Songs of Hope And Sorrow: Party of One

I have loved Brandi Carlile’s music for a long time. Since the beginning. 2005 or 2006. She’s a sneaker wave. Out there, picking up momentum, rolling in. This year she’s finally getting some good recognition, having just won three Grammys. Her songwriting and incredible voice are both amazing. This one, Party of One, off of her latest album, By The Way, I Forgive You, is a favorite. The album is all about forgiveness, in its many forms. I love that. A whole album about forgiving, being forgiven. Party of One is about a couple who is struggling, feeling like it’s impossible, but in the end, you know there is this one person for you and you love them. No matter how mad you get, no matter what the struggle, “I am yours”. I love the strings, in the end, soaring. It captures that feeling so well of coming back to someone, remembering you love them, that in the end, the love is all that really matters. This is the second video for this song. On the album, it’s just Brandi singing, but here Sam Smith does a one of a kind assist. His voice, also incredible, marries so well. Enjoy.

Fathers

I originally posted this in 2013, but thought it could use a re-post.

Fathers

I started writing this on Father’s Day and was, as can happen, distracted by actual life events.  Visits from family and then traveling can do that.  I nearly forgot about this post until I noticed it idling there, the red “draft” sitting beside it in my post queue.  It was important to me to get this piece of writing out there, so here it is… late, but no less important to me.

Originally, like most people, I started out with a Dad.  One.  He was full of life, fun loving, sporty, loved his coffee, loved to laugh and laughed a lot, went gray early, had false teeth, played the pedal steel guitar better than I’ve heard anyone else play it, had a major sweet tooth, was legally blind, and smiled with his eyes… Warm and full of love.  My Dad was a dork, which I inherited.  Totally goofy with a dork’s sense of humor.  I’m honored to carry that on.  I’m also so happy to have his sense of joy.  It’s the best gift he passed on to me.  That and his sense of play… and awe.

When I was a tad older, and not much mind you, Mom married Bill and brought another dad into my life.  For 33 years he was the man of our house.  Bill had a sly sense of humor, often a mischievous twinkle in his eye, a love of science and the PBS shows Nova and In Search Of, could fix nearly anything, was the best BS’er I’ve ever seen, adored his tractor, loved a good pancake breakfast, and loved my Mom.  Bill taught me to love learning, whether he knew it or not.  He had a keen and curious mind.  Always reading National Geographic, Scientific American, and the like, he was interested in how things worked. And even though he wasn’t much of a traveler he wanted to know about the world.  He was a guy who didn’t have a large formal education, but he was a very educated and very intelligent man.  Bill, or Billbsy, as Kev and I called him when we were younger, was a guy of deep feelings and strong opinions.  I didn’t often agree with his politics, but that was OK too.  Bill had the ability to talk to anyone and did.  I was always amazed at how he just struck up a conversation with the people he was around, whoever they were.  He taught me to fly fish, to love small Mom and Pop motels and car trips, and passed on to me a great appreciation for the mysteries of the larger world.  I am oh so grateful for those gifts and for the gift of seeing my Mom love and be loved so well.

A few years after Bill passed Mom met and married Don.  I recently, after Don’s passing, wrote a blog post about him so I won’t go into all the things about Don that impressed and amazed me, but I will say that after just having attended his celebration of life I was so awed by the number of people he affected in such a positive way.  He was an amazing father and grandfather.  He lived an amazing life and I was so honored to have had him in mine for a time.

I gained yet another dad when I married Karen and met her dad, Don.  From the beginning, even though Karen’s parents tend toward the very conservative, they accepted me, and our relationship.  I knew I was in when Don, one day, put his arm around me, called me kid, gave me a little squeeze, and smiled at me.  That small gesture meant more to me than I can express.  He has been strong, and wise, and has shown me love from the start.  I  also, see an earlier blog, had the honor of being chosen by him as the forker during a new in our relationship Thanksgiving dinner.  I won’t explain here, but needless to say, I was thrilled to get the job.  Don is steadfast, opinionated, warm, curious, and can, even still, move fast when he’s headed somewhere with a purpose.  He has a fantastic laugh and does it with a great twinkle in his eye.  He gets joy from small things, which has been a great lesson for me because when it comes down to it it’s the small things that matter.  He’s quiet, reads voraciously, loves his family and extended family with a passion, and is a solid rock of support and strength.  I appreciate his presence in my life every day.  And like I told him this Father’s Day, privately with a little kiss on his cheek, he is the only dad I have left and I love him so.

Lastly, when talking about Dad’s, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about my Grandpa, my Mom’s dad.  Grandpa, who I also wrote about in a couple of previous posts, was the epitome of a fantastic father and grandfather.  I learned so much from him… how to play cribbage and backgammon, how to tie my shoes, what a good person should be.  He had a love for life, an adoration of family, and a playfulness and sense of joy that was so strong it still flows through our family.  I was with some of the family this last weekend and I could see him in all of us.  Those were some amazing genes he passed on.  He is the father of my Mom and so through her, he also gave me so many gifts.  I was blessed to have him in my life for so long and am so lucky to be a part of him.

As I look back at this list of fathers, my list of dads, I am amazed at the quality of the men here.  They were nothing like each other, and yet the most important thing about them, their ability to love well, is shared by all of them.  Most people get one dad and I have been fortunate enough to have four.  They have been, and are all, each one, a blessing to me and my life.  Men, who might be reading this, and I know a few uncles, brothers, brothers in law, a son in law, friends, and cousins who might, you should know you are valued.  You, as fathers, are priceless.  You bring so much love, joy, strength, and happiness to the children in your life.  You might not know this, or be aware all the time, but you are so loved.  What you do, what you provide, is invaluable, and I, for one, am so thankful and grateful to you.  Watching you dads be dads is an amazing thing.  It’s a joyous thing.  So thank you fathers, mine and the dads I get to watch every day being fathers to their daughters and sons.  Thank you, and happy Father’s Day.

Eight Years

ba19f-23164498_1128679173929687_3936966949946261504_n

Photo by TJ Parker

Eight years ago today a doctor walked into my hospital room and told me I had leukemia.

Since then I’ve periodically asked a question of myself.  Not, as you might expect, why me, or even just why.  There is no why.  It was random, not predictable, and as far as we know not preventable.  It just was.  So the question isn’t why, but who.  Who was I then, am I the same person now, what did I learn from the experience?

I’ve written here about my philosophy of life a bit… which is basically kindness is key, our love for the people we love and who love us is all that really matters, find joy in the every day, and don’t lose hope about the things that matter to you.  But as this day rolls around every year I find myself doing a bit of an assessment.

I believe in forgiveness, in kindness, joy, hope, and love.  But, I’m not always the best at those things.  And on this day I find myself trying to remind myself who I am.  I find myself trying to forgive myself for the ways I know I’ve hurt people, which doesn’t let me off the hook for those slights, but it does let me employ one of my strongly held beliefs which is that each of us is doing the best we know how at the moment.  Sometimes our efforts aren’t that great, and we don’t handle things well, but at the moment we are only doing what we can with what we have.   It still means we have to try and do better, be better.  We owe our people that.  But, we also can’t continually beat ourselves up for the things we’ve done.  This is where apologizing comes in.  Sincere apology.  We admit what we’ve done, we feel it in our bones, the ways we’ve hurt someone, and then we say we’re sorry for it.  The apology is freeing for both people.  So I ask, have I apologized enough and meant it.  Have I forgiven others, have I forgiven myself?

Kindness.  Have I been kind?  To my people, to strangers, to myself.  Am I moving through the world as a kind person?  Do I say thank you, look people in the eyes, empathize, treat people with respect, watch out for their feelings, simply honor people as the beautiful human beings they are?  Am I kind to myself?  I hope so, I hope I do all of these things, but I know the answer is, I don’t always.  So I need to be more kind.  We can always be kinder.  I think there’s always another level of kindness to strive for.  I think the key for me is to be aware, to be present with people.  If I am, I’m kinder.

Joy.  It’s easy to get discouraged in life.  About our place in it, circumstances we find ourselves in, the state of the world.  The enemy of joy is fear.  So the key is to not be fearful.  But, that’s a tough one.  Having gone through this whole life-threatening experience I find myself afraid of the random and unknown.  Afraid of what could happen, suddenly, without warning.  This fear has no face or name or even bearing on what’s actually happening in my life at the time.  It just comes with large amounts of anxiety.  And when it comes it eats my joy whole.  Like a kipper snack.  So I find myself searching for ways to lessen the fear and find the joy.  I’m innately a silly, joyful person.  I’m a dork.  I can find joy in the smallest things when I’m not afraid.   So I’ve spent some time working on and continue to work on trying to be present in the small moments of life, which I feel is where joy lives.  In smiles and sunsets and dogs and wind in the trees and whispered secrets from grandchildren and laughs over nothing at all.  I try to remind myself to be present.  Nothing is promised to us, which certainly includes time, so we have to live now.  Be alive now.  Be joyous now.  This is a tough one, but I’m trying.  The wind chimes are going strong right now on the front porch, and the sound is magical, and there is joy in that.

Hope. It’s tough to be hopeful when all you see is the stuff that’s not working out.  But as I’m taking a look this year I find myself reminding myself that life is perception.  We see what we want.  Which brings me to one of my favorite quotes of all time.  It comes from the movie, The Abyss, “We all see what we want to see. Coffey looks and he sees Russians. He sees hate and fear. You have to look with better eyes than that.”  At the time the film was made the cold war was still in full swing, so the Russians were the bad guys.  But the point isn’t that part of the quote.  The point is the essence of it which to me means we see what we want to see, which is frequently driven by our personal fears, and we have to look with better eyes.  So, I can either see the world from a place of love and forgiveness and hope, or I can see fear, I can see enemies.  I try to come from a place of seeing people as friendly, as human, as trying.  Again, I don’t always succeed in this, but when I do, hope springs and the world looks different somehow.  Brighter, fuller, rich in color and possibility.  It is hopeful.

Love.  I believe in connection and responsibility to and for that connection.  Life is about love.  Who we love, who loves us.  It’s about how we love.  Do we say it?  Do we show it?  Do we let the people we love feel the love we have for them?  For me, this brings gratitude into my life and makes me want to share that gratitude.  To say how grateful I feel for the people and love in my life doesn’t even cover it.  I am sometimes overwhelmed by the waves of it.  Struck profoundly silent by the weight of all the love I know I have in my life.  But, it’s sometimes too easy to see what we don’t have in life, what we think we’re missing.  And in the muck of that, we sometimes forget to take stock of what we have, or even to recognize that it’s there.  Who we have and what that means to us.  Love is all around us.  It’s all around me.  So, as I go through this day I let that wave of gratitude for enormous and profound love wash over me.  Hold me up.  It did when I was sick.  It’s what got me through.  Even though I was semi-isolated when I was sick, I felt the love pouring into me.  Lifting me up.  Holding me.  I felt it.  And luckily, I feel it still.  If I sit with it for a few moments I cry.  Out of a gratitude so overwhelming it crushes me in all the right ways.  That’s where I want to live, where I try to live.  Even when things are tough, the love is there.  I have it, and I try to give it back.  We’re responsible for giving it back.  For loving, and loving well.

Eight years.  If I think of all the beautiful and strange and magical and messy things that have happened in my life in the last eight years I’m amazed and so moved by it all.  It has definitely not all been easy, and there have definitely been sad and heart-breaking times, but there have also been so many moments of joy and laughter and love.  And I guess maybe that’s the point of taking stock.  Which is to say, it’s a messy thing, life.  But it’s in the middle of all that mess we find love and hope, kindness, and joy.  And I remind myself, isn’t that an amazing and beautiful thing?

Eight years.  Eight years on top of the nearly 45 years before those.

Wow.  What a ride it’s been so far.

 

 

 

 

The Whistler

As people begin to change their Facebook profile photos to pictures of their Moms I felt, this year, I needed to do a bit more than that.  Yes, I’ll be changing my photo too, but that just doesn’t seem like enough.  I needed to say a bit more about my Mom.  She’s a good one.

Where to begin.  What to say.  She is a woman of many talents, of many depths, of many experiences.  She is a helper, a champion, a sounding board, and a fantastic example to follow.  Her heart is big and holds so many of us in it.  She’s independent and fierce when she needs to be, sometimes stubborn, sometimes tough, always up for an adventure.  She smiles easily, looks you in the eye, and gives a great hug.

I have stories.  So many stories.

When I finally told Mom I was gay she cried.  Not because she was upset I was gay, but that it took me so long to tell her, that I had been conflicted, afraid, unsure.  She ached for me, for my struggle, because I had been scared.  That’s love.  That aching for another person with no thought of herself, that my friends is unconditional love.

She was just here visiting us, we had all this stuff planned, but plans change and in the middle of her visit we, she and I, ended up driving 6 and a half hours one way to drop off our trailer at the factory, we hung out for a couple of nights in that area, then drove the 6 and a half hours back home.  She’s a great travel buddy, plus she took it all in stride.  Was totally up for it.  Her adventurous spirit fully on display.  She is literally up for anything at any time.  She once ate a fish eye in Guatemala and crickets in some other place I can’t remember, for goodness sake.  I wouldn’t do that.  Mom did.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Our family history is complex and beautiful.  There have been additions throughout the years and through it all, she opens her arms and her heart to everyone.  My step siblings, half siblings, friends, my wife and her family, and on and on.  Her heart is big.

I grew up with Mom’s whistle.  It’s an amazing thing, birdlike and stunning.   She went through a period of time when she couldn’t whistle (she had braces) and it amazed me how much I missed it.  Luckily it’s back.  Seriously, it’s a great whistle.  Some of my fondest memories are of doing the dishes with Mom when I was younger and listening to her whistle, or make up songs.

Making up songs.  Mom can be silly, she knows how to laugh, how to have fun.  When we were doing those dishes I would throw out some or other thing, a topic, an item, whatever, and Mom would make up a song on the spot about it.  She might not even remember this, but I got the biggest kick out of it.

Mom is a jack of all trades and contrary to the saying, she’s a master of many of them.  In fact, I literally can’t think of a single thing she’s attempted that she didn’t end up being able to do.  Kids always think their parents can do anything, I know mine can.  It’s not just me that thinks this.  When anyone has a problem to solve, a thing to build or construct, some gardening question, whatever… she can help.  She usually just knows, but if she doesn’t she has a great mind for problem-solving.  She’s a fantastic problem solver.

She also pitches in, helps out.  All the time.  Whenever she’s needed.  It’s above and beyond.  When I was sick she helped out at our house.  When K had to go to England for a month during my illness she would only go if Mom agreed to stay with me.  Mom agreed, even though she had her own life going on.  And that didn’t mean just staying with me, she took care of me.  Got me to appointments, stayed with me in the hospital when I spiked a temp and had to go in for a week while they shot me full of antibiotics, helped me through some bouts of anxiety and panic about leaving our house during that time, cooked for me, helped me shower.  And other times, before I was sick, and since as well, she’s helped us so many times.  Painting and dog sitting and yard stuff and working on our Oregon house before we put it on the market and with the rentals and on and on and on.  I don’t have enough room here for all the times she’s helped us, all the things she’s done.  I am forever grateful and beyond lucky.

She is full of grace.  As in she handles very tough situations with a grace and depth of feeling I admire.  Unfortunately, Mom’s lost two husbands.  The first she was a caretaker to for nearly a year before he left us, and the second suddenly, without warning.  Both times, handling it with such grace.  There was emotion and great sadness, both times, but through it all, she never acted bitterly toward those around her, she never took anything out on anyone, she kept going, stayed strong, and never gave up on herself, on us, on life. She impresses me every day.

Mom’s a great human.  Of course, she has her faults, don’t we all, but she is fully a fantastic human.  Loving, forgiving, open, honest, full of integrity, fun-loving, smart, feisty, adventurous, kind, and just plain nice.  She’s a genuinely nice person.

I don’t pretend to know all the depths of her.  No one can know all things about another person, but in my nearly 52 years I can honestly say that she is one of my two most favorite people to spend time with, the other obviously, if you’ve read this blog, being K.   Which puts Mom not just in the Mom category, but in the friend category.  I enjoy being with her, am a better person for the time I’ve spent with her.

I wouldn’t be who I am without her, wouldn’t have the life I have without all the help and guidance and love she’s given and continues to give to me.  I say this all the time because I have that Mom, the one all the friends like and everyone wishes they had, and I have her, so I say this all the time… I am lucky.  Beyond lucky.  I was blessed and lucky to have her as my Mom.  I know this.  I’m fully cognizant of the fact.

I wish I could somehow bottle the feeling I have right now, this feeling of being overwhelmed with love and joy and pride and gratefulness for having this wonderful person in my life.  I wish I could give it away, let other people experience it too.  I can’t pour it into this page so that it emanates out to everyone who might stumble across this post, but I wish I could.  It’s a great feeling, this feeling of overwhelming love.

It’s a great feeling because I have a great Mom.  A one of a kind, in her own class kind of Mom.  I can’t really, fully, describe it, but I guess this attempt will have to do.  Until that is, I can give her a hug.

I love you so very much, Mom.

Now, excuse me while I go and change my Facebook profile photo.

 

 

Time to Get Out and Rake

8bc77-14733136_996517303791380_7421946732960808960_n

Photo by TJ Parker

I was sitting here at my dining room table yesterday looking out the sliding glass doors to my backyard like I’ve done countless times over the last five years.  It was a beautiful fall day in Illinois.  The sun shining, the air crisp, the leaves falling in cascades and covering the yard. I realized we’d have to rake again soon.

We took our dogs to the vet for their yearly check up, some shots, a blood test.  They are good.  They did well during the vet visit.  They got some treats from the girl at the Espresso Royale drive-thru afterward as we got our large breves with an extra shot.

After the drive-thru we came home and had a visit with our daughter and grand daughter.  Our grand daughter is not much over one and half, her second birthday is coming up in February.  She is busy and curious and is speaking sentences, which is a little freaky, but oh so cool, coming from such a young one.  Our grandsons didn’t talk this well this early, so it’s a bit of an anomaly for us, but really awesome.  She played with shells and rubber duckies and blocks and a wooden bus we have that has doors that open and wooden people inside.  She watched videos of dogs and her Mama dancing and some muppets.  She laughed.

We took a run to our local Menards to get some door tab insulation.  I actually have no idea what they’re called, but they do really help to keep that cold Midwest air out of the house.  We also stopped in to get toilet paper and a 16 count box of fruit cups in real juice with cherries in them.  We call them cherries and all of the grandkids love them.  We like to have some on hand when they come to visit.

We made a great dinner last night of our version of chicken parmesan with broccoli.  It was awesome.  We watched a movie, held hands, pet the pups, and decided to go to bed early to continue watching Good Girls Revolt on Amazon.  If you haven’t watched it, do, it’s pretty damn good.

I was incredibly sad all day, we hugged each other a lot, and in fact at one point I had a good cry, but…

Life, mine, ours, is beautiful.  It goes on.  It continues to move forward.  One beautiful moment and day after another.

And, as my honey says, no vote can take that away from us.  We have each other, our love, our life together, no matter what.   She is amazing.  My rock, my center.  I love her so much.

Today I got up, turned on the High Hopes playlist I started making, poured a cup of coffee, sat down, we talked again as we’d done yesterday about places we might start volunteering, and I looked out to the backyard where we are having another beautiful fall day.  There are tons of birds at our feeders and the wind is hitting the trees and creating a rainstorm of leaves out there.

We are really going to have to get out there and rake.

 

You’re a Big Brother Now

Dear Sebastian…

I don’t think the Grandmas have written in a long long time.  We’ve seen and spent time with you plenty, but have been so lame about writing anything here.  We thought it was time to remedy that.  So here goes…

For six weeks now you’ve been a big brother.  Your little brother Dominic was born on May 13 and since then you have been so good with him.  You love to kiss his little head and you’ve even held him a few times.  What a great big brother you are.  Not only do you love him, he loves you right back.  He loves the sound of your voice and looks in your direction every time you are around him.  He’s already looking up to you.  It’s so sweet.

Your Grandmas are so proud of the big boy you are and of how you’ve helped to welcome your baby brother into the family.  You are such a caring sweet boy and we love you very very much.

Love…   The Grandmas

 

A Weekend With The Grandmas