Sunday, September 21, 2014

Rude and Oblivious

There are days when I can’t handle going outside. It’s the rudeness of others that really ticks me off and it is getting so that I am not sure I can be counted on to not say something to the offenders.  This is why I love getting older...I can consider reprimanding people and not feel bad about it. Does that make me rude? I don’t think so. I think I would be doing all of society a favor.

Today’s offender put both Angelo and I in a bad mood.  Here’s what happened: Deciding to get some fresh fruits and veggies into our house, we happily pulled into the Adams grocery store parking lot.  (We decided about the fresh fruits and veggies because we had just eaten lunch at  G’s Burgers and were feeling a little...uncomfortable.) Spotting a space close enough for carrying the bags back without a cart, but far enough away to count the distance as a “walk” in our fitness plan, Angelo began to edge our van into the space.  He slowed because the woman driving the Acura next to us was still closing her door and needed to move her cart out of our way. But she didn’t move the cart...she left it in the middle of the space and walked around to the driver’s side and got in. We were stuck partway in and partway out, thinking she would certainly notice an enormous silver van pulling in next to her, but her head was crooked downward tractor-beamed by her smartphone’s screen and she didn’t budge. I jumped out and moved the cart, but between Angelo stubbornly staying where he was and the proximity of all the other cars around the space, I had to push the cart down a row before I could get it out and put it in the corral, right next to the Acura. I made a bunch of noisy ahems and coughs so the lady could see the error of her ways and apologize. I even walked right past her window and looked in, but she was glued to whatever important information was coming at her through her phone. Once on the other side of her car, I opened my door and said, maybe just a little loudly, “she didn’t even look up!” to Angelo. (These are the kinds of statements that make my daughter cringe when we’re out together. I am learning to only act this way in the company of others who are 50 or older.) Still nothing from the Acura driver until she pulled out of her parking space and zoomed off.  

Angelo parked and we walked into the store but this microscopic little incident had the power to irritate us both to the point of crabbiness. To be honest, he was crabbier than I was and I realized this when he objected to my choice of pasta for the evening.  
“Really? I have to get a different pasta?” I asked since I was now three aisles away from pasta.
“That one won’t go with my sauce,” he said.
“We’re not having sauce, just olive oil, broccoli and parm,” I said.
“We’re not having sauce...?” he said with a slight pout and I knew I was changing our dinner menu.

I don’t know why I let the oblivion of others get to me. Of course I think it’s gotten worse in the smartphone era. When I was waiting for a flight one day last week, I looked around and nearly every single head was angled downward and a sea of forefingers flicked here and there navigating screens.  But I do that...take the opportunity to check my mail (mostly spam), the weather (still warm!), my book sales (plummeting), and Words with Friends (their move) whenever I have a free five, ten minutes or so.  But I hope I don’t do it to the exclusion of the rest of the human race.  I’ve seen people walk through doors without holding it open for the person behind them or leave wads of dirty napkins on coffee shop tables because they are oblivious to the world around them and the idea that someone else might want to bring their coffee to a table without having to clean up after someone else’s who-knows-what kind of schmutz crumpled up in a napkin is an idea that occurs to very few these days.

As usual, the lesson here is that I can’t change anyone but myself. Fine.  Then, I guess the key is to remember to not let myself get so caught up in my virtual world that I forget that I am a part of a bigger, human and, let’s face it, more interesting world around me that I can hear, touch, smell, see and taste. Or yell at.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

What makes it all worthwhile

I am going to try very hard to not sound like I'm bragging or being otherwise obnoxious, but I have to write a little bit about something that happened yesterday.

There I was, minding my own business at a local winery (Connecticut Valley Winery if you must know. And you should because they have wonderful wines there) hovering about with my fellow AAPG authors at an event called Wine Stories. The winery paired their wines with our books and we had a chance to talk about them when each wine was introduced.
It wasn't a difficult way to spend a potentially rainy Saturday afternoon, particularly because we were encouraged to try out the wines that our books were paired with. Which we did. (Mine was Olรจ Sangria. Yum.)

Of course, most of the folks who showed up, including a bus tour and a bachelorette party, were there to sample and purchase wines, not books, so I wasn't terribly busy. However, I enjoyed chatting with the other authors, meeting the vintners and checking out which wine I might have to bring home after I was done for the day.

About halfway through the afternoon, a woman walked up to my table and introduced herself. She told me she had picked up my book at a bookstore in Kent, Conn. (House of Books...another charming place to visit - and not just because evidently they sell my book) She told me that she had come from her home almost an hour away because she read that I'd be at the winery that day. She came specifically to meet me because she wanted to tell me how much she enjoyed reading my book and how easily she had identified with the topics I covered in my essays. She said that she enjoyed the humor and, quite honestly, she said a whole bunch of other really wonderful and lovely things but I was so astounded and flattered it was all I could do to keep my jaw from dropping to the floor. I think I had this stupefied look on my face and I was slightly aware of trying not to sound like an idiot as I tried to convey to her how much it meant to me that she had made such an effort to come and tell me these very meaningful things.

I mean, seriously. How lucky can I be to have had an experience like this? But wait. It gets even more astounding.  A little bit later, a friend of mine showed up with a crew of five wine-loving friends in tow. That in itself was a huge gift to my authorly aspirations. Places like wineries and bookstores like  it when an author can bring in customers.  On their way out after their tasting and book-buying (because they supported the other authors, too. It's a good crew) one of the women hung back and came to speak to me. She told me that after she attended one of my readings and heard me speak about publishing my book--something I had always wanted to do--she was inspired to begin taking the music lessons she had always dreamed of and is now playing the violin. Again, I hoped that the look I had on my face conveyed gratitude rather than flabbergasted as she shared this very personal accomplishment.

When I published my first book I imagined Ellen or Oprah would call, but in reality I knew they wouldn't; they don't have my phone number. I guess I thought I'd sell some books, visit some bookstores and then write another book. Or something like that. I'm not much of a business-person, and I didn't really have much of a business plan. Or any realistic business expectations at all. I suppose I thought my reward would be the financial one, if there even was a financial reward after all the costs associated with this little venture of mine.

But as always happens in life, there is often a very different reward in store when you embark upon your heart's desire. Nothing could have prepared me for the depth of appreciation and gratitude I feel when someone tells me that reading my book has given them pleasure. Or made them laugh, or think. I don't know about other writers, but hearing that the words I pull out of my heart have the ability to ring true with others is a gift I have yet to come to terms with.

So, business-wise, my day ended in a loss. I only sold two books--to other authors--and bought another author's book myself. And some wine, obviously.  But writer-wise, my day was right up there in the top ten.

Thank you Terri, Heather and Nancy for one of the best days ever. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Running Scared

A few weeks ago, my daughter Annie mentioned a local 5K run that was coming up.  She said, "It's at the end of September" and I replied, "That sounds like fun."

I am still not convinced that I actually said that as I am not aware of ever thinking running in a 5K would be fun. The only time I recall running on purpose was when I was in my early 20s and chased a would-be  burglar out of my Hallmark store on Congress Avenue in Austin, Texas. Since running after a drug-crazed robber is not a very intelligent decision, I suppose I've associated running with dangerous activities ever since. 

For the last few months, however, Annie and I have been an effort to get some exercise and have a few calories left over at the end of the day for our glasses of wine per our fitness app.  Annie straps  Luca in the stroller, walks over to get me and we take various routes so as to eventually end up at Starbuck's for tea or Adam's grocery store for milk or veggies. As far as I could see, there was no reason to change this routine at all and I thought we were all very happy with it. But then,  Annie began running a little bit here and there. I stayed with Luca pushing the stroller and she would run ahead and double back, catch up with us and run ahead some more. All along the way she would exhort, "Come on, Gramma! Run a little bit!"I pretended I didn't hear her.

Then, one day, I trotted a bit. Annie had purchased one of those weird looking jogging strollers and it made me feel like I could possibly pick up the pace. A little. It wasn't horrible and Annie still literally ran circles around me, and I began to feel slightly more healthy. Then Annie got the brilliant idea of running--with Luca in the stroller -- in a 5K the next town over.  For some reason (and this is the reason I began to wonder if she was actually my child) she was incredibly successful at it wanted to do another one. Hence the above-mentioned 5K discussion. And we signed up.

Now of course I needed actual running clothes. (Although, I didn't plan on running very much. I was going to maintain my usual job of wheeling Luca around the course. Thank god.) If I was going to be a part of a field of runners, I had to at least wear something other than my 20-year-old bicycle shorts and a large sleeveless white tunic. I needed to go to Marshall's. Annie has been picking up her adorable and colorful running clothes there with major success. I assumed I would have a similar experience, but after about 30 minutes of walking around and around the racks of polyester netted tanks and teeny little shorts, I came home with one pair of black and gray shorts. Actually, it looked like a little tennis skirt and I was pleased it would hide my, well, you know, anything. (And I posted the 30 minutes of walking to my fitness app.)

The problem was that even though it looked on the hanger like it would fit me, it really didn't when I got home. Back to Marshall's I went to return the skirt and pick up the next larger size. But, there weren't any. Not the style I wanted anyway. In fact, there were very few shorts, skirts or skorts in my size at all. Did a bunch of Large women decide to run that week? At that moment, a woman pardoned herself past me and headed to the fitting rooms. There, hanging from her arm, were about seven pairs of Large running shorts, including the pair I wanted! I hovered near the fitting room for a few minutes and then felt self-conscious so I moved over to Fall Sweaters and hovered there. Finally, the lady come out...and modeled each pair for her husband. (I personally prefer the privacy of a closed dressing room--or my home--to a public mirror when trying on Large running shorts.) Stalking her for my shorts might take some time.

Believe it or not, when she finally came out, she took the whole bunch with her. I went to ask the Fitting Room lady if she had left any behind and sadly, she had decided against only the purple ones. I was left with only an exchange for credit and no shorts. Of course this means I'll have to trek out again for appropriate running attire. Now that I'm signed up to run, it's a requirement. At least I was able to use the Marshall's credit for a new fanny pack. Fanny packs are necessary running equipment since I need to bring my phone with me with all my apps on it. And I need to bring my glasses with me because I can't read my apps without them. And I need tissues because apparently when I run, so does my nose.

I'm not even really going to run, anyway. But it will be good to be properly outfitted. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Wrong is the new Right

Okay, okay, I'll stop. Nothing is the new anything. Except Orange. Orange is still the new Black. Thank god.

When one is trying to motivate herself to get back into a more regular writing schedule, she may occasionally dig back into her old work to fortify her confidence and give her some ideas. (I'll stop with the third person, now, too. It gets old, doesn't it? And confusing.) 

The current trend in business these days, if you believe TED, seems to be about how Failure is the new Success. (whoops! It's just too darn easy!) Learning from failure, teaching from failure, etc. It reminded me of an essay I wrote years ago about being wrong. I submitted it to NPR's This I Believe segment and it is posted still on their website - here. I wrote about being singled out as someone who could be counted on to put my foot in my mouth and say the wrong thing. Regularly. This is not something that many of you are just now discovering.  But go on the link. Read for yourself. I'll wait....

Done? Good. The thing about being wrong (as I wrote in the essay, in case you didn't really read it) is that it gives you 100% of the possibilities of any given situation. And if you are comfortable with being wrong, as I am, then you don't feel so badly if you've made the wrong--or other--decision. The consequences after either decision, right or wrong, are just information for the next decision. Learning happens, or it doesn't, so the lesson comes around again and gives you opportunities to sharpen, or ignore, your instincts. That's what's so fun about life.

I had to learn to be comfortable with being wrong. Besides having been criticized for many years about my choices as a wife and a parent, I also really do make a lot of "other" choices. Quitting school to get married, quitting a job at the beginning of a recession, quitting lots of things I probably should have stuck with longer, but didn't for what seemed like a good idea at the time. Except smoking. Buying a used transmission for my used Mercury station wagon. Twice. There are more, but that's enough.

I could have made better...I mean... different choices, but those were the choices I made and I'm sticking with them. Whether I realized it at the time, I always learned something from my decisions. Sometimes I learned that I wished I had kept my mouth shut, spent more money (or less),  stayed home instead of going out, wore more clothes or left earlier. But where's the fun in doing everything right all the time. Or, thinking you do?

Seriously, if you can't be comfortable with being wrong at my age, then getting even older is going to be a much harder process.  Happily, also at this age, you don't remember half the things you do, so who's to say who's wrong and who's right anyway?
(Maybe not a plastic dress for Easter...)

Thursday, July 31, 2014

50 is the new 50

An oversized postcard from our local community college arrived in my mail the other day. Among other exciting announcements, it encouraged the +50 residents in the community to consider getting new career skills because, “50 is the new 30!” To use a phrase my daughter used to say when she was a toddler, the announcement “didn’t feel me better.”

I am in my 50s. At 56, I’m closer to 60 than to 50. When I think about my thirties, I cringe a little. For me, the thirties included some of the most difficult and challenging times of my life.  Fun was not a word I used often. To begin with, I was supposedly at my sexual peak, depending on whose study you believe (Cosmo or Kinsey). For most of my 30s, I was a divorcing, single parent of two young children. There was no sexual peaking for me. At all. (Although I did meet the man who eventually became my husband later in my 30s; there was some peaking then.)

There is a popular graphic going around online that acknowledges: “The best part about being over 40 is that we did most of our stupid stuff before the Internet.” Ain’t that the truth. I absolutely did some stupid stuff in my 30s and hopefully most of the evidence rests in the foggy memory of long forgotten acquaintances. I was getting divorced in a very small town; nothing I did went unnoticed. Or got reported back to my ex. Toeing the line became my main hobby.  And most of the time, I was successful. Other times, I was let go with a warning.

My 30s were marked with stress, financial desolation, ostracism and tons of wine. Learning how to navigate through that uncharted sea took all of my energy plus skills I didn’t have, but had to learn quickly. I don’t think I always did the best job as a parent; I made the bulk of my parenting mistakes in my 30s. Every recurring nightmare my kids report to their therapists today probably happened during this time. It is ironic that my current day job is being a parent educator; what gives me authority now are all the mistakes that I myself made then.

No, I am quite happy with where I am right now. Certainly society has changed, jobs have changed, retirement has changed. People are doing things in their 50s, 60s and beyond that people like my parents hadn’t even considered: living in other countries, starting new careers, raising a second family.  My 30s were a training ground; I’d like to think I’ve gotten a little wiser as I’ve gotten a little older and hopefully I won’t make the same mistakes again. No, I know I won’t. I might make different ones, but with a foundation of experience and a much different outlook.  I don’t want to be 30 again. I say 50 is the new 50. And I’m keeping the wine. 

*Author's note: I liked writing about this topic. I think I'll revisit it from time to time in the next few months. Please feel free to contribute your ideas or thoughts - here on the blog or via email and I'll incorporate them into the subsequent essays. As long as you're nice about it... 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Where does the time go?

Whew! It has been some time since my last post and I can't even come up with a reasonable explanation why! It has been a busy summer, for sure, but it's always busy, isn't it? Work, family, travel to Italy.

What? I didn't tell you about my trip to Italy? Well, I will - soon! I am working on another post for the very near future and after that I will gather up all of my pictures and thoughts and share them with you. It was a wonderful trip and we have plans to go back soon. (Well, next year anyway...that's soon.)

I hope you all are haaving a wonderful summer and are spending lots of itme with family, books, barbeques and gardens. Be back soon!

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Long and Winding Road

I don’t remember why, but I was the only one visiting my parents at their cottage in Maine for the July 4th holiday weekend a couple of years ago. And, naturally, we were going to do what everyone always does on Frye Island on 4th of July weekend – go up to Long Beach and watch the fireworks show. We had been enjoying a streak of picture-perfect, Maine summer sunniness – so it was on.

The beach is about a mile down Leisure Lane, but we usually drive because my parents don’t really want to walk about a mile down Leisure Lane. Not when we have a golf cart. We acquired the golf cart several years earlier after we sold the Boston Whaler that came with the cottage. We tried to be boaters, we really did, but boating just wasn’t in us. So, off went the Whaler and in came the cart.

Now that was a vehicle that got some use. You could buzz down to the store for a paper, run up to the community center for a ceramics class or get rid of a couple of bags of garbage without so much as disturbing the dust on anyone’s car. My son Christopher spent two summers on the island as an Ice Cream Engineer (that means he scooped ice cream cones at the little store) and the golf cart was his preferred and constant mode of transportation. Even if he wasn’t exactly street legal. Once he got a real driver’s license though, the golf cart was as neglected as the Velveteen Rabbit. And as my parents got older, they preferred taking the car for quick trips; it had windows…and air-conditioning. But, every year when we opened the cottage, we hauled it out, cleaned it off and gassed it up. We had it registered it and ready for service only to be covered up in the fall and returned to its place in the shed with very little use in between.

So, it was a bit of a surprise that Saturday morning when my Dad drove it up to the front of the house and announced, “We’ll take it up to the fireworks.” He started futzing around with the lights, cleaning pine needles off the seat and testing the battery. My mother and I just looked at each other, thinking, I’m sure, 'who did he think was going to drive?' Over the years, due to complications of his diabetes, my dad’s eyesight had grown more and more compromised. One of the worst side effects – for him - had been that he had to give up driving. The man who had driven all of us from Maine to Florida, west to the Mississippi and up and down the Eastern Seaboard was now relegated to the passenger seat. But, there he was, getting the cart ready for Saturday night like a teenager anticipating his first date.

After the detailing, my dad came into the kitchen and announced to no one in particular, “I’m just going to take it down the road and back – see how it’s working” and he grabbed his sun visor off the rack and was off. I wondered how many hazards there could possibly be in the rutted, rock-strewn dirt road up to the corner and back, so after he left, I went to sit on the front porch. The better to hear any loud crashes or shrieks of terror that way.

About six hours later he returned. Or maybe it was six minutes. Either way, I let out my breath, not realizing I’d been holding it. “All set!”, he said, and he walked back into the back bedroom he used as his office, as if taking the cart for a spin was something he did every afternoon. He seemed so confident, more than he had been in a long time, for having gotten the cart ready, that I decided, if my dad wanted to take it up to the fireworks, then we would take it to the fireworks – and I assumed that I would be driving.

It wasn’t until I heard him shout from outside, “Everyone ready to go?” a couple of hours later that I realized that that wouldn’t be the case. There sat my dad, in the driveway, in the driver’s seat, waiting for us. Just like all those Sunday mornings when we were growing up and he would go out and start the car while my mom made sure we were all brushed and dressed for Sunday School before shepherding us out behind him. At the last minute, my mom stayed back. “Something at dinner didn’t agree with me”, she said with her hand on her belly. To this day, I don’t believe it was nerves at my dad’s being behind the wheel – I think she just didn’t want to sit on my lap all the way to Long Beach. In any case, she begged off, promising to come later if she felt better.

“Okay, I guess it’s just us”, I said, and I took my place on the passenger side. My dad turned the key, kicked off the brake and hit the gas. We were off. Down the driveway – great. Up to the corner – well he had already practiced that one, hadn’t he? Right onto Leisure Lane and the open road. Should I keep my eyes open or squeeze them shut? Leisure Lane is a narrow dirt mile of sharp turns, gallon-sized pot holes and gravel bordered by boulders of varying sizes, large and small recreational vehicles and occasionally, small children. I am suddenly reminded of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. At first I tried to be a helpful navigator.

“Family of six up on the right”, I say.

“See it”, my Dad replied and easily veered left.

“Enormous truck bearing down on the left”, I warn—and I don’t think I scream at all.

“Got it”, he says and he scoots by it with room to spare.

And then, as we took each turn and steered past cars parked along side the road, I realized we were doing just fine. Compromised eyesight or not, the one thing my Dad has always been is responsible. He wouldn’t do anything he didn’t think he could do, especially if it meant that it might put me – or any one of us – in harm’s way. That’s why he took his test drive earlier. We wouldn’t be here if he didn’t think he could do it. And here we were…we did do it. Or rather,  he did it. We parked as close to the beach as we could possibly get. It didn’t occur to me to feel relieved, but I’ll be he was.

We unpacked our folding chairs, made the short walk to the beach and planted them into the sand right by the water. My mom showed up--by car--about 20 minutes later, gastrointestinal issues settled. But she had to park about a half mile away. On the return trip, I drove and Dad navigated. In the dark, with all the dust kicked up by departing fireworks-watchers, seeing was difficult enough for 50-something-year-old eyes, much less for nearly-80-year-old eyes dimmed by diabetes. But he was an able co-pilot and we not only made it home without incident, but we beat my Mom by three minutes.

I went down by the water as my parents fixed coffee and dessert in preparation for our next fun thing to do--watching a video together. I looked up into a sky plastered with stars--which made the fireworks display I had just attended pale in comparison. I stuck my feet in the water and about 10 feet in front of me, hovering in the low branches of a pine tree, a firefly twinkled. Sometimes, the little things are really the most impressive.