Yearly Archives: 2020

From Generation to Generation 2

August and September have passed by so quickly. The heat and humidity have given way to cool nights. I can see the once green leaves of summer yellowing on the limbs, and fluttering to the ground. The tangy scent of their decay heralds a last glorious show of color before the trees settle in for winter’s deep sleep. This autumn, however, there is another kind of change in the air, one that feels dangerous, like the winter in Game of  Thrones, capable of denying spring and summer their right to return. I am constantly reminding myself to breathe, to take heart, and have courage as the wild winds of 2020 rage around us. I take solace where I can, and recently I have found inspiration from an unlikely source.

I have been researching the decade leading up to World War One for my book, Ahote’s Path. It is one of my new year’s resolutions, to finish the book this year, but as 2020 blows all of us about, I find myself having to consider if I can make this timeline. I was very ill from February through early April, but May and June I regained my health and started to pick up steam on the book, making some good forward progress. As I wrote, I realized that I needed to do more research on events in the United States during the decade of 1910-1920. In late June, I identified and checked out from the library some promising sources. I hadn’t even started reading before learning that my mom’s health was failing. Then, in early July, I suffered a bad fall, hitting my head pretty hard. Two days later my mom passed away. Between grief and a concussion, I renewed those books three times before I ever found it possible to sit and read them. It was a welcome relief to immerse myself in history, and be, once again, curious and engaged.

It is this research where I found an unlikely source of comfort. I had studied World War One many years ago, in college, but as I read about it this time, I felt a deeper understanding of what it must have felt like to have lived it. Nearly four years of  Donald Trump’s chaotic, self centered presidency have taught me first hand what it feels like to have our country’s values seriously undermined. I felt it helped me identify with what it might have been like to be an American citizen during President Wilson’s terms in office.

Woodrow Wilson was not like President Trump on the surface. He was an educated and well spoken man. But he was like Trump in that he was willing to sacrifice every principle upon which our nation stood to achieve his goals. I’m sure President Wilson would have argued that his goals were for the betterment of all humankind. He would have objected to being compared to Trump, whose goals appear to be more for the betterment of his own personal wealth. It is perhaps because of this sense of greater purpose that Wilson managed to do what Trump has so far desired but not attained. I am going to hold up some of Wilson’s actions, so you to see what an intelligent and motivated man was able to achieve once he started tearing at the fabric of American values.

Wilson enacted the Espionage Act, effectively turning dissent into treason. Hundreds of people we’re thrown in jail for voicing any opinions that didn’t align with Wilson’s war efforts. There was one account I read, where a man was sent to the workhouse for 90 days for handing out copies of the Declaration of Independence at a Fourth of July celebration. On the copies, the man had written one question, “Does your government live up to these principles?”

Millions of men were forced into conscription. Many went proudly, but any who questioned, protested, or felt morally opposed, were treated as traitors and sent to prison for years.

Most people have heard about the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919. It followed the war ravaged world around; a second, more deadly grim reaper, than the guns on the killing fields  of Europe. Then (as now) Wilson’s government denied the seriousness of the disease. No one in the government would allow the pandemic to interfere with preparations for war. Crowded military bases kept churning out men, sending both the soldiers and the pandemic off into the world, spreading the virus far and wide. The ships soldiers traveled on to Europe became death ships, leaving in their wake a steady stream of dead bodies buried at sea. Even after the tide had solidly turned against the Germans, these death ships ran on at full capacity. In the end, the final death toll from the pandemic was officially declared to be 20 million people world wide, but there are later estimates by historians that say that number was more likely have to been 50-100 million.

Wilson put into place a Committee of Public Information. It’s purpose was to create a war fever among the populace. They did so by spreading propaganda, selling the American people not only on the necessity, but on the higher purpose of this war. There ensued a crusade of conformity and mob mentality that eased Wilson’s path in dismantling the principles of democracy.  

In the name of the war effort, Wilson conferred broad censorship rights on the Postmaster General, Albert Burleson, an extremely prejudiced man, whose biases went unchecked in what he chose to censor and refuse to post.

Wilson waged an all out war on unions. Nothing could be allowed to stop the production of materials needed for the war effort. Labor disturbances were viewed as treasonable offenses, and labor leaders were all labeled as German agents.

 In the name of the war effort, Wilson made a proclamation seizing the control of the nation’s railway system, putting it under a new Federal Railway administration.

Prohibition had been a cause floating around American politics for years, but it was finally put into law under Wilson’s presidency because America needed clear headed soldiers and a sober populace to service the war effort. 

Even the constitutional amendment of the right of women to vote, a bright spot in Wilson’s legacy, might not have happened then if not for the war effort. American women had been striving and failing to meet this goal for decades. Their intensified protests during the heat of the war became a damaging ordeal for the President and the Democrats. In 1918, Wilson was forced to concede that an amendment on women’s right to vote was both just and necessary for the war effort.

I think I’ve given you enough to see that the war effort substantially changed the United States, turning it into something frighteningly dystopian.  Back then, Woodrow Wilson claimed that this sacrifice would be for the betterment of the world, but if that was the case, then his part in the drafting of the treaty of Versailles was a betrayal of everything he believed in. It was a vengeful and rapacious document. Instead of bringing an end to all war, it set the stage for a second world war, and more than a century of worldwide unrest.

I realize that none of this sounds at all like a likely source for solace, but it gave me a perspective of our current times that I hadn’t considered before. Wilson’s war fever spell was shattered by his failure with the Treaty of Versailles. As he faltered, it was the everyday folk of America who started to pick up the pieces. I know some of the people who brushed off that dirt, stood themselves back up, and started rebuilding their lives. They were my grandparents. For them, ordeals were nothing new. They’d already escaped from the pograms of Russia. They’d persevered through the difficulties of starting a completely new life in a whole new county. They had just survived the Great War, and the pandemic. At the war’s end, they were all still in their late teens or just entering their 20’s. America was a mess, there were loud and angry debates from Capital Hill, there were race riots, police riots and acts of terrorism, but nevertheless, my family, and many others like them, moved forward from that point, getting married, building careers, having babies, continuing a cycle of generations into which we were all born. The Great War would not be the end of the travails awaiting them. They would go on to survive the political and social upheavals of a stock market crash, a great depression, a dust bowl, a second world war, a cold war, and some of them even made it beyond that, catching a glimpse of the ordeals that awaited their great grandchildren.

The times we are in right now are unsettling, but we are not the first humans to live through unsettling times. Taking this journey back to when my grandparents were young, reminded me of how to go forward. Just live each day, love your family, meet the challenges to your best ability, and have faith that life will go on.  There will always be people casting their spells, driven by a need to be noticed and admired. Perhaps the way to end the cycle of human ordeals, is for us to fully grasp that a better world for all can never be built from war. It needs to be built with compassion, wisdom, the right use of power. It requires faith and courage, kindness and forgiveness. It requires us to protect the lives entrusted to us from generation to generation. The way to a better world is through love.

I’m going to leave you with some family pictures of days in the sun, filled with family, filled with love. Memories to keep us warm on chilly fall nights and the winter that’s coming.

My Heart’s Song 10

I lost my mom on July 6, 2020.  It wasn’t directly caused by the pandemic, but I suspect the virus played a part indirectly. My mom had so many health issues that when COVID-19 struck, she and my older brother (her constant companion and incredible caretaker) were forced to shut themselves away from all the things they loved to do.

My mother has always fully embraced life. There have been some hard knocks for her to endure, but she’s always gotten back up and fought hard to keep going. The year 2020, with its terrible capacity for destruction, proved to be the exception. It carried my mother away in the wee hours of a Monday morning.

I always knew losing my mom would hurt, but when the wave of grief struck me, it was  harder and more painful than I could ever have imagined. My mother and I have had a difficult journey together. I think it started out positively. She instilled in me a love of creativity, richly populated with the enchanted realms of make believe. She also introduced me to the idea that everything was possible if you wanted it badly enough. It was an ever present theme in the stories she read to me, the songs she sung to me, and the games that we played. But then, our lives took a dramatic downward turn. Like a proper Grimm’s fairytale, the catastrophes that struck our family were threefold. First, my grandfather (who she adored) suffered a heart attack and passed away. Not long after, my older brother, then only six years old, was hit by a car and suffered a serious concussion. The final blow was the failure of my parent’s marriage. All of this devastated my mom. She still believed in impossible dreams, but I think what changed was how much she needed for these dreams to become reality. I think it is where my mother and I took our first misstep, one that would haunt us for decades.

During my mom’s funeral, as I listened to the eulogies, I realized that there were two very different versions of my mother out there in the world. One was of a courageous woman who never let life defeat her. She was a single mom who struggled to put herself through graduate school, earning her PhD in early childhood development. She was a woman with a gift for helping children to learn, changing so many lives that her desk drawers are crammed full of letters sent to her from grateful students and parents. She also possessed a protective energy that drew every stray cat and wounded bird in the neighborhood to her doorstep. It affected the many pets she had over the years, including the parakeets in her yard, who turned out to be shockingly fertile. Every time I would visit, more would appear in the large aviary in her yard. She was a garden witch. Every green thing she touched grew and flourished. Walking into her back yard was like stepping into an enchanted garden, guarded by large redwood trees shading and protecting the yard and the aviary.

As I listened to the eulogies I realized how much of what I like about myself now I got from my mother. But, my experience of my mom as I was growing up was a different one. I have always felt that I was very unlike her, more like my dad. She was lively, flirtatious, a great beauty who was always noticed when she entered a room. I was none of those things. But, I felt like she wanted me to be. She was always trying to improve me, and it felt to me that she was never able to just accept me the way I was. The end result was that I got very defensive. It got to a point where she couldn’t say anything to me without me taking it the wrong way.

As the years went on and I married and had children of my own, I did look for ways to improve our relationship, and so did she. Things did get better, but our long, painful history together still stood between us, stopping us from fully trusting what was really in each other’s’ hearts.

Seven years ago, my mom had a stroke. It was a bad one. She fought hard to gain back what she could of herself, but she never really walked again, and it was more difficult for her to express her thoughts. She could do it, but she had to really work at it, think about what she said before she could give it voice. It didn’t leave any room for her critical voice. She had to save her strength for the things that mattered most to her. For the first time in many years, what I heard from my mom was how much she loved me, how much she wanted to be with me. That was all I ever really wanted to hear from her. It took us the better part of both of our lifetimes, but we were finally able to put the past aside. For the last seven years of my mom’s life, we were at last truly able to enjoy the truth of what bound us together.

When it became clear to me that my time with my Mom was running out, at first, I was frantic. The need to go see her was so strong, but with the pandemic, it was clear that there was no way to safely do so. It was a very bitter pill to swallow, but I’d learned from my mother that obstacles were meant to be overcome, so I looked for another meaningful way to be with her.

My mom has always loved my singing. Long before I was brave enough to share my voice with the world, she was always asking me to sing for her. I wish I could tell you that I happily obliged her, but the truth is I was embarrassed to do it.  If I could rewrite history I would tell that little girl to take the risk, to get past the embarrassment, and sing for her mother. I was fully an adult before I realized that my mom didn’t just love to hear me sing because it made her proud of me. My voice was something much more than that to her. It was a direct line to her heart, to her spirit. In my mom’s final days, when I couldn’t be there to hold her hand, I held her in my heart and I sang to her. Sometimes she sang with me, sometimes she was too weak to listen to more than a song or two, but every time I sang, she came back to me and we reestablished that vibrant connection of love that flowed between us. On the last night of her life, I sang to her. I didn’t know it would be the last night, but I knew that time was running out for the songs I would sing to her. I sang with my heart full of all I felt for her. I told her how much I loved her, and she told me she loved me. I hope I made up for that little girl, because I held nothing back.

My mom’s funeral was done via Zoom.  I sang to her one last time, from my living room, with my daughter, Jamie singing with me in case I faltered. We sang one of my mom’s all time favorite songs, “The Impossible Dream.” The words that moved my mom most were these: “To fight for the right, without question or pause, to be willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause.” If you want to know what legacy she passed along to all three of her children, it is here in this song, this strong belief that you never stop trying.

As I grieve for her now, I find myself reflecting on how we are all both light and dark. What hurts me the most, as I think about this, is that I spent so many years trying to protect myself from her darker side, and that I missed out on what was also right in front of me, the light we shared. I take some comfort in knowing that we never stopped trying. We came to it late, but together we found a way to change direction, to open our hearts. No matter how heavy my regrets, my experience with my mom has taught me that the journey from dark to light is no small accomplishment. It required us both to not just change our minds, but to change our hearts. Some people call this a miracle. I think they might be right.

Awakenings 4

Spring has sprung in all its colorful, full throated glory. Robin redbreasts search my grass for worms, a morning dove hatched three babies in a nest above my kitchen door. One of the nestlings took it’s first flight just as far as the porch railing and then sat there for hours uncertain of his ability to fly back. The fox is a frequent visitor, trotting around the newly leafed oak trees, getting Lucy all riled up as he sniffs my flowers. Hawks are pairing up,  calling out as they circle around each other overhead. In short, no one has told Spring to self isolate. She isn’t the slightest troubled by our pandemic woes. There are times I can’t help but wonder if indeed she is trying to put her best foot forward because she knows there’s not a whole lot we can do right now except to notice her, to listen to her. We are spring’s captive audience.

The first thing I noticed when we all just stopped was the silence. I had missed that kind of quiet ever since we’d relocated to the East Coast. Even in the lovely, wooded setting of our new home, the sounds of humanity are often loud and invasive. It was jarring for me, after the years I’d spent in the stillness of the desert. That was where I’d first learned how life changing quiet could be. Without the cacophony of human endeavors, I could hear the wind rolling like a wave through the pines, I could hear all kinds of birdsong, insect buzzing, the beating of hummingbird wings. But, most importantly, as I sunk deeper into the silence, I found I could hear the earth sing. It is an ever present pitch, deep and resonant, and once you know where to look for it, you can always find it. It vibrates all around us, and from within us. It connects us.

When the pandemic started shutting the world down, and human activity came to a screeching halt, I heard people everywhere commenting on being able to hear the natural world. They spoke with awe, with joy, of something they hadn’t even realized they’d been missing.  I know I am not the only one to wonder if this pandemic might have some important things to teach us about the value of slowing down, of taking the time to listen, not just to Spring’s glorious soundtrack, but also to each other. We’re all in this together is not just a catch phrase, it is the reality of our existence. We can not prevail against this virus, or others that we are assured will also come, unless we fully comprehend just how interconnected we all truly are.

When the planes, and the cars and the factories all stopped, it was surprising to discover how quickly the air cleared. I heard an NPR story about how in only a matter of days, the Himalayan mountains emerged from behind the smog of Dehli’s relentless human activity. I wondered what it felt like to those city dwellers when they first looked up to find all evidence of their industry vanished like a puff of smoke. Those majestic peaks emerged so quickly, emphasizing for everyone what was permanent and what was not. Was nature attempting to speak plainly to us? Was she asking us to consider that the solution to many of our global problems might be to embrace a different mind set about business as usual? What if we shifted our perspective of what it meant to get ahead in this world? What if we changed the focus from taking advantage of people and resources to taking care of them? It is literally the change of a single word to make this shift. What we need in this moment is to be thoughtful and far sighted. What we need in this moment is to make a choice about who we want to be.

High in the Himalayan mountains, there is a small suburb of Dharmshala called McLeod Ganj. It is the home of the Dalai Lama and of several Buddhist monasteries. Everyday, the Dalai Lama and the monks pray for an end to all suffering, and for all life everywhere to experience enlightenment. The pursuit of enlightenment is not for oneself, it is for the benefit of all life everywhere. Saving ourselves requires us to save each other.

Friday was my 62nd birthday. It was a small party, just our little Connecticut family bubble, Mark, Jamie, David, Natalie and Avery, but it was one of the loveliest birthdays, very spiritual in nature. The desert had taken quite a toll on my flower essence collection, so much so that I’d stopped using them for several years. Only a handful of bottles remained to me, so for my birthday gift this year, I asked the kids to replenish my Green Hope Farm collection. Those lovely, little blue bottles always arrive exuding such positive vibrations, and they definitely set the tone for the birthday. Avery was immediately enthralled by them, and was not only eager, but very insistent about trying them.

The flower essences had stirred forgotten memories in David and Natalie, and they found themselves wanting to delve deeper spiritually. They asked if we could pull out the Native American Medicine cards, which we also hadn’t used in years. Everyone pulled cards that showed us lot about ourselves, and things we hadn’t fully realized about each other. Even Avery drew three cards. We were all delighted by how well those animal totems fit his toddler personality.

I drew Crow, which resonated strongly with me.

A crow enjoying the stillness of our little village

The message focused on how human law is not the same as Sacred law, that there is a higher order of right and wrong, that one shouldn’t be afraid of being a voice in the wilderness. You must stand in your truth, and “caw”, make it heard. I followed Crow’s advice when it was time to blow out my candles. Avery was eager to help, but I had to make him wait long enough for me to capture the birthday wish just right. I wished for an end to all suffering and a pathway of enlightenment for all beings everywhere.

The best gift I had this birthday was a wonderful family closeness, a sharing of our deepest selves with one another, a very joyful coming together. I hope there are many more days ahead just like that, not only for me and mine, but for everyone, everywhere.

What I’ll Always Remember 7

This had been an unsettling week, with the stock market tanking and the news about COVID-19 growing more dire. Amid all this, I find myself facing a very bittersweet milestone. Our house in Sedona, after two years on the market, sold today. When the call came saying that closing was done, I felt this small crack in my heart. It is really and truly time to say good-bye to a very special time in my life.

I have lots of wonderful memories to look back on. There were Jamie’s many cast bonding weekends, where she filled my house with people and music as she made her initial foray into producing her own works. There were so many wonderful family gatherings, where the people I loved sat around my huge dining room table, heaped with food that increasingly was organic, home grown, and made from scratch as the years went by. There was my prolific peach and apricot harvests, that often overwhelmed me to the point of tears in the summer, but were so appreciated all the way into the months of winter. I will always remember the sky there. The sun and moon did their best work casting their glow over the red rocks as they rose and set. God’s rays pierced through storm clouds casting beams of light across the desert. Double rainbows set everything aglow after the monsoons passed through. And, oh, the night sky, so vast and filled with millions of stars. I really miss that big beautiful sky.

The thing I’ll remember most dearly, though, will be the long walks in the desert. The dramatic vistas, the unpredictable weather and wild life encounters, the amazing energy vibrating all around me, those walks were the inspiration that ultimately led to my writing and publishing Cha’risa’s Gift. I was never alone in my desert wanderings. I got to share that time in the desert with a partner who treasured that freedom and adventure as much as I did. I speak, of course, of my sweet golden retriever, Lucy.

I’ve been reflecting on the time in Sedona with Lucy a lot lately, not just because the house sold, but because of something I recently read. I’ve been reading a series of books written by David Michie about the Dalai Lama’s cat. If you haven’t read any of them, I highly recommend them. They are delightfully written; a foray into Buddhist philosophy that comes from the perspective of this irreverent, vain, little cat. The first in the series is called The Dalai Lama’s Cat, just in case you would also like to read a summary of Tibetan Buddhist wisdom from a cat’s perspective. The bit I want to talk about though comes from Michie’s latest book, The Dalai Lama’s Cat and The Four Paws of Spiritual Success. This book covers a lot of enlightening ground, but there was one section that talked very specifically about the pets in our lives that just really made me sit up and take a good long look at my dog. The book asserts that pets who enjoy good homes are there because they have very good karma. These treasured pets are sojourning with us, because there is some deeper karmic connection between us, and they have come to this safe place to use up the last bits of negative karma they possess before achieving enlightenment.

I can’t tell you how much I love this idea, that Lucy is spending the final leg of her journey toward enlightenment with me. I’ve always felt such a strong connection with her, starting from the moment we picked her out of the litter. If what she needs to achieve enlightenment is to be surrounded by good energy, than I feel like all the meditating she has done with me, and all the frolicking in the vortex energies of Sedona have served her well. I love that I have been able to provide her with the emotional, physical, and spiritual support that such a special being desires.

Lucy and I have helped each other in ways we probably can’t fully comprehend. Now, we are once again facing an unfamiliar trail. We have changed the desert for a coastal habitat, red rocks for forests. Some things have been lost, but some things have been gained. Whatever comes next for the two of us, understanding even this tiny bit about our connection makes me feel so blessed. It certainly has helped with the little crack in my heart. When I meditate each morning, Lucy is still beside me, enjoying the silence, drinking in the flows of Reiki. The Sedona house is a closed chapter, but Lucy and I are traveling new roads together. And thanks to some Buddhist wisdom imparted to me by a cat, I am more aware of just how special the bond between us truly is.

I just spent an entire post talking about my dog, and the Dalai Lama’s cat, and Sedona, so to even things out a bit, I am including some family photos, some special winter moments to tide everyone over until the next time. It has actually been a rough winter for us. The whole family has been sick a lot. But even so, Mark and I managed to go on a trip to Mexico with Jamie and our good friend AuBrie. Mark and I went into New York City to see a show Jamie produced. It was called “She Will Rock You,” and featured all women composers that Jamie had met and admired through her work at Maestra. It was a sold out house and an incredibly well received concert! And last but not least, we went with David, Natalie and Avery to Boston to attend PAX East. Something close to 3,000 people came through their booth! The game will be fully released next month. It has been a huge undertaking, so keep your fingers crossed for them!

I’m wishing you all good health and well being through the next month. It looks like we’re all in for a bumpy ride. But spring is here, the birds are singing, the buds are awakening. Things have got to start looking up soon, right?

New Year’s Resolutions 2

On the first day of 2020, I was sitting in my sunroom, talking on the phone with my sister, when I looked out the window and saw a red fox walking across my patio. He was  a bold, little creature. He jumped up onto the stone wall, sat down,  and just looked at me, his eyes shining bright with intelligence. We held each other’s gaze for several moments. He never showed the slightest inclination to run, he merely cocked his head when he heard me exclaim to my sister that a fox had just come calling. He just kept staring at me as if he wanted me to consider something. My sister also thought I should consider that a fox coming to visit on the first day of new year had to be some kind of omen.

As soon as I hung up, I decided to see what kind of omen had settled on my doorstep on this new year’s day.  One thing I read said that Native Americans believe the fox is considered the single best guide to lead someone down a destined path. Foxes reveal themselves during times of great and unpredictable change, and they implore you to remain flexible with whatever comes next. Many sites commented on the fox’s stealthy nature. The fox has a reputation for being a trickster, but its stealth also serves the fox by helping it to optimize it’s survival and safety.

Reading all this I began to ponder if the message fox brought had something to do with our big move to the East Coast. Lately, I had been having thoughts that bringing the family closer together had been a necessary first step, but that the path ahead was still not settled. The challenges required to reunite the family were not just physical, but emotional as well. Perhaps the fox was encouraging me to be more clever and adaptable in finding a place of greater comfort and balance for all of us.

The fox’s appearance also got me thinking more about my new year’s resolutions. I had made two. The first was that after a long hiatus from writing (as I dealt with all the many aspects of this relocation) I had finally gotten back to work on Ahote’s Path. I’m really happy with the progress I have made so far. I made a resolution that 2020 should be the year the book is finished and published.

My second resolution is harder to put into words, but I will try. Often in my meditations, I will reflect upon how very small we are as humans. What we know is so very little compared to what is known by the universal mind; and the time we have to learn is also so small when compared to the span of all time. So it stands to reason that what I know about myself and my family is also only a small portion of what is knowable. This year I  want to make myself look deeper, learn more. I want to try and discover a greater truth of who we are and what it is we really mean to each other. I want to accept what is true, not judge it. It’s not a simple task, but I will say that so far I have found that it has helped me to be kinder to myself and to them, to have greater empathy, and to see the early manifestations of a more loving, expansive connection.

As you look at the family pictures here from the end of 2019, you will see so many happy family moments. You have likely deduced by now that there have also been some difficult moments. I think whenever you try to build a stronger foundation, you can’t help but uncover the disruptive cracks that threaten the entire structure. But each challenge that arises always brings me back to a most basic understanding. I love this family with all my heart. I would and have done everything I know to bring greater love, happiness and healing to us all. That is the path that I hope fox will help me navigate even better in 2020. Wish me luck, and I will wish the same for all of you, a year ahead filled with truth, love, beauty, harmony, healing and happiness for each and every one of you.

Denver visit
me and my dad <3