Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Embrace the silly

When I was growing up in Southern California, one of the highlights of the Christmas season was driving around looking at the Christmas lights.  Despite pleas by my brother and me for twinkling, chasing or blinking lights on our own house, my dad stood firm and hung just a discreet single line of colored lights around the roofline. No lawn display, no waving Santas, just that one single strand of lights.  So every year sometime in the week before Christmas we would pile into the station wagon and drive to what my brother and I called Rich Town (turns out it was just North Downey) to see what people with too much money and not enough sense (my mother's words) had done that year. My favorite was Chaney Lane, a magical place (to my young eyes) where neighbors combined to create multi-yard displays.  One year there was a Santa wearing an Hawaiian lei and sunglasses, one arm waving over his head, one hand on the tow line of the next door neighbor's ski boat. Another year Santa drove a sleigh with reindeer stretching over at least 3 yards, all decorated with artificial snow and huge dark green pine trees cheerfully adorned with lights and sparkly ornaments. I repeated the Christmas Light's Drive with my own children, oohing and aahing at the colorful displays that certain neighborhoods in Missoula, MT created. Although not nearly as elaborate as those remembered from my childhood, to my children the lights were just as magical as I had found them. But children grow up, don't they? A pre-Christmas Eve drive to see lights with your mom isn't nearly as much fun at 14 as it had been at 7, so I found myself making the drive less and less frequently until finally I stopped altogether.  I still loved the lights, but they were mostly seen accidentally while driving downtown, barely remarked on and sometimes completely ignored.

Last week, while driving home from my mom's house after dark, I turned a corner and was suddenly struck dumb by the most amazingly decorated lawn I have ever seen in person. No, I am not talking about the elaborate and insane light displays of recent years where your house flashes in time to blaring music and the pounding in your neighbor's heads, nor the meticulously planned and well executed displays of long ago Chaney Lane, but instead a crazy mishmash of lights, inflatable characters and lawn ornaments.  There were reindeer in groups and by themselves, snowmen of various sizes, meandering rows of illuminated candy canes, a gingerbread house, Santa's workshop, an inflatable nativity complete with life sized wisemen and a camel, and at least 4 Santas, one of them sitting with Mrs Claus in a porch swing. There was a huge green decorated tree, a dozen white flocked ones and a wagon loaded with presents. And the lights...Oh! the lights! They spelled out Joy and Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad and Season's Greetings. They lit the paths and the bushes and the trees and dripped from the roofline. I sat in my car at the corner spellbound as I gazed at the wonderfulness before me. It was the silliest, most gloriously perfect holiday yard I have ever seen and I laughed out loud at the sheer joy of the moment.  I looked around at the surrounding houses I had already driven past and they, too, were decked out in lights and trees and Costco inflatables...and I had totally missed them!

So thank you, people I will never know in the neighborhood just north of my mom, for putting together such a tremendously joyous, incredibly vigorous and utterly delirious display of Good Cheer!  I salute you and the no doubt hours and hours it took to hang and arrange and maintain the displays. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for helping me remember that at this time of year, and indeed throughout our lives, we need to stop taking ourselves so seriously and embrace the silly. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Goodbye, Colton

It's been over a month since my little buddy, Colton, left me and I still miss the heck out of him.  He was almost 15 years old but, with little gray on his chin, still looked like he was in his prime.  Looks can be deceiving. Inside, he was riddled with the effects of old age...a wonky heart, a rapidly growing tumor that might have been cancer, slowly decreasing eye sight, complete deafness and, saddest of all, a little touch of senility.  I had never had a dog that lived to be that old, so I completely missed the first signs of his frailty, and only realized he was losing ground when he became increasingly confused by the world around him.

Colton and I went thru so much together.  Road trips, he was good at those. All I had to do was get out my suitcase and he was ready.  I'd load up the car, throw some quilts and pillows in the back seat and he'd curl up and sleep until we stopped at a rest stop where he would run around on the grass, do his business, get a drink of water and a treat, then hop back into the car for another nap. When we stopped for the night I always got a room with two beds so he could stretch out on one of his own. He hated thunderstorms. When I lived in Austin, thunderstorm central, I'd make a nest for both of us in my walk in closet, close the door and read while he slept the noise and flash away.  He and I moved 6 times and he couldn't wait to run around the new neighborhoods, sniffing and snuffling enthusiastically, looking up at me as if to say "Dogs are here, Mom! Dogs, dogs, dogs!".  He loved to get into small spaces, under low tables, in corners, behind chairs.  I once accidentally shut him in the linen closet where he had curled up to take a nap. He loved long walks even in the snow and rain, especially in the snow and rain. He'd hop over puddles because, you know, wet feet, but bury his head in snow banks. He waited politely while I ate, because he knew I saved the last bite for him.  He was a great plate licker.  My dishwasher never had to work hard to clean up after him. He loved to lay on a rug at the edge of my kitchen while I cooked. Anything I dropped he would dash in and grab, like the kids at tennis matches who retrieve the balls.  He could stand on his hind legs for the longest time, often doing so to get a look inside a drawer I might have opened.  One evening I heard a noise in the kitchen and found him standing up on his hind legs gazing down into the trash can, which he had somehow managed to open by pressing the foot bar. To this day I don't know if he opened it by accident or on purpose.

Because I worked at home, we were rarely apart.  And after so many lovely years with him, I still find myself saving that last bite, not bothering to pick up a dropped piece of food because surely he will be there to grab it, making sure food is back far enough on the counter so he can't stand on his back legs and snatch it. Even though he lived a good, long just wasn't quite long enough.

Here are some of my favorite pictures of my friend. 



Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Dating shoes

At a family dinner hosted by me last week in my new apartment, my grand niece thought it was great fun to play in my closet. At 3 1/2, a closet full of shoes she had never seen before was irresistible.  I pulled them all off the shelves and left her happily trying on everything from flip flops to my new Supergas. A while later we all laughed when she came dancing into the living room wearing a pair of red heels, then laughed again as she insisted her mom also try them on. "Those are date shoes," someone  remarked.  Hmmm, I thought, yes they are, or I should say, they were supposed to be. I bought them years ago while I was living in Texas. At the time they seemed to me to be the perfect date shoe.  Since I had recently filled out a profile on, I had bought them with high hopes that I would meet someone for whom I would suffer thru the pain of wearing high heels for the first time in forever. As it turned out most of my dates were not the red shoe type, but much, much more casual. And while none of them were particularly memorable, some of them were pretty funny.

Here, in no particular order, are some of the lowlights of my Adventures in Dating After Fifty.

First there was the guy whose online photos showed an attractive man with dark brown hair and smiling eyes.  As it turned out, he was not only (as his profile stated) over 50, it was entirely possible he was over 80. I met him for lunch at a restaurant about 30 miles from me he said was one of his favorite place.  My thought when I walked into the restaurant was how can this be anyone's favorite? It was a seen-better-days place, remodeled in the 40s. He probably went to prom at the restaurant during its heyday. He spent the entire meal talking about himself and the good old days.  I spent much of it wondering if the coal black hair he sported was just a bad dye job or an equally bad hairpiece.

Then there was a very nice man who turned out to be very unemployed and living in a mobile home he had bought on Ebay for $50. He was hoping to get the toilet working soon. I paid for breakfast. He was followed by a man who said he wasn't depressed about losing his job since it now meant he could volunteer full time at his church, and a man who spent most of the evening talking about the ex wife who bled him dry, while checking his cell phone.  As it turned out he, too, was 'between jobs' but refused my offer to pay half because he didn't think women should have to pay for anything. Since he had ordered a glass of wine for me that he was just sure I would love, my inner snarky self wondered if he also thought women shouldn't vote.

The best of the worst, though, was the guy, who on paper was a great match for me.  He loved football, I love football.  He liked to explore out of the way places, me, too.  He once drove 3 hours to see the sunset, I once drove 3 hours for lunch in Solvang. He was 6' tall, I am 5'8", plenty of room for the red heels. He picked me up in a truck that was the same make and model as mine, albeit a different color. Mine was red, his a sedate gray. My first clue that this was not going to go well, was when he had to move a week's worth of stuff off the passenger seat so that I could occupy it. Bear in mind, this guy just drove 50 miles...wasn't there time during that drive to do a little housekeeping? Then I spotted a change of clothes hanging in the back seat. Probably not going to need those, I thought. He asked me if I had a favorite brunch spot. No, but there was one in town I had always wanted to try.  "We'll try that one some other time", he said and he got on the highway and headed West. 65 miles later we pulled into a little Texas town he claimed was a site to see at Christmas time. We were only 5 months too early. We walked around in the hot dust for about 30 minutes, during which time I found out that he thought art was a waste of money, then ate at the lunch counter in the town's Christmas store. He looked around at the decor and said he just didn't get it. Apparently his ex wife, who no doubt bled him dry, loved Christmas and collected those little Dickens themed buildings. He said when they broke up he thought about lining them all up for target practice.  Check, please! "Hey," he said happily as he paid for our sandwiches, "you're a cheap date." Definitely not going to need that change of clothes. The best part?  I don't know what yardstick by which he measured himself, but common sense told me as a 6 footer, I shouldn't have had to look down to meet his eyes.  After an awkward 65 mile drive back to my house, he pulled into the drive, left the truck running and said "Well, you have my number."  Yes, I thought, I really do.

There were other dates during that summer of the promising red shoes, and other guys I met and talked with on the phone or by email.  But I never once had the inclination to trot out the heels. I could have worn them for a dance I was invited to. But the man my age in the online photo I thought was going to be my date turned out to be his son, and when I mentioned that I didn't know how to ball room dance and really didn't think I wanted to learn, he got downright snippy and said I was narrow minded.

After my grand niece had made her mom try on the red heels, she then thrust them at me.  "Ok," she directed, "now run around."  Only for you, little one, only for you.

Friday, August 7, 2015

What's in box number 50?

Moving to a new city always fills me with excitement.  Even if I am just returning to a place where I have already lived, I always think there are endless possibilities.  I freely admit it, I like to move.  I think I would have been a good military person.  Packing up and leaving with little notice holds no fear for me. Finding new places to shop, eat, visit has always been fun. Driving down a road I have never been on just to see what is down there is even more fun and now with Uncle GoogleMaps to guide me, easier than ever before. But nothing is more fun, more exciting than moving into a brand new space.

I go thru stages in my moves. The first stage is when I take possession of my new place, in this case a spacious 1 bedroom in a newer apartment complex with lush landscaping and a great patio. I arrived before my things, in fact it would be almost 2 weeks before they wound their way thru the Pacific Northwest then across the desert to find me waiting for them. I had only what I had been able to pack into my SUV around me and my dog, along with a couple of chairs I had stored with my mom. With very little in it, the apartment seemed huge!  Nothing but empty, albeit nicely painted, walls and roomy closets. I will never fill up this space, I thought, and maybe I don't want to. Maybe I will embrace the minimalist style and live a stripped down life. No big TV, no bookcases that I would have to dust, no dishes beyond 2 plates, 2 coffee cups, 2 spoons, forks and knives, and a stack of brightly colored Solo cups. Just me and my dog living the simple life. I ate sitting on the floor, using an ottoman for a table. Worked sitting on the same ottoman with my computer on a little built-in desk. Drank wine out of an orange plastic cup sitting on a chair on my patio, my feet up on the box my new coffee pot came in. I slept on an inflatable bed in an otherwise empty bedroom with the same coffee pot box dragged in and used as an end table. After about 5 days, any minimalist urges I had died a complete and resounding death and I couldn't wait...COULDN'T WAIT...until my things arrived.  Which, on a happy Thursday last week, they did.

Stage 2. Furniture!  Lovely, loved furniture! My leather chair, my bookcases, my desk and trunk and dresser and buffet and boxes...boxes and boxes and boxes. So many boxes the very nice movers ran out of walls to line them along and started stacking them in the garage. I couldn't wait until the  movers had finished their task and left me alone with all the lovely boxes. Which box should I open first?  Dishes? Clothes? Books? Office? Bathroom? Dining Room? Now I am a careful and meticulous packer.  First I assemble the, paper, little squares of foam material, bubble wrap, paper plates, packing tape, Sharpie, plus a little movable table to set the box on. Then, and only then, do I begin. I am proud to say that with this careful (some might say anal) system in place, in 20 years of moving I have lost exactly one item to breakage...a pink Depression Glass plate that I knew I should have put into another box instead of trying to fit it into the one that was already too full.  Unpacking, however, is a whole other thing. I find it impossible to confine myself to opening just one box at a time. Instead, giddy with delight over see things I hadn't seen in days and DAYS, I attack the boxes with my trusty utility knife, ripping open one after another, taking out one or two items, before moving on to other boxes until I have opened all of the ones on the top layer of boxes. Then it's decision time.  Do I finish unpacking these boxes, putting their contents neatly away, disposing of the packing materials, breaking down the box itself, or...shift those boxes to the side and open up more! My mom came over to help on Saturday, took one look at the chaos, sat down in my rocking chair and declared "I think I'll just sit and watch for awhile."

Stage 3. I finally settle down with the willy-nilly slitting of boxtops and begin to slowly but thoughtfully put away each and every piece I unwrap. Plates here, glasses there, my purses on this shelf, my jewelry making supplies on another, candles and books and chachkies and silverware all find happy new homes. I place furniture around the rooms and the previously enormous spaces fill up quickly.  I hang art work and photographs and it begins to take shape as not just another nice apartment but as my home. During this phase there is a sharp decline in my desire to open any more boxes which leads directly to:

Stage 4. I am done. There can't possibly be anything left in those still taped up boxes in my garage that I could possibly need and really, can't I just buy anything I am missing?  I refuse to believe that I could have 3 more boxes that say 'Bathroom', it's not like my previous bathroom was the size of Minnesota. Ditto the box that says 'Office'. I have been working in my office since two days after I moved here and I am quite confidant that I have all the things I need to continue to do so.

So I will leave the boxes for awhile.  I'll put away the box of tools and the utility knife, stack the now flat empty boxes neatly in the garage beside their still-filled sisters (including one that says "everything else"...I'm saving that one because I am pretty sure it was from a previous move and remained unopened in my closet for at least 4 years) and see how it goes.  I know just what will happen. I have been here before. I will wake up in the middle of the night wondering where that thing is that I always had there, go out to the garage and starting ripping thru the boxes, desperate to find that thing.  Maybe I'll invite my mom over so she can sit and watch.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

My life sounds a little boring in comparison

Like many people of their generation, my mom and dad didn't talk much about their early lives.  Both of them were children during the Great Depression and understandably those were not years to look back on with much affection.  The few stories my mom has told over the years have served to highlight how drastically different the lives my brother and I led in the 50s and 60s.  We were firmly rooted in the growing middle class, with all the hard earned luxuries afforded that group. A new car every couple of years, a home with bedrooms of our own and a fenced yard, a huge monstrosity of a TV in the living room and a cute little portable phonograph that my mom would sometimes let us play records on. Compared to the stories my mom has of her parents and grandparents, my life seems downright boring.  No romantic elopements, no illegal moonshine stills, no armed-to-the-teeth family feuds,..and certainly nothing like the story of how my 5'2", 100lb grandmother foiled a kidnapping plot.

In the late 30s my grandfather had taken a job at Joliet State Penitentiary and quickly rose in the ranks to become Captain of the Guards, then Assistant Warden. In that capacity he was in charge of the 2500acre Honor Farm where prison inmates raised cattle and hogs along with vegetables for the entire State of Illinois. There were 125 inmates who had earned the right to live and work on the Farm. In the 40s my grandparents and the remaining children at home moved onto a 20acre property owned by the prison, located about 3 miles outside the prison gates, but within the boundaries of the Honor Farm. In my mom's words: "We were assigned one houseman and as many workers as needed weekly. They painted the inside of our house every 3 months and the outside every 6 months. They did the yard work and took care of the garden, processing all of the food grown in the garden, canning or freezing it for later use. They cleaned the house, did repairs, built shelves and helped with the cooking. We could leave our shoes in the halls just outside our bedrooms and after school would find them polished and returned to our closets." For kids who could vividly remember how little food there had been just a few years before, this seemed like heaven to them. There were uniformed guards on horseback who patrolled the Farm and who would supervise the team of workers each morning as they made their way to my grandparents' house and then back to the Honor Farm barracks in the evening. Mom said she and her brothers and sisters were all on first name basis with the men who worked in and around their house and even though they knew they were in prison for a reason, she said they rarely thought of that and considered some of them friends.  All of that changed in the late 40s.

By 1948, there were only 2 children remaining at home, one of them just a baby. Here, in my mom's words, is the story of the fateful day of the aborted kidnapping.

"One day, our houseman named Wash went on a rampage and almost succeeded in taking my mother hostage.  My baby sister was asleep in her crib and my mom knew she had to keep him occupied until help came. She fought with him, ending up with bruises all over her body.  He was about 6'2" and weighed over 200 lbs, but my mom managed to slip out of his grasp time and time again, climbing over beds and running from room to room avoiding at all costs my sister's bedroom.  Her screams caught the attention of one of the horse mounted patrol officers, who radioed the State Police, then charged into the house.  Wash was captured and taken back to the main prison. They found several large slivers of glass pane with handles made of wrapped cotton and tape in our linen closets and the basement, along with several homemade knives. Three other inmates were in on the hostage taking with the idea of exchanging the wife of the Assistant Warden for their freedom. Mother had to testify before the parole board and Wash was given 4 consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole."

Now you would think that with that experience fresh in her memory, my grandmother would have insisted that they move to a house far, far away from all things prison.  Nope, not my grandmother!  She was certain it was a one time thing and the likelihood of something awful happening again was very small. She was right.  She and my grandfather and my two aunts lived on the Farm until my grandfather's untimely death at the age of 47 at which time my grandmother, who had never worked outside the home a day of her life, suddenly found herself a young widow with two small children for whom she would have to provide. How she managed to not only provide for them, but become comfortably well off is an amazing story in and of itself and involved Tupperware.

Amazing woman, my grandmother.  Although I didn't know her well, she passed in the early 70s, I am proud that the blood of such a courageous woman runs thru my veins.  Sometimes at night, when I am alone in the house and I hear a scary sound and am just sure I am about to be murdered in my bed (I might read too many murder mysteries), I think of my grandmother and the courage it took to keep her wits about her as she faced down a convicted felon. And that thought drives me out of my bed to grab my faithful Louisville Slugger and confront whatever is lurking in the halls...which usually turns out to be my deaf dog getting a late night drink of water. So I pet my dog, put away the Slugger, and imagine I hear my grandmother saying "Not bad, granddaughter, not bad at all."

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

It's like Romeo and Juliet without the dead teenagers

One of the best things about visiting my mom in Southern California, is listening to stories of her life growing up in Illinois in the 30s and 40s. Some of her stories are hilariously funny, some unbearably sad, all are fascinating. She was the 4th of 7 children and from some of the shenanigans they pulled it is amazing that her mom survived their growing up!  But my grandmother was apparently made of sterner stuff than I can imagine. Smart, strong and determined to give her children the best life she could. Yesterday my mom showed me some memories she had written down. In the reams (and reams) of paper, I found the story of how my spine-of-steel grandmother started her life with the very clever man of her dreams, my grandfather.  Here, in my mom's own words, is the story of them.

Both of my grandparents lived just south of Louisville, Kentucky, on adjoining farms. The two men who would become my grandfathers had a running feud for many years with neither family allowed to associate with the other.  Of course this made the two children, my mother and father, each want to be with the other even more.  Mother left high school at 16 to attend boarding school, then one year of college. Her parents had great plans for her as many of her family members were doctors, lawyers, school teachers.  What their parents didn't know was that several love letters passed between her and the young man she was smitten with whose daddy worked the neighboring farm. My Dad was 18 and Mother almost so when they tried to elope. Her father sent the sheriff after them who took Mother back home. A few months later the church was having a revival meeting, which my mother and her family were attending, and Dad had prearranged to have 4 buggies with one couple in each buggy meet at a fork in the road outside of town.  Dad rode his horse up to the church window and Mother jumped out the window onto the horse and away they went. At the fork in the road the two young lovers got into one buggy and headed for the Tennessee border, while the other 3 buggies each took other roads.  When the Sheriff's posse got to the fork in the road, they had to choose which buggies to follow...they chose the wrong ones.  The eloping couple got to the river crossing but the bridge had been washed out the week before in a heavy rain. They waded across the river into Tennessee where they were met by Dad's cousin who had a Justice of the Peace ready and waiting to marry them. When they returned home, naively hoping their families would welcome them with open arms, my mother's family informed them that they were dead to them, but my father's family was delighted.  Of course that might have been because there was money on my mother's side and none on my father's.  Years later my mom reconciled with her family, but she never quite forgave them. 

To be honest, I am not sure exactly how factual this story is.  I found in the same reams of paper a version of their elopement that had my grandmother jumping out of her 2nd story bedroom and in another the buggies were Model Ts.  I personally like the image of the buggies better and really the details aren't the story, the emotions and feelings behind it are.  It must have been so hard for my grandmother, at not-quite-18, to be told never to darken her family's door again and doubly hard when a few years later the Great Depression hit, driving them and thousands of others to relocate in hopes of making a better life for themselves.  They were a hardy lot, those ancestors of the early 1900s.  I'd like to think I would have had the courage to take a literal leap of faith out a window, whether it be the 2nd story bedroom or church, into the arms of my horseback riding beloved, but who knows?  I may have taken one look at the horse I was aiming for and decided I would rather take a nap. Fortunately for me, my grandmother made that leap.

Here is my grandmother in 1941 with 5 of her children.  The other two late-in-life babies had not yet made their appearances.  My mom is in the front in a home-sewn satin dress.  She said she would like to say it was red, but she remembers it was navy blue. She also remembers that just moments after she was keeping an eye on him in this photo, her younger brother pulled his hands out of his pockets, and yes, he had a frog in one.  So of course she punched him. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Change is that a good thing?

Change happens.  All the time. The weather, the landscape, your children's ages. Everything changes. As I write this I am eating a bowl of homemade cauliflower soup (and can I just say YUM!) which in a minute or so will be gone. Change. Anyone who says they don't like change is being disingenuous.  If they really didn't like change they would sit in the same chair, wearing the same clothes, day in, day out until someone either hosed them off or set them out on the curb for the no doubt underpaid garbage truck people to pick up. Oh well, they say, some change is ok. It's the big changes I don't like. Like what? You don't like summer turning into fall into winter into spring? You don't like the revolution of the earth? Don't like to see the sun come up every morning? Well, that's just silly! Of course that kind of change is ok. So what kind of change is not ok? I am going to go out on a limb here and say that the kind of change we don't like is a change we don't want.

I had breakfast with a good friend this morning and as I drove home I made a detour around town, realizing that this will be one of the last times I do that. Not the last, but one of the last. Change is all over Missoula. In the 20+ years I have lived here I have seen houses march along the hillside where empty lots used to sit. I have seen the city spread out to include dozens of businesses along a 4 lane road that runs the length of town, river to mountain. New buildings at the University. Different shops downtown. New restaurants, coffee shops and golf courses. When I first moved here, locals were always giving directions by saying what the location used to be, like the old JC Penney store, the even older Safeway on Higgins, the now abandoned drive in, the old Mansion (the original location up the Rattlesnake, not the new one on the hill). Now I can give my own directions with what-used-to-be-there's. Like where Insty Prints where I briefly worked was, or Hansen's Ice Cream Parlour where you could get a great hamburger as well as a killer hot fudge sundae, Montana Pies as well known for its soup as its pies.  The shopping mall has its own stories of change. WaldenBooks, Grady's Cafe, El Matador with its food barely recognizable as Mexican, a coffee shop done in forest green and white that had the best coffee I ever had, Nordstrom Annex that only sold women's clothing, and a host of local businesses that did not survive mall rent.

Some of the changes to my city were welcome (can't wait to shop there), some barely noted (hey, where did that come from?), others mourned (I loved that place. No, I didn't go much, but still). As I consider the move that is in my near future, I can't help but wonder what will be changed when I return. This won't be a temporary move as some of my others were. This is a move toward a future I can almost see and that I am excited about embracing. I will return to this much loved city, to sit on decks and drink wine, to camp by gorgeous rivers, to celebrate milestones both mine and others, both happy and sad. I will return but I doubt I will ever live here again.

A friend drove me home late one night last week and as we went past one of the several brand new apartment complexes springing up in the most unlikely places, I wondered out loud where all the people who were moving in lived before they were built.  To which my friend replied, at least there will be lots of choices when you move back. He's a funny guy.

Missoula Evening

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

What do you regret?

I have always tried to live my life without regrets. Which is not to say I have lived a perfect life, indeed, who among us has? And how boring would that be if you did?  But I have always thought that you should try to be as happy as you can where you are, understanding that every step you have taken has brought you there. But I find myself looking back and having some regrets, not for things I did, but for things I didn't do.  For times I should have stood up for what I believed in, for what was right, for what needed to be said.

I never spoke up for the girl who had dirty hair and smelled funny and sat by herself at middle school lunch. Kids called her names and made fun of her, sometimes right to her face. And while I can say that I did not call her any names, neither did I ever try to help her out.

I never said a thing that day in college when a boy came in dressed as a girl, complete with heels and makeup. I watched as he sat quietly, head down, in the circle of desks in a class on Ethics. Other students left one by one. We could hear them laughing right thru the open door. A handful of us stayed in the room, quiet, solemn, not knowing what to do. Not meeting each other's eyes, but not meeting his, either. When class was over, the rest of us left while he stayed behind.  I never saw him again.

As a new real estate agent I was asked by my manager to take a visitor and his wife on a tour of Missoula, pointing out the highlights and trying to give him a sense of what our city was like. They were visiting from Auburn and as we drove up one of the residential hills, he began to talk about why he 'had' to move. Lets just say his racist comments flabbergasted me.

I was buying a minivan in preparation for a move down to Austin Texas and was chatting with the salesperson about why we were moving.  I said to him there is only one thing I am not sure I can live with in Texas. He nodded solemnly. As it turns out, he was a racist, too. After a shocked and awkward silence I said, no, I meant the humidity.  I bought the van.

I wish I had sat by that girl, told other kids to leave her alone. I wish I had talked to that boy. I wish I had gone out that door and shamed each and every one of those laughing students. I wish I had gone back into the classroom and asked that teacher "What is wrong with you? Why did you just sit there and stay silent when one of your students needed you?" I wish I had pulled my car over to the curb and told that self righteous bigot and his silent wife to get out of my car. I wish I had thrown the keys back in that salesman's face and told him to shove his minivan some place uncomfortable.

But I didn't. Instead I was silent. I will regret that to the end of my days.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

What dreams may come

When my dog thumped his paws on the bed near my pillow this morning, sticking his little furry face way too close to mine, he interrupted a very odd dream.  In it I was on a job interview in Seattle with Chef Bobby Flay...only in the dream he wasn't a chef but a real estate agent. He took me on a tour of his office which was about 6 stories of stairs and winding hallways, and said he would hire me if I could find my way out.  Somewhere along the way as I attempted to do just that, I lost my cell phone but acquired a very nice bottle of wine.  I distinctly remember looking down at the bottle's label and saying out loud "this is a very nice bottle of wine". I made my way thru the maze of rooms/floors/halls to the outside only to realize I had also lost my car. Bobby drove me to a gas station where I used a pay phone to call my adult daughter in Texas to let her know I was safely out of the building and could she please send me a taxi. And that is where the doggie thumping shook me out of the dream. I don't know if I got the job or the taxi or a new phone. I didn't get to ask Bobby why he didn't lend me his phone or call a taxi for me himself and I never got to drink the very nice wine.

As I stumbled out the door to walk my dog, still thinking about the dream, I remembered just a few weeks ago that a friend asked me if I had vivid dreams and, if so, did I remember them.  She said that sometimes hers were wild and a little weird but when she tried to recall them all she could come up with was a general feeling of having had the dream but not the dream itself.  I read somewhere that the only dreams you remember are the ones you wake up in the middle of, which is a shame. It is quite possible we are all having the most amazing dreams all night long that we will never remember, only waking up to remember the silly ones.

I have had a recurring dream for over 30 years, although in the past few years it has changed slightly. In the late 70s I had read a Ray Bradbury short story about a man who was responsible for the balancing of the universe.  He had to put odd things in odd places in order to keep the world spinning the way it should. For some reason this story really stuck with me and in my dream I am responsible for keeping the world safe from utter destruction thru a simple task like raising the blinds or shutting the curtains. I would wake up in a panic because in the dream I have forgotten to do that one simple task and now the world is coming to an end. I would rush out of the bedroom to the kitchen or the living room or wherever the very important curtains were, heart pounding as I tried to correct my mistake.  Fortunately by the time I reached the blinds, I fully realized what an idiot I was being and that the position of my curtains did not hold the fate of the world. Since I started taking blood thinners a few years ago, the dream has morphed from me having to shut the blinds and save the world into a requirement for me to take my medicine and save the world.  I wake up in a cold sweat because I have forgotten to do that one simple task and we are all going to die. And yes, I get up out of bed, rush into the bathroom and it is only as I am reaching for the medicine that I remember that the world does not revolve around my taking or not taking a pill.

I have had silly dreams, scary dreams and dreams that are full of friends and family who are no longer with me. Those are the hard ones. I have never seen myself in my dreams but I hear myself frequently and very clearly. I sometimes wonder when I hear myself if it is because I am talking out loud. I read a blog by a woman who said she was so curious about her dreaming self that she set up a camera to film her sleeping.  I find that mildly creepy.  I don't really want to see myself thrashing about and talking out loud. I also don't feel inclined to have my dreams analyzed. I am happy to have them remain a mystery.

Hamlet said " sleep, perchance to dream, ay, there's the rub." Do you remember your dreams?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Time on my hands

If anyone had asked me when I was younger about the best time to retire, I would have said preferably 55, but 60 at the latest. I had visions of travelling to exotic places, lounging around on pristine beaches, learning obscure languages and taking painting lessons. Since I have never been inspired to do any of those things at any point in my life, I am not sure why I thought I would like to do them when I no longer had to work. Be that as it may, a couple of years ago, my work week hours were shortened from 40 to 25, not by my own choice, but by the person for whom I work. I resisted getting another job, imagining all of the fun things I could do in those extra hours of free time each week.  Here was my chance to semi retire, to still be in the workforce and yet be able to put those exciting plans into place. In addition to all the activities with which I would fill my days, I would also do all of my weekend errands during the week, in the mornings so as to avoid crowds, thereby saving tons of time. Best of both worlds, right? Imagine my surprise when I realized a few interesting things about being semi retired.

1. A shortened work week means a smaller pay check (big Duh! here).
2. Vacations, exotic or not, cost money (another Duh!) which I no longer have in abundance.
3. Yes, I have 15 hours of free time in the mornings during which to run errands, but really, how many errands do I have to run? I doubt I have 15 hours worth of errands a month let alone each week. And quite apart from the abundant errand running time, I found that:
4. There appear to be just as many people running around on weekdays as there are on the weekends! Who knew going to Target on a Wednesday morning at 10 would take just as long as going there at the same time on Saturday?
5. I don't want to take lessons of any kind whether it be small engine repair, painting or origami. I'm just not a lesson taker.  I also am not interested in taking classes or attending lectures. I did enough of that in college to last a lifetime.
6. Although I have enjoyed being able to go to late morning breakfasts with friends during the week, I can no longer go to lunch. I miss going to lunch. There are a lot more choices at lunch and it serves as a nice little break in the work day. (If you sense a little whine here, you would not be incorrect) Ladies Who Lunch sounds so deliciously decadent. Babes Who Breakfast, not so much.
7. Did I mention a smaller pay check?

What I am most proud of during this enforced down time is that I did not fall into the habit of sleeping in. Sadly I cannot take credit for that as my dog is an early riser and very demanding with regards to his morning walks. He likes to have his pre-breakfast walk at around 6:30, 7 at the very latest, and then only if he has stayed up late the night before. So, apart from the myriad errands that required running, what did I do this last 2 years with all of my involuntary free time?  My house is no cleaner, nor is it better organized. I cannot claim to have spent the time on self improvement or giving back to my community or inventing a wonderfully inexpensive widget that will revolutionize the world.  Instead I read books. Lots and lots of books. Oh, yes, and I started writing this little blog...

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

On leaving a job you no longer like

All of us who have held jobs outside the home have at one time or another had doubts about that job. When you first begin a job, I think it is normal to have a can-I-do-this flutter of nerves. If you are starting with a new company, maybe you wonder who among the people you see inhabiting the cubicles around you will become your friends and who will remain just co-workers or even (unfortunately) your enemies. It's an important question considering you may be spending 8+ hours a day with them. But the most important consideration of all, is your future boss.  Will you like her, respect her, envy her, despise her, pity her? Will her attitude toward you and her management style not be an issue or will they begin to grate on your nerves until you want to find a good place for a primal scream?  I suppose most of you reading this and certainly those of you who really know me, can see where this is going.  But before you roll your eyes at what could digress into a rant, I have a story to tell you. A fable, if you will, about listening to your doubts as you interview for a new job.

Once Upon a Time, 15 years ago in the Land of Washington State, a woman replied to an online advertisement for a job that sounded like it was right up her alley. (Now days people say "in your wheelhouse" but I have never cared for that saying although I am not sure why.) She wasn't looking for a new job, she had one that, while not perfect, was pretty good.  But she saw the online ad and emailed her resume to the potential employer, then was pleased when she got a call setting up an interview.  Ok, I am going to stop saying "she" and admit that the story is about me. (Surprising, I know!) I drove over an hour to the interview, understanding that I would have to move when I took the job.  It never occurred to me that I wouldn't be offered the job. I had almost 10 years of experience in the field and was supremely confident of my ability to solicit the job offer. The interview went as they are wont to go, the prospective boss asking pertinent and sometimes obscure questions, while I answered in a reassuring manner and touted my past jobs and how I was sure I would be an asset to her business.  I wasn't distressed by her parting comment about how she needed to talk to one other person before she made her decision.  I knew and she knew she would be calling me by the next day and that when she did, I would accept.  After all, I had gone there to get the job, not be interviewed. And that, my friends, is where I made a huge mistake. I was too focused on the goal, the job offer, and completely missed some warning signs. Don't worry, this story doesn't end with her being a serial killer, just a fairly self centered micromanager with little or no respect for employees for whom I have little liking and even less respect than she has for me. Over the past years, I have looked back on that interview and some of the stories she told about herself and some of the remarks she made about what she expected from an employee, and have realized, I should never have taken that job.

I tried to quit 3 or 4 times within the first couple of years and each time I caved under pressure and the rewards she offered if I would stay.  As my daughter put it, I was distracted by the sparkly things. So yes, I realize I have no one to blame but myself for now being in a job that I have come to dislike working for a person who fails to support me. I have exhausted friends and family with stories and complaints but am proud to say I have finally reached the point where all the incentive in the world will not keep me in this job. And that, to me, is very sad.  I have always been an optimist, preferring to believe that things will surely get better, or at least not any worse, and I have more than my share of stubbornness (by golly, I will make this work!). But sometimes even an optimist has to admit defeat.

There are several reasons to keep this job; the ability to work remotely from home, the expense of moving to an area where jobs are more plentiful and therefore pay better, the uncertainty that I can (at my age) secure a job making close to the same amount of money, the cost of having a work wardrobe when for years I have only had to have a very causal one, gas money, drive time...and only one reason to quit. Happiness. I have the right to be happy, at home, with friends and at work.  I am fully aware that many people work their entire lives never liking what they do or who they do it for.  But I think 15 years doing it is probably 14 years too many. 

I admit I am a little bit scared of what will happen in the next several months, but a little bit excited, too.  Thomas Edison once said, "We will have no better conditions in the future if we are satisfied with those we have at present."  It is scary at any age to make drastic changes, but at this point in my life I believe it will be infinitely scarier not to.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Skate keys and scabby knees

Anyone who has lived in snowy/icy areas knows that falling is a fact of life.  No matter how careful you are, eventually you will fall.  I have been pretty lucky in that regard.  Over the many years of living in Montana I have only fallen a handful of times, and have never really hurt anything other than my pride, but because I have only a few falls to my credit, I vividly recall each and every one of them.  The most startling one was right on my front porch.  I had just moved in to a townhouse and it was extremely cold late one night when my sweet but elderly springer spaniel, Cricket, needed out one last time. I let her out the front door, closing it quickly to keep the cold out and the warmth in, but when I opened it again, she was gone.  I leaned out to see where she might be, only to find her on the next porch over looking up at the door no doubt wondering why it was shut.  I took a step out onto the porch and, since she was deaf, waved my arm at her.  She continued to stare up hopefully at the other doorknob, waiting for it to turn.  Finally I stepped out to the edge of the porch to catch her eye and bam! down I sat onto the first step.  Happy to see me, my dog trotted over, gave me doggie kisses, then, since apparently I was not going anywhere, sat down on the porch by me and looked around. If she wondered why we were sitting in the freezing cold on the icy porch, she never said anything...just continued to sit by me and stare out at the night.  Until recently, that was my worst I said nothing really damaged except my pride and my dog promised she'd never tell.

So it came as a huge surprise when a couple of weeks ago I fell while walking my dog in the early hours of the morning.  Striding along with him as he trotted, happy as only a dog can be to be out in the just barely dawn light, I hit the one patch of ice on the otherwise dry sidewalk and went down mid-stride on one knee, the other leg stretched out before me. Well, I thought, I've never done that before! As I dragged myself upright I was surprised at how much falling on my knee hurt. As a result of the fall, I had two big scrapes on my knee, which over the next few days became two big scabby areas. Which made me think...when was the last time I had scabby knees?  Certainly not as an adult, or even a teenager, but as a child...oh yes, there were plenty of scabs.

I was born in 1952 and by the time 1960 came around I had more scabs on my knees than I can recall. In fact, it wasn't unusual for me to have fresh scabs over almost-falling-off ones. Anyone who also grew up in that time knows immediately what they were from...roller skating!  We kids of the 50s were skating fiends! We wore white and black or all white saddle shoes that had a nice thick ridge around the sole so that our skates could clamp on nice and tight. We wore our skate key around our necks on a string so that after we skated over to our friend's house we could remove the skates...although I had one friend whose mom actually let us skate thru the house!  On her hardwood floors!! We skated friend's houses, to the neighborhood store, to the park...everywhere we went, we went on skates. And we didn't confine ourselves to the sidewalks.  Oh, no, we skated right down the middle of the blacktopped streets.  Sometimes we would get pulled along the street by someone riding a bike as we held onto a rope tied to the seat post, laughing hysterically at the speed.  Every so often my mom would let me keep my skates on while she ran errands.  She would park the car far away from the entrance so that I could skate around the car while she would run into the bank or the dry cleaners. Up until I was about 11, we lived a couple of blocks from a junior high school, which we would head to whenever we could to skate on the nice, flat concrete walkways. And yes, just like skateboarders later on, we were routinely chased away by the janitors.

Yes, we skated everywhere....and we fell...a lot! We girls never wore jeans, only shorts or our school dresses (if our moms didn't catch us first and make us change). I can vividly remember sneaking into the house to try to put a bandaid on a freshly scraped knee before my mom could hear me and grab the Mercurochrome. I really, really hated having my knees painted red! By the way, that red colored antiseptic is no longer sold in the US due to its mercury content!! Yikes! The boys wore jeans so while they fell just as often, their knees took much less of a beating. The knees of their jeans, however, tore often, which our moms fixed by ironing on big denim patches. My mom ironed patches on my brother's jeans before he ever wore them, so his patches were always the same color as the jeans themselves. She was clever that way.

So, I am familiar with scabby knees. But what I found out over the last couple of weeks is that falling and banging up your knees as a kid in no way feels the same when you do it as an adult.  I am quite sure that if these scrapes and subsequent scabs were as painful when I was younger, I would have immediately turned in my skate key.  Of course as my son pointed out, there is a lot more force behind a fall of mine these days and I am lucky I didn't break a kneecap. He's helpful that way.
These aren't my skates, but they could be, right down to the dirty used-to-be-white string on the skate key. My skates were taken apart and used to build a truly unmanageable skate board...but that's a different story.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Is it Christmas without a tree?

This year, for the first time in forever, I did not put up a Christmas tree.  It made sense not to. I was going to spend the week before and after Christmas with my daughter and son in law in Austin, TX and a tree just didn't make sense.  This doesn't sound like a big deal, but to me it was huge!  I have always had a tree, sometimes as many as in the living room, one in my office, a small one in the bedroom and a tiny one in the dining room. And now, this tree?  Gasp! Not only do I put up a tree every year, but I decorate each and every room in the house with Christmas cheer.  Last year, I had so much cheer in my small apartment that after one day, I had to take about half of it down.  But a tree...isn't that required?  I'll let you in on a, it is not.  And, brace yourself, I didn't miss it one little bit.

My daughter puts her tree up before Thanksgiving, yes, you read that correctly, before Thanksgiving. She loves Christmas and has an 8ft, prelit, artificial tree that is simply stunning.  She decorates it with an eclectic mix of ornaments from her childhood, ones she added as an adult and others she and her husband have bought together, topped off by a gorgeous golden star.  I waited for tree envy to set it, but there was never a quiver. 

I have friends who choose not to have trees of their own for various reasons.  Some enjoy the trees at their children's or grandchildren's houses, some have trees at their offices, and one just plain doesn't like decorated trees.  Does that make their Christmas celebrations any less meaningful or fun or cheerful?  No, it does not. Not having a tree doesn't make you Scrooge or the Grinch. In fact, not having a tree can be surprisingly liberating.

Here in no particular order are some benefits to not having a Christmas tree.
  1. No chasing your cat out of or your dog out from under the tree. I have no idea why, but every year my dog thinks I have put up a tree solely so that he will have a nice place to nap. And speaking of dogs:
  2. No panicked dash when you see him eyeing the tree and starting to lift his leg.
  3. No dead needles in your carpet, your slippers, your food!
  4. No leaping out of bed in the middle of the night to see what that crash was, only to discover your tree has fallen over because it was too heavy to turn around and you ended up putting ornaments only on the parts you could reach and none on the back which leads to:
  5. No trying to anchor it to the wall with dental floss and a thumbtack.
  6. No having to remember to add water, and no spilling water when you do remember.
  7. No frozen trek thru the woods looking for the prefect tree...ok, that part I do miss.
  8. No trying to get the tree home only to discover you don't have any twine to tie it to the roof of your car.
  9. No picking out the perfect tree only to be amazed that a 9 foot tree doesn't fit into your house.
  10. No sap on your hands.
  11. No feeling awful because your friend is horribly allergic to pine and spends the evening sneezing.
  12. No frustrating search thru 10 strings of lights trying to find the one bulb that is burned out and therefore causing your entire tree to go dark.
  13. If you have an artificial tree, no sore fingers from straightening out bent branches (how do they tie themselves up in knots?) and then trying to cram the metal rods into the obviously smaller notches.
  14. No panicking when you don't have anything suitable for the top of the tree because you stepped on it last year and forgot to replace it and you end up at Target at midnight sorting thru neon colored angels and multicolored stars because you can't sleep if the tree isn't completely finished.
But the best reason not to put up a tree?  Because you don't have to if you don't want to. If you want to, that's great.  Enjoy the heck out of that tree in all its green lighted glory.  But if you don't want a tree, don't beat yourself up and don't apologize for not having one. There is plenty more to do at Christmas that doesn't require a playing Trivial Pursuit with your way too smart daughter even though you know you will come in dead last, or watching sappy Christmas movies you have seen so many times you can recite entire passages from, or drinking egg nog and listening to Josh Groban's Christmas album for the 10th time in a row because you just love the way he sings in Latin. None of which require a tree. 

I had a wonderful Christmas season this year and hope you did, too.  With or without a tree.