The Return of the Pelicans

Have you ever noticed how things happen in cycles? Politics, art history, fashion, the seasons. While I’ve tended to avoid politics here, I’ve talked a lot about the seasons. The autumn Georg died (eons ago in 2013), I was quite taken with how celebratory the trees were looking, even though my father had just passed away and I was in deep grief. What I came to realize is that the trees do their joyfully-going-dormant thing no matter who is being born or dying. That is just what trees do in the fall of the year.

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Now it is late spring, almost summer, and the pelicans have returned to North Point. Last year was the first year that pelicans had made a migratory stop in Sheboygan in quite a while. When they arrived in 2016, it caused real a ruckus among elite bird watchers and average citizens alike. Once again this year, there is a flock of migrating pelicans encamped not far from my house. It feels like they have come to visit me. I know this is not the case, but I like to think it is. I believe they have a message for me, but I must ask, what could that message be?

Last year when the pelicans came, I was living in a different world. I was happy about so many things, but those things are gone now. This is the thing about loss: it just keeps coming. I can balance it out with all the ongoing birth, renewal, and upgrades, but when you get to be my age, it is hard to stay in touch with what is fresh and new. Everything seems to be about the leavings. Leaving, leaving, leaving. Gone.

But the pelicans! They are back. And they are so. Huge.

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With nine-foot wing spans and weighing in at about 16 pounds a piece, they are some big-ass, graceful birds. This year, they are displaying a lot more movement than I witnessed last year. They are taking leisurely floats down the lakeshore, far away from their base camp on the rock jetty. They are also doing a lot more flying, just cruising around in little groups of four or five birds. Watching them soar lifts my heart.

Georg would have loved them. I so wish he was here to see this. I wish a lot of old friends were here to see this. But, they are not. It’s just me and the pelicans. I will take their visit as a gift and I will enjoy their bounty, even in the face of the loss that is an inevitable part of life. My life, your life, all our lives.

I’d like to close with Joni Mitchell’s The Circle Game, a song I remember listening to when I was 10 years old. It made me cry then, and it makes me tear up now.

And the seasons, they go round and round
and the painted ponies go up and down.
We’re captive on the carousel of time.
We can’t return, we can only look behind
from where we came
and go round and round and round
in the circle game.

Hey, if you need a break from going round and round, can you please come and watch the pelicans with me?

p.s. WordPress informs me that this is my 100th blog post on Frying the Onion. Wow. How about that? What will the next cycle of 100 bring, I wonder.

This is Only a Test

For the next 60 seconds, I will be writing this blog post to see how much things have changed on WordPress since I posted almost 10 months ago. That is a long time to break from blogging. I want to come back and write consistently again in the time to come. Let’s see how this goes.

I was away in the stream of life for a long time and while I was out there, many things changed in this world. We got that new president. This development has caused great fear and concern for the future of our planet. It has also been a call to action. This action is still in process. I won’t try to analyze this right now. We all know what is at stake.

I lost an important relationship. This is a very personal story and has thrown into question everything I thought I knew about myself. Suffice it to say that having a relationship end is never an easy thing. It makes a person grieve, quiet themselves, take stock. I am doing all that. More on this at some future time, perhaps.

I traveled to Malawi twice in the past year and will be going again in July to (hopefully) finally begin the children’s reading garden that I have been planning with friends there these last many months. I hope I can plant the seeds that need to be planted and then successfully hand the project to those whom it belongs to. I am learning.

I am not one to pray for divine intervention. I have always believed that whatever I accomplish or don’t accomplish in this life is entirely up to me. I would not say I am an atheist, exactly, but I do not believe in a benevolent overlord in the sky who will swoop in and make my life work. The burden is on me.

Perhaps therein lies my problem. This life of mine is not a burden. It is a gift to me and frankly, a gift to the world, if I can only see it that way. See it and it will be so. I can wake up each day and hope for the best, from me and for me. And for this world. More on all these things in the time to come.

(Okay, this took a little longer than 60 seconds. Still, it is a test.)

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Students of Standard 4, Lilongwe Demonstration School, 12/6/16. We made pinwheels from recycled plastic bottles, inspired by William Kamkwamba, “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.”

An Ofrenda for Georg

fullsizerender-7Here we are, three years since Georg passed away, September 26, 2013. Not a day goes by that I do not think of him in one context or another and say to myself, “what would Georg do?” Or, if I am cooking something, I will forget for a moment that he is gone and I will think, “I should call him and tell him what I am making.” Immediately, however, I remember he is not here. I can’t tell him anything. Somehow, though, it always feels like he knows.

I think he is happy that I recently packed up a whole box of his stuff, collage papers, tiny bird effigies, plastic toys, Mexican milagros, pastels, and more. I sent them to my friend, Jarie Ruddy, who teaches art at The Roeper School in Bloomfield Hills, MI. This is the place where my sister and I went to school all the years we were growing up. It is where our mother, Rosanne, taught art for 40 years, and where Georg taught art for seven.

The school is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, and one part of the celebration is to create a large ofrenda (altar) to “celebrate the lives of the people who contributed significantly to the story of the school.” I’m so glad I could send off a box of Georg’s things to the children in Jarie’s Stage IV class. They have been learning about Georg and his passion for line, color, and things that fly. They have created a most fitting ofrenda box in his honor, one that will become part of the larger community of offerings.  The photo above shows the box in progress. Jarie says it is not quite done, but it will be done very soon.

img_1845This is a picture of children’s hands making lines on cardboard in honor of Georg. Jarie said, “The students loved making Georg-like marks.”

Inside the box, you will see a brick. Jarie related the story to me that when the box became a bit unbalanced, one boy suggested weighting it with a brick. Jarie flashed on the fact that Georg had once given her family a brick on New Year’s Day. This was one of his annual rituals, the delivery of bricks to family and friends for good luck in the new year. I’m not sure if this was some rite from his ancestral home, Greece, or some Aquarian tradition, or just a “Georg-thing.” Whatever. The brick has been temporarily removed from Jarie’s backyard and added to the ofrenda. It looks at home there.

I was also very touched to hear that a girl in the class who is Greek is going to ask her mom to provide some Greek cookies, so that when the ofrenda is installed, it will include something sweet and Greek and buttery, melomacarona (honey cookies).  These will be an edible offering to those who have passed on.  Georg would love that.  I am so tempted to go home to Michigan to see the ofrenda when it is installed. I am not sure I can get there, given everything else going on in life at this moment.  But, knowing that the children are working together to make something beautiful in his honor gives me great hope.

Today may be the day that is the anniversary of Georg’s death, but one of his favorite Greek words was “Zoe” which means “life,” or as he always translated it, “new life.” Thank you, students of Stage IV at The Roeper School, for honoring Georg Vihos and giving him “Zoe.” Wherever he is today, he is smiling on us all.

 

An ofrenda (Spanish: “offering“) is a collection of objects placed on a ritual altar during the annual and traditionally Mexican Dia de los Muertos celebration. An ofrenda, which may be quite large and elaborate, is usually created for an individual person who has died. In honor of the 75th Anniversary of The Roeper School, classes, groups, and individuals are coming together to create an ofrenda to celebrate the lives of the people who contributed significantly to the story of the school. Boxes are being created to commemorate each person and will be placed together to create a traditional Ofrenda in the Bretzlaff Commons on the Bloomfiled Hills campus. This will be on view the last week of October with a community reception on the evening of November 1st.

A New Sense of Order

eastern_bluebird_11My laptop opened up today with a photograph of a sweet little blue bird sitting on a branch. Because my father loved blue birds, I take it to mean that Georg was sending me a message of support and encouragement today. This awareness of his never-ceasing presence in my life inspired me to come back to this blog where I haven’t visited for quite a while.

The last time I wrote was in April, remarking on the “higgledy-piggledy” world referred to by the baker who happened to be Muslim and British and who got the honor of making a cake for Queen Elizabeth’s 90th birthday. Since then, it seems that the world has gotten more “higgled” and more “piggled” in ways that are significantly more dire and fraught with danger than the unexpected baking of queen’s birthday cakes.

I am trying to find the fine line between keeping the media buzz at bay (as dismaying at it is each day) and doing my part to stay informed so that I can help move the world forwards, not backwards. I am at times greatly fearful of what might happen to our country and to our world should a certain man become president. Believe me, I am doing everything in my limited power to ensure that he does not win. I am, indeed, with Hillary.

Meanwhile, I have recently returned from Malawi, a small, developing country in southeast Africa. As you know, I became good friends over the last two years with a group of graduate students who had come to Lakeland for their M.Ed degrees, specializing in early grade reading instruction. It was thanks to them that I got the idea that Malawi might benefit from a children’s reading garden, similar to the place here in Sheboygan that my Malawian friends fell in love with, Bookworm Gardens.

We are still in the early stages of settling on a design, picking the folktales and other stories to be featured, finding a builder to build it and artists and gardeners and teachers to make it both beautiful and educational. This effort would be challenging enough to do close to home. Building it far away from where I live is even harder. But, there are many friends on the ground over there who are eager to see this garden happen. I know it will come to pass, all in good time, if I just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Despite higgles and piggles that turn up every day, in every endeavor, I remain alert for the shared order of all things.

The Queen’s Cake

It is Thursday, the day Georg died. It is raining and I have so many different things to do, I don’t know where to begin. Instead of getting an early start on my work this morning, I am thinking about Monday’s blog post, which got very few hits, so I am pondering what I might have said wrong (or done wrong in posting.) This leads me to a personal certainty: I always doubt myself.

This is not a productive way to be, but there you have it. Georg would have understood this self-doubt, though he would not have approved of it. He would have wanted me to see myself differently, though I know he struggled too. I look at all he did, and I look at what happened. He died. Gone. End of discussion. Now what? Who’s job is it to make sure that everything he did in life becomes recognized? Why do we want the things we make, do, or say to be recognized? To what end?

NadiyaI caught an NPR interview this morning with Nadiya Hussain, the British woman born in Bangladesh who recently won the Great British Bake Off and was invited to create Queen Elizabeth’s 90th birthday cake. Nadiya will present the cake to the Queen later on today. Nadiya’s attitude toward the whole thing was so upbeat and lovely, so not over-thinking it. The interviewer was a bit surprised to hear that the baker had not made any test cakes, had not rehearsed what she was going to say to the Queen. For me, it was a lesson in being in the moment. Nadiya was excited and nervous, but I detected no hint of self-doubt, nor of self-aggrandizement. She exhibited all at once both humility and clear-headedness about the task at hand: baking a cake for a queen.

Nadiya is Muslim and wears a hijab. The interviewer wanted to know what insights Nadiya has about being a woman who wears a hijab delivering a beautiful and hopefully utterly delicious cake to the Queen of England. Nadiya said (and I am paraphrasing from memory here), “well I don’t want anyone to look at me and write me off, saying ‘oh, she’s just a Muslim.’ I mean, I am that, but I am also so much more than that.” Then, she said, “It is all a bit higgledy-piggledy, isn’t it?”

Yes, it is. All a bit higgledy-piggledy for sure. And now, I better go back to work. I will remember all this and Nadiya’s example of staying humble, certain, and present-in-the-moment. No rehearsing, just being. I will let Nadiya’s Queen’s 90th birthday cake be an example, for me, always, that there is unexpected goodness awaiting me at every corner.

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Death, Spring, Prayer, and Taxes

BenjaminAs Benjamin Franklin so aptly put it, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” On the Brainy Quotes page where his adage appears, another writer (Ruth Ann Minner, former governor of Delaware) suggested that in addition to this, we ought to add “trash.” That makes sense to me. Trash is pretty much a certainty of living life. In an effort to stem the tide of inevitable trash, I am working hard in 2016 to be much more thoughtful about recycling. For one thing, I have started to use cloth bags at the grocery store. (Except four times out of five, I forget to take them into the store with me. Better work on that.)

My question: where on earth do we put all the trash that we generate every day, besides the curb? Maybe someone has started to jettison it into outer space? It is a big universe out there, but is it big enough for all our crap?

Then there are those who say that the only certain thing is uncertainty. Again, I would have to agree. Suddenly, there are quite a few things that are certain: death, taxes, trash, crap, and uncertainty. What else?

I suppose I am certain that the sun will rise each day and certain that my heart will keep beating all through the night even when I am sleeping. A corollary to this certainty is that I will continue to breathe, without ever thinking much about it. Sidebar: When my son was five years old, he went through a phase where he was afraid to go to sleep at night because he was worried he would not keep breathing. I introduced a recitation together of The Lord’s Prayer before bed. I don’t know why, exactly, but this seemed to help him.

close-up of a boy praying

Perhaps we can add a child’s need to pray to the list of things that are certain. How about grown-ups? What do we need when it comes to prayer? I’m certain there are as many different answers to that question as there are people on the planet.

In this time of complete political carnival upheaval, this campaign-season-like-no-campaign-season-we-have-ever-seen-in-the-annals-of-time, is anything certain? Some say they are certain that there is no way Bernie can be the nominee. To that I say, “do not underestimate the power of the people.”

One last certain thing. Spring will always come. It may be slow to get here, especially in Wisconsin. This April has been the shepherd of the weirdest spring ever. One day it is warm, the next day it snows three inches. Then, the sun shines. Then it is extremely cold. But, surely, this can’t go on forever. Right?

Finally today, April 18, 2016, several certainties have coalesced. It is Monday, so it is trash day in Sheboygan. It is also tax day everywhere. The IRS gave us a reprieve, I guess, since the 15th fell on a Friday. Are they that thoughtful, the IRS? Apparently.  It is also so spring-like out there today that I can’t possibly image it snowing again before next December. At least, that is what I will pray for.

As for death, it never goes away, ever. Of that, I am quite certain.

 

 

Sensei Martha

Today is Georg’s birthday. He would have been 79. It is also the birthday of one of his favorite writers, Nikos Kakantzakis, who said, “What a strange machine man is! You fill him with bread, wine, fish, and radishes, and out comes sighs, laughter, and dreams.” Here is a little story about the sighs,dreams, and laughter of dogs, for you today, Dad. Happy birthday…

IMG_2386I did not grow up in a dog family, but we tried to have a dog when I was 11. Georg named him Pollo, after the Greek god, Apollo. We couldn’t train him and he barked all night. We gave him to a dog family. It made me sad to know we had failed at “dog,” but I was secretly relieved that he would get to spend his days with people who understood his language.

I am still not a dog person, but I do love one particular dog whose name is Martha. Martha came into our lives ten years ago. We got her at the Ozaukee Humane Society. She was a rescue dog from Indiana.  At first, she refused to go into our basement and cowered when trucks passed by on the street. Eventually, she overcame these fears. On her record, her name was listed as “Sensei,” which as you may know means “teacher.” It translates literally as “person born before another.” Martha is certainly that.

She has been quite a teacher for me. She has not completely taught me how not to be afraid of all dogs, but she has taught me not to be afraid of her. I have learned to communicate with her, walk her, feed her.  I did not learn how to bathe her or how to open her mouth and get pills down her throat when needed, but still. Those are Masters-level dog jobs, and I have left those to her dad, her main care giver.

Martha has taught me how important it is to sit on the couch sometimes and do nothing. She has taught me that when I am outside, it is important to breathe deeply and survey not only the ground, but also the air. Mostly, she has taught me that love does not come in words. It comes in subtle body language and in actions. She lives at her dad’s house, but I have walked her most every weekday morning since the divorce. Like her human boy counterpart, Owen, she has taught us to stay a family.

These last two weeks have been difficult as she is suddenly fading. She is 12 now, so theoretically, it could be time to go. The vet said her red blood cells are not functioning properly. She is getting a daily dose of steroids in cooked hamburger meat that Mike feeds her. The morning report from him today is that she is actually moving around, unlike yesterday when she lay all day on the couch like a spent rag. This morning, she ate, peed, and drank more water. We have an appointment at the vet at 1:00, and I hope we aren’t going to be putting Martha down, but I just don’t know.

My instructions are to try to get her to walk to the end of the block to move her bowels.  I will go over in a little while and do this. I will bring a book and sit with her on the couch and just be her student for a little while longer.