Turning a Page


Closing a chapter and turning a page.  It’s always bittersweet.  I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as my kids have become grown men right before my eyes.  Yesterday, I met some friends to turn the page on a poignant time in my life.  For two summers, we showed up to put on a little Shakespeare in the Park under the leadership of Gary.  He brought us all together.  Outside the fray of the community he and his wife assembled for the task, I met so many great people.  We worked together, ate and drank together, and raised kids together.  And then Gary died, suddenly, and we were left without our leader.

Yesterday, I met his wife and her fiancé along with a few friends to empty the storage container left unchecked since that last summer together.  Right away, Gary’s absence was evident.  The container was locked with a combination lock and as his wife Andrea said, “the combination died with Gary.”  Bolt cutters made quick work of the stumbling block but the look on Andrea’s face stays with me.  How many times a day is she hit with these tiny reminders that he is really gone?

We sorted through crates and made piles. There was a sewing machine, an electric fire log, and a large blue cooler.  We found wooden swords that prompted reminiscing and Macbeth’s severed head brought laughter.  We carried sheet after sheet of painted flats and platforms on wheels and frames for risers to the U-Haul truck. The items Andrea chose to keep were practical and small.  Props and fabric were selected to be donated to high school theater departments and local acting troupes and I offered to dispose of whatever was left.  The decision was made to move it all to our house to be stacked up behind our construction shop.  I now own the remainder of those summers.  Maybe I was just offering my friend a solution.  Maybe I just wasn’t ready to let that stuff go.

Transformations: A response


My friend Amy gave birth to her fifth child at the age of 41. This baby has brought so much joy.   I find myself thinking of the years of sacrifice it takes to get a newborn off to kindergarten.  I remember the demands of being fully responsible for keeping another human being alive for those years and I feel exhausted just thinking about it.  I love being a mother and would not trade the experience for anything but thinking about doing it again at my age makes me tired.  It won’t happen.  It’s not physically possible since my hysterectomy and that’s ok.

Amy’s friend Molly just had her first child.  She’s young and new to the experience bringing a fresh perspective.  I see myself in a new role as I read their blog Life in Tandem.  I am the soon-to-be empty nester, the crone to their maiden and mother.  I watch as all the children I’ve known since they were babies move into adulthood.  Skinny, squirrely boys sprout muscles and real facial hair.  Awkward, giggling, gangly girls suddenly curve into graceful knowing creatures.  It’s in the conversations too.  In a place where before a parent had to prompt a one word greeting or response, these changelings share their opinions in detailed and even eloquent ways.  They get the jokes.  They share.

I’m looking forward to my new role with these children of mine.  I am anxious to discover what world they are creating and learn how I fit in it.  Day by day I turn loose a little bit more.  Soon I’ll hand over the reins entirely and see where they take me.

To read Life in Tandem visit http://tandeminlife.blogspot.com/

El gato es hilarante or Just Laugh

My friend brought his 5-year old daughter over last weekend.  I met her once before when she was three.  Her family speaks only Spanish at home and since she hasn’t started school yet, Spanish is her only language.  She has beautiful long black hair and big brown eyes, but the most striking thing about her is her smile.

 “Oh, hello,” I said when I saw her. 

“Hola,” she said with a sparkling smile, as she hugged her father’s leg.

I remembered she liked my cats the last time I saw her, so I asked, “Do you want to see the kitties?”  She just looked at me expectantly with those dark brown eyes. 

I searched my brain for that dusty file marked High School Spanish Class, and came up with, “Mira, gato?” (sight, cat).  She giggled, “si” and took my hand.  We found the cats lounging on the back deck.  She let go of my hand to pet the marmalade one.  “His name is Smiley,” I said.  I pointed to the cat, “Smiley.”

She giggled again.  “Smiley,” she said.

We wandered the yard, her hand in mine.  I named the things I could in Spanish.  She responded, “si” encouraging me.  She counted the chickens, “uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, seis.” 

“In English?” her father asked.

She was silent, so we helped.

“One,” we said.

“One,” she replied. 

This continued up to six because we have six chickens including the rooster.  We all laughed and applauded when we were done.  She looked at us as if we were aliens; adults celebrating the fact that we can count to six.

I had forgotten how much fun it is to teach someone to speak, and how fun it is to learn.  As I stumbled through Spanish baby talk, she didn’t judge me, she just giggled at my mistakes.  She patiently followed as I lead her across my yard naming my own things.  How strange I must seem to her, a grown woman speaking like a two-year old. 

“Donde esta’ gato,” I asked.  She shrugged her shoulders and gave me the universal, I have no idea face.  I returned the shrug and the face.  We laughed.  Isn’t it cool that laughter is universal?  When all else fails, just laugh.

Say what you mean and mean what you say

Ok, so we’ve got this Facebook thing.  It’s like a giant white board/bulletin board but more organized.  People post random thoughts, quotes, song lyrics, and lists.  It’s a quick form of communication that feeds our human desire for instant gratification.  It’s a great way to keep connected over long distance and sometimes even short distance.  My husband has been known to message me on Facebook when I’m on the laptop in the bedroom and he’s using the desktop in the laundry room.  I have a friend who loses her phone at least once a week.  She updates her status to read, “I’ve lost my stupid phone, again.  Somebody please call me.”  It works like a charm.  She’s even started posting updates to share with her FB friends regarding who had the honor of being the first caller.

            Social networking, I’ve determined, is here to stay.  But, keep in mind, it sometimes limits our connections.  I have another friend, who refuses to join Facebook on principle.  It’s not a big deal except when there is a group event that gets posted on a FB events page and invitations go out from someone’s “friend” list, my buddy doesn’t get an invite.  Luckily, his wife is a Facebooker, so she’s got him covered.  But, what about my grandma?  She has no desire to even touch a computer, so she’s out of the loop.  And, what about people who don’t own computers for financial reasons.  Sure, they could go to the library, but helping your friend find her phone via a Facebook call-out requires constant monitoring.  It’s just not practical.

            Facebook etiquette is another issue.  People post random thoughts.  Friends comment on those thoughts or “like” them.  Is it the profile user’s responsibility to address each comment individually?  What if the comments are a string of added information and updates?  Is it bad form to share what you know even if it’s similar to the previous persons post?  This is new territory.  Someone has to blaze the trail.  What if you inadvertently offend someone by not responding to his or her comment?  Do you own him an apology?  Should the apology be posted on her wall or in a private message?  Wow, this is complicated.

            But seriously, there is one thing to keep in mind.  Before you post, in writing, on that giant bulletin board, take a pause to think.  Are all your Facebook friends, (including your Great-aunt Sally from Texas) going to understand your intention?  Does Aunt Sally really need to know you “like” – “Everyone I know is getting married or pregnant and I’m just getting drunk”?  Also, think twice about having that argument with your ex-boyfriend, right there on his Facebook wall, where everyone (including Aunt Sally) can see.  I’ve heard it said, to always be intentional with your words.  In the case of social networking, err on the side of caution.  Once it’s out there, in print, it’s hard to forget.

Because I Said So (A Mother’s Day Tribute)

Mother's Day 2010

It’s interesting how friendships occur throughout a lifetime.  In school we make friends with people involved in similar activities.  In college we make friend with those who live in close proximity and whose schedules fit our own.  Then if after marriage we become parents, the kids take over the friend making process.  We find ourselves spending time with the parents of our kid’s friends.  We make play dates and plan school parties together.  We go on field trips, attend school plays, and sit in the stands together. Over time, we blink and find that together we’ve raised a generation.  Though sometimes we disagree and make different choices, we are bonded in parenthood.   

In honor of Mother’s Day, I’d like to share some wisdom I’ve picked up from some fabulous, fellow mothers.   

A (The improv mom):  “Don’t negate.  Say yes, but with limitations.” “Yes, you may have a cookie after we eat dinner,” softens the blow where a “No” would have sparked a nuclear meltdown.  Save yourself the headache.   

K (I mean business):  Sometimes there’s nothing left to do but pull the car over and give them your FULL attention.  That’s usually what they’re after anyway.   

Mamma L (The shepherd): Make them cut their own switch.  Kids will typically punish themselves worse than anything a parent could come up with so let them make the call.  You’d be surprised, really.   

V (Just V): Laugh with your children or when appropriate laugh at them.  A sense of humor is a gift to be passed on.   

A (The juggler):  If you put garbage in, you get garbage out.  Choose how much trash your kid is exposed to wisely.  Put in a lot of love and that’s what you’ll get back.   

L (The chauffeur): Playtime and coffee is only good until somebody gets hurt.  We have learned from experience that there is such a thing as too much fun and it usually ends with somebody going home in tears.  Most of those events are curable with a good nap.  (Naps for mommies have double curing power.)   

My Mom (numero uno): Kids lie.  They don’t mean to, but they do.  So, call them out and teach them that life is easier to navigate when you don’t have to remember which version of the “truth” you told last.   

I guess I would add two of my favorites to this list:    

1.) Only say it, if you mean it and are willing to follow through.  Too often in the heat of the moment we react to our children.  I have found that it is much better to say, “I am not happy with your choices and there will be consequences…I’ll get back to you on that,” than to say in anger, “You are grounded for the rest of your life!”  Let’s face it; I don’t have the patience or the stamina to enforce that one.   

2.) Counting to three works.  I don’t know why.  I’m not even sure what happens if I get to three.  It also works in reverse as a countdown…3, 2, 1.  I tried it on my teenagers the other day just to see if it still works and it does!  Though I did get a little feedback at 2, to the sound of, “Wait, I’ve got to finish this level!”  It’s a beautiful thing.   

I hope everyone had a lovely Mother’s Day.  Feel free to add your favorite parenting tip to the list.

Barista Envy

Last night was the monthly meeting of my south side writers group.  We meet at The Strange Brew, my favorite local coffee shop.  Because Al and I are small business owners, I try to support our local mom and pop shops as much as I can.  Truthfully, though, I just love hanging out at Strange Brew.  The walls are painted warm organic colors and art from local artists is featured there.  The owners are fun, friendly, creative people and the coffee is way better than the burnt flavors at that other well-known chain coffee shop.

We had a really great critique’ session.  Throughout the evening, the group discussed the mental state of prisoners held in concentration camps, zombie existentialism while dealing with revenge, if it’s worth changing the reality of the world to make your story work, and whether villains have to be bad guys or just guys with issues.  I didn’t actually submit anything this time but the group walked me though a brainstorming session about my antagonist in The Barn and it really got me thinking.  I plan to get to work on it this week.  But that wasn’t even the highlight of my night.

Toni, who owns the coffee shop along with her husband Daniel, brought my iced tea to the table before our meeting got started and she had a story to tell.  It’s her story http://joanofdarkknits.blogspot.com/2010/04/meeting-neil-gaiman.html, but the gist of it is she had tickets to see her favorite author speak and ended up not only a V.I.P. with back-stage passes, but also went to dinner with him…swoon.  I wasn’t familiar with the author so I came home and looked him up.  Neil Gaimon is the author of Mirror Mask among many other best sellers (I haven’t read it but I loved the movie)… double swoon!  Now, as I said, I’m not familiar with his work so I went to his website to check him out, and there on the most recent entry in his journal is a picture of Toni as her alter ego, Joan of Dark of the Naptown Roller Girls, dressed in all her roller derby gear. http://journal.neilgaiman.com/  His headline reads:   Vonnegut and Rollergirls.  Holy crap, I say.  I wonder if Toni feels like I would if I saw myself featured in Stephen King’s journal?  “Bargersville chicken farmer – King’s biggest fan.”  Ok, Kurt Vonnegut and Roller Derby are much more exciting than my chickens and Toni is way cooler than me but you get the idea.  This was an event of a lifetime.

Now this was all so very cool for Toni, but what made my day was that she took the time to share it with me.  I don’t think we became BFF’s on the spot or anything but it’s nice to know that the lady with the pink hair who smiles when she brings me my coffee sees me and knows I would appreciate her story.  That’s what it’s all about, making connections with people.  Never forget that. 

Now, I’ve got to make a trip to the book store.  I think some Neil Gaimon will be included in my summer reading.  I’ll have to ask Toni where to start.

The Bonnaroo Experience – Part 3 (Do I hear dueling banjos?)

Lisa stepped up to the driver’s side door of what appeared to be the cab driver’s personal vehicle converted to a taxi via the logo magnet and dash-mounted fare box.  Through the open window, a deep-hills Tennessee drawl asked, “Y’all need a ride?”  Lisa relayed her conversation with dispatch and this guy wasn’t the car they sent but he was there now and willing to take us back to the hotel.  So, he radioed the hub and let them know we’d been picked up. 

Adam walked around to the passenger side front door with his pillow clutched to his chest.  Being chivalrous, without a word, he was volunteering to sit up front with the driver.  In mid-stride, he stopped and gave Lisa a perplexed look over the roof of the car. There in the passenger seat sat a middle-aged woman in her pajamas holding a partially unwrapped cellophane package containing what smelled like a baloney and mayo sandwich.

“Uh, are we going to fit?” Lisa asked the driver.

“Well, ma’am, three of you can ride in the back but since I got my girlfriend ridin’ shotgun to keep me from fallin’ asleep, one of you is gonna hafta wait for the next ride.”

Lisa looked at the three of us standing bleary eyed on the side of the road and shrugged.  Erin, with eyes wide shook her head indicating the negative.

“We’ll find a way to fit,” Lisa said to the open window.  And without waiting for a response, she opened the rear door.  Like a scene from a circus film, we piled into the back of the compact sedan, pillows and all.  Erin sat across Adam’s lap and the driver, clearly distressed at his extra large fair sputtered and moaned over his shoulder at us.

“Y’all are gonna have to hunker down when we pass the police car at the gate.  I’m not s’posed to transport this many people.”

Erin rolled her eyes and sighed then lay down across the three of us with her pillow over her head.  We finally made it past the gate and to the intersection at the highway.  To our surprise, the cab driver turned right instead of left driving in the opposite direction of the hotel.

“Uh, our hotel is the other way,” Lisa called over the seat.

“ I know, I’m takin’ ya the back roads,” he replied.

Lisa turned to Adam and I and in the darkness, mouthed the words, “We Are Gonna Die.”

Please check your humility at the door.

The pleasant surroundings disguise why we are here.  Walls covered in sand colored, cloud textured wallpaper meet the floor of tan, sculpted Berber carpet.   Lobby chairs with soft, muted geometric patterns line the walls trimmed in warm wood grain.  Quiet, upbeat Jazz plays over the ceiling speakers and the aroma of brewing coffee is a screen for what waits beyond the tall, curved wooden wall.

Men sit alone in the upholstered chairs wringing their hands and staring at the floor.  Women come and go through the art-glass windowed door: middle-aged women in suits and heels, teenage girls in brand name t-shirts accompanied by mothers, elderly women in pastel colored velour track suits with matching purses.  Some smile at the woman holding the door and some mumble to the floor as they pass through.

Beyond the door are dimly lit rooms filled with electronics and machines of plexiglass and steel.  The women on this side of the door are resolved.  This is humiliating and uncomfortable but it must be done.  Each woman disappears into her own closet-sized room.  The directions are simple.  Strip to the waist and put on the shoulder cape as a parody to modesty.  Step forward and while keeping feet flat on the floor stretch your spine so a stranger can stretch and manipulate one naked breast on a cold steel plate at the height of which your collarbone usually resides.  The stranger, who does this job many times a day, lowers a plexiglass plate trapping your body in an impossible pose.  “Hold your breath,” she commands and you comply though your instinct is hyperventilation.  The exercise is repeated with a different pose and then on the other side.  The stranger makes light conversation in an effort to mask the intimacy you are sharing. 

You dress and are released back to the world.  The men waiting in the lobby look up hopefully as you come through the door.  You’re not theirs and disappointed, they look back to the floor.  Relief at having the task complete makes you feel light.  A treat is in order so you drop by your favorite coffee shop to log on to the free Wi-Fi and remind your friends to schedule their annual routine mammograms today.

A Blanket on the Ground

Get the Ball

Yesterday was beautiful though the day started aimlessly and a little bit sad.  Steve and Jessie showed up in the afternoon and we brought out Grandma’s green and white star quilt to sit on the sunlit grass in the front yard facing the road.  Motorcycles and convertible cars cruised past as we played with the dogs, tossing them bits of cheese and sending them racing after an orange tennis ball.   We ate ham and roasted asparagus and devilled eggs and had wine.  The boys wrestled in the fresh-cut grass and did cartwheels just like when they were little. The fresh air, filled with bird song, made us drowsy in the sun.  It was a perfect spring day.

The Bonnaroo experience, part 1 (Day Parking?)

He was so friendly, the smiling young man with unbelievably long blond dreadlocks and straw hat.  He nodded his head and smiled as he directed us to park our car near the first-aid balloon tethered to the line of Porta Potties.  Lisa put the car in park and we all began organizing our belongings for the day.

I shoved a tube of sunscreen into my backpack and unplugged my cell phone.  Erin and Adam rifled through the snack box looking for granola bars while Lisa applied lip balm in the rearview mirror.  We were set, ready to head off for our adventure of the day.  That’s when we looked out the front window of the Explorer and saw something unexpected.  All around us, at least 12 rows deep on either side were cars surrounded by tents.  A yellow Volkswagen Bug next to a dome tent, a pickup truck next to an A-frame, a Honda next to a partially pitched geodesic and a mesh dining tent against the bumper of a 1973 Vega, it went on and on as far as the eye could see.

“Oh no,” Erin cried from the back seat. 

I looked at Lisa, “Uh, what just happened?” 

 Lisa scanned the parking area.  “Do you think they might just be setting them up for the day?” she asked, not really expecting an answer.  “If Tom were here, he’d start pulling up tent stakes.”

I sighed and said, “I am so glad he’s not here.”

We were stuck.  The car was definitely not getting out of the grassy lot any time soon so we decided to carry on with our day and deal with our unplanned camping trip later.  We headed out to explore the grounds of Bonnaroo Music and Art Festival in a pasture in Manchester, Tennessee.