Stripes Are Not My Style…Or How We Almost Landed In A Foreign Prison

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Long before the euro was born each European country had their own currency. We were traveling to Portugal and crossed over the border on a Sunday and had no way to exchange money. So we went to do what most American’s do when they are at a loss about what to do…found a hotel and searched for a place to eat.

Believe it or not, seventeen years ago it was difficult to find a place to eat that was open on a Sunday in a small village in Portugal. Eventually, we ended up at a family restaurant that took credit cards and had a decent view of the square. Apparently we stuck out like a sore thumb because as we struggled with the menu a short dark-haired woman made her way over to our table.

“I speak English. Do you need help ordering?”

We smiled in relief as she took charge explaining, translating and ordering to the waitress who had made it obvious she didn’t have time for foreigners who didn’t speak the language.

The woman introduced herself as Maria. Her husband, Antoinio, daughter, Ceclia and son, Peter, soon followed her up to our table. And then, as strangers often do in these types of situations, we changed tables (causing the waitress to scowl even more)  dragged our tables close together and began to talk in Spanish, English and Portuguese. It was a beautiful blend of languages and somehow we began to understand one another in that putting-on-no-airs, rather primitive, I-want-to-get-to-know-you sort of way.

We ate and we talked. We talked and we ate. The wine flowed while the kids grew bored. It was about that time that Maria asked us if we needed any money since she knew that the banks were not open on a Sunday. We were grateful for her kindness and followed the family off to the local bank where B did some currency exchange calculations. And then, as Maria looked over her shoulder and whispered, “We could go to prison for doing this,” we exchanged three crisp one hundred-dollar bills for a humongous fistful of escudos, the sheer number of banknotes threatening to break the bank and overflow our pockets.

Just as we were getting ready to leave the bank Maria and Antonio invited over to their house. Being the completely trustworthy and adventurous travelers that we are we climbed into our rental car and began the trip through the small city to our new friends home. It was a nice place in the suburbs where our daughter spent the afternoon playing together while the adults (cousin K included) drank more wine, laughed a lot and swapped stories about our travels. Three hours later we made it back to our hotel…and that’s where our troubles began.

While standing in the lobby B observed that the hotel did in fact have its own currency exchange something we had failed to notice prior to our trip to the restaurant. B went up to the front desk for clarification. As I was taking in the sights beyond the front window, I suddenly heard a low moan, like the whine of a rocket as it falls towards its intended target. In a flash an ashen B crossed the lobby and was by my side whispering tersely in my ear.

“We have a major problem. I made a big mistake.”

“What do you mean you made a big mistake? What are you talking about?”

It was then that B explained to me that his usually meticulous and always correct solving for x mathematical prowess had somehow gone all wrong. That he had, in fact, mis-placed a decimal. And so it turned out that while we were suppose to have transacted an even exchange of money, we had inadvertently “stolen” over one thousand dollars from our new friends.

We panicked as fear soured our throats and clutched at our rib cages. I think we yelled at one another. Once, maybe twice. Sweat broke out on B’s upper lip and we wondered aloud what the color of prison uniforms were in Portugal and if my father would be able to raise Jackie while we spent the next twenty years learning Portuguese in the pokey.

When we finally settled down we made a plan to try to find our way back to Maria’s house. If we could. We had just made it to the parking lot when in the distance we heard the “WAH-HUH-WAH-HUH-WAH-HUH” of a police siren.

“Let’s make a run for it,” I screamed like some mentally deranged character straight out of a B-movie.Jail

B floored the gas pedal… and circled the parking lot…as the police car drove straight by us… and further down the road. Then peeling out of the parking lot, B made a sharp left and headed back into town. Way over the speed limit. I prayed that my usual been-there-once-can-get-there-again instinct would kick in. It did.

We arrived at Marie’s disheveled, perspiring and frantic. We pounded on their front door like the Gestapo. Marie, who had consumed quite a bit of wine, opened the door with a look of disbelief on her half-crocked face that those pesky Americans were on her doorstep yet again. With trembling voices we explained the situation as Antonio was dutifully summoned to the stoop. They were grateful for our honesty and we were thankful that they had not yet done the math. We parted ways all of us relieved at the story book ending.

Several weeks later, when I tried to email Maria, the message was bounced back as undeliverable. That inability to reconnect gave me pause and since then I have wondered if we left Maria and Antonio permanently scarred and distrustful due to their experience with us or did they continue to be the same caring/concerned people still willing to help out any poor bloke who is down in his luck? I would like to believe it is the latter.

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Say YES To The Dress

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Tonight I am heading to a charity ball being held to raise money for my daughter’s diving team. At fifty-five years of age you would think I would be an old pro at this, but no, I am a virgin at this type of affair and unlike most Cinderellas…I have no fairy godmother to take care of things for me. As a result of this misfortune, for the past three days I have been schlepping from store to store in search of the perfect dress, shoes, and a fat suit to hold it all in. Needless to say it has been discouraging and a major blow to the old ego.

Dress one: Long, scarlet and slit oh-so-high-right-up-the-thigh. Youngest daughter almost throws up in her mouth. “Really mom,” she sighs. “One day I’ll have to go back to the pool and I don’t want you to be THE mom that everyone is still talking about.”

Dress two: short, blue. “Mom, your cellulite is showing.”

Dress three: Just sparkly enough to catch my daughter’s interest…until I put it on. “I think you will need a bigger fat suit,” she says.

Dress four: White, bra-less with cutouts in the back. “OMG, Mom. Do your boobs really drop that far when you get old?” (I swear I am never taking this kid shopping with me again!)

Dresses five through eleven:

“No.”

“No.”

“OH-No.”

“Gross.”

“Please mom don’t embarrass me in that.”

“Absolutely…no way.”

“Really, mom, what are you thinking?”

Dress twelve: Oh SHIT, I ripped it near the zipper when I tried to pull it down over my hips. Future reminder to self… ALWAYS take dress off by pulling over your head.

Dress thirteen: Black, long. Two sizes smaller than I normally wear.  My daughter gasps and instructs me to turn around.

“IT FITS!” she squeals.

“It  fits… like…everywhere?” I hesitantly ask trying to avoid my major most obvious issue by refusing to turn around to take a good look at my ample ass in the mirror.

“EVERYWHERE!” she exclaims.”You look really beautiful and you no longer look so embarrassing!” (Okay, maybe she can come shopping with me again someday)

“Really?” I say, running my hand over my hills and dales. I look HARD. Move here. Move there. Bend…nothing ripped, nothing broke, nothing howled.

“Honey, quick, hand me my phone,” I say with a real sense of urgency in my voice.

Just like that I dial the number to my instructor at the Pilates studio and sign up for another ten pack of lessons, as tears slide down my cheeks. My daughter thinks I am beautiful… maybe I should go purchase a lottery ticket!

And FYI Prince Charming … be forewarned…you might just be riding home all alone in that pumpkin because this fifty-five year-old Cinderella is going to the ball tonight and she’s looking damn good!

Lie to Me

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LIE TO ME

Let your words pull me off this deserted island

That I was banished to

Empty, confused and alone

With your not so innocent words

LIE TO ME

Tell me again just how much you love me

Let me see your love for me in your eyes

While the mountain of words propping up our relationship

Crumbles down when the word divorce (noun) is uttered

LIE TO ME

Tell me everything will be okay

That we will love each other with passion again

And that nothing has changed for the two of us

Today and for eternity

LIE TO ME

Make love to me like you mean it

Let me know that you are seeing me

And not the ghost of someone else

When you pierce my body and penetrate my soul

LIE TO ME

Show me your plans for the future

And your make believe photographs

With my face in them

Our smiles lighting up the sky because we are happy again

Please…

LIE TO ME

Because it feels better than the truth

LIE TO ME

Because I need to feel sane again

LIE TO ME

So I can dream again

LIE TO ME

So I can pretend this is happening to someone else

LIE TO ME

Because I want you to

LIE TO ME

Right now…Today

Times Past

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I still remember the things my parents did for me that my children or the kids in my neighborhood will most likely never experience. Sometimes that realization makes me sad. Some of this disconnect from my past stems from where we currently reside but some of it is due to the change in times. It seems strange to me how so much of the innocence I experienced of 50 years ago is gone and seems unlikely to return. Things like:

My father standing out in the bitter cold, night after night, pouring water over a homemade ice skating rink. Sliding the water here and there to make sure that the surface was even in thickness and perfectly smooth like glass. Then after several days of hard freeze he would lace up my skates while my wobbly ankles would cross precariously as I put one foot in front of the other, my blades slowly carving up his masterpiece.

Watching our black and white television where killers or carve-them-ups were not allowed to enter our household. Cuss words were unheard of too. The only things on television back then were shows which presented people trying to do their best and to help one another. In short, they showcased families/individuals who loved each other and the positive in life.

My parents pulling us through the streets on sleds to see the Christmas lights that decorated each set of eaves as the snow fell over them; creating a colorful shimmer that I remember to this day. Then, should we complain of cold (which we always did), my mother would magically pull out a thermos of hot chocolate to warm our bodies and our hearts. Such a simple way to show love and concern.

My grandmother making homemade mittens and scarves while my aunt sewed us outfits for Christmas. In addition, my mother always sewed my halloween costume (once out of old drapes) whereas I have yet to sew one. Most kids today have never experienced the thrill and the patience while waiting for the perfect outfit to emerge out of odds and ends that litter the sewing machine table.

Most of today’s kids will never hold an ice cream social, a play, and sell trinkets to earn money for charity. Back in the day, my mother would gather the squirmy and oh-so-hyper six-year-old neighborhood kids together for rehearsal everyday for the entire week prior to the performance. Then we would sell tickets to the big event to all the neighbors. Afterwards, my mother would load all the thespians into our dark blue Rambler station wagon and off we would go to the charity of choice to deliver the money we had collected. Being that this was in the days before digital photography I have grainy superimposed pictures to remind me of these times but I do remember the sense of pride and accomplishment I felt for doing something to help others. It’s something that appears to be lacking from the experience of many kids these days.

Crisp fall days during which my parents took us to the Franklin Cider Mill where we watched the apples being pulverized by the turning of the water wheel and where we ate fresh hot powdered cinnamon donuts on picnic benches while the cool wind blew the sticky sugar off our treats.

Back in the late 60’s and early 70’s the grocery aisle was a real treat. I remember picking my breakfast cereal not for taste but for the records by teen heartthrobs David Cassidy, Bobby Sherman or the Monkees that were on the back of the boxes. How glorious the sound after taking the time to carefully punch out 45’s from the cardboard box. Decoder rings and invisible pens were also prized possessions.

Once upon a time science was  new and exciting and at the forefront of our lives. When discoveries were made it was a time for everyone to rejoice along with renew our sense of national pride. In 1969 when I was just a kid I remember my mother waking me up to see Neil Armstrong walk on the moon.It was really late and our black and white television was fuzzy with the pictures being beamed back to earth. Now big discoveries are so common place that it seems as if the breath-taking excitement just isn’t there anymore.

Riding our bikes within a five block radius and exploring the world like children are suppose to be able to do without fear of injury or death. No wonder so many kids these days are afraid of failing…they never got the chance to try the little things that instill confidence.

Knowing all the people at the stores where we shopped. Back when I was a kid there was the crooked old man (Mr. Banner) who ran the milk store where milk was kept in bottles not cartons. There was the butcher who always smiled at me as he wrapped my mothers picks in white butcher paper. I also knew the liquor store owners because they had a penny-candy section that upon occasion I was allowed to peruse. The Chinese couple (The Kims) at the cleaners were favorites as was the old French lady who made the sweetest potato bread I had ever tasted. These days, unless you live in Europe, those relationships are missing from our children’s lives and its such a shame because these are the people who taught me that people who were “different” than me and my family were loving, kind and interesting. It was they who inspired me to seek out individuals who might teach me a thing or two as I journeyed through life.

These and so many things shaped me as I grew up into the imperfect person that I am but without these experiences I am convinced that I would have thought that the world was a harsh and lonely place; a place that so many of today’s kids believe the world to be.  A life without happy, positive and inspiring memories is hardly a life at all. And that is why I worry about so many of our youth of today.

The Joke’s On You…281 Days To Fix This

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B makes me laugh. More than anyone in the world. Greater than Robin Williams, Margaret Cho or Bob Newhart. He’s wonderfully funny and with his humor he can make a day go from bad to good with just a funny expression. But one of the things he uses his humor for is to combat difficult situations…the kind where oh-so-nasty-honest-to-goodness FEELINGS are involved so he doesn’t have to dig his way into an issue but he can try to laugh his way out of it. He acts kind of like a cat trying to fight his way out of a brown paper bag in that regard.

I do not have a great sense of humor. I mean, I can be funny, but it doesn’t come as natural for me as it does with B. At times my husband has accused me of being humorless. Usually that accusation comes when we are having a disagreement and I am not buying into the humor that he is employing in order not to have to tackle the more difficult problems in our relationship. But here’s the thing…I think knowing when to use humor is every bit as important as having it. Relating a story about how our kid lost his swim trucks in the Polar Bear swim….funny. Cracking a joke when I am asking about how he feels our relationship is going…not funny.

People use humor for all sorts of reasons: calling attention to themselves, telling a story that uses humor to inform and sometimes just to diffuse tension. But when you need to use it to deflect reality and having to dig hard within yourself for tough answers then the joke is on you. Because you are the one who is the ultimate loser whether its insight, opportunity, or eventually the one you love who you later realize needed something more from you than a good one-liner.

There are two times a woman doesn’t understand a man: Before marriage and after marriage

An Intruder

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I am guilty. Probably most mothers of autistic children are guilty, too. We talk about our children and their difficulties and then add something to the effect, “but K wouldn’t be who he/she was without their autism.” Pretending that having autism is somehow okay. Almost sounding desirable. But, it is not. Autism is not okay and I, for one, am tired of pretending that it is okay in any way, shape or form.

Too often I have heard the old cliche that adversity builds character. That I should be somehow thankful that my children are lucky to be learning character building at such a young age. Well, thank you very much, but, my children have enough character already. They don’t need any more. And they certainly don’t need life’s hard lessons to be pounding at their door at such an early age. Frankly, it isn’t fair that their door is pounded on while others just get a tap. Which brings me to my next point. Life isn’t fair.

Growing up, I remember getting the “you weren’t born with a fairness guarantee in life” spiel from my parents. Well, fairness applies if you have a level playing field. Autism distorts that field. Everything that neuro-typical persons know about the game is understood and is defined in the play book. For the person who has autism, there is no rule book and there is no team. There is just them standing on the sidelines trying to “understand” the game. Like all parents everywhere, I don’t expect that everything should or will be fair for my son. I just want them to be able to have the chance to get into the fairness game and I want the same rules that other kids play by to apply to both of my children.

I also think that the old saying “life is not easy” when applied to our kids is wrong. Yes, life is not easy, but, who says life should have to be so hard? A middle of the road approach by society to my children would be nice.

But, what I hate the most is the kind of unspoken belief that children who are “different” are put on this earth to teach others character traits such as compassion. While it is wonderful that some (and I say some) children will be able to recognize and develop these traits as a result of knowing my son, it is not their primary purpose in life to help others gain their moral grounding. Their purpose is to bring their best person forward both in society and within themselves. And autism robs them of their whole self and their ability to achieve their full potential. Even if the only thing missing from their full potential is just to be able to tell and understand a joke.

Autism is neither my two boys friends nor mine. It is heartless and cruel. Autism has no compassion and shows no remorse. It just walks in our door and into our lives and makes itself at home. It is an outsider who doesn’t belong and I refuse to forget that. Just as we would fight off an intruder trying to get past our front door, so too must we fight autism. We must find the causes, discover better treatments and offer more to those who find autism at their front door. We must offer meaningful services to those with this neurological disorder. And as hard as autism tries to fully push open our door, I will continue to try and shut it out. I will NOT let autism take my sons and I will not let it take me. Until my last breath I will push against that door trying to keep autism and all of its idiosynchrocies at bay. It is a fight that I intend to win.

Copyright 2015

On Being A Grandparent

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I never thought I would live to become a grandma. I don’t know why. Perhaps it is because my mother died at fifty just in the nick of time to see her first grandchild born. Or perhaps it was because I was such a stupid and hardheaded teenager who by all rights never should have survived the wild 1970’s. Either way, my Mom loved my son wholly and completely just like the “perfect” grandmother is suppose to do. She walked him when he cried, she cuddled him in her arms to remember the shape of his head in hands and she smiled whenever he was close to her. She read to him, begged to bathe him and sang lullabies in her soft and gentle lilt. Mom was enamored with everything about her grandson. Unfortunately, West was less than two years old when she died. They both missed out on so much that they could have gained from one another.

I shouldn’t have been surprised that Mom bought West his first Christmas present. Later, I found out she had bought it in April when she was first diagnosed. It was a hand-carved wooden car crafted of maple, with four over-sized wheels and a honest to goodness running board. It was hefty, polished to a golden luster, and was the kind of car that every male from the age of one to the age of seventy dreamed of owning someday. Yep, it was built to handle some major-league drooling.

My mother had painstakingly wrapped that Christmas present in a metallic blue and silver paper topped by a massive blue bow. Underneath was a homemade tag with West’s name taped to the side somewhat lopsided and in my mother’s script. It was simple and beautiful and just so her. Not surprisingly, it was the lone present sitting under her Christmas tree when she died. Of all the people she could have bought for that year; she thought of him and made the effort. Lung cancer doesn’t give you much time for shopping.

I remember several days after burying my mother, sitting under that brilliantly decorated Christmas tree, tears running down my face, debating whether to open the present or hold on to it until West was older and could appreciate it. Finally, I decided to unwrap the gift and as I carefully slid off the wrapping a note fluttered down to the floor. It read “Do your best but if you can’t then at least be happy and smile.”

When the most important people in your life die young it gives you an opportunity to envision all the things they would have done had they still been there and it lets you plan your own life accordingly. I have no idea if my Mom would have taken all eight of her grandchildren to the zoo, church, or out to a musical; but I know she took my son and in doing so she showed me what was important to her and the things she valued. Now it’s my turn to pass on the love, the fun and the memories that life brings to my own grandkids. In my mind I have envisioned trips to the theater, baking cookies on cold days and hikes along the windy cliffs. I just hope I do as good a job as I have imagined my mother doing for the past thirty years. But even if I don’t, I do know that I have followed her advice… I wear a smile on my face and find happiness in my heart whenever I am fortunate enough to be near my grand babies.  I think my mother would approve.

Copyright 2015

Living For The Magic Of The Moment

Many years ago I lived in the Midwest. Our property sat on a bluff overlooking the town and in fall the leaves were so vivid and red that it seemed that they were painted in rich shimmery oils aptly named CANDY CANE or FIRE ENGINE RED. We had an idyllic six acres on which to roam. On the north side a succulent pear tree grew silently upward, its branches winding silently around an abandoned wood pile, while hybrid cold-weather wine grapes dotted the steep hill out front. But the best place to be was near the back of the property where remnants of a old fort lay rotting on the ground and a bowl-shaped mass of thorny gigantic red raspberries grew; the best I have ever tasted. Seriously. All these years later I haven’t experienced anything that comes close.

It was a sliding-into-fall sort of day. Jackie and I were taking a walk at the back of the property where an old car lay on the other side of the fence being claimed by no one for the past 30 years. The sun was starting its descent while still warming the stagnant air when a monarch butterfly floated by; the light shining through its semi-transparent wings like the Rose window at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. We were surprised when another butterfly glided by, soon to be followed by another, and another, and yet another. So we began to follow them to the far back edge of our land, a place we rarely visited.

As we rounded the corner we were suddenly blinded by intense hues of orange, black and green swimming in the trees. Swarms of Monarch Butterflies, starting their migration, clung to the limbs one on top of another like necklaces of cascading orange pearls. It was mesmerizing … wings sunning themselves in the remaining light of the day and legs climbing one over the other as the dominant butterfly would make it’s way to the top of the chain.I had never seen anything like it. And then it happened…

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Our beast of a dog ran up to us barking joyfully and the butterflies released themselves from one another and the trees, swarming and swirling outward and upward, luminous in flight with hundreds upon hundreds of the magnificent creatures filling the sky. I still remember the chorus of the velvety fuzzy flap of their wings as the flew around us, some alighting on the pear tree and others settling on our heads and arms. It was one of those exceedingly rare “Take Your Breath Away” moments; the kind that you remember as you take your last dying breaths. The kind that you try to artificially create time and time again but can never quite capture the vivacity, artistry and allure of that type of spontaneity again. Yet, it doesn’t stop us from trying with mostly disappointing results.

What is it about these elusive and precious seconds that makes us want to experience them many times over? Moments like those few first seconds when you meet someone and immediately you know they are the soulmate you have been waiting for your entire life.  Or the first cry of the baby you have anxiously imagined during the last nine months. Or the moment your child shows empathy towards someone who is struggling and you realize that how you have been parenting this kid has been right all along. It’s those rare fleeting glimpses of beauty, compassion, love and mystery that give us idea of who we are and what we want for the future.They provide a meaning to life and it is in these special moments that we are reminded of the possibilities that still exist. They give us hope for something better and sometimes closure and the peace that come with it. And if you are lucky and on a day least expected, sometimes you can find those magic moments right around the corner and in your own backyard.

Copyright 2015

The Process Of I LOVE YOU

Okay, I know that at times, I go places where no married person should venture. I question, I imagine, and I play our various scenarios in my mind that really have no business being there. I am working very hard on replacing negative thoughts with super positive meditations and “canceling” the negative thoughts immediately when they enter that place my brain is suppose to be. So last night took me by surprise.

It was late. B and I were cuddling when he said, “I Love You.” He said it with love in his voice and tenderness in his heart. And I froze like a deer in the headlights. My body went cold and I felt suddenly ill.  And before I knew it I was saying these words: “How do I know that? I mean you said that to me when you were thinking you wanted a divorce. So you were saying it without really feeling it and so how do I know that when you say it now you really mean it?”

Yeah, I know. A real moment killer.

Because here is the thing. I thought he loved me. And he says he always has and always will love me even though there are times he doesn’t like me much. And I get that. And even though he is communicating his feelings more and letting me inside his head a little, I still experience fear that what he is saying isn’t what he means. And given that he is a man that honors his promises and he promised to give our marriage a year, I worry that on day 366 he will walk in saying “I kept my promise but this isn’t what a really want.”

So how do I learn to trust B and our relationship again? Time? Probably. But I think it is more than that. Somehow I have come to believe that this can be accomplished by trying to surrender my desire to control what I cannot control and I have to stop worrying about things I have no control over. Easier said than done. Yet, I am cognizant that  all this controlling/worrying is only serving to steal my energy and it leaves me feeling depleted. It also keeps me feeling lonely and isolated, none of which is helpful nor what I want. So, instead of trying to change what I don’t really have in the first place, I am trying to shift my focus (didn’t work too well last night) to those things I can control because I would rather spend my energy trying to seek joy in my life than trying to force all this negative out. I can choose to work from the positive or the negative. I CHOOSE POSITIVE…at least this minute…give me a break … it’s a process.

Shine Like The Sun…286 Days To Fix This

Today I want to shine like the sun

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My shadow lightly parting the clouds

Providing guidance and love to those who are experiencing darkness

Today I want to hang on the moon

Dipping dangerously towards a gravity-free way of life

My spirit untethered and with no restrictions

Today I want to dance without shame

To move and groove unencumbered by others expectations

Turning off my mind and letting my body move to its own rhythm

Today I want to say “FUCK YOU”

To anyone who tries to put me in my place

And tells me I can’t be happy, smart and beautiful in my own way

Today I want to ride the rapids of life

Challenging myself to steer my own boat

Away from the gullies and those that may try to pull me under

Today I want to lie naked in the sand

My body coming alive under the sweet whisper of the wind and spray of the sea

Remaining in the moment, unaware of those watching and who may disapprove

Today I want to be everything I am meant to be

A 100% true original

I want to dwell in the depths of my soul

I want to embrace my spirit

And be cognizant of all that I am and can be

Today I want to be ME.