Sidewalk samba

sun pic

I’m fascinated by the concept of the alter ego – the idea of being the opposite of your “normal” personality. I’ve often said that my alter ego would be a Rockette – it really doesn’t matter which one. I’ve always considered the Rockettes to be the 8th Wonder of the World and well, the costumes, the high kicks, the Christmas Spectacular! I am, at  best, a pedestrian, albeit enthusiastic, dancer. Oh well, a girl can dream.

24xp-rockettes-2-master675

This week I’ve been thinking that if my alter ego were a song it would be The Girl from Ipanema, that sexy, seductive Brazilian bossa nova tune. It has long been one of my favorites – the classic Astrud Gilberto version and, of course, the Frank Sinatra rendition. I love the bouncy first lines – “Tall and tan and young and lovely, the girl from Ipanema goes walking.” You can see her, can’t you?

astrid gilbreto

Here’s where the alter ego part comes in for me. Tall? I’m 5’7” – not short, but only tall when I’m standing by my friend Jerri who is 4’11” with her boots on. Tan? I am loath to admit that I spent many a summer’s day in my youth baking in the sun with – don’t make me say it…No. Sunscreen. The memory of it actually makes me nauseous but today, I am a ginger vampire and while I don’t actually burst into flames when exposed to the sun, summer sightings of me outdoors are as rare as Big Foot.  Young? Shut up. That leaves lovely. I’m not fishing for compliments here. I have a moderately healthy ego and on my good days I’m pretty okay with the face I see in the mirror – especially in low-wattage.

So back to that girl on the beach. To me the song is much more than just an ode to a beautiful woman – it’s the definitive theme song for summer. It’s a warm breeze, it’s sand under your feet, the beat of the ocean. Just add a cold Brahma beer. It’s the rhythm of summer – sultry and sexy.

Oh, by the way, I hate summer. I think I may have buried the lead here. Let me explain. Even though I was born and raised in Virginia and have lived in North Carolina for over twenty years, I can’t stand summer. Heat and humidity are the bane of my existence as a Southerner – okay, those two things and the NC legislature.

So, you’re probably wondering why I have been waxing sentimental over a summer song for most of this post. Well, a funny thing happened to me this week – this gloriously wonderful week of cool morning temps and low humidity – I fell in love with summer. Our affair has lasted four days. Hey, that’s almost as long as Kim Kardashian’s first marriage. Sadly, the meter is running on this fling – the weekend forecast looks seasonally oppressive.

But oh, how I have savored these days. I’ve taken a long walk each morning through my favorite Winston-Salem community – Ardmore. It’s a charming historic neighborhood distinguished by classic bungalows, sidewalks and lots of big trees.

ardmore porch

I’m not a traditionally outdoorsy person – I don’t camp or anything crazy like that – but I do really enjoy being outside in nature – it’s just not usually possible for me to do that in the summer here in the Dismal Swamp.

But this week I got a Get Out of Summer Free Card and everything was different – my glasses had a new prescription – my vision sharper and more defined. I saw tiny dew drops – glassy bubbles sitting on top of all the yards. My senses were keener – the green, wet smell of freshly cut grass took me back to “helping” my dad mow the lawn with a plastic lawnmower when I was a little girl. I heard the joyful jingling of dog collars sounding like chimes as four-legged creatures enjoyed their morning exercise, too.

I hardly recognized myself. I was outside in late June and I was giddy. I think I could have walked to Greensboro (30 miles). The first day I found myself looking around at the other people I passed – to see if they were noticing it, too. I feared I had just conjured up 43% humidity in my head but they all looked really happy, too. Each subsequent day, I’ve opened the front door and slowly poked my head out like a turtle – was it safe? Day 2, I was pleasantly surprised and by today, I just figured I was being punked – we could not possibly have had four days in a row of a summer that was delightful.

I can’t stand too much of a good thing – it’s a serious character flaw – and I knew this jaunty jig was almost up – so this morning, I hit Girl from Ipanema on my iPhone playlist and I strutted down the sidewalks of Ardmore like Gisele Bundchen on the runway. And for those three minutes, I was tall and tan and young and lovely. And I didn’t hate summer.

giselerio-olympics-opening-_webf

Don’t look for me outside again until sometime in September. In the meantime, I’ll be inside my climate controlled condo practicing my high kicks.

bigfoot shadow.jpg

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Sidewalk samba

sun pic

Ardmore morning.

I’m fascinated by the concept of the alter ego – the idea of being the opposite of your “normal” personality. I’ve often said that my alter ego would be a Rockette – it really doesn’t matter which one. I’ve always considered the Rockettes to be the 8th Wonder of the World and well, the costumes, the high kicks, the Christmas Spectacular! I am, at  best, a pedestrian, albeit enthusiastic, dancer. Oh well, a girl can dream.

24xp-rockettes-2-master675

Career goals. Photo credit: The NY Times

This week I’ve been thinking that if my alter ego were a song it would be The Girl from Ipanema, that sexy, seductive Brazilian bossa nova tune. It has long been one of my favorites – the classic Astrud Gilberto version and, of course, the Frank Sinatra rendition. I love the bouncy first lines – “Tall and tan and young and lovely, the girl from Ipanema goes walking.” You can see her, can’t you?

astrid gilbreto

The sound of summer.

Here’s where the alter ego part comes in for me. Tall? I’m 5’7” – not short, but only tall when I’m standing by my friend Jerri who is 4’11” with her boots on. Tan? I am loath to admit that I spent many a summer’s day in my youth baking in the sun with – don’t make me say it…No. Sunscreen. The memory of it actually makes me nauseous but today, I am a ginger vampire and while I don’t actually burst into flames when exposed to the sun, summer sightings of me outdoors are as rare as Big Foot. Young? Shut up. That leaves lovely. I’m not fishing for compliments here. I have a moderately healthy ego and on my good days I’m pretty okay with the face I see in the mirror – especially in low-wattage.

So back to that girl on the beach. To me the song is much more than just an ode to a beautiful woman – it’s the definitive theme song for summer. It’s a warm breeze, it’s sand under your feet, the beat of the ocean. Just add a cold Brahma beer. It’s the rhythm of summer – sultry and sexy.

Oh, by the way, I hate summer. I think I may have buried the lead here. Let me explain. Even though I was born and raised in Virginia and have lived in North Carolina for over twenty years, I can’t stand summer. Heat and humidity are the bane of my existence as a Southerner – okay, those two things and the NC legislature.

So, you’re probably wondering why I have been waxing sentimental over a summer song for most of this post. Well, a funny thing happened to me this week – this gloriously wonderful week of cool morning temps and low humidity – I fell in love with summer. Our affair has lasted four days. Hey, that’s almost as long as Kim Kardashian’s first marriage. Sadly, the meter is running on this fling – the weekend forecast looks seasonally oppressive.

But oh, how I have savored these days. I’ve taken a long walk each morning through my favorite Winston-Salem community – Ardmore. It’s a charming historic neighborhood distinguished by classic bungalows, sidewalks and lots of big trees.

ardmore porch

Ardmore was made for summer porch sitting – at least this week.

I’m not a traditionally outdoorsy person – I don’t camp or anything crazy like that – but I do really enjoy being outside in nature – it’s just not usually possible for me to do that in the summer here in the Dismal Swamp.

But this week I got a Get Out of Summer Free Card and everything was different – my glasses had a new prescription – my vision sharper and more defined. I saw tiny dew drops – glassy bubbles sitting on top of all the yards. My senses were keener – the green, wet smell of freshly cut grass took me back to “helping” my dad mow the lawn with a plastic lawnmower when I was a little girl. I heard the joyful jingling of dog collars sounding like chimes as four-legged creatures enjoyed their morning exercise, too.

I hardly recognized myself. I was outside in late June and I was giddy. I think I could have walked to Greensboro (30 miles). The first day I found myself looking around at the other people I passed – to see if they were noticing it, too. I feared I had just conjured up 43% humidity in my head but they all looked really happy, too. Each subsequent day, I’ve opened the front door and slowly poked my head out like a turtle – was it safe? Day 2, I was pleasantly surprised and by today, I just figured I was being punked – we could not possibly have had four days in a row of a summer that was delightful.

I can’t stand too much of a good thing – it’s a serious character flaw – and I knew this jaunty jig was almost up – so this morning, I hit Girl from Ipanema on my iPhone playlist and I strutted down the sidewalks of Ardmore like Gisele Bundchen on the runway. And for those three minutes, I was tall and tan and young and lovely. And I didn’t hate summer.

giselerio-olympics-opening-_webf

When she walks, she’s like a samba.  Photo credit: NBC Olympics

Don’t look for me outside again until sometime in September. In the meantime, I’ll be inside my climate controlled condo practicing my high kicks.

bigfoot shadow.jpg

Bigfoot was here.

patio addy

My affair with summer is over but I’ll always have our song in my heart.

Something good is on the way

buddha_omega_web

By Carla Kucinski

Something good is on the way.

I felt it as my husband and I walked our dog this evening in the September breeze. The temperature dropped a few degrees, giant puffy clouds rolled in, and the wind kicked up. Dried up crinkled leaves tumbled across the brick walkways as we strolled through the college campus near our house. The last of summer’s fireflies blinked their green bodies in the dusk. I no longer hear the chorus of cicadas. The heavy thickness of the summer air melted away and I felt like I could breathe again. In that moment, I longed for my fleece pullover. I also longed for change.

This summer has felt endless, unmovable. Like summer, I have been feeling stuck, unable to move forward, forced to stay in the present. I want newness.

Today I watched a Facebook Live video of one of my favorite life coaches, Martha Beck. She was elaborating on a recent piece she wrote on her website titled “The Storm Before the Calm.” I felt like she was talking about my life. She writes: “When we ask for better lives, we are calling the whirlwind. When the Storm hits, we don’t connect it with our wanting, with our calls for help. We feel blindsided by misfortune, attacked by circumstances, drowned in agony we can’t control.”

My grief this year has felt like one giant earthquake. There’s the initial impact—the shock, the loss, the anger, the sadness. That one simple question has stayed with me this whole year: Why?

Then, without even noticing, the grief slips away. I hear myself laughing when I thought I would never laugh again. What follows for the next few months is an ebb and flow; this earthquake of grief has ripples of aftershocks. They creep up on you when you’re not expecting it. A song on the radio. Walking by baby clothes at Target. Another friend’s announcement of their pregnancy. These moments used to take my heart days to recover from. Now, it take hours, sometimes only minutes to return to center.

Beck says, “The storm isn’t the curse, but preparation for the blessing.” Gosh. I love that. When I’ve been in the throes of these storms before, I often find myself asking “Why is this happening to me?” But reading Beck’s article today erased that question from my mind and replaced it with her sage words: “This is happening for you not to you.”

This feeling is not foreign to me. I felt it after I left my ex-husband and a shit storm followed for the next year. A tornado-like storm knocked down a towering elm in my backyard and crushed my fence while my house was on the market. (Yes, I do recognize the possible metaphors here.) Four months later, my dad almost died when his aorta split in half and he had to be airlifted to the hospital. We thought we lost him. Eight months later, my vet found a softball size tumor in my dog, Yoshi, and 24 hours later, I had to put him to sleep and he was gone from my life.

“The greater the gift we’ve requested, the wilder and more violent the storm will be, and the deeper the grace. … The very thing you thought would drown you turns out to support you,” Beck says.

And she’s right. The day I left my ex, my whole world was flipped upside down, but it left room for newness to come into my life. I met my husband Andrew because of that storm. We adopted our dog Molly because of that storm. I grew closer to my best friend Addy, whom I share this blog with, because of that storm. She was in her own storm, too, but we found each other in the tempest. Now, she’s like my sister; she’s my family. And I got closer to my dad because of that storm.

I’m still waiting for this year’s storm to reveal its path so I can make sense of it all. I want to get to that moment where I say: “Ah. I get it now.”

Truth is what keeps us calm, Beck says. When these storms are raging in our lives, we have to keep coming back to what we know is true so that we don’t completely lose it and unravel.

Truth: My heart at times feels like a wide desert of emptiness, and I fear that I will carry this feeling between my ribs as long as I am breathing.

Truth: Yesterday, I cried in the shower.

Truth: I have no road map.

It’s strange how acknowledging those simple truths anchor me. It makes the storm seem less scary, and maybe, even necessary.

Truth: Something good is on the way.

dream-when-you-are-awake_web

Photo by Carla Kucinski

 

Invincible summer

summer sun

January was a rough month for me. I lost my job and two dear friends.

While I feel certain I’ll find another job, I know that Kristel and Regina can never be replaced. As my dear veterinarian said to me years ago when I was agonizing over the decision to put down my 19 year old cat, “Death is so final.”

I’ve never forgotten her stark wisdom.

I’ve been writing about my friends for several weeks – in my head – and now it’s time to put the pen to it. I suppose I’ve resisted doing so because it would make their absence on earth truly final for me – permanent ink if you will.

Regina died on New Year’s Day. She had a great sense of humor so I’m sure she would have appreciated that irony.

She was 66 years old.

My wife and I attended a New Year’s Eve dinner the night before her death – a treasured tradition shared with several wonderful women who have known Regina and her wife, Miki, for years. Before we sat down to eat, one of our hosts offered a beautiful prayer for our missing friends. It was a muted evening as celebrations go but very comforting in its intimacy.

We all laughed a lot – that knowing laughter steeped in the history of shared experiences. We wiped away tears, too, softly. I think we all knew that were already sitting Shiva for our friend.

Regina was diagnosed with peritoneal cancer about a year and a half ago. It is a rare form of cancer that started benignly – she couldn’t get comfortable at night in “her” chair when she and Miki were watching television draped in their dogs. She had some nagging discomfort that eventually worsened and led to her diagnosis.

miki and dogs

Miki, left, and Regina and their children.

And then began the barrage of several rounds of chemotherapy. Miki started posting on the website CaringBridge, a personal health journal, soon after Regina’s diagnosis and she was remarkably disciplined about it – writing often and sharing not only clinical updates on Regina’s condition but also her personal reflections along the way.

Regina was a private person and even though she would have never personally posted, she apparently really enjoyed hearing Miki share all of the encouraging comments from friends at the end of those interminable treatment days.

And Miki’s posts were staggeringly beautiful. She is a former journalist and law professor, so I was not at all surprised by the quality of her writing but I was deeply moved by its intimacy, particularly as Regina was dying.

Regina responded well to the brutal regimen and was declared in remission by early last summer. She was always a great athlete and was elated to return to the other two great loves of her life – softball and golf. The girl of summer was in her element.

miki and regina on boat

Miki and Regina in the Florida Everglades. They were homebodies who traveled the world.

But winter came with no mercy and in early December, an MRI revealed widespread cancer throughout all portions of her brain. She declined rapidly and was transferred from the hospital to hospice.

No one knows for sure, but it seems there is little time left. The most important thing now is her comfort. I’m sorry to bear this news. It has been a very hard day. The worst day, really, ever. 12/20/16 ~ Miki’s journal entry

Miki and Regina were together for over two decades and married in New York a couple of years ago. In an almost lyrical post, Miki revealed that they weren’t really that engaged in the same-sex marriage movement – they had been together for so long that they didn’t think they needed that legal validation. But Regina’s impending death made her realize that it did matter.

It gives me comfort that we are married. It means something. It is big. 12/26/15 

miki and regina

Miki and Regina on their wedding day. Newlyweds after more than 20 years together.

My wife and I went to visit Regina a few days after Christmas. I’m always astonished by the quiet – the deafeningly reverent silence in the halls of a hospice. We slipped gently into her room and found Miki on her iPad beside Regina’s bed. Regina looked remarkably vibrant and very tan for December. That made me smile.

She did not speak but she raised her slender, weak arm in recognition and smiled. I talked to her a lot – mostly about sports and she would nod her head slightly. I’m not at all a medical person but I am comfortable with the dying. This was a gift to me when my parents both died in 2002. I wasn’t afraid and I wanted to be very present to their final journey.

If you have not sat with death you may not understand this, but I have found that leaning into it can be powerfully life affirming. And I think we owe this to the dying.

We knew that this would be the last time that we saw Regina and we both kissed her on the cheek and told her that we loved her. There was nothing left to say.

There is one final story about Regina I need to convey. During our happy life together, Regina considered it her sacred duty to take care of me. I have had my share (okay more than my share) of serious health problems in my life. Regina always took the most wonderful care of me and, I think really loved doing so. As I sat with her, it was obvious that the end was near. I asked the nurse whether she could tell us anything about the time frames, and she, of course, said she could not but that she believed through her experience and knowledge that people at the very end of their lives seemed to choose their moment to die. I immediately knew what I had to do. I whispered to her, and I held my face against hers for moments and told her everything was okay and that I was going to go home.  Ten minutes after I got home, Beverly (a dear friend) called to say she had died. Though it could be wildly coincidental, I believe that, even in dying, Regina took care of me — she did not want me to see her go. 1/3/16 

Amen…

I thought that I would also write about my friend, Kristel, but it is just too much for one post and I think that spring will be the perfect season to share about her bright and hopeful spirit.

Regina thrived in the long, hot days of summer and as winter wanes, I picture her in her golf visor, tan and happy, and I recall the words of Albert Camus: “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.”

Game on, sweet friend.

regina baeball

Regina celebrates a good out.