Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Prayer and Meditation Meme

Hi folks --

As I have mentioned here, I am the Contributing Editor to the Religion and Spirituality section of BlogHer.org, which is a site where women bloggers gather. I just posted a Meme there about prayer and meditation that I would be happy to have any of you who read this answer the questions on the Meme that I posted there. (BlogHer has some supportive male membership as well, although it is mostly geared toward women.)

You may also wish to list your blog there -- there are all sorts of categories of interest and some very savvy writers.

Thanks, Mata H

Monday, January 29, 2007

Odd houses, odder sights

Looking for a house satisfies some peeping-Thomasina urge in me -- the same sort of feeling I get when driving by mansions at night. They have their lights on and I can catch a glimpse of how "they" live, or what "they" have. Looking for a house satisfies that same elemental curiosity, except of course, I am not looking at mansions. I get to walk through someone else's dwelling and imagine myself there. As a side benefit I get a glimpse of what different people call home, and am encouraged to do so.

It is amazing to me how un-clever some sellers are, leaving their homes in dreadful viewing shape -- rooms half-painted, bathrooms uncleaned, carpets with stains and/or drenched with the scents "Litterbox of Cat" or "Eau de Cigarette Smoker". These are the people with magenta and turquoise bathrooms. Their houses radiate a certain un-belovedness. The neighborhood may be chic, but the windows are dirty.

Many homeowners really turn themselves inside out when selling a home, and things feel elaborately staged for view. There is nothing out of place, the faint scent of apple spice candles is in the air, and things are arranged to look homey and inviting and immaculate. I am clearly meant to get the feeling that I have been invited for dinner and never have to leave. These homeowners have watched more than their share of HTV, the House Doctor and Trading Spaces. Their houses look as pristine and vacant-eyed as a beauty contestant. I expect to see a plaque saying "World Peace is my Platform".

Last weekend I visited one of the latter sorts of homes. Even the Audi convertible in the two-car garage had a dust cover on it. If the garage had ever had a drop of oil on its floor, it had been erased ages ago. Every room was flawless - and I found myself noticing the owner's taste more than the layout of the home.

I was about to round the corner into the sunlight-drenched dining room when I saw something that made me literally step back in horror!

Meandering around the corner was the meanest looking small creature I have ever seen. The realtor came running when she heard me yelp out in shock. "Holy Mercy, what is THAT?" she said.

It was a cat. A very small, probably very old cat.

It had been trimmed down to very short hair -- except for a poodle-like tuft of electric fuzz at the end of its scrawny, crooked tail. Likewise, its head had not been shaved. At the end of a shaved body, perched on shoulders above scrawny bow-legged legs, was a leonine head covered with a veritable explosion of wild gray fur. It scowled at me. It scowled at the realtor. It scowled at the houseplants. It scowled, it seemed, at the very air.

If looks could kill, we would have dropped in our tracks. The realtor went to pet it. It would have none of that, and turned on its cat heels casting a nasty look back over its shoulder.

My friend, Sandy, who had come with me on this adventure called out to us "Get in here!" from the bedroom. "You think THAT cat was odd?"

Plumped on the bed was a second cat, the living image of a Hallmark cat I know I have seen. The cat was HUGE, and built like a pyramid, with a giant body, skinny and short legs, and a tiny head perched on top. It had an old fashioned regal yet schoolmarmish look about it, with a sour face and pursed lips. It would have been a good match for "granny glasses". It didn't want attention so much as it took it for granted.

I looked around this perfect house, with its perfect lawn and perfect garden, its perfect furniture. I saw the wedding pictures of the young yuppie couple who live there, people who seemed barely in their late twenties. Then I looked at the cats.

The cats were living out all the dysfunction of this perfect couple.

I looked at my friend -- "Did you ever read "The Portrait of Dorian Gray"? I asked.

Her eyes widened immediately as she said "Let's get the hell out of here."

And so, we did.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Thievery Update

Well, I thank God for compassionate bankers. Esther was my banker -- she is from Budapest and is an angel. She helped me go through two months of statements to ferret out false charges. I had not checked my balance over the holidays -- I know, that was stupid. I know.

It was hugely stupid - so stupid I am not even going to tell you how much those thieves got me for. I can and will get it back. I filed papers today and will go to the police department tomorrow. It will take up to 30 days for full restitution. Charges were as far flung as Scotland and Dubai.

A fellow Contributing Editor, Maria Niles, at BlogHer.org, (where I am the Religion and Spirituality CE, by the way) wrote a great article about Identity Theft that is a primer of what to do in case it happens. It is worth reading, printing out and keeping handy just in case. A big hug and tip of the mouse to Maria who wrote this when I sent a plea to the other BlogHer editors for info/help.

Read her stuff. Make a copy. Remember, I was one of those people who said .."oh, no...never to ME!"

Monday, January 22, 2007

arghh !!!

There I was getting gas from one of the few full service gas stations in Massachusetts. I handed the young man my debit/credit card. He came back saying there was a problem with the card, and that there was a message to call the bank. I went into the office and called my bank's 800# Unauthorized charges have been made against my account. When The bank asked if I had made a purchase of $3,600 at X company or one of $1,900 at another or $875 at another and so on. They had noticed unusual buying behavior and had shut down my card until they verified the charges. (Bless them). I had been out of town while all this was going on.

I was able to stop approvals on about 5K of charges, but it looks like another 5K may have been approved on my credit card. Tomorrow I go to the bank and begin the recovery process on the latter 5K. This is all happening as I am about to file for pre-approval on a mortgage - just when one wants the finances in stable shape.

I drove home with my stomach in my shoes. At that time I didn't know if they had wiped me out entirely or not. These little shreds of plastic make life so convenient and so scary at once. It is so far impossible to tell who did this, although I am sure the law will try to find out. It could have been anyone -- someone I pad a bill with over the phone (I like to call in payments as it is so much easier), or someone online at amazon.com or another of the vendors I have used, or a waiter at a restaurant, or someone who picked up a discarded receipt, or just anyone?

I am going to concentrate on my good fortune that it seems we caught them early enough to remedy everything, and I will work hard to not lose my sense of an abundant universe, but it just makes me crazy and angry and ready to sock some miscreant in the schnozzola for causing me such grief. I keep repeating "Whoever did this is a child of God. Whoever did this is a child of God."

But I secretly hope God spanks his sorry ass well and thoroughly.

Saturday, January 20, 2007


Happy Birthday to me
Happy Birthday to me
Happy Birthday Happy Birthday
Happy Birthday to me.

Today I turned 57. It just seems like such an odd number. The 40's were numbers I understood. 57 just seems,well, odd.

Friday, January 19, 2007

On what would have been my father's birthday

"I don't know how to exist in a world where my Dad doesn't."

Those were the words last night of the character, George, on the television show, "Grey's Anatomy" after the death of his father. His father had been permanently comatose, cancer-laden and post-surgery, as his family disconnected his life support and he slipped from this life into the next.

My father died a bit over a year ago, and yesterday would have been his 87th birthday.

Now, perhaps you are waiting for the inevitable grief comparison in which I tell you that George's grief is like my own, as I go on tenderly, and at great length, about my father's death.

That is not going to happen.

Did I feel sad at the TV show? Yes. Did I weep? Yes. I cried big, fat, wet tears, not because I grieved, but because I did not.

The last year has not been one in which I missed my father, or in which my world felt horribly reduced because of his absence. I wish it did. For if it did, it would have pointed to a relationship far more gentle and loving than the one I had with him.

My father was not an evil man. And I am sure, by his definition, that he loved me.

But he was a damaged man, a man who could never admit a mistake, and who always sought to criticize and blame. The same man who had been a positive and loving presence in my early childhood turned brutal and at times even savagely cruel as I developed and grew. He had been the abused child of two alcoholic parents. So he came to fatherhood with some critical pieces inside him missing or broken. I'm not going to list his faults, or catalogue what I feel as my life injuries, because it would be unfair to do so. And foolish. The man is dead. He cannot reply.

But this year has not been like the year after losing my Mom, who was a source of unconditional love. It has been a year of missing the fact that I do not miss my father. That when people tell me that they are sorry for my loss, I inwardly wonder why, and how my life might had been different if this was a great loss, if my father had not made me so often the stunned object of his scathing rage. There. I have said it. Out loud. In front of God and everybody. I do not miss my father.

On Grey's Anatomy the character Christine says "There is a club. It is called the People with Dead Fathers Club".

Well, it looks as though I am a member, but I stand on the periphery, looking in at those who are grieving -- wondering what that might have felt like.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

bye bye Prissy Missy

Well, the bid I made on the house was not accepted, and I have no way to counter. Here is why. The house was originally put on the market with 4.2 additional acres attached. But, at a high asking price aimed at developers, there were no takers in this market. So in August they split the parcel into one land lot of 4.2 acres, and one house with .8 acres of land (with an option to add on more land).

It was the latter upon which I placed my bid, but with no extra land.

Apparently a competing bid came in with mine, but the competitor also offered to buy the 4.2 acres of additional land with the house. That was the bid accepted by the seller. I have now withdrawn my bid, and we are back to Ye Olde Square One.

There are a couple of other houses to look at, so I am back up into New England on Sunday (as Saturday is my birthday, and I have plans.)

Sigh..oh well, the Universe must have something even better in mind...

Bits and Bytes and Bites

I feel so random. No sooner do I start one task but I am grabbed over for another.

I am still waiting to hear about the bid I placed on "Prissy Missy". I feel like on the one hand I want to run screaming into the streets, yelling "I am out of my mind!" I have never owned a house before, and this is a BIG purchase. On the other hand I am happy-excited beyond measure.

I feel my life about to change dramatically. House. Location. The way I earn money. Leaving one group of people. Moving toward another. A new geography. An end to entropy. A more active life. A town with memories in it.

The stress is huge. I just keep reminding myself to breathe. And to pray. To offer this up to God, imploring Him to lift the stress and make whatever He needs to make come out OK.

Meanwhile, January 20th will be my 57th birthday. I never imagined I would reinvent myself at 57, but here I am doing just that. When do I get to be an old fuddy duddy?

Regarding my birthday -- those of you who wish to send e-cards or email or comment-greetings on the day are more than welcome. I love my birthday, and it has been a hell of a year.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Bye Bye Betty, Hello Prissy Missy

Well, the owner of my dear Ugly Betty didn't like the offer I put on the house, and some problems with the house that would be expensive to resolve surfaced. Bye Bye Betty.

But, never one to give up hope, I just put an offer out Saturday on a more expensive, less in-need home. The lot is still large and wooded, but the house is fairly pristine -- not forbiddingly perfect, but pristine. So, she is "Prissy Missy" to me.

Missy is an immaculate and well cared for ranch home built in 1958 with three bedrooms, a two car garage, a fireplace and a 12x24 foot 3 season pine-paneled breezeway. The living room (which is massive) has a great bay window. There is storage everywhere! Her yard is beautifully planted; and there is both a maple tree and a cluster of white birches in the front yard. The yard also has a variety of other trees and bushes, some of the flowering variety, that I have yet to identify by name. Missy feels like a house where your extrovert aunt Charlotte used to live. She is pale grey with white trim and has charcoal shutters. But her doors reveal her secret nature -- they are a vibrant and deep rose pink.

Financially it is a bit more than I thought I might be chewing, but doable.

Now, to have the owners accept my offer.

All of this house-hunting has me imagining a new life -- coming home to a new garage, cooking in a new kitchen, sleeping in a new bedroom. I imagine details that change along with that - being able to garden, to have a dog, living in an area where it is easy to go fishing, shopping in new stores, meeting new people.

I am wild with the joy of it all. The past few years have been tough ones, and the thought of building an enhanced life, as well as my dream of home ownership coming true -- well, it is almost more than I can bear. All that and the chance to have a dog again...my goodness. I pinch myself regularly to make sure that I am not dreaming.

I had not acknowledged even to myself what a BIG deal home ownership is for me. I have lived in or around NYC for so long that the idea of home/yard was just not in the cards. I feel like the sheer space of a home is intoxicating. I found myself feeling very moved when I walked around Missy. I stood in the living room, looked out the back window and imagined myself living there, owning the home. I felt my eyes tear up, and I am not entirely sure why.

I need to pray about this, to find what it is that God wants me to learn. I will be moving back to my home town. Like Mr. Finnegan, beginning again. On the one hand it is coming full circle -- I have not lived there since I was 19, which is 37 years ago. But, as the Greek philosopher said, "You cannot step into the same stream twice." It is not the place I grew up in. The town has almost doubled in size, and the last store that was on Main Street when I was a kid, Conner's Card Shop, is now closing its doors. Most everyone I knew there is gone or dead. But I still have this deep "place connection", and after the difficult few years I have had, it feels as though I have come home to heal -- to remember a life different from what I have been through. But mostly, it feels as though it is a place where I can take all of who I am, all of whom I have become since leaving, and build something new -- something that is different from Olde Life and Current Life, but that has bits of each wrapped up in it.

Plus, I have a deep soul connection to New England. I love the west, and had planned originally to move there, but God or fate or luck seems to have had other things in mind for me.

So here I sit, seeing the road opening before me, not having a clue what lies ahead, but walking where it opens. Oddly, I am not frightened. The world is an abundant place. I am blessed.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Familial Legends

Like many Eastern European families, mine was full of legends - stories of "other worldly events" that happened to various relatives.

My great aunt would often dream of a person telling her they were going to die a few days before they did.

My cousin Stella was awakened one morning and told to go out and help everyone else on the farm pick strawberries by a man she had never seen before, and whom no one on the farm knew. He woke her up several other times, the last time of which she watched him fade into the ether as he left her side.

My mother kept hearing pacing outside her door as she went through her pregnancy for me, after having lost her first child. In the middle of the night she would awaken to the sound of a rocking chair going back and forth in the bedroom. But she didn't own a rocking chair.

This past weekend when I was back in my home town talking with my very distant cousin, a woman who is about to turn 84, she told me about the weeks prior to her sister's death. Her sister was Janina (ya-NYEE-Nah. Janina was very ill with cancer and near death. She asked my cousin to go to a particular church, which is part of a community of priests, and to pray for her. My cousin went, taking Janina's sweater with her as a sort of talisman for her prayer.

No one was in the big sanctuary when my cousin knelt at a side altar to pray. After a while, a monk approached her and asked if he could help, and told her that she seemed deeply burdened. He was a tall man, in hooded monk's robes -- a man who seemd to radiate a sense of peace.

She told him why she was there. He asked for the sweater and told my cousin that he would pray for her sister, and that she should go home and not worry. My cousin says that just the peace in his eyes calmed her. She left and told Janina the story when she got home. Janina, weak as she was, near death as she was, was deeply comforted by the story, and within a matter of days quietly slipped out of this life and into the next, with no further suffering.

A few weeks after the funeral my cousin decided to go see that monk again, and to thank him by making a donation to the church. She found a priest there and asked if she could see the monk. He looked at her blankly. There was no monk at that church or in the community of priests who ran the church. "The saint who founded our order was a monk, though." He pointed to a stained glass window on the other side of the church that my cousin had not seen.

There in the glass was a monk who looked just like the one that my cousin had seen.

What do we make of such tales? I am simply thankful for them -- they are stories told at a window looking out into the great mysterious beyond. They circumscribe shapes of promise and wonder. And, truth be told, I believe they are real.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Buying Ugly Betty

The house hunt rages. I may have actually found a house to buy. I call her, "Ugly Betty". As any of you know who watch TV shows, Ugly Betty isn't ugly after all, she is just not a fashionista. She is smart and kind and wonderful. It is just that not everyone can see that through her "unfashionable appearance". But beneath the Guadalajara dayglo poncho and simulated aquamarine stone tooth-braces, Betty is solid gold.

So here is the story of "my" Ugly Betty. She is the ugliest home on the block. There is a part of this rural town that wooded and almost agricultural (in a small New England way.) This area borders on a fairly pristine suburb. There is a road that has a stretch of houses whose back yards abut a densely wooded area. Most of these homes have gone to great pains to distinguish themselves in some way. Then there is Ugly Betty. She sits on almost an acre of land, over half of which is densely wooded. She is a tan colonial house with faded brown shutters. She looks like a brown tie shoe in a sea of dancing pumps.

No one has ever landscaped her, though she has two large and elegant silver maples in her side yard. She has no gardens. She needs gardens, and windowboxes and burgundy shutters, and a split log fence tumbling over with roses.

Her hardwood floors are naturally blonde -- either maple or birch, but they need to be sanded and poly'd. Her structure is sound, and during the day she is flooded with stunning cascades of light. She has large bedrooms, one of which is painted a ghastly chartreuse green and has alarming flamingo pink lace curtains.

Her cellar is dry, and she is well insulated. The electric is updated. Most windows are new. The kitchen is large enough to have a table and chairs, and the upstairs bathroom is so huge it could be a bedroom. She has three bedrooms upstairs, a kitchen, dining room, half-bath, office and livingroom downstairs.

The backdoor comes into a sort of mudroom. It needs to be overhauled. But that is a small job. It is just a mess.

Our Ugly Betty has been on the market for a while, mostly (I think) because people cannot see past the lack of cosmetics. She calls to me. I can see her with vines and roses, new trim, sanded floors and freshly painted walls. I can imagine my art on the walls. I can see myself walking in woods that are my own. I imagine her smiling as I deck her out in oriental rugs.

I don't want a big and shiny new house. I don't want that much debt at this point in my life, and I want something smaller and more eccentric. It wouldn't be my house unless it had a few quirks. I'm thinking Betty may need me about as much as I seem to need her. It could be a great friendship.

Why I have been mostly absent

Dear readers of my blog -- I have been wandering lately, away from these hallowed shores. I thought I might fill you in.

First,I have been spending a lot of time looking for a new home in Massachusetts..my very first "house of my own". I have lived in or near NYC for so very many years - about 30 - that I never made the investment in a house. Lifetime apartment dwellers are pretty common out here. Plus, I think I couldn't commit to putting a root down here, but also couldn't commit to leaving.

Second, I have been swamped with holiday stuff and it threw me off writing here.

Third, I have been asked to be Contributing Editor for the Religion and Spirituality section of BlogHer.org which is a site largely of women bloggers from around the world who blog about any and all sorts of things. They are a lively and smart group of women, and it is an honor to be asked to do this. So I have been blogging over there. I encourage you to take a peek over there if you haven't already. It is not a site just for women, although it does definitely gather woman together for perspective sharing and celebrating.

I will however be more faithful to my home blog. I need a "room of my own" so to speak. More later -- I promise.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

A Plum from Plum Village

Thich Nath Hanh is an amazing Buddhist monk from Vietnam. He currently lives for most of the year in a Buddhist community in France called "Plum Village." I have long admired his writing and found myself turning to a written transcript of one of his Dharma talks

Our joy, our peace, our happiness depend very much on our practice of recognizing and transforming our habit energies. There are positive habit energies that we have to cultivate, there are negative habit energies that we have to recognize, embrace and transform. The energy with which we do these things is mindfulness. Mindfulness is a kind of energy that helps us to be aware of what is going on. Therefore, when the habit energy shows itself, we know right away. "Hello, my little habit energy, I know you are there. I will take good care of you." In recognizing it as it is, you are in control of the situation. You don’t have to fight it; in fact the Buddha does not recommend that you fight it, because that habit energy is you, and you should not fight against yourself. You have to generate the energy of mindfulness, which is also you, and that positive energy will do the work of recognizing and embracing. Every time you embrace your habit energy, you can help it to transform a little bit. The habit energy is a kind of seed within your consciousness, and when it becomes a source of energy, you have to recognize it. You have to bring your mindfulness into the present moment, and you just embrace that negative energy: "Hello, my negative habit energy. I know you are there. I am here for you." After maybe one or two or three minutes, that energy will go back into the form of a seed, in order to re-manifest itself later on. You have to be very alert.

Every time a negative energy is embraced by the energy of mindfulness, it will lose a little bit of its strength as it returns as a seed to the lower level of consciousness. The same thing is true for all other mental formations: your fear, your anguish, your anxiety, and your despair. They exist in us in the form of seeds, and every time one of the seeds is watered, it becomes a zone of energy on the upper level of our consciousness. If you don’t know how to take care of it, it will cause damage, it will push us to do or to say things that will damage us and damage the people we love. Therefore, generating the energy of mindfulness, to recognize it, to embrace it, to take care of it, is the practice. And the practice should be done in a very tender, non-violent way.

So often we, or at least *I* believe that to rid myself of a negative behavior I must battle with it -- when I think that Thich Nath Hanh is much more accurate than I have been. He speaks of embracing and taking care of negative habit energies.

This is an "Aha!" moment for me. Those things that we or others do that are negative always come from some woundedness. Of course one must be tender when dealing with a wound -- our own or someone else's.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Holiday Leftovers

Christmas and New Years are behind us at last. I find myself breathing easier on any number of levels. I have decided on a new direction, and it is one of Mindfulness. I want to be more Mindful in my life, more aware of what I do. The stress of the holidays is such an onslaught for me -- memories, old grievings, nostalgia, the new awareness of being famililess, financial issues and on and on. Only now as I come up for air, I know that I need to be kinder to myself. I will be exploring various ways and doing various things to make that happen.

I will be looking at houses in Massachusetts this weekend, with an eye to an eventual move. Listings are slim in the area I want of houses with the qualities I want. I am not fussy, I just know what I can and cannot spend and what general space and living qualities I want in a house. My realtor tells me that listings shrink this time of year and start getting more robust in the spring. But I will press on, looking at what there is to see. I am trying to not make this added stress as well.

Prayer is feeling very central to my life these days as I try to sort out all sorts of events of the past few years that have landed me at this stage in my life. I sat down and tallied them up -- at least the major events and life-changes and challenges of the past few years and sat back and just shook my head. Lawsy me, it's a wonder I managed.

So now it is time to get more healthy - in every area of my life - physical, emotional, spiritual. It is time to mend the raggedy places. Mindfulness and prayer are the paths for me right now.

So is this a time of New Year's Resolutions? No, it feels more like a New Year's Turning for me -- a re-invention, the healing that this body/mind/soul has needed for a long time.
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