Moved by Manilow.

barryThis week’s WordPress writing challenge was to write about how music moves me.

Hearing certain songs can bring me back to the exact slices of time in my life as quickly as the sound of a can opener can bring a cat to the kitchen.  These melodies are able to suspend any current moment, often squeezing my heart a little in the process.

Not knowing this challenge was coming, I coincidentally picked up a vinyl record last week while traveling for the kids’ fall break last week in Portland, Oregon.  In keeping with the “Keep Portland Weird” vibe, we seemed to find hat stores or vinyl record stores on every other corner.  On our last night there, I finally made the family stop in one of the vinyl record stores, determined to find an album that would take me back for a little mini-vacation within my vacation. They humored me.

I knew exactly which one I needed to find because I could see the album cover in my head (or maybe I knew subconsciously which one I could easily find without breaking the bank because no one else would want it).  I flipped through the album covers in the small “Pop” section as my kids marveled at the sight of these round, black plastic discs of music throughout the store.  I quickly found the album I was looking for as if it had been right there waiting for me.  The guy at the register didn’t even flinch as I placed the shiny white Barry Manilow album on the counter.  I paid the full $3.60 for it and am now this record’s proud owner.

Here is my list of top time-transporting music,  along with the moments that flash through my mind when I hear it. Good old Barry in his white disco suit and gold chain tops the list.

  • Any Barry Manilow or old Chicago tune –  I can hear the words of  ‘Copa Cabana’ and  ‘Boogie Woogie Woogie’ and  “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?’ as they swirled about our dark wood-paneled family room as my mom and sister and I listened to them on the turntable of our silver stereo with a hard, clear plastic box top that set upon my grandfather’s antique steamer trunk which was nestled in our groovy brown shag carpet.
  • ‘Amazing Grace’ – Sitting next to my grandmother in church and hearing her beautiful voice as I watched tears well up in her eyes as she sang it with all her heart,  Just writing about it makes my own do the same.
  • ‘Jungle Love’ by Steve Miller Band –  Driving my Dad’s jeep one summer while my car was being repaired and playing this song over and over again in the boombox that I had chain-locked to the passenger seat because the jeep didn’t have a stereo.
  • ‘Mercedes Benz’ by Janis Joplin – Cruising on the interstate with my friend Marcy for twelve hours to Connecticut for the summer in my little red car.  I couldn’t stand Janis Joplin when the trip began but Marcy was determined to make me a fan.   It worked.
  • Any Sinead O’Connor tune – Sitting with my junior year college housemate on our rickety rattan love seat in our little old house on Duncan Street that had an old gas stove and windows painted so many times they hardly opened.
  • ‘Sugar Pie Honey Bunch” by the Four Tops – Riding in my dad’s car long ago with this song roaring, watching the music take him back and hearing him whistle along in exact harmony.  I love hearing him whistle.
  • Johnny Cash and other old country songs- Learning to waterski on my friend Kelly’s boat at the lake.  I can hear the boat radio in the background along with the sound of the idling engine as her dad made yet another roundabout to let me try again, and again, and again to get up on those skis.  He was ever so patient and determined to get me up on those skis. And he did.
  • Aretha Franklin’s ‘Dr. Feelgood’ and anything Harry Connick, especially ‘All of Me’ –  So many moments of that fall during my senior year of college when I met MacGyver.
  • Styx “Too Much Time on My Hands” – I can see my college friend’s face making fun of me for how excited I became every time a Styx song came on the radio.
  • ‘Rosana’ by Kool and the Gang – First boyfriend back in high school, riding in his old Camero.
  • REO Speedwagon – Cruising on my tenspeed bicycle with no hands with my Sony Walkman strapped to the center of the handlebars.  Because I was cool.
  • ‘Jagged Little Pill’ by Alanis Morisette – Working at my most fun ad agency job in an old warehouse with a school bus in the middle which served as my colleague’s office.
  • Michael Jackson and Billy Squier tunes – Walking to Skaggs Alpha Beta grocery store in 7th grade with my friend Lisa with two headsets plugged into that same Sony Walkman.  Because we were both cool.
  • Sheryl Crowe’s ‘Soak up the Sun’ – All the bittersweet memories with my dear friend Courtney who lost her battle with cancer years ago.  It was her theme song that last year and it makes me smile.
  • Black Crowe’s Hard to Handle –  Riding in my friend Mel’s little red Nissan Sentra while we air-drummed and air-guitared this song in traffic one night when she drove me home after a very long day at that ad agency.
  • ‘Like a Virgin’ album by Madonna and Prince’s ‘Little Red Corvette’ – Wearing out the cassette deck in my first car listening to these tunes while driving to and from my high school job selling shoes at the mall.
  • ‘Rock Lobster’ by the B52s, and the entire BeeGee’s ‘Saturday Night Fever’ album – Dancing with my sister as she taught me the dance moves to these songs on that same brown shag carpet on that same shiny stereo with the clear, hard plastic top.

Whew, there you have it, a lengthy smattering of songs and their corresponding flashing moments, many close to my heart.

Clearly music moves me.  Along with white disco suits and gold chains.

What songs move you?

Crossing lines.

colorfulcoloradoHer eyes watch me blankly as I turn each page and she nods her head occasionally as I narrate  — like she somehow knows that nodding is the expected response.  But the faraway look in her eyes tells me she doesn’t know what I’m narrating for her or who I am.

Little Red Riding Hood was the queen of scrapbook and photo album organization, and for that I am truly grateful.  I enjoy finding new photos that I’ve never seen with her on my weekly Wednesday visits at her house.  Her walking has become unsteady, so Wednesdays I now go to her. She watches curiously as I snap a photo or two with my phone.

I continue to try to spark something in her eyes with old photos like I was able to it seems like just months ago. But Alzheimer’s has now almost completely robbed us of those rare moments of connection, stealing so much more these last few months.

colorfulcolo

Many of the photos and mementos we go through page by page bring back such a rush of memories and I would love to talk to her about those moments and scenes from our lives.  Or to my sister. There are so many photos of the three of us.

It’s these moments when I can feel my heart getting squeezed by something deep within me and wrapped in blanket of bittersweet loss.  That’s when I realize I’m holding my breath and that I need to put the albums away until next time.

I remind myself to breathe as I place the albums back on the dusty shelf and shake off the sad like my dog shakes the water off  her back after a bath.

This old photo of my grandparents brought a smile to my face as I remembered taking this same shot of my boys as we crossed the state line on the day we moved to Colorado when my boys were so young just nine short years ago.   I never knew this grandfather but my youngest son carries his name — both of them in the right of these pictures. Who knows, maybe my Mom, little Miss Historian, took the picture of my grandparents.

Life is one transition after another in so many ways.  Some big, some small, some full of joy and some full of sadness, and many a little of both.  The challenge is knowing how to embrace each transition and carry through what we learn to the next one. And to do it with grace.

Silent in the company of sisters.

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At weekly yoga class.

Two sisters, there each week.

Next to each other, happy and harmonious.

Could be twins, alike but different enough.

One comment starts the chatter all around the room,

How lucky they are to have a sister nearby to enjoy.

I nodded silently as I agreed,

Tamping pangs of envy down deep.

Then one by one … the others lamented over their sisters faraway,

Poor them.

I had a choice,

Bring down the entire room with “Bummer, mine died.”

And freak everyone the hell out,

Or keep quiet.

I chose the latter.

Twilight zone turned school zone.

irony

As I say often, “You learn something new everyday…” (And as many who know me hear me say even more often, “Every day’s a damn school day.”)

I now better understand the impact that certain infections can have on the elderly and on those with dementia.  They can actually cause delirium.

And I now know that 30% to 40% of elderly patients with serious infection don’t exhibit the usual signs of fever due the inability of the immune system to mount a response to infection due to the effects of aging (or in Little Red Riding Hood’s case – Alzheimer’s).  (I felt like Velma in a Scooby Doo mystery trying to figure out what was causing her further and furious decline.)  If you already have Alzheimer’s, infections can put you into a mental tailspin.  This was our week.

Fortunately, after copious amounts of heavy duty antibiotics and eye rolling, Mom was actually able to come back home this afternoon.  She smiled at me more today and said many more words to me today than she has in the last few weeks.  I even got some bona-fide Mom to daughter smiles which tickled me with delight.

We still will assess where we are with her doctor, but it appears that we have bought a little time for her, avoided the cuckoo’s nest/twilight zone for a bit longer and become better educated in the process.

I also had the privilege of doing a Yoga class today (hallelujah) geared toward technique and theory, which was fabulous.  I also got to wear my awesome new yoga pants. And I got to take a lot of deep breaths, which were welcomed.yoga pants

Oh, and MacGyver discovered a new Chardonnay for me named Irony which seems quite fitting. And it is quite good.  MacGyver makes a damn fine Sommelier.  Which makes me a damn lucky sidekick.

Overall it was a day of education and progress which is ALWAYS a good thing.

Thanks so much for your support on this journey!

What’s the most ironic wine you’ve ever enjoyed?

Ten Things – What Christmas Means to Me.

chinese-turkey

1. Family. This year, like many years of late, we get the extra bonus of having my sweet niece (aka daughter, best friend, sister) here with us. Then on top of that,  we get to see some of my cousins and their families in the mountains for a few days after Christmas which is an extra special family treat. We also miss our family who we don’t get to see on Christmas but who we keep near to us, in our hearts.

2. Food.  In particular, a much more expensive slab of meat that I usually buy which traumatizes me because This Bitch Can’t Cook and I don’t want to ruin it.  Plus, lots of other wonderful food like buttery mashed potatoes and pie.

3. Tradition. My family tradition Christmas cookies and the old tin cookie cutters that were my Grandmother’s which I use to make them.  I always think of my mom having the dough ready for me after school to help her press out the cookies when I got home.   I would help her make green and pinkish red buttery frosting and we would carefully frost each one and add multicolor sprinkles.  Every bite brings back those memories tenfold.  I can’t remember a year when she didn’t make them for us or when we didn’t’ make them for her.

4. Meaningful Moments.  A Christmas tree so pretty each year that I can’t stop staring at it  — with multicolored lights and each branch covered in sentimental ornaments.  Nothing about it matches which makes every glance meaningful.

5. Festivities. Fun and new cocktails that my niece makes for us – usually cranberries involved — with a jazzy Christmas song playing in the background.

6.Memories. Sleeping in my sister’s bed on Christmas Eve when I was little (this was a treat as she only let me do this on certain holidays).  I swear I can feel her green checked bedspread at my fingers now and picture and smell the antique furniture that surrounded her bed.  And hear myself asking her if it was time yet to go downstairs.

7. More Memories. My Grandma sitting in our green and white wing back chair with her slippers on in our fancy room watching my sister and I open gifts with an occasional giggle, especially when we opened whatever Madame Alexander doll she had given us that year.  She had a smile and giggle that were perfection.

8. Music.  Especially our Charlie Brown Christmas album that my husband has played every Christmas morning since we’ve been married for the last 21 years.  This, with a hot cup of coffee and crumpling wrapping paper noise — more perfection.

9.  Joy. Exemplified by our dog Tony completely freaking out when he hears us opening gift bags and rattling tissue paper on Christmas morning because he thinks every bag has a new toy or bone for him (this dog has a good memory).  Monkey dog follows suit.

10. A tradition of Counter-Tradition.  Staying in our pajamas well past noon on Christmas. Going to the local Chinese restaurant down the street on Christmas night (we do our big home meal on Christmas eve).  Being the only Christmas- celebrating folk there makes us feel ‘edgy,’ as my niece would call it.  Always reminds me of the Christmas Story movie (You’ll poke your eye out) and the restaurant scene with the singing and the duck (Chinese Turkey) – CLASSIC – you have to click and watch this scene.

What does Christmas mean to you?  

Wishing you and yours the happiest of holidays….

Thinking we were sexy in the blue Berlinetta…

berlinetta

I can see it now.  The baby blue interior of my sister’s beautiful dark blue 1979 Camero Berlinetta as she drove us down the turnpike on one of our pilgrimages to our dad’s house when we were young.  He and my stepmom lived in a nearby town about 45 minutes away, which seemed like a long car ride at the time. We did that road trip so many times I practically had every road sign memorized.  I was around 10 or 11 and she was around 16 or 17 years old.

Let me just say that we ROCKED that 8 track player on our turnpike trips.  I can picture us now, two young brunettes bobbing our heads to the music and singing very loudly while gyrating all over the car while in transit.  (Not super safe but we usually had a hell of a fun ride.)

So when a few of our theme songs from these little sisterly road trips come on the radio I am instantly transported back in time, sitting shotgun in the Berlinetta like my sister’s sidekick who thought everything she did was cooler than cool.  And she was cool.  One of the funniest, smartest and wittiest people I have ever known.

She drove the heck out of that car and it survived much abuse, a flood, even a few wrecks.  I remember the doors were so heavy it almost took two hands to pull them shut. And I’m surprised we didn’t wear that 8 track player out. Man, the stories that car could tell.

The Gap Band You dropped a bomb on me – (click to watch hilarious video – these guys are from Tulsa OK and  band name was based on first letter of the three streets they lived on: Greenwood, Archer and Pine.) .  Don Henley (Dirty Laundry) and the song that most  reminds me of these trips … Rod Stewart … If you think I’m Sexy … and you want my body…. come on suga lemme know….  We would sing out every word along with dear Rod.  I’m sure microphone gestures were involved.

This flashback-inducing song came on the radio as I was flipping through channels on my morning drive today.  (XM radio is my guilty pleasure and I love it so much that sometimes I sit in the car after I arrive just to listen – where else can you find a whole channel just for 70s or Elvis music? Or listen to what the weather is like in southern Asia?  And LOADS of great news channels for news junkies like me.  It’s my own form of crack.)

So as Rod started singing about his sexiness, I drove right back out of my neighborhood and did the long loop home as I blared that music so loudly that I could feel the seats vibrating.  Click to take a quick listen and I bet you smile.

Da'_Ya'_Think_I'm_Sexy_single_cover

The happy tears started running down my face as I smiled and I’m quite certain the crazy lady mascara effect on the way back into the neighborhood frightened a driver or two.

God bless Rod Stewart for his crazy hair, raspy voice and definitely for his sexiness.  And that blue Berlinetta.

What song transports you back in time?

Reprogramming my Brain’s Autodrive — a Holiday (and Life) Survival Technique

Cerebral_lobes

I haven’t written in several days.  I figure it’s because of the general holiday madness that seems to zap every spare moment I have.  But also due to my sporadic funk caused by emotions and memories that come rushing in at me during the holidays, like a rising tide that splashes me when I’m not paying attention, just a little at a time.

Just the other day I was reminded of events that brought back some not-so-great memories and feelings. A piece of mail was all it took to break this particular dam of unsettled emotions.  I found myself reliving hurt and anger over past events from many years ago. Until I caught myself and became aware of what was happening.

I’ve been much more zen (as my niece puts it) and more at ease with everything and everyone this past year, so I’m a little disappointed with myself when I let this happen. My logical self knows better than to replay and get riled up over events that are over and done with.  And move forward. Because, as I always say, life is short …  right?

Fortunately I was able to catch myself and become aware of what I was allowing to happen.  At that point I remembered an interview I heard on the radio in my car just an hour or so before. It was an interview with Deepak Chopra about his new book that he wrote with Rudolph E. Tanzi, an expert on the causes of Alzheimer’s.  It’s called Super Brain, Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness and Spiritual Well Being.   (I just bought it for myself as an early Christmas present to read on my Ipad.)

In the interview Chopra discussed how, in contrast to the “baseline brain” that fulfills the tasks of everyday life, the brain can be taught, through a person’s increased self-awareness and conscious intention, to reach far beyond its present limitations.  He explained how we don’t have to expect to react to situations  in the same ways we always have (the interview was relating this to holiday stressors like family visits).  Because, as he explained, nothing can inevitably make us feel a certain way.  We often decide how to react based on our brain’s “autodrive”  which has been programmed with patterns and expectations.

The book discusses how we can easily reshape and reprogram our brain to better awareness, health and well-being.  How a better mind-body connection, combined with a lifestyle for a healthy brain, can actually diminish effects of aging and memory loss, anxiety and even obesity and more.  Their work debunks several myths about how we understand the brain and aging, explaining how we can actually increase brain cells as we age, rewire our brain to stay young, and prevent memory loss. I still need to read the book, but connecting feelings with memories seems to be a common thread of their discussions.

Chopra explained a particularly memorable technique called STOP to use when faced with any challenge or unwelcome feeling:

S – Stop what you are doing

T- Take a deep breath

O- Observe what is happening in your body

P – Proceed with kindness, joy and love.

And this is what I will continue to try to practice — which is also the basis of what therapists, philosophers and yogis have been trying to teach us for years.  To step back — become more  present and aware — and proceed with the manual setting fully switched to the ‘on’ position.

What feelings have you become more aware of – and in better control of –  over the years?

I’m grateful for these reminders and insights, and the ability to further take charge of my fate. Thanks for reading…

White Christmas Dreams and Santa’s list. Damn that Christmas music. (Grasping for Gratitude)

Christmas tree

I know better.  I really do.  What kind of holiday high was I on to think that turning on old holiday music while I decorated my tree during a Little Red Riding hood visit was a good idea?

Being a bit of a sentimental sap already (especially with old tunes), holiday music has a way of making me miss ‘what was’ more than any other kind of music.  Thoughts of my Mom and sister and I decorating the tree while the Christmas music blared into our fancy room with green carpet and yellow velvet love seats, and all of my Mom’s plants all around the room.

I would get so upset if they started to hang one single ornament or place one strand of silver icicle tinsel garland before I was there with them.  They knew what a younger kid complex I had, so they were very patient with me.  We would get the tree decorated perfectly, just in time for our cat Rascal to knock the whole thing over during the night.

So while my Mom (Little Red Riding Hood) was here today for her Wednesday visit, I thought some holiday music might put a little sparkle back in her eyes while I worked on my Christmas tree so the boys could decorate it later.  Sometimes little things like this can bring her back for a moment. But sometimes reaching for those random lucid moments can be downright exhausting.

I’m really not sure if she even  knew who I was today.  She barely spoke a word and her Alzheimer’s seems to have progressed to a new level. She can’t really dress herself and she seems to have little energy.  I can’t really be sure if she still thinks I even look familiar.  She hasn’t known our names for about two years now.

I kept asking her if the new garland looked okay on the tree and if she liked it.  Not even a smile — which is usually the saving grace of these encounters.  She just looked at me like a was a complete stranger yammering at her and she continued to pick up tree needles from my floor.

As I adjusted my tree ribbon and listened to Bing Crosby drone on about his White Christmas dreams and someone sing about Santa coming to town and checking that list twice, a few tears streamed down my face in slow motion.This isn’t going to get any better and I just hope it doesn’t drag out forever, for everyone’s sake.  And I feel guilty for thinking that.  Nobody gets better with this disease.  They just run out of life.

I tried not to let her see my tears, even though I really don’t think she could notice.   I wished I could have called my sister to complain, whine or speculate about what’s next on this dim horizon.  But I haven’t been able to do that for 13 years. She left me here to figure all this out, even though I know she didn’t mean to.

I know in my heart I have so much to be grateful for.  My health, my family, a roof over my head, my friends…..  But this morning just sucked.

So after a few songs, a few more tears, and a few more blank looks from my Mom who was still collecting dust bunnies and needles from my floor, I grabbed the remote from the table, clicked off that damn music and walked away from the tree.  My throat was tight from my pent up tears and I took a deep breath.

I noticed Mom had something in her hand.  It was a grocery list that my stepdad had written and probably thrown away. She must have had it in her pocket. It was in three pieces and she kept looking at the pieces and refolding them. She’s been a list-maker since I can remember. I grinned because some old habits really do die hard.

Who knew what was going through her head while that music played and I decorated a tall outdoor tree in the center of my living room?  Maybe running her fingers over the little pieces of that list in her hand brought her some kind of comfort that she needed.  If that’s the case, I’m certainly grateful.

Places I remember. Gratitude Experiment: Day 90

Post 90!  Holy Cow!

One of the WordPress prompts this week was to write about lyrics to a song which speaks to you.  This instantly made me think of one of my favorites that I started listening to on my car ‘cassette deck’  back in college.  Yikes, that dates me.

At any rate, the song which speaks to me the most  hands-down is by the Beatles, called “In My Life.”  On my Pinterest board for my funeral (yes, I am dark but practical), I’ve noted that this song would be perfect.  I’ve also posted a poem and my favorite flower arrangements.  Again, dark, but practical.

Here are the first two verses of this song which transports to ‘places  I remember’ every time I hear it:

All My Life by the Beatles

(Intro… great little acoustic guitar segment) 

There are places I remember
All my life …though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone …and some remain

All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends …I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life …I’ve loved them all.

There is something about the twang of the acoustic melody in this song that just makes me smile while good memories pour into my mind.

Today I’m grateful that I got to write about my favorite song.  And that I had a better day.  Just as busy and just as lacking in exercise, but a somewhat more fruitful day (despite yet another trip to the DMV only to realize I was still lacking one more document for a title transfer).

The best part was that it was a day of advocating for my son, which so far is proving to have been well worth it.  (I think I want to write an e-book about the importance of advocating for your children.   This and 30 other topics.  More on that later.)

I’m also grateful that I’ve come to the realization that when you are starting an exercise ritual with Cold Turkey as your starting place, three-times a week exercise is a much less self-sabotaging starting goal.  (So if you are on this challenge journey with me, the goal is now three times per week.)

Question for you: What song’s lyrics really speak to you?

Weekly Photo Challenge: Mine. Gratitude Experiment: Day 52

The theme of last week’s WordPress weekly photo challenge was Mine — where you post a picture of something that is uniquely yours.

I’m a day late, but I selected this old GE photo cube that I got from my grandmother’s house after she passed away.  When I was little I was fascinated by this cube that she always had out.  It has photos on each side and a speaker on the top, with an AM/FM radio that doesn’t work anymore.  I thought the radio part was so very cool and I loved to play with it (hmmm…possibly why it doesn’t work anymore).  This was back in the days before Shutterfly and all of the sites that let you make photo gifts.  It was far ahead of its time.

The cube has a picture of a house I lived in during my early years one side, a photo of my grandmother, her sister and two of her friends on another side, a photo of me when I was probably four years old with my cat Rascal on one side, and my favorite side has a photo of my Dad carving a pumpkin with my sister and I.

This photo cube reminds me of my grandmother in all of her leopard print and gold lamay glory.  She made flashy work like no one else could ever pull off because she had a larger-than-life attitude that influenced her every moment. She could play the piano more beautifully than I’ve ever heard anyone play.  And she had a whistle that was so magnificent and strong I can hear it now.  My dad got her whistle and I love to hear it.  She was also a complete bridge-playing bad-ass and could remember numbers like nobody’s business.  I wish I had asked her to teach me bridge.

She also had a beautiful voice unlike any other. I loved the way she said my name and the way she talked. She called my Gypsy during the summers of my college years when I changed residences often.  She loved it when her Gypsy would pull up in her driveway to say hello.  She’d always offer me “Cokie Cola” and cookies and we would sit at her ice cream table and visit while the koo koo clock on her kitchen wall tick-tocked loudly behind us.  Then at certain intervals her antique clocks in the living room would chime in a series, making their own little familiar symphony.  I can hear those chimes and smell her house now.  The aroma of little scented soaps filled the house because it seemed like she had them everywhere in sweet little china dishes.

The picture of my dad and sister and I all together is my favorite side of the cube because it has us all together in it, which I love the thought of.  Also because I love carving pumpkins and Halloween is my favorite holiday.  And as you know, I have a special relationship with pumpkins as mentioned in a previous post (https://lifeonwry.com/2012/10/04/watch-out-for-flying-pumpkins-gratitude-experiment-day-50/).  And the yellow appliances, our outfits, our haircuts and the looks on all of our faces remind me of the innocence of my youth.

This photo cube is uniquely mine and I cherish it.  It sits not far from my computer where I write this blog each day, on a shelf with other things uniquely mine and sentimental.  For all this, I am grateful.  Thanks for reading!