20 Years

Evil tore a hole in the universe that day. Things fell apart. And it rippled. I’m not sure the evil of that day has yet to stop rippling.

Well, that is as far as I got today upon trying—as I have tried on nearly every anniversary—to write something about September 11. Writing usually brings me comfort, usually helps me put my thoughts and feelings into order. But I cannot write about September 11. Even at a distance of 20 years, it’s too close.

Shortly after I gave up on this post, I saw Dan Rather’s piece, “20 Years.” So I’m going to share that instead. I remain (since I first read his work as a Freshman writing student) in awe of his talent.

Do something kind today.
Put some goodness back into this world.

September 11, 2021 at 12:48 pm Leave a comment

The Blue Hydrangea

Two years ago today, we lost Mom.

It’s been a terribly long time. And just a blink.

I remember, on the day of funeral visitation, two of our neighbors made dinner for us. When we stopped home between the afternoon and evening sessions, there was a delicious meal waiting, the tables were set with linens and silverware, and each table held a vase of fresh-cut flowers. Our two-doors-up neighbor Diana had contributed the blooms from her own blue hydrangea bushes. I remember thinking that Mom would have loved the gorgeous simplicity of those bouquets.

After the funeral, as each bloom wilted, I felt sad and wistful, as you feel about small losses that follow a big one. Eventually, only one bloom remained. I checked on it each morning and would be so relieved to see that it had not yet wilted. That single bloom lifted my spirits. It outlasted July. It lasted through August. It lasted into September! It remained vibrant and flowering and had even sprouted new growth. The blue hydrangea on the window sill began to feel like something more than a flower. Diana and I both agreed, it was a message from Mom.

Yes. I know that conclusion is unlikely to be substantiated by any botanist. But, in times of impossible longing, we don’t really want science; we want magic.

I don’t know how long the magic might have lasted if I had just let it be, but, about midway through September, I had the brilliant idea that I should plant it. I did so, lovingly and carefully, and it looked great, for a bit. But then, one day, I looked close and discovered that the stem had become a stick.

I was so disappointed. I had failed, miserably. I had ruined something irreplaceable. And (I can chuckle about it now) I kept that dumb stick in a pot of dirt for a very long time.

Eventually, I decided I should buy one for myself, but you know how it goes. Regret dampens your enthusiasm. Times passes. You think of it, but there’s no time for the extra errand. You have no time to clear a spot in the garden. There are no blue hydrangeas in stock. There’s a global pandemic.

As of July 12, 2021, I still did not have any blue hydrangeas. Then, my phone dinged. I had a text message from Diana:  Stop up when you get a chance.

I walked to her house and there, in a plastic container in the corner of her driveway, was a plant. I said, “Is that a hydrangea!?” She nodded. She’d dug up one of her beautiful blue hydrangea bushes, dug it up, root ball and all. I gasped. We hugged. It was one of the nicest acts of kindness, one of the very best surprises I have ever had. We shared a lovely moment. Then, we were grunting and giggling as we loaded that gigantic planter into a wheel barrow.

Friends, I give you the Blue Hydrangea, life preserver, show-stopping shrub, symbol of friendship, message from Mom.  

July 20, 2021 at 2:37 pm Leave a comment

Big Lies

Image borrowed from allposters.com

This one time? In marketing? I worked at a company that had a client who lied, a lot. But she had a lot of money to spend, so the powers-that-be never stood up to her.

My experience has been that, with most clients, you don’t have to fake respect, but we all understand the occasional necessity to tolerate bad behavior from a difficult customer. Still, this particular person pushed things out beyond the farthest reaches of professionalism and into a bat-shit alternative universe.

The tales I could tell about that particular workplace would scorch your hair and pulverize your humerus. To share the antics of this one client would take pages and pages, but this post isn’t about reliving a nightmare or venting about tough times. To make a long, hilarious, excruciating story short, one day, this client called up the owner of the company and said, “So-and-so did something bad.”

Now, I was in the room during the event in question, and, I promise you, this was a lie. It was not a misunderstanding or a point of view. This was a blatant and preposterous lie fabricated to manipulate other people.

There are times when even the best of leaders must blow some smoke into some pretty awful spots, but, if you are a decent human, you don’t inhale while you’re down there. You don’t applaud the lie. You don’t punish so-and-so. You don’t say, “Well, what actually occurred is irrelevant; if the big important client said it happened, it is now the truth.” (Which is what was said to me when I tried to defend so-and-so.)

On another occasion, the same client told my immediate supervisor that I was a poor writer because I used prepositional phrases. He summoned me to his office and presented the feedback. I started to laugh, expecting him to commiserate and help me figure out how we were going to work around such an idiotic complaint. But, he didn’t commiserate; he told me with furrowed brow that he was disappointed to learn that I was such an amateur copywriter and ordered me to stop using prepositional phrases or else.

These are ancient anecdotes, long-ago, dusty things. They bubbled up today, not as grudge or complaint but in a small aah! of revelation related to current events.

I will tell you something true. There are two reasons why people support a blatant lie:  (1) They are beholden to the liar or (2) They are too stupid to know better.

July 18, 2021 at 12:27 pm Leave a comment

Something Is Amiss

Hello. If you can see this, please help. Something is amiss. The calendar says April 2021. I believe I’m stuck in a strange alternative universe. This world is very much like the real one I remember. You almost wouldn’t notice it—but for one thing: There are fewer hours in the day.

  • In the beforetime, there were enough days in a week to do things weekly, like dusting, sweeping, laundry, cutting the grass, washing the car.
  • There were more weekends in a month for things like cleaning gutters and weeding the garden.
  • I tell you, and I swear it is true, there used to be time to repaint a room simply to make it a different color.
  • I used to read books. It was possible, in the real world, to read an entire book in a day. In this strange place, I’m lucky if I can manage a few pages before I succumb to sleep.
  • I used to listen to music. As an activity.
  • I played video games. All the way to the end of the game.
  • I used to scrapbook. I used to make jewelry. I used to do needlepoint!
  • There was time before to drive to a place for the sole purpose of taking photographs of that place.
  • There was time to follow the Steelers, Penguins, Pirates, and every minute of March Madness.
  • I even used to play sports—two or three times a week—and we’d go out for dinner and drinks afterwards. The evenings in this world simply aren’t long enough for that, and there aren’t as many of them. (Does 2 a.m. even exist in this universe?)
  • I used to do my nails. I used to put on make-up. I used to have time for using a blow dryer and a curling iron. There absolutely used to be more minutes in-between getting a shower and getting in the car to go someplace.
  • I used to work jobs that required 10 hours a day, on average. Now I work from home—where time is not wasted in a commute or the inanities of ego and power—and yet there simply are not enough hours in the day. My novel remains unfinished. I am struggling even to complete this blog post.

Am I alone in this time-short universe? Is anyone else stuck in this realm? Give me a sign.

Please, there is no time to lose! This morning, I noticed that my driver’s license has morphed. It shows that I am nearing 60, when, only yesterday, I was in my 20s.

April 21, 2021 at 10:58 am Leave a comment

My Criminal Past

One time, in grade school—Catholic grade school—I forgot to have my Mom sign my homework.

I did the homework, and my Mom was aware I did the homework. I simply forgot to have her sign it. I do not really understand why this was such a big deal—having a signature on a piece of completed homework—but, the next morning, when the nun said, “Place your signed papers on the desk,” I panicked.

I was 6.

Every other kid in the class placed a piece of paper on his/her desk. The nun moved around the classroom, hovering over each set of tiny shoulders to witness The Signature. I’m guessing we were seated alphabetically; I’m not sure about that, but she started at the other end of the room—and that gave me time to think.

All I had in the world was a sheet of Math problems and a #2 pencil. I stared at my supplies. Then I got an idea. An awful idea. I got a wonderful, awful idea. I slid that paper in close and, quickly, furtively, I did the deed:  I signed my mother’s name.

In case you’re not sure, 6-year-olds have the penmanship of a first-grader and have not yet learned cursive.

I remember that moment. I remember it clearly. I thought to myself, “It will be more believable if I only use her first name.”

Such brilliance under pressure. Such suavité.

And so I forged my mother’s name, K-a-y, in pencil, in first-grader letters. Then I sat back, and I enjoyed a (very short-lived) respite from the terror that had gripped me since class began.

Then, the nun was there; she was behind me, a bit to the left, looking over my shoulder. I was nervous, but I played it cool, waiting for her to move on.

She did not move on.

Folks. It has been 50 years-plus since that particular moment in my life, and I tell you, I have never been more frightened that I can recall.

The punishment was swift, creative, and horrifying. I had to do an agonizing Show and Tell for my classmates. Then I had to leave the classroom, walk the long, dark, empty hall and visit other classrooms. As instructed, I knocked politely; once given permission to enter, I walked to the front of the room, told the teacher what I had done, and asked if I could please stand there and tell her class about my evil deed.

That bit is kind of a blur, but I recall that my voice wavered and my body shook. By the time I returned to the seat in my own classroom, I was solemn, humiliated, and a little dizzy. I may have had an out-of-body experience.

Whew. {shudder}

It was a tough lesson but a lesson learned well. From that day forward, I have avoided public speaking like the plague.  

But, with some practice, I got quite good at forging my mother’s signature.  

April 14, 2021 at 3:58 pm 1 comment

Feedback

Yesterday, I spent a big chunk of the day at the ER. I am fine; everyone is fine; everything turned out fine, but I hadn’t time to set something down to thaw for dinner. So, last night, after a physically and emotionally draining day, I decided to treat myself to the comfy decadence of eating Chinese food in front of the TV. Since moving, a few years ago, I do not have a go-to Chinese place that delivers, so I googled and found only delivery services.

Note: I know delivery services aren’t ideal for local restaurants. Last night was about what was ideal for me.

I tried DoorDash some years back. The food never arrived. Turns out that the restaurant (listed on the DoorDash website) did not exist. When I attempted to talk to customer service (fearing a scam), the person hung up on me. So, this time, I tried GrubHub.

Yikes.

GrubHub charges (1) a delivery fee and (2) a service fee and (3) a required tip. The tip, as I was to discover later—much, much later—is how you bribe one of their employees to pick up your order.

A peeve I would not keep as a pet:  I prefer to tip as a reward for good service, not as ransom.

I don’t mind tipping. Like anyone who has waited tables (which I believe should be a prerequisite for patronizing any eatery), I’m generally a good tipper. I thought offering nearly 30% of the food bill, on top of a service fee and a delivery fee, was a decent contribution. In GrubHub math, my tip was noted as only 18% because they calculate the percentage as part of the entire charge, including their own delivery fee and service fee. I call shenanigans. And I understand, now, why my order wasn’t popular with drivers (who probably are not the ones making enough money to buy Super Bowl ads).

I could have walked to that restaurant and back (and gone for seconds) before the order arrived. The food sat so long it was as if I had ordered leftovers. And, while leftover Chinese food is quite a good ‘fridge find after a late night out, it is no fun at all when you are tired and hungry and sober.

GrubHub, which, I assume, uses the tagline “spend less, enjoy more” ironically, changed my dinner from one of anticipation and indulgence to an evening of frustration and regret. I am embarrassed to admit that I spent nearly $30 dollars for an egg roll and a serving of General Tso’s, which tasted like Frank’s Red Hot and included a single, scrawny piece of broccoli that looked as sad as I felt when I finally got my order.

To be fair, GrubHub did do one thing well:  They were super-quick to ask me for feedback.

April 10, 2021 at 1:37 pm Leave a comment

With Love to Aunt Theresa

All this talk of vaccinations got me thinking about my cousins and my Aunt Theresa, who was a nurse.

The occupation of adult relatives is not something you are generally aware of when you are seven years old. Additionally, it is unlikely at that age that you would have any inkling that nurses sometimes give out shots to family members. And, had it been you, you would have remained completely and blissfully unaware of the potentialities one fall evening when your Dad said, “We’re going to visit your cousins! Get your coats on and get in the car!”

Getting together with cousins was a particularly good time. It is still fun to see those people, but, when we were kids, it was epic. We saw my grandmother regularly, but a gathering of all 7 families with all 18 cousins was only undertaken on rarer occasions, like Thanksgiving, when the hosts would have a year to recover.

So, the idea of going to see my cousins, in the evening, on a weeknight, was unprecedented. I was giddy. I was thrilled. I have always loved good surprises. I shimmied into my coat and jumped in the car. And, when we arrived at my Aunt Theresa and Uncle John’s house, I dashed to the door, eager for hugs and laughter.

We were the last to arrive. When we stepped into the house, everybody else was standing in a line that appeared to begin somewhere in the kitchen before meandering to the living room. I remember feeling slightly confused, but I happily got in line, aware of the goodies that came from my Aunt Theresa’s kitchen and anticipating the treat that awaited us all.

As we stood in line, innocent and jolly. As we shuffled closer to our doom. As I heard snippets of the adult conversation and a few odd yelps. As people returned to the living room without a slice of cake. The realization dawned:  We are here to get flu shots!

I don’t believe I have ever been quite that disappointed before or since. I was crying before I reached the kitchen. I cried when I got my shot. And I was one tearful and cranky kid during the long ride home.

Let’s just say that I handle getting a flu shot better as an adult than I did as a kid.

To be honest, I have handled it “better” by never getting a flu shot throughout my adult life. And, in 2019, when my Dad’s PCP told me that not getting the flu vaccine was tantamount to risking the lives of all old people who crossed my path, I felt extra guilty for not getting a flu shot.

Then, last fall, with the complications of Covid in the air, I knew what I had to do. I tricked myself into the car, drove to the drug store, and walked in. Spoke to the pharmacist. Filled out paperwork. And was told to get in line. The line led to a smaller room in the back.

Eerily similar. But I did not expect cake.  

My name was called; I entered the room; the door closed. I was told to sit and bare my arm, and I complied. I looked straight ahead and focused on my breathing. I disassociated as if I were in a three-day meeting to examine, discuss, and practice the power of teamwork. I was only slightly aware that the nurse was chatting pleasantly on my left. I do not think she could sense my terror or hear the screams inside my head of “Stop talking and get it over with! Do it already. Do it! C’mon!!!!! Dude. Just give me the shot.” I waited.  

Then, she told me to leave.

Ha! It was over and I never felt it. Not a thing. No stab. No pain. No amused chuckles of once-trusted relatives. Not a poke. Not a pinch.

Needles and syringes have changed a bit in the past 50 years. But I still love good surprises.

So, I will get in line for my Covid vaccine when I’m able. I’m sending out a bunch of love to all those (older) cousins who are ahead of me in line. And I’ll raise a shot to my dear Aunt Theresa, who was a lovely woman, a funny lady, a caring human, and a Life Preserver.

March 22, 2021 at 5:20 pm Leave a comment

For the Love of Seuss

I generally try to avoid conflict on my blog, but I am compelled to say something about a favorite life preserver (books) and the recent uproar over Dr. Seuss. It is a timely and rather ironic example of poor communication habits and the gigantic barfnozzle of social media. Here are some pieces of the actual story:

  • The decision was made to remove some books from publication. Not all books. Probably not your favorites.
  • The decision was made by Dr. Seuss Enterprises, a company founded by Dr. Seuss’ family to protect his legacy and preserve his memory.
  • After months of discussion, which included feedback from parents and teachers, the company decided to remove 6 books from publication: (1) To Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street, (2) If I Ran the Zoo, (3) McElligot’s Pool, (4) On Beyond Zebra!, (5) Scrambled Eggs Super!, and (6) The Cat’s Quizzer.
  • The decisions were made primarily based on outdated imagery. Examine the stories for yourself. I suspect that, if you are a decent Whovian and you had been on the panel—with an eye to protecting his memory as well as the hearts of those he wrote for—you would support the decisions.

So here we are. The company in charge of Dr. Seuss books, with much thought and good intent, made some changes to keep up with the progress that society has made in the past 80 years. But, someone took a nugget of that news and twisted it into an attack on Dr. Seuss (which it is not); people started making memes that the famous Cat had been removed (which he has not); some even tried to politicize it (ya crazy conspiratinkers), and boom. Within moments people were blowing their floofloovers and banging their tartookas over click bait.

The passion to protect Dr. Seuss may be genuine, but it is misguided. Dr. Seuss is fine. (Well, you know, he’s dead, but his fame remains.) His books are beloved. His lessons are positive. His imagination is inspiring. Maybe not every single phrase or illustration will stand the test of time, but that’s okay. I suspect that, if he could, he would do a bit of editing himself.

Change isn’t always bad. Sometimes change comes about from people trying to do the right thing. And memes are never the whole story. If you see news that seems really outrageous, step back from the blindly enthusiastic domino clicking of likes and shares. Take a moment. Take a breath. And embrace the things that Dr. Seuss taught us, like optimism, respect for others, open-mindedness, love, the importance of reading, and the perils of entertaining ideas from crazy strangers.

March 4, 2021 at 2:41 pm Leave a comment

Stuffed Shells

Yesterday, for the first time, I made stuffed shells.

I know that doesn’t sound like a big deal. I’m sure there are those of you who could say, “Honey, I’ve made 300 shells with one hand tied behind my back.” or “I’ve been making those since I was 10.” or “Whoop-de-do for you, ya weirdo.” And that’s fine. I’m not writing this to impress people. Feeding people brings me joy. (And food and joy are life preservers.)

Yes, friends, I was intimidated by pasta. I always thought stuffed shells were rather fancy and complicated. It seemed like one of those things that required you to have lots of practice, Italian heritage, and fewer than 3 points left on your record for prior kitchen disasters.

Which reminds me that I did actually try to make stuffed shells once before. That recipe called for homemade pesto rather than store-bought marinara. Here’s what I can tell you:

  • You generally shouldn’t attempt to use a blender when a recipe says food processor.
  • If garlic jams in blender blades, always turn the blender off before removing the lid for a closer look.
  • Even in a small kitchen, it takes years to find every splat of pesto.

I wish I could share a photograph of my pesto-covered face—blank only where my glasses had been, bangs “moussed” straight up—but this occurred in the days before cell phones.

So, I guess it’s fair to say that it wasn’t just my lack of an Italian grandmother that made me hesitate to try my hand at stuffed shells. But, yesterday, I needed to make dinner for two different households—one with a person who was part Italian/part Vegetarian—and I thought of shells. They would be easily dividable and, if all went well, would be nice enough to be given as a “gift meal.”

If all went well.

Googling brought me to Dinner at the Zoo and an easy-to-follow recipe. (Thank you, Sara.)

As many of you probably already know, I should not have been afraid. It was laughably simple. Stuffed shells are a bit fiddly and somewhat time-consuming (for a person who has been known to open a bag of chips and jar of salsa for dinner), but they are not difficult. There were no crazy ingredients, no complicated techniques, and mama mia! they were delicious. Roar! ROAR! I am woman! I made stuffed shells! Whoop-de-do for me! (Yes, I am a weirdo. But, I’m okay with that.)

To this small story of culinary success, I will add just a dash of philosophy: If you want to be able to do a thing, but it seems too difficult, give it a try. If we never attempt anything new, we will never see the extent of our abilities, and we miss out on some of life’s simple joys.

Watch out for pesto, though.

February 15, 2021 at 5:33 pm 2 comments

Dearest Diary

In 1991, my Mom, Dad, Aunt Mitzie, and Uncle Bill retired, and they decided to celebrate with a road trip across the country. They left Pennsylvania in a van, headed West. For 40 days, they drove across the United States and back again, seeing sights, visiting old friends, and proving that life after retirement is still an adventure. From August 1 to September 9, my Mom and my Aunt took turns writing in a blank book, keeping a daily diary of their trip.

I recently came across that book. (Wow.) And noted that it was written 29 years ago. (Whoa.) I am now one year younger than my Aunt and one year older than my Mom while they were on that trip.

{Please type your own cliché about how time flies because I need both hands to stop my head from spinning.}

It’s 2020. Just a little over a year since we lost Mom to dementia. Just a little over a year since my Aunt moved into a care facility for the same heinous disease. To open a book and hear their voices again, clear and strong, sweet and smart, cracking jokes and spying rainbows. Well. It’s wonderful. Or, it’s what wonderful would be if you could drink a glass of it and feel it tingle your belly, lift the hair on your arms, and blur your vision a bit.

This massive dose of joy impels me to suggest, to nudge, to encourage, to shout from a rooftop to anyone who might listen: You should keep a diary. And perhaps this year of odd lulls and extra space is the perfect time to start.

Buy a fancy journal or get a notebook from the dollar store. Make your own rules, but give it a try. Create a paper time capsule in which to stash silly, boring, beautiful moments. The moments that don’t make it into frame or album. The moments that go by in a blink. The bazillion little bits of life that make up the everyday: What you had for breakfast, an inside joke, the price of gas, your favorite snacks, songs to sing, places you’ve been, the way a day can go from rain to sun.

Whether you decide to write a diary or not, take a moment today to notice that life is extraordinary. And so are you. Cheers.

September 6, 2020 at 11:10 am Leave a comment

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