Requesting the pleasure of your company

28 07 2009

dressBefore the leaves started to fall last year,  the save-the-date photo/magnet was carefully placed front and center on the fridge.  Patiently waiting through the long days of winter when the hope of spring brought another invite for a lovely lunch to celebrate a bridal shower.  Gifts were ordered and another date on the calendar noted.

When the large double enveloped invitation arrived she marveled that such lovely things could be sent through the mail.  It found a resting place on the room divider between the kitchen and dining room where it could be seen one hundred times a day and wouldn’t get tossed with the lowly newsprint that daily occupied the kitchen table as word puzzles were worked.

By mid-June, she had enough time to ponder just what she might wear and searched through closets till she found the dress last worn to her grandson’s wedding a few years ago when she was proudly accompanied down the aisle on Billy’s arm.  It still fit and she knew it was way too fancy to ever wear to a regular church service now that her place of worship has dropped its Baptist moniker and in liberation has her wearing pants.

Two weeks ago, appointments were made for hair and nails to be done the day before.  She was a little disappointed that it couldn’t be the day of – but we could work with that.  Anything was better than nothing.

There was also fasting blood work scheduled to be drawn at the lab that morning.  I was glad to have something to fill up the hours before the early afternoon ceremony.  An early drive to the doctor’s office and stopping for soggy french toast after barely filled 90 minutes of the long wait ahead.

Once we were home, I encouraged her to take it easy so as to rest up for the long day ahead.  By noon, there was no holding her back.  In a careful inspection of the dress, she found what she thought was rust on two of the buttons.  Actually it was gravy from the grandson’s wedding feast.  Spots cleaned – three more discovered – disaster averted. Panty hose mined from the bowels of a drawer that is brimming with unused pairs, would do the trick.

Two hours left till her ride came to fetch her.  The pacing began.  I could feel the static in the air.  I promised I’d help repair any damage done to the coif but only after her dress was on. Curling iron plugged in and heated up.  The safety clasp on the pearls secured.  Purse items checked.  A lacy hankie from Spain added to the contents.  It was time to stand guard at the front door.waiting

We are at such different times of our lives.  Events can be chores for me.  For her, they are reminders that she is still desired company.  Someone thought enough of her to send an invitation.  She wouldn’t think of declining.

When she came home before Round Two, we poured over the details of the program, the paper cone filled with rose petals to be thrown in lieu of rice, the grandeur of it all.  Sugar plum fairies danced in her head while she kicked her feet up to wait.

She apologized for abandoning me – a loud guffaw exploded from my lungs – and before she knew it her carriage arrived once again to whisk her off into the evening.

It wasn’t until almost 10 p.m. that I heard a stirring in the kitchen as she was accompanied to the door.  She could hardly carry all the tchotchke that was her’s for the taking.  I was just relieved she hadn’t lifted the salt and pepper shakers, silverware or floral arrangements.

There are a few more exciting party dates peppering her calendar this summer…a 50th anniversary dinner for friends, a baby shower for Shop Girl.  Details and dates for other reasons are the things that keep me awake at night have her dreaming of things to do.  Things to break up the monotony of word puzzles and weeding.  shoes

But here we are – a year past the time when days were counted in hours until Billy would wear the floor thin pacing back and forth because he couldn’t sleep at night.  A year of change – a year of adjustments – a year of no answers from the empty recliner next to her – a year where she marks these celebrations reflecting on her life with Billy as she requests the pleasure of his company forever and ever.





what is happening in your kitchen?

25 07 2009

bdaydinprepDo you remember being in a foreign language class in high school and having to memorize those stupid little role-playing scenarios?  I can still quote a line or two I’m sure from the ones I had in Spanish class 40 years ago.

When we were living in Spain a lot of the high schoolers we knew were taking English as their 2nd or 3rd language would have those skits to memorize.  Thanks to Raúl using one of those stupid phrases as a greeting for years, it has stuck and someone in our small tribe will repeat it at least once a week.  “What is happening in your kitchen?” has become the equivalent of “what are you doing?” or “what’s up?” – but it must be repeated with a slightly foreign accent of indeterminate origin.

There was all kinda WHAT happening in my kitchen the night of my birthday.  Best Boy’s culinary sensors are rather late bloomers – I dare say there is some method to his madness – and he can’t stop asking questions on how to manage meal prep.  On a recent trip to LA, he’d read through the airline mag and had seen a great recipe for grilled salmon on cedar planks.

He wanted to try his hand for dinner but lucky for him I’d found out that the planks need to be soaked in water for a few hours prior to using them.  So I ran and got the planks – soaked them all afternoon and when he got done with work we went to the store for the other ingredients.  Shop Girl was happy to serve as his sous chef.

He ended up oven baking the salmon (rubbed in all kind of goodness) since there was a whopper of a summer storm raging outside and the grill was out of the question.  Risotto with portobello mushrooms, tender greens with glazed pecans, gorgonzola, onions dressed with raspberry vinaigrette  and a baguette rounded out the fare.

bdaydinI was never the mom that let the kids help me in the kitchen.  I’m not sure where that all comes from but I think my years working in restaurant kitchens that where no place for putzing or fun must have marked me in a dark way.  And the fact that I’ve never had a kitchen big enough for more than one body at a time.  Actually, for most of their growing up, the main meal prep of the day happened while they were at school – so that when they’d walk in at 1:00 or so – we’d sit down and enjoy eating together before they headed back to school at 3:30.

So my excuses aside and all the disservice I’ve done in not sharing the Joys of Cooking with them – I’ve never had to lie to them and say I loved their “creations” either.  Putting off the process this long has been well worth the wait.





Ground control to Major Tom

21 07 2009

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Forty years.  Count them…4 – 0.  If Best Boy hadn’t been glued to the Science Channel these days and asking me what I remember from the first moon landing when I was a day short of 14 years old, I’m not sure I would have remembered the exact dates off the top of my head.  I take that back.  I remember getting a charm for my charm bracelet that commemorated the event.  I knew it was around my bday but I wouldn’t have remembered the year.

Does this kiddo that Shop Girl outfitted for a film project last year have any idea how things will spin out for him in the next 40 years?  I sure couldn’t have predicted 1/100th of what has happened in last 480 months.

At one point, I was sure I was going to be a Physical Therapist.  The closest I got to that was sitting in countless sessions interrupting for Hispanic patients and their families.  Does that count?  I did learn a thing or two.

By the time I finished college, I thought that if I hadn’t written my first book  by the age of 25,  I’d be all washed up.  So I must be washed up because all I’ve got is about 20 years worth of journals and a blog that will be a year old in a few days.

I guess I saw myself married but the most unlikely pairing of a wild child and a missionary kid is hardly what people were betting on.  Two kids, a dog, a cat and a house…and 31 years later and the Dr. is still hangin’ in there.  Poor guy.

Even in my late 20’s when we moved to Spain, we knew that wouldn’t be forever…but we had no idea of what the “ever after” looked like.

I hardly doubt that I have another 40 to go – although the Mrs.’ dad was past 90 when he died.  Suppose I do make it till 2035…my goals have changed some.  All I want to do before then is to clean out my own basement.

Ground Control to Major Tom

Commencing countdown.

Engines on,

Check ignitions,

And may God’s love be with you.

(here’s David Bowie’s original 1969 video.)





winter or hell?

20 07 2009

plazaliteEarly the other morning as I was driving down to the Mrs.’ place, NPR was my travel companion as is the norm.  A story came on that instantly brought tears to my eyes and I had to really concentrate on staying on the road because I couldn’t see.  It was about summer nights in Spain.

There were a million things that flooded my mind – the first being a popular word play that pokes fun of the two seasons in Spain: invierno (winter) and infierno (hell). Sirocco winds blowing off the Sahara desert during these months would make it feel as if we had moved into a convection oven.

persiana2Air conditioning was a luxury that was never part of any of our living situations.  Persianas are plastic or metal horizontal slats mounted outside the windows which could be lowered completely to black out all light or left part way up allowing some airflow. These were lifesavers.  I always loved the polka dot shadows they cast on the walls or the clacking sound they’d make with the slightest breeze.  Especially during these weeks of July, the white noise commentary of the Tour filled dark rooms on suffocating afternoons.  Everyone would move at a snail’s pace so as not to expend unnecessary energy.

It wasn’t until after 8 p.m. that the sun’s arc would be at a tolerable degree in the sky so as to not singe our eyebrows. The persianas would be rolled up letting in any smidgen of breeze.  Little by little the streets came alive.  The darker it got outside – the more people would be on the streets.

Nights that Best Boy and Shop Girl would still be out playing hide-and-go seek or some other foolishness at midnight were the norm.  It was no cause for worry.  It wasn’t dangerous.  No one was going to call Child Protective Services on us.  Half the population of the pueblo was out on the streets soaking in whatever cool the darkness afforded.

Mornings were quiet – given everyone’s love of pushing the envelope on the circadian rhythm thing.  Maybe that pattern really resonated with my ruling planet being the Moon and I got stuck in the cycle. Here so many years later I’d still rather be awake at 2 a.m. and sound asleep till just before noon.

But I don’t live there any more.  Nor do I live in a neighborhood that I’d let my young kids play outside at midnight.  I learned a long time ago that it was wasted energy to pine away for where I’m NOT.  It’s best for me to recognize the good and the bad in each place – see its uniqueness and live in the space that I am physically present in at the time.  Being bi-cultural means embracing the tension.  Easier said than done.

When I was in Spain, I missed the four distinct seasons of the Midwest.  Surviving the rabbit hole winters here in Michigan makes me long for the Mediterranean light.  The acrid smell of scorched earth during the drought month of August in Spain would make me fantasize about standing out in a raging thunderstorm along the shores of Lake Michigan.  And now – one of these nights where a blast of Canadian chill makes for what is referred to as “good sleeping weather” here makes me think of those days when I’d roll around toasting like a corn dog in bed all night long in Madrid.

The best part of experiencing culture is the part that you do when you are viewing it from a distance.  I have journals filled with all the frustration I was really feeling on so many levels during those days – but now all it takes to turn me to mush is to remind me of all the things I took for granted.  So my Catch 22 is winter or hell…hell or winter…or hell, why not winter?  Two more months till Fall.





stuck in the middle with you

17 07 2009

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Just to start off with a disclaimer:  this is my blog – my vent.  I share what I share because – maybe just maybe – there is someone out there who feels the same way I do.  Or maybe I’m just delusional.  No news there huh?

I was headed to the Mrs.’ yesterday – to get her bedroom ready for the arrival today of the new full sized mattress and box spring set but I got stuck again.  Caught in the middle.  Things came up here that were unexpected and I needed to be around a little bit longer.  It just means the road trip will begin before dawn instead of mid-morning yesterday as I’d planned – still giving me enough time to move some things out of her room and into what used to be Billy’s room.

I struggle when my weekly travel plans get delayed and it seems like it happens more times than I’m comfortable with.  The guilt sometimes stiffles me.  I feel torn in a million directions at once.  I’m not saying this to accuse anyone but more to just admit it outloud.  Learning how to manage the urgent and the not so urgent is always a balancing act.

Back during any of the 22 moves that the Dr., Best Boy, Shop Girl and I have made- it took me about a year (if we even stayed in the space that long) to adjust to new surroundings to the point where things would feel normal.  This year has been a move of sorts.  I quit my job a little over 12 months ago.   I now split my weeks between two states – two houses – and I’m still finding my footing.

I’m so lucky that I don’t have to manage full-time work.  Surrounded by my supportive husband and two kids – supportive siblings and their spouses – supportive extended family – no one is accusing me of slacking.  The Mrs. is the first one to tell me to tend to my immediate family first.

Meanwhile, I’ve heard it in her voice.  She was laughing about something the other day on the phone and said, “Why did he (Billy) have to leave me?”  She was laughing but there was a sadness there as well.

As we approach the one year mark that he’s been gone- I am still amazed at how well she has done.  She is the widow and I can’t take that away from her as much as I would like to.  There is some purpose in the Plan for this alone time of her life. She’s not ready to leave the space she has called home for over 40 years, nor is there any urgent reason that she should.  For now – I think we are on an even keel.

I imagine that this is the point where kids in their haste to make their lives more manageable start to tighten the screws on elderly parents.  Every situation is unique.  Ours is unique.  We are making decisions together with the best for everyone in mind. I am NOT passing judgment on anyone who has made other decisions.  Would my life be easier if she lived here? I’m not sure.  It might make me more crazy.

All I wanted to say is that this space for families is one where the rubber band gets so stretched – it is hard to see where there can be any give at all.  We are blessed – blessed by this year of memories, progress, purging, tears and laughter.  We’re all doing our part and making this thing work.  Hopefully with some dignity and grace.

Today,  Best Boy will be in Los Angeles, the Dr. headed back from Arizona, Shop Girl will stay in MI and I’ll be in IN with the Mrs.  Just another boring week.





postcards from the edge

15 07 2009

central5Months ago the letter arrived in the mail – the reservation check was sent in- the dates marked on the calendar.  Little did I know how important this outing was to her but when I discovered that she had made an appointment not only to get her nails done but also her hair – I started to get a clue.

To me, the effect was more like having to go back to the dentist for a root canal without the fun little gas mask.  I faced it all with the tune of “The things we do for love…” running through my mind.

The DAY was finally here.  Before dawn I could hear her digging through her closet for just the right outfit…but I wasn’t planning on leaving until 5:30 p.m. and that was about 45 minutes earlier than we REALLY needed to leave but I knew better than to make her wait any more than that.  Meanwhile, I got a couple of hours of good hard demo work done in the basement with every ounce of anxt pushing the hammer through those shelves.

It was the 100 year anniversary of the church at we had attended in Gary back in the day.  The church where she met and married Billy, the church where I slept through innumerable 8:30 a.m. Sunday services and learned “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam”.

As I had warned, we were there before the tables were done being set up in the gym.  It didn’t matter – she needed time to visit with her people.

centralWe meandered through the church library where there were things on display…things that were causing my brain’s hippocampus to explode like someone had injected it with a 5 lb bag of Pop Rocks.  The pulpit, the “beama” seats, photo albums, framed pictures of THE missionaries…

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We finally found our way to Table 15 and our assigned seating with me  next to a woman I’d not seen in 50 years but she was sure I was friends with her daughter Patty.  “Sure…I remember!” (liar!)

It took everything I had after the mediocre buffet of rubber chicken and green bean mush to keep from choking during a “special number” by a man strumming a ukulele and singing “There’s a Hole in the Bucket, Dear Liza”.  When he was done all 170 or so of the other guests applauded as if they’d never heard the song and thought it was appropriate for this occasion.  “It must be the kool-aid…they were all drinking the kool-aid!”, I thought as  I quickly switched to drinking water for the rest of the night as a preventative measure.

I just kept deep breathing and trying to keep the Mrs. from drawing too much attention through her stage whispering about her brother-in-law nodding off across the table.  I didn’t blame him a bit.  I only stayed awake by excessive doodling on the scratch pad that was part of the schwag (i.e. promotional items – not to be confused with the same word that means “low grade marijuana”) we were given – matched set with the book mark and program.

This used to be a universe that I was familiar and comfortable in – a place called GARB.  No longer true.  I’ve spun off like a supernova and am in a whole new orbit in galaxies at the dark, unexplored edges of the “religious” solar system.  But for just a few hours on a Saturday night in mid-July – I was able to sustain life long enough to take in  the rarified air of this place but glad to escape and re-board my own Battlestar Galactica.  Still feel a little stretched from the time warp.

I leave you with a view from the portal as I escaped with my life.  Only those of you who have visited this distant planet will recognize the vista…you two know who you are and you owe me big time!  Oh – and bonus points if you name all the missionaries who are pictured…

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spinners

9 07 2009

sds1One of Best Boy’s posse sent me this picture the other day and all I could think was at least he wasn’t in the driver’s seat while filming the pilot for a reality show. Knowing him – he’d try if he needed to.  Doing a million things at once – that is what he does.

Back in Spain during the earliest years of his fun with academia, there was about an 18 month span when he and Shop Girl attended The British School of Aragón where the uniforms were little gray trousers/skirts, maroon jumper (that’s a sweater – but you should know that by now) sporting a huge navy blue “B” – like the size of the letter on a letterman’s jacket – on the front.  As the dutiful Mom, I would cross the span of our neighborhood and wait for them to descend the steps of the school bus (that looked more like tour buses than the yellow and black things that would come to mind) after nearly an hour of post-school urban trekking.

Of course the first words out of my mouth were, “Did anything fun happen today?”  He’d usually just mutely shake his head but that utterance from me was all it took to prime Shop Girl’s pump before the gush of who-did-what-to-who-and-Maria-had-two-new-barrettes-and-Ignacio-stole-my-candy-and…I’d start to hear the whaaawhaaawhaa like Charlie Brown’s mom’s voice over the phone.  The difference between the two is that one lives it all on the outside and the other on the inside.

Looking at that photo of him mega-tasking, I ask if it is any wonder that he has migraines.  A few weeks ago he got a referral to a pain clinic looking to get accepted into their headache program.  The examining doctor said that he’s never seen someone carry so much tension in his neck, back and shoulders as Best Boy.  Hummmm-there’s news worth the co-pay. Of course, today’s mail informed him that insurance wouldn’t cover any of the 12 scheduled visits so he’s just left with a pain in the neck (head) and ass.  This never helps my cause to get a guy that hates anything medical to try and seek treatment.  So much for that attempt.  No more pain clinic – no more good physical therapy and biofeedback.  I love insurance.  Best Boy doesn’t exactly have $4000 to cover the out-of-pocket expenses since they allow him TWO WHOLE VISITS A YEAR.  Moving on…

tvWhen this tiny black and white console TV graced Billy’s living room, the plate spinners on the Ed Sullivan show fascinated me as a little girl.  There’d be that one plate on the far end that would enter into a precarious wobble going slower and slower till it was about to fall and crash into a million pieces.  The spinner would do an Inspector Gadget move, throw his arm out and give that long stick a wiggle when balance was instantly maintained in the universe with only nanoseconds to spare.  Timing – it’s all about timing.

There were too many things I was juggling on the calendar in the next few weeks and I was setting myself up for a crash burn. Today I made some phone calls – shifted things around and all the plates are still spinning.  It helps me to take a step back and really look at all the plates to decide what really needs to happen when, before I get myself into a total frantic mess trying to do too much.

New dates for the basement work at the Mrs.’ place:  end of September.  I was really looking forward to having it all over and done with but August suddenly has me driving to Nashville for a week and then attending four or more baby showers on different weekends – so September it is.  Spin baby spin.