Monday, December 30, 2013

Have a little faith

1 complete trust or confidence in someone or something: this restores one’s faith in politicians
2 strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof
  • a system of religious belief: the Christian faith
--> a strongly held belief or theory: the faith that life will expand until it fills the universe  I've been thinking about this word a lot lately. Not in its usual meanings as described above. In fact, I tend to shy away from the word because I'm not religious or devout and quite honestly, my faith in politicians has not been restored. (Don't get me wrong, I'm still an Obama-girl through and through, but they can all go peddle their papers as far as I'm concerned. When one of them takes down the insurance companies, then I'll listen.) That is the Faith that requires great devotion and lasting commitment and a capital letter F. It's big faith. 

It's the little faith I am talking about. Small faith. Lower case f. It's the faith I need when I walk into a bookstore and see shelf after shelf after shelf of beautiful shiny covers, smiling author photographs and world-wide acclaim and I think to myself, "I'll never be able to do it."

My very first book is being published in April. It's already a real book; it's been edited, designed, pitched to a distributor. It now falls to me to get it into the hands of readers. I've been advised to hire a publicist, but that's not in the budget right now; I can do that  work myself. They are all tasks within my realm of ability, if not my expertise. I can call radio stations and send off my PR info. I can talk to bookstores and submit articles to magazines. I can do it all. But will I be any good at it? Will my book sell? Why would anyone want to read, much less pay for, my book with all of these other really great, well-written books available?

It's not just the book, either. There are countless daily opportunities to question my decisions or second-guess my efforts. In my work with parents and families, for example. Did I offer the right advice? Have I missed anything during a visit that I should have reported? The weight of responsibility to make sure I guide these families in the right direction can stagger my confidence some days. They are already in enough trouble; I don't want to add anymore.

How about teaching? Every time I walk into a classroom I wonder if I am conveying the information in a way that my students will understand. Am I presenting myself in a way that will give my students the confidence to question me if necessary and will I know how to respond to their inquiries? (Often the answer is no. One thing I've learned along the way is to admit when I don't know the answer rather than blunder ahead with a made up one.) Will anything I do make a difference in the lives of the people who are counting on me to help them? I wish I knew.

Do I even dare consider my own parenting and relationships? I think you see where I'm going here.

It's not just moving forward and trusting that everything will be okay. I can't see electricity. I have to take the first step without seeing the staircase. That's the big Faith. My daily struggles require the little faith. The tiny little bit of me that is with me all the time. The stalwart, stubborn sliver of my self that doesn't go away when overshadowed by fear and insecurity. And I always forget it's there.

I need that little faith. In myself. Every day.  Not just with the book. (I almost wrote "books" to be optimistic.) It still might be hard, it still might require being comfortable with the unknown. This little faith that I created from all the love and memories and successes of my life has already been in all those places and has survived. Like a nugget of gold or sparkling ruby, precious and eternal. It is astounding how often I forget to count on myself and let the dire forecasts of others influence my anticipation. And yet, time after time, it is the little faith that I have in myself that eventually gets me to my goal.

I'm going to have to remember that.

Monday, December 16, 2013


Monday, April 17, 2006
 I am really happy that I was so nice to her the day she died. Of course I had no idea that it would be the day she died, I just know that in hindsight. Other days I had not been so nice: “Jesus, Chloe! Shush! Who do you think I am opening this can for?" or “Don’t rub up against me - you’ll get hair all over my black pants!” But that morning I chatted with her as I got dressed and let her run in front of me down the stairs instead of trying to beat her so she wouldn’t trip me. In the kitchen, I cleaned out both her food and water bowls, which don’t necessarily need to be done very often since she is extremely good at licking them spotlessly clean. When I left for work that morning (and made sure she was still in the kitchen and not sneaking a nap on our new blue sofa), her last imprint of me was that I was nice to her.

Chloe died while we were having her groomed. We’d never had her groomed before, but she’d been on medication that dried out her skin and made her fur all icky and flaky. Annie moved home from California with her cats and we were preparing Chloe to meet them. They were sniffing at each other for a week behind a closed door; we read that it was the best way to introduce cats to each other. Occasionally they caught the random glimpse through a quickly opened and closed door, but after a week, it was time to arrange the meeting. So it was off to the groomers for Chloe’s first professional bath. But she didn’t come home from the groomer – not inside anyway. And Bella and Cali, who were now allowed out of their room, walked around with what looked like a curious expression on their faces as if to say, “wait a minute…we know we smelled her. Where is she?” Chloe’s loss was experienced by animals and humans alike.

Chloe, who my mom always called “Cleo”, came to live with us with her brother Joey (get it? Joey and Chloe?) soon after I became a single parent so it was one of my first Single Parent decisions of some significance. Annie had picked Chloe out of the litter weeks earlier, but when we went to pick her up, there was some fretting about whether she would be okay alone, if she’d be lonely and would it be better with 2 kittens rather than just the one, tiny one. Just about then, Christopher walked up to me with Joey in his arms and said, “could I get a kitten, too?” And we became a family of five.

We lost Joey after about 5 years, when we moved out of our apartment and into a house with a yard. He died practically the first day he was let out of the house. He ran across the road to play in the field and on the way back got hit by a car. After that, Chloe, who had been the original scaredy cat, started becoming downright friendly. One night after Joey died; she came into the den where we were watching TV. Suddenly we heard a strange noise, like the refrigerator exploding or the furnace going on the fritz. We muted the TV and listened.  Chloe had come into the room and was looking at us. It dawned on us that the noise was coming from her – she was purring! We decided that she was channeling Joey and soon, she took on some of his other traits, too. Joining Annie or Christopher in their beds at night or keeping us company in the den if we were watching TV. And at our next home, coming outside on the porch and hanging around, never going far, mostly staying above or just below the porch just being with us. She had turned into this great cat. Quiet, friendly, funny and smart. She would eat her food in the morning with her paw. She chewed the ribbons off of our birthday and Christmas packages and ran to the door to greet us when we got home. Even after she got sick and had to take medicine, and it made her fat and uncoordinated she mostly just liked hanging out with us, sitting in front of the fire and sleeping.

When you lose a pet it’s hard. It’s not as huge as losing a human loved one because that can be all encompassing. This loss feels just as deep, but like it’s inside rather than outside. My husband said that maybe it means that I am more able to contain it, and I guess that sounds right. But I still miss her. Her presence was a constant and although I didn’t anthropomorphize her, I counted on her being there and she was kind of like – a friend. After I met Annie at the groomer we took Chloe to the vet – just in case. But they made the final diagnosis and gave me the option of paying $50 to bury her with other pets, $75 of having her cremated and buried with other pet ashes or $150 to have her cremated and returned to me in a little cat ashes urn.  Or,  I could take her home for nothing. We brought her back home, still wrapped in the groomer’s fluffy blue towel. We picked out a place in the back yard, found a sturdy wooden box and placed Chloe in the ground with some treats, her pillow and a little Christmas ribbon. I think that was best. That way, she'll be right there in the back yard, just hanging out with us.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Home for the Holidays

One of the emails I got in the early weeks of Black Friday Month (or “November” as it used to be known)  was a plea from a politician to support his bill to make retailers to pay their employees three times their regular rate if they were forced to work on Black Friday Month’s 4th Thursday (or “Thanksgiving” as we called it in the olden days.) It was then that I realized things had gotten a little out of hand. (“Really?” you ask. “Not the mobs in the Walmart parking lots beating each other with their own children?”)

I’m as surprised as you are.

My usual mode of handling this stressful and challenging time of year (Black Friday Month and Shoppingmas) is avoidance. During the years of single parenthood I had to nearly beg borrow or steal the gifts my children found under their bright and shiny tree decorated with love. This of course means it was largely decorated with handmade ornaments. Empty paper towel rolls, remnants of last year’s ribbon, buttons that never got sewed back on to sweaters were all fair game if they could be glued onto construction paper and threaded with red and green pipe cleaners. When the time came that the kids “knew” and didn’t expect Santa-wrapped presents under the tree, I relaxed a little. I didn’t have to go out there and battle crowds and my poor-parent’s guilt to fashion some sort of holiday out of my meager income. You’d never know it by looking, because my wonderful kids were always happy and appreciative of their bounty and if they weren’t - they didn’t let on. (Thanks, kids.)

Time rolled by and my income wasn’t always so meager, but my feelings about gifts, giving and holidays began to change. What I liked about the holidays was that it was a great excuse to have everyone together in one room. Eating, drinking and laughing was an extra added bonus. The old-fashioned Thanksgiving and Christmas were whole days that I didn’t have to do anything. Well, clean a little. Maybe go grocery shopping. Oh, and cook. But the family would be there and that was all that mattered. To me, anyway.

I know people who like to shop. Like? LOVE to shop. Some right in my own family. They have barely digested their pumpkin pie before they’re out the door to get the best deal on cashmere sweaters or martini shakers. And you know what I think about that? Good for them. And good for the stores that open up and let them. I don’t think that those big, bad box stores are the 21st century’s version of Simon Legree. I think they just want to run a business and if they have employees who would like to have a turkey sandwich and come in and make a little money, then that’s okay too. The reason I think it’s okay is that not everyone is lucky enough to be able to sit around at home moaning about having eaten too much. Maybe some of those folks need the extra money for their kids. Maybe some of them are alone for the holiday and working gives them something to do instead of sitting around an empty home. Of course there are some jerks out there who are unfair to their employees and make them do stuff that they don’t want to do. Like work on a holiday. Being a jerk isn’t illegal. But we don’t need a bunch of politicians getting their hands all over a Thanksgiving minimum wage. You guys want to legislate something? Legislate insurance companies.

At this time of year, I like to buy very little, eat very much and be grateful for all the things I have--mostly people, but I’m grateful for my new furnace, too. (I’m not kidding - we had to turn the heat DOWN the other day! Yippee!) Happy Thanksgiving. Merry Christmas. Happy New Year. If you don’t like my opinion on this, that’s okay, too. You know where to find me. I’ll be home for the holidays. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Senior Schmenior

A hand-written sign in the plate glass window at the entrance of Jimmy's luncheonette announced: Senior Citizen discount - 10%!  I made a mental note to tell my husband. (I’m not being fresh, he boldly lists to anyone who will listen all the places he gets his senior discount. He looks about 15 years younger than he is, owing in part to a full head of black hair. So of course he tells people how old he is, because they always say, “No way!”)

Anyway, once I tucked that bit of information into my brain, I promptly forgot about it. I was having lunch with my writer’s group, Trudy, and we had Important Matters to discuss. And we had to eat lunch, the kind of lunch that you treat yourself to when you’re having a  Meeting therefore you get the grilled cheese and the French fries. Yum.

The Important Matters that Trudy and I talked about were the typical writer’s group topics: our kids, her grueling committee work, my grueling committee work, doctors, traveling and wine. Oh . . . and writing. After an hour or so, the waitress brought us our bill and we gabbed a few minutes more before reaching for our wallets. It was a little less than we had figured in our heads. Ten percent less.


Please understand, I am a fan of aging. (“It beats the alternative” ba-dum bum). I am also a fan of discounts, especially for grilled cheese and French fries, so no problem there. However, don’t you think it was a little presumptuous on our waitress’s part to assume that Trudy and I were eligible for the Senior Discount?  I am certain that it was not a malicious assumption and we didn’t take our initial umbrage out in her tip. But, I think it’s one of those things where it would have been nice to be asked.

“Excuse me, Miss, we have a Senior discount on Tuesdays. Obviously, you’re too young to take advantage, but we like to tell all of our customers, just in case.”

This particular waitress was a 20-something and probably everyone over 40 looks old enough to get the discount to her. The regular waitresses we usually get are a couple of ladies who certainly appear to be over 40 (well look who’s making age judgments now!) and definitely have some experience behind them. It’s just in their manner.

If I had been asked, then I could lie and take the discount or politely decline (I’m not eligible, okay?) but it would be my choice to declare my age and financial status. Having seniority thrust upon me is, well, oddly, uncomfortable. Why? Well, I suppose I’ll add that to the list of things I have to look at more closely. Or maybe Trudy and I can discuss it at our next writer’s meeting.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Road Trip

I love road trips. I’m like a yellow lab. I bound into the car practically panting with excitement at the adventure to come. It’s been like this as far back as I can remember (and granted it is not that far back anymore). I don’t know what it is about sitting for hours on end, watching the scenery fly by, suffering traffic and bad drivers until I get to my destination that sets my inner navigational system abuzz, but I love it.

When I was little, one of the games I used to play with my brother and sister had something to do with us pretending to pack up our car or covered wagon or train and travel a great distance to discover new lands or visit some adventurous place--in our basement. I have this memory of enjoying the decision-making process of what to bring and where to put it. I thrilled at finding just the right space for my belongings and I beamed with pride when I got all of our dolls to fit in the “backseat”. Maybe it’s just packing I love. Maybe I missed my calling and I should be working at UPS. I do look good in brown.

There’s not much I don’t like about climbing into a car, igniting the engine and taking off. Alone or with company, I have many, many good memories of traveling by car. Even when traveling with kids, which can be challenging. In the days before portable dvd players and iPhones, we would throw a few books in the backseat, a blankie, a pillow and some favorite stuffed animals and we were off. I remember talking, listening to music, singing and laughing. (I do understand that these are probably not my children’s memories, but they are mine and I’m sticking to them.) When the trip would start to get a little long, we played the enormously original game of Alphabet.  We had to find things that started with each letter of the alphabet, in order. Airplane, bushes, cars (the easy one), drawbridge, etc. When we had trouble with Q, X and Z, we made allowances and we could cite a billboard or a phone tower that had the shape of the particular letter. (There are a lot of Xs in tall telephone towers, just in case you need that information.) We also played, “What’s in the truck?” another original game in which we would guess what exciting merchandise a semi trailer was hauling, if it wasn’t evident on its sign--like Dunkin’ Donuts. Obviously that was a truck full of doughnuts. Yes, our drives were quite academic in those days. But if we weren't learning quantum physics, we were definitely having a good time.

My latest road trip was a little different. Technology has integrated itself into my travel time in the form of a smartphone. Where I once gazed out the window, wondering if that was the Erie Canal or if we were close enough to the Blue Ridge Parkway to drive on part of it, I was gazing instead into the little screen in my hands. New emails? No problem, I could answer them right away. Voicemails? Same thing. Done. Of course I could also find out about that canal (Yes, it is the Erie Canal), but I spent more time on my phone than watching the late fall beauty of upstate New York pass just outside my window.  This of course, is my experience as a passenger. The phone is new and hopefully a passing fancy. (Yeah, sure. I’ll always want to know the origin of that lake’s name or if the next rest stop has a Starbucks.)

When I drive, and I can’t hold the phone in my hand, it’s just me and my car, watching the sky and feeling the road vibrations under my feet. Stories about the people who live in the towns I pass create themselves and fill my head as I drive by. They seem like nice folks. Way back in the olden days, when we only had steering wheels and tires and forty-cent a gallon gas, I drove everywhere in all kinds of cars; the make or model didn’t matter as much as that I got to get behind the wheel and go...anywhere. As a passenger I usually read books when I wasn’t looking out the window or tending to children; as the driver I pointed out interesting sights, sometimes to those same children who were now sleeping. It was always a good time. I don’t want an electronic device to dictate my road trips to me (and don’t get me started about the irritating and bossy GPSes we have had). As a result of this last trip, I think I will have to fight the urge to annotate my trips via Wikipedia, put down the phone and do what I have always done: enjoy the journey.

And I can always play the Alphabet game.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Sick Day

The other morning, driving into work with Angelo, which is all of a three-minute drive from our house, (Yes, I know I should walk...don’t remind me) I said to him,  “I wish I could take a sick day.”

We both laughed.

I woke up that morning with a sore throat and while it wasn’t life-threatening, it did make me feel like staying in bed longer, drinking tea and reading the new book I bought two weeks ago that I hadn’t even cracked open yet.  It sounded like such a good idea.

But as all self-employed people know, the infamous Sick Day is not a benefit typically available to us. You would think it would be the opposite. In fact, most traditionally employed people probably think we self-employed folks sit around in our jammies, catching up on Netflix and playing Words With Friends most days. This is, in fact, mostly not true. We self-employed folk don’t have the luxury of a 9 to 5 time frame in which to complete our work. We are more often working at 7am or 10 pm and most hours in between than not, responding to emails, writing up invoices, composing reports, looking at ways to bring in more business. Because the other thing we don’t have the luxury of is a regular paycheck. (Or insurance, but that’s a whole other bottle of pills.)

So, why is it so hard to take a sick day? It is true that we can make our own schedule.  And, to be honest, we are very lucky in being able to do that. It allows me to babysit my grandson, take a trip to Maine without submitting a request for vacation days to an unsympathetic boss or wait for the cable guy’s outlandish timeframe for arrival. And, if we don’t have any morning appointments, we actually can stay home in our jammies and make calls and write emails and have a second cup of coffee. But we’re still working.

I guess the work ethic is strong in most of us raised in a certain societal climate and time.  I had a hard time calling in sick when I had a traditional job, so staying home -- in bed!-- when I have a business to run certainly sounds like lollygagging to me. In my own office I can cough or sniffle or moan and no one is there to complain. Well, Angelo is, but I also listen to his complaining, so it makes it even. And I make an effort to not moan and groan too much with clients. Work hard, that’s the mantra that plays again and again in my head, even through a head stuffed with congestion or over a throbbing toothache.

But taking care of my own health should be as important as the health of my business, yes? And yesterday my back went out and it’s still really painful today. I have no appointments on the calendar.  I have some emails to respond to, but I’ve already covered how I address that. I have a book to read.

I really don’t have anything else to do but finish this sentence. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Bathing Suit Black and Blues

I’m not much of a shopper. The last time I tried to do a little wardrobe updating, I quit twenty minutes in because my arm started hurting from picking up and putting back all the hangers. I know. I’m a lightweight. But here’s a question as a result of that ill-fated trip: aren’t bathing suits typically expected to cover up one’s top and bottom anymore? 

The last time I bought a bathing suit was about four years ago, so admittedly, it’s been a while, but the one I bought covered me up in all the right places. It was a fancy brand name one-piece in sensible brown that I bought at a discount store in Maine.   The suit itself was not fancy, it was proper as I swam and sunned each summer since in relative comfort. (It was less comfortable when I had to wear it on the Amalfi Coast a couple of years ago when all the Italian ladies I was traveling with slipped right into their skimpy two-pieces and stood proudly, ankle deep, chatting in the ultramarine Mediterranean. I sat under an umbrella and an oversized white shirt and claimed sun poisoning.)

I can barely navigate the crowded aisles in the ladies department much less find what I’m looking for, so when I spotted the bathing suits (at least I can still recognize them) I decided to ditch the wardrobe updating and find a replacement for my quickly disintegrating old faithful. My arm flinched in pain as I chose a hanger upon which hung a black suit and I held it up to try and spot any hidden bejewelment. No sparkly jewels on this one--promising--but, no bottom either. It looked like a tankini top but there was nothing else attached to the hanger.  “Ah,” I thought, “this is that scam where you have to buy the tops and bottoms separately.” As if buying bathing suit tops and bottoms separately makes any sense at all. It’s like buying pots and lids separately. Dumb.

So, I scanned the rack for the accompanying bottoms section. There wasn’t one. There were no bottoms anywhere except two racks away where, scrunched up at the end, was a selection of teeny, bikini bottoms in none of the colors of the tops I was looking at. Dumber.

I was stymied. My husband, who had been wandering around in the Men’s shoe department, eventually came looking for me. He found me, glassy-eyed, arms tangled with hangers, bumping back and forth between the racks as if I couldn’t find my way out. I couldn’t.

“Here,” he said gently, as if approaching a wounded animal, “let me take some of those from you” and he lifted the tangle of metal and plastic hangers, spandex and gold leaf from my already aching arms.

“I can’t...” I began, “I don’t know how...” I sputtered until I was finally able to wail, “there aren’t any bottoms!”

“How about we do this another time?” he suggested and he started to tug on the single, black, one-piece I had managed to add to my pile.

“NO!” I shrieked, and I threw it in the basket he had shown up with. At least he had found the shoes he was looking for, although he isn’t that much better at shopping than I am. Weary and shopping-worn, we headed to the checkout counter. His leather sandals, some cute cereal bowls for my grandson, a green sundress marked down to $12 that I still haven’t tried on and the mysterious black bathing suit went into the shopping bag and out the door with us. We went straight home and had a drink.

At my age, I am not going to get better at sorting out the enigma that is women’s clothing. As long as I can go out in public in a semi-acceptable outfit, I will consider myself successful. I only have to wear a bathing suit a couple of months of the year; it doesn’t have to be perfect.  Still, I haven’t worn the new one yet. (Upon further inspection in the privacy of my own home, I can report that it is black, hopefully the correct size, with no gold or jewels, although there is some acceptable blue and turquoise piping across the front.) I haven’t tossed old faithful, sensible brown, yet, either. Let’s not be hasty, I always say.