Mother of the Groom 2.0

When I was in high school, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth (my first car was a Brontosaurus), we were tie-dyed wearing, long-haired flower children who wanted to make love and not war. It was the seventies and we were the Age of Aquarius generation.

Many of us became enamored with a poetry book written by a Lebanese poet and philosopher named Kahlil Gibran. The book’s title is The Prophet and it was actually written in 1923 but became popular in the 70s. I remember quoting it extensively and remembering many of his one-liners about the important things in life..

And as I thought about today, I was reminded by what he had to say about Children. Here is what he wrote….

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

I always loved that line because even when reading it as a teenager, I understood that sooner or later parents had to let go and let their children fly forth and live their lives. I think all of us who are parents can relate to this.

These words also remind me of the lyrics to a song called Find Your Wings that I remember from youth group days when we celebrated Walt, Grace, James, Greg, and Lauren as seniors graduating…

It’s not living if you don’t reach for the sky
I’ll have tears as you take off
But I’ll cheer as you fly

I’m here for you whatever this life brings
So let my love give you roots
And help you find your wings

Someone once described being a Mom as having a piece of your heart taken out and walk around outside of you. There’s my heart taking his first steps. There’s my heart getting behind a wheel of a car. There’s my heart going off to college. There’s my heart finding another heart to love.

Walt – you are that first piece of my heart that walked around outside of me. You made me a Mom and there has been no greater thing in my life than being called Mom. I’d like to think our bond is still as strong as it was when you needed me a lot more – it’s just different but in many ways ever more rewarding.

Walt and Lexi – I know how difficult the last year has been for both of you, and I am so proud of how you never gave up on each other and got through it all.  It showed everyone that your love is strong and can endure the tough times as well as the good times, and that you carry each other’s hearts within your own.  There’s no greater proof of true love than that. Hope you know that Dad and I will there for you always.

In the words of John Lennon, you have become “the other half of the sky” to each other. May the love that gave you both your wings carry you across that sky, and may that sky be filled with light and love and joy and an Ewok dog named Gizmo!

Christmas 2020

If you are a fan of the Netflix show Stranger Things, then you will know what I mean when I say that 2020 was the year of living in the Upside Down. Here’s one of my favorite quotes about 2020: “This is not the year to get everything you want. This is the year to appreciate everything you have.”  With that in mind, I appreciate:

        …the good health of everyone in my immediate family, and that both of my cataract surgeries were successful.

        …the birth of our great-nephew Caleb in March and our granddaughter Rori Rose Keeney in June, and that they all live within driving distance of us.

        …all the planning and work that Walt and Lexi did to pivot from a traditional wedding in August to one of the best weddings ever, under a tent in our backyard with just immediate family and the wedding party. Such happiness grown out of disappointment and sadness!

        …being elected president of Impact 100 Garden State, which inspires me in countless ways, enables me to serve while at home, and brings so many wonderful women into my circle.

       …that more Americans voted in this election than at any time ever, and that both democracy and hope have managed to survive.

       …the creativity of writers, comedians, and artists of all kinds who make us laugh, pivot, and inspire us to find our best selves in the midst of so much that disturbed and saddened us.

       …the paid roof over our heads, the toilet paper in our pantry, the food in our freezers, and that we still have enough to share with others who don’t.

       …all the essential workers, especially the doctors and nurses, who don’t have the luxury of working from home and who care for us like family at great personal risk.

       …all my tribes: our neighborhood tribe, my former publishing tribe, my family tribe, my CFJ and FISH tribes, my Delta Nu tribe, my oldest friends’ and newest friends’ tribes.  The laughter, kindness, wisdom, insight, generosity, and comfort that I get from all of you provides me with strengthened immunity to fight not just the virus but all of life’s infections.

       …grace in the world – grace that “meets us where we are but doesn’t leave us where it found us.” (Anne Lamott).

       May this Christmas and holiday season find you warm and safe among loved ones. Hoping we will finally be able to see each other in person and hug in 2021!

When This Is Over

when this is over

As we learn to process and adapt to the daily statistics of COV-19 infections and the limits placed on our daily lives, I cannot help but wonder: what will become of us? What will the world look like a year from now? Will things go back to what we all have come to view as normal? Will the pandemic be so devastating that we endure losses of life, of wealth, of liberty from which we never recover? Will our lives resemble those from the many apocalyptic movies we have grown up watching, a Mad Max States of America? Or will we pull together, stand up and say enough already, enough divisiveness, enough politics as usual, enough cruelty and selfishness, and create a better world?

I would love for my followers and friends to start a discussion about this in the comments section of this blog. I have been thinking about this a lot, and it would seem that for a long time now, we as a human race, since we left hunting and gathering and began what the author of Sapiens calls “the agricultural revolution”, have been taking a wrecking ball to our precious small blue planet,  and to the fauna and flora that inhabit it with us. Will this pandemic result in a brave new better world or will it bring out even more ugliness, extinction, and suffering?

The first world things we take for granted – food on the supermarket shelves, services like nail and hair salons, restaurants and bars, gym memberships, theatre and sporting events; what will it cost us should we lose them forever and with what will we replace them?

The majority of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, without even a thousand dollars in the bank. How will they survive and can we come together to help those who most need our financial help in a way that doesn’t bankrupt us all?

Can capitalism become the ideal political model (what we were taught it should be), a kinder and gentler system where a true balance between corporations and labor, between the wealthy and the poor, is achieved? Can our democracy be transformed from its current state of oligarchy? Can we go back to the United States of America and not the civil war segregation of red states and blue states?

My son, who lives about 20 minutes away, stopped by and when I asked him if he and his fiancée Lexi needed anything, he asked me for two things. I had to laugh as I bagged a few bottles of red wine and a spray can of Lysol. Comfort and defense – the yin and yang of our new reality.

“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” Dickens’ words never seem more relevant as we wonder if the hoarding represents who we are as humans, or the healthcare workers who report for 16 hour shifts every day with limited PPE. Who will win out – the devil on the shoulder or the angel?

I want with every mitochondrion in my body to believe that the angels will win, and not only that they will win, but that we as a species will demand more from our government, from our neighbors, from the world, and from ourselves. I want us to pull together and make the tough decisions to save our climate, to reform our political systems, and to create a world where skin color and geographic birth never determine your life span, your life choices, or your life’s worth.

I know I have lived an extremely privileged life, and I know that makes me more of an optimist than a cynic. For those of us who have the most to lose, it’s natural that we would be clinging to our stuff the most. Yet for those of us who have the most, we must remember that “to whom much is given, much is expected.”

In the 1984 movie Starman Jeff Bridges plays an alien who comes to Earth to learn about us and is hunted down by our government. He takes the form of a widow’s dead husband, and her terror turns to love as he weakens and she fights to get him to the specific location where he can rendezvous with his spaceship. In a few short days on Earth he witnesses the best and worst of mankind, and before he leaves, he says, “What I love most about humans is that you are at your best when things are at their worst.”

Human history has certainly shown us that this is not always the case. Will our future look like Mad Max or Star Trek? Every day as I pray for the safety and health of so many, I also pray that we can all commit to being the better selves that Starman saw in us.

Let me know what you think. Stay safe, and even more importantly, be kind.

 

Letter to My Unborn Granddaughter

Baby Keeney

Dear Granddaughter,

We don’t know each other yet but I cannot even begin to describe how much you already mean to me.  Right now, you are floating about in a sea of nourishing fluid in your Mom’s belly, happily growing with a heart that is beating strong and steady, just as your Mom once lived and thrived inside of me.

You are truly a miracle, as every child is. It’s magic and a mystery that transcends anything that biology, genetics or any tenet of science can explain – how someone doesn’t exist one day and then poof – there is a new person in the room, someone you love so much that they become part of the fabric of your patchwork heart.

We don’t know much about you yet except your gender.  Will you be blonde like your Mom or left-handed like me?  Will you be athletic like your Dad or not like any of us at all?  Will you like dogs and rainbows and ice cream and pizza and s’mores and the Red Sox?

It is hard to imagine the world you will inherit. I pray that the world becomes more Utopian and less Orwellian in your lifetime. I hope I am around to see most of it and that I am healthy enough of body and mind to dance at your wedding.

There is so much that I wish for you.  I hope you will love to read, that you will enjoy the act of creation, whether that’s art, literature, music, cooking, or crafts. I hope that whatever you dream becomes real in your life, and that you make the world better in countless ways. I pray that no amount of harm or sadness ever breaks you, that you always have authentic and loving friends in your life (especially a best friend), and a special love who becomes your other half of the sky.

I can’t wait to meet you, and there are so many things that I hope we can do together: experience a Broadway musical, send sky lanterns into the night air, visit children’s and art museums, listen to all kinds of music, make gingerbread houses, discover star constellations, build a treehouse, dance and sing, and even travel to magical places.  There are so many books I want us to read together, so many movies to watch and enjoy, and so many crafts that I would love for us to create together.

Because I know your parents, I know that you will grow to be a fierce and wonderful woman with the heart of a lion, someone we will all be proud to know. You will be a giver, not a taker, because you will learn early on that true happiness comes not from what we get but from what we give. Your parents will teach you which little voice inside to listen to, and they will give you roots as well as wings so that someday we will all watch you take off across whatever sky you choose.

I pray that you never take good health, happiness, and love for granted, that you are never motivated by hate, that you never lose your childlike wonder, and that grace comes whenever you need it.

I hope that I can be your comfort food, your safety net, your lighthouse in a storm, but also someone who helps you find awe-filled joy – your butterbeer ice cream, your northern lights, your portal at the back of the wardrobe.

So, for now, my littlest of sweeties, swim blissfully in your starless sea, tethered to your Mom by a cord that pumps blood from her heart to yours, a connection that transcends every other. Sleep and dream of lovely sunsets and golden shores, and grow strong enough to survive outside your safe cocoon. Please know that you are so loved by so many, especially me.

We are so blessed that your journey has begun and we will all celebrate the magical day in June when you are born. Love you more!

 

Lessons Learned

2019 nightlights

As 2019 draws to a close, here, in no particular order and with the help of minds far wiser than mine, are lessons learned:

Be brave enough to suck at something new.

And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good. John Steinbeck

If it costs you your peace, it’s too expensive.

Laughter is truly the best medicine.

Don’t forget to look up. Neil degrasse Tyson

There is always, always, always, something to be thankful for.

When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the losers. Socrates

In whom much is given, much is required.  Luke 12:48

We never stop looking.  We’re all waiting for that moment – this belief that there will be no back to the wardrobe, that it goes all the way through.  Leigh Bardugo

You can’t wait for inspiration.  You have to go after it with a club.

Asked if you want to visit Croatia, the answer should always be yes.

You are never too old to make good friends.

Exercise makes you look better naked.  So does alcohol.  Your choice.

The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away. Picasso

Sometimes the road less traveled is less traveled for a reason.  Jerry Seinfeld

Family is anyone who you can’t imagine your life without. Jennifer Garner

Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.  Wendell Berry

To move forward you have to give back. Oprah

A book is a heart that beats in the chest of another. Rebecca Solnnit

Some people come into your life as blessings. Some come as lessons.  Mother Teresa

A great story never began with someone drinking water.

Some people believe that it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay.  Small acts of kindness and love.  J.R.R. Tokien

If your cup is only half full, you probably need a different bra.

Home isn’t where we live.  Home is where we love.

Reading can seriously damage your ignorance.

Sometimes the universe shows us the way even when we are not looking.

You aren’t wealthy until you have something that money can’t buy. Garth Brooks

I’ve found the key to happiness. Stay the hell away from assholes.

Sunsets are proof that endings can be beautiful too.  Bernie Taupin

The future has a way of arriving unannounced.

I do not understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us. Anne Lamott

Happy 2020 all!

2019 winter sunset

 

 

 

Inspiration

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Lately I have been thinking a lot about inspiration as I consider the retirement years ahead.   The word “inspire” comes from a Latin root that means “to breathe or blow into” and so it translates as “the act of filling someone with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.”

(For the purpose of this writing, I am only thinking about the positive, creative ways that people are inspired, not the malignant rhetoric that inspires hate-fueled destruction.)

It’s not every day that we feel the breath of some force or spirit filling us with the urge to do or feel something, but since retirement, I have found that finding and encountering inspiration has become a vital part of my life in a way that it hasn’t since I was in high school.

Back then, I copied down (in green ink!) quotations, poetry, and song lyrics in spiral-bound notebooks that I called my “poetry books”.   They include poetry by Edith St. Vincent Millay, Robert Frost, e e cummings, Langston Hughes, Emily Dickinson, to name but a few; song lyrics by the Moody Blues, Carole King (the “Adele” of my teenage years), Bernie Taupin, James Taylor, Cat Stevens, and others, and quotes from a variety of sources.   There is a scattering of my own poetry as well as that of friends and even the occasional boyfriend.

Whether it was “My candle burns at both ends” or “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly.  What is essential is invisible to the eye”, I drew comfort and inspiration from lyricists, poets, philosophers, and my friends.  Often it wasn’t about being pushed towards a creative act but being blown towards understanding and coping with the agony and the ecstasy of teenage life.

These poetry books became diaries, signaling through the words of others what was inspiring me at that specific point in time.

I turn a page and realize this is when my brother and I visited my grandparents’ home for the last time before they sold it….

Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you.

another page and verses on friendship appear, reinforcing my growing need for the lifelines of genuine girlfriends…

I’ve saved some sunlight if you should ever need a place away from darkness.

yet another page and the joy of first love illuminates my delirious free fall…

We need no words, we are complete.

followed by the heartache when that love was over…

I only know that summer sang in me/a little while that in me sings no more.

and then, after a soul-nourishing weekend with best friends…

A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.

Nowadays I find inspiration wherever I can.   I no longer fill spiral-bound notebooks but keep digital files on my phone and on my laptop of poems, quotes, and lyrics that blow through and breathe their magic to me.

I think the world needs a boatload of inspiration these days, especially for those under the age of 30, whom I find are desperately searching for meaning in their lives, and whose hearts are wide and receptive to enormous bursts blowing into their souls.  I pray that the right kind of breezes blow their way.

As I contemplate and envision this last third of my life, I want to be open to the winds of inspiration, whether they blow as gentle breezes or turbulent gales.   I have the luxury of figuring things out as I go, but there is still the temptation to make plans and set goals (those work habits die hard).  So, as I continue my journey towards living a meaningful life in retirement, I find inspiration in these lines…

…Allow your heart to beat, allow yourself to be loved, allow fate to take its course.   There are lovely days on this earth.  Anne Morrow Lindbergh

 To live is the rarest thing in the world.  Most people exist, that’s all.   Oscar Wilde

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A Famous Man

My Dad died many years ago and I wrote this poem a few months after he died.  I haven’t looked at it in many years, but this year it spoke to me again.  Happy Father’s Day, Dad!

“A famous man is one whose children love him.”

I

You left this earth

while I was sleeping

thousands of miles away

in one of your favorite cities,

Munich, the heart of Bavaria.

It took 24 hours for them

to track me down

before the call came.

They told me

your heart had exploded.

They tried for an hour

to bring you back

but you were gone

as I slept across the ocean

dreaming of Rhineland castles,

fairy tale villages,

and BMWs.

I had often wondered

how I might react

to such a loss.

I had studied the TV faces

of victims many times,

the mother of a mangled child,

the wife of a terrorist’s target,

the son of a doomed traveler,

but nothing had prepared me

for this —

your death.

II

It took me 24 hours

to get home.

I waited in airports

as they searched

for signs of terrorism

on those about to board.

They did not find

any terror on me.

Those eternal hours

of traveling alone;

I had to keep the loss,

the madness, inside me.

I was so afraid that if I let them,

my insides would come spilling out:

organs, blood, bone, and heart,

that heart made from yours.

And so I sat, buckled into

my window seat,

quietly choking back any emotion,

searching the clouds

for some sign of you.

I could not

find you.

III

When I finally arrived home

I let the monstrous madness out.

I fell, as if still from a great height,

into my mother’s arms.

I was the last to arrive.

The survivors had all converged

together yet apart

for grief is such a private thing.

In the days that followed

I looked for you everywhere,

on the living room rug

next to the fireplace

where you’d drink your beer,

in a porch chair

reading the paper

with donut in hand,

at your bathroom sink

surrounded by your toiletries,

those meaningless things

that now seemed so dear

for they were now proof

that you had

once existed.

IV

You would have been touched

(and humbled in your gentle way)

by those who came

to your funeral.

They came by the hundreds.

Your tiny church

looked sure to burst

from that shuttering,

sobbing, mob.

The minister, your friend,

reminded us of the butterfly,

that glorious symbol

of resurrection,

and found it difficult

to continue.

I sat, wearing a dress

I had bought for Europe,

a dress I did not buy for

your funeral.

V

In a metal box

you kept them all:

my letters,

homemade Valentines,

and cards – how I loved

to send you cards!

In my memory box

I’ve kept remembrances too:

your love of those

silly portulaca flowers

that you planted everywhere

and that as a child

I tried to pull out

(“They’re ugly,” I’d claim,

“No, they’re colorful and

very hardy,” you’d say),

our afternoon exploring

Manhattan’s art museums

lunching only on soft pretzels,

the many nights we talked

past midnight about

parenthood

(“You never know your mistakes

until after you’ve made them”),

religion

(“You have to live it”),

and the value of work

(“Everyone has to have

a reason for getting up”).

I often thought you corny

as daughters often do,

but you taught me

which little voice inside

to listen to,

and now you are the one

to teach me

about death.

It is a lesson

I do not want

to learn.

VI

After the funeral

we came home, spent.

I looked up, and saw

the brightest, biggest

butterfly, dancing over

a pot of your portulacas!

I stared, and smiled,

for you had somehow arranged

its visit.

You lived!  Somewhere

on the other side.

You got a message back.

That butterfly said,

“Grieve not, for

I will always be near.”

Life, death, and now

resurrection;

you had come back

to finish the lesson.

Death now seemed

a safer place,

as natural and

as miraculous

as birth.

VII

Time has passed and

you are still with me.

I see you everywhere:

in the star-like reflections

of sun upon water,

in the full moon as it rises

from the ocean,

in the clouds that

roll across the sky like waves,

the waves I once painted

for you,

the waves you once photographed

for me.

The sadness still comes,

but the despair is gone –

gone on the wings of a butterfly.

It was Father’s Day

when last we spoke,

and though I won’t be

buying any cards this June,

I will this year and next,

for as long as this heart holds,

say Happy Father’s Day

to you,

who will always be,

my father.

Dad and Me

Croatia? Yes, Please!

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Our first group photo in Saint Mark’s Square, Zagreb.

Croatia?  Where is that and why would I want to go there?   This was my attitude a few months ago when my sister-in-law Sara suggested I accompany her on a Roads Scholar tour.  I had already planned a bucket list trip to Santa Fe this summer, and I wasn’t eager to travel to a place that I wasn’t even sure I could find on a map.  But after researching the itinerary, viewing many photos on Google, and encouragement from my husband, I was IN.

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The funicular.

We met our fellow Roads Scholar travelers (just 20 of us plus our guide Dejan) in vibrant and cosmopolitan Zagreb, the capital of the country, its largest city (of 4 million who live in Croatia, over a million live in Zagreb), and one of the few places that we visited not located on the coast.  The Croatians like to describe that the country is in the shape of a croissant, and Zagreb is on the top right curve of the pastry.  We quickly discovered the funicular which took us up to the old town, where we were treated to a panoramic view of the city.  We also found one of the treasures of the old town, Saint Mark’s church, with its colorful, tiled roof featuring the crests of Croatia and Zagreb.

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Zagreb from the top of the funicular.

The next day we met our extremely capable bus driver Zoran who drove us west to the Istrian Peninsula where we got our first look at the Adriatic Sea and where we spent two days in Opatia, a seaside resort once favored by the Austrian-Hungarians.  There was a lovely promenade along the water from our hotel to the center of town, and I swear Opatia has more hotels than Atlantic City.  Across from our hotel was a famous chocolate shop, where many of us dropped a few kunas on hot chocolates that were thick like pudding and had to be eaten with a spoon.

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The seaside promenade of Opatia

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The hot chocolates eaten with a spoon.

From Opatia we made a day trip to Rovinc and Porec.  Rovinc was once an island but now connected to the rest of the peninsula; its Venetian influence was quite apparent from the moment we stepped off the bus.  Its patron saint is Saint Euphemia, a female Christian martyr whose statue sits atop her church’s steeple which was modeled after the Saint Mark’s steeple in Venice; in many ways, Rovinc was a mini-me of Venice.

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The lovely Venetian town of Rovinc

Porec’s claim to fame is the Euphrasian Basilica, loaded with the gilded mosaics seen in Byzantine churches.  The mosaics, both on the outside and inside the church, were definitely worth the visit to the town.

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One of the many mosaics in the basilica of Porec.

On our way to the Plitvice Lakes National Park the next day we encountered snow on the ground!  This is no more normal than snow would be in May in New Jersey; there is no disagreement here about what is causing all this weird weather – climate change.

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Snow in May – not normal!

I would have to be a more talented writer to adequately describe Plitvice Lakes.  Sixteen lakes cascade into each other, creating dozens of waterfalls over limestone rocks.  Can one ever have too many waterfalls?  You view the waterfalls and lakes from scenic overlooks, from walking on a network of boardwalks (many dangerously narrow), and from hiking through the woods for miles.   Thankfully the park is a protected UNESCO World Heritage site because it is a treasure and one of the wonders of the world.   Photos of Plitvice Lakes had convinced me when I did my research that I needed to visit Croatia.  The park did not disappoint!

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Look closely and you can see people walking on the walkways – waterfalls everywhere!

One of the places that completely exceeded expectations was the city of Split, Croatia’s third largest city; it was truly a revelation.  Split is a coastal town where the Roman emperor Diocletian built his retirement palace.  Unlike many other ancient sites, his palace is not in ruins, but is woven into the city, separated only by its original walls and gates.  People live in apartments that have been built in the palace, work in shops and restaurants, and scenes from Game of Thrones have been filmed here.  After Diocletian died, Christians took over the town, removed his tomb (no one knows what they did with his body), and replaced it with the sarcophagus and relics of Saint Dominus, one of the many Christians whose murder was ordered by Diocletian.  Everyone loved this delicious bit of irony and karma.

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One of the gates of Diocletian’s palace – restaurants, shops, and apartments within.

One of the gates leads out to a lovely promenade along the harbor, and the first night we were there, there was a huge festival in honor of Saint Dominus; we were treated to live music and fireworks. Our hotel was just steps away from the palace and our home base for three days, so we had lots of forays into the palace and surrounding city.

One of the highlights of our stay in Split was hiking up to a café bar on the side of a mountain that offered a panorama view of the city, nestled between the harbor on one side and the Dalmatian mountains on the other.  Much of Croatia lies between the mountains and the sea, and I think Croatia won the lottery when it came to carving up the former Yugoslavia because it kept most of its original territory along the Adriatic coastline.

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View of Split – the palace lies along the harbor – you can see one of its towers on the right.

From Split we visited Trogir, a medieval town built on an island and another World Heritage site, and the art museum of Ivan Mestrovic, Croatia’s most famous scuptor, whose statues are everywhere in Croatia (and here in the States as well).

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One of the shops in Trogir.

In order to visit Mostar, we had to cross into Bosnia-Herzegovina, which involved two border crossings.  Mostar is known for its bridges, and I had seen photos of its most famous bridge, so I was excited when we finally arrived.  The bridge was bombed during the 1990s but completely rebuilt as it had been, using the same limestone from local quarries.  The Mostar bridge was lovely, but the crowds of people made it impossible to really appreciate it as you crossed over it.

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The famous bridge of Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Mostar was once part of the Ottoman Empire, so the town has a Turkish feel to it,with streets lined with markets and a mosque calling people to prayer. Our local guide spoke about the horror of the war as a girl of 12; she and her mother went door to door during the night asking for any bit of food that people were willing to share, and her brother was sent to a concentration camp for many months.  She has no hatred towards any ethnic group (there are many in the countries that now make up the former Yugoslavia) and she hopes all can continue to live in peace.

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The view of the Mostar bridge from our restaurant with the mosque’s minaret behind it.

Finally, we arrived at Dubrovnik, which may be the best known of Croatia’s cities.  It is quite a tourist attraction and a lot of that has to do with the fact that Game of Thrones has filmed the King’s Landing scenes within its old city walls.   Our local guide Lydia grew up within the walls and her insider perspective provided us with a unique and rare insight into the city’s history and its people as we toured the city with her.

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Dubrovnik from the highway above the city.

The people who inhabited Dubrovnik were skillful traders and negotiators, and avoided war with both the Venetians and the Turks, remaining an independent city-state for over 450 years.   Even when Napoleon entered the city as its conqueror, it is widely believed that the city leaders reached an accord with him so that it wasn’t an actual conquest.

Despite the crowds, it was one of my favorite places; when some of us expressed interest in taking a boat ride around the city, Dejan arranged it despite the fact that it was technically his afternoon off.  Sara and I also climbed and walked the 1.2 mile length of the walls, which offered spectacular views from every direction.

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One of the magnificent views from the walls of Dubrovnik.

Our last two days were spent south of Dubrovnik, in the Konavle Region, where we visited an old olive oil press and farm, and later a local vineyard and winery for dinner.  We also visited two old mills, the seaside town of Cavtat, and enjoyed a wonderful farewell dinner at a farm with traditional dancers and singers.

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Sara enjoying the flavored grappa at one of the water mills.

The patriarch of the farm and our dinner host was 86 years old, quite proud of his home and especially his garden, which looked like the Garden of Eden.  It was therefore quite hard to imagine that during the 1990s war, the farm was bombed with napalm and his home had to be almost completely rebuilt.  It was a sobering reminder of this country’s recent troubled past.

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The farmhouse and garden where we enjoyed our farewell dinner in Cilipi.

I have been on travel company tours and loved them all, but I must say I was very impressed with Roads Scholar.  I loved the small group, the fact that all but two meals were included, the emphasis on learning, and the pace and organization of our travel; we never stayed in a hotel for less than two nights.

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Our fearless fashionista leader, Dejan, who wore the soccer shirt and orange glitter hat so we would see him in the Dubrovnik crowds.

I have to thank our lovely fellow travelers for being considerate, fun, and engaging; sitting next to anyone on the bus or at a meal always involved lively conversation.  Zoran, our bus driver, took us down country roads that didn’t seem wide enough to fit a motorbike much less a motorcoach, yet I always felt safe in his hands.  Dejan, our tour director, couldn’t do enough for us; he was caring, knowledgeable, fun-loving, and always eager to share a story or a laugh.  And finally, I have to thank Sara because I would not experienced this extraordinary country and people without her invitation.

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Girls night out in Split.

What will I remember about Croatia?  The paintings in the Croatian Museum of Naïve Art.  The liquid lace of the magical Plitvice waterfalls.  The marmalade-stuffed croissants at every breakfast.  The singing of the crowd in Split as the fireworks exploded across the night sky.  The labyrinths of narrow streets in Rovinc, Split, and Dubrovnik.  The panoramic views from atop the Dubrovnik walls and the café bar in Split.  The twinkle in Dejan’s eye as he shared a bit of irony or humor.  The evening Dubrovnik Chamber Trio concert whose musicians were all women.  The tiny pink rosebuds in our gin & tonics.  The camaraderie of our merry little band of travelers and our laughter and engaging conversations. The resilience of the Croatian people who have transformed their country after socialism and war into a unique, beautiful, and incredible tourist destination.

Now I know where Croatia is and why a person would want to visit it.  Go if you can.

I am so glad that I did!

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Our last group photo in the farmhouse in Cilipi.

 

Resolutions/Absolutions

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Sunrise and morning fog from the veranda of the Mount Washington Hotel.

As we all look back at 2018, I think the first thing that we should do is absolve ourselves from any 2018 resolutions that went neglected or abandoned.   What is the point of beating ourselves up?   As Carlos Castaneda wrote, “We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong.   The amount of work is the same.”

Last January I had the audacity for the first time in many years to write down my new year’s resolutions:  clean clutter, read more books, create more, save more money.   Notice that in my non-accountant, right-brained way, I didn’t set any quantifiable goals for these, with “more” being a highly subjective quantifier.   So here is my highly subjective scoring for how I kept these resolutions:

Clean Clutter:  C-

Read More Books:   A-

Create More:  B+

Save More Money:  F

Can I offer excuses for resolutions not kept?  Hell, yes!  Saving more money is the easiest.  It’s nearly impossible to save money in a year when your daughter gets married unless you are either a hermit or a miser.

There was some success with clutter – a person can now walk through our basement without having to wade through a flotsam of boxes, discarded small appliances, outdoor furniture, and an island of misfit toys.  But our attic is quite literally another story.

The act of creation for me this year expanded beyond what I thought would involve just writing.   I certainly could score myself high if it meant creating moments to remember.  My trip to Greece, Grace’s shower and wedding, our service week in Dunlow, West Virginia, and countless visits with dear friends at holidays and throughout the year enabled me to keep that resolution in spectacular fashion.   I did mostly keep up with my monthly blog posts and I have done some writing for my non-profits, but big writing projects remain works in progress, so that’s one mark against me.   However, 2018 gave me the chance to create bridal shower centerpieces, non-profit videos, and Shutterfly photo books, so all in all I would claim that resolution was more than kept, just not the way that I originally intended to do so.

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A magical evening in Santorini.

As for reading more, I read sixteen books in 2018 and though I didn’t track my reading in 2017, I know that was significantly more.   The books that I read, from nonfiction like Hillbilly Elegy and The Hidden Life of Trees, to fiction like Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine to Circe, reminded me again and again of the power of writing to transform your day, your year, your life.

Reading that takes you to a unique place and time or a totally author-created fantasy world has the power to teach and inform and inspire.  One of my favorite authors is Anne Lamott and her book Small Great Things was the first book I read in 2017.  I love her writing, especially this:

This is what grace looks like – amazed gratitude and relief at my plain old gorgeous life.

Remembering to be grateful every day for “my plain old gorgeous life” is a resolution I intend to keep in 2019.

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The gang in “my plain old gorgeous life”.

 

 

M.O.B.

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If you are lucky or blessed enough, you get to be awarded the title “Mother of the Bride” (or M.O.B. for short) for at least one day during your life.  It means that you are not only the mother of a bride, but the mother of a daughter, one of God’s greatest gifts.  Being a M.O.B. is a singular honor and not without its moments of terror, exhilaration, worry, joy, exhaustion, delight, disbelief, and magic.

My daughter Grace recently married the love of her life and looking back on that day, I have to say it still seems a bit surreal to me, because it was a perfect day and exceeded all our expectations.  You plan and work for more than a year to make it the best day ever, not only for the bride and groom, but for your guests, and making sure that 100 family members and friends are happy, well-fed, and enjoying themselves makes for a certain level of stress.   However, significant quantities of alcohol and an amazing resort staff who fulfill every guest’s needs does help you feel blissfully less tense; so does seeing your daughter so happy.

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The emotional kaleidoscope that spins through my mind as I recall the moments of the day inspires a rainbow of gratitude for me – grateful for my loving family, grateful for the extensive network of authentic friends who made the effort to travel to the wilds of New Hampshire, and grateful that my husband and I had the financial resources to help give Grace and Matt the wedding of their dreams.

A friend of mine who has held the M.O.B. title told me that the best part of being a M.O.B. is realizing that it is not just a celebration of the bride and groom, but a celebration of your life.  You made this happen, she told me, with the choices you have made and the friendships you have nurtured.  I had never thought of a wedding in this way, but she is right – all that is good in our lives was there for me to witness and hold and love at the wedding.

Grace and Matt asked me and Matt’s Mom, Peggy, to give reflections during the ceremony.  My reflection follows.   Better than anything else, it sums up how being a M.O.B. has affected me and how it communicates how much the heart can hold.

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On behalf of Bill and myself, I would like to thank you all for traveling near and mostly far to share in the joy and magic of this special day and special place.  It truly means the world to us that you are here and we can’t thank you enough.

Now, I would like to address Matt and Grace directly.  

Matt, I knew that you were a keeper when, during Grace’s second hospital stay for her kidney, you absolutely refused to leave her side, not in the ER, not in the Recovery room, not even in her hospital room when I kindly suggested that you go home and get some rest. You also insisted that I sleep on the couch while you slept on a chair next to her bed.   And whenever Grace needed something, you would leap up faster than I could and attend to Grace, even if it meant running down the hall to get her ice water or wiping her chin or mouth because, well, we know why she needed that.   I knew then that you were going to be there for Grace, for better and for worse, no matter what.  I also knew that I was going to love your Mom because she raised you to be a fine gentleman and a wonderfully caring human being.  Way to go, Peggy!

Grace, as you know, your Dad and I got married 35 years ago this past May.  At my wedding my Dad told one of my friends that he didn’t know if his pride in me exceeded his love or if his love exceeded his pride.  That is certainly how I am feeling about you today.  You have made us proud in so many ways, whether earning a scholarship to Bentley or a promotion at Sunlife, whether driving us fearlessly all over Ireland on the other side of the road, whether giving up a week of your life to spend it in West Virginia with me and 50 crazy teenagers trying to answer people’s prayers, or just by being an authentic friend to so many here.

As for love, we have a very short time here on this third rock from the sun, and none of us escapes hardship and pain and loss.   The only thing that makes the tough times bearable is love.  The love of family, the love of friends, the love of a parent for a child, and the love of husband and wife.  I am sure that there are as many definitions of love as there are stars in the sky, but my definition of love has always been a simple one – love is putting someone else’s needs above your own.   I have witnessed this countless times with you both.  You are so supportive of each other, and so generous and thoughtful in how you respond to each other’s needs that I have no doubt that your love is an everlasting one, and that no matter what happens to you in life, you will live happily ever after.

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Being the English Major nerd that I am, I wanted to find a fitting poem or lyric to end my reflection.  I consulted the great lyricists of our time:  Lennon and McCartney, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Lin Manuel-Miranda, Snoop Dog….

I finally chose lyrics from a Phil Collins song, “You’ll Be in My Heart”.  I chose these lyrics because, for me, they express, in a very powerful yet simple way, not only the enduring love of mother and child, but of husband and wife, the love that I feel for you both, and that I know you feel for each other, a love that means someone will always have your back, that they will be in your heart forever.

And so, I will end as the song ends, “Just look over your shoulder, I’ll be there always.”

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