Tag Archives: self discovery

The Accidental Spiritual Tourist

Recently, on a trip to Asheville, I was accosted by a woman who wanted me to purchase her books on Yoga. Wait – that’s not entirely accurate. She insisted I take one for a small donation. I truly had no cash, explained I was a tourist and that I was on my way to lunch. “Oh! I’m a tourist, too – a spiritual tourist!” she chirped. A spiritual tourist. Yeah, okay. Moving right along.

Much to my chagrin, over this past weekend, her words rang back to me and I discovered that I, too, am a spiritual tourist. “Let me ‘splain…no, no time to ‘splain: let me sum up.”

I woke this morning feeling sentimental about my old house in Ossining, NY, and  heavy-hearted, missing my mother. I have not seen my mother in over 39 years, so when I miss her, it usually means something big is playing out in my life or is about to play out in my life. The awakening was preceded by detailed dreams about visiting colleges with my daughter, Clarke. These dreams may have been triggered by a recent visit to Oxford England where many families were touring the University during “open days” as I was visiting as a tourist. (That is, an actual tourist, not a spiritual one.) Or it could be that I am dreaming about visiting colleges as it is Clarke’s junior year in high school and some time during the spring, we are going to have to do just that.

No matter what the trigger, when I opened my eyes this morning, I went first to check on Clarke because she had been complaining of an ear ache last night.  I gingerly touched her forehead with my hand, and tried not to wake her. I’m not exactly sure why I thought I would not wake her, because she has always startled if touched when asleep. She did in fact startle and let me know her ear kept her up a good bit during the night.  She weakly requested to visit a doctor, so I got dressed immediately.

We piled silently into the car and started for the Urgent Care.  On the way there, she put on some of her music, which I usually abide because it lets me into her teenage life just a little.  That’s when the Magical Mystery Tour rolled up to the first stop.

I found myself standing as a teenager in Montaldo’s Boutique in Greensboro, NC with my sister, shopping for her wedding dress.   All during the day my ear was increasingly more annoying and I therefore kept bothering it back.  By the time evening fell, I was in some pain.  I downstairs and interrupted the 11:00 evening news to tell my dad I needed to go to the emergency room.  It had become impertive that I get the invisible ice pick that was persistently jabbing my right ear drum removed at once.

If my daughter’s pain was a fraction of what I recalled from that night, she was surely suffering.  Her silence told me all I needed to know and my heart crumbled.  A few empathetic tears snuck down my cheeks, but before I could truly enjoy this sentimental stop, the tour bus careened around a corner screeching to a halt at the doorstep of my Ossining home.

At this stop, I recalled a time when my next oldest sibling had gone off to kindergarten. I was finally going to have my mom all to myself while my three brothers and sisters went to school.  These were supposed to be happy days for me, but they turned into seeds of anxiety.  Most days, once I was fed, Mom let me watch TV while she disappeared somewhere upstairs in our split level home.  I watched myself as a 4 year old girl, wandering around the upstairs looking for my mother. I called and called for her and she did not answer.  When she eventually re-appeared at the top of the stairs, I was dissolved in tears.  That brief time of feeling lost in my own home left me scared and much in need of her presence and comfort.

BANG!  The Spiritual Tour was nearing a close as I arrived at my final destination:  Gratitude.

During those days of needing hugs, kisses, comfort or the actual presence of my mother, I was building the deep desire to be available to my family.  Now, every time I offer them something as simple as an aspirin or quiet company when they are down, it is both a gift to them and a gift to me.  I am grateful to be here and to be a constant source of love for them.

Next on the tour:  Baggage Claim!


Changes big and small

Lent is here, and so far it’s been a season of changes big and small for me.  If you know me or if you’ve ever read anything I’ve ever written, there are likely hints here and there that I am Catholic.  Very Catholic.  And Lent is a huge opportunity for all kinds of growth for me – more so than the typical New Year’s resolution because I will be more consistent and persistent in doing something for someone I love rather than for myself.  And God is someone I love.

Most people associate Lent with a time to “give something up.”  In years past, I have given up fried foods, chocolate, and the internet.  While these were excellent exercises in self-discipline, when the 40 days were up, I took back every bad habit with gusto.  So where did it get me?  I don’t honestly know and that’s the problem.

What is often overlooked during Lent is the opportunity to grow closer to God by taking on some new good habits.  There’s nothing wrong with throwing out the old ones, but if no real change is accomplished, I can’t really see the point.   What our faith is trying to teach us is self-discipline as a way toward Discipleship and service to others.

With that in mind, this year, I am still eating sweets, drinking coffee and surfing the web.  However, what I’ve decided to is to fast and pray as my church has asked me; not just for purposes of my own spiritual growth, but especially for the trials suffered in the world such as school shootings, starvation, and natural disasters.  Fasting is not something I normally do (because I really love food and I’m generally self-concerned).  But over the past few years, something changed in me.  I’ve been sincerely touched by the people in my life who have witnessed to me by word and action; who are constantly giving to others, thinking of others, praying for others.  It is clear God has surrounded me with such people to teach me to grow closer to Him.

I’ve also decided to meditate on the book of Sirach.  Sirach is like the book of Proverbs on steroids.  Reading this spiritual guidance has been like getting smacked in the face with the dodgeball every night.  I’m seeing stars — and loving it!  It’s just what I needed and God brought me to it very deliberately.

Although Fat Tuesday is long past, it’s never too late to begin a good habit.  If you haven’t decided what you are going to (or if you are going to) give up for Lent, I invite you to give up the futile practices that don’t make you a stronger and better witness to your own beliefs.  Take up a meaningful new way of life whether it be something as big as organizing a fundraiser for a charity or as small as passing up a meal and being mindful of those who go without because they have no choice.

If these were academy awards I would now be boring you with a list of thank you’s to people you don’t know.  But it’s my blog and I’m going to thrill you with a list of thank you’s to some people you may just know (and there’s no orchestra to cut me off!)


I know I’ve left a ton of people off my list and I beg your forgiveness…your 5 minutes of blog fame is sure to make its way to the light of day.  Many blessings and a fruitful and productive lent to you all.



Dear present self, Just like so many other writers before you, you have chosen to write a “from future self to present self” piece of work.  As lame as that is, (and I know you know it is) I still … Continue reading

American Idol Experience – Mom’s perspective

I took my daughter to audition for American Idol this weekend and learned many valuable lessons.  Let me end the suspense right off the bat:  Clarke did not get past the first round but she did get to audition, which not everyone does.   Had we driven several hours and waited from 5 am (YES, 5am) until 3:15 to audition, and she had NOT gotten to sing for anyone, the frustration level may have been more than we could have endured.  However, we were spared that and I am grateful.

What you see on TV, if you ever watch the show, is thousands of excited fans waiting gleefully in line to get into the audition venue.  It’s a big party, right? Let me let you in on a little secret:  the mass of people in line to audition is not to be under estimated,  it’s frightful.  It’s more a cattle call than a curtain call.  No one that shows up screaming joyfully on the screen is actually that excited – they just want to get into the venue.  After all, Charleston at 5 am begins the day at 85 degrees – the thought of the sun coming up struck more fear into me than it would have had I been a vampire.

At 8:30 when we finally got in, the air conditioning did in fact bring brief and actual joy to contestants and guardians.  Then we got to our seats.  The TV hype began immediately.  A constant loop of Lady Gaga’s “On The Edge of Glory” played so that everyone could learn the song and participate when it was time to film.

For those who had not jumped from the upper levels to escape the inane song in sweet and welcome death, a few treats were in store.  One of the low level producers let the crowd know what to expect: we would be filmed for TV – all 12,000 of us.  We were to shout ridiculous phrases and then jump up and do the wave and hold up banners (if we had them) as the camera panned around the coliseum.  They had us chant, “If Scotty McReery can do it, so can I!”  and “I am the mouth of the south!”

It was at this point that I elected to get in one of many long lines to buy an some way over-priced  food.

In line, I was pleased to find I had escaped singing along with the crowd for the filming of  “Edge of Glory.”  Although I sound bitter, this is not the case:  we had air conditioning, a seat that was not pavement, and eventually, we even saw Ryan Seacrest – the AI people could have gotten anything from us.  Anything except $6.50 for a bottle of water!

Ryan got the crowd genuinely excited for about 30 seconds, then evaporated for the remainder of the day.  This made the entire trip “worth it” for Clarke, so I was glad for that. The low level producer then explained how the sections of the coliseum would be brought to the floor of the complex, lined up in groups of four and marched up to one of the 12 tables of judges beginning at around 11 am. (And you will be shocked to know that J-Lo, Randy and Steven were not present at any of those tables.)

After an early lunch of salted soft pretzel for me and nachos without cheese for Clarke, we shared a $3.50 clear soda to save her white dress from any insult or injury.  While we waited for Clarke’s turn, thousands of contestants marched up to the judges and did what they came to do.  Winners exited to the “winners room” stage left with a  golden ticket (but not THE golden ticket) and non-winners had the long walk of shame to the right of the coliseum.  Guardians of contestants under the age of 18 were put in a corner of the floor of the coliseum that I referred to as “parent time out” to await their childrens’ fate.

Let me insert here a few notes about a full coliseum of very talented and nervous individuals.  The singing one hears in the hallways, corridors, sections of seating areas and from the floor during auditions is phenomenal.  There is a TON of talent out there and a 15 year old can get a bit shaken up.  And at any point the producers can say, “Thank you for coming out, but we’re done.  Try again next year” and they will pack up their kit and kaboodle and leave like the Cat in The Hat.  So, part of the nerves everyone feels is whether there will be an audition at all.

The smell of bathrooms reflect the fear in a major and unsettling way.

During the first part of the morning, golden tickets are handed out like candy.  One after another walks left to the cheers of their peers and a few quietly take the walk of shame to the right.  By lunch hour, less and less walk left and more and more walk right.

Clarke’s chance to audition did come around 3 pm.  Tickets were fewer and fewer and I was just grateful she was getting a chance to sing.  Her practicing had been lovely and hopefully intimidating to those around her.  I went to parent time out and she began the long journey toward her chance.  As I stood on the floor, I heard one after another incredible voice and watched in shock the rejection of many talented individuals.

I did not get to see or hear Clarke’s audition — parent time out was near table 12 and Clarke’s audition was at table 2.  So I shook and prayed and kept my eyes glued southward.

Waiting for Clarke to emerge from the other end of the floor seemed longer than waiting to give birth to her, I swear, and I had no drugs to dampen my anxiety.  She emerged finally with the other three contestants from her table, got her wrist band snipped by some soul-less drone and began, not the walk of shame toward me, but a walk of extreme grace — with a large smile and arms stretched out for a hug.  I ran out to greet her, arms out too and heard Parent Time Out heave a collective “awww” for us.  I was doomed to cry either way, but I was so very, very proud of her and would do it all over again.

She got some good feedback – she got to sing 2 songs (Alison Krauss’s “Lucky One” and Paramour’s “When it Rains”) and they said she did very well but that she was still young and had time on her hands.  They encouraged her to come back again in a year or two, reminding her that Haley Reinhart didn’t make it her first time either and that David Cook was 28 when he won.  So, I see a return trip in our future – the girl just rocks.

Lessons learned for next time:

1. Register early – EARLY and get a good seat and audition before the judges are sick of everyone.

2. Ignore the rule that say “one bottle water can be brought per person” — bring three each in your back pack.

3. Ignore the “no chairs” rule.  They have a place for the chairs to be stored before you enter the venue that can be picked up later.

4. Once you are registered and have your seat, there is no need to show up at 5 am to stand in line.  Arriving by 7 should be sufficient.  If you still feel the need to get there at 5 am, get to the port-o-johns before the sun comes up.

5. Do not be intimidated by other singers.  There is a lot of talent out there; the fact that someone else can sing does not diminish your own abilities.

6. Don’t forget a moment of the experience.  You’ll have it forever whether you go to the winners room or walk the other way.

7. Ryan Seacrest really does seem shorter in real life than on TV.  But that remains to be seen at a later date.

Blubbering over chicken in Crested Butte

Hello, reader!  Long time no post, I realize…but I’ve been away.  I’d say I was “off”, but surely you realize, I’ve been “off” for years.  Be that as it may, my family and I took a ski vacation to Colorado week before last and life is just getting back to normal.  Several good things happened whilst we were away:

  • It snowed.  A LOT.
  • The plane(s) didn’t crash on the outbound or inbound trips.
  • We did not suffocate our children or each other in our sleep due to too much togetherness.
  • Our house didn’t burn down while we were away
  • We had beautiful accommodations and enjoyed cooking and eating in a great deal.

But the most wonderful thing happened the last night we were in Crested Butte.  During dinner at a restaurant called The Secret Stash, I returned via taste sensation to a childhood memory that literally brought tears to my eyes.  It may have been the 2nd glass of Cabernet after a long day on the slopes or it may have been the complete bliss of the moment, but either way, a snippet of time that had long been buried was unlocked and I was so very grateful to go to that place in my life again.

I had not realized how powerful the taste of spare ribs cooked on a charcoal grill in the back yard could be.

Funny thing was, I was not eating spare ribs at all.  I was eating grilled barbecue wings.  The sweet sauce the cook used caramelized on the juicy plump wing to create exactly that bite of extra rich, sweet burned and crisp taste that is part and parcel of grilling.  It might just as well happen if one were to slather a piece of shoe leather with BBQ sauce, but who’s to say?

I bit into the wing, silently wishing at first that we would have chosen the stuffed mushrooms, when a slightly tangy crunch stuck in my back teeth.  In a flash, I was taken back to New York at a time before my mother had passed away.  We didn’t have a lot of money and neither did anyone else who lived on our block in Ossining.  Times were simple.   On the 4th of July, the neighbors gathered in somebody’s back yard around 4 pm.  The memory I traveled back to was a year when the cook out was in our back yard.  The Salazzos, Sterns, Sabliches and Eggoloffs came over.  Cases of beer were brought, potato salad and deviled eggs were prepared and massive amounts of meat was thrown on a rickety charcoal grill (or grills, if the neighbors wheeled theirs over).  The fare was burgers, hot dogs and spare ribs, as I recall…but I was very young so my recall may be questionable.   I think I remember at least 3 things:

1. Running barefoot from yard to yard with a passel of other children amid the smell of freshly cut grass as the evening cooled.   We played freeze tag and kick the can.  The older kids played tricks on the younger ones to scare them.  Mostly, anything we asked our parents was answered with a “yes” because they didn’t want to be bothered and they figured the whole pack of us were not likely to be harmed, lost or stolen if we stayed together.   We were free unlike any other time of the year. It was an intoxication the like of which I have only found in childhood and no other has ever matched it.

2. Waiting for the charcoal to get hot was interminable.  Not only could I not wait to eat, but mostly, I could not wait until the coals were just right so I could find a grubby stick and put a marshmallow on the end of it, just to burn the treat and enjoy the velvety middle inside the charred skin.  Luckily, there were plenty of fireflies to catch while I waited.

3. The sweet taste of the spare ribs, the watermelon and the corn.  This was the only time of the year we ever grilled out.  Dad was busy ladder-climbing, so mom did most of the cooking (inside) and it was a rare treat to get anything grilled.   It was the unbelievably tasty surprise of biting into that chicken wing that brought me back my first smoky, sticky, sweet spare rib when I was 4 or 5.  It only took a second to unlock that door, but once unlocked, the floodgates opened and caused me to cry like an idiot 40 years later and hundreds of miles away.

Last Saturday as I tele-ported to that time and place in my back yard in New York, I missed my mother and father with an intensity I have not experienced in many years.  I missed large, connected yards and the fresly cut, cool dewy grass tickling my bare feet as I ran with abandon and belly-laughed with other children.  I missed feeling slightly afraid of holding my first sparkler and the wonder of learning to write in the air with it.  I missed settling down in the dark afterward to warm up on my mother’s lap, wishing that night would never end.

The night didn’t end, apparently.  It burrowed down into my soul and laid dormant until last Saturday night.  I wonder what else I’m carrying around?  I can’t wait to find out!  Better get back to Colorado, fast!

New Year’s Suggestion

As you know, Fan, I don’t “do” New Year’s Resolutions, but I’m always on the hunt for ways to improve. Since I’m also not good with maintenance, remembering, or consistency in good habits, I’ve found that trying to use the new year to start new habits and ditch the old has traditionally been a miserable failure for me.

This year, I heard about a new twist to the old effort. On one of my favorite radio stations, K-Love (94.1 FM), I heard on the morning show about a pastor who suggested people try coming up with one-word or short phrase as a “theme” for the year and to try to direct activities around that theme. By choosing a positive word and theme, the hope is that it will make a dramatic improvement in the quality of the spiritual (and therefore, earthly) life of those who practice it.

Well, even a monkey like me can handle that. Instead of remembering that I intend to read the Bible/eat out less often/work out more/call my friends/be a better wife and mother…blah,blah, blah, I just have to remember one word. The word I have chosen for this year (yes I’m trying it) does not deal with any of those underwhelming goals which really won’t improve my character. I’m certain if I stick to directing my energies toward my 2011 theme, there will be a noticeable difference in my life.  My daughter suggested a theme for me that almost made the cut: “Don’t Die.”  Good as that suggestion is, I think I’ll wait and give that a shot next year.

This year I already have my theme.  It is a single word.

My word won’t help me blog more.
My word won’t help me stay slim.
My word won’t help me be cheerful with my family, necessarily.

My theme; my word is “Repent”. I chose it because I believe practicing Repentance is designed to bring me closer to God. I don’t mean “The Universe” or “A Higher Being” or some approximation of goodness. I’m talking about The Great I Am. The One who formed me and knitted me in my mother’s womb. I’m talking about The Word Made Flesh Who Dwelt Among Us; The Alpha and Omega who pursues me like a treasure, whether I can fit in my skinny jeans or not.  Getting closer to Him seems to be where I need to be.

I encourage you, if you are so inclined to choose a theme for 2011.  I hope that you can find one that will direct you toward a more rewarding, meaningful and fulfilling life, even if your theme is simply, “Don’t Die.”

Happy New Year!

A valuable lesson

In March of this year, I attended a conference called WomenSpeak.  It was hosted and organized by Paula D’Arcy and the Red Bird Foundation.  Mostly it was about female empowerment and the power of love to change the world.  Those of you who know me and realize that I am not much of a “Kum-bye-ya” person are probably wondering what the *bleep* I would be doing at a gathering such as that.  But, let me tell you – When Paula does something, she does it right and I will “Kum-bye-ya” with her to my grave.

One of the keynote speakers for the weekend was a woman named Erin Gruwell.  You may know Erin’s story from the book called The Freedom Writers Diary.  It was a NY Times bestseller that chronicled Gruwell’s journey with 150 high school students who had been written off by the education system.  Through sheer determination, and admitted naiveté, she ultimately helped them re-chart their future. They dubbed themselves the “Freedom Writers” – in homage to civil rights activists The Freedom Riders – and published a book.  In addition to hearing this woman’s story, I had the privilege to hear the story of one of her students who had been called a failure, was told she was destined to be a teenage mother and a drop-out and that she was basically worthless.  By the way, it was her teachers and her principal that told her these things. (Talk about a spirit-crushing, ego-busting, gut-wrenching experience!)

Now, why am I telling you all this?  (You realize, fan, that you ask me this every time I blog, but you know I always get to the point eventually.)

The student who spoke to us graduated with her class and is in college.  Not only did she not get pregnant in high school, she aims to become the first Latina Secretary of Education for the United States.  As uplifting as all that was, that was not what struck me about this young lady.  What blew me away was that she did not spend one moment trashing the people who put her down.  She did not spend time in self-pity.  What she did instead was to insist repeatedly that she owed those people a debt of gratitude for laying out those horrible potential truths that she could have so easily lived up to (or lived down to, as the case may be).  Based on their harsh and ultimately inaccurate assessment of her, she was determined to make a change in her life.  I realized that although I’ve never been called a worthless gang-banging slut,  I owe the same debts of gratitude to a few people in my life that also helped me make some changes.

In particular, I had a friend in college — Freshman year — who did me a huge favor.  She laid it out for me.  She told me exactly the kind of jerk I had been and how my self-aggrandizing and know-it-all attitude turned people off.  She and another friend had taken just about all the crap they could from me.  I blubbered.  I stammered.  I blamed my father for teaching me that bad behavior.  I did everything except verbally take responsibility for the fact that she was right on the money.  I had been a jerk.  No one had ever called me out quite so thoroughly and authentically in my life.  I needed it desperately.

While I got exactly what I needed and deserved, let’s just say I didn’t take it well and we parted company.

These many years later, I discovered I owe that friend my gratitude.  There have been other friends and family members since who have been able to hold the mirror up to me and I made the choice to make a change, based on that first painful assessment.  While I didn’t admit my part at the time, I was personally humbled by the experience.

If you have friends like these, don’t let them out of your life.  Even if you part company with them, keep the lesson close at hand.  Use it to become a better person and try to teach it to your children.  It’s been over 20 years since I got that lesson, but like my hero the Freedom Writer, I value it and keep the humility I learned with me.  And if you have the opportunity to dole out some tough love, do so.  Be honest with the people you call your friends because it’s the best thing you can possibly do for them.