contest. It doesn’t matter who works the hardest or struggles the most.

Make yourself a simple life.

Although.

My three children had been planted in front of televisions, laptops, iphones, screens for HOURS! I finally said, That’s it! Outside! I threw a big bouncey ball at them. They took the frisbee.

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We never had so much fun as we did on the nearby field of Riverside Park. We played Monkey in the Middle and the Witch in the Well and yes, Tag.

I hope that when they look back at their childhoods they remember playing in the field of grass. I hope I too remember laying in the grass and staring at the blue blue sky.

A few days ago, when I met my bf Jolain in Central Park, I could not get two words out of my head – Ample. Sunshine.

Last month when I was in Dublin for ten days, I had a beautiful time, but I never had days upon days of ample sunshine. Many days we had a bright blue sky with white-grey clouds. And a sprinkling of rain.

Now I have days and days of sunshine. That’s New York for you.

Growing up in Chicago, it was more like Dublin. I remember the winters — if it was grey, it was grey the whole day. When I was Hayden’s age, I moved to New York for college. I could not believe the light. Growing up in the suburbs I needed more light.

In the Presbyterian faith, churches that support the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, trans, bi families and partnerships are called more light churches. I like that.

Yesterday I was looking through my TimeHop app which captures my tweets, posts, updates from my past. I read something I had written a year ago.

Praise more. Complain less.

I think I had been inspired by skimming a book called A Complaint-Free World. I vowed to live complaint-free for one day.

Today, too, I vow to beach out, let go, have fun, find the places of ample sunshine, more light.

So far, so good.

Incidentally, a wave of joy and pride has come over me about my son heading off to college on Tuesday this week. I do not feel sad, I feel happy for him and for us as a family.

We have had a good week, shopping for his dorm room, going to Coney Island, being extras in a Greg Kinnear film. We are making memories. And we are beaching out.

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This post was written at the Ecumenical Library Writing Group. We were asked by Regina to meditate on two words, Communicate and Happiness. Then we sat silently for one minute silently as if we were in the midst of Lectio Divina, a spiritual practice of deep connection with the word. Our writing group meets next on September 14th at the Interchurch Center for 45 minutes at lunch time.  

A Healthy Heart

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I cannot bear my son Hayden leaving for college in 10 days and then again, I cannot wait for him to go. I was reminded of this when we went for his heart check up.

On Friday, Hayden was released from the pediatric cardiology unit at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx. Dr. Pass guaranteed the heart would last another 80 years. Hayden asked, “90?”

“I can’t guarantee 90.”

Being back in pediatric cardiology sent me in a tailspin, remembering the angst as I stood outside the ER, my son in surgery for his tachycardia, his rapid rate. He had gone under general anesthesia three times to fix this. The last time, June of 2009, Dr. Pass fixed it.

He is fine and we have almost forgotten how far we have come and how we lived through nights in intensive care.

I am proud of how we managed. I did not make too much of it or too little of it. I did not cover him in bubble wrap, hover over him like a hot house flower or put him on meds. (Well, actually he was on medication, a beta blocker, to prevent tachycardia, but only briefly as it seemed to make him groggy.)

Because he had this heart problem, my heart was connected to his. I watched over him, making sure if he did go into tachycardia, on the playground after school, that he would stand on his head and his heart rate would return to normal, often, he reported, with a somersault in his chest, not slowly back to normal, but with a thud.

On Friday, I told my boy/my 18-year-old man, “You were brave, never complained. You never asked, ‘Why me?’ You got through it. I am proud of you.”

And I got through it, too, with the buoyancy of my daughters to help. Because when you have one sick child, there is nothing like the life raft of two healthy daughters to carry you home.

Maybe in some ways, the girls were sidelined by his heart challenges and, yes, his charisma. This, more than anything, is why I am looking forward to my son going off to college. Because my Catherine and Charlotte deserve the limelight too. My 15-year-old daughters are separate and complete universes. They have been referred to as “the girlies” or “the twins.” They are their own people.

They are ready for their closeups. Their healthy hearts, too, are worth celebrating.

Be grateful for the healthy heart.

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Me and the kids (at Barbara and Chris’s wedding a couple of years ago).

East Belfast Mission

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mbcoudal:

Some of my reporting and thoughts visiting Belfast.

Originally posted on United Methodist Women:

There are countries that have walls. And we think, Well we don’t have walls in our country.

And we see militaristic writing on those walls. And we think, Well we don’t have hurtful or hateful messages in our country.

Or we see streets draped in offensive flags. And, once again, we think, Well we don’t have racist or sectarianist flags in our country.

The beautiful thing about the peace and transformation process is that we all need it. Every country. And every person.

In the U.S., we, too, have walls, words, images, flags that cause pain.

We all need to navigate conflict better, to build a longer-lasting peace.

“My life’s work has been trying to make a difference,” said Rev. Dr. Gary Mason who is building a peace and conflict transformation organization after completing his work with the East Belfast Mission and Skainos, a community center in East Belfast. He…

View original 475 more words

Layering of Happiness

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millie art

Milagros (Millie) Suriano-Rivera, artist, inspires me!

Behind our girl/woman is a patchwork of newsprint, bubbles, circles, Xs and Os.

Behind all women there are many back stories, unexplained or overexplained scenarios, patterns, styles, habits. I wish through this flat screen that you could touch the texture of this work of art. To caress the layers and feel the bumps of glue and paint that hold it all together.

I want to create this kind of collage, a layering of meaning and a build-up of patterns.

We are always building our last layer. Sometimes we get stuck in an old pattern. We think we are done, but it is only a foundation for the next layer.

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Also by Milagros Suriano-Rivera, my former colleague.

I have a pattern of apologizing for the messiness of my work, my art, my life. Collage appeals to me because I am patching it together, painting over that last round, gesso-ing (whitewashing), getting stuck, then starting over. I do not need to apologize.

Life is mixed media – messy and doodley. Made with pens, colors, words, fabric, papers.

I have been letting go of scraps, wondering as I give away books or clothes, What was I doing hanging on to this? When I die, I do not want my children saddled with all my stuff. Discard. I will have a harder time when I come to all my journals, some with writing, some with art. I have hundreds of them.

I want to patch together my stuff and make it beautiful. I like making art. Times when I am always happy? Paintbrush or bike handlebars in hand.

I am also happy when I am hugging someone I love. You need seven hugs a day my yoga teacher told me. Making art is a little like hugging – or making the paper hug the paint or fabric or mixed media or glue.

“If it is too simple, complicate it. If it is too complicated, simplify it.” Mariano Rosario, my mixed media teacher at the Art Students League, told me.

This post was written at the Ecumenical Library Writing Group. We were shown a mixed media collage by my former colleague, Milagros (Millie) Suriano-Rivera. Alicia Pitterson led the writing group. She asked us to look at Millie’s painting and write about what resonates. We meet next on August 24 at noon. 

Millie Sells

Here’s Millie on the left selling one of her works at a street fair.

Visit Millie at: Milliemade Creations Facebook page

The Magic of Tidying Up

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Once when Hayden was a toddler, I purged many of his stuffed animals, toys, baby clothes. I displayed his favorite things – a few matchbox cars, Winnie the Pooh, books about Mr. Sillypants. When he came into his room, he didn’t say, “Where’s my stuff?” he said, “Mom, where did you find all my things?’

That’s what happens when you get rid of your things, you find your things.

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I hated these bookshelves in our entry way because besides being a place for books, they were a place to stash shoes and bike helmets. (Dont’ judge, people. We live in an apartment in the city – we don’t have a garage, attic, basement. We have narrow closets.)

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I have been following the wisdom of the Marie Kondo bestseller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: the Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. It is not a simple process. You have to gather all like things in one place. Here are the steps:

  1. clothes
  2. books
  3. papers
  4. komono (miscellaneous)image

First, discard. Then, organize.

While the girls are at camp in Vermont and Chris is fishing in Canada, I have been purging like mad. I emptied two bookshelves. Then emptied six more.

I took time out to get a pedicure. Yay.

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The least fun part was our handyman yelling at me and Hayden for using the wrong elevator to drag our book case into the garbage. Sorry. ;)

The most fun? Arranging the book cases. In one, I created a shelf for mine and my friends’ published work. There’s a lot of room for more books, friends. Here’s another book case.image

I reorganized the entryway. “Keep only those things that spark joy in your heart.” My father’s painting, my mother’s figurine, wall art from Hayden’s trip to Botswana, a mug/bowl made by our beloved babysitter Josie. (I can see in this picture that the bookcase and the door needs a paint job.) image

This is where the tipsy bookshelves were. The space is now becoming a homework or dining nook.imageThe basic tenet of the book is to get rid of everything that does not spark joy when you hold it in your hands. That’s tough. Because, like my clothes, not many of my books make me feel Oh Joy! Oh Rapture!

I don’t know if it’s because I don’t feel I deserve joy. Or being a good Christian, I have set aside material objects and taken joy from spiritual experiences. I enjoy relationships and adventures not things.

I have not wanted to make the decision of what to keep for the rest of the family. I piled many of the girls’ and Chris’s books to let them make the call. Our books were all junked together. As the children get older, I believe everyone should have their own bookshelf. (And the girls share a closet and during this process, I have thought they should have their own spaces.)

Maybe these shifting family space dynamics are spurred by Hayden leaving for college in three (yes, three!) weeks.

What did I learn?

It was hard to give away books that were given to me. Books that I still haven’t read.

I let go of half-read books or books that I hung on to for someday. Like, let’s say there was going to be Armageddon, I would be ready with my books.

Many of my books were accumulated for book club or before my Kindle.

Books get dusty. Blech. I had a headache doing this yesterday. So Hayden and I took a break and went to see Mission Impossible. Fun.

I have a ton of blank journals and half-written journals. I have baby journals, bird logs, yoga journals, books of lists, gratitude journals. The Marie Kondo method suggests keeping those and going through them during the komono or keepsake portion of the purge cycle. I can wait.

Still. I could not help but read some of my children’s writing as I purged.

Here’s one:

“The hospital is not as fun as you think it is. You get lots of shots, you have to stay in bed all day and night and you cannot walk around because you have wires attached to you.”

I think Hayden wrote this after one of his three heart surgeries/procedures. I think that one was from the one when he was 10.

This is why going through stuff is difficult. And gratitude-inspiring. And time-consuming.

I look at my stuff and think, Wow. How far we have come.

Or I don’t think at all, I simply feel. Does it spark joy? Yes, keep. No, toss.

There is beauty in minimalism. There is joy in simplicity.

Also read:

My post about decluttering clothes the KonMari way.

The Daily Post asks: What obstacles hold you back from getting it done this week?

 

The Spiritual Path

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I walked at the Stormont Estate in Belfast. Very pretty.

At the airport  gate, I chatted with an older woman who had just walked the Camino in Spain. I’m not really sure where the Camino is. I’m too jetlagged from my Ireland trip to google it. But I think it’s a pilgrimage following in the footsteps of some beloved saint.

The 70ish woman carried only a small backpack. Her feet were tired she said but her boots were sturdy. She lifted a boot to show me.

“Nice,” I said although they were just plain old hiking shoes, not attractive at all. I guess hiking boots are not supposed to be attractive. “They look functional.”

“Some people do hike the Camino in sneakers, but I think you need these.”

“I am going to do that – a spiritual journey,” I nodded.

“Any walk can be a spiritual walk,” she said. “Like you told me you’re from New York. You could walk the Hudson River?”

“Really?” I said. “What’s spiritual about the Hudson?”

“I don’t know. Maybe do Vermont then,” she said.

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This is a path Dan Wakefield and I walked at the Pendle Hill, a Quaker retreat in Pennsylvania.

I am attracted to the idea of long walks like the Camino, wherever that is, or the Appalachian Trail. Yes, the AT’s cool. You start in the spring in the south and end in the fall in New England. But do you sleep in a cozy bed? I don’t think so. I love a bed and breakfast where someone – not me – makes me coffee.

Maybe I should consider the wise woman’s advice and see the Hudson as a spiritual path. I could blog about it. I might call the new blog, Hiking the Hudson, A Spiritual Journey. Oh, I like the sound of that. The Hudson is beautiful in the fall. Maybe I’ll do the hike this fall when my darlings go back to school.

Wait. The Hudson is too ordinary. I want to do an extraordinary hike — Mount Kilimanjaro or K2 — a climb that will make me famous. Or at least make me feel alive. I might encounter rattlesnakes, freeze to death, stare down a wild boar. But will I sleep in a soft place? I don’t think so. Maybe I should stick with the Hudson and then I can head home every night to my cozy bed on the Upper West Side.

Maybe every walk can be a spiritual walk, just like the elder pilgrim said. Every journey can spark lofty thoughts, philosophical ponderings and celebrations of God.

I believe God is found in nature and in chance encounters on the daily  journey. Maybe God even resides in the ordinary river that I pass every day.

Maybe I don’t have to make a pilgrimage to some distant land and blog about it to find my spiritual path.

I wrote this post at the Ecumenical Library lunchtime writing group at the Interchurch Center led by Tracey Del Duca. The next God Box writing group meets on Aug. 10 and 24. 

Memoir and Belfast

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Today’s my fifth day in Ireland.

I have been to Ireland, at least, three times before – ’74, ’83, and ’96. When I was 12, in ’74, I was with my mother, we were on a tour, paid for, I believe, by a small inheritance from my grandmother Catherine. And we were with my aunt Terry and a couple of hilarious great aunts. I remember riding on a tour bus, having a lot of laughs.

Then in ’83, I’d been studying in an NYU London summer program, gobbling up delicious chunks of Cadbury, Shakespeare, theatre, French Silk, and art history. In London, I’d dyed my hair with streaks of blue. My roommate was punk and she inspired me. My hair was basically platinum blonde, so the color of my blue streaks was green. Pretty. So I thought. Sure, I couldn’t get a comb through it. The day after I got home to Park Ridge, Illinois, my mother made me visit Arlene to get my hair cut and colored. From that day forward, my hair has been, semi-normal. Well, at my first wedding, I wore it asymmetrical, you know, one side long and the other short. But that was just cool.

During that NYU London summer, I’d stayed with Colin, my grammar school penpal in Belfast. We were frisked just going into the movie theatre. And to get into the city center, soldiers eyed you, patrolled our bus.

When I asked Colin, ‘Where are all those soldiers, riding in the back of the open trucks, going?’ He said, ‘Nowhere. They just ride around.’ With machine guns, they rode around then. I haven’t seen soldiers like that on this visit.

We had a lot of laughs in pubs and talked politics then. How we hated Ronald Reagan. I went to a party, this guy who hosted the party, this swank Iranian, made a recurring joke, more and more frequently as the drinking went on, about kidnapping me –because that was the thing then, the kidnapping of Americans by Iranians. And I didn’t think it was funny, but I went along, laughing. Because I felt it was impolite. I didn’t want to be a buzzkill in another country and say to the host of the party, “That’s not funny.”

That summer, when my classes ended, my boyfriend at the time, Jim, who would become my first husband, met me in London. We came back over to Ireland, rented a car and toured around. Mostly, we had a great time, going to pubs and driving the countryside. Snapping pictures. (As always, having a lot of laughs. My kids sometimes tell me now, ‘You have a laughing problem.’)

I remember thinking, Ya, it’s easy to take great pictures here. I took my pics with film, of course. And Jim, moody bastard, encouraged me, believing me to be a brilliant writer and photographer. So whatever other failings he/we had, I loved and was grateful for the way he encouraged me to write and take pics.

Then, 19 years ago, my godfather Uncle Kevin was taking his six siblings and their spouses and his two children on a round-the-country Ireland trip to celebrate his 50th birthday. And Chris, my new husband at the time, and I horned in on the journey (and I was self-conscious about that during the trip, believing I had imposed ourselves in their journey. I was/am sensitive.)

I was pregnant with Hayden. My aunt Judy told me, ‘This is probably the happiest time of your life – the pregnancy of your first child.’

And I remember being happy, so happy when I was pregnant, as if my purpose in life had been revealed, I was going to be a mother. And a damn good one. I had been a great babysitter. How different could it be?

I made a little video of Ireland at the time of that trip. I was still doing my cable show when I was pregnant.

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I have had a lot of dreams in Laura’s sweet second bedroom in Dublin, near the docks.

My writing teacher Wendy Rohm said that her students report a lot of vivid dreams during the Dublin workshop. And, apparently, they also see ghosts at the Arts Club where her workshops were held. I don’t believe in ghosts, but I don’t not believe in them. I’m like Scooby Doo, a scaredy-cat until they’re revealed to be the local real estate agent, trying to drive away tourists or something. Then, I’m all bravado.

When I visited the Yeats exhibit at the National Library of Ireland, I saw how Yeats believed in automatic writing as a way to enter into your unconscious — to use writing to find a deeper level of existence.

The Irish are mystics.

The Dublin writing retreat with Wendy helped me organize my thoughts on plot points, blurbs, the structure of my narrative. Those are not my strengths. (Probably not Yeats’s either.)

I like to meander in my writing, in my life. Travel is good for meanderers.

I’m writing this from the train from Dublin to Belfast for my work with United Methodist Women. I love the blessing (and occasional curse) of working for this group — and Global Ministries too. I love that these agencies love and support peace and peacemakers..

In the Shadow a Gunman by Sean O’Casey which I saw Friday night at the Abbey, the poet is not the brave soul. He is grand, dramatic, beautiful, full of bluster. It is the girl Minnie Powell who is brave. She is a perfect mix of idealist and pragmatist. I love her. I love that it was Yeats’s muse, Maud Gonne, who inspired him.

Women are mystics.

Women are more revered in Irish culture than American culture. Maybe it’s the inheritance of the Catholic cult of Mary. What’s not to love about Mary?

A mother of three young children is nearby on the train. She is reading a paperback with a pretty cover, How To Cope, a welcoming approach to life’s challenges. Something like that. The Welcoming Approach. I must try that.

Another woman, across from, looks exactly like my mother’s cousin with Maureen. But with a different color hair, blonde instead of black (not green or blue). It’s funny to be in a place where people look familiar, like family, yet are unrelated. I am half-Irish.

And I’m from an island, too.

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I remember when we were in Nantucket. Just me and the kids on spring break. A Jamaican guy in a sandwich shop – or was it a teacher at the Whaling museum? – one of the two said, “People who come from islands do well on islands, like people from the Caribbean or Ireland do well on Nantucket.” And I said, “Ah, like me from the island of Manhattan?” I joked.

There was a beautiful assignment my children wrote at PS 87- write a poem, beginning with, “I am from…” I am from here.

 

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The displays at the Titanic Museum were so interactive and creative. Here’s me in front of one video.

The Titanic Museum was ah-mazing. Highly recommend.

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Under your feet is a replica of the remains of the Titanic.

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And, of course, the beauty of the Irish countryside, just spotted outside of my train window.