Thursday, December 31, 2009

An Indulgent Look Back on 2009




I am having a difficult time writing today, this last day of 2009. It feels self-indulgent to write about what a great year I have had in this time of political and economic upheaval and uncertainty. Politically I’ve never been more confused by the mood of the general populace and economically I can’t fathom what another 3 trillion in debt will do to our country and that of my daughter’s future. On top of that, socially, while I see many women helping each other get through their new stages of life be it aging, trying to balance work/family/elder care what have you I am continually disappointed when I witness pettiness, prejudice and gossip amongst us. And yet through it all I feel truly fortunate to live in a country where we can think and express ourselves freely and strive to find our unique talents and thus I take a moment to also give thanks to our troops who continue to put their lives on the lines for this very freedom. 


When I look back on the milestones that took place in my life in 2009 I have much to be thankful for. First and foremost I was able to get off the corporate hamster wheel and leave my executive career. This gave me the time to jump into a number of projects including planning parties for my daughter's high school graduation, our move out of Orlando, my parents 65th wedding anniversary and in between all the beginnings of yellowfishcafe.com. Then a few months later my daughter left for college turning us into empty nesters. Boy those first few days and weeks were really difficult ones - I was totally caught by surprise at how much I would miss her. 


But then the phone rang and I was unexpectedly invited to go hiking in Ireland with my niece. What a wonderful trip! There we were driving on the wrong side of the road, having pints in wonderful small towns and hiking out on the Dingle Penninsula, the Cliffs of Mohor and the Ring of Kerry. It magically lifted me higher than I've been in years and reintroduced myself to the me that used to do this on a regular basis in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. 


Peeling back the onion to my yellowfish layers I was most fortunate to have discovered two of the best poets alive today, David Whyte and Mary Oliver. I now have most of their books and plan to read them cover-to-cover over the next few months. 


I took my first painting workshop and was introduced to acrylics and a new way to paint "people" without fear. Thanks, Jane! I was so afraid that taking a workshop would impede my individual growth and I learned it does just the opposite. It helps you get there faster. At least with the right instructors/motivators. I look forward to my upcoming oil painting workshops in 2010.


I also spent a lot of time attempting to live each day with purpose. To feel the wind rush off the ocean in the morning, hear the small birds in the brush as I walked Lucy, watch how the clouds and light in the sky change each day and really listen to how these seemingly small things were positively affecting my spirit. Things that I know were going on while I was working those long hours but now were jumping out in front of me and begging me to write about them, take their picture or paint them.


I was and continue to study what it is like and how to be "in the zone" from a creative standpoint. And after nine months I can honestly tell you that I am starting to see changes. Just like everything else though it takes a lot of work, practice and patience. And of course I still have much to learn and will continue to have days and maybe weeks where I can't seem to find it. But the more sure I am of it, the more courage I gain. As an artist, a writer, an advocate. 


So I now see that, for me, 2009 will best be known as the time when I learned how to slow down and wake up, the time when I remembered how to listen and see with my heart. Because when you have your heart and eyes open for those small, miraculous things that happen to us every day you can experience the yellowfish way of living, when time seems to stand still while your awareness expands. Even if it’s just a few moments, when we are in the zone we are truly living.


I am so thankful for your support, comments and emails and I hope you have enjoyed sharing in my experiences this past year as much as I have enjoyed sharing them with you. I wish you and yours a very happy, healthy and passionate New Year!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Christmas Cookies


When was the last time you made cookies from scratch? The last few years of the office cookie exchange I was the one bringing store-bought. I didn’t take the time to wrap them in ribbon tied ziplock baggies either. But I remember a time when baking Christmas cookies was something I looked forward to.


There was my mom’s best friend, Pat, who with her two daughters would make dozens and dozens of cookies, cakes, brownies, fudge, cheese balls - you name it - and drop by the house and stay for an afternoon visit with just us girls. It represented an amazing amount of work....all hand made with love and wrapped with red plastic wrap and a big red or green bow on top.


And then there was my very best friend, who at a very young age loved to be in the kitchen and Christmas for her was THE time to bake the classic sugar cookies. You know, the kind where you make and freeze the dough the night before then you spend an entire day rolling them out and cutting them with santa, reindeer and snowman cookie cutters. She’d invite me over to make the dough, usually late at night. Then we’d bake at least 4 or 5 dozen cookies the next day. 


There was such joy in working to cream the butter and trying not to spray the white powdered sugar all over the place as she/we struggled with the hand mixer. Then there was the magic of watching the white icing start swirling with green or red stripes as we added the drops of food coloring in. The large cereal bowls filled with the butter cream frosting sat on the side counter with long silver knives shooting out of them and at the ready, half covered in green, red or white icing that had soon turned to a glue substance between icing jobs. And those small green and red sprinkles that would make it to the floor and crunch under our feet because after your first dozen or so of carefully crafted cooky decorating the factory mentality would kick in and we’d be quickly icing and toppings tossing in hopes of getting done and to bed before midnight. We messed up the kitchen like professionals and cleaned up like kids - eating our due of the “accidentally” broken and burned ones and talking to each other the entire time.  Then we’d be done, the kitchen back in order and we'd head off to bed with a great feeling of accomplishment and possibly a stomach ache or two.


As I sit quietly in the dining room of my parents house in the midst of the 2009 Blizzard, the rest of the family still asleep and more than a foot of snow outside, this is what I am thinking about. Being in that kitchen with my best friend making cookies. We must have been baking during the many blizzards of our childhood. Funny how memories work. I hang more tightly to them now. I can still see the winter light through those kitchen windows, hear the wind and the branches hitting the house, see the warmth of the kitchen cabinets all around us, the details of the items on the shelves and hear the clanking sounds from the kitchen sink from washing all those baking dishes by hand. It is the safety and warmth of the love in the house back then, and in this house here and now. How wonderful. I think I’ll work on a few poems about this. 


But first I must call my best friend and get that cookie recipe. And after the storm has past and we make it back to our own house on Christmas Eve day my daughter and I will give it a go. If we don’t eat all the broken and burnt ones I hope to have plenty to share with our new neighbors and extended families on Christmas day.  Warm wishes for great cookies and gifts of love. Java!

Winter Storm Warnings


Drink coffee. Stay warm. Enjoy watching, listening and being in the winter moment. But most of all, be safe. Java!
----------
Issued by The National Weather Service
Boston, MA
4:02 am EST, Sun., Dec. 20, 2009

... BLIZZARD WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 1 PM EST THIS AFTERNOON...
THIS BLIZZARD WARNING IS FOR CENTRAL AND SOUTHERN RHODE ISLAND... SOUTHEAST MASSACHUSETTS INCLUDING THE CAPE AND ISLANDS.
SNOW WILL FALL HEAVY AT TIMES WITH RATES OF 1 TO 2 INCHES PER HOUR DURING THE EARLY MORNING. DAMAGING WIND GUSTS BETWEEN 50 AND 60 MPH ACROSS THE CAPE AND ISLANDS AS WELL AS ALONG THE PLYMOUTH COUNTY EAST COAST WILL PRODUCE BLIZZARD CONDITIONS DUE TO THE COMBINATION OF HEAVY SNOW AND BLOWING SNOW. ACROSS INTERIOR SOUTHEAST MASSACHUSETTS AND INTERIOR RHODE ISLAND... WIND GUSTS TO AROUND 40 MPH WILL ALSO PRODUCE NEAR WHITEOUT CONDITIONS AT TIMES. ISOLATED THUNDER SNOW COULD RESULT IN BRIEF ISOLATED SNOWFALL RATES BETWEEN 2 AND 3 INCHES PER HOUR UNTIL DAYBREAK. THE WETTER SNOW ACROSS THE CAPE AND ISLANDS MAY CAUSE ADDITIONAL SCATTERED POWER OUTAGES THROUGH THE EARLY MORNING.
THE SNOW WILL BEGIN TO LESSEN IN INTENSITY FROM WEST TO EAST BY AROUND MID MORNING.
STORM TOTAL SNOWFALL AMOUNTS OF 12 TO 16 INCHES ARE FORECAST ACROSS ALL OF RHODE ISLAND... SOUTHEAST MASSACHUSETTS... AND THE UPPER CAPE. NEAR 10 INCHES IS FORECAST FOR MARTHAS VINEYARD AND THE OUTER CAPE. ON NANTUCKET... A WETTER SNOW WILL REDUCE SNOW TOTALS TO BETWEEN 6 AND 10 INCHES.
LIGHT SNOW MAY LINGER ACROSS CAPE COD... MARTHAS VINEYARD AND NANTUCKET THROUGH EARLY AFTERNOON.
TRAVEL WILL REMAIN DANGEROUS AND IS NOT RECOMMENDED THROUGH THE MORNING.
PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS...
A BLIZZARD WARNING IS ISSUED WHEN SUSTAINED WINDS OR FREQUENT GUSTS OVER 35 MPH ARE EXPECTED ALONG WITH CONSIDERABLE FALLING AND/OR BLOWING AND DRIFTING SNOW REDUCING VISIBILITIES TO BELOW ONE QUARTER MILE FOR AT LEAST THREE CONSECUTIVE HOURS. WHITEOUT CONDITIONS ARE EXPECTED. THOSE VENTURING OUTDOORS MAY BECOME LOST OR DISORIENTED... SO PERSONS IN THE WARNING AREA ARE ADVISED TO STAY INDOORS. ALSO... BE SURE TO CHECK ALL EXTERNAL VENTS ON YOUR HOUSE BECAUSE THEY CAN LEAD TO A CARBON MONOXIDE RISK IF BLOCKED BY SNOW DRIFTS.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Measurements Count, Oh But They Do!



I finally saw the movie Julie & Julia and loved it. The acting by Streep is amazing and there are several scenes where the writing is fantastic. One of those scene’s that has stayed with me is when the three women are in the kitchen working on their cookbook and the topic of measurements comes up. One of the woman, always a slacker, chirps from her chair to the others working diligently that measurements aren’t really necessary for inclusion in the recipes. Julia/Streep stops what she’s doing, picks up a large measuring cup and shakes it at the woman’s face bellowing, “Oh no, they dooo count, they absolutely doooo!”


Listen to the statement for just a minute longer. Measurements count.


I like to consider the measurements of the intangibles. How does this or that measure up to you? Is it art? Is he a good person? Did you have a good day today, dear? Throw out the discussion of houses, cars and bank accounts. Measurements have to do with the quality of light through a lens of love, the memories inside your quiet hours, the gentle touch from your lover and/or a pat on the head of your dog, a warm smile to an old person sitting in the doctor’s waiting room, the taste of the food cooked with love and the soft laughter shared over an inside joke between your closest friends. Can you feel it? Absolutely! Can you measure it? Only when it’s gone.


So lets fill up our measuring cups this holiday season and share them with those we love and those that need it most.  Let's enjoy our last few days of the year listening and really seeing what the season is all about and reflecting on what is important in our lives. I hope you find the time you need to follow your passions in the new year. Love ya!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Beach Birds





What happens when you don’t feel like doing anything is that you don’t do anything. There is no office beckoning you to a meeting, no paper or presentation due by Friday and outside of some Christmas shopping, doing the dishes and a round of golf or two no real deadlines. Some people can manage without a schedule or deadlines but I now realize I can not truly get done what I want to accomplish without either in my daily life. 


When I was in the “weeds” at work all I could dream about was this time in my life. A time when I can do what I want when I want and focus on my art. But as the hamster wheel slows down it also comes to a complete stop. Is that a good thing? For awhile but there comes a time when you have to pull yourself up off the sofa and away from the television, remind yourself what you really want to be doing and meet your excuses head on. Let’s add some daily deadlines to the bigger plan, I tell myself. And stick to them. Now is the time, or let’s just say once the New Year gets here, to look in the mirror and decide what it is you want to do each day and get to doing it. And start with a plan on paper and a calendar.


Breath in, breath out. I am looking out at the surf right now. It is kicking and curling and the tips of the waves are spraying in the wind. And as I sit here I am reminded about the beach birds I saw a few days ago. They just appeared one day, hundreds of them, and even though it was lightly raining I grabbed my camera and a jacket and went to capture them. 


It was cold, windy and the light wasn’t ideal but I slowly made my way down from the beach walk over onto the sand. After I felt I had enough photos I decided to see how close I could get to them without them flying away.  Laughing as the image of Kung Fu walking over rice paper popped into my head I would stop every ten or fifteen feet and take a few more pictures and be amazed that they were still there. Finally I decided I had to try to get on the flat sand with them and I set my camera to wide angle assuming they would all just fly up and over me...but they didn’t.  They squawked a bit as they hopped and huddled around me but there I was, standing within this large sanctuary of birds, the soft rain and the steady surf as my music. I was down there for hours and it truly was amazing.


So while I have been beating myself up this week because I didn’t do as much writing or painting as I had hoped I now look back and know I was there if for a few moments, yellowfishing. And it’s not every day when a large number of birds invite you down to the beach to hang with them, right?
Oh, and please let me know if you can identify who this guy is with the band around his ankle!? Java! 





Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Pelican Brief


I see pelicans here on a daily basis, flying in small groupings, skimming just over the top of the water or high up near the rooflines but late yesterday, while out on the beach taking photographs, I met up with one face-to-face.  


I was squatted low on the canted sand focused in on little pipers and a few seagulls pinching their beaks at the wet sand when I heard the sound of large flapping wings over my head. I stood up, startled for a few seconds, then quickly pulled my camera to get a shot - but as if to mock me he turned and jetted away. 


Maybe he was heading further down the coastline to celebrate the great news with the majority of pelicans that live in Florida: starting December 17th the brown pelicans will be officially removed from the federal endangered species list.  While these pelicans were removed from the Florida and Georgia endangered list in 1985, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service describes their overall comeback from the brink of extinction as, “an amazing success story.” 


The brown pelicans were first imperiled by hunters who prized their feathers and later suffered heavily from the effects of the pesticide DDT, sprayed for mosquito control, which weakened pelican eggs so that they cracked prematurely. They were almost removed from the national list a few years ago but then the gulf was struck by oil spills and hurricanes. 


Brief Brown Pelican Facts
- These social colonial birds fly in single file low over the water; on sighting prey they plunge with wings half-folded, from heights of up to 50 feet (15 meters), surfacing to drain water from their bills before swallowing the fish.
- Scientist estimate more than 650,000 pelicans can now be found across Florida, the Gulf and Pacific Coasts and in the Caribbean and Latin America                         
- Pelicans measure about 48 inches long and weigh about 8 pounds and have a 6- to 7-foot wingspan             
- Females lay two to three eggs in a shallow nest. The eggs take about a month to hatch. 
- Chicks need 50 pounds of food during the first 75 days. 
- The oldest pelican on record died at age 43.
- Around waterfronts and marinas individual birds become quite tame, taking fish offered them by humans.


Maybe the one I met yesterday was jealous that I was giving all of my attention to the pipers and gulls. Or maybe he just wanted to be sure I was aware and awake to every thing that was going on out on the beach.  Or maybe he just wanted to say hello. But afterwards I stood up and took in a few deep breaths of the salt air and began to put the pieces together. The clouds were turning various shades of pinks, purples and greys. The rocks with their heads of green moss were echoing the sounds of the water like seashells do. And the color of the sand was shifting right under me as the dune grasses revealed deep yellow candles in their dark hearths. The pelican tipped me there as if tipping a wing into the waves...just because he can. And aren’t we all the better for having these brown pelicans flying through our lives.
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