Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Memory Lane

Rebecca and I took a road trip for Thanksgiving this year. We drove to Schenectady, NY, to visit my childhood friend and explore the area that I spent years 6-9. Rebecca is a terrific travel companion, and was very tolerant (even supportive) of my need to visit the old neighborhood, elementary school, motel we lived in for a short time, and the park where my family used to picnic.

We arrived on Wednesday after a ten hour drive. Exhausted but happy to arrive, we enjoyed a pot roast dinner with Rani, her youngest daughter, and her boyfriend and son. Then Rani and I sat up and talked for a while, comparing memories and trying to figure out how it is we have remained friends all these years, when we knew each other such a short time (neighbors for two years, no classes together, don't even remember riding the bus together!) and looking at photos of the other people we both knew in the neighborhood and in school.

The next day, Rani cooked a turkey breast and I went out for wine (since I left the three bottles I'd purchased for the dinner at home). Then, we loaded up the turkey, pumpkin pie, and ourselves and drove to Rani's cousin's for the family dinner. This included her cousin and her husband and two grown sons and three Labradors, Rani's three daughters, and two grandsons. It was a full house! I had the dubious honor of carving the 20+ pound turkey and the turkey breast, and we commenced to eating...a delicious meal punctuated by the juggling of babies, shooing the dogs out of the kitchen, and random conversations.

The next day Rani had to work, so Rebecca and I set out exploring. First we stopped by the country store that has been in business since 1908, and where my family used to get pumpkins, apples, and who knows what else. We picked up several gifts and souvenirs and had fun looking at the nostalgic merchandise. Next, we set out to find the house where we lived on S. Country Club Drive. A cute middle class neighborhood that has changed very little in 40 plus years, it is situated next to the Mohawk Golf Club, where in the winter we kids would ice skate and where my brother and his friends would collect golf balls. I took photos of the house at 1186, as well as Rani's next door (now a beautiful red!)

I trespassed long enough to see the back yard, noting the door where our dog Nemui used to go under the house, the garage where my mom used to grow flowers (and a garden of some sort still exists),
the remnants of the willow tree I loved, and the absence of the brick outdoor grill that my father had built. The feeling of nostalgia that I felt is almost beyond description. Rebecca patiently walked around with me, and seemed fairly amused at my constant exclamations of how little things had changed.

Upon leaving the neighborhood, I pointed out where I would catch the school bus, and then drove almost automatically to the elementary school I had attended, looking the same but refreshed.

Next we drove into 'old town' Schenectady, actually called Upper Union Street. We walked the streets, had lunch at Gershon's, a Schenectady landmark (delicious Reuben!), and visited several shops, including Divinitea and Musler's. Then we got in the car and explored further into town, driving by Union College, The Stockade, train station, and more. Finally we headed back to the house, where we rested up before heading out to an amazing Italian meal at Augie's with Rani and her boyfriend. The portions at this place are unbelievable! We ordered two entrees and still came back with enough food for another meal for four.

On Saturday my goal was to find the motel where we had lived for a short time (it stands out in my mind, partly because it was right near a cemetery and we were there during Halloween, and partly because I was sick for part of the time, and have distinct memories of watching Mayberry RFD while my mom 'kept house' in our little room.)

Then it was off to John Boyd Thacher Park, or just Thacher Park, as I remember it. What a beautiful drive through rural upstate New York! My memory of the park, however, wasn't very accurate. I pictured a picnic area and a stream. What we found were incredible overlooks of the Hudson-Mohawk Valleys and the Adirondack and Green Mountains, innumerable picnic areas, and several hiking trails. We had heard about the Indian Ladder Trail, but it is normally closed by Thanksgiving. We were thrilled to find the trail open and, once we got past Rebecca's initial nervousness on the wrought iron stairs, "the trail follows the base of the escarpment passing under the Minelot Falls and by the stream exiting from a small cave in the base of the rocks. This water is actually from Thompson Lake, some two miles away, which makes its way through the porous limestone until it exits here. At the end of the trail, a second set of metal staircases take the visitor back to the top of the escarpment. The trail then continues back to the parking lot, offering excellent panoramas."

Finally we made our way back to the car and began the drive back to Rani's. As we drove along a country road, I saw a sign that read "Pottery For Sale". Since local art is one of the things I love to pick up on any visit to a new place, I decided to turn back. What I found was this:

After looking at the pottery and a few small paintings, I chose a small oil of some trees as my take-away local art, put my $5 in the jar, and we headed out.

We finished out our visit that evening with a family gathering for Rani's youngest daughter's 20th birthday, during which I was able to get some quality baby time in.

The next day we drove the ten hours home. I was feeling drained...exhausted and fulfilled, overwhelmed with memories and the poignancy of time marching on and those memories revisited. There was a sense of loss...but at the same time a sense of continuity. So many feelings that I'm still processing. What a wonderful trip. What a great experience for Rebecca and me.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Cool to be Kind

For some reason, I've had this phrase in my head lately. I know cool people. And often, they can be cruel. Kindness isn't their initial goal, coolness is.

I never felt completely comfortable with the cool folks I've known over time. It didn't feel right, and I often found myself feeling on the fringe of things said and done. And, I was often the target of teasing or admonitions that left me feeling cold. In short, I was where I didn't need to be.

I am so grateful for where I am now. I'm pursuing the things I really care about (volunteering, discussion groups, reading, and getting out of town to visit places and friends), spending quality time with my daughter, and could give a rat's ass about whether what I'm doing, listening to, reading, or planning is considered cool or not. I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that it did matter to me just a short time ago, but grateful for the lesson.

Another reason this has been on my mind, and one that is much more serious and important, is the recent FB posts from friends about bullying and teasing. One mentions how important it is "to teach children how to treat others with respect and compassion at a young age and to continue to teach it as they grow. So many precious children's self esteem is ruined by this deficiency in our society." and is followed by the posting of this article, and the other mentions the suicide of a 10 y.o. girl, allegedly as a result of bullying.

I believe it is often the case that we all, at one time or another, have said or done things around or to others in an attempt to show off or be 'cool'. And for many, teasing others is an attempt at humor and fitting in. I know I've been guilty of doing it. Or we find something unrelateable and are dismissive of someone's feelings as a result. And this doesn't stop in the schools. It goes on throughout adulthood.

So my take-away is simply, it is cool to be kind. And I've been making a very conscious attempt at kindness, on a daily basis. I hope to be more sensitive in my words and actions towards others.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Taking In, Letting Go

"To “let go” means not to worry about the future, but look forward to what might happen."

I've been considering why it is that often we hold onto stress, when we know very well what we can do to let it go (yoga, meditation, exercise). Sometimes I think it's because the stress keeps us keyed up, raising our level of anxiety which in turn keeps us moving forward, propelling us to keep hacking away at whatever it is we're trying to achieve or accomplish. In essence, we're holding our breath.

We've all heard it. When we're feeling stressed, overwhelmed, angry, whatever the emotion, the advice is: "Breathe." So simple. And yet so easy to forget, to really take in and let go. And our response is usually, "I don't have time." But we do. And we must. Our health demands it. And really, we're not serving anyone else...our families, our clients, our employers, our co-workers...if we're not breathing.

I've been working on release...of stress, of worry, of anxiety...and am taking more time to breathe...it's amazing what we can take in, and what we let go of.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Thanks, Andy

Two of my idols, Katherine Hepburn and Andy Rooney, have been so because of one simple fact: they spoke their minds and cared not if their opinions didn't sit well with others. Andy Rooney died yesterday at 92. He lived a good life, and as he said, got paid to give his opinions on television...it doesn't get much better than that (paraphrasing).

My previous blog post laments the fact that some folks in this town have chosen to 'unfriend' me (both literally, on FB, and actually, in person...socially). I can safely say that in each case, those people have made that choice based on the fact that I have expressed my opinions and those opinions did not sit well with them. Whether it was an opinion on a (public) blog post, an opinion about an action involving me, or an opinion about how someone 'treated me', in each case friendships cooled as a result of those expressed opinions.

So, in honor of my two idols, I will strive to come to terms with the fact that I will continue to express my opinions and those opinions will not always be received well. And that is okay. Because suppressing my opinions is suppressing my personality, and that wouldn't be healthy. Expressing my opinion doesn't mean that I'm right, and it doesn't mean I'm wrong. It means I'm processing a situation or event or an observance, and putting my thoughts 'out there'. I welcome discussion, disagreement, and discourse. Yes, I've had to learn (and am still learning) to phrase my opinion in a way that doesn't offend. But in many cases, opinions are taken more personally than is necessary, and that is something I and others need to be better at: hearing an opinion without getting so wrapped up in it that we get our feelings hurt and miss the lesson that can often be there. Yes, I'm on both sides of this and have a lot to learn from the opinions of others...and take the lesson away without taking it any more personally than the lesson requires.

(This blog post brought to you by my cup-of-coffee-induced stream of conscious thoughts...)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Don't like me?

This is a familiar theme for me, so bear with me. But I had another couple of 'social hell' evenings recently, and I have just really grown weary of the juvenile behavior of those in this town who have decided (for whatever reason they conjured up) that I'm not worthy of their friendship any longer. And honestly, I don't need to be their friends. But civility and kindness have also gone by the wayside, and that is what I'm weary of. I have become invisible to these people (few that they are...) Seriously, they will stop in front of me to hug people on my right and/or my left, and barely nod at me. Or look right through me as though I've donned the cloak of invisibility. And yes, it shouldn't matter. But it is still hurtful. These same people refuse to have a face-to-face or one-on-one conversation to resolve any perceived wrongs or misunderstandings (I've long given up trying...) It's sad that they want to hold onto whatever it is.

Meh. As a good friend said, "Lori, you have lots of friends." Very true. Good and dear and loving friends who support me and accept me for who I am. I just wish the social interactions weren't so awkward and obviously exclusive. Sigh. I try not to care, I really do. That's why I love this cartoon.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Don't Wait to Start Living

The message from the universe lately is very clear: life is short. So cliche' and glib and obvious. This morning it came in the form of an email from my step-sister, letting me know that one of our childhood friends' brother (also a friend, and married to another friend...) has recently been diagnosed with cancer. Specifically, "...small cell lung cancer

that has spread to his liver, kidneys, bone, and possibly the brain. They scanned his head yesterday and I haven't heard that news yet. He starts chemo today...doesn't look good at all."

I've known these people most of my life...forty plus years. We've all been through a lot together, and have never lost touch over the years. This guy stuffed me head-first into a trash can once; I called him a 'queer' (as in jerk) and was promptly kicked out of the yard by his Marine father, who probably thought I was calling his son that other kind of queer (and who just recently died). We all experienced many rites of passage together, including smoking (all sorts), drinking, boyfriends, girlfriends, arguments, divorces (our parents'), marriages and children (our own). In short, they're family.

So now a member of that family is struggling with a deadly disease that seems to have taken over a majority of his important organs, and his wife and son are dealing with the prospect of seeing him through an illness that could very well take his life sooner than any of them expected.

This is another in a queue of people I know dealing with cancer: a neighbor, a co-worker's spouse, co-workers, church members, and now a friend. None of this is happening to me and yet I recognize that a message is there for me. I'm grateful for the message. I'm filled with concern and love for my friends. I'm at a loss, and yet I know that love is the best thing I can offer from afar.