Throwing Caution to the Wind

May 15th, 2019 11:43 AM

Yesterday, I did something wildly optimistic. I should preface this story by saying that I do believe that I am an optimistic person in general. I’m no Pollyanna, mind you, but I choose to look for the upside in the day to day challenges and the occasional larger grenades life throws at me.

There is one area of my life that I am not an optimist, however. Trying to launch a career in writing. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. Ever since I was little, and learned to fall in love with books, I knew I wanted to be the person who wrote a book someone else would fall in love with.

I grew up in a practical middle-class family with a mother who warned me against pursuing a career that would be difficult to succeed in. These are a few of the statements she’d often make: “Very few make it.” “It’s a long-shot.” “Pursue it as a hobby but go into something that will let you take care of yourself if you need to.”

This was actually very good advice. All of it was true, including needing to support myself. When I went to college, I took as many writing courses as I could cram into my English requirements, but my major was Communications. I did pair it with an English minor with a writing emphasis, instead of Marketing like my advisor suggested.

I didn’t end up going into Communications but I did find a career I enjoyed, was well-suited for and allowed me to take care of myself and my son when I needed to. Writing took a backseat to life. I still did it, but only for my own consumption. I never submitted my work anywhere to be published.

A year ago, I decided to get serious about finishing the novel I started in 2001. I entered into one on one coaching with a published author, Kathie Giorgio. I joined a class with her small company, AllWriters’ Workshop &Workplace. I wrote, I revised, I critiqued. I made writing a priority for the first time in my life and I loved it.

I also learned that it’s very helpful to have short works – poetry or short stories – published before trying to publish a novel. I struggled with this for close to nine months. I am not a short story writer. I’ve tried, but they end up too big. I have works-in-progress that started out as short stories and are now sixty pages into being a novel.

I have written poetry, but only for myself. I suspect it’s terrible since I don’t know much about how to write poetry. I do have this blog, where I basically write short memoirs, but they’re written informally and again, for myself, so I wasn’t optimistic that they’d be a candidate for publication anywhere.

After almost a year in coaching, my book is now completed. I’m finishing up my last few revisions and I will be ready to start the process of trying to get it published within a few weeks. The pressure to get something small published, so I have some publication credit that’s recent, was mounting. (I have publication credits but they are from twenty-five years ago when I was doing some freelance writing for magazines and such.)

Two weeks ago, I found an online site which was looking for stories about moms to be submitted for their May issue. I thought about my blog and when I wrote about my mom going into hospice care two years ago. I combined a couple of blog entries from that time, made a few changes and sent it off as a short memoir submission. Normally, I would have my writing coach review it and give feedback before I’d submit anything, but I didn’t have time as the deadline to submit was just a few days away.

The day the site was going to publish the stories came and went and I didn’t hear anything from them. I’d pretty much forgotten about it until I received an email yesterday telling me my story was published on their site. What?!

I immediately went to look and there it was, my words with a photo they’d chosen to complement the story. It’s on a site called The Story Pub. I actually published something. And not a newspaper article, but something creative that was born out of my experience, not recounting someone else’s. This is a first for me.

It. Was. So. Cool.

When I told my husband about it, he asked me if I got paid for it. That wasn’t so cool at all. That’s a blog topic for another day, though.

Even though I didn’t make money for getting my story published, it feels pretty great to think that someone else liked something I wrote enough to put it on their literary website. So what’s the wildly optimistic thing I did yesterday? It’s a little thing, something I wouldn’t normally think twice about, but yesterday, it was meaningful to me. I created a new folder in my outlook inbox entitled, Acceptance letters.

            I’m hoping and anticipating that there will be more.

acceptance

12:30 PM

Emerald Green Leaves

Friday, August 10th 8:36 AM

The fabric of summer has changed for me. It used to mean flowers and birds singing,  days that lasted well into nights, and nights that still wore the glow of the sun long past the moment it dipped beneath the horizon.

It was a time for watching fireflies and enjoying the hum of cicada’s in the hot, sticky afternoons while the sun still hung high in the sky. Enjoying the late summer wildflowers blooming in a cacophony of colors. Colors that serve as a gentle reminder that summer is fleeting and fall is close at hand; golden yellow, dusky purple, deep chocolate brown, and antique white all set against a back drop of green. Rich, bold, luscious colors of green;  forest green, sage green and emerald green.  Deep, mature colors, coaxed out of the chartreuse and lime greens of spring, brought forth by living through the days of summer.

Those things are all still true, of course. Summer is still warm and sunny for the most part. Cicadas still sing and so do the birds.  Wildflowers bloom, and sun still hangs on to the last few precious weeks of soaring high this time of year.

None of the hallmarks of summer have changed. Instead, it’s me who’s changed. For most of my life, I’ve been the young chartreuse lime green leaf, enjoying all the bounties summer has to offer with very little consideration of fall. But now, I’m the forest green emerald leaf. My color has deepened, my leaves are more substantial. I’m aware of what went into the evolution of that leaf from a tender, spring shoot to a substantial leaf, capable of offering shelter from the sun and the rain. Now, fall doesn’t seem as far off as it used to.

Life colors the fabric we’re made of, whether it’s a leaf or a person. We absorb the climate we live in, and the experiences we’re given. We grow and we change and evolve. It’s not a bad thing, I don’t think. Nor is it a good thing. It simply is life; as the lime green shoots of spring evolve into the ripe emerald green of late summer, and, eventually, the vibrant reds and yellow of fall, so we grow and mature through stages in our lives.

This forest green stage of life isn’t bad. It’s a more reflective, more thoughtful stage where intentional deliberation rules the day. The careless choices of yesterday seem frivolous and immature; remnants of another time where summer seemed to last forever and fall was a time of enjoying the pretty leaves with no consideration of the decay inside that caused the vibrant display of color.

One upshot of this stage, for me, is a renewed focus on what I want to accomplish with my life. Perhaps I should say the rest of my life, because I certainly have goals that I accomplished up to this point. The focus of this summer, for me, has been to answer the question, “What comes next?”

Dennis has a job that he really enjoys and it’s given me the itch to return to work. I remember jobs I truly enjoyed and it’s a rewarding event when that happens.  I wouldn’t mind having that again, if I could find that kind of a situation. They’re not easy to come by. And, for me, I know that a job will take the majority of my energy which will leave little left for creating, which is my favorite thing in the world to do, whether it be writing, quilting or cooking. And therein, I found my answer.

The resounding truth, and the only goal I’m sure I want to accomplish, is to finish writing the book that I started back in 2001. I wasn’t quite a lime green shoot of spring when I started it, but I wasn’t the full-blown emerald green leaf I am today, either. I’ve started and stopped writing the book a dozen times, but this time is different. Even though I don’t know if it will ever be published, or read by anyone other than Dennis, I know it needs to be done.

That is what I’ve dedicated this summer to accomplishing. I packed away my quilting, which I do miss. I’m way behind on my tv shows and I haven’t played video games in two months. I hired a writing coach and I joined a critique group.  And I am creating. My goal is to be finished with the first draft by my birthday at the end of August. As of this week, I crossed the two hundred page mark, and I think I am on track to complete the first draft this month. My goal is to complete my first revision with my writing coach by the end of the year.

What happens after that? I don’t know and that’s okay. Maybe it will get published. Maybe not. But it will be done, finally, and I will once again consider, what’s next?

9:34 AM

 

Making Lists

July 21, 2018 11:01 AM

I’m a big fan of people watching and eavesdropping in on conversations.  It’s honestly not that I’m nosy; I really don’t care how other people live their lives. But I do enjoy watching the interactions people have with each other and I often try to guess the nature of their relationships. They become characters in my own little story. I’ve seen a lot of interesting interactions over the years and I’ve even used some of them as inspiration to write actual stories. I’ve decided to set up a separate category on this blog where I can share the interactions I have observed that have touched me through the years. It’s called “Interesting Folks”. This will be the first entry.

Dennis and I went to the farmer’s market in Waukesha this morning and, afterward, we went to a local restaurant for breakfast. It was peak breakfast time and it was crowded, so we took the only open booth. This booth happened to be across from a booth where a woman, probably in her late thirties, sat with an elderly couple. I assumed they were her parents.

The elderly man sat on one side of the booth, the elderly woman shared the other side with her daughter.  Immediately, I was reminded of going out for a meal with my parents. This was always the seating arrangement for us, too.

The first thing I heard the daughter say, in tone that was slightly too enthusiastic to be entirely genuine, was how nice it was to see them once a week. She got no verbal response from her parents. The father smiled, the mother didn’t react — or she didn’t react enough that I could see it out of my peripheral vision.

There was silence until the daughter brought up an entirely new topic of conversation after twenty seconds or so had passed. She elicited a few words from each with that topic, but no real back and forth conversation ensued.

And so it went for their entire meal. The daughter tried various topics of conversation and the parents responded with a few words before the silence returned and the daughter introduced an entirely new topic. I wondered if the daughter had a list of topics stashed in her purse (like I used to have when I went out for a meal with my mom) where she could “check her phone” and glance at it if the conversation really hit a wall. I remember my mom used to carry a list of topics in her purse when her and my father took my grandma out for a meal.

Don’t get me wrong, the interactions of this family were not at all unpleasant. But they weren’t the effortless chatter that comes from a family that is truly comfortable together, either. I could feel all three of them trying, each parent spoke a little and asked the daughter an occasional question. The daughter was attentive and responsive to both her parents and remained upbeat and enthusiastic throughout the meal. It was the strained dynamic, though, of three people who love each other, but aren’t connected the way they once were and are struggling to find common ground.

As I sat there, I felt the daughter’s struggle; the attempt of an adult child trying to reach out to elderly parents to bridge the gap that has grown from passing years, and diverging lives. I felt the struggle of the parents, too; trying to connect with an adult child with whom there is little in common with now except for shared memories and shared DNA. There was probably a sense of relief for all three, and then a sense of guilt, when the meal was done and they could go their separate ways.

This family reminded me of my experiences with my own parents, especially my mom. After my dad died, I would take her out for a meal two or three times a week. Often, Dennis and my son would join us. Sometimes not. It was difficult to come up with conversation, especially since, if I didn’t see her, I would talk to her everyday on the phone.

Unlike the family next to me, my mom would come armed with her own topics to introduce when the silences fell heavy on the table. She probably had a list in her purse, too. I found a list of topics to discuss with me that my mom made and saved, next to her phone, when I was cleaning out her house.

Cats

Tony

The Americans (one of mom’s favorite shows)

What you made for dinner

I kept it, tucked away in a shoe box, along with her glasses and the small stack of recipes she still used.

Is it sad, that a mother/daughter relationship gets relegated to a list of topics of conversation on a piece of paper? It is. I know it doesn’t happen in all families, but it did in mine. And, I believe based on what I saw today, it does in others, too.

I wanted to reach out to the daughter and tell her I understood the struggle, the responsibility, and the loss, that she was probably feeling. Nothing underscores how far life has taken you from a parent than having to grasp for common ground in which to share.

I was reminded of my mom earlier, today, too, at the farmer’s market. I saw the beautiful bouquets of flowers that were for sale, and it reminded me of the times that I bought one for her. It made me miss her, even though our conversations didn’t come easy in the end.

Was I right about the interactions of this family at the restaurant? Maybe they were acquaintances and not even family at all. I’ll never know, but it doesn’t really matter. They touched me and made me remember my mom, so whatever the true relationship is, they’re a family to me now.

11:59 AM

 

Who Says You Can’t Relive your Childhood?

July 15, 2018 6:35 PM

It’s been one of those days for the past two weeks. Whatever inconvenient, irritating, and unpleasant event that could occur did. None of it was a life-changing event, thankfully, but it hasn’t been the greatest month either.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, this is the around the time my mom died last year. She went into the hospital on June 25th and died July 10th. I handled the one year anniversary, okay, I think. I also know that it did cast a shadow on the last few weeks, which didn’t make them easier.

It all started about three weeks ago when one of my cats got a virus. Which he gave to one of our other cats. Who gave it back to him. On top of this I got sick, too. This caused the New Jersey trip to be cancelled for me and for Dennis, who had to stay home and take care of me.  That meant no testing out the swim spa, no Italian dinners and no uninterrupted writing time in the hotel for me. That also meant no cash back on my non-refundable plane ticket.

In addition to me and my and cats being sick, our appliances got sick, too. First, the hot water heater started leaking. Got that replaced just in time for the washing machine to break. And when I say break, I mean BREAK. As in the water shut off valve didn’t shut off and the washing machine flooded the laundry room, bathroom, hallway and half the kitchen.

flood kitchen

Kitchen during mid-clean-up. The water made it to the fridge. The soda on the counter was rescued from the flooded hall closet.

flood dennis

Dennis mopping up the mess. We have since invested in a wet/dry vac.

It only ran for 10 or 15 minutes before I noticed a pond of water in front of the kitchen sink, but it was enough time for the water to seep through the floor boards into the finished basement where it soaked ceiling tiles and carpet.

ceiling tiles 2

Bulging ceiling tile ready to dump water everywhere.

Unfortunately, the water didn’t impact the stove. It survived. The side counter took a hit, however, when Dennis was moving the stove out so we could dry the floor.

counter

Nothing a little super glue can’t fix.

We eventually got everything cleaned up but we’re now without a washing machine until the middle of this week. Great fun.

In the midst of the chaos, I was on Amazon searching for a book to download when Amazon suggested that I might like to buy some Chuckles. The candy. Remember Chuckles? The soft, chewy fruit candies that are crosses between Jujubee’s and gum drops?

I loved Chuckles as a kid. I didn’t know that they even made them anymore. Why, yes, Amazon. I would like to order Chuckles, thank you very much.

Since I liked Chuckles, Amazon then suggested I might like Brach’s Nougats with bits of gum drops in the them. OHMYGOD! I loved, loved, loved those as a kid! Even more than Chuckles. Yes, of course, Amazon. Send me those, too.

After the nougats, came the suggestion of Brach’s caramel chews. The flavored ones with vanilla, maple, orange and chocolate. Yum! Who doesn’t love those? Bring ’em on, Amazon.

I’m sure you can see where this is heading. Amazon suggested yet another favorite from my youth — although, this was more college years than pre-teen years. Sunkist fruit chews. The soft, gelatinous chews in raspberry, lime (my favorite), and grapefruit. Delectible! I remember driving to college munching those on a way there, listening to Bon Jovi. Gotta have those, too.

Isn’t Amazon’s One-Click ordering a wonderful thing? Okay, maybe it isn’t, but I thought it was at the time and I was in a very good mood when I was done. For the first time that week. And it’s not like I bought everything Amazon suggested. I turned down the Bit-O-Honeys and the Candy buttons (remember those? The dots you picked off the paper and ate. Except I always ended up eating some paper that got stuck on the candies, too).

After my little shopping spree was over I casually mentioned to Dennis over dinner that I ordered some candy from Amazon. I didn’t tell him how much I ordered.

The one downside to ordering candy that is hard to find in stores nowadays, is that it only comes in bulk on Amazon. As in three to five pound bags. At a minimum.  I kind of bought A LOT of candy.

Thanks to the magic of Amazon, three out of my four candies were delivered the next day. When Dennis went to pick up the box I warned him again that I ordered several kinds of candy and that they were all stuffed in one box.

It was a small, unassuming box. Maybe a little larger than a shoe box. But it was a densely packed box that had a fair amount of weight to it Dennis went to pick it up and I heard a distinctive, “oof” when he lifted it followed by a surprised look on his face. I reminded him that I told him I ordered several kinds of candy and three of the four were in that box.

He just nodded and dropped the box on the table with a thud.

I opened it up and it was glorious! I felt like a kid in Willie Wonka (the original with Gene Wilder, of course) who went into the room where everything was edible. All my childhood favorites were there in one sugar-laden, calorie-intensive, mood-altering box. It blasted me right back to my childhood where I was watching Happy Days and eating my allotted three pieces of candy a night.

That’s the good thing about being an adult and dealing with canceling trips, sick animals, and over-flowing appliances. You can eat more than your allotted three pieces of candy in a night.

And I did. For several days in a row. And it made me happy during a week when I wasn’t feeling very happy at all.

I hope that I am still as happy with my impulse purchases a year from now when we’re still working our way through twelve or so pounds of candy.

candy

Three of the four bags that I ordered. I ate the Chuckles first.

7:18  PM

 

My Curmudgeonly Celebration

July 4, 2018 11:14 AM

This morning, I embarked on another baking project using a Cook’s Country recipe. It wasn’t nearly as complex as the last one, but it was still way more putzy than the original.

My masterpiece for the day? Rice Krispie Squares with red, white and blue Rice Krispies which are my nod to celebrating the 4th of July.

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It’s not that I don’t like the 4th of July. It’s fine. I’m not a big fan of sitting outside watching fireworks with crowds of people. We don’t go to fireworks. Nor am I a fan of eating outside, so that rules out barbecues and picnics (not to mention the fact we aren’t invited those sort of events, anyway). I know, I sound like a curmudgeon, don’t  I?

This year, we are celebrating the 4th in our own way. We’ve got a few games planned for this afternoon that we’ll be playing and then we are going to Melting Pot for dinner. I expect Melting Pot will be empty, but who knows? Maybe there are other curmudgeon people out there like me who’s idea of a 4th of July Feast is dipping a wad of bread into hot cheese. (Yum!)

I want to be home before dark and the fireworks begin because the noise freaks out the dogs and one of our cats. Not that being with them does much good, they’re still freaked out, but at least they’re not freaked out and alone.

One of my first memories in life is actually from freaking out on the 4th of July. I remember being in my crib, crying because of the fireworks going off next door to our house. My father was irritated and he wanted to go over to the neighbors and tell them to be quiet, but my mother said he couldn’t do that because it was the 4th of July and it would be over soon.  Not sure how old I was, but I know I was in a crib, so maybe 2 or 3, at the most.

I remember another 4th of July with my parents when I was about 13. My mother decided we needed to do something different for the holiday so she dragged me and my father to a civil war re-enactment at a Military Academy near our house. I remember it because I was so miserable. We all were. It was sunny and hot. The re-enactment was in the middle of field that we had to walk forever in knee high prickly grass to get to. Then, being a civil war re-enactment, they started shooting blanks from cannons, so it was loud and stinky. I think we lasted an hour for the entire outing, including the time it took to walk into the field and back out again. We practically ran back out we were so anxious to leave. It felt wonderful to get back home into our air conditioned house and finish the book I had been reading. I guess I’ve been a curmudgeon all my life when it comes to 4th of July activities.

Okay, not my entire life. I remember one year I went to Summerfest on the 4th of July with a boyfriend. I was seventeen, almost eighteen, and I thought it was great fun. So, I guess there’s been pockets of times where I’ve embraced more socially-focused celebrations. I’ve gone to a few card parties on that 4th of July and those have been fun. But’s it’s playing cards. Playing cards always trumps my non-social, curmudgeon tendencies.

Unfortunately, this 4th of July reminds me of last 4th of July, which was not good. I know I have my blog post from last year, however, I haven’t and won’t read it. I remember the content and where I was at emotionally, all too well. So I’m trying to not remember too much about that this year.

So, back to the original topic of this post — I digressed a bit there — how did my next baking recipe from Cook’s Country go? Making Rice Krispie treats is pretty easy and a pretty basic recipe, so how much more work could the Cook’s Country recipe really be? And how much better could the product be?

In terms of cooking, it called for weighing the quantity of 10 ounces of cereal instead of measuring it. Okay. Did you know there are 10.10 ounces in a standard Rice Krispie box? Not sure that I really needed to weigh that, Cook’s Country, but now I know. (And I threw caution to the wind and I threw in the .10 ounces.)

The recipe called for 20 ounces of marshallmallows, but I could only find 16 ounce bags, so I weighed those, too. I’m very impressed that there are exactly 16 ounces of marshmallows in a 16 ounce bag. I weighed out the extra four ounces of marshmallows after I retrieved the marshmallow that the cat stole when it fell on the floor. (I’ve read that cats can’t taste sweet flavors. Herbie does not agree.)

It also called for a stick a butter which is not quite double the amount of butter the original recipe calls for on the back of the cereal box. Extra butter is always a good sign of a tasty outcome.

The recipe also called for vanilla which I’ve never used in the recipe before.

Cooking it was the same as any other recipe. It was sticky, I got marshmallow all over me and the stove. At the end, the recipe instructed me to pat the treats down with wet hands once I got the gooey mix into the pan. So I did that. And promptly burned the hell out of a finger. Marshmallow gets HOT. It STAYS hot. And when hot marshmallow gets on your skin it hunkers down and burrows in the for the duration. There is no quick wipe off on the towel. I don’t think it’ll blister, though. Thanks, a lot, Cook’s Country. Next time I’m using a spatula.

Now for the most important part? How do they taste? Was the weighing and measuring worth it?

Yes! Unequivocally, yes! The are buttery, and firm enough to hold together but soft enough to pull apart (with strings of gooey marshmallow) and eat.

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Another Cook’s Country success in spite of a burned finger. But what the heck, what’s  the 4th of July without a burned finger or two? Plenty of people will have them after the home fireworks and sparklers tonight. This 4th of July curmudgeon will finally fit in.

Happy 4th of July, for those of you in the US. Be safe and enjoy, however you choose to celebrate.

11:45 AM

 

 

Saying Goodbye

Published October 13th, 2017

20171011_114833_resized

Published October 13th, 2017

October 10, 2017  10:44 pm

It’s been awhile since I’ve blogged. This is not due to procrastination, lack of ideas or general laziness. It was an intentional choice. Let me explain.

When I write these random musings, it feels more like writing in a diary or a personal journal than it does writing for an audience. There is no filter. It’s easy to forget that other people will read these words once they get released into Internet-land. I think that’s the case with many bloggers, especially those of us that are attempting to capture the day-to-day events in our lives. Especially when those day-to-day events turn out to be life-altering experiences that will forever change the semblance of what defines normal in our lives.

It’s not that I feel that I have over-shared in these blog posts about what I experienced this summer with my mom passing away. I don’t think I have. But I recognize the danger. The temptation even. There’s a freedom in purging one’s self of all the thoughts and feelings that don’t come easily when words are spoken instead of written. So I put myself on a self-imposed moratorium on blog posts this fall.

The reason for my going silent is simple. I did not and do not want to write about selling my mom and dad’s house until the deal is done. And although there are plenty of other things I could have written about, things I’ve done in the past five weeks, tending to and selling that house has always remained foremost in my mind and it felt weird not to write about it in some manner. Call it an abundance of caution or paranoia or maybe even superstition, but I do not want to put anything out there in Internet-land that could jinx the deal. I’m not even sure what I could write that would do that, but the fear is there all the same.

So even though I am writing this Tuesday night, I will most likely not push the “publish” button until Friday afternoon, when the deal is done.

As you may remember, the disposing of my mom’s household items and the sale of her and my dad’s house has been a priority — actually, more of driving need than just a priority, since the end of July. Part of this is because there is a reverse mortgage on the house, and the bank wants their money. I knew if I took several months to list the house, I’d be listing it in October or November and would likely be taking care of it through the winter until it sold come springtime. But more importantly, selling the house is my symbol of moving on past this difficult, shitty summer, past the grief and the shitty memories I’m still trying to stamp out, past this chapter in life that I’ve always dreaded. None of it can be over until the house is gone.

Well, the house will be gone come Friday afternoon. Tomorrow morning (Wednesday morning) I will go to the title company and sign my half of the paperwork as my mother’s official Personal Representative. Friday afternoon the buyers will sign their half of the paperwork and the house will be theirs.

The selling of this house has been extremely stressful for me. For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out why. Obviously, there’s the whole trauma of having my mom die and going through all the household items but it was more than that. I was extremely worried that I would do it wrong. I’d make wrong choices. Which is pretty silly considering I’ve bought and sold four houses and the majority of the times I needed to sell one house in order to close on another. That’s a way more stressful scenario than selling my parents house, which has no financial hold over me at all. The bank would like their money sooner rather than later, but if they don’t get it, they don’t. I’m still not financially responsible for the debt.

So why be so stressed about selling the house? I think I finally figured it out. It’s the last thing I will do for my parents to make them proud. I felt the need to get it right. I admit that this is not a rational thought because I don’t honestly believe that they are looking down from the afterlife judging how I’m handling the sale of their house. But if it’s one thing I’ve learned this summer it’s that emotions are not rational or logical beings. They are there and they must run their course. Whether or not they make sense is immaterial. I’ve found it’s easier to go with whatever I’m feeling at the moment than it is to resist. And I needed, really needed, to make the right choices that would make my parents proud of me when selling their house.

I fully recognize that it’s just a house, a thing, and I don’t put much stock in things. It’s just stuff and I’ve never lost sleep over stuff before. Even when I’ve made bad decisions that cost me money — and I’ve made a few of those along the way, that’s for sure. But in this case, it’s my parents stuff, not mine. It’s the place they built, cared for and lived in for thirty-three years. When we moved in my mom said she was never moving again in her life. They were going to have to carry her out of the house feet first. She got her wish.

The sale of this house has been incredibly, mercifully easy. The buyers saw the pictures of the house on MLS and asked to write an offer before it was even listed. My realtor declined, saying they had to at least walk through it.

The buyers walked through the house at 7:30 am on the first day it was listed. It was earlier than my realtor thought they’d be there, and we didn’t even get a chance to turn on all the lights before they saw it. They wrote an offer that day. Through out the process the buyers have been steadfast that this is the house for them. They could have nit-picked problems found during the home inspection (the house is in very good condition but it is 33 years old) but they did not. They have been the dream buyers and I am so very grateful for them. My gratitude for them goes beyond just getting the house sold. I feel like I’m turning the house over to people who truly want it and will love it, unconditionally, as much as my parents did.

Personally, I had mixed feelings about the house, especially at first. I should clarify that statement. I liked the layout of the new house just fine, and I loved my new bedroom, but I wasn’t an enthusiastic proponent of leaving my old neighborhood. Like most kids, I didn’t want to move.

I graduated high school and we moved into the house a week or two later. And even though it’s only about 25 minutes from where I spent my teenage years, it seemed like a long way away. I was worried I’d lose touch with friends, worried that my new boyfriend of a few weeks wouldn’t want to drive that far to see me. There were new roads to learn, new routes to take me to familiar places I’d never had to navigate to before. And this was well before Google maps or even GPS systems. This was hand-drawn maps by my dad territory.

My parents said that since I was graduating high school that everyone would be going their own way anyway and it wouldn’t matter if I moved or not. For the most part they were right. I made new friends at college and I kept in touch with the old friends, too. My new boyfriend drove to see me for the next 3 1/2 years (until he dumped me one rainy Friday night in November). I was back in the old neighborhood every weekend for several years. But, yet, I wasn’t a part of it anymore either. I was visiting but I didn’t live there like everyone else. I lived in the new house twenty five minutes away.

I only lived in that house for five years. I spent most of my college years in that house when I commuted to UW-Whitewater, with the exception of one semester that I lived in a dorm.  I spent many a night creeping into that house well past bar time after hanging out at Denny’s with girlfriends, only to have the crap scared out of me by my mother snapping on the light in the family room where she was still up, sitting in her chair, waiting for me to get home. To say she was livid about the hours I was keeping is an understatement.

There were plenty of fights in that house between my mother and myself. I lived there as a young adult who had all the answers. At least in my opinion I did. Of course, I did not. But I had some of them, or at least the start of them. I lived there during the years that I struggled to carve out my independence from my mom while my mother struggled just as fiercely to hang on to me and try to mold me into who she wanted me to become. A no-win situation for both of us.

I lived in that house until I left home and got married at age 23. But I didn’t move far. My new husband and I bought a house a few miles away and I visited my parents and the house often. Four houses and a different husband later, I still live just a few miles from the house. However, I’ve never spent another night under that roof after I left.

There were happy times in that house. My son spent a lot of time there with my parents. And when I was overwhelmed with how to take care of a baby, that house and my mother, were my haven and my security. She’d help me. She’d know what to do. She take care of him so my husband and I could go out to dinner by ourselves once a week.

Later, when I started working full-time again when my son was almost 2, that house became his second home. My parents took care of him during the days while I worked. As he grew up he had is own room there. With his own stuff. When his dad and I were divorcing, that house, along with my parents, were an important thing that didn’t change in his life. A safe haven in a world upended. A security.

The past six years since my dad died, and my mom lived there alone with Charlie, that house has held so much sadness. Despondency oozes from the walls, and it’s oppressive. It still feels to me as if the grief seeps from the very pores of the wood beams in the ceiling, settling down like a heavy gray fog over the spot where my mom always sat in her chair. The same chair where she used to wait up for me thirty years earlier.

It’s hard for me to be inside the house now with it empty of all my parents belongings. It’s strange, but I still get the clenched feeling deep in my stomach when I pull into the driveway and for a brief millisecond I forget Mom’s gone. I wonder how she’ll be today. Will today be the day that I have to call an ambulance? Or worse?

We’ve been through quite a journey together, that house and I. It was an important part of my and my son’s security at different points in our lives.  It was my duty to take care of it these past few months and find it new owners to take over its care from my parents.

And now it’s someone else’s house and in my world it will be relegated to someplace my parents owned where I used to live for a few years. I’m okay with that.

I went into the house today for the last time. I picked up the last of the cleaning supplies so the new owners could do their final walk-thru before closing on Friday. I looked at the wall where my parents charted my son’s height one last time. I visited my old bedroom one last time and looked at the walk-in closet which has the last remaining remnant of the nauseating purplish-pink color that 17-year-old me thought would be a fantastic color to paint a bedroom. It wasn’t.

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I looked at the stenciled borders on the walls that my mom did when my son wasn’t even one year old yet, and I looked at the small twig of a tree that my dad planted by the patio where my mom and my son would enjoy its shade when he played in his kiddie pool. It’s well over 30 feet tall now and it’s a living monument to the passage of time. So. Much. Time.

The tree inside the fence is the twig my father planted 25 years ago.

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I thought about taking Charlie with me today, for that last visit. I decided against it. I thought he might be confused or sad to see the house empty with no furniture. He might run to where my mom’s chair used to be and look for her. I don’t think I could have handled that, so he stayed home while I went and said goodbye to the house on my own.

Goodbye’s are hard, but necessary stepping stones to get to what’s next. And heaven knows, I’m ready for what’s next, that next chapter in life, whatever it may be. I think the house is ready for it’s next chapter, too.

October 10, 2017  11:58 pm  (I left myself run a bit long since I was catching up on five week’s worth of thoughts.)

 

 

My Birthday Wish

8/28/17 11:43 pm

Today is my birthday. The first one I’ve had without my mother.  I’ve spent many a birthday apart from my mother. I’m not big on celebrations so we always picked a weekend near the actual day to celebrate. But still. I always at least talked to her on the phone where she’d tell me the story of my birth. It was always the same story every year right down to her voice inflections. I can still hear it.

But not this year.

Dennis and Tony really went out of their way this year to make my birthday a good one. I think they knew it would be a hard one for me.  I appreciate that more than they know.

They both got me beautiful cards that made me cry. But cry a good way, for good reasons. I put them both on the bulliten board of my sewing room where I can read them whenever I want throughout the year.

I got really, really cool gifts, too, this year. Tony got me artist markers called Chameleon Pens that lay down gradations of color. Blue goes from pale, barely-there blue to a vibrant royal blue and every color step in between. Seriously awesome pens.

Dennis got me the Beats headphones that I asked for and a “surprise” present. I’m hard to buy for, but he nailed it this year. He bought me a virtual reality system for my computer. Some women like diamonds, I like toys!

Yeah, okay. I like diamonds, too. But not more than I like toys.

Dennis set up the VR system tonight and we played around a bit with it. It’s amazing. I thought the VR systems that are available for cell phones are pretty cool, but this system puts those to shame.

In one of the opening scenes I was on top of a roof with a small pond behind me. There were fish in the pond. It was night and there were a gazillion stars above. The pond gurgled. The crickets chirped. There were fireflies. I was impressed.

Then we downloaded Google Earth. Truly unbelievable. I visited Rio, a place I’ve always wanted to see. I stood face to face with the Christ the Redemeer statue that overlooks the city. I “flew” over the US, and explored Maine a bit. There are lots of trees in Maine. The Maine view was actual photos of Maine. The Rio visit was a computer generated view that looked very close to photographic quality. Then for the finale’ I entered our address and literally saw our house. Our old car was even out front.

I can’t wait to download a beach program so I can hang out by the ocean in my family room.

In addition to the cool gifts, I also had a birthday cake this year. Dennis even bought me candles (not 51 of them, thankfully!) and made me make a wish and blow them out.

I wished that all the same people and animals that are in my life now will be happy and healthy and still in my life next year.

Well, it’s 12:05. I made it through my first birthday without my mom with the help of the two most important people in my life. I hope next year’s birthday will be easier.

8/29/17 12:06

The Behemoth

 

 

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8/17/17 10:58 am

Today I am writing a blog about a table. Not just any table. I’m writing about the ugly, behemoth, bane-of-my-existence table that my parents owned for most of my life and through the end of theirs. They bought it when I was about 5. I know this because I remember going furniture shopping with them when they bought it for the new house they were building. We moved into the house the summer before I started kindergarten, so it that would be the summer of 1971. I turned 5 the end of that August.

1971. Richard Nixon was president. VietNam was in full force. Sonny and Cher were not only still together, they even had their own TV show that I was allowed to watch. That was a long time ago. For me and the table.

The first thing I hated about the table is it’s very dark-colored stain. I remember looking at in the furniture store and almost being afraid of it because it was so big and so dark. It made me feel small and it looked like it should have been in some old, deserted, scary house, not our brand new one we were moving into. My parents didn’t agree and the table came home with us.

The second thing I hated was how heavy the chairs were. As a 5-year-old, I couldn’t lift up and move the chairs, they were so heavy. I’d have to scrunch under and around the table to crawl up into the chair, or someone would have to pull a chair out for me and then maneuver it back in toward the table once I was on it. I’m independent. I always have been. I like to do things myself. So I always opted for the scrunch-in technique whenever I could get away with it.

Eventually, as I grew older and bigger, I could move the chairs on my own but it was never easy. Since my mother always had the damn table and chairs on carpeting, (shag, of course) these chairs with the weight equivalent to a small calf, needed to be lifted to be moved. Sliding was never an option. Even the adults who sat in the chair had to sort of bunny-hop their way back toward the table once the sat in them. Gracefully scooting the chair to or from the table was never an option with this behemoth of a set.

Not only were the chairs heavy beyond belief, they had dark, padded, plastic seats that were supposed to look like leather. However, they never did look like leather. They weren’t soft. They were a hard, unyielding substance that felt more like a cheap diner booth material than a dining room chair material. To make it worse, my mother made me use Pledge Lemon spray wax to shine them up every week when we cleaned.

The addition of the spray wax caused problems of it’s own. Number 1: a slippery seat is harder crawl up on to. Number 2: a slippery seat makes noises when you move. Fart noises. When crawling up onto a chair a fair amount of positioning is needed to situate yourself once you’re up there. This makes the fart noises unavoidable, even during holiday meals with extended family (which is the only time the table was used for the first 13 years of it’s life.)

Occasionally, during dinner an adult would be so foolish as to re-positioned their weight on the chairs, and they, too, were the recipient of the fart-noise. I wonder if we were known for the fart-noise chairs within the extended family. Maybe that’s why we didn’t host very many holiday meals. Maybe my mother made me wax the chair seats for that very reason. She never did care much for entertaining.

I’ll have to give that some thought.

The week after I graduated high school in June of 1984, my parents and I moved into another new house and this is where the bane-of-my-existence came into its own. It was promoted from the once-in-awhile for special occasions dining room table to the everyday kitchen table.

The new house was an open concept house, very popular in the 1980’s, and there was plenty of dining room space to house the behemoth. And since there wasn’t a wall to distinguish the dining room from the family room, the chairs could spread out throughout the house free from the confines of their traditional designated room. Which they did.

Since there were only three of us, we clearly did not need a massive table and chairs that could seat 8. My mom put four chairs around the table and scattered the rest of the stray chairs throughout the house. Just in case someone needed an uncomfortable, squeaky chair to sit in.

Notice the chair to left of the table in this picture. It’s a stray. There’s another stray that you can’t see to the left of the recliner.

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Here’s yet another stray used as a desk chair.

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As you may have noticed in the top picture, eventually my mother gave up on waxing the fake leather. She moved on to attaching seat cushions on top of the fake leather instead. My mom bought the ones with ties that went around the back spokes of the chairs.

The seat cushions looked prettier than the ugly fake leather, however, seat cushions that are put on top of slippery plastic have their own set of problems. Especially seat cushions that are only attached by two ties at the back of the cushion. They will slip and pull every time you sit down. You need to aim squarely in the middle of the cushion or the cushion and a butt cheek will half slide off the chair. No one of my family has ever been what you would call thin, and, frankly, there wasn’t a chair tie to be found that could withstand the pressure of an ample-sized derriere against the sliding cushion on a plastic seat that’s been waxed for 13 years.

My mother diligently tried sewing the seat ties back on for a year or two. But let’s face it. If a factory sewn seat tie couldn’t stand up to Tieffenbach butts, a hand-sewn job by my mother never had a prayer. Eventually she gave up, and the seat ties hung limp and useless on the back of the chairs while the seat cushions sat willy-nilly on the fake leather seat. Major slippage occurred anytime anyone sat down. After while, we gave up and the seat cushions became a decorative accessory that we moved and replaced the before and after each meal. Kind of like having throw pillows on the bed. Pretty, but not useful.

I suggested to my parent’s that they get a new table. With chairs that didn’t require wrenching your back to move.  Not a chance. The set was perfectly fine, they said, even if some of the chairs legs were coming loose and did wobble side to side.  The wobbly chairs got swapped with the prior stray chairs and life continued as before.

Eventually, the seat cushions with the rubbery dots on the bottom that grip the chairs without the need for seat ties were invented. My mom eagerly bought them and they worked much better than the seat tie cushion — as long as you were able to move the massive chair toward the table on thick carpeting while simultaneously holding on to your chair pad so it didn’t fall off the chair before you sat down. If you happened to sit down too far from the table, the pad added a little extra layer of complexity to bunny-hopping the chair to table. As did the now constantly wobbling table chairs.

I had some fun bringing home new boyfriends and watching them try to navigate the chair/rug/chair pad conundrum for the first time. At least the fart-noise problem was eliminated. The chair legs were getting so unreliable by this point, that my mother planned out where to seat the heaviest guest on the sturdiest chair. My father, having glued the legs as much as he could, was relegated to wrapping string around the bottom chair legs for added strength. Red string. On dark, ugly brown chair legs. At least the string matched the chair cushions.

As those of you who read my blog know, my mother passed away unexpectedly last month and my father has been gone for over six years. As an only child, this means the responsibility of disposing of the household goods and the house falls to me.

I’m not a keeper of memorabilia. I never have been. I marvel at those women who have gorgeous scrap books with ticket stubs and receipts from family trips. I’d like to have one of those, but I’m not that person. I hate clutter so I’m constantly cleaning my purse, wallet, and drawers tossing out stuff. Sometimes I toss out stuff I need. Like property tax checks from the bank. But that’s rare. Bottom line is I didn’t anticipate having any problems getting rid of stuff from my parents house.

I took the few items I wanted, like the hand-made wood carvings my dad did, and few cross stitch pieces my mom made. The most important thing I took out that house is sleeping next to my feet right now. I called in an estate sale place and told them to sell everything. Sell the dishes, the bedroom sets, the family room furniture, and for the love of God, get rid of the hideous, behemoth dining room set that I’ve hated for almost 46 years.

The estate sale guy was probably about 70, and he seemed impressed with the table and chairs. He used words like, “workmanship”, “sturdy” and the cliche’ “they don’t make them like this anymore”. Apparently he didn’t see the red string holding his chair together.

He priced the table and chairs at $225.00! I was amazed. Apparently, I don’t know what things are worth, I thought. I didn’t think anyone would take it for free and this guy thinks he can get $225.00 for it.

Day one of the estate sale. The table and chairs do not sell. That’s okay, Estate sale guy says. Day two everything is marked down to half price. Surely the table and chairs will sell for $114.50.

They didn’t.

When I went into the house the weekend after the estate sale was over, the house was mostly empty. Just a few boxes here and there and the massive, ugly, too-dark table and chairs in the exact same spot where it’s been for the past 33 years.

I wasn’t surprised. Not one bit. The damn table is like a cock roach. It will never go away.

“The charity will take it,” Estate sale guy says.

Except the charity isn’t available on the day Estate sale guy promised. And I have showings to prep the house for. The house needs to be emptied. NOW. Everything has to go.

Monday, after many phone calls and a couple of threats, Estate sales guy’s team shows up with a truck and starts loading everything up. I’m assuming they will take the items to the charity instead of the charity picking them up, which is fine. I don’t mind that the table and chairs and the rest of the items didn’t sell, and I’m glad they’re going to some place where they can be of use to another family. I sleep well that night.

It’s Tuesday. The house is finally empty, cleaning can commence for the showings on Wednesday and all is well.

Estate sale guy’s team shows up to take a few last boxes out of the garage Tuesday morning while I’m there. They tell me it’s the last load that they’re taking to the dump. Not a charity as promised. The dump. There’s no reuse or recycling going on here. Everything they pulled out of the house that didn’t sell went to the dump.

Including the ugly, monstrously heavy, too-dark behemoth of a dining table, stray chairs in various stages of disrepair with fake leather seats and red chair pads with bumps on the bottom. At the dump.

The grief didn’t hit me until Wednesday. And I do mean grief. All out crying as if I’d lost a living, breathing soul, not some stupid, ugly table and chairs I’ve never liked. I did hate them, but their fate didn’t deserve to end up in the dump.

Grieving is a nebulous beast. You never really know what will beckon it forth. It can be something obvious, like a picture, or memory that’s triggered. Or it can be something stupid, like an old crappy table and chairs you’ve lived with for 46 years.

I try not to think of the table, discarded like trash. It still upsets me. And it upsets me that I’m upset over an inanimate object. It’s a vicious cycle.

I’m not sorry I that I didn’t take the table and chairs for myself even if I am sorry for it’s fate. Nor will I wax poetic about family meals and memories we shared around The Behemoth. Sure they happened, but in the end,  it’s still just a piece of wood. And uncomfortable piece of wood that I never liked. My memories are tied to me, not to it.

I just wish it didn’t have to end up in the dump.

8/17/17 1:55 pm (I had an hour break in there to do a conference call but I still went over in time by close to an hour!)

 

 

 

 

 

Soon Defined

8:32 am 7/11/17

Yesterday I wrote, “…I don’t know when soon is. The nurses have been saying for days that my mom will die soon. But this soon concept seems to be a bit elusive. Is soon days? Is it weeks? It can’t be months, can it?”

This morning “soon” is defined. My mom passed away yesterday, 6 hours after I wrote those sentiments. It was a bit of surprise as I thought we were looking at days, and I feared we were looking at weeks, but it wasn’t meant to be. Soon came at approximately 6:00 pm, while Dennis and I were driving to see her on the same roads I wrote about yesterday, which is the perfect ending to a very long story. As a writer I couldn’t have scripted it better.

Yesterday morning when I went to see Mom, she was adamant that I not return in the evening. She truly wanted me to go about with my day-to-day life and not “run back and forth” to see her as she put it.

I told her I would be back, because I wanted to check in and make sure that she was okay and didn’t need anything. She regained enough consciousness and energy to tell me that I was so stubborn, and I always had been. I never would listen to she her.

I told her not to scold me as I was just trying to look out for her. She said she’d scold me if she wanted because she was still my mother. She even laughed. So did I. For a few moments we felt normal again.

It was a good-natured scolding, but it also had a strong vein of truth running through it. I am stubborn and so was she. We are cut from the same cloth, as the cliche’ says, and ours has been a challenging relationship throughout my life. I didn’t appreciate her trying to control my life from time I was about 16, and she didn’t appreciate me trying control hers after my father died and she needed help. We loved eachother, but we challenged each other, too, in ways no other human being on this earth could do.

I laughed at her comments, and I agreed with her that I was stubborn. I told her that I would still see her again that night.

But I didn’t.

This morning it occurred to me that she found one last way to get her way. The irony of her passing while I was literally driving to see her isn’t lost on me.

If she’s in a place where she’s aware of what is going on down here on earth, I know she’s chuckling at getting her own way one last time.

I am sad at her passing, of course. And it will take me awhile to process this new world without parents that I’m now living in.

Most of all, though, there is an immense sense of relief and of peace. Our final journey, hers and mine, the one that started almost a month ago when she became sick, the most difficult journey, I think, of either of our lives, is over.

Mom is no longer suffering, physically or emotionally. My responsibility and the dread of not knowing if I was doing the right things for her, is done. For the first time since I was 25 and I had my son, I’m not responsible for another human being. That’s going to take some getting used to.

I went out Chinese food for lunch yesterday. This was the fortune that I received in my fortune cookie. I thought it was very appropriate given the past few weeks.

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And so, as my next journey begins in this new phase of life, I think I will start it by doing just that. Taking a good long rest. It’s been a long summer.

9:33 am 7/11/17

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Land of the Free

10:44 am 7/4/17

I’m less than two weeks into my summer solstice resolution to post everyday for six months, I’ve already missed two days. My bad.

I’d intended this blog to be light, with daily goings-on in our little personal zoo of dogs and cats. Maybe post a few pictures of my latest quilt project or a good recipe or two.

Then my mom got sick, and declined rapidly. And although I’ve tried, I just don’t seem to be inclined to write about those things anymore. At least not right now. And I don’t want to constantly post about the long, drawn-out, painful (both emotionally and physically, at least for my mom) process of dying. Or about my views about a country that is supposed to allow it’s citizens the opportunity to live free, but restricts their ability to have an easy,  painless death on their own terms.

See? Not at all the light topics I’d intended.

Not topics suited for a 4th of July holiday with perfect weather such as this one.

So I will keep this one short, although not sweet, I’m afraid.

I hope everyone enjoys the day off, whatever you choose to do with it. I think I’ll take the dogs and hang outside for awhile while Dennis finishes planting the flowers. I think that’s the best we’re going to do this year.

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11:01 am 7/4/17