Enough Said

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

Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas past, fiascos, foibles and fun

published Dec. 25, 2014

The first year our oldest daughter understood the concept of Santa, I tagged every one of her gifts from him. He did, after all climb down our chimney, avoid the woodstove, (no fire that night), and place all the gifts under the tree. After our daughter opened all her presents she asked why WE didn’t get her anything for Christmas. I don’t remember what I answered but it took me until the fourth of July to pay off the credit card bill.

One year we purchased a beautiful handmade Victorian dollhouse for the girls. We stored the house, next door, at my mother-in-laws. After our Christmas Eve party, when the kids were all snug in their beds, we carried the doll house across the yard and driveway to our house. On the way my husband dropped his end. We’ve never had to assemble bikes or other toys late on Christmas Eve, never had to make a last minute dash for something critical. But that night, though my husband said he’d fix the doll house, elves named Makita, Black & Decker and Dewalt were not near as helpful as my little make-up kit tweezers and a bottle of Elmer’s School Glue. I was not only sticking shingles back on the roof at 2am, I was reattaching the entire roof and interior walls.

Then there was the year I got the brilliant idea to wrap one daughter’s presents in red wrapping paper and the other daughter’s gifts in green. This eliminated having to write dozens of ‘to and from’ gift tags and did away with the whole ‘from Santa’ dilemma. Problem was that just before dawn on Christmas morning, and prior to my first cup of coffee, I forgot who was red and who was green. Add to that, that I had run out of my ‘clever’ paper, and had to throw in a few random Santa and snowmen designs, I was in trouble. I opened one of the gifts, could not remember who the gift was for, so I guessed. We were about six gifts in before I figured out the assigned colors. I had to explain that Santa got confused, forgot the tags and they could trade gifts if they wanted to. They kept what they had already opened and scrambled under the tree to gather their own color.

Then there was the year we bought a sixteen foot Christmas tree for the foyer. We could barely get it in the front door. Like the Griswold’s tree in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, once we cut the strings, it was “stand back everyone,” as the branches sprung. (No squirrels though.) We had to decorate the top of the tree from the upstairs hallway.  

Shortly after we were married, the year of the Gypsy Moth Infestation had us with half a Christmas tree. We called it our ‘wall tree’ because the back half was eaten away and fit perfectly flat against the living room wall. Excellent for our small apartment and it was free.

One Christmas our stove died. We used a neighbors. Thank God she wasn’t cooking for an army like we were. Then there was the year my husband had to pick his father up from a hospital, an hour away, to bring him home for the day. It was 12 degrees below zero outside and I left the car low on gas. No stations were open because of the holiday. They arrived home on fumes, the few left in the tank, and the many exhibited by my husband’s demeanor.

This year the gas tank is full, no big tree, no color coded gifts, no bug infested half-balsam and no every-gift is from Santa. This year it is modest envelopes for the big kids and way-too-many unbreakable, multi-colored wrapped boxes for the baby. If something gets broken, who cares, she’ll probably play with the paper and boxes more than the toys anyway. Enough said.




Friday, December 19, 2014

To retire or not to retire: I think I'll stay at work instead

When I was a kid I walked ten miles to school in sub-zero temperatures, in knee deep snow and a dress. That’s actually not true but it sounds good, like something my grandmother might have said, except that her school would have had one room with a privy out back. We were privileged, we had big yellow buses that had heaters and radios. The heaters never worked but the radios blasted Beatle’s tunes.

School didn’t start until after Labor Day back then. Up until Columbus Day I liked school, did my homework and studied for quizzes. I even liked my teachers. By Halloween I was done. Homework became that thing I forgot to do the night before, studying was an evil time-eater and my teachers…the only ones I liked were Mr. Zlucky, Zerby and Smith. Sounds like a law firm for Politians gone astray.
At this point in my life, as an employed member of society, I have reached my Columbus Day, I’ve flown past Halloween, which means I’m done. Done with working, being employed, dealing with time clocks, packed lunches and public restrooms; I want to retire. But like school back then, I can’t quit. I had to go to school, I have to go to work.

I’m not only stuck between a rock and an economic hard-place, I’m stuck between what I want to do, have to do, and do what’s best for me, both physically and mentally. Economically, until we downsize, (next spring I swear), I have to work for home heating oil, electricity and a place big enough for a full size Christmas tree. Physically my job provides the daily exercise I need to stay heathy, and mentally the interaction with all the Zlucky’s, Zerby’s and Smiths of the world keep me sharp. 

Punching a time-clock provides me with the structure I need or I’d sleep until The View, although it’s not the same since Barbara left. Now there’s an example of someone who kept working past retirement age, whatever age that is. Barbara Walters is eighty-five. I’m certainly not that old, and if I make it that far, I hope I have been retired for a long time.

My mother-in-law, proof that angels walk this earth, retired from full-time work in the insurance industry, to part-time, at 80. She finally retired to help out at church, read the newspaper every day and walk her mean little dog. She’d get up at 3 am every morning and go to bed right after Oprah and the five o’clock local news. Without structure her days and nights almost flip-flopped. When she passed away at ninety-three, she was sharp right up until shortly before she made it to that big actuarial table in the sky.
My father was forced into retirement because of health. He dealt with a serious condition, got well, and was vigorous and enjoyed more than twenty-five years at home with my mother who hated retirement. She needed to assign purpose to her days, and unlike my father, planning and preparing dinner wasn’t enough.

When I retire I don’t want to lay around all day and do nothing, I do that now on my days off. I’d like to simply slow down. I think the rat race could do with one less rat. I’d like to write more, spend more time with my granddaughter and I’d like to take the time to, as we used to say in the sixties, smell the roses, before they’ve gone by.

Yup, I’ll retire someday. Probably when hell freezes over which means I’ll have to walk there in knee deep snow but I won’t be wearing a dress. I’ll have on my skinny jeans and Uggs. Enough said.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Toasting Mom and Dad

Published December 01. 2014

Publication: The Times  

This year, on the day we give thanks, I will be reminded of my first Thanksgiving without my mother and father, who passed away eight years ago. They were married 62 years and how they died - dad first and mom seven months later - isn't as important as that they did die, leaving me on the doorstep of the future as an adult orphan.

The holiday that year wasn't sad, we didn't mope around missing them, we actually had fun, and in a small way included them in our Thanksgiving festivities. Some families visit the graves of their dear departed loved ones on holidays, and even decorate the sites, but we couldn't do that because we didn't bury mom and dad, we put them in the freezer.

In our family, Mom was the controller, dad the comedian. My mother's unfiltered comments like, "…those pants DO make you look fat," to my father's, "…nice pants, we're out of Smirnoff," made them, as a couple, a great balance of salty and sweet.

After my father died, a friend said, "If you didn't like Bob Munn, you didn't like anybody because he was the nicest guy to have a vodka on the rocks with." My mother's honesty left her friendless, but her generosity had her bed surrounded by thanks.

My folks did not want to be buried, they wanted to be cremated. Actually, that's not quite true, my mother wanted to be cremated, my father wanted to be planted. (He was a gardener.) At the age of 5 he had been in a horrific car fire so it was no wonder he did not want to be "ashed," as he called it. My mother, sympathetic to his memory, but practical, decided on cremation because toward the end of their lives, he wanted what she wanted and cremation was cheaper.

Their ashes came in two little black cardboard containers the size of a five pound bag of sugar, weighed about the same too. The presence of the little black boxes in my home didn't upset me, but where to store them became a puzzlement. Where do you display the ashes of the departed? I wasn't about to buy a couple of matching urns at Target, spoon them in and display them with my rooster plate collection, or among my husband's assortment of beer steins. So, we lovingly placed them in the old Kenmore freezer in the basement. (My parents were loyal Sear's customers.)

It wasn't like they were stacked next to the frozen peas and burger on sale from BJ's; the freezer hadn't worked in years. My husband had a woodshop in the basement and every once in a while I'd ask him how Mom and Dad were doing and he'd share how he'd talk to my father while glue dried. (And I thought he only talked to himself.) He never did mention if dad talked back.

When we had Thanksgiving at our house that year the family gathered around the table, and as is the custom, (which the kids dislike as much as turnips), we each recited what we were thankful for. My sister-in-law raised her glass of wine, to toast and make mention of, the dear departed souls who were unable to join us. When she mentioned my parents' names, I interrupted.
"Oh, but they are here."
My husband cleared his throat and looked at me. "You're not bringing them to the table are you?" Some seated at the kids table, (grown kids with kids of their own), looked mortified. They knew where Nana and Pop were, as did my sister-in-law.
"Let's take the toast to them," she said.

We all rose from our seats, grabbed our glasses and preceded down the cellar stairs into the basement. Some of the group had no idea what was going on but as is the fashion in our family, they followed because the majority led. There we were at the base of the stairs staring at the freezer.
I pulled open the door. On the wire shelves the two small black boxes rested as the only contents of the Kenmore crypt. Sighs of final understanding rose above the members of the crowd who initially had no idea why we had gathered with our glasses of wine in the cellar.
"To Mom and Dad," I said.
"To Nana and Pop," one of my daughters said.
"To Bob and Dot Munn," my sister-in-law added as we tipped our glasses.
"Okay," I said, "our Thanksgiving meal is getting cold and the dogs are alone upstairs with all the food; it's time to eat."

As the crowd stumbled back up the stairs, Chris, our 'always' late arriving nephew was coming down the stairs.
"What's going on?" He said.
"We just toasted my mother and father, they're in the freezer." We paraded past him on the way back up.
"This family will find any excuse to make a toast," he said.

Even without Mom's gravy and Dad's stuffing we had a great belt-busting meal that year. They would have really enjoyed the traditional sustenance and fun family chaos of the day.

The following spring we took Mom and Dad for one last boat ride out to Bell 8 in Long Island Sound, just off the mouth of the Connecticut River. As an exclamation point to their final interment, I christened the waters with a bottle of Smirnoff. My father would have loved that. And my mother? She would have loved it too. The few really important things they always agreed on, gravy, stuffing and Vodka. Enough said

Parents help with fixer upper

There is only one thing more daunting than buying an as-is fixer-upper that you have two weeks to make livable, and that's when your kid buys one.
My daughter and son-in-law purchased their first home. It has potential, a lot of potential, but due to circumstances, they were unable to close on the deal until two weeks before their apartment lease ran out half-a-state away. The house is less than five miles from ours, and because my husband pounds nails for a living, and I have a steady hand with a paint brush, the idea of being able to move in soon seemed possible.
If Tom Hanks could survive on "… it'll only take two weeks," promise in "The Money Pit"; if HGTV real estate experts, builders and designers can do it; if "Extreme Home Makeover" and "This Old House" can build a dream home out of a mid-century dog house; why couldn't we update a split level built the year the Beatles met Ed Sullivan?
The house has been vacant for quite some time. Setting aside that it needed substantial updating and repair it was easy to see that at one time it had been loved. It's heartwarming when new buyers take on the dream of previous owners and make it their own. And it's hard work, confusing and frustrating for a young couple who have never attempted such a project before.
Considering the logistics of the young buyers, and their abilities, (they can wield a paint-roller, drive a U-Haul and rack leaves), getting the house ready for habitation pretty much fell on us. Actually it fell on my husband, the man with the loud tools and enough friends to rescue our kids from the folly of not enough time.
I'm the painter with a one and a half inch sash-brush permanently grafted to my right hand. Every wall, ceiling, window mullion and trim piece had to be painted. The picture window in the living room has 54 panes of glass with accompanying mullions and trim that had to be sanded, primed in one, and painted in two coats. That window took me almost an entire day and I still need to do the final coat.

Cutting in wall colors, at the ceiling and along the baseboard with a steady hand, doesn't seem like a big deal, unless you wear bifocals, have bad knees and a full-time job. Fitting in my home make-over skills between shifts at work, and granddaughter babysitting, would leave even those half my age exhausted.
We're pushing hard to get the house ready because, until they move in, they are living with us. We've eaten enough pizza and fast food to feed a lifetime of acid reflux. When I crave green leaves, lean meat and a banana I know I've eaten too much 'to-go' and need a real home cooked meal; like a roasted chicken from Big Y.
Right now my own house is so lived in, it looks like a battalion billets were here. With a little one, who is on-all-fours-mobile, safety is primary. Water bowls and dog hair tumbleweeds make lousy snacks.
I'm happy for the kids and thrilled they will be living nearby. It is fun watching them learn where the shut off valves are and that living with clean, is as important as living with new. It's also nice that instead of us, someone else gets to suffer home owner angst and write the checks.
Welcome to the world of fluctuating home heating oil prices, utility bills that read like a Scrabble board, and doing it all yourself, even when you don't know what you're doing. You are your own tenant, enjoy.
Enough Said.

See what the oldsters in the back row have to say

Published October 23. 2014 4:00AM

Publication: The Times

I first noticed it at my nieces 25th birthday party. I even made a comment to my sister-in-law sitting next to me. And then again about a month later while attending a wedding shower for the daughter of a longtime friend, I noticed it again. There I was, sitting in the back row of the group, not among the young or even middle-aged, but in the mezzanine of matriarchs. Let's be clear, this was not assigned seating, I chose my place among the oldsters.

It's hard when the reality of time thumps you on the head with the reminder that you have become a member of a group that well-mannered youngsters give up their seats for. I wasn't the oldest in attendance at the party, that was a sweet lady up front so she could see and hear what was going on.

A few weeks ago on the local news, the anchor mentioned that an elderly (one year younger than me) woman was in an accident and passed away. My condolences to the family but what age constitutes elderly? I'm not middle-aged, the oldest person on earth has not lived to what that would make me, so what am I? A whisker away from full retirement, am I post middle-age, pre-elderly or almost-olderly?

Hey, all you up front youngsters, if you were wondering, (and I know you were not), what the women in the back, who politely drank punch and ordered decaf with cake were talking about, let me tell you.

While you were celebrating by saving ribbons and slicing the half-sheet covered in butter-cream frosting, we were talking about you. About what a joy you were when you were little, about whether you gave your parents gray hair, or about how smart, beautiful and noble you have become. And it's not just you we were discussing.

At family events we look lovingly at all the kids who have grown up, some having kids of their own. When they were little, who knew which hellions would turn out to be cops, farmers, teachers or doctors or which perfect child would drop out, for a life of dead-end jobs, while continuing to live in the childhood bedroom they refuse to leave.

Some of the athletic ones have become couch potatoes. The ones once most in need of a make-over, because of video games and soda with sugar, have become health nuts. One kid, I am most in awe of, went from being a substance-abuse horror show, every parent has nightmares about, to graduating college, being married with children and living a squeaky clean life while pulling down a job with a six figure salary.

Of course when examining the outcomes of the younger set it is with trepidation we examine and put into perspective, our own humble beginnings - for about 30 seconds. Looking back at my own indiscretions does nothing but feed the regret of, if I knew then what I know now, I would have had a heck of a lot more fun then.

I like being a member of the experienced set because that means I can enjoy myself and not worry about all the stuff young people have to worry about these days like, global warming, student loans, apps and whether my iPhone is charged. All I have to worry about is whether I can figure out how to program my GPS so I can find my way back home. I'll take another slice of cake and another cup of coffee, decaf please. Enough said.