Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Birthdays Aren't for Sissies

Richard with his two favorite nephews. 
When I was getting ready to return to my second year of college, my brother Richard was preparing to attend his freshman year at Wesleyan, our Dad’s alma mater. We had both worked all summer; I was a Fotomate--that’s what they called those of us who worked in those claustrophobic Fotomat booths--and Richard worked as a pizza delivery guy for Domino’s, driving his blue VW minibus all over Louisville. Knowing those pizza delivery guys didn’t make much money--and as the older sister—I footed the bills for our mutual outings that summer. When we went to the bank together at the end of the summer to cash out our savings for the coming school year, I walked out with a couple of hundred bucks and Richard pocketed his over seven hundred dollars. This was 1977--that was a lot of money. It occurred to me then that my brother was a shrewd planner. I made it easy for him that summer by being the overprotective sister--picking up the tab when we went for pizza or midnight madness at The Vogue movie theater.  I don’t remember feeling anything but shocked and amazed; not annoyed or taken advantage of. It was the beginning of seeing him as the person he was to become.

The intervening years have continued to prove his planning prowess. It seemed that he always had a plan, always knew what he was going to do next. Meanwhile, my life was like the little steel ball in a pinball machine, reacting to whatever obstacle or hurdle I was thrown up against.  He once drove out to San Francisco to rescue a friend from the Moonies. He and another friend drove back to California a few years later to live in San Diego. He always had a sense of purpose, a well-defined course of action. Although I still felt protective of him, he rarely seemed like he needed my “protection” and more often than not, it was I who looked to him for guidance or support during times of difficulty or confusion. He has always been the smartest person I know, and I’m not the only person in the world who has said that. His weighing in on matters of current events or ways of human behavior are about as spot on as anyone’s. 

During the time when I was single parenting, he was a male role model for my son. He took Christopher on hikes, to the movies and just hung out with him. Once he even took him to Florida to visit my parents. He was always there if I needed a little extra cash for groceries or school supplies. Years later, when my daughter decided she wanted to move across the country and live in California, the only reason that I said, “Sure, that’s a great idea, honey!” was because Richard would be there to look out for her. Which he did in spades, practically supporting her for the first few months after her arrival. He had moved out to California years before to become a screenwriter, a gift and a skill he has continued to hone and stay true to. For a while, he worked in a law firm to support himself while he put his work out there, but then, after several years of 9to5, he decided if he was going to do this screenwriting thing, he needed to do it full time. So he quit his job. This is where that shrewd saving part comes in. He was able to quit his full-time, benefits-supplying job and stay home and write. He had that much socked away. It surprised everyone but me.

And that is what is so impressive to me now. His commitment to his work. Although I’m not nosy enough to ask (and I can be pretty nosy), I am pretty sure his savings must have nearly run out by now. Yet he’s still writing every day, making phone calls and sending emails, working towards the day when he gets one of his scripts up there on the silver screen. He recorded his experiences on a blog. You should read them; he’s a great writer. While he’s doing all this staying-true-to-his-goal stuff he also found the resources to come East for Annie’s wedding and stayed to help drive my parents back to their home in Florida from Maine. His commitment to his work is surpassed only by his commitment to his family and I’m not sure I always let him know that I know that.

So this is me doing that. He is about to reach a certain milestone, which to him, makes him feel that he hasn’t accomplished all that he has set out to do. I know about this particular milestone…it can be a tough one. But, by my reckoning, he has accomplished everything he has set out to do: He is a man with integrity and conscience. He puts love and family first and has remained true to himself when conventional wisdom and societal pressure dictates otherwise. He might not think he is where he wants to be, but he is always there when you need him and that’s a success that not many people can claim.  You may not be ready to celebrate, Richard, but I am celebrating you. Happy Birthday.

*Sister's note: I wrote this a couple of years ago, but the sentiment and wishes remain current. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Necessity: La Mamma of Invention

Since we’ve been in Italy, both Angelo and I have learned many things. Things too diverse and deep to discuss here in 750 words or less. I think I’ll write a book about it…yes, that’s what I’ll do. So stay tuned for that.

But what I can share with you is how inventive we’ve become during our stay. We rented a small casetta and, at the outset, it seemed that it would fit our needs. And it has, for the most part. In our tiny, tiny bedroom this morning Angelo had to reposition the clip-on light we use as a reading lamp. It is attached to the floor-to-ceiling radiator bars against the wall because we don’t have room for a table. Or an actual lamp. See, the bed is just about the size of the room and since my knees are giving me trouble (wink, wink) Angelo took the side that requires him to slither against the wall to get into bed. I suggested we just forget about the light since it won’t stay secure. He said, “No, I like more light in this room. Actually, I’d like more room in this room.” It’s true. More room would be welcome. But here we are, so creative problem solving was vital.

We knew the house was tiny, with hardly any “stuff” in it. At first it was fine because it was temporary and we’re hardy travelers. As time went on, we realized we were going to need some of that "stuff" that makes living in a house a little more comfortable. Like an oven rack. Or more than one chair in the living room. Or a living room. So, we headed down to Muro Lucano’s version of Target to accessorize a little. Muro’s Target is a little store tucked in below the Piazza San Marco owned by a man named Giuseppe, but known as Pinuch’. (From Pino as in Giuseppino. His wife is named Giuseppina...called Pina. This town is way too cute.)  His shop is packed with 12-foot gray metal shelves in two small rooms, stocked with nearly everything from fuses to canning jars and if Penuch’ doesn’t have it, it can’t be had. One of the cousins got her flatscreen TV there. We picked up a new coffee pot, some bath towels, sugar and a bottle of Tequila. We were set.

If you have a bottle of Tequila, though, you’re going to need some ice. We neglected to get an ice cube tray, so our first innovation went a little something like this: 

Who knew egg cartons would make such perfect ice cube trays? (It helps if they're plastic.) 

I have already mentioned our lamp problem. The cousin we borrowed the clip-on reading lamp from also loaned us a small ceramic lamp for our imaginary living room so we were left with the kitchen to take care of. The lighting solution for each room was basically a bare bulb hanging from the middle of each room’s ceiling. Without meaning to, that style gave the whole place a slightly eerie cast to it at night.  The kitchen, our largest room, looked like a scene from a movie where you’re continually screaming, “Look out! Behind the door!” One night, Angelo climbed up on a chair and taped this to the dangling bulb:

Instant atmosphere. The light is still a little too LED for us, but it helps diminish the feeling that we should be running for our lives and we can enjoy our meals. (Unless we’re sitting out under our yellow umbrella overlooking the mountains. But I don’t want to make anyone too jealous.)

The next issue was also in the kitchen. There is one large casement window and the front door. Each of them allow sun and air to come in…and bugs. There are very few screens here in Italy. When I open my kitchen windows however, they often blow all the way open giving my neighbors a front row seat to all my Americanism. I wanted to be able to open the window enough to let in some air and light and keep out most of the bugs and eyes.  Fortunately, we’re drinking a lot of wine here:

Voila! I simply cut one of our used wine bottle corks in half and it keeps the window at just the right angle. And in case I need another one, I just keep a couple of bottles of wine on hand. You just never know when ingenuity will strike. 

Speaking of the kitchen window, it’s not a one-way view. I can see the neighbors, too. And recently, I discovered how industrious the Italians are at reusing their items. Now I know how to take care of all the plastic bags we get: 

It's safe to say that being in Italy has definitely made us more resourceful. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

If you give an Italian a suit, he's going to want a pair of shoes

We have only been here a week and it’s happening. That thing when you visit a place for a while and you start behaving as if you’ve lived there all your life. Or in other words, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Angelo comes by it honestly, of course—he was born in Italy. That’s why we’re here in  Muro Lucano--his hometown--for our sabbatical. We want to see what it’s like to be here for an extended period of time so that maybe we can incorporate it into our lives down the road. Being in Muro is good for me because it’s literally far enough away from all of my obligations—real and imagined—so that I can devote some time to writing.

But back to Angelo. One of the reasons we planned to be here in early September was the family wedding we are going to. It’s going to be a big wedding, a fancy wedding and as far back as April, Angelo began talking about getting a suit for it in Italy. A suit bought in Italy could very well mean jewelry for me, so I kept track of these musings carefully. As time got closer, Angelo identified a location: Naples. He wanted to buy a suit in Naples a day or two before the actual ceremony. It wasn’t looking good for me and my new gold locket, since we are without a car.  I wasn’t sure how we were going to get to Naples from Muro and then to Paestum for the event.

But leave it to the Italians to figure out how to get someone a suit. It turns out, one of the uncles knows a guy. Actually, most of the uncles and cousins know this same guy. By the time Angelo’s brother Vittorio arrived from the States, there was a plan. One day, after lunch, off they went to Potenza to go to THE place in the area to buy a suit. It’s called “Redford” so everyone here explains it is just like the actor, “Ro-bert Red-ford” with the obligatory Italian accent. (You have to roll the Rs.) I stayed home, for many reasons, not the least of which is that there would have been four of us in the back seat. No thanks. I’m here to write (and nap, since lunch here is like a four course dinner back home).

After a couple of hours, I received a text with a picture:

Angelo had found a suit. I noticed that the shoes he was wearing were not the shoes he had worn out the door that morning. They were shiny. And black. I could almost see the longing in his eyes. And his smile says, "You know what we're talking about when I get home, right?"

But he didn't want to talk about it when he got the morning, he suggested. More time to develop a solid rationale, I suspected.  The cost I imagined in my head increased another $200; my new locket and gold bangles might have to wait. But I would remember.

In the morning, he finally spit it out: $400. “But it’s an $800 suit!” he assured me. Yeah, sure. They saw him coming a mile away. Then he said,  “The shoes I tried on would look a lot better with that suit than the ones I brought…”

Uh-huh. I waited. It only took another minute…

“I might need a shirt.” 

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Anti-Coulter

I always miss Throwback Thursday, so let's consider this a Flashback Friday post. It's another one from the vaults...almost 10 years old. Which makes the topic that much more disturbing. Ann Coulter has been spewing hate for that long (and longer I suspect). And she's at it again (still) with her vicious tweets in response to a grieving father's plea to embrace all people in our country; the very tenets of our Constitution. Here's the link--read it yourself. (I won't repeat it.)

There are two things wrong with her brand of "commentary":
1. It's mean and spiteful.
2. Our children are watching.

When children see the kind of language adults use, they emulate it. The adults children see in their homes and on television are the role models for how children navigate their own lives, form their own relationships, solve their own problems. Who in the world thinks it is okay to be this nasty to a fellow human being, a fellow countryperson?

As Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said in his speech at the Democratic Convention,  "At its core, discrimination is the result of fear." People like Ann Coulter who viciously attack others for no apparent reason are typically masking their own fear. People who live their lives in fear deserve compassion and help, if they accept it. They usually don't. Personally, I am going to avoid the hate and vitriol coming from these so-called commentators who are gleefully following the lead of the Republican nominee for President and spreading hate and fear as happily as a flower girl spreads petals at a wedding. That kind of behavior has no place in a presidential election or a country built on accepting others.

I felt the same way 10 years ago . . .

First published June 2006
Children Learn

For as long as I can remember, a copy of this poem was taped to the inside of a cabinet door in our kitchen:
Children Learn What They Live
          If children live with criticism,
               They learn to condemn.
          If children live with hostility,
               They learn to fight.
          If children live with ridicule,
               They learn to be shy.
          If children live with shame,
               They learn to feel guilty.
          If children live with encouragement,
               They learn confidence.
          If children live with tolerance,
               They learn to be patient.
          If children live with praise,
               They learn to appreciate.
          If children live with acceptance,
               They learn to love.
          If children live with approval,
               They learn to like themselves.
          If children live with honesty,
               They learn truthfulness.
          If children live with security,
               They learn to have faith in themselves and others.
          If children live with friendliness,
               They learn the world is a nice place in which to live.
          Copyright © 1972/1975 by Dorothy Law Nolte

It was the spice/downstairs medicine chest/odds and ends cabinet all the way at the end of the kitchen across from the pantry next to the stove. I didn’t have many occasions to open this cabinet as my mom was the Chief Cook and Medicine Dispenser, but being a naturally nosy child, I could be counted upon to get into places into which I had not been invited. So this poem, over the years and through clandestine invasions, became unconsciously, indelibly imprinted on my brain.

When it was time to raise my kids, and with the absence of manual on how to do it right, bits and pieces of this poem would come to me on occasion.  I really had no choice in the matter since it was the way I was raised. Just when you think you are going to everything differently with your kids, there you are telling them to stand still while you clip their fingernails outside on Sunday morning before church just like your dad did when you were little.

Now that my kids are grown and my opportunity to raise them is through, I hadn’t had much opportunity to think about that poem. Recently, however, I did think about it. It was when I heard about a woman who was saying nasty things about other women. This wasn’t just a local PTA scrap – it was a nationally known author saying nasty things about women whose husbands had been killed in the tragedies of 9/11. She said something like, not only had they made tons of money on the tragedy, but were actually enjoying their husbands’ deaths because of the celebrity it brought them. I thought to myself, “well, that’s just mean.”

I didn’t know much about this woman; I had heard of her of course, but didn’t know anything about her philosophy, writings, opinion, etc. So I looked her up. I guess she is something of a provocateur and is credited with saying other, equally inflammatory things about other people. I saw a picture of her online – on her very own website in fact – and saw that she is quite an attractive blonde who clearly goes to some trouble to maintain her looks. I thought I’d find out what she had to say. Turns out, there wasn’t anything that I read that I found in the least bit provocative, interesting or intelligent. It was just mean.

Then I read a short interview in the Borders Monthly magazine that was promoting her book. She said, in response to the question, “What were your family dinners like growing up?”, “They were macabre nightly rituals featuring me, my two brothers and our two loving differently gendered parents. We discussed politics and current events in civilized tones and said something called “grace” before eating meals, which sometimes contained meat and after which none of us threw up. Totally weird”.  And, to me, her response sounded kind of sarcastic. But not weird, because that’s how family dinners were like in my family growing up. Sometimes, though, we invited missionaries who were visiting our church, or had friends over. I remember one time we had a kid from the orphanage to Sunday dinner. I don’t know who was more uncomfortable, him or us three kids, who weren’t sure whether he would like playing our games. But that’s my parents for you – demonstrating community and goodwill right there at the dinner table. 

I can be in charge of my home and practice what I preach and try to raise my kids with approval, confidence and friendliness, but what about the world in which they live? What kind of climate exists in this world where someone can write such horribly nasty things about people dealing with a very personal tragedy? What do their children think – anyone’s children for that matter, when they see that sort of behavior not only accepted, but rewarded? Why pounce on the misfortune of others and make inflammatory statements simply to insure that people will buy her latest book?

I’m not sure where that old worn copy of our poem disappeared to, but it doesn’t matter. It stayed with me; it is instilled in my kids and in many others in my family and in my community. It doesn’t worry me that there are people who thrive on the misfortunes of others because there will always be people like that. But, hopefully, one of these days, it will be more important to be loving and tolerant in our world and those people who make a living thinking and writing about intolerance can just go pound sand.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

What Would Jennifer Do?

I have been a fan of Jennifer Aniston's for many years. Over 20 judging by the date on the essay below. This week she took to social media to put to rest the latest rumor about her personal life, basically sharing with the world, "I am not pregnant." Like it's any of our business. That's the conclusion I came to over ten years ago when I wrote the following. I will not help perpetuate the insane and dangerous invasion into these people's private lives. Anyone's private life for that matter. Because even in this world of tweeting, posting, sharing and commenting on instant information, there are some things that are just none of our business.

Sunday, November 20, 2005
So, I’m in the gym trying to literally work my ass off. It’s a nice gym and I go there lots of times during the week. It’s not full of hard bodies or 16 year old nymphs with writing all over their bottoms advertising either their availability or naiveté- I’m never sure which – so that we 40-somethings don’t have to feel too uncomfortable red-faced and gasping on our 2.5 mile treadmill hike to nowhere. To make the trip more interesting, I grab a couple of well-thumbed magazines from the revolving rack near the cardio room. I set up my water bottle and towel on the right, my mags on the left, punch in the appropriate data into this fancy, electronic treadmill and “push start to begin.” As I ease into this regimen, I place the first magazine on the little ledge in front of the odometer so that it covers up how slow I’m going. There’s Brad and Angelina walking on the beach. That’s nice – they have the kids with them. I can’t tell if it’s an actual photo or a composed one, but they seem like they’re having a good time. And that’s when it occurs to me…What Will Jennifer Do?
For a few months now, I admit, I’ve been pretty captivated by Jennifer Aniston’s life. I don’t know her, really, but I watched all 10 seasons of Friends and we share a birthday. None of that gives me access to her actual life, but I am interested anyway. Why? I don’t know…let’s not delve into that right now. But anyway, here she is, pictures of her sprinkled through the magazines I pick up from the rack to make my treadmilling go a little faster. And week after week, I read…
     . . . Oh, cool – she’s in Chicago filming a movie.
     . . . Awww, there she is at little Coco’s christening.
     . . . Hey – look – she and her friends are out on her back deck having a little party. Is she smoking?
     . . . Oh, looks like she could use a rest – aren’t those bags under her eyes?
     . . . Isn’t that nice, she’s signing autographs for those cheerleaders – right there in the street.
     . . . See? I knew she liked Vince…they’re so cute together – and look – it’s kind of blurry, but I think they’re even kissing behind that potted plant on the deck of their hotel room…

Eeeyyyyuuuuuu…what am I saying?!
That’s the photo that stopped me. The photo that I was squinting at to make out, because it was so hard to see, was Jennifer Aniston and someone sharing an inarguably private moment. And here I am – me and millions of other people – looking right at it as if it were a photo in our own family album. Suddenly I felt as if I had begun flipping through some stranger’s personal belongings. I felt like I was intruding on a stranger’s private moment…and I was. What Would Jennifer Do?
It felt kind of innocent for awhile. Celebrities just invite that kind of interest. Who do they like, what do they wear, what do they eat, do they workout? I live thousands of miles away from Jennifer or Britney or Jen and Ben so what does it matter that I am reading a magazine with pictures of their grocery shopping trips, their quick dash out in slippers to get the paper, or a candid shot of their unkempt appearance as they enter the doctor’s office? I used to think that celebrities just whined too much. “Wahhh…get that camera out of my face”. Whatever. What did they think was going to happen when they chose a profession in which not only their faces, but their voices, their interviews, their pets and their work would be plastered all over billboards, television, movies and the internet? Beamed into homes across the world every week. Making millions of dollars and spending it on $500,000 airplanes, $1,000,000 weddings, $4,000 handbags and $900 shoes. If they wanted to go to the nail salon without 25 photographers following, they should have gone into banking or real estate. Am I right? Could I summon any less sympathy at all for the celebrity who complained about getting too much attention while parking their Bentley out front of the Starbucks while they run in for a latte? Nah. There is a certain amount of attention one would have to just deal with, I think, when one chooses a career and lifestyle that just begs attention.
On the other hand…when I find myself squinting at a blurry photo of a man and a woman sharing an intimate moment and wishing that the photographer had moved a little to the left before snapping the picture…well it’s time to say, “enough.” I have lots more feelings about celebrities and who deserves the acclaim and who doesn’t. Let’s just say that when I hear “the last time I saw Paris” I’d rather it refer to old women selling flowers in markets at dawn on the Champs d'Elysees. There’s a lot of inequity in a country where actors make tons of dollars and teachers don’t – but that’s a whole other commentary. But no matter how much we make, we are all accorded the unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And when there’s a big nosy photographer standing on your balcony as you pursue that happiness, well that’s just wrong.
So, I guess I will pick up the Time magazines that are also on the revolving rack of periodicals at the gym. I am definitely not ready to browse through those awful “Women With Great Looking Bodies and How They Barely Do Any Exercise At All To Get Them” issues. It won’t matter that I stop picking up the gossip magazines as I head to my treadmill. Legions of photographers will continue to follow Jennifer, Vince, Angelina, Brad, Jen and Ben and whoever is next in line in that hit parade. My one woman boycott of those publications won’t make a dent in their business, but at least I’ll feel better by not contributing to it. That’s What Cindy Will Do.

Friday, July 8, 2016

No Guns

This is a post from December 2012. If you live in Connecticut, December 2012 shows up in your brain immediately as the time when the horror of Sandy Hook happened. A day later, I sat in my office and wrote the following. Thanks for allowing me the space and time to publish it again.

No Guns
December 15, 2012

The young father who sat on our leather sofa in our cozy office about 15 feet away from me on Saturday morning had done nothing to cause me concern. All he was doing was visiting his 4-year-old son, whom he hadn’t seen in over a year.  The boy seemed to be enjoying himself, despite the gap in parenting time.  I knew, of course, from both the Family Services referral form and my own “background check” that this young father had been in jail for at least a year in his past for the crime of Threatening, 2nd degree and he had been arrested many other times for possession of narcotics and controlled substances.  His biggest crime that morning was not paying enough attention to his little boy at departure time, but that was reasonable considering how emotional supervised visits can be combined with little recent parenting experience.  

But when the little boy stacked up plastic fruit for his dad to “scan” with our toy cash register, I thought to myself,  “what if he has a gun?” 

The only reason that this thought popped into my head that morning was because of the horrible tragedy in Newtown only a day earlier and twenty miles down the road.  I had no reason to suspect this young man; even his rap sheet didn’t indicate any illegal firearms or threatening with a deadly weapon.  But we don’t have a metal detector in our office. Our toughest enforcement is number 5 on our Conditions for Participation agreement: No guns or dangerous instruments will be brought into the visitation center.

Number 5. Not even number 1. Number 1 is that both parents will arrive on time and call in a timely manner to cancel a visit if necessary.

Saturday’s father was not our only parent with a criminal record.  One of our parents had actually been jailed for threatening with a deadly weapon.  About half of our parents have restraining or protective orders and have been accused by either their exes or the police of harassment, threatening behavior, assault.  In fact, both Angelo and I have been verbally threatened by parents in our program; both visiting and custodial parents, both moms and dads.  One of the parents who threatened me had other charges pending against him for assault as well as an equal number of convictions for that same crime. 

But even as I sat quietly behind my desk, hoping that no outward evidence of the disturbing thought in my mind was showing up on my face, it did not occur to me that maybe we should have a gun.  Despite the often-sketchy backgrounds of most of our parents, we are not a high risk program.  The courts screen these families and if they think that they are a risk, they are not referred to us.  Our policy is to complete intakes on both parents to determine the best way to proceed, which may include not doing a visit at all.   We have security measures in place in our office--we’re not that idealistic--and we know what to do and how to do it when certain situations arise.  Our job is to protect the children in our care and we will do that to the best of our abilities.  But not with a weapon. 

When monsters appear, there is little to do to stop them. They are not a part of our everyday life; to fight a monster, you have to become a monster. That is not a realistic solution. If I had a weapon in my office, I believe that it would be more dangerous to the children we promise to keep safe than it would serve to protect them.  If someone came through my door intent on abduction or violence, there would be little I could do to stop it, no matter how hard I tried.   We do our best, with the help from the courts and the local police, to provide a safe place for children.  And a safe place for children has no guns.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Found Time

The following is an excerpt from my book, Flip-Flops After 50. I am posting it today because of an article I read about the upcoming demise of the Campbell Apartment. Since I probably won't make it to NYC before it changes hands, I wanted to relive the experience by sharing it with you.

I've never done a video reading before, so bear with me. And if you have a desire to see the Campbell Apartment, go there soon. Or do anything soon that you've always wanted to do. You never know when it won't be there anymore.

Please enjoy this essay. This is called "Found Time."

(Feel free to forward any technical or helpful, gentle feedback to me and's my first one :)

Friday, June 17, 2016


This summer, my husband was asked to present at a conference for single dads. They wanted him to create a presentation called a Single Dad’s Toolkit--a compendium of resources and strategies to help single dads cope with, well, being a single dad.

Every Friday, I receive a Weekend Writer’s Toolkit email from the Story Circle Network. This email contains resources and strategies to keep your writing practice going over the rest for the weary writers, I suppose.

Across the worlds of business, education, mental health, medicine and technology are toolkits of one kind or another; a compilation of devices or tactics to help one succeed at a training or deal with a transition. They are digital or actual, videos, pamphlets and downloads. Or, as I recently discovered, brown cardboard boxes.

I make a habit of ordering from, not because I am embarrassed by my crazy sex toys or secret anti-fungal remedies in my orders. I just like the convenience of having my purchases delivered to my door. It’s particularly nice in the winter so I don’t have to brave the cold and snow for deodorant. For over ten years, my chosen brands of toothpaste, shampoo, moisturizer and lip balm have arrived at my door at practically a moment’s notice. (Seriously, these people get things to you fast!) As I opened my last shipment and placed all my purchases together on the counter, I realized that what I had ordered was my own toolkit--a toolkit for aging.

As a woman gets older, she needs, or at least I need, more stuff that adds moisture to my skin. And hair and nails and almost everywhere else. Because we’re drying out, aren’t we? This last time, I found some things that supposedly help with that. I found a new shampoo and conditioner; one “defies age” and the other is “ageless.” The conditioner is a dark beige color and the shampoo is purple. Purple! Isn’t that the color of all those shampoos you used to watch being poured onto the heads of the old ladies when you went to the beauty parlor with your mother? (And had to wait while she sat under the dryer and couldn’t hear you complain about having to read about Goofus and Gallant in last year’s Highlights magazine for the umpteenth time? Wait. I just realized. I read Highlights magazine at the beauty parlor. Ironic.)

My aging toolkit didn’t stop at shampoo and conditioner.  I ordered a lotion to darken my legs so the blue-white skin from winter wouldn’t blind anyone when I went outside in shorts. I ordered a potion to lighten my hair so the remainder of my somewhat blonde would blend with the increasingly abundant gray. I used to trust the sun to do those jobs, but not anymore, so I added some SPF creams for face and body. And even though I’m not sunbathing, I will still need to replenish the moisture that apparently just evaporates now with some after (no) sun lotion.

I never thought of myself as an “age-defying” person. Except for the occasional frightening moment when I see my face in my 10x lighted mirror , I typically embrace my aging as part of the whole experience of my life. I should look different if I’ve lasted this long and done this much, shouldn’t I? Of course I lament the loss of more supple skin or less saggy arms, but I soon forget about it (which is one of the nice things about age). There may come a time when I am not able to be so positive about it, so I am feeling pretty lucky with what I’ve got.

And a toolkit doesn’t hurt, either.

Monday, May 30, 2016

When Thoughts Turn to War...

Once again, I am posting an old essay. This one was written in April 2003, soon after the announcement in March of that year that the US was going to war in Iraq. It wasn't widely read then, although my sister sent it to Howard Zinn who responded with, "Thank you for that fine statement." 

There are many reasons why this essay is showing up again today, not the least of which is that it is Memorial Day. So, in memory and gratitude, here are my thoughts.


I am not a patriot.  That’s what I hear on the news anyway, or read in the paper from any number of people who insist that, to be a patriot, I must support a war. I don’t support the war.  I don’t support any war.  It was bad enough to see on the news every night that my principles were being maligned as unpatriotic, but then co-workers began to look at me suspiciously as I joined in conversations at work.  Me – unpatriotic? That had never been called into question in my life, except once after a trip to France in my junior year of high school when I announced I was moving back to Montpelier as soon as possible because I liked it better there and Madame Samuelson almost failed me on the spot for being unpatriotic as well as kind of impetuous.  As it was being called into question by anonymous countrymen and women as well as people who actually know me, I decided it was time to take a look at that which I long thought was intrinsically mine – as an American.  And I found, both to my dismay and surprise that I am, in fact, not a patriot at all.  I am a matriot. 

Don’t look it up – it’s not there.  Patriot is, of course.  The Oxford-English Dictionary defines “patriot” as “one who self-sacrificingly exerts himself to promote the well being of his country; one whose ruling passion is the love of his country; one who maintains and defends his country’s freedom or rights”.  And in fact “matriotism” is in the OED as well.  “Love of one’s mother-land, alma mater” it said.  If patriot is love of fatherland, then I am a matriot - of the mother land.  I represent those softer, nurturing qualities that only a mother can get away with and, in addition, I will defend my country’s freedom and rights. I just won’t do it with a gun. What I will do is mourn every single name on the news each night that tallies another life lost.  I will turn the TV off when I can’t watch the “tank-cam” any longer or one more inch of footage of an actual firefight.  All I want to do is figure out how to bring home the brand new orphans.  My arms literally ache when I see another stretcher bearing wounded.  Because I am anti-war, it does not mean I am not supporting our troops over in Iraq – or wherever they may be sent.  I want them home – all of them. Safe, sound and mowing lawns, preparing tax returns and taking care of their own children.  But since they are there, I will pray for them and I will pray for those who stand in their way as they try and achieve their goals – invasion, destruction, death.  War for me is not a means to an end, an “operation”, a strategic plan with acceptable loss.  It is broken down into hundreds of thousands of individuals, many of them children, who will block bullets with their bodies as heads of state check daily updates from CentCom.  It is a tragic event, no matter how I look at it and I can’t help but be sad, as if every single one of those people were my own child.  There was no definition in the OED for one who cannot send off those to whom she has given birth, literally or metaphorically, to kill or be killed in a war calculated by men who will never set foot in the place.  So I made one up. Matriot – (NOT an antonym to patriot); one who self sacrificingly exerts herself to promote the well-being of her fellow countrypeople; one whose ruling passion is love. 

We live in a bounteous nation with such a wide array of natural resources available to us it is almost shameful.  There is such beauty in our endless landscapes, unbroken coastlines and glorious mountains that it seems impossible that it all exists between two shores and beholding it is literally breathtaking.  The creativity and ingenuity that is nurtured and allowed free reign in this country rockets past conventional boundaries; and our country’s great minds outdo each other in feats of genius and discovery.  No, I love my country.  I am grateful to be in America. I don’t think many of us even get that the freedoms we enjoy as a nation don’t even exist in many countries. I would protect that, definitely.  But I don’t just want to stand up and wave the flag without some substance behind it. And the best substance I can think of is to take care of those who are my responsibility. 

If I could go to Iraq right now and help by comforting, holding or soothing, I would, because I sure couldn’t help anyone by bringing a gun with me. It doesn’t have to be an American soldier – it could be a British soldier or even an Iraqi civilian.  I don’t want to feel that my loyalty to country is called into question because I don’t condone killing.  I simply feel, as a mother, that before – or even at the same time – that Congress approves nearly 80 million dollars for the war in Iraq and its aftermath, that we should make sure that our own house is in order.  That our children are fed.  And that they are clothed and adequately educated.  Could it be a priority that our countrymen and women don’t freeze in the streets because they have no homes or that other countrymen and women are denied anything because of race or gender?  If 80 billion dollars is available through this government to execute a plan to wage war in another country and then rebuild that country, then couldn’t even half of that unimaginable sum of money be available for children right here in the United States? I only pose these questions because I am a mother. I have borne children of my own and I have taught hundreds of others in elementary school.  If there is one thing I believe for sure it is that children need to be looked after. And so do some others who can’t take care of themselves. I believe it is our country’s duty to take care of our own.  I believe that killing is wrong and that, as Dr. King said, “peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal”.  And I am pretty sure I believe all of this without hesitancy because I am a matriot. 

Cynthia Eastman

April 12, 2003

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Oh, Youth...

It's funny to come across ancient writings and see the folly of youthful ideas and understandings. I'm talking about me, of course, and the essay below. I dug out some old 3.5 floppies a few months back and have been slowly poring through them to see what treasures I could unearth. To my surprise, there are some.

This was an interesting one to come across because I have been musing on "getting old" and I remember the night that it happened. Naturally, I'm writing about it, so stay tuned to this spot and it will show up here eventually. Meanwhile, here's a #TBT for your general amusement!

Cindy Eastman circa 1995 

Zen and the Art of Aging
May 8, 1997

            When did I get so old!?  There was a time when I was the youngest in any given group; work, school, social gatherings.   After I gave birth to my daughter, I was still  the youngest mother at the play group, the kindergarten orientations, the birthday parties.  I remember the day I met the new youngest mom - riding a bumpy school bus accompanying our kindergarten children on a field trip to the high school Vo-Ag building to see cows and pigs.  I don’t remember how the subject of age came up, I certainly didn’t initiate it, but my new friend said her birthday was in September and she would be, like, 12 and there I sat quite familiar with my 30’s.  Fine, no problem, that’s great.  I think I got older after I had my second child.  I began to hang out at new play groups and birthday parties with women whose toddlers my son’s age were their first children.  I already had an elementary school-aged daughter.   Where are all those people who were older than me?  Dead?

            Getting older never really bothered me much.  I enjoyed turning thirty because I felt like a grown up.  My mother told me she always liked age 33 because that’s how old Jesus was when he died - a reference I wasn’t sure how to take.  My (younger) brother set  most of his life goals for age 35 - if he didn’t reach one, he just moved it up a year.  No big deal.  My sister has never  cared one way or the other about age - she is the youngest and my brother and I  are always older.  My family dynamic doesn’t include age-related expectations, so I don’t  feel any pre-ordained failure associated with reaching a particular age.   For me, 34 sounded exciting because I read somewhere that I would at last reach my sexual peak.  Ironically,  34 is the age I decided to get divorced -  unfortunate timing on my part.   All in all, the aging process seemed chronologically suitable and I didn’t give it too much thought.  Until now.

            Here I am, at the brink of 40 and I can’t shake the image of a very precarious cliff at whose edge I am standing, blindfolded.   Since I spent most of my 30’s doing the divorce two-step ( two steps forward, two steps back - it’s absurd) I have arrived at this place feeling as if I should have accomplished bigger things, figured out more answers or at least have had the experience of buying a new car.   There aren’t too many regrets.   I have a couple, like my divorce lawyers, but nothing else I can’t justify given a couple of minutes.  There are a few worries that consume me occasionally, but they are situations that I can’t do anything about, like being a single parent.  Am I doing a good job, providing enough guidance?  Teenagers were meant to have two parents in residence - if only to have someone there to watch your back.  But it’s not like I’m going to remarry just to provide a relief parent, so I cross my fingers and hope my parenting is fair and just.  According to my 16 year old, it almost never is.  

            With all the wandering around my mind does, the only straw I can grasp is to keep heading in the direction I’ve chosen.  And I did choose this path.  Nobody forced me to leave college, get divorced or pass up better jobs so I could stay home with my kids.  I did those things on my own with all the wisdom - or lack thereof - each accumulated year imbued.  I suppose the ensuing life is exactly what  I deserve.  I never have enough money, I haven’t been on a plane in 10 years, I’m losing my memory and the gray keeps coming, despite annual attempts at “enhancing” it.  ( I seem to find myself in the hair color aisle every year around my birthday)  On the plus side, I am raising my kids in person, I’m not stressed out about where to hide my money from the government and if someone runs into my ‘84 Subaru in the parking lot - who cares? 

            Forty will be tough, I already know that.  I should start preparing now, save my pennies for a magnum of champagne and read lots of books on how satisfying it is to meet these milestones head on and alone.  I’m pretty sure I can talk myself into anything, if I can remember to.  

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Books of Life

I wrote a short email to my friend after learning that she and her husband had recently found out he has brain cancer. Her equally brief response held all the confusion and helplessness such a discovery brings. She said: “If you could quickly write a book that explains how a wife is supposed to accept this that would be great.” A grimacing smiley face followed.

I wished I could. This particular situation has not happened to me in my life, but other similarly tragic or unfair things have. Most recently, my ex-husband died suddenly and I am without a manual to tell me how to act. Sad? Nostalgic? I just don’t know. When it happened, I needed a book to tell me when to cry, where to pitch in, when to hang back. I fumbled around the best I could and still have trouble managing my emotions almost three months later.

How, then, does one attend to a tragic turn of events? Some people live a life of faith with a benevolent god and lean heavily on the understanding that some things are “meant to be.” It’s all part of a plan or heavenly will and the strength to deal with it springs from that faith. I have never been able to believe like that, but I am glad for those who can. In fact I marvel at it; for me it’s like watching someone bring beauty to a canvas out of a palette of paints or glide effortlessly across ice on two thin little blades. It’s an admirable gift, but it’s not my gift. Believing that all my grief will be taken care of once I enter heaven doesn’t help me out in the day-to-day dealings with tragedy and sadness.

Everyone deals with terrible and threatening events in their own particular way. After about twenty years together, my husband Angelo and I have reached a place in our relationship that finally looks like it might last. To say we have suffered our ups and downs doesn’t do justice to the earnest effort we’ve exerted in making our marriage work. Due to the tons of baggage that often accompany a second marriage, there were times when I wasn’t sure we would make it. Then, a trip to Italy transformed Angelo's outlook and the last six months have been a startling and surprising difference in the way we manage our relationship.  We always thought we were making it work, making sense of our relationship. But, now it’s different in ways that neither of us even dreamed it could be. We are experiencing our marriage, our relationship, in the way each of us always worked toward. We wonder how in the world we could have spent the last twenty years letting it exist the other way. If we dwell too much on that loss, it could be detrimental, but it can be difficult not to be angry or even resentful of all that lost time.

One of the ways that helped me make sense of it, though, was to remember a quote from the movie Shadowlands, the story of the relationship between CS Lewis (Jack) and Joy Davidman. Towards the end of the movie, after Joy’s diagnosis of cancer, Jack and Joy are talking about how they will deal with her death. She wants to talk about it now; he reassures her he will be able to handle it when the time comes. But she wants more than that; it can be “better than that.” She says, “the pain then is part of the happiness now. That's the deal.” She was looking ahead, to her eventual decline and death--culminating in asking the unanswerable question: why?

There is no answer, really, no reasons to explain terrible things. There is no reason why children get beaten to death, earthquakes ravage towns, families go homeless or husbands get brain cancer.  My own issue seems small compared to what others deal with, the pain others endure, but for me, right now, it’s pain in my life. Because I am lamenting our squandered years (and probably because of my ex-husband’s recent death) I am experiencing a high level of vigilance about Angelo's health and well-being. When he didn’t text me for three hours one afternoon after he set off on his eagerly awaited trip to IKEA, I imagined him lying by the side of the road, victim of a car accident. He was fine...just excited to be at IKEA. I am so afraid that the happiness we are enjoying will be taken away. But if I let fear help me make sense of what our life is like now, it will only be me who is taking away this chance we have.

And so we make meaning of our lives. With all the tools and skills and feelings and understanding that exist in our body and in our being right this minute. Whether or not that includes God or the Universe or another higher power or infinite energy, we decide how our life makes sense. It was silly of me to imagine Angelo dying by the side of the road, absurd and unreasonable. But I let a little of that in for just a minute because, for me, it is like Joy’s quote. She was anticipating the pain to come and acknowledging that pain would allow the happiness they were experiencing now to be meaningful. For me and Angelo, the time we wasted is painful, but it is in the past and it is part of what we are experiencing now. The happiness now is part of the pain then.

I don’t think we are meant to “accept” loss and tragedy. They come into our lives both suddenly and with advance warning. They wreck everything in sight and thrash about without prejudice--loss and tragedy impact everyone, no one is immune or safe from it. It’s unfair. I believe the only protection is love, however that manifests in each individual’s life, and the meaning we give to each of our experiences. How could it ever make sense that we lose someone we love so much? It doesn’t. Humans make sense, arbitrary phenomena does not.

If I could write a book for my friend, I would want to fill it with real things she could do to deal with this unimaginable blow. A recipe for coping, with actual ingredients and steps to follow. Instructions, helpful tips and time-honored strategies that will walk her through every minute of fear, vulnerability and sorrow. But, that book isn’t written by others--it is ours alone to write. How could I tell her what to do? The truth is, she will know what to do. Her fear will turn into courage and her sadness will turn into strength. She already has her book. We all do.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

That's What Friends Are For

Supposedly, Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield first used the word 'etiquette' in its modern meaning

Facebook is a big deal and everyone from your mother’s boarding school roommate in 1946 to the former student who now sells you your weekly Malbec at the local liquor store has a profile. What began as a printed directory (a university “face book”) for college students to get to know each other at the start of the academic year is now a worldwide multibillion-dollar social media business, thanks to Mark Zuckerberg. (My son, kind of an old-fashioned guy, still won’t friend me because I’m not a college student.)

In keeping with a multibillion-dollar business, Facebook has a seven-page Statement of Rights and Responsibilities to which to adhere. There is a separate webpage to cover Data information and collection and yet another for Community standards, i.e; how to report harassment, dangerous organizations or criminal activity. But nowhere is there any mention of etiquette. I suppose I’ll have to do it.

1. When you see a picture of an adorable baby or a puppy cuddling a kitten, the correct response is “Awww...” not “Awe.”  If the baby is eating the kitten, you may be in awe, but even then it is not the appropriate comment. Try, “Sweet Mother of God, keep that stuff off of Facebook!”

2.  Facebook is for your personal use and not a forum for all the people in the world who disagree with you. It is, however,  a very public forum and you and you alone are in control of that. This means that if you post your opinion, someone, probably a “friend” is going to come along and comment on it. If you enjoy such banter, post away. If you don’t want such nonsense mucking up your perfectly reasonable observations on politics, women’s issues or religion adjust your privacy settings accordingly. That’s what they’re there for and that’s what makes your Facebook page personal.

3. Back to the personal use thing: I once posted an announcement about a contest I had lost, but that I was happy to have been a part of it. One of my “friends” came along and added a comment that she had won the very same contest! I thought it was a little tacky, to say the least. I’ve seen this over and over again--people jumping on someone else’s bandwagon to promote their own good fortune. Good for you if you are finding success. But that’s what your Facebook page is for; don’t blab it all over all your friends’ pages. Really. Have some class.

4. And speaking of minding your own business, there’s nothing more irritating than being a part of a conversation thread about, say, your community’s conservation efforts and having two or more participants begin a whole other conversation about their vacation plans. Or their mother-in-law’s hiatal hernia surgery or any other off-topic subject. Again, this is what your own page is for, or better yet--pick up the phone and call, text or email them personally. We community minded sort aren’t really interested in poor Mildred’s reaction to anesthesia. Seriously. 

5. One of the great things (or creepy things depending on who’s looking) is being able to see all the beautiful and stunning pictures people post of their new homes, their exotic vacations, or their adorable grandchildren. It’s one of the things I love about Facebook because it has allowed me to reconnect with many family members and old friends. I especially love seeing that all my former high school classmates look as old as I do. (Most of them, there are a couple of women I am definitely going to stay away from when the cameras come out. They are stunning.)  I enjoy clicking through four or five pics of sandy beaches, beautiful blue eyes peeping out from an Easter bonnet or a family sitting down to a sumptuous meal at Christmas or Passover. What I don’t enjoy are a hundred of these pictures. Sometimes there is a little +97 in a box to indicate what you’re getting yourself in for, but I guess sometimes miss it. There I am, twenty minutes later, still looking at your damn beach house. I get it. You’re lucky. Put your camera down.

So, there you have it . . . a few guidelines on decorum and good manners to help everyone continue to be friends on Facebook. I’m sure other issues will come up from time to time and I promise you I will bring them to your attention.

I just want to be a good friend.