Monday, December 21, 2009

Volunteer Fire Santas!

I just experienced some true Christmas joy that made me light up from the inside out.  Unexpectedly, as I was getting my youngest son into his pajamas, we heard loud fire horns and sirens followed by "Ho! Ho! Ho! Me-r-r-r-r-y Christmas!" shouted over a megaphone.  As I scrambled to the windows with my toddlers, the sound intensified.  Sure enough, a convoy of the Dobbs Ferry Volunteer Fire Trucks turned the corner and slowly made their way down our street.  The trucks were covered in colorful lights and the center truck had a large, illuminated Santa Claus sitting on top waving to every house.  Needless to say, my boys were quite impressed. 

Living in this town, I get constant reminders of why I should stay here.  Today's reason is this display of selfless holiday cheer from a group of people who already go overboard giving their time and talents outside of their day-to-day jobs.  The merry fire truck noises went on for some time, so I imagine that the volunteers were sure to cover the town from pillar to post.  I thought about my son's nursery school classmates and the sudden excitement also playing out in their homes. 

We won't be in Dobbs Ferry for Christmas this year, but more and more it is this place that I think of when I hear that song, "Oh there's no place like Home for the Holidays..." 

Friday, December 18, 2009

Fruit Cake and Snow

When life gives you fruit, make some cake!  No--I am not channeling Marie Antoinette. Normally I don't follow the blogger trend of rambling on about the details of my life.  I have Facebook for that.  Tonight I feel like a little cathartic purge is in order. This has been a busy week.  I lack the energy to preach about health, peace or enlightenment. 

I have a teething 18 month old, a 3 year old that wakes up at 5:55 each morning, a husband who stays up until at least 11 p.m. nightly and a week that was filled with holiday events.  We started the week with a party thrown in the level of hell reserved for guilty Republican bankers, got the kids off to Good Morning America's studios bright and early on Monday, hosted an out of town guest this week, attended a late night party at the Plaza, made numerous preparations for our own party to be held this weekend... and now we are going to have the mother of all snowstorms hit us tomorrow.  Guess what?  I welcome the snowstorm.  Now we may end up with 0-5 guests at a party where we had expected 30 people.  I know... not much of a big difference for a Westchester party, right?  The party held in Dante's Inferno last weekend had at least 100 guests and numerous domestics and bartenders.  Many of the people we invited this weekend have at least 3 other parties to attend on the same night.  I honestly don't even know most of the invitees very well anyway.  With the impending storm, most of those social butterflies will have to de-ice their wings if they make it out at all tomorrow!  I wonder... will they be relieved?  I would imagine so.

The best part about our party getting severely scaled down is that the food we planned is perfectly good in the freezer or refrigerator for several weeks.  Our drink menu consisted of mulled wine and wassail.  Jamie and I will gladly consume every item we purchased over the next month, as we relax in front of our Christmas tree with Yoda on top.  I do so love my Yoda tree topper.  His light saber fills me with the childlike hope I experienced as a child, seated with my mother on the floor next to our tree, watching the flickering lights and daydreaming about Christmas morning.  I miss those days with my Mom.  Every year I looked forward to making candy and cookies with her for the holidays.  We would play her favorite Christmas music (which is now mine as well) and then prepare and box up the goodies for friends and family members.  My mother makes holiday treats for many people every year, to this day.

When I was a child I never hosted parties--that was Mommy's job.  I never cared about entertaining or trying to make friends.  My friends were automatic; from school, dance classes, orchestra, choir, newspaper, theater and church.  I never worried about friends or dates as I had them in spades.  I still have friends and I have a husband that makes most other women roll their eyes in disbelief.  He likes to cook.  He tucks me in every night.  He gets home for dinner most evenings.  He doesn't care that I'm not working right now even though that delays our plans for buying a house... and he still wants me to go on a yoga retreat in January to get a few days of peace by myself.  You just can't buy that kind of man.  Even if you wish for one, 9 out of 10 times, you won't find him.  As for friends, I don't have many, but the friends I do have are good ones.  They are talented, highly intelligent, empathetic, eccentric and generally entertaining.  I would rather have 5 deep friendships than 500 friends on Facebook.  My life is where I want it to be, so why shouldn't I blog about that? 

If a scaled down party means that Jamie and I will spend more quality time together before the holidays, then I am all for it.  I miss those days of marveling at the lights on the tree and the flickering holiday candles as soft music played on the stereo.  My fondest memories this season have been sitting with Rhys on my lap as he watched the Christmas tree and shouted, "Dee! Dee! Yoda!"  I like to sing to my boys.  At night, Rhys likes me to hold him while I sing and he watches the the twinkling tree lights.  When they move from the slow to the fast twinkle, he wiggles and smiles.  Rhys has his signature Christmas light dance moves.  This is the joy of the holidays. 

Because of my busy week, I attended only one yoga class.  I went this evening at 5:00 p.m.  As I settled into my mat, I let go of every expectation surrounding this little party.  As always, I left the class feeling like I had received a massage.  My mind was clear, my heart was light and my perspective was balanced.  I still stopped by two stores on the way home, so that all of the provisions would be ready... for what might be the most fun pre-Christmas weekend I have spent in many years.

When we finally kiss goodnight, no one has to go out in the storm.  I'll be holding my boys real tight, and all through the night we'll be warm!  My fire is never dying, and my dears, we're not goodbye-ing.  As long as they love me so... let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Pete Seeger: Think Globally, Sing Locally!

Yesterday evening I saw Pete Seeger performing live with a chorus of gleeful children.  I will never forget the experience.  It was the most magical holiday gathering I have ever had the good fortune to attend.  The concert, aptly named, Think Globally, Sing Locally, was held in the sanctuary of the South Presbyterian Church in Dobbs Ferry, New York.  The backdrop of the stage featured a banjo and a peace sign made of LED lights, with a cross in the middle... of course!  My Iphone photo does not do it justice, but here is a peephole view of the scene:

In addition to Pete Seeger and The Take Me To The River Children's Community Chorus, the following performers appeared: The Westhab Ensemble, Leo Liebeskind, Jenny Murphy and Matt Turk.  The Westhab Ensemble, a group of talented African American children, sang an excerpt from Dr. Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech.  Leo Liebeskind performed several of his original songs, singing, playing harmonica, guitar and piano.  Young Mr. Liebeskind displayed talent and poise beyond his age:  he is in the 11th grade at Hunter College High School in NYC.  Jenny Murphy is a local folk singer and song leader, and Matt Turk is "a veteran performer/eternal idealist who has engaged audiences around the world, both as a hard-rocking band leader and acoustic folk troubador" (quoting the program I received at the event; cover appears below). 

The predominant themes of the event were unity, freedom and perserverance.  I witnessed a group in that sanctuary that was diverse, yet unified.  Inside of a Protestant Church were gathered Caucasians, African Americans, Hispanics, Catholics, Protestants, Jews and people of every age.  My own beliefs lean very strongly toward Unitarian Universalism, so if I had to choose a crowd to hang with, I couldn't have landed in a better spot.  The audience was encouraged to sing along with the chorus in most of the pieces. 

Pete Seeger led us all in a musical lesson so that we could sing Alleluia, written by the 18th century English composer William Boyce.  By the end of our lesson, we were able to sing the chorus in a round! 

The children led us in singing, Tzena, Tzena, Tzena, a song written in Hebrew by Issachar Miron while he served in the Jewish Brigade of the British forces during World War II. 

Matt Turk led us in singing De Colores, in the original Spanish.  A translation of one line summarizes the heart of this song: "And so must all love be of many bright colors." 

For me, the three other most notable songs were Somewhere Over The Rainbow, Take It From Dr. King, and This Land Is Your Land.  Pete Seeger strongly invited the audience to sing harmony on This Land Is Your Land, and so I did!  Apparently some of my own childhood chorus lessons stuck after all these years. 

It was an unforgettable evening and I am beyond grateful to my friend Magda who suggested that I attend with her and her son Xavier.  Oddly enough, even though my own son's nursery school is adjacent to and affiliated with South Presbyterian Church, I hadn't heard about the concert until Magda e-mailed me a local announcement.  Even though I did not get to sit with Magda, it is meaningful to me that she invited me.  She is a deeply spiritual person who believes that Pete Seeger is a saint.  I have to agree with her.  He is a 90 year old man who has devoted his life to the service of peace, social justice and the protection of the environment.  His love for the Hudson River is one of the major reasons that it is clean and beautiful again today.  I am exceedingly thankful for his work since I live right next to the Hudson and am inspired daily by views of the river and the Palisades.  Most likely, I wouldn't be living where I do now with my sweet little family if it were not for the dedication of this man. 

I met Magda and Xavier for dinner before the concert, and as always, I enjoyed seeing them.  Magda's ancestry is Italian and her husband is South African.  Their lovely family is an excellent representation of the unity and diversity that bless so many of us living in this area and in other locations all around the United States.  I did not get to sit with them at the concert as we were separated in the crowd trying to enter the church.  Someone seated Magda and Xavier in the front of the church in the section reserved for families of the Children's Chorus.  I stood along the sides of the pews watching the performance, and I was filled with joy to see the two of them sitting there.  They do not live in the rivertowns and actually didn't know any children in the chorus, but as always, things happen for a reason.  I believe that they were supposed to be seated there because of Magda's respect and gratitude for Pete Seeger and because of her own dedication to the values embodied by the concert. 

As I looked around the crowd, I wanted so much to belong.  I felt humbled to be in that place.  Having only lived in this area for two years, and in New York since 1996, I haven't always experienced diversity.  I am from a relatively homogenous part of the country.  This is not to say that there is anything wrong with homogeneity.  I think that is what many of us have experienced growing up.  Fortunately, our world is moving in a more unified and diversified direction, and many of the youth at last night's concert will be leaders in that respect.  I strongly believe that the experience they had as temporary students of Pete Seeger will impact their beliefs and the way they relate to the rest of the world.  I also believe that growing up in this area will contribute to their openness and dedication to the service of higher values. 

I do believe, like Pete Seeger, that one day we will all fly over that colorful rainbow of God's promise.  I believe that we will and that we do all belong together.  I will teach my own children to respect every sincere spiritual path and to appreciate and learn from other cultures.  I do speak other languages and I will teach my children to speak them as well.  If I do nothing else in life, I hope that I can convince my children to be good citizens of the world, and not just of their own country.  I hope that they will have a broad view of spirituality and a great amount of hope in progress. 

I see how my friend is instructing her son and I will try to follow her example in the ways that I can.  I see how Pete Seeger dedicated his life to the highest causes, and although I am not presently able to work at that level, I will "try, try, try" to serve those purposes to the best of my ability. 

In closing, I will leave you with the lyrics of another song led by Matt Turk last night, and written by Jimmy Cliff:

You can get it if you really want

You can get it if you really want
You can get it if you really want
But you must try,
Try and try, try and try
You'll succeed at last

Persecution, you must face
Win or lose, you got to take your share
Keep your mind set on your dream
You can get it, as hard as it seems
You can get it if you really want
You can get it if you really want
You can get it if you really want
But you must try,
Try and try, try and try
You'll succeed at last

Rome was not built in a day
Opposition will come your way
But the hotter the battle you see
It's the sweeter the victory

You can get it if you really want
You can get it if you really want
You can get it if you really want
But you must try,
Try and try, try and try
You'll succeed at last

You can get it if you really want
You can get it if you really want
You can get it if you really want
But you must try,
Try and try, try and try
You'll succeed at last

Monday, December 7, 2009

Is Religion Stopping You?

George Carlin was onto something when he said, "Religion is bullshit."  If you have never had the opportunity to view this classic performance, please watch the YouTube video below:

I say that George Carlin was onto something, but I won't entirely dismiss the validity of religion.  Here are two good definitions of religion from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary: (1) : the service and worship of God or the supernatural; (2) : a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices. 

The key words for me in these definitions are "supernatural", "institutionalized" and "attitudes." 

Supernatural means, "of or relating to existence outside of the natural world", according to the Free Online Dictionary.  The last time I checked, we humans hadn't really achieved a perfect grasp of the nature of ourselves or the universe.  Do we have perfect knowledge of our bodies?  Where is that elusive cure for cancer?  Many diseases of the body are still categorized as idiopathic, meaning that they lack a clear cause.  How much do we know about black matter?  In China, people believed that the Earth was flat until the 17th century.  It was not until 330 BC that Aristotle unveiled observational evidence of a spherical Earth.  Since I am siding with the atheists on the issue of Creationism, I will cede the point that our planet has clearly existed for much longer than 6,000 some odd years.  Apparently since the dawn of man and continuing to this day, there are still open questions as to what constitutes Nature itself.  That being the case, how can we get a precise definition of "supernatural" in order to then destroy it?  The phrase "existence outside of the natural world" seems very slippery to me.  Do our dreams count as natural?  Seriously, are there a lot of people out there diligently drawing lines around what is natural?  If so... cool.  I hope they are jazzed. 

Obviously there are many problems with any system that is "institutionalized."  If something is institutionalized, that means that people have created a construct with sets of rules around it and then imposed the construct upon a wide group of individuals.  Our government is an institution.  The Roman Catholic Church...obviously an institution.  High schools are institutions.  I have to agree with George Carlin on the idiocy of worshiping an institution.  People are fallible and all.  I'm sure the Pope is a great guy, but...

We are all familiar with the problems caused by our "attitudes."  Again, it goes back to the fallibility of everyone.  Can you honestly approve 100% of anyone's attitude?  I for one do not want to serve or worship any attitudes.  I can see how George Carlin would have had a problem giving money to a guy who claims hold to the most powerful "attitude." 

My reason for holding onto the baby while I throw out the religion bathwater is this: the common definition of religion includes, wrongly or rightly, notions of spirituality.  Even Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, won't say that there is no such thing as spirit.  He equates this with denying the existence of fairies or unicorns.  Since he doesn't have definitive proof of the non-existence of spirit, he cannot logically deny its existence. 

How do we arrive at definitive proof of spirit?  Some people claim to have sensory proof of spirit.  They have seen visions, heard voices, and felt the touch of a non-human force on their bodies.  Not all of these people have been diagnosed as mentally ill.  Should they be?  Who knows?  How can we even prove the existence of our consciousness?  That has been a topic of philosophical debate since philosophers came into existence.  If we're not even sure how to draw a line around our conscious mind, how can we know with certainty that a spiritual realm does not exist?  No intelligent person claims this capability--not even Stephen Hawking or Richard Dawkins! 

Many people are afraid to ask questions about spirituality.  Many are afraid to venture outside of their given religion.  Many are so turned off by religion that their spirit doors are permanently locked, or so they believe. 

I have absolute confidence in my belief in spirit.  I also have an absolute faith in the Divine.  Faith in divinity crosses all generations and all cultures.  I believe that we can learn more about ourselves, the natural world, and all other phenomena through opening our minds to all of humanity and focusing on the common points.  I am thankful to have many highly educated friends who also believe this way.  Some of them are Christian, some are Jewish, some are Muslim, some are Buddhist and some are Hindu.  I can talk about concepts such as prayer with all of these people.  I have experienced visions and heard spoken phrases while meditating.  I have had prophetic dreams.  I have had psychic experiences.  I am not ashamed to admit these things, and why would I be? 

I respect atheism as a belief simply because I find no value in resisting it.  I find no value in negating any belief system unless such system results in harm.  It is not for me to say that atheists are harming themselves by closing off all spiritual avenues.  How am I to know what journey they are on?  I have not walked a mile in their moccasins. 

If I have one idea to offer here, it is this:  no one is alone in his or her dislike of religion, but that does not have to stop anyone from following a spiritual path.  This idea is far from original. 

If you are not on a spiritual path, good for you.  If you are, good for you.  If religion is blocking your spiritual path, I say... don't let it.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Better All The Time!

Possibly the greatest gift we received from The Beatles was their ability to bridge gaps between all living generations.  My 1 year old dances to The Beatles.  I listened to The Beatles in high school and so did both of my younger sisters.  High schoolers today still listen to The White Album.  The Boomers are always gonna love The Beatles!  I think of John Lennon and Paul McCartney as philosopher poets who reached the masses. 

Yesterday was such a good day that I was humming the song, "It's Getting Better All The Time."  For most people, life is about transitions.  First you're a baby; then you're a kid; then you're a teenager; you start work or go to college; you decide how to live, or not, with another person; you may move to a faraway place; you let go of friends and loved ones with death and distance; sometimes you procreate; sometimes you stagnate; you get sick; you get better; you get rich; you lose money; you lose a limb; you gain some perspective...and on and on and on.  Don't get me started on "Changes" by David Bowie.  That's a song for another day. 

Transitions are tough for a lot of us, especially when they come in quick succession.  I seem to specialize in this arena.  Here's a little rundown since college: I got married.  I moved to Paris.  I got an M.A. I moved back to Missouri.  I moved to Manhattan.  I changed careers.  I got a J.D. I got divorced.  I moved to London. I moved back to Manhattan.  I changed from one law firm to another.  I moved to Brooklyn.  I bought an apartment.  I got remarried.  I got pregnant.  We sold the apartment.  I got sick.  I stopped working.  I had a baby.  We moved to the suburbs.  I got pregnant again.  I had another baby.  Most significantly, I experienced a spiritual awakening.  I changed my priorities.  I changed my goals.  I am changing the way I think. 

Now--I have dreams.  I have dreams that I believe in.  I have old and new friends that believe in me.  I believe that we are working together, and it really is getting better all the time. 

I want to be a writer.  I keep meeting other writers.  I'm not saying I will manifest a new career overnight, but I can see the new day dawning.  I am getting invaluable advice and support and it feels GOOD. 

My husband and I have found the town we love.  We believe we can stay here.  We believe we can buy a house here, and signs keep pointing us in that direction. 

I used to beat myself up for staying home with my kids instead of working.  Just yesterday, I spoke to the sweetest woman.  Of course, she works in this town that I love.  She just happened to be a lawyer who has had her own practice for 40 years.  I told her about my law firm past in the city and she cut right in: "I did the same thing.  Then I stayed home with my kids for ten years.  I wouldn't trade it for the world.  You'll never get these years back.  You can work as a lawyer again.  Don't let anyone tell you otherwise."  She gave me some good legal advice AND some good personal advice.  It made me feel BETTER. 

I want to be a writer.  I still may want to be a lawyer.  I want to learn Mandarin.  Who says I can't?  This is my new song, and I'd like you to sing it with me!

John Lennon and Paul McCartney, 1967

It's getting better all the time

I used to get mad at my school
The teachers who taught me weren't cool
You're holding me down, turning me round
Filling me up with your rules

I've got to admit it's getting better
A little better all the time
It can't get no worse
I have to admit it's getting better, it's getting better
Since you've been mine

Me used to be a angry young (wo)man
Me hiding me head in the sand
You gave me the word, I finally heard
I'm doing the best that I can

I've got to admit it's getting better
A little better all the time (It can't get no worse)
I have to admit its getting better, it's getting better
Since you've been mine (Getting so much better all the time)

It's getting better all the time
It's getting better all the time
Better Better Better