North and South

November 7, 2019

After my Rotary Club meeting this morning, instead of going directly home and changing out of my “nice” clothes into what could easily pass for something akin to “urban slob attire,” (I was wearing mascara and earrings after all) I decided to take care of a few items needing my attention. So, I took my car through the car wash. It was heavily coated in salt water residue after sitting adjacent to the ocean for a week and it badly needed attention. Then I decided a quick visit to the supermarket was in order. The market in question is part of a mid-size regional chain, family-owned, and its culture is decidedly quirky. I never know what to expect when I walk through the doors. What I do know I will always find are its constants: smiling faces, helpful attitudes, and people who are either excellent actors or who truly enjoy what they do. Everyone makes eye contact, says “hello,” inquires if I need anything and just generally has a helpful attitude. Among the more endearing features is the aroma of the bread department that greets your olfactory senses as soon as you walk in the door and the regular and fun announcements that “HOT BREAD just out of the oven!” both sure to cause a small stampede to the small, but well stocked bread counter. A few steps away are the bakery, deli, and produce, all overflowing with delectables. If you can escape without sampling, you are a stronger person than I. It is beyond tempting. It will have you in its clutches in seconds. There’s also a sushi chef on staff and you can literally buy your dinner because all sorts of hot entrees are ready for you to take home should you decide to forego cooking. It’s a mouthwatering dilemma. You can pick fresh herbs in any quantity, of course buy beer and wine – and grits – don’t forget the grits. This is the South, after all. I have never seen such a selection of grits. In this particular store, which isn’t large like the big chains, I am estimating there are at least a dozen varieties of grits from which to choose. One day, I will succumb and purchase. For now, I remain a Yankee.

As I wend my way through the aisles, being greeted by probably 90 percent of those I pass with a warm smile or hello, I am suddenly struck by the fact that I have been living here for almost seven months. I have transitioned from the north to the south. I am also keenly aware that there are profound and subtle differences between life in the north and life in the south. These are just my observations. They are not meant to cast aspersions or criticisms on either location. Each has its own charms and identity. So, as I have said before, don’t get your panties in a wad. This is a blog. It’s not the law of the land and will certainly not stand up in a court of law. We are all entitled to our opinions. For entertainment purposes only. Calm down. Isn’t that Taylor Swift’s newest single?

As I stated, the friendliness is what first struck me. I really am amazed at how everyone seems to have taken their happy pill. I have encountered one “snippy” individual who told me to “watch my truck” when apparently I was loading things into my car perilously close to his precious gun rack adorned manhood announcing air pollution inducing pick-up. I smiled sweetly; really, to those who know me, I AM capable of that on rare occasions, and said “of course.” But again, those who know me, know what I was saying under my breath. Insert snarky, no, really bitchy comment here. Other than that guy, I have encountered no unpleasantness. Coupled with that is the proverbial, “Yes ma’am, no ma’am” peppered into most sentences. Initially, I was a little taken aback, but I have come to love it. It’s really quite charming. The facilities people at my complex call me “Miss” followed by my first name but also use the “yes ma’am” etc. I asked someone about it and was told that it’s just the way it is. They are taught at home, in school. It’s a way of life. I will take it. We could use more of this attention to good manners in other parts of the country.

The accent. Some have the quintessential southern accent and some don’t. Lots of transplants here which explains the lack of accent, but even some of the locals don’t have one. Not sure why. I really like the drawl. Several of my fellow Rotarians have it and I enjoy it, y’all. Sweet Tea. It’s everywhere. I still drink unsweetened, but I hear it’s a beautiful thing; so I may have to give it a try.

One thing I have noticed, at least in the region of the south I am living in, is the property zoning, or should I say, lack of property zoning. It’s most noticeable in rural areas. Driving down a secondary road, you will encounter a lovely, upscale home in the $700,000 range. Travel a few hundred yards and you will see a doublewide trailer. To my knowledge, that’s not the norm where I used to live. It doesn’t bother me if it doesn’t bother them; I just find it odd. Coupled with this are “Thank You Jesus” signs. Not sure what these are about, but I am happy for them if they have something for which to be thankful.

Modes of transportation are pretty much the same as up north. What I have noticed, again, at least in my neck of the woods, is a preponderance of Camaros, Mustangs and Firebirds. Not sure why, but I am not complaining. Some of them are vintage and very well maintained. There are also lots of pick-ups which are customized with big wheels and other vestiges of southern living, including lots of bumper stickers with both political and other discussion inducing messages, which make for entertaining time spent at traffic stops.

The weather is better here, but it’s also a little bipolar. One day it’s 80 degrees, the next it’s 50. It can’t seem to decide sometimes. But I am not complaining. I haven’t experienced my first winter yet, but from what I hear, everyone here panics at the mention of snow, so I think I am good. As long as I have food, booze, my dog, and toilet paper, I am good. But let’s talk for a quick minute about the humidity. On some days, I officially have BIG. SOUTHERN. HAIR. It just happens. And the heat can be so bad that you literally must wait several minutes to let the car cool sufficiently before you can touch the steering wheel without sacrificing a layer of skin. Hotter than Hades I tell you.

I will be the first to pronounce that the bugs in the south are huge and scary and I hate them. Centipedes, millipedes, and cockroaches so big you can hear their footsteps on a bare floor – no exaggeration – are the norm here. I am not a fan, but I am proud to say that in the absence of my husband who was my bug-killing guy, I have put on my big girl panties and assumed the mantle of bug killer in my household. I am still terrified, but I get it done. Welcome to the South. They grow these critters big down here. I have noticed, still on the subject of critters, that the north has prettier birds. I have two bird feeders in my back yard and haven’t been able to attract much of a selection of attractive feathered friends. Still waiting.

There are many more differences and similarities to write about, but for now I will stop. I will continue to visit my neighborhood grocery, where they announce the twice daily staff meetings with “It’s show time” and hold them in full view of customers and end each meeting with the chicken dance – how cool is that? They also ask me each time at check out if I need help getting my groceries to my car. That’s Southern Hospitality for you! Or maybe it’s just because I look old. Hmmmm. Until next time.

Are You Feeling Lucky?

October 9, 2019

This year my husband and I would have celebrated our 45th wedding anniversary. People are surprised because of my youthful good looks, wrinkle-free complexion, flat stomach, and taut, girlish figure. It’s a curse I tell you. Everyone insists that I must have been a child bride because of the length of the years of our union and thus, by extension, the length of MY years on this earth. But, it’s true. I’m a senior citizen. I collect a pension and Medicare. I go to Harris Teeter on Thursdays because of their 5% senior discount. I have had a knee replacement and I am on a myriad of prescribed medications. I’m long in the tooth, So, of course, now that I am “single,” it stands to reason that I am beating off potential suitors with a stick. (read the entire sentence, you perverted bastards!) Ummm, that would be a big fat NO. Rewind several years. Throughout our marriage, we would periodically discuss our wishes for our spouse should one of us die. Sometimes it was in jest, as in, next time I marry for money instead of love; next time I marry someone with a certain “skill set” in the kinky romance department (even I can’t elaborate on this – there might be children present – I have some standards, no matter how low.) All kidding aside, both of us agreed that each of us would want the other to be happy and if that meant pursuing a relationship, even marriage, we would be fine with that, as long as we found someone worthy who would take care of our beloved’s emotional and other needs.

I haven’t had a date since 1972. Except for that one in November 2018 – that one date acquired through the dreaded, the unforgiving, the ridiculously artificial vehicle of online dating. My crazy friend (I will refer to her as CF and she’s not certifiably crazy in the clinical sense, though sometimes I wonder) after a night of frivolity (read dinner and drinks and then more drinks back at my place – too many so I wouldn’t let her drive home) decided it would be “fun” to sign me up for a dating site. She got my credit card, grabbed some photos off my Facebook page and went to town creating my profile. I thought it was funny at the time – until my VISA bill came in. Ugh. It took me almost a year to remedy this sad excuse for trying to create a semblance of a social life. When I sobered up, I realized that I had at least six months on at least four sites. As a writer, I also made major corrections and enhancements to my profile; I have a reputation to protect, people! This was obligatory.

And so it began. My foray into online dating was brief, but eye-opening. It wasn’t for lack of trying. Since I had six months where I was locked in, I decided to see what the fuss was all about. I know several people who’ve even married those they’ve met online. Either I am living in an alternate universe or I have a gift for attracting a plethora of freaks, all around jerks, pervs, narcissists, entitled assholes, just no one whom I would consider “normal.” My requirements were not unreasonable: be kind, have a sense of humor, like children, dogs (if they think cats are assholes, that’s a plus), music, trying new restaurants, and, because I am a writer, and it’s a huge deal for me, a good command of the English language and grammar skills is a must. So, I figured I would at least have some fun for six months, reading the daily barrage of “matches” sent to me by the dating sites, along with multiple “likes,” “flirts” and other terms used to indicate how very desirable I was. I was beginning to believe that I was quite the catch – until I saw who was interested in me. I began to question everything in my life. Was I grotesque and no one ever had the balls to tell me? I wasn’t a prolific dater in my younger years, but I did OK. My husband was adorable, sweet, funny, and kind. Some of his predecessors were also good looking and checked off a lot of the boxes. My high school sweetheart was also a cutie pie. And they were all smart and each had specific skill sets. Why now, after all these years was I suddenly queen of the loser brigade? Because they seemed to be the only ones interested. It seemed to intensify after my date that November. Looking back, I think maybe this guy was sent on a reconnaissance mission for the rest of his comrades, though in his defense, he was harmless and a sweet person.

Here’s where it went wrong. If you want to get lucky with me don’t ask to meet at a pizza place which is not conducive to talking. Don’t immediately start the conversation with telling me that you bruised your groin in a car accident the prior week. Honey, I’m sorry you’re hurting, but take an Advil and shut the hell up. I will be nowhere NEAR your groin now or ever. I knew that within the first 30 seconds, when you used a double negative. Sorry, I am a grammar snob. Also, if you want to get lucky with me, don’t project six months into the future discussing what beer festival we will attend. By God’s good grace, I was living six hours away in another state by then anyway, so, moot point. Also, when I return from the ladies’ room, two suggestions: Do NOT say “Everything come out all right?” That’s something my husband would say and it was endearing and funny, but honestly asshole, you don’t KNOW me, so your sorry attempt at humor was just that. And, number two (no pun intended) the eyes are up here. Please stop staring at my heaving bosoms. What are you, a 15-year-old boy? Of course, you are. Ugh. After a painfully plodding hour of conversation so tedious I truly would prefer watching paint dry, I politely bid my adieu and told Mr. Wonderful how lovely it was to meet him and made my escape. Of course, he wanted to see me again. I am that charming. I told him I was embarking on a 12-day cruise in another week and we would catch up. Lucky for me I ended up in the hospital a week after the cruise ended with a suspected stroke and remained there for two weeks in rehab and recovery as well as homebound for the next 90 days. Funny how things happen. Another blog. Let’s continue our current discussion.

Profile photos matter. They will determine if you’re going to get lucky with me. I saved a few photos of the most memorable gentlemen who reached out to me in hopes of starting a relationship. Suffice it to say their hopes were dashed. I never responded. But if they are reading this blog, perhaps they will rethink their choices. First impressions are the key to potentially lifelong relationships, fellas. Take the time and make the effort to show you care. Don’t take a selfie in front of a mirror with the toilet in the background. Do you have at least one friend who can do the honors? Here we go.

If you want to get lucky with me, listen carefully: bare chested doesn’t work for me. It makes me gag. Whether you’re in a pool, sucking your gut in on a beach chair or just a random shot in your back yard as if this is your normal way of going about your business, just don’t. I don’t want to see it. Not yet at least. So, don’t do it. I am not impressed. And I am not a prude. I just can’t stand these staged shots of you trying to show the ladies what they’re missing. I am happy to miss it. Next please.

If you want to get lucky with me, please have all your teeth. It’s just a thing I have. Call me superficial if you want. So be it. They don’t have to be yours. Implants are fine. Good dental care speaks to other areas of your existence and at this point in my existence, I am neither willing nor prepared to deal with your issues. Buh bye.

If you want to get lucky with me, wearing your oxygen canula in your profile photo, while admirable in its honesty is a real buzzkill for me. Call me shallow, but I am looking for a friend, not a patient. I don’t have a nursing degree, cannot give CPR, and have decided to start smoking again, so that might be an explosive situation, so I am truly sorry about that. Good luck in your search for a soulmate, aka caregiver.

If you want to get lucky with me, lying on your unmade bed with sheets that look like they haven’t seen the inside of a washing machine since the first Bush was President, is not going to get you any action, which is why your feeble attempts at a come hither look to lure me into your lascivious lair of indecency (be still my heart and quivering loins!) just won’t work. EVER. No way in hell. See ya.

If you want to get lucky with me, don’t lead with what you have. Honestly, I don’t care if you own a Jaguar and are a physician, lawyer or venture capitalist. Don’t pose with your Porsche. It’s annoying and arrogant. And it probably indicates that you are lacking in other areas. Wink, wink. Just be a nice guy. Is that too much to ask? The rest of that stuff is just that – stuff.

I have no desire to meet someone. I am perfectly content living my life, writing my blog, and trying to forge a new existence in my new home. If it happens so be it, perhaps at the grocery store, at a community event, doing volunteer work, at a bar, through friends, during a fender bender which will not be my fault, walking the dog. But it’s not going to happen online. That is nothing but a shit show if history is any indication. Where are the good ones?  I am not feeling lucky.

The Worst Day

September 18, 2019

I should have known that it was a metaphor. June 10. The day was miserable from the moment I woke up. For June it was chilly. Torrential downpours, unrelenting all day. I was off to work to a day of meetings and more meetings – something I always dreaded because I had always felt that days like this were at once exhausting and unproductive. My husband was happily ensconced at home. While his health wasn’t great, he was in a good place and he was content. We had a nice routine and things were going along swimmingly. Both our daughters were now living in the south, just twenty miles or so apart. Younger daughter was a newlywed of less than a year and older daughter had just returned to work after the birth of baby #4, whom I will call “Baby J,” a sweet little boy. Hubby and I had been surprised when daughter and son-in-law had announced that Baby J was on the way. They already had two boys and when their third was a daughter, we felt sure they were “done.” But, if any couple is meant to be parents, these two are. They have so much love to give and in my daughter’s words “we just thought, why not add to the chaos?” We all happily anticipated the new addition.

And so, Baby J arrived without fanfare on March 2, but this is not to say he wasn’t loved; because we all adored him. His siblings were so excited and showered him with attention. The grandparents were thrilled of course. And the icing on the proverbial cake was that his middle name was my husband’s name, something that brought my hubby to tears, that’s how proud he was and how he and Baby J seemed to have a special bond from the very beginning. And, as my daughter had alluded, the chaos heightened. When you are child number four, there is no down time; in fact, it’s always go time. By a couple weeks of age, Baby J was going to baseball and soccer games with his siblings, the grocery store, church, you name it. A couple months after he was born, he even got on a plane to visit family in Colorado and there are photos to prove that strapped to his mother’s chest, he hiked in the Rockies. The kid was leading a pretty phenomenal existence. And he had so many people to care for him, teach him, love him and protect him. What a great life. It was a life he led with a perpetual smile. Such a sweet, sweet smile and amazingly sweet disposition. He never seemed to be unhappy. He gave all of us pure, unmitigated joy. And while he didn’t know it, he had so much to look forward to with the family that he had. His was a blessed life.

And then, he died. Just like that. No warning. No illness. No accident. He simply died. Baby J went down for a nap and did not wake up. On a chilly June day with torrential downpours. The call came through to the executive secretary’s desk outside the conference room where I was in my third meeting of the day. It was mid-afternoon. I was summoned out of the meeting by the secretary that there was an emergency call from my daughter. I typically did not bring my cell phone into meetings. Lesson learned. Now it never leaves me. The moment I heard my daughter’s anguished words through her inconsolable tears, I knew in that one moment that our lives had forever been altered. “Mom, Baby J died.” Seen in black and white, one cannot appreciate the level of anguish in her sobs. It was heart wrenching. I was 360 miles away and there was nothing I could do to ease this nightmare for her. Frankly the miles between us had nothing to do with it. A mother always wants to take away her child’s pain. In this case, I was useless, regardless if I was in the same room or on the phone.

The next several hours are a blur. I ran back to my office to call my husband. It was the hardest call I ever had to make and what I had to tell him was something I truly wished I didn’t have to do by telephone, but because we needed to hit the road ASAP, it would be the most efficient, because several things needed to be accomplished before starting the drive south. My husband, “Grandpa” was devastated and kept saying he wished God had taken him instead. And I know he meant it. He loved that little boy so much. The drive down that night was treacherous – heavy rains, hydroplaning, poor visibility – all interspersed with our conversation, tears and often painful silences. The theme was WHY? And WHAT? WHY would God do this to our daughter and son-in-law who are two of the best people we know and WHAT can we do to help them get through this? We had to get through it too, but we needed to focus on them first and foremost. Each of us silently pleaded for strength. And clung to each other throughout the days we spent down south and thereafter. It’s a pain like no other.

As ugly as the weather was on that most awful of days, the subsequent days we spent down there were absolutely stunning with warm temperatures and bright skies. Baby J’s death also brought out the very best in people. Friends, neighbors, co-workers and even complete strangers enveloped Baby J’s family with love, support, food, and much needed alcohol. And there was so much to do as anyone who has had to prepare a funeral knows. And, thanks to organization, and many hands on-deck, we got it done. I had one small melt-down at the neighborhood pharmacy picking up a few prescriptions for my daughter. Her doctor had also called in a prescription for a sleeping aid, which because it was a controlled substance, needed prior insurance authorization and so Mr. Pharmacist refused to release the prescription to me. At this point, our little Baby J had been gone for three days, the viewing was scheduled for the next day and the funeral the following day, and my daughter essentially had not had any useful or restful sleep. I told him firmly what had happened and all he needed to give me was enough to get us through the next three or four days and we could wait on the rest and that I wasn’t going to leave until I had four pills. He initially stood his ground, but this stubborn Irishman stood hers with such a glare on her face which I guess was intimidating because it worked. I walked out of the pharmacy with what we needed to give my daughter some much needed sleep for the days ahead.

One thing that struck me during this time was that daughter and son-in-law, while dealing with this unthinkable loss, were always making sure that the other was doing OK. This has always been the hallmark of their marriage and something I have always admired. They also made it a point to spend one-on-one time with Baby J’s siblings who were having a difficult time grasping the finality of this tragedy. Like I said, they are exceptional parents. I also need to mention my younger daughter and her husband here. She and her sister have always been best friends and for that I have always been grateful. She and her hub truly were the best support system for them during the early days of this nightmare and going forward. They love their nieces and nephews and provided a much-needed distraction for them when Baby J’s parents needed some alone time. I love them for that.

The visitation and funeral mass were jam-packed, I believe a testament to the kind of people my daughter and son-in-law are and the impact they have had on their community, but let’s face it, the death of a three-and-a-half-month-old baby touches everyone in a palpable way, an incredibly sad way. The hymns, the scriptures, the eulogies (delivered by Baby J’s mommy and daddy) were heart-wrenching and beautiful. It was truly a celebration of life – a short life, but a life of meaning and a life that touched all those who loved him.

That was six years ago. He would be starting first grade now. Baby J will always be that smiling little boy who would squeal in delight when his brothers made him laugh. This should not have happened, but I don’t have the right to question God’s plan. It happened. The horror of that day will never leave. I wish I could have done more to ease my daughter’s pain, but I know she doesn’t feel that way. We all remember that debilitating nightmare and somehow can still find joy in our lives again. We must, or we will wither up and have no purpose. But we will never forget it, because it was the worst day.

Bruno, Birds, Bar Stools and Bee Stings

September 3, 2019

What can you say about an 11-pound ball of fur who is so full of anxiety that a Valium that could “take down a horse” in the words of his vet, was intimidated, that is if Valium were capable of feelings, and thus rendered useless? Bruno is my dog, though a couple of my brothers would argue that he is a rodent. One brother defines a REAL dog as one “who can kill me but chooses not to.” Bruno came to me through a rescue organization. I am a strong proponent of dog rescue. I will not go to a breeder. I am not here to disparage those who use breeders, but I would rather share my home with a creature who otherwise might end up euthanized. Plus, there are some adorable pups to be found and usually they are so grateful to be chosen. It’s as if they possess a sixth sense that this may be their last chance. My family and I have always had pets. At one time, we had two dogs and four cats. Hats off to my husband, the saintly one, because he was deathly allergic to cats and yet tolerated these annoying little shitheads for several years. I do love kittens, but when they grow into cats, I almost want to lock my door at night because I fear they are plotting my death. Cats are never grateful. They have a sense of entitlement that annoys the crap out of me. “Oh, you’re home? Get me dinner, now, bitch.” (I know all my cat-owner friends and relatives are now hissing at me. You have always known this about me, so quit whining. Try becoming cold and unfeeling like your cats.) Whereas with dogs, you’re gone for ten minutes to take a shower and they are overjoyed that “you came back, Mommy, you came back!” Bruno’s sense of abandonment is palpable. When I return home, it takes me several minutes to talk him off the cliff and get his blood pressure down to a non-life-threatening level with assurances that “Mommy isn’t going anywhere else today.”

About six months before my husband died, we had to make the difficult decision to put down our final pet, a 15-year-old long-haired Chihuahua, who was both blind and incontinent, and frankly miserable. But he was my hubby’s buddy. In fact, we had a standing joke. I had said to him: “Gun to your head, you, the dog, and I are stranded on a desert island and you could only save one of us, whom would you choose?” He thought for a moment and said with a not well disguised smirk “well, you’ve had a good life.” I think I told him he was an asshole after that and possibly withheld sex, but you get the picture—he loved that damn dog. I had seen the dog’s deterioration while my husband was recuperating in rehab, but I wanted him to make the decision. And as painful as it was, it was pretty easy—and obvious. The animal was suffering and deserved not to be. And frankly for me, as my husband’s caregiver, one less burden made things a bit easier for all concerned. So, a few days later, we gave him a peaceful end to a good life and shed some tears at his absence. Not seeing him in his favorite spot on my hub’s lap was a bit of a shock and in retrospect in some small way prepared me for my husband’s absence a few short months later. To those without four-legged family members, you will never understand the huge presence and comfort our pets provide and when they leave us the profound void that remains.

Now for Bruno, a nine-year-old short-haired Chihuahua. My daughter found him on a rescue site she and I had both been trolling. I had been widowed for about a year and the timing was good. But I kept trying to talk myself out of it. Owning a dog is a commitment. I will give this to cats – they are easier, smarter, and cleaner. Dogs require walking, an outside space to “do their business” and they generally enjoy/require human interaction. Ultimately, after meeting Bruno and being interviewed by the rescue folks, I knew I had to have him. The only problem was that there were at least four other families who were of the same mind. In the end, my charming and guileless personality won them over. Or did I get the pity vote? Or was it because Bruno seemed to need someone who would be there for him more than they were able? It certainly wasn’t by what the rescue people witnessed. Bruno wouldn’t even look at me. He was petrified. Somehow, once I was chosen and they brought him to his new home, it didn’t take long (read 18 hours) for Bruno to warm up to his new Mommy. Either I’m a cheap date, or he is just that needy. I choose to believe the latter, though some of my former boyfriends might argue the first, but that’s for a different discussion and vodka will need to be involved – but I digress.

Because I adopted a rescue, I have little to no information on Bruno (a Chihuahua who believes he is a Rottweiler) and his history, which means I can’t put my finger on or formulate a theory as to why he is so neurotic. The irony is that while other dogs freak out over thunder, lightning, fireworks and other loud noises, Bruno is totally CHILL. He simply doesn’t care, in fact, he seems fascinated by it. BUT, if I leave for a few hours, he loses his shit – sometimes literally. The separation anxiety is unmistakable. There are times it wears on me and I want to yell at him to calm the hell down, but I realize that won’t help but will rather compound his problem. The bottom line is I love the little dude. He is a diva in so many ways. Yes, he sleeps in my bed. He has his own pillow and doesn’t move all night. Sometimes he snores and it’s adorable. I’m not sure why I didn’t feel that way about my hub’s snoring; oh, that’s right, his snoring was akin to the sound of a herd of buffalo running across a frozen fjord during a hurricane while dragging a thousand cinder blocks behind them. Bruno’s is more like a cute little vibrating chirp. His favorite place is on my lap. If I am reading, he may suddenly decide that he’s done with that and will use his head to push the book or Kindle out of the way so that I can give all my attention to him. If I am on my laptop, for instance, writing my blog, the same thing may happen, though his method of showing his annoyance is to nip at my thigh. He’s a turd, but he’s my turd and I adore him. Bruno is my dude and came into my life at the perfect time. He was a distraction initially as I navigated living without my husband. Since then he has become that sweet soul who makes me smile every day and who has a firm grip on my heart. I can’t imagine my life without the little pain in the ass.

Since this is a sort of stream of consciousness blog, I need to quickly mention the other topics in the header. So, let’s move on to BIRDS. Before I moved down south, I had nine bird feeders and enjoyed watching the many varieties of feathered creatures congregating to enjoy the appropriate foods I provided. Moving to my new home, I decided to keep it simple (and cheaper) and put up one feeder. Unfortunately, the birds were boring. I almost looked up on my bird identification app to see if there was a “boring bird” species. There were female cardinals, an occasional male cardinal, a robin here and there, and once or twice a nuthatch, but rarely anything that sparked my attention or was visually interesting. All it took to add more diversity and birds of color was to buy a second feeder and a different feed, thistle to be exact, to attract goldfinches. The quality and quantity has improved considerably. Sitting outside with a cup of coffee early in the morning is the perfect time to quietly watch these wondrous creatures visit the feeders partaking of the repast you have provided and singing their melodies of joy. I highly recommend it. It’s relaxing. It’s therapeutic. It’s restorative. It truly provides a sense of well-being.

We come to BAR STOOLS. As a woman who lives alone and often goes out alone, I have learned to become more comfortable sitting at a bar alone. It’s not always easy. I don’t consider myself a so-called “single” woman. I still feel married, still wear my wedding band. I am perfectly happy with my life and am not searching for “someone.” I do have permission from my crazy friend, who told me I could not identify her even with an initial, but that in a future blog, to tell the story of how she signed me up for a bunch of dating websites. It took me almost a year to straighten that mess out. Thank you, my friend whose name starts with one of those 26 letters. You gave me a lot to laugh about, lightened my bank account, gave me fodder for a lot of alcohol-fueled conversations (and future blogs) and a real questioning of some of the freaks out there in the dating world. One more thing about sitting at a bar alone. I am just there to have a drink and an appetizer. I have no agenda. I don’t have the energy for that. After I leave, I will likely go home and go to bed – with Bruno.

BEE STINGS. I was stung by a bee this morning – twice. The little bastard wasn’t satisfied stinging me once; he came back and got me again in a different location on the same arm, as I was filling the aforementioned birdfeeders. Or maybe it was his wife or disgruntled mistress who got me the second time. Can the same bee sting you twice? I know people can. I don’t know, it just hurt.

So, that’s my story and I am sticking to it. Time to pour a glass of wine, put my feet up, wait for Bruno to jump on my lap – and just BE.

Ch..Ch..Ch..Changes

August 16, 2019

Earlier this week, my grandson started high school. I wasn’t there, but I am guessing his mother, my firstborn, bit her bottom lip and fought back a tear or two. When I saw the photos she posted, I know I did. This handsome boy, who isn’t too cool to still give me a big hug when he sees me or tell me “I love you, Grandma” was off to his next adventure in this thing we call life. He and his new classmates divest themselves of another parental restraint and test new waters while their parents hope and possibly pray that they don’t screw it up. I remember those feelings. When our children hit certain milestones, their Dad and I were sure we had done all we could to prepare them, knowing that we would be there to help them pick up the pieces if needed, but ultimately, they had to carry the load. It was on them. We changed our guiding message as they grew, adjusting it to be age appropriate. “Listen to teacher.” “Use kind words.” “Be good to one another.” “Make good choices.” “Don’t be an idiot.” “If I find out you are (Insert appropriate bad, possibly illegal behavior here.) you will regret it.” “Don’t measure your worth by whether you have a man on your arm.” “Always treat others as you want to be treated.” “If you’ve been drinking, call anytime and we will pick you up, no questions asked.” “This is a home, not a restaurant. Eat what’s being served, or don’t eat. Nothing but water until breakfast.” “It’s not my job to make your existence a fairy tale. Quit your whining. Life is hard. Get used to it.” And my personal favorite: “You better hope the cops get to you before I do.” The list goes on; you get the picture.

So, as I thought about my grandson this week and how he will be navigating new situations, it brought me to my own. After a health scare late last year (separate blog), I made the decision (though the bossier of my two children would beg to differ, claiming it was hers) that it was time to relocate. So, I did. I left the Northeast for the Southeast. No more snow (or very little), warmer (read often stifling) temperatures, slightly cheaper (but not really) cost of living, and a place where everyone calls me “Ma’am.” I arrived in April, Tax Day to be exact, and in some ways, I feel like my 14-year-old high school freshman grandson. The first few weeks, I didn’t know anyone, except for those to whom I was related. I didn’t know my way around, and honestly, I had a real sense of trepidation. And, I didn’t have my partner, my husband, which would have made this new life a lot more fun, because we could do it together. Have I told you that losing your spouse really sucks? It’s been almost four years and some days I swear it’s harder than it was four years ago. I wish I knew why. But I digress.

I had lived in the same place for close to 40 years. Moving and downsizing was a reminder that “stuff” doesn’t make you happy. Get rid of it. What is her name? Marie Kondo? This woman comes in a tiny package of determination to help us get rid of “stuff.” I was never one for accumulating a lot of things, but my husband was, so when we initially started the downsizing process a little over four years ago, it was certainly a daunting task. His health issues had hampered his ability to walk and see and he was quite weak. Thankfully, my daughters and their wonderful husbands took on the gargantuan job of purging the crap out of our large family home. And I am here to tell you, it was a job. They got it done over a long weekend and we were in great shape; a huge dumpster and countless trips to Goodwill notwithstanding. Two weeks later he died. So, a southern expedition was put on hold. I wasn’t ready to make that change without my love. The very thought of doing it by myself gave me angina and a sense of profound loneliness. Fast forward three years and my health scare (a separate blog, I promise) and suddenly I realized that the decision was essentially made for me due to circumstances over which I had little control. Perhaps that was a blessing in disguise. Change was coming.

So, here I am in the sunny south. All the boxes are unpacked. My place is beginning to feel like home. I am learning my way around and beginning to make some friends. On the friends’ front, it’s likely that my big mouth has helped. I am a people person for sure. I like people and I think/hope people like me.  Yes, I did “audition” several bars/restaurants to see which one would be a suitable replacement for my dear friends at home who always made me feel special and not like a single woman on the prowl (another blog) because she sits alone at the bar. To my good fortune, I found “my place” and I couldn’t be happier, and I have met some lovely people. I have met a few neighbors who are pleasant, seem to get my snarky humor and have welcomed me with open arms. I joined a Rotary Club; again, after auditioning several and feel very much at home and look forward to getting my hands dirty doing some good works for my new community. The biggest trauma for me was finding a new hair salon. I have been using the same stylist for 20 years. She was 19 and fresh out of school when we became a couple. She just turned 40. I will never get over our divorce. Neither of us wanted it and we still email and text. It’s very painful. I love you, Suzanne! New doctors have been procured, a new vet for my rescue Chihuahua, who believes he is a Rottweiler, groceries, pharmacy, malls, you name it. I am still finding my way and trying to achieve a level of comfort in my “new normal.” (I hate these clichés and of course, you guessed it, will be addressing such in a separate blog.)

So, as my adorable 14-year-old grandson is learning to adapt to all the changes in his life, I on some level, can relate. This semi-adorable 69-year-old grandmother is also learning to adapt, albeit slowly to all the Ch..Ch..Ch..Changes in hers. With apologies to David Bowie.

Mom

August 1, 2019

When I was younger, my mother and I had what I would call a cordial relationship. I wouldn’t say we were close. It wasn’t adversarial, but there was unquestionably a polite chasm between us. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. It just “was.” I knew she loved me and had my back if I ever needed her. She was the proverbial tigress with her cubs. Don’t mess with her. I always admired my mom, but from a distance. I had an inordinate respect for her and all she endured and always wished she knew how strong she was. She constantly protested that she wasn’t. I recently saw a post on Facebook, and I paraphrase: “If I could be half the woman my mother was, I am doing well” or something to that effect. In fact, and I mean this, if I could be ten percent the human being my mom was, I would be an exemplary human being. Let me explain.

My mother was born and raised in New York City. She came from a privileged background, meaning she grew up wanting for nothing and enjoying all the comforts a young girl could, but that doesn’t mean hers was a life without drama. She had virtually no relationship with her own mother until she was an adult and that possibly explains much about her own issues. Her father was a wealthy attorney who married a woman from the proverbial “wrong side of the tracks.” I don’t know the details of their “courtship,” but I have my suspicions. Suffice it to say, “Grandma” was never accepted by the family. The marriage produced two children, my mom and her older brother, my ne’er-do-well uncle who not only looked like his father but also inherited his charming personality and addiction to alcohol. As could have been predicted, the marriage didn’t last and the unlikely couple divorced, which, back in the early 1920s, wasn’t a common step to take. Soon after, my grandfather’s battle with the bottle claimed his life and my mother and uncle were taken in by their two maiden aunts who were deemed more suitable to raise them than their rough-around-the-edges mother. Mom and her brother rarely saw her after that. I think my mom was barely four years old. With her aunts, she grew up pampered, but always kind, sweet, and lovely. That was her nature. But given the life she led, she never understood adversity, what with the finer things in life, private schools, beautiful clothes, exposure to New York City culture, museums and the landed gentry. Even with the advent of World War II, she never really experienced any hardships. This is just how her life was. And then on a rainy Christmas Eve towards the end of the war, while volunteering at a USO reception for lonely enlisted men, she met him, the man who would become her husband and the father of her children – ten children. It was at that moment that her life took a course that forever changed the future that she likely had envisioned from her protected and oh so insulated world of privilege.

A little background: My father grew up one of eight children in the hardscrabble coal and railroad region of western Pennsylvania. It was a far cry from Mom’s world. It was the quintessential Irish Catholic family where the father was in charge and the mother was deferential to his needs showing her support with the slightest hint of submissiveness, and, let’s be real here, his word was law. That’s just how it was in those days. And unfortunately, many fathers in those days were, shall we say, a bit wanting in the showing emotions department and communicated that attribute to their sons. There were no declarations of love and little expressions of empathy. You just suck it up and move on. My grandmother lost three children before they turned age two. How heart wrenching that must have been for her and I am sure she had to suffer in silence for many years. She did have a tremendous Catholic faith, which I do know gave her tremendous comfort. My father was her final child and due to some health issues and a serious injury, a baby nurse was hired to assist her with his care. Unfortunately, this nurse was not a good person and rather than do what was expected of her and provide excellent care and a nurturing environment, she spiked Dad’s formula with paregoric to “encourage” sleep. Later as a toddler, my dad, who was born left-handed, cruelly had his left hand tied to his highchair to force him to use his right. I realize that may have been the “fashion” of the times, but I will never understand the reasoning behind the need to “cure” someone of something that is just natural. I also truly believe that it contributed to some of Dad’s anger issues. I am not here to bash my dad, but I want to present a clear picture of what my mom experienced.

So, after a courtship and with stars in their eyes, they married in a fancy Manhattan wedding. Mom’s mother was not invited, which will give you an idea how much of a relationship they DIDN’T have. And the merging of two wildly divergent families came to be. Dad from a loud, often brash family (except for Grandma) who worked hard for everything they had and were very patriarchal; and then there was Mom, who had no strong male role models, from a family where she felt love every day, where she was constantly told how special she was and where she lived the life of those to the manor born. Not a care in the world, and honestly, at least on the surface, she was ill equipped to handle any real trials and adversities. Well, I am here to tell you, she did and then some. She put us all to shame and as I said at the beginning of this blog, I will always be in awe of this woman I called Mom.

I have often said jokingly that I inherited all my positive personal traits from my mom (empathy, being a people person, helpfulness, compassion) and my less than stellar traits from Dad (being judgmental, though I am definitely improving, sometimes I don’t think before I speak, and I speak too loudly, though I attribute that to a possible hearing loss, and being bossy—just ask my beleaguered siblings, though being the oldest of ten, perhaps I was forced into this situation). The bottom line is they were, first and foremost, just two people who loved each other and were taking a shot at this thing called marriage. Being a Catholic family in the fifties, babies kept coming and coming. As the oldest of this tribe, I was thrust into a caregiving role at a very young age. It was a necessity. Our family worked as a team. Despite so many humans under one roof, it was always organized. There was never a question, however, that Dad was in charge. He ruled the roost and his word was law. It wasn’t always easy or without conflict and I believe it shaped his children’s own childrearing principles. He was a good man, but honestly, I don’t think he was of the right temperament to raise ten children. The pressure was unforgiving. Imagine being the breadwinner for a crew this size.

My mother was at the heart and was the heart of this motley crew. And she never had a moment to herself. If she wasn’t expecting a baby, she was caring for a baby or a toddler—well into her late forties.  It was no wonder that she battled her demons including depression and anxiety throughout her life. There was never enough money, but she made sure her kids, especially her daughters were well dressed. She was a great cook, though to this day, I refuse to eat Spam or anything with the word “helper” attached to it. But she soldiered on and I always marveled at her tenacity, her kindness, her willingness to always put herself last and despite her protestations, exhibit a strength that belied her belief to the contrary.

I could fill a book with the experiences that shaped Mom’s life and hastened her death. She had tragedies that would test a saint, but she somehow made them her own. She lost two sons both at relatively young ages. One died at age 27 of leukemia in very quick fashion. I can still hear her wails in the hospital. She was inconsolable. And she was never the same. The other son died several years later, at age 45, of a heart attack exacerbated by his addictions. My parents had done all they could to help him as they themselves were frail and in their eighties. It was very tough to watch. At that point, I believe, Mom gave up. Two years later, she was gone. Her funeral was a testament to her life and the people she touched, because the church was packed. She never met a stranger. She loved everyone. She loved to dance, especially at our crazy extended family weddings. She had a penchant for mispronouncing common words: Liza Minnelli became LISA Minnelli; Princess Diana was Princess DIANE; Tom Brokaw was Tom BRACKOW and on and on. And she was hilarious. Her New York accent came out at will. “Too bad about cha self.” “I’ll have a cuppa cawfee.” And while we all knew that Dad was in charge and we had better toe the line, once in a while Mom would get him with one of her zingers. They were in a crowd of friends somewhere and she was leaving him to go elsewhere and he shouted after her “Good-bye mother of ten.” And she turned, and ever so sweetly replied, “Good-bye father of eight.”

But, most of all she loved her children and did her best to make each of us feel special. And I think we all did. I mentioned at the beginning that we had what I referred to as a cordial relationship. It never really bothered me too much unless I saw friends with more intimate connections with their mothers. But to be fair, their mothers didn’t have the challenges my mom did.  And while we were never “close” as I mentioned in the beginning, I remember one incident that still makes me smile. I was barely fourteen and had just been awarded a scholarship to a private, Catholic girls’ high school. My father was thrilled. My mother would have preferred that I had accepted the scholarship, and a full scholarship at that, to a private school nearby that was home to the best, most wealthy families, had no religious affiliation and was shall we say, “old money.” Even at fourteen, I knew I didn’t belong there and so, I accepted a less generous partial scholarship to the more familiar, yet still rather exclusive, Catholic school. As was the practice in those days, scholarship winners were honored, along with their mothers at a welcome tea prior to the start of the school year. Now, mind you, I was an outsider. I was entering this school in the ninth grade. Many of the girls had been there since preschool and were continuing a long family tradition of attending the same school as their great grandmothers. Not me. I was fresh meat. I didn’t realize that made me “less than.” As I stood there trying to look sophisticated as I nibbled on a cookie, I recall a woman approaching me and peppering me with questions, because she had no idea who I was. As I politely answered, she eventually said in an obviously even to this pretty naïve 14-year-old, patronizing tone something to the effect of that I was a “first generation and not a legacy.” OK, whatever. As we were getting into the car to drive home, I can still visualize Mom, with a Kent cigarette hanging out of her mouth as she shifts the car into reverse and backs out. I asked her, “Mommy, what did that lady mean when she said that to me?” And Mom, in her best New York accent and attitude, told me, “Honey, if her daughter is anything like her, you’d better be careful, because she thinks she’s better than you. So, watch yourself. Kill the little bitch with kindness.” She took a drag and shifted into drive and drove home. That was Mom. She was the best. And I don’t hold a candle to her.

Atrophy and Divestiture go hand in hand

July 15, 2019

“Hmmm,” she said, with a look of unhurried but oh so professional concern, “it looks like we have some atrophy down here.” First of all what’s this “we” bullshit? I’m the one who has assumed the position, disrobed and shed all dignity and placed my legs into the medical pony stirrups, not you, sister! And, secondly, and, OH SO IMPORTANT, why the hell are you using the word “atrophy” while you’re looking at my nether regions, you perky little sycophant??? I know you have student loans, but please don’t try to impress me with your body of work. I took a shower for this? Get your face out of my lady parts and let’s just move on, shall we? Don’t insult the body part that has proudly produced two outstanding human beings, one without benefit of pain meds. It’s been around awhile so maybe it’s not as youthful as it once was. Neither is the rest of me. Do not insult it or me by using that awful word or various derivations. Atrophy implies it’s dying a slow death. I refuse to accept that.

So, my point is it’s hard enough losing your spouse after years of marriage. It’s a terrible adjustment on so many levels, but when you are hit in the face with your “new normal” (another modern cliché I absolutely abhor) when you’re just minding your own business and a perky little 30 year old catches you in a vulnerable position where you can’t simply run away, you know, because you’re naked and all that,  it’s a royal pain in the ass. Well, to be anatomically correct, it’s a royal pain in the va-jay-jay, the hoo-ha, the whatever you choose to call it. (Please feel free to provide me with additional synonyms) I warned you early on, this was going to be a “don’t get your panties in a wad” blog, so if you are offended by my choice of words, please move on. Actually, in this case, my panties were actually in a wad with the rest of my clothing during the exam. I’m pretty snarky today. Must be the booze.

After I left the gynecologist’s office, a uro-gynecologist at that (any men reading this, for your information, women our age have special gynecologists, because we have special needs.) making sure to give extra care to my sure-to-die-at-any-moment womanly region, I began to understand that while the declaration by that adorable, but annoying nurse practitioner barely out of puberty, that an important part of my sexuality was getting dusty, stiff and could disintegrate at any moment hit me hard, but it also brought back some great memories, memories that will sustain me as I and my “thing” continue to age, but NOT atrophy. Perhaps the memories, and they were great memories that continue to sustain me, will breathe some life back into the old girl. My lady parts have served me well. Perhaps I have premature atrophy as a result of overuse. My daughters are reading this now and probably saying “OMG, Mom, you are so disgusting.” Don’t care. I know certain friends are cheering me on.

The atrophy diagnosis made me revisit the last six months. I relocated to be closer to my kids and grandkids which meant divesting myself of a lot of “stuff.” In essence the stuff had atrophied my existence and was a metaphor for what I no longer needed or wanted. With the help of my daughters and their husbands, I was able to get rid of so many unnecessary objects and things that were simply weighing me down. I was no longer using them and therefore I stepped away from them and never looked back. It was exceedingly freeing. I am not equating furniture, clothing, kitchen gadgets and other dust catchers with the very precious womanly parts my sister friends and I all possess, but it’s a reminder to all of us to appreciate what is really important in life. It’s not the designer handbags, the expensive shoes or the $600 bottle of wine. It’s that vintage part of you that still works like a charm – your brain and your heart. The rest is just an added bonus. My lady parts are fine, thank you very much. And I, for one, refuse to use the word, atrophied. I prefer to use the words aged to perfection.