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 voilĂ  - 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.