Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Father, Son & Holy Ghost…

I’m 56 now and have been for the past four months.  Seems like it was just the other day that I turned 55 and crossed the threshold into Senior Citizen Discounts and free coffee at McDonald’s.  These past couple of years I’ve noticed my memory slipping here and there and I will pause when it happens and remind myself that it’s not Alzheimer’s if I can’t find my keys – it’s when I don’t know what the keys do that I really have to worry.  That will appease me for a few moments and then I’ll go back to being pissed off because I still can’t find my damn car keys.

And it’s not only the car keys I struggle with.  Yes, over the past few years I’ve found the butter hidden discretely in the freezer, the aluminum foil tucked neatly in the vegetable bin, and the dog food in the bird food tote.  I call breakfast dinner and dinner lunch and I can’t seem to say the day of the week out loud without it sounding like a word mashup game.  The red hairs that once graced my head are too tired to keep producing color; now they just come in white and say the hell with it.  I don’t blame them.  I tried to walk around the block last week and almost had to take a nap half way around.

But I digress…

Wait, what was I talking about?

Oh yeah, my memory loss.

But just when I think things are starting to get out of control and perhaps I should go talk to a doctor about the fact that I couldn’t remember where I parked my car at the mall last week after two hours of hapless shopping, I hear a song come on the radio from 35 years ago and, before I know it, I am singing my heart out – every word easily rolling off the tip of my tongue and every note perfectly remembered.  Yes, I might not recall whether I wore my black pants to work yet this week but let me here Don McClean singing “American Pie” and not only can I recite every syllable to perfection but I can name the bar I danced on with my three best friends while that song played on the jukebox and I can even tell you who had to drive us home that same night because none of us were fit to be on the road.

God, I miss those days…

But, if I had to choose (and, apparently, I do) then I’ll take being able to remember all those wonderful, fun, laugh-out-loud moments of my youth – along with 40 years of music, concerts and wanting my MTV over whether or not I can find the butter when I need it.  The Father, Son & Holy Ghost might have caught the last train for the coast but I’m still here in the house I grew up in, rocking it out on a Wednesday night.  At least for a little while longer.  Got to get to bed by 9 or there will be hell to pay in the morning!

Advertisements

The Long Goodbye

Four months after my mother’s passing, we finally held her memorial service.

Yesterday was a very long and hard day but we all made it through to the end. It had some highs such as seeing the friends of my parents from when I had been a child – many of whom I haven’t seen in a good 30 years but I still knew them when I saw them. The funniest thing to me was how I was now taller than all of them – even the ones I remembered as being such tall men and women.  (I guess I grew a few inches and they shrank a few?)  The day also had some lows such as hearing my father eulogize my mother’s life, his voice shaky and cracking at times.  I found if I looked down at my purse instead of directly at my dad I could listen to his words instead of his heart and that helped me make it through without totally falling apart.

My father will soon be traveling to David, California to have yet another service for my mom where the friends who knew her for the past 30 years can say their goodbyes. I am glad I cannot make that trip; it was hard enough to hear him eulogize my mom the first time around.

The bonus to my weekend was that I got to see my nephew – so much like my brother, Johnny, that it was like getting to spend time with him again. He has my brother’s mannerisms and most of his personality, although he is his own distinct and wonderful person.  My heart lifted and lit up from the inside every time I saw his face.  It went a long way to easing the grief over my mom and brother.

Thank you to all of you for the strength and prayers yesterday. Several of us went down to the Kauffman Garden after the service and spent an hour walking among the flowers – my mom loved it there. Hundreds of tulips were open and dancing in the breeze and it left us all feeling renewed.

Last night we celebrated her life at 54th Street Grill and Bar – something that has become a new family tradition. I thank those who contributed to the gift certificate that helped pay for our meal – it was a beautiful and thoughtful thing to do.  Our friends and family took up most of their tables but we did our best to run up a decent tab to make up for it.

Today, we woke early to have breakfast together before putting my Uncle back on a plane and sending my sister back to St. Louis.  My nephew and sister-in-law took off very early to drive back to their home in Houston as well.  I came home and went back to bed, will do a little laundry this afternoon, and then plan to take it easy the rest of the day. Monday, I will put my best foot forward and “keep on keepin’ on” – just as my mom did every day of her life.

If there is one thing I have learned from all these years of photographing nature, it is that no matter what (or who) dies away, evidence of their being here on earth is always present in the new life that continues to flourish. I will do my best to represent my mother’s life on this world in the days, weeks, and years to come.

We will remember her often and miss her deeply.

Mom_08-1224_0883

Kansas City’s Own Garden of Eden

I first found the garden in the fall of 2012.  I had been photographing the same old places for five years and was looking to add some new destinations that were close to home to my rotation of places to photograph.  I happened to come across a write up about the garden online one day and decided to go looking for it that next weekend.

Garden Path_12-1019_7993-3s

Many of the people I know who have lived in Kansas City most (or all) of their lives don’t even know it exists. When I mention that it is only two blocks south of the Nelson-Atkins Museum and directly across from the Kauffman Conference Center they look at me with a puzzled expression.  “It’s on Rockhill Road, you say?  Between the Nelson and UMKC?  But I’ve driven by there a hundred times and I’ve never seen a garden there.”

Garden_15-0411_4918 copy

If you were in a hurry, you could probably walk through the entire place in 10 minutes – but I’ve never managed to get out of the garden in under three hours.  Everywhere you turn, there’s something new growing for you to look at, study (and photograph).  It’s not nearly as large as it’s counterpart, Powell Gardens, but then it’s not a 45 minute drive to get there, either.  I can be out of my home in the Northland area and be pulling into the garden’s driveway in 15 minutes.

Garden_15-0411_4844

And, although I love walking through the garden at any time of year, spring is THE time to visit.  Between the thousands of tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and pansies stand two rows of flowering Crabapple trees that will literally take your breath away when you first see/smell them.  It is an intoxicating place to sit and just “be” for a while.

Garden_15-0411_4828

Once you’ve seen the garden in the spring, you’ll be back to see what the other seasons hold as well – everything from lilacs, hydrangeas, roses, clematis, magnolias, flowering quince and dahlias…it is an endless parade of what grows well in Kansas City.

Hydrangea_16-0402_0104

And every time I make the trip there I walk out feeling renewed, refreshed and at peace.  To some, it is just a garden, but to me – it’s become a sanctuary.

Dancer Statue_15-0411_4850

When life deals the hard blows or work becomes overwhelming, I know its time to pull out the camera bag and head south to the Kauffman Garden on an early Saturday morning.

Tabby Cat_12-0519_9423s

If I get there early enough, I’ll have the whole place to myself (well, except for the feline protector of the garden – she’s always there to greet me when I come.)

Daffodils_15-0411_4779a

If you live in the greater Kansas City area, stop in for a peek sometime.  There’s never a bad time to be there. If you go in the next week or so you’ll get the added bonus of seeing the Crabapple trees in bloom beneath the clear blue Kansas City sky.

Crabapple Tree_16-0402_0031

(Now don’t you feel better already?)

The Ewing and Muriel Kauffman Memorial Garden is located at 4800 Rockhill Road, Kansas City, MO 64110 and is open every morning at 8 am year round.  Although professional photo sessions are no longer allowed, you are always welcome to photograph the beauty of the garden.

Garden_15-0411_4826

Whether you take your camera or not, you’re sure to walk away with a special place in your heart for this wonderful attraction that lies in the heart of Kansas City.

 

The Tipping Point

We are right in the middle of a soft, spring rain.  There’s no thunder, no lightning; only a soft sprinkling of water drops pinging off the still-bare branches and the glass windows of my home.  It’s been raining since late last night and the ground is now dark and moist, giving way to the push of the heel as my shoes try to gingerly walk atop it.  I hurry the dogs to take care of their business, worried that my hair will turn to frizz if they take too long.

Despite the gentle rain, the birds are flocking to the feeders this morning.  (Apparently, there’s no sleeping in when free food is at hand.)  Tonight we will set our clocks ahead an hour for Daylight Savings Time even though nobody can ever remember why it is we still do this.  It’s so silly, really, that it should take an act of congress to end this ridiculous tradition.  The birds have never reset their clocks and they seem to be getting along just fine.

The first of the blossoming trees began to show their stuff this week.  I noticed a Saucer Magnolia tree and an overgrown Pussy Willow bush both making their initial push to explode in the prolonged and deepening sunshine this week.  Temperatures rose into the 60’s and 70’s and stayed there; a sure sign that everything on this portion of our planet will be awakening to spring’s call for an incredible floor show and the participants will be all too happy to show us what they’ve got.  The Forsythia and Quince bushes, Bradford Pear and Flowering Crabapple trees, daffodils and crocuses will get things rolling.  Then the lilac bushes, Dogwood trees, and tulips will crowd them out, taking first place in the second act of spring.  In my mind, I imagine heaven being spring and autumn all at once: everything in bloom, everything showing its best and brightest colors, every day starting and finishing at the perfect temperature.  And then, as we lay our heads down to rest, it will rain exactly like it’s raining this morning – gently, leisurely, without force or fear.

It won’t be long and the grass will need to be mowed, the garden soil turned, the lawn furniture returned to the shady side of the deck.  There are many afternoons ahead where I will sit outside, cold drink in hand, spying on my avian friends as they come down from the surrounding trees for a nut-based treat.

We all make choices in life; these choices are mine: to breath in every moment, to see it for what it is, to experience it and remember it and let it soak into who I am.  Spring’s tipping point happened last night while I was sleeping and today I wait for the rain to stop and the show to begin.

House Finch (M)_15-0412_5122.jpg

Some For All

Daffodil_09-0409_7378_10x7

I gathered this spring’s first batch of daffodils yesterday. Five little blossoms – one open, four still cocooned away inside their protective covering – all living beneath my bedroom window on the south side of my house. This group is always the first to emerge each year as they are in a prime position to soak in the late afternoon sun, yet stay protected from the worst of the seasonal winds. In other words, they got it good.

The other group – the ones that run along the fence on the east side of the front yard – they’ll be along in another week or two, flashing their sunshine smiles at the passing cars as they bask and bathe in the morning sun. This patch that runs the length of my 40’ side fence will be seen by many; whereas the first batch of five will be seen and enjoyed only by me.

In our society we often equate “more” with “better”. The more you own, the more you’re worth. The more you sell, the more you have. It’s created a society that honors “more for one” over “some for all”.

My whole life I’ve been a “sharer”. If I get, I give. If I receive, I pass it on. I keep a portion for myself and then find a way to bless someone else with what I’ve been given. I do it with flowers, with money, with food, with my photographs – I basically do it with everything. It is an inherent part of my genetic makeup that I was reminded of when I took an autumn leaf into my mother while she was in the hospital this past fall. I handed her a beautiful oak leaf and she looked at my dad and said, “Look, Jack…she’s still bringing us leaves.” She then recounted how I couldn’t be outside for long as a child without running up to hand her a flower, a leaf, a rock, or a caterpillar. I delighted in the outdoors as a child and I wanted everyone to see – and share – in the items I delighted in.

So it’s no wonder that when I picked up a camera ten years ago that I would eventually decide to photograph nature and then give away my prints for free. You like this one? Please, take it. Have it framed. Smile when you walk by it every day. It brings me joy to bring you joy.

Daffodil_09-0318_5590

“More for one” is a fine concept – it rewards the doers of the world for doing what they do – and that’s all well and good. I’m glad to have that tiny bouquet of daffodils sitting on my kitchen counter this morning, staring back at me as I prepare a pan of lasagna to take over to my father later today. Those five blossoms will bring me great joy as I reflect on the coming spring this morning. But it’s the 40 feet of daffodils that are still a week or two away that will really light my heart up because I’ll know that every car that passes by, every person that walks my street, every mother that pushes her newborn in a stroller – they will all pause and think “Isn’t that a joy to see!”

Some people delight in the richness that comes from money. I choose, instead, to delight in the richness that comes from passing on a little joy to others. At 56, it seems a little too late to change that now…but what about you?

The Funniest Moments List

A couple of years ago I had a really bad day – REALLY BAD.  Nothing like a car wreck or a death in the family – but one of those days where I didn’t get enough sleep the night before, then the car was basically out of gas when I went to leave, I made silly mistakes all day at work, and on and on and on.  By the middle of the day I was sitting in my cubicle surrounded by all my male counterparts, trying desperately not to bust out in tears and trying to convince myself that things would turn around by the end of the day.  I went to lunch, came back and hunkered down on a project, and that’s when the day really went to hell.  By the time I was heading home, I wanted nothing more than to go straight to bed and never come out again.  And then I had an idea…

I sat down at my home computer and I began writing down all the funny things that had happened to me over the years – things that involved me, my siblings, and my friends.  As long as the memory made me laugh, it got paraphrased onto my Word doc.  I called my friend, Maureen, a day or two later and was telling her about the list and how it had cheered me up and she began to ask, “Did you put down the time we…?”  and I realized I had only scratched the surface of my “Funniest Moments” list.  One memory led to another memory which led to another memory, and soon I had a list of over 100 of the most laughable moments of my life down on paper.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked at that list over the last couple of years.  It continues to grow as memories surface (or new memories are, um, “created”).  It was during the end of my grieving for my brother that I decided it would help to start a blog and write all of those memories down so others could share in the laughter, but that’s also about the time my mother became terminally ill and then died, so the blog started out with a little different “flavor” to it.  Short / Cuts was meant to be a repository of laughable moments from my life but then I realized every moment is worth remembering, no matter how high the highs or how low the lows.

Anyway, today I am going to take a look back for the very first time at the funnier moments in my life – things that made me spit Diet Coke out my nose or turn my cheeks shades of red – or both.  And I’ve decided to start with a short story from my first trip to The Grand Bahahas and the very first time I was ever in an ocean.

I had won a 4 Day/ 3 Night trip to the Bahamas through a contest at work and elected to take my best friend with me.  Maureen had grown up in New Jersey so she had been in ocean water before (although I highly doubt it was as crystal clear as what they have down in the Bahamas.)  I, however, had never experienced setting foot in anything other than a big lake.  This was going to be a first for me and, although, I was very excited about it, I was also a bit frightened.

As we began to take our first steps into the ocean Maureen pointed out to me that the water would pull us forward and then kind of sweep us back – that it was the pull of the current and not to fight against it but just go with it.  So I stepped into the pristine water and took a few steps out.  I had water up to my waist when I decided to go ahead and swim on in.  The water was the perfect temperature and it was an amazing experience.  Even if you accidentally got a mouthful of water it tasted like salt water you might use to gargle with instead of the lake water I ingested way too many times as a young water skier at the Lake of the Ozarks.

I wasn’t very far out but the bottom of the ocean floor was several feet below me.  I looked down and saw something move in the sand and I hollered over to Maureen.  “Any idea what that thing is that’s moving down there?”  She took a look and replied, “Oh, I don’t think it’s anything to worry about.”  So we – and several other hundred people – kept on swimming.  I couldn’t quite get my mind off the object that had drawn my attention, though and I kept peering at it to see if I could make it out better.  It was right at the edge of where the ocean dropped off so the water was a deep blue and the sun was bouncing around on the surface of the water, making it hard to figure out exactly what it was.  But, at some point, we both decided it had to be a sea creature of some sizable girth that probably had razor-sharp teeth that would saw us in half if given the chance and we broke out in a desperate attempt to get out of the water post-haste.

Of course the closer I got to the water’s edge (and safety), the more the tide kept pulling me back out.  I was desperate at this point, sure I was about to be swallowed whole by JAWS, flailing around in the water and expending way too much energy trying to take a single step in the right direction.  Finally – FINALLY – I made it up onto the shore again and I turned to see if the monster I had viewed had swallowed my best friend in one big chomp when I saw her standing right where the offending creature had been spying on us, laughing her ass off.

“It’s a rock!” she hollered up towards me.

Apparently the sun moving on the surface of the water had made it appear to be a moving object and I, the rookie of the oceanfront, couldn’t figure that out, so I convinced myself that I was about to be dinner for some sea creature that preferred white meat.

“It’s only a rock!” she recounted, laughing as she calmly waded into shore through the current’s pull.  She walked out of the water like an old pro while I lay on the beach looking like a piece of sea kelp that had washed up on shore to die.

Over the next three days I spent plenty of time in the water between the hours of laying on the beach with a Bahama Mama drink in my hands and coconut butter on my skin, but I never again called attention to the questionable sea life floating around beneath me, ready to devour me in a single bite.  I decided it was better to be the latest casualty on the 6 o’clock news than to make that embarassing mistake again.

 

To Grieve or Not to Grieve

My parents would go to our local Barnes and Noble book store almost every Thursday to pick out a new book to read and then they’d go have lunch together.  It was no surprise to me to find a good hundred plus books all tucked away in the nooks and crannies of her sewing room after she died.  I came upon a stack of Anne Lamott books there and, having read “Traveling Mercies” years ago, I snagged the other Lamott books and threw them in my quickly-growing “take-home” pile of knick-knacks, quilts, and jewelry.

It’s been five weeks since mom passed –and four days after that was my birthday – one that I decided against celebrating.  Instead, I spent most of the day doing what Oprah used to refer to as “the ugly cry.”  Basically, this is when you can’t hold back your emotions no matter how hard you try.  Tears spontaneously bursts out of you while your face contorts and twists in unimaginably ugly ways, all the while your breath hitches and sputters like a backfiring old pickup truck.

In other words, I totally lost my shit that day.

But then the oddest thing happened.  After that day passed, I felt a huge load lift off me.  All the months of seeing mom deteriorate one day at a time right down to the last moments of her life – the stress surrounding all of that vaporized.  With them went the tension that was tightly woven into my being my mother’s daughter – that pull of never living up to her expectations or her dreams for what my life would be like.  I was supposed to be feeling overwhelming grief but, instead, I was feeling deep and abiding peace.

The more the peace settled in around me the more I began to wonder about it – was this denial (for which I’d pay dearly down the road)?  Was it my mind giving me a break after a solid year of grieving the loss of my brother?  Or, was this something else entirely?  Guilt began to push its way in – taunting me with its patronizing backlashes.  I wondered: should I feel this good this close to my mother’s death?  Am I the worst daughter ever?  What would people think if they knew I wasn’t devastated by all we’d just been through with her?  Something inside told me to keep going and to enjoy the peace while it lasted – and so I did.

I returned to work the following week and began reading “Grace, Eventually” during my lunch breaks.  I immediately remembered why I love Anne’s writing style so much: she’s truthful about the life she’s led (warts and all) and she uses the occasional word that even I have to go look up.  (I love an author that increases my vocabulary!)  Most of all, though, she writes in short snippets that I can easily digest but her words stay with me.  I think about what she writes long after I read it – and that’s my gauge for a good read.

I was most of the way through the book this week when I came upon a chapter titled, “Mom, Interrupted” and one paragraph into it I realized that this is one of those God moments where the entire universe lines up so you can know in your heart and mind that this whole “God thing” is not some giant fairy tale that is meant to appease those of us who find life too difficult to live at times.

Anne writes, “For a long time after her death I didn’t feel much of anything – except relief…”  She goes on to write, “I felt much more spaciousness in my life after my mother died, partly because my phone did not ring every several seconds….”  She goes on describing her mother – how she was a handful and how she was both imperious and had no self-esteem at the same time.  Her mother was “controlling, judgmental, withholding, needy, and desperate to be loved.”

Ditto.

A few pages later she writes, “It wasn’t until her death that my mother stopped exhausting me…Now, here it is three years later, and I am beginning to miss her.”

And there was my answer: the guilt about not feeling deep and ongoing grief over her death got up and skulked out of the room, and that peace I’d been experiencing in my heart slammed the door shut behind it. I was not the world’s worst daughter after all.  Anne Lamott said so. 

I threw the book in my lunch bag that evening and was driving home when it suddenly dawned on me that it was my mother who had purchased that book.  She bought that book and left it on the shelf in her sewing room where it would be easily seen.  Then I, being the only one of her three remaining children interested in such things, picked it up and threw it in my sack of stuff to bring home, and then I read it.

In other words, because of something my mother did before her death, I was comforted by her one last time after her death.  Just thinking about that makes my face contort, my breath catch, and the tears start to flow.

Here I go again…

 

The Final Score

 

After a surprising three weeks of experiencing hardly any grief, I woke in the middle of the night and felt a sudden sadness overtake me. I cried softly for a short time and then turned to look up at the alarm clock overhead. It was a few minutes past midnight – officially making it a month since the day my mother died. “Ah…that’s why the middle-of-the-night crying jag blues,” I thought to myself.

I got out of bed, wiped my eyes, and drug my weary body down the hall. I stumbled into the kitchen, turned on my phone, clicked on the gallery, and there she was, in her final days on earth, a photo of her taken right before we moved her to hospice. I don’t know why I didn’t remember I had taken it until that very moment.

Suddenly, all the questions I had been wrestling with for the past month were put to rest. Looking at her in that photograph I knew we had done the right thing. The woman I saw in that image – that was no longer my mother. Her eyes were drawn up into tight little slits, almost as if her body knew her eyes were preparing to close for the very last time. Her face was ashen in color, and her cheeks slack jawed and deflated from having gone so long without food. I let my fingers trace her outline, turned off my phone, and said goodnight to the ghost of a woman hanging out in my memory.

LW_Tree-Roots_13-0111_3099-3.jpg

I’ve lived long enough now to have more than a few deaths in my past. I’ve been down this road of grief enough times that it almost feels like a familiar trail I have walked on a cold and overcast day. The first time you experience loss and grief it can be so totally overwhelming. You wonder if you will ever feel like “you” again. The answer, of course, is no…you won’t. But, with time, you will feel a new sense of normal and you’ll find yourself petting your dog one day and you won’t see the faces of the dogs you loved before it looking back at you with those big, brown eyes. It is possible to move on – to live your life without those that mean the most to you. If death is the worst thing you ever experience in this lifetime then moving on after it happens is, perhaps, the biggest miracle.

Having lost both my mother and my brother in the past 15 months, I am beginning to understand death in a way I never did before. Having back-to-back losses really sucks you down into the muck but it also leaves you with clarity about life you couldn’t get any other way. I was telling my friend last week that I was surprised how I seem to remember only the best and the worst of the people I’ve lost; all the middle ground gets diffused into a mental fog that never clears. Occasionally a normal, everyday “nothing special” moment will float up to the forefront of my mind but, for the most part, it’s really the highs and lows that stand out. It reminds me of the refining fire they talk about in the Bible. Everything that meant nothing gets burned away and all that’s left is the most important part: what you did for others that came from a place of love and what you did to others that came out of a need to hate.

It’s a solemn thought, really: that I’ll be gone and those left behind will be tallying up those two columns, trying to decide if having known me was an asset or a hindrance to their lives. If that doesn’t make you take stock in who you are, I don’t really know what will.

Tally

 

Blue Skies

Penguins Rainbow_10-0616_9267

Our city got a short reprieve from winter this weekend.  The winds shifted to the south and for three lovely days we had spring-like weather instead of the bone chilling cold we normally experience in late January.  It did a lot to lift my spirits and bring me out of the grief-funk of the past two weeks.

Despite the better weather and my elevated mood, my mind has been cycling through the last weeks of my mother’s life.  Did we do enough or give up too soon?  Was there something we missed that should have been seen?  Was there malpractice by one or more of the doctors?

And even though these thoughts keep creeping into my conscious mind, I know in my heart that it was her time to go.  All the would have/could have/should have’s don’t make a bit of difference in retrospect.  It’s over.  It’s done.  It’s time to move on.

So I shall swing my legs out of bed tomorrow morning, fully aware that the winds are predicted to swing back around and cover us in a blanket of winter weather again.  The blue skies will turn back to a sad, flat gray, the temperature will plummet back to the southern end of the thermometer and I…

I will cling to the memories of a winter weekend full of blue skies, warm breezes, and my mother’s smile.