The sweetness


The sweetness of summer. 
What is it?  We all talk about “it” – that “thing” that makes summer the sweetest season, but what is it really?  Can you put your finger on it?  As kids it was the break from our main responsibility: school.  It was a time to catch fireflies and stay up late and eat ice cream everyday and have sleepovers.  It was a time to abandon all cares and footwear and for at least two solid months.  Now, as adults, we can’t really “check out” the way we did as kids; we have to work (well, some of you) and therefore wear shoes everyday, and I doubt most of us eat ice cream on the daily, and staying up late is no longer a special treat.  But despite these concessions we make on our path to adulthood, summer remains the sweetest season, and today, on the eve of August, I’m trying to pin-point what does it for me; what makes summer feel so damn good and special?

Right off the bat I’m going to say the beach, Long Beach Island (LBI) specifically.  I’ve been spending summers at this place for as long as I can remember, and for me, summer is synonymous with trips to LBI.  Walking up to the beach entrance through the dunes and seeing the ocean for the first time (that day, week, season, whatever) remains of my favorite summer sights to behold.  It just never gets old.  And then there’s the relaxation of having your toes in the sand, and the playfulness of swimming in the ocean, and the late-afternoon peacefulness that remains after the lifeguards and families have gone home.  So yeah, days spent on LBI are definitely one of the “things” that makes summer so damn sweet.

I think summer heat can be really challenging, especially the heat we’ve experienced this summer (hottest July ever).  But, I’ve gotta say, warm summer nights somehow make it worth it.  Everything just feels better on a warm summer night; dinner tastes better when cooked or enjoyed outside, driving with windows down and music up hits the spot like nothing else on a warm summer night, and hanging out with friends on a porch or in a yard, surrounded by the rhythmic sounds of summer cicadas, is total bliss. 
So I think for me, these two “things” are what makes summer the sweetest season.  Also, this summer is particularly sweet because I’m in between student mode and job mode, and therefore summer still feels like a break from my main responsibility because I don’t have school OR a job.  This also means that I’ve been barefoot most of the summer and staying up ridiculously late, because I can ;)  Soon enough September will be here and the slow dissolve from summer to autumn will begin, and I’ll get a job and put my shoes back on, but until then, I’m going to savor every last drop of summer, sand, sunflowers and cicadas, because ultimately what makes it all so sweet is that it’s time limited and temporary.  Just like an ice cream cone.

Mojo Risin'


Almost two years ago, my hard drive crashed on my MacBook and I lost a tremendous amount of my beloved music collection.  It sounds silly, but this was a really big deal to me.  Some music was recovered, but a lot was not, and of the things recovered, they were all jumbled up and inconsistent.  I lost whole albums but gained multiple copies of one song, stuff like that.  

I guess most people would slowly but surely rebuild their collections, but for me, it was all too much.  You see, this crash happened right in the middle of fall semester of my senior year, and during the same week of my dad's cancer diagnosis, so it was just too much, you know?  I did not have the mental, physical or emotional energy to go through my iTunes and delete the multiples and try to find what exactly was missing; it was an exhausting thought, plus, I was angry at technology and no longer trusted my computer to be the gatekeeper of my music collection.  I guess I thought I would deal with the mess over semester break, but I never did; instead, I lost my desire to have a music collection (which is a ridiculous thought!).

It was just too much.  Years of collecting music, and then poof! it's all gone, or mostly gone, or so jumbled that you don't even know what's missing until you think, "ahh, I'm jonesin to hear 'Dub Side of the Moon'" only to realize that you only have five of the songs.  It got to a point where I stopped opening iTunes because I was always disappointed with the mess that had become my music collection.  So I stopped.  I chose instead to listen to NPR, podcasts, and Pandora.  Once a music connoisseur, I slowly became a passive listener of whatever was on.  "What do you want to listen to, Jen?"  "I don't care".  This was not me.  I do care what I listen to; I have opinions and usually crave certain styles or artists during certain seasons or for whatever reasons.  But I lost it; I lost my music mojo.

In addition, I also lost my desire to seek out new music.  I used to actively hunt for  interesting artists and beautiful sounds that sparked a little something in me.  But ever since the great crash of '08, I slowly stopped the search.  Again, I became passive.  Again, not like me at all.  If someone put a disc in my lap I'd listen to it, but I wasn't out there investing my energies in discovering the gems that are out there.  And that's a damn shame, because the world is full of so much beautiful, soul-stirring, foot-tapping, booty-shaking, hand-clappin' music.

So that's the bad part.  The good part is that I'm getting my mojo back :)  Maybe it's because my world has become less defined by stress and more defined by my interests, or maybe I'm just tired of being an unauthentic and uninspired passive consumer of music.  I am ready to delve back into the joy of finding and listening to music that makes me feel happy.  I am ready to open iTunes again and go through the sad heap of tunes and clear the clutter and organize the goods.  It's been a long time coming, but I am ready to LOVE music again. 

I'm curious as to what musical treats you've been enjoying lately.  Have you stumbled upon any artists or sounds that made you say, "yeah, that's the stuff!"?  In the spirit of sharing sounds, give a listen to this little gem I discovered on NPR this morning.  It's Iranian funk music, and it blends the best of Middle-eastern sounds with the funk.  What do you get when you mix the sitar with Sly?  THIS >> Iran: An Unlikely Treasure Chest of Funk

On the Edge of the Ocean


The past few days have been a series of ups and downs, an emotional roller-coaster of sorts. Dad endured five days of CyberKnife radiation to kill the latest brain tumor that is dangerously close to his brain stem. He has to take a steroid prior to, during, and after the radiation to help shrink the swelling so the tumor doesn't touch the stem, but as with all drugs and "treatments", there are negative side-effects.

I had talked to dad on Monday night after round one and he was fine; he was joking like his normal self and was happy to start this process. Twenty-four hours later my mom called, in tears, stating that dad had fallen in the kitchen and cannot walk. What?? She went on to state that she had been very sick the past few days and that she was a mess, too. Dad was on the couch but could not move or hoist himself up, and my mom was too weak to pull him up and get him to bed. The visual of both of my parents unable to physically maneuver and emotionally overwhelmed was too much for me to bear. Mom put a call into the doctor, but it was after-hours and they wouldn't get a call back until the morning. Mom was scared and obviously concerned about how she was going to get Dad to the CyberKnife center in the morning, which is over an hour away from their home. I told Mom I would meet them there and help get Dad out of the car, etc. I hung up the phone and was numb. Dad fell? Dad can't walk? He was fine yesterday. I spent that night full of fear and anxiety. I couldn't sleep, and went to my default place: google. This is not good for me.

Finally, after hours of insomnia and worry, the phone rang at 7:45. It was mom. She sounded like a different woman, as if everything was fine. Apparently the doctor called and stated that dad's muscle loss is a normal side-effect of the steroid, especially in the shoulders and thighs. Mom also said that dad can walk, but he cannot get up from a seated position, so as long as someone can pull him up, then he can walk ok. She told me not to come down and that they were fine. She also mentioned that she was feeling much better and had stopped vomiting. I realize now that a lot of the fear and panic in the call the night before was a reflection of her own emotional and physical state. Not to say that her reaction to dad's fall and inability to move was inaccurate or over the top by any means, but she did not have the emotional or physical capacity to deal with this latest development. I hung up from that call feeling relieved, but also mindful that I need to worry about my mom's well-being just as much as my dad's. Sometimes it's easy to overlook the fact that my mom is carrying the weight of all this stress and uncertainty; she is on the front-lines of this epic battle and endures her own invisible battle scars.

So that was Wednesday morning, and the rest of the week was uneventful, and good. I've forgotten how much I love to read, and get lost in someone else's story for awhile. It's a nice escape. As a Pisces, I'm all about escaping, so reading is a healthy way for me to experience escape without actually doing it. So I spent the days reading and doing some job search stuff and re-connecting with a neighbor who I haven't seen in a while and cooking and generally enjoying the moments and exhaling from the heaviness of Tuesday night.

Jay and I decided to make it a beach weekend, so we set the alarm for early on Saturday morning so we could hit the road early and avoid as much traffic as possible. When I woke up I checked my phone. There was a text message from my cousin in Colorado that said "please call me when you get up". Hmm, this was unusual. I am no stranger to bad news via phone call, in fact, it's the only way I've ever received bad news, so I dial and instinctively brace myself. I remember years ago when my friend Sara called me to tell me that she found her brother Jonathan, lifeless, hanging from a tree in the woods, how I literally had to brace my body in a door frame. This felt similar. I sat down on a chair in a hunched position, kind of like how we hunched over during tornado drills in elementary school, in Indiana.

Mary, my cousin, answered the phone and I immediately said, "what's going on?" I knew the silence on the other end was not because she didn't hear me or because she was ignoring me; it was because she had no breath, no words, just tears. And then the words started coming, bit by bit. "Yesterday morning"... tears... "we were all leaving for the family reunion"... sobbing... "Norman and Ryan were supposed to meet us at the airport" ... tears... "But when Norman went to wake Ryan up..." crying... "he was dead" ... sobbing...

Ryan was Mary's nephew. He was my cousin Nancy's son, and Mary helped raised him. He was 18 years old, and died in his sleep from cardiac arrest, of all things. Ryan had just graduated from high school and was off to college in August. But now he is dead, and our extended family begins the heart-wrenching and never-ending journey of grief. My heart aches for them. This shocking news brings so much to the surface, like how my own family stumbled through life after the shocking death of Steve. My heart aches for Nancy and Norman, who, like my parents, have now lost a child. How do you ever recover from that? My heart also aches for Ryan's siblings, Cara and Marc, who have suddenly lost their brother. I want to comfort them, but I know that in the face of such tragedy, there is no comfort, anywhere. I remember that about grief: it is a grinding and non-stop feeling of tremendous emotional and physical discomfort, and nothing in the universe can relieve it. And my heart aches for all who are touched by this tremendous loss, for Mary and all of the extended family, for Ryan's friends, and for the community where they live in Colorado.

So I took my heavy heart to the beach and let ocean do it's thing. There is something so healing about being on the beach and staring out into the vastness of the ocean. With so much uncertainty and suffering in the world, it feels comforting to stand in the ocean and feel its natural rhythm; the way it rolls in and flows out, like breath. Storms and chaos happen, but eventually, the ocean finds it's meditative groove and restores its rhythmic and reliable ebb and flow. We are like this, too, and seeing the ocean is a welcome reminder of this.

As I stood in the ocean, I looked south and thought of my parents, who live near the ocean in Delaware. I wondered if they were also on the beach, exhaling their stress and feeling restored by the water. I also thought of my extended family, who, despite Ryan's death, are gathered on the beach in the Outer Banks of North Carolina for what was intended to be a family reunion. Ryan loved the beach, and was so looking forward to spending time with his cousins, so Nancy, Ryan's mom, decided the best way to honor his young life was to do it at the beach with the family gathered around. I closed my eyes and imagined all of us, Jay & I, my mom & dad, and the Wolfe/Paetow/Carr family, all on the edge of the Atlantic, all looking to the ocean for peace and healing. Just as I share their heart-ache, I shared their peace, too. It's like we were all there, all connected, all together, because of the ocean. And I'm sure Ryan was there, too, his spirit now eternally part of the waves that wash over us and the winds that dry our tears.

And so it was. Healing and peace on the edge of the ocean. And so it will always be.

Rest in Peace, Ryan.