Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Christmas Memories

Around Christmas time in 2014, I arrived at Lieberman in my "Santa" to entertain the residents on the assisted living units with caroling and candy canes. I was joined by friends Jan, Isaac, and Cheryl, who with aides and staff, supported the singing.
This was a first for Lieberman, being a Jewish establishment (although they accept residents non-denominationally,) and I think it worked by being billed as the "Jewish Santa.
I ended on Gregory's memory care unit at lunchtime. The look on his face says, "I think I almost recognize this Santa as someone I love a lot!" A precious memory. Gregory died before the next season.

Gregory in 2011. Three years before Lieberman. Four + years before his passing. Forever in our memories, hearts, and love! The photo was taken at Shakespear Theater on Navy Pier. I love the reflected light of the Ferris wheel in the window behind Gregory, it feels kind of ethereal and/or saintly!

Taken in the condo two or three years before his final decline.

Taken one or two years before his final decline. He loved to refer to the decorations as the "Christmas Pipe" as compared to a "Christmas Tree." Two dozen or so antique mercury glass ornaments, of various sizes and colors, were hung on the fire sprinkler pipe which traverses the condo living room. The groups were organized in approximate "colorways" or "blue and silver" for Hannukah and "red and Green" for Christmas.

Visiting Lincoln Park Zoo "Christmas Lights" with Alaksh, Roger, and D.J.
Taken on a Marshall Field's Christmas adventure (even though it was Macy's by then) some half way or three quarter's way into his jouney with Alzheimer's.

At the Chrismas Train Exhibit at the Chicago Botanic Gardens.

 Celebrating Hannukah at Jan & Jake's.

Christmas in Racine, Wisconsin with Chuck and John and the "Gay Family."

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha

Not sure if I published this previously but having reviewed it last night I wanted to share it with my readers. The Heart Sutra is probably one of the most important teachings in Buddhism and is, in fact, one that has helped me maintain my balance through Gregory's death and the great grieving that has continued to follow our great love.

Each night for over a year I have recited the mantra. Only once did I attempt and succeed at repeating it 108 times, which is an important if not magical number in Buddhism. I'll not go into detail here but if you are interested be sure to google it! The Buddhist mala is a 108 beaded necklace that is used to help keep count with the chanting of the matra.

This poster is the premise of the Sutra but it becomes very clear with Thich Nhat Hanh's explanation of the Heart Sutra reproduced below. Hanh is a well known and respected Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist. To learn more about Hanh, click here:

This is a more formal translation by Thich Nhat Hanh.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Whitney & Nick

I officiated at Whitney's (my God-Daughter) and Nick's (my new God-Son's) wedding which took place in Washington D.C. on October 7, 2017. It was an honor for me to help join together, in marriage and in life, these two wonderful people.

Monday, November 27, 2017

A Few Foo Dogs

The other day I was shopping at the Heritage Trail Antique Mall in Wilmette (a suburb of Illinois for those of you who do not know.) After doing a circuit of the first and second floor I continued up to the third.

I enjoy visiting antique shops and do so not only locally but when out of town as well. I have gotten pretty good at "scanning" a mall booth and deciding if it is even worth moving in from the aisle for a closer look.

Some people might say, "Jaded," but somehow I can tell if it is worth spending time with a particular vendor by the way they display their items, if most items are locked up (I prefer them to be available to touch,) or if the items are even of interest to me.

Often times I will do a round of "looking" and leave the shop empty-handed. Other times I will come away with one significant item and at yet other times with a handful of tiny items (I am known for my Curious Collection of Tiny Treasures, you know!)

In a previous blog, you saw the antique Christmas Tree miniature I recently purchased from the Heritage Trail Mall. On the same trip, when I arrived on the third floor, I was dumbstruck by a pair of items I saw. This does not happen too often. I think I even commented out loud as I admired the items and circled them; commenting, touching, and amazing!

The items were reasonably priced for their value and the dealer for that booth (also the owner of the mall and an acquaintance from my many visits) was willing to give me a steep discount. The price of the items was still not inexpensive, but they were even more reasonably priced with the discount.

Lisa, the vendor, offered to put the items on hold for me and even though I had some difficulty committing to the price I figured, "Why not!" That would give me a few days to think and decide.

I began the process of decision making. Did I NEED the items or did I WANT the items? Did I have room in the condo to properly DISPLAY the items? Did I want yet another THING to which I would become ATTACHED? Was purchasing the items a good use of my MONEY? Were they really WORTH the price, even with the discount? Would the dogs, who were so heavy, literally WEIGH me down?

I spoke with my niece Colleen, who often is my Mirror of Wisdom, and sent her a photograph. She instantly fell in love with them; using words like wonderful, unique, magical, amazing!

I went back to the antique shop, purchased them, and they are currently installed on the entrance table in the front hall of the condo. There is a possibility that they will move around before settling permanently.

But I'll tell you this, they won't be moving often and certainly not on their own!

As I was drifting off to sleep, I said my nightly "Good Night Gregory." I added, "Do you think my Foo Dog purchase was foolish?" His reply was, "Of course, but what difference does it make?" 

As I am writing this I realize the PUN: Foo Dog purchase foo lish? Maybe that is why Gregory chuckled.

Since the introduction of the lion symbolism from Indian culture especially through Buddhist symbolism, statues of guardian lions have traditionally stood in front of Chinese Imperial palaces, Imperial tombs, government offices, temples, and the homes of government officials and the wealthy, from the Han dynasty (206 BC – AD 220), and were believed to have powerful mythic protective benefits. They are also used in other artistic contexts, for example on door-knockers, and in pottery. Pairs of guardian lion statues are still common decorative and symbolic elements at the entrances to restaurants, hotels, supermarkets and other structures, with one sitting on each side of the entrance, in China and in other places around the world where the Chinese people have immigrated and settled, especially in local Chinatowns.

Photograh of Foo Dogs at the Antique Mall

Photographs of the Foo Dogs at home
as part of my "Leaving Shrine" in the front hall.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Does Santa Really Exist?

From: Popular Sugar, 
Santa is everywhere you look during the holiday season, and that can be confusing for children. Seeing so many Santas inevitably brings up the question, "Is Santa real? And if Santa is real, which Santa is real?" No parent wants to lie to his or her child. And no parent wants to burst the magical bubble that makes the holiday season so precious.
Chantel R., who is considering what to do, remarks that some parents refrain from telling their kids the Santa myth at all "because they don't want to lie."
Where do you stand? How do you explain Santa to your children?

What if you had a wonderful explanation of who Santa really is? An explanation that doesn't lie or destroy the magic of the season? Would that be helpful? If so, then you're in luck.

Several years ago, I read a New York Times piece that answered the Santa question perfectly. I knew in my bones this was destined to become the classic answer. I contacted the writer, Martha Brockenbrough, and got permission to republish her piece. First, let me set this up: Martha's daughter has figured out the truth about Santa, which "left her mother grappling with how to explain that belief." She did it with this letter:
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Dear Lucy,
Thank you for your letter. You asked a very good question: "Are you Santa?"

I know you've wanted the answer to this question for a long time, and I've had to give it careful thought to know just what to say.

The answer is no. I am not Santa. There is no one Santa.

I am the person who fills your stockings with presents, though. I also choose and wrap the presents under the tree, the same way my mom did for me, and the same way her mom did for her. (And yes, Daddy helps, too.)

I imagine you will someday do this for your children, and I know you will love seeing them run down the Christmas magic stairs on Christmas morning. You will love seeing them sit under the tree, their small faces lit with Christmas lights.

This won't make you Santa, though.

Santa is bigger than any person, and his work has gone on longer than any of us have lived. What he does is simple, but it is powerful. He teaches children how to have belief in something they can't see or touch.

It's a big job, and it's an important one. Throughout your life, you will need this capacity to believe: in yourself, in your friends, in your talents, and in your family. You'll also need to believe in things you can't measure or even hold in your hand. Here, I am talking about love, that great power that will light your life from the inside out, even during its darkest, coldest moments.

Santa is a teacher, and I have been his student, and now you know the secret of how he gets down all those chimneys on Christmas Eve: he has help from all the people whose hearts he's filled with joy.

With full hearts, people like Daddy and me take our turns helping Santa do a job that would otherwise be impossible.

So, no, I am not Santa. Santa is love and magic and hope and happiness. I'm on his team, and now you are, too.

I love you and I always will.


Happy holidays and happy parenting, everyone. Now go kiss your kids! 

Sharon Silver is the author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding: 108 Ways to Discipline Consciously and Become the Parent You Want to Be and the founder of Proactive Parenting. Her book and site help parents gain more patience by responding instead of reacting as they deal with the whirlwind of emotions created by raising kids ages 1 to 10.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Christmas 2017

OK OK! I said that I wasn’t going to do anymore but I visited the antique mall in Wilmette, Illinois and couldn’t pass up this amazing miniature Christmas tree at an amazingly reasonable price! OK OK!

So now this is the sum total of my decorating for Christmas, at least as of today at 3:15pm.

New Miniature Tree under a glass dome on a rotating stand.

Charlie Brown Hallmark Christmas Tree with candy jars and
decorated plants on island between living room and kitchen.

And the final copy of my Christmas 2017
"Z Scale" train set up installation.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Abyss

This poem was written June of 2015. Do not remember if I posted it or not. Things are not quite as difficult as in the poem but the loneliness, sadness, and missing him will always continue. I learn to live with it a little easier.

The Abyss

The key in the door turns
The memories are silent
Hiding, least they evoke
Difficult memories.

Over the threshold, I step
Into the waiting abyss
The house filled to overflowing
With every last encounter.

Into the front hall closet
Onto the waiting hanger
I place my jacket gingerly
With others no longer owned.

Walking past the lonely bedroom
Into the front of the condo
Shelved and collected and scattered
With mementos, memorabilia, reminders.

In my arms, two grocery bags
Filled with individual items
Then emptied into the cabinets
And refrigerator, food for one.

Dinner from the microwave
Emptied on a tray and taken
Into the TV room TV table
For flickering eating friendships.

The cats, two of them purring
Bringing life and joy easily
Without expectations to be filled
Joy on the shoulders of sorrow.

Then bedtime with the wrinkled sheets
Only my scent on my pillows
Now the memories no longer silent
Keeping the night long yet loving.

Thoughts on Death

Came across this interesting article in The NewYorker on "Death" and how we are afraid to talk about it. This text was drawn from “Dying: A Memoir,” by Cory Taylor, which is out August 1st from Tin House Books. Cory Taylor was the award-winning author of “Me and Mr. Booker,” “My Beautiful Enemy,” and “Dying: A Memoir.” She died on July 5, 2016

It is a brief but meaningful read for anyone who has experienced the death or in the process of dying of a loved one or will experience their own dying ... which is everyone!
  • Ms. Taylor begins: The questions, as it turned out, were unsurprising. Did I have a bucket list, had I considered suicide, had I become religious, was I scared, was there anything good about dying, did I have any regrets, did I believe in an afterlife, had I changed my priorities in life, was I unhappy or depressed, was I likely to take more risks given that I was dying anyway, what would I miss the most, how would I like to be remembered? These were the same questions I’d been asking myself ever since I was diagnosed with cancer, back in 2005. And my answers haven’t changed since then. They are as follows.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Twas the Night Before Thanks Giving

Those Santa Sightings have begun in earnest! Today a gentleman selling "Streetwise" (a magazine to give people confronting homelessness a way to earn a  small living) was selling his "schtick," as well as a copy of Streetwise, to all passers-by.

Even when I do not plan on buying a Streetwise magazine, I acknowledge the vendor with a, "How ya doin'" Sometimes the greeting is more important to them than the $2.00 purchase (of which they keep $1.50)

I do the same for beggars on the street (not comparing them to these Streetwise salesmen trying to be productive.) A few of the beggars will continue pleading but most of them, most often, thank me for my question and answer in fairly intelligent ways.

Back to Santa Sightings. As I approached the Streetwise Vendor in Trader Joe's parking lot to make a contribution, he laughed a "hoot" and said, "Oh my, oh my. Santa. I got an early visit from Santa. Good thing I've been good."

I gave him a $5.00 and told him to keep the magazine as I had already read the issue. He was quite pleased and gave me a "God Bless You Santa." After a pause, he added, "I guess God already has!"

Latest Train Set Up

This looks like the final copy of my Christmas 2017 "Z Scale" train set up installation.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Mary Oliver, Poet

Two years later and I am still working on gracefully letting Gregory go. Every night I talk with him and like to believe that he hears me. Sometimes, in my mind, I hear him reply. I have decided that if I want to believe, it is true for me!

The other day I had an interesting experience while driving home after running a number of errands of the "its beginning to look a lot like Christmas" nature. Part of that look was the front passenger seat floor filled with a large collection of greenery and red ball ornaments, standing three feet tall in a pot which will be put out on the balcony.

The Siris Christmas station, "Holy," has begun playing music of the season and that was on. It was dark and some towns already have lit up their holiday light pole decorations. My overall feeling was one of Christmas Joy but with a tinge of missing Gregory. Suddenly I felt his presence with me in the car. (In my mind or real, you decide, but I know what I believe!)

I started talking to him in my mind which a chuckle saying, "I am sorry that you are cramped in the front seat with all that greenery!" The interesting thing is that when I got to the word "cramped," I was interrupted with Gregory replying, "I don't mind." 

Now I did not hear this out loud, but rather in my mind. The thing that interested me is that the "I don't mind" interrupted my thoughts. My thoughts were headed towards the apology and I wouldn't or couldn't have been thinking of next thoughts since we usually think in a linear direction. But the comment literally stopped my thinking mid-word with "I don't mind!"

You know what I want to believe so I will or is the implication I should continue to work at letting him go? Or am I already pretty good at letting him go, getting on with my life, but being able to develop new ways of relating to him in a non-physical way?

Friday, November 17, 2017

A Brief History of Michael's Christmas Trains I, II, and III

I have had three Christmas trains. The first was an "N Scale" train which Gregory and I purchased at a Flea Market and it served us well for many years. We used our antique brush trees, some antique miniature items, and purchased a number of "N Scale" buildings. It was first used at 2643 Poplar, the first house we purchased as well as at 2635, our second home.

When we decided to deaccession some of our Christmas "Stuff" we gave the train set to our God Neice Whitney. But sure enough the yearning for a Christmas Train returned and I purchased a new one as shown below. It first appeared in our third home, the condo, at 807 Davis.

Secretly, or not so secretly, I have always wanted a "Z Scale" train. This train is the smallest you can get and can fit into a briefcase if you so choose. I set up on my desk. For this setup, I had to use even smaller items from collections around the house. Here are photos are of my current Christmas Train, Number III. You cannot tell from the photos, but a "Z" is half the size of an "N."

Here is a video of the current train set. Merry Christmas one and all!

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