storytellers

25 12 2009

Travelers.  Wanderers.  Immigrants.

We were surrounded by the unfamiliar and my soul was longing for something to hang on to in this place where all of my cultural cues were misplaced.  The songs were unrecognizable.  There was no snow.  It was midnight and the neighbors were banging on the radiators upstairs in jubilation.  It was Christmas morning and I was thousands of miles away from home.

In the following years as I became acclimated to my surroundings, I began picking up on the nuances of  Noche Buena.  Families would gather late – for a huge meal before going to midnight mass.  It was one of two nights all winter that the heat in the apartment building would be on all night long.  I had to come up with a way that we could stay up late too – albeit our family gathering was only the four of us…sometimes more depending on whatever ex-pats we could host.

Each trip Stateside in the following years, I would visit a favorite children’s book store and leave with armloads of stories about Christmas.  That stack of books became the center piece of our attempt at making the wrong feel right. We had something to keep us up till midnight.  We could eat and we could read together as a family.

Once permanently removed from the foreign back to the familiar – it all fell apart again.  Here there was too much to do.  Almost too much family but we couldn’t say that outloud without great misunderstanding.  We missed the huddling together to read but Best Boy and Shop Girl were churlish teens by then and bored with the whole routine anyway.

Somewhere – sometime – we caught the NPR stories.  We replaced our books with the radio stories that meant Christmas to us.  Do yourself a favor…sit…be quiet…and listen.  That is what Christmas is about anyway.  Listening with our hearts.  My Christmas gift to you – a link.

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securities and exchange(s)

24 12 2009

Yesterday Shop Girl wanted to stop over at some friends’ house to invade their space for a mini photo shoot with Donny Diva acting as the talent.  It is the home of a family bound by deep love that exudes warmth and is a visual treat as well – given the creative souls that inhabit the dwelling.

On the Eve of this special day of the year that our society has duped us into thinking that it is all about the number of gifts under the tree or a “love” that has a price tag attached to it – I was reminded that some of the best gifts are homemade and humble.

Lacey paper snowflakes plastered over the windows cost a few sheets of paper.  Just think of it – we can be boring, flat, blank sheets of paper OR we can get folded, cut, have holes cut through our middles and really become a thing of beauty.

a basket of hand-knit goodness…

and a star wishing a “marry crismis to all you.”

I was talking to SisterSib this morning about the transitional stage of life we find ourselves in as our brood now have their own homes and spaces in which to create special memories with the ones they love.  Once Donny Diva is old enough – we’ll have some special something that will be imprinted in his memory bank about going to Momo’s and Papi’s at Christmas, but not this year.

Can you remember details of the last ten Christmases or even five or three?  A few are memorable but some…not so much.  What about all those people in a panic at the Mall right now spending money they don’t really have to spend on things that people don’t really need and by this time next year won’t even remember that they got?  Is THAT Christmas?

What I don’t wonder about is the security of the love my immediate and extended family share…that is enough gift exchange for me – thank you very much.

p.s.  In case any of you were following the cookie mystery of the last entry – she found them.  They were in a place she always kept cookies when she made large batches but I had obviously not looked carefully enough to see them in the cupboard.  Oh, and I was talking on the phone to Nascar Car last Sunday when I kept smelling something like the oven on in the kitchen.  When I got off the phone, I walked in to find I had boiled the teapot dry!  Who’s crazy now???





christmas cookies

19 12 2009

The Mrs. was a working girl.  When I was in elementary school she went back to working full time and continued to do so until after she and Billy had put three kids through college and I was married.  Elaborately decorated Christmas cookies were never her style but she’d find time to bake between doing laundry and housekeeping on those weeks leading up to the Holidays.  Mexican wedding cakes, pecan tarts and peanut butter blossoms to name a few would be around the house for snacking and sharing.

This year it was just before Thanksgiving that she started to make noises about getting the ingredients for the peanut butter blossoms – those ones with the chocolate Hershey’s kiss on top.  It used to be Billy’s job to unwrap the candy as she prepared the dough. It goes without saying that lots has changed since those days.

There was a profound bewilderment in her eyes as she said, “I just get all screwed up…I don’t know what’s wrong with my memory.”  She wonders out loud about why a simple recipe that she’s done so many times before with such success seems so overwhelming to her now.  I talk about the realities of aging (I chose to not use the D word – dementia) and motor planning.  I’ve been witness to hundreds of hours of physical and occupational therapy working as an interpreter at a rehab hospital and with wonder been a casual observer of the fragile nature of our gray matter.  Sometimes I’d get to see the lights come back on and other times – the lights were out for good.

She insisted that she’d made the peanut butter cookies and another batch. “You know those ones with the cereal and the melted marshmallows?” I got excited thinking that I’d be soon snacking on rice crispy treats while I balanced her check book, filed bills and spent time on the phone taking Billy’s name off all the utilities and switch over the auto-pay billing to a new checking account we had to open in her name alone.

But she couldn’t remember where she had put them.  I defaulted to what I had told the Fabulous Mrs. T not long ago. “There is always a thread…there is always some logic behind the twisted thinking.”  A few months ago our dear family friend had stopped by for a cup of coffee with the Mrs. and as soon as she got home to her computer – she quickly pounded out an email to me concerned about the confusion in the Mrs. mind about when Billy had passed away, etc.  I could easily explain all the faulty thinking probably because I am a lunatic myself at this point and it all makes perfect sense.  Some call it denial – I call it coping.

Back to the missing cookies – as if I am a a principal actor on CSI, I try to uncover the truth.  She had gone to the store to gather ingredients – the receipt I found proved that she’d found the baking aisle and brought home brown sugar, powdered sugar (enough to make cookies from now until next Christmas) and a box of puffed wheat cereal.  She explained that she’d not been able to find the one that was specifically listed and figured if she just got one of the same brand (Post) then it would all be the same.

I had a hunch…I went to the front closet and there sat a pan of “cookies”.  See, that closet is cold and not insulated and if the recipe says to “store in a cool place”…then why wouldn’t she put the cookies there?  And once I got a look at the pan, there was even more clarity.

There is a fine physics involved in baking.  Baking powder and baking soda can’t be substituted one for the other.  Rice crispy cereal can’t be substituted with a puffed wheat cereal – or at least not without a very distinct result.  I gently reminded her that a Ford Fiesta is not the same as a Ford F-150 truck…but when she doesn’t really understand or comprehend she gets this look on her face and nods with a half smile like you do agreeing with a two-year old about some preposterous statement they’ve just made. To her it was all the same.  And in a way, it’s all the same to me too.

She just wanted to make some cookies for the Holidays.  I learned a valuable lesson.  I need to hear her words…listen to the intent behind them.  I need to stop my busy life and with grace – as much as is humanly possible –  just help her do those things that give her some sense of fulfillment.  I could have avoided this whole mess if I would have taken the time to be with her while she made those cookies she felt she needed to have in the house.  But I live on a teeter-tooter full of tensions…struggling to keep my balance between the things I want to do, should do, have to do and those that are my responsibility to do. Always straddling the center – never really in one world or the other – always somewhere in the middle.

I feel her slipping away – tired of things that once made her excited.  Maybe it is happening to me too – I haven’t decorated for the last three Christmases and if I stop to review I find the thread that I told the Fab Mrs. T about…this time of the year has become sad to me.  One year it was a Dec. 17th pink slip for the Dr., another was a Christmas morning visit with Billy that I called 911 when he couldn’t get out of his chair – (the paramedics were sure it was nothing but I stood there watching him have a TIA), another was spent in the hospital with Best Boy having his gut re-opened.

There will be new memories soon enough when Donny Diva is up and running around and I’ll be that Momo that decorates and bakes. I’ll get it back.  Right now I’m stretched…doing it for the Mrs. makes me not want to do the same here and have two messes to clean in January.  Mine own is mess enough any time of the year.

So here’s a big head’s up to Sister Sib and Nascar Guy about the cookies awaiting them.  Enjoy them with big smiles on your faces next weekend as you sit with her around the tiny little pitiful tree sparkling away in her TV room.  Know they were made with lots of love.  And please let me know if you find the peanut butter blossoms she supposedly made.





a moving day

14 12 2009

I’ve been doing a lot of looking over my shoulder these days.  Moving always does that to me.  This one wasn’t my move but one I fully participated in.  The experience always has me thinking back over the 22 some odd moves the Dr. and I have made…some before Best Boy and Shop Girl were around – but most after.

I was about the age Shop Girl is right now when after 5 moves in less than 5 years I got a taste of a big move.  It was time to pack up our things for our overseas adventure in Spain.  Best Boy was two and a few months – Shop Girl a hearty 7 months old when a semi-truck pulled up to the front door to haul away the air freight shipment I had prepared.  Each box had to be weighed, measured, a bill of lading prepared in triplicate, customs paper work and off it went.  That sentence actually took me months to do and seconds to write.  I remember standing behind a screen door with tears running down my face from exhaustion and fear of a new life I knew nothing about – trying to explain to the 2 year old where all his toys had gone.

That was only the beginning.  I know a thing or two about packing.  The next handful of places never lasted more than 4 years and some as short as 3 months.  I could pack for a week or a month or a year at the drop of a hat.  A dozen years after that first trip over the pond, I watched as the things most precious to us were loaded into a 12 foot sea-worthy container headed back to the States with Spain at our backs.

Not one of them has been pretty.  Some I’ve been glad to move on and leave the particular space with a whole hearted “good riddance” – others with fond tears flowing but none without a good bit of trauma.  Everytime your life is dragged out of the dark cupboards and closets, basements and out from under beds it is traumatic.  To touch everything you own and visually and mentally assess it as it gets prepared for its new place is exhausting.

Shop Girl’s experience last week was no different…except maybe adding the stress of adjusting to less sleep than she’s ever had in her life as the mom of a month old baby and continuing to deal with the whack job of a landlord that started this whole mess. It was no wonder that in a brief pause between truck loads, with no one else around but me and Donny Diva – she collapsed into wrenching sobs when she looked at the chaos starting to take shape as a livingroom and she said, “I’m home!”

I knew what she meant.  She gets to start where it took me forty years to get to.  She gets to give Donny Diva a bedroom to call his own.  She won’t be playing Goldilocks like I did for most of my life.

It wasn’t a pretty move – a smooth move – an organized move.  One small U-haul truck, a handful of able bodied friends and family, the sunshine of a Saturday post-blizzard, the job got done…moving all the personal belongings of a new family from one rented space to their own 6 blocks away.  She has a long winter ahead to organize closets and decide where things should best go.

I wish that all this first-hand experience would have taught me to travel lightly through life.  I fear it hasn’t but I also detect a change.  I’m no longer responsible for Best Boy and Shop Girl’s things.  What is left in the basement will get offered then tossed.  They haven’t asked for it in 10 years – they probably don’t care.  But up until now – I didn’t feel like I had the right to throw away their past – the bits and pieces of the places we’ve lived.  We can’t drive by those apartments, tiny houses  and condos, the place where they planted a tree in the yard, point a finger to remember those days so I chose to drag some pieces with us.  I’m not sorry I did…I’m just ready to move on.

If I have learned anything from this last year of sorting through Billy’s life – it is that disorganization leads to waste…I buy another doo-hickey when I can’t find the one I think I have. In my effort to hold on to things that SOMEONE might need SOMETIME – others could be getting benefit from it now if I’d just get it packed into the car and drive to the closest donation drop box.

Oh, and Shop Girl…I’ll drop off your boxed wedding dress tomorrow.

For good visuals of how I’d like to live from now on..check out Shop Girl’s producer/musician friend Evan Slamka’s video with Marjorie Fair’s Empty Room and then be a good Do-Bee and donate a box of junk you keep dragging around.





budduhns and midduhns

4 12 2009

The snow blower won’t start.  We can’t find the car scrapers buried in the junk piled in the garage.  Of course.  There are 100 school closings and this is the first snow we’ve had.  There is 8″ piled on the deck rail with another 3″ on the way.  The Beast thinks she died and went to doggie heaven.  She rolls in it.  She prances and leaps like she’s a reindeer or something.  She glups down mouth fulls.  She won’t come in the house.

The forecast says the next 8 days will be below average temps and above average precipitation -finishing the doom and gloom by saying “have a nice weekend.”  The gall…

There are six rooms to paint at Shop Girl’s new digs.  SIX!  Next Saturday is move in day.  Somewhere in all this in-between I have to get down to the Mrs.’ and make sure she’s OK.

The upside is that our unfinished landscaping projects in the front of the house (and the back for that matter) are cleverly disguised for the time being.  I feel less shame now not being assaulted by the gorgeous green of the neighbors re-seeded lawn. There will be another Spring right?

It’s a perfect lake effect snowfall.  Clinging to every branch – gently stacked on every horizontal surface.  It could make for some really great pictures.  Seriously, I’m trying my best to find every positive spin to put on my present reality.  Midduhns and budduhns.  Bud-duhns and mid-duhns.  This ain’t LA.

Best Boy and Mimi drove back to the sunshine, Santa Anas and shooters.  He was at the office yesterday when they got word to lock down the facility because there was a gunman loose in the neighborhood after a robbery.  Two days ago I found myself checking facebook every few hours to see pictures of their roadtrip.  Would they run into bad weather?  Would the car run well?  Would they be awake enough for all the driving?  Knowing they were back in LA, I took myself off the worry hook.  Stupid me…they live in LA!

I’m trying to be a grown up about this season…this season of life and this particular season of the year.  It is messy.  It is gray.  There is barely enough time between storms to catch my breath.  I wasn’t prepared for this much this fast. I’ll do better focusing on the big picture.  It won’t last forever.  It will melt.  Things will change.  There will be blue skies again.

Thanks Mimi for being such a great hand model during our photo shoot of the Mitten State.  Sorry you missed seeing it in all its glory.  Maybe you should go over the pronunciation guide before you come back.