Enough Said

Enough Said
A sampling of my columns and why the hell is my picture SO big?

Friday, May 12, 2017

Life around the used-up woodpile

Published May 08. 2017 10:24AM 
Special to The Times
This winter I loved the wonderful smell of wood smoke which greeted me almost every day when I came home from work; our neighbor heats his house with wood. No picturesque New England stone walls for him, his property is lined with neatly stacked firewood. I can’t imagine the round the clock effort it takes to use oil or gas as backup and wood as a primary heating source.

We have a small woodstove in our living room and I love it. But the wood we went through on a frigid Sunday afternoon, while watching football or civil war documentaries, (honey, the north won), is telling.

There’s an old saying that wood warms you three times: once when you cut it, again when you split it and finally when you burn it. I can attest to that fact because we’ve had a fireplace, or a woodstove, in every house we’ve lived in for three and a half decades.

Years ago my husband and I trudged the woods we owned behind our house along the shoreline, to clear the standing dead. At the time it seemed like a positive environmental task, and we were broke and didn’t want to pay for firewood.

It had rained that summer morning so it was hot, the woods were sopping wet and the old cart path was rutted with truck tracks filled with muck. We gathered, hauled, cut to length, split and stacked the no-cost logs against the house. It was hard work but the price was right, until we discovered the following year that carpenter ants from the dead wood were eating our porch.

Back when LBJ was in the White House, and I was a teenager, I helped my mom and dad stack (no ants) firewood against the wall on their porch. I noticed that sometimes when I tossed wood up onto the porch, when one log hit another, they made a sound. While we hauled from the pile in the driveway, and stacked the wood neatly, I began tapping the ends of the logs with another log. Each had different tones. Once the wall of wood reached above our heads I tapped the ends to play songs.
My parents cracked up as I played Mary Had a Little Lamb and Three Blind Mice on the ends of the stacked firewood. My mom proudly proclaimed me a female Paul Bunyan percussionist — just how a chubby, self-taught musically inclined teenage girl likes to be described.

There’s something comforting about piles of wood appearing through the summer and then being stacked neatly by the end of fall. The heat source dwindling as winter proceeds is like fleeting insurance against the cold.

But now, because the piles are small and the ground is mushy from spring rains, and the use of fireplaces and woodstoves becomes sporadic, the previous season’s stacked wood becomes a nuisance.

Because we burned only for weekend heat and ambiance on really cold days, our piles of wood last a long time. This means soon we’ll have to remove the stacked wood from just outside our back door. There’s also a pile of long logs my husband hasn’t cut to length and split yet. So that pile will have to be moved also. Moving the piles to an out of site location for the rest of spring and summer means a fourth time to be warmed by wood.

Our neighbor doesn’t have to move his leftover wood because there’s not much left this time of year. And, I don’t smell the comforting fragrance of his heat source because nature is keeping us relatively warm. Now, I’m waiting for the delicious smell of barbecue to greet me when I get home from work.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

A new world order of TV and Twitter testing our beliefs

  Published February 20. 2017 9:53AM

I am not a political type and this is not a diatribe or a banner for anything other than a fence-sitters observation. How can any of us not take note of what’s going on in the news? It’s crazy out there and a little bit unnerving.

During the ‘60s when lunch counter demonstrations, firehosed American citizens, and peaceful black demonstrators corralled by police dogs were on the evening news, I watched in awe as a confused teenager during soup at dinner. There would be a commercial and then pictures of horrifically injured soldiers taken off helicopters in Vietnam became the main course. American citizens marching against that awful war, with guns drawn against them, were follow-ups during dessert.
I asked my mother, “Has the world gone crazy?”

Her answer: “It’s always been like this, but TV brings it closer.”

For some strange reason I found an odd kind of comfort in knowing that the insanity I watched on TV, while eating baked chicken and mashed potatoes with Walter Cronkite, was not unique; it’s always been there.

But now, as I lean my sign up against the fence on which I perch, I won’t even go into the maelstrom of the pants suit vs. small hands last election. That which has been cast upon us, the new world order of TV to Twitter, in my mind, has changed everything.

The plus and minus of instant response, without due diligence, has me quaking in my Uggs.
So I’ll ask Mom, “Has the world gone crazy... again?”

Her answer, if she were still alive: “Build a bomb shelter.”

I remember the day I was home from school with Mom in Elizabeth, New Jersey (Soprano country), during an air raid test. We had the duck and cover drills in class and the trips down to the air raid shelter in the basement of the school, where food and water were stored. But the town wide test was a new thing. It was all over the news (three stations on TV, only two worked).

We were told to go to our basement when the sirens started and wait for an Air Raid Warden to check on our whereabouts and not to leave the basement until the all clear sounded.
Sirens went off on schedule, and Mom and I scurried to the basement and waited in the coal bin. A neighbor, Mr. Connelly, an old guy in a funny Air Raid Warden hat, went from house to house checking on mothers and children huddled in cellars. It seemed like we stood there forever.
Finally he tapped on the window of the coal bin, mom waved, he waved back and he wrote something on a clipboard. Sure enough, a few minutes later the all clear sounded and we went back upstairs for lunch.

The whole experience at age 7, to be saved from annihilation on a mound of coal in the basement of a house on Dayton Street in Elizabeth, New Jersey, meant little to a kid my age back then. But when President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev went at it I was old enough to understand the ramifications of exacting communication. Negotiations regarding nuclear life and death consequences were tricky then, and I know now, more than worth 140 characters.

I used to believe that it really didn’t matter who our leaders were because in the end they either get replaced or continue their good works. I used to believe that politicians, regardless of party, all want the same thing: to serve and do what’s best for us and our nation. I used to believe in Santa Claus.
Well, actually, I still believe in Santa Claus.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Passing the torch of family traditions

About five years ago a tectonic plate shift took place in our family over the holidays. Because there were more of them, the kids sat at the big table. We parents sat in the adjacent room, in sight but out of the line of fire of dinner rolls being pitched to each other. It was a shift for sure, and a welcomed one, because our family was growing. As time went on, high chairs and booster seats filled in the spaces around that big table. It was fun to see young parents teaching table manners, which meant no roll throwing.

This year everything shifted again.

For 38 years my husband and I have hosted our families Christmas Eve celebration. Early on it was because as a young couple, blending family and friends on one night made sense. As our families grew and expanded it didn’t matter that we were busting at the seams. It meant more fun. When we moved to a big house, and my mother-law lived in an attached apartment, our home became the gathering place for almost all celebrations.

From intimate to well over a hundred I loved that our beautiful home was the center around which memories were created. With double ovens and my mother-in-law’s as a third, her fridge, our fridge and an old beer fridge in the basement, large get-togethers were relatively easy to organize and enjoy. But always the first concern was that my beloved mother-in-law was able to comfortably enjoy all of it, then simply go home to the apartment next door, when she got tired.

After my mother-in-law passed away, and the apartment emptied of our children and spouses saving money for homes of their own, we downsized last summer. Half the house and a third of the appliances made this year’s Thanksgiving a challenge. But we pulled it off.

The kids table was the biggest of the three I set. The holiday went well but I knew with Christmas Eve on the horizon hosting was going to be a monumental task. Space and less appliances were not the issue, time and age were. 
I still work full time, which means my off hours, which I used to spend doing things, I now spend healing from the tasks of the day. I say that with a smile but as anyone who is old enough for retirement, but still works full time knows, bouncing back is like rowing upstream, not impossible but it takes time. I don’t like to use the age-card but for the first time in all these years I was looking at entertaining on Christmas Eve, not as a welcomed tradition, but as a rote mandate.

Shortly after Thanksgiving I heard a whispered rumor that my nephew and his wife wanted to host the entire family on Christmas Eve in their beautiful new home. But, they were cautious as to how I would take to handing over the torch. Once I heard the rumor I wasn’t cautious at all, I pretty much lit the damn torch and threw it to them.

The relief was immense. With the weight of planning a meal and prepping the house for 25 during evenings after work, now someone else’s task, I could actually enjoy the season.

Christmas Eve was grand. My nephew and his wife’s house was spectacular, the food amazing and the gathering always as it has been, warm, fun and rowdy. I sat by the fire and took in the evening. After running in the race all these years I finally got to sit back and enjoy the spectacle from the grandstand.

Friday, January 6, 2017

A Mary Richards kind of revelation

Published Jan 3, 17
Years ago I was utterly, explicitly and without a doubt, alone.

Back then, I looked to my single lifestyle with a bit of excitement, some self-doubt and a kind of relief. I only had to answer to myself. But all these years later, as a long-married woman, I am viewed by some of my single friends as an outsider to the kind of lives they, not often but at times, endure.

As a divorced friend recently shared, she finds herself longing for that which she once was so pleased to shed, companionship. Her women friends are wonderful, she went on to say, but it would be nice to play golf or enjoy dinner and a movie with someone who likes to discuss the back nine instead innermost feelings. She wanted to know how she, a computer-challenged, bar hating, size 14, could meet someone with which to stare at stars at night, without the complications of wrinkling sheets?

Decades ago, when I was blond and stupid, (I’m not blond anymore), I identified with Mary Richards, played by Mary Tyler Moore on the “Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Like her, during the chauvinist 1970s, I was past 30 and living in a studio apartment with a couch that opened up. Like her, I had the drive and dream as a single woman, “…to make it after all.” But unlike Mary, most of my friends were coupled as were my business associates. At the time it seemed to me as if almost everyone else walked hand in hand or snuggled next to each other in the corner booth of Howard Johnsons, and there I was reading old issues of The Saturday Evening Post, you guessed it, alone on a Saturday evening.

So, (true story), I prayed to God to send me someone, anyone to share my life — on work release or recently escaped, I didn’t care. I wanted someone else to change the channel and share eggs and bacon. Well, maybe not breakfast right away but it would have been nice to have someone else clear the snow off my windshield.

The next day, Walter (not his real name), walked through the front door of the store I owned. He was at least 20 years older than me, talkative, quirky, not ugly and interested in me.
Walter asked me out for dinner and a movie. I said yes.

On the afternoon before the big date Walter called, he had crashed his motorcycle. Feeling a bit bruised, he reneged on dinner and a movie but asked if I would like to come to his place for a few drinks after I closed the store. Alcohol on an empty stomach, at a biker’s house, why not.

Never married Walter had a decent house left to him by his parents. First up, a house tour while jazz blasted on the stereo. I hate jazz, it sounded like a bunch of middle school band instruments grinding in a blender.

Revelation, if I screamed no one could hear me.

First room on the tour, kitchen.
Walter opened the oven door. “See how clean my oven is.”
A little creeped-out I pretended to be impressed. As we walked back to the living room he cranked the middle school blender from pulse to puree.

Walter shouted, “Would you like to see the upstairs?”

Instinct, get out!

I was in my car and backing out before he closed the front door.
I’m not sure why, but all the way home, one of my favorite Mary Richard’s lines looped in my head, “…sometimes alone is better.”

So, to my single friend, there are worse things than being utterly, explicitly and without a doubt alone. Maintaining a clean oven and being forced to listen to really loud jazz are a couple of them.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

No regrets - we're not in Kansas anymore

As a kid I was the one who seldom got in trouble. I was the well-liked girl and young woman considered a good citizen. I played by the rules, had fun, and stretched the fabric of youth just as far as I could without having it snap back to welt me. But now, as considered a woman of a certain age, when I look back I see a long line of trees along my path with the word “regret” carved in each one.
Having lived a life of wonderful opportunities, many of which I acted on and some I turned my back to, I sometimes wallow in a world of what-ifs. I used to fill my to-do jar for later, because when you’re young, later is a given but the problem was, the jar filled fast and there was little room for later.

So I wonder, how do those of us who have tried, failed and got up again dismiss regret? How do we set it aside and come to terms with failure?

My daughters and I have a habit of watching movies we’ve really like, over and over. If one is on TV, and we happen to be together, we’ll tune in and watch. But we’re really not watching the movie, we’re visiting with each other with the soundtrack and dialog like an old friend mumbling in the background. One of our repeat favorites is Twister, an action flick which came out about twenty years ago.

It’s about a group of storm chasers starring Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton, as a soon to be divorced couple, thrown together for one last chase. Not sure why it resonated so well with us. Maybe it’s the combination of kitsch, action, humor and heart.

It becomes the job of our daring duo to place their scientific tornado research machine, (called Dorothy for OZ fans), filled with little round sensors, into the path of the storm. It’s dangerous work. It can be deadly but our couple is determined to save mankind by increasing tornado warning time.
Okay, so the premise is farfetched and the dialog cheesy at times. Hunt, trying to make sense regarding the loss of her father in an EF5 tornado when she was a little girl, and Paxton, a natural at predicting the paths of twisters, are a perfect storm of a couple when it comes to risk.

In one scene our foolhardy storm-duo places Dorothy in the path of an approaching tornado while being hammered by hail, thunder, lightning and flying debris. Of course Dorothy is knocked over and all the little sensors scatter across the blacktop. Helen Hunt scampers to pick them up. Bill Paxton shouts about the futility of continuing their task in the face of such a deadly storm.

Hunt, still determined to see her life’s work launched shouts back, “You’ve never seen what one of these storms can do, how it can miss one house, miss another and then come for you.”

“Is that what you think?” Paxton says. “You can’t bring your father back. You can’t change the past, you can’t predict the future. What you have is right in front of you, right now.”

Wise words truly spoken in the middle of a fictional storm.
So, regarding those trees lining my path to my past, I keep telling myself, shade and oxygen, shade and oxygen.

Regret is a scar which eventually fades. It may never go away because we can’t change the past. And because we can’t predict the future, we must be mindful of the lush green canopy of now, by grasping today with peace, gratefulness and gusto for prospects undiscovered.

Finally a loser

About five years ago I lost about 100 lbs. I’m using the word “about” because the start date, how long it took and actual amount are a bit murky. I went from a size 22 to a size 10. I even have a few size 8s in my closet. To be honest I wore single digits for about 5 minutes. Another murky “about.” My doctor wanted me to lose another 10 or so but gaunt was not what I was looking for. Healthy was my goal.

I was what was considered a sturdy kid, solid, meaty, a rough and tumble girl. I played hard, ran fast and far until the first dance of high school. I cried behind the bleachers because not one boy asked me to dance. My dad picked me up after the dance and drove us to my best friend’s home. On the way The Four Season’s hit Big Girls Don’t Cry played on the radio. My friends commented about how appropriate the song was for me at that moment. I never explained to my father what they meant.
I had been put on diets as a youngster because my mother did not approve of my plumpness. But it wasn’t until after the dance that I embraced the quest to lose weight like a drowning man grasps the gunnel of a sinking boat; it only saves you for a little while.

Until five years ago my entire life revolved around the loathing of fat cells. I tried almost every diet imaginable. They all worked for a little while but how can anyone commit to nothing but sauerkraut and hard boiled eggs without alienating those close to you. Jobs, marriage and children piled on the pounds and as I aged, losing weight became that thing I talked about and never succeeded at. So I stopped beating myself up over every single thing I ate and felt free, and yet, I felt like a failure.

Once my husband and I found ourselves fully immersed in the revelry of empty nest everything changed. In the space of a few weeks both girls were off to college, I started a new job, my father had a stroke and lay dying, and my mother, the strongest of us all, became a needy empty husk of a woman. It was indeed, the most stressful time of my life, a time when overload defined my days and nights. As I look back I realize it was a turning point, although at the time I did not know it. 
My dad died and seven months later my mom passed away. Adrift, I wandered around as an adult orphan wondering what all life’s effort were really for. And that is when my secret weapon presented itself. My job. My very physical, eight hours on my feet, lifting, stretching and working up a sweat job, became my talisman.

Walking 4 to 5 miles a day during my hours at work was the one thing I knew would consistently make the difference if I wanted to lose weight. So I headed to a weight loss group. I am convinced that no matter the plan I chose at the time, it would have worked because my mind set had changed. And, my secret weapon made all the difference. Not in a million years did I ever think I could reinvent the body I was born with. But, in a way I did.

To be truthful, within the first year of reaching goal, I gained back “about” 10 lbs. and have maintained that level ever since. So the question is, why am I so publicly sharing my achievement? Because at my age, actually at any age, attempting, achieving and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is important and not impossible. I don’t deny myself what I want, I just adjust. Feeling good “about” yourself is as important as just plain feeling good.


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Warm, safe, proud and weatherproof in the Crystal Mall


My first child, Becky, was an October baby.
As parents of fall babies know, once you’re out and about early winter weather becomes a big player. Dragging a two-month old out for a breath of fresh air in December is like making snowballs with your bare hands and liking it.

Because I was one of those mid ’80s stay-at-home mothers, who traded a briefcase for a diaper bag, it was important to stave off mashed potato brain by interacting with other moms as often as I could. I was fortunate because almost all of my friends were stay-at-home mothers. Each week one of us would host all the moms and kids for lunch and playgroup. The kids ate, we played.

Even though I had a wonderful network of friends to lean on there were times when I simply wanted to take Becky out for a walk alone. I called it exercise but actually I needed to walk down the street with my baby and take in the world outside the confines of our four walls. I needed for just the two of us to breathe outside air, fresh or otherwise. But it was too damn cold.

Because I was an inexperienced mom, I only babysat once in my life, (my mother helped), I needed to prove to myself that on my own I could pack up and head out with my kid, without my husband, my mom or a friend as backup. But where? Where could I go to build my mom-confidence? It was below freezing.

I found the perfect place.

It was with great excitement, and only a little nervousness, I filled Becky’s diaper bag with a two days’ supply of every baby item needed and packed my car with a month’s worth of baby camping supplies. How I fit our ATV sized stroller into our Le Car is still a mystery to me. We were only going for a couple of hours but if I am anything I am prepared.

Got the car warmed up and off we trekked to the new mall in Waterford.

The Crystal Mall in Waterford, no I am not getting paid to write this, was the first BIG inside mall for us along the shoreline. Not only was it, and is it, a great center of commerce, it was and is, a great year round Main Street kind of place to walk and push a stroller.

On the first day Becky and I went to the mall I was a pack-horse mom lugging it all. I walked and stopped to gaze in the windows and loved when little old ladies peered in the stroller and smiled.
A short distance from the elevator, on a bench in front of what was originally a cookie store, I fed Becky her first mall bottle. When I think back to that moment of how warm, and safe and proud I felt and how lucky we were to have a place the two of us could go and enjoy the outside world, inside, it brings me to tears.

That day became the first of many. Eventually I went from the ATV stroller to an umbrella stroller to my little girl walking along side and following just as fast as her little legs could go. When our second baby Rachel came along I was a pro. Our supplies, a baby bottle and an extra diaper in my purse.

Just the other day I took my soon to be 3-year-old granddaughter to Waterford. She walked the entire length of the mall twice and spent some time in the little play area while I reminisced about how, with her mother over 30 years ago, I discovered the wonders a weather proof Mall Main Street.