Wednesday, December 29, 2010

You say you want a resolution….

Last fall I started blogging to jumpstart my creativity and to work through issues of aging, etc. Fifty loomed like the Sword of Damocles, and I was on the verge of fulfilling my lifelong dream of writing fulltime.

Terrifying. Absolutely terrifying.

What a journey. That I would actually use the term ‘journey’ shows what a long, strange trip it’s been. This excursion soon derailed. The first month of the new year brought highs (birth of my newest niece, Reese) and lows (unexpected death of my beloved Aunt Judy, my mom’s kid sister).

Suddenly I was one of those writers who found excuses not to write. Years ago my mom/writing partner and I penned one of our favorite romances ever in the midst of the breakup of her 40-year marriage. If we were under deadline in a tsunami, the book would get done. That’s just how we roll.

But I wasn’t rolling at the beginning of the year, I was thudding. The deadline work got done, but nothing new or creative blossomed.

The rocky road of 2010 continued. Memories of the good still comfort, the bad doesn’t bear repeating. This December brought a mini meltdown from me over my college-age son moving into an apartment five minutes away. This is the son who’s been overseas twice…the first time at age 16 as a foreign exchange student.

Holding on and breaking down?

And then I turned 51 the day after Christmas. The promise of a new year and new beginnings creaked to life.

My dear friend and prolific romance writer Holly Jacobs doesn’t make resolutions, she says, instead she picks a word to define the upcoming year.

Last year at this time I didn’t make formal resolutions, but I met some goals and fell sadly short on others. This time I took a lesson from Holly and picked a phrase to navigate me into the new year.

Tabula rasa. Blank slate.

No matter what happened this year, 2011 heralds new beginnings. My newest niece is walking, my late aunt’s granddaughter is beautiful and loved, my older son continues to heed the call of his Viking blood, and my younger son gives me unmitigated joy.

And I get to wear my pajamas to work every day.

Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Happy Birthday, Leigh

I’m a whiner. I admit it. Not about the big stuff but the middlin’ stuff like shoes that pinch and birthdays that end in zero.

So I spent most of 2009 whinin’ and complainin’ about turning 50, which I did last December 26th. I shoulda just kept my trap shut since I had the best birthday ever thanks to my wonderful friend, Leigh Limerick Rosenecker, formerly of North Carolina, currently residing in Morgantown, West Virginia.

As I wrote last year in this space Leigh, “mom extraordinaire, ace cake decorator and one-day Jeopardy champ, set up a Facebook group to secretly gather 50th birthday greetings for me. She printed the messages out, cut them into strips, punched holes and stuck multicolored birthday candles into them before mailing them off to my husband.”

Once I stopped crying, I had simply the best birthday ever. New friends gathered to help me celebrate as my cake with 50 candles blazed, the greetings from family and old friends more warming than the flames.

Tonight when the clock strikes midnight Leigh hits one of those ‘ends in zero’ birthdays. And I want to wish this extraordinary friend an extraordinarily happy birthday.

We met one summer nearly a decade ago in room three of Martin Hall, home to the school of journalism at West Virginia University, in a reporting class I was teaching. She was an ‘adult student,’ along with our still-friend Steven. Her presence left one classmate ‘star struck’ because he’d grown up listening to her father, Doug Limerick, a longtime radio newsman /sometime replacement host for Paul Harvey.

Her presence immediately enriched my life. Some people tell stories; Leigh is the story. When she started talking in her rich voice ripe with traces of her North Carolina-ness, I never wanted her to stop. Whether it was about making biscuits on an old cast-iron stove or covering a story for her then employer about antique firearms, I wanted to hear more.

Leigh’s heart is as big as her talents, which include writing, baking, being smart (‘Nice girl but about as sharp as a sack of wet mice,’ is the self-effacing Foghorn Leghorn quote she embraces & uh, Jeopardy big bucks winner!) and mothering. She has two adorable towheads, Colin and Charlie.

Because it’s your birthday, Leigh, I won’t make any comments about Alton Brown-like hairstyles! Leigh is not a fan of Mr. Brown and should probably be the next Food Network star, though she shuns the spotlight.

This woman is stunning and funny and warm and sincere and ribald and clever and the best friend, the kind you can just pick up with after months of only conversing via a social media site.

If you were the 21st century equivalent of the little match girl, Leigh would take you in, warm you up, introduce you to her goldfish, and feed you cookies.

And if you were a whiney, cranky woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown over a date on your birth certificate, she would gather up words, your most cherished thing (besides your own children) and shower you with them.

Thank you again, my dear friend. And Happy Happy Birthday!

P.S. Your real present will be in the mail…

Monday, December 6, 2010

Change is gonna do you good…not!

According to recent news reports, the social media network Facebook is trying to replace LinkedIn as a professional connection service.

Okay, did you or did you not find that paragraph borrrring?

That first graph exemplifies what is happening to Facebook, a wonderful amalgamation of a ‘globalvillagecoffeeklatch- sixdegreesofkevinbacon’ experience.

As a former journalist I have nothing against the sacred five w’s and an h, but I don’t want the first thing I see on my friends’ ‘profile’ pages to be where they went to school, who they’re married to, and what their occupation is.

Borrrring.

Instead, give me a ‘personal’ barometer about how they’re feeling, the ‘h’ being the most neglected of the journalistic canon.

Yes, it’s just trading one kind of egomaniacal labeling for another.

But it’s that connectedness of the non-professional kind that makes social networking ‘social.’

I am not an advocate against change, having gone to three high schools and two colleges and having lived in five, count ‘em, five states.

Normally I embrace big changes, though I must admit smaller ones like a new pair of shoes or spectacles throw me.

Being a child of change is the very reason I adore Facebook. Or did. On any given day Facebook ‘newsfeed’ tells me how one of my very best friends from elementary school days in a frigid Great Lakes state is faring during a cold spell in her adult home in the south or how special former students of mind are doing in the ‘real world’ of marriage, parenthood, and work. Mark Zuckerberg’s brainchild (his movie pretend girlfriend was right; he is a jerk) allows a connectedness and interaction that transcends geographic and historical boundaries.

Now Facebook wants the first thing I see about my friends on their homepage to be where they went to school. I need my media scholar husband to explain the particulars to me, and I’m sure the ‘newsfeed’ will still feed me pertinent news, but in the end, I don’t want resumes.

I want the first thing I know about the boy with the curly hair and wool sweater whom I never kissed but probably should have 30 years ago, is that he’s having a good day with his son.

Professionally that knowledge is useless, but personally…it’s priceless.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Counting one’s blessings

Thanksgiving is not my favorite holiday mainly because I have a love-hate relationship with turkey and stuffing. I love to eat it, and I hate to get on the scale the next day! Why I weigh myself the day after is a different story…. After last year’s eating season I decided to stop dieting and make a lifestyle change instead.

The good thing about a lifestyle change vs. a temporary diet is I can keep climbing back on the wagon after I’ve fallen off. I may be battered and bruised, but I’ve stopped beating myself up for being a diet ‘failure.’

It’s an ongoing process, and that’s how I want to view being thankful. A special day set aside to be grateful for our blessings is wondrous and gives us time with family and friends. But saying thanks for the people and things enriching our lives should be something we do on a continuing basis.

So, in the spirit of gratefulness, here’s my list of what I’m thankful for this holiday and year-round:

  1. The fact I’ve never cooked a Thanksgiving dinner. I hate to cook (RIP Peg Bracken). Now I’ve baked many a pie over the years, including our first year of marriage when, in frustration, I lobbed a lumpy batch of homemade crust at the ceiling. I’ll do dishes til the cows come home, but I’m always thankful on the last Thursday of November and year-round for a husband who cooks.
  2. My children. I like and love them. What more can mother ask for?
  3. My mother. She’s my best friend and writing partner. She never hovered, allowed all four of her kids enormous independence, yet was always there if any pieces needed to be picked up. She still is.
  4. My siblings and their families. Admittedly I did try to lose my youngest brother at Disneyland when he was just a preschooler and once my sister and I did tie him to a tree (there’s home movie proof), but we still love him. Happy Birthday, Mark!
  5. Friends. Through all the years and all the places I’ve lived, I’ve truly been blessed, and continue to be blessed, with the best friends in the world. Seriously.
  6. All the ‘boys’ I’ve ever crushed on, from teenybopper icons to the real deals. They were all precursors to the man who cooks, and how can I not be grateful this season and year-round to those who made my heart go pitter-patter?
  7. Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends. Yes, I’ll eat too much and want to toss the scale just like that long-ago pie dough. Then I’ll climb back onto that ‘wagon’ the following day, grateful for hearth and home…and the people I love.

Now it’s time to think about pies…I’m also thankful this year for Pet-Ritz!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

P is for Procrastination

Note: Planned to post this Tuesday…but take note of the title.

November is officially halfway over, and I’m just now packing away my summer clothes. “Packing” may be pushing the definition. So far I’ve taken about half a dozen shirts off hangers, folded, and tossed in a clear plastic bin. At the rate I’m going, it’ll be spring by the time I finish the job.

I wrote those words yesterday but am tackling the job anew today. The container is filling up, and soon I’ll be ready for a second one. Putting sweaters into drawers is a job that can wait for another day. Soon I’m heading out to meet my neighborhood walking pal.

Folding haphazardly…I never worked retail and that’s probably a good thing…I’m blinking back tears. Summer, like the rest of this year, was filled with soaring highs and dipping lows.

As the sun begins to set on another year, I’m filled with infinite joys and sorrows for reasons I can’t even articulate.

Never did I think a pink polo shirt would have the power to render me mute. Years ago almost-twenty-year-old Erik and I had a spirited discussion about whether a pair of athletic shorts that he and his dad had just purchased fit properly. I’ve long since forgotten what was really bugging me, but it wasn’t the sizing of a pair of nylon athletic wear.

Since then the phrase “It’s like the shorts” has become a permanent part of the lexicon around here. When someone gets upset about a seemingly silly thing, and it’s really about something much deeper, we dredge out that phrase and somehow we all know to back off and let the subtext subside.

So later when I place the rest of my summer clothes in the sterile containers and the tears start to flow, I’ll remind myself "It’s like the shorts" and snap the lid on the subtext.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Happy Anniversary, Dear Blog (two weeks late)

One year my husband and I were so busy with work and children, etc. that we forgot our wedding anniversary. Please note sometimes the ‘etceras’ push you over the edge. The date just kind of slipped our harried minds.

Since we moved to the prairie, my life has moved at a slower pace…one I enjoy. This fall things are speeding up, which is good, but my multitasking skills are a little rusty. I used to juggle a full-time job at a large university, writing deadlines, and all things children-related in addition to trying to be a decent wife and a good daughter. Not worth delving into how successful I was at any of these.

Fortunately multitasking is like riding a bike...the ability comes back to you after you crash.

But it hit me tonight I missed another anniversary. It was a year ago this month that I started blogging about my sons and my fear of turning fifty, etc. Please note other times the ‘etceras’ are just fine.

The boys are good, fifty is more fabulous than frightening, and I’m still plugging away at holding on and letting go.

Happy Anniversary to me.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Momz in the Hood

I wore the following to book group last night: faded black capri pants; awesome lime green t-shirt with an orange ‘Catstronaut’ imprinted on it, (made by Alex, one of son Erik's best friends, a sophomore at Rhode Island School of Design); sandals; and a sweater ‘purloined’ this summer from my friend Karin, columnist extraordinaire for the Charleston, WV Sunday Gazette.

Note to Karin: I will return it and the adorable peasant blouse but will keep the ‘hoochie mama’ dress you gave me, which I am too chicken to wear.

Because I couldn’t find my black zip-up hooded sweatshirt (bought specifically to wear with hideous black wide-legged sweat pants on the plane for our flight to Germany three springs ago), I grabbed (gently, Karin, I promise!) the sweater.

A combination shrug/capelet garment with ¾ length sleeves, it’s adorable, and chi-chi and, sadly, not me. My book group pals agreed with me, in the kindest possible way. A friend, nearly 20 years my junior (clad in an adorable short colorful trench coat) said it was definitely the kind of thing she’d wear. Columnist Karin, several inches taller with patrician cheekbones, would look stunning in it too. If I ever get it mailed back to her.

Karin is an expert bargain hunter and a trip several years ago to a Coldwater Creek Outlet store yielded some amazing finds for me, thanks to her. And she’s similarly gifted in her surroundings. Like my dear friend Gwen (who single-handedly transformed her backyard into something out of House Beautiful, pond included), Karin has the interior design ‘touch.’ Both women are frugal, uber creative, and talented.

Me, I once had a friend tell me my design style was ‘house mediocre’ and years ago had a colleague earnestly offer to nominate me for TLC’s What Not to Wear due to my summer teaching ‘uniform’ of capris (I think the same pair I wore last night), Tevas, and polo shirts.

Yeah, yeah, yeah…I know I have other ‘talents’…well, at least one. But just once I’d like to be able to accessorize a room or an outfit, heck, even decorate a Christmas cookie with panache!

But I can’t so I’ll just bask in the glow of having wonderful friends who can…and try to remember to return articles of clothing I filch from them.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Dear Pen Pal

Long before Hello Kitty and stretchy bracelets, having a ‘pen pal’ was all the rage. A magazine, the name long forgotten, matched up pen pals..sort of an eHarmony for the elementary school set.

When I was ten…the age I decided I wanted to be a writer (or the First Lady, or Mrs. Donny Osmond, or save the seals and the environment) a girl named Diane and I started corresponding.

She was a couple years older and lived in Pennsylvania, a fact that just now comes back to me all these decades later. We hit it off and even spoke on the phone several times over the years. We never met but the written word cemented our friendship.

One summer night after my sophomore year in high school (the grade my youngest son is in now), I came home from my job at the ice cream/sandwich shop run by a local pain-in-the-keister businessman. The pay was low, the work was mundane, and at the end of the night we had to make the restrooms hospital-clean.

My mom, my Rock of Gibraltar, told me Diane’s mother had called. Diane and her boyfriend had been killed in a van accident that evening. If my pen pal had lived, she would have been a vegetable.

I sobbed into my mother’s arms, my sophisticated 16-year-old bravado dissolved.

Since then I’ve lost friends to the ravages of disease, but never one whose only connection to me was words.

Cherish the power of words. They have the ability to bind, to wound, to wrap us in a cocoon of love and warmth or shatter our illusions and make us no longer whole.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Guest Post - On Balance

Four years ago my good friend poet Kirk Judd and I journeyed to Tennessee to attend the SAWC (Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative) fall gathering. It was a glorious October weekend filled with opportunities for renewing creativity and making new friends. One of these is guest blogger, Jim Minick. Jim is an essayist, a poet, a teacher, and the author of The Blueberry Years, a memoir on blueberry farming and family. He and his wife, Sarah, currently live in Virginia. The topic here is near and dear to my heart, and Jim is an extraordinary friend. - PAH

On Balance

By Jim Minick, author of The Blueberry Years

When I was working intensely on The Blueberry Years in the first six months of 2009, I developed a pattern for what became my ideal day. I wrote at the computer from roughly 9:00 to 3:00, with a break for lunch, and then I headed out on our farm to do something physical. In the winter, I took a mattock and chopped bushes of invasive, multiflora rose. In the summer, I took a hoe and chopped thistle, again, an invasive, non-native plant that, untended, can cover a pasture in a few years, leaving nothing for the cows to eat.

This balance of work, of mental with physical, of creating with “destroying,” all of it seemed to fine tune my whole being. Our bodies and minds were both created for action, both meant to be used, and only in our recent history have we become a nation of couch-veggies. Yet writing, while great for keeping the mind sharp, seldom physically exercises more than the quick, soft pushups of fingers on keypads.

So getting out every afternoon released that morning’s pent up physical energy. And nothing like the pleasure of killing a thorny rose to also work out a thorny problem in the prose. Usually, though, I found a certain inner blankness in the afternoon where I could focus just on finding the next thistle or stepping into the center of a massive rose bush to uproot it with a few swings of the mattock. Always I sweated, even in winter, and often I swore as the thorns tore skin or cloth. But also, always I stopped to rest, listen, watch, and listen some more—the physical world once more becoming more alive than the one in my head.

The blueberry, the “hero” of The Blueberry Years, also echoes this theme of balance. It was first domesticated 100 years ago by a man and woman working together. Frederick Coville brought his scientific understanding of the blueberry, while Elizabeth White brought her family’s land and her community. She recruited her neighbors, the “Pineys” around Whitesbog, New Jersey, to find wild, exceptional bushes and bring her samples. Then, in the dormant season, they ventured into the swamps to dig up these plants and bring them back to the growing nursery. Soon Coville and White had a huge project, and in six years time, they were able to sell the first domesticated crop of blueberries.

In our own blueberry field, we can see in a plant’s leaves if the soil is ‘out of balance’ and needs some amendment, like sulfur to lower the pH.

Or when we prune, we try to balance the number of new canes with the old. And here, when I forget about the day’s troubles, when I just focus on the plant and lose myself, I begin to find some inner balance as I imagine what each bush needs to become, begin to see what to cut and what to keep. What is and what could be. I work to bring some openness to the berry bush’s interior, and I try to imagine a space in its heart large enough for a sparrow to fly through. Balance on my haunches to snip a few canes and create that space, and then move to the next.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Week from the First Day of Autumn….

The first day of fall is a week from today and will technically mark my third prairie autumn. I’m always a tad confused by this bit of calendar counting. We moved to Nebraska from West Virginia right around the 4th of July, 2008. So, while we’ve lived here just over two years, it’s the third autumn I’ll experience in the flatlands.

Is that right? Ah, math and semantics…the former my nemesis, the latter my solace.

A few more weeks forward marks the one-year anniversary of this blog. Erik, my older son, would have just left for his second sojourn to German. I would have still been carrying around the last ‘Erik goes to Germany’ pounds and facing the prospect of turning the big 5-0.

Hence, I decided to do what writers do: procrastinate by blogging.

Even so, productivity this year has not been at an all-time low…a couple books got written, and currently my mom and I are thrilled to be working on a Christmas novella for our current publisher.

My three-times-a-week blog has become weekly if not sporadic.

And I’ve dropped, if not all the pounds I wanted to, quite a few. Even more importantly, I haul my behind out of bed every morning to get to the local YMCA and take great classes taught by awesome instructors… I come home, eat breakfast, gulp coffee, and walk.

A far different lifestyle then the work practically 24/7 one I lived previously.

And thanks to the wonders of a social media site, I can be in contact with old friends and much-loved students, many of whom are getting married, having babies, becoming the wonderful adults they were destined to be.

So this morning as I’m walking, glad for the long-sleeved tee I pulled out since there’s a real chill in the air, sadness overwhelms me.

In just shy of three months, I will turn 51. I think about the friends I’ve lost, some who didn’t see 40, others who didn’t see 50. I so embrace my life and am so reminded again of the finite-ness of it.

Again, I am reminded of the wonder and sorrow of holding on and letting go.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Puppy Love Redux

My first crush was on a little red-haired boy named Tommy, an ‘older man’ of four.

I’ve confessed before to bopping his sister on the head with a toy truck when she got in the way of my ‘pursuit’ of him. Over the years, I carried a torch, no matter how briefly, for other boys until I met the one who made me hope the flame would never be extinguished.

Many factors shape who we become as adults, including previous loves, likes, and the more than occasional passing fancy.

What prompted this introspection was a good friend’s musing about her child’s upcoming first date. She wasn’t sure whether to be proud or cry, knowing the first heartbreak is the natural next step.

As parents we want desperately to shield our children from heartbreak, while at the same time being keenly aware that love and loss is an integral part of the growing up process.

My favorite scene in the movie Jaws, which in 1975 was my first official date, takes place at night aboard Robert Shaw’s boat. Roy Scheider listens as an inebriated Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss swap fish stories and compare shark bites.

One upmanship takes over and Dreyfuss shrugs out of his shirt, indicating his chest and the greatest wound of all:

As Hooper, he says: “There. Right there. Mary Ellen Moffit broke my heart.

Not long after, the Great White chomps Robert Shaw’s Quint in half. Somehow I think a broken heart is more easily mended.

Sure, sometimes whether you’re a teenager or an octogenarian not even diving into a pint of Ben & Jerry’s can cure what ails you.

But we can take something valuable away from each time we’ve loved and lost. Even though I didn’t marry one, I gained a life-long affinity for redheads from my pre-schooler crush on Tommy F. in that Detroit suburb back in the 60s.

If you don’t open your heart to the possibility of loss, how can you know love?

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints,—I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

So long, summer

All week I’ve looked high and low (well, the Google search engine equivalent) for just the right poem, quote, or even song lyric about the end of summer and the advent of autumn.

Yes, I know fall doesn’t ‘officially’ start until September 23rd this year. But c’mon, don’t we all mentally shift seasonal gears when Labor Day rolls around?

It seems like only yesterday, or last week at least, that my younger son and I were sitting around the dinner table talking about the end of school. Actually, it was mid-May, and summer loomed full of promise and possibilities.

After a brutal winter and blustery spring here on the prairie, we were all ready for summer. And our weather was nothing compared to the conditions that socked the mid-Atlantic and Eastern seaboard regions. Those were Mike Tyson-esque punches that kept on pummeling. Like all years, 2010 so far has been rife with highs and lows.

I won’t go into the lows because I’m trying to veer from my usual more maudlin ‘fare’ and write a humorous funny blog about saying ‘so long, summer.’

But one thing I learned all the years my mother and I wrote romantic comedy for Harlequin, is that true humor requires pathos to balance it out...just like life.

Crying over the bad and laughing at the good sometimes morphs into tears of laughter and smiles of sadness.

In bidding adieu to August, I’m reflecting on the highs and lows of the season about to pass…even if not officially.

Saying at least nobody died does a bit of a disservice to June and her sisters, July and August. But after a sad winter, I tend to categorize things that way.

This summer did have Herculean highs, along with several tail-dragging lows. But isn’t every season like that? Isn’t that what life is all about?

We cherish the good times and mourn the bad, and life moves forward.

Just like the calendar.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Trees

“The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree” is a common expression around here.

Whenever I mimic my mom’s behavior or one of my sons reaffirms his parentage, I utter that expression. I’m curious about the origins of that saying and should put my friend Holly Jacobs on it. She recently enlightened me on the meaning of ‘getting down to brass tacks.’ Romance writer Holly, an Erie, PA resident, and I ‘talk’ via e-mail every day and have for years. Without her boundless optimism, I’d be lost.

Originally I’d planned to blog about a story I read in this morning’s Omaha World Herald about a storm that felled the ailing chestnut tree Anne Frank gazed upon while hiding in the jam warehouse in Amsterdam.

Three springs ago on a trip across the pond, I gazed at that sickly tree and tried to imagine my sons unable to go outside for two years. When they were little, I couldn’t imagine them going more than two minutes without going outside. Last fall, I wrote about Anne and her father.

My intent was to write about my appreciation of trees, my love for my children, the irony of moving to a state (Nebraska) that is the home of Arbor Day yet lacks trees, my 7th grade science project in Sault Ste. Marie on Dutch Elm disease, and the universality of a parent’s love for a child and the horrors inflicted on all of humanity by evil.

Kind of an overwhelming agenda.

Instead, I will just murmur a quiet thanks my babies are growing into fine young men. And I’ll remind myself the most important part of holding on is letting go.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

School Daze

It seems like only yesterday husband, younger son and his grandma and I were sitting around the dinner table talking about how many days til the end of the school year.

But it wasn’t yesterday, it was mid-May. Suddenly mid-August has rolled into town, offering a reprieve from the blistering 90-degree heat just in time for the start of school tomorrow.

My younger son, Andrew, was conveniently born 15 years ago today, his birth allowing his father to miss an all-day faculty retreat. I was glad at the time baby and I could accommodate him.

Tomorrow said son starts his sophomore year of high school. Thirty-five years ago I was a sophomore in high school. Today in the frozen yogurt shop I experienced a moment of sheer horror. It dawned on me I was closer in age to the elderly gray-haired couple at the counter than I was to the two sweet girls who looked like they could be Andrew’s classmates.

As I scrutinize my neck (a la Nora Ephron) for loss of elasticity and peer under my eyes at the fine lines staring to web out (apparently visible only to me, according to my husband, but there nevertheless!), it has occurred to me I’m missing the point.

Especially lately.

Time marches on. We wouldn’t want it not to. I’m think I’ve forgotten my central theme here, that of holding on and letting go.

Not only do we have to let go of our children, we need to let go of our youthful image of ourselves.

That doesn’t mean we have to become stodgy. Some of the most youthful people I’ve ever known have numbered many in years. Conversely, I’ve know those younger than me whose attitudes were ancient.

We have to treasure each moment and turn a myopic eye to the mirror.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Cha-cha-cha-cha-changes

I hate change. Not pennies, nickels and dimes or sweeping move across the country change... just the new shoes/new glasses/ getting used to lovely new computer blues....

Trying to cut down on words of late so won’t belabor the point, but suffice it to say we moved a lot when I growing up. Not excessively but enough. I went to three high schools and two universities. Over the course of my life, I’ve lived in five states.

When my husband and I moved to Flagstaff, Arizona from Iowa more than 20 years ago, the move literally made me sick.

Or so I thought.

True, I was getting used to high altitude living. But what I mistook for abject unhappiness turned out to be stomach flu.

I threw up, felt fine, and loved our five-plus years there.

Later, two-year-old in tow, we moved to a university town in West Virginia. It rained every single day that autumn, a fact I’ve blogged about before. I’d take toddler Erik to the park in the drizzle and wonder how on earth I’d ever meet other moms and make friends.

I just had to have faith.

Big changes I seem to sail through after the initial nausea and need for an umbrella. Moving to Nebraska was a little choppier for me but only in the job department. The prairie grasses of this state differ enormously from the Great Lakes of Michigan, my beloved birthplace. Still I lump these places into the category of ‘Midwest’ and feel like I’ve come home.

It doesn’t hurt that we’re close to western mountain ranges, another love.

But getting used to a new computer or even a new pair of shoes throws me. Is it my discomfort with the unfamiliar or am I that set in my ways?

Isn’t moving across country ‘unfamiliar’? Or changing elementary schools or high schools or jobs or states?

I don’t know the answers. Usually when I commit words to paper--rather screen--for this blog, I have some idea of the outcome, the destination, the denouement.

Maybe big moves are an exciting chance to start anew, and small changes are just annoying.

Or it could be having the soul of a makeover artist and the personality of she of the Princess and the Pea notoriety?

I do know we are who we are. We adapt, we morph, but we never fundamentally change.

Especially when it comes to change.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

New Year’s Resolutions in July


Better safe than sorry, I always say…herewith my New Year’s Resolutions in July.

Originally I’d planned to blog about last week’s family trip to Colorado. To celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary, my in-laws gathered their ‘clan’ for an extended stay at a lodge located a few miles from Rocky Mountain National Park.

My husband, our younger son (Andrew), and I joined the throng of siblings, spouses, grandchildren, assorted other relatives, and one brand-new fiancée (congrats Martha and Niels!)

The pictures illustrating this post are from some glorious hikes my husband and I took. I don’t have the heart to trot out a snowman graphic in July.

So far 2010 has been mixed bag, like most years I suppose. The good, the bad, and the sad all commingling. Perhaps I’m doing this year an injustice by listing resolutions with four months to go.

Perhaps not.

Next year I resolve to:

1. Keep the ‘lifestyle change’ momentum going. I welcomed this year with extra pounds, a foray into full-time freelancing, and total bewilderment at being 50. I can close my eyes and be instantly transported back to 15, the age Andrew turns in a couple weeks. Of course I can’t remember two days ago…. However, thanks to the local YMCA programs complete with wonderful instructors and my decision to let go of the word ‘diet’ and embrace the over-used (in our household) term ‘lifestyle change,’ I’ve dropped a little more than 20 pounds.

I fall off the wagon. A lot. There are probably skid marks on my derriere from so much ‘bouncing.’ But I climb back on because I want to be able to hike well into other decades.

2. Find the focus. For years, I had an index card push-pinned to the bulletin board in my home office with the word ‘FOCUS’ printed on it. I always told my reporting students to find the focus in their stories. The card was to help me remember to find the focus in the stories I was writing at the time with my partner/mother. When we moved two years ago, the card became a casualty of the packing. But I’m seriously thinking of making a new one. I need to find the focus.

3. Remember to do things I like, and remember what it is I like to do. That smacks of the self-absorption I vowed not to fall into when I started blogging. But this is about my not-quite-New Year’s- resolutions. Until last week, it had been close to 20 years since I’d hiked in Western mountains. For the few days we were in Colorado, we took full advantage of being able to hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. On that first day of hiking, one whiff of those pines instantly transported me back to the days when I was a ‘new’ faculty wife in Flagstaff, Arizona and joined a hiking group. Our members ranged in age from late 20’s (me) to mid-70’s (amazing former PE teachers who could hike switchbacks around me).

During those years Baby #1 came along and spent a lot of hiking trail time in a backpack, but then we moved cross-country, along came baby #2….demanding jobs, blah blah blah. I’ve always liked to walk but had forgotten just how much I enjoy hiking, truly enjoy it.

So my final ‘resolution’ for the rest of this year, next year, and all the years to come is to remember to enjoy life, embrace the ups and weather the downs, and not stagnate in the dull middle.

To paraphrase the Capra-esque angel Clarence: I really do have a wonderful life.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

“Not Quite a List Poem” or “The Dog Days of Blog Posts"

One of the best aspects of having poets for friends is being exposed to many different forms of the genre. List poems especially intrigue me. The poet itemizes something in a cohesive fashion, and the ending is significant.The structure of the words fairly sings. Originally what was going to follow was a list of random thoughts on July, but it wasn’t gonna be in tune.

As an aside, I went to one of those Facebook sites called “I Write Like” that checks what famous writer a person writes like by analyzing word choice and writing style and comparing them to those of famous writers. You paste in a sample of your writing so I ‘pasted’ in the first few paragraphs of my last blog post.

My analysis?

Bram Stoker. Yep, Dracula’s ‘daddy.’ Nuff said. Course my dh points out it’s my old-fashioned style. Tried another piece and got the bard…yes, that BARD…jolly olde England with the emphasis on OLDE.

Pretty much sums up July.

And I did have a pithy (okay, really pathetic) attempt at a list poem that started like this:

July

Fireworks flying forth, parachutes a dud

Friends gathered, food fine….

But I got sidetracked, which is just as well.

Think I’ll stick to prose and leave the poetry to the experts: the poets.

p.s. I just pasted in the first two graphs of this piece for analysis: H.P. Lovecraft.

The End

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Summertime and the livin’ is easy

So June is wound down.

Here on the prairie we get a lot more daylight than we did for the decade and a half we lived in the east. Our little city is close to the Mountain Time Zone line so it stays light pretty darn late. After returning from a weekend trip to Des Moines for my new niece’s baptism, hubbie and I could walk and see where we were going, even though it was close to 10 p.m.

When I was a teenager in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, I could ride my bike downtown to the locks and hang out with my friends. Curfew was ten p.m. because it didn’t get dark until then in that northernmost corner of my world.

On our drive back this weekend, younger son Andrew asked if he had a curfew. His father told him he’d have one when he started driving.

Somewhere down the line, I’ve morphed from needing a curfew to not being able to stay up past curfew. Six months into fifty (and more than 20 pounds lighter, thank you Kearney YMCA!), I’ve adjusted well to this new decade but still have trouble processing I’m closer to a grandmother’s age than a new mother’s age.

As I awkwardly held my beautiful niece, Reese, at the outdoor church service on Sunday, I flashed back to the baptism of my two children. Erik was baptized on a snowy February Flagstaff day. Fittingly, Andrew was baptized barefoot at barely a month old in Morgantown, West Virginia. The wonderful late Hank Brown baptized that second baby, and I can still tell you (even though Andrew turns 15 in August) what I weighed that day…let’s just say I coulda gone12 rounds with George Foreman!

Confession time: I don’t feel fifty. I vividly recall my mother turning to me in church on Christmas Eve the year she was fifty and telling me she still felt the same inside as she did when she was younger…just time was marching on.

My father, now deceased, threw himself a pig roast at fifty. Before I hit that ‘magic’ number this past December, I went back and looked at pictures of him at that party. He looked older than I think I do. Or maybe we just always think our parents are older than they are…until we reach their age. I did inherit my gray from my dad and his side of the family. My brother Steve, five years younger than me, reminds me of my father…his good qualities, not his bad or sad ones.

Growing up , I always thought fall was my favorite season. No more do I think that.

Summertime…and the livin’ is easy…and I cherish the summers I have left.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

And sometimes…

Just like that, life goes on.

To quote prolific romance writer, Holly Jacobs:

Life is good

Holding Pattern

Sometimes there’s no holding on or letting go, just holding.

A holding pattern is just that…a stasis that won’t let you move forward or backward. The flow of life stops until it doesn’t.

When that moment comes, good or bad, evil or well-intentioned, life goes on.

As young marrieds we called it ‘wait and see.’

We loathed ‘wait and see.’

Later, we’d repeat the phrase to our children as the answer to any number of questions: “Can I go to so and so’s house?” “Can we get X, Y or Z?” “Will there be a happy ending?” And the list goes on.

My husband’s favorite expression is “Proceed as the way opens.”

His, and my, least favorite?

Wait and see.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Home is where the heart is

Home is where the heart is…and the heart is a travelin’ thing.

Earlier this week, my husband and I returned from our sojourn from the prairie to the Appalachians. I went back to the best little writers’ conference around, the West Virginia Writers, Inc. annual conference held in the southeastern portion of that state at Cedar Lakes.

My husband met his friend Matt, a Lutheran minister, when we arrived and they motorcycled on the Blue Ridge Parkway to Cherokee, North Carolina. They met up with other friends in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

In just over three weeks my husband has gone nearly 5500 miles, via car and motorcycle. From Salt Lake City to Dolly Parton’s domain, my spouse has already covered enough miles to have criss-crossed the country, from San Diego to Jacksonville, Florida.

My journey was shorter in distance but longer emotionally. This was my 8th summer at Cedar Lakes Conference Center, near Ripley, WV. I’ve written before how my friend, the late Mary Rodd Furbee, persuaded me to go with her that first time. When my husband and I crossed the Ohio River just last week, I was transported back to the return trip Mary and I made that first summer. We were chatting so much about exciting writing projects that we took a wrong turn somewhere and came upon that very same bridge. She and I made it home, but her time there was so short it makes me ache all over again for her and her loved ones.

The final night of the conference was bittersweet. Another friend who died too young this spring was honored for her writing. I wept and sniffled into my napkin.

Earlier that evening my eldest son, Erik, was awarded an honorable mention for a short story in the annual contest the organization sponsors every year. This is the child who professed for years not to like to write... until this year when the ‘bug’ hit him, and he has amazed me with his output and his burgeoning talent.

The time spent with old and new friends slipped by too quickly, especially since my night owl habits have flown the coop. Is that mixing my bird metaphors? Saying goodbye was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

On the way home, we briefly saw Erik, his adorable girlfriend, Morgan, and his friend Alex, an amazing artist who just finished his freshman year at Rhode Island School of Design. Erik is in Morgantown this summer spending time with Morgan and his friends, doing an internship at the WVU Press, and taking an on-line summer school class. It was strange to say goodbye to him in a Bob Evans in Parkersburg, WV. But he’ll be home in August, and West Virginia is not northern Germany.

And it was time to get home to Andrew and my mom, who got along swimmingly until the day we were due home. “I think we’re getting on each other’s nerves,” he told me.

Dorothy Gale intones my favorite movie line of all time when she lands smack dab back in Kansas: “There’s no place like home,” she tells the confused loved ones gathered around her now sepia-toned bedroom.

But here’s the thing about home. You can carry a little piece of your loved ones around in your heart, no matter where you lay your head.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Things I have learned being home alone for the first time in forever:

  1. Do not watch a zillion episodes of Criminal Minds, with an emphasis on home invasions by serial killers like Tim Curry’s creepy stalker, the week before everyone leaves.
  2. Do make a list of everything you want to accomplish when everyone (spouse, mother, both sons) scatters east and west.
  3. Do not expect to get anything done on your list. Mmmm…clean the kitchen cupboards, come up with a brilliant new writing project, bag up clothes for Goodwill, and recycle old magazines or watch dozens of episodes of Bulging Brides and Last Ten Pounds Boot camp dvr’d from the Fine Living Network in anticipation of said alone time? Guess what I chose?
  4. Do not think just because everyone is gone that you can lose the last ten pounds in five days, even eating your own (wretched) cooking. It’s just not possible.
  5. Do know you can lose a couple of pounds by counting the calories of every morsel you put in your mouth and by walking excessively in your lovely flat neighborhood.
  6. Do sit on the couch in the middle of the afternoon and read…and don’t feel guilty.
  7. And these things I knew already: it’s truly a blessing my mother has lived with us for more than a decade; in addition to loving them, I really like my husband and children; friends are invaluable, in-town and out; and I am ready for my vacation!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Writer’s Block

It’s not that I haven’t had anything to say…it’s just…I haven’t had anything to say.

Sigh.

I’ve had lots of ‘thoughts’ about things to write about, topics near and dear to my heart and my original intent when I started blogging, but nothing really resonated with me that I hadn’t already touched on before.

Kearney High School’s graduation ceremony was last weekend, and friends launched their children into the world. Having been there and done that without the benefit of pomp and circumstance, I see no reason to rehash the unconventional story of my firstborn, Erik.

He starts his junior year of college in the fall. Andrew, his younger brother, is finishing up his first year of high school even as I type.

Whoa. But covered that ground too.

Thirty-five years ago I was finishing up my first year of high school in Sault Ste. Marie, located along the Michigan/Canada border. My summer job at Dairy Queen was all lined up, for the princely sum of $1.40 an hour. I can still make a mean swirl cone, as I demonstrated at a soft serve ice cream bar graduation party we went to last weekend. It was a lovely reception, as was another one we attended.

The custom here is to display a graduating senior’s memorabilia. I started to panic, being the uptight planner that I am, because I tossed a LOT of stuff when we moved here two years ago. True, I have file folders filled with some mementoes. However, instead of making it into the filing cabinet, most items ended up scattered around my home office. Balancing working fulltime, writing, parenting, volunteering, wife-ing (not very well at times) and daughter-ing (not very well at times) simply did not leave much time for careful organization of all the important keepsakes.

As last weekend waned, I said to Andrew that I wish I’d saved the laminated ‘good job’ monthly certificates his kindergarten teacher passed out if there were no ‘yellow’ or ‘red’ lights. I wistfully reminisced about one heralding an ‘Awesome April’ at North Elementary School in Morgantown, West Virginia.

So we went down to one of my filing cabinets and rummaged through all the folders dealing with writing-related things. In a faded yellow folder marked ‘Andrew’ I found one laminated certificated presented all those years ago to my now six-foot-tall soon-to-be-15-year-old: “Awesome April.”

Sometimes when you have to let go, you hold onto the most important things of all.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day to all who mother. No job is more exhausting or more rewarding.

Today I give thanks for my wonderful sons and my own mother, who continues to be my role model, my champion, and my best friend.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Passages

My younger son, Andrew, posed an interesting question at brunch yesterday. He wanted to know what seemed stranger, that his older brother, Erik, was going to be a junior in college next year or that he himself was going to be a sophomore in high school in the fall.

After mulling for a minute, I told him what freaks me out most is his going off to college in three years. I vividly remember sending him off to the first day of kindergarten on Bus 209 piloted by Crazy Louie. I still miss Louie.

Yesterday afternoon I went to an honors recital at the university with my neighborhood walking buddy. On the way home she was lamenting the end of the elementary school years. Her son heads to middle school in August and her daughter enters high school.

In 2013, Andrew will graduate from high school… 35 years after I did. Erik, as I may have mentioned before, took the unconventional route: foreign exchange student, ‘dropping out’ senior year, getting accepted to college a year early, earning a GED, going to college a year early…whew.

Andrew is following the conventional route. My two sons are very different from each other, but they do share a common trait. Years ago their Aunt Mette, my husband’s younger-by-seven-years sister, was visiting.

“They certainly are relentless!” she said, exhausted after spending a couple days with her nephews.

They are indeed relentless, and goal-oriented…and the loves of my life.

Me, who is so good at letting go, is having a hard time envisioning the day when they both leave the nest…for good.

This week Erik heads out to spend the summer working and doing an internship in Morgantown, WV…where he ‘grew up.’ He’ll get to spend time with his wonderful girlfriend, Morgan, home from college. And he’ll be back to being on his own, something he excels at. It has been kind of nice to have him home for awhile.

In August, Erik will be home for that junior year of college. Andrew will start his sophomore year of high school the day after he turns 15.

As for me, I’m going to spend the summer writing, sitting on my deck sipping sugar-free lemonade, and wondering if I own a copy of Gail Sheehy’s book.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Happy Birthday, Nancy Drew

Intrepid girl detective Nancy Drew is 80 today, a fact I learned from the Facebook status update of one of my former journalism students when she linked to this USA Today article. (Thanks, Melissa Hostutler!)

Immediately I followed suit, linking to the article and wishing ‘Nancy’ a happy birthday too. Soon other friends of mine were sharing their reminisces of the books that gave all of us countless hours of joy when we were young.

Several prominent women, including Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and former First Lady Laura Bush have listed Nancy Drew as an influence.

Nancy Drew was a huge influence on my decision to become a journalist (I’m too cowardly to snoop around scary attics!) and a writer in general. Ironically, as big a mystery fan as I am…I don’t have a mystery writer’s ‘voice.’ And my mother/writing partner (my other big influence!) and I don’t have a collective mystery voice together.

But we share a love for stories with mystery and mayhem.

Nancy and her pals Bess and George were always on the trail of bad guys (or gals…?), zipping around in her speedy roadster. Good-natured Ned was secondary, and we readers know poor Mrs. Gruen could never rein Nancy in.

Years later, as a mother, I think Nancy would never have been allowed to get into all the ‘scrapes’ she did if her mother was alive. No figuring out “The Clue of the Velvet Mask” or “The Secret in the Old Attic” or “The Mystery at Lilac Inn.”

As a child, nothing made me happier than to get to stay home sick from school, tucked into my top bunk in the room I shared with my sister, a pile of Nancy Drew mysteries by my side.

When I was a child organized sports didn’t exist for girls (I woulda been a halfway decent soccer player…at ten), and it wasn’t until mid-year of sixth grade that the fairer sex was allowed to wear pants to school in the small Michigan town I lived in.

Happy Birthday, Nancy Drew. You’ve come a long way, and so have we.