Becoming Them


At a certain point you come to the realization that your behaviors and traits are creepily familiar and then you realize….cue the organ music…you have become THEM!  Yes, we are, at times, much like our parents.  The genetic matter is usual obvious in our appearance.  I was mostly told that I resembled the paternal side of his maternal side of my father’s side of the family.  Of course, my mother remarked that I was very much like her mother and had similar behaviors.  To me it was a crap shoot.  I decided long ago that I didn’t want to be like anyone else. I wanted to be myself, my own person.  There were things my mother would do that my sister and I found completely annoying.  We would remark to one another “there she goes again” and silently promise one another that if we ever behaved like that, the other one would have to kill us.

For several years my sister took pleasure in finding birthday cards that essentially said  “Happy Birthday.  Another year closer to looking like mom!”.   We would laugh out loud but silently I knew that although I didn’t look like her, I was beginning to act like her and him.  I started with my father’s puns.  They were awful.  Mine are pretty bad.  He would laugh at his own clever jokes and puns.  Whereas he got the gold, I only achieve the silver…but give me time.  His words would become my words and slowly I would give him the credit, long after he had died and start many stories or sayings by remarking “as my father would often say”.  I will say things like “tomorrow is already today” and comment on the “haves and the have nots”.  My father was an almost PhD in economics and quoted Malthus and his theory of population.  I realize that I listened to his commentary on economics and slowly embedded it into my understanding.

My father found joy in small things like nature and music and perhaps that is part of my inheritance.  My FHB and I took a ride to Cape Cod yesterday because although it was quite cold, it was sunny and bright.  I drove and turned to him and said “I have a million things to do at home and yet this is what I want to do”.  I felt my father looking over my shoulder and telling me not to drive so fast.

My mother has much more insidiously “invaded ”  my days.  She baked for the world.  She showed her caring through cards and brownies.  She remember things that people might have told her once.  She crocheted baby blankets as much for the new babies as for herself.  It made her believe that she would be remembered for a long time.  She never said those words, but it is my thought when I crochet a blanket.  She could be silly and embarrassing.  I am silly and embarrassing.  She liked her alone time. I write at night alone with my thoughts.

They were not perfect but perfect for one another.  My FHB told me shortly after his mother passed away that he made a conscious effort to remember those moments about his mother that were positive.  He knew that she was difficult, but also knew that she cared about him, in her way.  My parents and I did not always agree on how to do things. They had a lot of shoulds and oughts.  I certainly have those threads but try hard to  be aware that in parenting, I need to let things happen organically and allow my children to find their way.  At times, while growing up, I felt that I could not or perhaps would not meet their expectations.  They were stubborn.  I am stubborn.  They are with me every day.  I can’t avoid a memory.  I am their child.


Food for Thought


Sometimes opportunity presents itself in an unexpected form. You may not recognize it in the moment but when you do, change happens.  A little over a year ago my FHB doing his due diligence as a partner and a man, with little coercion, went to have a prostate exam.  The news came back that the numbers were rising and he was told to have another test in a few months, which brings us to almost a year ago.  The short version is that the numbers again had gone up and some decisions had to be made.  Treatments were explained  and risks were calculated and the long version is that this January the  the forty-four radiation treatments came to an end and the most recent blood work was good news. The PSA level was very low and the doctors said all was well.  There will be a regular visit alternating with the urologist and oncologist and the hope is that the good news stays the good news.  Watching your spouse face cancer and take it on day by day is watching someone you love transform from a gentle pragmatic person to a warrior ready to do battle. You can’t go into battle, although I sat in the cancer center waiting room on as many days as I could, but you can be on the sidelines watching it happen.  You can be the support and be a witness.

So, about nine months ago, our nurse practioner student/son and his  nurse practitioner partner, began talking about what other changes we should consider beyond the traditional radiation, hormone therapy, and other medically supported treatments.  They gave us readings to do, and videos to watch, and a constant barrage of information that in tandem with doctor’s opinions and considerations, were beyond overwhelming.  We listened, and watched and read. My FHB confronted doctors, health insurance companies and a battle plan was put into place.  Almost six months ago we made what is now called  a “lifestyle” change.  We stopped eating meat and shifted how we looked at nutrition, and knew that once we made that step by step move, that we wanted to see some positive results that we  knew to be part of our own plan, not a doctor’s recommendation.

Admittedly we were not sure what this might look like.  We didn’t eat what would be considered an traditionally unhealthy diet.  We rarely ate fast food and always ate lots of vegetables.  I am chronically anemic so that is always a player in my intake of food.  We had to rethink this and make this something for the long haul, like for the rest of our lives.  Food is a big deal in our house. We like to cook and we like to eat.  Last September we chose to stop all red meats, the other white meat, chicken and any other poultry, cold cuts and breakfast meats.  It was like ripping off a bandaid. Quick and then stop and look at what was there before.  It became a challenge but in a good way.  We read recipes and began to explore new horizons and ways of cooking.  We made discoveries that delighted us in that this “vegan/vegetarian” endeavor did not mean what we had previously believed.  Chocolate cake without butter, eggs and milk is outstanding.  We have found our protein in beans and grains and lots and lots of greens, oranges, yellows and other colors.  I bake and cook and I am pretty fussy about things but I have fallen in love with beans, spinach and kale like it was the first time.

We now forage through supermarkets discovering that the world of plant based eating is closer than we knew.  Today we went to a favorite market and found new things to try.  We have found vegetables in every restaurant that are satisfying and delicious.  Our latest find, as of a few weeks ago is a dish called Gigantes Plaki (Greek Baked Giant Beans).  It is something that is soul food of a new order. When you walk into the loft after the beans have cooked for two hours, it is a new Thanksgiving.  Opportunity knocked and we invited it in for dinner, and lunch and breakfast.  And that is a hill of beans.

A Cockeyed Optimist

IMG_2441 2

When the sky is a bright canary yellow
I forget ev’ry cloud I’ve ever seen,
So they called me a cockeyed optimist
Immature and incurably green.

I have heard people rant and rave and bellow
That we’re done and we might as well be dead,
But I’m only a cockeyed optimist
And I can’t get it into my head.

“South Pacific”

I had a good day today.  I forget that yesterday was not particularly good, I was extremely tired and could’t wait for the day to call it a night.  Today I paid attention more than usual and found that I could listen better, understand more clearly, and actually be more effective in my interactions with everyone.  I stood patiently in front of a somewhat frazzled secretary and took  a picture of the flowers on her desk.  She apologized that they  were wilting. I remarked that they were lovely in their current form enough to make me want to remember them in a picture.  It seemed as though I could only see the sunshine and the good moments.  I also knew it was the end of the work week.

Optimism is not always a popular path.  You would think that it would be, especially when we consider the counterpoint.  I am very excited to change the clocks this weekend.  I will not be up at 2  a.m. to actually go around and change the physical clocks until the morning.  I mentioned my excitement to those around me at work and was met with comments about needing that hour and struggling for the week ahead because they felt shortchanged.  Reminding them that they will absolutely get it back in the fall fell on deaf ears.  It was like being surrounded by existentialists, who are often a rather dreary group.

I’ve taken a new tack with regard to unneccessary apologies.  When someone apologizes sincerely for something that they have no control over or limited control, such as the woman who had 12 items and cut in front of me in the 10 or less line, I let it be. In fact, I find that I am saying things like “If this is the worst thing you have done in a while, I’m going to give you a pass”.  It seems to make them feel so much better, and I feel like Glinda the Good Witch from the Wizard of Oz.  We all have days when our makeup looks green and we are pissed because a house fell on our sister and it was someone else’s fault.  Benevolence is good for the soul and can’t hurt.

This by no means suggests that when a right is wronged that I am going to go quietly.  I am going to open up my yapper and yap.  Keeping quiet is painful these days but being prudent with opinions is necessary to make the big moments meaningful.  I was a very quiet and reserved child, teenager and young adult. I am still more of an observer than someone who speaks first.  I make sure that if I do have something to say, that I am willing to say it and be heard.  This evening my FHB  and I listened to a program that highlighted Malala Yousafzai, the young woman who was shot by the Taliban.  She also won the Nobel Prize.   She is as strong a person as I have ever heard.  She has taken her encounter with violence and has become the voice of reason and hope for educating young women.  She is hope and promise.  She is one of my heros and she helps me to be optimistic.  She has known a bad day and has chosen to have good ones.  She is the definition of optimism and she knows forgiveness is in keeping her goal front and center.  We are a lucky species to have her in our world.



Feel the Earth Move


Although I don’t know how it works,  I do believe in time travel.  I keep experiencing it.  I can remember a moment in 1971 that keeps repeating itself.  It was a defining experience in my life and probably in the life of my generation.  Carole King brought us with her through her album “Tapestry”.  It is the music that brings us back and forth every moment we hear every song. We sing along. We remember everything about the album…the cover…the playlist…the words. We remember where we were and how we felt.  It became our mantra.

I stood in the audience at the PPAC (Providence Performing Arts Center) after sitting through the show “Beautiful” yesterday afternoon.  The last moments of the performance had the actress who plays Carole King inviting the audience to sing along to “I Feel the Earth Move”.  We were in complete harmony,  in sync, and totally full of the joy of the moment and the memories of our past.  I stood next to my FHB and we sang our hearts out.  We knew all the words, and felt every word, and moved like it was 1971.  We didn’t know one another back then but in our collective minds, I was seventeen and he was twenty-one, and it was now, but it was then.  Eavesdropping on the awakening and the love life of Carole King and Gerry Goffin, as we witnessed the story behind the music, was bittersweet.  We knew how it ended but knew that this was where Tapestry began.

We all have our own stories of becoming our future selves as teenagers into adulthood.  We know the feelings  of love and love lost and unrequited love.  We knew what we wanted in our imagination, might or might not be our path.  My life began and ended and began again at age forty.  I remember listening to Tapestry at certain crossroads in my life and knowing that the songs and words would help me through. If it helped Carole get to where she was going, could I hope that I would also find my way?

There were a lot of tears yesterday as I thought of how I had gotten from then to now.  I don’t know how it happens.  They weren’t necessarily tears of sadness, but more of the recognition of shoulds and oughts. I should have paid more attention and as much as I remember, I imagine there is as much that I don’t or don’t want to.  As I often say, I am unique, but my story really isn’t.  I ought to be grateful, which I am as much as I allow myself to be, both then and mostly now.  Sometimes this aging thing takes my breath away.

We walked in quiet as we left the theater.  We held hands. For this time I have now, I am going to revel in it.

Listen up….

Life, liberty and the pursuit….


Recently  I heard that one man owns five authentic copies of the Declaration of Independence. He’s a billionaire.  Scholars have determined that there are fifty-one in existence.  On either a trip to Washington D.C. when I was a teenager, or when I was in fourth grade and took a tour of New York City, I acquired a copy of the same document.  Suffice it to say, it was not one of the original (facscimile) fifty-one but was a commercial copy acquired at a museum store or at Fraunces Tavern in New York where one could see George Washington’s wooden teeth.  I held onto it for a long time. I liked opening it up and reading it and examining the signatures.  The words were meaningful even when I was young and didn’t know much about the world. Independence only meant going places on my own, with no supervision, under my own power with little accountability. It meant making decisions that only I could make in the moment without relying on anyone else.   Even then, I knew it gave me power.  I think at one time, when I didn’t like the rules at home, I wrote my own declaration of independence.  I drafted it with intent and put it with the “real” one but never declared it to anyone by myself.

Having had a short break from the routine weeks of working and working more, my FHB  and I took off to head north into New Hampshire.  Our destination was a place that was off the grid, not in terms of electricity or water, but more a place to recalculate and find our centers, both as individuals and as partners.  It was, no joke intended, a place that even a GPS couldn’t find.  We attempted to follow a route from the Google directions and ended up on a road surrounded by the contemporary way of siphoning maple syrup, which is through blue and green tubing attached to maple trees.  Long gone was the way of tapping the tree and letting the syrup fill a galvanized bucket.  The road was muddied dirt, and was somewhat reminscent of what I imagine a stagecoach ride might have felt like.  We were off the beaten track for sure.  We reached our destination and found ourselves in a place that time forgot by about two hundred and twenty five years.  We were welcomed into a space, rustic and warm, with the view of a field and a mountain and a wall of windows to take it all in. We sat in time worn chairs in front of a large woodstove that was the source of heat to fill the room and bookshelves from ceiling to floor filled with knowledge and history on every shelf.  There was no television or radio or sounds other than a few trucks or cars passing by.  It was a little bit of paradise filled with large amounts of quiet.

We are a pair that don’t need ongoing conversation. We came equipped with books and the twenty first century tools to write or catch up on information.  Our breathing was slower and our heart sounds healthy.  Our vision was clearer and not mired by worries or thoughts of the past or the future.  We found our way to places to eat and then back again to sit and write or sit and sit some more.  My FHB has always had this ability to sit for long periods in silence and contemplation.  I struggle to do that.  It seems as though having to leave home, and the obligations of things undone that I believe, in the moment need doing, is the way for me to learn that skill.

We spent 44 hours in “our” respite and it felt like a very long and productive span of time.  We sorted through our thoughts and let go of some, and recycled others.  The concept of ” We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” resonated through my mind as I looked at the surroundings outside our window, as well as acknowledging the feeling inside.  The billionaire, who has those copies , might be considered a lucky man.  I understand the value of the words, but luck is subjective. Being okay with yourself, gives you your own sense of independence and can be as enduring.

Negotiating a Piano


For my most recent birthday, which was over three months ago, my FHB told me that rather than get me something I wouldn’t use or wouldn’t like, he decided that he would get me a piano.  I believe that he got the “idea” after I would read to him, and show him, ads for free pianos (you pick it up, it’s yours). I had piano lessons as a child and I was not a cooperative student, i.e I didn’t like to practice.  My parents had gotten a piano which looked like it came from a saloon in the wild, wild west and had been the witness to a bunch of gun fights, when you looked at the condition of the wood.  How it ever got upstairs to the fifth floor apartment still remains a mystery.  When the time came to empty out the apartment, it was left to be someone else’s moving problem.  My mother played as did my sister, who was a cooperative student, and my father took lessons which became the bane of my mother’s existence at times.  I fooled around and played by ear and liked to play popular tunes, rather than classical.  My FHB has a lovely singing voice and when we had a piano, several years ago, I would play and he would sing.  It seems like a nice thing to do together as we enter the next phase of growing older together.

I think I have been patient about waiting.  I am only a patient person when it comes to my work. Other than that, I am borderline whiny and I embody a six year old child.  So, despite the fact, we have already discussed the where of the piano, we have not determined the when.  We have a lot of furniture shuffling to do and discarding to consider and then we can presumably get it.  It seems reasonable and yet I am not.

I have come up with a very annoying strategy.  I have opted to ask for a little monkey for a pet. I am fully aware that some people are now horrified at the idea, but putting your horror aside, I am considering just fostering a monkey who might be displaced for the moment.  I would be caring and patient and I would ensure harmony between our cat and the monkey.  I got the idea when I saw a picture of a monkey hugging a dog and they were like the peaceable kingdom.  I thought to myself, this could be the answer to the question…when will I get my piano.

Hence, I began the discussion, which of course was rather one sided.  I proposed that we would get a monkey until we were ready to get the piano.  My idea was that my FHB would quickly bypass the monkey idea, and go right for the free piano.  I thought I framed my argument well.  I didn’t have all the words out of my mouth when I heard a vehement negative “No!”.  I am not easily deterred.  I went in for the counter punch.  I said ” what about a dog or another cat”.  Have you ever experienced that look from someone you know fairly well that says, without words, that you have clearly lost your mind?  This is not an uncommon visual exchange.  It has nothing to do with love, more with taking a stand.  Sometimes we are on very different mountains, looking in two very different directions.  I have gone back to the drawing board, knowing that the next step is probably critical to the eventual win.  Harmony often starts with discord and dissonance.  When I remind him that we have always played beautiful music together, I might strike the right key. Wish me luck.

Kleine Schwester (little sister)


IMG_2389A sister can be seen as someone who is both ourselves and very much not ourselves – a special kind of double.      

Toni Morrison

The photo was  taken in 1972. We were either at the Tower of London, or  at Windsor Castle.  It might have been Scotland or somewhere in between.  She was 14 and I was 18.  We were on a bus tour of England and Scotland with our parents.  I always glowered. She still always has a beautiful smile for pictures.  We tried to stay awake during the bus rides but invariably we both slept until there was another ruin or a castle or a church to see.  We were the youngest by probably twenty plus years.  I still like the picture which tells a story of two girls who shared a room for most of their growing up until I graduated from college and got married. It was no castle and we were hardly princesses.

I always wanted a baby sister and my parents cooperated…the narcissism of thinking something will make it so. It was February 18th, 1958.   I remember going in our 1950-something hunter green 88 Oldmobile, with a velvet rope on the back of the front seat, and driving with my father to pick up my sister and mother from the hospital.  I wore a light blue dress, my best dress, because this was a very important day, and a very important baby.  I liked staring at her in the bassinet and watching her.  I would stand outside the crib as she got bigger and encourage her to stand up. I could barely reach over the railing but would try to get her up by her hands.  Finally, she stood and held on and screamed like bloody murder.  She was so afraid but I was so proud of what she had accomplished.  It was the beginning of being proud of her although I rarely treated her that way as time went by.  We shared a very small room which was about nine feet by ten feet.  It contained two beds, two dressers, bookshelves and maybe a desk.  I wanted the window and she wanted the closet.  I was older by four years, three months and five days.  It was never easy.  We were, however, in cahoots, when it came to being in trouble with the adults.  We were sent to our cell (room) and had to manage to tolerate our differences.  I was a pain because I constantly wanted to rearrange the room so I could have privacy. I insisted, when I got to high school, that my parents get a folding three-panel screen to which I installed a small doorknob and cordoned off the window area so I did not have to deal with her, and her with me.  She had the closet because I couldn’t figure out how to effectively assume all the real estate.  She was a great student and the antithesis of how I learned.  She excelled academically and I actually liked her friends.  It would not have been cool to let her know that at any cost.  We were very different but we knew how to make one another laugh.

It is inconceivable to realize that I truly have known her for her entire life.  I was too young to remember a life before her.  We grew up and managed to both end up living in Massachusetts.  I remember when she called to say that the silver lining for moving from NYC to Massachusetts, was that we would both be in the same state.  That was quite a while ago and I would have to say that as a result,  life went from silver to platinum from my perspective.  She is a good woman who can keep my secrets and know my myriad of flaws but is still kind and such a good listener. We have mothered our children together and grieved losing our parents together.  We both live full lives and when we stop for a moment and share a few hours, I realize that I could still share a room with her. I would even give her the window.  I love you, my kleine Schwestie.  The world is so much better with you in it.  Happy 60th!