Thursday, December 24, 2015

Delaney Talks to Statues


#TBT- For Throwback Thursday I had to repost this essay, written in 2007. Heather recently posted a couple of pictures of Delaney as she approaches her 12th birthday, but she looks like she's approaching her 16th birthday! She is growing with poise and confidence into a lovely young lady.  She now has two younger sisters who I suspect will give their parents an equal amount of gray hair and worry lines! 


Weeks and weeks of work, stress and exhaustion led me to the Panera in Marlborough, Massachusetts last Friday. I was making a fast getaway to Maine and the island’s cool water and fresh air to break the exhausting cycle I had gotten myself into. I wouldn’t have stopped at all, but my friend Heather lived close to 495, so I figured I could spare a few minutes to find out how she was doing in her new job, new home, new life. I don’t stop for much in my exodus--bathroom breaks, gas tank fill-ups at the cheap gas station at Exit 39, maybe food at the Hannaford’s--but little else. Heather even did me the favor of meeting me on the road so I wouldn’t have to take too long a break from my trip. So Panera it was.

I arrived at the agreed upon time, having synchronized our schedule by cell phone from the Mass Pike. Mother-of-a-three-year-old Heather arrived around 10 minutes late, walking in from the rainy parking lot hand in hand with Delaney, in matching yellow slickers and a stuffed blue back pack. Mothers of three-year-olds don’t travel light. I had already gotten my fruit cup and coffee and found a place to sit--a table with a booth seat for Delaney, knowing as I do, that children can’t sit and be comfortable in a hard chair while their mothers sit, drink coffee and chat with their friends. I envisioned an hour of catching up, relating the latest work news (gossip) and then wrapping up and getting back on the road for the rest of my steering-wheel gripping drive to respite from the latest storm.

Funny how plans change.

Delaney needed to bring her watering can, said Heather plopping down the blue and orange plastic toy.  She also unloaded, from the vast contents of the big blue backpack, paper and markers for Delaney as she sat and eyed me from her seat on the bench. She hadn’t seen me since June, so she was naturally apprehensive, especially when Mommy left to fetch a muffin. I chatted up Delaney about her markers and asked her which color was her favorite. “This one,” she said, indicating the pink one with which she was coloring. And by coloring I mean dragging the pink marker back and forth across the blank sheet of copy paper. “It’s a sled!” she told me and pulled out the next blank canvas. Heather came back with the muffin, water, a scone, a soda, several napkins, a plastic knife and a straw and cut the muffin up in quarters for Delaney. But Delaney wanted the scone and she grabbed half of it in her hand and by turns munched on it and crumbled it into her lap. Heather graciously asked me about me about the program which I had just wound up--the cause of the enormous stress I had been under. I began the narration of the program’s challenges and although it had been difficult, it was also the program that had brought me the most...
“Mommy, color with me!” erupted Delaney, now glued to Heather’s side and eyeing me somewhat suspiciously. Heather barely broke stride and picked up the green marker and began drawing a curved rectangle and colored it in.
“...rewarding experience as the kids who came were awesome,” I finished up, happily remembering what I had been saying.

And so it went. Delaney warmed up to me a little and Heather’s and my conversation was punctuated with “Mommy!” with several bits of information like, “Mom-mom takes her coffee with milk and NO SUGAR!” and “Mommy! I have to go potty”, “Mommy! remember that mean girl who took my wagon?”

And then, “Cindy! I have a rock in my crayons!” and “Look, Cindy, I have new hair!” as she stood and wound Heather’s long brown hair over her own silky blonde and “Mommy! I have a great idea! Cindy can come to my house and you and Daddy can go to work!”  

Soon, I began responding more to Delaney’s comments and conversation and less and less to Heather’s. Delaney’s non-stop observations about her world wove in and out of any complete sentences that Heather and I managed to get out. As we were drawing, because now we all had a white sheet of copy paper in front of us with an assortment of markers and now crayons from a tin lunchbox, I found out that Delaney’s house was mere miles from where we sat at Panera. Because we drew a map. So I drew a picture of the mountains and lake where I was going. And Heather drew a rainbow, because truth be told – Delaney’s favorite color is all of them.

Heather and I did actually get to catch up on new jobs and old jobs, Harry Potter and friends and family. And an hour and forty-five minutes after they arrived, we started repacking the big blue backpack. Yellow slickers went back on, and we walked outside and said our goodbyes while Delaney splashed in a wide puddle next to my car. Tiny pink cargo pants were now soaked to the knees. Heather said, “I guess someone will need to change their clothes when we get home!” and smiled at me. I guiltily realized how much easier it would have been for Heather if she didn’t have to get Delaney dressed and suited up for the rain, anticipate the necessary entertainment for sitting at a coffee shop for an hour and managing it all out the door on time--if I had just driven the extra 3 miles and come to them. And even as I realized this, sitting back in my car and starting the ignition, I thought that if we had been at their house, I might not have had the pleasure of Delaney’s proximity for almost two full hours. Or sat across from the light of her bright blue eyes and her adorable little smile--which was a constant--except when she was deep in thought coloring. Before I backed out of the parking space and headed toward the exit and the rest of my trip, I placed my drawings, one from Heather and one from Delaney, beside me on the seat. My hands were not gripping the steering wheel and I was smiling.

(The title refers to a Jimmy Buffett song of the same name.)

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Blue Christmas

The holidays can be difficult...

For some reason, December has knocked me a little off center this year. Although I can usually be counted on to be pretty positive about winter, the holidays, trees in the house, this year I am definitely feeling more Scrooge-ish than George Bailey-ish. (At the end of the movie, not the middle.) It certainly has to do with some of the family issues that have occurred this year: my Dad’s coma and rehabilitation and my sister’s cancer surgery to name just the medical ones.  My dad and sister have the burden of fighting for their health, but the residual effects on me manifest as stress. It’s possible I am approaching burn-out in my day job; the parents with whom I work seem more desperate and vindictive, the children more traumatized and distressed. December rounded the corner like a ton of bricks and we’re only a few days in.

I’ve had a house-full, too. Annie and her little family have been with us for over a year and just this weekend, they are moving into their own home. Which is good . . . and bad. It is good because they need to be in their own place and it will give Angelo and me the chance to do all the things we used to do when there wasn’t an audience. Nothing really sexy or adventurous; the most risqué behavior we engaged in was to walk to the bathroom naked and the most daring we got was to leave dishes in the sink overnight.  The bad part is that Angelo and I got really used to having Luca around on a daily basis. To say that we will miss him is to understate the loss we will undoubtedly feel when he’s gone.  They’re not going far, just down the road to the next town, but it won’t be the same. And that’s a little, you know, horrible. But we’ll help them pack and smile as we wave good-bye.

Dreading December and not looking forward to Christmas is such a foreign feeling for me that it makes me feel bad. Usually, I am not worried about feeling bad, because I can usually rouse myself out of it. It's the timing that is a little worrying. It's Christmas, for Pete's sake. Am I getting depressed? What’s next? Am I going to don a black veil and throw roasted chestnuts at small children on my street? Shutter my windows instead of putting the obligatory single lit candle in each one? Buy a bucket of coal? Cry?

I could just settle down for a minute. Stress is stress . . . even the good kind. With every ten emails shouting out the latest deals for last minute presents is one that suggests taking care of “YOU” during the holidays. Which doesn’t make any sense at all, because when you’re stressed and overwhelmed and likely to smash one of the Lenox china dishes that your husband salvaged from his first marriage rather than read one more Groupon for a time-limited offer, the suggestion to “just relax!” will simply invoke rage.  The holidays are tough, if not for you personally, probably for someone you know. Yes, yes, right now it’s me, but you get the drift.  It’s probably good for me to go through this feeling: the dread of holiday expectations and barely mustered cheerful behavior. My typical Christmas demeanor is usually about halfway between Will Farrel’s Elf and The Grinch, but I could go up or down the scale a few notches when necessary.

When the holidays make life difficult for people, I think two things happen: the sufferers wish they didn't have to slap a happy grin on their face and others fret about how to handle including them in holiday activities. There is no easy middle ground for this and I suspect some find it easier to avoid dealing with it.  Does your friend or relative who grapples with holiday malaise really want to be invited or don't they? Should you call? Will they answer? Will my gifts arrive on time? Do I have to eat fruitcake?

Dealing with this bout of gloominess isn’t much fun. I feel like I’m looking through department store windows all decked out with sparkly lights and cotton snow . . .  I know I should feel excited and happy, but right now, I don’t. This will eventually evolve into other, more manageable feelings. For example, in more positive news, my book is still bumping along, albeit lethargically. Everything having to do with it is wonderful; meeting people, visiting new bookstores, making a few bucks.  I appeared in a play that nearly sold out last weekend and that was a surprisingly fantastic experience.  Especially because the cast and crew consisted of 19 women and there was no bitchiness or diva behavior.  There's a lot going on and apparently I can’t help but overload my plate, both figuratively and literally. (And that’s a Thanksgiving weight-gain reference.) 

Who knows? I might even get those candles in the windows and get some Christmas shopping done before the 24th. If I run into someone who doesn’t look like tinsel personified, I won’t  throw eggnog at them to “cheer” them up. Hmm...maybe I’m on to something here.  I actually feel kind of good about it.

Oh, damn. A Christmas miracle.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Love, Loss and What I Remember

Circa 1994 - Clearly giving Meryl Streep a run for her money.
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Way back in the olden days, when I was a single parent and had memory cells in my brain . . . (Hmmm...startling revelation: The disappearance of memory cells began when I was a single parent . . . interesting.)

Where was I? Oh, yes . . . the olden days . . . when we had more remotes than chargers. In an effort to provide more enriching stimulation than the afterschool snack-time fare of Fresh Prince of Bel Air and what I later found out to be the traumatizing family fun time Saturday night viewing of Profiler, I began to audition and be cast in plays with the new community theater group in our small town. The motivation for deciding to involve myself in an activity that would force me out of the house was to provide a strong and culturally competent role model for my children. Because, honestly, if I didn’t feel so pressured to be Super Mom, I would have sat with my kids as much as possible in front of the TV.  Back then it was a time when we were all engaged in the same thing; talking, laughing or evidently cowering, as I found out when I read Christopher’s third-grade year-end “About Me” book. His greatest joy? Easy...soccer. His greatest fear? The character Jack-of-all-trades from the show I made him sit through every Saturday night at 9pm. I thought staying up with me and Annie was a special treat; turns out I was terrifying him every week. Single parenting decisions: sometimes you nail them, sometimes they go tragically off-the-mark.

Once I had been in a couple of productions, Annie started doing some of the kid’s shows. This meant Christopher had to come along to either hang out backstage or venture onstage as the “Boy” or some other animal or fairy.  (God. This poor kid...what did I do to him??)  Mostly, it was a fun family activity and the only terrifying part was whether or not I’d remember my lines when the curtain went up. The great thing was--I usually did. I might have flubbed a line or two here and there, but as I was told by a friend one night and never forgot--the audience doesn’t have the script. They don’t know when I’ve dropped a line.  And it was community theater, so many of the residents of the community in which I lived were present at our shows. They were too nice to be too critical of my performances . . . you never know when a single mother will burst into tears.

As time went by, the kids got older and soccer and other divergent activities took precedence and I stopped auditioning. It was fine; although I was a drama major in college, I hadn’t really set my sights on a career as a thespian. The dose of acting I got during those wonderful days of rehearsals and productions, Coward and Shakespeare, donated props and expertly created costumes was enough to tide me over. Forever, if you’d asked me then. But apparently, only until now.

Despite the fact that I can barely remember why I open the refrigerator door, each Tuesday and Thursday night until the middle of December, I am going to leave my home and travel to the next town over to rehearse lines for an hour or two. The show is Love, Loss and What I Wore, written by Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron, and based on the book by Ilene Beckerman. If you look closely, you can see why I made the insane decision to put myself in what will undoubtedly be at best, a hoot and at worst, a spectacle along the lines of Sally Field’s Oscar acceptance speech. First of all, I don’t have to remember the lines! It’s a staged reading . . . no memorization! Next, it’s by Nora Ephron. She has been an inspiration for my own work for many, many years. When I auditioned, I read the essay, “I Hate My Purse” which I guess was included in the script because Nora wrote it and she could put anything in it she wanted. I wished very hard to get that role; but I didn’t.  Acting in a play by Nora Ephron would be like living a little bit inside her brain and I wanted that experience. And then, if those two little omens weren’t enough, it was being produced in Woodbury, the former small town where I began my illustrious acting career over 20 years ago. How could I say no? Or rather, I hoped I could say yes, providing they offered me a part.

They did. I have a short monologue all my own and I am part of several ensemble pieces; all about women, clothing, humor, love and loss. Being in a play is a little like riding a bike in that once you try it after a long period of time, it feels very familiar. You just have to work out the rusty spots. I am a little nervous, too. I’ve been doing readings and talks since my book has been out, so one might imagine I have some confidence about getting up in front of hundreds of people and hope words come out of my mouth and not, say, spit. I’ll have the script--magnified--in front of me, but I’ll still need my glasses to read it. But I get to read it. It is feeling like an opportunity to try something out, or maybe revisit something I once loved, but had to push aside for other obligations and responsibilities. It is truly both an exciting and terrifying ambition and I can’t wait for opening night.

I hope I remember to show up.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Scents and Sensibility



You know how when things get old, they begin to smell a little? I think that’s starting to happen to me. Don’t worry, I still bathe and buy deodorant, but if I go just one extra day without washing my hair, at some point during the day while getting into my car or throwing my purse over my shoulder at the grocery, I will catch a whiff of that subtle scent; the one that tells you, “you-should-have-definitely-taken-the-time-to-shampoo-this-morning.” I duck and head toward the closest door and hope there is not a cloud swirling about my head a là  Pig Pen in the Peanuts comic strip. The one that makes everyone take a few steps away from you.

Many years ago, one of my girlfriends fixed me up on a date with a man who was about ten years older than me. Going out with an older man didn’t bother me . . . until we sat next to each other all night at a bar. It wasn’t the smoke, or the spilled beer or all the forlorn ladies doused with cheap perfume that got to me. It was this man’s smell. Not bad, not good, just . . . present. A pervasive scent of what I decided was bachelorhood; flannel shirts that needed to be washed more frequently than say, once a month.

It makes sense doesn’t it? At some point it’s not worth washing those bath towels anymore because they’re old and they smell. Off you go to Target for a couple of brand new sets to hang in the bathroom. (We’ll talk about how you don’t walk out of Target with only bath towels another time.) This happens to everything that gets old; clothing, food, furniture, shoes, buildings. Everything that gets old smells. Why not people?

You think I’m trying to be funny, but there is Science to prove it. It seems that the scent of older folks is as tied to our biological origins as the sex drive and the fight or flight reflex. From a study by Johan Lundström of the Monell Chemical Senses Center, humans may be able to recognize age by odor as a way "to distinguish the sick from the healthy—not overt sickness, but underlying cell decay," he says. "The older we get, the more natural decay we have."

See that? He actually said “decay.” Like when you’re walking through the park in October, taking a deep breath and thinking, “Ah, the smell of Fall!” but what you’re really smelling is decay. Those beautiful orange, yellow and red leaves are dying and we can smell it.

We humans don’t have nearly the highly developed nostrils that dogs, horses and other animals have, but we do pick up important information from our noses. Am I right, mothers? Do we know practically to the teaspoon how much beer our kids drank as they propel themselves through the door late on a Friday night? We ground with confidence. But not only mothers; women all over the world use their noses to divine the who, what, how and where of any given excuse. Men do not have this faculty; as soon as you ask, “Can you smell that?”, the male of the species shrugs his shoulders and says, “What rotting bananas?”

It is slightly discouraging to realize that my body, it’s cells and pores could be in a state of decay. But, as I said it makes sense. (Scents?) These days, those of us 50ish and over have the opportunity to be in the best shape of our lives. I had lunch with a sixty-something woman recently who said she felt the best she’s ever felt after using a nutritionist to lose 42 pounds and learn how to drink more water. Another sixty-ish friend sat at my kitchen table and practically glowed from her recent two-week hiking vacation, even though we were Googling our recently prescribed prescriptions. We may be decaying . . . and smelling . . . but we can be healthy and look good doing it. And if I forget to wash my hair one day, I can always go hang out with a bunch of old guys.


Thursday, October 1, 2015

Good Shoes



As summer fades slowly into a distant memory, I welcome the days of cooler temperatures and a reason to hibernate with the earlier curfew of shorter days. Some women (not me) get excited about changing their wardrobes over to their Fall/Winter collection and going shopping to add or update accessories. Me? I just pull my black sweater out of the back of the closet and situate it closer to the middle so it’s there if I need it. (Which I never do, because, let’s be honest: what woman over 50 needs a sweater anymore?) No, it’s all pumpkin spice and a reason to stay home that excites me about Fall. Some fear lurks in the coming days, I will admit, and it’s not just the very real danger of buying--and eating--14 bags of Halloween candy before October 31st.  The dread creeping toward me is having to put on real shoes. I am a flip-flop gal. You’d think I might choose to live in Florida or California to accommodate my footwear choices. Since I don’t, there are many reasons I need to acquire regular shoes for certain occasions--like snow. For winter, I have chosen to wear UGG boots--the real thing, not the knock off Faux Uggs (or Fuggs as I used to call them). So, summer footwear-flip-flops. Winter footwear-UGGs. Fall footwear-ugh.

Because I am so clever and know myself so well, I played a trick on myself in order to get out and go to the store for new shoes. I needed a comfortable pair to wear to work or just out; flats (of course), not too dressy, not too casual. The two pairs I have had for about, well, many years, made a whooshing sound as I walked. The sound came from the various splits and worn edges on the bottom--of both pairs! I tricked myself into getting new shoes by throwing both pairs into the garbage on garbage day. This way I couldn’t have second thoughts and dig them out in a panic and I would be forced to go to Marshall’s and buy a pair of good shoes.

Best laid plans, right? What I didn’t factor in to this brilliant plan was that two days later, I had to appear in court. And even though there are a number of simply astonishing clothing and footwear choices people make to appear before a judge, I didn’t think wearing flip-flops to court would be acceptable. I was appearing as a witness, a professional. (Yes, I am a professional who gets away with wearing flip-flops most of the time. Yes, I am lucky.) Fortunately,  I hang on to most every article of clothing that isn't torn in half,  so a pair of those black Eddie Bauer loafers everyone was wearing about 15 years ago is tucked away in my closet. I pulled on black tights, squeezed into the loafers and was presentable for the 10 minutes I needed to be on the witness stand.

I still have a problem, though, don’t I? I have yet to go out and get those shoes for myself. When the immediate crisis was averted, there was no pressure for me to leave my house for the shopping plaza. My daughter went, though. And while there, she sent me this in a text: 

She even offered to bring them home for me to try on. I said no. She said, “Really?” (I could hear the exasperation--even in her text.) She tried, but she knows it will take more than a change in seasons to get me out of my flip-flops. Because it’s not just my preference for showing off my I'm-Not-Really-a-Waitress red painted toes that keeps me from going out and trying on tight, blistering shoes. At some point in my aging, my feet grew. That seems like one of nature’s cruel jokes to me...having your feet get bigger. Like when men get more hair in their ears and on their backs, but lose it on top of their heads. Not funny, nature. So now that I have gargantuan feet, flip-flops suit me. I feel like Cinderella’s evil sister when I try to squeeze my feet into my once comfortable size 8s. “No! Let me try again! I know it will fit!” It's not a pretty sight.

One thing I’ve learned as I age into my 50s and 60s is that comfort is essential. Not just feeling comfortable, but making decisions based on my comfort is a reasonable thing to do. It may mean I have to move to California or Florida. Or southern Italy, but those are decisions I can live with. Meanwhile, I know I will have to go out of my house, go into a store and buy shoes. Size 9 probably. But I’m comfortable with that.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Rules to live by

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I am done for. There I was, minding my own business, walking through the kitchen, when I happened to glance at the newly arrived magazine on the counter. The headline jumped up with its tongue sticking out at me: 8 simple rules to pull together any outfit! There are EIGHT rules to pull an outfit together? EIGHT? How do “8 rules” and “simple” go together in a sentence? I backed slowly away from the kitchen and retreated to my office upstairs where I engaged in the soothing activity I usually pursue when I have been traumatized: Pocket Frogs.

Real Simple is not delivered to me at my house; it’s my daughter’s subscription. (Courtesy of me, however.) The brand should appeal to me--it has the right name, but I’m sorry. If it takes 8 rules just to get dressed in the morning, what can I expect from their recipes? Their decorating tips? Or (shudder) cleaning advice? 10? 15 100?? No thank you. When I see the word simple, I expect simple. Not convoluted in disguise. You want simple rules? Here are some:

Rules for pulling together any outfit: (Notice it is only half as many...)
1.    Never dig anything out of the clothes hamper.
2.    Always give a quick look for wear and tear, specifically, previously missed holes or tears.
3.    Stick with black and white. Sometimes navy blue. Possibly red. Pink is for babies.
4.    Up to the collarbone, below the knees.

Rules for cooking at home:
1.    One pan, one plate (or bowl)
2.    One cooks, the other cleans
3.    Only use foods that are colors and flavors found in the natural world. (And beware of the sneaky, “Natural flavoring”...you don’t want to know.)
4.    Five ingredients, five steps (including cooking time). Anything else is too risky.

Rules for maintaining a presentable home:
(Notice I didn’t actually use the word “clean”--it’s subjective anyway)
1.    Don’t buy anything “decorative” after the age of 50.
2.    Toss anything decorative that doesn’t clean itself.
3.    Most everything can be cleaned with a bottle of windex and a roll of paper towels.
4.    Entertain in the evening when the sun doesn’t highlight dust. Better yet, entertain in the summer--outside.

Rules for enjoying life after 50:
1.    Spend as much time as possible with your grandchildren. If you don’t have them, find some.
2.    Embrace forgetfulness; you can’t fret about what you can’t remember.
3.    Take a walk every day (or as often as you remember to.) “Walk” can be interchanged with “nap.”
4.    Let go of yesterday, enjoy today and look forward to tomorrow. 

Feel free to adopt or adapt as you see fit. I have a rule about telling other people what to do and that is: I don't.  :)



Saturday, August 29, 2015

Ten years ago...

Ten years ago, around this time of year, I decided that if I wanted anyone else to take me seriously as a writer, I would have to do it first. I set out to write a blog and publish my own work--since no one else was clamoring to do it. It wasn't so much a "blog" as a website upon which I posted weekly (or biweekly...at least monthly) an essay about "The world as I see it and make sense of it–or not– as the case may be." That was my clever tagline. Also around this time of year...maybe even today...ten years ago, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and I found myself writing my first post. It was as difficult to write then as it was to reread it today, but I'm re-posting it as a tribute to that day, that event and the memory of my college roommate Sue. Feel free to let me know what you think and thanks, as always, for your support. 

Miss New Orleans
Friday, September 02, 2005

The funniest things occur to me.
~ Feeling sad for the man who journaled all his life in Gulfport, Mississippi - whose journals just blew away.
~ Wondering how the babies are getting dry diapers.
~ Wondering if, after all these years, the city still looked the same before it was washed away.
~ Is the Morning Call still there?

I don't know how to process this disaster that is Katrina. As I did in September 2001, I watch and watch the TV and the film clips and the faces and the stories until I can't watch anymore. I want to cry, but I am afraid that if I start, I will never stop.

Those little faces. The children who are so sad and hungry and cold and wet. The parents who are helpless to care for them. The people who have been ripped from their families and wander with bloodshot, tear-filled eyes...just looking.

What can a woman in Connecticut do?

I want to offer warm beds, dry clothes, water by the gallons and long, long hot soapy showers and clean fresh towels. And lots of food. It's this emotional connection I have to New Orleans that makes me want to just go down there and help, even though I haven't been there in over 25 years.

My roommate in college, Sue, left our school in Texas to finish school in New Orleans. She was going to be a nurse. She might have been in New Orleans still when Katrina hit and ended up helping others had she not died 25 years ago helping one other. Only 22, she was out on the town with friends--fellow students--when a car pulled up beside them and grabbed her companion. Being Sue, she dove into the car after her friend and was instantly shot in the face. Fortunately, they both fell from the car to safety from the blast. Unfortunately, Sue died that very night.

One January, a couple of years earlier, I met Sue in New Orleans before classes started back for the semester. She took me on a real native tour of the city. We stayed off of the well-traveled paths and took the ones--well--less traveled. Down alleys and around corners. Through wrought iron gates and into tiny shops with no names above the doors. In one shop, I swear she knew the proprietor because it seems as they both conspired to get me to "try some of this perfume". Sniff! My face flushed as they both doubled over hysterical at my reaction. "What the hell...?" It was amyl nitrate...so funny...

Sue was Miss New Orleans that day. My ambassador to adventure, the wild side I never possessed. I never went back to the city after our tour. Not even when a bunch of girls went to celebrate Mardi Gras with Sue just a month before she died. Had I known I only had a month left to see her, I might have made an effort to go. But I was newly married and I stayed home and let my single friends go party it up in the Big Easy. And then she was gone.

I gave my daughter her name and invested New Orleans with her spirit. That way, whenever I heard anything about New Orleans, I thought of Sue--she was still around. Laughing at the silliest things, taking risks and dancing...always dancing. And now...now this town that she held in the palm of her hand...is gone. Like Sue.

I miss New Orleans.

Suzanne 1958-1980


 

The world as I see it and make sense of it–or not– as the case may be. - See more at: http://writingoutloud.net/#sthash.cXwmf6zV.dpuf
The world as I see it and make sense of it–or not– as the case may be. - See more at: http://writingoutloud.net/#sthash.kizYAUdS.dpuf
The world as I see it and make sense of it–or not– as the case may be. - See more at: http://writingoutloud.net/#sthash.kizYAUdS.dpuf
The world as I see it and make sense of it–or not– as the case may be. - See more at: http://writingoutloud.net/#sthash.kizYAUdS.dpuf

Friday, August 21, 2015

Thinking of Jimmy Carter


 Author's Note: Many years ago, I wrote this essay about my Dad and Jimmy Carter. The recent news of President Carter's cancer diagnosis is sad and I heard about it while visiting my parents in Florida, where my Dad is still recovering from his coma. I remembered this essay and am posting it now as a tribute to both men, still strong despite the challenges of a life of hard work and debilitating health issues.
 
My parents with the Carters at Maranatha Baptist Church in October 2003)
 My Dad, Jimmy Carter and me
February 2003

I have a crush on Jimmy Carter. I think he can fix all the worlds’ ills and strife just by opening his mouth and allowing that soft, gentle Southern accent to pick everyone up in its great big ever-loving, peanut farmer richness and get everyone to start remembering just what is important in this world. Like peace, shelter, dignity, rights. I’m not alone in this feeling, am I? The man did, after all, win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Maybe it was because Jimmy Carter was the first president I ever voted for. That is a memorable experience – voting in one’s first presidential election. It is a huge civic and mature responsibility especially when combined with an equally exhilarating milestone – reaching the legal drinking age. I was of age, in Texas, in my first semester at college and voting for a United States president – who won! It doesn’t get much more memorable than that.

Or, maybe it’s because he resembles my dad. My mother has always maintained that I have been drawn to men who look like my dad – blonde, fair skinned, blue eyed. I once kicked my pediatrician’s stethoscope across the room and hid under a table, all because, according to my mother, he had dark hair and didn’t look the slightest bit like my dad. I was pretty sure it was because he was messing with my dress and he had a huge needle in his hand. I was four, I’m supposed to be discriminating? My dark, chocolate-eyed, Italian husband doesn’t believe that theory, and hasn’t for the last some-odd years. But the fact remains, there is a resemblance between Jimmy Carter and my dad. I have definitely done a few double takes when I’ve seen Mr. Carter on TV– “Hey, what’s my dad doing on CNN?” Then I realize – oh – it’s just Jimmy Carter.

Looks aside, there are other similarities between Mr. Carter and my dad. They are both family men, married to the same woman for almost 50+ years, in their 70s, seemingly ready to retire and yet working harder now than when they had real jobs. Mr. Carter’s real job, of course was being president of the United States. My dad was a chemical engineer at General Electric. Now they are both peace activists working against time and tide of popular thought to prevent war, pain and suffering.
My brother writes a monthly newsletter from Hollywood, where he moved to keep warm. One of them referred to the emails that our dad sends us – daily. With the war in Iraq being waged daily on TV, the internet and in our hearts, the emails come fast and furious alerting us to peace vigils, phone calls to make, petitions to sign, and other people-driven contributions required to remind people that peace is good – war is bad. This activism has not just recently occurred, however. We attentive offspring have been watching our parent’s commitment to good causes all our lives. Because you don’t think my dad did all this alone? The very least he needed was my mother’s support. The best he got was her complete agreement in the issues and causes he felt needed the most attention. Hunger, race relations, conflict resolution, and yes, peace.

And here I sit, going to work everyday, reading or, sometimes not reading, all the emails I get, wondering, who thought it was a good idea to get this man a computer? I feel like I did when I was in grade school gym class. I hated gym class. Besides the fact that we had to wear these ridiculous blue gym suits – ugh – even the most un-athletic of us were forced to participate in very excruciating athletic calisthenics. Like jump rope. I guess my gym teacher also didn’t resemble my dad, because I didn’t like her very much either. Anyway – when the group jump roping started, everyone had to line up and jump in, jump for 10 counts or something and then jump out. Please – could I just wear this stupid gym suit to classes all day instead? It would be less painful. The anxiety I developed waiting to jump in, jump for the expected number of jumps and jump out was unbearable. I would let the other girls cut in line – they liked this crazy jumping!

And that’s how I feel about all this peace activist stuff – I am waiting for the rope to come around at just the right time so I can jump in and not make a fool of myself, or not fall down and get laughed at. What do I do? What can I do?

If I wasn’t so uncoordinated, I would smack myself in the forehead. Of course it has been before me the whole time – my whole life in fact. I’ve seen what one man – or woman – can do, both on the worldwide stage and the personal. My dad will never have a non-profit, nongovernmental organization named after him, like Mr. Carter. But believe me, he works hard at the same causes with the same impressive dedication. Mr. Carter has unlimited resources at his disposal and he has the dignity to use them with respect. There probably aren’t too many people out there who will say “no” to a former president. Plenty of people say no to my dad. But that’s ok – because he just gets back on the phone, computer, or podium and asks again. I have two role models before me, one whose website I can visit and research the latest work on conflict resolution and one I can call on the phone and ask advice from – that would be my dad. If I haven’t learned by now that one person can make a difference than I haven’t been paying attention. Or, to quote Mr. Carter’s Nobel Acceptance speech, “an individual is not swept along on a tide of inevitability but can influence even the greatest human events.” So where does that leave me? I guess I just get in there and jump.

(My mother sent President Carter's office a copy of this essay. 
He read it and sent a short note back in return.)


Monday, August 10, 2015

Too Old


You’ve heard it a million times: “I’m getting too old for this.” Most recently these words panted out of my own mouth as I tried to keep up with my daughter on one of our frequent walks around town. One of the routes we take (and we have several with varying degrees of difficulty) combines the flat sidewalk along Main Street with the uphill side streets by the firehouse and the post office. It was during one of those uphill stretches that I uttered those words that often describe a once-manageable task now found daunting: “I’m (huffing and puffing) too old (more huffing) for this.” And I wasn’t even the one pushing the stroller with my toddler grandson.

The Aging Cheerleaders would have you believe that getting older is all in one’s head. Adopt a positive attitude! Do brainteasers! But it’s not. Aging isn’t just in my head; it’s in my knees, my belly and many of my internal organs. Of course it is...these body parts have been around as long as I have, generally, and some diminishment in function is to be expected. My knees don’t always bend when I want them to and when they do achieve the desired angle in an attempt to ascend stairs, there is often pain associated with the movement.  What other mechanism can last that long without some deterioration? We’re not Volvos.   The uphill climbs I attempt never get easier, but there are days when I accomplish them with less exertion. And some days I feel like Sisyphus because-- “it’s just one of those days”--another aging adage that explains why doing something one used to do with ease is now fraught with some difficulty.

Until quite recently, I have been slightly oblivious to having to “deal” with getting old. I admit, those lovely comments insisting I must have been twelve when I had my children because how could I possibly a grandmother are sweet music to my ears. And although I am on a couple of medications that help regulate a faulty thyroid and some pesky hypertension, it’s not that big a deal. A little wear and tear on this old body has not hampered me in the things that I really love to do, which, quite honestly, isn’t that much--physically speaking. I like to walk (on flat sidewalks), do some swimming, putter in the garden and get down on the floor with my grandson to play trucks. I often opt for the low footstool instead of lowering myself all the way to the ground to play, but so far he hasn’t complained.  I can usually complete one of those brainteasers, too, if it’s not too hard. 

Facing my own aging struck me recently when I needed to choose a photograph to include with a local interview for my book. There is one (and only one) photograph of myself that I don’t mind showing to others. Obviously I use it every chance I get. But it’s slightly outdated and I was compelled to get a new one and the new one makes me look old. And it’s not the photograph that makes me look old. I am old. I am an older woman now and I look it. My hair is grayer, there are deep lines in my face and smaller ones around my eyes. And if you pinch the skin on my elbow, it stays that way much to the delight of my grandson, who tries it out every chance he gets. I must have thought all those aches and pains I’ve complained about over the last few years were going to go away. But they’re not. They’re here to stay and I am--to employ yet another old adage--not getting any younger.  My body and my mind and my looks are, in fact, aging. But, as they also say (and they must be those same AARP cheerleaders), aging beats the alternative.

In an effort to broaden my perspective on the aging process and how to best navigate its sometimes-choppy waters, I consulted my uncle Art. Uncle Art has been enjoying nonagenarian status for several years now. And counting. As far as I know he golfs fairly regularly and he and my aunt Diane play cribbage every night. They enjoy a steady stream of family visitors while managing a full social calendar, which includes continuing education courses. He told me, “Old age is a reward. When you reach old age, enjoy it fully. Don’t complain about not being able to do this or that any more than earlier in life when you would dwell on one obstacle for too long. If life is a meal, then old age is the dessert. And dessert is the best part.”

So that’s the advice I’m going to follow. The changes and challenges of getting older are no different than the changes and challenges at every life stage. A challenge is a challenge. Bodies will succumb to the planned obsolescence of physiology at one point or another.  I will learn to remember to enjoy the meal that has been my life. Besides, I always did like dessert best. 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

That's What Friends Are For


Annie, my 34-year-old daughter, packed up her little family early one beautiful Sunday morning, much earlier than I was ready to get out of my pjs and come downstairs, to attend a friend’s housewarming party--in Vermont. That’s a three-hour road trip up and a three-hour trip back. I am still nosy enough to have inquired the night before: What’s the hurry to see them? Tony had been out of town for most of the week and they had been out all day Saturday. Wouldn’t a nice relaxing Sunday at home be just what the doctor ordered?  I pressed further (I’m not only nosy, I can be downright persistent sometimes).  “Why don’t you just tell them this weekend won’t work? Can’t you go up another time, maybe when you can spend the night?”

I got one of those looks. You know the look. The look comes when you’ve ventured way over the line and meddled too far into your child’s business, particularly your 34-year-old child. The look says, “Um...I’ve got this...stay out of it.” And most of the time I can. But, sadly, I had another question. “Annie, what’s so important that you have to go this weekend? They’re not moving out--they just moved in!”  She answered as if she were trying to convince Luca to please eat his peas--exasperated, but trying to be patient: “Mom. These are the kind of friends that we really need to work at. They won’t understand if we don’t come.”

And there it was, right in front of my eyes. The generation gap, looming large.  You’ll be happy to know, dear readers, that I did finally stay out of it. In fact, I stayed so far out of it, I stayed in bed Sunday morning while they bustled about trying to get out of the house on time. I had worked all day Saturday, so even though I was a little sorry to see them go, I was a little excited at the prospect of some alone time.  And as I heard the car pull out of the driveway, I thought to myself, “thank god I don’t have friends I have to work so hard for.”

Friends now are people who won’t get mad at me for canceling because I’m wiped out. Because, honestly, they’re probably wiped out. We are at the age where getting together is fun, but getting out of getting together works, too.  Attendance at a birthday or retirement party doesn’t get recorded as a measure of friendship. Often, not showing up when expected garners a concerned call or email. I don’t want to “work hard” at friendship and I suspect my friends don’t want me to either. Because they don’t want to.

Friendships after fifty are based on mutual respect and common interests. In my 30s, I am pretty sure I had friends that I felt I had to “work hard” at. Friends who had come into my life by way of the school my kids went to, the places I worked or people my husband was friends with, when I had one. 

Just recently I invited a friend and her husband to join Angelo and me for an evening at a jazz concert. Even though I was looking forward to it (kind of...it was outside and the forecast was for blistering hot temperatures) when she emailed me the morning of the concert to tell me that she and her husband were going to beg off...it had been a long weekend and they needed some down time, I assured her it was fine. In fact, it sounded like such a good reason to me, I didn’t go either. Angelo and I stayed home, hung out on our shady porch and grilled outside. No black marks on either side of this friendship.

I tried to impart the wisdom I’ve gained on Annie’s Sunday plans, but she didn’t need my wisdom. This is her friendship to manage; they may stay friends forever (based on all that hard work, I hope so!) or theirs may wane with the passing years. That’s her business and definitely not mine. It’s a process of maturing that can’t get skipped over because that’s how we figure out who our friends are.  If she needs help with this, she can ask her other friends. That’s what friends are for. 



Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Voglio (I want)

When I'm in Italy I want to wear high heels.

I don’t know why, I don’t wear them here in the US. (Right. Everyone knows I wear flip-flops, don’t they?) I don’t even want to wear high heels here. I fall when I wear high heels, even standing still. But when I am sitting at a café in an ancient piazza, with a bell tower and a splashing fountain and a guy washing his shirt in that fountain and a black-haired, sunglassed woman with red lips strides by confidently--and quickly--in heels, I think to myself, “Maybe I should get a pair of those.”

That’s what being in Italy does to you. It makes you want things. For example, Angelo and I were home a little over 24 hours and we were already looking at houses on the real estate website in his hometown. There is only the one company; it’s a very small town. We think we want to find a small apartment so we can have a place to go back to every year. See? Now I want to go back to Italy every year because once every couple of years isn’t enough.

Here are some other things being in Italy made me want: 

  I want to eat food like this every day.



I want to walk down the street as an old couple next to the Naples waterfront where the tourists and townspeople are still partying at 11pm and sit at a café with Angelo and have a Prosecco. 
(He’ll have an espresso. Someone has to get us back home.) 


   I want a local bookstore with a bar inside.

  I want a bottle of wine that costs $1.70. 

   I want a view like this out my bedroom window.

You have to grow up in Italy, I think, to wear heels there. They have cobblestone streets with dangerously wide spaces in between the cobbles. I watch in wonder as women walk by talking on phones, lighting cigarettes, chatting with friends and they don’t fall down. Ever. I think it’s in the blood. I am positive that if I put on a pair of shoes with a higher elevation than an eighth of an inch, I’d be face down before I took two steps. So, wearing heels isn’t in the cards for me. But all those other things? I think I can manage them.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Join the club

Things sure have changed, haven’t they? It used to be that if I wanted to buy a bottle of wine, I’d go to the liquor store and get one. Simple. These days, as with most everything, I can get it online. For months now, I get emails several times a week from a couple of online wine sites with whom I registered with unbelievable offers, helpful buying tips and rapidly expiring $15-off coupons. I open some, but usually delete them because, at 57, if I want a bottle of wine, I still go to the liquor store and get one.

Then along came Club W.

I don’t even remember how this little guy wrangled his way into my checkbook. I think it was the promise of getting a bottle of wine on the house. I opened the email, clicked on the link and discovered I would have to sign up to get the deal. So I did. I signed with the other two helpful online wine proprietors, didn’t I? Why not make it a hat trick? But, after I did so, the deal disappeared into the ether and I lost track of it.  I closed the fancy, scenic wine country page, deleted the email and forgot about it. Not a difficult thing for me to do.  

Then, the following week, Club W showed up in my email again. They wanted to buy me another bottle of wine. Since they were so persistent, I allowed it. They didn't send me just any bottle of wine, Club W wanted to know my preferences and my tastes.  I thought that was thoughtful. I looked through the selections, chose my 3 bottles (I had to buy two to get one, but still, it seemed like a good deal) and entered my credit card number. They assured me that I would be happily receiving my shipment in a few days and that my next selection would ship next month about the same time.

Wait. What? What the heck did I just sign up for?

It turns out that Club W is a subscription wine service and you get three bottles every month, rain or shine. This seems to be a trend in Internet shopping: you can get almost everything without even lifting a credit card anymore, except that first time. There have always been subscription services for goods, but it was typically limited to reading material; magazines and newspapers and Book of the Month Club. Of course, Harry & David have been selling apples and pears by subscription for years, but, now, it seems like everyone’s getting into the act. Take a look at all the places you shop online--most, if not all, will offer an auto-reorder option for your oft-ordered items. You can get anything from razor blades to maternity clothes delivered to your door on a regular basis. Bourbon, science experiments and dog treats will also arrive monthly for you, your kids and pets.   Plated is one of many companies that will gather ingredients together for a specific recipe and send you dinner in a leak-proof, insulated box. (You still have to cook it.) They have cute and clever names like Mantry (The Modern Man’s Pantry), Flicker Box (a monthly assortment of candles. Seriously, candles) and MeUndies (Yes, it’s underwear). So, why am I surprised that there is a subscription service for something as normal and essential as wine? 


I guess I’m not as surprised that it exists as much as I am that I finally gave in to such a service. I am not an Internet novice; I typically don’t let the siren's call of easy delivery tempt me. Also, I am Yankee-frugal. But this is wine. And in fact three brightly labeled selections showed up pretty expediently and in time for the weekend. Each selection had an accompanying recipe. (Thanks, but my go-to recipe is cheese and crackers.) I will have to investigate this subscription further to see what I’m in for. It’s not like I don’t drink the stuff. (In fact I wrote about wine in the last post.) Maybe I can get on board with this deliver-stuff-to-me-every-month system.What else can I get to come to my door?

I'll let you know.