Thursday, November 28, 2013

An Abundance

As usual, these writings are born from a stream of consciousness that starts with a single thought that bears little resemblance to the finished product.  Amanda and I were talking recently about the elderly in assisted living and nursing homes who literally have nobody visiting them at any time of the year.  How is it possible that someone could be completely alone during the entire holiday season?

Taking stock of what I have and what I haven't (Thank you Irving Berlin), I wonder - how is it that there are people in the world with nobody, while I on the other hand, have ...........

My immediate family - imperfect with their passive aggressive flaws, yet loving and supportive to a fault.   My husband, who will forever be the original diamond in the rough, simultaneously infuriating and endearing, hilarious and politically incorrect.  My daughter, whose has such crazy talent that her biggest obstacle at internships is how to handle the awkwardness of upstaging the chefs.  And she is humble and caring enough to worry about it.   My mother-in-law, who can be annoyingly patronizing, but how do you stay angry at someone whose most grievous offense is that of trying too hard?  These are the people who color each day of my life.

My not-so immediate family - what does it mean when your husband's sister alienates and isolates herself from us, and the byproduct is that of us being embraced by her ex-husband's family?  Whether it be the coming together of people in defense against a common enemy, or just plain empathy, the result is that we are celebrating Christmas day with my nieces - something we have not been able to do for many years.  How can I be anything less than grateful for their extension of such a large and meaningful olive branch?

My Church family - I am in a lot of internal turmoil when it comes to these people, mostly because of my ongoing and ever-growing disenchantment with the faith into which I was born.   I think about my desire to strike out in new directions with respect to my denomination, and I wonder what their reactions would be?  They have seen me visibly angry during some particularly offensive homilies, yet I feel that there would be a lot of bewilderment if I were to leave the Church.   Would they think I was going to Hell? (yes, there are still those who would believe that),  would they miss me, the person, or would they just miss me, The Voice?     I have a feeling that I'm going to find out sooner or later, so for now I must give thanks for them as they are today - the typical church choir:  enthusiastic to a fault, caring and so perfect in their imperfections.

My Chorus family - I can't say much more about this group that hasn't been said.  They are a collection of diverse personalities and backgrounds that somehow mesh in concert in a way that is completely unique, completely exhilarating, and musically fulfilling.   They are so much like a real family that it's almost scary at times.  No group as large as this can circle the wagons, support one another, and bring it to the stage like this one does.  Recently, the words of our founder were resurrected, and I am so glad, because they are so true - "Ordinary people in a Chorus can make Great Music Together.".

My Work family - I swore up and down that I would not allow myself to become emotionally attached to the people I work with ever, ever again.  I really did not have a prayer of being able to hold myself to that vow.   The best way I can think of to describe these people is by saying "these are not your father's financial services professionals."   And because I can say this about them, I can also come to terms with the fact that I fit in with them perfectly and for that, I am very, very thankful.

My Hamburg/Lakeview/Derby family.   How did this northtowns-born-and bred girl manage to insinuate herself with these folks?   They spoke to my heart from the beginning, and I know that I could live next door to blood relatives and not feel this kind of connection with them that I feel with this gang that lives 40 minutes and a Skyway drive away.  I have loved them now for close to five years, but in the past year, they have taught me more about strength, bravery, support and caring than anybody ever has before and probably ever will again.   They have shown me that when there is family tragedy, the better sides of our human nature can turn that tragedy into beauty.  Not ordinary, superficial beauty, but the beauty of caring, of putting their individual needs aside, of sacrificing their futures in order to make a future for their loved ones in crisis.   This is the powerful and beautiful love of this family, and that I am even privileged enough to be able to know this story is something for which I will be eternally grateful.  Their influence on me and mine is priceless and can never be measured.

In times of trouble, I need to think of those who are truly alone, and I must remind myself that I am truly blessed.  Happy Thanksgiving to all!!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Roller Coaster and the Merry Go Round

I find myself, for the second time in as many posts, thinking about and quoting the movie "Parenthood".  This movie is brilliant, as it portrays family life and just plain life in general.  Not with an overly complex story line, but with sheer simplicity.   After almost the entire movie has played out with its brilliant interweaving of plots involving one extended family, the great-grandma (who is perceived by the other characters throughout the story as being somewhat batty and senile), declares that she loves amusement parks, and in particular, she loves the roller coaster because of all of the incredible highs and lows.  She says "some people prefer the merry go round.  What's exciting about that?"  This, of course, is an amazingly accurate analogy of life and the way that we all choose to live our respective lives.

I am all for buying the ticket for the roller coaster, standing in line to get on, and enjoying the ride - the tingle in the pit of my stomach as the coaster ascends, the breathless fear as it descends in a rush, and the exhilaration as it rushes around corners and sometimes even flies upside down in corkscrews.  Life, however is a bit more complex than just choosing between the roller coaster and the merry go round.  We have to make choices about the people we invite to take the ride with us.  We also have to realize that some people choose to ride the roller coaster when they really should be on the merry go round - and vice versa.  Some people are forced to ride the merry go round when they would much rather be on the roller coaster - and vice versa.   People end up on the "wrong ride" for all sorts of reasons.  

How do we react when we encounter these people?   Our reactions, or lack thereof, are what can ultimately determine the quality of our own ride.  The thing is.... it's all about the choices that each of us make - not just the choice of which ride to get on, but what to do once we're on the ride.   Every roller coaster connoisseur knows that riding in the front car offers a whole different experience than that of riding in the middle or back cars.    Even the merry go round has horses that go up and down and horses that remain stable.   The other choice we have to make is this - who are we going to invite onto the ride with us?   Sometimes even the people we care about the most belong on the other ride - but in the amusement park known as life, we have the ability to ride different rides and meet up at the game arcade after an hour or two.

Probably the worst scenario is when you are on the ride that is perfect for you, but you are stuck dealing with someone who thinks that they are on the right ride when they really are not.   If you are someone who loves the roller coaster, you probably don't want the ride to stop midway and get stuck at the bottom of the hill.  But.... that's exactly what happens when you are in this scenario.  People who are part of our lives who are dragging us down will inevitably keep us at the bottom of the hill.  Wouldn't it be great if we could just pitch them over the side?   Sometimes we can...... <sigh>..... usually we cannot.   When this happens, it is up to us to either allow these people to drag us down or to rise above them.  How do we rise above them?  By focusing on life at the top of the hill.   If you close your eyes, and concentrate, what are your "top of the hill" experiences?   Your wedding, the birth of your children or grandchildren - and all of their milestones, that excitement you feel as you line up and process into a concert venue - the feeling of an amazing concert performance when you and the conductor are of one mind and voice, or that feeling of satisfaction and that giddy high following that kind of performance.   How about just being with family and friends who elevate your mind and spirit.

Sometimes nature will take its course, and the person or persons who are keeping you at the bottom of the hill will change rides of their own accord.  Sometimes they will adapt to the ride they are on.  And yes, sometimes the other people on the ride will oust the person from the ride for his or her own good.  But in the end, we make choices - and we can choose to allow these people to drag us down - or not.  We must always remember that there are people who were meant to be on that roller coaster with us - people who will ride that ride with us to the bitter end, sharing the incredible highs and lows.  Focusing on these people can sometimes help us gain clarity to deal with the others - if not clarity, they at least make us feel like the ride is worthwhile taking - no matter where it takes us.

Great Grandma's amusement park musings brought difference reactions from the husband and wife (played amazingly by Steve Martin and Mary Steenburgen).  Steve Martin's character goes on and on about what a batty dim-wit Great Grandma is.   Mary Steenburgen's character simply says "I think she's a genius."   I agree with Mary Steenburgen's character.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Parental Guidance Required

Lately I've been given cause to think about parenting.  There are all sorts of parents and parenting styles out there.  Yet another favorite movie quote of mine is from the movie 'Parenthood', in which the teenage father-to-be expresses his feelings about his abusive father: "You need a license to buy a dog, to drive a car - hell, you even need a license to catch a fish.  But they'll let any butt-reaming asshole be a father."  Abusive parents are, of course, the extreme.   Model parents are the other extreme, and somewhere in the middle is where the rest of us can be found.  We are a mixture of environment, genetics and luck.

What is it that causes some people to be great parents?  Fundamental goodness and values, of course... but is it more than just that?  What if parents seem to do the "right things" but their children can't seem to connect with them in a real and meaningful way.  It's not any one's fault, is it?  Isn't it just the hand of cards that each of us is dealt, and just maybe it is what we do with those cards as adults that tells the real story.

I loved my parents.  But I was not ever friends with my parents, even as an adult.  There was something inside of me that felt like I was always a child and always trying to measure up.   I don't ever remember hearing words of encouragement from them.  Expectations were set and it was assumed that I would live up to them.  Anything less was an inconvenience.  Their focus was mostly on my performance in school.  I was ranked in the top 20 in my class and was in the National Honor Society, but I don't remember hearing praise or encouragement, because I was merely living up to expectations.   Same thing with college.  My Junior year in college was incredibly difficult and I remember practically giving myself an ulcer for weeks before I got the courage to call my parents to tell them that I simply could not maintain 18 credit hours of classes and also work  -even part time.  There was minimal understanding in my mother's voice when she gave me her approval to quit working.    I remember hanging up the phone and feeling like a failure, even though I had just been offered a spot in the National Honor Fraternity for undergraduate accounting students.

Things went from bad to worse when I embarked on my new career.  I began my new job as a staff accountant at one of the 'Big Eight" accounting firms in September of 1987.   I immediately discovered that accounting professionals were expected to maintain a certain standard of living even at the entry level positions.  Our starting salary was $21,000.   Not awful by 1987 standards, but not exactly a prize salary when, as I soon found out, one was thrust into a professional world with high standards.  More expectations that I struggled to meet.    We wore those hideous "dress for success" suits, and only tailored suits and crisp cotton menswear blouses from Kleinhans or Joseph Banks were acceptable.   Cha-ching! Then there were the cars.  Certainly we could not be seen in "starter cars".  Honda Accords, Mazda 626's, or Toyota Camarys  - these were the standards for us.  I reluctantly purchased my very first Honda Accord, and I remember so clearly the nervous rat chewing at my insides when I signed the paperwork and was handed the payment book.  Yes, nervous..... because we also were not allowed to bring our lunches to work - ever, even if we were working in the office instead of being out on an audit.  CPA's don't do bag lunches, I was told.  We ate at places like the Glass Abbey or other sit down restaurants.  Cha-ching!  On Fridays, it was expected that we would meet after work for dinner and drinks - cha -ching!  In the summer came the joys of the Accountants Softball League, and if you didn't play, you were expected to attend and be a cheerleader and go out for food and drinks afterward, once or twice a week - cha ching!  And really, I still had friends that I wanted to socialize with now and then.... and I rationalized that I really wanted to have a good time with my real friends who were my escape from the horrors of a job that I detested.  Cha-ching!

I had been working for about a year when my parents dropped the bomb that I was being given six months to find an apartment and move out of their house.  I thought about my mounting credit card bills, but there was absolutely no way I could tell them how scared I was or that I needed help of some sort - not when my father hd completely flown off the handle when he saw the bill arrive in the mail the first time I even used a credit card a year and a half earlier.

I found an apartment with my best friend.   And as exciting and exhilarating as it was to be out on my own, calling my own shots,  I knew I was in trouble.  But I thought - "OK, I can do this if I just find ways to change some things and not spend money."   I was actually feeling pretty optimistic when the next shoe dropped.  My employer had lost a large client shortly after I was hired.  A year later, for some unfathomable reason, they hired another big pack of college graduates.   Result - I was laid off along with four other people.  I had just moved into my apartment.  Truth be told, I'm sure I made the choice easy for them.  I hated that job, and I was like a square peg in a round hole, and everybody knew it.  I had a terrible poker face even back then.   So, while I was relieved to be gone from that place, I was thrown into financial turmoil.   The bottom line for me was that my parents could never, ever know that I had been laid off.  The very thought of telling them turned my stomach into a thousand knots, made my pulse shoot up and made me break out in a cold sweat.  I gamely applied for unemployment and embarked on a search for another job - doing what, I didn't know, for I surely did not want to be an auditor in an accounting firm ever again.  My friends were sworn to silence, and my plan was that I would find another job and tell my parents that I had moved on voluntarily to a better opportunity.  What I could not handle were the bills - car payment, credit cards, rent, utility bills, food ......???

I recovered from all of this.  The timeline went something like this - girl finds new job.  Girl meets new boyfriend.  Girl starts spending too much money again because of the new job.  Girl and boyfriend get engaged, and only after this does the girl have a nervous breakdown in front of the fiance when she confesses her spending and debt issues.   Fiance puts girl on a budget.  They are married and live happily ever after.   I finally learned, at the age of 25, what it was like to be able to confess to someone that - yes -  I screwed up, without fear of feeling like a total failure.  A little understanding and compassion goes a long way, but I think that this was a foreign concept to my depression-era parents.  They both went to their graves never knowing that I was laid off from my "dream job" and that I had an out-of-control spending habit fueled by my desire to keep up with the Joneses.  To this day, I wonder what would have happened if I hadn't found another job right away and hadn't met my husband.   Even now, the thought of actually telling my parents the truth is completely incomprehensible to me.  Never an option.

So this brings me back to my musings about parenting skills.  I know that I made mistakes with my daughter, but the one thing that we drilled into her head was that she could come to us with anything, and we would work it out together.  You see, my parents..... they just didn't want to know about problems that I might be having, and if they found out about anything that they perceived as being a problem ........   I was made to feel ashamed, as though whatever it was that I had done (or not done) reflected poorly on not just me, but that it was inconceivable to them that their child had done ......  or not done..... whatever infraction it was that I had committed.  Everything was like the end of the world.

My parents were not abusive by any stretch of the imagination.  But they succeeded in taking an already shy girl and raising her to be a cowardly adult.   Too cowardly to succeed and scared to death to admit failure.   Yes indeed, parenting is a complicated business.   And no, parents are not supposed to be their children's best friends while they are raising their children.   I might be oversimplifying this but, is it as simple as trying to remember that your children are human beings and not little clone robots?   Maybe.  Things could have gone so badly, so much worse in my adult life.  I just think that I am so lucky to be surrounded today by people who treat me like a human being - imperfect, flawed but me.  Just me.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Path Not Taken

Another wasted opportunity for sleep on a weekend morning, and I once again find myself sitting here in front of my computer.  As I laid awake in bed, I pondered the big picture of my life.  Sometimes I think we get caught up in minutiae.  Maybe if we're unhappy for reasons that we can't seem to identify, we should just take a step back and look at the big picture.

I feel as though my life has just been an endless string of regrets and disappointments.   The question is - why?  Don't I have a reasonably happy marriage, good job, etc, etc....?  The answer to those questions is yes, so then why do I feel this way so frequently?  Why do I always have this pervading sense that I am always missing out on things?

I was listening to the latest Elton John song from his new CD today.  The title is 'Home Again', and part of the chorus reads "We all dream of leaving but wind up in the end spending all our time trying to get back home again."   And I thought, "It never happened for me.  I'm still dreaming."   I also thought of my daughter, who is doing everything in her power to wind up living in another city when she graduates from college.   She might never come home again, but at least if she does, she can live out the rest of her life without regrets and "what ifs".  My husband lived in the New York City area for three years.  If I had a dollar for every time he's told me "you couldn't handle living there.  It's too fast, too high-pressure, the atmosphere is too intense.", I could probably afford to move there and see for myself.

I could make a list of all of the things I could have and should have done in the first half of my adult life.   But that would just be too depressing.  Big things, little things.  Life-altering things, little things that I've always wanted to do.  And I think I know now that the reason I haven't done a lot of these things is that I was waiting around for someone else to make them happen for me.  Parents, spouse, friends, whomever.  The end result is that I'm just an observer of other peoples' lives, other peoples' adventures, other peoples' experiences.

So, the question that I am asking myself now is this - what do I have the power to change going forward with what's left of my life?   Living in another city?  Doubtful.  But what about all of the little things that I haven't done?  The way I see it right now, there's never going to be a better time than right now for me to stop relying on the rest of humanity to provide me with experiences.

Seeing as how I recently returned home from a European vacation, this probably seems like a ridiculous blog entry.  But even that trip is an example of my inertia.  We were so busy concerning ourselves with our daughter's internship in France that we never bothered to plan out any sightseeing for ourselves.   So, while I wouldn't trade that experience for sitting home on my couch, it could have and should have been better.  And I have nobody to blame for that but myself.

I am full of resolve at this moment, but it may all crumble tomorrow or next week.  That seems to be the story of my life.   But, as Scarlett O'Hara famously said, "Tomorrow is another day."  Let's see what it brings.

And if I die having accomplished nothing else, at least I can say that I stripped naked and walked around on a nude beach.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


My wise friend has started keeping a gratitude journal.  As I trudge toward the end of 2013, I am trying to strike a balance between the amazingly wonderful and the heartbreaking and everything in between.  If ever there was a year that felt like a roller coaster, 2013 would be it.

How do I explain the confusion of emotions that I felt when my mother died?  For me, she had died a few years ago, and this was just her body playing catch up with her mind.  And yet, now I think of her as she was when I was a child, and that is who I miss.  Thanksgiving, for example - nobody will ever prepare a Thanksgiving dinner that will taste like my Mom's Thanksgiving dinner.  There was never anything fancy or exotic.  It was just good.  The turkey was never dry, the stuffing was that old stand by sage dressing.  Why does everyone want to make fancy stuffing?  Why must everyone add oddities such as fruit and nuts?  She also would not approve of the current trend of not stuffing the bird.  Really, people - I ask you - has anyone out there died from eating in-the-bird stuffing? (dying of happiness doesn't count)   And then there's Christmas.......  I'm still working on Christmas.  It hasn't been my favorite season for lots of reasons.  Somehow, I don't feel a difference happening this year..... yet.....

So, as I struggle with loss coupled with my ongoing and ever-present feeling of being one of those people who are nothing special (aka - no presence, invisible, Mrs Cellophane, etc...), I am going to try very hard to focus on all of the things that I am grateful for.   Here goes:

My Husband:  how do I describe a man who is so the opposite of me, and yet somehow over the course of 23 years, we've become a team.  While I feel that he doesn't really "get" me some of the time, there is no denying that he can make me laugh like nobody else, and he has mastered the art of the surprise.   A smart man knows how to enlist the aid of an expert accomplice, and I was surprised not once but twice in 2013 by him.    He will help anyone at any time with just about anything, and he loves me in all of my imperfection.  He is, as the VISA commercial says - priceless.

My daughter:  what can I say about a child who puts others' needs ahead of hers, has a big heart, her father's goofy sense of humor and is so unbelievably talented?  When I look at her, I see the best of me and her father.  I see a girl who has the tools to go anywhere and be wildly successful, but she will always be my daughter and my friend.  A thousand miles will not separate us in spirit and in our hearts.

My chorus:  when you plan the funeral of a loved one, you plan it the best way you can to say goodbye and you think that you've done everything you can to honor your loved one.  When you hear the sound of 35 angels singing in the most beautiful harmony from the choir loft, there are no word to describe the emotions that wash over you.  Tears flow because of the sheer amazement of knowing that these people came through to support me in the best way that they possibly could.   I can't say it enough ...  there are simply no words.

My best friend:  they say that the best things in life are worth waiting for.  Well, I spent over 15 years without a best friend, and yes, this was definitely worth the wait.  My BFF knows how my brain functions like nobody I've ever met.  I have never had this sort of connection with anyone.  I can tell her anything and without a shadow of a doubt, I would walk through fire for her.  She has opened her family to me - her husband with the twinkle in his eye who always has something interesting to say, her daughter who shares her mother's drive, organizational skills and generosity, and her son with the heart of a lion, and her grandchildren who bring joy and laughter and simple happiness to my heart each and every time I'm with them.  This woman is quite simply a miracle in my life.

When I read what I've written, it hits home to me just how good my life is.  I must vow to myself that when I am feeling fat or invisible or verbally abused or missing my Mom or just feeling sorry for myself in general that I will re-read this post and not let the downers in life win the battle for my mind and spirit.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Sibling Sorrow and Resolution

Much has been said about my oldest brother, Alan, but this is the first time I have written about him.  I've decided to record his story and my feelings about him, and from this point on, he will be discarded from my life.

He was 16 years old when I was born.  He is actually a stepbrother.  We share a father, but right from Day One of my Dad marrying my Mom, it is my understanding that he and my Mom were like oil and water.  The stories are the stuff of legends among those who attended Tonawanda High School in the early '60s.  Apparently, he was not happy unless he was in trouble with someone and ultimately causing problems at home.  It escalated to the point where my Parents asked him to leave after he graduated from high school.  Two years later he left Western New York, not to return to live for close to 40 years.   I was four years old at the time.

My early memories of him were vague and foggy.  He would mysteriously appear and disappear around holiday time- not every year. not even every other year.  He had settled in Connecticut.   During my senior year of high school, he became engaged to Corinne.  We all met her and her family, and while we thought that her younger brother was a bit of a jerk, we loved her parents.  I thought she was pretty cool.  She was the lead singer of a cover band, a grade school music teacher and a church organist.  She was really opinionated and everything with her was very black and white.  This would prove to be problematic down the road.  For the time being, all was well, and we thought that my brother had finally grown up.

Years passed, children came, family vacations ensued.  On one of these trips, Corinne decided that the time was right to tell my husband a story about my birth and how Alan felt that, had I never been born, that all of my step-siblings would have been reunited to live together again (the two youngest grew up together with foster parents.  We were all friends and spend a lot of time together - all of us except Alan, that is).  The really bad part of the story was how she told him that all of them felt this way, not just Alan.  I had this vision in my head of a movie with a bunch of rag-tag brothers and sisters torn apart after their mother deserted them, pining away for one another until this unplanned, accidental baby comes along and is just this total wrecking ball, smashing their hopes and dreams.  I was the spoiled princess who went to Hawaii with the folks when I was five, to meet my paternal grandmother and be pampered beyond belief by my Aunt and Uncle.  How could they not hate me?  I finally worked up the courage to ask my second-oldest brother (who I was closest to) about this after my Mom's death.   I felt oddly vindicated by his anger and his vehement assertion that, at no time did any of them other than Alan ever think that this mythical "family reunion" would happen, nor was there ever any blame put on me. Alan was seven or eight years old when his mother left - he was the oldest child, and in today's world, he would have received counseling.  I don't think anybody knew how to deal with this situation back then.  In the 1950's, women did not desert their children. Still,  I cannot imagine what possessed Corinne to tell this to Bill, but in the end, I think it says a lot about her character and how she, in her own way, contributed to the demise of hers and Alan's marriage.

Alan had his share of hereditary health problems - osteoarthritis, a rare form of cancer(cured in 1999), and extreme obesity.  He was also a heavy drinker.   About 12 years ago, he broke his leg and became addicted to Oxycontin.  I don't think I will ever know the full extent of what he did to get his hands on the drug, but I do know that he forged Corinne's signature on 401(k) withdrawal paperwork (not sure whose 401(k) it was - maybe both!) to take a withdrawal to buy the drug.  Needless to say, their marriage came to an end in 2007, and in 2009 he announced to us that he was moving back to Buffalo (leaving two teenage sons behind, but that's a whole other story).  I guess we were supposed to all greet him with open arms, open homes and open wallets.   I, who felt little connection to him to begin with, was extremely suspicious of just about everything he said or did.  We all tried to find a reasonable apartment for him, but nothing would do but for him to rent a house from my brother Gary (my youngest step brother).  Why rent from a total stranger when you can take advantage of a relative -which is exactly what ended up happening.  He has spent the past five years asking each of us for money, owing thousands in back rent, taking disability time from his job(which supposedly pays six figures) to have shoulder and knee surgeries, spending time in rehab (of both the physical and drug variety), sponging dinners off everyone, collecting DWIs, driving with a suspended license (those Connecticut plates come in handy), and ......I think that's just about enough, thank you!

As I write this, I have washed my hands of him.  In reality, I did this over two years ago.  It has taken my siblings a bit longer to catch up.  Understandably, they still harbored feelings of loyalty and duty toward him -  their oldest brother, after all.  I have no idea where he's living or what he's doing, and I simply can't bring myself to care.  He told Dick that he wanted to come to my Mom's funeral service to"start over" with everyone.  I can still hear Dick telling me the story.  He said "I asked him 'Why do you want to come?  She hated your guts!!'   There's no money left'...."  This was not entirely true, but certainly there was no money for him as far as we were concerned.   The day of my Mom's funeral came and went without an appearance by Alan.  In the end, we think it was about money, as it always was in the past - money for alcohol, marijuana and pills.  And if he was really lucky, he'd get a dinner out of it too.

I could write volumes about the crazy things he did to get money for drugs and alcohol, and the insane way that he lived his life after he moved back here.  I honestly believe that he may never straighten out, and he definitely will not as long as there are enablers in his life.  I stepped away from my enabler role and I will not ever go back.

I am trying now to find the positives that I have been left with.

I am wiser.  I know that addicts will do or say anything to convince someone to give them money when they need their fix.   I know that the fix becomes more important than jobs, families or relationships.  Until it is satisfied, at which point the sorrowful regret and "woe is me, I'm so misunderstood" routine kicks in.  Alan was always downtrodden, life was always against him, luck was never in his favor.  He never accepted real responsibility for his problems or his actions.  Maybe he has now or will someday.  But he'll be doing it without me because I will never, ever trust him again.

I have real respect for people who have successfully overcome addictions.  But maybe these people have family members who will never trust them again, and I can't judge them for this.  That's why God brings new people into our lives - to give us a chance to start fresh.

There are a lot of people in the world who have been touched by addiction - either their own or someone else's.  If we're lucky, we get the chance to use our own experiences to help others.

Sometimes it's good to just listen.  Listen without judgement and without trying to advance your own agenda.

Always, it's good to pray and have faith.  Sometimes, it's the only thing you can do.  And you have to tell yourself that it's OK that praying is the only thing you can do.   Do it for everyone else, but mostly.... do it for yourself.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Dorothy had it right ...

I saw people sitting at computers talking on phones ..... why I would miss that particular activity is beyond me - but I do. 

I just had the umpteenth argument with my daughter about her overpacking.  Plus, she read a tweet from her ex last night that sent her into a funk.  He seems to be courting another girl at school. 

Europe is beautiful. The architecture in particular is stunning.  I really like the fashion sense of the women on the streets in France.  Understated, fictional, but never sloppy. 

I'm ready to hear American English on the street again, though.   And I'm ready to let my child fly away again for a few weeks.  I don't understand the 30 year olds who still live with the folks.  I'm looking forward to having my house back again.  

I wonder what will happen if I click my heels together three times...

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Family Vacations are not for the Faint of Heart

Mix one person who's neurotic about timetables and planning with one person who is not a planner but is a control freak who insists on making the plans, and throw in one 20 year old who thinks that a day begins at 1:00PM.  It's a wonder any of us will survive the weekend. 

London is as I remember it.  Piccadilly Circus strongly resembles Times Square in that there are thousands of people all seemingly trying to walk into one another. 

Words I never thought I'd hear myself say in London: "That was the best cappuccino I've ever had in my life."

London highlight:  Jack The Ripper walking tour, complete with "Rippervision".  Two hours and thirty minutes around London's East End with an animated and entertaining female guide named Harry.  

On to the Chunnel. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Conflict Resolution - Part 2


How far have I progressed since my last post?  Have I been able to improve my situation or that of those around me?  Not likely.  The facts as I see them, or perhaps more accurately - the facts and the way they make me feel:

 - decisions regarding a major point of conflict in my household are made without my involvement.  Then, they are communicated to me very casually......
Him:  "So, you're ok with me taking Mandy to the concert on Friday night............." in a manner that might suggest a trip to the Galleria Mall rather than an 8 hour round trip drive to a 3-hour concert held within spitting distance of the murder capital of the USA.
Me: "Ahhhh, no, I never said I was ok with any of this, in any iteration."
My daughter was instructed to say nothing to me, because we  both have "short fuses."  So what, I wonder, is more upsetting?  The trip to this concert or the blatant disregard for my wishes and feelings?  I suspect it is the latter, which .... makes me self-absorbed, I suppose.

- trying to control a situation that I can't control, in order to make things happen.  If I'm supposed to be one of the doers or one of the movers and shakers, but someone is throwing constant roadblocks at me, when do I just say "it's too much"?   I can't seem to get any help from anyone with this problem.  I'm continually being told to keep on top of things, but no matter what I do, there are a hundred little things that this person puts in my way.    What will I do when I can't get past him no matter how hard I try, and in the end, I've just failed and let people down?  Sometimes I think that this is what drowning must be like.  You want to breathe, people aren't throwing you a life preserver, they just keep telling you to breathe, but the harder you try to breathe, the more the water fills your lungs.    And then you're dead, but it's your own fault because you didn't try hard enough.  Everyone is disappointed.

Life really is a roller coaster.  I never would have thought it possible to simultaneously love and hate so much about mine at one time.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Conflict Resolution

So many things you can't control
So many hurts that happen everyday
So many heartaches that pierce the soul
So much pain that won't ever go away

How do we make it better?
How do we make it through?
What can we do when there's nothing we can do?

Lyrics from one of my favorite songs.  The thing is, sometimes when you're caught in the middle of something that you have no control over, you just get this overwhelming urge to bolt.  At what point do you just say "enough", it's not worth it anymore".?

I used to think that I'd found what I was looking for.  I'd spent the first 18 years of my adult life doing nothing but working, eating, sleeping and raising my daughter.  The "raising my daughter" part wasn't so bad....  the rest of it was pretty freakin' boring.  I would rather sing than do just about anything else on this earth.  So, finally...  I did.

This..... this I did not sign up for..... or did I?  Well yes, I guess I did.  If I close my eyes and focus really hard, I can see the good things happening.  And there really are a lot of good things happening.  Why is it, then, that angry words and petty differences can so easily overshadow the good things?  And I'm supposed to rise above all of this.


The punchline to those song lyrics is ........  "We can be kind."  Sounds so easy. But if it were easy, I wouldn't be in this mess now - would I?   Will kindness help me to overcome this feeling that I'm trapped in a never-ending series of derogatory e-mails and back biting?  Oh wait, that's right. I'm doing this because I love to sing.  Singing.  There has got to be an easier way to just sing.

"We can be kind"..."We can be kind"..."We can be kind"..."We can be kind"........  there has got to be an easier way to just sing ....  I read somewhere recently that the true challenge of Christianity is taking part in organized religion and accepting the challenge to be kind to the person sitting next to you in the pew whose actions and thoughts are diametrically opposed to yours.  This can be extrapolated to cover more than just religious organizations.  These days, I'm finding the church challenge to be much simpler.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Why Write?

So, why do I write?  For the longest time, I haven't really known the answer to this question.  It's not as though I could make a living doing this.  Forget fiction.  I couldn't find a good fiction story with two hands and a map.   I can't just sit down every day and write.  I have to have something that drives me to the keyboard.

Some people like to read what I've written.  Sometimes I look back at what I've written, and I think - why?  But here's the thing.  I write when I need to get something out of me and I don't have the words to express myself verbally - or in some cases, when I have nobody to express them to.

I could have used this blog during the aftermath of 9/11.  I was desperately concerned about someone I knew who'd survived and was working at a contingency location in New Jersey.  I felt helpless.  From Buffalo, NY with no cell phone, tied to my job, there wasn't much I could do.  I chose not to eat and to run excessively(excessively for me, anyway).   I sort of floated around in a dream state for over three months.  I forced Bill into taking me to New York to see her. Having her physical presence in front of me was ultimately what put me back on the track to normal.  I can't help but wonder if writing would have gotten me through that in a more healthy way.

So, now I find myself in a similar predicament.  And I am writing.  And this is how I feel.

I wish I could reverse time for you.  I would take you back to when the biggest issue you faced was challenges on the job.   Why is it that we think that the worst things happen to us at work, until we find out the hard way that this isn't so?

I wish I could have five minutes in a room with those who are hurting you so that I could tell them how foolish and selfish and short-sighted they are.   Sometimes, I grit my teeth so hard that it hurts.

I wish I could give you what you need to ease your pain - whatever that might be.

They say that time heals all wounds.  I wish I could guarantee you time - loads and loads of time.

I wish I could calm your mind, because I know that it is anything but.

What I can offer are my eyes, my ears, my heart and my "pen".  These I give to you 100 percent and wholeheartedly.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Evil Carb

Since approximately the first week of June, I have been on an adventure called "Total Overhaul of my Lifelong Eating Habits".   Based on my track record, the odds of this actually sticking and lasting are at about 15%.  I think I'm being generous with that assessment.   Let's review my diet/exercise history:

Before I begin, remember that my weight since childbirth has ranged from 130 pounds to an all time high of 180.

 - 1998.  My first real diet.  It has no name but consists of a lot of Gogurt and brown rice.  Paired with some breathing routine which proclaims that 10 minutes of violent exhalations are the equivalent of 30 minutes of high impact aerobics, I manage to actually lose 35 pounds.   This lasts approximately 5 months, and my downfall coincides with the new "Mr. Cool" ice cream truck which makes a nightly appearance on our street.

-2001.  I discover running.   By the time 9/11 happens, I am up to 6 miles a week of full-tilt running.  After 9/11, I really plunge into it in an attempt to drive the demons from my brain.  In December 2011, we visited my friend who survived the attack, and I recall her telling me that she needed to hug "what was left of me".  I was down to 140.  A few months later, I suffered what was to be the first of many calf pulls in my left calf.

Between 2002 and 2011, I attempted to become a real runner 3 different times - always ending with my being hobbled at the calf.  From a diet perspective, I tried Atkins, South Beach, the Zone Diet, the Blood Type Diet, Weight Watchers and (briefly) vegetarianism.   In all cases, I was just hungry.  all.   the.  time.    That hunger was the common denominator among all of these diets.  And that hunger, I believe, is why they all failed.

Finally, I have faced my true demons -white flour, white sugar and starches in general.   I read that someone I knew had lost a lot of weight and gotten down to his high school weight on the Ketogenic diet.  This diet embraces "good" fat (nothing manufactured in a test tube) and animal protein.  The makeup is 10% carbs derived from vegetables and fruits,  40% protein, and 50% fats.   Based on various websites,  carbs should be curtailed to 30 - 50 grams daily.  So, I figured - what do I have to lose?

About five days in, I experienced "carb crash".   I was bone tired for almost three days.  Luckily, I did not experience the "South Beach" headache and - unbelievably - was not hungry.  The hunger I did experience was controllable with a few almonds or  cheese curds and was not accompanied by the cold sweats and weakness of past diets.   My carb cravings diminished and the abdominal bloating that I'd been walking around with for most of my life began to go away.

In July, I ventured into running again.  Not full tilt, as in the past, but a gradual build up with run/walk intervals.  So far, so good, and as I type, I have lost 10 pounds.

So what am I still fighting against?  Carb creep - otherwise known as complacency.  So I'm doing great, and eating that hamburger bun won't hurt........right?  I am already dealing with it, particularly on the weekends.  Weekends are so much more unscheduled, and that's when I feel the urge to eat ice cream or sausage buns.    Next weekend, Bill will be gone for 2-3 days, and I am dreading being alone with these cravings.  I must fill the time with something.......

It's hard to believe that I have been taking two different blood pressure pills for years just to keep my BP hovering around 140 over 80.    Eliminating bread, sugar and starches has caused it to drop as low as 111 over 70.   Even when I weighed between 140 -150, I was fighting with my BP.  Who knew?

So, this would all seem to be an incentive, wouldn't it?   An incentive to stay disciplined with my eating plan and my exercise.   History and the odds are not in my favor.  But I feel as though my future depends on it.   One day at a time .....

Monday, July 22, 2013

To My Daughter

My daughter Amanda, interning in Manhattan, had her college boyfriend of a year and a half break up with her this past weekend.  From 600 miles away, Bill and I have been trying to console and advise her.  It's very difficult when they aren't right in front of you.  It has been 36 hours of repeated messages and game plans for her remaining time in New York.  Our latest conversation took place early this morning, and after I heard that she was only slightly more rational now than she was on Saturday night, the sad truth hit me.  And this is the best I can offer to her.  The rest has to come to her, from her.

Dear Mandy,

I wish I could put my arms around you and tell you that everything will be alright, but we both know that this would be a response fit for a child, not a 19-year-old girl trying so hard to be an adult.  I have spent the past three years telling everyone how you are so unlike I was at your age - how you found your passion and went after it with such determination and such maturity, how absolutely fearless you have been.  What I now realize is that when it comes to relationships, you are very much like me, and this is a scary thing to discover.
At the age of 19, I acted as though I were the Sun, and my friends and family were just planets circling around me.  I was oblivious to whatever people may have been thinking about me.  Small wonder that I couldn't even get a date, let alone a boyfriend.  Your father, for whatever miraculous reason, felt like rolling the dice and marrying me.  We both know what his flaws were.  Our marriage was not an easy one, from the start, and it got only slightly better after you were born.   We could have thrown in the towel any number of times, but then we would never have made it to where we are today.   I was too self-centered to try and figure out why he acted the way he did, and he was too busy reacting to me to realize that I was immaturely reacting to him.  Where are we today?  We understand each other's idiosyncrasies, we know where each other's line in the sand is, and when one of us occasionally crosses it, we know to take a step back and not say the first thing that comes into our minds.  We each know where the other is at in terms of our careers and our hobbies.  It took over 20 years of work to get to this point.  We have always loved each other, but now we love and understand each other in a mature way.

Also. there is a finer line between romantic relationships and friend relationships than you realize.  The same behavior that can doom a romantic relationship to failure will also destroy friendships.  As I progressed from high school through college, the gap between me and my friends widened imperceptibly with each passing year.  When I finally cut ties with them two years into my marriage, I rationalized that it was because I had "moved on", but now I know just the opposite to be true.  The sad truth is that they just got tired of putting up with me.  I was, as they call it nowadays, a toxic friendship.  Afterwards, I floundered through what remained of my '20s and my '30s with no real friends.  You say that you have difficulty making friends.  Welcome to most of my adult life.  I was the center of my own universe, taking up most of the space in that universe and leaving very little room for anyone else.

I wish I could give you a magic bullet that would provide instant wisdom and experience.  The saddest part is that you may think you are understanding all of this, but I'm not sure that it is possible for you to actually "get" this message until you are much older.  I don't know if you will be consoled by the fact that I am finally in a place in my life where I am completely happy with most of  my relationships.  As I said, your father and I are happier than we've ever been - because we walk in each other's shoes every single day, and that is the biggest different between a mature relationship and an immature relationship.  Gail, as you know is my very best friend, and why is this different from my friends of years ago?   Friendships are formed because of commonalities, but more than that, real friends understand not only the similarities, but also the differences, and we recognize and sometimes even celebrate those differences.  I know her line in the sand and she knows mine.  Have we crossed those lines occasionally?  Yes, but a mature friendship recognizes it, apologizes for it, and goes to extraordinary efforts to keep it from happening again.

I am happier now than I have ever been in my entire life, and maybe it took 25 years of my adult life to get here, but I can't go backwards to try to change anything.  I can only go forward, and that's what you must do as well.    The lesson here is not about romantic relationships or friend relationships.  It is about human relationships.   Try to step outside yourself to understand what others may be thinking or feeling on any given day.   You have proven in the past that you are capable of amazingly selfless acts of kindness on a broad scale.  Try shrinking those acts down and applying that thinking to your every day life.  As I said, you may be incapable of doing this until you have logged a few more years on this earth.  Sometimes we are doomed to learn the most important lessons the hard way.  Lord knows, I was.  But whatever you do, don't give up and turn into one of those perpetually angry, pessimistic people. You are so much better than that.  Just like I was and still am.  You are, after all, your mother's daughter.



Thursday, June 20, 2013


It is past midnight as I write this, and I am writing it in an attempt to clear something from my mind so that I might get a few precious hours of sleep before 5:00AM rolls around.

I had intended on naming this post "Secrecy", but in the spirit of true honesty, I think "Disappointment" is a more accurate label for the feelings jumbling around inside of me right now.

If we look back in history at failed events, failed persons or failed governments or organizations, it seems that secrets - whether they be well-kept or ill-kept - have played a part in many an unraveling.   Going back to the beginning of time, in Biblical terms anyway, Man's first failure occurred in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and then tried to hide their mistake from God.   Since then, how many times have the bonds of trust been broken because of secrets?

Here's the trouble with secrets:  The best-case scenario is that the secret is revealed as planned, but there are always people who are smart enough to put two and two together and figure out that something was in the works that most likely could have and should have been revealed much sooner or included a wider circle of participants.  The worst-case scenario is when a secret is leaked out unintentionally, usually because of the influence of alcohol or false bravado.  It has been my experience that the worst-case scenario is usually the scenario that happens most often.

I think that people rarely intend to be conniving nor are they are plotting or circumventing someone.  In fact, many times they genuinely believe that they are doing the right thing or "doing what's best for everyone in the end."   In their minds, there are not any secrets at all, but merely facts and circumstances that will be revealed at the optimal time and place.   The trouble with this "big picture" approach is that there is no way to anticipate the reactions of the receivers of the" news".  Are they to feel exciting about this turn of events?  Should they feel a sense of gratitude that the "big reveal" was sprung on them and that they didn't have to be bothered with the decision-making process?    Or, will some people have dissenting opinions that, if voiced, will be too little, too late?  Will some people feel excluded or belittled?  My guess and my experience tell me that in any random group of people who are supposed to be working together for a common cause,  there will be a mixture of all of these reactions.   My experience also tells me that if there is even one person who feels betrayed or marginalized when they "come in at the tail end of the story", then that is a problem.

Transparency should be the goal of any group of people working toward a common cause.  If you are proposing something that is in the best interest of all and does not fly in the face of earlier commitments, what do you have to fear from disclosing it to all parties?  If there are dissenting opinions, is it not better to hear them before making the commitment?  If you have no ulterior motives and you aren't trying to circumvent something, then you should not fear dissension.

Too many times in my life I have been on the outside looking in.  Yes, I will admit that I have been a keeper of secrets quite a few times, so I can say that it feels much better to be a secret-keeper than to be the one in the dark.  After all, what does it say to the person kept out of the loop.... that they can't be trusted?  That their opinion is not wanted or isn't important?       Or more likely, that their opinion would be a roadblock or a hindrance.  When I have years of experience with something, I often find myself playing devil's advocate.  I have this annoying habit of raining on peoples' parades by reminding them of past mistakes and expressing my desire not to repeat them.   This is a quality that is not always prized by everyone... I realize that.      Since I don't see myself changing anytime soon, I guess I will have to learn to live with the disappointment of rarely being in on the ground floor of much of anything.

"Secret" is an ugly word.   Better words would be "Plans" or "Something in the Works".  These words are so much more positive and can be attributed to true acts of altruism -  surprise parties, for example.  In the end, only the initiating person really knows the difference.   And in the end, that difference means everything.

These words represent the prattling of someone who has been awake for 18 hours and who found something out this evening in what I feel to be a most unfortunate manner.   I felt blindsided, frankly.  I will admit that I don't know all of the facts, so it may be entirely premature for me to be venting in this fashion... but, one does what one must to try to clear the brain and steal some sleep.

The End.

Monday, June 17, 2013

What I've learned so far....

There is a world of nutritional data out there.  It is almost overwhelming.  Thanks to the internet, you can find nutritional data on just about any edible item.  What I've learned so far....          

Polenta is naturally low carb and sugar free.  Fry it up in a touch of olive oil and drip a tiny bit of hot sauce on it and you'll almost forget that you aren't eating rice, potatoes, bread or pasta.

Perry's no fat, no sugar added butterscotch swirl is really delicious.  The baby cone portion at Canalside Creamery appears to be about half a cup which equates to only 90 calories and a bonus of 4 grams of protein.  The cone itself is problematic but not excessively so.  I, of course, prefer the sugar cone, which -as the name indicates - is not the healthier choice.  40 calories vs 17 calories for the wafer-type cone, and twice as many grams of carb.  I know I should chuck the cone altogether and ask for the stuff in a dish....... but somehow a half a cup of ice cream would just look so pathetic and sad in a dish.  So, from now on... wafer cones for me!

I bought the Good Seasons cruet to make my own olive oil and balsamic vinegar mixture.  The cruet came with 2 packages of Good Seasons Italian dressing mix.  Guess what the #1 ingredient was?  You guessed it..... SUGAR!   I promptly dumped them in the trash.

I learned that my associate at work loves pita bread.  I gave her the pita that came with my souvlaki salad last week.  Today I ordered souvlaki salad again, (from a different place), and - again - it came with a pita.  I IM'd her :"want a pita?".  No lie, she was at my door in 20 seconds flat from the other side of the office.   Symbiosis at its finest.

Coffee that tasted delicious when loaded with cream and sugar doesn't taste so good black.... and vice versa.  Our favorite breakfast joint had what I would call mediocre coffee.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover this past Saturday that it was delicious when consumed black.  Man, that is some strange chemistry.  

So, I've only been at this for a little over a week.  I have to admit I'm actually looking forward to more of these little discoveries.  Cue the headline that reads "Diet Secrets that Skinny People Know".....

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Bread and Wine am not blogging about a Communion Service.  This title represents the final hurdle that I must jump when I am dining out.  And dining out is an activity that I enjoy and indulge in frequently.

Dinner yesterday took place in the very gourmet Rue Franklin.  In my previous life, I would have ordered the onion ravioli appetizer (sounded divine) and the Lobster Salad entree (which was a plethora of lobster, pasta, potatoes and creamy dressing), and God knows what for dessert.  Last night, I ordered a salad appetizer that smelled and tasted like it was plucked right from the backyard garden.  When I was a small child, I was babysat by a woman who, with her husband, managed to plant a huge vegetable garden in her backyard ... in Tonawanda.  It was sort of a miracle.  Her salads always had a certain fresh aroma.  Last night was the first time I've inhaled that particular perfume since I was a child.  Sublime.   My entree was "bronzini en croute with beurre blanc and tourneed vegetables".  Sea bass.  It was served in a merengue crust that was delicious.  I know what beurre blanc is (a decadent butter sauce) and thanks to my daughter, I know that if it's done properly, it will be light and unobtrusive.    And it was done well.  The beurre blanc was a sparingly light enhancement, not the center of attention.  It was my first experience with sea bass and probably not my last.  For dessert, I chose the fresh fruit sorbet.  A trio of juicy flavors - cantaloupe, strawberry, and apricot.  Very yummy and refreshing.

Where the wheels came off the bus were - of course - with the bread.  It was placed on my bread plate. I ate it.   The restaurant had gewurztraminer on the wine menu.  I ordered it.  I drank it.

I am going to put this dinner in the "success" column, because it was such an improvement over what I might have ordered only 2 weeks ago.  The interesting observation that I came away with is that you have to pay a lot more money in order to be served portions of food that would not feed half the defensive line on the Buffalo Bills.  It's not hard to understand why there are so many of us who struggle with our weight and why people on the lower end of the income spectrum are not going to automatically be thinner because they can't afford to eat well.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


I have a lot of issues with food.  In my adult life, I have probably lost and gained a total of 200 pounds.  Right now, I don't feel as though I'm ingesting huge quantities of food -yet, my weight has reached an all time high.  My summer wardrobe is a nightmare to navigate when I'm like this.  A year ago, I did what would previously been the unthinkable.  I began shopping in the plus sizes for tops.

I know what my demon is.  I am a classic carboholic.  In particular, I am addicted to sugar and white flour products.  One time in my youth, I was bored during summer vacation and I ate an entire loaf of white bread.  No butter, no jam, no peanut butter.  Just bread.   I rarely butter a dinner roll, because I don't want anything masking the wonderful, yeasty taste of white bread.  Mmmmm...

I have come to the conclusion that this addiction is really no different than any other.  I can't eat just one dinner roll or just a half a cup of breakfast cereal.  I absolutely must eat the entire basket or half the box of cereal in a single sitting.  Don't get me started on pasta.   If I force myself to eat what, for most people, would be a normal serving, I am not proud of myself.  It is impossible to feel proud when you are battling a craving that makes your blood sugar go bazurk while your brain is screaming "a little more won't hurt.   just a little more....".  Meanwhile, the rest of the food on my plate tastes like swill, no matter how well it's prepared, because I can't stop thinking about the rolls or the pasta.....  or what bakery confection might be waiting for me on the dessert menu.  In the pizza restaurant, I am the person eating everyone's unwanted pizza crusts.  Pizza Hut deep dish crusts are divine.  At home, Digiorno and Wegmans pizzas have unbelievable crusts.  Italian restaurants that serve bread sticks might as well not even give me a menu.  Just pass the basket my way and leave me to my devices.

I must quit cold turkey.  This (I'm told) will eventually cause my ridiculous cravings to go away.  Flour and sugar are officially out.  I simply can't handle them in any quantity.

Almost every diet I've tried has recommended keeping a food journal.  I find this idea to be .... what? ....... well, basically, something that I have no desire to do, ever, and a waste of time.  What does appeal to me is the idea of a diet blog.  So here I go.  I have already started drinking black coffee - yes, I was that person in line ahead of you at Tim Horton's ordering the Extra Large Triple-Triple.  No more of that!  I have also decided that I am not going to weigh myself at home.  Ever.  I will be going to the doctor for a checkup in January.  I am determined to change my eating habits and make the change a permanent one, so I will let the doctor's scale and my blood tests do the talking.

Finally, I know that it is no longer politically correct to refer to this as "dieting" and that we are good little soldiers who are aiming for a "lifestyle change."  Indulge me on this, readers, and allow me to save keystrokes by using the words "diet" and "dieting".  I promise you, I know what the real goal is.

Onward and upward ....

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Reflections on the Gifts of Love

Before this past weekend,  I would never have believed that a pair of funerals in a three-day span could be inspiring and beautiful.  Dark clothing, tears, sadness, mournful eulogies.... isn't that what we all think of when we hear the word "funeral"?  I had thought that burying a parent would be one of the hardest things to do in the world.  I never would have believed that burying two parents in one weekend could be so much the opposite.

Don't get me wrong.  There were tears and there was sadness.  But there was also something almost impossible to describe that was almost like a sense of renewal.   I was so incredibly moved when over 30 of my fellow singers appeared as if by magic in the choir loft of my church.  My fellow mourners and I were treated to the sounds of angels from above and their presence touched my heart in a way that  everyone should experience at least once in their lives.   I discovered that my best friend and my husband had craftily organized this behind my back, and I wonder if "gratitude" could possibly do justice to my feelings during and after that Mass.  I was so amused to hear my BFF and my hubby repeatedly referring to each other as "my Hero", and even now as I type this, I feel like the luckiest person in the world.

Two days later, I was the cantor at my father-in-law's funeral.  I had been practicing religiously for a week (which is about six days more than I usually practice in order to cantor at your basic weekend Mass).  My mother-in-law had been having a difficult time since returning to the area from Florida.  Likewise, my husband was also struggling, although he never showed it outwardly.  I  coddled my voice, drank tea (bleck!), and tried mightily to pamper my persnickety sinuses which occasionally sabotaged my vocal efforts.  My efforts were rewarded, thank you God, and I was so happy to provide some sort of solace to my family members in a way that perhaps nobody else could.  It's hard to explain how a vocal performance could be so difficult yet so easy at the same time.  How often does a vocalist know with total certainty that the sound he or she is making is ...... just perfect.

In the aftermath, I felt an overwhelming sense of calm and happiness.  This was so unexpected, and I just could not figure out why I felt this way after the funerals of two parents.  Finally last night, Bill said something to me that made it crystal clear.  He said "I have to apologize to you.  The music at my Dad's funeral was so much better than the music at your Mom's funeral."  Huh?  I thought that my ears were playing tricks on me, and I pretty much told him that he was delusional.  Nope.   He repeated himself again a couple of hours later.   Yes, indeed, in both of our minds, the music at our parent's funeral was absolutely perfect, not only because it was beautiful but because it represented our love for each other and the love of good friends.

I really am lucky.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Regrets and New Beginnings

On the eve of my Mom's funeral,  I am finding myself with a lot of time to think.  I'm not necessarily convinced that this is a good thing.   Mostly now I find myself thinking about Wednesday night.  After we met with Father Mike to finalize the funeral plans, I headed over to my brother's house.  We had my Mom's urn and and an electric engraving pen.   The plan was that each of us would engrave a message to Mom on the urn.

I was having trouble coming up with something to say.   What element of my relationship with my Mom was the most meaningful and enduring?  Then I remembered something that my very good friend had said to me, not too long ago.  So, I wrote this on the urn:   "Dear Mom,  Thank you for gifting me with your independent spirit.  Love, Tina."

Looking back over my life and my relationship with her,  I feel as though I was raised to be in the periphery of my family, and when I reached adulthood, it was very difficult for me to be honest with my mother about how I felt about that.  "I love you" were three words that were not easy for any of us to say over the years.  Looking back, we were busy raising our own families, but we always made time for Mom.   The question I have for myself now is  - is it enough to "make time" as though it were some terrible chore?  Shouldn't I have willingly wanted to spend time with her?  Was I an unappreciative, ungrateful child, or was I the product of my upbringing?  Am I the prototypical selfish American child?

During the last 10 years of her life, my mother lost all of her filters and it felt to me as though every critical thought that she had been harboring during my adult life came tumbling out of her mouth unchecked.   My weight, Mandy's weight, Bill's temper and his sloppy work habits, and increasingly, Dick and I spending way too much time on things and causes other than her.  My lack of domestic skills were one of her favorite targets.  If I am going to be totally honest, she was always outspoken, but  her final years were over the top, and it is extremely difficult to remember her being any other way.  I wonder now if that was unfair to her.    And the answer to that question is that I just don't know.  I have told my daughter repeatedly not to hesitate to tell me when I start sounding like my Mom.   The truth is that if I were to start acting like her, I would not blame my daughter for just "making time for me".

Dick's words on the urn?... "Thank you for the unconditional acceptance."   I had an idea of what their relationship had been like when my parents first married, but seeing and hearing these words felt like someone bludgeoned me with a club.  Sally echoed his sentiments (because she, too, received unconditional acceptance from my parents), but all I could do was sit there with my mouth open.  I wanted so badly to be able to echo his feelings, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it.  After an awkward silence, he said "of course, my circumstances were different than yours".  All I could say was that she had high standards and that I think I lived up to most of them.

The fact is that I did get my independent spirit from my Mom.  I didn't use it in the same way that she did - most of the time I completely stifled it - and that was probably at the root of her many disappointments with me.   By the time that I even knew that I had this spirit,  I think it was too late for us and our relationship.  The question becomes - where do I go from here?  What do I do with it now and for the rest of my life?  

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Meaning of Life and Death

Today I attended a memorial service at the DeGraff Skilled Nursing facility.  It is an annual service for families of residents who have passed away in the previous 12 months.  It was short, it was simple, but in many ways, it was profound.

There was a choir comprised of a little group of 8 residents of the facility.   They were fairly beaming as they sang, and their director informed us that they had been practicing since January.  There was something life-affirming about the music that they made,  something beautiful in the rudimentary sounds.

The pastor focused on Jesus's words "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."   His message was simply that we are the fruit of our deceased loved ones and that it is the natural process of life that we must eventually die and that our "fruit" will continue to flourish and grow - perhaps even more so - when we have passed on.

The service concluded with a release of balloons - a loved one released a balloon for each one of the deceased.  As I watched the baby blue (her favorite color) balloon rise to the clouds above, I could hear her voice in my ear, telling me that she was ok.  I think she would tell me honestly that she did want a few tears shed for her.  I think she would believe that she had earned at least a few.  Frank honesty was her trademark.  But then she would tell me that more than a few tears would just be a waste, and "isn't there something more useful I could be doing?"  

My mother wasted a lot of the final years of her life dwelling on dramas in our family that she had no control over.   I feel a certain amount of guilt in the realization that I was probably her main enabler, and once I realized this, it was pretty much too late to get her to focus on anything else, try as I did.  All I can do is to learn from this and realize that I have a lot of years ahead of me to spend without her, so it would be best if this fruit continues to grow and "ripen" - I would like to be the fruit that people buy at the roadside stands rather than the rejects that end up being fed to the farm animals - I know that my Mom was an animal lover, but there's a limit...  


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Blank Slate

This page sits before me.... white and blank.  I fully intended to write something profound, something deep and meaningful, but instead I sit here wondering.   Wondering.   Wondering.......

..... why I was unlucky enough to be born into a family that already had its quota of children, but lucky enough to have a brother who looked the other way when I snuck into his bedroom and listened to his Beatles and Herman's Hermits and Dave Clark Five albums.

.....why I was unlucky enough to have parents who were so absolutely the stereotypical definition of "white bread" who chose to raise me in a white-bread, Catholic, small-minded small town, yet I was lucky enough to discover my Dad's cassette tape of the soundtrack to the all black cast of Hello Dolly which I believe to this day to be the absolute best cast recording of that show....  and that somehow growing up in this environment had the opposite effect on me than what you might expect....  in that I will rarely meet someone for the first time and be able to guess that person's race or religion -nor will I have any desire to do so.  I was so underexposed that I was just blind to it all.....  I guess.

.....why I was unlucky enough to have parents who didn't give a rat's petuty where I went to college, as long as I went to college and learned something that I could use to earn a living and get out of the house, but I was lucky enough to go to NCCC where I met a girl who was a total nut job who years later introduced me to the man I married.

.....why I was unlucky enough to not pursue music in any way, shape or form in college or early in my adult life, but I was lucky enough to know my musical shortcomings and practice like hell to pass an audition for BCAS.  I am fairly certain that, given my genetic makeup, had I continued with clarinet and piano and voice at an early age, I would have become some musical savant and probably would have  been very full of myself and would have considered myself far too superior for the likes of a community chorus.

.....why I was unlucky enough to have parents who were more concerned with what I wore to grade school than they were with where I attended grade school - or junior high or high school.   The Tonawanda schools were hardly a challenge , and as a result, I never had the need to develop any sort of useful study skills.  Hmmm ...  now, I'm not sure what the corollary is to this one.  Ok....  I've got it!  I'm lucky that in my adult life, my lack of preparation and study skills forced me to get really good at pulling my ass out of the proverbial fire.  Oh, and not to mention, my solemn vow that my child would never be in an unchallenging academic environment.  Just ask her some time -  if or when the topic of "unlucky" should arise.

.....why I was unlucky enough to land back in Tonawanda to raise my own child, but I was lucky enough to have a mortgage payment that is the equivalent of the heating bill in some of the mansions in Williamsville or Clarence.

.....why I was unlucky enough to inherit my Dad's cholesterol and blood pressure problems, but lucky enough to inherit his sense of humor to see me through it all.

.....why I was unlucky enough to marry into a family of codependents, enablers, bi-polar personalities and alcoholics, but lucky enough to still be a member of that family today..... because I have learned over the years what to say to them and what not to say to them.  What they are capable of and what they are incapable of.   That they will curse each other over and over, but then they will circle the wagons like nothing you've ever seen if someone is perceived as having threatened one of them.  That they would rather self-destruct than confront.  I knew nothing of this type of family and I had to learn slowly and sometimes painfully over the course of many years.  I am lucky, because I can use what I have learned to offer help to others who also find themselves suddenly thrust into this unfamiliar territory.

One man's trash is another man's treasure.

What really is the definition of luck anyway?

Saturday, May 11, 2013

A Reflection on Mother's Day

One year ago, we took my Mom to Mother's Day Brunch at the Holiday Inn on Grand Island.   Buffets were always an awkward affair because of her walker.   She had degenerated to the point where I thought we could just store the walker and bring her a plate of food.  After all, I was her daughter.  I knew what she liked to eat ......  right?  When she was told this, she became very angry and announced that she wasn't hungry.  I guess having her food brought to her was unacceptable, even as we thought we were doing her a favor.  But no ... if she couldn't walk around the very large room and see everything, she was not going to eat.  Period.  So, I dragged out the walker and off we went - Mom, walker and me following behind with her plate.  Her mood changed instantly.  In the last five years of her life, she was increasingly only happy if one of us was waiting on her hand and foot -and sometimes, even that didn't make her happy.  Never mind that I was spending my first Mother's day without my daughter.  My daughter .....  there could not be a bigger contrast in mother-daughter relationships that that of my Mom, me, and Amanda ....

As I prepare to celebrate my first Mother's Day without my Mom, I feel that sense of something missing.  Obviously she is missing, but it's more than that.  She loved to go out to eat in a really fine restaurant - something I clearly inherited from her - and she loved to be given flowers that she could plant -something that I clearly did not inherit from her.  We indulged her with both of these loves every year, and it just feels odd to be choosing not two mothers day cards and two plants for her and for my mother in law, but only one card and one plant.  It's just a strange, weird feeling.  I'm also wrestling with feelings of guilt.  Guilt, because of the sense of relief and freedom that has invaded me.

So many people are posting the sentimental poems on Facebook about their mothers in heaven.  I could rarely bring myself to buy her a rose-covered sentimental card each year and usually resorted to the witty, comical variety.   Because my Mom was not the rose-colored, sentimental type.  When I was a child, she fulfilled her duties as a parent because I'm sure she felt that she had no other choice.  But there was never the "I loves you's", never the mother-daughter talks and I don't remember feeling deprived as a child or as a teen.  It wasn't until I reached adulthood that I felt as though I was missing out on something.  I would imagine that I was and maybe still am a textbook case of the person who resorts to blaming parents and childhood for her woes of adulthood.  The facts as I see them are this:  I could never go to her for advice because I felt that she would find a way to interpret it all as a failure on my part.  It was all wrong in her eyes:  my weight, my clothes, my parenting style, Bill and his family.  She loved to constantly tell people that none of my Dad's children had inherited his musical talent (it was only a few years ago that she stopped doing this).    As she made her way through the final decade of her life, she expanded the circle of people she enjoyed critiquing even as her involvement in the world around her shrank proportionately.  

So why am I going on about this?  Probably to make myself feel better about the fact that I have very little desire to celebrate her tomorrow in any different way than I did when she was alive.  I would be in denial if I said that there wasn't the feeling of a hole.  She really did enjoy the day (and the flower and the restaurant).  I will choose to celebrate Mother's day as the mother of an amazing daughter and as the daughter-in-law of a woman who is hopefully embarking on a chapter in her life that will be light and free.    And I will celebrate all of the other amazing Mothers who are a part of my life.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Bittersweet Day

Today my chorus experienced what could arguably be the highlight of its history.  This was a concert that was more that the sum of its considerable parts.  Very popular medleys, choral excellent, solo performances to die for and a sold out theatre.  All of this was topped off by a very successful VIP reception and a celebratory post-concert party.

Why then, am I feeling like a giant piece of crap?

Just when I feel as though the self-centered, thoughtless bitch has vacated my body, she comes back in full force.  Having stated the considerable highlights of today, let us examine the low points:

 - the day started out by me finding out that my husband and mother in law attended an event in Alden where a special tribute ceremony was held for my father in law.  She thought I knew all of the facts.  I knew nothing except that he wasn't home when I got home and when he rolled in,  he told me in a vague and casual way where he had been.  I might have gone with them, might not have.  It would've been nice to have the choice.  But since I've been reminded occasionally that "it's not my family", I guess I should not have been surprised.

 - I arrived at the concert warm up site, and within 10 minutes, I was being ranted at by the ticket chair about some plan to resell tickets whose holders have not shown up.  Not anything close to being my responsibility.  I am always willing to be a shoulder to someone, but it is another thing entirely to be accusatory, as if I were plotting and planning against said person.

- concert goes swimmingly, as previously described.  However, after battling my way up to the Loge, my husband is nowhere to be found and none of the punch is mixed  -which, I thought he was going to do, as he did last year.  No answer to my text or voice mail, as I hurriedly try to get the stuff mixed as thirsty VIPs descend upon us.  He finally showed up 25 minutes later with a valid reason for his absence.  Fine, but once again, the art of communication has been apparently lost on us.

 - I arrive at the party and manage to procure drinks before I am set upon again by said ticket committee chair who threw a temper tantrum because "nobody saved chairs for them at their table and they have to sit all alone."  Here comes that bitchy witch rising up inside of me.  If I had a dollar for every time this has happened to me at past soirees, I'd be retired and sitting on a yacht.  The difference is that when it happens to me, I generally just sit down and suck it up.  In this case, bad behavior is rewarded and I (and others) are just left wondering what just happened.  They are all talking at me trying to make heads or tails of it. and I might add that I was also ranted at by the same person because there was no high chair or bumper seat waiting for them with a bow and ribbon on it as befits their status.  No thanks came my way - I might add - after I managed to commandeer a member of the staff to find a bumper seat.  All this as a strange woman taps me on the shoulder and asks me when the food is being served "because they've been here since 5:15 and they're starving."  Well, what chorus member sent this woman over to me?  Some idiot who can't read e-mails and absorb them enough to tell their guests that the party starts at 6:00 (not 5:15) and the food is to be served at 6:30.  Icing on the cake - a member who approached me to attempt to crash the party.

I needed to talk to someone about how I suddenly and most unexpectedly missed my Mom during this concert.  It took me by surprise and left me feeling confused.  But no such luck, and here I am blogging away desperately trying to regain my composure but all I can think is that I can't put a foot right.  I used to be self-centered and inconsiderate and all it got me was loneliness and self-hatred.   Others are rewarded for temper tantrums.   Maybe I am being punished because this witchy bitch is still lurking inside me and still comes out, sometimes at the most inopportune times.  Maybe I'm not really being punished at all but am just indulging myself in yet another pity party.

So, anyway, I beg the pardon of anyone who thinks that I should be joyful and ecstatic at the end of this day.   I guess the kinds of things that make me joyful and ecstatic are a bit more complicated than a sellout crowd and a fine performance.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Krazy Kat Lady Monologues - our newest addition

Once upon a time, my Mom had two cats.  In fact, cats always belonged in pairs as far as she was concerned.  Ever since we rescued our first kitten from the garage next door when I was 12 and adopted a kitten from the SPCA six months later, she has always owned two cats.

My Mom was the master of playing favorites -with children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews and ..... cats.  I'll give her this - she was honest about it to a fault.  You always knew where you stood with her.  As I said, she always had two cats... and one of the two was always her clear favorite.  Not so with me.  My favorite is whoever happens to be laying next to me or on my lap at the moment.   Cats, that is ... not nieces and nephews!

Last September, before we moved Mom into Assisted Living, she was residing with  Katie and Josie.  Katie was a long-haired orange and white.  Josie was a calico.  In the battle for my Mom's favor, Katie was the clear front runner.  As the move in date approached, Bill and I agreed to adopt Josie.  Katie was another matter.  She was older (12 years old) and very much a shy, one-person cat.  A household with another Senior Citizen would have been ideal.  But it was not to be for poor Katie.  Her reward for being "#1 Cat" at my Mother's house was the euthanasia needle.  As best we could tell, my Mom was already beginning the decline into dementia and its accompanying irrational behavior.  She reasoned that if she couldn't keep Katie, nobody would.

Josie was very skittish in my feline-dominated house.  The first few months of her life with us was spent in an upstairs bedroom.   She had the run of the house but, oddly, that's where she confined herself.   She decided that she liked her soft-sided cat carrier.  It must have felt like a protective cocoon, and it sat perched on its side in the bedroom - usually with her inside.  We got her downstairs by physically picking up the carrier and carrying it downstairs with her inside.  They say the ancient Egyptians worshipped cats as gods.  If ever there was evidence of cat worship, this could be it!  Eventually, the litter box also moved downstairs (thank God) and now she resides only downstairs.  Whatever it takes to get the liter box away from my bedroom is fine by me!

The feline dynamics in our house range from brotherly love to benevolent acceptance to full-out trench warfare - sometimes all three in one day.  Kramer and Jerry were adopted together, so they are joined at the hip.  Pumpkin  - one would think - should be accorded some level of respect as the senior cat in both age and in years of residence at Chez Reece.   Not likely.   Right from day one, the "freres horreur" tormented her.  Kramer was the worst offender.  He liked to chase and corner her, at which point I would usually come to her rescue.  She never really tried to defend herself.  I don't think it was in her personality.   Enter Josie.  Sometime shortly after Christmas, she declared herself to be fed up with Kramer.  With fur on end, making noises I've only heard on Wild Kingdom, she would launch herself on him whenever he started his nonsense.  Amazing, considering that she is not only half his size but also declawed.  Nine times out of ten, they will confront each other like gladiators under the dining room table, and he will be the first to emerge and run away with his tail puffed to the size of a large feather boa.  For this reason alone, I have to admire this cat.   She's a tough broad.

Another reason: I frequently heard from my Mom and brother the lament about Josie's lack of cuddliness.  She's not a lap cat, etc, etc ...  As I compose this, she resides next to me.  If I am in the kitchen, she's there.  If I am standing next to the counter, she's on it (yes, germophobes - on it), head bopping me, purring loudly.  She lays on me, around me.  I think it is safe to say that she has adopted me.   What does this really tell me?  That she knew on some primal level that she was not the favorite in my Mom's household? That she has figured out that I don't play favorites?  That I am a sucker for a purring, head bopping furry face?  Yes, yes and yes.

I think I'm maxed out at four cats, but I wouldn't trade any of them for all the gold in the world.  And this new addition fits in just fine.