Monday, December 29, 2008

Two and a Half Caftans, One Small Boy, and a Great Big Snake...

A boy and his snake will not soon be parted...

The boy is Lucas, my 4 1/2 year old grandson. The snake is Benjamin, whom I made for Lucas for Christmas out of 2 1/2 of my old caftans, washed and still nice fabric but with tears so I couldn't wear them anymore. I think every body needs a seersucker snake, and Lucas had been asking me to make him one for some time. I made him a small one, a very friendly, sweet looking rattlesnake named Cassandra and he has been asking for a big one for sometime. Grandma Maitri is known to be goofy and cattywompus (Those were the first two words I taught Lucas. I'm the kind of Grandmother you have to watch out for!), so snakes made out of seersucker are no big deal.

Benjamin started out 4 feet long (Lucas is only 42 inches or so tall) but as I got to the tail the material had torn because I packed it so full of material for stuffing that the seams that I'd so carefully sewn twice, were bursting and tore the fabric. Benjamin is just about Lucas-sized now. There is also a special magenta button, engraved, from the 1940's under the end of his tail. When he touches things with that tail he does magic. (Grandma Maitri NEVER lies. She is just a wee bit more whimsical than the norm, kinda wonky, and has spent a good deal of time with the Mad Hatter at his tea party, not to mention having had breakfast more times than she can count with the White Queen who said, give or take, that she made it a practice to believe six impossible things every morning before breakfast. I usually believe and then try to do a dozen or so impossible things, but it's a tad iffy with a pug attached to your person as you saw in the last post!)

This pretty much looks like tea at my house. A table
full of animals, a mixed up "girl" and a crazy friend or
so pouring tea...

I think grandmothers are not supposed to be serious. I think they are supposed to laugh and have secrets and tickle and cuddle and smooch their little fellas, and make them handmade gifts. Lucas got many wonderful gifts from all the family members, store bought toys and wonderful things, but it is a googly-eyed snake that he hasn't hardly put down since Christmas. Made of my clothing, stuffed with it, and just a few vintage buttons to finish it off. Benjamin is very cushy and firm. I overstuffed him so as he "settled" over time he would still feel like a cozy armful.

Watch out for googly-eyed snakes. You
never know WHAT kind of trouble they
might get you into...

I told Lucas that Benjamin is, of course, magic, but that he would only talk to Lucas about things. That he is very shy and Lucas and he can have secrets. It's important to have a friend to tell secrets to, as adults truly don't understand so very many things. I know that I, like Alice, am always having to rescue some poor flamingo or other from being used as a croquet mallet, and I dearly wish I could have a flamingo for a pet. I mean there's so many birds here already, but nary a tall, pink, skinny legged one anywhere. Wouldn't a flamingo be just the thing? I'm going to teach Lucas about flamingos. They really only talk to certain people and they have secrets too. I'm fairly certain I fell down the rabbit hole as a child, and I never really came back out, or not for long. This gives me just the credentials needed to be a wonky-cattywompus-goofy grandmother which is just what a grandmother oughter be if you ask me. I think a grandmother who had a flamingo would be just the thing. Lucas could bring us for show and tell...

No, I fear I will never be an ordinary grandmother. But I think Lucas likes me this way. He is a magical child with an active imagination and he has already has some pretty mysterious, serious, secret talks with Benjamin. Every little boy needs some soft, handmade, goofy looking creatures to sleep with. I would if I didn't have so many pugs on my person already.

All in all I think I'm a good grandmother. Unusual, certainly odd, but a very loving and kind grandmother who makes up stories and has pretend friends that I talk to too, and Lucas and I can talk about the magical little creatures. Some have already come and gone in his life, but there are always more. My most important job, I believe, as a grandmother, is to preserve the magic, canoodle, and cuddle and giggle and squish a lot, sing to my wee little man, and make surprising creatures for him that he will never forget.

After this handmade, homemade Christmas, where we also re-gifted or shopped from our very own houses, passing along books, and handmade soaps and more, I never want to have a store bought Christmas again. The kids and I all decided we'd had the most relaxed and peaceful Christmas ever and we truly did. It was so much fun foraging for presents, making some, baking some, and tucking in little secrets and surprises. Yes, this is exactly the kind of grandma I want to be -- odd, goofy, and full of love.

Now I will put my crown on and knit awhile. I babysit Lucas tomorrow and I'm thinking up some wacky and wild things we might do. I think Benjamin could use a hat, and perhaps I'll make Lucas a flamingo for his birthday in May. I've made a pact with myself that every single day I will be working on making something or other. It's a wonderful way for a grandmother to live too, with lots of animals and magic everywhere...

Grandma Maitri, whose crown has
always been a bit lopsided... tsk, tsk...

Tenniel's "Alice" illustrations are used
with the permission of The Vicorian Web...

Monday, December 22, 2008

I'm Trying To Write To You All But I Have A Pug Asleep On My Head... And ... Why You Shouldn't Be Stressed Out Over Christmas...

I am typing away on my computer
Sammy is asleep against my neck...

Well, if there was ever a less attractive picture of me I surely don't know where it might be, but Sampson is adorable and really, in the end, isn't that what counts? It's just the fact that he is snoring rather loudly in my ear that makes it, uhm, rather hard to concentrate...

I have just written to a dear friend and it has given me much food for thought and helped me to relax. This last weekend I had my usual pre-Christmas panic and high-anxiety attack. I called my daughter Rachel who is getting her Master's in Clinical Psychology and told her it was nice having a free shrink in the family (until I see my own on Wednesday) and I needed my head shrunk a little until I could get there. She told me the best thing I could give the family was not to get myself all upset and just relax and enjoy Christmas. Inotherwords, do what you can, forget the rest, and enjoy the day. That helped enormously...

Sam is now asleep ON my head and his snoring is echoing
through the chambers of my pretty much
empty cranium.
Tis the season...

What I told my dear friend was that the biggest Aha! moment I've ever had around the holidays was four years ago when I fell down the stairs and broke both feet badly, and was in 2 casts for 6 months. It was December 8 when I went tripping down the stairs like one of the Dancing Hippos in Disney's Fantasia. I spent the whole season with my feet up in the air, unable to do anything, and my dear kids came morning and night and took care of my animals and I, my mother was here over Christmas and nursed me along, and I didn't get Christmas presents finished, nor a single cookie baked, much less prepare any of the feast, and you know what? Christmas went right on anyway, believe it or not, and it was one of the loveliest, stress-free Christmases ever. When you really can't do anything, you have to just let go, and you see the beauty and the sparkle of the season, the loving family, you meditate on the Christmas tree lights after dark, eat the wonderful meal brought to you with family mulling about, and... well ... thinking of this I stopped and thought -- and shared with my friend who is going through a hard time -- that if we can STOP when we HAVE to, then we can stop when we NEED to. The holidays are not worth a nervous breakdown, making yourself sick, or nuts, or about as useful as a bourbon soaked fruitcake. (I shudder. One of my mother's friends used to bring her one of these every year and she loved them and they used to make me turn kind of green and go weak in the knees with, well, blech, you get the picture...)

You see I really am trying to write this entry but...

Sam keeps shifting and now I am wearing a pug earmuff...

When you are an artist and writer who works from home you can be certain of a few things. You will write with one or five pugs near or on your person, perhaps a feather from one of the five parrots stuck in your hair somewhere, and good old Sam, only 9 years old, snoring on your head like a ninety year old man. One long snnnnnnnnnnoooooooooooooorrrrrrrrrrrrreeeeeeeeeee, and then he breathes out with a little puff of air so his fat little lips bump against my neck for a second and I giggle. I am thinking deep thoughts but giggling and it is near impossible to write!

Perhaps the most important thing is just to tell you to RELAX so that I can remember to do so as well, and remember that the holidays are meant for joy and love and peace, and not nervous breakdowns, anxiety, and overspending frantically the day before Christmas. Funny how Christmas, like most other days, just drifts along with or without us, so I might as well just sit here and do what I can with a pug on my head, and tell you all that I am sending my love this holiday week. Happy Hannukah, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa, and whatever else you may celebrate, I wish you the best. I will be here, with a pug asleep on my head, and life will go on as it always does...

Happy Holidays, Merry Everything...


I thought I would share with you the tree I had a
few years back with pink lights, hot pink beaded
garland, and flamingos, as well as all manner of
birds from the craft shop. SEE, Christmas is
supposed to be FUN!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Questions and Comments From The Woman Who Has Spent Her Whole Life Swimming Upstream ~ and, What My Religion Really Is....

"Prayer is not asking for what you think you want,
but asking to be changed in ways you can't imagine."

~ Kathleen Norris ~

I have been thinking, of late, quite a lot about spirituality and religion. It's been a long and winding road but let me break it down for you in a few quick phrases ... Raised Catholic, 12 years of Catholic education. Husband and I had both been raised Catholic and both left the church before we were married at 20 and 23, the only difference being that he called himself an Agnostic, and I called myself Spiritual. I didn't for one moment think that God wasn't "Up There," and, as I have heard said, "You can take the girl out of the church but you can't take the saints out of the girl." I have always been particularly fond of the saints, and have always more comfortably related to the cloistered nuns and monks than the general population, but then the angels came winging their way after me, in less and less subtle ways, and though I have been an ardent student of Buddhism for 30 years I always heard God laughing merrily along the way, very present in my life, but not quite understanding what "it" all meant. What I mean by "it" is formal religion.

When I left the Catholic Church, and, as a young married woman with a husband who wasn't about to go to church, I continued on an ardent seeker, and I went to many churches alone. Actually the churches that I loved most were the black churches that I went to with the rousing choirs that made you feel like you were floating 10 feet off the ground, and I sang and danced with the rest of the congregation. It was the place I most felt a really alive spirit connection. It was visceral. It felt real, but I didn't understand it. I was raised in a very formal setting, and the Catholic church had very formal rituals. The black churches I attended startled me because I never knew that going to church could awaken something in you that would make you feel joyful inspite of your sometimes sorry self. And I never really knew what to think about the Bible. I mean in Catholic school we had the "catechism." Protestant churches seemed to have a bit of a different spin on things. I thought of the stories we were taught in religion classes as nice parables to teach people how to live. I never quite figured out how Noah and the Ark fit into all of that until I ended up living my life in a cottage with about as many animals as Noah had on that Ark and then I figured it must all have meant more than I had realized.

Still in all, with all of my seeking and searching and believing in all manner of things, I have never been comfortable with any kind of organized religion, not even the Buddhist aspect of Buddhism that is very formal. I have long written that I didn't want a priest, a minister, a monk, a rabbi, or any holy man or woman telling me how I should live, and be my guide in life. I wanted what I have always called, and written about, as "Direct Communion." I wanted to be able to talk to God directly without an interpreter. For a writer this will sound odd, but when it comes to God and I, it has always felt like words got in the way. My relationship with God is visceral. The call and response happens in the silence. It is way down in my solar plexus and when most connected, most deeply felt, blazingly alive, the experience has been like I imagine being struck by lightning might be. But we don't talk about God that way. It's not polite.

Too, other people's interpretations vary so greatly that what at one point in time may have been very simple has fractured this thing called religion into a million pieces. Churches broke away from their mother-roots, other entirely different churches sprang up on their own, so many wars have been fought with their roots in religious ideology, and outright murder and terrorism exploded from under the veil of something called Holy. How is one not to be confused? Confused, yes, but a believer? Always.

I came to a point in my life when I began to view spirituality as a Kaleidoscope. I have written about this many times, but it always comes back to this for me. All who are "Believers" (and I count myself as one) essentially believe in a God or Deity of one sort or another. Some believe in multiple Deities but for time's sake here I will refer to a monotheistic point of view and God help me I'm not going to go bumbling about worrying about pronouns and being "PC" for anyone. This is complex enough as it is. Imagine this...

You pick up a kaleidoscope and look through it up into the sky. You marvel as you turn the kaleidoscope at the myriad colors and shapes, but, you are still looking at the exact same thing. I began to see "Religion" like this. If there is only one (for most people, no matter your faith) God "up there" but so many people view "Him" in different ways, even those basing their religion on essentially the same book, well, all I can figure is that we are all looking at the same Being through a universal kaleidoscope and the different religions are merely a turn by which the view changes and different shapes and colors can be seen. These are translated into the tenets of each individual faith. I hope you can bear with me. I really am getting somewhere.

Remember -- and perhaps viewing the picture at the top again will help -- I'm the fish swimming upstream against the odds, I just will look at things funny, but if you ask me, at the heart of every religion/faith/spiritual path that I have pondered over and read and studied about for decades, the ones that hold at their center compassion, kindness, non-judgement and a gentle love and genuine tenderness, which most religions hold as truths and tenets of their faith, are the ones that I am/have been, drawn to. However, it has been my experience, attending different churches on my search for one where my soul might rest easy and find a home, what I found were that the tenets of the faith might be sound, but, sadly, all too often, run by mere human beings with faults and foibles as we all will surely have, the individual church had, if not openly discussed or owned, an undercurrent of discontent, or, perhaps to me, even worse, a flock that followed (please forgive me, I know this sounds harsh, and truly I mean no harm when I say this) blindly followed along simply because their parents had, and their parents before them, and theirs before them. That is indeed an unfair generalization but it's a point I wanted to make because it bothers me.

I'm not talking about Blind Faith, which is another thing entirely -- and I'm not going there in this piece or it would be a book -- I'm talking about people who seem to have fallen into a church at birth because that's where their family went and never thought about it at all, they either followed along or left, roaming the earth as I and so many others of my generation have, not feeling like we quite fit, but not willing to give up the (Holy) Ghost! It is quite a quandary, a conundrum indeed.

And I wonder why there is so much fear, across the board, of anything that is "different" in this world? I can carry forward, with me, on my journey, many traditions, many prayers, many types of blessing-ways, many tools and icons and garments used in different traditions that I stay with awhile, and humbly study and with awe, give thanks for. I can carry the rosary, the mala, the Native American Medicine Wheel inside of me, as well as things considered pagan and pantheistic but which for me have been deep teachings and vibrate with life and holiness, and don't tarnish or harm my vision of God. I can open my arms and my heart and my life to all of the things that are based in love, and with gratitude, and compassion, I can spend my days, in my own small way, giving what I can. What a world it would be if we all could do just that. Each one, reach one. That's all it really takes.

But then, here I am, at 54, having found myself going deeper and deeper, spiralling down farther and farther into myself like a spelunker in search of something precious and rare, and precious and rare the experience has indeed been. Still, to put a name on it, or to follow, by rote, some form of organized religion, I fear, will cause me to lose the wondrous thing I have found.

I once read a book that moved me deeply. A small book of letters between two poets. The book was called The Delicacy and Strength of Lace; the poets -- James Wright and Leslie Marmon Silko. It was a life-changing book for me. A slender little volume that packed a wallop in a gentle way, and yet echoed through the four chambers of my heart on and on until one day I didn't hear it anymore, but neither was I the same woman I had been before I read it.

Finally, I think what I've come to is that I will leave the world to it's complexities, its verities, its constructions and tangled voices. I am a woman who can only live simply to survive and be whole in this world, and I will deeply honor all that is holy in my own way in my own little place in the world. And so now I understand more fully what my religion is, but I'll let His Holiness, the Dalai Lama say it, because he said it so much better than I could have. Simple words. Deep truth.

My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.

~ The Dalai Lama ~

My religion is kindness, and so I offer that to you. I work toward that each day in my life. I stumble and fall, but I get back up, dust myself off, chop wood, carry water, pray the rosary, chant with my mala, use my pendulums to talk to God and the spirits and angels and deities who guide me, and above all I will be kind. For me, it is the only way.

Namaste, Gentle Blessings to you all, may love and charity abound...

Saturday, December 13, 2008

What Makes Mama Happy...

Tis the season to be ... stressed, panicked, numb, depressed, overwhelmed, and yes, happy. I was thinking about that this morning as I always, at this time of year, feel all of the first, and of course, the last. I love the family being together, the wonderful food, the love all around, the holiness of the season, the sacred, more kindness shown, even to complete strangers, but I also feel like I want to hide in a hole and not come out until January 2. When my three children were little I called this period "The Thanksgiving to New Year Holiday Slide," because it seemed that once you hit Thanksgiving, nothing was "normal" until the New Year passed. As I count on my routines to keep me calm and functioning, the shattering of routines unnerves me, even though I love Christmas.

This year, being most likely my mother's last Christmas, and the loss of my precious grey parrot Henry, has just knocked me off my feet. Yes, I have been down, way down, but then I look at Sampson, who is always attached to my body, and since Henry left he lies on the right arm of my overstuffed easy chair as he always has, but now he positions himself so that his two pudgy front paws and sweet, squishable face are resting on my shoulder. In bed he waits until I get settled and then he moves up against my back, the back of his little head against the back of mine, and his back running down my back. Sampson makes me happy. And I fall asleep stroking little Harvey's silky soft pug fur. I am like a little girl sleeping with two teddy bears.

And then, as I took a look around me, laughing because Blossom, the cockatoo, dropped the last of her piece of celery and looked up startled and shouted out, "HI BIG BIRD!!!" and wee little pug Harvey is lying on the floor to my left, Big Dog Moe, my black lab-doby mix, to my right, the girls, puglets Coco and Babs, just a short distance away, and the other parrots eating and playing, and I remembered the Nativity, and Mary in the stable with Joseph and their newborn son, and they were surrounded by animals. There is something so comforting in that image, the simple surroundings, the friendly beasts.

I look around the room at my friendly beasts and I smile. I lay my cheek against Sampson's on my shoulder and feel his soft, warm fur, and I laugh a little thinking about the conversation with Mom that I had a couple of days ago, a long and special conversation. She told me the doctor said she was Stage 4 and she is being kept alive only with weekly blood and platelet transfusions, but her spirits are always high. Through the worst of it all she has always said, whenever you talk to her and ask her how she's doing, even though you know she's very ill and in a lot of pain, "Every day's a good day, it is what you make it." What a teacher she is for us all.

As we were talking we talked about after she is gone, and how we both believed in signs and feeling the presence of our loved ones who have crossed over to the other side. I told her to make sure she gave me a sign. She said she would. I told her we could have conversations and maybe when I was walking down the aisle at the grocery store I would talk out loud to her and say, "Mom, do you think I should get this?" She laughed and said, "Oh Lord, don't say that, people will think you're crazy!" to which I replied, "Well, I am, but I take pills for it." and we both laughed. I will hear her laughter, hear her saying, "Every day's a good day," long after she is gone. And I might just talk to her in the grocery store too.

I am finding that happiness is a state of mind, and you have to work at it. If my mother can make every day a good day through nearly four years of cancer, a cancer that, when diagnosed in February 2005, the doctors only gave her a short time to live, and she has lived years past their expectations. I truly believe that it is due, in large part, to her positive state of mind -- if my mother can stay up and still laugh while dying in slow motion from Multiple Myeloma, I can sure enough keep myself up and happy through the holidays. I will do it for her, I will do it for my children and grandchild, my family and friends, and yes, for myself. I will do it with a funny little pug sleeping on my shoulder, a big white parrot doing funny tricks, and while I make my simple handmade gifts for Christmas, I will remember Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus in that stable -- more humble surroundings you could not find -- and I will feel deep gratitude for all that I have here at my little cottage, and I will be floated on the love all around me, with these funny wide-eyed pugs, big Moe, little Vincent, my Buddha Beta Fish, and all of the parrots.

"Tis the reason for the season," the saying goes, and now I realize that the "Thanksgiving to New Year Holiday Slide," was meant for just this, to remind us of our many blessings, to fill our hearts with love, with gratitude, to slow down because we must, and in keeping things simple, which, too, is part of the story of Christmas, we will find the glory in the season, and it can carry us into the New Year ahead with peace, love, and a full heart brimming with kindness, for ourselves and others, if we allow it, if we remember it, if we hold fast to the lessons of this season.

I think in the midst of one of the hardest times of my life, I'm going to have the happiest Christmas ever. I whisper "Thank you," many times a day, and begin, more and more, to be mindful of the sacredness of every day, the holiness of every moment, the blessing of a small boy with a pink tongue sticking out, and snuggling with me in bed at night. I smile and say "thank you," when I think of my tiny four year old grandson, my little joy boy. I feel an overwhelming tenderness and gratitude for my children and their partners, I feel a place of peaceful calm thinking of my precious Henry, never giving up hope that he will come back to me, in one way or another, and I laugh when I think about talking to my mother in the grocery store, when she is a spirit guiding me down the aisles and I try to sneak goodies in my basket when she isn't looking.

And now, on this Saturday so close to Christmas, and with much to do in, now, less than 2 weeks, and with my middle child, mother of my grandson, turning 29 next Tuesday, and the days so full, I will hold the image of my mother -- of her smile, her laughter and her great teaching about the goodness that every day holds if we allow it. My mama's happy, so I shall live up to her example, and I will hold each moment in my heart as the miracle that it is, and I will love, with an open heart, all that is, because I am made of love, if lopsided and cattywompus and a little goofy, and I will assure Sampson that Mama is happy, so everybody can be happy. It is my job to make it so.

Happy, Beautiful, Peace-full Holidays to you all, from all of us here at Dragonfly Cottage...


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Let Me Fall, Let Me Climb ~ "The one I want, The one I will become, Will catch me ..."

"Let me fall
Let me climb
There's a moment when fear
And dreams must collide

Someone I am
Is waiting for courage
The one I want
The one I will become
Will catch me

So let me fall
If I must fall
I won't heed your warnings
I won't hear them

Let me fall
If I fall
Though the phoenix may
Or may not rise

I will dance so freely
Holding on to no one
You can hold me only
If you too will fall
Away from all these
Useless fears and chains

Someone I am
Is waiting for my courage
The one I want
The one I will become
Will catch me

So let me fall
If I must fall
I won't heed your warnings
I won't hear

Let me fall
If I fall
There's no reason
To miss this one chance
This perfect moment
Just let me fall..."

From Cirque de Soleil
Sung by Josh Groban

(Click above link to
see video and hear
Josh Groban sing
this stunning song.)

Music has always been the great healer for me. My companion in sorrow, in joy, and in coming to a deeper understanding of myself throughout the process I am going through at the moment. Roughly 7 years ago Josh Groban came onto the scene with his first c.d. and stunned the world, this young man with the deep, melodic voice that sent an arrow straight through your heart. His voice a vehicle for the deepest, darkest, saddest, and most moving songs. I played the c.d. over and over again. My nearly 30 year marriage was over, I was alone, lost, and I fixated on this one song. All I could hear was "Let me fall..." In my blurred, heartbroken mind those were the only lyrics I could hear, and the music itself carried me on a journey. I was suicidal at that time, and if I went, I would have been falling with the music of this song...

Fortunately, many years have passed and I am in a much better place. I have my ups and downs, my hardships and and sorrows, but somehow, I always rise. I think it has been a growing and strengthening of faith, plus a growing strength and fortitude inside myself, and nothing speaks better to this process, moving from one state of being to another than this song, Groban's unbelievably beautiful voice, and if you click on that link above and watch the video of him singing the song while Cirque de Soleil performs, falling through the air, and rising back up again, falling and rising, you will, if your heart is open, take in a picture of life, of all that is possible within us, of how the falling is necessary if we are to rise again.

Too, I feel the message that has been so important to me -- we must let go, we must fall, to escape the chains that have bound us, the pain, the misconceptions and things that were holding us back, we must cut the proverbial strings and fall, fall, fall, and when once again we begin our upward ascent, "the one I want, the one I will become will catch me..." It reminded me of a mother bird pushing a terrified baby bird out of the nest. He would never have learned that he could fly had she not, and now he soars. We must be our own mothers, tossing the old self out of the nest and watching with pride as our brave, new, trembling Self takes flight for the first time.

I am going through some very hard times right now for numerous reasons, but I am a woman who, at 54, has grown in faith, and faith in myself, and the will to live in me is strong, is exuberant, carries me over the swift running waters that would carry me downstream and away forever. I am past the point of no return, I am walking the first steps of a new life, one I can't even yet fully imagine, but the most important step of all is realizing that I have turned that corner, and let myself fall, so that the one I would become would catch me. I have reached that place, much to my surprise, and I played that song over and over and over yesterday, crying, not tears of sorrow, but tears of joy and gratitude for how far I have come.

You've got to hear the song to understand, and let it lift you up, and let yourself fly...

My deepest love to you all,