Saturday, October 18, 2014

Poland - A Saturday Morning in Warsaw Ghetto

New experiences in a new place. I have learned much already about Warsaw, Poland.
The day started with Cafe Latte, European (Bircher) muesli, fresh fruit, local cheeses and hearty bread. The foggy view out the window is the Place of Culture and Science which was a "gift from the Soviet People to the Polish nation" and was completed in 1955 during the Communist rule of Poland.

I could write a week of posts about Poland's Warsaw Ghetto. It felt surreal to learn about what was ...

Janusz Korczak (pen name Henryk Goldszmit) memorial. Korczak was a great proponent of children's rights and operated an orphanage as well as being a children's book author and pediatrician. 
Korczak along with 192 Jewish orphans perished at the German extermination camp Treblinka.
Prozna Street only standing street left of the Warsaw Ghetto which was leveled by Nazi forces in late WWII. 
Built in 1902, Nozyk Synagogue was used as warehouse by the Nazis thus saved from destruction. It was restored and reopened in 1983 as a place to worship.
Prozna Street: Restored side.
Prozna Street: Unrestored side.
On the wall of Prozna Street: I think "never again" beside "kindess and truth preserve the king."
On the wall of Prozna Street: Remember.
On the wall of Prozna Street: You Live.
On the wall of Prozna Street: Life.

Warsaw Ghetto memorial showing the shape of what once was.

Where the ghetto wall stood.
The story of the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto.

Monday, October 6, 2014


 My favorite picture of Granny and me. I am guessing 1966 and I do not recognize the house. 
Remembrance given this morning ...


This morning my Brother's family and my family went through the motions of preparing to mourn as a family. Youngest Son's alarm awoke the girls too early, Commuter Husband made cheesy eggs, boys starting to look more like men arranged their ties and the girls smoothed their black dresses. Granny would have been pleased to see this easy expression of family. For my Brother and I have worked diligently to create this bond so obvious in this generation of first cousins. And I am always, always comforted when my Brother is with me. I am especially thankful for him on this difficult morning.

I am also thankful to see my Great-Uncle & his Wife as well as my Great-Aunt who are Granny's siblings. My Great-Uncle & his Wife provided me a gift beyond words. Great-Uncle shared stories of Granny's youth on the farm in Rio Vista while we sat together through the night hoping Granny could sense our presence as she left this world.

To all our family and friends, we are comforted by your words, cards, gifts, actions and mostly by your presence today and your presence that touched Granny's life.

Many of you know I am a blogger. It is much cheaper than therapy. So last night, I sat down to write a blog post entitled "Granny."

Today's Blog Post

It was five minutes until Rosh Hashanah would start Wednesday evening at 6 p.m. at Temple. Oldest Son, Youngest Son and I sat in the usual front row with a wonderful friend who had saved us the seats. I saw a phone call come through from Oklahoma and knew I should answer it thus I quickly found my way up the Temple isle. The news was difficult and troubling and felt chaotic in this place at this time. Silent tears streamed down my cheeks in the foyer. Granny was in the ER. It was bad.

Over the next twelve hours, I talked with family and arranged child care for the boys. I explained to the boys that Granny was on life support and we may need to make tough decisions. After Thursday morning services which included Youngest Son sounding the Shofar, I hurried to drop Oldest Son and Youngest Son at school midday and drive to Oklahoma.

Youngest Son said to me "If you are going to take Granny off life support, can you do it today?"
Me "Why today?"
Youngest Son "Because it is Rosh Hashanhah. If not today then can you wait until Yom Kippur?"

Life support was removed on the first day of Rosh Hashanah and Granny passed away on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the High Holy Days of Judaism and cover ten days. Our faith, our spirituality, our various chosen religions provides each of us a framework for life. In this moment of profound loss, losing Granny on a this most special of Jewish days was oddly comforting. And this child soon to be a young man, felt that so clearly.

During these ten days, I have been troubled and sad and angry and uncomfortable. I was not at peace. Then came this past Saturday, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The afternoon "Service of the Heart" was "A Liturgy of Healing for Yom Kippur Afternoon."

The music washed over me. The soothing texts seeped into my being. This poem by Rashani was read and the words called to me:

There is a brokenness
out of which comes the unbroken,
a shatteredness
out of which blooms the unshatterable.
There is a sorrow
beyond all grief which leads to joy
and a fragility
out of whose depths emerges strength.
There is a hollow space
too vast for words
through which we pass with each loss,
out of whose darkness
we are sanctioned into being.
There is a cry deeper than all sound
whose serrated edges cut the heart
as we break open to the place inside
which is unbreakable and whole,
while learning to sing.
And then the afternoon service lead to Yizkor. The word Yizkor means to remember. I quickly read ahead through the sacred texts looking for something, anything that could heal my heart. I started writing notes. I thought about my Granny ...

The first sixteen years when she was just my grandmother. The Granny I snuggled up to in bed and who made the best spaghetti ever. The Granny who took me to the beach and to Six Flags and to Seven Seas and to Dogpatch USA. The Granny who bought a place at Horseshoe Bend and created kid summer heaven. The Granny whose house I loved to visit at 1537 Hamsted where she let me walk a million times to the 7-11 around the block for candy and Big Red. The Granny who took me to Red Lobster for Shirley Temples and Pancho's for warm tortillas and butter. The Granny who took us snow skiing even though she had never been - what made her even think to take us? The Granny who diligently had professional photos taken of her four grandchildren together as we grew from babies to teens.

My Granny could do anything! I honestly thought I could call her with a need or a request and she would make it happen. And she did. Granny took care of me and I loved her desperately.
She was:
  • Smart -  She was so very, very, very smart. She could just figure things out. 
  • Adventurous -When I think back to all the experiences she gave me with a limited budget and logistics, I am amazed. It is now clear to me that she was an experience junkie who loved to take her grand kids along her glorious path.
  • Not Mainstream - My Granny did things her way. Period.
  • Caring - Granny helped so many in her path. She loved helping those who had hit a bump in the road.
  • Independent - She was savvy and knew how to take care of herself and those around her.
Then life threw Granny and me curve ball. We had already survived losing my mother, her daughter  - together. But then in my high school years, Granny had no choice but to take on the role of my parent and I had to take on the cloak of her daughter. This unfortunate twist siphoned away that glorious relationship between the grandchild and grandparent. The remaining years were prickly and precious at the same time. The best years were when she helped us care for Youngest Son when he was an infant. But things did not stay stable.

My grandmother was a woman of extremes. She was a favorite for many and then alienated others.

I miss her voice. As troublesome as things could be, I always loved to hear her voice; that familiar tone and the contagious laugh. I want to hear her call me "Honey" again. I really do.

I am like my Granny in many ways; as is my child. And I am thankful to be smart, adventurous, not mainstream, caring and independent and feel empowered to do anything. Granny has a Legacy in me and my two cousins and my brother and the eleven great-grandchildren who each show her spirit.

So I sat in the Yom Kippur Yizkor service and was thankful for this Jewish holiday that placed the words and the music before me. Thankful to reflect on this complicated relationship. Hoping that Granny has found peace, at last.

My Yizkor Book of Remembrance gave me this poem by Chaim Stern reprinted from Mishkan T'Filah.

It is a fearful thing to love
what death can touch.

A fearful thing to love, 
hope, dream: to be --
to be, and oh! to lose.

A thing for fools this, and
a holy thing,
a holy thing to love.

your life has lived in me, 
your laugh once lifted me, 
your word was gift to me.

To remember this brings a painful joy.
'Tis a human thing, love,
a holy thing, 
to love
what death has touched.

Granny with me on my 4th birthday in April 1969 at our house in Burleson. The last birthday before Granny's daughter and my mother was killed in June 1969. Story goes that Granny bought me this bike against my parent's wishes - sounds about right.
Granny with me, Ronnie, Clint, Cory and a friend of mine. Granny always tried to include a girl for me among the younger boys. We are at the pool at Horseshoe Bend!

Granny at ski resort at Purgatory, CO. She stayed on deck all day for us to ski in and out, feeding us and listening to us.
Granny gave me a surprise Sweet 16 Birthday Party. I look pretty goofy happy.
Granny and Pa with me before Senior Prom. Granny took me to downtown Fort Worth to get this beautiful dress. She spent $160 which was allot for us in 1983. Note this was AFTER the custom dress I designed and had made was a disaster.
More Horseshoe Bend fun - Granny in the Brazos with my cousin Kelly howling with laughter. 
Horseshoe Bend Again - Clint, Cory, Ronnie, Kelly and I look sunburned and sassy.
Final Horseshoe Bend - I am sure we were riding around in the back of that Camino. Granny has her do-rag and I have my knee socks!
Granny took Clint, Cory, Ronnie and me so many places. Guessing this is one of those drive around animal parks.
My Mother and My Granny. If only ...

Monday, September 29, 2014

Mental Health Status

I am a project/program manager. As such, I often communicate Project Health through the use of Green, Yellow and Red indicators. In simple terms, Green is Good and Red is Not Good and Yellow is Watch Out.

I am fortunate, fortunate and beyond fortunate to have a truly meaningful group of loving friends, coworkers and family supporting me. All want to know how am I doing? And the honest answer is I feel Red right now. However I know I will start trending Yellow and ultimately be back to Green. But not today or tomorrow or the next day.

And it is okay to be Red. Life is sometimes Not Good. And this is one of those weeks or maybe even two weeks. I will feel the pain of loss and being overwhelmed. However, I also have grit and a sense of humor so I will pull on those qualities to march forward one task to the next.

Thanks to all who have helped, are helping and will help. I love all you more than you know.

And I am especially grateful for my Commuter Husband who understands me more than anyone and loves me unconditionally anyway (see that sense of humor peeping through?)

Friday, September 26, 2014

This Morning

I am listening and watching as my Granny slips away. Twelve hours ago I made the very adult decision no one wants to make. Yet, I feel like that small child that used to happily curl up and sleep next to my Granny.

I am sitting in a hospital room with my beloved great aunt and uncle. Grateful beyond words that they are here. Yet, I feel alone. 

I tell myself that Granny lived a long life on her own terms. Yet, I cannot rid myself of toturous thoughts that things were not quite finished.

I am trying to think through next steps, the next few days. Yet, this moment, this day seems enormous and never ending. I am not even sure I want it to end because I do not want this ending.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Romance Abounds

5 Love Languages ...
Today was a day of great romance for me. I felt the love beaming from Houston to Dallas; from Commuter Husband to Mommy with Commuter Husband (me.)

According to Dr. Gary Chapman, there are 5 Love Languages as explained on the website:  My top Love Language is Acts of Service. Simply put, "actions speak louder than words." A Love Language defines how you typically give love to others as well as how and when you feel loved.

The romantic gesture of the day was an Act of Service that had me giddy with delight. Commuter Husband first asked for my drivers license number. Then he texted me to get the audit number on my drivers license. I was then the recipient of these dispatches from Commuter Husband:

I got this fantastic text message "Good News! You have until Sep 29 to complete Drivers Ed."

Followed by this enchanting note "I am going to sign you up for same course I took and request your driving record."

And then the chivalrous directive "Ok from now on I will handle all of your tickets! You had a $106 surcharge that I had to pay for the time you got stopped and had an expired drivers license."

Summarizing in this loving note "You are all set for course. I will have to check back next week to make sure the delinquent charge gets cleared and print out clean drivers history report. Luv ya :)"

Concluding with this passionate communiqué "Look at it this way ... you are WANTED in so many ways."

Background: I currently have a speeding ticket that I have been stressing on for over a week. I have not had time to locate the paper work and I thought I had missed the defensive driving option window. Thus I was sure I had a warrant out for my arrest. I could not even remember exactly which city I received the ticket (it was Farmer's Branch according to Commuter Husband's research.) And obviously, I did have another unknown and neglected item lurking on my driving record - uh oh.

My responses to all of these poetic texts from Commuter Husband were words of love, love, love and more love. His main Love Language is Words of Affirmation. Ha! We are the ideal married couple today.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

My Cup Runneth Over ... And I Am Drowning

I am a fortunate woman. My immediate family is in good health and I have an amazing brother, true friends, great neighbors, meaningful Jewish life, lovely home, steady work and adventures galore. Yes my cup runneth way over. However, I feel like I am drowning right now.

My list of things to do and responsibilities to address has me simply overwhelmed. I have never been good at saying No to work opportunities, to requests for help and to new experiences. I also believe my roles as a mother, wife, granddaughter, sister, aunt, friend, neighbor, citizen, learner and worker should be approached with a proactive mindset and attention.  My greatest priority is being mother and this new school year has required a high level of parenting energy.

I could create a giant list of all the things going on but suffice it to say there is more than I can handle alone right now. And my body is screaming at me. Over the past few months I have developed episodic migraines (EMs) which I have self-diagnosed. I can now tell when they are starting. In the early morning hours while it is still dark, I can feel the severe pain expanding in my brain. I know that within two to three hours I will be vomiting bile. I take over the counter medication and sleep it off in a dark room. As soon as the pain starts subsiding then I eat and drink a small amount. The residual headache will stay will me all day but I am usually starting to function by late morning. These EMs are stressed induced. This Sunday morning followed this pattern. Yesterday was not a great day.

I am fond the the expression "we cannot boil the ocean." My line of work requires me to address problems in manageable pieces. I am trying to take the same approach at home. So we will take day at time. Task at a time. And all things may not be done perfectly and I will need to process that fact. This is extremely hard for me to do.

I have committed to myself and family to saying No and not scheduling any new events until our house is put back together. I did say No yesterday to a dinner outing. This is also super hard for me to do. Crazy, I know.

My demeanor is not my optimal self. It is a surreal experience watching my roller coaster emotions. I apologize to my family and ask for understanding. I think it is a good thing that Tashlich and Yom Kippur are approaching. I will need these Jewish High Holidays to climb out of this hole.

So there you have it. And this too will pass ... please soon ... pretty please ...

Monday, September 1, 2014

Based on a True Story: Gram's Black Cloud

Renee knew she should cry or scream or something. As usual, she just moved forward because really what else is there? Renee felt the familiar tug of obligation mixed with loathing mixed with love. This particular cocktail is exhausting physically, mentally and emotionally.

How did Renee land in this spot at this moment? The reasons go back over eighty years: the number of years since her grandmother was born in a small Texas town. So does the story start at the beginning or does she work back from the present? Neither is a good answer. There is no one cohesive narrative. There are too many tales pounding in Renee's head. The too comfortable feeling of chaos swirls around Renee.

Today will be the starting point. A decision is made. Renee will write it all down. The rest will fill in over time. The characters and settings and places are vast and sometimes illogical. It is best to simply start somewhere.

This very morning Renee admired the beautiful sunrise in the blue sky of Oklahoma as she crossed the border from Texas. Renee considered stopping the car to take a picture but focused forward instead. She wanted to make sure she arrived at hospital in time to meet with Gram's doctor. Renee expected her Gram to be unconscious suffering from the effects of a stroke. Upon arrival, Renee found Gram was conscious and Gram's companion, Grey, greeted Renee with a hug and genuine fondness. Grey is a fit and feisty 86 year old man who exudes kindness and good nature. 

Renee surveys the situation in the critical care unit. Gram is awake, breathing on her own and can move her hands and feet. Gram is talking but it is virtually impossible to understand what she is trying to say. Renee is surprised and quickly confers with the nurse, Marla. Marla lets Renee know that Grey has not brought in Gram's medications yet so Renee dispatches Grey to retrieve them. No doctor has arrived.

Grey returns with two prescription medications and two over the counter medications. One is Xanax with 25 of 60 pills obviously taken in the last ten days. There is Benadryl and Melatonin which hints at sleep issues. Renee is starting to feel uneasy. Where are the rest of the prescriptions for hypertension and diabetes?  Grey insists that there are only the four. Marla manages to capture the full list of Gram's medications by calling the drugstore. Along with the expected routine pharmaceuticals are the dreaded pain meds and sleeping pills. Renee lets Marla know Gram has a history of prescription drug addiction and landing in the hospital for over medicating has occurred previously.

As the day slips away, Renee sits wrapped in a blanket watching cooking shows while occasionally talking to Gram and monitoring Gram's comfort level. Grey lovingly pets Gram making Gram smile with clear joy. Grey asks the exact same questions to Renee every twenty minutes showing obvious short term memory lapses. A couple arrives and introduces themselves as friends. They show Gram affection and inquire on her health. The woman mumbles something about someone finally showing up. Renee ignores the comment and does not take it personally. This well-meaning woman has no idea of the complexities simmering out of sight. 

Is it a minor stroke? Is it an overdose? Is it a little of both? Where is THAT doctor? Renee ask Marla to page the doctor again. The doctor finally shows up in the afternoon. Renee is not terribly impressed but he does relay that no infection is obvious and an MRI will be needed to rule out stroke. The doctor suspects there is a medication issue and it could take two to three days to clear out. The doctor keeps asking a Grey for information. Renee discretely pulls him aside to let him know Grey cannot be counted on for fully reliable information.

Marla half jokes about August: Osage County to Renee. Renee had the same thoughts but somehow having the nurse come to that conclusion independently is unsettling. Renee provides phone numbers to medical staff and calls relatives. There is nothing more to be done and Renee heads South. 

Renee's tries desperately not to feel disappointed but she does. She fights the feelings of resentment but they are there. The cycle of addiction never ever lets up. Everyone wants to pretend it is no big deal but it is. There is the soul crushing realization that it will never ever change for Gram or for Renee.

Renee arrives home. She literally collapses into a deep motionless, dreamless sleep.

Sunday, August 31, 2014


Slowly and methodically we are putting our home back together. We are hopeful that we are three weeks away from having our remodel 95% complete. Every single item in our home has been shifted from room to room to garage to porch to room at least once if not many times.

Youngest Son is playing Classic Rock off Pandora as he goes through his stuff. Oldies such as American Pie, Here Comes the Sun, Twist and Shout, Lean On Me, Let It Be and Don't Go Breaking My Heart drift through the house and lighten the mood. I ask Youngest Son if I can help him and he casually points to a pile of stuff he does not want anymore. I spot a green plastic container and I slowly lift the lid. My heart skips a tiny beat. It is a box of little boy treasures.

I look in the box and I am paralized. What do I do with this 12 year collection? I contemplate throwing it away. I cannot. That will have to happen on another day or another year or another decade but not today.

I hear Youngest Son singing the songs of his parents' youth while disposing of the relics of his early childhood. There is something profound, comforting and melancholic about this moment.
A box of rocks, arrowheads, shells, legos, fossils and sticks.
A new desk for Youngest Son as his sifts through books, boxes and belongings.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Two Peas in a Pod. Not.

Two kids. Two boys. Two years apart.

Two sets of shoes.

Which belongs to which son?

Red and So Excited to Find.
Not Red and "That is fine."

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Jews & Baseball & Cancer

This early Sunday morning we are off to Boca Raton, Florida. We includes Commuter Husband, Youngest Son and me, Mommy with Commuter Husband. Oldest Son is on his way as well but he is traveling with the Dallas Maccabi Team which includes Jewish athletes ages 13 to 16. Oldest Son is part of the 16U baseball team.

Shepherding our teenage son through his options for maintaining Jewish engagement is tricky. Trying out for this "Jewish Junior Olympics" team, practicing for the last few months and now headed to the Maccabi Games has been a wonderful experience for Oldest Son. We are thankful for finding this particular path.
Oldest Son has two game jerseys and the camouflage baseball one is just plain cool. The pink ribbon stands out in the "heart of Texas."
Oldest Son's coach (who is fantastic) asked each player to include the pink breast cancer ribbon on their jerseys. The boys are playing in honor of three players' mothers who have survived breast cancer. I happily ironed the symbol of hope on the two left sleeves.

I am thrilled that Oldest Son will play baseball, the game he loves, while representing his Jewishness AND honoring his mother who had breast cancer. Staying focused on our values and passions is so important; finding ways to act on them is the definition of a meaningful life