Lyrical Laughs

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Dear 2015, I'm thinking about it...

The New Year is just hours away. I guess this means I have until midnight to come up with one or more great resolutions for 2015. The timing of this doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. We get ourselves all wrapped up in the panicky days leading up to Christmas, and then we’re supposed to calm down, reflect on the past year, and decide how we can make the coming year better.
I would think not going crazy with shopping, cooking, and just out-and-out stressing would be the first thing to go, right? And yet, by the time this season rolls around again, we tend to forget those good intentions, and our resolutions turn into ‘wrestlelutions’ over who’s going to bring dessert and when we can take the perfect Christmas card photo, preferably before December 25.

There are things I hope to accomplish in 2015, such as eating healthier and going to the gym more. Wait – I mean, going to the gym at all. Another one of my resolutions will be to stop making myself crazy about everything that has to get done for First Born’s May wedding. I believe I can accomplish that by early June if I really concentrate.

One more goal will be to keep the kitchen table cleaned off so that we could use it as an actual kitchen table. Yes, I do realize I've mentioned this lofty goal before, and I will admit that it is more of a housekeeping thing. Have we discussed my housekeeping technique? There are days when I am convinced that running a bulldozer through the place would be the most effective tool in de-cluttering my life.  So if I could start off slowly with the kitchen table, which has spent the past month covered in pre-Christmas sales flyers from the Sunday paper, it might become a regular thing. By the way, none of them enticed me to enter their space, except the candle store whose buy-2-get-2-free flyer has been pushed to the top of the pile as a not-so-subtle hint that went right over everyone's heads. I finally took matters into my own hands when I realized the coupon could be used online, and am now awaiting delivery of four scents that sound good enough to eat... except maybe the patchouli. I wouldn't have trusted anyone to know enough to order a patchouli scented candle anyway.

Getting back to resolutions (and away from the sales), I have to be honest. At the end of 2013, I hadn’t made any resolutions for the New Year, not even one to not make any more resolutions.  In a true show of irony, 2014 has been the most positive and beneficial period for some of my personal goals in several years. Naturally, that took some deciding as to how to go about making it happen. But it wasn’t based on a resolution on December 31 to change things this year. It was the circumstance of several small decisions that were more like steps on the way to achieving some goals. And maybe that’s the secret, for me at least, to stepping into my own expectations for the next year.

Resolving to change means resolving to be open to change. Life shifts with the passing of each day, and if we’re lucky and willing, we can edit those resolutions along the way and accomplish some pretty cool things.

Whether or not you have an actual resolution at midnight on December 31, my wish for you is that you are given the chance to make those edits along the path and feel accomplished in your own way. And if you happen to know the secret to keeping the kitchen table clean, please pass it on.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Good enough

It's Christmas Eve. You don't have time to read this. I really don't have time to write this. And yet, here we are.

This is an odd Christmas in the Talbot household. First Born and The Fiancé are spending this week in Atlanta, Georgia, where his folks live. It's not the first time she has not been home for Christmas - they spent the holiday in Bora Bora two years ago, where The Boy proposed in an enviously romantic setting on the beach. Funny (but not haha funny) how families scatter these days for various reasons that make it more difficult to be together this time, or really any time, of year. I adore his mom and dad, though. They truly raised their boys right and it shows, so I'm happy for their time together.

This is also a healing time, literally, for Second Born, as she underwent a planned surgery last week, just days after arriving home for her college break. It has been a bit of a rough recovery, especially since she has been dealing not only with the pain of recovery, but also the effects of what seems to be an upper G.I. virus... from the hospital. With less than three weeks before she returns to school, you can bet we are taking it easy this Christmas - no skydiving or running marathons.

On our first Christmas together - amidst the sting of adapting to married life - our gifts to each other were based on thought more than action. I wrote a song and sang it to him and we both cried because life wasn't anywhere near perfect, but we believed we would get through it. I believe my gift to him was a paper printed out with the promise of karate lessons, and his to me was guitar lessons. Neither came to fruition, but that was all right - we were simply trying to touch on what meant the most to each other, even if we couldn't really afford to make those things happen at the moment. And we hung our star.
It was made with tin foil wrapped around a Friskie's Cat Food box top, and it was perfect. This morning I snapped this picture of it as it rests among the branches of our tree, 30 years from its debut. Though it no longer sits atop the tree and shows definite signs of wear, it is good enough to have a place among our other ornaments every year. 

A little while ago I was sipping coffee from the coffeemaker with a mind of its own. For whatever reason, this dang machine refuses to make as much as I want it to, always shorting us by half a cup or more. Of all the appliances in our kitchen that are attempting to make me give up and go back to the Little House on the Prairie way of life - like the microwave with the trick Start button that we just keep shoving back in...
or the mystery lights on the dishwasher that suddenly started doing their own thing - none of which has anything to do with actually washing dishes...

The coffeemaker is The One that's probably going to get replaced first. There are priorities. For now we just keep reinserting the stupid microwave button and washing dishes by hand. Good enough.

But of all the things that could go wrong, what has gone right is that I have an awesome Spouse who stayed home yesterday to keep an eye on Second Born during her recovery, so I could get some hours in at work and my desk wouldn't explode. What has gone right is that we have had prayers from all over the place for our kid and her healing, and that is always welcome. What has gone right is that First Born and The Fiancé made it safely to their destination last night, and they were also fortunate to have a cousin insane enough to drive two hours - each way - to pick up their kitten and babysit her for the week. What has gone right is that my sister and I continue the tradition of finding the most warped card to send each other every Christmas season.

What has gone right is that I still feel blessed, even with the stress, the worry, the appliance revolt, the exhaustion of this past week. We may not have the perfect Christmas, if there even is such a thing. But I look at our tin foil star and I realize just how much we have gotten through, bruises and all. We may not always feel like we're going to make it one more day (or one more cup of coffee), but so far we have. We are, as a family, as God's children, good enough.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all.... a good enough.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Christmas Crunch

Christmas is only a few days away and as usual, I am not one of those enviable types that are ahead of the game by a long shot. This time of year my closet is designated as The Area Which Shall Not Be Entered, otherwise known as my hiding place for presents. I’ve been pushing packages in there for weeks, shoving them to the back, piling plain brown bags on top of the plastic ones with more obvious markings. Spouse and Second Born forbidden to follow me through the house as I slip through the hall with packages and close the door to the bedroom, dropping my finds into their temporary digs.

It's not like I have these things protected by lock and key.... or even a door, for that matter. It is just the unspoken threat of what might happen to those packages that usually deters any poking around. When First Born was living here, it was a different story. She was (and I believe still is, according to The Fiancé) a world class snoop. I had to just about booby trap bags and boxes, or wrap them immediately when she was around. Second Born rarely even makes it a challenge, and Spouse is afraid if he goes anywhere near my closet I will demand a door, so he wisely avoids that area at all costs.

Now comes the most challenging part for me - labeling wrapped packages correctly. Since you’re not me, your ability to retain a thought is probably longer than that of a gnat. I, on the other hand, will wrap an item, place it on the bed and turn around to grab a label… and forget who it was for, let alone what it is. This could be dangerous. Nobody wants Uncle Ned to unwrap the Hello Kitty Pop-Up Board Game while little Annie is displaying a collection of Cuban cigars. You get the point even with made up names. I should also really consider keeping some kind of chart to be sure I have accounted for every gift that was buried in my closet, to prevent unearthing items three months later.

It’s the stocking stuffers that are my real downfall, though. Every year the little things I pick up in preceding weeks manage to morph into mounds of stuff that will never fit into stockings. I swore I only got a few things, but it turns out it was more like a few dozen things. I would like to believe that I am not the only one who faces the same struggle at 11 p.m. each Christmas Eve, trying to shove socks, card games and five pounds of chocolate into each overflowing stocking.

When it comes to identifying gifts for those outside the family and close friends, coworkers for instance, it can be tricky to choose the appropriate Christmas label. I am a tad biased about who is given the more festive design, hoarding the delightful reindeer or adorable angel stickers for those who share my love of all things peanut butter instead of the guy in accounting whose name I got in the Secret Santa pick. For his gift a wreath label will suffice.

I should point out that we don't actually have a Secret Santa or even an accounting department in my office - but if we did the guy in accounting would probably get a wreath label.

You may also have to think carefully about what you’re going to write on that label. What if you wanted to bring a small box of homemade cookies to your hair stylist? Should you just stick to the to-and-from format, or can you add a small note that your roots are showing and you need an appointment?

In the last few years I’ve taken to baking cookies as small tokens of my appreciation (also to feed Second Born’s college roomies). There are some folks you probably should avoid giving homemade Christmas treats to because word spreads. I am regretting sending cookies home with the guy who replaced our hot water heater last year. I’m convinced he told the oil tank guy who appeared this year. But I’m on to them. I’m tired of picking out a red ribbon each year to place on an appliance.

Once I’m done with wrapping the hidden presents, stuffing the already overstuffed stockings (along with nibbling on a little chocolate at the same time) and placing everything under the tree for a wonderful celebration on Christmas morning, it is usually close to midnight. The positive side of being up in the middle of the night is that all is calm, all is bright.

At least until I find one more bag hidden in the back of the closet.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Family glue for Christmas

With only a matter of days before Christmas, anyone seeking a little holiday spirit needs only to turn on the television for a deluge of seasonal specials on any number of channels.  If you were searching for an extra boost this past week I hope you came across The Great Christmas Light Fight, a competition featuring two sets of four families from across the country that compete for the best Christmas light display.

I don’t want to say these families are over the top, but I believe I can see the lights on the house in Texas from here.

If you drive by our house in the evening from now until Christmas you can admire the Spouse’s excellent hanging light display across our shrubs and garage as well as our collection of penguins (it’s a thing with us) and even a small lit up spiral tree. Compared to the houses in this competition, we are a single matchstick lost among the floodlights at Gillette Stadium.

Do we do it because our kids appreciate it? I believe they do when they are home, but let’s be real. They are grown, Second Born is only home on college breaks and First Born will be with her future in-laws this Christmas. So we can’t really use them as an excuse. I guess we do it because of the memories and the sentiment it evokes.

For much the same reason, we search for the perfect tree every year, digging it up at a tree farm, lugging it home and decorating it over a string of busy pre-Christmas evenings. This is Second Born’s favorite thing to do, trudge through the selection of trees, choose one, then another, then one more before almost always going back to the first one. She will bargain with her dad as to who will be getting down on the cold ground to make the first cut (usually her) and then who will do the real chopping so that it falls slowly to the ground (usually him).

When First Born was part of this parade, she and I would pretend to be grumbling as we followed, teasing her sister about her indecisiveness. But I realize now it has never been just a matter of her not being able to make a choice. What it really came down to was that this was a family tradition, a moment in time that we shared, whether stumbling over snow mounds or slip-sliding in mud. Her choice kept us there, sipping hot chocolate in the barn once our tree was chosen and awaiting pickup, keeping the outside world and its constant interruptions at bay for a little while longer.

We don’t always recognize the glue that holds our family together. It could be something as simple as a favorite holiday movie everyone gathers for, the banter of siblings as they compare who has the most ornaments on the tree, or a snowball fight on Christmas Eve. It may not always be the prettiest package or the picture perfect setting, and it may take a few years before you realize one day that what seemed inconsequential at the time is what you look forward to the most.

It’s so easy to be wrapped up (slight pun intended) in the angst of the holidays, between shopping and cooking and scheduling our lives to fit everybody’s needs. That is why it is even more important at this time of year to notice those little things that make our family unique. With less than two weeks to go, I hope that in between the rush you and the ones you love are tossing snowballs at each other, griping about trying to find the one light that’s making all the others go out, and creating a competition to decide who gets to put the star on top of the tree.

And I hope that you can’t wait to do it all again next year.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The foot is in the other shoe

In less than six months from now First Born will be walking down the aisle toward the love of her life. I tell you this not only because I am at the point of frequently waking up at 3 a.m. thinking about what has to get done before then (not to mention the shower a month earlier) and I want to share my angst. I am also sharing a little known secret, exposing the fact that this is a serious deadline for me.

I have to learn to walk in heels.

You should know that at one time I was fairly proficient at the heel thing. That’s not to say I sauntered around in stilettos at any time in my life, but at least I could say my feet were somewhat off the ground. These days I am an aficionado of flats like sneakers and LL Bean moccasins. Even my boots are low to the ground, which is to say that they are of the practical variety and not the cool styles I envy on the feet of others who trip by. Not literally – that would be my specialty. It is a simple fact that when it comes to stuffing my feet into anything that might threaten my balance, gravity is not my friend.

Many, many years ago I sang in a band and had to wear all sorts of fancy garb, including dressy heels. Even at the age of 19 I had a fear of falling. Not just falling down where I stood or tripping as I attempted to walk. I mean falling, as in, out of a car or off the stage. If I had ever been one of those dainty fallers I may have been fine with the occasional tilt and topple. But no, unfortunately I am completely void of all gracefulness at times like this.

Throughout parenthood I switched to comfort over fashion, and I have definitely gotten used to it. As long as my kids had cute shoes (and I wasn’t the best at noticing they even needed new footgear until at least one toe was protruding) I let them represent the well shod in our home.

Fast forward to today. Pretty soon I’m going to have to break down and go dress shopping for The Event. I’m excited about that and I plan to bring at least one cheerleader with me so I don’t talk myself out of everything I try on. But the shoes are a different story.

Considering my height (or lack of) never topped 5 foot 2 inches and is now in a slow and steady decline with age, it is almost a guarantee that whatever dress I chose will have to be hemmed. That means by the time I have an actual fitting I will need to know what my feet will agree to wear. This is where I admit to the fear that causes my heart (and bunions) to tremble.

Will the pictures or videos from our daughter’s special day be an indication that Mom should have stuck with sandals or sneakers under her ensemble? Should I warn the ushers ahead of time that two of them are required to walk me to my seat and keep me balanced so the bridesmaids don't have to step over me? Will the family photos have me stumbling into a perfectly manicured floral display or disappearing over a slight incline?

I expect nobody will notice since all eyes will be on the beautiful bride. In the meantime I will work my way up to a slight heel between now and May, temporarily giving up my flats for a slight, nonthreatening incline.

But just in case, I think I’ll slip a pair of sneakers under the reception table.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Being thankful we can still laugh

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and I’ve been faithfully conjuring up something I am thankful for (almost) every day in November as my contribution on social media. Okay, technically I'm about 5 days behind but in general my Facebook page has been graced with statements of appreciation for all the good stuff in my life. I’ve never jumped on this particular bandwagon before, but I found it to be kind of an interesting experiment as well as a feel-good thing. It does make one think about the little things we take for granted, and maybe even a few big moments we need to be reminded about. For now, though, let’s just have some fun.

I am thankful that I found the perfect hair stylist in a salon that doesn’t have a fancy café, personnel with names like Saffron or Xander who are constantly checking their own reflection in the mirror, or reception area sofas that you need a ladder to climb out of.

I am thankful that Netflix brought every season of Gilmore Girls back, even though I don’t have Netflix. Yet. Which leads me to my next thought.

I am thankful that in just a few weeks Second Born will be home for her break. She has Netflix (thanks to an awesome future brother-in-law she owes Big Time).

I am thankful for the days when we arrive at Sam’s Club to shop, just in time to try the various samples they serve, especially the pie.

Speaking of pie, can someone explain to me how you forget about pie? We had chocolate pudding pie left over from the weekend and I asked the Spouse a little while ago if he wanted some. He had the audacity to say he forgot all about it. That simply cannot be true – seriously, who forgets about pie?

Whatever (liar) - back to my list.

I am thankful for the new kitchen curtains I’ll soon be getting. That one was thrown in because I’m typing at the kitchen table and just realized how sad and tattered my curtains are. I believe they may have been part of the first Thanksgiving.

I am thankful I’m still getting a decent night’s sleep knowing First Born’s wedding is six months away and her shower is less than five months from now, and there are a million things to think about and do, and – and – DANGIT, there goes the whole decent night’s sleep thing.

I am thankful The Fiancé and The Spouse can have guy conversations when they are together without grunting or snorting. Mostly.

I am thankful that our kids can stand each other for a whole week during Thanksgiving break (and they probably get along better without us around).

There is always something to be thankful for, even in rough times. Recently I found a photo First Born had taken of Spouse and me when I was going through chemo treatments for Leukemia back in 2008. I had just the littlest bit of peach fuzz on my head, and the photo actually made me laugh. Laughter is good for the soul, no matter when you feel it coming on.

It’s a good idea to remember that thankfulness shouldn’t be confused with looking for perfection. There are few perfect moments in life, so we need to find what is perfect about the moment itself.

Did your 2-year-old get through a whole meal without using part of it as wallpaper?

Has your mother-in-law pronounced your name correctly the last three (fine, two) times you saw her?

Did your significant other suggest dinner out that didn’t include a drive-through?

Celebrate with thankfulness!

I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving with those you love and those you can laugh with.

By the way, I signed up to bring a vegetable and dessert for our annual Thanksgiving dinner with church friends. I'm not planning on combining them into one dish.

Be very thankful.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

A picture is worth a thousand words.. and one meltdown.

My car hates Pennsylvania. In the same way business travelers hate Chicago O’Hare Airport, or the way that I hate the mall (you heard me), my car seems to detest traveling through the Keystone State (yes, that is Pennsylvania's nickname - don't ask me to explain).

Last weekend was Family Weekend at Second Born’s college. Spouse and I planned to get there early enough Friday to spend the whole afternoon with our kid (all I had was Skype since August, I was long past due). We left work early Thursday to get a chunk of the trip done, and made it just over the Delaware River to Matamoras, PA before we stopped for the night. We figured if we hit the road by 10 the next morning, we would get to our destination by or before 1 p.m., and we'd have the whole afternoon and weekend with her, which would make me very happy.

The car, however, had other plans.

We had only put about 30 minutes behind us Friday morning when the car began losing power with each incline. I should mention there is no shortage of inclines in Pennsylvania. All of a sudden our vehicle emitted a loud BANG that startled us both. Spouse slowed down and pulled over to the emergency lane, flashers on. We crawled along I-84 hoping to make it to the next exit, not that there was a sign for an exit anywhere in sight.

Here's the irony, and proof that my car has an aversion to traveling through Pennsylvania (we once had a car that hated New Jersey, but who could blame it?). A year and a half ago the car’s transmission decided to seize on the same trip, within a few miles of our current spot.  At least it had the decency to so do within a half mile of a garage that day.

A few minutes later, on the side of the highway in Not-on-the-Map, Pennsylvania, the car took its last breath.

My first call was to Second Born’s Best Friend’s parents who left Maine for PA that Friday morning. They were a couple of hours away and very kindly offered to be our backup ride if we needed it. Ironically, since we had to wait for our car, they arrived long before we did at the school by leaving home 18 hours later. Sigh.

My second call was to AAA roadside service. After being transferred twice - the first time from the main number to a PA AAA, then to a PA AAA that had actually heard of this area - the operator asked what our exact location was. “Mile Marker 12.8 on I-84 West!” Seriously, that was all I had. There was nothing else to identify the area. I took a photo of the sign - there was that fleeting thought that this may be the last place anyone saw us alive.

When the tow truck driver finally reached us we realized why it took him an hour to arrive. That dilapidated truck couldn’t move more than 35 mph, I believe to avoid shattering into little pieces on the road. Spouse and I were practically gripping whatever we could (except the seat belts - they were so disgusting that clouds of some unidentifiable substance floated by when you touched them). Somehow it delivered us to Sears Automotive in the Scranton area in one piece, more or less.

We had already lost an hour and a half by then. Usually I am the calm one in these situations, commenting that the fiasco at hand will provide me with plenty of material. But having to tell Second Born we wouldn't be there any time soon, after sending her a text that we'd be there in a few hours just before the car hit rock bottom, sent me into a tailspin. Spouse started to joke that I should shed some tears to coax the mechanic along… until he realized the tears were freely flowing, in the car, in the garage waiting room, any time I let myself think about the delay and how much I've been missing my girls.


I knew I had to shake myself out of this state of mind before it made me feel even worse. I started taking pictures with my cell phone. I already had my classic mile marker photo, so I had kind of a head start.

In the Sears waiting room I snapped one of this.
Why? Because I tried to drink out of it and it brought me right back to bad elementary school memories. How ridiculously designed are water bubblers? Do you know anybody who can drink from one without sticking out their tongue like a labrador, slurping like they hadn't had water in weeks and getting their favorite vest that Gramma hand-knitted soaked in the process? And when was the water in these things ever actually cold??

A man who reminded me of a castoff from Duck Dynasty had wandered into the waiting area and changed the television station to a disastrous show called 1,000 Ways to Die on Spike TV. You would think that should be reason enough to seek other entertainment, right? But no, I was annoyed that he just commandeered the remote so I coaxed Spouse into doing what we do so well (and which has almost gotten us kicked out of theaters). Heckling. This show was beyond heckle-worthy, seriously. Eventually we got bored with the bad puns and watching idiots like the bride who overdosed just before walking down the aisle and collapsed, or the cheating moron who went blind while tenting with his girlfriend and got eaten by a bear. These are clearly signs of a gene pool in need of cleaning up.

We wandered back into the store where Spouse found, among other treasures, a vital accessory for any car - the french fry holder.

Back on the road a few hours later, I took photos of strange road signs on our way. Pennsylvania has some interesting ones.

This one is a nice thought but a little excessive, I think... what if you need a rest stop?

And then there's this... 

So should we be watching for and reporting cars we see weaving in and out that seem to be driven by someone under the influence? Or did you just give a college student permission to open a 6-pack? "Hey guys, we're finally here - crack that baby open."

And finally -

Aggressive driver high crash area - really? Because I'm not paranoid enough about my kid being 9 hours away in a college town!

But my favorite photo of the weekend is right here.
First Born and The Fiancé surprised her sister on Saturday, and our gang spent the rest of the weekend together. It was perfect.

It could have been much worse. The car may have decided to bite the bullet on a dark highway Thursday night, or in the middle of the many construction zones with one-lane Jersey barriers we came across. So despite an uncooperative automobile, I put aside the car-tastrophe and enjoy every moment of our short reunion, once I “snapped" myself out of it (I'll be here all week, folks).

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The last of the teen years

By the time you read this, I will no longer be the parent of a teenager.

For the past 13 years there has been a teen in this house. First Born celebrated her 13th birthday in the fall of 2001. Just after she turned 19, Second Born joined the same willful, exhausting ranks. I should have gotten hazard pay for some of those stages.

The majority of days with a teen at home were actually easy, breezy, beautifully written as picture perfect moments that would make great Hallmark card scenarios.

Some days took a year to go by.

Our years with teen girls included a large dose of mood swings and watermelon lip gloss. They went through jeans faster than the Real Wives of New Jersey pull each other’s wigs off. It has been a period chock full of highs and lows, of muddling through the rough spots and bonding over Gilmore Girls episodes.

But I think we could learn a few things from teenagers and about them, and maybe even about ourselves.

For instance...

Teenagers know everything. Don’t bother to try and prove your point – you are clueless. And teens don’t care if you know more answers than them on Jeopardy. They are pros at the eye roll, the shrug and the grunt, if they react at all.

Siblings will fight like cats and dogs, more so if at least one of them is a teen. They consider it a birthright. Rarely, however, will you witness a stronger response for protection duty than that of a teen whose sibling was wronged. My favorite line when First Born found out her younger sibling was the victim of some verbal bashing: “I’m the only one who gets to pick on my twerpy little sister! Who was it??”

If a teenage girl defines you as “sort of a jerk” you have just been beyond insulted. It’s not a spontaneous reaction or an emotionally charged conclusion. She observed the person you are in circumstances within and beyond your control. Just calling you a jerk would not have covered that final essay in her head.

Teens will point out that we consume too much butter or salty foods, then pour half a bag of shredded cheddar on the macaroni and cheese they eat three times a week. The following Monday they might announce they will only eat lettuce for the next ten days. Even restaurants don’t know whether to fill up the salad bar or keep the spinach artichoke dip coming when they see a teenage girl entering the premises.

A young child is often filled with hugs and “I love you” moments just because you are Mommy or Daddy (or a goldfish). It is genuine, spontaneous, and just plain adorable. That same phrase from the lips of a teenager means that after late nights and long mornings, arguments and silent treatments, seeing the best in them and also facing the best of their worst, you’ve done all right by them. I’ve always thought of that “I love you” as priceless.

By the time they are heading toward that 20th birthday we have gone from catching our children when they fall to watching them from the sidelines and standing quietly in the background. We hold our breath and witness them taking flight, and we continue to hold our arms out just in case they need a gentle, nonjudgmental place to land.

I have learned that as my kids have grown I’ve experienced a freedom I’m not quite sure what to do with at times. There are days when I suspect that I’m the one who isn’t completely ready for the next thing.

So what can we learn from teenagers?

Maybe we can learn to fly.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Housekeeping – surviving or surrendering

Let’s get something out in the open. I’ve never claimed to be the world’s best housekeeper. Dusting, vacuuming, washing dishes - they’re all necessary evils that I avoid like – well, like laundry. There is, however, one chore I definitely detest more than others. Mopping.

In this house it is a constant battle to keep the kitchen floor even semi-clean. I wish I could say it’s just because of the animal fur and mud being tracked in, the normal pet-owning, spouse-tolerating reasons you would expect. But you know that’s not the end of it.

My kitchen floor is a magnet for disaster.

Case in point: I finally got around to washing the floor last weekend. Please note, I will not be responding to any inquiries regarding how long it had been. The act of washing the kitchen floor requires moving furniture, shaking out the mat everyone is supposed to wipe their feet on that is never really free of grit even after vacuuming and slamming it against the vinyl siding(which now has a big gray blotch on it), sweeping, and washing the blasted dishes in the kitchen sink so I can soak the mop in it. Really, I just wanted to nap by that point.

After blocking all doorways and forbidding any living thing to enter for the next 20 minutes, my kitchen floor was clean. Practically spotless. You could eat off a 2-square-inch spot of that floor… for about 30 seconds. Then the Golden Retriever walked through and little fur puppies once again wound their way around the table and chair legs. The cat appeared for her evening snack and left morselettes in the corner under the cabinets. Spouse wandered through leaving tiny droppings of dirt and other unidentified matter from the bottom of his fake Crocs.

As if that wasn’t exhausting and traumatic enough, the next morning I reached into the refrigerator to take out eggs for breakfast. I hadn’t noticed that the carton was ripped. The carton went one way, the eggs another, and the next thing you know...

“I’ll have a half dozen raw eggs spread across my clean kitchen floor and under the fridge, please.”

Not to be outdone, the following evening the kitchen cabinets decided to stage a coup, and chose the canola oil to be their representative. As I was about to pour a small amount into a pan, the oil pushed itself out of my hands and flowed as quickly as it could onto the gas stove before lunging for the floor. I caught it in the nick of “What’s going on here??” It took twice as long to clean up the oil as it did the eggs from the day before, and I swear I could’ve just lit the dang floor on fire and cooked the already scrambled eggs quicker.

If I happened to love housekeeping, these little mishaps wouldn’t rattle me in the least. I would have a comprehensive collection of cleaning products in place of the rags that I currently neglect to shake out until I have to declare the dust as a resident. I would toss the used vacuum bag more often rather than wait until something claws at me through the nozzle. Visitors would no longer be able to write their name in the particles on the television stand.

Best of all, the mop head would never look used because, naturally, I would wash the floor so often there would be no dirt to dredge up.

But I’m never going to love housekeeping. I am more of the mindset of my hero, Erma Bombeck, who said, “Housework, if you do it right, will kill you.”

What’s my solution to avoid this fate? I’m just going to collect the dog dust bunnies, spread them around the floor and claim that we installed a shag rug in the kitchen.

(Journal Tribune 10/5/14 edited)

Friday, October 10, 2014

Purr-fect timing!

Fall weather - the perfect time to curl up (like a cat, right?) under a blanket with a good book. And I am VERY excited to announce that my story, Two and a Half Cats, was selected to be published among many funny, heartwarming, sweet reads all in one book - Not Your Mother's Book on Cats! You don't have to own a feline (actually, they would own you) to enjoy these stories.. but don't be surprised if you decide you're ready to adopt after reading them. Just remember... dogs have owners, cats have staff!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Archery - a comedy of arrows

I may have mentioned previously that Spouse and I are big patrons of deals through websites like Groupon and Living Social. Sometimes those deals lead to odd choices – things we never would have thought of trying were it not for that enticement of paying half price.

And so it was with our experience this summer with archery. Let me tell you, there’s nothing like someone handing you a bow and arrow and expecting you to hit something smaller than the side of a barn to make you realize just how uncoordinated you are.

Our instructor, Brian, a young man in a red shirt and khaki shorts who reminded me of a camp counselor that had gotten himself in too deep, led the three of us (Spouse, Second Born and yours truly) into the shooting range past a trio of boys no older than 8 years old. There was absolutely no doubt we were about to be shown up by this small cluster of sharp-shooting juveniles.

Brian had the questionable pleasure of working with the three of us as a group. His first direction was to stand where he positioned us, then he drew chalk around our feet and forbid us to step out of the marks. What makes you not be able to stand in one place more than someone saying you have to?

His second direction was to try not to cry when the 8-year-olds next to us successfully popped balloons around the bulls-eye while we chased our arrows around the building.

Naturally, we offered our own type of entertainment as a family of two left-handed parents and one ambidextrous teenager. It took him a few minutes to line us up without spearing one another.
Once the chalk lines were drawn I tried very hard to stand as if my feet were glued to the spot. My back was to Second Born and she was facing her dad.

Following the rules can be downright dizzying – I swayed precariously whenever Brian stood between the other two and I tried to catch a glimpse of the lesson, though he always repeated the instructions within my eyesight. I was just double-lesson-dipping for fear of being completely embarrassed any minute now.

Once Brian was convinced we didn’t present a danger to anyone, especially him, he let us each line up an arrow on our bows. Your assignment in archery is to listen for the “click” of the arrow into the string, position your front arm, bend it slightly but not too much, bring your other arm back with your thumb and pinkie touching and the other three fingers pulling the bow string, release the string and hit something. Preferably something that has been placed in front of you with a bunch of colorful circles in it. This was the ultimate multi-tasking assignment in conjunction with weaponry.

We weren’t bad, really, as long as the targets were within 20 feet. Maybe 15 - we didn’t ask for fear of shaming ourselves in front of the short pros next to us. Second Born had quite the eye and gained the moniker Katniss (because, really, what else would you reference?) Spouse was better than he gave himself credit for because he wanted to be perfect. I was satisfied with not sending an arrow spiraling to the back of the building. We all got pretty excited each time we wiped out a balloon. I barely heard the snickers from the 8-year-olds.

The thing is, I am hooked. I seriously want to pursue this sport. So if you happen to know of an archery club in this area, please let me know.

Just don’t mention that I’ll need the side of a barn as a target.

(8/10/14 Journal Tribune, edited)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Just a few blocks away my... eye

New Englanders have long been associated with the phrase “down the road a piece,” which is another way of saying gas up and be prepared for a long trip. After spending a weekend in Philadelphia with First Born and The Fiancé I can honestly say “down the road a piece” doesn’t hold a candle to “just a few blocks away” by Philly standards.

Now, I don’t usually whine. Stop it - I'm serious. I can usually deal with distance as long as it’s at my pace, and I will say Spouse and the Love Couple were pretty cooperative with this condition last weekend (in other words, they slowed down when they realized I was more than two blocks behind).  I also tried to be distracted by new and interesting sights in the city. There are some scenes – for instance, the nude bicyclists – that I would have rather not seen, but at least it was a temporary diversion from the sweat trickling down my back. Spouse insists they were wearing leather straps, though none of us took in the view long enough to figure out exactly where the straps were for. To the bicyclists’ credit, they did have helmets on, so at least they were practicing safe cycling.

My point somewhere in here is that I don’t mind walking. Walking the sidewalks of Philly with two 20-something-year-olds that spend the majority of their free time exploring the area on foot is another sole-searing story.

There is, of course, the matter of a hard surface. It is fascinating to look up to a world of skyscrapers, especially when Maine’s tallest building is 204 feet high compared to Philadelphia at 975, but to hoof it on hard concrete for hours is not the most endearing to your dogs. Add to that an assault of late summer humidity that felt like a furnace between buildings and even my pixie cut resembled a Brillo pad.

After a day of touring the city on foot my hips had begun a rebellion of sorts and were all but refusing to carry me across the hotel room the next morning. I got up slowly, stretched, moaned, stretched a little more and moaned a lot. Spouse and I hobbled around at a snail’s pace in our attempt to prepare for another exciting day of agony. When the kids arrived, looking refreshed and ready to roll while we barely rocked, we headed for breakfast at a place that was mercifully next door to the hotel.
From that point on it was downhill. Or maybe uphill, depending on how you measure your pain threshold.

After two days of traipsing around Philadelphia my feet were ready to amputate themselves. I went to bed at 9:30 p.m. just so I wouldn’t feel them throbbing anymore.

Philadelphia streets are on a grid of numbers. As convenient as it is to have numbered streets, that doesn’t make your destination any closer. In fact, I found myself trying not to pay attention to the numbers because they could also be a tease by throwing in an extra side street every so often, which really messes with your carefully calculated objective.

But the worst part, as I mentioned, was that no matter where we were going and no matter how long we would be walking, these two young, physically fit, conniving people, who I admire and fear for their agility at the same time, would refer to our destination as just a few blocks away.

They lied. I believe it’s a game residents play to see how long it takes you to fall down writhing and gripping your sneakers.

So my advice to you if you plan to visit Philadelphia at any time is to be prepared. Plan out the things you want to see and then hail a cab. Or rent some mode of transportation, such as a bicycle.

And just hope the last person that rented it was wearing more than a leather strap.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Five reasons we shouldn’t love Gibbs (but we do anyway)

A few days ago Mark Harmon celebrated his 63rd birthday. My short birthday tribute on Facebook summed it up simply with “YUM.” What is it about this guy that keeps me glued to the television whenever NCIS airs? Is it about the man or the character? I’d say both – but mostly the character.

My daughters are nearing 20 and 26 years of age, my niece is 30, my sister is Harmon’s age and I am 9 years his junior. Each of us recognizes the undeniable appeal of Leroy Jethro Gibbs. To identify that appeal is something else entirely.

For instance:

1) Gibbs is hot headed and stubborn and he constantly defies authority. In a normal, non-Hollywood scenario this would raise a red flag, but instead I find myself admiring him as he storms out of his boss’s office and makes some I-dare-you-to-fire-me move.

2) He has been married four times, three of which ended in divorce. Nobody could ever replace his first wife Kelly no matter how hard they tried. But even knowing he has failed miserably at being happy with anyone else, we’ve all had that taste of the impenetrable connection between Gibbs and his first bride. Six years after it initially aired I still cannot watch the last scene in the “Heartland” episode where Gibbs returns to his hometown and reminisces about the first time they ever spoke without tearing up.

3) His first name is Leroy. I’m sorry but there’s nothing sexy about that name. And all I hear in the middle name of Jethro is a sloppy southern drawl. Not much about the last name Gibbs sounds like a strong, manly name. But put them together and pair that with a grayed, handsome guy in a long coat. Now you’re catching on.

4) He’s the silent type when silence is the last thing you need. Seriously, trying to get Gibbs to open up about his feelings is like trying to hide out from your kids when you’re on the phone. Still, I’m willing to put up with it, as long as he flashes that sexy smile at me once in a while.

5) The hair cut. Who does that? It’s part military, part bowl, and parted in the wrong place. But it looks so darn soft… soft enough to run your fingers through it.

There was no better casting than that of Ralph Waite as Gibbs’ father. You would swear they really were related, felt the strength in their hugs. The only thing lacking was a head slap between father and son. It gave us something to look forward to, that preview of a senior Gibbs, all gruff on the outside and cotton candy in his baby blues. It is odd for me to react to the death of an actor, but with Waite’s passing gone were the scenes of their strained and loving relationship that felt so tangible.

I have looked forward to Tuesday evenings for quite a while, to Gibbs and his crew, and to weathering the storms through cast changes and story lines that sometimes baffle me. In the end, there might be dozens of reasons why we shouldn’t love Leroy Jethro Gibbs, but none of it matters - not the haircut, the silences or the odd name choice for his character. He’s got our attention.

No head slap needed.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The cable guy – Saturday morning musings

The cable guy is here. Naturally, he shows up right on time to find an unshowered customer whispering to him (doesn’t sound at all creepy, does it?) because I’m the only one awake in the house.

I set my alarm so I could jump in a quick shower before the impending “I’m on my way” call somewhere between 8 and 9 a.m. Then I stepped into the kitchen. You know how, when you’re expecting guests, you find 17 things that have to be put away/cleaned/reupholstered before they get to the door in 15 minutes? Well, then you know how my morning went.

I found myself scrubbing counters, lighting a candle to hide some smell I couldn’t identify, feeding the animals, cleaning the floor from slobber and food bits after feeding the animals – you know, the typical Saturday morning I had hoped to never have.

He called at 7:58 and was here by 8. Really?? What cable guy does that? This basically gave me time to put on a bra – everything else was the result of a lick and a promise (to never, ever have my photo taken in this state). And yes, I still have Christmas pajama bottoms on, and a too-well-worn t-shirt.

As he stood in the living room checking the line from the modem a little while ago I tried to discreetly pick up chunks of dog hair curled around every piece of furniture, at the same time trying to convince an 80-pound retriever not to lick the nice man to death.

Right now I am sitting in the living room sipping my coffee while he investigates the inside lines. In my basement. My scary, permanent-construction-zone/obstacle-course basement. I didn’t have time to sheetrock and paint – or move - before he got here, so there you have it.

Why couldn’t it have been an outside line so he didn’t have to come into the house? Why didn’t I set my alarm earlier? Why couldn’t I be like Claire in Modern Family who whipped on something sexy just before the firefighters came into the house when Phil was in pain? Besides the fact that I don't have anything remotely sexy that fits me, I mean.

I know people who wouldn’t be caught dead like this when someone walks in the door – or ever. They are showered and dressed before breakfast no matter what day, and I applaud them for their dedication and determination to never look unkept.

I, however, do not roll like that. If you stay in my house (once I uncover the bed in the spare room) you are likely to encounter me in all my before-shower splendor enjoying a mug (not a cup – a mug) of java and reading or writing at the kitchen table or sofa. On warm summer days I will be planted in a chair in the backyard, taking in the first sun of the day. You could pour yourself a mug and join me, but please don’t expect me to look like hostess material.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not unimportant to me to make a decent presentation. In a way I guess the morning thing is a bit of a rebellion. Five days a week I get up between 5 and 5:30, shower, eat, dress and head to an office for 8 hours. By the time Saturday morning comes around nothing about my weekend says rush/prepare/be presentable until after breakfast.

My attire does not affect my ability to make guests feel welcome or to make a yummy breakfast for whoever is around. Anyone who stays here should probably not expect me to greet them in a dazzling morning ensemble and perfectly coiffed hair. But they can expect to relax and savor the sights and sounds of an early Maine morning.

As long as they understand those sights might include Christmas pajama bottoms.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Why we might be Marriage Boot Camp candidates

My husband used up the last of the garlic powder last week, unbeknownst to me until I saw the empty container sitting on the counter. You heard me – not a trace was left. He even had the nerve to act as if he had no idea this could be grounds for divorce.

Have I mentioned in any of my little ramblings that I’m Italian? There are two items you never, ever use up in my kitchen without wisely volunteering to run to the store immediately for a replacement or accepting your punishment for this major violation: garlic powder and olive oil.

Fortunately, the dollar store is a short trip and my supply was replenished soon after. Still, it’s hard to let this obvious act of aggression slide, don’t you agree? I’m sure you’re all wondering if it’s the start of a serious issue that we might need to get serious help for. And what better source than Marriage Boot Camp?

For those of you who have never heard of this entertaining and twisted production, Marriage Boot Camp (we'll call it “MBC”) is a cable television show that would be rated D at best… so naturally I didn’t miss one episode. Yes, folks, I live for bad cable TV.

The most recent season incorporated “reality stars” into the cast. The celebrity version is almost exactly like episodes with people we’ve never heard of (not that I’ve heard of most of these characters anyway). The couples spend several episodes using paint guns, pretend death scenes and nearly impossible scavenger hunts to either bond or break each other’s neck. The celebrity version featured the typical breakdowns, arguments and reconciliations in between makeup touches and a collagen kiosk. A show like that makes you realize you have it pretty darn good – and that you could make a boatload of money with the right reality TV proposal and cast members with names like Tanisha and Slade.

The reason I say the garlic powder travesty could very well put us up there in the top rankings for MBC candidacy is that the featured marriage counselors (and creators of the show – how convenient) will grab onto the slightest issue and deem it a possible matrimonial deal-breaker.  I swear some of these couples had more problems at the end than they did in the beginning. Then again, at least one couple should have worn protective gear whenever they were in the same room because the wife was an arm-flinging maniac who took every opportunity to goad her husband into smacking her. To his credit, he didn’t. Not surprisingly, they were Splitsville by the end. I’m looking forward to seeing her on the WWF soon.

I wonder what would be made of the garlic powder debacle. Would the Spouse be told he has some kind of subconscious need to sabotage my cooking? Did I intentionally set him up to take the fall by not having a backup container of this key ingredient to 90% of my cooking? Should I pack my bags in search of someone who really understands my need to have the house smell like a giant garlic bulb?

This season’s MBC cast included Trista (the Bachelorette) and Ryan Sutter (her hot firefighter husband), nicknamed America’s sweethearts by the other cast members - not always in a complimentary tone.  It was entertaining to see the MBC creators try and throw a wrench into this almost perfect couple’s relationship. The others, especially those who didn't fare so well through exercises like the Ring of Fire (possibly Ryan's favorite) were also hoping to see some tension - perhaps an actual argument - erupt between these two. The closest they got was when Trista and Ryan didn’t go through the same door to their future… but they actually did… depending on how you look at it. Extreme editing assures us that this could lead to major issues between the sweethearts. I’m thinking all it will take is for Trista to convince Ryan to parade around in his fireman’s uniform a couple of extra nights.

My husband and I would not have offered such a challenge – I can assure you if he chose to paintball me or not give me a life vest during the fake ship sinking he would be sleeping in the fake doghouse that night. Seriously, I was ready to hit the eject button on the ride to work upon seeing my beloved garlic powder bottle barren.

I think we’re safe from a marital breakdown at the moment, though. We have both matured in our 30 years together and have learned to talk through our issues – not always agreeing but always coming around to some kind of compromise, as it should be in a good, solid, healthy marriage.

As long as he stays away from the olive oil.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The real meaning of agida

WHEW! Summer is flying by and I'm trying to fit in as much fun as possible, so I'm cheating a bit today with a piece from "my other stuff" that was published earlier this month in our local paper. But don't worry, you can look forward to reading about why the Spouse and I may be prime candidates for Marriage Boot Camp next time! In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this little piece and that you're getting the most out of your summer!

My kids may not be young anymore but they can still manage to give me agida. For those of you who didn’t grow up in an Italian household like I did, agida refers to angst, aggravation, worry – as in the sleepless nights and stressful moments my folks had with me for a daughter. I did nothing to make their job easy.

Honestly, my kids are mostly awesome and pretty much easy to brag about. But over the years I’ve learned that it’s not just about their intentions. It’s about what life throws at them. Take Saturday evening, for instance.

We were just about to enter T.G.I. Friday’s for dinner with my mom during a visit to Connecticut, when my cell rang. I was driving so I handed it to the Spouse. It was First Born – a very upset First Born. She and The Fiancé were on their way back from a very long day trip when they got a flat tire. Now, I know this doesn’t seem like something that should make me need a paper bag to breathe into. Just wait - it gets better.

After walking The Fiancé through a tire change (his first) all was looking good after getting the little donut tire in place.

And then they realized they had a second flat on the same side.
Enter agida.

Why did they have to take such a long road trip? Why did they pull over on the highway to switch drivers (which led them through construction which ripped up their tires)? Why were they hours away without me there to help?

As we sat in T.G.I. Friday’s for dinner with my mom, Spouse and I both got on our phones and started looking for a garage or Walmart or Sears – anything we thought would have tires on a Saturday night. As it turns out, they had landed in Nothingville, New York.

They did manage to get a can of Fix-a-Flat but were kind of freaked by the instructions that demanded protective eyewear and a professional to use it (which is why anyone can buy it, right?). So the not-so-happy wanderers went for the only other option they had – calling roadside service who said they would tow the car to a garage. What garage is open on a Saturday night?

Well, there happened to be a garage guardian angel that very night that appeared in his sparkling mini-van with wife and grandsons shortly after they were towed to his place of business. He got them set up with a couple of retreads, and soon after they were on their way.

The Love Couple still had a three-hour drive. Naturally, I half-slept until I got that text that said they were back home at 1 a.m.

Agida is probably genetic, so chances are my girls will actually use that word once they have kids. After all, it’s another word for worry, which – growing up in my Italian family – was just another word for love.