Saturday, May 30, 2009

Chillin with Niko

Here's Niko this morning, in his rockin guitar outfit.

Here's Niko and me. Yeah, we're at a bar. He was mesmerized by my drink. Kim thought this was hilarious.

I held out the camera out and snapped this one - what a silly face!

I'll miss his funny face and fuzzy head :(

Friday, May 29, 2009

Visiting with Niko

I am in San Francisco! It's as cold as Boston! It's been wonderful hanging out with Kim and Natalie, and of course holding and playing with my nephew. He looks like an old-man alien, but in the cutest way ever. In case you need proof:

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

April Showers, dementia style

Today is cold (45 degrees) and rainy. All my meetings got cancelled so I went off to a nursing home to see patients, all with dementia. I was still sullen over my ego-bruise of a disaster presentation yesterday, and generally in low spirits with the crappy weather. (My moods are so dependent on weather that it's probably medication-worthy.)

I got to the unit and it was lunchtime so I spent an hour feeding an old lady who didn't talk but had piercing blue eyes and a lovely smile. A worker came up, looked in the day room, and said to someone 'I hate this floor'. To an outsider I suppose dementia units are sad, scary places. Looked at one way it's a bunch of senseless babble that you hear, at best. Many times there's screams, groans, weird noises, repetitive banging of hands...lots of mess and body fluids. On very rare occasions this is what I see -loss.

But most days, I have an experience like today. I am feeding a lady who I learn through no words loves peaches. She looks deeply at me in a way only a baby would, and there's no choice but to be present. The rain is pouring down and the staff look jaded and frustrated. Except as soon as I think that one of them comes in dancing and singing and complimenting the ladies. There are a lot of sounds, including Lawrence Welk, alarms going off everytime someone tries to stand, and a lady calling someone a 'bloody fool' for taking away her bib. Through the noise a lady sings. An old, warbly, slow, strong voice. She's singing April Showers. Here are the verses she sang:

Though April showers may come your way
They bring the flowers that bloom in May
So if it's raining, have no regrets
Because it isn't raining rain, you know
It's raining violets.

And where you see clouds upon the hills
You soon will see crowds of daffodils
So keep on looking for a blue bird
And list'ning for his song
Whenever April showers come along

This lady sang through the noise for one hour, without stopping. This beautiful song of hope as she looked out of the rainy window. Before I left I walked over to her, looked her in the eyes and told her thank you for her song. She grabbed my hand and smiled and said you're welcome. Then she told me how her friends used to work on another floor but now they stay up here. Perhaps she could get me work. You look like you are having a good time with your friends, I said. I walked away a few steps and she leaned towards the ladies, shaking her head, saying "That poor young girl, without a mother or a father in life."

The next lady I saw in her room. I looked through an old album with her... her as a baby in 1922. All the old black and white faded photos of her childhood. Her wedding portrait. A close up of her young face, so beautiful it brought tears to my eyes - she looked sort of like Judy Garland, but prettier. Sheer happiness on her face, as she looked at her new husband. I asked how old she was when she married, not expecting her to remember. Oh, 18 or 19 I suppose, that's when every girl gets married, she said. Tucked in the album was a note from 1986. Her granddaughter had asked if her grandfather would get better after his stroke. She had said I don't know. The granddaughter's response - a bible verse about the power of faith to heal- was in there, in her hand, along with the story. There was also a beautiful poem by her father dedicated to her. At the end he wrote humbly 'my one shot at poetry'. It is such an honor to be with these people and witness their memories and lives.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

hello, my name is....

Ouch! The biting sting of embarrassment. I did a presentation at work today, and didn't prepare all that much. I do so many presentations that I'm fairly comfortable with it. It was simply about my role and what I do, so I thought I could speak about this articulately, indefinitely. I was shockingly wrong about that today. After a painful bout of stammering, spacing out, and apologetically cringing..I am home feeling badly about myself :( I suppose in the long run it is a little thing, but I like to be professional and respected and that didn't happen today.

Sigh... On a positive note, I'm off to California on Thursday!! I can't wait to see Kim and meet Niko. I heard him over the phone today - he had just woken up and seemed cranky. He and I already have something in common. Yesterday I woke up late, after going to bed late, and got stuck in my dreams. I felt like I was emerging from a coma as Gabe ran out of patience and wanted me to get up and play with him outside in the beautiful day. His idea of waking me up is usually sweet - a kiss, an I love you, a back massage, a favorite song playing. But yesterday he thought it was a good idea to wake me up by tickling me and holding me upside down. I was not at all amused by this, and threw a holy, whiny fit. It was a painful waking-up. But I got up and we went hiking since it was 80, sunny and low humidity - perfect! It was exciting and I ignored the tickle in my throat as we walked on the path. Five minutes in I was doubled over hacking, with watery eyes and a dripping nose. Ugh, allergies. We headed right out again. At least my eye didn't swell up this time!

I've had a poem bookmarked for a while now. But I've been feeling generally sunny, per the weather, and solid, per my frequent gym visits. Tonight was chilly, and I felt disappointed in myself, which attacked the wholeness. Now this poem is appropriate...

One Afternoon
by Joanie V. Mackowski

A woman stepped outside, crumbled
into a loose particulate, and, as the breeze
blew up from the east, she scattered: her handful
of heart, volcanic ash, spiraled the highway,
and five of her teeth slipped between
her neighbor's breasts; her neighbor
unbuttoned her blouse to scratch
at her suddenly red and luminous skin.
Days passed. Each day the sun distractedly
drifted from chair to chair; each night the stars,
old scatterbrains, they commiserated.
It didn't rain. Strange, the granular woman
thought to herself: although I encompass
so much, I accomplish so little.
Her car sparkled with her hair and bones;
her garden thrived. She tried to think:
why did this happen? what had I eaten?
why was I bothered?—those old hours,
spotted and exotic lizards, darted
the gravel, flicking through their colors
of skin as one flicks channels on a tv.
She couldn't catch a one. Then, as a flock
of sparrows converging for the skull
of an oak, all her twittering dust,
her brain, bone, and the dangerous shreds
of her fingers clawed for the sky;
what an interesting cloud someone said.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


I am willing to bet that the Boston metro area has the highest concentration of non-working fireplaces in all of America. We have two. Here is the mantle above the one in our bedroom:

I like it. There are white, moon-like petals in a long blue vase. Two blue and white china-like candlesticks I found a long time ago in an antique store - I can't find candles to fit. The lady throwing her arms wide with birds on them... one of our lovely hospice chaplains got me that for my birthday. There is a reed diffuser, which I got at our work Yankee Swap this past Christmas. Tealight, angel, tealight. The angel I got at an antique store many years ago. I thought it was so special, but didn't think I should spend the money on something so blatantly unnecessary. Someone I was with told me to value the specialness, and now look - she presides over the mantle and makes sure all is well in the home. Next is a picture I took of an angel in Mt. Auburn Cemetery. I LOVE this cemetery. When my mom visited Boston I took her there, and she said she was relieved she saw it because she then realized it IS beautiful and no, her daughter is not a morbid, crazy lady. If I ever leave Boston, that's one place I'd go back to on a weekend summer trip to visit. The heart is a little painting I made for Gabe. The pelican. Gabe and I went to Florida two years ago to visit his grandparents, because his grandfather wasn't doing well. I remember a few things vividly. Gabe's grandpa, lying in bed in the nursing home with a fractured hip, in pain and out of it. He wasn't responsive at first when Gabe knelt down and told him he was there. But eventually he looked over and made eye contact. The first thing Gabe did was say 'I want you to meet Alysa'. I'm so happy I got to meet him, since he died soon after. Another thing I remember is cooking dinner for his grandma, and how she looked at me astounded when I didn't finish all the shrimp on my plate. She had a wonderful smile. This was the first and last time I would meet her, too. The other thing I remember is the pelicans above the ocean. When we came back from the trip I was at a home goods or other silly store and came across this pelican, and got it as a remembrance of the trip and his grandparents. The painting above the mantle I made for Gabriel. In the very, very early weeks of our emerging relationship I asked him if he wanted to go with me to Martha's Vineyard for a weekend - mom and Dave were there with some other couples. To my surprise he said yes. It was on a farm (sheep! goats! no streetlights!) and to relish the whole experience I wanted to sleep outside. There was a hammock strung between two trees and we laid there watching uncountable numbers of stars. I drifted in and out of sleep and remember the whole experience was so dream-like. The ruralness, the oddness of the hammock, and the unbelievable reality that Gabe, the hidden crush of mine - my ROOMMATE - was sleeping beside me. It was so surreal. So this painting commemorates that time, the beginning.

These are the things that keep me company. Good-night...

Sunday, May 17, 2009

check out my guns

I started going to the gym in the beginning of March. This exercise thing works! My cardio skills are much better, and I've gone up 10-40 lbs. on all the weight machines. I can do 5x more push-ups than when I began. I've also got my flexibility back. My resting heart rate is down. My belly is getting flatter and I'm at an ideal weight. And to top it all off, I did NOT get the 2 for 1 Breyer's ice cream today at the store.

I asked Gabe to take a pic of my guns and here you go. It's a really terrible picture, but it's a Sun. night and I'm in my pajamas. I looked at the picture and told Gabe, "It doesn't make my arms look very big." He says it's because they're not. Oh well.

You can also tell from the picture that I haven't gotten my hair cut in who knows how long. I'm trying to grow it out for the wedding, but it's a shaggy mess. I always wear it up.

I had a dream about a wedding last night. I was in the wedding party but I was confused about whose wedding it was, and what I was supposed to be doing. I had to make my hair presentable but there was no mirror. I ran into Kris Allen from American Idol and told him about this time I really wanted to move to Arkansas (I did at one point, in real life). It came time to go to the ballroom and I didn't know about the procession. When I walked in it was the reception, not the wedding. And the wedding party was literally skipping around with bowls of candy, giving them to each table. Bizarre.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

another north end afternoon

Gabe and I left the house today with no real agenda except to get an oil change in my car. We went two blocks, pulled into the gas station, and saw a car probably in line. I promptly left. I'm that impatient sometimes, especially when it is to avoid something inevitably boring. We went to Revere Beach instead, and strolled along the water. Get that idyllic beach scene out of your head! This is Boston. It was cold and oddly foggy. Stephen King-short story type of atmosphere. Huge seagulls were picking through the washed up debris. We saw two little vodka bottles and a family flying a kite.

Then we ended up in East Boston - not sure if we got lost or it was a decision. We never go here but we stumbled upon some solar-powered building Gabe knew about. There was a beautiful view of Boston's waterfront. We got back in the car, meandered through some streets, and suddenly our car was in front of a toll booth that led to a tunnel that led to downtown Boston. We found parking and went to the same North End cafe we went to two weeks ago. Gabe is once again back-up-plan job searching, and I am once again wishing I could close my eyes, open them, and be in Italy. I was telling Gabe about this occasional Mediterranean wish, and how I'd love to try to shop, fail at the language and come home to him in tears. He was confused at how this is possibly a wish of mine. But I love the idea of the initial culture shock, the frustration, because you know eventually you will feel part of the fabric of that place, and it will be a hard-won victory. Perhaps my wanderlust is getting too strong, when I long to be in tears in some foreign street trying to buy a loaf of bread.

Gabe showed me this stupid site today: I gave half a chuckle at one, but I think everyone would agree it's stupid. He told me the people that created it are millionaires, because the site is one of the most popular websites and there are ads on it. Seriously? I looked at a list of the 100 most popular blogs today - one I was reading is just some lady's blog about her life, and she said she and her husband no longer work because the blog generates enough revenue. Again, seriously? This happens? I told Gabe we need to have a brainstorming session soon about making money. Because it seems there are a lot of non-traditional ways to do it, and maybe we're just not being creative enough. Or maybe we should just get wicked drunk and come up with an outrageous list of possibilities. The next day we pick the most outrageous and go with it. I'm sure that's how the cat website came into existence. And Crocs. If anyone would like to join our creative, drunken, ridiculous brainstorming night just let me know!

Friday, May 15, 2009

week wrap-up

I find myself with no real events to blog about. Plodding along seems to sum up things lately. Sort of uninspired, pretty broke, restless, almost-warm-out-but-not-quite-yet, blah.

Work is interesting in that people are vanishing as if there are trap doors in the floor. Senior people, those who have been here for years, just disappear in the middle of the day. Our president sends a vague voicemail as explanation. Today, though, I felt the first glimmers of re-inspiration at work. This week I've not seen many patients but have focused on program development, and I'm finally making some progress. I've put a note at my desk that reads "Do not confuse efforts with results." I think I saw that on a high school friend's facebook page and it stuck. So I'm trying to concentrate on my goals there and just get it done. I also spoke at Lesley the last couple weeks to graduating students and made some good connections. I've learned the beauty of delegation and have some volunteers doing a lot of time-consuming research for me. I also applied for a dance fellowship for a week in June. It's with a master dancer who does some amazing work at Tewksbury Hospital. I'm interested in exploring more about the body in hospice... what is its role in emotional/spiritual healing at the end of life? The body is sort of dismissed when it's dying, but how does it hold or express our stories and wisdom? Perhaps this fellowship will be a good way for me to explore all of that, and also will help the inspiration well.

Two hospice stories. I saw a 10 year old girl yesterday for bereavement. She explained to me that it is Lincoln's 200th birthday and they are changing all the pennies to silver (I doubt the veracity of this). She told me I should save all the copper pennies I have because their value is going up. "By the time you are 30 you can live in a mansion!" I laughed and said I'm past 30 and she looked thoughtful. "Well, by the time you are 40, then." We were talking about old people and I asked her how long she wanted to live. She ideally has 190 years to go...

We had a 10 year old boy on hospice who had brain cancer for half of his life. He had a girl running the Boston Marathon in his name and he was super excited about this. He started his terminal decline a couple days before the marathon and was non-responsive near the end. Unknown to the family keeping vigil at home, his runner crossed the finish line at 3:08 p.m. on Marathon Day. He died at 3:10 p.m. After you work in hospice a while you know those things are not coincidences.

This weekend I have no real plans. I do need to alter my wedding dress at some point before October. I also have a project I'm doing for baby Niko that I want to finish before I head out there in a couple weeks. And the inevitable, impossible weekend attempt to keep my house from looking like a bomb exploded in it.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Haymarket, pt. 2

Gabe and I went to Haymarket on Saturday. We did get a lot, but it wasn't the enthralling experience I had anticipated. Lots of mean, loud, cranky people. Oh well. Since then I made naan bread, chicken curry, apple-ginger chutney, zucchini bread, and sesame bars. For lunch today I made mashed potatoes with a sausage, apple and fennel mixture on top. Alton Brown is on tv at the moment teaching me about freezing, which is very timely, so I can deal with all the leftovers.

After Haymarket I went to the regular food store. The only thing I remember about that now was this simultaneously innocent and horrifying scene. Two little girls, probably about 5, were in a big cart together playing while their supervising female was down the aisle buying bread. They both had colorful beach balls and were hitting the food in the cart in front of them. Through the giggles, one girl said "I'm pretending I'm beating up my boyfriend because he was mean to me." The other girl repeated it louder and they both burst into more laughter.

Friday, May 8, 2009


So I am done a week-long hormone-induced horror show. Ugh. But I'm feeling back to normal, thank goodness. Plus the sun came out today for the first time this week. And I am super excited because tomorrow I am going to Haymarket! I don't yet know what I want to make. Maybe homemade limoncello? Definitely pesto. I'm thinking a mango chutney. If anyone has an idea please share! I'm especially looking for things I can make and freeze.

I made a couple different drinks recently I'll pass along. The first was a blackberry mojito, sort of. I muddled mint, blackberries, sugar and lime juice, poured in some vodka, then tonic. The blackberries split apart into little berry beads that pop in your mouth along with the bubbles, so it's a nice refreshing summery drink. The other one was a mix of brandy and vanilla vodka with fresh-squeezed orange juice and two big slices of orange in it - this was GOOD. Very classy.

Kim and Dean posted videos of Niko, which are super cute, so check them out if you haven't yet. I'll be out there in 3 weeks! I can't wait to see everyone, and I can't wait to visit San Francisco again. Gabe is more than a little concerned I won't come back :)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

i left my heart in a rain-weary country i've never visited

When I was searching through all those poems last week, trying to find a good one to thank the volunteers, I came across this one below. Out of the literally hundreds I looked at, this is the one that has haunted me. It reminds me of all those dark, melodic eastern european films that break my heart and linger in my dreams.

W.S. Merwin

with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
smiling by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

Ah. It makes me want to walk through a foreign street, alone, in the rain. Speaking of this...the other day I was with two co-workers. One had just traveled to DC for a conference and described his anxiety taking the subway, not knowing exactly how to get around, afraid of being lost. I mean really afraid. My other co-worker said that was her worst fear. I suddenly felt so out of place. That's one of my happiest wishes. Lost in a city of untrodden paths, full of possibility, the newness allowing me to really see.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Boycott is over...

I told Gabe I wasn't going to write another post until someone commented on how cute the cats were on the previous post. After saying that I thought he would at least write something. Guess not. What does it take to please you people- how cute do they have to get?? I'm just joking - not the crazy cat lady yet.

Things have been busy with work and allergies. Yesterday my eye swelled up again, and I've lost track of how many times that has happened. It was pretty bad, plus my whole face was itchy and I think my throat was closing up. I realize I feel okay when I'm out of the house.... so I'm on the hunt for the source - I really don't think I can blame it all on the cats.

Last Wednesday we had our volunteer appreciation night at hospice. It was at a banquet hall with lots of people. I was asked to recite a poem and I swear I looked at 500 poems trying to find the right one. On Wednesday morning I was stressing out, and decided to just write my own. I wrote something during our weekly meeting and I'm not unhappy with how it came out for a quick poem. It was very well received too, judging from thank-yous and tears.

Here it is in case you want to read:


You listen.
You listen to stories
Slowly built by
hands of clocks.
You listen to sounds
At dawn, at daylight, at evening.
The noise, the echoes, the steps
and vast beauty of silence.
You listen to the lessons of silence.

You listen to memories
Unraveling into the moment
weaving together with others.
You listen to the loom as it makes its meaning.
You listen to mouths-
The gasps, grimaces, smiles
the singing.
You sing too.
You listen to eyes when mouths no longer work.

You listen to mothers and grandmothers.
You listen to fathers and grandfathers.
You listen to babies, and brothers and sisters.
You listen.

You listen to your heart,
calling you to bedsides.
We listen
To your sacred witnessing
with deepest gratitude.

Today I had the final class of the Reiki Level 1, for staff and volunteers. It was amazing. I had mentioned there were two older gentlemen, both veterans - self-described tough guys. They came in this morning and they both had notes written about their Reiki experiences throughout the week, all the materials highlighted and underlined, and a list of questions to ask me. What diligence! One of them is in poor health, and apparently gets regular stress tests. He said he went to one this past week, and asked if he could do Reiki on himself. They said yes, and his blood pressure dropped 20 points! A lot of other people told some great stories about using Reiki this past week, too. And I don't think I wrote about this earlier... After the first meditation and attunement last week I had people process their experience through art or writing. There was a lady who wrote a beautiful poem about her difficult childhood. She then talked about how hard it was, without happiness or trust, and she said 'you know, I'm 82, and this was the first time in my life I really could relax'. So it was a wonderful group, and there's definitely enough interest to offer it again soon.

I came home today and Gabe and I took a walk through the neighborhood in the beautiful sunshine - we've had some gorgeous days lately. I made a yummy dinner - fettucine and grilled shrimp. I made a sauce with homemade pesto, lemon juice, mustard and olive oil which is easy and super good. (The pesto part takes some work, but I made it awhile ago and froze it in ice cube trays, popped them out, and stored them in a freezer bag. I'm thinking of making some herb butter soon with the same trick.) I think I don't like shrimp. I keep trying them but something just weirds me out everytime. The shape, the texture, the suspiciously short cooking time, the vein of poop.... something.

In four weeks I will be in San Francisco visiting my little nephew for the first time, and visiting my sister for the first time since she's a mommy, and Dean the first time he's a daddy - SO EXCITED!

So next time you see cat pictures, you know what to do, right?...


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