Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Zen of Pie

When I’m stressed or afraid, I cook. There is something Zen about the measuring, the chopping, the peeling…Something about preparing food to nurture our bodies that reassures us that yes, life goes on.

On 9/11- we kept our kids home from school. My best friend Erin came over, and as everyone sat glued to CNN, terrified,  I tearfully got busy in the kitchen. First, it was enormous stacks of pancakes. Then I baked cookies. Then Spaghetti and meatballs…and on and on.

When problems get us down, Troy and I will often make soup. We’ll put on some soothing music, open a bottle of wine, stand side-by-side chopping and mincing and talking it through. Then as our concoction simmers, the aroma filling the house, we reflect and let our thoughts settle.

2011 ended so lovely that I stepped into 2012 with great optimism…but WHAM-O. Life sucker-punched us and soon there were funerals to attend, friends and family in crisis, and some major crises of our own.

So I got back in the kitchen.

Two lasagnas, five brie paninis, two garlic shrimp pastas, one mound of spaghetti, three pies, a double batch of muffins and two dozen snickerdoodles later, I still haven’t solved anything. But feeding my family and friends makes me feel, in some way, like I am sending my own kind of love out into the cosmos.

Last night, a friend who was eating my lasagne and apple pie said, “If this is what you do when you’re stressed, no one will ever wish you well.” I told her to take advantage of my stress while it’s here. When I’m happy I can get lazy, writing all day and ordering in Thai food.

For now as my worries mount, I pray, I meditate, I visualize healing, I try to write, and I cook.

Anyone hungry?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Remembering the Northridge Earthquake

My friend Pam reminded me this morning that today is the 18 year anniversary of the 1994 Northridge earthquake in Southern California. It's amazing how time can put the fuzzy technicolor edges on a life-altering disaster, but writing brings it into clear focus again. I had just been writing about the earthquake in the book I'm working on now, which is about our home and life burning down that same year.  Here is an excerpt:

I found Troy in the hallway, shining a flashlight on the breaker box, the smoke swirling in its beam. When he flipped the override switch, it made a loud buzzing sound.
He jumped back, “What the hell…”
“Honey, please. Don’t mess with it,” I warned.
He stepped back closer to inspect, rubbing his eyes from the sting of the smoke, “It’s gotta be just a fuse…I can fix it.”
“Please! I have a bad feeling. Let’s just leave it and call an electrician in the morning.”
“Okay, okay.”
Cold air blew in from the cracked windows. I wrapped my arms around myself, shivering. “This day is really freaking me out.”
“Sweetie,” he put his arm around me, “everything is okay. Don’t worry.” His touch was warm, his voice soothing, but it did not calm me.

I went upstairs, sat on our bed and attempted to meditate. My mind prattled on with possibilities to rationalize my behavior. That January, in the middle of the night, we had experienced a terrifying earthquake that devastated California and killed 55 people. We had awoken to what sounded like the end of the world. The earth let out a deafening roar as power lines outside snapped and blew up. Our house shook with such violent force we thought we had been bombed.  

Fires erupted all over Los Angeles. Water mains broke and flooded the streets. Buildings flattened like pancakes, freeways snapped in half like legos. California was shut down, we had no power and no way to ship merchandise as freeways had crumbled. It almost put my children’s clothing company out of business. 

It took us quite a while to bounce back from that loss, and for all four of us to be able to sleep through the night again. Strong aftershocks continued to rock California all year. Many of us had become attuned to the signs and, like animals, we could feel the shifts in weather, the particular stillness in the air. Maybe I was feeling the onset of another aftershock. Or maybe what I was feeling was an emotional aftershock. Or maybe it was my childhood issues rising up to haunt me again. What was wrong with me?

Another excerpt:

Megan had slept over the night of the 1994 earthquake. As the house shook violently, Troy and I ran for the kids, bouncing against the walls as we made our way down the hallway.  I’d grabbed Cristen and Megan and Troy swooped up Taylor. I held the girls tight in my lap until the shaking stopped. Megan, only six years old, was so terrified she peed on me. We then ran outside and were huddled in the street with our neighbors, everyone wrapped in blankets, when Brian and Johanna’s truck pulled to a screeching stop. I’ll never forget the look of terror on Brian’s face as he ran toward us, and how it turned to relief when he saw his little girl wrapped in my arms.  He knew we loved Megan as much as one of our own, and we’d never let anything happen to her. We all hugged each other so tight,  crying and thanking God that night. 

Were you in Los Angeles for the 1994 earthquake? What are your memories?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

A New Year's Revolution

My 2011 Vision Board. Gotta say, most of it came true.
Happy New Year Everyone. It’s 2012 and I’m about to make my vision board for the year. Every year I ask myself what I really want from life. I think long and hard about it. Have you thought about what you want this year?
I’m not talking about your average New Year’s Resolutions…lose weight, quit smoking, blah blah blah.  I’m talking about what you REALLY want. What your heart wants. What your soul craves.
What is it you want from this life?

This is a question I began asking myself some years ago, and at first I found it really hard to answer. Try asking someone that question at a cocktail party. You’ll hear a lot of hemming and hawing, because really, how often do we sit down and ask ourselves what we really want?

We usually say things like:
I want to be thin.
Why? What is the feeling being thin would bring? How would being thin change our lives? Would we feel healthier, or younger, or have more energy? Would people love us more? Would we love ourselves more? Maybe what we really want is to be loved as we are, or to have better self esteem. Or to speak up when we feel something rather than suppressing emotions with food. What do we really want?

I want to be rich.
Why does everyone want to be rich? What problems would it solve, really? Would it give us the freedom to do the things we’ve always wanted to do? Like what? What are the things we’ve always wanted to do, and why aren’t we doing them? What would you do with all that freedom? What would you do with the money? Would it change your relationships? Make you more lovable? What do we really want?

World Peace.
How can we achieve world peace? Maybe what we really want is inner peace. Where can we start? What do we really want?

I think we get it all wrong. We talk about the outer things we want, the possessions, the conditions.  But we don’t acknowledge the inner - the underlying reasons we want those things. The seed of every desire is in our souls. That is where to begin.

My belief is that if we take care of the matters of our hearts, of our souls, the rest will fall into place. 
If we want more love, we must be loving and lovable.
If we want more money, we must value ourselves and make ourselves valuable to others.
If we want to be thinner, we must value our health enough to make changes.
If we start within, take care of our hearts, listen to our inner wisdom – our resolutions can become a revolution.

2012. It’s a brand new year. Our year. Your year.
So …what is it you really, really want?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

A Prayer for Gabriel

For over twenty years, Troy and I have made music with Gabriel’s family. Together, we have filled ballrooms and venues all over the country with music and laughter and joyous sound. But before Gabriel’s funeral, I never knew the sound of four hundred human souls wailing with grief. Now I do. As my husband Troy said, so eloquently, “The deafening thud of the first bit of earth dropped from mother's shovel to son’s casket is a sound I will not soon forget.

On this darkest of days, the January sun shone bright, the cloudless sky above was never bluer, as we watched our sweet friend Susan bury her twenty-four year old son, then stand tall and call herself a blessed woman to have loved him. Such unbearable sorrow, such devastating grace and beauty. What to make of it all?

Everyone wants to know how it happened. How could such a young beautiful man die in his sleep? We don’t exactly know yet, and that’s not the point. The point is – it has happened. But still the questions… How? How? It’s as though we think if we can just understand how, we can immunize ourselves from such a terrible fate. I understand this, as I’ve done it myself. But the hard truth is we are not guaranteed any such security in life. Tragedies befall each of us in different ways.

Healing lies not in the how, not in the why, but in the acceptance of what is. It may take us a lifetime or beyond to understand, but this much I know of life. No one gets to elude the difficult parts. There are those who say that happiness is our birthright, but it’s not our only birthright. Suffering, joy, pain, health, illness, disaster, miracles…are all our birthright, because they are all part of the human experience. Pain is what leads us inevitably to Grace. As in the story of Michelangelo, every one of us is David, trapped in the marble, waiting for our Creator to chisel away our cowardice, our ego, our pride and resentments, to release the true essence of what we really are. Suffering opens the door to these defining moments, our holiest moments, if we allow ourselves to be broken open. And once we are, yes, we will know pain. But each of us carries the most powerful antidote in the world to pain, that miraculous healing medicine - love.

Susan and her children epitomized love as they each delivered raw, honest, heartwrenching eulogies to Gabriel. As I watched through tear-filled eyes, I saw light emanating from them, and knew at that moment they were being held by thousands of unseen hands, cradled in prayers from all over the world. Love in action.
They spoke of the overwhelming love Gabriel showed in his life, and asked us all to love each other better, that his life would not have been in vain.

Driving my youngest son Evan home from school yesterday, I was lost in thoughts of the funeral, still trying to process it all- what can I do, how can I help? when out of the blue Evan asked,
“Mommy, how much do you love me?”
“Oh my goodness,” I said, “I love you so much I could never even say…”
“Just try anyway...” he said.
I closed my eyes and absorbed his words. Just try anyway.

Maybe we don’t always know how to love each other better, but we can try anyway. That is what I intend. I will tell my children and all of the people in my life how very much I love them. I will show love through my choices and my actions until my very life becomes a form of prayer- a prayer which I offer in honor of Gabriel:

May my thoughts, my words, my deeds be centered in love.

It may be difficult on some days, and sometimes I may fail, but as my baby boy said…I will just try anyway.

The sun was just beginning to set as the funeral came to an end. The rabbi asked us to form a human walkway for the family to move through as they left the grave to walk back into life. There were so many of us - hundreds and hundreds- it was an astonishing sight. Susan held her head high, making eye contact with us as she passed, acknowledging the love being shown.

As Troy and I left the gravesite, we saw our beautiful friend Terry Lenley. We hugged each other so tight and cried. With tears running down his face, he gave us a reassuring look, “Love’s got this,” he said.

No truer words…

Silence is the sound we hear now. Silence to reflect, to pray, to remember. But one day soon, the silence will give way to music and laughter as Gabriel’s family once again fills their world with the joyous sounds of life. In those moments, I will imagine Gabriel dancing among us.

Rest in peace, Gabriel. And rest in Love.