2/15/18

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Boy, does that traditional opening line resonate today. Despite the news. It’s very, very hard to write about a Moment on the day after a school massacre, leaving 17 dead. All the Moments I’ve been sifting through, choosing between, suddenly seem trite and simplistic, next to the enormity of this newest tragedy.

But they aren’t, and I know this, even as I struggle to write it. One of the things I learned in the year of writing Today’s Moment every single day is that it’s sometimes the little things that give us something to hold on to. You know those rock-climbing walls? Those tall, sheer structures you struggle up handhold by foothold, and the whole goal is to get to the top? I’d never be caught dead on one of those, but when you look at them, it’s the handholds that make a difference. One grip at a time, you make it to the top.

So. This is my grip for the week. A handhold.

Last weekend, Michael and I traveled to Wausau, Wisconsin. The trip was Michael’s birthday present: tickets to a live performance of a radio drama by Wisconsin Public Radio, a stay in a nice hotel, and a chance to see a town in Wisconsin he’d never visited before. The hotel was indeed lovely, and on the first floor, it housed several small shops. I had a little time before the radio show, so I wandered through to see what was there. And I found a consignment shop.

You put me before a store that sells used ANYTHING, and I’m a happy camper. Goodwill, Salvation Army, St. Vincent De Paul, flea markets, antique malls, consignment shops…happy, happy, happy. For me, it’s not just about finding a treasure that is also a bargain. It’s about saving an orphan. I always see these items as being abandoned, and so I give them a new home. My condo is filled with orphans.

I only had a few minutes, but in that time, I found a great pair of earrings. I bought them and told the owner I’d be back the next day. Which I was.

As Michael and I walked in on Saturday, there, front and center, was a woman looking at herself in a mirror. She was in a gorgeous floor-length dress, bronze, beaded and glittered. It was form-fitting and it followed every curve on this woman the way a river follows its bends. She stood there in that classic “I am Woman!” pose, one hand on a cocked hip, the other draped oh so casually on her thigh. She was beautiful. But her face…her face wasn’t sure. Her mouth was scrooched to one side and she frowned. Her body showed confidence; her face showed excruciating doubt.

Without even thinking about it, I cried out, “You look stunning!”

She startled, then turned to me, that doubt-face in full bloom. “Really?” she said.

“Ohmygod,” I said. “Whoever made that dress was thinking of you. Look at you! It’s beautiful!”

There is no other word for it. She BEAMED.

“Thank you,” she said, and then she turned to the shop owner. “Sold!”

When we walked out of the store later, Michael said to me, “That was a nice thing you did.”

“What?”

“Telling that woman how great she looked. She just lit up. Did you see her light up?”

Well, then it was my turn to beam. I’ve been thinking about this all week.

I’ve been reading many articles and stories and such lately about how we should tell our daughters that they’re smart instead of beautiful. It’s the “instead of” that bothers me. I tell my daughters they’re smart. They are. I tell them they’re beautiful. They are. For that matter, I tell my sons the same thing.

There are times that we just want to be beautiful. To ourselves. And to the world. Every creature in Nature preens. So do we. So glory in it. Beam.

I hope that the woman in the consignment shop wears that dress often. And I hope her face is never scrooched in doubt again. I hope every time she wears that dress, she hears my voice saying, “You look stunning!” And I hope she hears her voice saying it too.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Olivia modeling the sweet dress I bought for her at this little consignment shop.
The back.

 

2/8/18

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

It was a difficult week, this first week without the dogs. Michael and I both realized that, with the exception of short stints in apartments during young adulthood, neither of us has ever been without a dog before. And our daughter, at 17 years of age, has always had a dog in the house. For the last 11 years of her life, there have been two. Blossom and Penny. And then Blossom and Donnie.

And now there are none.

I wasn’t aware how much noise the dogs created in our household. Or how much visual effect. The condo no longer jingles with the tags on their collars. Donnie’s tag was blue and treat-shaped and was engraved with his name. Blossom’s was pink and heart-shaped, and besides her name, also held the word Princess. Their toenails clicked on our concrete floors. Donnie talked constantly, emitting barnyard and zoo sounds out of his beagle mouth. They jumped up and down off the furniture. Sightwise, whenever I walked down the steps from the third to the second floor, my eyes automatically went over the banister to the couch in the living room, where two beagle heads lifted their noses toward me. Donnie usually jumped down and ran to me; Blossom winked or wagged a regal tail. They were at the door when we came in. They were at the door when we went out. Donnie’s nose was immediately there whenever anything opened: closets, cupboards, dishwasher.

This morning, when I took my box of cereal from the cabinet, I automatically closed the door, forgetting that I no longer had to. The cupboard can now stay open until I put the box away. There is no one to stuff his face inside, looking for crumbs.

It’s been a sad week.

The day the dogs died, I went to the humane society and made a donation in their names, arranging to have a plaque created for them which will be on a wall in the doggie kennel. This felt good, but it wasn’t right. I didn’t feel like they’d been acknowledged enough. Memorialized enough. We are having the dogs cremated and their ashes aren’t home yet, so I told myself I would feel better when the urns were here. But I was still bugged, poked, kinda like Donnie’s persistent nose on my calf when he was trying to get me to go faster (usually to the treat jar).

Sometimes, when we grieve, we feel driven to do unusual things. And mostly, we talk ourselves out of it. It’s not the proper way to grieve, we think. Olivia keeps asking me if she’s grieving “normally”, and I keep telling her that however you grieve is the right way. A couple days ago, as I said it to her, I heard it for myself.

The dogs’ collars have been sitting on our kitchen island. I was figuring on wrapping them around the urns, but in the meantime, there they were, misplaced, empty, sitting where the dogs were never allowed. And every day since their death, coming downstairs, I’ve faced that big empty couch. Donnie’s spot, on the left. Blossom’s, on the right. We’ve had that couch for years and I don’t know that I’ve ever sat on it. It’s where the dogs go.

Yesterday, I stood at the island and stared at the empty couch. It was my first day home alone without the dogs. Olivia was sick this week and was home on Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday, it was just me and the cats. And the collars and the empty couch.

And I felt the unusual urge. Any way you grieve is the right way to grieve.

I picked up the collars and took them to the couch. Donnie’s collar, blue treat-shape lying flat and his name in full view, went on the left pillow. Blossom’s collar, heart out, name shining, went on the right.

The dogs were in their places. And I was able to breathe. In my mind, I heard the jingle. I saw Blossom’s wink. I heard Donnie’s donkey-call, my favorite of his vocabulary. I saw them both wagging their tails, Donnie’s in his odd happy twirly circle, Blossom’s in her regal queen wave.

I was forgiven for making the decision that had to be made.

And now, several times, I’ve been able to walk by the couch, pat the pillows, and say hello to the each of them. The couch is not empty. It’s full of memories. It’s full of them.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

In their places.
Donnie on his pillow.
Blossom on her pillow (and then some).
The empty couch.
Donnie’s pillow with his collar.
Blossom’s pillow with her collar.

2/4/18

And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

And no, it has nothing to do with the Superbowl, Justin Timberlake, or holograms of Prince.

Last week, Today’s Moment reached its one-year anniversary and I said I would announce on this day what the future of Today’s Moment will be. But first…the Moment itself.

Well, the Moment IS the Moment, really. I spent a lot of time today, both in meditation and just in general, considering the Moment. What started out as a desperate whim (I’m overwhelmed, so I’m going to post one moment a day that made me happy on Facebook) became something much bigger. From a single sentence at the beginning to what I would now call quiet, unedited essays, I kept at it, writing just what came to mind. I was determined to not make the Moment a professional endeavor. I wasn’t writing for publication, I wasn’t writing for an audience. I wanted to keep it at a Moment that made me happy and examine why. That was a struggle for me as I became aware that there was indeed an audience – an audience that caused my website to crash several times because of traffic! I’m a professional writer, I tend to even edit my thoughts and whatever I say before I say it, not to mention edit everything I read, from news articles to books to comic strips. But I wasn’t going to edit, I wasn’t going to improve the pieces – in a sense, Today’s Moment is Kathie Giorgio – Unplugged.

I’ve learned so much from writing the Today’s Moments. I learned, first of all, that there is at least one Moment in almost every day. Even on dark days. I might have to look for it, but it’s there. And that was a lesson unto itself – happiness is an active endeavor. It isn’t something that just comes along and happens to you. Sometimes you have to look for it.

So I’ve learned to look.

But alternatively, I’ve also learned to honor sadness and anger and fear. I couldn’t chase these away by writing about a Moment of Happiness. I couldn’t chase them away by becoming aware of a Moment either. A Moment isn’t a pill I could take to chase these negative emotions away. There is no pill, no prose, no prettiness that will keep a person happy one-hundred percent of the time. Today’s Moment allowed me to release a very unrealistic expectation – that if I could just find One Big Thing to make me Happy, I would never ever be unhappy again.

But finding that One Moment helped me to navigate through some pretty dark times. It gave me the one good thing to hang onto. Some days, that was like holding onto a rope while dangling off a cliff.

One of my favorite Moments is the one where I was told I didn’t have to be strong all the time while I was going through breast cancer. That I could be scared, that I could be sad, that I could be weak. That illustrates what I’m trying to say about the unrealistic expectation. I know now to look for the Moment of Happiness, but not to expect that finding it means I’m going to waltz down whatever path opens before me next.

But the Today’s Moment does keep me looking ahead and looking up. My favorite quote from literature, which is engraved into a ring I wear every day, is from John Irving’s The Hotel New Hampsire: “Keep walking past the open windows.” I’ve now edited it a bit, to “Keep looking for Today’s Moment.”

So what’s going to happen to Today’s Moment Of Happiness Despite The News, now that I’ve reached my goal of one solid year?

It’s not going away, but it is changing. It’s going to become This Week’s Moment Of Happiness Despite The News. I will only post it one day a week, and I’ve chosen Thursdays, at least to start. There has been no small amount of pressure, trying to come up with something every day. I’m looking to relieve that pressure, but also to expand my vision and understanding. I think that by having to sort through many moments every week to pick out just one to share, I will become further aware of just how many Moments there are in this world and in every life. I’ll give it a shot.

If you are worried that you might forget to check my website on a Thursday, then just click on the button that says “subscribe” on the upper right of this page . Then you’ll receive a notification when each new Moment appears.

When I look back on this year, I could be focused on the many bad things that happened. I had to deal with an assault, my daughter’s being bullied, my husband’s job losses, and above all, breast cancer. But what I focus on instead is the amazing coincidence (if you believe in coincidences) of my starting Today’s Moment at a time when it would turn out that I needed it most. It got me through. And everyone involved, by reading the Moments, by commenting on them and discussing them, got me through too.

Incredible.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

(Look for the next Moment on Thursday! )

A new year – a new title.

2/3/18

And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

How in the heck do you come up with a moment of happiness on a day that started with having to bring your two dogs to the vet to help them leave this life and move on to the next?

I don’t know that people who are petless understand this love and the connection. The only difference, to me, between my animals and the human members of my family is my animals don’t speak English. But they communicate anyway. They’re FAMILY. When I was in high school and working at the humane society (the same one that our dog Blossom came from), my father said to me one night, “I hope one day, you love people as much as you love animals.”

I do. I always have. And someday, I hope people love animals as much as they love each other.

It’s funny, and I suppose it’s inconsistent of me, but while I have difficulties dealing with the idea of faith and God and so on, I have never ever doubted that there’s a Heaven. That concept, or belief, sits as solidly inside me as the belief that I need to breathe to live. I guess I’m just not sure who is running the show or why, but Heaven…well, it’s just there. So I know that’s where Blossom and Donnie are now. Having been there a few hours, Donnie has discovered that there is no such word as “No!” in Heaven. He can eat whatever and whenever he wants. It’s ALL good for dogs. Chocolate. Black jelly beans. Fifty pounds of dog biscuits in his thirty-pound body. Toilet paper. Whatever he wants to eat, he can eat it, and it’s all in a great big aroma-filled kitchen where crumbs rain constantly and no one tells him to get out from underfoot. Blossom, on the other hand, has a lovely soft bed right next to a portal where she can watch over Olivia, every single minute. Somehow, Heaven will find a way to allow her to put her head in Olivia’s lap when Olivia needs her, to curl up beside her on the bed, to be near her through everything, just as she has been for the last twelve years.

I am missing hearing their jingles from the tags on their collars. I’m missing their clicking toenails and Donnie’s constant chatter. I know that tomorrow morning, when I go downstairs, I will be looking for their two upraised faces from the couch. We took down the safety gates this afternoon, which kept them from some areas of the condo as they became sicker, and suddenly, our stairways and hallways seem very, very wide and empty.

I went to the humane society this afternoon to make a donation in their name. The dogs are going to have a plaque there. At the counter, I made it as far as, “I came in to make a donation. We lost our two –“ before I broke down. But I was in the best place to do so.

We lost our two dogs. We lost Blossom and Donnie.

The moment of happiness? Simply that they were here. They gave us everything they had and then some. They were multi-time rejects that ended up in a humane society and an animal rescue society, and then they came to us. I don’t know why the previous families didn’t recognize who they were. But it was to our benefit.

The last year and a half has been difficult, watching Blossom deteriorate, but she was so determined to stay alive. And then the last few months, watching cancer take Donnie so quickly. I am wracked with the unfairness of it. He and I both had cancer. I’m fine. He’s gone. That’s not right and it leaves me feeling helpless and unfairly privileged. In this time, we gave our dogs everything we had, just as they did us. We used safety gates to keep them safe. We got rid of area rugs. We started going through at least two rolls of paper towels every day. Things got pretty damn messy, but you know what?

I’d do it all again. In a heartbeat. It was worth it to have them as long as we did.

Aching hard tonight. But happy that Blossom and Donnie are in Heaven. And happy to have them as ours.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Olivia and Blossom. One thing about that dog….She could rock a hat!
Donnie, after eating 25 pounds of dog biscuits in 20 minutes. He only weighed 30 pounds to begin with.
First night at the condo. Olivia’s bed hadn’t shown up yet, so she and Blossom slept in my office on an old fainting couch.

2/2/18

And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

I will admit, I’ve been craving summer. I’ve been craving summer ever since last summer when it seemed that season was taken away from me and replaced with the fear and uncertainty of breast cancer. I finished radiation treatment on September 24th, and when I woke up on September 25th, I looked around and wondered where summer went.

Though I knew where it went. It went in a winter word – a flurry – of appointments and biopsies and uncomfortable scans and surgery and ultimately, radiation.

I. Want. It. Back.

It’s hard to want something like summer when it’s February. In Wisconsin. This morning, it was below zero outside. When I picked up Olivia from school at three o’clock, it was eight degrees. 8! “What’s the temp outside?” “It’s 8!” That just sounds so wrong. Temperatures are supposed to have at least two syllables. Better yet, three or more.

Summer to me is being able to leave the house without wearing a jacket. Without wearing sleeves. Without wearing socks. It’s having the windows open. It’s hearing people walk by, with a resounding fa-lap, fa-lap, fa-lap from their flip-flops. It’s having the windows open at night. It’s driving the convertible, music up, nothing between me and the sky. It’s SUN. It’s WARM.

So I suppose it’s not a surprise that I was seduced by a television commercial, given my summer mindset, my winter doldrums. Off of my office is our large third floor deck. When we closed it up for the winter (on that day, I realized that with this last summer-that-wasn’t, I actually only sat on the deck three times), we got rid most of our outdoor furniture. It was old and tired and rusty. When it was summer again, I swore, we’d have fresh stuff. A new beginning.

So I was watching television and a commercial came on for one of those discount furniture places. There’s great music to this commercial, so I listened and idly watched, tapping my feet. And then it showed a woman on her deck. She approached what looked like an ordinary wooden bench. She grabbed the back of the bench, pulled, and damned if the thing didn’t unfold into a traditional picnic table!

I sat straight up in my recliner.

A picnic table! Red-checked tablecloth. Bright white paper plates. Hamburgers, hot dogs, brats, potato salad, cole slaw, corn on the cob. Sunshine! Sitting around as the sun goes down. Talking. Fa-lap, fa-lap, fa-lap.

Summer.

Ohmygod, this place did have just what I need.

The next day, I checked the website, found it on sale (Bonus!) and ordered it. And today, on this day when the temperature only had one syllable, I went downstairs to get the mail and found a large box leaning against my front door. That was not the brightest place to leave it, because it about crushed me when I opened the door and caught the box as it toppled inward, but…Summer was at my door. And it fell into my arms.

Could there be a better metaphor?

I managed to drag it in and lean it against the classroom door. I locked the winter outside and I stood there and looked at big box. I patted it. I had Summer. I could see it. Now, whenever I want to, I can go downstairs and pat the box and think of a red-checked tablecloth and warm conversation. Bare arms. Fa-lap. Summer is in the garage now, but soon it will be everywhere.

Today was Groundhog’s Day, and that Punxsutawney Phil declared in his shadowy way that there will be six more weeks until spring. But I have summer in a box in my garage. I can see it.

It’s gonna be great.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

i know it’s cold….but summer’s coming!

2/1/18

And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

I was sitting in the allergist’s office today, waiting for him to come tell me what was going to happen next. I experienced a truly scary allergic reaction a few nights ago, and it capped many years of growing-in-intensity allergic reactions and I knew it was time to check with a professional. To pass the time, I scrolled through Facebook. My focus was pretty idle – I half-read statuses, glanced at memes, read a few comments. I will admit, I get nervous sitting in the doctor’s office now. I was in the same building, on the same floor, as when I had the mammogram last June. I wasn’t expecting anything then; I wasn’t expecting anything now either. And now, when I’m not expecting anything, I expect the worst. The Cancer Center, by the way, is also at this location.

So I was on edge when suddenly, my cell phone screen was filled with the photo of an owl. And what an owl!

The photo was taken by one of my coaching clients, up in Minnesota. She spent the afternoon with this owl, she said. And she called the owl a “she”, so in my head, the owl became a she too. I don’t know owl breeds and I certainly can’t tell gender. But I can certainly tell when the beauty of something or someone knocks me off my feet.

She was a mixture of brown and white and the feathers ringing her face looked like a crone’s winter scarf. Her belly feathers were long and white. She was puffed up from the cold and it gave her a feeling of profound solidity; this was absolute magic and absolute reality.

Now here’s the thing. I’m scared of birds. If one flies by me, I duck. When Michael used to have parakeets, if one would escape the cage, I’d hit the ground, face-down, and stay there shrieking until the bird was safely away. When I put myself through college working at the humane society, I could handle anything but the birds.

And yet…I collect feathers. And yet…the sight of an eagle, a heron, a sandhill crane puts me in awe. And yet…if this owl presented herself to me and we were together, breathing the same air, sharing the same forested space, I know I would have fallen to my knees.

Wise old owl is a cliché, but this owl was wise. Her eyes were closed and she held herself straight, but emanated relaxation too. She felt meditative.

I sat in that sterile room, expecting nothing and expecting the worst, and I just took in this owl’s face. I wasn’t in the forest, but as far as I’m concerned, we did breathe the same air. She drew me in to her meditation. Magical reality. My shoulders relaxed. My pulse slowed. My mind stilled.

When the doctor came in, he retook my blood pressure. Because of nerves, it was more than a little high when the nurse took it. Now, he glanced at the machine and then at me. “The machine must have had a glitch before,” he said. “You have a beautiful blood pressure. Can I borrow it?”

I was tempted to give him my phone, let him see the owl.

But I held on to the phone as he told me that what I experienced a few nights ago after eating sunflower seeds was anaphylactic shock. That my Oral Allergy Syndrome, where the body misinterprets proteins in fruit, veggies, nuts and seeds as pollen, was growing markedly worse. That I could never eat another sunflower seed. That from now on, I will always have to have an epi-pen with me, as well as supplies of Benadryl and Zantac. That what most people consider healthy foods are not healthy to me. They can be life-threatening.

But…the operative words were “can be”. Awareness, he said, leads to wisdom. Don’t worry.

When he left the room, I looked back at the owl. Wisdom. Don’t worry. Without seeing her face right before I saw the doctor’s face, I don’t know that I would have heard the words “can be”. But I did.

From her forest, the owl soared into that sterile room at just the right time. I can handle no sunflower seeds. I can handle caution and awareness. I can handle antihistamines and epi-pens. What I couldn’t handle was lack of clarity and lack of knowledge.

What a lovely owl.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

The owl! Photo by Sharon Grosh.

1/31/18

And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Some things that are sad still strike folks as funny. A student wrote an incredibly poignant poem about whacky things her mother did and said as she sank into dementia. I remember laughing in the car after visiting my own grandmother, who simply wasn’t “in her head anymore”, my mother said. I saw a skit on Saturday Night Live recently, about the elderly getting used to Amazon’s Alexa, complete with misunderstandings and issues hearing. And yes, it’s funny, even as we don’t want to laugh. And sometimes we laugh even as we cry.

This afternoon, I stood with my hands on my hips, looking down at my beagle, Donnie, as he stood with his front feet in his food dish. In his food dish! This is a dog whose food dish has held high reverence throughout his life. He worships his food dish. And yet here, it was like he didn’t know quite what it was for.

He looked up at me, head tilted in that doggie way, tail wagging, his permanent smile on his face. But his expression was clear. “Mom, what am I doing? This doesn’t feel right.”

And it wasn’t right. Donnie, my Donnie, would never put his feet in his food dish. Only his snout and his mouth belonged there. And god help you if you tried to interrupt his meals. It was HIS.

I patted his head and stroked his ears and laughed with him. Then I coaxed him out of his food dish and told him to go take a nap while I taught.

After class, I came upstairs and found him standing in his food dish again. Same feet, same dish, same expression. I have no idea if he stood there the whole two-plus hours I was gone.

Donnie has always been a goof. From his adoption photo, I just knew this dog exuded class-clowniness. From his amazing repertoire of sounds to his (mostly naughty) behavior, he’s kept us laughing for nine years. He quacks. He moos. He honks. He brays. If it quacks like a duck and it walks like a duck and it smells like a duck, it must be a beagle.

He slept upside down. He hid under pillows. He walked on walls rather than sidewalks so that he could be taller. He tasted EVERYTHING. In this whole time, we’ve only found one thing that he won’t eat…coffee beans. His food has to be measured. His treats, measured. His water, measured. Otherwise he would eat and drink until he barfed, and then he’d eat that. He can be horribly disgusting.

But his face has a constant smile. And from Day 1, when I picked him out, he’s been my boy.

Donnie came to us because Penny, our previous beagle, passed away of kidney disease. I have always honored the passing of a pet with the saving of another, through adoption from a rescue league or a shelter. Donnie was at a league that was housed in our Southridge shopping mall. I made an appointment to see him and Michael and I walked into the little store together.

There was a woman already with him. She sat on a chair and reached down to pet him from time to time. “Oh, no,” I said to Michael. “Oh, no. She’s here first.”

When the woman left, we went over to the pet-handler. I identified myself and then ignored the chair and sank to the floor. Donnie was up in my lap in seconds. My arms went around him and he pressed into me and I burst into tears. I was grieving Penny. But here was a dog that said, “Hey. You’re here to help me now. I’m the one.”

I went home and wrote an email to the director of the rescue league. I explained just why Donnie belonged to me, to my family. And the next day, she called me to say to come and get him.

Donnie came home. He’s been the most challenging dog I’ve ever owned. But he’s also been my boy for nine years. On Saturday, I will give him his final hug before he goes to the other side. I hope my Penny is waiting for him. And my Jake, Cocoa, Einstein and Cornelius.

But for today, I am smiling at my confused dog, standing awkwardly in his food dish. I’m laughing with him, patting him, and telling him it’s all right. He’s a good boy.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Donnie’s adoption photo. Can you see why I fell for him?