Friday, December 16, 2011

Why Do Today What I Can Put Off Until Next Year?

The only reason that I have sparkly, white Christmas lights hanging in my living room today is because I never took them down from last year's Christmas decorating. (I'm not kidding.)  I did manage to buy a bag of Candy Cane Kisses and miniature candy canes for my English class's final exam yesterday, but as my students ate most of the treats, there really isn't much left for my family. I have not bought one Christmas present. For anyone.

If you came into my house right now you would not see my reindeer candy dish brimming with M&Ms, the Santa-covered photo book of all the Christmas card pictures I've received over the years or the cute little snowmen that I usually stick here and there to be festive.

There is no tree.

There are no stockings hung with care or otherwise and the only other decorative, Christmas-y item in view in my house is the handmade advent calendar that I managed to get out on December 1st. But as of today we do not have 16 ornaments hanging on it. The emails I get announcing "Last Minute Specials!" or "Free Shipping- Today Only!" get deleted because I don't want to think about it. I don't want to think about Christmas at all. The only thing I want to think about is this...
I'm not depressed! Far from it. I'm just too busy looking at this boy! Luca. Ever since Annie, Tony and the baby moved into my house after Thanksgiving, I've done nothing but hold the baby, change the baby, bathe the baby, hold the baby again or watch other people hold the baby. That takes a lot of time. And energy -especially for an "older" me. All my Mommy skills came back in an interesting way: I'm more confident of them, just slower at them. And my knees hurt more.

No one gets anything done. Except Tony but he has to go all the way to Manhattan to do it. I have managed to go to work when I'm expected, but I come right back and snatch up Luca from wherever he is and gaze into his face. At six weeks old, he is starting to recognize us and I think that he likes me best so far. Obviously I'm not going to tell anyone that, because I think his mommy and daddy might be put out by this information...but it's clear that I'm right. He laughs at all my jokes and hasn't peed on me at all. If that's not evidence I don't know what is.

I'm not the only one that is totally enraptured by this baby. My husband is as swept away as the rest of us and threatens to take him back to Italy - just the two of them. And that shrieking noise you hear is Nana Sue up in Buffalo going out of her mind missing him. A baby changes everything. Well, duh...we all knew that, didn't we. But I didn't know how much he would change me. Christmas -- and probably the next several holidays and possibly dusting and laundry -- will just have to wait. Unless it has to do with the baby, I don't have time. For now, the only thing I'm celebrating is Luca.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Near-Death Experience

Near death experiences are pretty simple; they end one way…or the other. It’s the “near” part that one gets to live to tell and that part is what I am going to tell you about now...
Near-Death Experience

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Calm Before (and After) the Storm

"Hope for the best and prepare for the worst." You hear that all the time, but no more often than the last several days here in New England. An Atlantic hurricane named Irene was gunning for us and she had the meteorological folks all a-twitter. Literally. I'm not one who is easily alarmed, but by last night, I started to get a little concerned: our house is surrounded by large, swaying trees and strings of electrical wires. We sit in the middle of a downhill bank and water streams past our house during every rainstorm. What would a full-fledged hurricane do to our basement? Also, I had a house full of people: my parents up from Florida and my 7-months pregnant daughter and her husband. Their plans were to all go together up to Maine, but Irene canceled their trip by Thursday night.

So, here we all were. By Friday night, the warnings were posted and we were stocking the larder; mini marshmallows and Teddy Grahams. I had baby shower favors to make and being stuck in the house because of a storm seemed like an opportune time to get them done - especially as I now had a small workforce trapped with me! Angelo and I still had some clients yesterday morning, but we were done by noon. Okay...Hurricane Prep time.

We took down all the hanging pots and lanterns. We secured loose cushions and gardening implements and stowed the porch furniture in the back underneath the garage. The AC unit in our bedroom was removed and shoved in the office and we didn't remember to shut the storm windows (duh....STORM windows...) until 11pm. Dinner was easy - just some simple grilling as a rehearsal for possible days without power. At bed time, Angelo passed out PELDs to each of us (that's Personal Emergency Lighting Devices to all you unfamiliar with Hurricane Prep. You know...flashlights) and we went to bed feeling pretty safe and sound.

This morning Annie got up early and manned the post on the couch watching the Weather Channel. My job was to get breakfast on the table before the power went out; scrambled eggs, bacon, apple-maple syrup chicken sausage, cheddar cheese biscuits and English muffins. Done. After a few tense moments when the microwave went out - but not because we lost power but because it's a cheap little oven that stops working when it gets too hot - we enjoyed our breakfast and discussed what the aftereffects of Irene might be.  We decided to go look and survey the damage:
What a mess! 
This is going to take minutes to clean up after!
Oh, no! Angelo's sculpture is down!
That tree wasn't there yesterday....Irene decided she wanted that branch right there!
The peonies seemed to actually benefit from the storm.
Now, before anyone gets mad at me because they actually do have a flooded basement (my neighbor) or a tree inside of their car (my sister), I realize that we were very lucky to have been spared some of the really aggravating and damaging problems. With my pregnant daughter and my over- and nearly-eighty parents here I am very grateful that the biggest calamity was that I didn't defrost the chicken for dinner yet tonight. There are lots of people cleaning up, picking up, making do and dealing with all manner of predicaments that I was spared. This time.  On the other hand, maybe I'd better go check the basement again...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Call of the Loon

My sister and I are at our parents' cottage on Frye Island in Sebago Lake for a few days' working vacation. Here's how we do it: one day vacation, one day work, one day vacation, one day work... Fortunately, the weather has cooperated with our agenda and our vacation days landed in the "mostly sunny" forecast and the work days in the predicted "cloudy, with some thunderstorms." Sometimes, things just work out.

Even though I'm vacationing/working, I'm still getting up around 6:45 am. I try to push it 'til 7, but this morning, as my eyes opened, there was a familiar but infrequent sound coming through the windows.  A loon. Somewhere out on the lake, with its hypnotic cry. Before I knew what I was doing, I flung the sheet off of me and got out of bed. I heard it again, but inside the house, I couldn't be sure where it was coming from. The cove? Out on the lake? Without stopping to put on anything over my nightgown, I walked, as if pulled by a tether, out of the cottage and down the wooden walkway to the water and sat at the edge of the small deck with my feet on a rock and stared out across the lake. The cry came again, and although it was more faint, it sounded like it was right out in front of me. I scanned the water. Instead of a still, flat mirror, the water this morning was slightly choppy and the only thing I could see was a small boat hundreds of yard away, sitting as if anchored. Maybe they were watching for it, too.
Then, I spotted something. A bobbing dark head atop a long neck to my left. I know that loons dive deep and come up yards away from where they went in, so I had to identify it quickly before I lost it. But my eyes were still blurry from sleep and as I rubbed them to focus, I lost sight. The calls stopped, too, and I wondered if I couldn't hear it anymore because of the sound of the wind and the waves slapping up against the rocks or if I had just missed my chance.

I stood up to scan the water one more time, but the spell was broken. I turned to go back up to the cottage and noticed that two of the women renting the cottage next door had also been on their deck, watching, listening. We gave each other a little nod as we walked back up to our respective houses and I wondered if I should be embarrassed that I had rushed out of the house in nothing but my short, gray nightie. I've worn less when called down to the lake by the loons; I was actually respectable this morning.
I've never taken a decent picture of a loon here at the lake. We have pictures of them plastered on one of our kitchen walls, but they came from a Maine Loon calendar. My mother has a collection of ceramic and wooden loons on a special loon shelf and above the fireplace, too, but actual sightings and photo opportunities are few and far between. It's like this cottage, nestled among the hemlock, pine and birch trees, shored up by boulders and deep blue water. We can only come here for six months of the year. The rest of the year it's inaccessible and frozen. We come back each spring, summoned by its changing, yet unfailing beauty and peacefulness.  Like  the cry of the loon, we can't do anything but heed the call.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


When we moved into our house almost eight years ago, it came with a garden. Not just a little side-yard, white picket-fenced patch for a couple of tomatoes and some daisies...a full-blown, professionally designed, perennial garden. It takes up the entire front yard. Or at least very nearly all of it. The problem was, the woman who had put in this masterpiece had moved away three years earlier and the family that had moved in pretty much--apparently--ignored it. Then we came along to buy the house and after we ripped up the gold shag carpet out of the dining room and hauled  out the dilapidated stove out of the kitchen, we stood with wonder at what to do with this wild and unruly Eden in our front yard.
I immediately had a friend come over and diagnose the patient. She took us on a tour of our own yard and pointed out things to nurture and things to get rid of. I conscientiously took notes and made drawings so as to be able to go back the next day and go to work. But naturally, by the next day, I had forgotten just about everything she told me. Even though I still have my drawing in a handy file folder titled, "Garden". I couldn't match the drawings with the actual plants. So I weeded and watered and basically tried to keep the whole thing from dying off.

Flash forward 8 years. (You can do that in a blog.) My sister, Susan, poet extraordinaire, entered the Uconn Master Gardener program last winter. By this May, she had passed her test and begun working down her 60 hours of community service to complete the program. Susie (ok...Susan) has been taking care of her yard and the yards of others for a couple of years now and has a keen eye and deft hand at doing it, so getting validated in a program was simply a natural progression of her talents.

Meanwhile, I had been hacking away at my poor little garden trying to keep it alive and give it a little dignity. My husband can be a little crazy with the weed whacker so I consider it a personal victory that I rescued the hydrangea a couple of springs ago. It lives today.

But it was a bigger job than my husband and I were able to manage. Able mulcher that he is and ready weeder that I am, we needed help. I sent my sister an email with the subject line: Garden 911. I included pictures.

She responded to the call. And even though I offered to be the muscle and do whatever she told me to do (and who can resist an offer like that?) she did all the work. She dug, pulled, moved, wheelbarrowed, contemplated, watered, assessed and sweated. She sweated her astilbe off. And now, after a mere day and a half in my yard, my garden now looks like this:

UConn may call her a Master Gardner, but I call her a Miracle worker. She also left me with instructions and this time, I'll try to remember them. (I probably won't) And when I forget, my sister will come back. That's what sisters do.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Day After

One of my dreams over the years has been to get a dumpster parked in my driveway. No. Really. Over the years, through the various incarnations of my life, I--and those who live with me--have acquired an embarrassment of belongings. They are stored from the apex of the attic to the bottom of the basement and tucked away under every bed and in every drawer in between.

My husband, daughter, son-in-law, son and I carried, moved, evaluated, assessed, swept, emoted, and finally, tossed what we thought was a whole bunch of stuff.  This is what the dumpster looked like right before they came to pick it up...
Pretty impressive, right? Son-in-law Tony was the muscle, toting cartons containing unopened checking account statements and final college course papers from years ago down to my pregnant daughter  for her to finally get rid of. Tony himself had some stored stuff in the attic from when they moved East from California six years ago. My husband and I pulled out boxes and clothes and cleaned closets and drawers. We teared up over sentimental stuffed animals and popped them right into the big black garbage bag as if they were yesterday's news. We were strong and motivated. We worked straight through Memorial Day weekend without so much as a picnic or parade to divert us. 

And yet, this is still what my attic still looks like: 
And my garage: 

And  my basement: 

At least this last shot shows some progress. The whole idea behind our own little Extreme Makeover - Home Edition was to start getting the basement ready to be made into an in-law apartment of sorts so that when Annie and Tony are ready to leave the city and prepare their own little nest to welcome their baby boy in October, they have a place to stay. Kind of a transition between leaving the city and moving to the country. Or, as I like to see it - a present for me. I'll get to have my new baby grandson on the premises to spoil each and every day. 

But, we still have a very long way to go. The thing I learned about myself is that I needed to prepare myself more for getting rid of stuff. It's really not just a matter of throwing stuff out - it's a process that takes some planning. Especially when you are very likely going to come upon your son's third grade journal where he explained what scares him the most. (Apparently the television show I made him watch during Saturday night "family time"!)  One of the boxes you drag out from the eaves of the attic will have a framed picture of your daughter as she stood for the first time on her grandmother's sofa,  having pulled herself up by holding on to her great-grandmothers hand-crocheted afghan. From the closet in the spare room will be a cassette tape of your step-daughter's first solo concert from college. And even though you don't even have a cassette player anymore, you will hesitate to toss it...just in case. 

Things are easy to throw out; memories are harder.  It takes time to hold the memories in your hand, turning them over and over so that they will stay safely stored in your mind and in your heart.  Yes, that takes some time. 

So we didn't get everything done in one weekend. Well, that's shocking. On the bright side,  I'll probably have to get another dumpster one of these days!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

It's possible I need help...

There are times when people have to deal with a stressful situation. These situations just drop in on one's everyday life and mess everything up. It could be a slight ruffling of feathers or a full-on catastrophe. I've known people to deal with these kinds of situations in different ways, from the sublime to the ridiculous and I like to think of myself as falling towards the, "Sublime/No problem" school of management. For the most part anyway. When the really big stuff comes my way, I rally. Like divorce. And single-parenthood. No problem.

Today, I've got a couple of family issues on my mind plus my husband woke up acting like he'd been sleeping in a bed of pollen all night. He got up sneezing and dripping and tearing and hasn't stopped since. He needs organic tea and leftover pulled pork sandwiches - and he needs me to make them.  I might have to go to NYC to help out my daughter (one of the family issues) and I have a couple of appointments at work to either cancel or be on time for. All quite manageable situations, but for me, it's the low-level stress that knocks me for a loop. To demonstrate just how badly I handle these things, I give you exhibit A:
This is a plate of candied lemon peel. Just part of one lemon, though. After polishing off a half a bag of Stacy's Simply Naked Pita chips, because I tend to snack through the stress, I made some iced tea for my husband, adding a slice of fresh lemon for his glass.  He ended up slicing up the rest of the lemon because it tasted so good with the sugar he had sprinkled on it, but he left all the rinds on the counter. ("He's sick" is what I kept repeating to myself as I wiped up the spilled sugar and wiped down the cutting board and TWO knives.) I eyed the thinly sliced rinds and thought to myself, "Hey- I could make candied lemon rinds!" 

Now, this is where I need help. Why does this occur to me as a good idea? I've never made candied lemon rinds before - or orange or grapefruit or any kind of candied anything. I am a firm believer in supporting all those wonderful people who work so hard to make candy for me. In easy to open packages. 

Low-level stress tends to make me feel disorganized and distracted and the skills that serve me so well in major disasters are nowhere to be found. Hence the fire. Oh, wait...let me back up. 

So, I think to myself, "I'm sure candied lemon rinds are a snap! Where's a recipe?" and I hunt one down online. It's simple, really, because it's just sugar and water and the leftover lemon rinds. I boiled the water, added the rinds, removed the rinds, stirred in the sugar, put back the rinds and kept boiling. All the while I was waiting to hear from Annie for updates. Her husband had a medical emergency and I wasn't sure if I was going to go down to NYC or just stay home - she didn't know yet. So, while watching the phone, I wasn't watching the pot. I ended up catching it just as it boiled over...and the drippy syrup landed on the burner and caught fire. But, see - fire is a MAJOR situation. I can do fire. I calmly smothered it with a damp towel without even so much as breaking a sweat. Meanwhile, for the lemon peel I am working like a longshoreman with the pots and the cooking and the draining and the hauling...and all for what ended up to be a little over a half a dozen strips of tough - yet sweet - tart lemon peels. And a little bottle of lemon flavored simple syrup. Which I probably will never use. 

One of these days I'll learn this lesson: When stress comes knocking, tell it to keep walking. Don't invite it in and let it make you suddenly decide to become Martha Stewart. Mostly I should just stay out of the kitchen and maybe take a walk or keep looking up random things online and drinking. Wait, no...drinking doesn't help either. So just the walking or surfing the internet then. Because really, what good are 71/2 candied lemon peels to anyone? I need help...

Friday, February 18, 2011

New Uses for Annoying Things

The magazine Real Simple has a feature that they call New Uses for Old Things and they take something like a paper coffee filter, put glitter around the edges and call it Christmas Decorations! I know, I sound snide, and in reality, I often really appreciate their innovation.  I think I'll start a feature that I'll call New Uses for Annoying Things. Here's the first one: The tax bill I keep getting every year for a defunct business I had with my daughter for about 20 minutes in 2007. Instead of wasting half of my afternoon calling up, waiting, and then explaining once again how I don't have that business anymore, that it didn't make any money and I've ended up talking to more people at the state about it then I ever did potential customers, I'll take those nice paper invoices and use them for a quick and efficient fire starter.

The next annoying thing that needs to be re-purposed is Lindsay Lohan. I admit that writing about her just perpetuates the insanity, but please. She is a train wreck. She needs another cuff...attached to a five foot chain secured in the center of her house. The Today Show spent over 15 minutes on her latest trials and tribulations last week, complete with expert commentators. Here's my suggestion: Let's start appreciating her for what she does best - being a disaster. Let her do society some good by being the poster girl for how not to dress for court, how not to ru(i)n a career and how not to start having work done on your face before you're 25 years old. She clearly wants to be out of control in the public eye...let's put that to good use by making sure is teaching our youth how not to behave.

Since it appears that I am kind of crabby today, I'll end with my final New Use for an Annoying Thing. Snow. If you live in the Northeast - or any of the 49 states that have had snow this season, you're probably sick of it. Sick of the cold, sick of the 10 foot drifts, sick of the sand and salt tracked into your house. Let's re-purpose snow:

Enough said? Cheers! 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The picture of happiness

I feel funny putting a picture of myself into my blog. But here's why I did it: This picture was taken of me on my 50th birthday three years ago. It's also the picture my husband and I chose to put into the ad we're using for our business. He has tons of respectable pictures of himself, finding a good one of him was easy. For me, not so easy..."no, that makes me look too mean; no, that one makes me look fat; ick, who took that one?" We finally agreed on the above photo and sent off the ad.

But back to me...tomorrow is my 53rd birthday and I'm feeling...ambivalent. I don't feel bad about aging, although after having recently spent a week in Florida, aging is something I've considered with great apprehension. We spent a week with my parents and a couple of other friends and relatives who are well past the senior discount age and all of them are wonderfully healthy and vigorous. There are a few limitations that some of them experience; diminished eyesight, food restrictions and decreased hearing, but for the most part all of them participated in our celebration with a hearty appreciation for having a good time. No, it's not my family that gives me pause when I consider the next thirty years or so. It's those other ones. The white-haired lady who darted out in traffic and then slowed to a dangerous 20 miles per hour or the bent and wrinkled man who stopped his cart at the entrance to Publix to peruse the weekly specials flyer and blocked the entrance to anyone running in for milk and eggs. That kind of aging worries me a little.

But, again, back to me. My birthday is tomorrow and I feel neither anxious nor depressed. My husband keeps asking me what I want to do and keeps hinting at "errands". I don't want an expensive dinner out or a bunch of presents that I have to return. I had the big surprise party three years ago (which is why I look so happy in the picture above).  I think I've reached the age where all the expectations have fallen away. Societal imposed ones anyway. I am living the life that I want to live - for the most part - and there isn't anything that an upcoming birthday is signaling that I need; a license to drive, the right to vote, the ability to buy my own wine, the obligatory surprise party or some other random accomplishment. Once you're past 50, the expectations let up a little and you get to just have a good time. What ever that means. For me that means that I am perfectly happy with a fire in the fireplace, a bottle of wine and a pizza at home and getting a few nice cards from my kids. (Yes, that was a hint.)

And maybe I wish I could find a good picture.

Saturday, February 5, 2011


This is my laundry basket. In fact, it is only one of my laundry baskets as the one with my husband's clothes is down by the laundry chute in the kitchen and the one with towels and sheets is in the office. It's possible that I've scattered them around the house so they're not so threatening, but more than likely it's caused by an episode of MB (menopause brain). Another reason is that doing laundry lately is not just a matter of finding, then hauling, the scattered baskets down to the washing machine. It requires my taking the baskets, the detergent and the softener into the car and driving down to the local laundromat. And that, my friends, is not fun. 
Here's one reason that it's not fun:

There is way too much snow out there. On my car, in my car, in my driveway, on the roads, in the parking lots...everywhere. Which means it's cold. And possibly icy. I barely have enough coordination to traverse the driveway and get into the car without mishap. I'm supposed to juggle loads of laundry and laundry accessories as well? And a book? Because I'm certainly not going to the laundromat without a book. 

No, this is not an acceptable activity for a woman in her (early) 50s. I have a fireplace that works and a perfectly acceptable sofa right in front of it upon which I can sit and read. Why would I want to lug two weeks of laundry out my door into a grayish, ill-lit establishment with plastic chairs? That's easy. I don't. As I get older I am finding that making the decisions about what I gotta do and what I wanta do is coming much more easily. There is no doubt that I gotta do the laundry. But do I wanta? Nope. Not if it means the machinations described above. I still have a couple of sets of sheets, my husband has a few more clean shirts and my black tights never show the dirt. And laundry only becomes dire when there is clean underwear at stake, and happily, it's not dire yet. 

There was a time in my life when I would have felt guilty making the decision to NOT do the laundry. And not only NOT do the laundry, but stay home and read in front of the fire. Horrors!! Who does that? I guess I do, now. Now that I've reached an age where I have a little more confidence in prioritizing and a little more wisdom about what's important in life. Reading a good book in front of the fire...important. Risking life and limb for clean towels? Not important. Now...I've got to see about that fire...

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Flipflops Forever

Ahh...flip-flops. I've only been home for two days and I miss my fuzzy flips that were on my feet for most of my trip to Florida. We gathered as a family in Sarasota at the House of Ringling for four days to celebrate some milestone father's 80th, my daughters' 30th, my sister's 50th and assorted others: a 25th, a 21st, a 45th, a 75th and a 55th anniversary. Most of the combined family was there - 14 in all. The house was at the end of the runway of the Sarasota-Bradenton Airport, but the planes taking off and landing didn't bother us. The weather was mostly cooperative and hovered near the 70 mark for most of the time. There were a couple of field trips to St. Armand's Circle, Siesta Key Beach and the Columbia Restaurant, but many of us (at least me) stayed poolside at the house. We ate, drank, sunned, partied, played games and laughed. Fourteen people sharing a home together in the bright, warm Florida sun.
Then it was time to go home. Twelve of us flew away, two went West and the rest of us went North, only to be greeted by monstrous winter storms carrying snow and ice. Today, as I sit in my living room by the fire, because all of our oil was used up while we were gone to keep the pipes from freezing, I miss my flip-flops and Florida sun. But not just because of the weather (although I really miss that weather right now!) but also because of the easy way our families came together as one. I know that it can happen anywhere - it's happened right here in my own home - but the warmth of the setting settled down onto our temporary home and we all had such a good time. I miss our Florida home and family and I'm so grateful that we had that opportunity to weave it into the fabric of our lives.