Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Six Things Meme

In the six things thread, I get to reveal six "unusual or little known" things about myself.

1. I'm not REALLY an only child. Yes, its true that my parents had only one child - me, but I have two sister/cousins, Ethel and Roseanne. See, my grandmother owned a two family house on B St. (later made into a three family house)where she lived with my grandfather, one unmarried daughter (Auntie Nettie), one married daughter and her husband (Auntie Anna and Uncle Harold), two of Auntie Anna's daughters (Roseanne and Terry) and one of Uncle Tony's daughters (Ethel). The family relationships are too convoluted for this post. My parents had an apartment a couple of blocks away when I was born, but I went to Grammies for a few weeks first. I grew up as much in my Grammie's house as I did in my own, sharing a dormitory bedroom with Ethel, Ro, Terry, Grammie and Auntie Nettie. I spent a couple of months in the fall and in the spring living there when my parents were in NH at the Inn and I had to go to school in MA. As Ethel, Ro and Terri had families of their own, they lived in that house as well, and I continued to live there part-time... So, I have the experience of sharing a bed and bedrooms, and putting up with nosy older sisters and nosy younger sisters as well. I may be an only child by birth and maybe even by temperament, but not by experience.

2. I learned early that there is a lot of heartbreak in life. Lots of death, lots of sickness, lots of separation, lots of tragedy. But I also learned early that there is a lot of laughter and joy and love as well. Life is messy, love is messy, and if you can't deal with the messiness of human relationships, you might as well cash in your chips. I learned this early by watching my grandmother cope. She was the coolest lady I know.

3. I used to be fluent in Spanish because I lived in Mexico as a child. Yes, my parents owned Clearwater Inn in Sunapee, NH before I was born, and after I was born, they decided to continue running it in the warm weather, from Memorial Day to Columbus Day basically, and spend the cold weather months in Mexico. So, until I went to school, I wintered in Mexico with them. My mom became fluent in Spanish as well, and my Dad was passable, but couldn't help pronouncing everything as you would in French. Weird.

4. My college career is pretty checkered - I studied everything. Yeah, I picked my college because it was cheap and was directly on an MBTA route so I didn't need a car to get there. I didn't have a clue as to what I wanted to do - the things I enjoyed the most and were best at --- well, I just wasn't good enough to make a career as an artist or a musician. Or so I thought. So I went to Boston State College and aimlessly majored in cafeteria for 2 1/2 semesters, took 2 semesters off, and returned to full time study, year round, for five more years. I took every course that was interesting to me. I majored in French and minored in Spanish, switched to Biology with minors in music and art, then switched to Psychology with minors in music and art. Along the way, I took every course (and then some) needed for majors in English Literature and History except for the senior practicum/project.

5. I am painfully shy and lack a lot of social skills. I have a hard time functioning in front of people - but I do it anyway. I sometimes say that I overcompensate, and I think that's true. Most people do not believe me when I say this, because all they see is the Denise I play, and I play her very, very well - I grew up in a hotel, so I can turn it on and off. But the Denise in real life is quite tentative, emotional, lacks self esteem, is jack of all trades and master of none, and is afraid of failure and rejection.

6. Some little known facts: I love gardenias because they were my grandmother's favorite flower and I always think of her. My wedding bouquet was copied from my mother's in every way, except instead of an orchid, I chose a gardenia in memory of my grandmother. I don't have a favorite color - every color has its own beauty, IMHO. I wish I owned the Inn still - if I ever hit the number, I will buy it back. My mother's ashes are in my closet, just as she and I discussed, and I say good morning and good night in my heart to her every day. My pets: the chihuahuas - Scampie, Dona Bandita (Dona), Dona Carla (Carla); the mutt - Rhett Butler (aka Stupid) who was half long haired dashaund and half beagle; the rescue dog - Charalambos (Harry) the lhasa apso who looked into my eyes at the pound and I fell in love; and my current dog, Puccini (Poochie) the shih tzu who loves me to death. Also the kitten Maybelle Sweet Maybelle, and the guinea pigs Dots and Ginger, as well as E's fish: Dawn and Joanna and the seven beta fish named Michael. I'm afraid of birds, especially when they are flying near me, but I've gotten much better than I used to be. I hate housecleaning. I can't stand country music but I like bluegrass and folk music. I adore opera and classical music. Whenever I look at pretty red shoes, I hear my grandmother saying that only puttanas wear red shoes, so I don't buy them, though I have had a couple of pair of burgundy shoes.... and I don't let my daughter wear them either. My eyes are not really dark brown - they are a golden brown with charcoal gray around the edges, and extra large pupils, so they appear dark, but they aren't. I fit the crunchy granola stereotypes. I love lobster. I'm lazy and a procrastinator.

Funny that I would want to explain myself to who? Who reads this? Why reveal all this stuff? Why just put it out in the universe like this? Why the need to be known by someone, now that Mom is gone? I just miss her so much. I had no idea how intertwined we were until she was gone. I really thought that it would get better, this yearning for her, but it hasn't. And now I yearn for my father as well, since only his body remains, but most everything that makes him himself is gone.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

An Orthodox Meme

1. My saint is the Theotokos. I didn't choose her - she chose me. When my mother was pregnant with me, she didn't have any girl names, and when I was born, she said, "I finally have my Denise Marie." And so she did. When I finally took the plunge and converted to Orthodoxy, Fr. John didn't even ask me if I wanted a patron saint - he used Mary since that was already my name. But over the years, I have found that the Theotokos is a never ending source of inspiration and love for me. Her "Yes!", though God's plan was incomprehensible to her, is something I try to emulate, with profoundly sad success. I need to understand. Everything. All the time. But I keep trying to be more like her, though I fail miserably. And now that my mother is dead, I have no other mother to turn to. Unto the Mother of God, let us sinners and humble ones now diligently have recourse, and let us bow down in penitence, exclaiming from the depths of our souls: O Sovereign Lady! Help us, having compassion on us. Show zeal for we perish with the multitude of our sins. Turn not thy servants away empty, for we have thee as our only hope! Painting the Platytera for St. Nicholas Church was one of the most profound spiritual experiences, very intense - so intense that I couldn't work at it steadily.

2. St. Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist - I also longed for a child for many years. I used to pray that she would somehow convince God to give me a miracle baby. And He did. I named her Elizabeth.

3. St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco - some people question whether he was a saint or not, and whether he was incorrupt or not, but I don't. I know people who knew him and don't think much of him, and some who think a lot of him. I guess his personal hygiene put a lot of people off... but all I know is that when I visited his tomb, I had the most profound experience of what I believe to be holiness that I have ever had. I went there specifically to pray for a baby. One month later, I was pregnant - a miracle pregnancy. I am forever grateful to him, because I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that he interceeded for me.

4. St. Joseph the Betrothed - this is my father's Christian name, and all nice French boys have Joseph as a middle name. But its not just love for my own father that makes me love St. Joseph - its the tender duty of faithfully providing a home for the Theotokos and Jesus - everything that a man and a father should be. Like my father.

5. St. Sophia with her Three Holy Children, St. Sophia of the Never-Ending Cup and St. Sophia the Mother of Orphans - Sophia means Wisdom, and I wanted to name my daughter Sophia. It's still my most favorite name. But its not the beauty of the name or how it rolls off my tongue that makes these saints so special to me - its the different ways that they manifested wisdom in their lives that speak to me. I hope I never have to defend my faith, but if I do, I hope I can urge my daughter to defend it as faithfully. I hope that I, too, can wisely husband my resources and provide limitless hospitality and love to those who desperately need it. I hope that I can provide a safe haven for not only my daughter, but for everyone who comes through my door. I took St. Sophia as our homeschool's patron saint because if you have wisdom, you have everything.

6. I have a great respect and fondness for the hymnographer saints, particularly St. Romanos the Melodist and St. Ephraim the Syrian. I'm still learning about some of the others, but I have to say that my life mirrors St. Romanos' life. I also could'nt sing a note and people would ask me to stop singing because I stunk so bad. But one day, I was asked to join a church choir just because the director couldn't stand to have a peanut gallery during rehearsals, and shortly thereafter, my voice began to improve. Suddenly, I was a good singer. It was a miracle, truly, because if you had heard me before....... blech.

7. Blessed Maria Skobtsova - She is a saint for our times, a worldly, cultured, educated woman who led a normal life in an extraordinary way, in times that were far from ordinary. She kept her focus on the one thing needful, and let everything else go by the wayside. This has caused some people to feel she isn't "holy" or "Orthodox" enough, but she is a real inspiration for me. She did what needed doing, at great cost to herself, even to losing her life, and she did it all because she saw the image of God in everyone. I wish I could get past people's .... peoples SELVES enough to see God in everyone.

8. Whatever saint I am currently researching for an icon. When I am painting, I feel such love and closeness to the saint, and I pray that he or she will find my meager offering acceptable and will guide my hand. Currently, I'm working on St. Melangell of Wales and St. Genevieve of Paris. When these are done, I'll go on to St. Christina of Tyre for the mission in Fremont and then maybe St. Thekla for myself.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Goodbye, dear Cousin

Yesterday, Sheila sent out an email that intimated that Kathy has very little time left. It was a tough day at work after finding out that for SURE that I'm losing my funding, and as I was driving back to work after lunch, I really needed to touch home, so I called Roseanne and left a message. When she called me back, we talked about a lot of things, mostly Kathy and Mothers Day, and how scary it was, especially for her at 70, that her peers were dying. I was struck with a real, palpable terror of her and Ethel dying, almost as much as when I would think of my mother dying. I was melancholy all day, and wanted to sleep.

When I checked my email when I got home from I Cantori late last night, I got an email from Sheila saying that Kathy had died minutes before, and there was a beautiful picture of her and Joe as preschoolers, with his arm around her. That's how they were throughout their life, weren't they? They were so close. She followed him pretty much everywhere he went throughout her life.

Now that I've watched my mother die, and have lived without her for more than a year, my heart is broken for Sheila, Nicky and Kathleen. And also for June, Maryann and Emily. The alone-ness and forever of death is such a constant ache. It never goes away. Never.

In America, when we talk about cousins, they are sort of on the periphery of our adult lives. But what I've learned, since I'm one of the few who has moved away from Cieri epicenter, is that time and space don't affect the love, the complete comfort and acceptance, the shared history, the remembrance of times and places and people long past. Now is forever tied together with yesterday in the person of cousins.

Who else remembers Kathy as a young teen? I do. As a candystriper spending long hours at my mother's bedside after her first surgery. As a shapely teen working at our inn together with Ethel and Terry. What a summer that was! So many memories of NH and Uncle Nicky and Joe and Kathy with us, the B Street group.

But what I need to say about Kathy right now, just hours after she has gone on to become her true self in heaven, is that she was only ten years older than me, but she is the only person in my life, including my parents, who took an active interest in my spiritual life. Even when I was about 10 or 12, before I started my major questioning and spiritual searching, she must have recognized something in me, and talked with me about God and her experience of Him, and she took me into her home a number of times so that I experience worship in a more engaging way. And she did this when the rest of the family was incredulous that she and Joe Boy had found religion at all -- the two sinners par excellence - one just a bad, worldly boy, and the other a crunchy granola type before it was fashionable - and everyone denigrated their lifestyle choices. But she was brave enough to either not care, or just bear it, and take a particular interest in me, a snotty, know it all, agnostic kid, and try to guide me towards God. No one else spent any energy on my spiritual life and my relationship with God. Just Kathy.

I'm not sure why she did that, except that we are family, and she loved me. She certainly did love my mother, and my mother always, always had Kathy in a special place in her heart, and was always, always grateful to her for her care of my grandmother and her care of her. And maybe some of that spilled over onto me.

I always thought that Kathy was beautiful. And when she lost her hair and was bald last year, I thought she was really, really beautiful. She always had lovely eyes and a beautiful smile. I didn't care that her lifestyle was different. I don't think anyone else did either, though we never spoke about it. I never cared that she became a charismatic Catholic, though the spontaneous prayer thing makes me very uncomfortable. Everyone else thought her lifestyle was a little weird, up there in Weare in a log home.... but I loved her home.

So, now, Kathy and Joe are together again, with so many other loved ones. I wonder if, when we die, we recognize each other in our transformed state? The urge to love flesh and blood family is so unquenchable - can it survive the presence of God? Does it just drop away in the bliss of being in God's presence? God, I hope not. I can't imagine that the terrible pain of separation would not be healed by the comfort of being together again in Heaven. But a joyous family reunion would take our eyes off the throne, wouldn't it? No matter what I personally choose to believe and choose to hope for, it won't be the reality of death and heaven. The only thing we mortals know for CERTAIN is that death will bring us to judgement and to reunion with God, and that will be such a joyous thing that everything and everyone else pales in comparison. It is beyond our human understanding.

But a void in me still hopes to be filled with a reunion with my loved ones. And today I have to add my cousin Kathy to that ever-growing roster. I hate it. Death sucks. When I meet Kathy again in heaven, she will say to me, "See honey? I *told* you God was real!"

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Things I wish I could do over

1. I wish I could relive the last day of my mother's life. I regret leaving her for half an hour so very much.

2. I wish I had gone right up to my grandmother's coffin and kissed her goodbye when I was 15 years old

3. I wish I hadn't married who I did

4. I wish I had worked harder at truly learning instead of coasting through school

5. I wish I hadn't been so hot to get married and had continued as an undergraduate through the spring semester, or maybe even the summer semester, so I could have graduated with a triple major

6. I wish I had gone to graduate school

7. I wish I had gone to Mass College of Art or NE Conservatory as I wanted to

8. I wish I hadn't given up my career in human resources and hospital administration to move to CA in 1980. By now, I would be running a large hospital and making beaucoup bucks

9. I wish that I didn't grow up during the days of sex, drugs and rock and roll

10. I wish that I had kept my virginity until I married

11. I wish that I had taken my mother to the tea house for her last mother's day

12. I wish that I told my godmother how much I loved her before she died, but I'm so glad that I didn't make that mistake twice and told my other auntie over and over

13. I wish I had left my husband after the honeymoon - I knew that we were mismatched on the honeymoon and wish I had enough guts to just cut my losses right then, at the beginning

14. I wish I could relive just that one special day - I know the one I mean. I keep it in my heart and pull it out when I need to.

15. I wish that I had gotten therapy when I was going through infertility. That's when I began to change and lose my self esteem and self discipline

16. I wish I had gotten intensive therapy when dd was going through chemo and afterward, because maybe I could have coped better and not have thrown my husband out, but I'm not sorry that I ended the marriage. Not one little bit. I should have done it after the honeymoon, such as it was.

17. I wish I was different. I wish I had a true gift in something so that I could more easily focus on one thing, and then I'd have direction. I've been floating and flapping around all my life because I can't settle on one thing

18. I wish I hadn't settled. I keep telling dd - don't "settle" - hold out for what you really want. Its better to do without than to have something that is not what you want. Don't settle for something that is "good enough" - do without until you can get what you want.

19. I wish I had had higher standards for myself, in every aspect of my life, when I was young

20. I wish I had applied for scholarships and gone to a good college. I had amazingly high SATs - 1490 - and I could have gotten in pretty much anywhere I applied, but I didn't even apply. Why is that? Fear of failure? Thinking small? My mother's influence? I should have just gone for it.

21. I wish I had kept up the french horn

22. I wish I had taken piano lessons as a child and young adult

23 I wish I had kept up my french

24 I wish I had talked with my oldest friend, K, one last time before he died to make sure that he knew I loved him

25 I wish I could relive that afternoon a few weeks before Grammie died, when it was just her and me watching TV and she hugged me so hard and said, "You love your old Grammie don't you?" and I was just a stupid kid and didin't know what to say back - I said something inane instead of taking the opportunity to tell her how much I loved her, and how much I admired her.

26. I wish I could take back the whole Ernest and Samantha friendship, as well as the Cat and Thom friendship. They were so much fun, but they were bad for me and I knew it, but it was too much fun to give up

27. I wish that I could go back in time and told Memiere and Pepiere that I really did love them, and that it took me until I was an adult to understand that there is more than one way to love, and that the noisy, messy Italian way of loving is not the only way, and that the reserved and quiet New England way is just as deep. I didn't know that as a child but I do now, and I wish I could tell them that I understand them now in a way that I couldn't then, and that I love them.

28. I wish I could relive that camping trip B and I took with dd. That was the kind of life I wanted to have as a family. I carry mental snapshots of that trip in my heart.

29. I wish that I had told my former pastor no when he asked me to be a godmother. But I was prideful and flattered when he talked to me as an equal minister about her needs and prideful enough to think that I could help her.

30. I wish that I could relive Dr. Guidice's phone call to me, telling me that I was finally pregnant. That was a good day.

31. I wish that I could relive 7/14/93 through 7/14/97. Its a long series of heartaches and bad choices. Maybe I could do it better now.

32. I wish I could relive the last two years of my mother's life - maybe not relive it, argh! it was horrible! But I wish I could do parts of it over. I wish I had had more patience and had been more understanding of the pressure my mother was under. Conversely, I wish I had spoken up more and not allowed her to talk to my Dad the way that she did.... It was a bad situation all around and neither of them should have had to go through that at the end of their lives. What a sucky way to end your life together, after 59 years, too. If I could do it over, maybe I could find the right balance this time around.

33. I wish I had never gotten hooked on Mr. Moonpie. I wish I hadn't been taken in by his moonpie eyes. He gave me just enough to keep me hanging on and hoping and I got so entangled that I missed out on living an authentic life and maybe even meeting a nice man. I wish he had never kissed me, or taken me out. I wish I had never settled for the crumbs he gave me, keeping me on a string. He took up five years of my life - I should never have allowed that to happen. I wish I could do that over.

34. I wish I could redo my last haircut. I hate it. With a passion.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Meme Time

Another meme sent to me by my blogger friend, Susan. I just love these things!

Video Games I Play: Mah jongg

Television Favorite Shows: Sell This House, Giada DiLaurentiis, Michael Chiarello, Ina Garten, Alton Brown, Sell this House, Clean House, McLeod's Daughters, Monarch of the Glen, Sopranos, Big Love

Favorite Channels: HBO, FoodNetwork, HGTV, Bravo, A&E, BBC America, WE

Favorite Reruns: Everybody Loves Raymond, Will and Grace, Vicar of Dibley, Third Rock from the Sun

Most Addictive Show: Clean House, Vicar of Dibley

Favorite Late Night Talk Show: I'm still mourning Johnny Carson. I'd rather read late at night

Show I Secretly Watch: Soap Network

Where I shop: Online

I like to wear: Jeans, no bra, no shoes

Can't live without: Internet!

Favorite Music Artists: The Pretenders, King Crimson, Renee Fleming, Meatloaf, Tim Curry, Maria Callas, Placido Domingo, YoYo Ma, Fr. John Platko, Rosemary Clooney

Favorite Genre: Opera, show tunes, Orthodox Music, Russian romantic music, classic rock, classical, some alternative, some pop. Hate country - ewww! But, I do like folk and old time bluegrass music, which is VERY different from the modern icky modern country top 40

Favorite Songs: Respondez a ma tendresses, Rachmaninov's Rejoice O Virgin, Arkhangelsky's Unto the Mother of God, Chain Gang, I'm a Mother, I Can Make You a Man, I Go to Sleep, 2000 Miles, An Ordinary Couple, Other Pleasures, My Man.

Songs I hate: Anything rap. Anything where you can't hear the words,either because the person is whispering instead of singing, or because the beat and/or the background music is too loud. Folks don't know how to mix music anymore.

Guilty Pleasure: Barbra Streisand!

Favorite Movies: Moonstruck, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, The Sound of Music, The Quiet Man, Amelie, The Mask of Zorro

Favorite Actors: Antonio Banderas, Clark Gable, Susan Hayward, Armand Assante, Deborah Kerr, Johnny Depp

Favorite Directors: I don't know

Favorite Genre: I want to be entertained, not beat over the head with a social message. So, mostly romance and comedy

Favorite Soundtracks: Anything Rogers and Hammerstein like the Sound of Music, South Pacific, Oklahoma, Carousel... and then theres Rocky Horror Picture Show! Oh yes, "toucha toucha toucha me - I wanna be dirty!"

Movie Quotes I say all the time:
Look at my hand! You have YOUR hand, you have YOUR girl. What about MY hand? What about MY girl?
Who's dead?
The man may be the head, but the woman is the neck, and the neck can turn the head anyway it wants

Movies I can watch over and over: See my favorite movies - also, anything with Clark Gable or John Wayne

Actor that would play me in a movie: Dawn French is who would be cast, but I think of myself more like a young Elizabeth Taylor, actually. LOL - I bet others would think of me more like Rosalind Russell! I could do worse!

Favorite Cuisine: Well, anything but Southern. I'm not sure that dead, grey vegetables, lard, cool whip, sliced bananas in vanilla pudding and mayonnaise equal a cuisine. I guess I'd have to say: Mediterranean and Asian cuisines

Favorite Dishes: too many to list really. But lobster and chocolate.

Favorite Desserts: anything chocolate

Favorite Drinks: good coffee with cream, no sugar, or a splash of liqueur

Favorite Junk Foods: McDonald's fries

My Original Recipes: Everything I cook is original because I tinker with everything. Its been hard to actually write stuff down and give precise directions and measurements on my food blog

Favorite Restaurants: The Union Oyster House, No Name in Boston; The Stinking Rose and Jacques and anything in China Town in San Francisco

Foods I hate: pickled herring in sour cream. What a waste of sour cream!

High School Name: Everett High

Status: graduated

Class of: 1973

Attended: 1970 - 1973, grades 10, 11, and 12

Sports: LOL! But I used to be a like a fish in the water and I like to watch figure skating on tv

Organizations: Anti Environmental Pollution Committee, marching band, stage band, concert band, drama club, student government, National Honor Society

Religion: Eastern Orthodox

Interests: Raising my daughter, reading, cooking, needlework, iconography, my new food blog, water colors, travel, getting a new job!

Expertise: very competent jack of all trades, but master of none.

Occupation: mother, choir director, singer, artist, manager