Friday, October 26, 2012


Today was just a regular day in a long string of regular days. I got up - late - and went to teach my OLLI class. My projector didn't work, so I had to go find a tech guy to help me, which cut into the time I needed to prepare since I was late to begin with. But my students showed up and we did what we needed to do and I drove home thinking of the list of things I needed to take care of before the end of this regular day, dodging the guys standing in the middle of the street and sulking when I got stuck behind a slow-going tow truck.

One of the things I had to remember to do today was to stop by the Post Office and mail back my ADL contract. Four years ago I trained to be a trainer for the Anti-Defamation League. Just the training experience alone is a whole other blog post, but for now, suffice it to say it was meaningful. So meaningful that although I've only been called to train a dozen or so times in the last four years, I am committed to sticking with it. I attend as many of our quarterly meetings as I can, I try and volunteer for the fund-raising events as often as possible and I stay connected with some of my co-trainers via email or Facebook, just because I like them so much. Last night, when our training coordinator handed me my "official" ADL name badge - with a magnet and everything! - I nearly swooned. I love this work.

Sometimes though, outside of my ADL family (and my family) I feel like no one really knows what the ADL does or even who they are. I've had to explain a number of times what the initials actually stand for and I do my ol' stand-by description of the work and the mission: fight hate, build hope and safeguard liberty.  And even then, there is often a blank stare before the topic is quickly changed. Not because people don't care, I'm sure, but because where do you go after that? I think that's why I love going to my trainer meetings so much - my people are there.  We "get" each other and it's always nice to feel that way.

So it was more than a surprise this morning when I handed over my manilla envelope to send back to the ADL HQ containing my trainer's contract to hear the postal employee say, "I love the work you people do." My immediate thought was, "what is he talking about? What people?" until I realized he was gesturing towards the return address which has ADL in big bold letters.

"Oh, thank you!" I said.

"There's so much work to be done," he said and I immediately drew on the excitement from the previous night's meeting and told him about this year's centennial celebration and theme: Imagine a World Without Hate.  Anne Frank celebrating her 84th birthday. Matthew Shepherd running for political office.

"Yeah," he said, "been there, done that."

"Thank you for saying something", I said,  "I really appreciate it."

And then he said, "God bless you on your journey."

So, not a regular day after all. Actually, a pretty awesome day. When I got back to my office I took out the new magnetic, permanent, name tag I got last night and put it on. I think I'll wear it all the time.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Best Mother's Day Ever

At about 3 o'clock on one of the sunniest Mother's Days in recent memory, Luca sat up from a sound sleep in his Nana Sue's arms and threw up everything he had eaten since 8 o'clock that morning.  We were all sitting on the porch together, having completed two of the day's three planned meals. It was Annie's first Mother's Day and she and her own mother (me) AND her mother-in-law (the aforementioned Nana Sue) were having a pretty nice day so far. The morning meal - bagels, cream cheese, lox and fruit salad - looked like this:

And this: 
We had Momosa's (which is a Mimosa made on demand for Mom) and just plain enjoyed the beautiful day.  Luca, as always, was the center of attention, but the Moms got some attention, too. We moved to the back porch for our second course, mini quiches and chicken-maple sausages; bananas for Luca. My sister the Great-Aunt arrived and we all opened tissue-paper wrapped presents and cards in pink and purple envelopes. It was a good day. We moved back up to the shade of the side porch when the sun got too hot. Luca had lost his shirt by this time and my son, Uncle Christopher, showed up after he had gotten off of work.  A few minutes before 3pm, Luca looked like this: 
Not even a hint of what was to come. Then he threw up. Eight adults jumped to action: Mommy (Annie) swooped up Luca to hold and comfort him, Daddy (Tony) helped his Nana extricate herself from the torrent of bananas, rice cereal and milk that was dripping off of her black blouse and now pooling on the porch. Great-Aunt Susie and Uncle Christopher tackled porch-cleaning duty and Auntie Christina helped Daddy take care of their mother.  Papa and I helped by staying out of the way. 

The mood of the day changed. Although the little guy was able to manage that brilliant smile, he was clearly feeling terribly and continued to throw up. Mom and Dad took him upstairs and the rest of us kept vigil on the porch, sharing vomit war stories. We grandmothers hovered, galvanized, ready to be of any assistance necessary. Papa took a nap. Uncle Christopher went up to check on his little nephew and gave his sister the First Mother's Day card he had for her and decided to leave the vigil in our capable hands. Plans for meal number three were put on hold. It wasn't as if we hadn't eaten enough anyway. Many of the Mother's Day presents were chocolates; of the fancy boxed variety, so we were fine.  

At one point, Tony came down and asked both me and Nana Sue to come up - they needed advice! We didn't need to be asked twice. Upstairs, Luca was laying across Annie's lap smiling, but he barely moved. Annie held on to him as if hoping to transmit her own energy into him, looking tired yet strong. She said with a smile, "He's really making me work for this Mother's Day."

I thought about that later, how things work out. All of our plans, potted plants and tasty dishes were set aside when the baby got sick and everyone discovered something about the best laid plans and motherhood. Personally, I learned that I don't always have to know everything...just because I've been a mom for over 31 years. I came by the knowledge first-hand, through experiences just like this. Luca has a mother; he doesn't need two more. And although Sue and I are a couple of pretty good mothers, we are better grandmothers...sitting back until called upon. But when we're called upon, you better believe that we'll be on the job. But I think we both know that to be able to trust your mother's intuition, you need to develop it. And when your baby is throwing up and crying and tired...well, that is the proving ground. 

Yesterday, everyone, from Papa to Auntie, from Uncle to Great-Auntie, seemed to understand that when a baby is sick, you just do what needs to be done.  Nobody was disappointed, nobody pouted, everybody pitched in to help. As a mother, I couldn't have been more proud of the way my family rallied around Annie, Tony and Luca. Or the way the new Mommy and Daddy stepped right up to the responsibility of taking care of their little one. There will be many more Mother's Days to come, complete with handmade construction paper cards, breakfasts in bed, macaroni necklaces, fancy brunches, bouquets of flowers and lots more chocolate. As far as I'm concerned, though, this year was the best Mother's Day ever. 

Saturday, May 5, 2012

I don't have much, but I love what I've got

Last year, I received--or bought--an orchid. (I'm sorry if you gave it to me and I don't remember. One of the things I don't have much of is memory.) It bloomed on the table in the kitchen for months, until, one by one, the delicate petals fell off, leaving only broad, waxy leaves and a creepy looking stem held to a stake by one of those small plastic hair clasps. It had been so pretty and I marveled at the fact that I hadn't killed it sooner than it's apparent natural demise. I didn't want to toss it out in the garbage--that seemed harsh, so I Googled "orchids" to see if I could nurture it back to beauty once more.

I wasn't too hopeful.

As it turns out, there were some easy "bring-back-to-life" instructions on the web site for these particular orchids. I had to cut back the creepy looking stem and add some fertilizer and wait. A couple of months later, one of what looked like exposed roots started to poke upward. It began to turn from brown to green and as it grew, I used the hair clasp to secure it to the stake. I continued to water it and a couple of months ago, a tiny green shoot appeared with a small greenish bulb at the end. Then more appeared. I was getting excited. Then, it bloomed. I came down one morning and saw that pink, delicate blossoms hung impossibly from the tiny stems. Success! It grew back! And there were more blooms and, I think, a stronger looking stem. I pointed it out, more than once,  to everyone who walked through the kitchen - "Look! it came back! It came back!" My family was not equally thrilled. But I felt like I had just painted the Sistine Chapel.

My point is (if it has not been clear one can muddle a point like I can) that there is a lot that I can't do. And once one (okay, me) gets to a certain age, it's not likely that I'm going to acquire many more skills and abilities than those I already possess. Old dog, new tricks...that sort of thing. (I'm not cynical about lifelong learning...I teach in a lifelong learning program...I'm making a point, remember?) Some people can grow acres and acres of flora and fauna. I can't, but I can get an orchid to come back. And that makes me happy. I like what I am able to do, I'm grateful for what I am able to do.  And I'm grateful for what others can do that I can't - like my taxes. It's nice to be at this stage of life when I don't feel like I have to do everything. I can just do the stuff that I can do, do my best and let somebody else do theirs. Why take all the fun for myself?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Where do broken hearts go...?

On my hips. And my thighs. And, apparently now that I'm aging, on my upper arms. Damn the day after Valentine's Day and its 75% off sales! Go away, you practically beating shiny red hearts offering love and deep discounts. Shame on you, mercenary retailers, pushing love in the form of smooth chocolaty centers and creamy truffled affection. And what's my problem that I can't resist the desire of having my own velvety symbol of love filled with rich pillows of confection, each ensconced in their own safe little cradle, and each ready to provide me with the fulfillment of a lover's kiss?

I seriously need some help.

For me, it's probably a combination of things, both historical and societal. As a youngster, after 5th grade, Valentine's Day was excruciating. It was in 5th grade that I reached the pinnacle of Valentine's Day expectations: I got a real Valentine card - in a real envelope - in the brown paper lunch bag decorated with crookedly cut hearts that hung taped to my desk.  The front of the card had an adorable white shaggy dog holding a little red heart in its mouth. And, sadly, I can remember the sentiment inside to this day: "Know what this is? Of course you do! It's a Valentine from me to you!" In my mind it was clear that it was also a thinly veiled marriage proposal.

After that, Valentine's Days went immediately downhill. I watched as all the girls around me received heart-shaped boxes of love year after year. Even into my teens and early twenties, I saw the giving of boxes of chocolates as some unattainable thing that the pretty, popular girls were allowed to have, but not me. Don't I get love? Or candy? I was never sure which one I was lamenting.  

Then, one day, I was in a CVS drug store and it was the day after Valentine's Day. There were dozens of bright, red, shining heart-shaped boxes on the shelves. And they were the good kinds, too. Not the cheaper off brand! The sign practically screamed at me: 75% off!  I looked around, picked the prettiest heart with the best chocolate that I could find and added it to my purchases. When I went home, I carefully opened up the box and just gazed at the tiny mounds of wonderfulness that was all mine. And then I ate most of them right up. I had to eat fast. I might have started to feel guilty.

This may have happened during the years after my divorce. It's hard to say...most of my relevatory epiphanies happened during that time. It was either that or I slipped immediately into a coma afterwards. 

The phenomenon of buying my own Valentine's Day candy didn't happen again until after Annie and her family moved in with us. Women who are constantly trying to drop some weight do not feel good buying large boxes of candy for themselves. But Annie, who is nursing baby Luca, is not concerned about gaining too much weight. She is happily and joyfully eating most of whatever she wants.  However, along with her mainly healthy and nutritious diet, she has also had a craving for chocolates. So, there I was in the drugstore. The day after Valentine's Day. I found myself in the candy aisle, not unlike the defenseless wildebeest that happens to accidentally wander into the clearing where the lions are hunting. I was overtaken,  like the wildebeest, with the signs, the varieties, the sparkly-ness, the prospect of all that love--I mean chocolate--to savor.  I bit....pun intended. I told myself that I was buying it "for Annie". But when I got home, I was a willing participant in "helping" Annie enjoy the chocolates. Fortunately, Annie likes to bite into each piece, to either find out what's inside or lay claim to the piece for later. That helped me limit my consumption. But not by much.

So, thanks Valentine's Day. Thanks for another reason to feel guilty/excited/fat/loved/comatose all in one swoop. And all at 75% off.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Comfort Junk

Does anyone else find this photo ironic? 
Look closely...amidst the packing tape, Altoids tins and last year's Valentine's decorations, the careful observer will spy with their little eye a book my husband bought a year or so ago. 
See it? 

It's called Throw Out FIFTY Things by Gail Blanke.  

See where it is? Under a pile of about fifty things we should have thrown out. Months ago.  There are small white bags that we used at my daughter's wedding... she was married in September 2009.  The book itself is perched on a paper plate...hopefully not a used one. There is a paper cup holding some solid yellow mass which I am sure was of some import to someone (my husband) at one time. Little plastic shot glasses, a package of graph-lined index cards, half a roll of raffia and a couple of bags of catnip--these are the things I still have in my possession. 
Most people have a junk drawer in their kitchen--I have a junk hutch. The visible shelves hold cookbooks, veggies and file folders with Important Papers in them. (Ha! There are medical records for our cat Chloe in one of those folders...may she rest in peace.) The only reason that the junk above is visible is because the fold-down desk top that usually remains in its upright position was opened to retrieve something Urgently Necessary. 

I wonder what it was. 

I know that I am not the only one who has piles of old mail, an unopened package of suction hooks and a bag of foam flower stickers laying around in some hidden, yet accessible place in their home.  What I wonder is why I can look at that pile, identify the object I needed, grab it and shut the door again without sweeping the whole mess into the wastebasket. No, that's not true--you know as well as I do why not: because I would have to "go through" it all to make sure I don't get rid of anything I might need at a later date. And it would take me about an hour to go through it all because I would no doubt come across a magazine article I hadn't read, a cute photo I would have to find another place for or some beautiful paper I could use to wrap something. Some day. 

How could I just toss all that important stuff?

Obviously I can't. And, God help me, this is a pattern that repeats itself throughout my life. Remember the dumpster? I do. I still have old towels, stacks of English essays from classes three years ago and --and I just found this today-- a potpourri crockpot for simmering spices during the holidays. Now why didn't that go into the dumpster? What could possibly have been my rationale for hanging on to that? "It's so festive! I can use it at Christmas!"

When I was divorced, I lost most of my possessions in the separation. Not only common items that should have been evenly shared, but many of my personal belongings, too. Like my high school year book. In my early single parent days, I had so little that I think I started hanging on to things for no other reason than, "just in case." I suppose those kinds of feelings can stick around for awhile. There are other situations that drive people to hang onto things, I suppose. It's funny how those feelings can stick with you and they're as hard to get rid of as a set of keys that don't open anything, birthday cards from three years ago, a lone checker and three balls of string kept in a handy drawer or box...just in case.