Enough Said

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

Friday, December 13, 2013

Ding, Dong, Donate (original title)

Ringing the bell and running like hell

Published 12/12/2013 12:00 AM
Updated 12/09/2013 01:06 PM

There are 18 of us - extended family members who gather for gift-giving on Christmas Eve.
For years, during our Thanksgiving get-togethers, 16 of us have been exchanging names for gifts. Two members of the bunch are kids, so their names don't get thrown into the hat. They get gifts from everyone; we're all named Santa.
There was a time when we used to buy a little something for everyone, but we decided a few years back that one non-essential/essential gift made more sense than a Stop & Shop bag full of stuff worthy of what a $5 bill can buy at the last minute.
This year we switched things up again. Because we are all at a station in life where, if we want it, we can afford to go out and buy it for ourselves, we decided to not buy for each other, but for someone else. We're donating.
Hold on, we're not a bunch of goody-two-shoe-do-gooders, we're a group of adults who have decided that the little we spend on each other might mean a lot more to someone less fortunate.
Some of us are donating to big charities, the in-your-face ones that hit you up every time you go to the grocery or department store. Some of us have picked families to help and some of us are practicing random acts of kindness. Deciding where our donations are going has been a blast.
As we went around the room on Thanksgiving Day, and talked about what we were thankful for, and how we were going to spread our good fortune, I thought of my grandfather, (my dad's dad), a man who passed away three days after my first birthday. He was legend in our family.
During the Great Depression my grandfather was the only person with a job on the street where he lived in Roselle Park, New Jersey. Every day he'd take the bus into New York City because he worked at Twentieth Century Fox. I don't know what his job was but for the entire depression my Pop had a job, fed his family and most of the street.
He'd fill a cardboard box with groceries, place it on the front porch of a neighbor in need, rap on the door or ring the bell and run like hell. No one knew who was leaving the food. Because he was the only employed breadwinner I'm sure they figured it out but not one time did anyone speak of the guardian angel feeding the families on Walnut Street. My grandmother said he'd race home out of breath and excited. He loved helping and loved that no one knew it was him.
When I think of my grandfather, a World War I doughboy about the age my own children are now, I am so in awe of his selflessness and am so proud of my heritage. My father said his dad never spoke of the years he fed the families, never sought thanks, never expected or would have accepted a pat on the back for what came natural to him - to share.
As I bob and weave my way through my own workday in a place collecting for a huge and awesomely wonderful charity I am astounded by the public's generosity. The few folks who turn their noses up and lecture me about all the ringing bells and red buckets just don't get it. I feel sorry for them, not because they might need the same services someday they snub their noses at now, but because they are denying themselves the wonderful feeling of filling the box, ringing the bell and running like hell. Enough said.
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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Revisiting the tradition of rainbows on the wall (original title)

Rainbows on the wall

Published 11/28/2013 12:00 AM
Updated 11/22/2013 04:48 PM
"When I die you get the crystal," my mother said.
I was 10 and she thought if I believed the glass would be mine someday I wouldn't mind helping her set the table. I didn't mind, I loved doing it.
The hand-cut crystal serving pieces came out of the cupboard three times a year: Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Like a family ritual my mother and I would wash, rinse and carefully dry the exquisite pieces, set them on the holiday table in the sun and watch as reflected rainbows of color danced on the dining room walls.
Preparing for a house full of family and friends was fun and exciting. When I was older, with a home of my own, the torch of entertaining passed to me, so I actually got the crystal many years before my mother passed away. I didn't use all the pieces like she did, but they became the constancy of tradition.
This year, for no particular reason other than I've been cleaning and sorting, I decided to hand over some of the pieces to the next generation, my daughters. It's easy sharing the objects I remember as a young girl. Handing them down before I'm gone is a privilege. I get to see the continuity of things; to tell the stories of the objects again and I get to peruse the cupboards of memories that will never fade as long as there is someone to remember them.
I kept a few small pieces, not because I'll actually use them anymore, but because I like the way they look and I'm not yet ready to shed it all. The girls took what they wanted and the shelves were clean. I can't imagine my modern daughters using the heavy hand-cut and etched oval and round bowls to hold vegetables during future Thanksgivings, but I'm sure the smaller vases will often hold flowers.
Thinking of future Thanksgivings reminds me of one of the most memorable of my past. It was a huge endeavor attempted by my mother and father shortly after they moved to the farmhouse of their dreams in Montville in the late 1960s. I had just returned home from a year in South Africa so it gave me a chance to see family members I hadn't seen in many months.
Just after my parents moved into the farmhouse my father gutted the kitchen, tore down walls and installed a bank of six windows over the place where a kitchen sink was supposed to go. Those beautiful windows overlooked the rolling hills and small apple orchard behind the house. My father convinced my mother that the kitchen would be finished by Thanksgiving. It had to be, two dozen members of the family were showing up. The double ovens were installed and the fridge was temporarily placed in a back laundry room. The rest of the kitchen, with the beautiful windows and scenery, was empty.
Because you can't cook for 24 without a sink and a stove, my dad mounted a kitchen sink on two by fours and shoved a stove up against the wall and plugged it in. A huge picnic table, with benches, was placed in front of the kitchen's fireplace and two other tables were set up. Because the walls had been removed it was one magnificent room. Using her best china, silver and all the crystal, the formally set tables were exquisitely beautiful in the rustic setting.
The house was full of family and the tummies full of food. The men napped after, and the women washed dishes. I was part of the drying crew. There were no countertops so each wet plate was passed one by one, for us wipe dry and place on a shelf in the laundry room. The crystal was placed on the highest shelf until Christmas.
Our family often recalled that Thanksgiving as one of the most memorable. The kitchen was finally finished by Easter.
I'm hoping my daughters will use the crystal with their own beautiful dishes. On a crisp linen tablecloth or on picnic table, in a house or in a barn, I hope the pieces are used and continue to make memories.
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Monday, November 18, 2013

Hello world, I'm going to be a nana (original title)

Brush up on lullabies, there’s a baby on the way

Published 11/14/2013 12:00 AM
Updated 11/11/2013 01:07 PM

Graffiti the walls, hoist a banner, shout, sing, skywrite it, I'm going to be a grandmother.
Becoming a grandmother is not unusual, it happens all the time, but not to me. To say I am over the moon is putting it mildly because this little one will be our first. She's a girl and I could not be more pleased.
My generation of women is unique when it comes to birthing babies and having grandchildren. It was not unusual for women raised during the sixties to find themselves pregnant right along with their daughters. Not me of course, but some women I graduated with are great-grandmothers. Now some women don't get pregnant until AARP membership becomes a beacon of reality at the end of their next decade.
Today, women have choices. My generation realized a shift in roles. As a young girl I was told to marry a rich man and he would take of care me. As a teenager, the mantra of my parents changed: "Get an education so you can take care of yourself."
My mother often said, "For a long and lasting marriage financial dependence does not a firm foundation make." Sure mom, but now it takes two incomes just to make it from the produce aisle of the supermarket to the milk case.
I was an older mother, (not the norm back then), having my daughters when I was in my mid and late 30s. I remember a school function I attended when my oldest (she's the pregnant daughter) was in first grade. A woman walked up to me and exclaimed with great satisfaction how pleased she was that she wasn't the only grandmother attending that day.
"I'm the mother," I remember saying with a bit of attitude. At the time I felt offended. Did I really look like a grandmother? My definition of a grandmother was based on my own. They both wore aprons with a little chain of safety pins on the bibs. My Connecticut nana always had butterscotch hard candies in her apron pockets and my New Jersey nana had a dust cloth crammed in hers. I don't wear aprons, I don't dust and I never really liked butterscotch. I'm a Werther's kind of woman.
When I mention the impending event, every woman I know, who has trod the path I am now delightedly floating down, has told me that being a grandmother (and they always lean close and whisper this part), is even better than having your own children. You get to enjoy them, spoil them and give them back. You don't have to suffer the effects of a kid up all night after eating too many M&Ms.
I overheard my pregnant daughter talking to her pregnant friend about what they are going through. The friend was asking my daughter's advice because she's been pregnant a couple of months longer.
"Hey, ask me," I said, "I've done this twice you know."
My daughter advised me that everything is different now. Ah ... I don't think so. Whether you give birth in a fancy hospital with your husband by your side or in a cave while he's out stalking dinner, the process is pretty much the same, although you're supposed to let babies sleep on their backs now.
My daughter has registered at two large stores for baby gifts; baby accoutrements can match any kid's haul going off to college for the first time. The whole registry thing is amazing, I mean, you can register for birthdays, graduations, weddings and anniversaries, plus new home and holidays.
I want a grandmother's registry, no aprons or butterscotch candies on mine, just lots and lots of love. Never 'enough said' on love.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

A temporary electronic slowdown a good thing (original title)

Electronic slowdown a good thing

Published 10/31/2013 12:00 AM
Updated 10/29/2013 01:07 PM

I came downstairs this morning to my family sitting in the living room, drinking coffee and eating breakfast, while staring at a blue television screen like it was a campfire. A message on the screen read, "One moment please."
"What's up?" I asked.
"Cable's out. We're waiting for it to come back on," was the response.
My husband told the kids not to touch the TV because I would fix it when I got up. He said I know about that kind of stuff. Actually, I know nothing about that kind of stuff, but he knows even less.
So I unplugged plugs, disconnected cables and then hooked everything back up. Then I did what every trapped-in-silence and out-of-touch cable customer does, I called (1-800-my-TV-computer-and-phone aren't working). We bundled, so I used my cellphone to make the call.
The familiar female cable company voice electronically promised to send a refresh signal.
When I mentioned that the cable employee said it would take 40 to 60 minutes to complete the channel lineup, the living room squatters scattered like teenagers at a party when the cops arrive.
I sat down with my coffee and a magazine. They had to leave for work but I had a few hours before I had to go in.
One by one they dressed and departed. My daughter, the first one out the door called about a minute down the road to tell me that there were five cable trucks at the end of our street.
I waited in a house almost as silent as the house after Gloria and Sandy. The power was on so I could hear the whir of the fridge and last night's chicken boiling in a pot on the stove for soup. Because online access was compromised I was unable to check my email, favorite blogs and couldn't access Facebook. That is a good thing because those are tremendous time-suckers.
I remember life before electronics. The phone was black, heavy and had a dial. Television was new - we had the first set on our block - and like the phone it was black plastic and huge. There was no remote, we didn't need one. With three stations, two watchable and one snowy, my brother and I were the remote. We watched what Dad wanted to, anyway.
Back then TV stations signed off at midnight. Accompanying a picture of an American flag waving in the wind, they'd play the national anthem. Then the screen would flip to a test pattern and implode to a tiny dot in the middle of the screen. On the rare occasions when I got to stay up late and watch "Sea Hunt" on Saturday night my mother would yell to go to bed when it was over. I'd press my cheek against the screen and stare at the dot and yell back that I'd go to bed when the dot disappeared.
For kids television revolved around "Mickey Mouse Club" at 4:30 in the afternoon and "Sky King" and Shari Lewis on Saturday mornings. That's when it started actually, the television as background noise filling in the empty silent space that was our days. My childhood memories are always accompanied by Western shoot-em-up sound tracks in the background.
Now, life is never quiet and we are rarely out of touch. With network, satellite and online streaming we have ear buds, earphones and surround-sound to drench us constantly in music and news.
The house is still quiet, the soup still boiling and I am loving the temporary electronic slowdown, even though I am drawn to my computer screen like a fly to a light bulb. Enough said.

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Friday, October 18, 2013

Ciao, that's hello and goodbye in Italian (original title)

It's time for a new passport

Published 10/17/2013 12:00 AM
Updated 10/18/2013 12:28 PM

We're going to Italy, at least that's what my husband, his cousin and a couple of his friends decided. I'm ready. I'll go. Just sign me up.
Problem - when the decision was made, my husband and I didn't have a passport. In this day and age of global interactive initiatives between cultures, who does not have a passport? Even Elmo has a passport, or at least his picture is on a passport cover.
It's finally time to expand our horizons and travel beyond our borders. The last time we left the country Ross Perot was running for president and we went to Nova Scotia and did the whole Cape Breton loop. We were allowed out and back in on the legitimacy of our driver's licenses. Now we need a universal form of identification which supersedes the legal viability of all current IDs, including our Connecticut driver's licenses, credit cards and every supermarket, pharmacy and other store rewards card hanging from my key chain.
Obtaining the paperwork was easy, it's online and in a little cardboard stand-up in the post office. We can do this, I thought, until we realized we needed to find our birth certificates. No problem, I knew right where they were.
Observation - you know you're getting old when your original birth certificate is so out-of-date you may not use it as an actual certificate of birth and must obtain a new one. The new ones are called the "long form" birth certificates and $20 and remembering which towns we were born in, got us new ones.
So, I filled out the information needed to apply for my passport. I was instructed to use a black pen and only to fill in the designated areas, using my best penmanship. My husband used a black pen but because his idea of written communication looks like the beach at low tide after a flock of emaciated seagulls have been fighting over the same clam, it was barely legible. Then we were off to AAA for our passport photos.
I had combed my hair, applied foundation and even eye makeup. I always do that for a driver's license, I mean really, I'll be stuck with that photo for so long why not primp to get my passport glamour-shot right. Even with a morning's worth of preparation I still looked like my mother subsequent to an afternoon of gardening in the middle of July.
I had an old passport. Barely out of my teens, I got to spend a year in South Africa. I handed the old passport in with my application and photo for a new one. The post office employee gathering our paperwork humorously declared my old passport ancient. He loudly exclaimed to a lobby full of customers who were impatiently waiting behind us, as we declared ourselves non-subversive, that he hadn't seen that color passport cover in a reeee-ally looo-ong time. I got it a year before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. Maybe I should have slipped it in a nice little Elmo cover.
Once we handed in everything to prove we were, who we said we were, we had to raise our right hands and swear to an oath. Mr. Post Office-funny man recited so fast, that all I could do was nod and say I do or I will. I felt like I was checking one of those little (nobody reads the fine print) "I agree" boxes on the computer. All I know is that I love my country and I certainly won't do anything to subvert her.
Aver detto abbastanz, that's "enough said" in Italian, I think.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

To Downsize or not to downsize, (original title)

House stuffed with family memories

Published 10/03/2013 12:00 AM
Updated 09/30/2013 05:26 PM

A friend of mine went from a large home with four bedrooms to a more manageable smaller house with three. Another shed four acres, a formal dining room, five bedrooms, three-and-a-half baths and a two-car garage, for a double-wide with a carport.
It's called downsizing and it's something I want to do - now. Problem is my big house is full, not only with rooms of furniture but with people. The people, children with spouses, I'm not worried about, they're looking to upsize just as soon as they can, it's the stuff we have accumulated which concerns me.
We have lived in this house going on 10 years but a lot of the stuff we brought with us has been around for the more than 30 years we have been married. Do we really need my husband's beer stein collection stored in Huggies diaper boxes? They were packed away when the spare room in our old house became a nursery 29 years ago. To be fair, somewhere there's a demitasse spoon collection of mine which has more than 300 spoons from all over the world. I haven't seen them since before I was married but I feel an odd kind of comfort in knowing they reside somewhere near the beer steins.
My attic looks like the local town's transfer station on a Saturday morning, without the big green dumpsters.
It's like an archeological dig up there, the floor sectioned off by kid and college year; books and bedding tells me who and when, by how far back the piles reach. I have half a dozen sets of extra-long dorm sheets for the years our children actually lived on campus; a new set each year was mandatory because color tastes changed and lack of laundering habits did not. There are comforters, clothes baskets and enough plastic bins to fill the storage aisle at Wal-Mart - actually they came from Wal-Mart.
We have funky multi-colored lamps and a papa-san chair that went from dorms, to apartments, and back to the attic so many times that I'm not sure where it is now, probably in one of those big green dumpsters.
Adding to the college flotsam and jetsam are the good, the bad and the totally unnecessary detritus of four households. Our daughters and their husbands have stored their accumulations up there while their upsizings have been put temporarily on hold. Our mound of still-sealed boxes from our move a decade ago remains stacked in a corner alongside a few leftovers from my mother-in-law, may she rest in organized peace.
I want to rid ourselves of our stuff.
The plan each year has been for all of us to proceed to the attic to peruse, sort, throw away, and organize. Attic cleaning is tricky though, it cannot be effectively accomplished in any season other than late fall, although late spring might work. Summer is too hot; the decorative Christmas candles became lovely red and green blobs sprinkled with silver and gold glitter. Spending time up there in July would be deadly. Winter is too cold. I'm sorry but wearing my down parka, gloves and a scarf are more conducive to snowshoeing than attic cleaning; three pair of snowshoes are hidden up there, too.
If I think about what actually has to be accomplished regarding the cleaning, editing and organizing of the attic, basement, closets, cabinets, drawers, cracks and crevices we have filled with the tangible collected memories of our lives, the task is daunting. I might actually consider staying put until my leftovers are stacked next to those of my dear departed mother-in-law, may we rest in peace in hoarders paradise heaven.
Enough said.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Hello, is anybody there...press 1 (original title)

Patience is a virtue when it comes to customer service

Published 09/19/2013 12:00 AM
Updated 09/16/2013 01:06 PM
I'm a pretty easy-going person. I smile at old people, which means I smile at people my own age. And I'm nice to little children and animals, having had my share of both. At the Motor Vehicle Department I show respect for the people behind the counter who must deal with an arrogant public, we have a chip on our shoulders because we're on-guard against the difficulties inherent with anything smacking of government bureaucracy. I don't have a chip. I'm not like that. I'm nice. I follow the rules and if someone treats me badly I write a scathing letter no one reads.
A few minutes ago I got off the phone with a very nice lady named Michelle at the Social Security call center in Baltimore. I know it was Baltimore because I asked. I like talking to Americans when I have a problem, frankly I like talking to anyone if I can understand them, especially if their aim is to provide service to this customer.
I once had a nice conversation with a guy named Rich at a call center in Texas. I can't remember why I was calling him, to me cable, utilities, government services and Peapod all sound the same. All I know is that I could barely understand a word that sweet Texan was saying. I told him I'd call back. I never did.
Because the wait time was over 45 minutes, Michelle, the Social Security agent, was calling me via the Social Security call-back service. I needed her to explain my Medicare status. Yeah, scary, I qualify now. Let me be clear here, if you want an example of government bureaucracy at its finest, just try using Social Security's automated phone system. It has a menu of options twice the length of a Ruby Tuesday's menu; you don't get garlic biscuits while you wait either. Michelle was helpful sort-of. I have to call back in two weeks because she didn't have an answer.
A few months ago my husband and I were getting phone calls originating from Vermont asking that we answer health questions for a survey sponsored by the state of Connecticut. If the state of Connecticut needs health questions answered by its citizens then why don't they have Connecticut citizens asking the questions? I'm sure they can find a few unemployed college students with cellphones and free time that would love to call. I'm not college-age, but pay me and I'll call, I'm great at being nosey.
Years ago when we were setting up a computer for the first time we had to call the company's help desk.
Let me tell you, help desk is a misnomer.
The wait was an hour. No call-back service from them. My husband held the phone to his ear until someone finally came on. He handed the phone to me, I asked the question. The operator guy said he knew what the problem was and he could solve it promptly, but that he was not allowed to answer because his job at that moment was to route incoming calls to the correct departments. One of those departments was actually his, when there was lower call volume.
"Please answer, we've been waiting an hour on the phone."
He said he'd lose his job because all phone calls were being monitored for training purposes. I handed the phone to my husband. The call got rerouted. Twenty minutes later guess who picked up? In less time than it took him earlier to explain why he couldn't answer, he answered, problem solved. I think his name was Rich and he probably works for Social Security in Baltimore now.
Enough said.
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Friday, September 6, 2013

A natural casing full of homemade tradition, (original title)

Family tradition moving from one generation to the next

Published 09/05/2013 12:00 AM
Updated 09/03/2013 01:07 PM
They took over my kitchen, five men, cutting, grinding, spicing and packaging 115 pounds of homemade sausage.

It's a big deal, this sausage making, not because the process is laborious, though it is, and not because it's touchy, because it can be - it's a big deal because it is tradition times three generations.

I first witnessed the whole sausage-making process more than 30 years ago. My husband and his cousin, plus a couple of friends, took over the basement in our former home. A meat-cutter by trade back then, he directed the well-oiled, or should I say very lean, series of steps creating one of our family's favorites.
Knowing what goes into your food is a big deal nowadays. It was back then, too, until an evening of sausage-making ended with one of the sausage-makers minus a Band-Aid and no way of knowing which batch it went in. The mini-patch was never found and the four families involved some 20 years ago all survived. Now the makers remove rings and scrub to the elbows like a specialist prepping for surgery.
The meat grinder is a microwave-sized piece of machinery weighing well over 100 pounds. Now that the sausage making takes place in our kitchen, the grinding behemoth has to be carried upstairs from the basement, and that's what the young son-in-laws are for. Those strong young men, both cognizant of the importance of tradition, watch and participate, and get sausage, because they know they are the ones who will eventually carry on the ritual.

My daughters and I use the sausage in a myriad of sauces, stir fries and stuffings. On its own, or slathered with onions, peppers and mushrooms, it makes a grinder like no other. We give some away, when the ties to the receiver are close. Like a fire built with wood you've cut, hauled, split and stacked, there is nothing quite as wonderful as consuming something you have worked so hard to create.

The batch this time, (the guys usually do this three times a year), was so large it had to be split into two sessions. So on a recent evening, the process started with the first grind. Everything was stored in the old beer fridge downstairs until the serious making of the meat began the next night. As each batch was spiced, one of the men cooked a sample to see if the ratio of salt to garlic to fennel and wine was right. That's what the women-folk are for, the tasting of the sausage, the drinking of some wine and for reminiscing and solving the problems of life.

We sat at the table watching the men and suggested step-saving procedures, which were not acknowledged, and advised techniques, which were ignored, and we laughed, a lot, because that's how it's done.

For a few minutes I sat in my rocker with my mouth shut, which is unusual, just observing the next generation learning the process of carrying on the tradition. The older guys talked about how when the time comes, they will sit back and watch the young guys do all the heavy work. They're almost there. What makes me grateful is that our daughters have chosen men who genuinely appreciate the importance of sustaining tradition.
As the evening deepened and the ropes of sausage in natural casings filled huge containers waiting to be packaged, and as patties sizzled on the stove, a friend tipped his glass to me and said, "I smell an article."
"That's garlic you smell," I answered.
Bookmark and Shareprint this articleEnough said.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Time with family trumps cleaning

Time with family trumps cleaning

Published 08/22/2013 12:00 AM
Updated 08/19/2013 04:21 PM

Years ago I remember driving home from my grandmother's house in New Jersey and listening to a discussion between my mom and dad about how Nana wasn't keeping her house as pristine as she used to.
Back and forth they went about her diminishing cleaning habits, until they finally came to the consensus that she either needed new glasses or she was just too old to care about maintaining a spotless home. She was 10 years younger than I am now.
I don't think age or eyesight had anything to do with her new lived-in look, it was about finally letting go of preconceived female obligation.
To me a sink full of dishes is not that important unless you run out of something to place your food on; isn't that what paper plates are for? I'd rather play gin rummy with my daughter than vacuum, and go for a ride with my husband instead of scrubbing the microwave.
When our daughters were little if they wanted to read a book, play a board game or share time with me, the dishes sat, the laundry piled up and dog hair tumbleweeds gathered in the corner. Spending time with family trumped cleaning for two reasons: I was a perfect mother and I didn't care if I had to vault over the pile of shoes in the front hall as long as I could open the door.
When our oldest was a toddler she woke up one night upset because she believed monsters could get in through her bedroom window. Explaining that no one was coming in her window because it was on the second floor did not allay her fears. So I told her I had sprinkled special fairy dust on the window sills which would keep the monsters out.
"Oh no you deh-ent," she said in that way little kids speak when they think you are lying to them.
"Oh yes, I did." She ran her hand along the sill, palm coated in dust, she smiled.
"It's everywhere," I whispered. She went back to bed.
The next day she checked every window sill and never feared monsters again.
There were times when the detritus of everyday life became so overwhelming I would rant and rave and play drill-sergeant until the house shone. Those moments were a direct result of hormone levels which at my current age no longer drive the need to elicit control.
With our empty nest temporarily very full I am amazed how relaxed I am with the exercise bike and camping gear in the upstairs hallway. That our spare bedroom/office is stacked with my daughter's still boxed wedding gifts does not faze me. Living with stuff out of place is about as upsetting to me as raking leaves - if they don't kill the lawn I'm fine with them.
I did recently replace my 10-year-old mop. It was one of those attach-a-cleaning pad and spray models. It didn't wear out, the cleaning solution was discontinued ... three years ago.
It's not like we live knee-deep in a hoarder's paradise, it's just that cleaning has always been low on my life-list along with sky diving, motorcycles and lima beans. A spotless home isn't lived in, messy homes are an anthem to activity.
When our daughters were away at college, graduated and living elsewhere, our house stayed clean. Was it nice? Yes. Was it quiet? Yes. But it was way too quiet - I'll have eternity for quiet. Now I opt for camping gear, dog hair and a pile of shoes in the hall, which though formidable, still allows me to open the door.
Bookmark and ShareEnough said.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A coon, a cat and a couple of Footlongs (original title)

A coon, a cat and a couple of Footlongs

Published 08/01/2013 12:00 AM

All we wanted to do was take a couple of Footlongs to the town beach, sit in the car, look at Long Island Sound and eat dinner. Funny, how best made plans always seem to shift on the tide.
Because our familial tenants, my daughter and her husband, were taking their 16-foot aluminum boat, which used to be my father's, then my husband's and now my son-in-law's, to Rogers Lake after work, I decided not to cook.

We live in the woods and when we left, my husband spotted a black cat with a white flea collar, lying at the edge of our driveway. At first we thought it was not alive but when we checked, the chest moved up and down, barely, and it's head moved slightly. It let out a tiny meow and my heart melted.
It was late afternoon, all the local vets were closed and the nearest emergency veterinarian hospital was 45 minutes away. We simply didn't know what to do.

My first thought, our neighbor has a black cat. We drove next door and banged on the front door, no answer. We walked around back and as we did movement caught my eye. A Cujo-sized raccoon raised its head. Raccoon, still light out, we quickly retreated to our car. Back we drove to the cat convinced that its distress had been caused by a possibly rabid raccoon. Interpretation: don't touch the cat. So I did what any right-minded wife, trapped in a car with an indecisive husband would do, I called 911.

Sharing our cat-in-distress dilemma with a 911 operator may seem a bit extreme but I figured they could transfer me to the local police and animal control officer, which was exactly what they did. We were asked to wait until someone showed up to care for the cat and deal with Cujo-raccoon.
My husband's cellphone rang.

Our daughter and son-in-law were stranded in the middle of Rogers Lake. The boat engine had died, they couldn't restart it and had resorted to a pair of collapsible oars to get them to shore. My husband explained our cat and raccoon dilemma - surprise, they weren't interested.

Within a few minutes a very nice policeman arrived. He walked around the neighbor's yard with a device which looked like one of those HurryCanes as advertised on TV, which I assumed packed quite a jolt if overtaken by Cujo-raccoon. The animal was gone. The officer offered to wait for animal control if we had somewhere to go, we did - the beach.

My husband's cellphone rang.

The kids had made it to shore and were trailering the boat.
Long Island Sound was calm, the weather was perfect and as we relaxed and unwrapped our subs. The cell phone rang - again. The wheel bearings on the boat trailer had seized and my daughter, her husband, the car and trailer with boat, plus her car, were now stranded alongside the south-bound on-ramp to the Baldwin Bridge.

I never knew that a boat that size could actually fit in the back of my husband's pick-up. On his second trip I was amazed to learn that the trailer fit as well. The outboard motor made it home in the back of my son-in-law's jeep.

We didn't get to finish our Footlongs until quite late. I learned that the cat had not been touched by the raccoon and that it perked up when the animal control officer showed up and took it to the emergency vet. Cujo-raccoon has not been seen since and the boat leans against a tree in the back yard while they work on the wheel bearings. Dinner at the beach, I don't think so, enough said.


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Mental Pushups (original title)

Pianta: Reciting the alphabet backwards helps keep the mind sharp

Published 07/18/2013 12:00 AM

As a woman bookended somewhere between a bit beyond middle-age and death, I decided to step outside my familiar, do something really different, reach beyond my boundaries - I taught myself the alphabet backwards.
It took a while and was frustrating at first. ZYXW was pretty easy but once I dug deeper into reverse, I got confused. When I considered the alphabet backward as a single word 26 letters long, I wanted to quit. Maybe if I made a song out of it I thought, until I realized that singing 26 letters beginning with Z and ending in A was a little harder than a solo of M-I-C-K-E-Y-M-O-U-S-E.
After many frustrating false starts, hiccups half-way through and restarts, I separated the reversed letters into groups of four; the last had six, and learned them as sets. My brilliant strategy worked. Learning something so familiar in reverse was actually quite easy and filled me with the kind of pride I felt seven years ago after memorizing my locker combination at work.
It was fun teaching myself something which required actual learning, as in study and practice. Exercising my brain is a good thing, it staves off mental-atrophy and I proved to myself I can learn something sort of wacky and cool at the same time. At parties think of how intelligent I'll sound because I can rattle off the alphabet backward. Although at the parties I attend, half the goers doze after dessert; we're not used to being out late.
Years ago I was in the car with my two daughters and my youngest, she was in third grade, started bragging about how smart she was at school that day. So I challenged her horn-blowing, "…but can you say the alphabet backwards?" So she rattled off the whole thing in reverse.
"How did you do that?"
She told me she "saw" the letters backwards. This is a kid who in middle school memorized 201 digits of pi and won an award on pi day, March 14. Now she has one master's degree, a master's certificate and is going back to school for her second masters and best of all she's gainfully employed. For me learning doesn't come quite so easily, but like her, boasting about it does.
Exercising your mind at any age is a good thing and doing mental push-ups at my age is a recommended health regimen. My mother-in-law was a keen thinker and quite astute right up until she passed away at 93. Every time I'd visit her she'd be sitting in her favorite chair with her mean little dog, eating cheese balls and doing word searches. She said she didn't care if anyone liked her dog because she loved him, and he wasn't mean to her, and that at her age she could eat all the cheeses balls she wanted and word searches kept her mind active. She was right and wise.
Shortly after I learned the alphabet backwards my husband and I went to dinner with a couple we've known long enough to be complimentary regarding our accomplishments and accustomed to laughter when communicating our failures. We were sitting at the table talking about safe subjects like politics and religion when I said something like, "...well what do you think of this, zyxwvutsrqponmlkjihgfedcba?"
They looked at me like I had grown another head.
"Don't you think that was cool?" I said.
"What was it?" the wife asked.
My husband set his beer down. "It's the alphabet backwards." She's been working on it for days.
"Why?" the other husband asked.
"Well, I thought that teaching myself something that almost everybody else doesn't know is kind of cool."
"Everybody knows the alphabet," he said.
"But do they know it in reverse?"
"Everybody knows the Pledge of Allegiance," he said, "but in reverse it doesn't make sense."
Ah ha, the pledge backward, my next mental health project. Enough said.


Sunday, July 7, 2013

Culture Shocked, (original title)

Culture shock creates social unease; hiding out with the help

Published 07/04/2013 12:00 AM
Updated 06/28/2013 01:06 PM

Bookmark and ShareMy husband's idea of culture is an 'Actors named Tom Hanks' category on Jeopardy.
He's as unpretentious as L.L. Bean boots and Levi's -I'm married to a meat and potatoes kind of guy. That's why I was so surprised when he attended an evening at the theater recently. Not only did he enjoy it, he's been raving about the play for weeks.

When my youngest daughter was in high school she won an art award for a beautifully executed acrylic painting of a mouth-watering slice of watermelon. We attended the award ceremony, bumping elbows with professional artists who displayed their own works and judged the amateur competition, as well as academics who presented the works. I schmoozed, drifting from painting to painting, artist to artist, reveling not only in the talent of the professionals in their mediums, but marveling at the abilities of the students as well. In the center of the room a huge table was spread with gourmet accoutrements, offering everything related to a well-purported wine and cheese party, but without the wine. Instead, punch was offered. Soft music played in the background, and it was nice to be at an event involving young people that didn't involve a lot of synchronized screaming and sports crazed parents.

My husband didn't wander among the talented; he stood against the wall by the door with his arms folded and a stern look on his face, as if he was a security guard at the Louvre Museum on alert for art thieves. He was studying the crowd. Finally, after an hour or so he said:"I've had enough culture, let's go." I figured it was an opportune time to leave; the punch bowl was empty.

It's interesting to people watch when you consider yourself an outsider to an event. I do that at home shows and Home Depot. We went to a tractor store recently and as my husband perused the tractor parts and pieces aisle I shopped the clothing department. Who would have thought that a place that sold John Deere and Carhartt would also sell baby clothes?

Finally after wandering among weed whackers, chainsaws and goat gates, I stood with my back to the seed spreaders, arms folded. I studied the crowd, looking as if I was a member of their loss prevention team, on alert for nut and bolt shoplifters. My husband walked over, and I said: "I've had enough rural let's go."
It's not like I'm a city-girl and my husband is a country boy- I've been known to dig a ditch or two and he's classy when it comes to creating anything related to the use of material associated with the cutting down of trees. I can get down and dirty, and he cleans up pretty well. It's just that when we are out of our familiar surroundings we're wallflower people-watchers.

Years ago, when I was single, young and stupid, I went to a party given by a co-worker's family at one of those giant mansions with hundreds of feet of beach frontage right on Long Island Sound. They were boater types - lime green slacks, hot pink shirts with popped collars. I never felt so out of place since the time I wandered into a men's room by mistake. I was so uncomfortable among the rich, and those pretending to be, that I ended up in the kitchen talking to the help. Comfortable among folks who swam in the same kiddie pool as me, I sat, with arms folded, on the large step-stool they used to retrieve the crystal from the high shelves in the butler's pantry. When my friend walked into the kitchen to tell the help they needed more aioli for the crudités she asked me why I was sitting in the kitchen. I told her I felt sick and wanted to go home.
I was sick alright; sick of being where I felt I didn't belong - and besides that, the punch bowl was empty. Enough said.


Thursday, June 20, 2013

On being a stationery woman (original title)

Big bucket of paper and pencils is gift of lifetime

I needed a pencil.
After a search through the junk drawer I'd usually end up with a whittled yellow # 2 Dixon the length of a toothpick, but not anymore.
I now have, and I am not exaggerating, hundreds of pencils, pens, markers and highlighters in every color known to pigment imagination. They are in a large blue basket I call my Staples stockpile, along with Post-Its, memo, note and legal pads, plus funky erasers and a bottle of Wite-Out, just in case I make a mistake.
How I got this dream-stash is related to the trials and tribulations associated with childbirth during the last century. My own personal office supply closet was presented to me as a Mother's Day gift. Odd gift to honor momhood some might say; I disagree, it was perfect.
When I was 10 I begged my parents for a desk. It was Christmas and that's all I wanted. My older brother said a desk was dumb and my mother and father rolled their eyes and told me it wouldn't fit in my room. I even wrote Santa a letter about wanting a desk.
At 10, a letter to the big guy was kind of babyish by pushing the whole existence thing, but I figured it couldn't hurt. I told God if I got a desk I'd become a nun, and I'm not even Catholic. On Christmas morning when my brother and I entered the living room, there in the glow of the lights was my student's desk with all the drawers full of paper, pads, pencils and pens, plus drawing supplies and a Jon Gnagy art set.
For those too young to know who Jon Gnagy was, what Guy Fieri is to "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" on the Food Network, Jon Gnagy was to the art world on television in the 1950s and '60s. The desk was great, exactly what I wanted, but in it was what my little girl dreams (of being an artist and a writer) were all about.
What I remember most about my desk is the smell of paper and pine. My mother and father found the perfect spot to place it in my bedroom. I'd like to say the time I spent at my desk helped me excel in schoolwork but that would be far from the truth. What the hours I spent sitting there did was instigate the idea that imagination is real. That time afforded me possibility, the perfect currency for a child and legacy for an adult.
Recently my daughters and I attended a fundraiser where baskets filled with goodies such as sand toys and rare wines were raffled off. With a handful of tickets, I was immediately drawn to a basket the size of a VW Beetle that held every stationery supply imaginable. Every single one of my tickets went toward that prize, which apparently a lot of other people wanted, too. I didn't win the basket. While my kids went home with lots of loot, I went home with good intentions.
My daughters later told me that it was on that day of raffle loss, the idea of my Mother's Day gift was born. Cheerio necklaces, homemade cards accompanying burnt toast and orange juice for breakfast in bed, have been well worth the many hours of labor, weeks of worry and years of parental angst because now I have enough stationery supplies to last, if not what's left of my lifetime, certainly theirs.
My birthday is next fall. I'm trying to think of something I really want, won't get and that the kids might give me as a gift. Can children buy their parents retirement? Enough said.
Published 06/20/2013 12:00 AM
Updated 06/17/2013 01:05 PM

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Boomers and Boomerangers, (original title)

Enough empty rooms for kids to boomerang home again
Published 05/23/2013 12 AM

Just before my nephews graduated from college my sister and brother law decided to downsize. As if I knew what I was talking about, I advised, buy a one-bedroom condo with a couch that doesn’t open up. I was clueless. The underlying truth, once they’re gone they’re gone, is a truism a little like the tide, it always goes out and back in; bringing a lot of stuff with it, too.

My daughters were in grade-school when I made my little know-it-all comment. What I didn’t know then is that as the fabric of the world economy unravels so goes the safety-pinning of the family dynamic at home. Our two daughters graduated from college, moved out, became gainfully employed, completed post graduate educations, got married and have waded knee-deep back to our shore. Why did they boomerang home, because they wanted to and had to; thankfully we still had enough empty bed rooms.

When both girls were out of the house and on their own, empty nest - the overused term to describe the angst parents feel when their prodigy heads out - was not a negative but a very joyous positive. The house stayed clean and my husband could use the bathroom with the door open.  The quiet of our home was soothing at first until I figured there must be more to life than evenings filled with the symphony of my husband’s snoring during “Wheel of Fortune.” Did I miss my children? Yes. Did I love our empty nest? Absolutely. But taking control of the remote while hubby dozes on the couch should not be the daily highlight.

Redecorating their bedrooms with a look somewhere between Holiday Inn Express and Hilton was liberating; I showed them off to anyone who wanted to trudge upstairs and look. They’ll be back, some said. I thought, “Oh no they won’t,” but knew, they might.

We have a mother-in-law’s apartment attached to our home. When she passed away, at the age of 93, the apartment sat empty until it made sense for our oldest daughter and her husband to move in and save money. It’s wonderful having them as neighbors and, from the beginning, it never felt like they boomeranged because the apartment is totally separate and they pay rent. Here’s where it gets interesting.

Living a state away, our youngest daughter and her fiancé missed family. Even though each had good jobs our daughter decided she wanted to switch gears and become a teacher, which meant more education. Knowing how disenfranchised she felt within her career, I thought her new choice a wise one. Back to school meant back to family. So our daughter and now son-in-law, live in the Comfort Inn upstairs, one room is a bedroom and one a living room; they pay rent and I’m the innkeeper, with no linen service provided.

Once the house filled up with our family of four, plus a couple of son-in-laws and another dog, I thought I’d feel put-upon, inconvenienced and out-of-sorts.  I thought my life would change, but it hasn’t, except that the house looks very lived-in and my husband once again closes the bathroom door.

The hardest adjustment for all hasn't been that privacy has been compromised, because it hasn’t; it’s how hard it is for adult children to share the parent’s beach blanket once they’ve had their own to sit on. Everyone is employed so it isn’t a failure and dependency kind of thing; it’s a temporary new kind of normal the likes of which past generations have enjoyed as multi-generational living for years. So far it’s working for us. The only problem is our youngest can’t wait until her sister and husband move out of the apartment so they can move next door. When that happens, I’m redecorating. My husband and I will each have an office; no couches will open up. Enough said.

Carolynn serves continental breakfast only at her home in Westbrook. Email Carolynn Pianta at

Published in The Times newspaper, a division of The Day in New London, Connecticut

Idling away a spring day on a back yard hammock

Published 06/06/2013 12:00 AM
Updated 06/03/2013 04:33 PM
Bookmark and Shareprint this article
I spent last weekend - yes, both Saturday and Sunday - yanking dandelions from their warm mulchy little bassinets. The yellow baby-caps were actually quite cute and together with some weedy little white flower-thingies they looked like someone had planted them in the bed of 2-year-old pine chips under my front windows.
I like dandelions in the spring, they speak of out with the cold and in with the bugs, except maybe this year. Who knows, the weather has been so crazy that my husband will probably have to replace the mower deck with the plow on the John Deere lawn ornaments, soon.
Years ago a former co-worker once said to me on a Monday morning, around this time of year, "So what did you do all weekend, garden?"
"I hate gardening," I said, "and why would you assume I like it?"
"You look like a gardener."
To him all women on the downslide of middle-age like to garden, bake cookies and share pictures of their grandchildren. As one who looked middle-age in the eye a few years back, I prefer swaying in a hammock, eating cookies and imagining the grandchildren I don't have ... yet - which brings to mind my hammock.
At the end of last weekend's weed-pulling I resurrected from under the back deck the metal piping framework of a hammock stand. Ravaged by rust it was a wasteful shame that it had been sitting in the dirt and forgotten for almost a decade. Scaly with rust, fitting the pieces together was like trying to shove a swollen hand into a tight glove.
Sanding and painting was the cure, but it was Sunday, we were outside enjoying the nice weather, and I wanted to lie on the hammock, not repair it.
The actual rope hammock was rolled up and stored on top of, and sort of behind, the oil tank in the basement. Every couple of years when I noticed it I'd mention to my husband that the cord had probably dry-rotted. So when the pipes didn't go together I didn't have much hope for the ropes.
As I sprayed the rusty pipe ends with the miracle fluid, Liquid Wrench in a can, I figured since that stuff can unstick frozen-bolts, why not act as a lubricant for my hammock pipes. My husband just shook his head and took the can away. That's when I noticed two trees, right off the back deck that were the perfect distance apart for a hammock. Aha!
Getting the hammock from behind the oil tank was an exercise in proclivity. I was hoping the effort would not be nullified by dry rot. Other than covered in sawdust and cobwebs the ropes looked strong and the metal rings, just as shiny as if they were new.
It took my husband 10 minutes between cornhole tosses to rig two bolts to hang my new perch in the back yard. Before he was even finished screwing in the heavy duty hanger-things, I grabbed my, very appropriate because it has the image of a moose woven into it, favorite blanket off the back of the couch and a pillow.
Breezy, peaceful and a gentle sway have a way of melting troubles. I didn't think of work or dandelions or that it was time to start dinner. The sounds of my family pitching horseshoes and tossing cornhole bean bags sounded like a symphony turned down and soothing. Every once in a while as the hammock slowed I'd reach out and tug on a branch of the laurel bush alongside; horizontally waltzing to my family's music again. It was a perfect weekend of hard work and reward.
The next day I posted on Facebook: Hammock: a bed on which to forget troubles and sway to the music of a contemplative mind. I got quite a few "likes." Enough said.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Nope to Elope, (original title)

Elopement, an option when it comes to tying the knot
Published 05/09/2013 12:00 AM
Updated 05/06/2013 01:06 PM

Last year we had two weddings in our immediate family, one in March and the other in September. One was chandeliers above the dance floor and the other stars over the tents in the back yard. 

It's wedding season so thoughts of what it takes to pull off two of everything required to give daughters away, have resurfaced like amnesic flashes. It's sort of like childbirth; you forget the really uncomfortable push because you get to go home with something special.

At first, when our oldest set her date in March, I didn't know what to do, when to do it and if I tried to do it, I either did it late or wrong. When the second wedding rolled in I was getting the whole mother-of-the-bride-thing but by then, thank you Emily Post, we were out of daughters. A woman I work with is one of six daughters. When I asked her how her parents dealt with half a dozen weddings she said her father wrote a lot of checks and suggested elopement. Not one took him up on his suggestion.

Two weddings in less than six months, I figured was God's payback for my husband and I eloping.
We married on a Saturday night in May. During the day I went to work in the family business with my mother and brother and never once even alluded to our very special lifetime date that night. Being one of those people who seems to think it's all about me, that the entire world is actually interested on which side I part my hair, I was proud; I kept my mouth shut.

We decided to elope for two reasons; we were broke and we were broke. I was already over 30, so no way was I asking my parents to pay for formally legalizing the union of the relationship we had been enjoying for a year and a half; fancy words for we had been living together. That we didn't have a savings account pretty much defined the expenses regarding the ceremony and wedding festivities - justice of the peace in Essex and dinner at the Steak Loft in Mystic, for us and the couple we chose to witness the ceremony.
Before we left for the justice of the peace, we ceremonially toasted the upcoming event of our marriage. At the ceremony again we toasted to us. After our vows and signing on the dotted line, we celebrated with another sip in honor of the happy and momentous moment. On the way to Mystic we stopped at my parent's house in East Lyme to spring on them the happy news. My father, always the one to raise a glass of liquid approval to just about anything, eloquently toasted to our new future. He raised a second glass toasting to his good fortune that it didn't cost him a dime. By the time we made it to the restaurant we were, you guessed it, toasted.

The sumptuous meal was enjoyed by three of us. The other couple and I had a great time; my new husband had fallen asleep in the backseat of the car. I attribute this lapse in his ability to stay awake on one of the most important nights of his life, to tossing and turning the night before the wedding, work all day, and nothing to eat before the nuptials but "toast."

We laughed about it then and have continued to for 33 years. Our kids have heard the story many times and especially when each announced their own wedding plans.
"We'll write you a check if you want to elope," we told each one.

"Nope to elope," each said and I'm glad they did. 
The weddings were wonderful. As to their father, he stayed awake both evenings right to the end. We made sure to feed him more than "toast." Enough said.