It has always been an interest of mine to consider the nuances involved in my encounters with others, those that are nourishing and even those that are more distasteful for some reason. In recent years, my interest has broadened to include encounters with animals, nature, books, movies and now, online conversations with people who I treasure yet may never meet.

Sunday, January 27, 2013


There are those encounters that become treasures because of the directions in which one’s journey takes a turn.
    I’m an Aquarian, born of the water-bearer sign of the zodiac. Perhaps this is the reason that being near a body of water has a calming influence for me; or, perhaps not. No matter. Way back a few years, after I had returned to Florida from living out of state, my mom and I used to tease each other about reincarnation, returning to earth in the body of an animal. She’d stare at me sometimes in deep thought (or so it seemed); I’d wait for the explosion of her words of wisdom. “I ought’er be an otter!’ she’d blurt out, laughing and pointing her finger at me. Can’t tell you how many times my mom managed to yank my chain with that one! It did get to the point that we’d end up blurting out her fun phrase together.
    ‘Why an otter?’ I asked my mom, early on. She got quite animated, going on about an otter’s ability to swim effortlessly in the deep, on the top and over and around any obstacle in the water that happened to be in the way. “Sometimes when I’m at the Y swimming, I pretend that I’m an otter and flip over, just float on my back. It’s the most relaxing time in the world,” she had told me. Then my mom had cackled, saying, “Except for when I sleep!”  That was my mom! She had otter photos all over her room. An otter was one of the stuffed animals that had shared her bed during her last months.
    My mom got philosophical on me one day after one of her teasing outbursts. “Life is hard for most folks, honey. Many of us have to go through times of struggle to make ends meet, keep food on the table. When your daddy died, there were many times that I had to sit down and cry, not knowing how I could take care of you four little girls on my own. Yet we made it; my faith was strong. Now, reincarnation is not a belief of mine. But IF it happens to be true, I want God to let me be an otter! It doesn’t matter if I’m a river otter or one in the sea. I just want to float and swim and cavort with the other otters in my next life, be free of the kinds of worries I’ve had.” I got that.
    On one of my in-between-job times, I had landed at my mom’s for a few months. Since both of us were avid readers, I’d often grab my backpack and walk the few miles to the library. Taking the back way meant crossing over the Dora Canal via an old, two-lane concrete bridge built in 1959. Rarely was there much traffic so it was a great place to stop and rest my arms on the railing, catch a view. An old looking dock, dark with algae, alongside the Canal’s bank is no longer there. On that day, however, it was, and I had an unexpected encounter, clear as a blue-sky's day in my memory.
    I tilted back my head to take some sips of water when a little splash of water near that dock caught my eye. I expected to see the circular motion of water that ensues after a fish jumps up out of the water; or perhaps catch sight of the tail of a small gator, feeling his (or her!) oats. Instead, I stared aghast as a dark-colored shape took form on that old dock, lumbering a bit towards a spot that, I could tell, had been used before. I’m not exaggerating here; this otter, nose to tail, was 4 feet long and actually squatted to deposit a very large load of fecal matter on the dock! Oh yeah, my entire insides were humming at this incredible bit of luck. I didn’t know there were otters in my neck of the woods. Right then and there, this otter became a girl, ‘Ollie.’
    Ollie finished her business and then, I swear, looked directly at me for at least 30 seconds before doing a swan dive off the dock. Well, not like the human variety of swan dive. Yet Ollie’s dive showed off her grace and beauty. I cannot swear that Ollie transferred this message directly to me yet I am sure that her presence caused this message to be niggled loose in my mind: Allow yourself to play, Dody. You see, I was often too serious, too focused, too analytical.  Just ask my colon as to how much stress I put on it back then.
    The library never got to see me that day for I turned around and walked back home, wanting to share my experience with my mom. I count myself lucky that I had a mom who always matched the excitement of her girls. She reveled in my encounter with Ollie; and, especially, in the excitement of my receipt that day of a gift, a message that still serves me to this day:  Have fun, Dody! Take time to play.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


    Throughout the three years of my Care Bear experience, I scribbled in a journal at night in order to stave off despair, to keep my sanity; to cut loose the tears that had been bottled up inside while I took care of my dementia-addled mom throughout the day. A few months before she died, a niece-in-law asked to read my scribbles. Jenni planted the seed for me to publish, at least for family and friends. After my mother died, I discovered a cache of letters that I had written her during college and when living out of state. Those letters were my first forays into journaling for I liberally wrote to my mom about both the good and not-so-good events that were a part of my young life at the time. While I was rereading those letters, an ‘aha’ kind of moment fell upon me.
     For much of my adult life, my mom had been after me to write a book, any book. Needless to say, she was my number one fan! Technical and procedures manual writing in my earlier career endeavors was the closest that I had come thus far. My ‘aha’ moment occurred about three months after my mom had died. I told myself, ‘Dody, just play with it,’ and then began typing up and printing out my journal. There was no rhyme or reason to the content, the topic covered. Each page contained scribbles relating to the events, thoughts and emotions of the day. My computer had an old version of Word; I was not online at the time so I went to my home-away-from-home, Books-A-Million, to peruse a few books on how to write memoirs. My mind, though, was too addled at the time to focus on any ‘how-to’ process.
   The next phase became a cut-and-paste-by-topic, literally, with scissors. Doing jigsaw puzzles while my mom read to me from children’s books had served to relax my mind, relieve my stress. This cut-and-paste process did the same, tending to temper the raw emotions that surfaced within me while I was piecing together this story of the final journey that I took with my mom. Though I became even more emotional scribbling in more of the day-to-day incidences and ordeals, the process was quite cathartic. As dementia took more of a hold on her brain, my mom had become more lost to me; instead, becoming my child. Very tough, writing these segments. There were two occasions in which I had intense emotional meltdowns, actually throwing the entire draft into the garbage can, albeit choosing a clean one J
  It got kind of fun after that. Deciding on and naming the chapters, and piecing the segments into an order, was also akin to doing a jigsaw puzzle. It was while typing a more orderly second draft that I finally began to feel some excitement. Proofreading a technical manual had always been fun for me so editing the draft served to ramp up my excitement. The most poignant aspect of this edit phase were some moments in which it felt as if I were being guided by someone, some outside force, to, ‘Take out this section,’ or, ‘Move this chapter here,’ or, ‘Use this word.’
  After completing this second edit, I went out one day with a friend into a store that I rarely frequented. Invisible threads of connection were at work again for I ran into a man with whom I used to work. Isaac had recently published his story and excitedly gave me the name of his Indie Publisher, Dr. Phyllis Olmstead. It took a few weeks before I finally made the call. She jumped right into my fray. We met and her excitement fed my own; all was in motion. Phyl massaged the chapters for book-print, suggested I add pictures, and added into the text highlighted key caregiver points. Her respectfulness of my desires made the process a nourishing one. To celebrate, I bought a new laptop and stepped back into the world via the internet.
   My choice to listen to an inner urge and fulfill my mom’s long-held wish for me to write a book has opened so many new doors in my life. To me, the experience is akin to noticing a bit of sparkle in a thread that lies amidst a bunch of other thread options. Every time that I pick up the threads that sparkle, around the bend has always been fascinating connections. I’ve developed new cyber skills and discovered the fun of blogging. Cyber folks have added such nourishment to my life; some are now dear friends.
  Is there another book lurking around? Thus far, a slew of fanciful short stories written for family and friends have leaped out of my mind and onto a page; and, lately, a few new sparkling threads are catching my eye. Wonder what is around their bend. It is safest to say, 'More will be revealed!' J

Monday, January 7, 2013

Introducing My Student, Hewaideh Gharib. Her First Essay

Sometimes we follow a thread that beckons even though it seems as if the timing is not quite right; the spirit is still burdened, not quite ready to tackle something new.

Just over a year ago, I had talked myself into feeling ready to take a volunteers’ workshop and, as a result of that choice, made a delightful connection with a man named Aaron, now my good friend. Little did I know then that, 8 months down the road, Aaron would call and ask me this innocuous question, ‘Didn’t you say you were going to look for a part-time job? Want me to talk to my boss?’ I remember shrugging to myself at the time and then saying, ‘Why not.’  So Aaron emailed his boss, the Coordinator of Adult Education at our local Technical Center.  Within 2 weeks, I had been fingerprinted, drug tested, and given a job that I had never before considered. Throughout the two-week surreal whirlwind of jumping through new employment hoops, I dazedly wondered, ‘What have you jumped into this time, Dody?’

My new part-time, 9 hour per week, 3 mornings a week job is to act as coach/teacher to a multi-cultural group of adult students who live at the far edge of Lake County, 45 minutes from my house. How in the world could I help so many when their skills for reading, language and math were at such varied levels? The task seemed daunting to me. In the back of my mind, I kept thinking that I was ‘nuts,’ that is, until the first morning when I walked into the community room of a library that was to serve as our classroom.  It was just me and 21 fascinating, expectant faces. Before even all of our introductions to each other were over, a powerfully warm feeling had begun to fill me up from the inside out. You are home, I thought. It no longer mattered that I felt like a fish out of water. I no longer even cared that I had to always haul all materials and workbooks out of a closet each time. I was home.

My students have to juggle families, transportation and jobs in order to attend the class.  It takes a ton of commitment. For those in which English is their second language, there is even more challenge. Yet, here they are, eager to better their lives. They were TABE tested as part of their registration.  In order to register for specific vocational training classes, adults must have a high school diploma or equivalent (GED), or have passing scores in Language, Reading and Math on a TABE test, Tests of Adult Basic Education.

It has been 3 months since that initial class. Many of my students just completed a post-TABE test in at least 1 subject area. When the results came in, my boss told me, “It is astounding, this 42% increase in the skill levels of your students! Veteran GED teachers don’t have those results!” He knows our secret ingredient for this success. What is it? Simple: we are a team. We nourish each other.

For many, writing an essay is one of the toughest skills to grasp in order to pass the GED; there are specific guidelines that a student must follow.   To prepare, I’ve given several students practice topics. One of my very avid students agreed to share her first ever written essay with us.

 In her words:

 “My name is Hewaideh Gharib. I was born in Rochester, N.Y., but raised overseas in Jerusalem, Israel. I now live in Florida with my husband and four beautiful children. Even though I have a full agenda every day, I was able to find a way to manage my time with everything I do.”

 ESSAY TOPIC: Is it important for you to make time for yourself?

            Life can be very challenging. Sometimes it is too challenging for some people; it can make their lives very hectic. There are people who have families to take care of, jobs to support their families, school to attend, and errands to run. Some people have to do all of these at once and, thus, put lots of stress on themselves. Even though a person has all of these responsibilities, it is very important that they find a way to make time for their self.
            As a mother of four, taking care of my family and their needs always comes first. Never have I thought about myself and my needs. Most days are filled with lots of craziness. Thinking of everything I do from soccer practice to helping kids with homework, to cooking and cleaning, running errands and going to work, it gets to the point where I feel as if I can’t catch up with my own legs. By the end of the day, I am exhausted.
           When I realized it, I asked myself a question, “If I don’t take care of myself, how will I be able to take care of my family?” I started taking care of myself by making a weekly planner. Now, although I have busy days, everything I do is at its own time. Most importantly, I was able to fit in one hour a day for “me time.” Organizing my time helped me get through my day with ease.
           Life can be very stressful sometimes. This can affect your body, thoughts, and feelings. Start by taking steps: take time to breathe, go for a walk, relax your body, and tell your mind that everything will be okay. Think of your health because stress can cause physical and mental problems.
           It is very important in each and everyone’s lives to make time for themselves. Begin with organizing your time, making a schedule ahead of time every week. Think of your health and happiness because we all need quality time for ourselves. Maintaining our strength is important in order for us to care for our loved ones. So remember, most importantly, to schedule ‘alone time’ for yourself.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Looking Back..Moving Forward: A bit of fanciful, a bit of truth

   Wearier than I ever thought that I could again be, I typed the words, ‘The End,’ saved my work then shut down the computer. Here you are, Mom. I’m done with Adventures in Mother-Sitting, a final gift to you, I mumbled sadly to myself. Pushing the chair back from the desk, I got up tiredly and made my way over to the couch. Plopping down and stretching out, I thought, What now?
    Little Evie jumped up, kneaded a bit on my belly then settled her head on my shoulder, taking advantage of my away-from-the-desk moment, wanting some cat time. Uh oh, I thought then steeled myself for what came next as Max landed his bigger body onto my stomach, breathed his kitty breath into my face and finally settled on my chest next to little Evie. So much for ‘me’ time, I thought, spitting out a few cat hairs that had fallen near my mouth.
    Oh dang! I forgot to count the words. Authors are supposed to check their word count, aren’t they? I asked no one in particular. This is just nuts! Who would want to read a memoir about taking care of a mother for the last 3 years? It’s too depressing. What do I do next? Everything seems empty. My time here is done. I’ve finished the final purpose I was meant to do. These thoughts and more tumbled about in the stream of my mind.  Sighing heavily, a few fat tears escaped my eyes, precluding the flood of tears that had been dammed up in my tired, weary old soul. Where is the Kleenex when you need one? I thought, wiping my eyes on my old familiar t-shirt. The cats settled down after my crying jag, began their peaceful purr and then, blessedly, a rare thing happened: I fell into a deep sleep.

   It was dusk. I was paddling in a familiar kayak on a canal that was heavily wooded on each side. A few wood storks were standing in the shallows, fishing for minnows or perhaps, for frogs. They paid scant attention to a nearby family of raccoons, busily dipping into the water what I imagined to be some bit of raccoon delight. As I tuned in to the sounds of evening, the raucous squawks of a variety of larger birds caused me to pause and look up. The canopy above had become a night-time rush hour super highway. Swooping white egrets, big blue herons and fish-hawk ospreys were barely missing each other as each headed for one of the nests that sat atop the magnificent cypress trees bordering the canal. I was the guest in this neck of the woods.
    As the cacophonous sounds of their settling down began to dissipate, an old friend from a previous dream emerged quietly from the deep and gave a gentle slap of his tail, sprinkling me with water.  Stunned initially at the sight of those monstrous-looking sharp teeth, I began to relax as the gator’s thoughts connected with my own. “How do you like my grin?” he said. “You’re out late again. You must be ready to go on another adventure. I’ve been expecting you and, as your guide, will lead you into the back water branching off from this main canal. You ready?” Instead of answering outright, I blurted out a question that I had never asked before, “What is your name? What do I call you?” He gave a shake of his massive head, rocking the kayak a bit before speaking. “You two-legged creatures give us names! We have no need of them. If you want, call me Andy, a name I pulled from your thoughts while you were paddling into this part of the canal. Now, grab the knob at the back of my head; relax and enjoy the scenery. I’ll do all the paddling.” At least I don’t have to ride on top of those bumps like last time, I thought as I grabbed hold of the largest knob.
    As we glided deeper into the woodsy swamp, the moon rose and cast a shimmering glow on the many cypress knees that poked up from the shallow water. They seemed almost like little people, with their varying shapes and sizes. Andy guided us smoothly through this little yet crowded village. I became mesmerized by the ghostly beauty of this watery bit of space so was jolted back to reality as something rather large though not long in length landed on my head. ‘Spider! Huge Spider!’ I yelled knowing it couldn’t be a snake, about to slap it off. Andy quickly swung his gator body around, slapped his tail on the water and said, “Don’t!” I had to grab both sides of the rocking kayak to keep from flipping over. A familiar trill of laughter-like sound echoed around as the heaviness lifted from my head. Mouth agape, I sat in stunned silence as an iridescently colored green heron fluttered down onto the tip of Andy’s snout.
    “I promised you an adventure,” Andy said, “and here she is! This lovely creature is one of your favorites yet, in this dream, acts as a reflection of the muse in your mind. As you’ve already ascertained, I am the guide in your dreams and as such, shall leave you now since the destination has been reached. Until next time.” With a final slap of his tail, Andy disappeared into the inky blackness of the swamp and the green heron flew over, settling herself onto the hull of my kayak.
    Still a bit flummoxed, I sat and stared at this beautiful bird that I had so long admired, though mostly from a distance. Finally, she spoke. “Every time you see one of my kind, you always say, ‘what a beauty!,’ so call me Beauty. When you released the dam that had held back those sad, angry tears, it was a way to honor the sad despair that comes when it feels as if one has been abandoned. I act as a reflection of the life that still dwells within you, one that has been difficult for you to acknowledge. Now is the time for the revelation of your future. It is not bleak or dim and more so, you are not done with your time here on Earth.” I sucked in my breath at her words and learned that, even in dreams, tears can fall.
     Shifting a bit in the kayak and hanging on to a nearby cypress knee, I said, “Why does it feel as if I have lived my life, finished all that I was here to do?” In a splash of color, Beauty flew from the kayak onto the branch of a tree, closer to me. “This is important; here me well,” she said. “That is despair talking. Your deeper feelings of despair were held off a bit by the focus that you had towards completing your memoir. As it came closer to being completed, your despair began to emerge and became the only voice that you were able to hear, until now. The death of a loved one usually portends a time of despair, of feeling abandoned, especially for the person who was main caregiver like you were for your mom. For those 3 years, your life was entirely wrapped around the needs of your mother. At her death, your focus became the completion of a final gift for her, writing a book. Now that this is done, a huge void seems to stare at you with no answers to the question, ‘What do I do next?’ Now here is the grace inherent in a journey through grief. The voice of despair gathers together all the depressive emotions contained within an experience of death and loss; it is the bottom step to be reached in a journey through grief that, once experienced, becomes the springboard for your spirit to find its way back into the world. Life is not yet done with you.”
    “What do you mean?” I asked with a bit more conviction in my voice. Beauty ruffled up a bit, settling her feathers before saying, “It is not for me to give you specifics as to what your future holds. I can tell you this. Your way forward will present itself in ways that you have not yet experienced. Listen to your head but temper it by pausing and then, follow your heart. Adventures in Mother-Sitting will be read by those who can benefit from your experience. Doors of interesting connections with people from around the world are in your future, as is a very different yet nourishing kind of teaching situation. Live your life as you always have, open-mindedly and with a willingness to go out on a limb, to try new things.
     I sat quietly for awhile, taking in the meaning of Beauty’s words. Nodding my head in understanding, I reached out and gently stroked her beautiful feathers saying, “Thank you.”

  Thinking that I was still in my dream and that Andy had returned to rock my kayak about, I woke up to realize that the rocking motion came from Max giving a vigorous cleaning to Evie’s head. Laughing out loud, I scooted the cats off my chest and walked over to the computer. Time for a new story and a new chapter in my life, I thought, bringing up Word on my PC. What does come next?