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Birds do it, Bees do it…

I was thrilled she asked to run to the bathroom, being newly potty trained and in the middle of playing with toys at my house she doesn’t see at her own. Mostly she chooses cars, well, always cars.  No dolls.  Just cars.  If you hand her a doll or a stuffed animal, she drives it across the windowsill as though it has wheels making a “vroom vroom” sound.  Our little Danica Patrick.

Still clutching a firetruck, she hopped onto the toilet as only a two-and-a-half-year-old can. When she finished, thinking she would ask me to flush, she leaned forward with the cutest nearly imperceptible lisp you have ever heard and said, “How do you like my dress? ” I swear.  Those words.  Her mother is a stylist, but I have to think it was me being her fashionista Yaya, she just had to share.  I had admired it all day.  The pinkness of the flounce.  The ink black print against the pale cotton but I had not thought about what the tiny creatures were until she asked.  I tidied the skirt a bit and said,”I love it!  Are those squid?  Octopus?”  She looked befuddled.

About that time,  her 6′ 5″ dad walked in, lifted her off the toilet seat like a papa bear grabbing its cub with one paw, and said matter of factly, “Jellyfish, Yaya.  Can’t you see? The tentacles?”  Gathering up her blonde curls and retwisting her scrunchy onto her whimsical little ponytail he scurried her back to the family room with a “play ball” pat on her bottom. Tucked behind a chair in a corner, her brother had hoarded all the cars in the three-minute span she had taken for her potty break. And who wouldn’t?  Who wants to give up their first born status to a sister who not only is the first granddaughter but prefers his cars to dolls and ballet lessons?

Oh, this new world of basketball dads that do scrunchies and moms that pitch baseballs. And children that pick toys and sports they love, not ones we program them for. Gotta love it.

I was out of town for nearly a month and in my absence a couple of robin pairs must have thought my home was an abandoned property because they built not one but two nests right outside my front and back door.  I mean at eye level and touchable.  Well, I think it is two couples unless one male lets these nest-bound ladies think he is on a business trip as he darts from front to back feeding them both and now their babies.

I say babies but in the last week I have become confused if it is the mom or one of the kids giving me the stink eye when I come in or out the doors.  Robins are so good at the one eye west death stare with their beady black eyes. These babies are now indistinguishable from their parents and I wonder if teenaged birds are “Gen Zs” now, too?  I mean, if you are big enough to fill the nest, get off your fat white speckled robin ass, stop the selfies, drop the phone and get on with it. Go from virtual to actual and get out in the world. Get an education or get a job digging worms or a degree in twig choices for nest building and move the hell on.  Make a contribution to your society. These parents are wearing themselves out feeding, guarding , swooping, squawking and keeping the danger at bay while this brood just sits there waiting for DoorDash to fly up with a fresh stack of mealworms or cicada meat.

Watching them I realize that nature has so much to teach us about life in general. And like the world we are raising our children, grandchildren and budding Gen Z’s in, birds in particular not only model admirable shared parenting skills but they are also gender neutral. Many birds raise their babies in same-sex partnerships. Barn owls, house sparrows, even chickens often prefer the company of a same-sex partner. Actually the chickens are easily understandable if you have ever spent any time watching a rooster strut around the barn.

Flamingos are also often in committed same-sex relationships that involve living together and raising their young together. One fifth of all swan couples are gay.  Scientists gave a female penguin couple an abandoned egg and they raised it to adulthood, all a blur of black and white bliss waddling into the sunset.

So to come full circle from my car-loving granddaughter and the shared household and child-rearing duties I watch all my children demonstrating in their marriages, I am impressed. As confusing and often confounding as this brave new world can appear to our generation, I think it is great progress.

Maybe, just maybe, they know more about the birds and the bees than we do.

 

 

Covid Vocab 101

It appears given the days since my last entry, this blog is currently bi-annual.  But with Covid-19 turning most everything we perceived as our reality upside down, I feel I have an excuse for my lapse in sharing my occasional musings. If we have learned nothing else in the last ten or so months, it is that life can turn on a dime. I mean with back flips and more fanfare than we have ever wanted from the vicious, heinous, invader we call Covid-19.

It is an unrelenting enemy.  It will take all it can and then when you think you don’t have another cell left to surrender, it will invade that with a mutated version of itself. This virus has affected our hearts, our souls, our jobs, our schools, our social lives, our politics, our family lives. We can’t take a breath without thinking of it. Take a step without worrying about it.  Our fight or flight instincts are constantly on high alert.  In pre-Covid days, we said “bless you” when someone sneezed.  Now we bolt in the opposite direction and ask if the perpetrator is sick? Have you been swabbed? Is that a N95 mask or is it just your t-shirt pulled over your nose?

But beyond the social distancing, the masks, the hand washing, the constant vigilance to avoid infection, we must remember what we were before this virus entered our lives and what we can be after we are vaccinated and God willing Covid-19 fades into the background or on to future history books.

We will return to being social beings. We will touch, we will hug, we will kiss, we will wipe tears. We will mourn the confounding loss of human life, the families with an empty chair at the dinner table. We will share their loss. Some of us may suffer our own. We will grieve with our friends, we will grieve for strangers, we will grieve for our nation.

But how will we talk? What words will we use?  Our vocabulary is so permeated with Covid-19 jargon, will we ever speak normally again? What will we mitigate if we are mingling freely with no social distance?  Will we go back to flattening the curves with Spanx? Will we ever describe anything as going viral again? Will herd immunity return to a concept for cattle with hoof and mouth disease? Will we ever again think of an aerosol as an air freshener or hairspray?

These questions amuse me on good days but the prospect of using them as we did pre-Covid-19 fills me with hope. Our survival as a nation depends on a world where love, perseverence and doing the right thing for humanity, not just our own selfish needs or political views, prevails over the virus and the chaos we now find ourselves battling in our homes, our cities, our states.

I believe we will get there. But it takes the fortitude to overcome Covid fatigue and avoid 2 a.m. doomsurfing on the web and going back to good old healthy Amazon shopping that we forget by dawn what we bought. It will take ignoring fake news, staying home, wearing masks and continuing our new normal until a new less daunting normal arrives.

But aside from all my optimism that we will get to the other side of this, I know it will never be the same as it was pre-Covid.  And perhaps some of that is good. We will have to face the partisan ideologies and social climate that made this a politcal issue as much as a world health crisis. And if we are ever able to shake hands again, maybe just maybe, there can be some of that across the current divide.

These days I think often of Dickens’ famous opening lines to A Tale of Two Cities.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief…it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

It was a tale of class wars and an eventual spiritual resurrection.

I hope we can follow suit and with an abundance of caution, get there.

I have a particularly precocious and loqucious four-year-old grandson.  When I enter his house he often asks me, “What are you doing here?”  And later “Why are you still here?”  At first, I was taken back by his sassiness.  And then I thought about the fact that I am there to help tutor his older brothers. His whole family are all there, every day. His parents are both working from home (WFH) and his brothers are home schooled virtually. He no longer attends preschool. And I realized he may really be asking what I am doing there, too?

If all of this reversal of familiar norms confounds adults, what does a little guy with only four years under his belt think of our social isolation?  The virus. The constant hand washing. The masked living.  The fear of touching other human beings. The adults around him adjusting to ever-changing guidelines.

So I ask myself, what AM I doing here most of these unprecedented days?

Hanging on by a thread and hoping the spool stays intact.

 

 

Helter Shelter

Like many of you, the last two months have been the most unexpected and unpredictable in my life.  And this is coming from a woman who has experienced a school shooting, stood by as her husband took a marital “vacation” and has seen a son through a couple of cancers.  So my propensity to constantly wait for the other shoe to drop has some merit in reality.  In addition, I inherently have a rather strong fight or flight instinct anyway.  Given that, I am drawn to the familiar.  The more predictable my experiences in life the better.  You will never catch me with a parachute on my back or ice clip hiking in the Alps.  Like my dad, I like the same routes, clear skies and caller ID.

So you give me Covid-19 with all of its unpredictability and confusion and mixed messages and unclear treatments and models of prevention that vary city to city, state to state, country to country, doctor to doctor and I am on tilt.  Like those fruits and numbers that reel by as you wait for a slot machine to land on three images, that’s my brain. While my head feels like someone turned my ninth-grade record player up from 33 rpm to 78, the outside of my body feels like that awful sound when someone rips the vinyl disc out from under the needle and cracks the record over their knee. Again, an allusion to said father if I was listening to music after midnight when he had to get up at 4:30 to provide an album or two and put food on the table.

No the outside of my crazed brain, looks nothing like the album cover I had two months ago. Needing a haircut and highlights (of course I am a natural blonde, I just “augment” it) before self-isolation began, I am three months into facing the real me.    Mousy, unkempt, dark blonde hair, a little paunchy from perhaps more than one glass of wine a night or the fact that most days I just go from my daytime pajamas to my nighttime pajamas. And the kiss of death for any model figure is a drawstring waistband.  To top it off, I have a stye in my right eye which I never get unless my husband has one, which he did, or if I am extremely stressed, which I am.

I swear I have aged ten years in the last couple months.  Either that or the fact that with no distractions beyond Outlander and The Last Dance, I have too much time to notice myself as I pass a mirror. And I refuse to resort to Tiger King to avoid that.

But as we head into month three, or perhaps two years, of uncertainty and masked living, I have a few good things that I have discovered while sheltering in place with my husband, the parking garage CEO.

First of all, as for living daily under the same roof, it has been an unexpected surprise. Before this all began, we had been on a lower dip of the proverbial roller coaster called marriage.  Forty five years is hard enough to navigate alone, much less side by side with a person of the opposite sex. When he stepped out of his role of running a company and stepped back into the shoes of helping me run a household,  because I am a princess and we had a housekeeper before, most days he is a pretty nice guy.  He grocery shops, cooks, helps clean and even feeds my birds. He has learned why I am at war with squirrels and chipmonks on our back patio who destroy those feeders. Has even accepted that I stay up watching “whatever” until after midnight and sleep in the morning to make up for it.

And I, having to listen to his constant Zoom meetings, which cannot be avoided since for some reason he feels he has to speak into a megaphone to be heard, have a better understanding of what he does everyday under more normal circumstances. The challenges, the frustrations, the conflicts. Especially in a world when the entire driving universe came to a screeching halt and garages have stood empty or half full at best for weeks.

We walk almost everyday. We don’t argue over stupid things like we used to.  I guess life seems a little more precious. Or precarious. But it’s been OK for us in general. For the most part.  On most days.

But if the Japanese Killer Hornets, which I just read about this morning, that are the size of small birds and bite the heads off of whole hives of bees and can kill humans with their thumbtack-sized stingers become the pestilence that follows, or accompanies, this pandemic I will most certainly be done with all this perspective.  I will need professional help.

Or begin to model their behavior.  One can only be so perfect for so long.

 

Baby Boomer Denial Among Other Things

Well, at one point I said I would write a blog “once very sometimes.”  Perhaps this one qualifies for “once every pandemic.”  Which God knows, I hope I never write another under that title.  In these unprecedented times I have found myself questioning so many things concerning daily life that we all take for granted in our country. A reasonably healthy economy allowing shopping of all kinds at our fingertips.  Readily available and life-saving health care.  Fresh food, fresh air, freedom of movement.  Just freedom.

It’s rare that we face a situation that we don’t assume we have the resources and intelligence to handle its outcome.

But here we are. Facing a ferocious enemy and scrambling to win our battle. I have spent the last few weeks, glued to the television set, my daily news posts and listening to podcasts. I have abided by the belief that information is power. I have received countless emails from friends offering serious and humorous articles to strengthen our resolve that we will beat this thing or find humor to take a break from its gravity.

One email in particular stood out and completely shifted my perspective. I have thought about it every day since.  It has actually changed my actions and choices. Reading it before my hero, Sanjay Gupta said, ” Stay home and don’t spread the virus,” nothing has hit me as starkly between the eyes as this New Yorker piece by Michael Schulman, March 16, 2020. https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/convincing-boomer-parents-to-take-the-coronavirus-seriously

Schulman with earnestness and humor writes about him and his friends trying to convince their boomer parents (born between 1944 and 1964) to stay home. Period. Many of them living where restaurants are still open and the virus has not spread as rapidly, are grocery shopping, playing golf and even going to the office.

As I read and agreed and chuckled especially at the line, “This virus loves boomers as much as boomers love James Taylor,” I had this nagging realization that I accept I am a boomer but refrain from accepting I am 65 or older. Although I was born at the height of the boomer bulge, my older brother and sister were  the “real” boomers.  I feel like a barely boomer. When I went for my flu shot last fall, I refused to take the 65 and older shot reasoning that I am still hovering around 65.  The “old person” shot insulted me and as luck would have it, my doctor only had the regular shot and begrudgingly let me take it probably reasoning it was better than no shot.

My brother used to tell me I gave the illusion of youth in my thoughts and actions.  And I believed him.  I think many of us boomers think that.  In an age of botox and facelifts and extended life expectancy and daily workouts and healthy eating, we have tricked ourselves into thinking we are younger than we are because the mirror and our bodies don’t look like our idea of 65.  If my mom did two leglifts she was exhausted and doing a jumping jack she looked like her hands were not connected to her arms. The idea of “working out” was how she solved a problem not some sort of exercise.  She and dad were Grammy and Papa not some cute name version of the grandparent role like my Yaya title or my friends Gigi and Kiki. My parents accepted aging as a part of living as sure as death and taxes.

But I think I, and many boomers like me, think we are different.  The old rules don’t apply to us. Just look at us! We aren’t old. It’s an attitude, not a number.  Right?

And in part I agree with that.  And that’s what makes me throw away my AARP application every time it arrives and wear my sunglasses into a movie theater to hide the shame of my senior ticket. But the fact that this virus loves boomers made me take a hard look in the mirror and evaluate my daily actions.  That and the fact that all three of my millennial children have called and told me to stay home.  For them and me. Rather than feeling ostracized, I finally heard their words as love and concern.

To drive it home even more, I hit my arm on a door frame and a huge purple ink blot formed on my forearm.  I Dr. Googled it and what do you think it’s called?  A senile purpura.  Not kidding. Look it up, if you dare. Common among the thin-skinned  over sixty crowd.

That ugly blotch made me think about my emotional thin skin and of course my large dose of denial about my role during these uncertain times. So guess what I am doing?

Staying home.  And I hope those of you who love James Taylor as much as I do, will do the same.  For our kids. And ourselves.

Human Kindness

If you watch the evening news, listen to world affairs in the car or read my favorite mini-version email of it all, The Skimm, it’s difficult not to feel that our world is full of division, derision and anger. In our own country, we are inundated with impeachment, Democrats fighting Republicans, Congress fighting the President, the “have nots” fighting the “haves.” For the past months I have been consumed by our  nation’s present political drama, or the media’s depiction of it, and worried it is making a mockery of our government and our values.  But then the global news is filled with social clashes, exits and Brexits, leaders in, leaders out, promises made, promises broken.  Truths and half truths keeping everyone on edge or in the streets in defiance of someone and something that displeases them.

Listening to it all, I found myself wringing my hands and searching the sky for the lightening bolt that would signal the start of the apocalypse. Then I took a road trip to my home in West Virginia which helped me take deep breaths and regain some perspective.  Being in the land of my people always centers me a bit and reminds me that there are plenty of good people, solid, salt-of-the-earth folks left in this world amidst all the publicized drama seekers.

Driving there, my deep breath transformation began with an accident I witnessed on the opposite side of a four lane divided highway I travel often.  The single car mishap must have happened seconds before I drove past because the car was lying on it’s hood, straddling the grassy median, it’s wheels still turning.  There was no driver in sight or the feeling of any movement in the car.  A man just behind the car was out of his vehicle and running toward the upturned car, talking on his cell.  I assumed he was calling 911 as he approached the driver’s side. I thought how brave he was to come to the assistance of a stranger with no idea what he would find when he arrived. If he wasn’t a doctor, nurse or off-duty EMT, what could he do? Would the driver be alive?  Conscious? If so, would he simply console him until medical help or the police arrived? Hold his/her hand?  Just “be” with the victim?

That man’s bravery and expression of human kindness for a total stranger started a domino effect of looking for the best in those around me and trying to invite goodwill rather than negativity. Then flipping through my 10,000 plus iphotos looking for an old snapshot of my kids, I stumbled on the pictured quote. I don’t recall where I saw it but as a person who believes few things happen by chance, I knew why I found it at that moment. I was inspired to focus on the good whenever and wherever possible and reminded that ninety percent of what others spew in our faces is their personal issues, not a reflection of us. I remembered Ann Frank’s famous diary entry, “I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

And as no surprise, I began to receive the positive energy I was sending out. Smiles brought smiles. Engagement with others in the present moment took my day-to-day from black and white to technicolor. Or in millennial speak, from 70 to 300 pixels. Focusing on and inviting the positive helped blur the anger and fear in our society.

Having a three inch snow on Halloween that didn’t keep any of my annual 400 rambunctious trick or treaters indoors, I again thought of the perseverance of the human spirit. So as the leaves fill up my gutters and the overnight temperatures have turned my mums to some sort of brown tumbleweed, we head toward the end of fall. With Thanksgiving and Christmas nearly upon us, I want to keep the joy of the holidays foremost in my mind rather than falling prey to the hustle and bustle of the season, endless lists, long lines, impatient drivers.

I want to concentrate on the magic not the tragic, the hope not the despair.

My grandsons asked me if there is a Santa the other evening as I was tucking them into bed and I heard my mother’s answer spoken as clearly as though she was sitting with us.

“He will come as long as you believe in him,” I replied, kissing their foreheads.

Tis the season to hope. Believe. And be grateful for little boys that want to hold on to the magic of this time of year despite the nine-year-old naysayers that try to convince them otherwise.

A time to stay in the moment.  Live in the present rather than fretting and worrying about the future which seems to be my genetic propensity. A time to surround yourself with people who make you laugh, forget the bad and focus on the good.

A new post every sometimes…

I have been thinking about a post for weeks. Everyday I have thought about writing it.  I mused about it on my nine hour drives to and from West Virginia.  I vowed I would write it there.  A day passed.  The sky was azure blue perfection, the sun casting dancing diamonds on the lake.  A week passed.  I had intentions.  I justified my procrastination by nature’s distractions.

And then I got an email from my favorite blogger, online columnist who has a site entitled Wait but Why.  And his tagline, which says everything about his perspective and his posts is, “A new post every sometimes.”

I felt redeemed. And here I am. With a new sometime.

My mom would have had her 96th birthday a couple weeks ago.  I had been thinking about her a lot lately anyway.  I have found myself wearing my hair “up on the sides” as she did, saying things she might and wishing she was here just being the special human that she was, Sarah Noble.  So missing her, I have been doing some of the Sarah things she was known and loved for.

I made her famous brownies. Something I had not done in years.  Literally.  I remembered, just by watching her hundreds of times, all the ingredients except how much butter.  So I googled Baker’s Squares brownies and who popped up with the recipe but Katharine Hepburn claiming it as her own. How dare she? It was obvious she used the same recipe from the back of the box my mom did. But just because she wore trousers and white turtlenecks and was exquisitely elegant and openly loved Spencer Tracy for 25 years even though he was married, just because she could, she didn’t have to steal my mom’s recipe, too. Hussy.

Anyway, the recipe calls for half a teaspoon of salt and like my mama, and her mama, I measure that in the palm of my hand.  As I took a picture of that I marveled at the accuracy of that method.  But more I saw how much my hands look like my mom’s. A little crooked.  A little veiny. A little older.

Then my mind drifted back to the beautiful, vibrant, engaging, full of love mother of my youth.

My mom was often in a hurry.  In part because she was impetuous, determined and hell-bent for a cause. She pretty much single-handedly stopped the public high school from being built behind our house. Even tore her ACL delivering flyers to mailboxes notifying neighbors of town meetings concerning the matter.  One might think she was athletic, jogging box to box but oh no, not my mom.  She was in her nightie and a trench coat around midnight driving house to house and at one stop stepped out of the car and remembered the flyer but forgot to put the car in park. So she picked up her nightgown, ran after the car in her pink Dearfoams and jumped in as it rolled downhill.  Her knee, not dad’s car God forbid, the sacrifice.

Like many who rush about, my mom was always late.  I read recently that late people are optimists, which she was in spades. Their sunny outlooks give them a false sense of what can be done in a given hour. Or minute or ten. My mom didn’t think there would be traffic, or a bird or a butterfly garden to marvel at along the way and slow her down. So as the clock ticked, she often scrambled.  If company (that’s what our family called “guests”) was ringing the doorbell, mom was sprinkling Comet in the bathtub so if someone used our only bathroom it would appear she started the job and had simply forgotten to finish.  Add clever to her list of attributes.

But on the flipside of my tardy, hard-headed, easily distractable mama, was a person who had the uncanny ability to be totally present with others.  As my son says, she made people feel they were the only person in the room when she spoke to them. She was curious about your life, your dreams, your hopes. And she welcomed you, strangers and loved ones alike, with open arms and an equally open heart.

And most often, when she heard that doorbell from her crouched position at the bathtub, she had time in her magical sense of minutes between tasks, to dash to the kitchen and melt two squares of Baker’s chocolate in a pan, start the kettle for sweet tea and greet whoever had “dropped in” with a hug and the smell of warm chocolate filling the air.

I remember the sound of those chunks of solid cocoa hitting the aluminum pan and can see their thin white paper wrappers crumpled with the Lipton tiny envelopes on the counter and feel like it was yesterday.  And forever ago.

So I have baked. Made dilly bread, meatloaf and cornbread. And everytime I open the oven, a little bit of her wafts out and envelops me, the warmth and aroma taking me home.

Where a little bit of me will always long to be.

 

Mama’s Brownie Recipe

2 ounces (or half a block) Baker’s unsweetened chocolate squares

1/2 stick butter

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup flour

2 eggs

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup or so walnuts or pecans or chocolate chips (optional)

 

Preheat oven to 350.  Butter an 8×8 pan. Melt butter and chocolate on low heat. Remove from heat. Let cool a bit.  In same pan add sugar until well mixed. In another bowl mix eggs and vanilla.  Add to chocolate mixture. Add flour and salt and stir until smooth. Throw in nuts or chips if desired. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out of middle with fudgy crumbs. Top should have a thin crust.  DO NOT over bake. Cool a little, cut into squares and serve warm from pan or on a plate.

 

Second Chances

Here we are at the beginning of another new year.  Mind boggling really.  I’m sure 2018 was a typical year.  Some highs.  Some lows. But I’ll be darned if I can remember most of it.  At this point, I feel like my life is passing by at warp speed. Summers jump to fall as swiftly as they both blur into single digit winters with the hope of spring a blink away.  My birthdays are no longer just a number but a reminder of years passing more quickly than I’d like and the realization that life is short and moments are precious.

We said goodbye to 2018 and welcomed 2019 with our youngest daughter’s wedding in Los Angeles. A date choice I balked at for months and then in reality it was a wonderful way to ring in the new year. A new marriage.  New beginnings for our family with another “plus one” welcomed with open arms. More people to love. More joy to share.

Less than a week after the wedding, my husband had hip replacement surgery. (Talk about warp speed.) My son came to the  waiting room to help me pass the hours until we knew all was well.  And we passed those hours talking about one of his favorite subjects.  Movies.

He loves movies. Loves movies of all kinds, shapes and forms. From sappy chick flicks to heroic acts of undaunting courage.  Mary Poppins to Braveheart. He watches trailers like others check the weather.  He quotes movies, and his movie heroes, to answer conversational questions.

Me: Staunton, can you take that trash out?

Staunton: I’m your huckleberry. (Doc Holliday, Tombstone)

Out of the blue, he will send me a text of a movie clip that will lift my spirits or cause me to pause for it’s simple poignance.  I’ll look at my phone and there is Patrick Swayze taking “Baby” out of the corner and jumping off stage to carry her into a new life. Or Nicolas Cage having coffee at the airport with Tea Leoni at the end of  The Family Man, a perennial Christmas favorite for both of us.

On his short list of best movies would be the aforementioned with Shawshank Redemption, It’s a Wonderful Life, Schindler’s List, Lonesome Dove, Pretty Woman, Ghost— just to name a few.

I was thinking as we sat in that crowded hospital waiting room, like all those around us, worried about a loved one and wondering if our news would be good. I thought of all of his favorite films and what they had in common.  Was there a central theme?  Was there a lesson to be learned, a life vision to be gained? And then it came to me.

Second chances.

His heroes and heroines get second chances.  Mary Poppins saves a father and reconnects a family, Nicolas Cage sees his life as it could be, and not as he is living it, and chooses a new start. Andy Dufresne spends 20 years in Shawshank and holds tight to a second chance and through sheer will, ingenuity and against all odds, gets it. George Bailey wants to end his life before his angel Clarence offers him a glimpse of the world without him.  And Bedford Falls looks like home again.

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions.  I think they are a little silly actually and history would prove most often impossible to keep. But this new year, I like the idea of second chances.  For ourselves, for others.  Think of an old friend you have let drift away and call him/her. Forgive someone you thought was unforgivable.  Give yourself a break for a failure or an opportunity that slipped away and go for it again.  Rethink a hard-held belief or opinion, a stereotype or a prejudice and challenge it.  Truth test it again and see if it still holds water.

Everyone deserves a second chance.  Especially ourselves who we seem to be the hardest on. Maybe we were too young or too foolish or too self-absorbed to see a first chance, so why not give it another whirl?

As my son might quote William Wallace towards the end of Braveheart. Fighting for Scotland. His co-patriots all but given up.

William: We’ve got to try. We can’t do this alone. Joining the nobles is the only hope for our people. You know what happens if we don’t take that chance?
Hamish: What?
William: Nothing.

Here’s to a 2019 filled with somethings.

And second chances.

Cohabitation

Some of you may have been wondering where I have been for months and, quite frankly, so have I.  In May, my oldest daughter and her family–three boys eight and under and her husband–moved in with us. It was a temporary thing. A couple months or so while I helped my daughter renovate her recently purchased home.

Well, if you do the math, a couple months turned into six and changing a few faucets and adding a lower level bedroom turned into a literal gut job. Inside and out.  The charm of buying an older home from a “mature” couple is that surprises lurk at every turn.  The house was a safe haven for homeless mice and their families, shower pans leaked as did the roof and the entire back of the house was six inches out of plumb.  In layman’s terms, it was leaning.

So on we forged at renovation and on they stayed in every corner of my home.

Yesterday they left for the other grandparent’s house.  It was the first time in six months I did not have little boys sliding down my banister, dropping legos from the upstairs landing and dripping sippy cups across my kitchen floor.  The toys were in their bins and their beds were made for the next round of babes arriving that day for Thanksgivng. I waved goodbye tearlessly at the front door wishing safe travels.

I turned and what to my wondering eyes did appear but my house. The kitchen drainer had no pint sized water bottles or stacks of medicine measuring cups (children under 10 seem to keep a cold and the cough even longer), the island was clear of homework, rubber bathtub toys and a toddler seat no longer stradled my island stool.  My foyer floor had no toppled boots and the back door was clear of coats, hats and tiny gloves with fingers inside out.

With a huge sigh of relief, I poured a glass of wine, exhaled from the bottom of my toes and fell into my favorite comfy wingback relishing something I had not enjoyed in months.

Silence.

Then, as I took a second sip, I felt something under me.  Leaning to one side, I pulled out a miniature army tank neslted in my seat cushion. Chipped and dented from it’s many times across my window sills or in and out of the two-and-a-half-year-old’s “pack pack” as he calls it, this tiny metal vehicle stopped me in my tracks. I could see his plump little fingers holding it as he bid farewell saying, “Bye bye, Yaya, see you soon. I love you thiiiiissss much!” I envisioned his older brothers nestled on pillows in the “way back seats” of their SUV, waving as they drove away. I thought about the oldest playing the parent by entertaining and pacifiying his brothers, as mom and dad madly packed and tucked their belongings under beds and in closets to make way for the next crew.

And like Grinch, my old cold heart grew three sizes.

Now don’t get me wrong.  The past months have been difficult. For everyone.  Four grown adults and over two generations are not meant to share familial space for this long. No matter what our ancesters and neighbors in Central and South America believe.  No privacy for anyone wears on everyone. Parents and a nanny need to have their own space to juggle what has become the norm in today’s world of two working parents. Marriages need space to breathe and privacy to grow and endure. Children need one set of hovering adults, not two, aiding and guiding their every move.  That’s the natural order of things.  We raise our kids and if they choose, they “cleave” to another as my Methodist Bible would say, and start their own version of a family.

A place that is comfortable for them. And that place should to be under their own roof.

They are moving to their new home next week. And yes, I will miss many things about their stay here.  The joy of a two year old’s giggles and screams the moment I come through the door. Good night kisses and lullabies that bring tears to my tired eyes as the years are just a blur since I sang the same to my own babies.  Spontaneous hugs from an eight year old boy.  A six year old thrilled to show me he can read. Sleepy morning eyes greeting me at dawn and the same drooping ones snuggling into bed at night. I will miss and cherish it all and have faith that my relationship with my grandsons will be stronger, longer and better for their living here.

And I hope that when I am gone and no longer a part of their daily life, these young men will pass a car like mine or take a bite of homemade meatloaf and pause for a second. Perhaps an image will appear and they will remember how much I adore them.  Every single inch.

But it is time now for them to move on. To their own rooms. And the life they need to live with their own parents.  Together as one unit. Their rhythms. Their views out their new windows.

I will be here in my empty, quiet, tidy house. Just as it should be.

Five minutes away.

Fear

It has been a while since I have posted. I try to only write when I have something to say. I often have the rumblings of a post floating around in the back of my mind. But it takes some discipline, not to meniton time, to put thoughts to print or a reader or two saying, “Where have you been?  I’ve missed you.” Well, the latter is enough to get me to sit down at the computer.

Waking up each morning, I roll over to look at a piece of art on my wall made by a friend of mine who died way too young. She was creative and funny and faithful and kind. The sort of friend everyone should have at least one of. The piece has her talented hands imprinted on a heart-shaped block of barn board with the quote, “Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free.”

I look to that on the mornings the weight of the world seems too heavy to get out of bed or the ones that the sun and sky are so brilliant, you just have to. Its message is simple. I wish I could say I live by it.  But I fight the fear demons as much as a cat hates water.  Fear keeps me from flying, hinders my spontaneity and prevents me from seizing courageous opportunities.

The older I get though, the more I realize that time is short and my only promised time is now. I know that in theory.

I had an “aha” moment recently when I had planned a drive to West Virginia. My husband and I have a house there in the land of my people. He always flies and because I hate flying and love the open road and can leave when I want, come home when I want and pack what I want, I drive.

But this trip due to circumstances beyond my control like my daughter moving in with her husband and three boys and a bad cold and a cracked front tooth and some other miscellaneous roadblocks, I did not hit the road in time to make our weekend trip. We were not going. Then out of the blue my husband called and said he was going anyway. Alone. To my happy place. So happened I was on my way to the Social Security office for reasons that will remain unnamed other than the fact that it involved some medical benefits and a Social Security card I had never updated from Nancy Kyle Noble in 1975.

I hung up the call and pulled the car to the side of the road.  Leaned my head into my crossed arms on the steering wheel and I had myself a crying jag, as my mama would say. I cried for all the craziness in my life and him going on with our plans without me. I cried just because I needed to.  I was due a good cry and hadn’t had one in well over a year. I self-indulged a few minutes, then lifted my head, wiped my mascara stained face with my t-shirt sleeve and did something I have never done.

I dove in head first without a bathing cap or first calling the coast guard.  I went for it with little thought and less preparation.  At 1:10 p.m. I called United and secured a seat on the 4:20 p.m. flight. Got home at 1:30. No shower. No make up. I packed and was at the door when my husband got home at 2:30 to leave for the airport. Four hours later I was on our terrace, sipping wine and grilling salmon, lake water lapping in the distance.

Spontaneity–check. Action gratification–check. Lesson learned–maybe. But I nearly broke my arm from patting myself on the back all weekend for my carpe diem moment. A sign that a normal daily occurence in most people’s lives should be easier for me.  I needed to up my “eye on the prize” quotient and spend less time indulging habits and emotions that hold me back.

We celebrated a two-year-old birthday party last night.  My son’s baby boy.  Looks just like him and can drain a three from his kitchen foul line just like him. This child is full of smiles and love and lives in constant motion. In the midst of tiny footballs flying and basketballs bouncing and wide-eyed candle blowing, in midst of this untethered joy, my son looked at me with clear green eyes so earnest they could make Mr. Rogers look like a wily card shark and said, “Have you called your oldest friend lately? How is she?”  Now I pride myself in being a pretty good keeper-upper with my best-loved pals from childhood to present.  I tend to be loyal to a fault. But this particular person, I have let slip away lately, my life a little chaotic and all. “You should call her, ” he continued. “Life is short.”

And then my son the two time cancer survivor, father of this cherub of a boy with another baby on the way, pulled out his phone and read aloud this passage from a book he is reading:

“You know my young friend, I will be ninety years old next year, and life is still a surprise to me. We never know what will happen next, what we will see, and what important person will come into our life, or what important person we will lose.  Life is change, constant change, and unless we are lucky enough to find comedy in it, change is nearly always a drama, if not a tragedy. But after everything, even when the skies turn scarlet and threatening, I still believe that if we are lucky enough to be alive we must give thanks for the miracle of every moment, every day, no mater how flawed. We must have faith in God and the Universe, and in a better tomorrow, even if that faith is not always deserved.”

He looked at me and repeated,” Even when the skies turn scarlet…We must give thanks for the miracle of every moment, every day.”

This coming from my miracle of a son who has beaten all odds to be sitting at this table on his son’s second birthday.  Always looking forward, not back.  No fears of “what ifs” just relishing every “what now” he experiences.

I always say our messages come from unexpected messengers in our least expected moments. On my grandson’s birthday, my son gave me a gift. A stop me in my tracks gift to lift me up and take me away.

And maybe, just maybe, even on the next flight out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ain’t no quick fixes

Seems everywhere I turn these days, someone is offering a quick fix. TV, radio and now even Instagram (what used to be a sweet little picture sharing app suddenly has sponsors every other photo) are all filled with advertisements that offer a promise. Erase fine lines and wrinkles overnight, cure all ailments with one pill, financial security on three simple steps.  We are barraged with notions, lotions and potions that lead to inner peace or the fountain of youth. The list is endless.

My daddy taught me that nothing comes easily in this life. Nothing worth having or anything that will last. Hard work was his key to success. Period. No cliff note options in his parental teaching. Long hand and long days were his answer to most “how to” questions.

Growing up we went to church a lot, I mean three days a week a lot, where I learned that selfless deeds and the Golden Rule bring good things to your life. Not to mention maybe a ticket to heaven when the time came.

Our church had traveling evangelists come to Wednesday night prayer meetings every once in a while. They offered a quick fix for that ticket if I would only take Jesus into my heart.  These guys, with their slicked back hair and used car salesman plaid jackets, were not at all what I envisioned as a spiritual guide to my place in heaven. And the thought of putting a person in my heart, which I felt sure was a heart-shaped  box of Whitman’s chocolates, just made no sense. A strange man was not touching those brown pleated paper wrappers before I did. So, much to my mother’s dismay, I clung tight to the bottom of my pew when she tried to drag me up to the alter and accept that creepy snake oil prophet’s offer.

My heart was my heart and it would stay mine until I wanted to share it. Ticket or no ticket. I chose the long way over the quick fix. A decision I rethought when I saw my dad’s disappointed blue eyes peering down at me from the choir loft, his disdain amplified by his position on the back row under the gilded organ pipes. But I stayed put.  Heels dug in.

I think about my childhood lessons when the New Year rolls around.  It seems every year my resolutions are some version of vowing to be a better person. Kinder, gentler, more patient.  And every year, maybe, I inch toward that goal.  But it takes time. And hard work.  And perseverance beyond the quagmire of quick fixes offered on Amazon in a single bottle.

I’ve explored many paths for self-improvement and I have made some headway. But physical endeavors are easier for me to tackle than mental attitude changes. Personality flaws always seem to require extra effort.  And as my brother used to say, you have to stay changed in any area of your life for five years before anyone actually believes you.

Five times 365. 1,825 days. I’m 15 in with only 1,810 days to go.

Maybe I’ll delve into a box of Whitman’s and find the mocha chocolate cream on the first try.

Nothing like a chocolate fix when you are feeling stressed.