Feed the Birds

Feed the Birds mom in meadow


My 85 year old mother is staying with me. Her two month visit has been extended to four months, owing in part to health challenges. Her cognition is erratic. Porpoising. Sometimes up and sometimes diving down.


During this volatile period, I’ve found myself without guideposts or markers. I wake up not knowing what to expect.  One day last week I couldn’t locate Mom. After searching the house and the neighborhood, I found her in the guest apartment, hiding from a nightmare.


The next day she cheerfully announced she needed a daily chore list. I complied. Sweep the driveway. Empty the dishwasher. Brush the dog. Refill the bird bath. Water the plants. Now she gets up and goes to her chores. She is much happier.


In this time of unknowing I’m finally driven to practice some of the mindfulness stances I’ve read about for years: be open, stay awake, connect, be present, surrender.


The most helpful practices are totally ordinary.  We watch classic movies (Mary Poppins last night) read Dave Barry columns aloud, walk, cook, do chores, and feed birds.  These are my main spiritual practices now. They’re teaching me gratitude, acceptance and trust– trust in the present moment. That it is enough.


Another kind of practices are teaching me about surrender.. These include paying attention to blood pressure and medications.  And encouraging reminiscences, which take a lot of time. And letting go of what I thought I had to be doing, my routine ways of working and being which feel less pressing now.


We have only a month left together before she returns to the East Coast. A month to watch the birds, to write down every one we see.  A month to marvel at the splashing and chirping, the beads of water glinting in tiny beaks, the drops rainbowing from ordinary brown wings.


robin note







Posted by admin in family, personal reflection, spirituality

Old Dog

dad and college roomates2

We were at a party the other night. One of the guests had brought her dog: an aging pug/beagle mix who grinned, swaggered, and jumped surreptitiously onto the counter, leaving only a trail of crumbs where the shortbread had been. “He’s channeling my father,” I said, and our hostess, who’d known Dad well, broke out in gales of laughter.

My father was a handsome man and charming, but he was also a rascal and a food thief, particularly in his last years, when sweets were hazardous to his health.  He took great delight in sneaking forbidden foods, the outcry as pleasurable to him as the treat itself.

Perhaps because Father’s Day is approaching, I’ve been thinking of him a lot. I put a white quartz crystal (picked up by my mother on a walk) next to the little metal urn of his ashes.  He passed away about 5 years ago, and my felt connection to him is stronger than ever. He does, however, irritate me less. That fortunate alpenglow of memory.

It was a great advantage to have a father who

a) was unconcerned about material possessions

b) was always up for a game

c) was skeptical of inherited orthodoxy and authority

d) had passions, including the practice of law, the Boston Red Sox and his family.

He was the hero of my childhood. One of my earliest memories is being carried aloft on his shoulders, then swung down beside the kitchen table, where he’d played poker the night before. “You can keep the chump change,” he said, and I scrambled to pick up the silvery coins the men had tossed away.

He won my mother in a poker game, the story goes. He was a returning soldier, going to Boston College on the GI bill. He and his buddies were playing poker in the dorm, a forbidden activity. When the dorm monitor, a Jesuit priest, caught them, he gave them a choice: Get written up or take 4 nice Catholic girls from Regis to a dance.  

When taking the street car over to Regis, the 4 guys agreed that to avoid awkwardness when picking up the girls (obviously losers or they would have gotten their own dates) they would simply line up by height. My father was the shortest of the group, so he ended up with the shortest girl. And also the prettiest.  My mother. Sometimes he said she was his prize and sometimes he said she was his penance.  But she was the heart of the game he played all his life.


In the photo above, Dad is the guy with the grin and the cigarette.

Posted by admin in family

An Elephant Pilgrimage

Mom Elephant


We are in Africa so my mother can see elephants. She has a special reason for loving elephants. One saved her life when she was caught in the Hartford Circus Fire at the age of 10. She and four other girls were there for a birthday party. When the circus tent caught fire, amidst the flames and smoke and chaos, Mom saw an elephant stoically holding up the burning stairs. She and her friend ran down the stairs and escaped. The other girls, who were seated separately, did not make it out.


Mom has only told this story to me a few times.  I was shocked to stumble upon an independent account of the fire when I read Modoc, The True Story of the Greatest Elephant That Ever Lived, by Ralph Heffer, which describes Modoc’s life-saving efforts.


At any rate, we’ve come to HHuluwe so Mom can see elephants in the wild. She is 84. We are here, 6 women from the family, our own kind of herd.   We are on a pilgrimage.


With some hesitation, I privately told our guide, Rian, the background story behind our trip. He proceeded to look for elephants for us. Yesterday, just after sunrise, he spotted three massive grayish lumps on the hillside opposite. Even with binoculars, I could not detect they were living creatures; they continued to look like boulders. Rian, however, knew exactly what they were, what they were doing, and where they would go next.


He maneuvered the Land Cruiser through the brush for about 20 minutes, stopping in a stand of acacia trees. In a few minutes, three elephants lumbered in front of us. They were 3 ladies, Rian told us, two sisters and one three-year old calf. They paid no attention to us, but proceeded to demolish an entire acacia tree, placidly reaching up with their coiling trunks, delicately stripping off leaves, yanking down branches, and finally uprooting the whole tree, and stuffing its roots in their mouths.  We watched in awed silence as these massive creatures went about their business, oblivious to us, though we were only 10 feet away.


My attention was torn between the elephants and my mother, who was seated in front next to Rian. She looked like a child again, gazing in wonder. A half hour later, the elephants lumbered off into the bush. When they were out of sight, just as Rian started up the engine, I heard Mom tell him, “I was in a circus fire once…”


Posted by admin in family, travel

Into the Blue

The Equatorial Jungle, Rousseau, National Gallery

A sweet old nun recently told me this story.  She’d had a grand time in Ireland, visiting family and many sacred sites, including St Brigid’s Well in Kildare, from which she drew some holy water.

On her return to the States, she was carrying the holy water in a plastic bottle, along with a fifth of good whiskey, a gift for the friend who was to pick her up at the airport at an ungodly hour.

Arriving at the head of the security line, she was shocked when the TSA agent told her she couldn’t bring the liquids with her.  She slowly uncorked the holy water, tipped it to her mouth, and guzzled it down;  then she picked up the whiskey and presented it to the TSA agent. “Call your friends and have a party,” she sniffed, and sailed up to the scanning machine.

I tell you this story because I’m about to set off on an adventure myself, hopefully a little better informed than Sr. Margaret.  I’m heading into the blue, as the South Africans say, going on safari with my mother, two sisters, sister-in-law, and one of my daughters.  

Since childhood, my mother has dreamed of seeing elephants in the wild, and when my sister Patricia saw a safari being auctioned at a charity event, she couldn’t resist. She won the bid, then called me. “You know I can’t take Mom to Africa by myself.” Indeed, I knew she couldn’t.

As it turns out, the lodge agreed to sell additional slots to family members at a very reasonable price, so there will be three generations of Schlichte women on safari.  I’m bringing my laptop and hope to blog along the way, technology permitting,  so stay tuned.

The image above is Henri Rousseau’s The Equatorial Jungle, courtesy of the National Gallery of Art.


Posted by admin in family, travel

Sonoran Blues and White Quartz


Last week I took my 84 year old mother to the airport. She went home to Massachusetts, accompanied by my brother, who came out to fetch her. She’s been visiting me for two months, enjoying a respite from the snow. She’s also been enjoying walks in the canyon, jigsaw puzzles, Mary Stewart Gardner mysteries, Senior Moments potlucks at church, and one Old Fashioned every evening. She also enjoyed the mini dachshund and read the paper to him every morning, greatly enhancing his education, although I wished she’d turned her efforts towards his house-breaking instead.

Mom and I dubbed it the year of the butterfly. The Stagecoach trail has been aflutter the last month, particularly with rare Sonoran Blues, aquamarine, tiny as a fingernail, dancing in pairs alongside the path. Mom also picked up white quartz crystals gleaming along the trail. She thought she might bring them home but has left them in a pile by the washing machine. Too heavy, she decided. She also left, to my surprise, a beautiful heart-shaped rock beneath the icon in my office. She rested it carefully against a gnarled piece of driftwood.

Although I’m free to get back to my own schedule, the house feels empty. When I went to strip the bed, I found her reading glasses and rosary beads. “Don’t mail them to me,” she said when I called. “I’ll either be back for them next year, or I won’t.”


Posted by admin in family