Happy Birthday Grammy

To a woman,

Daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother,

Saleswoman and business owner always in a suit and heels,

Lover of her family, Minnesota sports teams, travel, birds, gardening and politics,

Smart wit and great humor,

Polish and of Catholic faith,

Attentive to details and taking great care in cooking and cleaning,

Inspiring each live she has touched to be a little more gentle, a little more understanding and to act with love.

Happy 100th Birthday to my Grammy, I love you.

This is her first birthday our family will be remembering her without her present.  I know her lessons will last my lifetime and will continue to have a powerful influence on future generations of our family.  After her passing in December 2012 (link) I took some of her photo albums, as pictures are so important to me.  Here are a few of my favorites.

I Love Lucy

Next month will be the five-year anniversary since moving into our current home.  Remembering back to the months of house hunting with our realtor John makes me laugh.  We might have been one of his more frustrating couples to work with since we had inquiries into multiple locations spread around the Kansas City metro area and fickle possibilities of what we were hoping for in our first home together.  Old versus new, split level versus ranch style, garages, fireplaces, walk in closets, full renovations versus freshly done renovations, acreage versus small plots…  We made it nearly impossible for him to narrow down the possibilities.  After one missed opportunity in Grandview, one unaccepted offer in Overland Park, and one day too late offer in Brookside, we were exhausted with the search and prepared to find somewhere to rent when we gave it one last shot.

We returned to a house we had stopped at before in South Kansas City, we called it “the refrigerator house” since the stainless steel feature in the home we clearly remembered and liked.  From the outside it looked really small, as most of the houses in the area were constructed in the 50’s with a two bedroom, one bathroom layout.  This home had an addition added later to create another living space and bedroom onto the back of the house and the basement was finished off with another living space and second bathroom.  There was nothing spectacular about the house, it didn’t fulfill everything we were looking for in a home and the colors were all wrong.  The location was great, we feared wasting money on rent over building equity in a home and knew our first home wouldn’t be our forever home so we made an offer.

Shortly after moving in walls began getting painted, window treatments were hung and the house became our home – even after we had to repair the refrigerator.  We became friendly with some neighbors and other neighbors we were seemingly invisible to with no acknowledgment at all.  The first autumn in the house rolled around and I noticed a homeless woman digging in our recycling on the curb Thursday mornings before I went to work.  Peering out the window I could see her torn skirt, old shoes, an over-sized coat and a scarf covering her hair.  One morning I sadly watched her digging in the blue box at the end of our driveway and pull out an empty detergent pail, she carried it across our lawn and out of my view.  I quickly moved to another window to catch her path from another angle, and watched as she passed across the street and added the pail to gardening tools in the yard across the street.

Eventually I met my neighbor, who I initially viewed as a homeless woman, her name is Lucy.  In the past five years I have grown to love the garden growing, garbage gathering, mismatched clothes wearing, widowed friend.  She explained to me how she collects pop tabs off of the cans people put in their recycling she gives to her church and the Box Top stamps she finds to bring to her granddaughter.  Fearing the woman’s frail condition and level of activity I began putting our pop tabs in an envelope for her.

A few years ago Lucy’s doctor told her she needed to stop taking on so much; cleaning her house, keeping up her garden and roaming the street for treasures in trash was too much at her age.  Her son’s have tried to convince her to move to a retirement community, and it seemed like during times when Lucy struggled with insomnia and confusion she considered it.  Then when spring would roll around and the flowers returned to life, so did Lucy.

lucy2Having raised her family in the home, which presently has orange shag carpeting I imagine was installed about 40 years ago, she knows the neighborhood and history of previous occupants.  She meets all of the neighbors, even the ones who haven’t acknowledged us in five years.  She delivers flowers from her garden, often in reusable gems from recycling bins like bottles and plastic cups.  During certain times of the year there are daily deliveries of flowers from Lucy, sometimes a sweet smelling surprise found on the front deck or a small bouquet in her empty milk carton from the Meals on Wheels lunch.

Five years ago I never would have guessed how I would feel about my house.  I like my house, the location is great,  it feels like our home, best of all I love Lucy.  It’s wonderful having a neighbor who is happy to give and receive hugs, I feel humbled to hear “Bless you” from an older woman in tattered clothing, and I don’t mind getting pulled into conversations with the neighborhood historian.  Plus it always puts a smile on my face to get a fresh bouquet of flowers.

lucy1JPG

My Sister and My Friend

You know the old cliché about being born sisters and choosing to be friends? I am fortunate to have this be true in my relationship with my sister. She was born a little over two years after me and I cannot remember a time before she was in my life. In childhood we varied from the best playmates to typical sibling rivalry. There were times, being the older sibling, I used to get so irritated having a tag along sister invading my time with friends. And there were times I was overjoyed to have her to team up against our older brother, only to have it later being the two of them teaming up against me. As teenagers, it became more difficult to get along consistently. Both of us exercising independence and unique interests, it became easy to judge and criticize each other unfairly. As we matured and both moved past high school our relationship strengthened again. It became clear while each of us had our own great friends we are really best friends. Friends who laugh at nonsense, finish each others song lyrics, work to repair arguments, travel to see each other anywhere in the world the other may be, and friends who are honest, supportive and do their best to help each other. My sister and I are mirrors in so many ways and complete opposites at the same time.

My sister has been an inspiration to me for a long time and especially in the last year as it seems everything she touches turns to gold. She is emotional, yet passionate. She is impossible to wake up, yet never late. She loves people, though maybe animals more. And she is dedicated and hard-working even when it doesn’t come easy. My sister is talented, creative, popular and fun. She is exactly the kind of person I would choose as a friend.

In the last year she has had so many successes and reasons for celebration. Sometimes the success and celebration comes with heartache, well it does for me anyway. As I write, she is riding across the country to New York City where she and her fiance will make their home, or shoe box as it is in NYC. She left early this morning, on my birthday no less, for the start of the next chapter. And while I am thrilled for her adventure, living it big in the city, I can’t help but be sad. No more spontaneous meeting up for dinner, drinks or frozen yogurt and it will be a long time between hugs. She just left and I already miss her.

The Ants Go Marching

suttaMy Basics of Buddhism class finished last week at the Rime Buddhist Center in Kansas City.  I’d highly recommend taking the course if you are interested in becoming Buddhist, are spiritually/religiously curious, or just need an excuse to commit to get out of the house once a week for twelve weeks – which all three was the case for me.

Since learning the basics, I recognize my thinking about life and relationships matches well with Buddhism.  I know my Buddha-nature is begging to come with the combination of cultivating wisdom and generating loving compassion.  Ultimately meditation is critical and needs to be part of my life as much as food.

Yet, while I agree with so many of the Buddhist philosophies I cannot call myself Buddhist and cannot accept all of the vows.  As part of the vows taken by a wanna-be Buddhist, Eight Mahayana Precepts are agreed upon.  The first precept is not killing and this is a no brainer when it comes to humans, and even most animals for this vegetarian.  Except in the Buddhist tradition not killing includes all sentient beings, from the largest whale to the smallest maggot.  According to the teachings, one-act of killing can carry 500 lifetimes of karmic retribution.

I learned about these vows several weeks back and they were steady on my mind while I was out raking one day.  The spring weather was finally getting warm consistently so I knew the conditions were finally right for the garter snakes to be emerging.  The snake population in my neighborhood is so high it could fill a hundred reptile centers and still have snakes left roaming.  I have wanted them gone since the first sighting.  After four years of living in my home the surprise in seeing them slinking around the grass, sunning on the bushes, and climbing up my fire pit chimney has worn off.  I no longer get the chills or feel the need to run screaming, okay maybe I do get the chills and stay at least five feet away.  On this day out in the yard I pondered how a Buddhist would view the snake problem, accept them as part of nature and not be ill willed towards them?  Sure enough, when my raking was nearly done I turned back towards what I had already cleared to see a garter snake freshly risen from his winter estate.

Feeling as if this was a test I had predicted for myself, I gave the snake a half-smile and decided it would be Buddha-like enough to help him move out of my raking path to the other side of the fence.  I gently used my rake to encourage him to the fence line where he briskly slithered through the chain-link.  Pleased with my acceptance of nature and assistance

The actual snake from my yard, picture taken from a safe distance away by camera phone.

The actual snake from my yard, picture taken from a safe distance away by camera phone.

towards my not so favorite creature I went on with my chore until I heard some rustling in the area I had sent the snake. What a miracle it would be if another animal had found the snake to make a meal out of.  It would still mean good karma for me since I helped him with good intention, I figured as I made my way to the fence to check.

Peaking over, it was clear my original prediction was far from true.  I had helped the snake move directly into the path of another snake waiting and ready to mate.  My practice at being more Buddha-like was resulting in snake babies.  Challenged and not defeated by the incident with the snake, I continued to try to make efforts in my daily life to consider what would a Buddhist do?  And the challenges grew from an abundance of hated snakes to hundreds of seemingly insignificant ants.  I first spotted one ant on my kitchen floor.  Then a few ants on the floor.  Then an ant on my kitchen counter and two in my bathroom.

In the Buddhist tradition, each living creature has a connection to you and through the cycle of death and rebirth each living creature has shared a past life.  Meaning the ants, the snakes and my least favorite people in the world have all been my mother and have all been your mother in a past life.  This newly learned belief was present on my mind while I wiped them clean off the counter and rinsed them down the sink, feeling slightly more guilty about a few deaths in the insect world.

I tried to keep my killing to a minimum, except this past weekend I couldn’t take it any longer.  The ants must have sensed my trepidation and had infiltrated my kitchen, marching in one long line up my dining room wall and along a floorboard.  All apprehension of killing living beings and any thought to the ants being my loved ones was lost in the excitement of wanting them all dead.  I excessively laid out poison and gleefully spoke to my tiny relatives – “Drink up guys and bring your friends.”

Buddhist, I am not.  And if I am reincarnated into an ant for my karmic retribution, I promise to stay out of your kitchen.

Other Posts Reflecting My Experience in the Class:

Stop Looking Outside, Happiness is Within

eckhartThere are so many people who struggle through life dependent on the next thing.  If I get to do (fill in the blank) then I will be happy.  When I get (fill in the blank) I will be better off.  If he/she stops (fill in the blank) everything will be fine.  On one hand it is necessary for growth to create goals to work towards, however, allowing those plans to dictate your mood moment to moment is detrimental.  Your happiness is not dependent on whether you pass or fail, whether you have support from those around you or what monetary gains you create along the way.  If you are waiting for the accomplishments to arrive before you will feel content, you may find those accomplishments short-lived and quickly replaced with new obstacles to overcome.  And when you are placing your happiness on the responsibility of the actions of others, you will never find peace.

To find satisfaction within your own life you must be at peace with the present moment, flaws and all.  Eckhart Tolle says “Whatever the present moment is, accept it as if you had chosen it.”  It is part of the path of your life, exactly as it should be, both the good and the bad.  The challenges you face are opportunities for learning and practicing new skills, there is nothing you cannot overcome and there is no challenge which does not serve a purpose for you.  Stop looking outside yourself or waiting for the moment for things to change, happiness is being at peace with the present and the path you are on.

Don’t Change Your Smile

smileSometimes the world can be overwhelming with tears, fears and frustrations.  War, controversy, politics, violence, injustice and natural disasters all happening simultaneously.

Consuming so much negativity is detrimental to our minds, bodies and relationships with each other.  The terror of all that is bad can be paralyzing, and yet in the time spent worrying we miss so many opportunities to smile, appreciate the positive and truly live.

It is a difficult balance to not be apathetic about problems, while not allowing the problems to consume us.  How can we work to improve the world without the circumstances of the world delivering us to a rotten place?

It starts with keeping a smile.

 

Going to Prison

“Can you watch my daughter when I go to prison?”

In hindsight, maybe I shouldn’t have phrased the question to my mom in this way.  As if any mom would plan on their offspring going to prison, a law-abiding, mid-western,  suburban mother of three adult children with no criminal history might have an immediate stroke at the image of their beloved going to lock-up.  So I quickly backtracked to explain, “Only for one dinner.”

Llama Chuck teaches my Basic of Buddhism class and facilitates Buddhism for prisoners too, once a year he gets to invite others to attend a dinner with the prison participants.  He mentioned this outing for several weeks at class and encouraged people to sign up to come.  I had considered it, thought it would be an interesting experience, though I wasn’t sure it would fit in my busy schedule of motherhood.

Class seven was about Equanimity and The Eight Worldly Concerns.  Equanimity is the power of the mind being able to experience change and remain unmoved.  As a mountain remains stable through snow, wind and lightning; equanimity can maintain the mind through trauma, accidents and emotional pain.  In the Buddhist perspective it means accepting things as they are and not how you want them to be.  In the moment of crisis it would be difficult to engage my Buddha mind even though I understand the concept.  What is more challenging for me to grasp is how you can accept circumstances of the world and avoid apathy, indifference or detachment.  How do you care, without caring to be truly identifying with equanimity?

The usual rhythm of the class discusses the chapter and then breaks into smaller groups to talk about discussion questions.  The question of the day related to situations where equanimity would be best utilized and asked “How do you feel about inviting pain into your life?”  No one in our group admitted to masochism and struggled with the term inviting pain.  Once we agreed to think in terms of accepting pain as a part of life our group shared different sides of the spectrum, one individual reporting she avoids pain by keeping people at a distance in her life and not maintaining relationships while another woman stated she has noticed being ultra sensitive and feels she is in pain more than necessary.  Our discussion turned to opportunities we do “invite pain” when we put ourselves in uncomfortable situations like helping struggling friends or volunteering.  Spending time working at a soup kitchen or with hospice patients could be a way to practice equanimity, accepting things as they are without being apathetic.

At the end of class Llama Chuck reiterated his invitation to prison stating it was the last day to sign up.  Going to prison prisonsounded like a practice of equanimity for me.  I am angered at the prison system in our country and the rate of incarceration for petty and nonviolent crimes, and because of my feelings towards the system I have detached myself in many ways.  After his closing people began gathering their belongings.  In that moment I knew it would be an opportunity to practice caring without caring.  I needed one final push to nudge me all the way in to my decision.  I looked forward to a classmate who I had socialized with for the last several weeks, a Spanish teacher at a local college.  “Do you want to go to prison with me?”  I nonchalantly inquired knowing if she denied I was not signing up alone.

“I don’t have to teach a class that night,”  she thought for a second, “Sure.”  And within seconds we were jotting our names on the sign-up sheet.  (Sorry Mom, I’m locked-in to attend the prison dinner but I am not going to lock-up.)

The prison dinner is later this month and I will try to multiply my meditation practice to prepare to be equanimitable in prison.  Afterall I am only going for a few hours as a guest, equanimity as a true prisoner would take much more strength of the mind.

Buddha Boots

In third grade I had the distinct realization my family was not like others.  Obviously a little slow in my childhood, or just too busy with Barbies and baby dolls to notice, I finally had the clarity to understand how different my family was from my friends’.  We did not go to church on Sundays and we ate a vegetarian diet.  In that devastated moment I questioned why my parents would be sabotaging my chances at leading a normal existence.  I can imagine my mom reassuring me in her usual calm and undisturbed manner, suggesting I can go to church if I choose and I can eat meat if I choose too. And so I did.  I tried tasting meat and I attended Sunday school with friends a few times before deciding I wasn’t really missing much with either.

Into adulthood the urge to eat meat never reappeared and the desire to find religion, well that never presented itself either, except I am at a firm disadvantage when biblical trivia comes up in games or television trivia. Despite my lack of time spent in places of worship, my life was not absent of spiritual teachings. And as I learned more about religions in general, I found ideas based in the Buddhist traditions paralleled my own thoughts the most.

Still not identifying with any specific religion I decided to take a Basics of Buddhism class to learn about Buddhism, practice meditation and give mommy some required weekly time out each week.

Part of week three’s lesson covered the Four Nobel Truths relating to dissatisfaction and suffering. The Nobel Truths recognize how all beings desire happiness and peace even though the nature of the world is impermanent. In other words, what makes us happy and secure in this moment could be very different in the next moment since life is ever-changing. The Nobel Truths explain if you can recognize your attachment, delusion or craving for what is not present in your life you can relieve yourself from the suffering associated with it.  Our thoughts revolving the attachment can perpetuate a negative emotion and the opposite is true by letting go of the attachment.

This principle can be applied to anything which causes suffering and it could be extremely useful if one could be effective at using it for major situations.  Imagine if you could just let go of the attachment to a home following a foreclosure, a spouse following a divorce, or a loved one following a death.  Imagine skipping out on the grief, despair and anger to move towards acceptance of what is present instead of what is missing.

Amazing, in concept, to have the power within my own mind to escape suffering. I’m not going to even pretend, after a few weeks of beginning to learn about Buddhism, that I could incarnate the patience and understanding of a Buddhist monk in the moment of crisis. I’m sure I would completely lose sight of these lessons and appear completely irrational should a tragedy occur in this moment, however, I have already had some real life application of this teaching.

Two days after my lesson on the Four Nobel Truths I was struck my the necessity to implement this strategy and acknowledge I was causing my own suffering. As so much of my learning is associated with my toddler these days she was also the target of this scenario. We had been shopping at a kids consignment sale, and with limited two-year old patience we managed to pick out a few toys and avoid the coveted riding toy area beforebuddhaboots1 we had to make it through the line to check out. The checkout line happened to be situated next to the long table of shoes. I’m usually not one to be interested in previously worn shoes and since my daughter’s Nana can’t leave a store without buying her a pair I hardly ever even browse.  Except these red leather cowgirl boots caught my eye and I immediately envisioned these being beloved shoes she would want to wear with every outfit. I could picture red boots over leggings or with a jean skirt and a white t-shirt. She would be stylish and ready to hop on a horse at any moment. Excited by my finding I showed them to Parker and even offered her the choice in colors, and was thrilled when she agreed with the red.

When we got home I couldn’t wait to try them on, to watch the magic and celebrate our consignment sale find. The boots slid on easily and about as quickly as they were on she shook her legs to kick them back off.  Without an explanation, she decided she would not wear them.  It seemed the harder I urged, the frequency I requested and the more creative I tried to trick her into the boots only made her increase the stubbornness against it. After much frustration and disappointment I remembered the ideas of the Four Nobel Truths and recognized I was creating my own suffering by holding onto my attachment of the red boots.

buddhaboots2We can spend a lot of energy being frustrated by things not going as planned, by failure or changes to our vision. And in some cases, if we really decide we don’t want to be unhappy, we can be mindful of what’s causing the suffering and let go of how we thought things should be.  I let go of the red boots, I acknowledged my ideas of how adorable they would be weren’t worth the misery I was feeling with my toddler creating her own vision.  I finally gave up on the boots and formulated the connection to the Buddhist teachings with this plan to write about it.  When I set up the boots to take a picture, Parker suddenly regained interest.  She pulled them from my picture set-up, sat down and pulled each onto their respective foot.  I snapped a few pictures while she stomped and wiggled, then within minutes they were kicked back off again.  After the little tease it was easier for me to remind myself to let go of the attachment – these little red boots were only meant to be a Buddha Boot lesson for me.

buddhabootsgirl

Napping or Not Napping

socksSome days she just won’t nap, not matter how tired, she just won’t close her eyes. Since I am insistent on a minimum of some quiet time to ourselves, she entertains herself with a book or sings songs. There are days when this gives way to three hours of shut eye, and there are days when her stubborn streak wins out. Then there are days like today when she is near slumber only to be disrupted by my anxiety dog barking at the sight of movement down the block.

During the nap times when it ends up being an hour of vocal practice she usually is content in her room by herself contained to her pack and play we still have yet to escape (click here for the explanation.)  One afternoon, following a sleepless nap, I entered her room to find she had emptied her sock drawer just within her reach, taken off her pants and pull-up, and pulled on some leg warmers.

Knowing she was caught, she immediately switched up her song and began singing “I’m so, I’m so sorry.”

Lost Without My Mom’s

I hear a lot of women complaining about conflicts with their mom’s or with their mother-in-laws, and while any two people can’t see eye to eye on all issues I have to say I am eternally indebted to these two women in my life.  I am continuously amazed and appreciative of the love and support of both my mom and my mother-in-law.  Last week was another reminder of how I would be drowning without their help.

nanajacksonParker and I both came down with stomach flu-like symptoms, except her illness came first and included some diarrhea and mild fever.  When my flu came it hit me hard like a bad hangover only without the fun drunken state before hand.  I actually had to run out of a wedding reception to get sick and thankfully crawled my way back into the hotel room we reserved in the same building to begin my flu coma.  My mother-in-law had planned to keep Parker for the night to let us enjoy our evening as an adult couple, and despite my reservation leaving her in a not so perfect health I also knew there would be no better place for her to be than with her Nana.

When we finally made it home Sunday I quickly realized I was in no shape to care for myself and continue to clean up the messes in my daughter’s pants.  On Monday morning I alternated between resting and preparing to go to my parents.  It took all of my strength to get Parker loaded up and drive over to my waiting mom.  She played with, toileted, washed and fed my girl for the next two days while I faded in and out of conciousness letting the illness pass.  On Tuesday the symptoms of flu were gone; weakness from days with no appetite and great appreciation for my mom’s who helped me through the storm were what remained.

It still is astonishing to me how my body and my daughter’s body reacted to the same germs so dramatically different.  Parker sang and danced through her flu, while I could barely stand.  Is it a testament to her young healthy immune system and doing our best to protecting her from toxins for two and a half years?  Or is it a sign of my emotional stress taking it’s toll on my physical self?  Either way, I would be lost without the support of my mother-in-law and my mom and I am so thankful for them both.