Speechless

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.” ― Albert Einstein


Today I am without words.
We left Delhi and traveled four hours by expressway to Agra. The city of Agra, the Agra Fort, our beautiful hotel with a view of the Taj Mahal from our rooms, and the Taj Mahal itself were incredible. Having always been at the top of my bucket list, the Taj Mahal far exceeded my already high expectations. No photo I had ever seen could ever capture the emotion I felt being in the presence of such magnificence. Our guide, Rishi, a native of Agra, knew all of the angles, and some cool photo tricks.


  
  
I can say no more.
We return for sunrise tomorrow. After that, Jaipur.

Bombay is Very Nice This Time of Year

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” ― Marcel Proust


Peter had travelled to Mumbai on business a few times.  We often spoke of returning there together.  My trip to India today is not without him.  In the nearly three years and nine months since Peter passed, I have come to realize that he is with me wherever I go.  And how amazing it is that I not only see the world through my eyes, I also see it through his.

I’m aboard Air India Flight 102, bound for New Delhi.  Arriving twenty minutes after my flight will be Peter’s parents, brother and sister-in-law; my loyal travel companions.  Omi had always wanted to travel here with Peter as well.  I think she knows that Peter’s senses will be absorbing my experiences. What you see in the photo is a last glimpse of Pakistan.  Afghanistan was pretty awesome from the air,but I missed that photo op.

The trip couldn’t have been more timely.  Less than two weeks ago, on the 40th anniversary of the day Peter and I met, our beloved Kerry died suddenly.  She was more than a dog to me.  Her soulful presence in my life, my heart, and my home was enormous.  She was there for Peter during his long illness, and saved me in the lonely days that followed.  The outpouring of love and support since she died has been a comforting testament to the value of the six+ years of therapy work she did.  I have to believe that, even if just for a moment, she was able to give so many human souls a glimpse of what is good, what is possible. Oh how I love that girl. Boo Boo.

A week following Kerry’s death, my dear friend Caroline  came over.  She has recently retired as Volunteer Coordinator at Mt. Sinai Hospital. Caroline and I met because of Kerry; as Kerry and I logged more volunteer hours together there than anywhere else.   After our hugs and tears, she gave me a very touching book called “The Forever Dog”, which her nephew had written; perfect for anyone who has lost a beloved pet.  We decided to go out to Alice’s Tea Cup on E. 81st Street for tea and a scone.  Alice’s Tea Cup is not normally on my radar, but seemed this particular morning the appropriate choice.  The guy who brought us our tea looked SO familiar. After thinking about it for a moment, I realized he looked just like a wonderful young man from the court-mandated group which Kerry and I had visited in the South Bronx with A Fair Shake for Youth during the summer of 2014.  He was very shy, somewhat slow to warm, yet had been so moved by Kerry that he bravely shared his feelings with the group, both peers and adults, via a PowerPoint presentation which contained the following text about Kerry.

“Animals have the sensibility to feel your emotions…and can make a huge change in your loneliness…Try It I guarantee you’re hearts will soften”

Kerry is a 7 year old German Shepherd who was trained to be a seeing eye dog but because they found a serious tumor in her eye she had to get her eye removed and had to be returned to her owner. Kerry may not have been the best eye seeing dog but she didn’t really care about not being able to see with one eye. But she has been for sure one of the only beings in this world I actually felt really attached to in my whole lifetime. I was a kid who in my past has gotten bullied and had no friends; until this day I’ve never met anyone who has had a little sympathy for me not even a little. But once I saw Kerry enter the Center I realized a dog can actually be a man’s best friend, a loyal being you can trust and talk to and they would listen to you. After I met Kerry I stopped feeling lonely & every time I don’t see her I miss her like if she was a human being.

Another server at the restaurant confirmed his identity.  I called him over and told him of Kerry’s passing.   With tears in his eyes  he said he had kept Kerry’s picture, that when he gets to heaven he knows he will see her.

“Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” ~Roald Dahl

I’m so looking forward to this journey, full of new sights and sounds.  And I’m quite sure a bit of magic.

LUCKY

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“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. “
― Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

I come from a family of note writers. When I was a teenager and staying out later than my parents’ bedtime, my mom would leave a note on the stairway by the front door, most often held in place by a Campbell’s soup can. It was usually a reminder to lock the door, a quick good-night, a smiley face and a few x’s and o’s. On visits home from Germany in the early years of our marriage, I would leave notes for my parents; hidden and waiting to be found often long after I’d landed back in Frankfurt. I would tuck a little message in Peter’s luggage during his years of frequent business travel and I’d leave messages on my kids’ pillows.

I’ve heard stories of people finding notes left behind; messages intended to be found after the writer had passed. The thought of being the recipient of one always felt to me so beautifully poignant. I admit that in the days, months, and now years, since Peter’s death in 2012, I’ve silently hoped to find even the briefest communique from him. At one point I realized that with every pocket I cleaned out, each paper I pulled from his brief case, I would be, ever so slightly, holding my breath. I’d scan the margins of his work papers and bookmarks in his books for a little “Hey there! I knew you would find this eventually…..”

However, knowing Peter, it comes as no surprise that I never found that special note. He lived very much in the moment. During the years of his illness, even until he lapsed into a coma two days before his passing, Peter was unwilling to give up his fight. He did not want to die, and lived as though he would forever. I had wanted to talk with him about his mortality, of what my life would be like after he was gone, but I had to let him steer that boat. Only briefly, on a handful of occasions, did he crack the window and let me in on the deep recesses of his mind; his sadness about leaving his family behind. We were his everything and the thought that he wouldn’t be there for us was, for him, unfathomable.  It was such a painful time.

Even so, I could always hope.

In the very early years of our marriage, Peter gave me a homemade Valentine’s Day card. We lived in Germany. Hallmark had not yet infiltrated there and Valentine’s Day cards were a scarce commodity. Peter’s homemade cards soon began appearing on our anniversary, before long becoming a biannual tradition, complete with poems and drawings. The day before each such occasion, Peter would ask me for an envelope, my pad of plain white paper and the box of colored pencils. He would jokingly complain and ask if he really had to come up with yet another poem. Would he have to do this for the rest of his life?

Yup.

Sure enough, every Valentine’s Day and each anniversary morning, there it would be. The handmade cards became more elaborate as time went on. They were wonderful. Every once in a while, Peter threw in a little bonus; a birthday poem or even this pictorial account of our house hunting trip to Michigan in 1993.

Michigan Trip 1993 Drawing 1

But life was busy.  I would eventually tuck my cards away in random spots; a drawer, a box or closet, rarely reading them again.

After Peter died, I started to consolidate his many homemade cards. It’s turned out to be a hefty stack, having started in 1983 and continuing until the final one from Valentine’s Day in 2012.  It was written a week before he was removed from active cancer treatment and began palliative care.  The writing on that final card is visibly shaky;his poem even includes a reference to it.  The tumors in his brain had affected his fine motor skills.  Simple things like buttons, shaving and writing were nearly impossible for him.  Yet he managed to write my card.

Last week, in search of an old photo, I opened a box in my closet. Between the layers, I found another of Peter’s Valentines, this one dated 1995. While adding it to the others, I made a mental note to take some time to put them in order, to find out if there are any holes.

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A few nights later, as I was going to bed, I was suddenly struck with the organization bug. I took out the folder where I had stored Peter’s cards, propped myself in bed and spread out my collection. Realizing that putting them in chronological order would require reading them, I started doing so. The experience which unfolded before me was not the one I had expected. What I was reading was our life together, told by Peter. I laughed out loud at his goofy rhymes. I relived the years of our marriage chronicled through his prose; the birth of our children, each move, the many schools, a myriad of vacations and activities, all five dogs, and the love we shared.  Incredibly, I felt as though he was sitting right beside me.

This is what Peter left for me. I’m fairly certain he hadn’t planned it this way, but he did leave me notes.  Ones that I can read and reread. It’s all there. The best gift I could possibly have hoped for. The card I found earlier in the week was the catalyst, coming to me at the perfect time. I was ready to read and remember. I am so very lucky.

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Vertrauen

icm_fullxfull.59372829_ozb866w6j34gs4ogogcc“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”
~Ernest Hemingway

When I was in the ninth grade, I lost my naïveté. It wasn’t in the way you might be imagining, nothing sordid, and not even particularly scarring.

Rewind to the New Ulm Junior High School cafeteria, circa 1972; in the somewhat dingy basement of a large, classic, early 1900s school building. I actually remember the place quite fondly.

Apparently I wasn’t the first, but I was probably the best. The rectangular lunch table was surrounded. “You’ve got to try this.” I sat down. I was to draw circles around a quarter (with a pencil, DUH!!) on a piece of paper, then SLOWLY roll the quarter down my face, all the way to my chin and try to drop it into one of the circles. Quarter didn’t land into the circle? Draw more circles. Try again. Try rolling the quarter to the righter, or the left. Draw more circles. The suggestions were endless. The crowd around the table grew.

Yup.

You got it. It took me much longer. I don’t know how long, but I remember the horror I felt when I finally wised up. I ran to the nearest bathroom and looked at my face in the mirror; a labyrinth of lead tracks.

I know it was a silly game, with no ill intended, but it taught me a lot; first to be wary, perhaps even a bit distrustful.  Eventually, with some maturity and experience thrown in, an ability to distinguish the legitimate from the illegitimate; to recognize what’s genuine.

In January I received an offer, via Etsy, to send my creations to an photographer in Texas. I was happy she had found my Etsy shop. I had long been wanting to get my clothes photographed on real kids. As an introductory offer, this person was offering to photograph, FOR NOTHING, my clothes. All I had to do was send them to her. If I liked her work, I would pay for any photography that followed. It almost sounded too good to be true. I was busy anyway, so letting it simmer happened naturally. I did check her Facebook page from time to time, and by the time I actually got around to finishing up a box of clothes to send off, I felt pretty good about shipping away my blood, sweat and tears. By then I also had a gut feeling that AtTUTUde By Kashmira Ali was the real deal.

I received the first set of photos this week. “Foxed Out”, my only outfit for boys, looks better than I could have hoped for on little Mariano. I couldn’t be happier. I’m so glad for lessons learned.  icm_fullxfull.59356558_mz8d8zt3py8g04048scsicm_fullxfull.59372783_f9hj9k8e1ggk08ggwsgcicm_fullxfull.59356494_pbmo1klosiokoooo044k icm_fullxfull.59372829_ozb866w6j34gs4ogogcc icm_fullxfull.59356616_l8wym6mmu40swosgkkgc icm_fullxfull.59372897_7jqv1emq1d0kw4okgwwk

And even if they do nothing to help my fledgling business, these photos will always serve as a reminder to me of the beautify of the human spirit.  Thank you Kashmira.  I can’t wait to see more.

Kimimila New York on Etsy

Books, Covers and Judgment

“Judge tenderly, if you must. There is usually a side you have not heard, a story you know nothing about, and a battle waged that you are not having to fight.”
― Traci Lea LaRussa

Growing up in New Ulm, my family lived on ” the hill.” There was a stigma attached to said digs, perhaps because that’s where most of the new construction in town was; I’m still not sure. New Ulm folks will know what I’m talking about. “You’re rich. You live on the hill.” I cringed when I heard that, and had I received a nickel every time, I might have been. Here is our mansion.

103 Camelsback, New Ulm

As I’ve alluded to in an previous post, true to my genetic makeup I was the shy Norwegian early on. Being a willowy 5’11”, I realized at one point that my quiet nature was often mistaken for aloofness. It used to bother me greatly. As I’ve grown older and become more comfortable in my own skin, I’ve long since come to realize that I can’t control what others think of me. I can only be who I am (thank you Peter.)

Fast forward.  February 25, 2012.

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 Looks like a normal, happy family wedding photo, doesn’t it? Truthfully, it was the very best of days. Peter was Andrew’s Best Man.  What the lens doesn’t reveal, however, is the haste in which the wedding was planned; seventy-two hours, actually, beginning the day after Peter’s hospice papers had been handed to him. The camera also doesn’t capture our inner anguish, the knowledge that Peter would not be present for future family milestones, or the blessed humdrum of every day . And though it’s there in print, only a select few of us will recognize the missing inch or two in Peter’s stature, the result of the vertebrae which had by then, painfully collapsed, compromised by the disease that would take his life two and a half months later.

I volunteered for several years in pediatrics at MSKCC during the time Peter was undergoing his treatment there. The cancer community was a comfortable place for me through those years. One family in particular stands out in my memory. Their son, then 8 or 9 years old, was being treated for neuroblastoma. His treatment went on for years. He sometimes had no hair, and at other times had a head full of blonde “chemo curls.” During his curly days, he looked like a picture of health.  His mom came into the playroom one day, livid that a stranger on the street had rudely commented that her son was too old to be riding in a stroller. You see, when his treatment left him too sick to walk the five blocks from the Ronald McDonald House to the hospital, he would very reluctantly allow himself to be pushed.

I remember taking Kerry for her three-a-day walks the final weekend of Peter’s life. It was a surreal time.  Passing people going about their normal business when my particular business was SO utterly far from normal felt very bizarre. Not a single one of them could have guessed that I was going home to sit with a husband who was unresponsive, whose last breath was hours away. Since that day, I have never looked at a single stranger with the same eyes. And I never will.

Please, judge tenderly, if judge you must.  None of us really know what burden another carries.

On a much lighter note, while visiting Bailey in Vienna during her 2011 semester abroad, we rode the famous Riesenrad at the Prater amusement park.  It’s one of the world’s earliest Ferris wheels.  I was terrified.  I felt like the freaking thing was going to fall apart.  This is my phony “I’m having fun” smile.  Bailey knows otherwise.

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I was delighted to see it, however, on the cover of a brand new book (a real book you CAN judge by it’s cover,) newly penned by Peter’s childhood backyard neighbor/our adulthood friend.  It’s called  “The Persian Waltz”.

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The book is fantastic. It’s a wonderful, quick read, in the mystery/thriller genre. I could not put it down. In fact, my tax prep has suffered because of it. Now that I’ve finished the book, I can get my papers in the mail. Congratulations, Johnny! Well done. I can’t wait for the next in the Billy Mack series.

Available at the following link on Amazon; paperback and Kindle edition.

The Persian Waltz

The Persian Waltz YouTube Promo

Kimimila New York on Etsy

Stuff

“The pearl only weighs the oyster down”  ~Marty Rubin

Four years into my budding sewing career, I received my sewing box.  It was a Christmas gift from Mom and Dad.  There it is, in all it’s gold plastic splendor between me and my grandpa.  I had just returned home from the hospital that afternoon after having my appendix out three days prior.

Christmas 1969

I LOVE my sewing box.  It has made every move that I’ve made.  Beginning in New Ulm, Minnesota to St. Olaf College; University of Minnesota; Dossenheim, West Germany; Mendham, New Jersey; Plymouth, Michigan; Chester, New Jersey; New York, New York.

Early in our marriage, Peter’s mom was visiting us in Germany, accompanied by a new puppy.  I was the last to arrive home from work one evening.  Peter and Mutti sheepishly met me at the door.  The puppy had tested it’s teeth on MY SEWING BOX.  Peter said to me that he knew it must be special, because why else would someone who sews as much as  I keep this (dare he say ugly) old “thing” around?  The two of them had desperately tried to repair it.  Their panicked, loving efforts only attracted future puppy attention, but truthfully added to the charm of my sewing box.

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Nearly seven years ago, we began the arduous process of downsizing. It seemed to me so strange that just twenty years before we had moved from a furnished apartment in Germany to an empty house in New Jersey.  We filled it and three houses to follow with furniture, love, school projects, toys and memories.  And there I was, nest nearly empty, so quickly dismantling   the accumulation of years.

It wasn’t easy, and my relief was huge once it was done.  Peter and I loved the coziness of our New York apartment.  I still love it.  It feels SO great not to be weighed down by possessions.

It’s interesting to look at what “stuff” actually made the final cut.  Other than basic furniture, that which we brought along has meaning.  Bottom line.  Everything on our walls or shelves is a memento of a trip or family memory.  Decorators be damned, somehow it all comes together.  Even a few of the pieces of furniture I have here are special, like the secretary that was in my grandparent’s farmhouse; or the platform rocker in which my grandma was rocked as a baby; or this gate leg table, a wedding gift to my grandparents in the 1920s.

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It’s in my tiny kitchen (beneath my growing wall of travel mementos), giving me extra space when I need it.  I grew up with it my house in New Ulm.

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So what’s it all for, this accumulation of possessions we all seem to be driven towards in our youth?  During our downsizing, a young couple came to our New Jersey house to pick up a chair they purchased from us on Craigslist.  They were moving FROM New York City TO New Jersey, just the opposite of Peter and me.  They were so excited about the extra space they would have in their house.  I wanted to shake them and say “Don’t do it! ”  But then I remembered the excitement of our first house, the thrill of decorating the nursery, the bikes in the garage, the toys in the basement.  It’s part of life.  As long as we remember that it’s just that, stuff.  It should never weigh you down, because it isn’t what is important.  But I think you already knew that.

Kimimila New York on Etsy

Happiness is a Warm Puppy

Lights will guide you home.

And ignite your bones.

And I will try to fix you.

~Fix You by Coldplay

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I’m going to say it.  I have a dog who answers to “kitty.”  Peter was horrified.  He repeatedly told me that I simply COULD NOT call a German Shepherd “kitty.”

The evolution of her nickname is not complicated.  Kerry.  Caribou.  Boo Boo.  Boo Boo Kitty. (Remember Laverne & Shirley?)

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Okay, I admit I might have taken it too far.

I’ve been involved in the world of pet-assisted therapy since November of 2009.  Kerry (aka Boo Boo Kitty) came to be ours rather serendipitously.  We got her when she was just seven weeks old.  She was to be a guide dog for the blind; we were her puppy raisers.  Our job was to socialize her for the first year and a half of her life.  We took her to the requisite puppy classes and on as many outings as possible. When she left us in June 2008 for her training we were incredibly sad, but reminded ourselves of the reason we had agreed to foster a guide dog puppy.  We hoped that she would pay forward her gift of sight to someone without it and give them the freedom they might not otherwise have.

It turns out, however, that Kerry’s gift was for us.  Vets at The Seeing Eye found a tumor on her iris, removed her right eye, thereby making her ineligible to guide the blind.  As her puppy raisers were were given the right of first refusal.  Long story short, when both kids were packed off to college in the fall of 2008, Peter and I made our move from NJ to NYC with three dogs, rather than two.

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Peter was a year and a half into his cancer journey at that time.  It was his idea that Kerry and I become certified as a therapy dog team.  We did so with The Good Dog Foundation, and have been making therapy visits ever since.  For Peter, she was so important.  They loved their long weekend walks in Central Park together.  Even when Peter’s cancer treatment left him feeling exhausted, being with Kerry gave him energy.  She stayed by him until he left this earth.

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 Since Peter’s passing, Kerry has been my therapy.  I’m not sure what I would have done without her.  In the days after his death the numerous therapy visits each week  got me out the door and into the world.  We visit hospitals, hospice, a school for kids on the autism spectrum and a fabulous program called A Fair Shake for Youth, helping at risk school kids build self-esteem.  Although very different, each visit gives me a daily glimpse into the very valuable gifts given by our furry friends.  I’ve watched nervous family members relax and forget the surgery their loved one is undergoing while giving Kerry a belly rub.  Kids on the autism spectrum have gone from debilitating fear of Kerry to looking forward to her visits; to actually being able to feed her from their hands.  I’ve had a woman come over to Kerry and “soak in her positive energy” because she’s being stalked by her ex-husband and lives in constant fear.  Kerry has befriended an at-risk teenager who said that no one in his entire life had shown him any sympathy until her met her.  One woman told me she wanted to overcome her fear of German Shepherds with Kerry.  Her only knowledge of them had been through her mother’s holocaust stories.

Five and a half years of therapy work have given me volumes of stories.  I know the value of a warm puppy.  Thanks to Kerry and hundreds of other therapy animals around the county, so do many troubled souls.

Kerry’s had her “Fifteen Minutes of Fame” (Andy Warhol).  Actually, I think it’s part of living in New York.  It’s hard not to bump into fame here and there.  Or maybe it’s just Kerry, because she really AWESOME.  Following are a few links to some of her escapades.

NY Post – November 2011

Cure Today magazine article – 2012

Martha Stewart Living – December 2011

Good Dog Foundation video 2013

Good Dog Foundation 2014

Victoria Stilwell satellite media tour – August 2014

A Fair Shake for Youth

You can also see a few minutes of her helping a Staten Island family in Season 4, Episode 2 of Animal Planet’s “It’s Me or the Dog.”