“big aunty” levitates, “trick-or-treat?”

As Halloween’s ghostly hour draws near, prepare yourself for some true-to-life, Hawaiian storytelling. Granted, it’s from accumulated memories, some mine, some my mom’s, and some from my older siblings. A very superstitious people, belief in the supernatural is inherent in our culture. While native Hawaiians today may not speak of the religion of our ancestors, most, including myself, won’t dispute what we were told. I’m certain it’s the same with descendants of other native people, whose beliefs were so closely intertwined with nature.

When I was a pre-teen, I met “big-aunty” for the first time. I’d heard tales about her, so I imagined she’d look and act like a mean, ugly old woman, a hag, a witch. I dreaded having to look at her, scared to death that she’d cast her malevolent eye upon me. I didn’t want to touch any part of her, not even shake her hand. I was baptized a Catholic, but as a frightened kid, I wasn’t sure my religion was going to protect me from a relative imbued with supernatural powers. In truth, I don’t think we children even spoke of “big aunty,” fearful that even our words would draw her attention, and bad luck would befall us.

With great anticipation, and some anxiety, I looked forward to finally meeting our family “Kahuna,” the witch doctor. At a cousin’s high school graduation reception at his parent’s home, my mom introduced me to “big aunty.” If my memory serves me right, my mom’s attitude seemed reverential, as if deferring to someone of higher standing. 

The eyes that greeted mine reminded me of the sea as it washes up onto black sand beaches on the Big Island of Hawaii. While her stare seemed able to penetrate right through me, I felt as though I were gazing into eyes that were dull, dead. I think she was in her 80’s at the time. But I was captivated by my “big aunty’s” small stature, and soft, gentle countenance, framed by thinning, white hair, cut short. By comparison, her younger sister, my mom, was broader, towering over her older sibling by several inches. At that moment, I feared my mom more than my aunt. Strange, I thought, how different the real person, from the one I’d imagined all those years.

Caught up in the celebration, and wanting to hang out with my boy cousins, Lincoln and Martin, whom I rarely ever saw, I didn’t engage in much conversation with “big aunty.” She, of course, spent most of her time mingling with the other adults. From time to time, I would seek her out, just to be near her. Her charisma was evident, even when she was still. In her presence, I felt no evil, only goodness. But I knew from my mom that “kahunas” possessed both; they could cast good spells, and bad ones. They could also remove spells cast by other “kahunas.”

An older brother and sister were favorites of  “big aunty,” from what I’ve been told. Because there were so many of us, she would have them spend the summers with her in Kahakuloa on Maui. While tourists are able to visit that coastal village today, roads were almost nonexistent in the old days. Of packed dirt, they were difficult to travel, especially when heavy rains eroded the soil, leaving behind deep ruts. Electricity did not exist, so nights were lit by kerosene lamps. I can remember only a couple of occasions when I visited the home built by “big aunty’s” oldest son. Being the youngest in my family, I always went with my mom. Thank God! Nights in that house by the beach, scared the living day lights out of me!

There were no screens on the windows, so I’d lay awake watching the flimsy, homemade, cotton, print curtains gently swaying in the breeze. Humid, the still air would make falling asleep difficult, especially with one whose imagination was as active as mine. I’m sure I lay there bug-eyed, anticipating what might happen at any moment.  Listening to the smooth pebbles that blanketed the nearby shore, tumbling over one another as the waves washed over them, added to my insomnia. On one such night as I’ve described, something did happen.

I was but a child, not allowed, and probably not inclined, to witness as much as the adults. But I still remember the overwhelming sense that things were not right, not good, not holy. We were awaken by “big aunty’s” children, whom we kids called aunty and uncle because they were near my mom’s age, even though they were her nephew and niece-in-law. I’m not positive, but I think my two siblings directly above me in age, were with my mom and me.

As the kerosene lamp cast eerie shadows in the darkness, I could hear the adults speaking in hushed, frantic whispers. Beads of sweat appeared upon my mom’s brow; fear showing in her eyes. Uncle left the room, as mom and aunty continued talking in barely audible voices. “Big aunty” was mentioned throughout the conversation. It seemed something was happening that involved her. I think we kids were told to go back to sleep, when they left the bedroom. Easier said than done.

Other than seeing the adults’ reaction, the only picture framed in my memory is the one I have looking out the window at a shack set back towards the edge of the property, which belonged to “big aunty.” I don’t think she lived there, but she would ensconce herself in the shack for days at a time. On this particular night, I could see images walking back and forth inside the shack. For some reason, the light emanating from within was bright, not like the dimly lit rooms in the main house. I don’t know who the figures were. I don’t think they included my mom, aunt and uncle. It seems to me they were watching from elsewhere in the house, that they were not with “big aunty.” My sense was they were staying clear of what was occurring in the shack. The only other thing I remember before finally succumbing to sleep, is hearing wails coming from the shack, ungodly cries. Now, in the comfort of older age and the safety of my home, I can wish I’d been a “fly on the wall” of the shack. Back then I wished we would have gotten the h— out of there.

The next morning at the breakfast table, the adults were still speaking in quiet voices. From what they said, I gathered “big aunty” was exhausted, worn out from the previous evenings occurrences. I don’t remember if we saw her before leaving Kahakuloa later that day. In fact, we may have driven off after breakfast, my mom not wanting to remain any longer than necessary.

Whether I overheard or was told, it seems a woman had visited “big aunty” in the middle of the night. Looking to enlist her help, the woman asked that a curse be placed upon her husband, or the woman with whom he was having an affair. Evidently “big aunty” consented, and what took place involved her levitating off the ground.

From what I understand, “big aunty” derived her powers from the devil. They were “held” within a “special, blue rock” secreted away in a cave in the side of the mountain, overlooking her shack. There was one particular story which my child’s imagination could vividly picture, when it was told to me.

During my childhood, tsunamis seemed commonplace. As my older sister, beloved by “big aunty” told the story, the sea had rolled back toward the horizon, exposing the ocean floor, a normal phenomenon with tidal waves. When the waters thundered back towards the shoreline, they split in time to spare a cow tied to a palm tree in front of my uncle’s home and “big aunty’s” shack. The waters circumvented the buildings as they continued thrashing forward, wreaking havoc everywherelse. I would liked to have been standing alongside my relatives as they witnessed the extraordinary event, from high atop the mountain.

Before “big aunty” died, she attempted to pass her powers along to her beloved nephew, my older brother. My older sister, of whom I’ve spoken, had called my mom from Honolulu, where she and my brother lived in neighboring apartments. He was sick with cold sweats and fever. At night when the moon was full, he claimed to see a spirit enter through an open window, coming to rest on top of his chest. He felt its full weight as it tried to squeeze the life out of him. I think this happened more than once. With the break of dawn, the apparition disappeared. When my mom heard this, she called “big aunty’s” family right away. From them she learned that her sister was very sick. Phoning my sister with the news, she was ordered not to let my brother return to Maui.

My mom felt that “big aunty” wanted my brother by her side before she died, that she wanted to tell him where to look for the “special” rock, wanting him to carry on as “kahuna.” A devout Catholic after converting to my father’s religion, my mom had no desire to have dealings with the devil, or have any of her children involved either. When my brother did not fly home to Maui, I think “big aunty” got better, and so did my brother. I’m not certain when she died, but she did so without passing her powers onto anyone, that I know. Unless she found someonelse, the rock remains hidden in the cave to this day.

I’m as dedicated to my Catholic beliefs, as my mom was when she lived. But like her, I’m a native very respectful of my Hawaiian heritage. As I get older, my roots seem even more deeply embedded in the soil of my culture. When I visit sacred grounds or spend the night lodged near sea cliffs, the hairs on my neck stand up, and I sense, and feel things that others don’t, not even my husband or daughter.  It’s as though spirits of my ancestors know I feel their presence, that I’m sensitive, a potential “medium.” It may be my imagination playing tricks upon me, but my family history makes me feel otherwise.

“Big aunty” wasn’t the only purveyor of curses; my mom would herself seek the help of “others” when she felt someone had put a spell on her. I’m not sure if they were “kahunas,” but they had influence over my mom for sure. I recall that she would refer to those she saw as “holy” people who would “lay their hands upon her,” blessing her, removing any evil.

There were times when my mom would drive to a lady’s home in Iao Valley, after picking me up from school. She’d disappear into the house for hours, while I waited in the car doing my homework, eventually curling up to take a nap. When my mom returned, she’d either recovered from whatever ailed her, or murmured worriedly that it would take time for things to sort themselves out. I never asked what she meant; I don’t think I really wanted to know. Taught by priests and nuns, I couldn’t reconcile my mom’s superstitious practices with my Catholic school upbringing. But the passing of years has a way of altering one’s perspective.

Maturity, motherhood, and a lifetime of experiences changed my perception of what was, and what is. I can accept, in fact cherish, being a native Hawaiian, and all that encompasses. Yet I can still worship God who, in His generosity, created all of us to live our best lives with what He has given us, including nature, its inhabitants and their habitats. God did not tell us how to live, just that we live. He gave us “free will;” and he will determine if we did the best we could.

proud of my heritage, including “big aunty”…hugmamma.

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“texas rangers, all the way!” or “angels in the outfield!”

I’m not a baseball fan. It’s too slow a game, causing my mind to wander, more so than at Sunday Mass, I might add. But after reading about 2 devout fans in a Wall Street Journal article, I’m rooting for the Texas Rangers, sight unseen. Let’s say I have a soft spot in my heart for the 2 women who’ve been rooting their team on since 1972, when they played their first game in Arlington.

Season ticket holders since forever, Maggie Hession, an 82-year-old Catholic nun, and her companion “in crime,” Frances Evans, 84 years-old, would make anyone proud to call them fans. These two have dedicated themselves to supporting their favorite baseball players just as, it seems, they have dedicated themselves to serving God. 

The nuns have faithfully attended Rangers games for 39 years, “listening to the play-by-play on their transistor radios and beating a drum they inherited from another fan.” They accompanied the team to New York for the playoff series in ’96, ’98 and ’99. Staying at the same hotel, the nuns rode the team’s bus to Yankee Stadium, sitting in the dugout during one game. Every day the devoted fans visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan to pray; unfortunately, the team still lost.

Occupying an area of their shared duplex, is a shrine erected by Hession and Evans, “decorated with religious figurines, crosses, refrigerator magnets of past players and three dozen signed baseballs, each enclosed in plexiglass. …There is also a framed portrait of the sisters in Rangers uniforms, taken when they attended Texas Rangers Baseball Fantasy Camp in the early ’90s.” During camp, Sister Frances, a self-described “ornery renegade,” broke her thumb when she was hit by a ball. Nonetheless, both she and Sister Maggie were thrilled when they hit the ball, and ran to first base.

Aside from the special attention bestowed on them by the Rangers, the nuns also received other perks. “The first season, they saved their money for tickets, but, after that, benefactors, including past Rangers owners and local businessmen, picked up the tab. ‘We like to say, “God provides,” ‘ Sister Maggie says.” At the stadium, they have parking space No. 1. And for many years, they flew to spring training in Florida, gratis the generosity of friends they’d made.

Having been schooled by Catholic nuns for 12 years, I know for a fact that they’re not the least bit shy about offering advice, requested or not. Hession and Evans were no different. They told Tom Schieffer, president of the Rangers, from 1991 to 1999, how to run the team, including “which player ‘needed to pay attention to his personal life.’ ” Sister Frances was displeased with former owner Tom Hicks, who signed Alex Rodriguez to a 10-year, $252 million dollar contract, which forced Hicks to sell the team in bankruptcy court this past summer. Hicks agrees with her about Rodriguez saying, ” ‘I do hope Sister Frances understands that I know I made errors, but they were all done because I was trying to deliver a winning team to Rangers fans,…Prayerfully, I hope Sister Frances can forgive and forget my past errors, especially as she is watching the Rangers in the 2010 World Series.’ ”

The nuns are delighted with the new president and part-owner, former, Ranger, star pitcher Nolan Ryan. When he saw a specialist for a hand problem, they were in the waiting room praying for him. Sister Frances had been encouraging Ryan to buy the team for years. She leaves him messages with coaching tips, like ” ‘If those guys would stay loose and have fun playing the game, they will play well.’ ”

The Rangers’ most religious fans, Sisters Frances and Maggie, will be at every home game against the San Francisco Giants, sitting in their 14th-row seats behind home plate. As for the away games, they’ll watch them on TV with the sound off, and the radio on, listening to the play-by-play calls. ” ‘You hear a lot of tidbits you don’t get from those TV announcers,’ Sister Frances says.” Despite losing the first two games of the Series, the nuns still feel the Rangers can win it. According to Sister Frances, ” ‘God’s time frame and mine are never the same,…but I really believe this is the year, this is the team.’ ”

from her lips to God’s ears…hugmamma.

“love,” leo buscaglia’s

My daughter’s become as great a fan of author Leo Buscaglia, as I am. A man dedicated to teaching us about love, he lived his life extolling its virtues. So as you make your way through yours, keep his words in mind. Written in 1992, in “Born for Love-Reflections on Loving,” perhaps these words are even more relevant in today’s negative political and economical environment. 

PUBLICIZING LOVE

So much of our lives are overrun by hate, greed, violence and selfishness that we are tempted to overlook the fact that there is at least an equal amount of goodness in the world. The problem is that those who promote their negativity and hate seem to be far more vocal than the lovers and are certainly given more media time.

For years I have been promoting a television series celebrating good people doing good things. I have been told by the experts to forget it, that goodness doesn’t sell! Positive stories, like good people, it would seem, lack appeal. As a result, we are developing a whole generation which devalues loving one another and is drawn more to a negative view of life, to which it refers as the ‘real world.’

It’s not surprising that so many people are enticed by hate and violence and selfishness the way our society glorifies it. It seems to me that there has never been a more important time for us to fearlessly publicize goodness and display love, at any cost.

An accompanying thought was inscribed at the bottom of the page on which Buscaglia’s words appeared. My daughter brought it to my attention, explaining its appropriateness for how we should all live our lives.

out of the mouths of babes…hugmamma.

We suffer from seeing too much death and not enough life, too much sorrow and not enough joy, too much greed and not enough giving, too much loneliness and not enough love.  -ANONYMOUS

“witch doctors,” do you believe?

With Halloween just around the corner, I’m reminded of something that raised the hairs on the back of my neck. I’m in the midst of reading Orson Welles-A Biography” by Barbara Leaming. Written with his complete cooperation, it really is “a dazzling, intimate portrait of a legend.” Never one of my favorite actors, I must admit that I’ve altered my opinion after reading 396 pages of the 630 page book. Welles was really the genius he was touted to be! Unfortunately his diverse talents overextended him physically and mentally, so that his failures were as huge as his successes, both personally and professionally. But I’ll leave that for another post.

Through a series of fortuitous events, 20-year-old, recently married Orson Welles made his New York directorial debut in the midst of this country’s Great Depression. In 1935, Hallie Flanagan, head of Vassar College’s Experimental Theatre Workshop, was appointed as national director of the Federal Theatre  project. As part of FDR’s Works Progress Administration, the FT was charged with providing work for the nation’s unemployed theatrical professionals. Because Flanagan “was not a member of the Broadway commercial establishment, but an academic with a taste for experimental and regional theater,” and because, by rule, 10% of actors, musicians, playwrights and technicians “could consist of theater people who had not been receiving relief, thereby ensuring the presence of expert professional talent to counterbalance the inevitable amateurs who found working in the theater more appealing than a government construction project,” Orson found himself among this elite class of professionals.

Charged with mounting a classical production, Welles, upon his wife Virginia’s suggestion, chose to stage   “an all-black Macbeth by transposing its action from Scotland to Haiti, a startlingly new setting with important artistic advantages, not the least of them the rich possibilities for music and decor. … Preferring not to anchor the action too firmly in Haiti he had in mind a mythic island more like the fantasy setting of The Tempest than any actual place. But as Orson saw it, there was a significant gain in realism as well: by alluding to Haitian voodooism the production could make credible the role of the witches that modern audiences of Macbeth often have trouble accepting.”

At Harlem’s Lafayette Theatre,  Orson’s Macbeth opened to a mixture of  gang members, respectable black bourgeoisie, and Manhattan’s chic downtown crowd. When the curtain rose on “the intricate jungle settings, piquant costumes, and sensuous lighting,” the audience broke into “wild applause and gasps of pleasure.” And the critics’ reviews were just as ebullient. Brooks Atkinson of The New York Times wrote with enthusiasm  ” ‘As an experiment in Afro-American showmanship the Macbeth fairly rocked the Lafayette Theatre, …If it is witches you want, Harlem knows how to overwhelm you with their fury and phantom splendor.’ ” The New York Daily News’ Burns Mantle hailed Macbeth as ” ‘a spectacular theatre experience. …the most colorful, certainly the most startling, of any performance that gory tragedy has ever been given on this continent.’ ”

In contrast, Percy Hammond of the Herald Tribune wrote ” ‘What surprised me last night was the inability of so melodious a race to sing the music of Shakespeare,…The actors sounded the notes with a muffled timidity that was often unintelligible. They seemed to be afraid of the Bard, though they were playing him on their home grounds.’ ” One of the African drummers, who accompanied the ranting of the three witches, made a voodoo doll in the critic’s likeness, hanging it in effigy and sticking it with pins. When told by the lighting director that Hammond was entitled to his opinion, the African replied ” ‘He’s bad man.’ ” Humoring the man over beer and pretzels at a local bar, Orson agreed to his drinking companion’s decision to put a curse on the critic.

“The African made one stipulation: the responsibility for Hammond’s death would be Orson’s alone. As a pretzel disappeared into his mouth, Orson nodded agreement. The rest of the company, Orson among them, watched with amusement as the voodoo practitioners blessed their drums before pounding on them backstage for several days. He barely gave it another thought until, shortly thereafter, he gasped to learn that Percy Hammond had just died.”

One of these times I’ll tell you about my “big-aunt,” who was a “Kahuna,” a Hawaiian witch doctor.

makes you wonder…hugmamma.

“a fox in the hen house?”

Health care is rampant in the news these days. One article that got my interest in the Wall Street Journal on 10/27 was “Physician Panel Prescribes The Fees Paid by Medicare.” As my husband and I near retirement age, Medicare looms large on the horizon. I’ve already gotten an earful from friends, who gave me one more reason to take care of my health now.

The article, written by Anna Wilde Mathews and Tom McGinty, gives insight into the significant role played by physicians, in determining how much doctors are paid by Medicare.

Three times a year, 29 doctors gather around a table in a hotel meeting room. Their job is an unusual one: divvying up billions of Medicare dollars. The group, convened by the American Medical Association, has no official government standing. Members are mostly selected by medical-specialty trade groups. Anyone who attends its meetings must sign a confidentiality agreement.

Yet the influence of the secretive panel, known as the Relative Value Scale Update Committee, is enormous. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversee Medicare, typically follow at least 90% of its recommendations in figuring out how much to pay doctors for their work. Medicare spends over $60 billion a year on doctors and other practitioners. Many private insurers and Medicaid programs also use the federal system in creating their own fee schedules.

The problem, it seems, other than the obvious one mentioned by Tom Scully, a former administrator of the Medicare and Medicaid agency that “it’s not healthy to have the interested party essentially driving the decision-making process,” is that the committee is “contributing to a system that spends too much money on sophisticated procedures, while shorting the type of nuts-and-bolts primary care that could keep patients healthier from the start–and save money.” Dr. Barbara Levy, Seattle gynecologist and RUC chairwoman has indicated that the committee is aggressively moving “to correct evaluations that lead to higher-than-appropriate payments for some services.” Next month Medicare will render doctors fees for 2011, which should include the committee’s recommendations.

Another inherent dilemma in the assignation of monetary values to medical procedures, is that doctors will be motivated to perform those that pay more. An inevitable by-product is spending growth, since there’s “all the associated costs for hospitals, lab tests and drugs.” Also of great concern are Journal findings that “services were paid too generously in some cases because the fees were based on out-of-date assumptions about how the work is done…more than 550 doctor services that, despite being mostly performed outpatient or in doctors’ offices in 2008, still automatically include significant payments for hospital visits after the day of the procedure, which would typically be part of an inpatient stay.” As an example, is an operation to treat male urinary incontinence which, according to Medicare’s 2008 statistics, were performed as outpatient services or in doctors offices 80% of the time. But because the procedure was last evaluated by RUC in 2003, the service still “wraps in payment for 118 minutes of hospital visit time after the day of surgery.” However, the Journal goes on to say that it’s unclear if the committee will suggest doctors now be paid less for the procedure anyway.

Granted, there’s great debate among physicians as to the value of medical procedures based upon personal experiences. It’s also fair to say that nobody wants to surrender what they’ve already come to expect in financial recompense. Nonetheless, having RUC rely “heavily upon surveys performed by doctor specialty groups, requiring as few as 30 responses,” with the instruction that it “is important to you and other physicians because these values determine the rate at which Medicare and other payers reimburse for procedures,” is an enticement to score high. “William Hsiao, the Harvard professor who led the original physician-work research used to set Medicare fees, argues the approach is almost guaranteed to inflate the values used to calculate fees. ‘You do not turn this over to the people who have a strong interest in the outcome.’ he says. ‘Every society only wants its specialty’s value to go up….You cannot avoid the potential conflict.’”

Medicare requires that out-of-sync payments be reviewed every 5 years. MedPac, a congressional watchdog, reveals that “ in the three previous reviews, the RUC endorsed boosts for 1,050 services, and decreases for just 167.”

Reimbursements for placing cardiac stents in a single blood vessel are based upon a 1994 RUC analysis. In 2008, doctors were paid $205 million for 326,000 such procedures.  Cardiologists suggest that stenting today, as compared to the mid-1990s, “is more routine and may often be less stressful.” According to David L. Brown, cardiologist at SUNY-Stony Brook School of Medicine, ‘The example used to set the code’s value is ‘way out of date,’…’In those days, stents were used when you were having a catastrophic event or thought you might have a catastrophic event.’ Stents and the catheters used to thread them into arteries are now smaller and easier to use, he says. The time varies by patient, but Dr. Brown says he required around 45 minutes on average to perform a single-vessel stenting. The RUC’s valuation suggests a two-hour procedure.”

On the other hand RUC member, representing The American College of Cardiology, and director of cardiology at Geisinger Medical Center, James Blankenship feels the stenting procedure is “ ‘fairly valued’. ” While he agrees that 2 hours may be too long, he “argues that the procedure may be harder because cardiologists now take on challenging patients who might once have gotten bypass surgeries.”

While we may not be inclined to question cardiologists’ fees since they have the power of life and death over us, how about payments for carpal tunnel surgeries. “A study published this June in the journal Medical Care Research and Review found the procedure times used by the RUC to calculate values may sometimes be exaggerated.” While Medicare’s payment of $44 million paid in 2008 was based upon a procedure time of 25 minutes for carpal tunnel surgery, Sullivan Healthcare Consulting Inc, which keeps the hospital database, showed the average time for teaching hospitals, based upon 2,602 surgeries was 17 minutes, and for community hospitals, based upon 4,093 surgeries was 18 minutes. Meanwhile, RUC’s figure of 25 minutes came from “39 surveys of surgeons, out of 150 sent out by groups representing hand surgeons, orthopedic surgeons and plastic surgeons.” Upholding Medicare’s payment, former medical director for the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, Robert H. Haralson III, says the “payment isn’t too high, because the surgery is a more intense procedure than the current value implies.” And RUC leaders wrote to the medical journal insisting that the article was “outdated” and that different standards were used to classify the procedures than that used by the committee. I guess they were suggesting that it was like comparing “apples to oranges.” Hmmm.

It seems we must leave matters in the capable hands of RUC’s head Dr. Levy who assures us that the committee “has reduced values for nearly 400 services in the past and it is now reviewing hundreds more.” And in answer to primary-care groups who are pushing for more representation, we should accept her retort that “ ‘The outcomes are independent of who’s sitting at the table from one specialty or another.’” We should also feel reassured by Jonathan Blum, deputy administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, who “says that for now, ‘we are comfortable’ with the RUC process. The federal health-care overhaul requires the government to insure that the doctor-fee values adopted by Medicare are accurate. ‘We’re not going to rubber-stamp recommendations,’ he says.”

I feel so much better now.

Yeah right!…hugmamma.

 

not for the “faint of heart,” halloween

The bewitching hour is fast approaching when vampires will arise, walking among us, like leaches hungry for blood; when ghouls will leave off robbing graves, to scare live victims to death; and hobgoblins will run amuck, causing their usual evil mischief. Old black and white horror movies like “Frankenstein,” and “The Mummy,” both with Boris Karloff, and “The Werewolf” with Lon Chaney, and “Dracula” with Bela Lugosi, convinced me that Halloween was NOT  child’s play, or just an occasion to ask for treats to fill my tummy. 

It took me a long time to realize that evil creatures weren’t lurking around every bend, as I played “hide-n-seek,” “chase master,” or “blind man’s bluff,” with my best friend and her male cousins in the neighborhood around the Chinese restaurant owned by their family. Playing under pitch-black skies, intermittently  glimpsing the white sheets we all wore, as we ran between parked cars and around corners of buildings, gave me the “creeps,” or as we kids use to say, “the heejeebeejees.”

When my daughter was very young, 5 or 6 years old, several of us moms, tots in tow, would drive to neighborhoods, park, and wander from house to house. My daughter reminded me that the tradition always seemed to include rain. One year, the medieval princess dress she wore, dripped little, water puddles. Another year her wet, cellophane, hula skirt clung to her tights. Of course I feared she might catch cold, but she was oblivious, only concerned that she kept up with her friends, getting her share of candy.

During her elementary school years, the costumed student body paraded around the circular driveway in front of the school building. One Halloween my daughter was Jasmine, another year she was Belle, and yet another she was Morticia. I sewed all 3 costumes. I must admit, she was always one of the best costumed. Remember, I’m obsessed with an  ATTENTION TO DETAIL!

Later in the evening, we would join several other families, including one whose parents were vets who would bring their horse along to lead our troupe of trick-or-treaters. We would always return to a particularly large cul- de-sac of homes, where one homeowner welcomed us inside for cider and cookies. Another homeowner even treated the horse to a carrot, which he polished off in minutes. I’m not sure the children were as grateful to receive the toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss, given them by the father, a dentist.

During the same time frame, I can remember that the school ran a haunted house, where different families created vignettes in each classroom. It was awesome to see what their imaginations and resourcefulness could concoct. The event was always fabulous! The Girl Scout Troop in which my daughter was a member, took the girls on haunted hay rides through pumpkin patches. One in particular scared the “bejesus” out of us, children and grownups alike. Run by a family, the ride was complete with farm hands bearing scythes and pitchforks, who tried to stop our wagon as it passed them by, or a witch in an outhouse who would scare us as we passed. I don’t think I was as keen as others about that hayride, so we only went the one time.

When I was at the University of Hawaii in the late ’60s, I lived in the dormitory. In my freshman year, the men’s dorm created a frightfully, amazing haunted maze in their basement. It was amateurish compared to others I’ve been through in later years, on the mainland. Constructed entirely of cardboard, the maze still managed to scare us girls out of our wits.

The first thing we had to pass as we made our way through the narrow passages, was a huge, butchered pig’s head. Of course we tried to time it so that we wouldn’t get hit by the head as it swung side to side. I think I crawled past it on my hands and knees. Unfortunately, hands would grab at us through holes cut in the cardboard walls. There was a lot of screaming, some of it coming from me. One girl was so petrified, she ran as though her life depended upon it, wreaking havoc with the maze, knocking it down completely. It had to be closed down, so that the cardboard walls could be reconstructed. For me, once was enough. Talk about an adrenalin rush!

Since living on the mainland, I’ve been through 2 other “professionally” staged haunted mazes. One in California was set up in a vacated supermarket. I was in my late 20’s when I went with my sister-in-law Pat, and her daughter, Selina. Unfortunately for Pat, I used her as a battering ram to forge my way through what would otherwise have been the death of me. Constantly screaming,  sometimes giggling nervously, and always on the verge of crying, I wasn’t sure what my feelings were as I braced myself against the unexpected. I only knew I couldn’t get out fast enough. Poor Pat, I’m sure I was a literal pain in her backside. 

Years later, I did the same thing to my husband when a couple of his sisters and a nephew were visiting from Hawaii. We all went through a haunted house at Hershey Park, Pennsylvania. I followed my husband, the first to enter, and hid my face in his back as I shoved him forward. Our relatives followed close on our heels. Since we were finding our way in the dark, we weren’t prepared for the wall that loomed directly in front of us. Of course my husband ran smack into it, as we all ran into him. Somehow we managed to get out without any further mishaps. Since then my husband has sworn off going through haunted houses.  That was probably 20 years or so ago. I’m certain he’s not changed his mind.

These days, we enjoy driving through neighborhoods where houses are decorated in full Halloween regalia. We get into the spirit ourselves, some years more than others. Last year Frankenstein’s head rested atop his grave, his huge green hands nestled on either side, a huge toothless grin on his purplish, green face. Nearby skeletons dangled from an overturned, rusted, blue wagon.

Tonight my husband and daughter resurrected a tradition from her childhood. They carved pumpkins to look like scary jack-o-lanterns, my daughter’s sporting the most intricate set of jagged teeth imaginable. Setting them out on the back deck, the pumpkins will illuminate the path as trick-or-treaters come knocking on the door. We’ll be ready… unless we eat all the candy before then.

bygone days…great memories, hugs for…hugmamma.

“quidditch, anyone?”

This is one sport for which I might sit in the bleachers. Just to see how the game of “Quidditch” is played in the real world, not J.K. Rowling’s fantasy land, would be worth the price of the ticket, I think. According to Jilian Mincer’s Wall Street Journal article today, Quidditch was first played in 2005, with brooms that didn’t fly. So how did the players mimic the “real” thing? “…race around in capes and goggles with broomsticks between (their) legs, while shooting balls through mounted hula hoops.” I’m not sure I could keep myself from laughing, although I’m sure I’d try if I was surrounded by die-hard fans.

In a couple of weeks, on November 13 and 14, sixty college and high school teams will compete for the “Quidditch World Cup.” Where it once was held on the Middlebury College campus in idyllic Connecticut, the games will now be held at a park in Manhattan, the Big Apple. ” ‘Our hope is that it will be a real coming out party for the league,’ says Alex Benepe–one of the sport’s founders and president of the newly formed nonprofit International Quidditch Association. It’s now played at hundreds of schools, he says.”  Benepe is convinced that ” ‘A lot of sports’… have ‘become more like work. Quidditch is just about playing a game. It’s just about having fun.’ ”  Valerie Fischman, however, has other plans.

Fischman, “who plays Quidditch at the University of Maryland, would like to see it go much further. She’s been finding out what needs to be done to get the sport NCAA status. That, she says could ‘be a stepping stone’ to becoming an Olympic sport.” According to the NCAA, “40 to 50 schools need to sponsor a varsity sport for it to consider sponsoring a national championship. The most recent sport to gain such status: women’s bowling.”

Kristen and Aimee Howarth, twin sisters at Texas A&M founded a Quidditch team. Initially, it was met with cynicism by other campus organizations. While skeptics remain, more are coming around because of the game’s physicality. “The co-ed game isn’t for the timid–pushing, tripping and some tackling is allowed.” Evidently there were some broken bones at last year’s World Cup. “Ziang Chen, a sophmore at Purdue University, started a team there last year after seeing videos of the sport. ‘When I saw how brutal the sport is, I thought I would like to try it,’ says the former high school football player.”

Registered World Cup teams hail from “Ivy League Yale to football powerhouse Ohio State. Some get school funding, while others are unofficial squads, scrambling to find equipment.” NYU sophmore Sarah Landis met with 60 other students to get up a team in time for the World games. ” ‘We all secretly wanted to play this sport since we read about it’ in the books,…’ ” A resourceful person, she purchased $3 brooms at a nearby Halloween store. Others wanting more upscale equipment can go to Alivan’s website where the “Scarlet Falcon” sells for $59 and the “Sienna Storm, “$79. The company is proud to be the retail source for “the official broomsticks of Intercollegiate Quidditch. It also notes its brooms ‘do not fly.’

As in years past, bystanders on the sidelines will be owls and wizards. But this year they will be joined by entertainers, some who regularly play the subways. Part of the game’s whimsy is the “spray-painted plastic trophy cup” on which the “winning team gets its name written…with a Sharpie pen. …” And while Aimee Howarth worries that if Quidditch becomes too intense that it might lose some of its whimsical roots, Mr. Benepe doesn’t think the game’s magic will ever disappear. His long-term goal is to get “students of all ages to play.” Sounds like a noble cause. Hopefully the professionals and money managers won’t infiltrate this fantastical game of child’s play, removing all the fun, making it all about the almighty dollar.

quidditch, hugs for preserving the fantasy…hugmamma.

gray skies above, warm hearts below

Our “signature” weather here in the Pacific Northwest never goes out of style. So it’s with little fanfare that we welcome the return of menacing gray skies, upon whose heels arrive the downpour of “angels’ tears.” Our family has learned to take it all in stride.

The dismal weather gives us a chance to burrow under blankets, read a mountain of books, piled high magazines and Wall Street Journals, sup on homemade soups, play endless rounds of Bananagrams, and just recently, cribbage.

Once-in-awhile, my daughter and I settle in to watch old films on DVD, like “Anna and the King of Siam,” starring Rex Harrison and Irene Dunn. Totally different from “The King and I,” the colorized version with Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr, my daughter was enthralled with the more serious story told in the older version. Unlike its successor, it was a drama, not a musical. In it the king does not dance with the teacher, nor does Tuptim stage the story of  “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

After Mass yesterday we decided to drive out to Snohomish, where antique stores abound. Enroute we stopped at a favorite haunt, Maltby Cafe. It’s not a restaurant we frequent because of its distance, and because the meals taste like mom’s cooking, which means lo-cal is not a high priority. The few times we’ve driven to partake of this gastronomical feast, there has always been a lineup of hungry customers. But everyone minds their manners. We put our names on a list, and wait patiently, the cafe’s “monster” cinnamon roll making me salivate at the thought of biting into it, melted icing escaping out the corners of my grinning lips.

The Cafe is cozily ensconced in the basement of a building. After 20 minutes or so of eager anticipation,  we were comfortably seated at a table. We took our time looking through the menu, deciding what to eat. My husband is always the first to make a selection. His pick was some gigantic omelet, whose name  escapes me. Meanwhile, my daughter and I read the menu as though it were a novel, poring over each page from top to bottom.

I started with “desserts” on the back of the menu. The “melted caramel sundae” sounded divine, and loaded with calories! Coming to my senses, I chose French toast with marionberries and creme fraiche on the side. With it I ordered a dish of red, fried potatoes, onions, mushrooms and diced ham. Of course, half of it came home in a “doggie bag.” The same was true of my daughter’s meal, homemade Italian sausages with  scrambled eggs, and biscuits with gravy.

While awaiting our main courses, we began with an appetizer. We sliced the long-awaited cinnamon roll 4 ways. We still brought home half of it. As we “oohed and aahed” and hungrily devoured morsels of the heavenly pastry, our eyes wandered around the spacious dining room. Devotees of HGTV, we agreed that the Cafe could easily be transformed into a basement apartment. The long breakfast bar along one side of the room could serve as informal family dining, while the main room could easily house a living space, office space, dining space, and perhaps spare sleeping area. Through a door towards the back would probably be a bedroom. At the very back of the restaurant were a men’s and women’s restroom. And, of course, there was a kitchen through a door behind the breakfast bar. Beams running the length of the ceiling added to the warmth and charm of the room. I think our family qualifies for its own designer show on HGTV. My husband and daughter would probably say “Yeah, right.” They’re not as full of ideas as I am. Or am I… just full of it? Hmmm. Whatever…

Tummies full, we drove on to our final destination. Hunting for bargains in antique shops is a “high” for me. Most dealers, if not all, thrive on finding treasures for unbelievably fabulous prices, in other words, cheap. Once upon a time it was possible, and it may be again, given the current economy. But the difficulty now is that while something may be a bargain, how much of a markup can the market bear? Where nearly 2 decades ago I could double the price of what I paid for an item, I’m no longer able to do so in most cases. So the profit margin has shrunk considerably. Why remain in the business?

All antique dealers are passionate about “old” stuff, their history, their  craftsmanship, and the idea that these items are very much relics of the past. Walking through aisles of artifacts usually stirs up memories of bygone days, before all the modern conveniences like dishwashers, clothes dryers, refrigerators, computers. Instead, my eyes linger over dishracks and colorful dish towels, vintage clothes drying racks or clothes lines that unwind from a green or blue tin box, pie safes that use to store perishable foods from pesky flies, and typewriters, Royals and Underwoods.

With the holidays approaching, I opted to purchase several silver plated serving platters of various shapes and sizes. The prices were reasonable, most $12, a couple $16. They’re not in mint condition, but for the right price, customers will purchase them as beautiful accents for festive celebrations. Shabby chic is in these days, especially at stores like Crate and Barrel. Why pay their exorbitant prices for “knock-offs,” when the real thing can be bought for half the price or less? “Used” means it’s been loved in its former life.

Meandering the back roads under a threatening, gray sky in verdant Washington State, is as special as lazing under the tropical sun, on a white sand beach in Maui. 

found anywhere, blessings…hugmamma.

“blessed are the children”

Fr. Bryan was his usual, charismatic self. At 38 years old, he’s got the talent and ability to run a business, so the Catholic church is lucky to have him, especially at the salary they must pay him. I’m betting it’s less than $20,000 a year. Today’s homily was proof of his capability to manage the “firm.”

Our parish must submit a 20 year plan for its projected growth. Father indicated that we are a suburban congregation on an urban plot of land. Physical expansion is nearly maxed out. To assist in his plan, Father conducted paper surveys during masses, over the course of 2 weekends. The first dealt with the demographics of the churchgoers; today’s asked which of 4 options we favored. Should we maintain the status quo? Should we stay put, expanding to the max, including constructing a parking garage? Should we consolidate the elementary, middle and high schools on one campus? Should we consolidate all of the church buildings, and the schools onto one compound? Of course, the price tag escalates with each option, from half-a-million dollars to $18 million. 

Father explained that when parishioners asked how soon various and sundry items would be fixed or initiated, he would tell them “We need to come up with a plan.” Interestingly enough he made more sense than my husband who tells me to show him a business plan, when I’ve expressed the desire to open an antique/gift shop. Another question often asked of Father is how long he’ll continue to be our pastor. He told us today that his 3 year contract is up in the spring. We’ll know then whether or not he’ll be renewed for another 6 years. 

Maybe parishioners are wondering  whether or not they want to commit millions of dollars, if Father Bryan is not around to enjoy the “fruits” of his labor. That’s what happened with the parish’s last major church remodel, about 10 years ago. Father Clark accomplished the task with a league of faithful volunteers. He was soon reassigned, and when another priest took his place, many left because the new pastor was not blest with people skills. Even my patient, long-suffering husband experienced moments of frustration. And that’s saying something.

While Father Bryan was speaking about our parish’s “mission,” since today was Mission Sunday, I was admiring the loving relationship of adoptive Caucasian parents for their Hispanic, 7 or 8-year-old son. Sitting in the pew in front of us, I first noticed the husband rubbing the small of his wife’s back in a very loving way. Initially I thought they might have had a little spat, and he was trying to get back into her good graces. But then I noticed the youngster between them, arms wrapped around his father’s waist. For a few minutes, I was distracted by something Father said. When my eyes returned to watching the family, the boy had his arms around his father’s leg. The man looked to be a little over 6 feet tall. Later, mother and son had their arms around one another, she stroking the arm he held across her tummy.

If ever I felt a child belonged to his parents, he was standing right in front of me. The aura emanating from that family was so organic, their love so natural. The difference in their ethnicities meant nothing to them, and yet it spoke volumes about them. I couldn’t help but lean forward, touching the mother on her shoulder, and telling her “I love how you love your son.” She smiled her thanks, sidling over to her son, both of them moving closer to her husband, his father. Tears welled in my eyes, which I had to quell before they trickled down my cheeks. My daughter put her arm around my waist, love in her eyes. She too smiled upon the family, and understood what a blessing they were, especially for those who beheld them.

While I listened to the wisdom of one mother’s son, I beheld another who was so loved by his parents. God touches us, when we least expect it.

all God’s children, hugs for…hugmamma.

“change your brain, change your life”

I have to credit Dr. Daniel Amen’s book Change Your Brain Change Your Life with my “detour” towards a more positive attitude. It’s the path I’ll continue to travel, as I journey “home.” With the information gleaned from the book, I’m pretty certain I’ve suffered a form of depression all of my life, and I’m sure my mom did as well. We battled our “demons”, mustering up all the courage we could gather from deep within, and relying upon the  support  of loved ones. At best, our attempts to help ourselves was haphazard. Sometimes our efforts succeeded, other times we probably “blew it.” We muddled through, with growing negativity as a constant companion. To survive, we felt compelled to sever relationships along the way, that might destroy our fragile psyches. Looking back, we were just trying to live our best lives, given the hand life had dealt us. Without a doubt, there must be many who have led similar lives.

All kinds of help is available these days, from psychiatrists to clinics to alternative health practices. There’s no quick fix for depression, nor one right way. However I am a proponent of Dr. Amen’s philosophy, for it has helped me understand the workings of my brain. And just as I take care of my body with the help of exercise, diet, chiropractic manipulation and massage therapy, I am learning to look after my mental health, thanks to Dr. Amen’s message.

Your brain is the hardware of your soul. It is the hardware of your very essence as a human being. You cannot be who you really want to be unless your brain works right. How your brain works determines how happy you are, how effective you feel, and how well you interact with others. Your brain patterns help you (or hurt you) with your marriage, parenting skills, work, and religious beliefs, along with your experience of pleasure and pain.

If you are anxious, depressed, obsessive-compulsive, prone to anger, or easily distracted, you probably believe these problems are “all in your head.” In other words, you believe your problem is purely psychological. However, research that I and others have done shows that the problems are related to the physiology of the brain–and the good news is that we have proof that you can change that physiology. You can fix what’s wrong for many problems.

Depression is a physiological illness, just like diabetes or arthritis. Living in our high-tech, fractured society, I wouldn’t be surprised if many of us suffer some form of depression, ranging from moderate to bipolar.

According to Dr. Amen’s book, my difficulty may lie within my brain’s Cingulate System. Glancing through the following checklist, I  have probably exhibited several of the symptoms, especially during the early years of my marriage. Maturity and motherhood helped me overcome some, but more recently, suggestions from Change Your Brain Change Your Life helped me to combat other symptoms, namely “excessive or senseless worrying,” “tendency to have repetitive negative thoughts,” and “tendency to predict negative outcomes.” But just as there’s no cure for arthritis, there is none for depression. Both have to be managed, which is fine with me. It’s a fact I’ve come to accept. Exercise and a reduction in sugar intake has helped lessen the arthritic pain in my lower back. And practicing Dr. Amen’s recommendations, has greatly minimized my depression.

CINGULAR SYSTEM CHECKLIST

Please read this list of behaviors and rate yourself (or the person you are evaluating) on each behavior listed. Use the following scale and place the appropriate number next to the item. Five or more symptoms marked 3 or 4 indicate a high likelihood of cingulate problems. 0=never/1=rarely/2=occasionally/3=frequently/4=very frequently

  1. Excessive or senseless worrying
  2. Being upset when things are out-of-place
  3. Tendency to be oppositional or argumentative
  4. Tendency to have repetitive negative thoughts
  5. Tendency toward compulsive behaviors
  6. Intense dislike of change
  7. Tendency to hold grudges
  8. Trouble shifting attention from subject to subject
  9. Trouble shifting behavior from task to task
  10. Difficulties seeing options in situations
  11. Tendency to hold on to own opinion and not listen to others
  12. Tendency to get locked into a course of action, whether or not it is good
  13. Being very upset unless things are done a certain way
  14. Perception by others that you worry too much
  15. Tendency to say no without first thinking about question
  16. Tendency to predict negative outcomes

GETTING UNSTUCK

The cingulate system of the brain allows us to shift our attention from thing to thing, idea to idea, issue to issue. When it is dysfunctional, we have a tendency to get locked into negative thoughts or behaviors; we have trouble seeing the options in situations. Healing this part of the mind involves training the mind to see options and new ideas. …Whenever you find your thoughts cycling (going over and over), distract yourself from them. …Sing a favorite song…Listen to music that makes you feel positive…Take a walk…Do a chore…Play with a pet…Do structured meditation…Focus on a word and do not allow any other thoughts to enter your mind (imagine a broom that sweeps out all other thoughts).

(Keeping busy has been my “default” response to low spirits. Ironing clothes is a “favorite”, a chore my mom taught me with pride, since that’s what she did at the orphanage where she worked. When I’m outdoors walking Mocha, nature’s beauty intoxicates my senses, forcing me to disengage from life’s frenzy. Indoors I get the same “high” watching a favorite Michael Jackson DVD, which gets my body pulsating to the beat. Sitting for a few minutes with one of my cat’s purring in my lap, makes me pause, enjoying the moment. And when I lay my head on my pillow at night, I thank God for all our blessings, and pray that all may live their best lives. This prayer alone has helped me fall asleep, because it stops the “ants”- automatic negative thoughts, dead in their tracks.)

Many people with cingulate problems have an automatic tendency to say no. Fight the tendency. Before answering questions or responding to requests in a negative way, take a breath and think first whether or not it is best to say no. Often it is helpful to take a deep breath, hold it for three seconds, and then take five seconds to exhale, just to get extra time before responding.

When you are stuck on a thought, it is often helpful to write it down. Writing it down helps to get it out of your head. Seeing a thought on paper makes it easier to deal with in a rational way. When repetitive thoughts cause sleeping problems, keep a pen and paper near your bed to write them down. After you write out a thought that has “gotten stuck,” generate a list of things you can do about it and things you can’t do about it. Use this simple exercise to unlock the thoughts that keep you up nights feeling tense.

(Blogging has been a God-send. It’s been cathartic in that I’ve been able to exorcise “demons” that have probably been roiling around inside my gut for too long, not only personal ones, but thoughts about the world in which I live.)  

When all of your efforts to get rid of repetitive thoughts are unsuccessful, it is often helpful to seek the counsel of others. Finding someone to discuss your worries, fears, or repetitive behaviors which can be very helpful. Often just talking about feeling stuck will open new options.

(Coffee with friends has always been a great way to share problems and gain new insights, and perhaps discover helpful suggestions, and sometimes, even answers.)

Exercise can also be very helpful in calming worries and increasing cognitive flexibility. Exercise works by increasing brain levels of l-tryptophan. L-tryptophan is a relatively small amino acid and has trouble competing against the larger amino acids to enter the brain. During exercise, more of the large amino acids are utilized to replenish muscle strength, which causes a decrease in the availability of these larger amino acids in the bloodstream. When this happens, l-tryptophan can compete more effectively to enter the brain and raise brain serotonin levels. In addition, exercise increases your energy levels and may distract you from the bad thoughts that tend to loop. I often recommend exercise for oppositional children as a way to improve their l-tryptophan levels and increase cooperation.

(Kristina’s exercise class has been a life-saver. During these last 5 or 6 years, it has been a healthy addition to my routine, not only for my physical well-being, but for my mental and emotional well-being as well. I can feel the difference in my mood and my energy level, when I’ve been remiss in my exercise routine. The same can be said for my visits to the chiropractor and massage therapist. They’re not luxuries; they’re necessities.) 

Low serotonin levels and increased cingulate activity are often associated with worrying, moodiness, emotional rigidity, and irritability. There are two ways that food can increase serotonin levels.

Foods high in carbohydrates, such as pastas, potatoes, bread, pastries, pretzels, and popcorn, increase l-tryptophan levels (the natural amino acid building block for serotonin) in the blood, resulting in more l-tryptophan being available to enter the brain, where it is converted to serotonin. The calming effect of serotonin can often be felt in thirty minutes or less by eating these foods. Cerebral serotonin levels can also be raised by eating foods rich in tryptophan, such as chicken, turkey, salmon, beef, peanut butter, eggs, green peas, potatoes, and milk. Many people unknowingly trigger cognitive inflexibility or mood problems by eating diets that are low in l-tryptophan.

For example, the high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets that I recommend for low-dopamine states (related to prefrontal cortex underactivity) often make cingular problems worse. L-tryptophan is a relatively small amino acid. When you eat a high-protein diet, the larger amino acids compete more successfully to get into the brain, causing lower levels of brain serotonin and more negative emotional reactiveness.

(Diet remains an ongoing challenge, but at least I’ve eliminated as much sugar as possible, and replaced simple carbs with complex ones, and continue to ramp up my intake of fruits and veggies. But I’m no angel; every now and then I “sin.”)

Dr. Amen also prescribes reciting the Serenity Prayer, as a way to combat repetitive negative thoughts. “The Serenity Prayer is repeated by millions of people around the world, especially those in twelve-step programs. It is a beautiful reminder that there are limits to what we can do in life and we need to respect that. Many people find it helpful to repeat this prayer every time they are bothered by repetitive negative thoughts. I recommend that you memorize at least the first (three) lines of the prayer (change it as needed to fit your own beliefs).”

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, taking as Jesus did this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it, trusting that you will make all things right if I surrender to your will; so that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with you in the next.

-Attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr

 As we age physically and mentally, our quality of life can suffer. Money certainly helps sustain a certain lifestyle, but is it substantive if we’re unable to reap the spiritual rewards as well? I’m trying to remain as agile as possible, mentally, physically and emotionally so that I can continue to write, and enjoy life’s small pleasantries, until I no longer can. Changing my brain, has helped change my life, for the better.

our best lives, hugs for…hugmamma.

   

“life is messy”

I’ve decided that along with aging comes a treasure trove of “20-20” hindsight. Life would’ve been so much easier if I knew then, what I know now. Only recently, very recently, have I arrived at the conclusion that life is messy.

Because of my strict upbringing where chores were done before playtime, I was always cleaning and organizing. It’s not to say this routine isn’t a great building block for a happy life, but it contributed to a personal uneasiness as an adult, if my home wasn’t in tip-top shape.

During the first years of married life I was always stressed and upset that I had to spend the entire weekend cleaning, when I would’ve preferred to relax after working all week. My husband didn’t demand it of me; I expected it of myself as a result of the residual effects left over from life with my mom. In retrospect, I should’ve engaged my husband in doing the minimum housework necessary, and enjoyed our time doing fun things together instead. I know I would’ve liked myself better, since I wouldn’t have wasted my time and energy trying to convince my husband that he should be as anal as me about a clean house. It’s insane to think I spent those years being a martyr to a stupid house; I should’ve reveled in being the pretty, young thing my husband married, with the vision that life would be a fun-house, not a mad-house. Yikes!

I think it’s fortunate that my legacy to our daughter has been a more practical attitude toward housecleaning. Within the last decade or so, my mantra has been to  keep a “straightened and vacuumed” house, so that company is welcome any time. As long as they don’t venture to do the “white glove” test for dust, then they’ll enjoy their visit. Raising a child and accumulating a gaggle of pets quickly convinced me that I had to take things down a notch, or I’d be in an insane asylum, or my husband would have bid me adieu, or both.

But what has finally convinced me that life is messy, and it’s perfectly okay, is the current state of my home. My daughter is on a sabbatical from her job, and is home with us. We have had to reorganize closets and dresser drawers, making room for her things. Her cat Misha is also visiting. Our main bathroom has become his stomping ground, as well as the hallway where his food is located. Gates are up, keeping our dog Mocha and Misha apart when we’re asleep or not at home. My 3 cats remain downstairs in their domain, being allowed upstairs only after Misha has had his roam of the space. There have been face to face encounters, with hissing on my cats’ parts.

Misha is curious about these seemingly mysterious critters, since he’s an only “child.” He wants to get up close and personal, fearlessly getting in their faces. Luckily our cat sitter recommended hormonal wall plug-ins which have calmed our menagerie considerably, as well as lavender-scented collars which have the same effect. So far, we’ve been spared any bloodshed. Maybe one day soon, all 4 cats and 1 dog will be able to pass each other by, without so much as a backward glance. I pray for that day.

Straightening and vacuuming occur less frequently than usual. Small piles of stuff tend to accumulate here and there. My daughter and I play “bananagrams” pretty religiously. We’re definitely relaxing more than we’re cleaning, enjoying each other’s company. The pets are getting more attention, since we’re making a concerted effort to maintain peace.

Life is messy, but having our daughter and Misha share our humble home is a blessing for which I’m grateful. Cleanliness is NOT next to Godliness, my family’s happiness and togetherness is Christ present in our lives. I’m richer for the mess with which I’ve learned to live.

Life is not linear, for “detours” constantly overtake us. Life is, in fact, what we make of those “detours.” We travel a path, divert to another, retrace our steps, take another path, continue as far as we’re able, until we face another “detour.” That’s life in a nutshell! Rather than resist, we should be grateful for the gift of adventure with which God has blessed us. It’s exciting to live in the moment. Having a positive outlook can only make that moment, momentous.  

I believe we begin to die the minute we are born. But we never think of life that way; instead, we look forward to living with every ounce of our being. Nothing should diminish that excitement, so we should draw upon all the positive energy we can muster to enhance our lives, making them the best possible they can be.

Life is an hour-glass, and time is running out. Focus upon making every grain of sand, a beach on Maui where the foam-tipped waves rush up to meet you, as you run to become one with the warm, Pacific waters, contentment welling within you. God bless our lives, as “messy” as they are.

works in mysterious ways, God…hugmamma.  

“charism,” a call to serve

The other evening my family and I attended a lecture by a visiting priest. We’d heard him preach during Sunday Mass, and liked what we heard. Wanting a little more spirituality in our lives, we were open to hearing more of what Father had to share.

At 7 p.m. we’re usually settling in for the night. After chores, errands and work, we’re not inclined to venture out again on a week night. But after a hurriedly prepared dinner of scrambled eggs with sliced turkey kielbasa thrown in for added protein, we made our way to church. God must’ve been smiling down upon me, because sitting quietly on a hard pew, one day a week, is more than enough for me. Remember an earlier post when I mentioned that my mom would pinch my butt, as it slid back to lean against the edge of the pew? Happily, I can now repeat the same offense without repercussion. It’s one of the benefits of old age. I can also catch “40 winks” behind closed eyelids, while the Mass drones on. I don’t do it often, but as I’ve said before, my mind does tend to wander.

About 35 parishioners were assembled in the pews at the front of church. Father stood before the group. As he spoke, he would refer to what we were seeing projected onto the screen situated near him. While I can’t remember all he said, I do recall that Father spoke of “charisms.” The word isn’t in my paperback copy of Webster’s Dictionary, but perhaps it’s the root for “charisma – a personal magnetism that enables an individual to attract or influence people.”

According to Father, God has bestowed us with “charisms.” These are unique “gifts” that make us feel good, when they are shared with others. Ultimately they bring us the fulfillment we seek. This is our vocation as Catholics, disciples of Christ. Each of us, according to our own “charism,” is called to serve others in our daily lives, out in the secular world. Priests are not the only ones who are “called” to serve. As an illustration, we listened to Jan Vallone tell her story, up on the screen.

Having grown up Catholic, Jan always did what her parents wanted. It was her dream to teach, but she became a lawyer because that was her father’s desire. During the 18 years she worked in law, Jan felt neither happy, nor fulfilled. When the firm she was with downsized, she took the opportunity to apply for a teaching job. To her astonishment, her application was accepted. As a high school English teacher, Jan’s spirits soared. It meant a great deal to her that she was making a difference in the lives of her students.

In addition to teaching, Jan began writing. Her memoirs caught the attention of a publisher. But because marketing her manuscript consumed so much of her time, she felt distracted from her true calling, teaching and writing. So she plans to return to both, leaving the selling to someonelse while she teaches the high schoolers she loves, and begins writing her second book. Jan feels fulfilled, knowing her “charism” is helping others, something which neither practicing law nor marketing a book could do for her.

I think I’ve found my “charism” in Hugmamma’s Attention to Detail. In my blog, I’ve been able to combine my passion for writing with my desire to be a voice for compassion and positivism. In sharing my experiences, thoughts, and feelings with others, I hope I’m able to provide a ray of light in a darkened corner of someone’s life.

My husband’s “charism” has always been as a role model of integrity and compassion in the business world. He “climbed” the corporate ladder without chicanery, or “brown-nosing.” Solidly committed to his principles throughout a 40 year career, he has garnered the loyalty and admiration of peers and employees, as well as business associates. I’ve even suggested that I’d be a great hire, to which my husband has always replied “I already have a CEO and President at work. Thank you very much.” I guess he’s right. Better that he leaves work behind, when he leaves the office.

Dance has always been our daughter’s “charism.” Beginning with her first performance as an 8 year-old tap dancer, she drew the attention of the audience. Afterwards a father approached me to say, he thought our daughter had tremendous “stage presence.” We’ve always been told that, and often by complete strangers. People have also said they can’t take their eyes off her; that they track her throughout the performance; that she’s their favorite dancer. Our daughter has always said that she feels blest with a gift that she wants to share, in the hopes that it will touch someone.

As Father put it, God would never set us up for failure. Our “charism” is what He has called us to do, as his disciples in the world. 

your “charism” calls,… will you answer?…hugmamma.

      

 

massage “therapy”

I’ve had an unusual last 6 months, with allergies and fibromyalgia taking its toll throughout the spring season. Luckily it was after I’d tended to my garden, preparing the beds for the growing season, weeding and laying bait to minimize the slug infestation. Summer was a busy time with travels to Venice, Italy and Irvine, California. And during the last couple of months I’ve criss-crossed the country to be with my daughter. So it was with great anticipation that I saw my massage therapist,  yesterday.

Under Jennifer’s very capable hands, I felt the knots in my neck and shoulder muscles begin to loosen and relax. I winced in pain when she worked one particular spot in the crook of my right neck area. I’d never done that before, so I knew I’d been in desperate need of a massage.

An “old soul” at 27 years of age, Jennifer is not only good for my aches and pains, but is also someone with whom I commisserate on just about everything. Like the rest of us, she has had to sort out her life. Married, with her own business, I think my massage therapist, and friend, should be congratulated for “making lemonade, out of lemons.”  

Jennifer is such a home body. Having had a bountiful garden this year, she’s been busy canning sugar pumpkins, and making apple butter and blackberry jam, and turning squash into homemade soup. And she was understandably proud of harvesting 20 ears of corn, for neither the deer nor the raccoons had ravaged the stalks. Contributing to their winter stockpile, Jennifer’s husband will soon be hunting elk with friends. She indicated that at least 500 pounds of meat can be had from one animal.

I’m amazed at the thrift and frugality in such a young couple. And yet it doesn’t seem to be founded only upon economic concerns. Jennifer chooses to live a simpler life in terms of material acquisitions. Her passions lie elsewhere, a horse with which she is training, and a determination to become a licensed practitioner of myofacscial-release. These do not come cheap. But they are meaningful and fulfilling goals, for which Jennifer is willing to make sacrifices.

While my body is grateful for my massage therapist’s skill, my soul is graced by her youthful wisdom.

for Jennifer, hugs…hugmamma.

“celebrate! celebrate! listen to the music!”

Three months to the day, there have been 4,004 viewings of my blog! Celebrate! Celebrate! Listen to the music!

 I’ll keep writing. Please keep reading.Together we’ll continue making beautiful music together! The holidays should be fun, festive and full of unexpected frivolity.

for a fabulous 3 months, huge hugs…and a gift of song…from sinatra, buble, and hugmamma.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“gays,” a rabbi’s viewpoint

Once again I’m reprinting the opinion of another author in my blog. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach interjects a very interesting and compelling argument in support of gays. None of us are experts, but those so inclined can try to infuse some logic and reason to level the playing field for those among us who have been relegated to society’s periphery.

I am familiar with the writings of Rabbi Boteach; I read his book The Michael Jackson Tapes – A Tragic Icon Reveals His Soul in Intimate Conversation. A compassionate man, the Rabbi felt he could help Jackson devote his talents to a greater cause than self-aggrandizement, in the hopes that his life would be more personally satisfying. Unfortunately, the two men went their separate ways, as it was difficult for the entertainer to relinquish his life in the spotlight. He returned to his fans, whose adulation forever defined who he was, even beyond death.

And so I commiserate with Rabbi Boteach’s empathy for gays. They should thrive as we do, for they are also the children of God.

My Jewish Perspective on Homosexuality

Carl Paladino, the Republican candidate for governor of New York, sparked controversy this week by declaring in a speech at an Orthodox synagogue that children shouldn’t be ‘brainwashed’ into considering homosexuality acceptable. He later apologized, saying that he supports gay rights but opposes gay marriage. The Rabbi who hosted Mr. Paladino’s speech then retracted his endorsement of the candidate.

Some people of faith insist that homosexuality is gravely sinful because the Bible calls it an ‘abomination.’ But that word appears approximately 122 times in the Bible. Eating nonkosher food is an ‘abomination’ (Deuteronomy 14:3). A woman returning to her first husband after being married in the interim is an ‘abomination (Deuteronomy 24:4). Bringing a blemished sacrifice on God’s altar is an abomination (Deuteronomy 17:1). Proverbs goes so far as to label envy, lying and gossip ‘an abomination to (the Lord)’ (3:32, 16:22).

As an orthodox Rabbi, I do not deny the biblical prohibition on male same-sex relationships. I simply place it in context. There are 613 commandments in the Torah. One is to refrain from gay sex. Another is for men and women to marry and have children. So when Jewish gay couples tell me they have never been attracted to members of the opposite sex and are desperately alone, I tell them, ‘You have 611 commandments left. That should keep you busy. Now, go create a kosher home. Turn off the TV on the Sabbath and share your meals with many guests. Pray to God three times a day for you are his beloved children. He desires you and seeks you out.’

I once asked Pat Robertson, ‘Why can’t you simply announce to all gay men and women, ‘Come to Church. Whatever relationship you’re in, God wants you to pray. He wants you to give charity. He wants you to lead a godly life.’ He answered to the effect that homosexuality is too important to overlook, as it is the greatest threat to marriage and the family. Other evangelical leaders have told me the same.

But with one of every two heterosexual marriages failing, much of the Internet dedicated to degrading women through pornography, and a culture that is materially insatiable while all-too spiritually content, can we straight people really say that gays are ruining our families? We’ve done a mighty fine job of it ourselves, thank you very much.

The excessive concern about homosexuality that is found among many of my religious brothers and sisters–in many Muslim countries being gay is basically a death sentence–stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of sin. The Ten Commandments were given on two tablets to connote two different kinds of transgression: religious and moral. The first tablet discussed religious transgressions between God and man, such as the prohibitions of idolatry, blasphemy and desecration of the Sabbath. The second tablet contained moral sins between man and his fellow man, like adultery, theft and murder.

Homosexuality is a religious, not a moral sin. A moral sin involves injury to an innocent party. Who is harmed when two unattached, consenting adults are in a relationship? Homosexuality is akin to the prohibition against lighting fire on the Sabbath or eating bread during Passover; there is nothing immoral about it, but it violates the divine will.

I am in favor of gay civil unions rather than marriage because I am against redefining marriage. But gay marriage doesn’t represent the end of Western civilization. The real killer is the tsunami of divorce and the untold disruption to children who become yo-yos going from house to house on weekends.

I have countless gay friends whose greatest fear, like that of so many straight people, is to end up alone. Should we just throw the book at these people? The Bible says, ‘It is not good for man to be alone.’ All I ask from my religious brethren is this: Even as you oppose gay relationships because of your beliefs, please be tortured by your opposition. Understand that when our most deeply held beliefs conflicts with our basic humanity, we should feel the tragedy of the conflict, not find convenient scapegoats upon whom to blame America’s ills.

Wall Street Journal, 10/15/10 (Rabbi Boteach is founder of This World: The Values Network, a national organization that promotes universal Jewish values to heal America. His latest book is ‘Renewal: A Guide To The Values-Filled Life’ (Basic Books, 2010).)

 hugs for the rabbi…hugmamma.