marking time

29 04 2009

IMG_3988.JPGFirst time visitors to Billy’s breezeway are always taken back by the sight of two headstones – both from 1863 marking two deaths in one family less than 10 days apart – a father and a daughter.  I don’t know their stories but I have this sneaking suspicion that I will soon enough – either real or imagined…the stuff of stories and novels.

IMG_3989.JPGRight now we are working on another marker of someone who’s story we did know well.  The walkways that lead to the main doors of the hospice center where Billy spent his last two weeks are paved with inscribed bricks that serve as mini-markers to the pain and loss of hundreds of families.  It was one of the things the Mrs. wanted to be sure to do before time moves on.

Now that we are facing Spring and the formal headstone at the cemetery is set – she wants to get this one done too.  As I went over to hospice last week to review the kinds of words people had used to honor their loved ones – I needed something more.  Something that was more Billy – “2good2B4gotten” just doesn’t cut it.

I’m not planning a public vote on this – but I would appreciate your feedback.  I’m not even sure we can get it all to fit but I wondered about a quote by one of the Mrs.’ favorite authors – George MacDonald.   

Love is the opener as well as the closer of eyes.

Something that speaks to how he lived and died and an intrinsic value he held all those days he walked here between those two markers.  What think thee?


looking forward to earth day 2029

23 04 2009


I didn’t quite know at the outset how the day would play out – but with promise of sunshine, temps in the 60ºs and fluffy white clouds in the blue sky – I was hopeful.  After all it was Earth Day.  Then again, any time I’m at her house I’m already thinking of how to save the planet, my sanity and whatever bit of cosmic juju I can muster as I battle the forces of junk.  There has to be a great role-playing video game in here somewhere.  Or maybe a new reality show.

Nonetheless, I was on the road early because I knew that my first challenge was the “big brown bin”.  I’ve spoken before about how I have tempted the gods of garbage as I switched trash haulers on her after years and years and years with some other company who’s prices went up as fast as the cable company’s.  By 10 p.m. the night before, I knew I was doomed since I hadn’t reminded her to take the thing out and put it curbside. So I was racing the clock, trying to get there before the truck came by to make sure that they took away last week’s “gathering” of landfill gorge.

It really is (and I’m not kidding here) a struggle to know what to put where.  In my mind’s eye I find myself wandering over the steaming piles of garbage and stumbling on things I recognize that I put there.

But I also know that it isn’t fair to give real junk to Goodwill. Yesterday they were graced again with various and sundry goodies…old books (that I had to convince her she had never read or would never read), the vintage DA-LITE projector screen we used to pull out to watch home movies (she cocked her head to one side), a contractor’s bag filled with things she couldn’t see and an old suitcase (“But what if…?”  “Mom, it doesn’t have wheels on it!!”  “Oh…”).

She was feeling especially proud that she’d cleared off the desk in Billy’s room and I was secretly panicked that she’d tossed some precious stash (but I think I had hidden all the good stuff).  In another corner of the room beside where he slept, is her sewing machine.

I never had a store bought prom dress.  We even came up with a design for my wedding dress that she made.  Maybe on a few occasions in the last 30 plus years has she hauled it out.  She hated all the “mess” that Billy had stored underneath – transistor radios out the wazoo, a half a dozen flashlights, a space blanket and lots of empty padded envelopes, old greeting cards – I can’t go on…you get the picture.

So that was my main focus for the day.  Lo and behold – the majority of the bulk was remants of fabric.  I started making a pile.  I have already memorized the city’s recycling brochure and had noted places that took donations of handiwork and the like.  They were going to be so “blessed” today with my haul!

When I had it all assembled, I asked her to just eyeball it before I took it out to the car.  The earth shifted…it got very very quiet…we were in a freeze frame.  She gave me a look that screamed “Oh no you DON’T young lady!!!”

I had crossed a line that I recognized.  I’ve been here before with Billy many many times…that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing now and never got it done then.  Out of the pile of “dreams” – there was only one little scrap of material that she was ready to be done with.  Even when I was mouthing the words “When on EARTH are you EVER going to get your SEWING MACHINE out again?”…she was hearing “You USED to DO this but you CAN’T ANYMORE so let’s just TOSS out any hopes that you had!!”

If I’ve learned anything through this process it is that we, as human animals, get alot of our identity from things we once did or dream about doing someday.  A box of fabric scraps – as much as I’d like to see them in someone’s hands today that will do something with them – are intricately tied to her self-worth and dignity – who she was, the contribution she made and how she still “feels” on the inside.

Billy is gone but she is not.  She needs to move through HIS STUFF now but I had better beware applying the same principles to her for the time being.  This is one tightrope I’m walking and I don’t want another misstep.  I packed up a box-worth of odds and ends and put it back in the bottom of the closet…it was no longer under the sewing machine – just re-located…she was happy.  Yikes!

I turned my attention to something I knew was a safe zone  – a box full of batteries.  Since they have yet to invent some way of just visually determining whatever power they have left – I needed a battery tester I could read.  Billy, being the Mr. Fixit guy he was, had the REAL deal there but I am too dumb to figure out which red wire goes to where when the black wire is touched to the bottom, etc.   So I went and got a gizmo I could handle and started in.

The guy at the store even gave me a hand full of plastic bags and asked me to only put three per bag which helps him out with the recycle process.  So my Earth Day adventure consisted of 1 bag to the “Big Brown Bin” for next Wednesday morning’s haul, a car full to Goodwill and this nice little cache of batteries to recycle.

I had planned on staying over night and getting more done…but I felt that it was imperative to restore the necessary chi and harmony in the universe for me to high tail it north so I could sit and be surrounded by MY STUFF and laugh at what is in store for Shop Girl and Best Boy – Earth Day 2029.

channeling my domestic goddess

21 04 2009

cavalliJust a Tuesday with a bagazillion things to do before I go to the dentist this afternoon – then leave town tomorrow for at least an overnight.  Magically, a rather routine dreary, drippy day was transformed.  It started with getting to iron some hand-painted Roberto Cavalli artwork.

towelsSo inspired was I, that I took the time to fold my old towels the Martha Stewart way.  I feel so proud – so sophisticated.

DSC_0011I looked down after grabbing one rug to throw into the washer and replaced it with its almost twin and stopped just for a second to admire this little gem from Algeria that keeps my toes warm each morning.

DSC_0034It’s that time of year to give my pretty little perfume bottles from Egypt,  quietly perched atop the door frame, a bath.


Then just because I could, I paused, turned out the light in the bathroom and lit the candles – the votive holder was a gift from Shop Girl when she was all of 13 I think and on a field trip to Chicago with her French Class.  It has always been a fav.  The pitcher behind it –  a little treasure from Morocco.

All I was doing was ironing and needed more water to fill the iron.  I walked into the bathroom and stopped long enough to admire things I look at more than once a day and never stop to “see”.

Our bathroom is on that never ending “Money Pit” wish list for a major makeover.  Who knows then my MegaMillions numbers will hit…till then I keep myself pacified with little trinkets that keep my mind off the general sad state of affairs when it comes to the desperate need for gorgeous white subway tiles to line the walls – along with having the tub (probably from the 1920’s because it is NOT a claw foot which would have been original to the house) re-surfaced in an attempt at being green and keeping it out of a landfill somewhere.

DSC_0042Amazing how much ambience can be added by low lighting…you can’t even see the mold!  What a great day this is turning out to be!!!

Peter Pan and the knife drawer

20 04 2009

dsc_0002For lunch today the Dr. was having left over BBQ chicken I had grilled on Saturday.  Since I was standing right by the drawer, he asked me to hand him a steak knife.  I grabbed one that had questionable functionality.  He was looking for his “favorite” and as I pawed through the pile trying to find the one that works I said, “When we grow up, maybe we can get a set of steak knives that match.”

“That will never happen.”

“What?  That I will never break down and actually buy a set?”

“No, we will never grow up.”

Doctor My Eyes

17 04 2009

dsc_00061Yesterday was another one of those bittersweet days.  There is something about going so deeply into someone’s personal belongings that is a little disconcerting.  An empty white plastic container of personal hygiene wipes now filled with about eight different sizes and kinds of plastic bottle caps, an empty (thank GOD) 1 oz. portion cup of maple syrup stolen from his favorite restaurant, and four beautiful shells he probably got from a trip to Florida a dozen years ago.  Once it was all sorted (the shells saved – the rest tossed) it got to me again that here I was erasing the very quirkiness of who he was.

In a dresser drawer I found all of the copies of Stars & Stripes (the military newpaper) he’d saved from when he was visiting us in Spain back in the early 90’s.  There was nothing special about them – we’d get them from friends in the military just for fun…but to him it must have been reminders of coming to see us.

He was a lover of gadgets – every kind of AM/FM transistor radio, gazillions of pocket calculators and multiple pairs binoculars.  Lots and lots of sizes and shapes of binoculars.  Packing up for a Cubs game was never without a pair per person.  In later years they were readily available all over the house for birdwatching.  Today they are all on one place, still in his room – those don’t get tossed into the contractor’s grade black bags I’ve come to love. Yesterday the count was three for the garbage and three for Goodwill.  Woo-Hoo!!

dsc_0044During the search and rescue effort, I stumbled on this set of very unique binocular glasses.  You don’t even have to trouble yourself to hold them up to your eyes…that was Billy – finding a way to make taking the long view just a little easier.

Taking the long view isn’t easy when I spend time each week disassembling his life.  Last weekend when the “grounds crew” from the church were doing their thing – they took care of a biggie.  The Mrs. had been after Billy for YEARS to trim back the horribly overgrown bush from the side of the house.  He wouldn’t hear of it.  To him – it was no eye sore, or wretched inconvenience to mow around…it was his bird sanctuary.  In it hung his hand made (fashioned from things discarded for other uses) bird feeder.

In the last half dozen years the dementia made it harder and harder to address things that at one point in his life we would have been able to reason with him about.  So we let things go – knowing there would come a day that we could take care of things and not upset the apple cart at the same time.

So when she knew people armed with chain saws and safety glasses were at her beck and call, it was one of the things on the Mrs.’ wish list. When all the gear was packed up and all the brush hauled away (the very sight of half ton trucks driving on the lawn would have put him in the ground anyway), I stood at the window and looked at the raw scar on the ground.  I felt so guilty.  I felt like such a traitor.  I had a knot in my throat and I whispered, “I’m sorry Billy”.

During the course of the days I was back in the North I spent a number of nights battling the demons of insomnia as my mind was racing around all the things yet to be done in the battle of the basement.  Not so much the things that can be done with a little bit of elbow grease but the things that are beyond that and may mean some big fixes – again, something that Billy would never let us tackle.  When I get to that point of seeing a mountain – I remember that it helps to just Baby Step…what things can I do that will make me feel better right now…

I had to come up with a solution for the flocks that had just been made homeless.  Poor things – for years they fed there outside that window in that ugly bush – and in a matter of minutes they were left high and dry.  I told the Mrs. I’d get her a shepherd’s hook and we’d put the feeder there.  Then when I was there yesterday – I see in two different spots around the yard are two hooks – I could easily relocate one and not even have to spend the money for a new one.

She had a better idea.  Why not just use the weeping japanese cherry tree outside the kitchen and dining room windows?  She’d see it more often as she stands at the kitchen sink or sits out back.  So before I came home yesterday, I found a little branch where the feeder rested secure.

Just a while ago my cell phone rang and as is the instant reaction of my soul when I see her number on my caller ID and I’m a mere two hours north- my heart turns over once in my chest while I un-tense the muscles constricting my vocal chords – I try to answer like I haven’t a care in the world…

“They’re here!!!  They found it!!!  I was cleaning some windows (groan…how does an 82 year old have the energy for that when I might be lucky to get ours cleaned once a year!!!) and I heard a big fluttering commotion!  They’re all at the feeder!”

What a relief!  I’ll probably sleep like a baby tonight (hopefully not like my kids slept…3 hour stretches).  I’m glad in the long run that we didn’t have to cause Billy any more mental anguish than he was already in – to push for a different view on some things.  I’m also glad to see that the Mrs. isn’t afraid of change.  There really are things that need attention and at least she’s not sitting in a puddle of tears not letting go of things. So I’m gonna keep these binocular glasses close at hand for when I need a long view.

good things are in your future…

14 04 2009


MOVIES!!!  Go stimulate the economy and sit in the darkness with a bunch of strangers (or with just two or three others if you go to matinees like Shop Girl and I do), forget about your troubles and let Hollywood take you away.  I know it’s true because I had this post titled before I set the shot up…and that really WAS the fortune inside the cookie I opened!

Things to be excited about in just a few short months…seeing Maggie Gyllenhaal in a Sam Mendes directed indie film written by Dave Eggers – the guy who did the screenplay for Where the Wild Things Are.

Today’s bonus feature – here’s the trailer for Where the Wild Things Are

nothin’ to do but frown…

13 04 2009

img_3269I know the photo is out of focus but considering today that fits just fine.  Here we are in mid-April and they are still saying the word snow.  The sky today was like a continuous sheet of galvanized steel.  I got things done – like a vile trip to Costco and one to the “normal” grocery store.  Neither place is a fav by any means.

But my head is elsewhere.  I’m stuck in the realm of “how will I ever…?”.  When I can’t see the sun, my soul gets claustrophobic and my mind only spins around the seemingly impossible – a list of all the things that have to get done, that I don’t know how will get done – the things I’d rather be doing and don’t have any money to do them.

Is it because it is tax week?  In the world of the self-employed, you may be your own boss but you will never again see the box labeled “refund” filled with any numbers. Well, I could drive myself crazy trying to figure out what it is all about when I know better. It will go away.  I will feel good about life another day.  The planets will align again.  

Part of all this has to do with a leaky basement.  While I was at the Mrs.’s place on Saturday, a group of good samaritans from her church came over to do some yard work.  My job was to keep her corralled inside so they could get at the business at hand.  When the guy heading up the crew popped his head inside the house to say they were ready to get at it,  he looked at me funny, cocked his head and said, “I smell mold.  Show me where it is…I’m a general contractor.” – I knew we were in for it.

A quick jaunt to the subterranean level was all he needed…and he agreed with me that it may be beyond her means to do anything about at this point.  The next two days my brain has been on overload of what – could, couldn’t, should, shouldn’t -be done and how.  

I want to flood the basement with bleach and run one of those massive gas-fired car wash dryers that just about sucks the windshield off your car- till all the mold and mildew is gone.  But first I need a gift certificate for $1000 to 1-800-Got-Junk? Maybe I’ll work at setting up a pay-pal account for this blog where you can donate…

When I went to YouTube to find the song I was thinking about to end all this…I immediately started to feel better.  In the last 38 years I’d like to think that music has gotten better – fashion has gotten better – but maybe it is just that age old trick of comparing things to something worse so I don’t feel as bad.  Karen Carpenter was never Neil Young.  And to think this song was #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 after its release this week back in 1971.  No wonder we did so many drugs!

los petrificados

8 04 2009

dsc_0123Around the corner from our hotel in Madrid as we stumbled out on another adventure two shorts weeks ago, we were stopped short in our tracks by this amazing human statue.  I wished I could have been there to watch them set up as I can’t imagine how they have the thing put together.  There they were – still as stone…until someone would drop a coin in their coffer and the guy on the right would open his eyes and look right at you.  We stood there in the warm Sunday morning sun watching, amazed and like we’ve done from the beginning – Shop Girl was chosen to be the coin dropper.

“The Petrified Ones” – to petrify : to convert into stone or a stony substance; benumb or paralyze with astonishment, horror, or other strong emotion; to make rigid or inert; harden; deaden; to become petrified.  Theirs was just a great get-up, make-up and sitting really really still for long stretches at a time.  

Over the course of my life, I have been able to observe my creative cycles.  It used to terrify me when I couldn’t think a creative thought much less write something down. As Shop Girl started writing music – I watched the same process and found myself telling her to be patient – it would come back.  It always does.  I haven’t felt like writing.  I’ve been taking in other’s writing.

Being still is not dead time. It is not wasted or worthless. Think of all the observation that human statue was doing.  He was having as much fun as all the people watching him all day long.  

Part of this time away for me was binge reading.  Back on December 13, 2006, I heard a radio interview with an author on the Diane Rehm show that intrigued me. Thank God for the internet and archived shows – I did some investigation and found what I was looking for about a week before we left.  

A used book store around the corner had four of the Adriana Trigiani books I was looking for which I read while we were gone.  Last week I went to the library and found four more.  All those characters are dancing in my head.  I devoured every one of her books in month’s time.  Like a package of Oreos – if you eat the entire thing at one sitting – it’s over.  

It’s been a fun physical and mental vacation.  I’ve had my quiet escape.  In a few hours, the Dr. will board a plane for a 15 hour plus jaunt that will bring him back home.  You know what that means for me if I’ve spent the last two weeks reading while he was gone.  My suitcase is still beside my bed untouched where I dropped it the day we got home.  I have 24 hours to be anything BUT a human statue.  Now someone has to drop a coin in the box – ‘coz I gotta get a move on!