Lyrical Laughs

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The gift of this moment

It is Christmas Eve. I haven't wrapped a thing. My house was barely decorated most of the day - I placed bears and angels and glass pieces on whatever small space I could find at 6:30 this morning. The tree, which has normally been decorated for maybe two weeks, was stationed in front of our living room picture window with nothing but lights until just before dinner, mere hours before midnight.

This is a first for me. Usually I've been working out of boxes that S pulled out of the attic for a solid week, finding various pieces that may or may not have made it onto a shelf or corner last year and deciding whether they are worthy this Christmas. The fact that the boxes remain unopened in my living room might sound sad, but really it's not. In fact, this is probably The Christmas I will remember for a very long time.

First, both girls (and The Boy) are here with us this Christmas. Second (or maybe first also), The Year of Wedding Planning really began this week.

Yesterday after plodding my way to work, rushing out of the office after less than two hours of actual work, barreling through the mall parking lot and cursing at every driver who beat me out of a space until I finally nailed one in time to meet my girls and OK's BFF, I got to be a part of something wonderful.

The Dress.

By the time I stepped into the bridal shop where we were all meeting, the others were there and OK was just about to try on her first dress. My tummy had been flipping all morning with a combination of nerves and excitement and awe that this day had come... I was afraid to mention it to my eldest for fear of setting the same off in her, as if she wasn't already a wreck. Settling into a chair positioned perfectly for the viewing, I tried to make small talk with YK and BFF but the butterflies inside felt like they were going to lift me right up and carry me out the door.

My girl came out in the first dress and I think I stopped breathing for a second. She was simply gorgeous and it fit her like a glove. For a few minutes we all considered that this might (already) be The One, but hey - we were there for an Event and it was not going to end this soon - so off to the dressing room she went. I knew it would be hard to beat that first dress but there were others OK had checked off on her list of favorites, so the dresses kept coming.

The first one was put aside as a leading contender, and I believe (but honestly, it's a blur) another was added at some point. I had stopped paying attention to what the gowns looked like that the girl assisting her was bringing in - not that they all looked the same to me by a long shot - my head was just spinning over this whole scenario. Her BFF was a natural at bringing out OK's true response to each dress she tried on. She seriously could have been an advisor on Say Yes to the Dress with her calm, direct, sweet way of letting OK know that she would be a beautiful bride no matter what she wore.

We were getting comfortable with the process, talking and joking, ready to throw in our two cents but also let the bride-to-be make the final call each time.

Then she stepped out of the dressing room with elation written all over her face. Suddenly she was four years old in my eyes, wearing a beautiful Christmas dress that she twirled around in every chance she got. I knew it was the same expression she had when The Boy knelt down before her exactly a year earlier. She lit up the room. It was the only dress that brought instant tears to my eyes.

It was perfect. She was perfect in it. Just like that, my baby girl became a woman.

More often than not these days I forget this scenario almost didn't happen. I might have missed not only the dress, but my first-born's college graduation and as her sister's high school graduation. But yesterday, as I watched my beautiful daughter's heart come alive in the dress she would say her vows in, I was more thankful than I have remembered to be lately.

There was a lot of whining over the untimely demise of our hot water heater. It temporarily put a damper on Christmas as well as that annoying ritual - what's it called again? Oh yeah, that's right. Paying bills. Things did get better when we least expected it, and a positive spin came in ways we could not have anticipated. But whether it had or not, that moment through my daughter's eyes erased every negative thought, every crabby take on how timing sucks.

I am not always mindful of the certainty that we don't know what tomorrow brings. But right now, this Christmas Eve, I believe that even if havoc has a field day with me when I rise the next day, it is simple. Nothing can erase what I have been blessed to be a part of.

Tomorrow is not a promise. Let yourself be blessed today.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Twas the night before ten years ago

In 2004 I had an opportunity to throw a little humorous Christmas spirit into the mix with an editorial for a local newspaper where I worked at the time (as a lowly community news clerk, mind you). Since then everything has changed, naturally (for example, my updated kitchen floor has since replaced the 35-year-old tiles referred to). My girls are now 25 and 19 and as a family we have seen a lot in the last nine years since this was originally penned - loss of jobs, stress on relationships, and cancer among them. Through it all we found our way and at the same time drew strength out of new traditions, but the tradition of the gingerbread house debacle, which started ten years ago this week, carries on.

We will be reunited tomorrow with OK and The Fiance for a wonderful week of Christmas and family time, so I thought it might be a good time to "rewind" and share this with you.

A note about this tradition: If you are paying attention you will realize it takes place after Christmas - for two reasons. First, because hey - HUGE discount. Second, because really, when your kids are off for a minimum of a week from school you do a lot of conjuring up of activities/distractions in order to keep whatever sanity you have left. We don't ski and we couldn't afford to hightail it to a warmer climate. This was the best we could do. As it turns out, it was the Best Thing Ever.

One thought before we break into the fun stuff...

Many of us have faced difficult losses of loved ones this past year, and those losses are especially heartbreaking during the holidays. I have no intention of swaying anybody one way or the other as to their beliefs, but I would like to share  these simple words that our church service ends each week...

"Life is short, and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of others. So be swift to love, and make haste to be kind..."

My wish for you is simply time spent with those who matter most in your heart.

This holiday season I plan to refrain from another lame attempt at forming a new Talbot tradition by creating a Hallmark card family scene. It’s about time I accept that the only Christmas tradition I can depend on is the annual panic-gift-wrapping at 11:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

Last year I was still under the illusion that I could force my family to duplicate one of those happy “all together now” scenes out of The Brady Bunch (though I only have two children, not six). I convinced myself my kids want me to benefit from the example of Martha Stewart (the crafty side of Martha, not the ex-con side). So I invested $3.75 (marked down from $15 just before New Year’s) at Wal-Mart for an adorable gingerbread manger scene kit for that perfect, warm-hearted holiday moment. I envisioned laughter, my girls sneaking little tastes of frosting, quiet admiration of our combined efforts as the manger stood proudly with sugar candies and a gold star embedded into the shredded wheat straw on the roof.

My 16-year old managed to pull herself away from the computer after I pleaded for 20 or so minutes, and ambled into the kitchen. She decorated one shepherd. At least I think it was a shepherd. It looked a little like someone from MTV but I wasn’t going to ask. She also painted the camel blue. I didn’t want to offend her by criticizing her color choice - after all, at this point I had nine different colors of frosting and if I didn’t use them up soon after mixing them I would wind up with multi-colored mortar that just might work to patch the 35-year-old kitchen tiles.

My 10-year-old was more willing to participate, probably due to the fact that the mortar was basically pure sugar (one of her two favorite food groups, the other being macaroni and cheese) and she isn’t allowed to smear sticky things on the kitchen table too often. Within eight minutes she was back in the living room with her sister, watching Nickelodeon and munching on a red and purple Joseph. Or maybe it was Mary, I’m not sure. This left me with enough metal bowls of frosting to construct a tower the height of the kitchen ceiling, three grayish looking shepherds and a not-quite-one-quarter-decorated manger being held together by soup cans on my kitchen table while the walls dried.

I decided the project was now defunct and the girls would eventually wind up eating the blobs they had left drying (rapidly) on the table. After an hour had passed I figured it was safe to remove the soup cans from their post holding together the manger walls, assuming by now that the mortar hardened. Oh boy, did it harden. I soon discovered one of the cans was now adjoined to two of the walls with such force, I wondered if I could market this stuff to the highway repair crews. I carefully attempted to pry the can away.


I now had two walls attached to the roof and one wall attached to Progresso Vegetable Beef Soup.

Thus endeth my illusion.

Eventually I reclaimed my kitchen, chiseled the last of the mortar remnants off the table, and wound up tossing most of the unidentified gingerbread bodies as well as the dilapidated shack - I mean, manger. I probably should have warned my husband before trash night that there was cement in the kitchen garbage bag, but he did manage to drag it out with only mild back strain.

This year, as we sip hot chocolate with candy canes and begin to decorate our tree, I expect my family to maintain that sentimental holiday mood for approximately 23 minutes before they individually wander away, leaving me with malfunctioning lights, stray hooks and knotted garland beads.

Ahhh, tradition.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Taylor Swift's Midlife Crisis (in my mind)

Now that my youngest has returned home from college for winter break, I can go back to listening to Taylor Swift in my car without guilt. So I'm going to let you in on a little secret. Taylor Swift is really in her mid fifties, possibly dealing with her own midlife crisis - and you don't even know she is writing about it.

Seriously,  have you listened to her music? If you have a teen or tween, it goes without saying that you've been exposed to Swift's poetic way of celebrating being young and dumping boyfriends. But there is a side to this lyrical talent I recently tapped into that leaves me doubting she is just this 20-something, inexperienced female (except for the dumping boyfriends thing). I mean, the girl has depth beyond her years - and right up to mine.

Here's the thing. You can take just about any Taylor Swift song and turn it into a tune about paying bills, parenthood, or menopause. Even if, by some fluke, I am wrong about the age thing, you can't deny her innate ability to connect with multi-generational audiences so that people my age have to buy her music, often under the guise of getting it for our kids. 

Pay close attention here.

Taylor's version:
Dear John, I see it all now that you're gone
Don't you think I was too young to be messed with
The girl in the dress cried the whole night long

Paying bills:
Dear oil bill, my checkbook just froze from this chill
Don't hold your breath until way past the net ten
I'll leave you til then by my fiber pills

Taylor's version:
He's the reason for the teardrops on my guitar
The only thing that keeps me wishing on a wishing star
He's the song in the car I keep singing -
don't know why I do

They're the reason for the lost keys and sofa stains
They're only children but I swear they're making me insane
They have fights in the car while I'm driving -
don't know how I do

Taylor's version:
I don't know about you,
but I'm feeling 22
Everything will be all right if
you keep me next to you

Menopause (last year):
I don't know about you,
but I'm feeling 52
Every hot flash makes me crazy
Why did I come in this room?

Menopause (this year):
I don't care what you think,
'Cause I'm feeling 53
Everything is fine with Depends
and Gingko next to me

Now are you getting the subliminal messages I'm sure the more mature generation is meant to grasp? Guaranteed you will never listen to another Taylor Swift song the same. I would like to personally thank her mother... who I have a sneaking suspicion is her co-writer.

Next time we'll work on Carrie Underwood.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Homemade pickles? Must be Christmas in Maine

On Friday night we had our annual holiday office party. It was the usual wild, raucous bunch with the inevitable carousing our group is known for. I didn't get home until after 10. Crazy.

Last year was the first time a male, a partner in our firm, was invited to join our gathering of five women. He drove up from our Connecticut office to celebrate with us, prepared to party the night away with the whole gang. 

That night everyone was pulling their coats on and parading out the door by 9:30 p.m., leaving our bewildered out-of-state guest holding his wine glass with no volunteer tour guide for clubbing in Portland. I considered it a late night by Maine standards.

And then there is that matter of gifting in Maine, which can be rather... unique. So if you're from - oh, say, Connecticut - you might not get it right away. Oh, but you will in the end.

Here are a few clues he may have picked up on to that effect:

1) The evening began with an amazing array of wines and hors d'oeuvres followed by a beautifully prepared dinner  - at my boss's home - which was our preference over an impersonal restaurant setting. We tried a restaurant one year, complete with limo to get us there (in the middle of a snow storm). Final outcome? There's no place like home.

2) He had just opened gift bags filled with homemade pickles, jam, and cookies, and alpaca socks. No, really. 

3) Every one of us was yawning by 9.

He came back this year. I kid you not. I believe what determined his return was that he was hoping to receive another jar of "the best freaking pickles I ever had" in his loot again.

This time he was not the only man invited, as our first male employee had started this year, so at least they could find a corner in which talk football loudly when the conversation took its typical slant toward children and female issues. We are totally nondiscriminatory in our choice of topic.

I do have some guilt over cheating this year with my gift giving. By this I mean I didn't make anything - my presents were store bought. For the past few years I really got into baking goodies like mint chocolate chip cookies, buckeyes (lots of peanut butter), Italian wedding cookies, and snickerdoodles, all placed carefully into brightly colored Christmasy cookie tins wrapped between red and green tissue paper. It usually means two or three late nights the week of our party, but it's well worth it knowing mouths will water when they open their packages.

Being an arm flailing Italian, my specialty is more along the lines of lasagna and homemade pasta sauce. Baking is kind of a new thing for me (yes, my mother baked Italian cookies every year during the holiday season but I was not allowed in the kitchen because I was a mini-tornado - don't judge) and I've come to enjoy it this time of year. But cookies have become more of a challenge now that we have vegan and gluten free party participants. My cabinets do not consist of limited menu baking items. I don't own xanthan gum. I don't even know what it looks like or where to find in the store. Does it come in a pack? Can I get it by the cash register next to the Trident?

As for gluten free, the buckeyes were basically the only cookies that didn't have flour, and as much as you or I would be fine with a cookie tin full of buckeyes (I'm sorry, did someone say they don't like that much peanut butter? I shun you.), I was pretty sure our gluten free-ers would not.

I opted for chocolate (and wine for the vegan who got ripped off with only a few pieces of dark chocolate) and nuts. Mind you, this was not just any dark chocolate, it is made right here in Maine at a very well known chocolatier (fancy word for unbelievably good candy shop). They even had a gluten free list to guide me, thank goodness. And the nuts are of the slow roasted and specially seasoned gourmet variety also made here in Maine. So I didn't just run into Target on my way to the party - I did think it out.

Still... I missed having something to give that I had actually created.

It hit me as I was on my way home this year with my hand crafted wine charms, homemade granola, pickles,  jam, and several other really great gifts, that we are a lucky bunch. Not all presents we give and receive are necessarily made by the gifter, but they are meant to be personal in their own way. That's unusual enough in a world where we are inundated with strategic marketing for The Next Big Thing and forced to deal with recycling five pounds of store flyers (I weighed them) in a newspaper just before Black Friday, which has now sadly insinuated its way into Thanksgiving Day. Even more unique is that the people I work with are paying attention to who I am, and that to me is the greatest gift.

I suppose I could take up knitting or glass blowing before our next holiday party. But I think I have another idea based on my other well recognized talent.

Personalized Italian arm flailing lessons.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

I want to be Erma Bombeck

There were a million and one things that could have stopped it from happening. Actually, in the past 24 hours there were two, both of them significant.

1) I was told I will probably need surgery in the near future. Not life or death surgery, but minor surgery that will take me out of commission for a few days.

2) Our hot water heater decided to throw a hissy fit of spillage across the cellar, and the jury is still out as to whether or not we need a new one, to the tune of can-we-just-boil-water dollars.

But it's a done deal.

I didn't even tell my kids ahead of time. I probably won't tell my mother until it's over.

But let me get back to the beginning, which - lucky for you - means two weeks ago.

If you are reading this, you may have noticed I like to write. The truth of the matter is, my day consists of constant voices in my head - single sentences that describe the most unimportant moments with a bit of a twist. Sometimes they stay with me and sometimes I push them off, thinking they can't possibly amount to something.

But everything amounts to something, or so the late Erma Bombeck, my hero of the humorous written word, would have me believe.

She got it. She understood that marriage and parenting and trying to do it all meant you either laughed or you cried, and it was all right to do both. She wrote about her life and times, good and bad, her husband and kids - with every step she took, she opened up a world of "Wow, now here's someone who can make me put down the sharp objects and actually laugh about unfolded laundry or undefrosted dinner or unappreciated me."

One recent afternoon when I was feeling particularly stressed or melancholy or some such emotion that led me to Google, I typed in these words:

I want to be Erma Bombeck.

Doesn't that sound crazy? Isn't this just asking for trouble - for proof that I should be thankful for my five readers (up from two) and let it go at that?

A link popped up right at the top of the screen.

The Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop.

Seriously, you can't make this stuff up.

My reaction? I started to cry. Every part of me knew this was where I belonged, with my peers, the people who see everything as something to write about. I approached S with caution. Yeah, right. I told him about it while flooding the car with tears. He found a way - without selling any organs - to come up with the registration. The hotel and air fare will be the next step, but we will climb the step together, clutching onto the railings and trying not to fall backwards. In other words, without having to live on the streets to support my habit.

Registration was at noon today. I had been scouring the EBWW page for days, reading other blogs, comparing myself to winners of the writing competition that begins in January, watching for any sign that they might open registration even One Minute Early, just to throw us off track.

At 11:59 a.m., my Outlook calendar reminder blinked at me.

At Noon on the dot my cell phone alarm vibrated on my desk.

I opened up the web page and voilà - the link to register was there!

Quickly plugging in all the necessary information - name, address, credit card number, etc., I hit ENTER.



My fumbling fingers and my baffled brain were on different planets, but once I followed those pesky directions third time was the charm, and finally the much anticipated registration confirmation arrived in my email.

That was a bit anticlimactic to say the least, right?

Here's the thing.

I am not a risk taker. Sure, I sent a song that I co-wrote to Collin Raye's agent. Yes, I asked Phil Vassar if he ever collaborated with an unknown when I got his autograph after a concert (by the way, I had a horrible cold and my nose was so red I looked like Rudolph, so he probably thought I was on drugs, and not from my pharmacist). And I will admit I have been trying to get Ellen DeGeneres to pay attention to my blog for a while. But other than those whimsical efforts, which didn't amount to anything, I have a fear of flying - a fear of falling. A fear of failure.

Yet... I raised two girls to believe they can do anything they set their minds to, and I meant it. So why not believe in me for a change? They do, and so does the guy who has stuck by me for going on 30 years, even when I threatened to change the locks on the doors.

So folks, you are reading the blog of a person who didn't let the broken hot water heater (water is boiling on the stove as I type), or the possibility of surgery (I will work around it), or her own doubts stop her this time. Whatever comes of this experience, I know it's all about standing on the peak of possibilities and stepping forward into the unknown.

And I would like to think someday someone will say of me -

At 53, she flew.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thinking Thankful

I am on a roll. There are ideas in my head and goals in my heart, and I'm on a bit of a cleaning/changing-it-up spree and feeling ambitious. Energized. Motivated.


This Thanksgiving is a bit of a hump because it's the first one as true empty nesters. While our girls spend the holiday together in Philadelphia (with The Fiance), we will head to a wonderful dinner at our church, visit a very close friend in the hospital, then finally stop and say hello to another friend and her family. It's a full day - no time to sit around and think (except for right now, because my partner in crime is still sleeping).

But if there was time, I would think about a lot of things.

Like the "I love you" texts I often get from both children. Whether they know how much their messages mean to me or not, Verizon does, since I saved so many of them that my phone went into a frenzy at one point.

Or the way a certain spouse made me laugh with his goofy way of apologizing the other day when he thought he ticked me off. He did, a little, but over the years and with much practice we have learned to disarm each other - often with humor - and come back to common ground.

What about appreciating our big, lunky Golden Retriever who can't see a darn thing but will search every square inch of the living room floor, banging his head against furniture and knocking over the trash can, until he finds a toy to bring to us when we get home.

And the cat. Oh yes, that cat. She is sleeping on my pillow at the moment... in fact, she is sleeping on three quarters of my pillow. But I don't mind because she is my connection to my kids at this point, and I happily give her the attention she will often demand. And I do mean demand.

I think about the fact that we have a home and food and friends and a church we love. Thankful that even though we are not with extended family today, as we have often been for this holiday, they are all safe in their own homes, hopefully feeling thankful in their own way.

My mother-in-law passed away at 93 in late September, ironically on my dad's birthday (he would have been 87), so we have had our tough moments also. A while back I had asked her to consider writing down some of her life adventures. She and my father-in-law had traveled across the country in a tiny Shasta trailer; she had done volunteer work for the Red Cross after he passed away and was assigned to some rough areas during that time; and she had done much charity work over the years, which I wanted my children and their cousins to know about. Her vast experiences were worth passing on to her grandchildren, I cajoled.

In her house we discovered that she had tried to honor my request. She had done so in not one but two different diaries, neither of which had many pages written on, sadly because by the time I had thought to request this of her, her health was failing and she was not able to write. She hid this fact for a while until she could no longer deny it, and within a year she was gone. But she did share some wonderful things that none of her children or grandchildren would have otherwise known about her life.

On the last page she was able to write, she talked about being thankful and blessed with four wonderful children who loved her, and that they were what kept her going every day. It was a sweet, perfect way to end what should not have been the end yet, but was.

I'm sure she didn't always feel thankful. I know I don't always feel thankful, and I'm guessing you don't either. But I'm finding these days that it's really very easy to find things to appreciate about life, not because I see people who are worse off, but because of the goodness around me.

For instance, I have a trunk full of coats that members of our church have donated for Coats for Kids, and another three bags sitting in the parish entryway to be picked up. People are good and kind and generous, and all we have to do is ask someone's help to find that out.

So on this Thanksgiving morning I want to end with a quote from Nick Vujicic, a man with no arms and no legs. Look him up - his story is worth your time.

"I have never met a bitter person who was thankful, or a thankful person who was bitter."

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. Happy Thankfulness.

Friday, November 22, 2013

You call that multi-tasking?

My husband left his breakfast dish in the sink this morning. He was in a hurry to get ready for work because he wanted to start his day early today, so the 20 seconds it would have taken to rinse his dish off and put it in the dishwasher was - you can totally understand this - out of the question.

I should make it clear that my spouse does his fair share for the most part around the house. He will wash the dishes, do laundry (folding? let's not go there), feed the animals. He also handles many things I cannot, or rather, have no interest in, learning how to handle such as plumbing or electrical stuff (that would be the technical term). So this is not going to be a husband bashing post at all. It is simply being written to point out what every woman knows.

Men can not multi-task.

They call it multi-tasking when they have a beer in one hand and the remote in the other and they can't possibly concentrate on the conversation you're trying to have with them. All right, - that is selective hearing, I'll give you that. Back to the not-multi-tasking part.

They are stretching themselves too thin if they have to pick up a tool and a bunch of rags and then have to figure out how to open the door. That's what you are there for - those moments when your life partner needs you to push the kitchen door open and let him barge through, grunting that you're in his way as you dangle shoeless inside and outside, hoping not to get pushed onto the porch (which inevitably will be wet from rain or snow or something he spilled) on his way by.

Here's the thing. If men multi-task, then women multi-multi-task.

In the same scenario, a female would have mail and a Dunkin Donuts coffee in one hand and three bags of groceries in the other, and if she was not able to use her pinky to pry open the door, she would consider using her teeth.

You know I’m right. At this moment you are reading this blog, checking your email, folding clothes, and starting dinner. Look at yourself - and get the letter opener out of your mouth.

This morning as I was feeding the blind dog and screaming cat while the other pet owner rushed around the house to get ready for his 'early' morning, I suddenly saw the whole scenario clearly. There I was trying to pry the top off a can of cat food with two fingers while holding a knife in one hand and drying off a dish with three of my fingers while attempting to open the refrigerator door with one foot.

Fine, maybe that's a slight exaggeration. But the holding the knife thing and trying to pry a can open - totally true.

The point I'm trying to make and take full credit for is that women don't know how to put things down before they take on something else - and nobody expects them to. Whenever someone in the house is yelling that they can't find socks, shoes, a brush, the kitchen table - whatever it is - the (insert mom or wife or partner here) is wandering down the hall half-dressed, pulling the lost shoe out from under the sofa, waving the socks in the air that she found (and nobody else could possibly focus on) in the basket of  unfolded clothes that's been sitting in the living room for three days, and sweeping everything off the kitchen table into a box to be gone through later.

Oh, that fateful word, later. I believe we are on box number four of "laters" - hidden somewhere behind the seldom touched far side of the sofa.

And then she would finish getting dressed, hopefully without having toothpaste spittle working its way down her bra this time.

Not that I speak from experience or anything.

It's not just this day and age either - this has been going on since the stone age. A caveman would bring home a yak or a tree and the cavewoman would be responsible for chopping up dinner (without a freezer to store it in, mind you) as well as having to sauté the vegetables. In the meantime the cavekids would have to be entertained (no cable - remember?) and you can only send them to stone age survival camp so many times.

Even as a child I was aware that my mom was a multi-tasking fiend. The rest of the family would be sitting down to dinner for ten minutes before she even got to sniff the food she had meticulously prepared. She also managed to get herself in trouble a few times due to getting a tad carried away with tasks. Take the time I came home from school and she was stuck on top of some appliance – a refrigerator or freezer, something cold that was meant to hold food and not people - at the bottom of our cellar steps. The woman has never hit five feet, so how she got on there in first place is beyond me, even with the help of a chair which had since tipped over and made a semi-graceful descent impossible. This was not the time to laugh. And yet…

Maybe we were born to do several things at once and not whine about it. Or maybe we should start whining more and see how much help we get.

I’ll figure it out later - I have to go now. The stove timer is ringing. And the dog is crossing his legs. And the cat is eating the drywall again.

Where’s my letter opener?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Four (more) weeks

Have I mentioned that my only two children have taken to the far ends of the earth, by that I mean Pennsylvania, as their current address?

How ironic is it that both girls are learning to fly in unfamiliar territory, far from the protective wings of their mother? How odd is it that both girls ended up (or started, depending on how I choose to look at it at the moment) in Pennsylvania when I never spoke of such a place, not even in terms of Hershey.

But I have four more weeks. That’s when my sky will begin to lighten up. And no, it has nothing to do with the winter solstice (which is a week later, by the way – yay!). It has everything to do with the kids coming home, at least temporarily.

The last time I mentioned "four weeks" in this blog, I was attempting to prepare myself for our youngest child's foray into college life oh so far away. I cried while I was writing it... I cried when I received feedback from parents going through that same process of letting go, of struggling to reaffirm their willingness to let their babies grow up and move on. It was so much easier to feel that way when we were still cutting the crusts off their bread.

The past three months have not been completely without family time. We were able to slip a few 24-hour visits in and I was sort of satisfied with that. Now I just need to get past Thanksgiving, which will be – for the first time in 25 years – minus at least one of my girls here to watch the parade in their pajamas, scoff down a big breakfast, and celebrate with us in various ways (at home, or church, or serving dinner to others). They will be sharing the holiday together (along with The Boy, of course) in Philadelphia, where they will walk down the street to a huge parade followed the next day by the unveiling of holiday window displays, light shows, the works. I admit to being a teeny bit jealous. In fact, I am already plotting – planning, that should have said planning - our visit to Philly next year at this time.

Before anyone reading this has a picture in their mind of two lonely empty nesters sitting home with a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store watching NCIS reruns on cable (which, by the way, we just got back - and oh yes, that will definitely be a future blog post), we do have other places to go/things to do on Thanksgiving. We will not be sitting here waiting for our children to appear on Skype... well, not until that evening anyway.

Recently a friend asked me how the empty nest was, and my honest reply was a little laugh and a “Not bad.” No, really – it’s not bad at all. In fact, I am already aware that some adjustments will be tough when YK comes home in four weeks. For instance, S and I don’t talk quietly in the morning any more; this will have to be relearned because I am willing to bet that a certain college student whose first class this semester isn’t until 10 a.m. will not be receptive to being jolted awake by conversations that start with, “Did you feed the animals yet?” loud enough to be heard through the bathroom door.

Even my grocery shopping has changed – I haven’t bought a gallon of milk in three months, shrinking down to half gallons (and considering quarts) since it only gets used for coffee and the occasional bowl of cereal. This won’t fly when it’s more than just the two of us. We’ll need to have more milk and bread and definitely peanut butter available for the month of winter break.

I am willing to make these adjustments. More than willing – I can’t wait. Though it happens less these days, every once in a while this feeling of emotional urgency mixed with a legitimate sadness sweeps over me… as if deep down my heart is somehow trying to grasp at my children and pull them back to me. It is a fleeting but powerful ache that might be dredged up by simply seeing Facebook photos of friends whose kids who are able to bop home for the weekend, or hearing about parents heading to a college campus that’s within a few hours. I sincerely do not begrudge anyone those moments, but my own longing for the opportunity to see my girls a little more often has, I admit, impeded me from automatically “liking” some of those posts.

And yet… this countdown of four weeks allows me to prepare and anticipate, especially because in five - did you get that? - in FIVE weeks this house will once again be filled with family. Yup, the gang will be here for Christmas. Be thankful you cannot see my happy dance right now.

Now let’s get down to the reality of the days to come. Holiday stress.

Raise your hand if you've ever had to scoff down a piece of toast and a cup of coffee as you are standing in the doorway between the kitchen and living room while Christmas presents are being opened, rush out the door for a huge dinner precisely at noon at the home of Parental Set #1, and run across town (or state) to Parental Set #2 in time for more unwrapping followed by a huge dinner at 3 p.m., when you haven’t even started to digest that morning’s toast. The “joyful” holiday season can turn into a competition in which someone’s feelings are bound to get hurt no matter how you try to stretch yourself, agreed?

I am sure at least some of you have faced a similar scenario during holidays or birthdays (or anything that makes you wish your clone was with family while the real you basks on an island somewhere). I vowed not to do that to our kids. They would not have us dictating what day or time they should be with us on holidays. It should be up to them and we would respect their decision whether or not to be present.

I did say that. I meant it.

At the time.

Then last Christmas happened, and OK and The Boy spent it in Bora Bora with his family (where his dad, the manager for an incredible luxury hotel that I will most likely never set foot in, was assigned at the time). He set the perfect scene at dusk on the beach, produced a shell with a diamond ring hidden inside (thank goodness it was the right shell), and asked her to marry him. It could not have been more perfect.

Naturally, this meant only one thing. I called dibs on this Christmas almost before they arrived back home last year. As it turns out, I am getting my way… wait -- wish. I meant wish. Since then I figured out a way to transport the Love Couple to Connecticut the weekend before Christmas so we can rendezvous, visit family, then all ride together back Maine where they will spend the week. Unfortunately for them, coming here for Christmas has basically forced them to use every remaining minute of their vacation time, which I really did not want them to have to do. I feel bad. Oh… no, wait – not really that bad. I get them for A Whole Week (insert maniacal laugh).

This is also the Year of Wedding Planning. I am beyond excited that OK and her intended will be making a trip to what is likely the venue for their special day. I have to say, trying to picture my first-born, my beautiful, sweet, future ballerina-doctor (she was four at the time) baby girl, as someone’s wife (even The Boy, who we happen to adore) is… overwhelming, but in a very, very good way. I also never pictured her thriving in a place like Philadelphia when she grew up in a town of 19,000, and I am happy and proud to say city life fits her perfectly.

I am also aware, while this will be YK’s first actual college winter break, it could possibly be the last break she will remain home for. It would not surprise me at all if she either spends a chunk of time visiting newfound college friends during future breaks or arranges for a study abroad as part of it. Her school labels study abroad excursions “Go Long” or “Go Short” depending on the length (obviously). I am hoping to get one more year out of the holidays before YK will just be thinking, “GO.”

Last night our church sponsored a cookie bake to support today’s church fair cookie walk. A crew of kids decorated the sugar cookies, swiftly bringing back memories of my own kids joining in, sometimes bringing friends. Icing and sprinkles coated tables, and little candy balls are probably still rolling around the floor this morning. Simple fun. Sweet memories. I am so thankful to have them, just as the moms who were calmly directing last night’s craziness will be.

Of course, there is much preparation before we are gleefully ascended upon. So far my pre-visit grocery list (shells for stuffing, pumpkin pie, bread, cream cheese, and strawberries for stuffed French toast) is worlds apart from the last three months. We will have to clear out OK’s bedroom (which has more or less become The Spare Room - and we all know what that means) and wash YK’s sheets, since her cat spent the first few days of her absence vengefully shedding every possible piece of fur on her pillow and sheets.

We also get to include The Boy in our annual tradition of heading to the beach for sunrise Christmas morning. I’m thinking it won’t be quite the same as waking up to the sandy beaches of Bora Bora, where they didn’t have to worry about parkas, hats, and mittens. That’s not the point – it’s family time. And it makes you appreciate the hot coffee and cocoa waiting back at home, which you obviously wouldn’t get the full effect of in 80+ degree temps. Besides, it’s humid in Bora Bora in December – who needs that, right?

So there you have it, the reasons for my quest to gain control of The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.  I plan to cherish every exhausting minute of it. And I know it will go by quicker than I can say, “What about next year?”

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Beware of the bear (but which one?)

I've been thinking a lot about bears lately. I believe it's safe to say we all know bears are dangerous animals that need little if any provocation to chase you down and have you for dinner (literally) and should be respected and, yes, feared. But what about when people turn into bears? What reaction do they deserve?

Recently I came across a bear of sorts, in an office setting of all places. This bear reacted to something I had done as if it had been a personal attack, which everyone else around knew it was not. He came at me with teeth showing, claws bared, ready to gnaw on my throat and throw my remains into the trash... or maybe the recycling. Either way, the bear was in the wrong, as bears can be in their assumption that someone or something is a threat to their manhood (or bearhood). Now, I will give a real bear leeway here - you can't very well explain or defend yourself when you're in the middle of the woods standing next to his favorite berry tree. You should, however, have the opportunity to explain or defend yourself when facing a bear in a suit and tie. If they will let you get a word in edgewise. That was not going to happen.

I respect bears, and in fact, any creature that might decide I would go well with a nice bottle of chianti. Respecting someone who acts bear-ish is another story. Who among us has not had someone "put them in their place" in a completely unacceptable way for utterly wrong reasons? It's difficult to respect someone whose approach is to demean and embarrass you, especially within earshot of others. Even when you are steadfast in the fact that you did nothing wrong, the sheer force of the attack can wither your will to stand up for yourself. Sometimes you need support. Which leads me to another type of bear.

The Mama Bear. Now there's a bear I can relate to and understand, because I am one. My girls know full well that someone might mess with me and get away with it, but try messing with one of my offspring and find out just how big of a mistake that was. While I believe I've taught them to be strong in their convictions, we all know standing up for yourself is just plain hard when you are being thrown under the bus. Mama bears tend to stand in front of the bus and stare the driver down. My kids would likely say that's my specialty.

What I discovered this week was that mama bears can be found in the most unexpected places. While I was trying to regain my composure after the initial onslaught, little did I know that a fire had been lit under someone who heard everything (it would have been almost impossible not to). So the next day when the person who would make the final call was back in the office from a road trip, she was given a blow-by-blow account by someone other than me that I'm fairly sure wrapped up with, "This was totally not okay."

Within minutes of the bear appearing that day (acting as if nothing had happened), he was briskly shown the error of his ways. Did he agree? Of course not - bears in suits don't have the capacity to think past licking their own... wounds. Mama bears, however, do have a distinct talent for making it crystal clear this will not happen again. Or else. Even bears have enough sense to not ask what "or else" means.

Two things strike me here.

The first is that this particular bear is an intelligent, somewhat successful, supposedly sophisticated person. I wonder if he realizes he came down a notch or two not just in my eyes, but in the eyes of others who had been witness to his unwarranted rage.

The second is that knowing others had my back made all the difference in how this scenario was dealt with. I did take some offense to the fact that, while this bear had absolutely no trouble berating me loudly in a totally inappropriate setting, he did not have the... the... I'll go with guts here - he did not have the guts, or the class, to apologize in the same setting. Instead he sent an email that was one third apology, one third justification (poor excuse) for his behavior, and one third "feel free to talk with me about it," which I chose to pass on. But because I knew by then someone else had stood up for me when she didn't have to, I was able to let it go. A mama bear had my back, and it meant more to me than she knew.

We are surrounded by bears on a fairly regular basis, people that seem to specialize in crushing you with their thoughtless, stinging words or actions. Thankfully, we are also gifted with mama bears, male and female, who don't hesitate to step up - and in - when they witness someone being weakened by aggression. Those are the bears that deserve respect.

So don't be afraid to let your inner bear have some input when necessary.

As long as that bear is your mama.

Monday, October 21, 2013

When nothing special means everything

I recently had an opportunity to speak at my church, which was both nerve-wracking and exhilarating. Being in the season of stewardship, the idea was to have a few members of our parish talk about their story and what keeps them coming. Of anything I said (and possibly repeated, or forgot to say at all), one part of it stays with me this evening.

It is about Harriet.

Harriet was, most likely unbeknownst to her, the catalyst for our coming back after that first visit.  My little family was just about to relocate from Connecticut to this little coastal Maine town and we were church shopping. Really, it was more like church scoping, since there was only one Episcopal church in town. Apparently we had walked into a service a few minutes late with our two girls, ages 9 and 3, and the first thing we noticed was that there were no children.


Attempting to not be in the limelight of latecomers, we slithered, mildly stunned, into a pew. It didn't occur to us that the kids were in Sunday School - they came bounding through the door about two thirds of the way into the service, joining parents, grandparents and friends for the rest of the time. It got a little less Twilight Zone then.

Prior to their arrival, I was delegated peacekeeper and spent the first 15 minutes trying to keep our youngest from catapulting herself across the church while her sister sat quietly, possibly worried for the fate of children who misbehaved, considering the lack of peers.

On the other side of our pew sat a very small, very stern looking woman. I wondered how much pull she might have - probably a long-standing member, maybe served on some board or another that controlled who got invited back and who got The Wave before they even thought about going to the after-service coffee hour.

Littlest chose to entertain herself by jumping up and down on the velvety kneeler, holding onto the back of the pew in front of us, which (thankfully) was empty.

Please, I pleaded silently (and maybe quietly to my child), please don't get us kicked out. Even if they don't have children (it was still early), maybe we can make some local connections. Maybe we can find out the best mechanic to use. Maybe we can learn where to grocery shop and what restaurants not to eat at. Please.

All of a sudden the stern little woman sitting on the other side reached over and lightly tapped my daughter's hand with one finger - just a quick touch - and then snatched her hand away. That got the attention of our three-year-old very quickly. She had pulled her own hand down from the pew in surprise at first.. but slowly she slipped it back on, curiously eyeing her neighbor. I was holding my breath when I looked over and realized that serious expression had turned into a glint of mischief.

Once again, like a blip on a radar, the woman's finger swiftly tapped that little hand and hid. My daughter was in heaven. The game went on for several minutes, and I found myself exhaling in relief. We found a friend. We were home.

That was Harriet. She was a sweet, tough, funny, fascinating lady whose big personality belied her tiny stature - it was hard not to notice her presence. When I spoke about her recently I never said her name... funny, because I had every intention of acknowledging her. She deserved credit for dividing and conquering the angst of our stumbling entrance, though she most likely wouldn't have wanted it. Harriet was just that way, and she would have said it was nothing special.

Before she drove off into the sunset in her sports car and moved to another state to be closer to family, she had opened the door for us for many friendships and wonderful memories. Years later people still remember her. I still remember her.

I aspire to be someone's Harriet at least a few times in my lifetime.

She didn't have to make an awkward situation bearable. It wasn't her job or even her business to care whether we came back or not. Harriet just did what some people do. She gave of herself in that moment.

Anyone can come across a Harriet, someone who helped us with the simplest things in the most stressful moments. Imagine if we all did that - reached out when it was least expected, made a situation easy for someone instead of making a path out of there to avoid the effort. I know, and maybe you know, how it feels to be the recipient of a simple kindness.

I believe we can do that for someone, be that "nothing special" that makes a difference.

Be someone's Harriet when you get the chance.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Coming to grips with not grasping this "Rocky"

Only a few days ago my husband and I did something most people from our generation were doing in their teens, early twenties at the latest (legally, you had to be 18 but I'm sure many weren't). I have to wonder if we would have done it with more abandon back then, when we were a little more daring and open to... well, I still don't know what. I'm not even sure I would have done it with him. In fact, it might have been with a female friend. And we might have worn wigs.

We went to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

I need to say right here and now that I felt especially sorry for the theater personnel assigned to clean-up after the movie. Also, I was sad at the complete waste of toilet paper.

That's all.

This was for charity –  specifically Make-a-Wish - honestly, the only way you could get me there. From the first flick of rice thrown our way (down my shirt, in S’s ear, somehow in our shoes) to the toast, where the audience literally threw toast (who brings toast to a theater??), it was wacky, weird, and completely haphazard.

The jury is still out as to whether I can say I enjoyed it. Any of it. No, really - I'm still not sure. Well yeah, eating Meat Loaf for dinner, that there was funny. Really gross but funny.

Obviously the critics disagree with us. For instance, here's one from 2005: "Those who gave this gem a low score - Please! Crawl back in your cardboard life and stay there!"

Well, allrighty then.

The thing is, I’m not convinced I would have “gotten” it in the late 70s when I was a teenager and everyone around me saw it, some several times. I may have even known people who would sing along and dance in the theater, armed with water guns (and newspaper hats for theaters that allowed water guns), rice, toilet paper, cards, and (of course) toast for every showing. But this was not water bubbler chatter at the bank where I worked after high school. In fact, my only exposure to this movie back then was a scene in the movie "Fame." Ironic, huh?

What baffled both S and me was that the audience was yelling at the screen. Really? I got some of the references – but several shout-outs were just plain obnoxious. I suppose it didn’t really matter that they were drowning out the words because none of it made sense anyway.

Have we gotten old? Are we just some fuddy duddy couple who should join a knitting class or maybe a cat lovers’ organization or something? Is there some old person significance to the fact that we went to the early showing at 7 p.m. because it would be over before we go to bed?

I would like to think not. Being among the minority who did not jump up to dance and sing along with "Time Warp" doesn't mean we don't have a sense of humor. We just tend to like humor with some kind of - oh I don't know - sense. It was bad enough  that I had to climb over an extremely buxom female in a skimpy french maid's costume to get to my seat (with my back to her because there was no way I was doing this face to... umm... face), but then the crazy lady dancing next to me almost "jumped to the left" right into my lap, just before she lost her balance (allegedly without the assistance of alcohol) and fell into her seat.

By the way, I really tried to nonchalantly get a picture of the chick in the maid's costume, but it would have been too obvious if I used the flash. Wow. I'm worried about being obvious over someone who could've taken out an eye with the way her body parts were hanging out of that outfit.

So I read up on the history of RHPS (that's what all the cool cult fans call it) and found out that most of what happens during the show was developed basically by accident over the first two years of its debut. In other words, it was all right that we were completely lost - there is absolutely no cue for the audience to follow. Supposedly, you either know of its history and when to chime in with props and haranguing, or you do not.

We did not.

I did read that it took a year for RHPS to even begin its rise to cult status. Oh, and the release date for the midnight showing in New York - the one that really started it all - was April 1, 1976. See? It was made to be one big joke that we kinda sorta didn't get.

I make no excuses for neither of us being up on RHPS protocol - we were under 18 when it debuted and it was simply never on our bucket list, apparently. That doesn't mean we are not a wild and crazy couple.

Just to show how wild and crazy we really are, S signed us up for "Sex, Murder and Mayhem," an adult themed walking tour of Saco (originally scheduled for this past Friday and moved to later in the month). Kids, you are not invited. I can't wait to learn about the seedy side of our little city while walking in the dark past areas that weren't fit for travel years ago.

Oh, and the best part is - it's over by 8 p.m. - a whole hour before bedtime.