Enough Said

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

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Next stop on this life’s highway is retirement

For each of us, life is a series of passages: tunnels, bridges, mountains and tolls. It’s a journey, fraught with danger and free sailing.

We stumble and stand and sometimes run headlong, until something comes along to either slow us down or skid our Michelins to a stop. Joy, health, and finding love are the keys on the ring we insert in our everyday ignition. For me, a new passage is approaching pretty fast and I’m jumping on the running board with the wind in my hair.

About a year ago, a friend of mine posted a picture on Facebook noting her first day of retirement. It’s something new retirees do, I’m told, on our first day away from the grind. From that day on she did not have to sign in, punch in, wear panty hose or balance a to-go cup atop paperwork.
No more meetings, no more commutes. No more answering to someone else’s directives, no more cold lunches on the fly and daily use of public restrooms. She was home.

The photo? A sunny morning, well past sunrise, about half way through “Good Morning America.” The sun had not yet topped the trees.

I stared at it. It was beautiful. It was peaceful. I bawled like a baby.

I wondered, would I ever be able to do that? At the time, I figured, probably never.
Even though I know how hard it is, and how incredibly more difficult it has become, and seemingly impossible to plan, I tell my grown-up kids to save for retirement.

When you’re young and have to come up with well over $1,000 a month just for daycare, plus mortgage payments, car loans, student loans, utilities and all the rest, retirement is assigned an empty envelope. Photos of first steps, first dance, prom, college, wedding and grandkids far outplay the first day of retirement pic.

Thoughts of sleeping late and wearing PJs until noon are as unimagined as winning the lottery.
My husband and I were never the kind of couple you see in the fancy retirement ads, like the ones discussing investment plans in an office with a mahogany desk.
The last time I saw a desk made out of mahogany, I was standing in front of it, as was a judge in a St. Louis traffic court. I was 16 and my father stood with me but I had to pay the fine.
Lead-foot lesson learned.

My husband and I were the hardworking, paycheck to paycheck, cut coupons, buy off the clearance rack kind of couple. Our kids got what they needed and a little of what they wanted. It was a balancing act for sure.

Now that we’ve downsized everything, we breathe easier because we are OK. We look at the future we have left with different eyes than the ones which had a staring contest with the financial enormity of raising children. We were careful, we were steadfast, we didn’t blink.

So, now it’s my turn, I’m retiring this summer. No PJs till noon for me, I’ll still be working, part time for a few hours. But on that first day of retirement, you bet I’ll take a pic and I’ll post it on Facebook, just like my friend did.

And you know what? I’ll probably bawl my eyes out.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Building and walking over region’s bridges

Around here you know you’re getting up in years when you remember the old bridges, and the traffic tie-ups, that used to get you from there to here. And you know you’re really getting old when the new bridges you watched being built to replace the old rickety spans, are now being repaired, as is the Gold Star Memorial Bridge spanning the Thames River between New London and Groton.

I remember the Gold Star Bridge being built when I worked at the Outlet Co,, which is now Marshalls in the New London Shopping Center. I didn’t pay much attention back then because I lived and worked on the New London side. But when the bridge safety nets caught in the high rigging of the US Coast Guard Barque Eagle, snapping two of the three masts, it got everyone’s attention.

One bridge I watched being built on a daily basis was the Baldwin Bridge over the Connecticut River. We lived in Old Saybrook at the time, and I owned a business in East Lyme, so daily I watched the herculean efforts it took to build that bridge using a horizontal gantry.

The old bridge, both ways on one span and narrower than one side of the new bridge now, was a nightmare, especially in the summer. On the Old Lyme side, traffic got so bad on Sundays that they closed the Route 156 on-ramp at three in the afternoon. In order to make it home after work on a Sunday I hired someone to keep my store open until five and I’d race down the Post Road to Old Lyme to make it over the bridge before I was trapped on the southbound side.

I-95 traffic would back up all the way to East Lyme. Often the Post Road was crammed as well so I had to drive to the bridge in East Haddam just to get home.

When the northbound side of the Baldwin Bridge was finally finished in May 1993, local folks and elementary school students from Goodwin School were invited to walk the highway span over the river to Old Lyme. Getting to walk on the highway was a big deal. There are not many times in your life when you can leisurely walk the center line on an interstate which spans one of the most beautiful waterways on the East Coast.

As a class-mother, I accompanied my older daughter Becky and her class to the walk. We boarded buses at Goodwin School and were transported to a construction lot on the northbound side. I think there was a ribbon cutting. If memory serves, the first car to go over the old bridge in 1948 was the car leading our group on that special day in 1993.

It was a kick and a once in a lifetime experience to walk the northbound lanes of the Baldwin Bridge. The kids were given round badges with their names, and “Baldwin Bridge opening’93” on them. A bit rusted over time, we still have Becky’s.

Once on the Old Lyme side, we boarded buses to be taken back to Goodwin School. The kids were hot, tired and I think the significance of that day was lost on them, but not me, who forgot sunscreen for my fairest child.

From then on, I never let my kids go anywhere without sunscreen.

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.