Saturday, September 20, 2014

My Mother, My Heart


I choose to remember her as she was in this photograph, nearly a decade before I was born. In 1960, she was pregnant with my brother and she already had two daughters from her first marriage. But she knew, even before she married my father, that they'd bring a boy and a girl into this world. She named me Maria de los Angeles while they were dating.

I almost missed the journey in her womb. Or maybe I was biding time elsewhere. Waiting, just waiting. A faint glimmer in her heart until she gave birth to me, three children and three exiles later, when the family finally settled in Miami.

I also missed the political mess of Cuba when my father pressed the shutter. The revolution had just turned in favor of communism. Not long after she paused to capture this pensive moment, she would venture out of the island to an uncertain future.

What was she thinking, I wonder?

Could she foresee the life ahead of her? Could she know, that in spite of some hardships, she would -- by the time she took her last breath -- never lack for anything? Did she know that all four of her children would outlive her? That she would have great-grandchildren? That she would travel? That she would be married to my father nearly sixty years?

Until the specter of Alzheimer's reared its ugly face.

She lost her memory and then, all the good and bad times she experienced -- life's richness -- all slipped away. She died before she died.

The last form of communication I had with my mother was through music. She was breathing, but barely barely conscious in hospice care. I had composed a song for her, which I sang while strumming a small guitar with four strings, about sweet unconditional love -- a love without fear, a love without malice, a love that still overflows out of my heart even though her body returned to the good earth in the form of ashes.

I became a mom to my mom and we were so blessed to have known each other during this lifetime. I'm glad I waited. And I'm glad that the faint glimmer in her heart saw the light of day. Dar a luz -- to give to light -- means giving birth in Spanish.

Caring for you, mamita, was the most challenging yet rewarding blessing.

You took such good care of me and I know you are looking over my shoulder now -- there's a tickle where my angel wings would be attached -- and that you are giving me the strength and courage to open a new chapter in my life, to take care of myself and my father until the two of you meet again.

Of course, I cry. Of course, I miss you. But you left me with a great legacy -- a sense of peace and grace.

You are not far from me, mama. You are forever in my heart.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Sex, Cooking and Libations

lentil soup mis-en-place


Cooking is like sex.  The more creative you get, the better it is.  But don't put too much on your plate if that means you don't have time to really eat and sip slowly.

So behold, my Pinterest page, Mis-en-place, which is a fancy French term for getting all your shit together before you cook something or making cocktails -- it's the best, most organized way to do it, because cooking and mixology, like sex, is all about timing.

First, let's talk about food. Think of it as something beautiful. Almost tantric. The way you design how the food is presented. Just like you choose a perfect scent or lingerie before greeting your lover. You "marinate" yourself in the joy you are about to receive.

That inspiring expectation of what you are about to taste.

One of my ex-boyfriends used to eat like a velociraptor. You know, like his prey was going to run away, never mind if that was a cauliflower instead of a small mammal.

I don't enjoy that kind of eating. I prefer that the energy at the table be low and slow.

Maybe that's why I like cooking soups, because it's a process that takes time and then the home becomes redolent of that delicious, hot and wet thing that's going to go down my throat, its sole purpose to nourish my body and soul.  Oh my!

And what greater pleasure than sharing that with someone I love?

I just don't understand why people rush through pleasure. Never scarf it down, unless, by mitigating circumstances, it's a quickie.  Yeah, sometimes you have to eat a cracker in your car while rushing through traffic. But consuming food shouldn't be an unconscious act.

Where's the fire, otherwise? The way your lover eats might be the same way he or she makes love.

So yes, there's flash cooking. But also there's slow-food cooking. Maybe that's why I like Crock Pots, although I just don't dump everything in there in one big lump. I always caramelize the onions, do a mirepoix  -- that's carrots, celery and other vegetables you sauté before you combine them with other ingredients.  I love the textures of raw before it cooks. I take a nibble of a vegetable here and there.

And then there's the sounds of chopping. The sizzle of the olive oil.

But then it just stews and comes to a lovely climax on the table, with something hot and steamy that's not just in a ceramic bowl -- a prelude to something wonderful.

Cooking is like sex. Think of it as culinary foreplay.

LIBATIONS

The same goes for drinks. Here's a white wine sangria I once made with starfruit (carambola), marinated in dark Appleton estate rum.  It was an amazingly refreshing summer drink but it took two days to make, with blueberries and strawberries in the mix, added on the second day, finished off with some seltzer when poured.  Chilled, of course.

An easy drink to make, but slow and fine.

white-wine-sangria-starfruit

Even single ladies get hectic, but don't forget to slow down as much as you can.  Eat and sip slowly.  Life isn't meant to rush by. What's the point otherwise?

A LESSON FROM A PARROT

My nine-year-old macaw relishes a peanut every morning. I always say to her: "You love your peanut and it loves you." Even though she has had a peanut every morning since she was weaned off her baby   formula, she still rushes eating a peanut like it's the last peanut she'll ever have. It's the survival scarcity model: "I better eat this now before it escapes me or I might not get one tomorrow or some predator eats me first."

But before she gobbles it down, peanut in claw and beak chomping away, she walks slowly from one side of the cage to the other and dips the peanut in water; she does take the time to moisten the peanut shell, which makes me laugh every morning.

And also, she won't eat her regular pelleted food until I sit next down to her by my computer when I start working -- not that I ever sent her to charm school. She stares me in the eye at me and then she eats. It's as if she's asking: "Is it OK? Can we eat now?"

Birds of a feather flock together, I suppose. Or somehow I taught this avian critter good table manners.

Treat your food and drink the same way.  And enjoy it slowly, whether alone or with good folks in your life.

Bon appetit!





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Thursday, June 26, 2014

These Precious Things



I'm dismantling the estate of my father and mother. It feels like a painful surgery without anesthesia. An amputation with a ghost pain. An entire life changed. Just like that. In a flash.

They're now in an assisted living facility under part hospice care.

And while doing this, I was listening to my music playlist on my iPhone. Tori Amos' song, These Precious Things came up -- which has nothing to do with elderly parents and caregiving -- but the title struck my heart.

What are the precious things in our lives? Vintage photos? Little knick-knacks? A dress my mother wore at my brother's wedding? My father's architecture degree from the University of Havana? The piano my mother and I used to play duets with together, out of tune and with a broken key in the treble clef? Photos of the my nephew's beautiful kids on the wall -- painful reminders of never being able to walk down the aisle with my father to give my hand in marriage? Or giving my father and mother a legacy?

Yes, those and more are precious things.

Maybe this is why I am a minimalist and I don't like to get to attached to physical objects. I don't even own a car right now.

It's hard to toss away anyone's things in the dumpster. But then I remember, it's just things.

It's the archeology of a life. I'm digging deep into strata and detritus.

So what is truly precious?  What really matters?

Bodies, hugs, hearts, feelings, devotion, soul, laughter, tears, memories.

I don't remember the scent of whatever soap my mom used on my body when I was a baby. But today, I remember wiping my mother's butt when she became incontinent and helping my dad pee after he had a broken hip surgery.

Not quite cute, yes? But these memories of caregiving mean more to me than all these things. What else is there?

We should treat the elderly with the same joy and dignity as babies. Being an elderly patient advocate has been the most difficult yet most rewarding job of my life.

Think of the word dismantling. Let's look at the etymology. A mantle or mantel: associated with protective covering, a soothing cover, a hearth, a fireplace, a cozy place of warmth, safety and life. As I face the end of the life issues of my parents, I am also letting go of so much that is the opposite of what these words connote.

I'll tell you what's a precious thing. It's nothing you can hold in your hand. It's what you hold in your ever present heart.

I don't have much tears left in me. I've cried enough. But my heart swells with an immense love. And I choose to remember my parents as beautiful as they were when they were young and fell in love, years before I was even born. They carry those memories within their hearts, too.

Appreciate what you have. NOW.

Those are the precious things, whether you can touch them or not. The most precious thing is the love you give and receive.


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Sunday, June 15, 2014

About Fathers and Fishing

fishing-redfish-florida
A redfish: one of my catches with Captain Chuck.

When I was a baby, my father sang me a lullaby in Spanish about little fishes in the sea.

When I was a toddler, we went bridge fishing. He handed me a yo-yo with a treble hook and smelly squid for bait. I tossed the line into the water and held on strong against the tugging current.

I couldn’t tell if a fish had bit or not. I reeled up the line: no fish, bait gone and I hooked my clumsy little self! Ouch! Dad gently removed the metal from the bleeding wound on my leg.

I didn’t cry.



I wouldn’t fish much in my childhood. My parents signed me up for ballet lessons instead. Being a tomboy wasn’t my fate.



In my twenties, I fell in love with an angler.

One sunrise at Christian Point in the Everglades, where the water typically looks like pea soup, it was flushed clear. A school of juvenile tarpon rushed by our craft. With strong predatory instinct and graceful arm movements I learned from dance, I caught and released my first Megalops Atlanticus on a gold spoon. I was hooked again but this time, I knew fishing would be in my blood.


I casted very well, but I wasn’t talented at tying knots, not even with him. We broke up, like a shriveled leader line. He kept the boat and the truck. I kept the girly things: kitchen pots and linens.



Men I dated later wouldn’t take me out fishing. “It’s a guy thing,” they’d say. I missed the sport that’s not easy to do alone as a woman.

Eventually, I met my mentor Betty Bauman from Ladies, Let’s Go Fishing and I learned techniques from seminars. More fishing adventures ensued.

During a workshop weekend, Betty and her husband Captain Chuck took me out to the Ten Thousand Islands on the journalist boat. The line squealed and after half an hour, I caught and released a 200-pound bull shark.


“Atta girl!” Captain Chuck said. “I’m so proud of you!”


At sunset, the boat sped over the flats to Chokoloskee marina. With my biceps in pain and the wind battering my face, I meditated about my father. He’s got Alzheimer’s. When I sing him the same lullaby about little fishes, he cries -- even though he sang it to keep me from crying when I was a baby.


Thank you father, for being the first person who taught me how to fish and tackle all kinds of other things in life that are bigger than a shark, because I didn’t think I could and I did.

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Monday, May 12, 2014

Happy Parent's Day



Sometimes, life takes you on certain journeys for which you didn't buy a ticket or pack your bags.

My mother is in hospice and my dad fell and broke his hip and has been in a rehabilitation facility for over a month.

My parents, whom have been married for over five decades, had to separate so my father could receive treatment.

I think my mom is clinging on to life because she wants to say "see you on the other side" to dad even though she can't walk or open her eyes or barely speak. He's making a good recovery, but he cries because he wants to be next to his wife.

It's heartbreaking to witness all this even though it's part of life.

When you get that old, succumb to dementia and Alzheimer's over the age of 80, does it really matter anymore what happened in the past when you can't even remember what happened five minutes ago? Does it really matter if the relationship had its dysfunctional moments?

You see, I don't like to use negative language anymore, but as my blog slogan says, I "tell it like it is."

My parents weren't perfect, but in the eyes of G-d, they are. Who is anyone to judge? So what if they made mistakes. They are only human.

They chose each other. And they loved each other with great passion. They still do. And I understand now more than ever why they also fought. Because they couldn't stand to be without each other, no matter what disagreements, behaviors, decisions -- whatever it was -- rocked their boat.

Passion and commitment is a curious thing.  I wasn't even on this mortal coil when they got married -- I was somewhere in the ether waiting for my mommy and daddy to make me -- but I'm sure they probably said the vows.

For better or worse until death do they part; however, honestly -- I don't think even death will separate these two wonderful oddballs who are my parents.

So today isn't really mother's day exclusively. It's a day to honor all parents, regardless of gender. And a day to honor myself, because I've been a parent to my parents.

If you take care of anyone or anything, you are a parent.

HIATUS

Sex and the Beach will be on hiatus for the time being while I deal with all these end of life issues.

The image you see above is my grandmother's writing. She was an amazing calligrapher.

Well, thanks to growing up in the age of the internet, I can type in the dark but my writing looks like chicken scratch.

I may have inherited the writing gene from her.  She copied poems and wrote racy, passionate ones of her own, which was absolutely naughty in early twentieth century Cuba and I very much admire her courage to "tell it like it is," although her book was shared only with friends whom she trusted.  It was actually a common practice in those days to share writing in leather bound books.  Think of it like a proto-blog.

I never really connected with my maternal grandmother.  She went back to the light when I was just a little baby. And my paternal grandmother passed away when my dad was just a toddler.

In my heart, I still meditate on my grandmothers and all the amazing women who gave me my mitochondrial DNA.

Here's a line from a story I published in a literary anthology a few years ago:

"Women connected by an invisible umbilical chord through blood, flesh, time, and the indifference of centuries; separated by boundaries of clocks, exiles, tribes, and the differences among days."

I leave you with that thought.

And wish me luck ... and a good laugh.  Lord knows I need it.  Only good things from now on ...







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Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Lesson From Alzheimer's Disease: Hope Springs Eternal


Today is the first day of spring: the equinox, transitions on the earth's axis. Mother nature giving us a respite from winter.

It's also my mom's birthday.  I've had no choice but to put her in hospice care at home, which is sad, but also a relief for her sake -- all, everything and anything for her pleasure and comfort.  I am fully committed to making each and every breath she has left in her as joyful as possible.

It takes a village to raise a child. It also takes a village to help someone die -- to make a graceful, dignified and happy transition to light.

Recently, a friend of mine who practices Reiki, kindly sent me a care package with a teddy bear, among other goodies. When I first held the teddy bear, I sobbed, because it reminded me of the photo above.  If I hadn't had a miscarriage last year, I'd be holding a baby of similar size. I named her Alba, which means "morning song" in Spanish.

I had no baby. There was never a morning song.

But I'm still a mom to my mom.  My mom is my baby.  The sun still rises every morning. And hope springs eternal.

So now I hold the teddy bear instead, because I can no longer hold what I've lost, including my mother's old and ailing body.

We are attached to material things in ways we should forget.

Actually, that's the good thing about mourning a patient with Alzheimer's before she has even died:  it teaches us a lesson in humility and what is really, truly materially important.  It's the love in your heart, not the things you hold or possess, that forever remain -- an impossible invisible imprint, something unspoken but carved deeply in the soul, a petroglyph in the heart, the songs we sing in frequencies we can't see with the naked eye, the simple technology of suckling on a nipple, or feeding an aged body that can barely swallow, nourishment that has nothing to do with food, but that is all about compassion -- even if, dear mama, you are trapped in your body, unable to speak, move or live vibrantly, on this first day of spring, year 2014.

My mother's body is not my mother. But I hold her in a place so vast, so deep and filled with love, that she is larger than life to me, bigger than continents, planets, galaxies and universes.

Dear mother, thank you for being the vessel that gave me a body. A soft, supple yet strong body that I love. A body that sings.  And thank you to all the grandmothers and great grandmothers who gave me life. Women connected by an invisible umbilical chord through blood, flesh, and time, indifference of centuries; separated by boundaries of clocks, exiles, and tribes, differences of days.

Happy birthday, mama.  Even though you are dying: you are life, love and hope to me, just like you were when you held me when I was barely two months old.

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Saturday, March 15, 2014

BREAKING NEWS! Multiple Orgasms Don't Exist As Proved By Binary Sequences!

when harry met sally orgasm scene katz's deli
If only all sex was as good as a Pastrami sandwhich at Katz's.

I was just pondering the concept of multiple orgasms. Technically, an orgasm is an anatomical event that starts and stops -- kind of like the bars in a musical score. So if you have multiple orgasms, when one ends the other starts, then it's not multiple anymore, right? In that case, you experience orgasms in succession with a beginning and end point to each orgasm. Now, if you have one long-ass orgasm that lasts forever -- if you don't know where it begins and ends -- then that is technically not a MULTIPLE orgasm because it's part of the same neuromuscular physiological sequence.

If you are a tech geek, think of this as a binary program.  It starts. It stops. And that is the way the body communicates pleasure to the brain. Or vice-versa.  It is the morse code of the body.

Men squirt and they're done with business. Women's bodies are more mysterious.  And sometimes, even women don't understand their own bodies.  It's possible to walk around in an orgasmic state of bliss, even when your glorious clitoris isn't blowing Joy to the World like the angel Gabriel at heaven's door wielding a gilded trumpet.

You can thank oxytocin for that feeling.

My point is, however, that you cannot technically have multiple orgasms. You either have a really, really long one, or you have them in succession with pauses in between.

Yeah, I know. I think about this shit. It's not a first world problem, but rather a first world luxury.

And ... I have experienced all of the above. What about you?




Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. Take all thoughts and advice with a grain of salt and maybe your favorite adult beverage.

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Sunday, March 09, 2014

That Smile


I wonder what this little girl was thinking.

Why did she look so forlorn?



Oh, she was a sassy, spoiled kid. She hated having her photographs taken by doting parents.



But what if, somehow, she knew then what she knows now?

Did she know that she’d fall in love in high school? That she’d leave the love of her life almost a decade later, because she was too young to get married and wanted to find herself?

Did she know she’d have an amazing but financially troubled career as a writer? That she’d follow her heart’s passion at whatever cost, that she’d make people laugh, cry, think, that she’d help friends and foes, that she’d sometimes write words to blind eyes and speak words to deaf ears?

Did she know that one of her lovers would rape her?

Did she know she’d get pregnant in her forties and lose that child?

Did she know she’d become a mother to her own parents, that she’d have to give up everything in her life to take care of them and put them in hospice less than a year after losing that child?

Because if she did, if she could foresee, a tiny glimpse, an oracle in a little body wearing a colorful frilly dress, then I can now understand the expression on her face, that beautiful face, still so fresh, young and promising.

The decades have somehow spared me of wrinkles, but she’s not, of course, what I see in the mirror now.

But I see her clearly in my heart. Her sorrows, her fears, her joys and dreams are all imprinted in that invisible mirror inside, that photograph you cannot see, yet you know indelibly.

And she still wonders: what’s going to happen?

I want to change this face.

After a moment of passion, some lovers have said to me: “Maria, that smile.”

There he is, lying on top of me. He’s still inside of me. We’re sweaty. We’re spent. His eyes gaze into mine while I am beaming, my body floating in plenitude while muscles quivering.

That smile is a gift to the world and to myself, not just to any man who is my lover. It is a smile of gratitude, of pleasure, of joy in being embraced. That smile is the gift of love and compassion. That smile is everything that comes from my heart to everyone I have ever loved and supported in any way. I even bequeath that smile to those who have judged me.


Fret no more, little girl.

You know why you haven't got crows feet around your big blue eyes, child? Because you haven't smiled enough.

And as I help my parents end their lives -- it was their passionate sexual embrace that brought me into this world, after all -- I’m going to bring a very mindful and heartfelt smile back to your beautiful face.

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Friday, February 14, 2014

Funny Valentine

laughter and love is the best medicine

My parents recently celebrated their 53rd wedding anniversary and I'm spending today arranging for their hospice care.  Last year, my then boyfriend avoided the holiday and I remember walking in the rain to pick up some grub from a local restaurant.  I ate at home, completely alone, wondering why I would choose to love a man who didn't quite appreciate me.  He never deserved me.  And there's a pun there: de-serve. He rarely operated in the "service" of love.  In fact, he did me a great disservice.

But I'm none the worse for wear.  There are greater forms of love.  Pure love:  love that is boundless and that makes your heart swell, having nothing to do with romance or sex.

So this year, on this day, at least, I'm quite happy to be single and celibate, because I am enduring one of the greatest unconditional loves a human can experience: helping two people you cherish deeply make an end of life transition.  Yes, it sounds terribly sad, and it is, but there is also joy and dignity in your last days, just as there is joy and dignity when you begin your human journey out of the birth canal.

When I visit my mom at the skilled nursing facility, I sing to  Funny Valentine and other tunes to her.  I place my hand on her heart.  Her heartbeat was the first sound I ever heard in the womb and it's music to my ears.  The day it stops beating, her vibration and rhythm will still resonate within me.

And I'm sure my future husband will appreciate my capacity to love in this way.  See you soon, my funny valentine. Laughter with a infinite dose of love is the best medicine to help us heal.  What's keeping you, dear?  I know that if I ever walk in the rain again, it will be while holding your hand and we'll frolic like kids.

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