Sunday, July 31, 2011

Amused by Rides

So today our family went to the park. Being quite a wimp when it comes to rides, I knew my ticket was more of a donation to those college kids working there. "Here's my $32. May it help you buy your books this fall". I get dizzy if I do something with too much spin and I generally don't like heights. Rollercoasters are not my cup of tea either. I do like log flumes although I always scream on the descent into the water and I will do the Psychodome (aka scrambler), but only to relive the memories of enjoying that old carnival ride from my teenage years when Smokey's Greatest Shows would come to town. Nowadays they leave the lights on inside the dome though; it was always more fun with the strobe lights and the Blue Oyster Cult music playing at top volume.

Still, I like the atmosphere of an amusement park every now and then. The one we visited today is nice, with water features, trees for shade, and an abundance of beautiful flowers. I did a few rides aside my husband and children, and then happily took pictures of their adventures on other attractions. We all enjoyed a big raft water slide together, although I think waiting in line and being splashed by others going down was just as fun.

The best part of going to amusement parks however is watching my family laughing (and sometimes screaming) on rides together. Their eyes light up and their smiles are wide. As my family crashed in the hotel, I downloaded pictures and relived the day. Tomorrow, we head to a water park. I'll be braver there, I think. But either way, the camera will stay in the car.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

This Family of Five

Knowing how infrequently we've been going out together as a family of five this summer, due to work schedules, doctors' appointments, and other events, I thought it might be nice if we took a couple of days to enjoy a little getaway for later this weekend. I mentioned my idea to Eric and to all three kids and everyone seemed to be on board. So I made arrangements with a friend who would puppy sit, booked a hotel room, and got some cash for a day at an old fashioned amusement park for Sunday and a water park on Monday.

It used to be easier to whisk the kids away for a few days. I remember many trips to little parks, hiking trails, museums, and fairs. I was always quite proud of the fact that my kids enjoyed one another's company and that a family getaway was just that--the family getting away from home, friends, and other distractions. I am still pretty happy that the kids don't often ask for a friend to come along on family nights or family vacations. They make time for friends and we do invite friends to come along from time to time, but each child truly values our family unit and can have fun with both parents and each sibling. I am especially pleased that everyone looks forward to time at the family camp where, in the middle of nowhere, the kids unwind together as they swim, sun, play games, swing, kayak, read, climb rocks, hike, walk, talk, and hang out for a good week or two. No one complains saying they'll be bored. No one begs to have a friend come. No one doesn't want to go. That's nearly miraculous when you consider there isn't cable or wifi there either!

But I do realize that these days of being just the five of us are dwindling. I've accepted that, for I know we're entering a new stage in our life as a family. Friends have begun joining us for holiday dinners, for example, and this may indeed be the last summer Sydney lives at home, preferring to be with her college friends who are still on campus in the summer months. We get it. It's tough to "come home" after a year of college. Before we know it, Emma too will be off to college and Paul, who is entering Middle School this fall, will show us just how quickly the next 7 years will fly by.

People have begun teasing me about having an empty nest someday. They know how much I treasure my family. I think about it from time to time, and I do wonder what it will be like. But I also know that I have never been one to wish away time with my family and let's face it, I have several more years of family adventures before there are suddenly two empty bedrooms upstairs. I don't have time to think of the fall of 2018; I've got some packing to do. Canobie Lake Park and Water Country awaits the five of us this weekend!

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Magic City

There's a quickly growing group on Facebook tonight. "You know you grew up in..... when...." Members are posting memories of my hometown and everyone seems to be having the greatest time reminiscing. I've spent a good hour laughing at some of the posts and thinking, "Oh, I remember that". There are posts about hometown landmarks--official and otherwise. Posts about hometown legends--some true, some supernatural myths. There are memories of teachers, the towns' characters, radio shows, favorite pizza places, and the various ways we all enjoyed our childhood.

Perhaps everyone believes their hometown to be special; I'm not sure. But I do know that after being blessed in an affluent community during my 18 years there, my hometown has had its share of hard times in the last few decades. It has greatly struggled after the closing of its mill, the financial backing for the town. Having been born and raised in my hometown, I sometimes wonder whether it's special to me only because I grew up there? But it surely seems to be a remarkable place. Like someone pointed out tonight, it was a town where you could walk or bike anywhere safely. You could dial just four numbers to reach anyone in town. You could find a convenience store at any corner or within any development. You could somehow find something fun to do every night even though there was supposedly "nothing to do" in that town. As someone wrote, "Lots of good memories. No wonder I thought it would all last forever".

I married when I was just a few months shy of my 21st birthday. My husband, who had moved to my hometown when he was in 8th grade, does not have quite the same hometown memories as I do, as he spent much of his childhood in another part of the state, but it is nice that having lived there for five years, he knows the town pretty well. My husband and I love telling our children about our years there. We spend a few weeks there each summer and although we're usually "upta camp", we always make a few trips into town, driving around our old neighborhoods and telling our stories.

We moved to the southern part of the state when we went to college and both of us can now say that the community in which we now live, is the town where we've spent the most number of years. (We'll have lived here for 20 years this coming January)! But I have always been very proud to tell others where I grew up. I've met so many people who have a connection to my hometown that at times it's as though I'm playing a version of that game, "The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon". When people hear where I'm from, it seems as though there's always someone they know that they ask me about, or else we talk of a particular place they've visited. Coworkers, students, or people from my present community are quick to brighten up at the name of hometown. Yes, I wear "Where I am from" with great pride.

I am grateful for the town that raised me. I try to get back there as often as I can. It's a town I never want to let go. I hope it will forever hold me close. There was one post in particular on this new group tonight that made me tear up. One post that made me want to write about my hometown tonight. "Thank you everyone for the memories and for reminding me that where I came from is why I am who I am..God bless". I could not have said it any better.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Something From Nothing

I'm uninspired tonight as I try to write. Yet, I just finished watching the first episode of the new season of Project Runway. If those 16 fashion designers can make a runway outfit from a simple bed sheet and the pajamas they went to bed with, surely I can write a few paragraphs for tonight's blog post?!

It's amazing what artists can do! Whether painting, sculpting, singing, dancing, acting, writing, or sewing, I am blown away by the innate talent I see in others. I love seeing how one can make something from nothing. A fashion designer, like Bert on tonight's episode, can make an adorable dress from a pair of boxer shorts and a sheet. An artist can put oil or watercolors on a canvas and make an exquisite painting. A dancer can sway to the right and to the left with graceful arms and make the audience swoon.

I've always wished I could do more with dance and fashion design. I've tried my hand at both sewing and dancing and although I saw potential, I've always known I needed more time than I ever gave to either pursuit. I used to love to paint. I enjoyed painting with acrylics best and one year for Christmas, my husband bought me a canvas and a set of paints to encourage me to begin again. But I never cracked open the gift. I vow to get back to that sometime soon.

I do make time for singing and acting however. I wish I took more time for those pursuits as I always feel so alive when I am on stage, but I have many loves and I find that doing about one show a year satisfies me for the most part. I do sing each week however, cantoring at mass, singing solos occasionally, and I enjoy that. It helps me keep my pipes warmed up and it challenges me musically too.

And of course, I write. Writing is both a creative outlet and a therapeutic prescription I allow myself. I see days, weeks, months, years going by so quickly. Writing helps me slow down long enough to capture a day or an insight. My love of photography and film coincides with this desire to preserve time too. Unlike Bert's dress, not every song I sing or every scene I act, or every blog post I craft, is destined for praise. But as long as I am making something out of nothing, I am content.

Well, there you go. I found inspiration tonight after all.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Crick and a Nuzzle

As days go, today wasn't the greatest. Waking up with a crick in my neck and a dentist appointment did not help the morning. Upon arriving back home, I tried to rally and made the family's favorite dish, the comfort food of chicken pot pie. I even succeeded making no-bake cookies, a sweet I have had some challenges in preparing before. But other than the good food, it was a "blah" day.

Even Ziva had an off day. At puppy class she growled and seemed irritated with the other pups jumping all over her. I took her outside for a little break which helped; she did come around and made the best of her time with other dogs, but she wasn't her normal self. "We all have days like this sometimes, don't we?" the vet said. Yes, definitely.

So, as it came to an end, all I could do was to be patient with myself. Following my lead, Ziva came up on me as I stretched out on the couch tonight. She wasn't satisfied to be at my feet, nor was she content lying at my side. Instead she settled into my neck, her little nose nuzzling my chin.

I suppose it's true what they say, misery loves company. At least when I feel a crick in my neck tomorrow morning, I'll know where it came from. And it'll be worth it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Let Goodness Triumph

I've got a headache tonight. It could be from the weather change. It could be from the dust that got to me during the few hours I spent cleaning the cellar. Maybe I'm a little dehydrated. It could be that I am thinking of my dentist appointment tomorrow and the curriculum work I could not motivate myself to do today. Or it could be the fact that I now have TWO teenage drivers in the house. (Emma got her permit tonight). But no, actually, although any of the above could be the culprit, I think I am just emotionally tired after following the story of a shooting that took place last night. Another local woman, a young mother of four children has been killed in what appears to be another case of domestic abuse.

I did not know this young woman personally, but she lived in the district where I teach school. At least a few of her friends are former students of mine and they are grieving tonight. It pains me to hear that this young mother, a woman who is being spoken of highly and who volunteered for a regional transport program at least 30 hours each week, has lost her life. It saddens me that those four innocent children will grow up without a mother and knowing that their father killed her. It sickens me that there was a history of violence in this case; he allegedly shot a man in the chest several years ago and has faced charges of trafficking knives, eluding an officer and carrying a concealed weapon, yet he was free to harm her while their four children were there in the house. I just don't get this world at times.

It's hard to make sense of senseless crimes. But as I listen to the rain as it starts up again tonight, I think of renewal. I am trying to focus on the words and actions of two of my former students, two beautiful young women who, like me, are trying to make sense of this young mother's death. One sweetheart of a girl, a mother herself, is organizing the collection of clothing and other such needs for the grandparents and aunt who are now taking in the four orphaned children. Another, Danielle, went to bed with her bible last night. "Please everyone be thankful for all the blessings you have and thank God every minute for all he provides us with. Recognize it", she wrote. Her words touched me deeply. The quick turns to goodness, the actions of both of these beautiful young women give me hope.

I do not usually like to discuss something I have heard on the news when I do not know the full story. I don't know the victims or the man arrested. I do not know what happened; the "why" may never truly be known or understood, but I do know that those children are going to need a lot of love and they are going to need everyone's prayers. Let's pray that they will grow to be forgiving and resilient. Let's pray that they will be brave and will focus their attention on others in need so that they may understand the grace of God. Let's pray that their hearts will be full of goodness, so full that they outweigh the wrong done to them last evening.

If anyone would like to offer up additional assistance, please let me know. I have connections and can get your donation to the family in need. Let's show those children that when bad things happen, goodness WILL triumph in the end.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Branches in our Family Tree

I've always been very proud of my family. There's of course the family I have with my husband and our three children, but I'm also thinking of the family I grew up with and the family I married into. Then there is the family my Dad grew up with and the family my Mom grew up with. All in all, let me just say, I am extremely proud of the various branches of my family tree.

Several years ago my cousin Cathy and her husband Steve left their home in Pennsylvania to move to my neck of the woods with their two young children. Cathy had long vacationed in Maine and her husband had always loved the woods and they wanted to raise their children here. I was so overjoyed at the thought of my favorite cousin moving closer! Cathy and I are close in age and when we were kids, we'd see each other about once a year. Many of our visits were at my camp where my four siblings and her three siblings would all gather for boat rides, swimming, and late night card games. Cathy had very blonde hair like I did and being just a bit older than me, I thought she was so fabulous. And that Pennsylvania accent of hers was very cool too.

Her older sister Denise would hang out with my older brothers mostly, so I did not really get to know her until we grew older. But back in 1996 my family hosted a huge family reunion and I got the chance to meet her daughter and got to know Denise better. The next year we drove to Pennsylvania to visit Denise and we took our children to the Philadelphia Zoo. The next day we took her daughter with us to Sesame Street Place. It was a fun trip.

In the years since, we've done our best to get together with her when she comes to Maine to visit Cathy. Some years we manage to have a beach day together. This morning when I woke up I received a text from my cousin Cathy. She told me her sister was in town and asked if we could get together. Knowing we had to work today, we quickly invited them over for a barb-b-que tonight. Over hot dogs and hamburgers, pasta salad, and addictive taco dip, we quickly caught up with one another. The kids all enjoyed the puppy and we adults had a fun time laughing over various adventures and other recent happenings. Although we see Denise maybe once a year, if that often, we always easily slip back into comfortable conversations and fun teasing. And despite our living in the same town as Cathy, with our children so busy with their activities, it's always a joy to get together every few months or so to reconnect.

Spending time with these two cousins of mine, two women who have always been in my life and their most likeable children, who are as open, loving, fun, and as full of sweet smiles as their mothers, is always special and fun for me and my family. Our children all genuinely enjoy one another. We all love one another. That is obvious.

My mother and their father are brother and sister, the only two children of our mutual Nana and Pepere. At one point tonight, Denise and I stepped outside together to tend to my puppy. We started talking about our aging parents and it was incredibly comforting to both of us to know we are both going through this phase of life together. With Cathy, Denise, and I, there is a connection between us that is strong through blood, but there's also a simple appreciation and respect for one another that comes naturally. Those are the best cousin relationships, the best bonds within a family. However infrequently we get together, those are the branches in a family tree that make me most proud.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Day of Rest

One of my favorite childhood memories of Sundays is of my Mom, Dad, and I sitting in the living room together, exchanging different sections of the Sunday paper. I'd of course get the comics first and then I'd read the Parade magazine section. It wasn't until many years later that I'd look at other sections of the paper, but I loved the peaceful expected tradition of these Sundays. "Which section of the paper do you have now?" one would ask the other, and I'd smile as they'd each get up to pass their section of the paper off to the other. Often my Dad would play classical music on Sundays too. In fact, every so often I find myself turning on Vivaldi or Chopin on Sunday mornings and thinking of those peaceful days. We may have taken off for a swim at camp in the summer or a cross-country skiing trek in the winter, but classical music and the reading of the Sunday newspaper always were a part of our day of rest.

In our household now, Sundays are often set aside for morning Mass, grocery shopping, a nice Sunday dinner, and homework. The kids work on assignments due and I am usually correcting papers. I used to read the Sunday paper cover to cover each week but when my workload increased as did our subscription price, we canceled the paper and I began turning to the news online. Still, there is a nice pace to school year Sundays--the day is relaxed and although I usually can manage to play some music, I also find the sound of my husband's tv football games to be relaxing. We sometimes have an event that takes us out of the house on Sundays but our usual routine is to be at home, working on schoolwork and getting things set for the workweek ahead. It's often a good day that goes by all too quickly.

Yesterday, before we returned home from a great family evening out, Emma asked what we'd be doing today. When I said that we did not yet have plans, she was quick to say that she would like to have a day off. Now it might seem strange that in the middle of summer she would say this, but she has been busy with Driver's Education classes, driving time with her instructor, a Saturday work day, and on top of that, although enjoying various fun activities, she'd been on the go with friends and family. She pointed out that she had not been able to sleep in for several days and was looking for a day of just doing "whatever". "You guys can go do something though if you want, a movie or the beach or whatever", she added.

But as it turned out, we all took the day off. First, since no one had eaten breakfast, I suggested we have blueberry pancakes for brunch. It felt good to take time to make my family a hearty meal, no bowls of cereal today. My husband ran to pick up some milk and after picking up the kitchen, I took some time to read the Sunday paper he'd bought me. I read that and a magazine out on the deck while my husband enjoyed some tv. Paul soon got an invite to a friend's house and headed there on his bike. Emma did her own thing and took time to write. Hours later I called her for the next meal, but overall, she simply enjoyed her time off. My husband and I settled in to watch a movie together and played with the puppy who seemed very happy to have an easy day at home too. Early in the evening we did take a couple of hours to get some work done for our meeting at school the next day, but we were quick to both say, "Okay. That's enough for today". It was a Sunday after all, not to mention a Sunday in July!

As the day came to an end and everyone headed up to bed, I got thinking of how at one point in the afternoon I'd stopped and realized that whether it's summertime or not, I am always perfectly content and happy to have an easy going Sunday. I would have been up for other plans for today and had it been any other day, I may have insisted on our getting some big chore done or at least some activity that would "make the most of our day", but I am pleased that Emma claimed today as a day off. She may not have made the declaration for her Dad and I, but like Eric said to me tonight, "It was great not to have to do anything or go anywhere today".

I only wish I had thought of going to the stereo. It would have been nice to hear a little classical music today. That was the only thing that was missing.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Sunset Cruise

Portland shimmers in the distance as you relax in the twilight of a perfect Maine day. Enjoy evening breezes as we navigate our way through Casco Bay.

Shimmers. Twilight. Evening Breezes. Ahh... I read these words on an advertisement for the Casco Bay Lines' Sunset Cruise and wanted to go. It took me a few days to get there, a few very hot days of being trapped at home either because of others' schedules or because we were short one car, but tonight we did it.

I was excited. I quickly got dressed and my husband and I told the kids we were going on a sunset cruise. "Tonight?" they asked. "Yes! Tonight! That's when the sun sets! Get ready!" we said. Of course I wasn't quite sure how this worked, whether or not the tickets would still be available or whether we should have bought them sooner but we took off and sure enough, we were able to go. As we waited at the dock gate, I took in the scene. There were numerous people with coolers and picnic baskets, a few men with the most handsome dogs (my family tells me I SUCH a dog person and it's true, I don't hesitate to strike up a conversation with dog owners!), and several others with groceries and other provisions bought on the mainland.

Within five minutes of setting sail, the group of people at the front of the boat were pouring wine and breaking out the platters of meats and cheeses, chips and dip, and other such foods. Emma and Paul were suddenly in the midst of a cocktail party so after hanging with them for a while, I went to explore the other side of the boat. Finding a much calmer set of folks, I had everyone join me there. It was then that we all began to enjoy the beauty of the trip we were on.

On our sunset cruise we made several stops--at Big Diamond Island, Long Island, Cheabeague Island, with return trips to Long Island again and finally Little Diamond Island. At each dock I laughed at those who waited for the ferry to leave so they could jump into the tumultuous waves of the boat departing. It looked to be a nightly ritual for the teens and adults who after jumping would wave to us on board. The stops gave me a glimpse of what it'd be like to be "an island girl" and as I watched residents unloading everything from a bag of groceries to a brand new grill, it was fun to think about living on one while also weighing the challenges or obvious difficulties.

As the sun set, I was quick to take many pictures, knowing that sunset shots are always my favorite, especially when I am on the water. I began to think of how in just a few short weeks I'll be watching the sunsets at my favorite spot, able to kayak each evening under the careful watch of the mountain.

The two and a half hour cruise was soon over and the four of us went out to dinner at The Flatbread Company right next door to the Ferry Station. As we munched on our delicious flatbread pizzas (which completely hit the spot!), I felt completely relaxed and happy to be there with my family, still close to the ocean, still thinking of how beautiful our cruise had been.

The wait had been worth it. To have this all in my backyard is such a blessing. I need to get out on the water more often. It was glorious. It was indeed a night of evening breezes and twilight shimmering on Casco Bay. It was in fact, a perfect Maine day.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Giving Up or Letting Go?

When I get stressed, I cry. This is no secret to those who know me. Tears are a good thing to have happen to me, however, because it means I am releasing the tension that has built up inside. So this morning and this afternoon, I am crying. It's been a long day, but it's a very stressful time. There's a lot that needs to be released.

Why am I so tense in the middle of my blessed summer vacation? Well, in a few hours Sydney will take the keys and head two and a half hours north to go see friends. I'm understanding of her need to go. She's nineteen. I am cool about her spreading her wings. I just wish she could indeed USE those wings and safely FLY (not drive) to where she needs to be. It's her first solo trek to her college town, but more than that, she's leaving on a Friday night in the middle of the hectic tourist season, and she's only had her license for 11 days.

I'm told I need to "let go" but the truth is, I won't be able to breathe deeply until she's off the roads. I've often read that we try to control things because of what we think will happen if we don’t. In other words, control is rooted in fear. And yes, I am filled to the brim with fear. I just don't think this is the right time for her to be doing this. I think she needs more experience, but I get the irony that she can't get that experience without driving more and more. I said no (very loudly I might add) last weekend, but this weekend I felt torn about making the decision so I put it all on my husband to weigh. Was that acceptable to do? I don't know. I'm not sure what is the right decision to make. She's got her license. She's nineteen. But I just feel I can't give her my blessing to go. Call me overprotective, call me a control freak, call me a worrier, but we all know, I'm just her Mom. This is how I'm built. I love, I care, I worry, I stress, I sometimes freak out, I usually cry. But okay, even if it's with my daughter and my husband prying my fingers off the reins, I let go.

What some see as a control issue, I think is more complicated than that. Business writer and speaker Jessica Hatchigan once wrote, "There's an important difference between giving up and letting go". I am sure she was not thinking about my current dilemma, but I think that is the problem I am having right now. In trying to let go, I feel as though I am giving up--on making sound decisions, on being a good parent, even on Sydney's safety and well being. It feels as though this is the hardest time in my life as a parent. Childbirth was a cinch. Dirty diapers and projectile vomiting? No sweat. Even ending maternity leave and returning to work was easier (and believe me, that was TOUGH...each time).

In returning to one of my go-to sayings, "Let Go. Let God", I continue to struggle. In trying to put it all in God's hands, I am thinking I need a distraction until I get a text saying she is safely at her destination. I could read. I could clean the cellar. I could work on curriculum work. I could organize some drawers. I could clean the bathroom. I could watch a movie or two. I could play a board game. I could go out for dinner, or on a nice local sunset cruise, or I could even punish myself and go for a run.

I mean, if I'm going to be worrying and crying, I might as well drop a few pounds while I'm at it. I can easily give up or let go of those.

Sydney, don't drive any faster than your guardian angel can fly. And text me. Often. But NOT when you're behind the wheel. Be safe. Watch out for the "other guy". Stay attentive. Get home alive. And oh yeah, I love you...so much it hurts...a lot.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Get Me to the Water

It's hot. After spending two days walking around in Boston in near 90 degree weather, I had hoped to be by the water today. However that did not happen. I did manage to get one of the AC units in, thanks to my daughter Emma. But other than an all-too-quickly-interrupted-after-lunch-siesta and a trip to the vet for another puppy check up, it's been a sit-and-sweat day. I hate those.

They happen though when you have to hang around for a kid taking Driver's Ed. There are the necessary driving hours and then the classes which all occur at inconvenient times. Tomorrow there's a late morning car service appointment but I swear, if someone doesn't let me get to water I am going to scream. I'm not picky. I'll take a pool, a lake, or any ocean beach. I'll take a cruise or a swim; it doesn't matter. I am a Pisces after all.

I've done my research for tomorrow's possible adventure. Now I just need to make it happen. I'm heading to the movies with my two favorite guys tonight and that is fine. I'll be out of the heat. But all I know is that I'm not staying inside another day. I'm getting to the water, no matter what.

The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea. --Isak Dinesen

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Rock of Ages

It's not everyday that I go to a rock concert. Okay, let's be honest. The last time I went to a rock concert was in 19.. Oh I forget. But it's pretty safe to say it was close to 20 years ago. Although there have been a few artists I would have liked to have seen, the thought of running into one of my high school students make my husband and I cringe. It'd just be awkward. So when my daughter mentioned buying her sister and I tickets to go see a three-in-one show in Boston for a "Girls' Night Out" to celebrate Emma's Sweet Sixteenth birthday, I have to admit, I was rather excited. This time, I had an excuse to go; I was "the Mom", the chaperone or chaffeur or maybe just the one who'd be footing the bill for the hotel, but in any case, I'd be in the city, listening to loud rock music and getting a chance to see one of the bands I'd come to like in the last several years. I even liked several songs by the other two groups that would be playing. Sure, there were other shows I'd have preferred going to but this was not MY Sweet Sixteenth Birthday, after all.

I did wonder about the age of the other concert goers. Would there be people my age? (Oh yes. I need not have worried). And would my daughters let me dance or would I be too embarrassing? That right there is a hard pill to swallow: when your children start becoming so self conscious that you aren't allowed to be who you are. For example, let me warn all you parents of teenagers out there: You can't carry a map with you in the city because you'll look like the hapless tourist that you are. You even have to go through several concert outfits to make sure you don't look too old or too young. It's a tough gig being the parent of two teenage girls.

But after getting dressed and being reassured I looked appropriate, we hailed a cab and got to the concert venue, on the waterfront of Beantown. It was a far cry from being in a hot convention center. Then I noted on the tickets that we actually had seats!? "We have assigned seats?" I asked my daughter. I had imagined being in a crowd of people on the floor. I think I was happily surprised.

My daughter spotted one of her sister's friends from high school, a friend I'd long known myself. I realized I still had her cell phone number from a few months back when we'd given her a ride to my daughter's college to see her play so I quickly texted Deanna and told her we'd seen her. In the middle of the concert, Deanna texted me back and later we saw where she was sitting and we texted her again so we could all wave. I had to laugh. Between the music and the silly texts, I was starting to feel like one of the girls. The fact that I'd caved and had bought myself a concert tee shirt, along with the ones the girls wanted, helped too, even if I will probably only wear the tee shirt around the house! HA!

The first two acts came and went. Good music. Then came the last act, the band I'd listened to the most. After a lengthy intermission the lights were on and the volume of the speakers was increased. During their first song all I could think was, "I haven't heard music this loud since I was in Paul Levasseur's car!!!!" That was back in 1986. I vowed to send him a note to tell him! But as the music rocked my insides, I smiled. It felt good to rock out, to dance (just a little), and to sing along. Then I looked over at my daughters who had enjoyed the first two artists also and thought to myself, "Wow. The girls actually look tired. Ha! Who would have thought the forty-three year old would have the most stamina tonight?!"

As the concert was coming to a close, the girls wanted to run out to see if they could catch an autograph from the opening group who had promised to be back out front after the show. The girls got in line and sure enough, they each got a chance to talk to the members of the group and got their tee shirts signed. I stood back and took in the scene. They both looked happy. Emma looked ecstatic and was floating on air. We walked a little ways to hail another cab back to the hotel and we strained a bit to hear one another until our ears got back to normal. Back at the hotel, we posed for one another in our tee shirts and got rather silly and giddy making funny faces as we took pictures. We made a run down to the lobby to buy some munchies and after filling our bellies the girls and I fell into bed, exhausted but content.

My first rock concert as the mother of three children (two teenage girls and also one eleven year old boy who stayed home this time around) went rather well. I kept up with those two daughters of mine. I had fun. Not too much fun though...I kept things appropriate. I know the role I play. I understand the limits my daughters place on me. I've got to behave. It's the only way I'll be invited to another show.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Puppyhood

To know just how long we have been on summer vacation we do not need to look at a calendar. All we need to do is to look at our puppy. Having joined our family at just 8 weeks of age and only 7 lbs a week before school ended, Ziva has surely added some weight. She is still much smaller than puppies her age at the local puppy class, but she has grown taller and heavier.

She’s a good little puppy. She seems to be housebroken now for she hasn’t had an accident for over a week now and she goes to the door several times a day asking to be let out. We are happy to see that she can go out on her own, as our last dog, Charlie, needed to be tied outside on her run since she would unexpectedly take off and run, leaving us to have to jump in the car to find her before she came home with another neighbor’s shoes found in their garage. Ziva, on the other hand, wants to stay close to us. If we do not go outside with her, she’s quick to return to the door asking to come back inside with us. Other comparisons beg to be made. Our Charlie was a grazer, eating small amounts throughout the day. Ziva does a near flip in the air as you bring her morning breakfast and evening dinner.

She is teething, however, and the girls have lost several flip flops and I have a tear in my leather sandals. She loves to rip out the stuffing of a felt stuffed animal we gave her and she’s been known to tear up paper left on the floor or under my bed. Who knew that such a tiny thing could even tear apart a phone book!? It just might be time for me to find a new spot for my old love letters, previously kept safe in cardboard boxes there. We’re learning to puppy proof the house. The chewing stage is always the worst part of puppyhood but so far, we’ve lost fewer items than we did with Charlie. I’m quite sure that is only because we’ve grown smarter about supervision and giving the puppy proper chewing toys.

Ziva has been exposed to water but has yet to show us her swimming skills. We’re coaxing her to go in but she doesn’t seem to be very brave. In trying to take her for a walk, she is quick to sit down, wanting only to return home. She is getting better about jumping into the van to go for a ride but she’s happier if someone lets her sit on a lap. Even at home, she wants most to snuggle up to us as we sit watching tv.

She can sometimes get a little zany at night when she is overtired. She runs up and down the stairs and has a hard time settling down until we tell her it’s “TIME FOR BED” and we put her in her crate. The second she goes in there, she is quick to put herself to bed. She rarely barks or yelps when we tell her it’s bedtime. Even Boo the cat is starting to return to the main floor during the daytime, although he is still not fond of the dog, preferring to wait until Ziva is in her crate for the night. It is my hope they’ll soon become friendlier with one another. I know Ziva would love having Boo as a buddy, but in the meantime, she’s nuzzling up to each human member of the family.

Oh yes, the weeks of the summer are flying by. I see time passing quickly each time I move our pup’s little collar to a new notch, loosening it yet again. However, whether it be summer, fall, winter, or spring, chewed flip-flops or leather sandals, it is SO good to have a dog in the house again.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Early Bird Gets the Cat

It was definitely one of those days. The cat made his appearance in my bedroom rather early. First it was a jump on the bed. Next he meowed his request for me to get up for the day. Seeing that it was only 4:00am, I ignored him. Then, a few hours later, he jumped again and stretched out by my side. After getting a little love, he ditched me and thankfully I was able to fall back asleep.

However, upon waking up again, I could tell that between the early morning feline visit and the day's humidity, I was going to be at low ebb. Rather than fight the feeling, I decided to move slowly. It would mean ditching our plans for the day and giving up a trip to the mall with my daughter, but knowing we had two very busy days of travel ahead of us, the idea of a lazy day at home seemed worth it.

Giving myself permission to be lazy in the summer comes easy when being lazy occurs at the pool, the beach, or the lake. I am also okay with being unproductive at the cinema. But taking time to stretch out on the bed, the couch, or in the recliner on a warm sunny day seems sacrilegious. "It's summer! I should be out enjoying the day! I can sit on the couch when the snow flies! Get up! Get out! Make the most of this weather!"

Then the best thing happened. The skies got darker. It began to shower. "YES! Permission to be lazy!" To secure the day off, I took a little while to pay some bills, made a run to the bank, and bought a few train tickets for our getaway the next day. And for good measure, I took the dog outside and fed the cat. Then I sat down and enjoyed that recliner. I'll probably get to bed early tonight. That way, I can actually make the early train. That way I can go find the cat and wake him up before the sun rises.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Poolside

When your children are little, it's easy to get them all together and enjoy a day together. As they get older and friends become more of a priority, planning a day for just family can be more challenging. For the first time in quite some time, the five of us were without plans this Sunday. So, after attending Mass this morning and making a quick trip to the grocery store, I gave my family a few options for what we could do with our day. Ultimately, everyone decided they'd like an easy day by Meme and Grampy's pool, a quick half hour trip away. So we called my in-laws and asked if they'd mind our coming over to be poolside for the afternoon. They, of course, did not mind at all. We quickly packed a few snacks and threw our puppy in the van with us. With temperatures in the 90s it was a great day for being in the water.

After some time spent catching up with one another and doing some swimming and floating, we all settled into our books and/or magazines. The puppy roamed around their yard and there we sat in the sun or shade, depending upon our preference. I love Sunday afternoons like that, enjoying the refreshing lake breeze and the comfortable ease of being with family but not feeling a need to fill the time with conversation. A quick run to the corner store to pick up Italian sandwiches (and a small pizza for my son) made for an easy lunch.

We returned home early in the evening, a little pink perhaps but content with that wonderful waterlogged feeling that follows a day spent at the lake or poolside. However, within no time, Sydney headed off to spend the evening with a few friends. Emma sat down at the piano. Paul jumped onto one of the laptops. Eric watched a little tv. Ziva returned to chewing one of her toys underneath my bed where I rested and typed on my laptop. The day together may not have lasted a full 12 hours, but that's okay. And the best thing is, we just might have another day off together tomorrow. Dare I hope? Or am I pushing my luck?

The family. We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another's desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together.
-- Erma Bombeck

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The House Tour

When you are in love with houses as much as I am, a house tour is a spectacular way to spend a morning! I absolutely love touring homes, seeing various architectural designs, landscaped properties, and interior decorating too! Meeting my friend Michelle, we purchased tickets which provided us with a brochure and map to guide us to six private homes in the area. The first home we toured had beautiful views. I'd driven past the home several times but had never realized what a gorgeous backyard was there. The second home, built in the 1920s had little touches that reminded me of my childhood home. The woodwork and the glass paneled door took me back and made me smile.

The next home on the tour was built in the 1980s but was designed to look like an old fashioned farm house. The modified cape boasted a generous kitchen, sun filled entry way, and a spacious upstairs level with an office I could easily disappear into for years. As we munched on watermelon cups the homeowner pointed at a deer outside her kitchen window and Michelle and I spotted three fawns as we drove down the driveway. They were precious. Onto the fourth home on the tour, Michelle and I enjoyed a newly renovated home on Thompson Lake, where a classic wooden boat was docked and where the owner shared with us his favorite spot, an outdoor shower that he uses from April to October! At home number five, we took in the home and barn of a young family whose four children guided us to their baby turkeys, fish ponds, chickens, and cows.

At the sixth home, we again were given a tour of the grounds which featured a playhouse that had been built for the homeowners by prisoners who'd read of their plight moving from New Orleans to Maine after Hurricane Katrina. They'd designed the playhouse to look like New Orleans' on the outside but to look like Maine on the inside. Its mural inside was beautifully arranged with an image of the forests and the lighthouse. Next to the playhouse was a newly built tree deck, another favorite spot for their children. Inside the homeowner had painted her kitchen in Mardi Gras colors and she spoke of the renovations her family had made to their home so as to heat it properly during the cold Maine winters.

Having said goodbye to Michelle after touring six houses, I got thinking of the various homes I'd been lucky to visit and I tried to sort out what kind of property I would select for myself if I had unlimited funds to have another home. I would love a bigger kitchen and a master bathroom with a big soaking shower and a clawfoot bathtub. I'd love a library/office or even a writer's retreat on the grounds of my home. I'd love a wall of gorgeous windows to let in the sun or the breezes off a lake and surely, an outdoor shower would be heavenly too. To have gardens and animals on my land would be a nice addition, but knowing the amount of work it takes for their upkeep, that probably would not be realistic for me. So in deciding to redraft my ideas, I then made one more stop to a seventh home.

This house has a very private spot thanks to its long curving driveway that sets it off the road, and although I do love sweeping fields and lakefront property, this home is very pleasant in the way it is surrounded by woods in a very quiet development. At the front of the lot is a mountain brook, perfect for floating beanie babies and handmade boats there. There is a playground swing and tower off to one side of the house which surely entertained neighborhood kids for years. Out back there are two lovely adironodack chairs and a comfortable hammock hung near the tree line. The deck is comfortable with an outdoor sofa and a few chaise chairs perfect for either sunning or reading. The potted plants give great color and the grill is obviously well used.

Inside the home there is a great mudroom/family room addition with generous coat closets and radiant heating that would make the room very pleasant, especially on cold snowy days. A washer and drier are tucked away in a downstairs bathroom, a welcomed change from having to do laundry in the basement. Walking into the original part of the house, I'm greeted by a study which although lacking in bookshelves is decorated with lake-themed touches-- a poster of Mount Katahdin, a photograph of a gray haired man picking blueberries, a clay loon atop the bead board entertainment cabinet. The kitchen and dining room area are painted bright pink, in homage to the pink kitchen in the homeowner's childhood home and three over-sized silhouette paintings of the homeowner's three children grace the dining room walls. The living room with its classic brick fireplace is typically called the music room with the homeowner's Mom's piano in one corner and the childrens' instruments and music stands in another. Upstairs are three bedrooms, each pleasantly lit with white woodwork and ample windows. The master bedroom with light blue walls, black and white toile curtains, and shaker furniture is truly an oasis. Being in bed there on a calm summer evening one can hear the loons on the nearby lakes. The home may be lacking a clawfoot tub, an outdoor shower, and a view of the surrounding lakes and mountains, but there is just something special about this house. It gives me a feeling I didn't have when I visited the others.

Yes, this seventh home is definitely my favorite. Thank goodness it's MINE.

Friday, July 15, 2011

I Am A Writer

Well, here it is. Tonight I am writing the 200th post in 200 days. I remember hitting day 100 and thinking, "This is cool. I wonder how much longer I can do this for?" I truly did not expect that for the next 100 days I'd be taking time to write, continuing this thing they call blogging.

The other day I mentioned to my daughter that I was closing in on day 200. I thought she'd congratulate me. Instead, she chuckled. She found it amusing that her 43 year old mother is finding this blog such a serious part of life, that using this platform would give me so much satisfaction or be a source of pride and accomplishment. I get it. I suppose when you look at it from a certain perspective, it is silly the way I have been self-publishing my writing made up of nothing but daily reflections on my ordinary life. But as I tried to explain to her, I've always wanted to be a writer and this is what a writer does. A writer pushes herself to write every day, to put pen to paper. A writer knows that writing is not easy, that some days there is minimal inspiration, but she pushes herself to get something down. A writer, also, is often much like an actress needing an audience to perform for-- to give her applause and critiques or at least a few smiles of support, a few "Atta girl"s along the way. Just as my performances on stage may not have been everyone's cup of tea, I realize that my topics of conversation are not for all readers. My writing style and voice may grate on some; but every writer has a multitude of reasons for writing. and pleasing others is not often very high on that list. In acting, there is something within that pulls me to an audition, to a rehearsal, to the stage on opening night. There is something that is satisfied only when I am performing. I hope the audience will enjoy what I do, but I'm not looking for a Tony award for my community theater acting and I am not going after a Pulitzer prize for my blog writing. It'd be pretty cool to have these activities serve as stepping stones for something lucrative, however, I won't be giving up my day job. Still, I find joy and self-worth through my craft. It's as simple (or perhaps as complex) as that.

I explained to my daughter that writing and posting to my blog each day has been therapeutic. She said she could understand this. I've alluded to this before, but it's been a tough year. There has been a crazy amount of loss for me to suffer through on various fronts and adjustments to life's many changes have been difficult too. Often, despite having several people close to me, I feel very alone. This is probably because I think way too much all the time. Yet when I take time to type away at my laptop, to think on something or someone that might have a lesson or a perspective or an ounce of gratitude for me to grasp onto and grow from, then I draw a little strength from that day's writing. And when someone gives me a quick "thumbs up" for having shared my writing, I feel arms embracing me, and I feel my lungs filling up with air that lets me take a much needed deep breath.

I think after I explained some of this to my daughter she did understand my perspective better. And I do know that in various individual ways, my family has been quite supportive of my writing and blogging over the past seven months. A mom and wife doesn't just disappear for an hour or longer each day to write without having support. They've done dishes, played taxi, cared for the pets, made dinner at times, and given me time and space to allow me a chance to write.

When television sitcoms reach their 200th episode there is usually a headline in the newspaper or a picture of the cast around a celebratory cake. I'm not looking for cake, but I am going to pat myself on the back tonight at what I have accomplished, despite the fact that my writing is surely self-serving and yes, self-published. If nothing else, whether my 200th blog post gets cake, applause, or just a few chuckles, I say only that I have followed my heart and I have made time for this passion of mine. Along the way I have taken some risks and I have grown. I have learned a lot too, about myself, my writing, and other people too. It's taken time for me to honestly believe but now I can truthfully say to myself and maybe even to others who read this: "I am a writer".

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Room for a 6th Grader

I am not sure what made me tackle the job today but this morning I told Paul to head upstairs to start "deep cleaning" his room, adding that I'd be up to help him fix his bookshelves which had come crashing down. I knew there were several hours of work ahead of me if I were to tackle the cleaning of his entire bedroom, but I started in on the "bad corner" where all of his books were and before I knew it, he and I were moving on to another corner...and another...and another.

We sorted through piles and piles of childhood books and despite doing this each year, we counted 100 books to donate to our local library's "bookbarn". I also filled a laundry basket with favorite books which we decided we'd move out of his bedroom to allow him extra room for his current library. Multiple garbage bags were filled to go to the dump and three bins of toys will go to Goodwill. Another three bins of toys were moved to the cellar. "I don't want these in my room, but I think we should keep them". Understanding how hard it is to part with stuffed animals, I was not about to squawk. (It took me years to part with some of mine from my own childhood, and truth be told, I still have some tucked away along with a few of my favorite dolls).

Forever a sweet boy, he hesitated in telling me he wanted to change his woods-themed decor, knowing how for years we'd purchased items for his room. I knew he did not want to hurt his Mom's feelings, but I suspected he'd like to feel he had a room suited for a Middle School aged kid, so I asked him what he wanted to do with his airplane shelf. He looked at me with squinty eyes, measuring my reaction and said, "I'd kind of like to take that down". I smiled and said, "Yeah, let's take that down. How about these pictures over here? Do you want to take those down too? Maybe you could get some new posters instead?" Seeing I was on board, he quickly nodded and pointed to a few more wall hangings to make similar exits. "I really want to get a chair", he added. And when I suggested we put the bureau on a different wall and move his bed, he liked that idea too. Before the day was through, my son and I had gone through every bin of toys, every inch of his closet, and every nook and cranny--under his bed and bureau too.

Finally, having vacuumed and dusted and having moved his bed and bureau to their new spots, we made up his bed. I told him how I'd chosen his red and navy blue flannel patchwork quilt as the bedspread for Sydney's room when she was just three years old, of how I'd dressed it up with eyelet lace to give it a more feminine look back then, but how I'd wanted a quilt that would fit either a boy or a girl so I could use it for years to come. "This quilt?" Paul asked. "I didn't know that. I've had this quilt forever. I like this".

Unusual for him, Paul stuck with the cleaning job as the hours passed. At one point during the bedroom overhaul, Paul and I were both seated on his floor, sorting through a bin of Legos. I flashed back to when he was just a toddler, when the two of us would sit and build towers together. It made me a little teary to acknowledge how many toys we were saying goodbye to, as if they each held the key to those memories. But it felt good to help him clean today, to help him transform his "little boy bedroom" to a space more suitable for a 6th grader, a room he'd be more comfortable to bring friends into, a room that is appropriate for an 11 1/2 year old. (I realize, too, that the days of helping him clean his room are probably numbered. I can only imagine the decor of that bedroom when he's in high school!)

When his older sister arrived home from work, Paul quickly grabbed her hand and brought her upstairs for the big "reveal". As she oohed and ahhhed over the changes, I saw Paul's face beaming. He told her of the posters he'd be getting and of the chair he needed to find.

I may have spent an entire day of my summer vacation helping him clean that bedroom today but it was worth it. And in solidifying that, I need only to think of how he slid over to me in the hallway as his sister was checking out his new room; of how he gave me a big hug, and whispered, "Thanks Mom".

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Handing Over the Keys

I wanted to go to the movies tonight. There was a 7:25pm show but to make it, knowing the cinema is 20 minutes away, I'd have to ask Sydney to take Ziva to puppy class from 6:15-7:15pm. She was more than happy to do that; a newly licensed driver, she was most agreeable to taking the keys and driving to the vet clinic. She'd already taken the car to go buy grapes for the orzo salad she was making. And she was not too happy with her 16 year old sister for not allowing her to take her to her own driver's ed class. So seeing an opportunity to take the car for the night, Syd texted her friend and made plans. She'd take Ziva to puppy class, bring her home, and then meet Chris a little after 8pm.

Suddenly, I did not want to go to the movies anymore. I didn't want to move from my seat on the corner of the couch. In fact, I am going to take shallow breaths until I hear the car driving back into the garage.

It's no secret in our household that I'm going through a tough time with her behind the wheel, but I am trying to accept this. "You need to let go Mom", Syd said to me. "You're nervous that I don't have experience, but the only way for me to get some is to drive more". Oh I get it. I was even reminded by my insurance agent, "You were there once too. You've got to remember that". But then he added, "You're going to stay up every night waiting for her to get home, aren't you?! Yes, that's what my wife did too. I went to bed, but she stayed there with her eyes wide open until our children got in safely".

I have long stayed up late waiting for my children to get home from being out with friends. Earlier in the summer I even made Sydney text me each morning after arriving safely on her bike at her workplace. I've done pretty well with other changes. Seeing her head off to college was more exciting than sad, for example. As a high school teacher, I surely realize and defend the notion that parents have to "let go" and accept that their children are growing up. I am not a helicopter parent because it's important to trust our children when they've done nothing to betray that trust. I know that Sydney is a legal adult and is therefore responsible for her own decisions. But I'm sorry. As much as I can trust her to do her best to drive safely and to make decisions carefully, she is presently an inexperienced driver and I don't trust the world of other drivers. Accidents happen and the likelihood of danger finding her is far too great. Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death among teens, according to the Insurance Information Institute. I just want to keep my baby alive. That's all.

So sure, you can tell me that I need to let go. You can tell me that every parent goes through this. You can tell me that eventually I'll need to move from this spot and allow myself to go to a movie because it truly doesn't matter where I am or what I'm doing, time marches on and what will happen will happen. But just as I knew this all to be true when she was an infant, when I crept quietly over to her crib to make sure she was still breathing, for tonight at least (but I suspect for many more nights afterward), I'll sit right here and hold my breath until I see her smiling face come through that door.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Scheduling Summer

The way the week's appointments are lining up, it's tough to remind myself this is summertime. Yesterday was easy: Sydney's boyfriend was taking her to her driver's test and we only needed to get Emma to her Driver's Ed class at 5:30pm. Today is much too loaded: Orthodontist appointment for Paul, Volleyball practice for Emma. Optometrist appointments for Syd and I. Driver's Ed again tonight. Oh and another round of puppy classes begin tomorrow and the car goes in for service too. Then Emma will have times for driving with her instructor.

As scheduled as the week is turning out to be, however, there is a welcome reprieve from having to rise at 5:00am, from having to be inside a classroom with only two small windows for 8 hours, and let's not forget the fact that I do not have to plan lessons or correct papers in the evenings or on weekends. I like having the deheading and watering of flowers being my nightly "homework" and of waking up in the morning knowing I can turn my pillow over and snooze for another hour or two if I want to.

Summer is short. So in between necessary appointments this week, I'll make time to browse through a magazine or to read another chapter or two in my book. I'll sit out on my chaise chair with a tall glass of raspberry lemonade and take time to play fetch with my pup. It's all about savoring the moment. I read today of a mother's panic that she has only 9 more summers before her nine-year old girl goes off to college. Wow. Why do that to oneself? Even realizing the truth that my 19 year old college daughter will most likely not be back home after this summer, having realized the joy and excitement of an alternative plan for next year, I refuse to count down the days of the week or the weeks of the summer. Let's just take each day as it comes, appointments or no appointments. For I know that today,for example, after our trip to get our eyes checked, Syd and I will most likely make a side trip to the mall for a little "mother-daughter bonding time", aka shopping and maybe a trip to our favorite restaurant. But maybe we won't. Maybe she'll want to come straight home. Either way, it'll be okay. Nothing needs to be forced. Nothing needs to be set in stone. Good times, good memories just happen, no matter whether a child is nine or nineteen years old, whether it's July or January. It's best to just let life happen. The thing is, good memories don't follow a set schedule. They're created no matter what.

Sure, in the summer, I'd like to forget what day of the week it is, but with three children to care for, that's not very realistic, so I'll circle the two weeks we'll spend away at camp in August, preserving those free from any appointments and I'll accept that there will be several weeks of "Get her here then" in the meantime. Still, not all schedules are bad. For examples, tomorrow morning we've planned to take a hike, go on a picnic, and take in the view of the mountains before finding a nearby lake to go swimming at. As we drop off the car for service in the afternoon, I'll plan the menu for dinner on the deck and then we can hit the drive-in movie down the road. I hear there's a great double feature playing and luckily, it starts soon after puppy class.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Living the High Life

Finding the recliner free tonight I took a seat and turned on the television. I first spent an hour watching two episodes of House Hunters on HGTV. I witnessed a young man and his girlfriend exploring homes in Nicaragua. He stated he had a budget of 500,000 dollars whereas his girlfriend said she'd like him to look at homes costing 1,000,000. As they toured three homes, I imagined what it would be like to wake up each morning seeing those ocean views, cooking in those high end kitchens, or enjoying those luxurious pools. Next, I watched a couple touring beautiful homes in San Francisco. The Eduardian condo won their hearts, although the art deco one and the Victorian "Painted Lady" condo were definitely contenders. Again, I imagined living in a brand new spot and in an upper class tax bracket. It'd be fun; that's for sure.

As I watched these shows, however, I remembered going to church and listening to Father Joe's discussion this past Sunday. He spoke of parts of the world that struggle with hunger, places where families do not have a roof over their heads. Father had reminded us of how in the United States many of us take for granted our local grocery store--the vast array of foods we stock our refrigerators and pantries with, and how we can buy any items we have a hunkering for at any moment of the day. It's true. I could not dismiss his talk even when I headed to buy the week's groceries after Mass. It felt odd to fill my cart thinking of his words. I know I am blessed to have the nutritious food I eat and I'm trying very hard to make sure none of it goes to waste when I cook for my family. There are people in this world who hold out hope that a simple bowl of rice will be made available to them, and if I can trim my budget, I just might be able to send another monthly check to CFCA, Christian Foundation for Children and Aging, to support another poor child who needs a sponsor. (Having sponsored two boys over years, something that had been a dream of mine to do since I was a child, I can attest to the fact that giving back, even just a little, can make a significant difference in the lives of both the sponsored and the sponsor).

It's okay to dream of living the high life at times, just so long as we do not neglect to realize that we're already living in such a way that millions of people in other parts of the world (or sadly, even in our local communities) consider to BE the high life.

To learn more of how you can sponsor a child, youth, or aging friend, please visit a reputable organization of which I have been a part, http://www.cfcausa.org/

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Such a Fool

Tonight, while I was out on the deck, I discovered our citronella candle was not working. The mosquitoes found me quickly and in an attempt to scare them off, I picked up the candle to see if its smoke would drive the bugs away. It didn't, but in my foolish experiment, I accidentally poured some of the candle's wax on my leg. I expected to be scalded but luckily the wax was barely warm so the only thing I suffered from was having to peel off some blue wax on my leg and a little laugh at my expense. I do the most stupid things at times.

When I was my son's age, whenever one of those questions was asked regarding embarrassing experiences, I would talk about how in the sixth grade when feeling quite sophisticated wearing wedged heels for the first time, I slipped and fell with my skirt flying up in front of two male teachers who had all they could do to stifle a laugh. Then there was the time a few years later when I couldn't work the lock in a restroom and had to crawl out underneath the stall to free myself. Nowadays I find myself telling the story of my mishap with an eyelash curler.

If you think about how these contraptions work, you can probably already figure out what happened. But let me paint the picture for you just in case. Maybe eight years ago, as I leaned over my bedroom bureau with my elbow resting on some jewelry boxes, my arm lost its balance when the boxes toppled over and the eyelashes I had tightened into the eyelash curler were pulled out. All of my top lashes were gone in one not-so-smooth move! "My God! That must have hurt?!" is what I am asked when I reveal this story, but the only hurt I remember is the pain of looking into the mirror at my horrific appearance missing eyelashes on my right eye! To say I gasped would be a gross understatement. "Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God" is all I remember saying over and over as I panicked. I looked so freakish.

To make matters worse, I had to finish getting ready for work. After running downstairs to log onto my computer to do some quick research, (the lashes would start growing back in about two weeks' time), I took off my contact lenses, painted the thickest line of eye liner I could, and threw on my glasses. My plan was to stay in my room, to avoid the teacher's room and all one-on-one conferences with students and others for as long as possible.

The lashes did return but as I said before, it took two full weeks for them to even begin to sprout. Now I could end the story there, but I can't. I did the same damn thing again on the left eye a few years later. What an idiot.

Yes, I finally resolved never to use an eyelash curler ever again.

So yes, tonight as I stupidly splashed wax on my leg, I got thinking of all the dumb moves I've made in my life. Each foible has taught me something, namely a lesson in humility. Each dumb act reminds me of the clumsy, awkward fool I can be at times. From the giggling fits that prevent me from being intelligible as I try to order at a drive-through (This happens occasionally and oh my children get so embarrassed, especially when my husband and I both get going, laughing uncontrollably), to the occasional vocal flubs I make, "Mom! Did you hear what you just said?! You just said "Squeeze me" (instead of "Excuse me") to those college guys", it's safe to say that GRACE is not my middle name. I'm just happy that the people I surround myself with often join me in making fools of themselves. It makes life much more relaxed at the end of the day, and so much more fun.

“For God's sake, give me the young man who has brains enough to make a fool of himself” --Robert Louis Stevenson

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Clean Sweep

It's rather funny how people can walk past the same messy sections of their house each day and then suddenly one day we JUST CAN'T TAKE IT ANYMORE!!. Just like that, we have to clean up the mess we've long ignored. That's what happened to me today. With everyone in the family gone, to friends' houses or to their summer jobs, suddenly the two neglected baskets of clothes needing folding were being folded. The clutter on the so-called puzzle table (which hasn't hosted a puzzle for months) was sorted through and put away. The three bins in the mudroom holding pens, markers, papers, and notebooks, and other various school-related items, were emptied. I tore through the fridge, cleaning out food containers and checking expiration dates. I even reorganized my deck's furniture. Then ironically, I sat down to give myself a break and turning on the tv, I came upon the show "Hoarders".

It's not a series I enjoy watching, nor do I usually take in more than five minutes of an episode when I do happen upon it. I find it sad to watch those who suffer from that condition. Tonight's episode for example featured a Mom, now in her 60's or 70's, who became a hoarder after losing her family's photo albums and her children's baby books in a fire 30 years ago. The tragedy of the fire compounded with the loss of sentimental possessions seems to have been the catalyst for this poor woman's malady. As the camera crews uncovered the horror of her living conditions, the general public, myself included today, were there to watch in disbelief that the woman would fight with a therapist to hold on to a broken toilet seat or a box of light bulbs bought by the woman decades earlier.

Years ago, folks less troubled but whose clutter had gotten out of control, were featured on television shows such as TLC's "Clean Sweep", where the host would cart in an organizational expert and a team of designers to help a family reclaim a room now in disarray. To see the transformation of both the physical space and the family's attachment to items they no longer used but which were sentimental and therefore difficult to abandon, required only an hour of the viewer's time. Loving interior decorating and creative transformations, I enjoyed the show and it taught me how to quickly go through a drawer or a closet by separating the items into three piles, "Keep, Sell, or Trash". Although in my case, the "Sell" pile usually is donated to Goodwill.

When you are a child of two children of the Great Depression like I am, there's a fine line between honoring the idea of making things last and learning to let go of material items. I cannot deny that I still have some beloved unused but sentimental items that are simply taking up space in my hope chest or in other parts of my house--particular clothes from my childrens' toddler years, doll clothes made for my dolls by my Nana, even a few sentimental tee-shirts from my childhood. My children will quickly attest to the fact that there are some toys and books of theirs that I would have a harder time letting go of than they would. But I make regular donations of clothing, books, and other household items each season and I like clean, streamlined interiors, although I do prefer my house to be comfortable and cozy looking. I'm by no means a neat freak. I am not bothered by the fact that magazines are on the end tables and that books are stacked five high on my nightstand. I don't mind that there are several Wii remotes on the back of the couch or a few spare batteries tucked onto the edge of a bookshelf. I don't mind birthday cards set in the dining room window or the kids' pottery on my bedroom bureau. But I do think it's time to junk that bulky desktop computer that no one uses yet which sits on an used desk in my dining room, and I am ready to find a new home for the big box of wooden Brio train tracks that is taking up space on the bottom of the family room's bookshelf. I might even suggest it's time to throw away the construction paper chain link record of books read by each family member since I don't know when that circles the edges of the family room. It's time.

But once those items are taken care of, I'm pulling out another puzzle to put on the puzzle table. I know once I get it started, everyone will join in to complete it. That's what I wish those poor people who hoard could bring themselves to understand, that when you clear out clutter, letting go of the old, worn out, or stale, there's suddenly room for what is fresh and new, fun and life-affirming.

Now if only I could tackle the cellar. Maybe next week. It's time to reclaim that space too. A ping pong table and foosball awaits us there.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Never Ready to Leave

I got myself to the ocean today. Every time I go, I think to myself, "Why don't I come here more often?!" It's of course a question that I know the answer to, but I ask it in hopes of pushing myself to take a detour from the responsibilities of my life as a mom and a teacher. The ocean is a good 40 minutes away from my home but going there more often seems to be what my soul needs.

Going with friends or family is nice. It makes me smile to see my husband take off on a walk down the beach knowing that sitting in the sun for any length of time is not his cup of tea, or to see my children bury one another in the sand with the help of a friend or two. I love to watch my son enjoy the waves or see my daughters taking photographs like I do. But no matter how much fun my kids are having or how patient my husband is trying to be as he coats himself with another layer of sunscreen, I am never at the ocean long enough for my liking. "I'm ready when you are" is something I hear way too soon when we are there. So what I need to do is to sneak away by myself more often and for an extended period of time.

Several years ago when my daughters attended a day camp at a campus on the coast, I'd pack up their little brother (or leave him home with his Dad) and spend hours upon hours on a little stretch of a secluded beach nearby. My girls were quite sad when their camp had to close its doors. I was devastated. I'd lost an excuse to go to the ocean on and off for three weeks straight each summer.

I used to dream of owning a home on the ocean and although I realize that is not something that will happen for me, I'd still like to find a way to rent a spot for a few days at least, just so I can spend a full 24 or 48 hours there in the sand watching the waves.

Then and now I tell myself there is no reason why I cannot drive to the ocean at the end of a workday come September for I'd love to walk the beach or sit and look out over the water during each season of the year. I could jump on the highway after getting out of work, drive a half hour or so, walk the beach, take time to breathe in the ocean air, then drive home. I bet I could still make it back in time to make dinner. But then September comes and the routine of driving home from work, trying to get home as early as possible so as to play taxi, or to throw in a load of laundry...it consumes me and I neglect what I told my soul it needs the last time my feet hit the sand.

I am going back to the ocean. I'm going back soon and I'm going to go back alone. Because I want to forget all sense of time as I sit reading my book. I want to take endless walks and jump into the waves only to do it again and again each time after my hair has completely dried. I want to be there as the sun is setting and as the moon begins to shine, not hearing, "I'm ready when you are". Because the truth of the matter is, I'm never ready to leave.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Summer's Breeze

This morning I woke up and had a good start to my day. There was just a small glimmer of sunshine coming in the window and I could see the leaves at the tops of the trees swaying in the breeze. I smiled to myself as I was reminded of how I'd redecorated this bedroom of mine a year or so ago, in the heat of July. It was a project that had been on my summer to-do list. How beautiful and serene it is. I took in a deep breath and seeing my husband awake, I launched in to tell him of the dream I'd just had.

I have the most vivid dreams. They are usually very strange, comical even, but often tinged in worry. This dream had layers of thoughts and worries mixed within. I recognized that as did Eric. My husband and I laughed at the silliness of the dream, one involving a box of used toothbrushes being packaged up and presented as a gift..okay?!, and then I looked into Eric's beautiful blue eyes and I let the tears fall. I am so grateful for him. As cliche as it may sound, he's my rock. He smiled at me then held me close, knowing that tears are what help me de-stress.

We talked about a variety of things, but at one point he reminded me not to put such high expectations on my summer. He is right. I found myself trying so hard to keep the plates spinning this year, to keep everyone happy and safe, to do "the right thing" no matter what the situation. I did this as I tried to deal with my own grief for not only my furry Charlie and all she represented, but for another loved one who is still very much in my life, but who is not the same person as before. All the while, my work continued, my bills and housekeeping needed attention, my waistline reminded me I was not eating right nor was I exercising. But through it all, I kept thinking, "I'll just wait until summer. I'll fix this in the summer. I just need to get to SUMMER!" The only problem with having said all that is that I placed too much expectation, too much pressure on my poor little short summer.

So, starting today I am telling myself each morning to "lighten up" with all that worrying. Tomorrow I am going to the ocean with whoever wants or is able to come with me, but I am leaving the house early and I am getting back whenever. I love the ocean. Today I am going to see where the breeze takes me. As my husband left for his summer job this morning he yelled upstairs to me, "Have a good day. Remember to do whatever it is YOU want to do today, okay?!"

I will. And tonight I am going to crawl into the sheets of my bed and cuddle up to that sweet husband of mine to give him a kiss, a kiss that only a woman who is living in the moment can give.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Skeleton Tales

With another 9 entries like this one I will have written and published 200 blog posts in 200 days. It’s remarkable to me that I have been guided to write so many. Some days the writing comes easy. Other days it is a struggle to find a subject of inspiration. I turn to pictures, quotes, music, books, and of course memories to seek out a day’s topic when I am stumped. Other times, I know immediately where I’ll go. I am drawn to a subject by a day’s events, my feelings, or in following my heart and letting it tell me what to write. Every once in awhile however, there is a subject that I long to write about but which I fear exploring. I can overcome that fear at times but yes, there have been discussions I leave untouched.

I once suggested to my husband that I am complicated. I have to admit, I was rather taken aback when he started laughing at me. He told me that no, rather I am “an open book”. I was a little bummed. I tried to defend my suggestion by telling him that one of my teachers in high school had said long ago, “Miss Anne, you are an enigma”. Okay, now despite the fact that I had said, “Thank you” to that teacher, only to run to the nearest dictionary to look up what the word meant, I was flattered upon learning that he found me mysterious and puzzling. I also suppose I found the idea of being complicated as being something sexy or sophisticated. So when Eric laughed at me, I thought, “Well, there goes my sex appeal”.

Whether or not I’m an open book, there are a few skeletons in my closet, a few stories that I’ve told only to my husband or my children. I admit, I AM pretty much an open book; that is how I naturally live my life; I probably say too much too often; but like many others, I do have a few secrets. They are kept hidden out of fear of hurting another; it’s not myself that I am afraid of hurting. I value honesty but I do not believe that anyone should bare their soul if in doing so, another person is negatively affected. The secrets I have are pieces of my past which, for better or worse, shaped me into the person I am today. Everyone has their share of hardships and yes, I had a few troubling experiences that I have long carried in my heart. But I learned a long time ago that no one gets through this life unscathed. Wanting to make sense of them, I believe that the hardships I went through gave me a perspective that has helped me be more compassionate in my relationships with other people. So, in examining those skeletons, I have learned to accept the room they take in my closet.

Sometimes I find myself thinking that I’ll incorporate them into my fiction writing in some way, but when I try to put the stories into text, I feel my fingers freeze. I can talk to Eric or even to my kids, but I can’t seem to “make it real” by recording certain stories on paper (or laptop). I do not know if I will ever write about the secrets I harbor. I laugh to myself thinking that someday when I am old and gray, I’ll gather a few people around and say, “Okay, I’ve always wanted to talk about a few things. Here I go!”

So maybe, if you stick around and continue reading my blog, in another 43 years (only 15,695 more blog posts), you’ll read my skeleton tales. In the meantime, I hope I can continue to secure your attention with my day-to-day inquiries, insights, and imaginings... with or without any sex appeal I may or may not possess.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Any Questions?

The other day I saw my old Sunday school teacher, Mr. M. I see him quite regularly whenever I return to my hometown and each time I am reminded of being my son's age when I was in his CCD class. The wonderful thing about the man is that each time we would come to our weekly class he'd say, "I'll answer whatever questions you may have". And each time he made that offer, I had a new question for him. As he'd promised, he'd answer me (and others who had questions) as openly as he could.

I remember once asking him, "Do dogs go to Heaven when they die?" He responded with a sensitive discussion but one which I completely tuned out because the bottom line of his answer was that animals do not have souls and thus cannot go to Heaven. I remember giving his words a lot of thought but ultimately coming to the conclusion that he is WRONG. To this day I believe that Heaven would not be Heaven for me and countless others unless dogs (and other animals) are there too. And that's that.

Another time I told him about how I'd seen this television movie which put a man in a horrifying situation of being forced to select one of his fellow captives to die. If he did not select one person, the bad guys would kill multiple people. I knew that to participate in a murder is a sin and yet I was puzzled by what the man's options were. That was the day that my Sunday school teacher talked to me about the "lesser of two evils". It is a conversation that has actually helped me in several situations over the past 30 years, although thankfully, none have been as extreme as in that television movie.

Each time I see my Sunday school teacher I smile. I completely respect the man for being so forthright with us children and for inviting us to ask him questions about our faith, church, morality. He wholeheartedly embraced our curiosity and inquisitiveness and did his best to be there for us. It is a practice that I adopt when teaching and in raising my own three children. Although I have to admit that repeatedly being asked questions by a nosy busybody with an agenda is obnoxious, with most people's inquiries I have never been intimidated, however difficult, complicated, or sensitive. I may not always have all the answers but I do my best to respond to questions as honestly as I can. And when I do not know an answer, I invite my children or my teenage students to find other resources where we can discover the answer or explore possible responses at the very least. Simply put, I open the door for any and all questions and I do my best to help find answers, because sometimes, it just helps to be allowed to ask questions, to get them out of their heads and into the open.

I still have questions. Many are about the past or the future, questions that, truthfully, are probably best left alone. Today is all we have, after all. Still, sometimes I think to myself, "If only I could sit down with Mr. M today and get his take on this".